About 20 minutes after my (very) late-night post yesterday, the first real meat and bones of this project arrived by email: the draft of the wire-frame for the prototype homepage. In its current form, it is in only black and white and grays, with mock headlines, no photos, no moving parts…and it looks fantastic! Che emozione!! Months of research and meetings and worrying, and lately realizing how ultimately insufficient my old-style business plan felt, I’m no longer just grasping at straws–I’ve got something to touch.
It is also confirmation that my gut was right about the designer. I imagine startups are filled with the kinds of coincidences like the one that landed Annie Skovgaard Christiansen as the designer of this website. Back in Rome for the holidays, I was talking to a couple I know well, Francesco and Alessandra, who are about as far from the news business, online world as you can get. That didn’t stop me from talking to them about my project at 90 mph! And the time had come, I told them, to actually get the thing up on its own URL, etc. At which point Alessandra reminded me about Annie, whose oldest son was in nursery school with my both of our sons, and who works for one of Rome’s top web design and management firms. A day later, Dec. 23, to be precise, we were already mapping out how we’d establish the working relationship, and even what the site might look like.
I had talked to various folk about how/who to find to build the beginnings of the site (I have none of the design or technical abilities to do it…I even needed a hand getting this basic wordpress blog set up). I got all kinds of advice: find someone in India, in Eastern Europe, in small-town America (the dollar’s weak), an ad on Craig’s list, notice on twitter, and I actually got a few names of specific recommendations. (Others said just do it on WordPress.)
Several people described a tradeoff in terms of costs and culture gap/language. Anyway, it was going to be my first actual investment beyond my own time in the project, my first business decision if you will. Ultimately I would have taken the plunge in one of those different directions because NOT deciding was the only decision not on the table. But (re)finding Annie was such perfect pre-Xmas timing, not only because I already knew and liked her (she is a native of Roskilde, Denmark, and we were two of three foreign parents in the local Rome school where our sons went) and not only because I now see that she has a great eye and touch…but because she knows both what she likes and what I’m after. She understands news (not that it’s rocket science!?), and makes it feel like she’s been working in this particular profession all her life (she hasn’t) in the way she asks questions and builds the site. A web engineer colleague of hers will help develop the site, once she and i have agreed on the general architecture. As for the economics of this first business decision: it won’t be as cheap as India, but the culture gap feels less than zero.
There will be more to come about the actual choices of this first incarnation of the website, but I’ll close with the email that Annie sent a little while ago, with both of us working again well past midnight…
“Yes I know what you mean. Being a freelancer, a workaholic and when it comes to my work sometimes a control-freak I have often found myself working late nights. Often without having anybody noticing it. As a web designer, when you are not talking about branding, your clients often think your work is secondary. It can be difficult to understand that a very simple layout can mean hours and hours of browsing, looking, thinking, drawing, canceling, redrawing and sometimes restarting. Often the person responsible for the site is somebody that only thinks of the future workload that the new site inevitably will be creating for him. Rarely the person who decides the remake or the start of a new site and the person eventually responsible for it are the same.
Even the developers with whom I am normally working with will look into the sky when I passionately talk about whether to move a title two pixels up or two pixels down.
This is different. Here I am working with somebody that actually wants a site!!! My client expresses his opinion on everything I send him…sometimes immediately! Fantastic!”
Annie has already put in more to this project than anyone but me. Hopefully she’s just the first. Working with fun, talented people is a big part of why I’m doing this. I’ve gotten bits and pieces from others, some of whom are no less enthusiastic about the idea/project than I am, but who just aren’t in a position to devote their time until it turns into something bigger. But for it to get there, I will have to find a few more people eager to jump in early, even if there’s little or no up front cash. Whether the dollar is weak or strong, good timing is always valuable currency.