Partners not projects. That’s what Matthew Barnes of Momenta Media and his company is looking for. Learn how they figure out a solution to your marketing site problem, which is not a website problem, through the different phases they’ve developed. He provides insight on their processes to find out your pain point so you can communicate your idea and make your business run more effectively. He also shares the different tools they use to orchestrate, manage, and communicate different projects across the team.
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Matthew Barnes Partner & Chief Solutions Officer at SeeSaw Labs | Owner of Momenta Media | From side hustle to digital production agency and partnering
We’re here with Matthew Barnes. He’s the owner of Momenta Media and Partner and Chief Solutions Officer and Virtual Reality Lead at SeeSaw Labs. We’re incredibly fortunate to have Matthew Barnes. Matthew, welcome.
Matthew, tell us a little bit about how you got started and your business.
My background is in engineering. I am formally educated as a civil engineer. Part way through that, I realized that what I love is problem-solving, not necessarily civil engineering. I got started in the startup entrepreneurship world pretty early on in college, realizing that was going to be my out. I liked diving into things that were complicated that I didn’t know a lot about. Getting up to speed and trying to work in that realm and technology is very attractive because the barrier to entry is so low. You need a computer and internet to start getting your hands dirty. While I was at the university, I was doing seismic design, earthquake engineering, while moonlighting running an apparel company, so getting my feet wet in eCommerce.
I eventually went on to drop out of grad school to run that eCommerce company for that startup and built from the ground up their whole platform as far as marketing and advertising and then the eCommerce website, the whole nine yards. I also did apparel design and did that for about three and a half years, and then went onto a company called Moosejaw Mountaineering, which if you’re in the outdoor space, you may know. It’s a little bit like Ariad, all the analytics and split testing there, so diving into that marketing aspect and understanding how users interact and behave with a piece of technology. I find that thing is one of the most interesting problems for me because it goes beyond just the basic problem solving.
Now you’re getting someone to do something that you anticipate you want them to do. Closing the feedback loop on that and testing hypothesis is a very exciting thing. All the while, Momenta Media, was the side hustle thing along the way. I couldn’t get enough with just the one thing I was doing. I wanted to also find other people who were having problems and say, “I can help you too.” A lot of times that started with just personal connections and then moved on to getting connected with other people that had eCommerce businesses where I thought I could lend a hand and reshape things, building websites, just teaching myself all of that.
Now I’m at SeeSaw Labs. SeeSaw Labs is a digital production agency, which is just a vague enough term that can encompass almost anything but specific enough that you get a little idea. The short version is if it’s on a screen, we probably create it. What I try not to say is we don’t build apps. We don’t build websites. That’s a discrete way of looking about technology. Quite frankly, you can get just about anybody to build something like that. People do it all the time, ship a website out to India or whatever and get something built. Anybody who’s done that probably knows that that’s not always the most effective way to get the job done. Where we focus is we are not looking for projects, we’re looking for partners. The reason I say it that way is we’ve developed our process into these phases that come alongside a business and find out what’s your pain point? Why do you want to build this thing? Maybe you don’t know what you want to build. You just have a problem and you know that technology is probably going to be the realm in which you have that solution, whether it’s getting customers in the door, which is the way that everybody makes money or communicating your idea or even making your business run more effectively.
An example, we partnered with a company who does textile recycling. You would be thinking “How the heck does textile recycling fit technology?” There’s a fleet of drivers out there that need to go collect from these bins. That’s not a simple task when these bins sometimes might be blocked or damaged. You also need to do estimating for what types of things you are picking up. There’s this whole complicated problem and we’ve developed a solution that just works on an iPad that they take around with them. It just simplifies dramatically all of the number crunching and accounting things for a business like that.
Our big thing is partnering, figuring out what that solution is. We then do the execution phase, the build phase, but it goes beyond that, because, I built you a thing. How do you know that it works? We’re interested in that problem. That’s a scary problem. It is easy for people who are maybe not as confident or talented to build you a thing, hand it to you, and then just walk away. Our thing is we want to help make sure we solve the problem or maybe the problem changes.
You mentioned that on a prototypical client, when they come to the door, there’s a discrete process that you go through with them. I could come and say, “I want a website,” and what I mean is, “I want a customer.”
I often try to avoid specifically saying the word “website.” What you need is a marketing site. That’s usually what it means. That captures this thing of, “I need a customer. I need somebody to do something.” My bad pain point is, “I want somebody to engage with me.” We’ll come alongside and find out how do people find out who you are? What does a typical customer look like? What are they looking for? There’re a lot of different ways that we can do that. This initial prototype phase, building something can be daunting, especially if the project is quite large. We came up with this initial phase, which is an engagement that’s much smaller. We dive into analytics. Most people don’t even have analytics. If you say you want a new website, I’m going to wire up your old website and find out how people are using it.
An example that comes to mind is we partnered with a company in Oklahoma. They have a website and they technically had Google Analytics on it. It wasn’t very granular. We spent an initial month with them analyzing the data coming out of that to find out what people are looking for when they come here, how do they interact and we found some interesting stuff. We found that a lot of people were coming to the website because they wanted a job. This was a company that was one of the best places to work in Oklahoma. They were getting a lot of traffic from some sites that were mentioning them in news articles. We talked it through, “Is that something that’s important to you? Your business is expanding. Do you want to capture those people?” It’s something that we could emphasize in the next phase. A lot of times you’ll have where people think they want one thing, but their problem means that they need something else. There’s another one, Restore Cryotherapy. Cryotherapy is the service.
You see people standing in a box and they get frozen. They don’t stay there very long. They stay there for a period of time.
It’s not quite like coming out like Dr. Evil in Austin Powers, but you get very cold for a short period of time. It’s very huge in the CrossFit community, student athletes, anyone that’s looking for these recovery aspects. As probably many of the audience know very well, as your business is growing, you’re not always doing things the most optimal way. You’re just adding something on to help get you through the next day, week, hour, or whatever it is. They had built up this website. It became a franchise. For all their locations, there was just one more thing tacked on and they were outgrowing it. We came alongside them and realized, what is the purpose of the site? A lot of it was they needed to get people in the door. As we did that initial discovery phase, we found out that one of the ways that they were driving customers was through Groupon.
For people who aren’t familiar, Groupon has changed their model for how they do pay out. It was hurting them. The other aspect that we discussed that they didn’t consider is that there’s a particular type of person that uses Groupon. It’s usually, “I’ll try anything once,” and that’s not necessarily for businesses who are looking for long-time commitment, the type of person that you’re necessarily after. They want a steep discount and to try it once. What we have done then is before we even finished building their new website, we built a specific landing page and started experimenting with advertising through AdWords, Facebook, Yelp, all of those avenues and wired up those analytics. It’s how do you know when it’s working, and now we can get into hypothesis testing, split testing on what’s the video you’re showing, what are the images that you use, how do you talk about the service? That’s just another case of that initial phase being so much more important than you might think. It’s not something a lot of people do.
Going back to the Restore Cryotherapy, you guys went through, did the analytics, started doing some work and retooled what they were doing. For them as the customer, what type of feedback did you get from them after you went through the process?
The common thread that we usually get as far as feedback is, “How we keep working together?” They realized that there is so much solutioning and strategy that’s needed and it’s not something that usually is coming internally, especially when it has that heavy technology component. We’re now an extension of them insofar as monitoring those analytics. We’re monitoring those campaigns, making suggestions, helping them refine it. We’re even starting to engage in some other projects because they got excited about some of the things we’ve done for their clients for continually engaging. They have another service they offer which is like drip therapy, like an IV. It takes a long time and very boring. We’re prototyping a virtual reality experience while people wait. There’s a lot of different ways that we found that we can work together. It’s usually one of those things where we engage thinking we’re going to build a website and end up doing a whole marketing campaign, getting into virtual reality. That’s typically the way things go once people see how valuable that strategy component is.
I’ve had this discussion for a number of folks on that company. I’ve engaged you guys, you’ve done the side. How do I know that I got a return on my investment? What tells me?
The thing that is important to us is that feedback loop. If you think about the three stages, we have that initial assessment and prototype phase, the middle one is the one everybody thinks that they want, which is the build phase where we make the thing. The third phase is ongoing support and monitoring. The way that you know that you get that return on investment is that we bake analytics immediately into everything that we do. Maybe you’re not selling something directly on your website. You’re trying to focus on email signups or something like that. As much as we can put the tentacles of analytics into your site and show that increased engagement, show that interaction, whatever it is that piece of software or that tool is trying to accomplish, we show that it’s working. We show the direction it’s going. A lot of interesting things can come out of that.
The example, the textile recycling company, you might find that your drivers are doing things that you didn’t anticipate that they do. You find that they have pain points that you didn’t know that they had. If it’s your website, you might find that your users interact in a different way or, as everyone is familiar with, the landscape of technology is changing day to day, every single day. That means that if you build something today, tomorrow it might be interacted with differently. We try to focus on how we capture that behavior so that we can learn and capitalize on it. You get a surge of traffic to your website because some new platform has opened up or someone wrote an article. How do you leverage that and how do we know when it works? It’s an important step that gets missed. Quite frankly, a lot of people that “build things” are afraid of providing because they’re not that good. They are not sure that their thing is going to work. We want to try to be as honest about that as possible. It’s like, ”This is the hypothesis. Let’s test it together.”
The landscape of technology is changing day-to-day every single day.
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If folks are going, “I need to find Matthew,” how do they find you on social media?
SeeSaw Labs. We are currently on Facebook and LinkedIn. We’re continually expanding that as we’re getting more involved in doing more things that are playful that we can surface. One of the things is that we deal a lot with startups. Not everything that we do, we can surface, but some of the things like virtual reality that we’re getting into, these very hot technologies, that’s stuff that’s very easy to share that we’re getting into.
Let’s dig into the virtual reality space. How are you seeing that fit in with your clients or potential clients?
The interesting thing is that virtual reality, as we’ve all noticed, is getting more and more accessible every month. All these phones are coming out that have the capability baked right in. We’re past the cardboard box in the phase stage and now we’re getting into to the Google Daydream, which has got a little remote and it’s in your phone and game systems like PlayStation, all that stuff. It’s all coming together where it’s becoming very accessible. The first space that this is becoming powerful is simply in marketing, because you’re able to deliver a richer experience that anyone has ever had before, getting people to interact with a product or enrich an experience like what I was saying for the Restore Cryotherapy example. You take something that is boring and you make it something you look forward to you, where you’re going to have this experience that you’ve not had before.
Another example of it is it has interesting implications like in architecture space. We have one person that we’re partnering with now who’s looking to build a specific facility. They’re interacting with their investors and they’re selling the dream, they’re selling the story. The components that we’re building for them is we’re building a virtual experience where instead of it just being pictures on a PowerPoint, they can come into this meeting with these daydreams, put it on the head of the investor. That person can now look around inside of this virtual building and see the potential and the scale and the magnitude of what is going to be accomplished. That has powerful impacts because when you go from that flat 2D version of something to feeling like you’re in there and getting the sense of scale, it’s absolutely magical.
Have you done any testing on that to see how the uptake rate is when you put it into customer experience?
The interesting thing is that it is such a paradigm shift that it is hard to find the apples to apples to compare it to. We have found that in the experience that we’ve done, the feedback is phenomenal. It’s not something anyone expects. Everyone knows what it is, but they don’t expect it yet. When you add that virtual reality component to whatever your campaign is, your experience or your meeting, it’s something that’s memorable. People come away and they’re not going to forget that you put on the virtual reality device. It’s very interesting in that regard.
We were talking about another example that you were using and it was with Kountable. What I was intrigued about is the accountability capability that you guys were talking about doing at distance. Let’s dig into that case study a little bit.
Kountable started as an idea, as many great things do. It was a startup that we partnered with very early on. The audience may be familiar with microloans. Usually, it is a loan to somewhere faraway, another country like Rwanda, where sometimes it’s for medical equipment or coffee or something like that, “Starbucks has told me that they’re going to buy X number of pounds of coffee from me roasted. I need now to go buy the coffee and the roasting equipment to supply that, and I need a loan to do it.” Traditionally, there are a lot of risks in that. It’s a very distance relationship. There’s not a lot of accountability. It is not easy to just phone someone up in that regard.
We’ve partnered with Kountable to build this platform that has several different components to it, but what it does is it tries to mitigate that risk by creating that accountability. For the lendee, what they’re doing is providing documentation, taking photographs. There’s a schedule of how everything’s going to happen, “I’m going to pick up the equipment on Tuesday. It’s going to be delivered to this location at this time.” They’re taking photographs, they’re scanning documents. There’s that component where they’re capturing everything. For the lender, they’re able to see the schedule.
As they’re dispensing the necessary funds for all of these steps, there are checks and balances that are happening. Then there’s the wrapper around it where Kountable is managing all of this and making these opportunities available to these people that want to do the investing. That started out as something very small. They’ve just finished their Series B funding. Now we’ve taken that partnership and we’re helping them transition to handling a lot of it internally. It’s like the baby bird leaving the nest thing. That’s where I say that we’re after partnerships, not projects. Anybody could just build them the thing and try to just like, “Here’s your app, have fun with it. Let us know if you need some more stuff.” What we’re interested in is how you get the most value out of that creation.
There are a couple of ways that people end up working with us. One of them that is very successful is that we look at it like a subscription or ongoing agreement. What that allows us to do is we can match or scale up or down, depending on what the need is, the number of resources that we apply to something. An important aspect to that is there are these building blocks that we use to apply to a project where we have a solutions engineer, a solutions strategist. Those are broader than just saying like, “We have a developer and we have a project manager,” because we’re looking to partner and drive value. Our engineers aren’t just people turning the handle. They understand this holistic view of how one solves problems. Specifically, they have their hands into the latest and greatest technology to make that happen.
The strategist is understanding those business needs and doing that initial assessment and an ongoing evaluation of value and all of that. By doing that, it lets us stop focusing on things like, “What’s the statement of work? What is going to fall under this thing?” Instead, it’s this flowing thing because in a startup, what my priority is on Tuesday may not be the same priority on Thursday. That’s okay, we’re cool with that, because we want to continuously be driving the most value you can. You just have a new investor who wants to come in but they are interested in this aspect, we’ll totally shift gears and focus on that. We don’t have to worry so much about the paperwork because we’re just part of your team now to help you succeed.
For the audience that may be going, “I need to engage these guys,” how do they get budget? Think about what the potential costs of engagement might be. How do you price it to a potential customer?
There are these three phases. There’s this initial assessment and prototype phase. The goal of that is for it to be much smaller than a full-billed engagement. It’s something that is going to do a lot of discovery and the goal of coming out of that is for the client or the partner to have something tangible that’s valuable to them. Sometimes, if it is like a marketing site or it’s an app or something like that, we’ll build it outright as a prototype. We’ll build out what it’s going to look like. If they are complicated, we may even start calculus that’s going on. There may be a visual component.
We may put together also something that is a naked version of it where you can go through and run the calculations and prove that it works. Oftentimes, until you get down into some of the algorithms that people have for things, you don’t realize that there are problems until you get down to just doing the math. The goal is to do a lot of discovery, figure out what is it that you need, what are you trying to solve, and then deliver something at the end of that phase that they could take, put on a shelf, come back in three months and say, ” I’m ready to execute this.”
Within that range you go, given what we talked about, “The pricing you can look at is X?”
That’s right. We set some goals for what we’re going to do and how much time we think we’re going to invest in that in partnering together and what the deliverable might look like. It looks different for all types of things, but we custom-tailor it to the client, their budget, their needs, that type of thing. We often find that that initial stage is so valuable because, when we move to the actual execution phase, that build phase, we have an amazing detailed idea of what we’re about to build and that lends an estimate for that build phase. That’s how we end up engaging is very accurate.
You have people on your team all over the place. Let’s talk a little bit about the tools that you guys use and the structure. For the folks going, “I want to build a company where my employees are best and brightest from everywhere on the planet.” How do you orchestrate, manage and communicate with all of these folks?
It’s a heck of a time to be alive. Lots of people are familiar with Slack and that is our day-to-day communication. We also use tools like Trello, which is this very flexible board for keeping track of stuff. We’ll break projects down into that. We also have this phase in the morning where we have a chunk of time where we do stand ups where everybody gets together on these chats where we can share screen, we can share video, look at each other face to face, and we get down and dirty and like, “What’s happening today?”
What’s your favorite tool for doing that?
A lot of times we use Google Hangouts. We use Google Calendar to sync everybody across all the time zones. It’s very nice. For many people who aren’t familiar, Google Calendar has Google Hangouts baked into it. That tends to be very good for off the cuff screen-sharing and video chat and all of that. When we’re interacting with clients, we often use something called UberConference. The initial meeting might be face to face or might even be over video chat. UberConference is quite nice for sharing screen and people can dial in. It accommodates all styles of how people like to interact.
The thing that is so powerful about having a distributed team is it forces you, if you’re going to be successful, to be incredibly organized. One of the things that I always jokingly say is, “If you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen.”
When you’re in a traditional office environment, it’s so easy to, “Let’s all get into the board room, have a meeting, great, let’s go do it.” Three hours later, nobody remembers the things that we were going to do. That documentation component is incredibly important. Having a distributed team can force that. It ends up being where I feel like I’m more connected and have more of an idea of what everyone’s doing, what the current status is on everything, being in a distributed team than I ever did being in an in-person team, because you can quite frankly get lazy in person. The other component to it is, as you yourself alluded to is that best and brightest. Every amazing person I’ve ever worked with I have totally stolen from whatever their old gig was to come join our team at SeeSaw.
The members of the team, are they structured as contractors or are they structured as employees with SeeSaw?
We do a little bit of both. The majority of people are employees of SeeSaw, and then we have some people that we engage at a contract level for various reasons. I have a good friend who is in the film industry and does videos and all sorts, and he lives in the UK. He’s an absolute whiz when it comes to a very specific type of development around WordPress. He’s the guru. We engage with him for several hours a month or whatever to come in and consult on those things. It does give us the flexibility to capture those people who are otherwise engaged but are brilliant and add a lot of value to the team. We absolutely consider him part of the family as well. It’s a different of working together.
For nuts and bolts, I think about billing and payroll. You guys are all over the place. On the billing side, is there something that you use or a piece of software that you use for billing?
There are a couple of components to it. We all capture our time with a time tracking tool called Harvest, which is fantastic at the project and individual level. It allows us to see where we’re tracking as far as a lot of time goes or resources and all of that. Then we use Xero for some of the accounting, which is another similar tool in the space and that allows for easy invoicing and billing and all of that stuff as well. It’s all digital.
As you’re going through your time-tracking software, what was the biggest surprise that you think you recognized when you started looking at your time-tracking data?
The interesting thing about time-tracking data is that we had this realization that we wanted to break it down and make it more granular. There’s this delicate balance between making it incredibly annoying and absolutely useless, and so you got to surf between. One of the most incredible things that we’ve done is we’ve broken up the roles in a project. I’ll be wearing a different hat every day, and so for me to put time on a project isn’t always incredibly accurate. Sometimes I’m doing a little bit of development. Sometimes I’m working directly with a client, doing some QA, or whatever.
We’ve broken that down, and it surprised us that where we necessarily thought we were spending the time looked a little bit differently. That helped us see where some of our pain points were that we didn’t realize, like people were spending a lot of time in dev ops or something like that, and we could find a way to mitigate that. There are a lot of tools out there. Heroku is a great place to host an application or something like that and it takes a lot of the dev ops headache away.
By knowing how to fall, you have this ingrained backup plan of how you're going to adapt to the unknown.
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When you take one of our solution engineers and you look at their time, you realize they’re spending a lot of time on dev ops. It’s real easy to do the math and see that. For those who don’t know, dev ops is development operations. If you imagine you built a thing, the thing that it sits on to make it work, to make it spin, that platform which can scale up and down if you have tons of users interacting with it, it’s very complicated hosting that might be all over the country or the world or wherever to meet all those needs. There are tools out there that make that automatic. Expensive but when you start looking at the time how people are spending their times facilitating those needs, it didn’t look so expensive anymore. That has been something that’s been powerful for us and allowed us to focus on delivering value with the way that we’re spending our time.
With that insight, what was the behavioral change other than changing dev ops hosting?
The behavioral change is we have this culture now of where are the places that we feel like we’re doing the same thing over and over again or spinning our wheels? How do we take the things that feel like handle-turning and automate them? Part of that is investing time and building our own internal libraries. When you come along and you have a project that you’d like to engage in, we’re sitting there with these Lego blocks that are ready to assemble. We can focus on that top layer, which is the hard part, the interesting part of solving your problem. All of the infrastructure or whatever is done already.
We’ve done that with virtual reality. We have had several internal virtual reality projects because it’s incredibly fun. It has allowed us to deliver a lot of value to the client because we have all the unknowns sorted out. We have a boilerplate project that we’ve built that has the capability to be built to something like the HTC VIVE, which has the controllers and it’s room scale and you can walk around and pick stuff up and throw it and shoot guns to the more cardboard view like Google Daydream, which runs on a phone. Because we have this boilerplate project, if you would have come to me and say, “I’m thinking about doing this virtual reality experience. How can we engage in this minimal level for me to try it out?” we already have the platform that has all of the hard cruddy parts figured out. We can just focus on that top layer of delivering the experience and not have to spin our wheels, burning a lot of time, getting all the infrastructure things set up.
When you engage clients and after you’ve worked with him for awhile, what’s the biggest misconception that your clients have about what you guys do?
The biggest misconception is sometimes when we first engage with someone, they’re coming at it with this idea that, “These are the guys that are going to build the thing and after they build the thing, that’s going to be it.” One and done. Who could imagine that a piece of software designed to solve a very complex problem might be a little more involved? What we find often is people are quite surprised at how good we are at engaging at that strategy and problem-solving level. It may start out with they think, “We got this. We know exactly what our problem is. We need you to build this thing.” By the time we’ve reached the end of that engagement, they’re saying, “We were thinking about X. How could you help us with that? What would you suggest?”
We end up oftentimes going into this ongoing support where we’re focusing on partnerships, not projects. We are an extension of their team at that level of engagement that makes sense to them budget‑wise, but lets them know that we’re there, that they can pick up the phone and say, “We’re struggling with this. We’re going to open this new location and we want to know should we be doing an AdWords campaign? Should we be adding it to the website now?” or anything like that. The misconception oftentimes is that it’s going to be this very discrete engagement. Even the ones that do initially approach it like a partnership don’t realize how valuable it is to connect at such an intimate level.
You have a passion for parkour.
I’ve been training in parkour for about ten years. This extends all the way back to that initial part of the story being in college and realizing that engineering wasn’t exactly what I was after.
We talked about parkour and where it came from. Before you go into what you do, let’s go into the origins of parkour.
The long story short about that is there was a French-occupied volcanic island. It was comprised of these original inhabitants and these French people who colonized it. The mountain erupts one day and there’s a soldier there who’d been studying the indigenous people and realizing how naturally they moved and how beautiful it was. When this volcano erupted, all of the natives made it to the shore. The French people that were there were all like zombies trying to run away from this lava flow. There was massive casualty because of it. It inspired him to create this thing called “parcours du combattant” which means “the path of the warrior,” and it eventually became part of the French Special Forces training. It was all about this efficient movement.
Fast forward a little bit, there was a kid in an orphanage on a military base who learned this. He got out in the woods in the middle of the night and trained. He grew up, became a very famous firefighter in Paris. He had a son, David Belle is his name and him and his friends shortened it and they called it “parkour.” They made it into a game that they would play and it caught on. There’s this new-fangled thing called YouTube, and it was the explosion and birth of that and how I initially found out about it as well.
How do you see parkour relating to what you do in business?
There are two components to it. One is that it is very much like a martial art insofar as it requires a tremendous amount of discipline and the ability to abstract one’s self from the situation, which is enormously important. In business entrepreneurship, it’s being able to suppress those emotions and be able to look at something very plainly and have the discipline to execute. Where that extends even further is parkour has this very problem-solving component to it. Problem solving is this thing that I can’t get enough of, and parkour is very much that. You look at this landscape that might have some rails and some walls and everything, and you’re connecting the dots.
You’re creating this path to whatever your destination is. That is a huge parallel in the other stuff I do. There’s this other component. I taught parkour for many years. The first thing we teach is how to fall because you’ve got to fall at large numbers. You’re going to jump to a rail, you’re not going to hit it every single time. By knowing how to fall, you have this ingrained backup plan of how you’re going to adapt to the unknown. You have a plan and when it doesn’t go according to plan, you quickly adapt to the situation. That has tremendous parallel in what I do now.
There are a couple of videos from your LinkedIn site. In one, stairs, rails and walls, and the other one, you’re in a supermarket, jumping over stuff, side-flipping over shopping carts and loading up on pizza rolls.
That video was one that was important to us. There’s always a play aspect but there’s a philosophical aspect to that as well. When you first started training, there’s this mental toughness that’s required to do a complex move. The level of mastery that you have over that move is something that is in constant flux that you’re trying to lock down. The joke is when you have your complex move at its most controlled state, we call it “grocery store” because after we get done training, we’d often go to the grocery store to get food because we’re hungry and whatever.
The grocery store is the worst place to have to do a trick like that, if you imagine doing a flip or something, because it’s a hard surface, sometimes slippery, it’s often cold, and you’re wearing street clothes. After training, if you could go to the grocery store and throw that move, you had it on lockdown. That was the thing. We had this idea a long time ago that we wanted to create a grocery store video. We went to the supermarket, one of the 24-hour ones at [2:00] AM, hid a camera under our coat in the shopping cart, and then when walked around and shot this video. The person buffing the floor was like, “I don’t get paid enough to worry about this.”
Looking into the future for SeeSaw, what have you got on the horizon that you’re excited about that you’re going to be tackling soon?
We’re excited to continue to build these partnerships and start to offer solutions in these emerging technologies. We’ve gotten our hands dirty with chatbots, some artificial intelligence and virtual reality. The very exciting space is that all of this stuff is trying to hit that consumer level and we’re starting to see an increased demand, especially when we partner with marketing agencies that have the ideas but don’t necessarily have the technical chops to execute. As we’re continuing to forge more of those partnerships, we’re very excited to continue to expand and deliver in that space.
You’ve been an entrepreneur since the engineering department didn’t measure up. What influences early on do you think contributed to your entrepreneurial bent?
My father was a small business owner and he instilled that into me. My summers, my after‑school was spent at the business with all of these resources. It was a printing business so I had access to computers, to graphic arts equipment, to paper cardboard, string, everything. My thing was you have this time, you have all these resources, you have literally nothing to do. The internet isn’t even a huge thing as I’m a kid. It’s me making suits of armor out of cardboard and stuff, and then just watching my dad run this business and understand this aspect of problem-solving and delivering value and all of this, and being steeped in that with all of these resources. I’d end up miming that and making stuff like making up little businesses, making up little shops and selling things and playing with my sister. Having access to the tools was huge. Coming out of middle school, knowing how to use Photoshop was powerful for doing anything I wanted to do.
Business, for a lot of us, we’ll read books of one kind or another. What’s your favorite book that you’ve read?
How to Create a Mind. I’ve gotten into reading about how people make decisions. Being in the space of helping people deliver with these businesses and get customers in the door is getting people to do something that you want them to do. That’s the essence of what marketing is. It’s what running successful businesses. It is being compelling enough that someone will do what you want them to do. As I understand the human mind better and how we make decisions and how we’re influenced, that helps me want to help remove my own bias towards things but also better understand the mind of the customer to be able to relate in a better way.
How to Create a Mind is an interesting book. It goes beyond that into the artificial intelligence realm. It’s looking at this pattern-recognizing theory of the mind. The idea is that at the most basic components, our brain is made up of these pattern-recognizing cells. The way that manifests itself is interesting, the implications that it has for how you look at the populace in aggregate but also in an individual, and get them to do what you like.
What’s the best piece of advice, business or otherwise, you’d think you ever got?
No one cares about your thing. You meet all these people all the time and they have this idea where they’re very infatuated with their own idea. I was telling someone, “Our thing is going to be so huge,” and I was barely into the startup thing. Maybe it was my dad who was like, “No one cares about your thing,” and he was right. I cared about my thing a lot and I could imagine that other people did, and that’s the bias that I was talking about. You have to be able to detach yourself from your own business. If that means killing an idea very early, that’s important, that fail-fast mentality, but keeping this idea that it is your job to make someone care, it is not their obligation or natural state.
You’re talking about no one cares about your thing and you’re working with these various businesses trying to identify the pain point of their potential customer. What process do you go through to identify that pain point?
Being that outsider at the initial stage is incredibly valuable because you can look at someone and having them explain how they think a customer comes to their business or how they think someone uses whatever their thing is, and then that morphing into what their pain point is, what their daily frustration is. If you have a lot of experience in this, stuff starts to smell sometimes. When someone says, “People come to our website and that’s how they find this thing,” what’s powerful is with some of these analytics, especially in this digital interaction that happens in a lot of stuff, you can set up the analytics, set up the telemetry that drives down into proving if that’s true. A lot of times, an initial engagement will start with paradigm shift of the way you think people are doing stuff and the way that they’re doing it. We find ways to prove that, and that could be huge. It’s incredibly valuable to know what you don’t know.
Mark Twain did something about that. He said, “It’s not what you know that’ll hurt you as much as what you know that is not necessarily true that will get you,” or something along those lines. It’s been interesting. As we were chatting before, you have a new trainee in the parkour world that you’re training at home.
I have a two-year-old daughter who at every opportunity I’m throwing up in the air and turning upside down. We have a pull-up bar in the kitchen and she’s seen me do pull ups and she’s like, “Effie try.” I hold her up there and give her a little assist. She’s just a little monkey and we’re going to keep that going as much as we can.
Up and down the front range, is there an active parkour community?
There’s a group of guys called Boundless Parkour and they meet together in a gymnastics gym during the winter when it’s much more difficult to train outside. They train outside all around Colorado Springs. It’s great because these guys I’ve been able to connect with and they’re a bit younger than I am, just out of high school and stuff. Having this common denominator of this love for movement and pushing one’s mind is amazing because you connect through all these different parts of life. Then as you go up north of here, it’s obviously quite large in Denver as well. There’s a group out there, APEX, that has some gyms and absolutely phenomenal training. If you want to go even further west, Boulder, Colorado is a very strong part of the parkour community.
Matthew, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your time and sharing what you guys do and your approach to business. Thanks so much for your time.
This was a pleasure.
About Matthew Barnes
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