Project Ricochet helps its clients to avoid ‘Accidental Evil’
San Francisco, September 21th, 2016
Founded in 2009, Project Ricochet focuses on the long term approach, when it come to relationships with its customers. The full service digital agency provides web development and design services using Open Source technologies, most notably Drupal, Meteor.js, Cordova, and Docker.
Casey Cobb partner at Project Ricochet and software engineer take an engineering approach to running his business and it also applies it to the companies and start ups he works with. He believes in testing assumptions early and often.
Currently based in California with his wife and young son, Cobb took to software developer from the moment he had his first modern computer and internet connection (pre-high school). “I built and sold custom computers through high school and freelanced as a software developer through high school and college, launching my first software product at the age of 16. Although I never did much with it, I spent my free time in high school developing an encryption algorithm and tools, which was a lot of fun,” Cobb says.
It will come to no surprise to know that he studied Computer Science at university, but we wanted to find out how this fits in with the creative digital world.
He says, “My personal definition of creativity is the ability to creatively engineer solutions to difficult and challenging problems. To do so in an agency environment can be tricky because there is always so much going on and vying for your attention, making it difficult to achieve flow.”
“At Project Ricochet, my partner and I look at creating an environment where our team can achieve flow and stay absolutely focused on their work as one of our most critical responsibilities. It’s not easy… but it’s vitally important.”
Project Ricochet Mission:
We catalyse innovation in the world with bleeding-edge web technologies through efficient and transparent execution of exciting and innovative software applications while valuing the creative energy and mental space of our team and clients.
We do this by helping our team and clients visualize where the Pareto’s Principle tradeoff will result in higher quality and less expensive software. The Pareto’s Principle or 80/20 principle states that 20% of the invested input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained.
Our entire organisation is cantered around providing tools and methodologies to help achieve this.
Project Ricochet Vision:
We believe that through Open Source software, Agile methodology, and a focus on the Pareto Principle tradeoff, Project Ricochet can unlock vast swathes of value in our economy, society, and culture, all-the-while enjoying the playground that is cutting-edge and exciting technology (we believe that we can have fun while changing the world). This applies to established and start-up ventures in healthcare, education, commerce, science & technology, as well as just about every other industry and aspect of our lives.
To truly realize the potential of Project Ricochet and our team, we believe that we must:
• Stay on the cutting-edge of technology, new trends, methodologies and software. We work these into our client and product work and serve as stewards of new technology for our clients, helping guide them to the right choices based on their needs regardless of what we feel most comfortable with.
• Relentlessly pursue transparent efficiency on all fronts. We invest heavily in systems, procedures, and software to ensure transparency and timely communication at every step along the software development process.
• Value each member of our team as an individual. We want our team to work on the things that they enjoy – and to have the mental space to do so. A large part of our efforts toward efficiency are meant to promote mental space amongst our team. We must also focus on developing our team as individuals and professionals so that the organization can grow with them.
• Stay small. A larger team exponentially increases the communication overhead of our company and jeopardises our ability to stay completely distributed. We should always feel like a tight-knit team.
• Offer clients a true partnership, allowing them to make on-the-fly decisions throughout the project to ensure that we achieve what they define as success – with rapid feedback about how this new definition of success affects the budget/burn and timeline.
• Work on projects where our contribution is truly valued and not seen as a commodity. Our clients should respect the partnership we offer, and be as flexible with us as we are with them as we jointly strive to achieve their goals.
• Stay focused on estimates at the epic and ticket level across all team members, conveying to the client when the reality of the project has diverged from expectations so that the plan can be updated with client feedback.
• Contribute Open Source code back to the community whenever possible so that others may leverage our creations in their own projects.
By focusing on these key values, we believe that Open Source can help catalyse greater prosperity in the world. We also believe that as a result, Ricochet and the team will benefit substantially from the success of our clients and our own suite of products.
Can you describe your agency in three words?
Always value focus.
For Project Ricochet, the key ingredients to a successful campaign are:
• Laying out clear and measurable objectives. All tactics must flow from what *exactly* we are attempting to achieve.
• Constant feedback to the team regarding performance, and reassessing our chosen path based on real-time performance.
• Staying focused on achieving the 80% solution *first* (see 80/20 rule)
• Ensuring that every effort undertaken has a clear estimate to avoid the perils of Parkinson’s Law.
Are there online publications, professionals, industry leaders you follow?
I read several hours each day. Between the books I’m reading at any given time, processing my email inbox, reviewing recommendations, and browsing Hacker News daily, I feel like I’m just barely able to keep up!
One thinker that I do follow every day (and he posts almost every day) is Seth Godin. He provides daily and prescient insights that help me in my day-to-day nearly each and every day.
Which cities outside where you live interest you creatively?
I have travelled to over 45 countries and spent time in countless cities. After this thorough research, I decided that the San Francisco Bay Area has everything I ever need to be happy (and then some!). Between San Francisco, Palo Alto, Berkeley, Oakland, Napa, and easy access to Tahoe and beyond, I honestly believe that I now live in the most incredible region in the world.
Because I have travelled so extensively (to the point of exhaustion, honestly) I no longer feel the longing to “be somewhere else”. I’ve realized that my current home has everything I want. I am content with this and it allows me to focus on my making my life *here* everything that I want it to be.
Please list a few of your favourite digital brands:
Amazon has always fascinated me due to its maniacal focus on delivering value to its customers.
Apple is also inspiring for its similar focus on simple and intuitive design.
Although not necessarily a digital brand, Costco also inspires me for its commitment to a low mark-up on its products, instead making money on its memberships (I have never seen a Costco employee not working at 100% in all the years I’ve shopped there).
What do you like doing in your free time?
I am an avid reader of business/productivity books, and science fiction, reading over 50 books each year. I also bike ten miles a day, enjoy hiking & camping with my wife and three-year-old son, and tending to the koi in my 500 gallon pond.
In addition to my work with Ricochet, I have also co-founded several other ventures, which keep me busy. I am also an Angel Investor and enjoy mentoring entrepreneurs as they push forward on their own journeys.
Lastly, I enjoy writing about a topic very near and dear to my heart: Avoiding Accidental Evil, a term I coined to help reduce unintended negative consequences in business and life.
Name a challenge your team is currently facing.
Project Ricochet wants to stay small, but the business model of consulting puts a lot of pressure on the necessity of growth in that team members want to grow and move “up”, but in a small organization, their only path ends up being “out”.
To address this, and as a sort of creative wellspring for the company, we founded Ricochet Labs, which focuses on new and cutting-edge technologies which can be spun off as their own products. Every member of Project Ricochet is given a vested ownership in the outcomes of these products and ventures.
There are countless difficulties in launching products as an agency, and our biggest challenge is navigating these waters. We’ve launched several products and have several more in the pipe, but it’s not easy!
Can you tell us about a campaign you worked on that was especially successful?
Within a year of creating the application and launching/marketing it to the organization, our client’s investment of $50,000 had yielded $2,000,000 in cost savings.”
What’s your story with your agency?
I have been a software engineer since high school and studied Computer Science in university with Stephen Pope, who would eventually become my business partner. During college I had freelanced while working many other jobs to save up for a two-year trip around the world (making my way around the world by buying one-way tickets the entire way as I freelanced to keep up my digital lifestyle).
Upon returning, I worked my way up an ecommerce company to eventually become Chief Operating Officer, then starting my own venture in the same industry.
In 2010, having sold my company, I was looking for a new opportunity. Stephen and I realized that we had an opportunity to build a digital agency that continued to feel like a one-person shop (personal, dealing directly with the engineers, affordable) while also delivering the qualities one would expect from a larger software agency—without the inefficiency that typically comes with an agency engagement.
We have worked hard as we’ve grown to ensure that these values are baked right in to this growth so that we’re able to deliver on our mission and vision with every project we take on.
Name a digital trend that is here to stay
The trend seems to be away from monolithic software suites toward more focused and less expensive tools. The challenge is that you usually need several tools to do what the 800 pound gorilla suite used to do, but they each do their part in a much more effective manner. And the net cost is dramatically less.
This allows people to create their own suite a-la-cart using APIs and what I call “API glue” to marry disparate applications together.
I don’t think this is going away any time soon.
Where do you see the future of the industry?
The kings of tomorrow will be those who can help their clients navigate the ever increasing onslaught of options, frameworks, tools, methodologies, platforms, etc…to deliver value for *their* customers.
We will be required to be experts in an ever-changing environment with exponentially more to navigate with each passing year. The pace of this acceleration will only get faster and faster.
We need to get better at navigating and sorting through massive amounts of data, especially that which isn’t necessarily relevant now, but may be in the near future. We need more focus, better management, better tools.. tools to help sift through the pile, and leaders to take a stand when we fall victim to the chaos we find ourselves in (urgency addiction is a very real and pressing problem today).
What piece of advice would you give a recent grad looking to work in digital marketing?
I recently read the perfect advice from Seth Godin the other day: Just start.
“You don’t need to go to school for four years. You need to do marketing. Find a worthy charity and do a promotional event to raise money for them (you don’t even need to ask first). Start a micro business. Sell things on eBay.”
Don’t delay. Start now. Don’t wait for someone else to give you a platform. Build your own, one piece at a time and don’t relent ever – even once you get a job. No one will build your career for you. You are the captain of your own ship; don’t take your eyes off your compass or the horizon.
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