James Wynne is Director of User Experience for Sandstorm and has been in digital product development since 1996. He has worked as a UX designer for a myriad of clients including large eCommerce brands, mobile device manufacturers and integrated marketing agencies.
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I just got back from a fun conversation with Kristi Ross and Tony Battista at Tastytrade for their show Bootstrapping in America. It was an honor to be asked to share my experience as an entrepreneur with a CEO I admire.
And it’s that passion for new ideas and perspectives that’s helped us find inspiration in the unexpected for our clients. Just one example that came to mind during my talk with Kristi and Tony was how we found inspiration for a community bank in 1871, the Chicago incubator.
Hear more about Sandstorm’s beginnings, how our culture helped differentiate us, and how we differentiate our clients. Check out our episode of Bootstrapping in America.
I wrote my first song at the age of two; it was called “I Can Do It By Myself.” Unfortunately, that became my mantra for longer than I’d like to admit, and it wasn’t until my twenties that I discovered the profound impact mentoring could have in my career and personal life. Since then, I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet men and women with the passion to guide me through my exploration of the world. And I’m especially grateful to work alongside so many of them every day.
Mentorship is an essential part of our culture at Sandstorm®. As our founder and CEO Sandy Marsico recently shared with ABC News, having a great mentor was essential to her success, which is why learning and sharing is one of our three core values. Our amazing directors not only share their decades of expertise with fellow Sandstormers, they’re active in the community, educating and inspiring the next generation of developers, designers, and strategists, too.
I’ve benefitted immensely from our creative directors’ mentorship—shout out to John and Janna for anything I missed during our company You Rocks. And it got me thinking about how mentorship has helped other Sandstormers in their careers and personal lives.
Learning From the Best
As a budding copywriter, Creative Director John Rausch was fortunate to be mentored by the creative genius who wrote the immortal "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun" jingle for the Big Mac. “In the years I worked for him, I learned a lifetime's worth of insights into developing impactful creative work,” John shared. “But perhaps the most significant thing he taught me was the importance of paying it forward—sharing my own passion and acumen with the creative professionals who would come to work for me.”
Finding Solutions Through Empathy
As a resident assistant at Central Michigan University, Strategist Megan Durst found a mentor in her resident director. “He taught me a lot about understanding people’s motivation,” she said. “It really helped me empathize with my students and help them find solutions to their problems. Not only have those skills been critical in my personal life, they’ve been equally essential in my career as well.”
Teaching the Next Generation
Executive Creative Director Janna Fiester’s undergrad professor has remained a mentor ever since her time at Ball State. Her professor even encouraged Janna to earn an MFA and become a professor herself, which she did. It was during her time as a professor at UIC that Janna began mentoring students of her own. “Now one of my mentees is also a client. She still calls me her mentor and a strong influence to choosing design as a career.”
Amanda, our Director of Business Integration, found an amazing mentor in her volleyball coach—even getting the opportunity to coach alongside him when her daughter reached high school. “He gave me great advice throughout my entire life: in business, coaching, and in my personal life. He truly cared about me and making sure I was successful. He's had such a profound impact on my life and always went out of his way to help me, even without asking.”
Friends in High Places
Front-End Developer Joe Ruel was fresh out of college when he met one of his mentors. As Joe recalls, “My mentor guided me through many aspects of development and helped me find my passion in front-end development.” Though his mentor moved onto another company, they kept in touch. Over the next year, Joe heard so much about his mentor’s new company that he applied for a position there. Sandstorm Senior Front-End Developer Jeff Umbricht continues to be a guiding influence in Joe’s life, and was quick to note that Joe got the job on the strength of his considerable skills alone.
How has mentorship impacted your life? We’d love to hear your story in the comments.
I really enjoyed attending .orgCommunity’s Disruption + Innovation conference this month! The .orgCommunity is an amazing resource for senior executives to lead their associations through innovation, and the event certainly delivered on that mission. Speakers and facilitators from across a wide variety of industries shared their insights on redefining digital publishing, generating new streams of revenue, and much more. These were my biggest takeaways:
- Adopt a disruption mindset. Act like a digital disrupter.
- Rethink the entire business, not just the technology.
- Get inspired outside your industry. Did you know: Ugg boots were created by surfers.
- Your goal is to create value—for every association.
- The membership subscription model is over. You need to think about other ways to earn revenue.
- Collaborate more, collaborate differently. Consider strategic partnerships and mergers.
So it’s with great pleasure that I can finally announce my position as a part of .orgCommunity’s advisory board! With almost two decades of experience working with associations of all sizes—including the National Association of REALTORS, American Medical Association, Rotary, and more—it’s an honor to share my experience with executives and help them utilize emerging technologies and techniques.
I look forward to sharing my expertise with the .orgCommunity while continuing to help our many association clients prepare for their future success.
I’m thrilled to join the Sandstorm® team. One of the many things that attracted me to Sandstorm was the focus on doing good work for good people. I’m really looking forward to making a difference in the lives of our clients and their users alongside my new teammates.
My career started in the airline industry, where I worked as a computer programmer. I eventually moved on to a global consulting firm where I worked diligently as a software quality engineer before becoming a software engineer. While I took some time off to raise my kids, I’m delighted to be back in development and quality assurance.
When starting on a new project, I believe it’s imperative for a QA analyst to start with a full understanding of the scope and timelines on a project. It allows me to get a clear mental picture of everything that needs to be accomplished and drive toward that goal.
Speaking of driving toward goals: When I’m not at Sandstorm, I’m usually watching my kids at Taekwondo, cross country and track meets, band performances, or helping the band at football and basketball games. There’s nothing better than cheering them on—and snapping a few photos—while they work to achieve their dreams.
As the newest addition to Sandstorm®, I’m thrilled to be a part of a Chicago-based company that has experienced such amazing organic growth. I’m excited to bring my experience implementing disciplined sales and marketing processes for other organizations to Sandstorm, and building upon the great work the team has done to further grow the business.
One of the reasons I joined Sandstorm was the people. Warrior Spirit isn’t just a catchy name; it’s a real spirit that employees truly embody. Culture is key here, and it’s apparent from the moment you walk through the doors.
I’m energized by the work. I have traditionally worked for companies that focus on the implementation side of technology projects. Sandstorm has a great ability to bridge the gap between executing the strategy (creative thinking) and successfully implementing the technology. I’ve found that firms are usually strong in one or the other, but Sandstorm has found the right balance, which leads to successful projects and happy clients.
I have a long history working for large consulting firms and small start-ups, including experience leading sales and business development for consulting firms—specifically, developing relationships with new and existing clients and industry partners. I also have extensive experience advising on strategy, implementation of web content management (WCM and CMS), cloud-based solutions, and custom development for clients ranging from Fortune 1000 to small nonprofits and associations. Sandstorm provides the perfect forum for me to share these experiences and help us grow and scale, while attracting innovative projects and clients, and fostering strong relationships.
When I’m not busy at Sandstorm, you can find me hanging with our three kids—our five-year-old daughter keeps us quite busy! Our two older kids are in college, and our daughter plays college basketball, so we take as many family road trips as we can to watch her play.
We also love drinking wine and craft beer, traveling often, and having friends and family over for get togethers!
Each year, some of the sharpest thinkers you’re likely to meet gather at Chicago’s Columbia College for a high-stakes advertising competition. They’re not professional strategists, copywriters and art directors—they’re college students taking part in The One Club’s Creative Boot Camp, and their work is insightful and inspired.
I know this firsthand because, along with Janna Fiester (Executive Creative Director here at Sandstorm), I was a mentor and judge at this year’s Creative Boot Camp. The annual event is presented by The One Club, the non-profit organization devoted to elevating creative work in the advertising industry. One of the missions of The One Club is to educate and inspire students of the business, and the Creative Boot Camp gives collegians the opportunity to work in teams to develop a multi-media marketing campaign.
Seventeen teams—comprised of students from Columbia, DePaul, Harper and other area schools—worked closely together for three days to develop campaigns for Kraft American Cheese Singles. Serving as mentors, Janna and I (along with a handful of other Chicago ad professionals) moved from team to team answering questions, resolving conflicts and sharing our perspectives.
“You could really sense the passion each team had for their work,” recalls Janna. “These were college students who had never met before being assigned to their Creative Boot Camp team. The research and strategy development they were doing to provide a foundation for the creative work was truly amazing.”
The teams worked around the clock on their campaigns and, on the fourth day, formally presented their work to a panel of judges comprised of Janna and me and four other ad executives. Each team presented its research, strategy and creative rationale for campaigns that spanned TV, print, social media, point-of-purchase and field marketing.
At the conclusion of the presentations, the judges selected the top three teams, each of which received a year’s membership in The One Club. The members of the first-place team were also awarded interviews at Leo Burnett, the agency which sponsored the event.
“It was an amazing experience,” says Janna, “and throughout the four days, the students were incredibly appreciative of the time and expertise we were sharing with them.” And while I concur with her assessment, I have to say that we got back at least as much as we gave.
We can’t wait til next year, when we get to do it all over again.
What Your Employees Want (And How Company Culture Can Give it To Them)
Culture has a huge impact on your brand. It’s something I recently talked about with Forbes, and I’ll shout it from the roof of our office if it helps other leaders avoid learning the hard way like I did.
In Sandstorm’s early days, I discovered just how important creating a positive culture really is. By not focusing on our culture, I ended up not looking forward to working at my own company. But after we took the steps to transform our culture, we added more than 30 Sandstormers to our roster and grew business by 425%. Best of all, I’m absolutely sure that Sandstormers love coming to work every day.
Creating a great culture is as much an art as a science, but it starts by knowing what employees want. A study from PwC shows that these are the four things people want most from their job, and this is how we address them through our unique culture.
1. Job Flexibility
It’s not just Millennials who want flexibility at work; everyone wants a healthy work-life balance. The world’s full of tools that let us work anywhere at any time, so why should we miss our daughter’s first soccer goal or be at the office early after a late-night code deployment?
One of our core values is warrior spirit. To us, warrior spirit means being on an endless crusade to make great ideas a reality and bring out the best in each other. We’re problem solvers, champions, and collaborators who architect client success. And that’s something we do whether we’re in the office or working remote, at work and at play.
2. Professional Development
Career growth is essential to Millennials, and it’s why learning and sharing is another of our core values. If we want to be the best, we need the tools and time to learn how. That’s why we spend thousands of hours every year attending conferences, taking classes, exploring new technologies and trends, and sharing what we learn with each other.
Our senior staff has decades of experience, and they use it to mentor younger members of our team. They’re also active members of the community, sharing their expertise at events and boot camps and speaking at conferences, which helps us discover the next member of our team.
3. To Do Good While Being Great
Reputation matters to clients and employees, and what a brand says and does needs to align. Our mission is to do good work for good people, and we don’t work with organizations we don’t believe in.
We do good outside of work, too. Sandstormers get paid time off each year to volunteer, and we organize volunteer opportunities where we work together at a food pantry or collect for a clothing drive.
4. Have Fun
We’re people, not drones. And nothing builds stronger bonds than having fun together. It’s extremely rare for a week to go by at Sandstorm without there being a birthday lunch or a happy hour. That’s not even counting our super secret events to Cubs games, scavenger hunts, or other outings organized by our Co-Captains of Fun.
And this year I was finally able to give everyone the last week of the year off to go on vacation or spend some much-deserved time with friends and family. I was so happy!
Changing our culture really transformed our business. We can keep growing while making sure our lives are rich, meaningful, and full of fun. And that’s the real reward of focusing on your culture.
As the newest addition to Sandstorm®, I’m excited to be a part of a development team that shares my passion for exploring and engaging with emerging technologies.
Although I grew up in North Carolina, I’m originally from the Chicago suburbs. I returned to the Chicagoland area before earning my Bachelor of Science at the University of Illinois and took my first post-college job at IKEA—where speaking Swedish wasn’t the advantage you’d think. After a brief stint as a paralegal—and the firm’s de facto IT guy—I discovered my passion for programming, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
I like to get a broad understanding at the start of new projects before diving into every facet; I want to explore the forest before I start planting (or chopping down) trees. And I love a good challenge: Whenever there’s a chance to solve a problem, you’ll find me there.
When I’m not taking on new challenges at Sandstorm, you can find me taking in a screening at the Music Box Theatre, enjoying a live show at one of Chicago’s amazing music venues, or at home expressing myself through writing and painting.
The Sandstorm team keeps growing with the addition of Patrick Schreiber!
Patrick got into web and software design after building video games in college and has loved every minute of it. His work philosophy is inspired by the book “Rework,” and the passage about opening a hot dog stand. If you imagine you’re opening a hot dog stand, what do you need? You need a great hot dog. Everything else is peripheral, the condiments, decor, even the bun itself. If you can nail down the root of the product, then everything else will fall into place. So Patrick starts from the top (the blue-sky idea), validates the concept, pares down to the root of the problem before building out the idea.
Patrick is looking forward to applying his philosophy at Sandstorm by building customer-facing tech that directly impacts the user’s experience and their enjoyment of a product.
When off the clock, Patrick can be found playing pool and video games, curing homemade jerky, or making music in his home studio.
Hey there, I’m Joe, the new front end developer here at Sandstorm. I’m beyond happy to be working with such a fantastic team!
Although I didn’t start thinking about being a developer until the latter end of high school, I’ve been interested in using a computer to make things for as long as I can remember. In grade school, I spent hours directing and editing short movies with my friends and family. In college, I majored in interactive media with a concentration in game design, which was my main introduction to the world of development. In addition, I minored in graphic design and computer science, which served as a great foundation for transitioning more and more into web development.
I learned quite a bit during the past couple of years at my job right out of college. I was able to cut my teeth on a lot of different aspects of web development before settling on front end development as my primary passion. I’m excited to contribute to a team that is so passionate about their work, and am looking forward to learning as much as I can in the process.
In my spare time, I’m probably spending way too much time watching the Cubs (I wrote a Twitter bot last year that tweets out whenever the St. Louis Cardinals lose a game), catching some live music, relaxing with a video game, or working on a personal project (which usually never gets finished or sees the light of day, but still serves as a good way to teach myself new things).