Title: CEO and Founding Partner
Company name: B-Reel
Year established: 1999
Number of employees: 100
With offices in Los Angeles, New York City, Stockholm, and London, B-Reel is a hybrid production company that specializes in the field of advanced digital production for web, mobile, physical installations, and other media. We recently had a chance to interview Anders Wahlquist, CEO and founding partner.
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?
Anders Wahlquist: In some ways, I think it is a necessary evolution. It is an adaptation to how we live and use the Internet today. Overall, I think the development is going in many directions at the same time — not just backward. We are also seeing a lot of exciting 3D stuff, for example. All combined, I think it gives us excellent outlets for creating interesting work.
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?
Wahlquist: It is getting there, but we're surprised we're not seeing an even stronger demand in mobile, which is commonly the part of the project that gets cut when it comes down to negotiating and locking down the budget.
Inspire: How about tablets? Are you seeing a surge in demand for projects that work on tablets?
Wahlquist: Same thing there. I think for a lot of the stuff we do it is a much more relevant format than mobile phones. And we are doing more for tablets. But still, we thought it would come even stronger.
Inspire: Flash has experienced a massive landscape change in the last 18 months. What are your thoughts about that?
Wahlquist: It feels sad to see what Flash has gone through. It has been such a phenomenal tool that has shaped, maybe even defined, our industry. At the same time, I think it is good to push ourselves and discover new avenues. There is a risk of getting boxed into a comfortable solution.
Inspire: HTML5 has seen a surge in interest. What have you witnessed in regard to HTML5, and what are your clients demanding now?
Wahlquist: It has been a very tangible shift. A big chunk of the projects we deliver are now built with HTML5. And it is a development we are very excited about. A lot of people are definitely asking for it but sometimes with poor understanding of the differences compared to Flash. They think everything possible in Flash can now be done in HTML but in a more portable format and under a cooler name. Then we have to explain the strengths and limitations of each technology. In the end, we don't care that much about which technology we use. We just want to deliver the best experience.
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?
Wahlquist: The talent pool in our industry is unique; we are mostly artists — people who are by nature independent thinkers and whose creativity feeds on a variety of experiences. Our shop was born in Stockholm, Sweden, the home of the Swedish creative mafia, and it is a very specific and, some might say, provincial location. There are other places in the world that are creative and nurturing. Over the years, we have opened offices in New York, Los Angeles, and London not just to be close to where the business is, but also to allow our people the flexibility to move and work in different cultures and to attract talent in these areas.
There is a lot of talent, and given that we do very cool things, we have many people who apply to B-Reel spontaneously. We look all around the world for talent, and we currently have 15 nationalities working within B-Reel.
Inspire: When you employ new team members, what is the most important thing to you or your team: their résumé or their personality?
Wahlquist: Collaboration is key, hence a great personality and the basis for their being. Skills can be learned, but competence is skills plus personality and experience. We look at portfolio and person side by side, but we believe that the right person in the right team is more important than what that person did until today. We look at long-term possibilities. The whole company is predicated on a collaborative method. We work very closely, sharing ideas and credit. You'd be hard-pressed to tell which person did what — and in most cases, it might be impossible to derive who put the ignition spark to an idea. There are just too many talents involved in each job. Our individual identities merge. Again, this is a team sport. And it's no coincidence that our origins are in Sweden. Swedes are known as good collaborators — loyal and trusting.
Inspire: What is one of the best mobile experiences you have seen lately?
Wahlquist: I like Figure for iPhone from Propellerhead maybe because I'm an old DJ who was one generation too early for the producer/rockstar DJ thing.
Inspire: What is one of the best offline experiences you have seen lately?
Inspire: What blogs do you read, and what websites do you visit on a regular basis and why?
Wahlquist: I check in daily to The FWA Network. I visit Creativity Online for a U.S. and almost global industry watch. And I follow Twitter feeds from industry people I like or dislike, or that resonate with me.
Inspire: How hands-on are you these days with the projects your company works on?
Wahlquist: Not at all. I am focusing on making B-Reel as a whole work.
Inspire: Are you in control of the number 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?
Wahlquist: I lose the battle, but it's a blessing and a curse. You shoot away stuff easily and promptly wherever you are now, but you also chew into your personal life in a disruptive way. It's up to me to get the balance right.
Inspire: Apart from work and family, how do you relax or unwind?
Wahlquist: I bike a couple of hours, go for a long run, or delve deeply into The New Yorker.
Inspire: If you were stranded in a location with a single device and Wi-Fi and you were allowed only one Adobe software application, which one would you choose and why?
Wahlquist: Adobe Flash Professional because many of the great experiences are still based on Flash.
Inspire: How important is it to have time for your team to play with purely experimental work? Do you allow people a certain amount of time to play and experiment on the job?
Wahlquist: Recently we launched B-Reel Products. B-Reel Products is a proactive take on the experimentation that B-Reel normally does. It's driven by original ideas and R&D, paired with our beliefs about what people need nowadays, big and small. We have so much experimenting going on all the time, and we want to take these ideas live, instead of just keep them around waiting for the right brief to attach them to.
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?
Wahlquist: The United States is amazing in many ways. We have two offices there, and the pace of innovation as well as the willingness to change is amazing.
Inspire: Do you dream of retiring on a beach, or do you plan to work until the end?
Wahlquist: I would love to be retired midlife, and then work until the end. In midlife, you have no time, but you could do so many non-work things in a cool way — spend time with your family, travel, participate in sports. And in the third age, as they say in France, you'll need the social aspect of work so much more, and you need work to keep the grey cells going — to keep up with the speed of life. So I'd like to retire for 10 years between age 40 and 50 and then work until I'm 99.
Inspire: As someone with many years in the industry, do you find it harder to keep your finger on the pulse and therefore rely on younger members of your team? If so, in what way do younger members contribute to your awareness of that pulse?
Wahlquist: I think I keep my finger on a different pulse because what I do and what younger members do is different. We circulate a lot of ideas and cool stuff within B-Reel, and we contribute on different levels and in different fields to the overall learning.
Inspire: Do you take your work home with you and discuss it with your family?
Wahlquist: I share cool stuff with my kids, and they usually love it because what I share is usually very high level or very early on. I cannot say that I get too much back though.
Inspire: For someone starting out in the industry, what advice would you give them and why? And for someone still in school, what advice would you give them and why?
Wahlquist: I would say something as flat as: Just do it. There's a can-do possibility now in the digital space that makes me think if you are talented and smart, it might be better to use that to try to create cool things, rather than actually spend the time in school. You can always do school later, and you can cherry-pick the courses you want to take instead of getting a formal degree. That will not work for everybody, but if you have talent, are a digital native, and are smart, why not do it by yourself — design your life, education, and experiences?
Inspire: Did you have any influences starting out, or did you set out on your own path?
Wahlquist: Three of us started B-Reel, and I think we pretty much influenced each other, learning from our different strengths. As a founding team, we set out on our own path.
Inspire: Looking back, which project are you most proud of?
Wahlquist: It's always the latest one. Magnum Pleasure Hunt 2 is a great piece of work, released recently, but we do a lot of things that are good all the time. A personal old favorite is Hotel 626, where we pioneered horror in a game context for a brand. It was branded content. It connected to Facebook. It had mobile features. It was seamlessly integrated black-and-white video with real-time animated parts and web features, and it had absolutely massive numbers. You see it influence work still today.
Inspire: Many thanks for your time. Please leave us with one inspirational thought.
Wahlquist: Digital is cutting through every aspect of our professional and private lives. Digital experiences are extended into real-life experiences, creating an ever-reachable hybrid world. Readers of this interview probably know first-hand how it works and what can and should be done. The old oyster of a world is ours now. Grab a free handful.