First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Andreas Wagner: New York City was hit hard before we got things under control. Ambulance sirens were terrifyingly frequent, and something my family and I will never forget.
We are fortunate to live in a spacious house where my young son, wife, and cats can live without too much incident. I think it really only bothers the cats that we are home so much!
Our beautiful and diverse Brooklyn block has been amazing and caring. We can’t complain. If this can extract anything positive, it’s surely that we get time to reflect on what is really important in our short time here on earth.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Koalition
Andreas Wagner: I grew up in a cold, grey, and rainy country in Northern Europe called Denmark, a perfect place for being inside. That is likely why I spent most of my childhood with indoor creative activities like drawing, LEGO, making music, and meddling with some of the very first computers that ordinary people could afford. My room was flooded with floppy discs the size of football fields, cassette tapes, and for some reason, I was obsessed with drawing futuristic cars.
My dad and older brother were both complete technology freaks and would drag gadgets home, which I would promptly break.
It was pretty clear in the late teens that I wanted to do something with digital design and technology. Formal education in this field was basically non-existent in the ’90s. It was all “learning by doing” and whatever relevant courses one could dig up.
In 1997, I was one of the few lucky ones who passed the tough admission tests for one of the first and only Multimedia Design schools in Scandinavia. I was suddenly surrounded by amazing teachers and like-minded fellow students passionate about all things digital.
I came to San Francisco in 1999 after being headhunted by a music software company called Mixman. I was put in charge of creating an online browser-based DJ app. This was unheard of at that time, no pun intended. The Bay Area was an incredible, creative, and innovative place to be. I even met my wife there. Double bonus! Everybody was on a mission to innovate, and there was plenty of investor money to do so, but perhaps less of a strategic business plan. Companies were light years ahead of their time, and it’s in many ways sad to see concepts and ideas that couldn’t make it then flourish today.
After the bubble burst, I dusted myself off and went freelance with Yahoo!, MTV/VH-1, and various big agencies. I switched out the Golden Gate with the Brooklyn Bridge, and my freelance work pipeline got big enough to sustain a company. Koalition was born!
How does Koalition innovate?
Andreas Wagner: I don’t think we sit down with our Monday coffee and start the morning with the intention to innovate. It’s just a part of the day. The digital medium is evolving all the time. It’s not just how we can display content but also how we can interact with it. It’s amazing, challenging, and we love it.
It’s not like designing a shovel, and then you can sell that same shovel for 85 years. We have to create digital solutions that are better, faster, and different from the previous ones. And that is part of the fun. How can you improve a piece of code? How can you animate an interaction better? How can we continually improve digital experiences?
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Andreas Wagner: We have purposely built a team of empathetic and caring people. Koalition is lucky to have a professional network, friends, and clientele that share those traits. If that was not important before, it certainly is now. Life is annoyingly short, and we need to prioritize our wellbeing.
A few projects were put on hold. And I expected that. My main goal was to secure payroll and give everyone time to focus on our health and families.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Andreas Wagner: Remote working has always been a part of Koalition since our teams are located on both sides of the big Atlantic pond. We miss our physical meetups, and some employees have not physically met yet. In general, remote team building is an interesting challenge these days. The importance of taking time to maintain team building has definitely been a lesson learned.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Koalition in the future?
Andreas Wagner: In the past, I tried to deal with my anxiety and stress with way too many self-improvement books. Some of them can give you a few pointers, but they rarely get translated into real actions. After a while, all of these books start to repeat themselves, and you realize that reading these books will not magically change your life. You have to get out and be proactive. I have started reaching out for more real help and guidance. And in my experience, it is the best thing you can do for yourself. I have a brilliant business and life coach. I do weekly meditations with a Kyoto based Buddhist priest via Zoom, and he is way too flexible. All these people help me take breaks, find peace, and reflect on life.
The future of Koalition is exciting. Despite the current slowdown caused by the pandemic. We have an exciting momentum, both in terms of developing our identity and relationships we are establishing with new and existing clients. What we are doing in 10 years is up to Nostradamus to predict. But we already have our heads into new evolving technologies like machine learning, AR, and AI. I think the worst you can do in this industry is marrying yourself to a specific technology, so we are constantly searching for the next tech to specialize in until it evaporates again. It’s an exhilarating cycle.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Andreas Wagner: We compete with ourselves! And I think that is how we will always stay in the game. If we can be a better team today than yesterday, the day is won.
Your final thoughts
Andreas Wagner: There is plenty to be pessimistic about – racism, climate change, social injustice, and now add a pandemic to that.
Trying to fit the whole picture in our field of vision is just overwhelming. So we really try to hack it up into smaller pieces. What little things can WE do to move the world in the right direction? Creating meaningful solutions has been a big priority for us. And we have had great success working on digital solutions with organizations like The United Nations Secretary-General’s Peace Building Fund and Girls, not Brides. We have developed a site for a newspaper for the homeless and a genderless voice with VICE to pressure the tech industry into acknowledging that gender isn’t necessarily binary.
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