Friday, October 28, 2011

This Week in Blogstralia: An Interview with Kristi Colvin

Every so often I'll sit down with an interesting Internet personality and discuss what goes on in their neck of the Web woods. This week's guest is Kristi Colvin.

bankmeister: We “met” in strange way, which is to say that we’ve technically never met, but I knew that you were a fascinating person right out of the gate. My buddy brought me to a SportingKC game, and at the conclusion of the national anthem, I saw you hunker down over your iPad and get to work on Twitter. This intrigued me for two reasons: (1) I was taking notes in a pocket-sized memo pad for the sake of a blog post on the game, and (2) believe it or not, not that many people I know are on Twitter. At first I thought you were simply going to check in via Foursquare or something like that, but when I saw you pull up Twitter, I was surprised. Before we get into that, though, tell me a little bit about yourself.

You’ve since tweeted me something about the term “nut nut” possibly being a Texas thing. Do you hail from the Lone Star State? Give me all the deets: born and raised there? High school? College? And how’d you wind up in Kansas City?

Kristi Colvin: I was technically born in Oklahoma, but adopted immediately so transported to Texas two days later, where I have always lived prior to moving to Kansas. I was raised in Wichita Falls where my Mother still lives, but spent most of my adult life in Houston and Dallas. I did go a couple of years of college there but did not graduate -– at the time nothing seemed to work as an actual degree for me (I’d never heard of a commercial art degree.) I am primarily self-taught and have learned on the job, my entire career.

bankmeister: Once my post from that game was published, you had a humorous reaction to it and said something to the effect of your husband threatening to give you a yellow card for excessive tweeting during games. By this I of course deduced that you are married, which leads me to ask if you have kids, and if you do, what are their ages and what sort of parameters do you have on them – and if you don’t, kindly pretend that you do – for using technological apparati? More specifically, how young is an appropriate age for kids to have cell phones, and should kids be limited on the amount of daily time they spend on varying devices?

Kristi Colvin: My husband attempts to give me Yellow and Red Cards during every game, but I ignore him and keep tweeting anyway. I don’t think he understands that for me, part of my enjoyment of the game is the sharing of it with my online friends. He has a Twitter account but never tweets, so you sort of have to be immersed in this lifestyle to truly understand what I mean.

I don’t have children though I desperately want them. I suffered miscarriages in previous marriages, and when I moved to Kansas to marry Tim the plan was that we would have children (neither of us do) but my previous employer ended up changing his mind about me working remotely, and I was plunged into being unemployed and living in a rural area where I knew no one but my new husband’s family within two weeks of moving here. So the loss of income and building my self-employed business took priority. Now it just doesn’t seem it will ever happen.

I do think that parents need to set boundaries around technology use, but not discourage it. I also think monitoring their usage and communications is critical as they grow – I had always planned to have family Macs in public view, not in a child’s room, and cell phones should probably not be something parents rush into before a child can handle one responsibly. Social-media channels shouldn’t be rushed into either -– there’s something to be said for growing up, as I did, without my every move being documented online somewhere.

bankmeister: Walk me through your linear career, starting with your first job, and maybe touching on some of your stops along the way to present day.

Kristi Colvin: My first job was in retail, at a boutique called Marianne’s in the mall in Wichita Falls. It was there that I learned I liked doing visual merchandising, so I did that at JC Penney’s and eventually Dillard’s. From there I got into waiting tables and doing catering for On the Border, and eventually got tired of the late nights and went to work at Whole Foods Market while taking some college courses. I passed up an opportunity to go into a training program to be a visual merchandising director at JC Penney –- I loved that work, but knew if I got into the program I would never leave retail. It was a good decision.

In college and at WFM I learned to use a Mac Classic, and it was really there that my design career began. We would make newsletters (to mail, not e-mail) and store signage of all types on the computer and color it in with markers and pens to make it cute. We didn’t even have a full-color printer. The newsletters were professionally printed so I learned to deal with printers. Eventually I offered my services as a print designer, and when I got pregnant (and ultimately miscarried) I taught myself Web design. I wanted to produce a parenting site called Babyville. When I lost the baby I went another direction and created a vegetarian community called Good Karma CafĂ©, which I wish I had not taken offline.

I ran it like a monthly magazine but this was prior to blogging, so it wasn’t nearly as easy. All of my time was spent writing, designing, adding site features, creating recipes and redesigning the homepage in HyperText Markup Language like a magazine each month. It was too laborious to keep going, though at one time on some lists it was the number two vegetarian site. The focus was distinct from most -– it encouraged meatless eating rather than condemning non-vegetarians, which is why it got so much attention from reviewers. From there I moved into the creative services space, offering print and Web design. One of my first clients was a software developer, so I learned to do user-interface design and user experience.

All of the jobs and projects have contributed to what I do today: print design, digital design, software design, promotional design, understanding customer service, merchandising of products, selling goods, advertising, and communicating via social channels.

bankmeister: Let’s talk Fresh ID. You’re officed downtown. Has that always been the case, or did y’all grow out of somebody’s basement? How long has it been around? Where did the idea come from, and how has the ratio of enjoyment/hard work fluctuated, if at all, since getting the project off the ground?

Kristi Colvin: Fresh ID has been the name of my company since 2002 when the company I worked for was acquired. It was called Fresh Pages in the ‘90s. I have been primarily self-employed since 1993, but twice I put my business on hold and went to work for software companies as a user experience manager -- 2000-2002 at Pentasafe, 2006-2007 for SigmaFlow -- where I worked when I met my current husband Tim and ultimately left to come to Kansas. I usually worked from home but have had offices at various times as well, so in a way we have grown out of a second bedroom.

When I moved here I met Lisa Qualls and Tom Jenkins, who are now my two business partners and we worked on freelance projects together as a team. I asked Lisa to join me and take the helm as CEO in 2009 and we restructured Fresh ID from a Texas DBA to a Missouri-based LLC and brought Tom on as Chief Technology Officer in June, 2011. Though some might find it odd I asked Lisa to be Chief Executive Officer instead of taking that position myself; since I founded the company and ran it for years, to me it made perfect sense. I am the Chief Creative, and what I do is create design and marketing and products that we can sell. I couldn’t maximize my creative potential and do the selling and business administration and focus well enough on finances to grow before bringing her on board. With Lisa here as CEO, we have grown exponentially –- she’d have to tell you the exact percentages though, as I don’t have to focus on that anymore. Her contribution has been significant though, and with Tom filling the deep-technology-experience role we needed, we are poised for even more growth over the next couple of years.

The work we do is what I have always done for clients, though it has shifted a little bit. We do a ton of custom WordPress design and development, and for years I mostly did Web sites, not content-management-systems-based sites. We also do a lot of marketing work for monthly retainer clients, much of which involves multiple social media channels.

bankmeister: Help me understand the premise behind the company. I mean, the intelligent design portion of the Web site is pretty self-explanatory, but how did you develop the clientele portrayed in the portfolio? More specifically, do you have to outreach a significant portion of your customers or do they come to you? Has that changed since Fresh ID was born?

Kristi Colvin: I have always provided services for business-to-business clients, with a few retail clients but not as many business-to-consumer companies as I initially desired. We don’t do any marketing (that will change in 2012) and so word-of-mouth has resulted in one B2B client sending their friends and connections to talk to us, and that keeps us pretty busy. I have never done much marketing –- virtually all my clients have come from some type of referral, plus a few people who found us using organic searches online. These days, the referrals come via social-media connections, or someone seeing us say something on a social channel that makes them realize we could meet a need. Or they are sent from in-person connections we have. We’re about 50/50 on in-person vs. online referrals.

With the active use of social media, we ended up meeting the sports teams in our portfolio, and they have fulfilled a lot of my desires for B2C interaction with direct customers of a client. Plus we really enjoy working with them. We have also increased our work with retail goods and restaurants, so the hotel industry is the only missing group I’d really like to work with that we haven’t yet serviced.

bankmeister: It seems that most of your clients either offer a product or a service they’ve not been able to maximize in terms of reach and availability. Is it safe to assume that that’s where your team comes in? Again, the outlined services seem obvious: You get brand-name-recognition projects going, improve Web sites, spruce up blogs, and sort of implement the use of digital and social media for companies that either aren’t using them or aren’t using them well enough. Is that fair?

Kristi Colvin: We do this for a lot of clients, yes, and also help startups with brand identity and awareness from the beginning. Since I went into business in 1993 I’ve done a lot of redesigns or brand upgrades -– I guess that goes with a designer’s territory. The bulk of our social-media retainer clients are companies who have some level of success offline but need to figure out how to communicate with random strangers online, and how to mix social channels into their existing traditional marketing.

bankmeister: Have you found that portions of your customer population don’t engage in the services Fresh ID offers because they don’t have the time, don’t know how, or some combination of both? What if you’re networking with a potential client and they’re apprehensive? Are there means of proving the sort of method to the madness? What are some of the most unique and some of the most typical clients that hire Fresh ID? Have any trying-to-market-themselves writers ever approached the company?

Kristi Colvin: Some of our clients listen to us regarding social engagement more than others -– it does take time, it is an extra step to get used to in a day…we know all about it as we have the same issues at times with our own marketing. It is also sometimes easier to market others than yourself –- I find it’s easier for me to post things about client offers and activities under my Kris Colvin account than it is for me to make FreshID look interesting using that account. Of course, it’s no mystery our clients have the same problems. We do have a method to getting started and ramping up and best practices we’ve defined for ourselves that we employ, but ongoing engagement really rests with the clients. Some take off and shine; others sort of drag their feet. We have had some authors we have helped with branding and social assets, and personal branding for them is something we do just like the corporate branding for any organization with whom we work.

bankmeister: What about your personal blog? It looks like a Tumblr page, and has the “join Tumblr” icon in the corner, but it doesn’t say it in the URL. I feel like this is sometimes the case with Blogger, too, as in people have sites that look identical to a page, but the word “blogspot” doesn’t appear in their Web address. Can you help me understand this?

Kristi Colvin: With Tumblr, Blogspot and I think even Typepad, you can use a unique domain name so that people can go directly to your site in a little more professional way (I think) then when you use a subdomain, like all Tumblrs start out with.

bankmeister: How much time do you spend updating your blog each week? At first glance it looks like maybe an hour or less per week, but digging deeper, you’ve got some stuff that required some time. Do you have any goals or parameters for your blog, or is it simply for pleasure?

Kristi Colvin: My personal blog goes through periods of lots of posts, and periods of total inactivity. I would like to blog more but don’t…it’s far easier to tweet and Facebook my finds and thoughts. Our business blog requires more of my attention than I give it. All the older posts are from my Design for Users blog, where I used to help educate people about various user experience ideas and issues, and I need to get back to that. We have won clients from blog posts so that is another form of marketing of which we need to take advantage. I live in two places (the country with Tim and my dog-child Baxter on weekends, and downtown during the week) and often while driving I am writing a blog post in my head that never makes it to paper or online. I’ve got to get better about taking the time to write them as it helps our business, I know for a fact.

bankmeister: What about Twitter itself. We’ve already mentioned the joke-threat from your husband, and that this medium is what led you and I to right now, but help me try and put something into perspective: Do you remember what month and year you signed up for Twitter? As of this moment, you have tweeted 77,208 times, which is unreal. I ask for your rough start date, because it’d be interesting to know how many tweets you average per day.

Kristi Colvin: I created my account on March 26, 2008. I didn’t understand what Twitter really was though, and was offended when random men followed me. I honestly can’t remember how I found out about Twitter, given I knew so little about how it worked. I read a wonderful article at by Darren Rowse in July of that year, who could see people couldn’t figure out Twitter and he suggested that we all type our account names into this blog post, and follow each other, the reason being that at the very least we had blogging in common and could discuss it on Twitter. It changed my life. The list was up to 568 at the time, and I vowed to follow 100 people at least. To this day, I recommend to clients that they search using keywords, and follow a minimum of 100 people before writing Twitter off as uninteresting.

My average TPD (tweets per day) are downright scary. According to I average 62 per day and 1734 per month. The person I have tweeted the most is the brand builder. I am only consoled by the knowledge that some people tweet even more than I do, and that it probably takes less than 1 total hour to create all those tweets, as they’re so short. Now reading them, on the other hand…we won’t talk about how long that takes. Twitter is my preferred channel –- I could live without every other SM platform, but not it. My Twitter friends are my confidantes when I need to talk, my lifeline when I feel depressed or am struggling, my companions when I am bored, my mates when I am cheering for my team, my advisors when I need help, my amusement at unexpected times. I love them, and I mean that sincerely.

bankmeister: Without knowing one way or the other, that seems like the kind of number that would suggest that there’s always a device within arm’s reach. Is that even close to accurate? Have you found that such activity has any kind of effect on any relationships, be they real-time or cyber? Anyone (besides your husband) ever tell you to put that thing away? I ask because one of my three sisters is pretty darn attached to her Blackberry, and there are times where I’m like, No, it’s cool. I’ll wait.

Kristi Colvin: Umm. No comment.

Seriously, it is hard for me to be completely away from a device, though I do it at times. I love my iPhone sooooooo much. It is the device that Steve Jobs made for me years ago, but due to rural Kansas issues and only AT&T at first, I could not have it until recently. I adore my iPad too. I truly feel everyone should have an iPad. I wrote the first chapter of my upcoming ebook, called Social Media by Design, on my iPad on the way home from Texas. No wires, no internet needed, no bulky laptop to deal with, and I did so very easily in my Pages word processor. That is a technological power that I find very compelling, and that could change everything if you could combine the promised power of Google Fiber (everywhere) with easy-to-comprehend technology that people of all ages can use at any time.

Plus, I can tweet with ease no matter where I am (iPhone is online even if iPad is not.) That makes my life complete. Tim gets mildly aggravated sometimes, but I do try to be respectful at family events and dinner (mostly.) My team is used to it –- often all 5 of us are on our phones at the table though, so they can’t say much about me. Of course, it is sometimes because I’ve reminded people to check in on Foursquare. One time recently we went to a 5-course dinner for a prospect that is now our client (bluestem) and Lisa said, “Don’t have your phone out” before we went in, so I dutifully put it in my purse and didn’t take it out. She later complained I hadn’t taken any pictures of the meal.

bankmeister: Forgive me if the answer to this lies within your press-appearance page, but how do you follow 28,000-plus people? I only follow a little over 100 and that packs my timeline pretty full. Somebody once asked me how I manage to keep up with 1000-plus Facebook friends, and though I think I just shrugged in the moment, the answer inside my head was “fast scrolling.” Is that sort of what happens with you?

Kristi Colvin: I also do a lot of skimming on my timeline. But on busy days I just deal with mentions and direct messages. Often on a weekend, when the TV is on and I am relaxing, I finally get to go through my timeline and look at the interesting things people are posting and that’s usually when you’ll see quite a few retweets from the freshid account. We follow far fewer people on that account and it is easier to notice good content, but you could achieve the same goal with using Twitter lists. I make Lists and then don’t use them though. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t follow enough people. My goal is to somehow follow a million someday. All these people make me smarter on a daily basis so I want more education, links, ideas, feedback, and good humor from the millions upon millions of awesome people that can be found all over the world.

bankmeister: Finally, SportingKC.

When did you become a fan of the team and how long have you had season tickets? Do you feel like your enthusiasm for the team has consistently elevated or have there been plateaus? Tell me about your mega-fandom of CJ Sapong? Have many folks picked up on your lil’ rookie hashtag and begun using it themselves?

Kristi Colvin: I am a brand new soccer fan, this year. At the end of last year, Lisa and I met Kyle Rogers and James Flexman from the team, who found us via social channels and because of our proprietary Intefy product, which does real-time media aggregation and is good for live online events. That story is detailed in an article about Lisa & I here.

They became a client at the beginning of 2011, and so when soccer season began I watched the first game on TV, not really even knowing if I’d be able to maintain interest in the game or not even though I was interested in the team’s staff and really liked all the people I met at the downtown office.

My enthusiasm for the team has grown to the stereotypical fever pitch. Soccer games run my life -– we haven’t seen a movie at the theater in months and won’t until the playoffs end. At this point I am a huge fan of the team and I almost see the work we do for the client itself as a separate activity. But even if we didn’t do work for them I can’t imagine not loving the team or not attending every game possible. We are season-ticket holders not because they gave us tickets but because I literally begged Lisa to death to purchase them. Our seats are in the Shield Club, which was not cheap; we paid $5500 for our four tickets and shared them all season. Given our many current expenses, we haven’t renewed the Fresh ID season tickets yet, but my husband is getting us two Shield Club seats for 2012 as he has become a fanatic as well. I am lucky that he is, as we may get to go to L.A. for the MLS Cup if SKC makes it that far. I begged for that also, but never expected to really go. I think he wants to and knows that this may be a unique opportunity as you never know when a team will make it that far again.

Regarding Sapong, and his youth and my age, I think a lot of people thought I was some kind of cougar-lady who found him cute when I first began talking to him and about him. That’s not how I see him (or any of the guys on the team.) I really don’t know how to properly depict how I feel about him. He’s not quite the son I never had, or like a brother…he’s just a person I adore and admire. He caught my attention with his record-breaking debut goal the first game, and it was several games before I saw what he looked like up close on TV, or even heard him speak. We had bonded over Twitter and at the time his avatar didn’t show his face well, and I was so excited the first time I saw him in a locker-room interview, that I yelled for Tim to come in and see him. He is just unique. Talented, quirky, funny, humble, cocky, goofy, surprising…all the things that make someone want to have someone around as a friend.

What a lot of people may not realize is that he and Eric Kronberg were the first two players I ever met. They came into the Members Club during the week we were living there before it opened, working on the membership software and getting quick-response codes on seats. Everyone on the software team was exhausted. Sapong walked in, and I recognized him immediately and I lit up. It was totally thrilling to meet him, the shot in the arm we all needed to keep going and get everything launched on time. He delights me -– I will be so proud for him, and so happy if he wins Rookie of the Year. I may even weep. And of course tweet about it.

People have not used the #lilrookie hashtag unless it’s in reference to me. I love it when they use it though, and asked CJ directly if he minded it. He said “no.” Lil Rookie #17 will be on my jersey at all the playoff games I get to go to, including the big one. I want to remember his rookie year forever and I’m sure he will as well.

bankmeister: When the season started, it seemed like the streak this club was on would eventually fall off, but ultimately they wound up the one seed in the eastern conference. Tell me about your experience on this wild ride of a campaign. What kinds of things are folks doing in anticipation of the big game tomorrow?

Kristi Colvin: I have never really followed a sports team quite like this. I am used to Tim’s ups and downs with the Chiefs, and felt it somewhat, but knowing the players, owners, and staff behind the team makes it so much more personal and fulfilling for me. I haven’t known what to make of their season –- I look at everything with newborn eyes and barely know the detailed rules of this game. I’m not a fair-weather fan…if I love someone or thing or group I am very loyal, so losing games doesn’t bother me that much; I expect it. They have surpassed any expectations I may have had, though. I recently re-watched our first game at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park and this team has grown by leaps and bounds since that contest. I feel blessed to have witnessed it all. They inspire me…but I am hoping they will also motivate me to get off my rump and be more physical, more active, and get in better shape again. Work gets really busy and health and wellness get de-prioritized. Watching them always reminds me it’s important.

bankmeister: What about the growth of the fan base? I came across an interview with a club higher-up this week, and while the bit was entertaining and informative, even the interviewee has gone from a tongue-in-cheek announcing of the new team/venue name to a supposed seriousness with the success they’ve had this year. Do you find that fans are mostly embracing bandwagoners or is there some divisiveness within the circle(s)?

Kristi Colvin: I can’t really speak to this. I think we have a lot of long-time Wizards fans that are possibly still mourning the loss of that identity, maybe because they never really had the full package of a soccer-specific stadium and all this attention. And then we have people who’ve been curious about the team given the new stadium and attention, who aren’t raving fanatics but interested enough to check it out, nonetheless. Then there are a group of people, like myself, who are new to the team/brand and even soccer as an interest that are now complete Sporting Kansas City addicts. I will be very curious to see how many seats sell next year. That will tell us if there are new converts for real or if the novelty of the hot new thing has worn off. I hope it sells out again and the momentum continues.

bankmeister: It appears that the organization has done a lot of things right. Anything obvious that they’ve overlooked or upon which they could improve? How do you think the enthusiasm of this fan base compares with other MLS markets across the country? Assuming you’ll be at the game, will your in-game tweet tendencies stay the same, or does the iPad get put away for the post-season matchups?

Kristi Colvin: I can’t see changing my tweeting habits. Though the team doesn’t pay me for it, my in-game tweets are partially an obligation of sorts. Some folks are used to them and like them. My non-technical observations give them another perspective on the game and some people seem to like that.

I think SKC are in a sweet spot of having done many of the right things this year with the stadium finally completed. There is still much work to be done, but my complaints are few. I have seen many observations from outsiders regarding their digital presence online. I know of teams (of all types) who have expressed interest in the in-stadium technology Cisco helped build, the Sporting Membership software we helped design and develop, the mobile apps Moblico has helped them develop and all of that tells me their new venture, Sporting Innovations, is hitting the right mix of what’s new/what’s needed. If I were a team anywhere in the world, I’d study what they’re doing. That they have such an apparent interest in providing a community of real members and not just a venue to visit once or twice a week is one of the things that sets them apart, and that will continue to serve them when they experiment as members will give feedback. It’s a living eco-system and I’m personally glad to be part of it.

bankmeister: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for the time. Good luck with all of your business and personal endeavors, enjoy the playoffs, and God speed as you attempt to follow (Dr. Evil voice) one million followers.