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Carl Brown

What is your official title?

Principal at Roguebotic. (NOTE: Carl had to get his business card out of his pocket to get his “official title”). I don’t like to talk about my flare.


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

Ha, average day. So at about 7:00am I roll over and look at my phone and start checking my email and Twitter. Then, I’m either communicating with clients about marketing projects or figuring out which community organization thing I’m going to that morning. I spend 90% of my day with my phone glued to my face. I’m really having a tough time capturing “average”. It’s a lot of client communication, working with team members, design strategy and reviewing what marketing campaigns we are building. We’ve been doing lots of Google Hangouts and Skype meetings because we’re coordinating in three states currently, which is about to be two countries with one of our team members moving to London. Then, usually, at least three days a week, there’s a 5:00 cigar outside of the South St. Cigar and Spirits. I don’t care who’s there, and it does vary, but it’s great because there is ALWAYS someone else there – I’m not the only human who smokes a cigar at 5:00 in the evening in Kalamazoo. I find if you can find a cigar shop, you find an interesting conversation. Some of the most unique and quirky people I have in my network have come from meeting and having a conversation at a cigar shop. Our local shop in Kalamazoo is a very unique intersection – it’s a strange and interesting mix of people – doctors to company owners, to retired police officers. The conversations are just so interesting.


What kind of projects are you currently working on?

Our marketing company is growing. We are doing a lot of brand and digital strategy for companies here in Kalamazoo for the first time in about five years. Before, all of that business has been out of town, out on the west coast, Florida, the Caribbean, but recently we’ve been working with companies like CSM Group, Arcadia Ales, and Maestro, which has been really nice to work with local businesses. In the rest of my life, Startup Zoo is growing and figuring itself out, and we’re figuring out how we fit into this community and how we can best help influence this town to be more forward thinking and this weird, young energy that surrounds the tech-startup community, so we’re trying to help people who are interested in that connect with each other and build that organically.


Any upcoming events that you’re particularly excited about?

Coming up in November is Global Entrepreneurship Week and Startup Weekend, it’s going to be awesome. We are targeting having five different events to celebrate what’s going on globally, what’s been going on in Kalamazoo historically, and what’s happening in the now, so we’re pretty excited for that.


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

You know, I’ve said this a million times already, but I see this intersection of a cost of living and a quality of life, and that’s the sweet spot. In all the places I would choose to go aside from here, it’s significantly higher on the cost side scale to get to the same place on the quality of life scale. I have friends and family in Boston, on the west coast in San Francisco that are all “move out here, there are people out here like you, you’ll have lots of opportunities”, and I tell them what you pay in rent, I pay for housing and a plane ticket every month, so I get to travel to those places, I just don’t have to live there. And it’s not that I don’t love those places, Chicago, New York, love Seattle, but this community lives so much bigger than it is. The State Theater is freaking amazing, you’re seeing really relevant live shows for $25, it’s ridiculous. A theater built in 1927, I mean come on, and it’s beautiful. Our beer culture here rocks, and not just because we have good beer, but the people who are connected to it are good people. You can roll into Bell’s and hang out and have a beer with Laura Bell, that’s not hard, and you can have a beer with Tim Surprise of Arcadia. And you go to other places, and those people are so far away. Kalamazoo as a community is like Twitter as a social network. The top tier of people in this community are still accessible – you have to make an effort, but they’re accessible. You never get that “oh, you’re not from here, you’re too young, what have you done that’s relevant, who are your parents” – no, you don’t get that here. Kalamazoo is growing, and we’re in an interesting time because we’re at a place where our community demands leaders beyond who’s already been here, so people have the opportunity to make an impact here. And that’s pretty amazing. I count myself one of the luckiest guys in the world because the Mayor called me on my birthday and sang me happy birthday. And he’s just that guy, that’s who Bobby is. There’s no place else in the country I can go where that happens.


What can be done to improve our beloved Kalamazoo?

We have a handful of major challenges in this community. We as a community really have those hard working, blue collar midwestern values, and there’s good from that, but a derivative of that is that we suck at showing off. I came here in 2001, and I had never heard of Kalamazoo before I came here. I had no idea what to expect, and because of that I spent my first two years living here spending every weekend in Detroit or Chicago. Over time, I learned about all the stuff that’s here, and said why am I going to these other places when I can be doing really cool stuff here. The city grew in that window, but I feel like we need to do a better job at being proud of what we’re great at, and not being afraid to share that there are really really good things here. We don’t talk enough about the great shows at Miller, what’s going on at the Civic, the little, interesting unique businesses like Kalamazoo Coffee Company. In a city where there are 100 or so restaurants, the majority are farm to table – grown from a field, to plate in days, if that! That’s the kind of stuff people are hungry for all over this country, and we miss the fact that we’re doing it here! And it seems to stay here, in our closed network. We could talk about infrastructure issues, and a need for better public transit, those kinds of things, because they’re here, or we could talk about how people complain about parking downtown, but you know what? That is a sign that people ARE downtown, which is a great thing. People need to get over it.

I feel like if there was a way to integrate the University and the city more, that’d be nice. We have some really smart students at Western, and we battle “the bubble” and comfort of not wanting to leave campus, and there is a significant gap between the student population and the rest of our population, and as a result we get a lot of really smart kids without a reason as to why they should stay in Kalamazoo after school. They have a perception as soon as they start to be at Western for four years and then leave, and that’s just not a necessary perception – not saying everyone would stay, but that should be an intentional option instead of a derivative outcome. You go to a lot of other college towns – go to Stanford, and you want to stay in the valley. Though that’s a lofty comparison, but Western is NOW on a short list of schools that has a law school, a business school and a medical school! Come on. I’m excited about what that’s going to do to color in the picture of Kalamazoo’s culture and broaden it a bit.


What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

When I was 21, I came to Kalamazoo and started working here. This city taught me patience. I moved here and I was still very much on the east coast pace of life, this is how it is, let’s make a decision and move on kind of attitude, and it took me awhile to be OK that things work differently here. But what I learned is that the people you run into in Kalamazoo that seemed resistant to those kinds of ideas weren’t actually resistant to the ideas. They just wanted to see that passion aligned with the kind of guts and personal intensity it takes to finish those things out and stick to this community. I think people here do a good job of growing and protecting what means the most to them. And early on I didn’t value that, and now that I’ve been here longer than I ever thought I would, I totally get it. And I see it as a strength instead of a weakness; I would’ve felt differently 10 years ago.


What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?

I am a music junkie, I listen to everything. I have a subscription to Spotify, Pandora, and Google Play – paid version of all of them – yeah, I’m that guy. New music Tuesday on Spotify is freakin’ amazing. You get whole albums on Tuesday when they come out. The big new albums for me are a broad spectrum – Daft Punk, Queens of the Stoneage, and Nine Inch Nails. I was really looking forward to those coming out; they go back to a music that was cool when I was in high school, and it’s sweet that they’re still performing and sounding different. I listen to everything, though – I’ve been on a pretty heavy Motown kick – some Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding, and some Bassnectar. My playlist on my motorcycle is more rock and roll, more Black Keyes. It really varies, though; it’s about the mood and the moment.


What is next up on your reading list?

Almost all of my reading is on my Kindle app. I use the tablet more for reading than anything else. I just finished The Power of Habit, it was awesome, everyone should read it. And next on my list is a book called Tech and the City – The Making of New York’s Startup Community.


How do you take your coffee?…or do you?

Black. Preferably Espresso. It gets a little more complex there. I also drink something called a Cubano, super super good, a lot of coffee shops won’t do it because in theory the brown sugar is bad for the coffee machine.


What is your favorite app to use?

Favorite app to use…Well, most often I use Gmail, but it’s not my favorite to work with even though my life is there. My favorite app, as hipster as it is to say, I love Instagram. I just unplug my brain for a few minutes. Instagram and Pinterest, it’s how I let things float off. Also, right now I’m on the Yahoo Fantasy Football app a lot – it’s the center of my trash talk universe.


Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?

Right here, in front of the cigar shop at the corner of Kalamazoo and South St. Great people watching, so awesome.

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When you were younger, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?

Taller! I was really short for a long time, and I grew 11 inches between 9th and 10th grade. I had to stop playing basketball, my knees were all messed up. I wanted to be a fighter pilot, and then I grew, and then I wanted to draw comic books! And then that wasn’t practical, so I did the next best thing and went to art school for graphic design. So now, here I am, in this funky intersection between art and business.


If you could bring any national or global event to Kzoo (infrastructure aside), what would it be?

Something on the scale of the Cannes film festival. Film and advertising and tons of weird people. Another one that would be amazing, but hard to do, would be a Formula One race in Kalamazoo. Those people are crazy!


Carl, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with Carl on twitter and be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.