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.
Matthew Smith is the Creative Director at Zaarly, founded and runs CoWork in Greenville, SC, is Co-Founder of The Iron Yard, a Tech Stars startup incubator, and is the original creator of Pattern Tap, a top site for web designers to find specific kinds of designs for education and inspiration – now in the faithful hands of Zurb.
Matthew’s client list includes the US Postal Service and The Gates Foundation, but his favorite clients have been the small businesses like Blue Sky Resumes who’s success he helped craft through critical design and entrepreneurial thinking. He’s taken his skill set into the product world and will likely never look back.
When he’s not leading creative at Zaarly you can find Matthew playing with pixels at Dribbble, delighting in his family, arguing about the uselessness of the IRS, or generally being loud.
What do you enjoy most about your work and why?
Work for me is about presenting meaningful ideas in a way that is useful and hopefully enjoyable. So I most enjoy my work when I’m doing something big that I expect to impact a lot of people. I like when I can see my work have an effect – and conversely hate it when I see my work lacking effect or getting dulled by committee or poor execution. Thankfully I’ve put myself around and with some of the most talented people on the planet, so I’m often happy with what goes out to the world.
I’m also learning I love to be local with my work. Its why I started CoWork, now over 25 people strong, and why we recently merged with a Tech Stars affiliate to become The Iron Yard. We want to change our local space, and we want to let more people know how amazing Greenville, South Carolina is. Being local with my work is an easy way to watch the impact happen in real time with real people.
Where does your passion come from? What drives you, inspires you, excites you?
If I’m honest a lot of what has driven me for much of my life me is need for approval and a desire to be respected, but that will only take a person so far. Ultimately what I’m most excited by is watching design do business. I’m a dreamy realist. I love to think big, but if I can’t see an idea or a philosophy starting to touch down then I’ll kill it to make room for the stuff that really might work. I’m a limited human being with a limited amount of time and a limited amount of resources, so I’m going to use what I’ve got carefully and let those limits drive me to be creative.
All around me I see things that should have been done better, and I dream of doing things with great craft. I’m driven to bring quality and real shalom to everything and to the people around me.
Someone reading this wants to start a tech company. What’s your best advice for them?
Solve problems for real people. Serve customers not technology. When you think you’ve figured out your minimum viable product is, I promise you that its smaller and simpler than that. Don’t just slap on design to what you’re doing, and don’t just grab a design founder who’s a pixel pusher because that’s the trend. Everyone on your team should be a designer, a design-thinker, experience is for everyone.
What are a few tech startups that you’re really excited about right now and why?
I’m really amazed by the uptick in stuff like Dollar Shave Club that are disrupting tiny spaces where everyone thought everything was fine, but they showed that things could be better, cooler, if even for a small portion of the population. I love their passion too.
I’m pretty inspired by Smallknot in this kind of space too. They could have run from what Kickstarter is doing, but they have tightened the niche and the way that social investors are compensated and they are thinking hard about how to help small business in the U.S.
I love what my friend Zach Buckner is doing with Relay Foods. These guys are taking on the big boys and winning. Getting great food from to people more simply is epic, and Zach and team have made the incredibly complex feel like a dream. They’re going gangbusters and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
I’m also really inspired by what Cameron Koczon is doing with Fictive Kin. This group figured out that they were incredibly talented at building great products, but that the scaling and marketing were a whole other game. Instead of trying to be something that they aren’t, they’re capitalizing on the things that they are in the top 1% of doing and partnering with Beta Works to help scale the things they build. I love this because it throws out the status quo and asks for more.
And what we’re about to launch with Zaarly is epic. I’ve never been more excited about our product. Its worth the wait and worth all the effort. I’m proud of our team.
What tech tools (websites, apps, gadgets, etc.) do you rely on both for work and in your down time?
I constantly use Gimme Bar for collecting absolutely everything from places like Pinterest, Fancy, Designspiration, Dribbble, etc. Amazing, simple tool. I’m a TeuxDeux fan. I love it. Best, simplest todo app ever. All my undone things keep up with me. This is why I use it, period. I’m pretty amazed by Rdio. I love music again. I’m totally sold out for Path. My friends rib me and call me Patthew (Matthew renamed) because I use the app so much. But its brilliant. Its constrained. Its a simple way to capture pictures, where I am, with people I love. I only share it with people I actually know and love, and the way they do the sharing makes it less likely I have to feel like an ass if I don’t accept someone’s friend request.