Ephemera & Etc


It seems you’re still interested in learning more about me for some reason.

A large part of aging is accumulation. Accumulating stuff, like kitchen appliances, and useless vases, and ugly candle holders, and obsolete iPhones. Accumulating the vintage finish of gray hairs, and random scars, and wonky knees. Accumulating strange and wonderful experiences. I’ve been fortunate enough to have many opportunities to explore new and unexpected things in my life and career.


Photography, Etc.

Despite all the time, effort, and money I’ve put into photography, I have never considered myself a professional. While I did make money from it, it was never enough to be my main source of income, and there was a bit of fear that my love and passion for photography would drown in the burden of work, as often can happen when you get paid to do something you do just for the joy of doing it.


Big Me Little Me

Sometime in early 2007 I was creatively bored and feeling eager to try something new with my photography. I had the random idea to attempt show what it would be like if I were an oversized large-man trying to live a normal life. After 17 photos of varied quality (some were far better than others), I had an idea to try the opposite, me as a tiny fellow. When I had explored any idea I thought was worth exploring and having fun with, I ended the series with 25 photos in February of 2007.

Jump ahead 6 years and I get an email from someone at Yahoo! (who had recently purchased Flickr) inquiring if I would have interest in coming to New York to be interviewed about my photography; specifically my Little Me Big Me series. So they flew me out to, put me up, and had me come into their studio to film an interview with me.

I remember getting on the elevator and seeing a very small woman who looked familiar. It was Taryn Manning who played “Pennsatucky” on Orange Is The New Black. I suppose she was being interviewed. Anyway…

The interview was great. I thought I’d be more flustered or nervous but was able to talk about how I approached photography and creativity as a storytelling medium. All in all, very surreal to have such a high level of attention for something that wasn’t even my career.


Everyday Occurrences Of An Aging Superhero

There’s no simple way to describe how I got into photography, or the strange and random paths of exploration I found myself exploring. But here it is: beard growing contest. That’s right, I became a photographer (more or less, see above) because of an annual online beard growing competition called Whiskerino in 2005.

Part of the “rules” of Whiskerino was to go from clean shaven at the beginning of November and grow a beard until the end of February, and in order to document that you were in fact growing a beard, each participant must show their beard in the form of an upload photography of your face and beard. Suffice to say, just taking a picture of your face regularly (it wasn’t required daily, but at least weekly or you would be put into the Hall of Shame) would get tedious. To incentivize activity, members could vote on each others beard, and there would be a daily King Beard. Things would get competitive, and people got creative with their photos. And a pattern that began to develop (pun intended) was a love of photography — which is where my expensive passion started to blossom.

I bought a Canon EOS 20D, several lenses, and began using my creativity in a new medium. I was not good in the beginning. But progressively got better over the weeks and months. And by the time the second round of the contest began in 2007 I became more confident and experimental. And in the last month of February, I bought a Captain America costume (mind you, this was in 2007, a year before the first Iron Man movie, before the entire Marvel universe even began!), created a strange motif of elements, and birthed a series I would call “The Everyday Occurrences Of An Aging Superhero”. And it took off.

The series got picked up in all sorts of ways, getting linked and linked and linked all over — Complex, Flavorwire, MyModernMet, etc. I was not expecting such a response. It even spawned the first film short of my friend and director Motke, called “The Once Mighty” (which I co-produced, co-wrote, art directed, and starred in). You can watch it here if you’d like. It’s not bad, but also not great.


NFL Photographer

For a period of about two years I had the chance to be a press photographer for the NFL, specifically with the Cincinnati Bengals. As a decent fan of the team, and avid photography, I thought this would be fun — how many people get to say they’ve been on a pro football field, amongst the players, hearing the grunts and groans, feeling the impact of their speed and strength. So when my friend C. Trent Rosecrans (sports writer, receiver of infamous rant, magnificent beard grower) asked if I’d be interested in taking photos for his new venture he was calling CNati. The chance to be on the field, doing something I loved, with a more artistic flare was too great an opportunity to pass up, so obviously I said yes.

So what was it like being an NFL photographer? For one, I did not feel like I belonged — other than that I was a white man. All the other photographers had several cameras bodies, various tripods and monopods, a veritable feast of insanely huge zoom lens, all given to them from their respective news outlets. All I had was a slow shutter 1Ds with a few zoom lenses (16-35mm, 35-70mm, and 70-200mm), which I had to swap when I felt like it (rather than have a camera body for each). But this forced me to get creative, to not just cover field action, but cover the players, their interactions with coaches (like this shot of Mike Zimmer absolutely verbally destroying a disinterested Tank Johnson, which is easily my personal favorite from my entire time shooting).

For every home game I was mailed a photo pass. Then early Sunday morning I’d arrive at Paul Brown Stadium, flash my pass to security to gain access, and proceed to the bowels of the stadium to check-in at the photography room (which was across from the player locker room) — where I would get a red vest, leave my laptop, and setup my camera gear. Then I’d travel upstairs to the press level and grab some breakfast, where’d I see people like Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms, Brian Billick, Joe Buck, etc, eating piles of eggs and bacon. After that I’d wander a bit, and start to make my way to the field.

It was very surreal to have that much freedom around something that felt so removed and distant. To have players that close. To hear what they were saying. To watch and hear them violently slam into each over and over. And I did all I could to capture my own personal wonderment in my photos, a true fan delivering what all fans would love to witness.

When the game began, I frantically moved around, vying for spots on the field to get angles and coverage, strategically using lenses for the situations in front of me. During halftime I rush to find the best photos and send a few to Trent to update his coverage. And quickly grab lunch; a few Cincinnati style chili Cheese Coneys, which was provided for free in the room by Gold Star Chili. I do not love Cincinnati style-chili, despite having it numerous times. But I was hungry enough to power through a pound of cheese and a bad hot dog. There was not much time to do all of this before quickly getting back on the field and repeating my dance.

By the time a game was over, I was exhausted and exhilarated. I packed up all my gear and made my way to the press box area to finish finding and editing photos, uploading them, and providing a link to Trent for his story, all while looking out at an empty stadium, a vast and desolate cathedral worshiping the excesses of American exceptionalism.

While it only lasted for 2 years, it was truly an unexpected and unimaginable experience that few people ever get to witness or partake.


ChoreMonster

I’ve had a very long career so far, with lots of crazy twists and turns and creations that have lives far beyond my expectations. But ChoreMonster will forever be the pinnacle of all my creative energy, effort, thought, heart, and soul. Despite its brief existence, it far exceeded my expectations and vision for what I could achieve. Sure there are many things I still wish we had achieved, and despite tumultuous situations I don’t care to recount now, there isn’t much that I’d take back.


The Abbreviated Story

I’ve always liked to draw cartoons. I don’t know that I have any signature style or particular skill for it, but it is a fun and effortless creative diversion for me, something I’ve done since elementary school to help me focus, or meet people, or explore my thoughts or feelings.

One weekend in late 2009 or early 2010 I sat at our dinning room table with an old Strathmore 18″x24″ newsprint pad and started to draw. Elliott came to the table and asked me to draw something, and for some reason I started to draw some monsters (this is the drawing from that day).

From there I thought I should refine and “digitize” them. During this same period of time I was working on a client project that utilized your Twitter feed to create personality profiles based on your Tweets (looking for specific groups of words that would put you into a kind of category). I thought it might be fun to do the same sort of thing with these monsters — create a monster for certain personality traits based on your Twitter feed. I called it “Everyday Creatures“. The site was simple, just in your Twitter handle, get a monster in return, download an iPhone wallpaper.

This spawned what would become ChoreMonster. My partner at the time. Chris, called my one summer afternoon to talk to me about a conversation he had with someone named J.B. I remember being outside, on my deck, pacing back and forth as he told me his idea to take these monsters and their personalities and turn it into a startup to “gameify” chores.

Quickly that first conversation turned into a quick logo for a pitch to see if we could get into this local startup accelerator called The Brandery. I believed what I created was temporary, and that it and even the name would change (because honestly, I thought the name was obvious and uninteresting, but we were never able to come up with a better name; a lesson about MVPs is that 76% of the time the MVP becomes your product).

Much to my surprise we were chosen to be in The Brandery class of 2011. We also received $25,000 Commercialization Award from Cincinnati Innovates. All of this allowed us to spend 3 months building on the idea, because we literally had nothing but the logo. I designed and developed it all, using what I knew, PHP and MySQL. The very definition of “agile” far before I knew what the term even meant.

After countless pitches to various venture capitalists, advisors, investors, where we continuously honed the message and purpose of our product to a version that we could launch and build on, came “Demo Day”. Chris stood in front of hundreds of potential investors, seated inside a banquet hall of Great American Ballpark, and pitch our product. It went well. But after all the demos were completed, and we gathered and mingled, no one talked with us. Not a nibble of interest. We had a planned trip to New York City to demo with a few of our fellow Brandery classmates, which we believed would be our last for ChoreMonster, and we would go back to doing what we did a few months prior. A kids app about chores, with limited and risky means to generate revenue, just wasn’t sexy.

But by the end of the year CincyTech became our lead seed round fund. I quit my full-time work at Wiseacre, become the Chief Creative Officer, we hired a fellow Brandery classmate as our CTO, brought in a full-time iOS developer, and started building. I refined and refined the design and platform, expanded our monster library — drawing countless hours, creating insane names and biographies for each, developed a unified message and tone. We hired more and more people (another designer, an illustrator, office manager, content manager, product manager, etc), and moved into our permanent office. We painted a mural, made a TV commercial, recorded a radio spot, . Things were moving quickly. It felt like a dream. We still had issues, mostly focused on our revenue model — I wanted to focus on a “freemium” program, allowing free use of our platform but with limited features to allow parents and kids to understand purpose and need, and pay for more options; whereas my partner and other advisers through we should remain free but search for brand integrations, opting for a large check but more compromise to the platform. Ultimately I lost that argument.

In 2014 we submitted ChoreMonster to be apart of the first class of the Disney Accelerator program. I can recall sitting in our office lounge with our employees discussing what would need to be done if we were accepted — who would move, where we would live, how much it would cost, what we would need to focus on, etc. We were competing against hundreds of other products, ones easily larger, better, and more profitable than ours. Somewhere in the back of my mind I hoped we would not get accepted, as I worried it might be unhealthy for our team to be separated (those unable to leave or relocate their families would feel separated from the experience), split the focus of our small team between ongoing development and new exploration, and ultimately pull us apart. And yet somehow we made the cut.

Half the team moved to L.A., living in the somewhat infamous Oakwood apartments, known for housing young Hollywood hopefuls (believe me, we had many fights about whether doing an AirBNB or HomeAway for everyone would be more economical, I still firmly believe it would have been not only cheaper but better for the team), while others of us travelled back and forth for weeks at a time. It was a dream come true. I was told that my creations were marketable and something we should exploit and build from the masters of children’s content. We thought about an entire gaming platform by which kids could explore the app — a monster world (where monsters were summoned to help kids with their chores). We started making cartoon shorts, and adding more and more features to the kids platform; exploring premium options for kids to buy tickets, games, monster add-ons, etc.

While the experience did teach us to be more disciplined in our focus and processes, rather than making us grow stronger as a company and platform, things got more complicated. Voices got more divisive and combative. Pressure mounted. And countless missteps began distracting our attention and unity. Our relentless pursuit of Disney related brand integrations drove our creative efforts and the pursuit of positive metrics led to uncomfortable compromises. Our platform experiences became divergent, disengaging, and divided. I grew unhappy with building ads and catering our features to brand desires, but was determined to stay and nurture what I had put my entire being into growing and building. The truth is that relationships soured, interactions became fraught, and I felt attacked, belittled, and ignored, and in May of 2016, I was asked to resign.

It was one of the more traumatic experiences of my life. The split did not go well. I was suddenly without work, with little severance buffer my descent, and no idea what to do next. In the end, while it certainly was far from an ideal or amicable situation, it was for the best.

I learned more about building unified and robust products, about shaping positive behaviors, about creating a unique and consistent brand, about forming and leading teams, about designing delightful engagements, and over time it has served as the foundation of me regaining confidence in my abilities. Through my work at ChoreMonster, I’ve been presented more opportunities, been able to reach out and help far more people, had countless experiences to grow not only myself but others.


Speaking Engagements

All of the things I’ve been allowed to do has given me the chance to speak around the country on lots of different topics. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not as much. I enjoy getting in front of a crowd, sharing whatever experience or wisdom or humor or knowledge I might have with humor and candor and humanity.


Monsters, Farts, and Motivation

The hardest thing about speaking in front of 10 or 50 or 300 people isn’t the random faces of strangers staring back at you, or the pressure to fill somewhere between 10 to 60 minutes; it’s wrestling with the concept that you are on that stage because you are the best person to talk about a subject. That you are worthy of the cost of admission, of attention, of time for everyone in attendance. All of which makes finding a topic that hasn’t been discussed by someone else far better than you excruciating.

My goal is always to speak about a topic that is at the very least entertaining informative, and perhaps even educational. I didn’t want anyone in the audience to feel like I wasted their time, intelligence, or patience. And each time on stage, each time fumbling through what you wanted to say, or rushing your words, or not connecting with the crowd, you learn to get better.


Random Stuff

Sometimes unexplainable things happen in life. Sometimes weird things. Sometimes awesome things. Like in 2013 when the Wall Street Journal article covering dumb tweet I wrote about needing an “Office Mom”. There was this time that the “paparazzi” caught Ben Stiller sweating and eating ice cream in Hawaii while wearing a t-shirt I designed. During my junior year of college, I lived with two different Amish families during the summer; to fulfill a cross-cultural credit. I entered and won a photo contest where I was able to meet and hangout a bit with Edward Norton and Tim Blake Nelson at SXSW. I have an IMDB page from writing, filming, art directing, producing, and acting, in several short films.