MANAGER PROFILE: CROSSBEAT
David Justus and Becky Wang are the epitome of left and right brainers. As Droga5 alums where they served as the Executive Director of Technology and Head of Data Strategy, respectively, they've since joined forces to create Crossbeat, a creative marketing consultancy and digital product firm. Their professional repertoire has quite a range, working with everyone from Sundance to startups, the Dalai Lama to Pepsi.
The duo were kind enough to open up about themselves, the beginnings of Crossbeat and its ideals, and the qualities they look for in prospective hires. When asked to give a piece of advice to creatives, David has a simple request: "Please no Times Roman. Damned serif fonts."
Hey David and Becky! Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. And the question we always ask our creatives: do your parents understand what you do for a living?
David: My Background is in Nerdery . Actually its in Computer Science, Mathematics and Cognitive Science, but nerdery sounds cooler. I've worked in the advertising space for the past 8 years, most recently as the co-founder of Crossbeat New York. Before that I was at Droga5 as the head of interactive technology and before that, at R/GA as a technical director on Verizon Telecom. Basically bringing cool tech and user experiences to advertising - crazy, I know.
I think my parents know what I do - as much as one could ever expect.
Becky: I started on the media side of the business. I created information and news products for traders and investors, first as a product manager and then as the head of product and engineering. We spoke directly to the clients to understand their experience and what problem we were trying to help them solve. What I found though, was what we were selling wasn't what we were advertising, so I decided I wanted to focus on marketing and the expression of how products work and can make a customer's life better. It was also a really tumultuous time for the financial tech industry. One day I walked into the Department of Defense with my Blackberry in my pocket. Usually, you’re asked to check your phone at the front locker (to keep people from taking pictures) and when I walked out, my handset was fried. I was told that there was an electromagnetic signal in the building that could block certain cell frequencies and from time to time it could impact the phone itself. Not sure how true that was but it had me worrying about subjecting my body to an environment that had to be so protective and realized, maybe this isn't the best place for me to be. I decided then to go do what I wanted.
So I went to make movies instead. I spent a few years in Hollywood in the film industry (as an assistant and then creative exec for Laura Ziskin Productions at Sony/Columbia Pictures), and almost always found myself on the “idea” and “marketing” side of the business. I ended up in social media and finally advertising, going from a global Saatchi role in their Digital Group to a “change agent” position at Droga5 as the Head of Data Strategy to co-founding Crossbeat New York.
My parents think I am Emory from the movie Crazy People (that really dates my parents, doesn’t it?). They don’t know if I’m insane or a genius they don’t recognize. I always say, ‘I’d be ok with Emory’s life because he gets the girl in the end.”
Tell us about your decision to leave Droga5 to start your own company.
David: It was a hard decision, but inevitably the right one. Droga5 was a great place, and I built a team there that is amazing and is still kicking ass to this day. That being said, I wanted to try something new. I believe the market is changing and the old agency model is being disrupted; I want to try and be a disrupter and more importantly just work on stuff I cared about. Becky came along with the idea to do something (the idea was basically "let's do something"), and since Becky is amazing and f-off smart, it seemed logical to give it a spin. Fast forward a year and here we are.
What’s your creative outlet? What drives you?
David: I have a lot of creative outlets. Code, music, strange doodles - I think everything is creative in some way, and that is what moves me - everything from a beautifully crafted line of code to a crossbeat in jazz song to a chalk drawing on the sidewalk. I like things that are unique, stand out and make you pay attention, and that is very much what we founded Crossbeat NY on: creating those things that stand out.
Becky: I am driven by my curiosity. I once asked a shaman what the meaning of life was, and he said, “To enjoy life and help other people along the way.” It took me a long time to figure out what both statements meant and working in art, copy, advertising, design, film, stories, interaction (i.e. whatever it is that we do), it is using the many types of media channels and protocols and interfaces to explore both the question and the response. My curiosity drives me through life to ask and answer questions.
My creative outlet is conversation and copy. I’ve also been known to dance on a bike and parkour (when I was stronger and faster.) I think we need physical creative outlets too.
If you had a different job than what you do now, what might it be?
David: A janitor that teaches complex philosophy as a night class at a university - yeah that would be baller. A wise janitor, like Scruffy.
Becky: I get to be many things now - journalist, editor, writer, publisher, lawyer, linguist, philosopher, artist, producer, filmmaker. I would have been a doctor but then I would be sleep deprived and that works for no one.
What scene from a movie makes you laugh just thinking about it?
David: That list is long. Lets just say the entire movie Spaceballs and move on with our lives.
What's your favorite thing on the internet this week?
David: I dont know if favorite is the right word - but definitely the thing I am most perplexed by - and that's what the internet is for - perplexing things.
Becky: This is my favorite thing on the internet this week. Morrissey and Robert Smith WERE my punk heroes.
If you were stranded on a desert island, with your computer, what 3 websites would you take with you?
David: Just one: the Wayback Machine. That way I’d actually have slightly outdated versions of the entire internet - and lets be honest, I am on a desert island - real time news isn't that important.
Becky: Amazon Prime Air so anything can be delivered and some how-to site like “ehow” and ask how to make friends with volleyballs. I could probably entertain myself for hours on something like Match.com - creating profiles with people to help focus me
Describe Crossbeat in 3 words.
David: Cool, Creatives, Creating
Becky: Blacksheep, badass, builders
What qualities are most important in a prospective hire?
David: Culture fit. Rock stars are great but teams are better.
Becky: The ability to look at themselves and the world clearly and with a spirit of discovery.
What is it about the culture of Crossbeat that makes it an ideal place to work?
David: We care about people and ideas, and don't really care about titles or roles. Basically equal opportunity creators. Also everything we do is user driven - we never do something because “we need an integrated pitch”. We do it because it makes sense for the user and I think people like that. No one likes putting square pegs into round holes.
Becky: We’re honest with each other about our strengths and weaknesses, our genius and incompetence. I’d say that we’re in the business of growth.
What are some projects you’ve worked on, are working on, and want to work on?
David: I’ve worked on a metric crap ton of stuff, double so when I was at Droga5. (Moto 360 launch, Prudential, Chobani.) Currently working on a project for Tone It Up and the Dalai Lama and just released a side project to support breast cancer awareness. I want to work on stuff that is interesting and matters, brands like NASA. Yep. Space ships.
Becky: We’ve worked on everything from cars and CPG to TV shows. Not much we haven’t covered. We're working on: A Force For Good (Dalai Lama), stealth start-ups we love, Sundance and Participant Media, Pepsi. And we want to work on: Communications (and Products) for Tesla, Motorcycle brands, Code.org, Humanitarian Projects, Virtual Reality
When you're reviewing a prospective hire, how much time do you spend on each portfolio? What do you judge first?
David: About five minutes, depending on what I am looking for. I have a hidden background in design so I tend to look at visual aesthetic first - composition, colors, interactions - things like that. For developers I look at code quality, ingenuity, etc. We are looking for curiosity. People who challenge form or explore new ideas but have the basics. We want people that try and push things and are a bit restless.
Becky: 15-20 min. The gut feel generally takes one minute. I judge based on what I feel, what I intuit, what I think someone is trying to say about themselves and the world in their portfolio. We're looking for a point of view.
Which social network do you prefer for stalking people, creative or otherwise?
David: Facebook. I'm OG like that.
Becky: Behance, LinkedIn. I Google them - how’s that for OG?
What 's the best advice can you give to our creatives about how they can best present themselves?
David: Please no Times Roman. Damned serif fonts.
Becky: Don’t be apologetic or oversell. Be polite and kind though - yes, even your fonts can be courteous.
Anything we didn't ask that you'd like to add?
David: Creativity is not a skill. Its a mindset - everyone has the capacity for it (from producers, to janitors to visual designs to copywriters, strategists and coders), just don't give up.
Becky: Be in it for the long-game. I don’t mean advertising, I mean making things that matter.