Title: CEO and Founder
Company name: Fantasy Interactive
Year established: 1999
Number of employees: 70–100
With offices in New York City, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and Stockholm, Fantasy Interactive (Fi) delivers premium digital services and experiences for some of the world's top brands, including Porsche, Google, HTC, and Red Bull. We recently had a chance to interview its CEO and founder, David Martin.
Inspire: Some say the Internet has taken a huge leap backward, and it feels like the year 2000 again as we juggle smaller screens, multiple devices, connection speeds, and so forth. What are your thoughts on where we are right now with online experiences?
Martin: To be blunt, I haven't been impressed with the evolution of the web. Try buying a ticket on an airline today vs. ten years ago. There hasn't been a huge improvement, right? Video has made a great shift from the year 2000, but it hasn't passed the finish line yet. We have iPhone and iPad, devices that are sexy to use and look at. iPad in particular is inspiring some highly polished experiences. It was introduced with high-quality examples that set the bar for what you could do. And it has guidelines on how to build within it as well as precious screen real estate, which forces better design decisions. The generation that built the web is tech-minded. The app folks are a new breed who respect the user experience. I see the web now following the standard set by the app. If we had started with an iOS device in 2000 and then migrated to bigger screen real estate (the web), we would be better off today.
Inspire: How much of a shift to mobile have you seen in the last year or so? Has your company seen a big rise in mobile inquiries?
Martin: Yes, we have seen a rise, but we have also seen a big rise in the web app and a unified user experience across multiple platforms. It has been a welcome shift, which also helps spur the web to ensure it delivers a compelling and suitable experience compared to its iOS sibling.
Inspire: How about tablets? Are you seeing a surge in demand for projects that work on tablets?
Martin: More so than mobile.
Inspire: Where do you sit on the mobile-optimized website vs. mobile app debate?
Martin: I sit in the right place. There is a class of functionality that requires a native app, and there are users who do not require an app to be downloaded only to be on the ninth page of their mobile desktop, never to be used again.
Inspire: Has your focus (and interests) evolved since you began your career, or have you simply fine-tuned your focus all along?
Martin: I would say I've fine-tuned my focus. Fi has grown up since our pioneering Flash days. The agency is globally recognized as a leader in the digital field serving top Fortune 100 clients. We have four locations with a fifth on the way. I have realized this is a successful business, and my passion for quality and user experience will always be there, but my focus now has to be on keeping this business growing and successful.
Inspire: Flash has experienced a massive landscape change in the last 18 months. What are your thoughts about that?
Martin: I feel Fi together with other agencies pioneered Flash early on. In particular, we used it for heavy content experiences (such as RR.com, MTV.com, and Ford.com) while most developers created marketing or campaign experiences with the platform. Flash had very few rules around it, which resulted in what we see with some non-iOS apps that are clunky, ugly, and badly executed experiences. Flash has suffered because of inconsistent quality experiences with iOS combined with the fact the world's coolest phone operating system didn't support it. Flash should be the iOS of the web. It technically is, but it's not utilized that way anymore.
Inspire: HTML5 has seen a surge in interest. What have you witnessed in regard to HTML5, and what are your clients demanding now?
Martin: The majority of our projects are focused on iOS, Android, Chrome, and Windows apps. We have also done significant work on large projects such as HTC.com, Fox.com, and CNN.com that involved heavy strategy and user experience. HTML5 and XHTML are the primary front-end technologies of choice for our projects. The client is typically already firmly set on that technology before they come to us.
Inspire: How do you handle staffing? Do you have to retrain some of your talent — especially your Flash gurus — or have they been able to quickly learn the other technologies being used?
Martin: I think the Flash guru will be the top performing HTML5 guru. Why? Because something either works or it doesn't. That's code. A guru can make things move and enhance user experience by becoming more creative with technology. Flash developers who can feel and make things move beautifully, especially in the small details, will make HTML5 reach its height. At Fi, it took one to two weeks for the Flash gurus to become proficient in HTML5.
Inspire: What is the job market like? Is it awash with talented folks, or is it difficult to find quality people in your area? Have you looked outside your area (overseas) to find the talent you need? If so, where are you seeing great talent emerging?
Martin: It's difficult to find quality. We have been lucky to attract some of the best talent in the world to Fi from multiple countries. We have obtained visas for many of our employees.
Inspire: When you employ new team members, what is the most important thing to you or your team: their résumé or their personality?
Martin: Their attitude and competency.
Inspire: What is one of the best projects you have seen on your desktop lately?
Martin: The new USA Today site we are currently working on.
Inspire: What is one of the best mobile experiences you have seen lately?
Martin: ForeFlight. It's an app for pilots on mobile and tablets. It's highly executed and has the best functionality of any app.
Inspire: How hands-on are you these days with the projects your company works on?
Martin: It seems I am more hands-on than most CEOs. I am a designer and have a passion for awesome, high-quality user experiences, so I like to jump in where I can. Within the process, I am involved in creative and client reviews.
Inspire: Are you in control of the amount of hours you work, or do you feel you are losing the battle to e-mail and social networks as well as checking your phone all hours of the day and night?
Martin: In control...ish.
Inspire: Apart from work and family, how do you relax or unwind?
Martin: I fly. I am a pilot and fly a Cirrus SR22T.
Inspire: If you were on the board of directors at Adobe, what one piece of advice would you try to push forward?
Martin: Pioneer with your own digital experiences and thought leadership.
Inspire: Is there an app that you'd love to see created?
Martin: Yes. I'd love a working and useful augmented reality app that I can point at a building, plane, tourist attraction, landmark, or café and get a list of options. These exist already in their individual segments. There's an app I can point at a plane to get its speed, altitude, destination, and so forth. It doesn't work perfectly, but it works. If Apple did it properly, an app like this could do more than Siri.
Inspire: The Internet has brought the world together like never before. Which country excites you the most, and where would you love to be able to set up a satellite office?
Martin: I'm excited about Korea. There is fantastic talent there and a growing marketplace.
Inspire: Do you dream of retiring on a beach, or do you plan to work until the end?
Martin: I like a balance of work and play. I'm not a beach lover unless I am on my jet ski.
Inspire: Do you take your work home with you and discuss it with your family?
Martin: Nope. I try to keep those as separate as possible. They only hear about work when I am whining about things not working.
Inspire: Many thanks for your time. Please leave us with one inspirational word.