a girl named james


In February of 2009, I embarked on a new journey. When Raven Zachary called me up and we decided to start an iPhone agency, I was immediately on board.

You see, I’ve been an agency girl for what seems like a very long time. I have always loved the variety of the project work, the rotating cast of characters, and the professional necessity to come up with creative solutions that push boundaries. These are the traits of agency life that I have always loved.

At the same time, building Small Society gave me the opportunity to do something that had frustrated me at the other agencies that I had worked for, and when Heather Penner joined the team to head up operations, I knew that I had a peer who would help give me the opportunity to build the type of agency that I wanted to work at. We wanted to build an agency that was sheltered from the drama often found lurking in the conference room, an agency that understands how technology and business work together, and quite frankly, I wanted to work for an agency where I could help steer the ship away from the mistakes that I’ve so often seen other agencies make.

And you know what? I am exceedingly proud of what we built. Raven, Heather and I took a crazy risk to build a new business from scratch in the midst of a shaky economy. We built it into a thriving business. We amassed a client roster in under three years that rivals that of any world-class agency. Our apps appeared in Apple TV commercials, onstage at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), and most importantly - they appeared on the phones of millions of people around the world. But that’s not the most important thing that we built.

The most important thing that we built is a team of brilliant, kind, hilarious, weird and otherwise impressive people who genuinely like each other. I am proud of this, and I believe that it is no small feat to have found and brought these folks under one roof. The other thing about them is that every single one of them knows how to work together to create a great product. And so that’s what we do... we build great products together.

This was an important realization for me. The work that I love is that of creation. I love sitting in a room of people who are smarter than I am, who can clearly articulate a problem, and who will use any means necessary to solve that problem in a really smart and interesting way. Our work has never been exceedingly creative or experiential. I don’t believe that we need to create art. Our work, instead, is that of beautility! (beautiful + utility = awesome!)

We create meaning for people by making everyday tasks more enjoyable. We can surprise our audience by showing them what is possible with the technology in their pocket, but always with a purpose. We are always providing a solution. We are makers. So I guess it should not come as a surprise that our little team of talent attracted the attention of the largest company in the world. But I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Jared Spool, one of the thought leaders in the User Experience world, recently articulated that he believed that no agency could do true Experience-Focused design. Like many of my peers, I bristled. After all, at the time I was an agency partner whose title was VP of User Experience. But I also bristled because there was a grain of very painful truth in what he said. His argument was that Experience-Focused design was the ability to fill in the gap between the activities and to control the complete experience - not just what was happening on the screen. Most agencies do not have the reach (nor the influence) within an organization to truly innovate the customer experience.

It is in that spirit that we decided that it time for the Small Society team to innovate from the inside out.

We had a very unique opportunity to join a team of world-class technologists who are as passionate about product as we are. We are faced with the challenge of defining and actualizing the role of mobile technology in a retail environment. We are now tasked with bringing beautility to the customer experience on a scale that is staggering.

We are joining a company that serves customers more than 200 million times per week at over 9,700 retail units under 69 different banners in 28 countries, and with over 2 million employees. If ever there was a place that provides an opportunity for us to make a dent in people’s lives - this is it. I like to imagine the impact that our work will make if we can get each one of those customers to smile once. It’s epic.

So yes, there is only one company in the world that can offer the breadth and the depth of this challenge: Walmart.

I invite you to look into the quality of the team of people that I will be working with at Walmart Labs and the work that they are already starting to put into motion. Read my colleague from @WalmartLabs’ blog here. Raven (my co-founder and partner in crime at Small Society) did an exceedingly great job of explaining why we are so eager to work with the new group of people - I encourage you to read his take on this new chapter of our journey.

Hi, my name is James. How can I help you, today? ;-)