HIA: Hi Jeff, it is great to speak to you again. On behalf of the Horizon Interactive Awards competition, I want to congratulate you again on your success over the past few seasons. The quality and quantity of your work that our judges have highlighted is unprecedented. You and your agency are going up against some of the best in the industry and the success you have had in the competition definitely establishes you as a driving force and influencer. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us once again.
Jeff: Thank you! It has been a thrill to be a part of the Horizon Interactive Awards for many years now, and we are excited to see our customers recognized for their amazing businesses.
HIA: Talk about how your company has evolved over the time that you have been entering the competition.
Jeff: What a great question. I would say that in our early days we were focused on creating a beautiful home page, with attention paid to the rest of the site but not at the same veracity as today. It used to be all about that home page impression, but with today’s search and visitor habits the 100th page in has to be just as compelling as that first page experience. Beyond that, we know that the biggest challenge in our industry is “growing to hate your babies” after a few years as technology moves forward, and we have dedicated the past five years to solving that through our software. That is, we want a site that is several years old to be as high performing in terms of speed, capabilities etc. as one we just launched today.
HIA: I can certainly get on board with the notion that technology is moving at a furious pace. We see that every year in the competition. Have your clients expectations and / or client profiles changed at all over the last few years?
Jeff: I think people have always come to us because they want the envelope pushed, but not in a “shiny for the sake of shiny” sense. As such, I’d like to think that we set some of the expectations around client needs, in helping them to see what could or should be the face of their company verses what is in place now. We definitely see a refreshing level of digital savvy today verses just a few years ago, with our customers asking better and better questions and really taking the time to understand and measure KPIs, verses just the feel-good side of having a new site in place. We love that, because the better we can understand their needs and goals, the easier it is to over-deliver.
HIA: Obviously things are always changing in the web design and interactive media industry as we noted, can you talk about some of the more recent changes and trends that you are seeing?
Jeff: Over the last few years we are generally seeing a bit of a hollowing out of the “middle,” specifically the template-driven, lower end experiences which used to be an agency’s bread and butter type of build. Today those are being handled by cheap to free software like Squarespace, which I actually think is a good thing. It’s always bothered me to see someone have spent $15k+ on a site that was clearly a $30, barely modified template, and I think it’s important that companies in our industry feel the need to innovate rather than push the same handful of tired Wordpress templates.
HIA: Talk about some of the exciting work that you are doing this year?
Jeff: This year has been amazing. I mentioned before about focusing our software, which we call Octane to allow us to continue to move our customers forward over time as technology evolves. Our ultimate intent is that a client never need go through the pain of a “site rebuild,” but rather we continuously work together to keep the site moving forward for the life of that business. That has really become reality for us in the past few years, and Octane is continuing to add more and more capabilities that support our customers who wish to do more with their website and digital strategy. We have a mantra that “if you need us to do something, we didn’t build it right” and that has driven us to create capabilities that don’t need a manual, don’t need a “tech guy” to work.
HIA: Talk about the Atlanta market a little bit if you would and how it may differ from other markets around the country.
Jeff: I speak around the country about technology and digital experiences, and I would say Atlanta is one of the furthest ahead as it relates to their overall digital presence and savvy. It’s tough to do an apples-to-apples between two cities and there are of course always going to be exceptions, but in many cases the equivalent business in Atlanta is at a higher level of savvy and digital customer experience.
HIA: How do you keep it fresh with your team and fight burnout? What keeps you motivated and loving what you do?
Jeff: What an awesome question. For us it’s all about two primary mantras… 1. Do it Right or Don’t Do It, which requires us to take the time to understand when we are the best fit and frees us to say no to any project that someone else could do as well or better than we can, and 2. Hell Yes or No, which I took from Derek Sivers five or six years ago. Essentially, if we can’t say “hell yes,” this is the best project and client we could spend our time on, we are obligated to say no. Every mediocre or even good development takes away bandwidth for the great ones, and life is too short for that. If we don’t believe we are going to make a massive positive impact on that company, we won’t take the project on. We also don’t work with jerks, so our days are spent in a positive environment.
HIA: We have seen you active in the community, at various speaking engagements, events, etc. Talk about some of these and how they impact your company.
Jeff: It’s funny, I don’t do speaking engagements to generate business, though that does of course happen. But much more important is getting a finger on the pulse of what CEOs and business owners are thinking, understanding their current pain points and how best to address them, as well as what is being done now to solve those. But if I’m really being honest with myself, the biggest reason I love speaking and advising is the rush that comes from identifying a half dozen, most of the time free changes a company can make which will have a major positive impact on their business. There’s nothing more thrilling than pointing out a few quick fixes, then getting an e-mail 3 months later from that business telling us how great an impact it has had for their company.
HIA: What are some of your favorite websites and why?
Jeff: Well of course I’m going to be biased. But I think the Zerorez family of sites (see https://www.zerorezatlanta.com/ as an example) are some of my favorite. I will always gravitate towards sites we’ve done that exist to explain complex topics in simple and engaging ways, like https://www.bhug.com/ https,://guardiancenters.com/ and https://www.advanceddrainagesolutions.com/ I kno.w 10 minutes after this interview I’ll have a dozen more I should have added ☺
HIA: Jeff, thank you for taking the time to talk to us again this year. It is truly amazing to see all of the great work that you and your company produce and enter into the competition. We sincerely wish you the best in the upcoming years and hope to have you back again this year in the 2019 competition.
Jeff: Thanks for having me to chat! Excited for the next round of competition with Horizon Interactive Awards.