How Andrew Found Momo and Success Found Them

Find Momo

Me and Momo taking in the view.

“If money were no object, what would you do with your life?” That’s the advice you’ll always hear when trying to figure out your dream career. For Andrew Knapp, all he needed was a good friend, a (mostly) reliable VW van, and a camera.

That friend I’m talking about is Momo and, in case you haven’t seen his viral Instagram account yet, he’s a dog. I’ve actually worked with Andrew for a handful of years building websites and apps together — he is, hands down, the best designer I’ve ever collaborated with (though I do wonder if Momo is the secret talent behind the keyboard). We’ve crafted some amazing projects together that I’m very proud of.

These days, Andrew spends most of his time traveling across Canada and USA with his four-legged copilot. On their 2014 book tour, my family and I hosted the duo for one night near the start of their trip. At one point, Andrew had left Momo alone with me and my wife so, of course, we whipped out our iPhones like a couple of celebrity-chasing paparazzi. I kid you not, Momo darted upstairs and out of sight, as if to say, “This wasn’t in my contract!”

The next morning, I took a quick ride in the VW van and I remember it being an experience of its own. Before we backed out of the driveway, Andrew said, “Oh, hold on a minute.” He hopped out, opened the rear hatch of the van, and proceeded to pour an extraordinarily heavy-weight oil into the engine. “It has so many miles, it won’t run on regular oil anymore,” he explained.

I’ll be the first to admit that Andrew and I are not cut from the came cloth. I like planning my road trips out, knowing where I’ll be sleeping each night, and preparing as best I can. At the same time, though, I admire his pure freedom and unwavering belief that things will work out somehow. I forget how we got on the subject but I had asked him what he had planned on doing after the tour and he said, “I’m not really sure yet. I just sold my house so I guess the first thing I’ll need to do is find a place to park my van.” You can’t help but be envious of someone with so little strings attached.

Getting back to the “earning a living” part of this story, Andrew has figured out a way to do that through selling ‘Find Momo’ books. He has two out so far (his latest called ‘Coast to Coast’ was released this month) and if you’re in need of new coffee table material, look no further. Andrew and Momo are currently on another USA tour so be sure to check the locations and you might even get a pawtograph.

I’ll wrap up with saying that Andrew is the real deal. His adventures with Momo are genuine and not an artificial ploy to make money. Some people may even wonder how taking pictures of the same dog everyday can lead to a business and the answer is in Andrew’s exceptionally creative photographs. I encourage you to follow their journey together and if you’re fortunate enough to meet them in your travels, give Momo a high-five for me.

Find Momo Books

How to Write Effective Job Listings

I’m always on the hunt for new web design opportunities and that includes browsing freelance job boards once in a while. I dread it every time. The majority of listings are vague, ask for unnecessary requirements, and are often shrouded in secrecy. There are simple ways to write better job descriptions and, as a result, attract better talent.

Give the problem, not the solution

Most listings specifically outline the web languages and tools “needed” to complete the project. Can we take a minute to think about how backwards that is? The job’s solution being defined before any hired designer has reviewed the problem! This is like going to the hospital and telling your doctor what medicine you want prior to being diagnosed.

I also like how Seth Warburton put it:

A better approach would be to explain the problem in detail, then hire the candidate you trust to provide the right answers. Let the hired expert(s) use their education and experience to determine exactly what tools and techniques are needed for the job.

Seek help from a human, not a Ninja/Guru/Jedi/Rockstar/God

Say it with me: “Web designers are normal people.” They do not need a black belt to wrangle HTML, nor do midi-chlorians run through their veins. According to Indeed.com, the search for a “Ninja” has increased over 3,000% since 2010. Stop this nonsense. Set realistic expectations and never believe anyone who says they are in fact a ‘puter Ninja/Guru/Jedi/Rockstar/God.

The following are examples of poorly written, obscure requirements I found in recent job listings. I’ve taken the liberty of adding what a web designer thinks as they read them.

  • Send links to your work that demonstrates your amazing-awesome-rockstar-ninja-ness.

    “Absolutely. Right after you learn real words.”

  • You will have coding skills in XHTML, HTML, PHP, CSS, JAVA, BASH and AJAX. Macromedia Flash is a bonus.

    “It’s 2015 and Flash is a bonus? Worse yet, Macromedia Flash? Yikes.”

  • Must be a design Ninja, a jack-of-all-trades, with expertise in typography, graphic design, art direction, photography, video, and web.

    “Basically, must be able to do several careers for the price of one. Got it.”

  • Looking for an über-talented & energetic full-stack UX designer and UI artist.

    “Needs more buzzwords.”

Be honest about your budget

No one like talking about budget. Why? Because they think if they throw out a number, the designer will intentionally use up every dollar. This goes back to my previous point: only hire people you trust! A good and honest designer will look at your budget and be able to tell you what can be accomplished, and even tell you if it will cost less.

Mike Monteiro said it best with:

“I’ll tell you what you can get for that amount. Then we can talk about whether you actually need that much design or not. But most of all, what that number tells me is how to guide you toward the appropriate solution for you, and to stay away from solutions that are outside of your price range.”

Above all, be respectful

Don’t be condescending and use all-caps sparingly. Treat potential employees like a valued member of your team, not just a set of hands you plan to control. For example, statements like this:

MUST include cover letter, resume, and portfolio link. Submissions without any of these will NOT be considered!

Can easily be written as:

Please include cover letter, resume, and portfolio link to be considered. Thank you for your time.

Common courtesy goes a long way toward finding great designers who will want to work with you.

The Launch of Web Design Stack

web-design-stack

A few weeks ago, I launched another new side project called Web Design Stack. In short, it’s a curated selection of essential web design and development tools, news, and inspiration. I often get emails from students and beginning web designers who are looking for a place to start learning. My hope is that Web Design Stack will point them in the right direction.

The Build

Building this project was straightforward; it took a couple days to design/code and another few days to collect and categorize the Resources page.

I had a relatively small window of time to finish this site in between client jobs so the design was kept minimal and has a sort of old-fashioned, classy look that I’m always drawn to. For fonts, I settled on Utopia Display and Proxima Nova, though Aktiv Grotesk was a close runner-up for the sans-serif.

The News page auto-updates and displays the top 10 stories from select websites. Initially, I wanted to explore Ember.js for creating this feed reader but ended up going with Angular.js solely because it was quick to work with. A couple Angular script includes and 34 lines of JS later, the News page was finished.

I also have plans for expanding the site, including more Resources and Cheat Sheets, and eventually a Jobs page. Sign up for the newsletter and follow on Twitter for more updates.

Launch & Marketing

I quietly launched the site on Friday, April 17, and started promoting it the following Monday. I emailed some popular blogs like Speckyboy (Paul is always great about helping me spread the word) and I posted in the usual places like Dribbble, Product Hunt, and Front-end Front. Unfortunately, none of these sources generated much attention.

Later that same day, I remembered I hadn’t tried Designer News yet so I threw a link on there and immediately started getting helpful feedback. The responses were very positive and a lot of people had great suggestions for new resources to include. I have to say that what I love about DN is you don’t need an absurd amount of Twitter followers to get noticed, which, honestly, seems to be a requirement in most other design communities.

Another news site I submitted to was WebdesignerNews and that, too, generated quite a bit of interest. Not long after, Sidebar also featured me. All in all, the launch of Web Design Stack went very well and I received around 10k pageviews in the first few days.

Not All Smooth Sailing

As many of you know, Web Design Stack was originally called The Code Kit. Thursday evening around midnight, I checked my phone one more time and saw a tweet from Bryan Jones (author of CodeKit) claiming that I had stolen his name. My stomach dropped — there was no way I was going to sleep after that. I rolled out of bed and fired up the computer again.

We chatted through email and I explained that stealing was never my intent and sincerely apologized for any inconveniences I had caused. We also discussed possible next steps for resolving the issue but the obvious choice was to simply rebrand my project. I spent the following day revamping the site, creating all new social accounts, and relaunched again.

Bryan was a little aggressive in the beginning but, after a couple emails, I think he realized that it was an honest mistake on my part and that I was more than happy to cooperate. Ultimately, he was protecting his livelihood and I can absolutely respect and appreciate that. He even cleared my name on Twitter and helped me promote the new Web Design Stack, which was an awesome gesture on his part (thanks again, Bryan).

It’s worth noting that the situation could have gotten ugly but by keeping our conversations polite and professional, the problem was quickly fixed. This is a lesson that all web entrepreneurs should keep in mind.

Last But Not Least

It would be remiss of me not to thank Travis Soule, Rob Zwiercan, Chuck Pearson, and my wife, Sarah, for the ideas I bounced off them when creating this project.

There Are No Experts in the Web Industry

For the past ten years, I’ve called Web Design my career and have handmade over 100 websites. I’ve witnessed the birth of the internet itself, along with the entire web industry it created (my daughter’s jaw will hit the floor when she’s old enough to hear that story).

I always tell people I enjoy my job because it’s constantly changing. I know for a fact that the way I build websites today will be drastically different a year from now, which means I’m forever learning. Despite having an extensive history building websites for Fortune 500 companies and creative startups, I still find it naive to think of myself as an expert.

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to read the latest web design news like I do every day and I guarantee I’ll find an article, tutorial, or product that teaches me something new. The web industry evolves at such a blindingly fast pace that it’s not humanly possible to be up-to-speed all the time.

When I reflect on professions that used to be common many years ago, say blacksmithing, I can believe experts existed. A smith very likely could have used the same anvil and hammers throughout their entire career — there wasn’t a website called “Hammer Hunt” that updated with new tools every single day (Product Hunt, if you’re reading this, I suggest you register that killer domain name ASAP).

Undeniably, blacksmithing advanced through better techniques, new materials, and so forth, but these changes occurred over the course of generations. The web industry is a different animal altogether, one that is in its infancy right now and growing by the second.

The takeaway here is if you’re going to work on the web, your greatest asset is knowing how to learn. As soon as you consider yourself an expert, you’ve already fallen behind.

Free Nature Stock — Status Update #1

It’s been a little over 3 months since I launched Free Nature Stock and I want to share what has (and hasn’t) gone well, along with site statistics. Let’s dive right in.

Site Traffic and Audience

The project currently generates just under 30k pageviews/mo with most of that traffic coming from TheStocks, AllTheFreeStock, and organic searches. When I chose the name “Free Nature Stock”, I was concerned it might be too self-evident but the keywords have helped gain a high ranking in stock photo searches.

free-nature-stock-stats

As far as marketing the site after launch, I spent a couple evenings asking similar sites to feature me and I commented on a handful of stock photo blog articles. That has really been it. The rest of the site’s growth has occurred on its own.

There are 230 Tumblr followers and that number slowly but steadily increases. Twitter hasn’t fared so well and has a meager 19 followers, while Instagram is only up to 28. In terms of trying to grow a social media presence, I have done absolutely nothing other than keep content updated regularly.

Downloads

To date, Free Nature Stock photos have been downloaded around 15,000 times (woo-hoo!). The reason I don’t have an exact figure is because Bitly only allows me to see stats for the past 30 days unless I sign up for their Enterprise plan. That was a letdown when I learned of the limited data history but I can’t complain since I’m on their free plan.

However, Bitly does allow me to sort all links by most clicked and I can unequivocally say that people love star photos! With the exception of a couple mountain and foliage shots, all of the most downloaded photos were of starry skyscapes. Here are some of the top images:

Regarding keeping the site updated, I’m proud to say that I have personally taken every photo so far (most are from past camping and hiking trips). Eventually, I may start accepting submissions from other photographers but for now it has been easier to manage on my own and gives me a good excuse to keep exploring photography.

Also related to downloads, I have been using Amazon’s S3 service to deliver the files and have been impressed. It’s simple enough to use (read my previous article on how I configured it) and the monthly costs have been less than a couple dollars.

Income

About a month ago, I decided to try monetizing Free Nature Stock to help generate some passive income. In the past, I have used BuySellAds but they declined this project (I’m guessing because the traffic is still fairly low but they didn’t give a reason). Instead, I tried out Google AdSense and it has been earning around $100/mo, which is better than I would have expected for a young site that is basically on autopilot.

Because the free stock photo market is getting saturated and based on my previous experience with freebie sites, I don’t expect Free Nature Stock income to grow much higher. However, it’s still a fun project and my goal of keeping the costs and upkeep to a minimum have worked out exactly as planned. At the end of the day, the site is generating some income and every penny helps me support my family and stay self-employed.