Dominick Montgomery, Create the Movement, host
Sheldon Pereira, Aquanode Interactive, guest
Dominick Montgomery, Create the Movement, host: Thanks for hopping on here, Sheldon. We’re with Sheldon, he is the director at Aquanode Interactive. Is that right
Sheldon Pereira, Aquanode Interactive, guest : Yes, sir.
DM: Would you mind telling me a bit about how you got to where you are now? I know you have an interesting backstory. I’d love for you to share it again.
SP: Yeah, sure. I used to build 3-D drawings and markup for a military contractor. And just like a complete fluke, I was sharing an office with a woman who was taking care of databases. She got pregnant, went on a maternity leave, and I inherited her database. Just because I sat the closest. This thing, it used break every week. I got sick of that, so I eventually rebuilt it.
And from there, it was a really easy path. Got into databases. Got into really complex app development and that translated really well onto the web at a time when there really wasn’t a lot of that type of service around. You had the big ERP Tools, and then you had Access. And there wasn’t that middle layer, and that’s where we’ve been working and toiling ever since.
DM: Man, that’s awesome. How long has Aquanode been a company?
SP: First registered in 2004. At that time it was really about freelance,  money for me. 2007, though, was when we went full-time with the business, and 2008 was our first hire. So, I gave it a pretty solid decade now of continuous activity. I wouldn’t say serious, we’re not that serious around her, but a fairly formal structure with clients and a lot of projects moving through the shop.
DM: Wow. So, you had your first hire in 2008 you said?
SP: Yeah. And he’s still here. Believe it, or not.
Work Ethic and Aptitude at Aquanode
DM: That is loyalty. What do you look for when you’re hiring people to join your team?
SP: Top two things: work ethic and aptitude.
DM: Could you go a little deeper on that?
SP: We look for people to look hard. You should hear in that, or extrapolate from that, not entitled people. We find kids coming out of big cities to be much more entitled than those coming out of a more rural, smaller setting. And I think that’s a big factor. Their education and what they’ve been told all through their school careers.
As far as aptitude goes we don’t really care how well one understands PHP today. It’s how well you can learn it moving forward because, for the most part, whatever you have been doing is going to be different when you start working with us. We have our own way of doing things, of course. Apart from that, the industry changes so much and so fast that I guarantee what you’re doing today is going to be different than what you’ll be doing for us in two years. That’s just the nature of the business.
So, you ability to learn trumps what you have amassed to date, and that’s something really important to us
Adapting to Industry Change
DM: Awesome. That’s a scary thought. We run a digital marketing company and often times I find myself, even driving into work, I’m like, “Well, in two years will we be a completely different company doing a completely different thing? You know?”
SP: I think you have to be if you want to be profitable.
DM: Yeah, definitely.
SP: I’ll give you an idea: way back when we started to do an ecommerce website would run $20,000-50,000. Back then, we had to build a ‘Cart.’ We had to do all of the ‘Checkout.’ We had to build all of the receipts; we had to build the inventory mesh; we had to the shipping integration. All that stuff was one-off, custom build every single time. Now, $20 a month at Shopify takes care of all of it. Clearly, had we continued to exist on ecommerce builds.
So, you have to continually change your offering. The industry, somewhat, dictates that for you in terms of saying, well there’s a plugin for that now, so you no longer have to pay a professional to build it. That means you end up offering new and better products, or you use the plugins and you do it a whole lot faster and then you’re playing the volume game which is not something we typically do. We’ve moved away from those types of custom website development projects, and we’re doing mostly custom applications and the evolution there has been into mobile. So, if we’re doing a custom management tool for a business we now have the companion apps that go on a phone for the roaming sales or service people.
The ability to have everyone working in the same platform in real time, turn out, is still a valuable things. But, five or ten years out maybe that will be another $20/month service and maybe we’ll be selling connected shirts. You know? Do something entirely different.
You have to accept that the industry’s going to change over time, and if you don’t you’ll probably get killed.
The Future is VR
DM: Yeah, and I had this question written down, “Where do you see technology going?” There’s a big surge for virtual reality that I’ve found myself thinking about. How are we going to run ads for virtual reality? Do we have to do 3-D development? Where do you see technology headed? What excites you about new technology?
SP: I love the question. We were actually just talking about this subject and I think the advertising world in digital is very saturated. And then you throw in the tens-of-thousands, if not hundreds-of-thousands SEO providers and social media people. I think all of them in five years are in for a rude awakening as we see Facebook dumping just a ton of money and capital and interest into Oculus.
I do think that the social landscape is going to move into VR very quickly, and by that I mean over the next 10 years. As hardware comes down and as the requirements for extra pieces of equipment goes away. When I can run all of the VR tools directory from a phone that I carry in pocket all the time, the barriers to entry get a lot lower.
To come back to your question, the ad space then has to pivot to work in that environment. So, I think if you set about, and this is something we’re actually talking about right now, building an ad space for a 3-D environment where it’s not only integrated into that space but it’s also contextual – which means three people in the same 3-D environment sharing an experience together will see three different pieces of advertising as it relates to their individuals as parsed from a Facebook graph, or their search history, or whatever the context is.
That becomes extremely powerful because now we can sell a single ad space, keeping the interface and the UI very uncluttered and clean, while making extremely efficient usage of the actual piece itself and reaching people in a very contextual manner. I think that there’s a lot of work to be done there. But I do think that it will have to go there. The ad industry has to follow technology and I think that my kids will live primarily in a 3-D virtual world. And I don’t think that’s limited to the 3-D interface.
I think that you’re see a lot more augmented opportunities. Where Google Glass failed I think that there will be something that takes its place. And you’ll start to see the integration, the ‘internet of things’ taking over in all areas of our lives to the point where I can be at the grocery store and asking my fridge what ingredients I already have for a recipe and literally have that sent to the grocery teller who’s picking my order for me.
I just see a whole bunch of those types of integrations taking over. Ads and advertising will have to fit that ecosystem if that model for revenue is going to continue to be lucrative for those who run it.
DM: Totally. Where do you think privacy comes into play here? Whatever happened for people to accept this world?
SP: I think it’s a generational thing. That’s probably the single most scary topic. When you truly realize to what extent you no longer have privacy it is absolutely terrifying. I’m thinking of Samsung with the microphones and the remotes that are potentially listening all the time and then serving ‘smart’ commercials to you.
The impact of that type of technology and some of the other uses of that technology is really terrifying. I don’t like it. I don’t see a way around it other than regressing to the point to where you no longer have the internet at home.
You look at any domestic vehicle and you’ve got OnStar, or you’ve got some other service in your car, listening all the time. And I was joking with one of my colleagues here a little while ago, “I always appreciated having the ability to have a high-speed car chase. But, in today’s vehicles I can’t.” Because there’s not going to be a high-speed car-chase. It’s going to be a call from a police officer to OnStar and 30 seconds later the chase is over electronically.
So, you do give up a lot in privacy in order to achieve that convenience. While my generation and your generation, Dom, might resent that. I actually think my kid’s generation growing up in an Instagram/Twitter/Facebook world and being incented to share as it relates to being socially accepted I think privacy goes away. I think that they won’t even have those concerns to the point where the old Tom Cruise movie ‘Minority Report’ becomes kind of a funny/scary representation of where we might actually be.
DM: I completely agree with you. Let’s move away from that. I’m getting anxious here. My anxiety’s kicking in. If money wasn’t an option, what would you work on personally?
SP: That’s interesting. I’d probably still be being building web apps, but I’d only be doing stuff that fixed really big pain points.
SP: And I see them as small everyday problems that I just don’t understand why stuff doesn’t exist already. I’ll give you an example: I get into my car and for some reason I have to take a device with me in order to play the same music list that I have at home. And the car’s got an internet connection. My device has an internet connection. The two only talk together if I tell them to. I don’t understand why I can’t have a LAN running in my car that I sync from my home, or talk to and connect as part of my network. Why does that not exist yet? My kids at home can stream all kinds of stuff. I get into the vehicle and they can’t do anything anymore. All of the movies on my network storage are gone. That seems like a low-hanging fruit. I also wonder why all of my devices are cohesively working through a single data-exchange network. Thata seems like something that an open architecture that is universally accepted would fix.
DM: You’d spend each focusing on inconveniencing yourself more?
SP: Focusing on the things that get on my nerves. Yeah, exactly.
DM: That’s awesome. That’s an awesome response. What do you think of when you hear the word ‘successful?’
SP: Being able to pay one’s bills while doing the exact type of activities we just talked about. Not beholden to a client in need, rather one that serves mine, or a greater interest. For profit, of course.
DM: Sure, sure. Clients tend to take a lot of energy.
SP: Yeah. And more importantly they have their own interests. As they should, as it relates to their businesses. I’m not at all embarrassed to tell you that sometimes those interests are not the same as mine. In the absence of revenue I might not be working for you.
Where some of the other things, I’m very interested in. Lots of money, no money, I’m still going to be interested in them, and that’s where the primary difference would come in.
DM: How do you find that balance personally? How do you find time to work on what pays the bills, and then work on what satisfies you?
SP: I don’t. And that’s a great question. What I’ve gotten much, much better at is finding a good relationship with a profit margin. The people, perhaps working on projects I’m not terribly personally interested in. But, I’ll take those and I’ll work with them as long as they’re good people and they’re serving a good cause even if it’s not near and dear to me. I have this amazing team that I can task stuff to that free me up to get back to the things that I actually want to do.
DM: How big is your team now?
SP: We’re sitting on 11 people at the moment. That might fluctuate by one or two people over the next six months.
Approach to Corporate Culture
DM: Wow, that’s awesome man. And all these people, they have those traits you discussed? Good work ethic and great aptitude?
SP: Yeah. It’s kind of a prerequisite. And on top of that they have to fit our corporate culture.
DM: Tell me about that.
SP: You’ve got to have a bit of a competitive streak, or you won’t survive on the Foosball table. You have to be fairly social. Willing to ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ so to speak. We had a really good candidate, not too long ago, on paper. The gentleman was about 55 years-old. And we met him. And again, great technical skill set, had the aptitude, but no culture fit. It was very obvious that we would be bumping heads on a frequent basis, and for that reason we couldn’t offer him a position.
So, culture really matters. The more you fit in, the less you will clash. The less you will clash, the better everyone’s experience with, and around you, will be. So, we really do find that important.
To add on to that, you become friends with the people you work with, as you should. You spend more time with them then your spouse in most cases. So, the more you become friends, and the more that culture fit exists, the harder it is for you to leave. And you don’t want to leave because you work with your friends, and that has helped us to keep a very low turnover rate.
DM: That’s awesome. With our interview process we send a candidate through three rounds of interviews where they pretty much meet everyone on the team. And then, we collectively come together and decide yea or nea. We have a small team. We want to keep it tight.
I remember the owner of SEER Interactive, Will Reynolds, he always talked about how he only wanted hire 20 people – no more. And, ironically, now he’s at 150 people. But he realized when he walked through his business and saw somebody who he wasn’t sure of their name, or didn’t know what they liked, he knew it was time for him to step down as CEO and get back into the actual business. commend you on keeping the team tight and really holding culture highly.
SP: That’s a really interesting thought. There’s certainly opportunity, even at my size, to get to know everyone better. At a 100 people you give up some of that interaction and some of that personal connection that you can form. I think that’s horrible. Even to the extent that while I have an office in our office space, the door’s going to be open all the time because I want to hear what’s happening on the floor. That’s how I stay connected to the problems and the whims and the personal issues that are floating around. You need to know that stuff. It gives you the context for everything that’s happening. When you become disconnected, that’s when you start to have a lot of problems.
DM: Yeah, totally, man. As we wrap up – a few more questions. In August of 2015 you Tweeted, I’m not going to pull any bad Tweets.
SP: Oh no. Who know what this quote’s going to be?
DM: You said, ‘Progress is measured by what you know longer have to think about.’ I thought that was interesting. Are there any quotes that you live by? Or, that you often think of?
SP: That’s a great quote. I’m sure I stole that from someone a whole lot smarter than me. It’s awesome when I know longer have to worry about anything silly and ridiculous. That’s instant progress and it’s the stuff that we take for granted that really measures innovation. If you think about electricity or the light bulb. You don’t think about that stuff until there’s a blackout and then it’s like life is over. I can’t get on the internet. I can’t watch TV. I can’t do anything. It’s because it’s become so transparently a part of your day that you don’t even think about it.
As far as other quotes go, there were a couple of really good ones from Steve Jobs. I don’t quite remember the wording. He essentially had the mindset to not be afraid of breaking the mold. Don’t stress about being a square peg with a circular hole. The problem is not your idea, potentially, it’s the intention of society and of a marketplace to force you to conform to today’s needs. Whereas, he was always very, very staunch about saying I’m going to sell you what you need tomorrow, not what you’re asking today.
And there was a great quote from Henry Ford way back in the day after he’d built his first couple of cars. Essentially, he said, “If I had just built what people were asking for you’d have ended up with faster horses. Not a car.”
DM: I love it.
SP: Because that’s what people wanted. I really do enjoy those types of quotes. I think that they have a lot in common, albeit they were from different times. To come back to what we were earlier talking about – where is the industry going? I do think there’s a lot of interest on my and in the quotes that I enjoy around looking at the needs of tomorrow versus whatever people are asking for today.
DM: That’s awesome, man. A couple of quick questions. If you were to name your favorite book, what would it be?
SP: I have to give that one today, and it’s going to change frequently, but today it’s ‘Essentialism.’ Yeah, great book that I’ll save you from reading it. All you need to know is protect the ‘asset.’ You being the asset. That is a mantra for prioritizing your time.
DM: Got it. What’s your favorite podcast to listen to, or do you have lots?
SP: I have a lot. I really do. I like ‘The Digital Marketer’ podcast. I also listen to ‘Revenue Love’ from Jonathan Hinshaw, he’s a buddy of mine who puts together a podcast on a fairly frequent basis. Obviously, I got to listen to yours Dom to get caught up with everything you’ve been putting out into the world. I listen to a couple of financial podcasts, as well, just to keep on top of the business news and lot of the financial markets and movements around the various economies and politics of the day.
Best Business Advice
DM: Awesome. My last question, what’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
SP: Follow your gut.
DM: Follow your gut.
SP: Yeah. It’s not even business advice. I call it life advice. Just follow your gut. If something feels like a waste of time it probably is. Including most of the projects that we take, the best client is not just the one with money. It’s got a lot more in it. It sounds like common sense when I’m saying it. But, so often as agencies owners we have bills to pay; we’ll take on whatever comes our way. That is not a good approach, nor is one that we want to constantly perpetuate. Trust your gut. Follow it. And if your gut’s saying, “I need to build apps and tools that decrease the annoyance in my life.” Then take your career in that direction.
And my gut is saying ten years from now WordPress will be a horrible blip in the internet’s past. I think 3-D and virtual ad space will be a very interesting, very hot industry. And I think ‘internet of things’ is going to be massive.
And I want to be on the  as those things as they come up and that’s where my gut is going to take me.
DM: Sheldon, thank you so much for you time. You can check Sheldon out at Aquanode.com, and we’ll put it in the show notes. Thanks so much for your time, man.
SP: Hey Dom, thanks for having me. I’ll come back any time.
DM: We’ll talk soon.