Five Questions: Ryan Vanni, CEO and Founder, BKWLD
On Business, Inspiration, and Nurturing Technologists
Ryan Vanni founded digital agency BKWLD (pronounced "Buckwild") in 2001. Today, the company offices in Sacramento and Seattle and works with brands including Samsung, Budweiser and 2K Sports. Recently, BKWLD developed an HTML5 website for the fall 2013 undergraduate program at Drexel University Sacramento through agency Misfit. Designed for browsing on tablets as well as desktop computers, the project features videos that use quietly intriguing musical motifs and distinctive typographical overlays of pithy slogans to conjure an enveloping mood. A straightforward navigation system uses forward-and-back arrows and splt screens to allow users to click around (or touch) the screen to explore the presentation at their own pace, and also features a button for sharing the site via social media. BKWLD handled storyboards, design, concept, strategy, art direction, writing, and web development for the project. Watch a video demo, below, then read our five questions for Vanni.
Q: How’s business?
A: Business is steady. But more then that I can feel the rumble of a very busy rest of 2013. I know a lot of us in the industry felt a tight 2012, especially around Q3 and Q4. Some say election, economy, this, that and the other. Either way, it is sounding and feeling like some late nights and Starbucks runs are in our future. And we are ready and raring for it.
Q: What’s new in your technology toolbox?
A: I think it's pretty safe to say that new tools are great, but your favorites are the ones you've had for years. And years. Really, when it comes to tools, the older the better. Not exactly so with technology. Obviously. That's the blessing and the curse with tech: there's always something new, something better, something hipper and more sexy. Totally great, but also totally a grind.
The focus at BKWLD is not so much on new technology (though that's great and exciting) but more on old technologists. People. People who can ably work with things old and new, cool and not so cool. The sort of folks that you can cover in grease and bang your knuckles up with. The ones you reach for time and time again because they just work. Everywhere and every time. Those tools don't go out of style.
But if we have to nerd out on this question, and to be clear that we do pay attention, then: on the client-side, we've been building efficiencies with standardized (but still custom) implementations of things like backbone.js and node.js. Our guys are exclusively building their scaffolds with SASS and SUSY and keeping an ever-watchful eye to responsive- and mobile-friendliness. Server-side, we're in full production on a custom CMS toolset that leverages the Laravel PHP framework in hopes of getting our rep-time down and our flexibility up, and allowing our creatives more time to sweat the big stuff while knowing that our devs can crank when it's time to crank
Q: Talk up a recent project that you’re especially proud of.
A: Probably like most agencies, we are always most proud and excited of our newest work that is just “aaalmost done!” That said, I think if I took a vote from the team right now, they would say it is our own site. Like the classic tale of the cobbler’s kids; we had to wait quite a while to get the website through production. And, of course, after each time we took it back off the shelf, we had more of the wouldn’t-it-be-cool-ifs. ”What if we shot a bunch of atmospheric video?” “Hey, lets try and bring music back to websites.” “Wait, did anyone finish the case studies?” We may have been our own worst client there for a bit. But we got through it, and I think better for the wear. Immediately upon launch, we got a lot of kind words from our peers and clients, which is always wonderful. And, perhaps most importantly, we felt like we were very genuinely representing ourselves; our capabilities, our temperament, and our point of view. So yes, we are proud.
Q: What do you think will be the next big change in the way you work?
A: For a long time I lacked the insight, and perhaps courage, to identify who and what is the right client for us, and who is not. I recall being told by a mentor that being able to identify, and then choosing, the right clients is the key — the key to a happy team and happy margins. At the time, it did not resonate. I was thinking, “We’re just trying to win any client, man!” A couple years later it all came into focus. So what has changed is our transparency with clients, sharing what we believe will achieve a successful project, and our being brave enough to walk away should we see it going a way we do not believe in.
Q: Tell us about something, or someone, that inspired you recently.
A: I, personally, am a big fan of guts. Not horror movies, you know what I mean. (It was at least better then saying balls.) People trusting, standing up for, and following through with their gut instinct. In my experience, following that instinct usually conflicts with “better judgment,” involves some risk, and can be uncomfortable.
I recently engaged with a consultant to assist with some financial planning matters for the company. I had made his acquaintance some 10+ years ago when I started BKWLD, but had not been in contact since then. Don had since retired from his consulting work by the time I finally was in need of his services. He had been consulting businesses longer then I have been alive. Luckily for me, my request sparked some desire to help out a young buck (hee hee) once again. I am thankful for that, but that is not what inspired me.
What did inspire me was his excitement and passion for helping businessfolk find their way, even after this many decades of meetings, spreadsheets, and listening to our hopes and dreams. At the age where a man might usually be enjoying Florida, or golf, etc., Don was moved to share the findings of his journey in an enlightening and inspired book to help guide people in business. He starts writing at 5 a.m. every day and occasionally shares a chapter he has completed. Each time he does, I am thankful he decided to follow his gut, defy that “better judgment,” and replace what might be more comfortable — like a beach — with letting his inspiration run wild.