Innovators. They come in many forms. They dream big but they aren’t just dreamers. They form raw ideas into cool products with disruptive business models. They shatter entire industries and leave established leviathans running scared with their tails between their legs. The Innovators interview series connects you with the most driven people on the planet. What makes them tick? What advice do they have for tech founders? What tools do they use to get the job done? Read on to find out.
Michael Brooks Jr. is the co-founder and chief technology officer at LifeKraze, responsible for the development, design, and user experience of the company’s products. Working for his family’s photography business growing up, Michael developed a keen eye for aesthetics and an obsession for detail. This led him to Clemson University, where he earned a degree in graphic communications. As a forward for Clemson’s varsity soccer team, Michael also applied his drive for excellence to athletic accomplishment, while living and learning team leadership skills.
Michael’s love for design led him to work with top-tier national advertising agencies, first as a Production Artist at Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York, and then as an Art Director at Ogilvy Mather in San Francisco. It was in Chattanooga in 2010 that Michael met with Ben Wagner, another collegiate soccer player with plans for changing the world. Recognizing a need in their own lives for support and accountability in the “real world” of post-academic life, the two LifeKraze founders decided to create a fun social platform where people could motivate and compete with each other. In his role as CTO, Michael continues to work to ensure that the passionate community of active users is enjoying the best experience possible. During his free time, Michael enjoys scoring goals for Chattanooga FC, tending his garden, and experimenting with crafting the perfect cup of coffee.
What do you enjoy most about your work and why?
I love waking up every day, trying to build and improve on a company that is dedicated to changing lives and making actions count. I also love the people I work with—we are all passionate about using technology to help people do their best.
Where does your passion come from? What drives you, inspires you, excites you?
My parents have always been a huge inspiration to me and they helped guide me into the sports world before I could even walk. I played soccer at Clemson University and I am currently on CFC here in Chattanooga. My background in a variety of sports has taught me desire, dedication, and work ethic and I’ve carried this over to LifeKraze. I’m inspired by people who chase their dreams—I’m currently chasing mine and having the support of a team full of individuals who are also pursuing their dreams is incredibly powerful.
Someone reading this wants to start a tech company. What’s your best advice for them?
Go for it! Take this opportunity to pour your heart and soul into something that you are passionate about. Tech entrepreneurship is a particuarly interesting field because the barriers to entry are so low. That means you have no excuse not to start, but you’ll have tons of competition from day 1. You will encounter many obstacles but keep moving forward, and stay true to your vision. Don’t be afraid of failure—If you’re not failing, you’re not pushing yourself. It will be the greatest learning experience of your life, so just keep going and never give up!
What are a few tech startups that you’re really excited about right now and why?
Path, Instagram, Twist — Since the launch of Path, I have been inspired by their aesthetic and overall experience of the app. I can’t wait to see what else they build around their core mission of bringing the personal feel of our relationships to digital interaction. As a lifelong photographer, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Instagram—now anyone with this app and a couple of minutes can produce something very similar to a shot that would take me hours with my DSLR and Photoshop. But that’s a beautiful thing, too, because democratizing photography means that I get to see the world through so many different people’s eyes. I’m also very impressed with what their team has accomplished over this past year. I am very interested and love some of the things being built around contextual awareness and my favorite app in that realm right now is Twist—which provides people with an ETA to your destination so that they can plan accordingly.
What tech tools (websites, apps, gadgets, etc.) do you rely on both for work and in your down time?
I use my Nike FuelBand to remind me how active (or inactive) I am throughout the day. I use Trello to make sure my team and I are always on the same page with tasks that need to be completed. I use Clear to check off my own personal To-Dos and I use LifeKraze for my daily dose of inspiration and encouragement as well as my platform to share what I’ve been accomplishing throughout the day.