Since the beginning of May, a new frog has been roaming in our pond. Being a fresh amphibian myself, I thought it a good idea to interview this enigmatic new guy. Jesse, our new Director of Strategy & Commerce (what a title!), is mostly found at a desk near a wall with the big words ‘We’re in this together’. I often find him bobbing his head up and down to music and eager to discuss what is going on inside the company, so inevitably I had to ask him some questions. On a sunny day near the IJ, of course.
Jesse, you seem like a man of culture to me.
Oh, is that right? What is your basis for that claim?
I base it on your past experience at BNN (a Dutch public youth television network) and your brand new role as board member for culture and music magazine 'Gonzo(circus)'.
Oh yes, actually you are right. I have always been trying for a balance between business, the dynamics of commercial work, and art and culture. I’m not a professional in the cultural sector but it’s an important part of my life. Music and arts inspire me in a different way. My new role at Gonzo(circus) is a great opportunity to combine both business experience and cultural interest. In both business and culture, my main motivation is curiosity. I want, need to know what’s new, which is something that fits well with my role at aFrogleap, as frontrunners in our field. In music I’m very interested in new adventurous, say avant-garde sounds.
Ooh! Avant-garde! I listen to old stuff myself, so do you have an example of this ‘frontrunning’ music?
Since hiphop and dance, in my opinion, no real new genres have emerged. Where new things happen is in interesting synergies between genres and the digital and musical world, like new ways of distributing music. I’m intrigued by questions like: Is the album as a format still relevant? Why is a song three minutes and not thirty? When these kinds of insights are combined with visual art and interactive ideas… Man, that’s where it happens for me.
Sounds cool. I wonder, do you take the chance to make something yourself as well?
My musical work, as far as you can speak of such a thing, is a great example. I love making music but I’ve never released anything. The last step is very hard for me. To be honest, I don’t think I am such a good ‘maker’. I get distracted really quickly. Some people can work with great focus towards an end-goal, dedicated to their craft. I get bored and distracted quickly, craving something new. Also, I like to build the foundations of a project and have a clear overview, but I need other people to actually fill in the details. I love leading pitches at the start of a process, figuring out the context, needs and pains and exploring how we can match the demand of a client. That kind of meta-level. That’s my thing!
During your time at BNN, Nu.nl, etcetera, you’ve been mostly active as a client instead of as a contractor. What are the things you learned from those positions that you can now apply in the process at aFrogleap?
The main thing I immediately think about is the quality of the delivered goods. In other words: every client always wants the best possible quality and service. It happens that clients are disappointed without agencies noticing in time. That’s why I think that as an agency, it’s very important to relentlessly focus on process, communication, and quality assurance.
In my experience, time is a big element in this as well. Do you think we should take our time or we should keep on the pressure?
Speed has become one of the main currencies in our business. Sure, clients can’t expect the world within a certain time and budget, but if you get the expectations managed well, you can meet needs quickly and efficiently. I’m not sure if this increasing focus on speed is always a good thing, but it’s a reality of our business.
Do you think solutions, apart from being attained more quickly, are also getting better because of this trend?
That's a good one. It’s very important to take and demand time in the beginning of the process and define a clear strategic direction to design and develop in. If you don’t have a clear understanding of what the client and end-user needs and pains are, you will never create better solutions in the short or long run.
Interesting. I’m wondering, hearing you talk about Agile and Lean, what your main inspirators are. These could be people or different media.
Oh man, there are so many. Currently, I learn the most from certain podcasts. It is pretty much the only medium that I can keep my focus on for an extended time. I have a hard time reading books. I try, but I don’t do it enough. Riding my bike and listening to a conversation with full focus, that’s a very pleasant and focused experience. I’m also quite active on Twitter (again), a great source of news and a place to build a network of like-minded people.
Why do you think reading books is so difficult for you?
Oh, it’s that short attention span again. But also a lack of time. Work, family, hobbies. I have to put a lot of effort in reading a book and audio is currently just a better medium for me. Just listen to actual people talk, with their ‘aahs’ and ‘oohs’, for a couple of hours is relaxing, efficient and rewarding.
If you don’t mind me saying, I'm starting to notice a trend where you need everything fast, short, snippety, where you can consume quickly without concentrating or having to focus too much. Are there things in your life where you do take time to do them?
You are right! I didn’t realize the connection between these things until now. But there is a thing, yes: cooking. I love cooking. Especially things that take time to make, like an Indonesian rendang or letting a home-made sausage dry for weeks on end. A great inspiration is this guy ‘Meneer Wateetons’. I’ve got all his books and I try to read them all — yes, I love reading cookbooks.
Do you cook often?
Not often enough. In an ideal situation, I would be in the kitchen at least once a week doing some crazy experiment where I can take the time to learn something new. It’s difficult to combine with my other interests, like doing fun stuff with my family, meeting friends, listening to music and watch film. There is just too much to do!
For me, cooking is a moment I am closer or even closest to nature. How do you feel about that? Are there other situations where you experience this?
Riding my racing bike through nature. Listening to the birds, feeling the wind in your face, smelling the trees, all by yourself. Or even walking on the market to get some fresh products to cook with. I must admit that, no, I don’t do that often enough as well. But luckily, I love my work so much that it makes up for all this!