John Noe begins each day with a glass of water, a bowl of Cheerios and a cup of rocket fuel that his coworkers apparently mistake for coffee. "They make it very strong here," explains the CEO of ROKKAN. Noe cofounded the digital agency eight years ago, starting out with just two people in a living room in Jersey City. These days, ROKKAN boasts more than 30 employees, and its clients include the likes of the NBA, Time Warner and Target. And what did Noe think of former Target spokesman David Blaine's latest hanging-upside-down-for-60-hours-but-not-really- because-he-took-frequent-breaks stunt? "His stunts have just been going downhill," Noe says. "I preferred David Blaine the street magician, to be honest."
Which is more challenging: Operating out of a living room, where you started, or having offices on two coasts?
Both have their challenges, for sure, but I definitely prefer today's challenges over the challenges of starting out. We really had no idea where to start - no money, no clients and no experience. The living room days were met with much trial and error as we were trying to figure out how to get a successful business off the ground. Learning how to manage a business, the finances, operations, sales, etc., was never really a motivating factor. These days our challenges are much more industry- and client-focused. The past few months at ROKKAN have been pretty busy and intense, but it's comforting to be surrounded by
talented people who know what they're doing.
Congratulations for winning an OMMA Award for the virginamerica.com Web site. Did Virgin America reward you with flights hosted by Victoria's Secret models, like in the ads?
Virgin America pays for our flights to and from San Francisco for meetings, but I have yet to mingle with Victoria's Secret models.
How many hours did you spend playing the PlayStation 3 game BioShock before working on its Web site?
Honestly, I probably didn't play it as much as I should have. The game's pretty scary, and it just makes me incredibly tense playing it. Getting whacked in the head by a bloody zombie in a nurse's outfit with a monkey wrench isn't my ideal form of relaxation. I probably racked a few hours, though, before giving up. But we work with a number of video game companies, like Rockstar, Nintendo, 2K and Konami, so it's important for us to keep up to date with all of the new games.
What's the next big trend in digital media?
Brands are integrating more related content into and outside of their sites. Product facts and stats just aren't compelling enough reasons for repeat site usage. Stories, blogs, related news, etc., have just become all the more important to bring into sites. Sounds easy, but creating good content is just about the hardest thing to pull off, and we see clients either not committing enough and only sprinkling diluted content throughout their sites, or veering off on tangents that become irrelevant. Regardless, more content makes a site more searchable, broadens a brand's digital footprint and ultimately drives traffic, so it'll be exciting to see how this evolves.
If you weren't working in the online industry, what would you do instead?
I studied architecture in college and have a strong appreciation for furniture and product design. I actually applied to some product design companies after college but couldn't get an offer better than a one-year, unpaid internship. Product design, furniture design and architecture share a number of similarities to Web design, creating something that's as much beautiful and aesthetic as it is functional and purposeful. I've really enjoyed that aspect of Web design - really considering the end user, the purpose of the site, the purpose of the brand, etc., and weaving it all together in a seamless experience. I think I'd love to try my hand at similar design challenges in a more tactile medium.