Carsonified’s Ryan Carson is one of today's most insightful & talented speakers we have come across.
He is also a a genuine, nice, cool and down to earth guy who is held in high regard by almost everyone in the entire web world (including ourselves).
After graduating with a degree in Computer Science, Ryan moved to the UK in 2001 where he worked as Lead Web Developer at several design agencies in London working on projects for HondaF1, Aston Martin and Rolls Royce. In 2004, he started Carsonified with his wife Gill.
Episode 11: Ryan Carson Interview
Were you always destined to work in the web?
I always wanted to be an architect. But it became apparent that my skill set was less artistic and more technical. My mind solves problems but I love creativity. I’m 33 now and when I went to college the web didn’t even exist! I liked programming and learnt C++. My involvement in the web was down to Joshua Davies. In 2000 there was some amazing stuff happening on the web like press tube . It’s the most beautiful thing ever! But the thing that launched my career and made my own reputation or whatever was something called “By designers for designers” BD4D. My friend Ryan Shelton started it and like you guys we just teamed up!
We started getting people together at these small gatherings at bars in London. We would have people show work; we’d drink and talk about the web. These events began to grow and we called it the “creative fight club”. These events started appearing all over the world. It’s like you can’t control a movement, it controls itself. We curated that movement. It ended up being 40 or 50 events in 8 different countries around the world. This is how I started to meet these amazing people at the beginning of the web.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned at this stage in my career is the power of connecting. And the best way to do that is at events. The thing that will do the most for you is connecting with people. By curating an event you’re seen as the epicentre of that event and people somehow assume you know what you’re talking about and that you’re good at what you do. I didn’t mean to do any of that, it just happened!
How do you go about getting a spot on the speaking circuit?
You have to break the clique. Do something interesting and tell people you’ll pay for your own flight and hotel. So do something interesting and make it a PR stunt. People need to talk about it, Make it:Interesting / beautiful or worthy.Send it to your friends, then record a video of yourself talking about it. Then to prove you’re a kickass speaker send it to the event organisers. Show them you’re going to engage their audience and say stuff that no one else has ever said. Be entertaining! No event organiser will say NO to that. It’s down to people asking to speak. No one should try to make a living from it. It’s not lucrative.
In order of importance, place the following: Family, work, health, recreational activities.
It’s an invalid question. They all serve each other. I would die for my family but I wouldn’t die for work... But on the other hand you just can’t be happy by being a family man. Jason feeds not married and families not at the top of his list, so I guess it just depend where you’re at. When you have kids you start to become very morbid about life. You think I’m gona die soon so I need to stay healthy! That’s why at carsonified we work a 4day week. If you love what you do you have to force yourself not to work. I’m currently reading the 4 hour body by Tim Ferris because it’s a reaction against that glorifying the geek mentality. We should encourage that.
Who is your favourite designer Mr Kus aside?
I’m a big fan of Allison House. Our newest carsonified designer. She’s got a really interesting mix of UI talent and also drawing talent. I really like Matthew Smith from squared eye. His insanely humble and a really quality guy. I’m also still a fan of unknowns like James Paterson from press tube.com. Also for non web stuff Jim Coudal who produced field notes.
Can you pinpoint the trends of the web since its inception and where do you see the next future trend lying?
The big direction now is HTML 5 and that’s moving toward mobile which is the future. We should be building our mobile interface first. The period we are living in is a history changing time and we’re lucky to be alive and take advantage of that.
50 to 100 years into the future?
I’m a big fan of the singularity. An idea that Ray Kurzwell comes up with in a book called “The singularity is near”. It’s sci-fi but it’s very logical. Without a doubt singularity will occur at some point – what that is, is the merging of humans and machines. To me it seems absolutely inevitable that humans will evolve and merge with machines. It is already happening in the extent that people can’t function without their smart phones. So why not integrate the device with the person? Why have to carry it around?
Ryan on the question of technology being dangerous…
It is not dangerous, it’s just reality. The exciting thing about this industry is that we are all connected to the future.
What is favourite TV show?
ABC.com “Extreme Makeover Home Edition.” There’s something I want to do in the future which is a technology version of this show. The idea is you get some famous people from technology like mark zuckerberg and ask them to donate a week of their time. Then you find a charity that needs to be modernised. You then try making the charity more efficient at raising capital by using technology to do so.
Do you miss the US?
I like a lot of subtleties of the UK. There’s a distinct difference in cultures. I miss the straightforwardness of America. But at the same time I find it a bit abrasive now and kind of obvious! To get something done can be a long process here, implying this and meaning another, and dancing around! It’s easier to standout in the UK because it is behind the USA technologically .So that’s an advantage we can all have here. We can all lead.
The US are much more comfortable with technology. There’s a reason why facebook and twitter are American. That’s because the culture supports it. It’s very hard to raise capital in the UK. It’s not cool to promote your company aggressively. Someone like Gary Vaynerchuck just wouldn’t work here.
Could you name one speaker who has blown you away?
Kyle Henderson the original developer of flickr. He is insanely smart and his one of those annoying people very good at speaking and very technical. Also Anna Debenham. An amazing speaker also.
What importance do you place on location with regards to your businesses success internationally?
That’s a good question. We’re based in Bath not even London. People think it’s a disadvantage not to be in the states. So why have we made a success of things here? The NO.1 reason why is that we got connected to people at our events. You can’t do well without forging relationships. So you guys are doing the right thing. You’re forging relationships, you’re getting yourselves known and that will pay huge dividends in the future. Not so much now, but it will later.
It is important to travel meet people and shake hands. Simon Wilson travels around the world and launched lanyard from Croatia. That’s a great example of how you can be very nimble and physically located wherever you want. But the only reason that worked is because he forged connections before that. Physical locations important if you’re not known but if you’ve managed to create a name for yourself it’s not important.
What’s it like working with your wife?
You can’t get away with anything! She can challenge anything I say. It enforces a lot of integrity. I love taking risks – calculated risks. I love pushing things as quickly as they can go, and I love new ideas and I get bored very easily!
These are all good things to push the company forward but very bad things for keeping the company in business. My wife is very, very good of thinking long term and being meticulous about numbers and thinking about the downside of things. We are the perfect balance. If we didn’t have each other I’m pretty sure carsonified would have gone out of business. She is my biggest and most trusted advisor.
Ryan on core values…
They’re actually brand new. They’ve something we’ve always believed but we’ve only written them down recently and that only came about because I read Tony Hsieh's Delivering Happiness. Please everyone listening to this; go read it! The book rocked my world; its stuff I always knew but never wrote down. I take pride in the fact that carsonified is different. We care about creativity, integrity, being relaxed, not following the status quo, keeping on top of technology. It was fun to finally write it all down. Tony says you’re core values are values you should hire and fire by. So it has to be stuff you truly believe in.
What’s the next evolution of the think vitamin website?
We’re going to rebrand because there’s total confusion between the blog (think vitamin) and the training service (think vitamin membership). So people will feel more comfortable with the new membership. This is a new start-up within carsonfied and we’re going to call it level up (since renamed tree house).
As a web designer / developer how do you say you know something? University degrees are total bulls**t, because they’re out of date before you even start. Carsonified has a reputation and by completing a part of the course you will receive a certification badge which you can put on your CV for instance. However that badge won’t last forever as we update the site you’ll have to recertify in order to maintain the badge. Universities are too slow to move; go there to study Art or history not design!
Ryan on his blackboard…
We use it for brainstorming…it’s wonderful for that. Whiteboards are weird and soulless.
What was the tipping point in deciding to use the 4 day week model?
My wife. We were just working an insane amount of hours when she questioned why we were working more than everyone else? She said we control our destiny and that we should try taking Fridays off formwork. My initial reaction was “NO way!” It changes your whole life; you suddenly have 20% of your life back. It’s also great for recruiting and makes it easier to find good people. 37 Signals tried it and then backed out! I don’t know anyone else who would do it.
Ryan on Bosses
The key to bosses is really simple. Explain what’s in it for them. Don’t ask for a raise for what you’ve done; tell them what you’re going to do and ask for a raise for that. For instance if you do x it will make the company more money, make them more efficient, raise their profile. After that most bosses will be like “okay!”
When employing a new member of carsonified what do you look for?
We look for really, really special people. We’re really selective. I think the no.1 thing is that they fit our culture and then you ask what skill set they have. They basically have to be on top of their game. When people apply for a job here they create websites for us without being asked. For the job that Allison House got we had 40 or 50 applicants.20 of them brought their own domains in order to apply for the job e.g. I love carsonified.com. It takes a long time to be able to attract the right people to your company. You spend 6 years building up your profile and at the end of that people want to work with you. There is no shortcut to that.
Ryan on Facebook…
Facebook is becoming the internet. The semantic web we once talked about is here. No company should own the internet and be the internet like facebook are threatening too. Companies may be forced to accept most of their traffic will come via their facebook page simply because that is where the masses reside! I don’t think it’s a good thing.
How should a web designer future proof his skill set?
By becoming your own business. Maybe I’m saying that because I’m a maverick. The kick starter movement could be the next evolution for your career if you get backed. It’s like kings and patrons. A king used to a patron to an artist for instance…this movement is similar. At carsonfied we make all wages transparent.