At the Propeller Coffee Shop along Manhattan Ave, I sat down to talk with John McKinney, the CEO of Ashe Avenue. John was at the Future of Web Design Conference (Oct. 7 – 9) and gave a talk on “Designing for the Forgotten User: Aesthetics and UX in the Editorial Platform”. Ashe Avenue was also behind the Creator’s Project which won the 2012 Webby Award Winner for Music and Branded Content.
Erin: Let’s get started. So can you introduce yourself?
John: Hi. My name’s John McKinney. I am the CEO and co-founder of Ashe Avenue. We’re a web development company based in New York, but also have an office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We have an office here in Greenpoint on West Street. We’re growing and hiring new developers from this area all the time, so it’s yeah, a pretty cool place to be.
Erin: Which location came first?
John: So I’m from North Carolina originally and I worked with an ad agency in Chapel Hill for a few years before I moved up to New York. And so when I came up here I was still doing work for them but also getting offered a lot of freelance work and other companies needed developers basically. So this was 2006-ish, like kind of when the tech boom was really starting, like sort of seeding. So as soon as I moved up here, that became apparent very quickly so I ended up founding this company with the partners from the ad agency in North Carolina. So when it was conceived it was already born in two places at once.
Erin: How long ago was it that you started in Greenpoint?
John: Let’s see. We were in Williamsburg for about 2007 until…I want to say 2012 was when we left. So we’re on N. 10th Street we were kind of around some places in Williamsburg and we ended up moving into the Vice office for about a year, actually. And when we moved out of there, I think about a year and a half ago, we came to…there’s a shared in Greenpoint called GreenDesk that has a lot of little startups. And it’s a really nice little establishment for having a small office. So we moved in there and we’ve been sort of growing within that space ever since.
Erin: How is it being placed in Greenpoint now?
John: Oh, I love it. I mean, I live 4 blocks from where our office is, so it’s convenient for me.
Erin: Oh nice. Did you move afterwards, or did you–
John: I was already in Greenpoint and I just, I guess I’m a butthead, selfish and yeah (laughing).
Erin: What are some recent client products that you’ve worked on?
John: Let’s see. We launched a site for a PlayStation game called Beyond: Two Souls and we launched a Tumblr site for Wild Turkey. We do a lot of agency stuff. We’ve done a few Red Robin projects earlier this year. But then we also do a lot of media stuff so we do a lot of work with AOL, Vice, obviously. We’ve done most of the Vice…like Vice.com, Noisy, Creators Project we worked on. I think that was our first serious project with Vice in 2010. So we’ve been involved with them for a very long time.
Erin: How do you like the community here? Are you involved with the local scene, if there is a scene?
John: Well I also play music and so I pretty much hangout at St. Vitus all the time, like that’s my favorite go-to spot all the time. The scene there, just for that, the metal scene is amazing.
Erin: What’s the name of your band?
John: We’re called Clean Teeth (laughing). The tech scene here is also really nice and growing. Because we’re in this shared space, we see a lot of—maybe 1 or 2 people doing a little startup and we kind of just chitchat with them in the coffee room or the kitchen, I guess you call it. And it’s kind of cool to just see that that’s happening.
And there are other companies, I believe Kickstarter, just bought a building and is in the process of renovating it in the neighborhood, which I think is going to be pretty big. Once a big tech company is here, that scene is just going to get even bigger. And it’s going to be awesome. Maybe it’ll be like DUMBO in the next couple of years, you know? Yeah. I think so…I hope so.
Erin: So what other thoughts do you have on that in terms of Greenpoint and tech companies?
John: I think it’s a good place. I mean this neighborhood is developing really quickly and it’s developing at the same time that the coding community and the tech community is really sort of becoming its own sort of personality, sort of entity. So this just feels like a good home for it. And maybe that’s just because I’ve been living in Greenpoint for five years, but..
Erin: So you’re definitely feeling a change during the five years that you’re here?
John: Oh yeah. Even just socially, culturally…it’s gotten a lot different.
Erin: So does your move to Brooklyn sort of change your client work, the kind of projects you’re involved with as well?
John: Definitely. When I came here, the way we started working with Vice was just personal, people I met, people I know through – especially through playing music. That’s probably the biggest accelerator of our company’s growth at all, just meeting people through more social scenes, and then all of a sudden somebody has a need for, especially what we do, tech. Then it’s very easy to find and meet those people. And I don’t think you could do that anywhere but here.
Erin: What kind of future do you see for Ashe Avenue?
John: We are constantly growing. We take on new clients all the time, we have the good fortune to sort of just grow out indefinitely. So as we expand our core, and like I said, we do a lot of media and advertising stuff…I think that the ways things are going, we hope to get into…we’ve gotten a lot of open source contribution recently, and we’re doing a little more productization and building tools and building apps that people can use. So I see us at least having a very strong intent in going that direction as well. But never abandoning our core service that we do.
Erin: Do you have a favorite client or types of projects?
John: I would say I really like doing the agency stuff. ‘Cause when we do that, it’s a project that comes up, goes quickly. We get to use a lot of technologies and then it’s pretty much the link of the campaign, and then it may shut down. And then next year, assuming it was successful, we might do the next level. We have a few campaigns we’ve been building on for a few years now. They always get better and more fun. That’s why I like that.
But then a lot of our clients we keep strong personal relationships with. That’s sort of our ethos. We want to be partners with people. So when we work with these media companies, for example, we’re really good friends with them now. And that makes for a lot of fun. If we enjoy each other as people, then that makes the client relationship really simple. We work with really cool companies too, like Vice, and we also recently did the High Times website. Those guys are great.
Erin: Is there any question that you would like for me to ask you that I haven’t asked already?
John: I don’t know. We’re looking to stay in Greenpoint for the foreseeable future anyway. I’m personally trying to buy a place now which is impossible. But I love this neighborhood. I will be here for a while. The company will be here hopefully for long, if not longer. Just kind of enjoying watching it grow and watching the community grow.
Erin: Any thoughts on the G train?
John: Uh…how much swearing am I allowed to uh…(laughing).
I mean, it’s a big piece of sh**. I don’t think it’s ever … I’ve lived in New York for eight years now and it’s just out of all the trains that have gotten better and better, it’s gotten worse somehow. It’s been closed the whole summer, who does that?
John’s favorite Greenpoint haunt:
John: I think Brooklyn Label is probably one of my favorites, because that’s been a staple forever. St. Vitus is definitely my favorite bar in town, in all of New York City. The guys that started that bar are amazing dudes. The stuff they’re doing for, like I said, the music scene has been really measurable. It’s really awesome. I really like seeing these small places around the neighborhood that are hitting national recognition for just doing what they do best. And I think that’s a very inspiring and a very awesome place to be. People just doing what they love and doing it so well. They’ve become renown for it.