Creativity Is Not Bounded by Walls

06/29/2020
Arthur Beavis
Arthur Beavis is a former tennis player turned marketing executive. Artie is currently the Chief Marketing Officer and Editor in Chief of Hackster.io (an Avnet community) and was recently named a 40 Under 40 honoree by DMN, a top 50 marketer by OnCon Icon Awards, and a Communicator Award winner.
Creativity Is Not Bounded by Walls

Creativity Is Not Bounded by Walls

What if the secret to your organization’s success existed outside of the organization? Hackster.io is a testament to this, having used top freelance talent to achieve exponential growth. Hackster, an Avnet community, is the world's fastest-growing developer community for learning, programming, and building hardware.

Arthur Beavis, an award-winning marketing professional and Hackster’s CMO and editor-in-chief, joins Paul for a discussion on how the company successfully evolved into a community where talent meets opportunity and how top freelance talent helped Hackster News become the go-to resource for staying abreast of the latest trends and cutting-edge technologies in IoT, wearables, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

Connect with Arthur:

Transcript of this episode

Arthur Beavis:
I don't really think creativity is founded by walls. If you're super passionate and love what you do, I don't necessarily think you need to be sitting in a cubicle in order for that to be facilitating and for that to occur. As long as companies have the right people in place who really love what they do, the stuff that they're trying to push out creativity I think could be found anywhere.

Introduction:
There's a revolution taking place right now. Talent and intelligence are equally distributed throughout the world, but opportunity is not. The talent economy, the idea that at the center of work is the talent, is the individual.

Paul Estes:
Companies today face a global war for talent, and high-skilled talent is demanding flexibility around the way they work and the way they live. This podcast brings together thought leaders, staffing experts, and top freelancers to talk about the evolving nature of work and how companies can navigate these changes to remain competitive, drive innovation, to ensure success. Welcome to The Talent Economy podcast. I'm your host, Paul Estes.

My guest today is Arthur Beavis. He's the chief marketing officer and editor-in-chief of Hackster.io, an Avnet community and the world's fastest-growing developer community for learning, programming, and building hardware. He's been recognized for his achievements and contributions to the industry. Arthur was recently named a 40 Under 40 honoree by DMN, a top 50 marketer by OnCon Icon Awards, and a Communicator Award winner, and he joins us today to discuss his career and how he engages the talent community to accomplish amazing things for some of the world's biggest brands.

Arthur Beavis:
Hi, I'm Arthur Beavis, CMO and editor-in-chief of Hackster.io. Hackster is a community of engineers and developers from across the world. It's part of the Avnet corporation family of communities. And on the side, I'm also a consultant to numerous technology brands that range from semiconductors to Internet of Things startups.

Paul Estes:
I'm really excited that we have the opportunity to talk, and I really want to dig into Hackster and the community you guys have built, which is amazing. But before we get started, I just want to talk about the shift to remote work that a lot of people are experiencing. We talked a little bit about it before we jumped on the show, but how has the shift been in your experience as more people have started to work remotely?

Arthur Beavis:
So being an online community, we're definitely on an advantage where a lot of the stuff that takes place already was virtually, and it was online. One thing that this whole pandemic and the shift to remote and virtualization has really helped us with is a lot of companies are now looking for ways to tap into that audience now that there are no physical events, and Hackster provides them with the platform to do so. So we're unlike a lot of companies that I think are kind of struggling to wrap their minds around how are they going to kind of adapt to the current situation, we've been prepared for years. And now I think it's really nice to see more and more brands kind of understanding where Hackster fits into the ecosystem and how they could leverage our capabilities, and things have been pretty good for us.

Paul Estes:
You guys were acquired not too long ago. How has it changed now working for a larger corporation and your personal work that you're doing and how you operate day to day?

Arthur Beavis:
So Avnet has been fantastic. Hackster, we were definitely, I wouldn't say the rebel child of the organization for a while, but there was that sort of thing where what are we going to do with this cool community and these hip workers because obviously, our tone and voice were a little bit different than the typical corporate sort of tone. However, working within their sort of ecosystem has been fantastic. They've embraced us and started to leverage us at the beginning of the funnel, on the ideation stage of taking some sort of project and bringing it to market. So how do you take this prototype, this concept and how are you going to make that into a viable mass consumable product? And we've really figured out the recipe for how to make that work. So it's been a great experience so far, and it's the freedom and flexibility, it's been unparalleled.

Paul Estes:
I think about Hackster and Avnet, which is super interesting to me. It's an example of a company realizing that talent is global, that there are amazing people all over that participate in communities and want to provide value. And so from a strategy perspective, it was brilliant. Give me some examples for people that may not know Hackster - what are the types of projects that are done? Give me some examples of the talent that are out there and the value that the community provides to large corporations.

Arthur Beavis:
Absolutely. So, taking a step back. Back in maybe 2016, there was this revolution and it was called the Maker Movement where all of these hobbyists, do-it-yourselfers, tinkerers were all like working in their garages and workshops coming up with really neat projects, and really just kind of embodying that sort of mentality of, let's all come together as a giant show and tell and really demonstrate what we're working on. But that mentality of making an LED blink and kind of putting together some circuits on a breadboard has definitely shifted into more of an enterprise grade, sort of more professional maker, if you will, sort of audience over the last few years. And we went from those cutesy sort of projects of watching something blink, or maybe like a cool clock, to now doing everything from, we just finished a contest with AARP on hacking menopause.

We're doing something with smart parks on helping preserve wildlife in Africa, on leveraging the Internet of Things. So you're starting to see this kind of seismic shift from just working on hobbyist projects, but now it's kind of coming full circle to, wow, this is really some sort of life-changing real-world application that is starting on Hackster and is now going to be deployed in the actual world. So you see everything from, like I said, IoT devices all the way to wearables, to virtual reality and augmented reality to pretty much anything. It's pretty awesome.

Paul Estes:
I watched Adam, the CEO and founder, who I've known for quite a while, start the idea many years ago by himself, trying to figure out, realizing that there are tons of people that have amazing skills. They just need to be linked up with opportunity. As you've seen the community grow, why are people engaging in the Hackster community? I think one of the things that large companies are trying to understand is they hear about this freelance talent. I think sometimes they believe it's all more low-skill talent out there, and the problems you're solving and the examples you provided are not things that are simple, right? It takes, it takes pretty high skills to do that. Why do high-skilled people participate in Hackster at such a large scale?

Arthur Beavis:
So I think that's a multifaceted sort of thing. So there's obviously, some of our contests offer monetary prizes. So you have the person who may or may not have lost their job recently, given the current climate too, they can pick up a few thousand dollars with this really neat application. And they're really intrigued by that. There's a networking factor. So you got to consider some of our partners, everybody from a Microsoft to a Google, to an Amazon. When we're working with these teams, if you stand out, you're going to make yourself known. So it kind of has that sort of networking effect as well. And then there's the educational aspect. There are so many interesting things happening these days out there and new trends and cutting-edge technologies that it's really tough to stay abreast of all this stuff when you're working your day-to-day job.

And people come to us for webinars and workshops to really advance their careers. So they can brush up on their skills and also pick up on new ones. And that's another service that we offer. And I think it's that's total sort of cycle of education, networking and just the opportunity to win prizes has definitely been alluring. And on top of that, we've also made the shift to becoming a news network for the latest and greatest in the hardware industry. So over the last, probably six to eight months, we've launched what we call Hackster News. Not the most original title, but it works. It's been a really, really interesting journey to see how this little blog has now taken off into one of the go-to sources for everything from IoT to wearables, to machine learning and AI. That's another value-add that we're definitely delivering because people come to us now to consume their day-to-day sort of content, before work, after work, during work. And it's now kind of accruing that sort of audience.

Paul Estes:
You talked about the great work you're doing at Hackster, but let's go back into your work history a little bit. And your beginnings of really understanding the talent economy and working with freelancers when you started your own agency. What were some of the challenges as you were starting your career that you experienced that led you to believe in this new way of working?

Arthur Beavis:
Yeah, so I was really fortunate to kind of tap into the social media world right at the nascent stage of Twitter, Facebook, they were just coming out. I was this fresh kid in college doing my thing and realized that this was going to be a real game-changer. And I really wanted to make sure that this was something that I could kind of really wrap my arms around and know the ins and outs of it before everyone else. And by doing that, I was fortunate to pick up some really decent jobs right out of the gate. But the only thing, the challenge that I always saw was social media for the first few years, it was always trying to get that buy-in. You're always trying to sell what you were doing, why you were doing, when you were doing. How is this going to deliver ROI to the bottom line? All of those typical questions.

Obviously, when I had a full-time job back in 2012 on social media, if a company was going down on social media, unfortunately, it was going to be the first one on a chopping block. They're going to cut their budget with social media and some of the digital marketing stuff. And unfortunately, that happened to me. So I took a step back at that point and I realized, all right, I had a bunch of job offers over the past few months. Instead of going back to a full-time job, why don't I approach each of these companies and offer them my services and capabilities at a price that was going to be a lot less than me going to them full-time but at the same point allowed me to work remotely and start this "agency" right off the ground?

It worked. A lot of these companies loved the idea and they were interested in figuring out how social media was going to apply to their business. And they commissioned me to do that. So I'm over just about a year and a half. I grew the company to a decent size in terms of revenue and some freelancers to be able to position myself for potential acquisition. So, that was a really cool experience. It was a lot of challenges. It was quite a journey because, like I said, it was really such a new thing. And there was a lot of education both internally and externally as to what was social media. Fast forward to today, and it's a no-brainer, and more and more companies are now investing tons of budget toward their external properties.

Paul Estes:
I talk often about the next 10 years, jobs will change. And one of the examples I always use is a social media manager: 10 years ago, a company would not have a social media manager. And now that job does not only exist at scale, it's extremely important. And you see the power of social media in a lot of examples. When you over time - let's go back to 2012 and forward - what were some of the objections that you ran into when you would go to a company and say, "Hey, I'm a freelancer. I'm not interested in being an employee, but I'm happy to engage with you and provide my value and focus on the outcomes"? What were the kind of objections they had over that period of time?

Arthur Beavis:
Probably trust. I mean, I think it was that whole aspect of, you're not our employee and you're not on property, then how are we going to allow you to be the voice of our brand? So I saw that as the immediate struggle and kind of the barrier that I had overcome right away and kind of demonstrate that you didn't have to be locked in an office. You didn't have to abide by certain guidelines. It was really being completely transparent, working closely with the teams, but kind of developing a relationship where they understood like a quarterback and a wide receiver. You knew what needed to be done and where the ball was going. And as long as you guys were both on the same page, it was easier than originally thought.

Paul Estes:
When you were hiring or engaging with freelancers for your social media agency, and now at Hackster - some of the statistics are just unbelievable: 600,000 social followers, newsletter is over 700,000. You went from 1K a month to 800,000 a month in 2020. And all of that success or a lot of that success is being done with freelance talent. But let's talk about how you identify and engage with freelancers. What's the methodology or the process you use to build that network of freelancers to produce these amazing results.

Arthur Beavis:
So, Hackster News, it's been a remarkable story. And not to toot my own horn by any means, but this was like 16 to 18 hours a day of really figuring out the strategy, architecting the blueprint, and executing. And unfortunately, we don't have a huge budget. We're not a multi-million dollar sort of company who has endless means to throw toward certain campaigns in hopes of maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. It was a nice try. So we had to be really, really strategic in our approach as to if we're developing this content engine and we're trying to acquire a critical mass of developers and engineers and hardware enthusiasts that are going to come to our page every single day, day in and day out to consume the news, we need to make sure we don't mess up.

So we didn't have the headcounts. I didn't put in any reqs for new employees. What I did was, we crafted the blueprint, we had the strategy, and we realized, okay, these were the topics that our outlet was going to cover. And what I did from there was I went out and I made sure that we had one or two writers for each of those sort of topics, along with some overlapping in case one or two people weren't able to contribute a certain week or somebody got ill or they went on vacation. I always made sure that we had enough of an editorial staff that covered each of these sort of interests. And it worked. We were able to kind of develop this 10 to 15-person editorial staff on a grassroots budget, which is essentially probably the same price as one or two full-time employees. And in doing so, our output was probably 10x of what it would've been with just one person. We're able to really hone in on each person's interest in their passions and kind of cater those articles to stuff that they're really interested in and what they wanted to cover and sink their teeth into. So it's been really interesting to see that this kind of come to life and it was all done purely on remote and freelance workforce.

Paul Estes:
When I started working with freelancers exclusively, there was a lot of fits and starts. I had to retrain myself on how to hire a freelancer, which is much different than the traditional hiring process. Tell me an example where it went wrong, where you learned and said, "Hey, look, this just wasn't a fit for either what I needed or they didn't have the skill set I needed," and what you learned from that. Because I think there's a challenge out there for people saying, "Hey, I believe in this talent economy thing. I believe that there's a ton of people that have great skills that can help my business accomplish things." And then they go and try it and it doesn't work. And then they sort of pan the whole idea and go back to the more traditional ways of engaging with talent. Give me some examples of where it didn't go right and how you learned and kept going.

Arthur Beavis:
So there's been a few instances. Again, having this sort of freelance staff, you do encounter issues where you don't have a noncompete clause. So one immediate thing that comes to mind is a few of the writers that we approached contributed one or two articles. And then a few weeks later, they kind of fell off the radar and lo and behold, they're on a competitor site. So I think right off the bat, it's competition. How do you kind of create that relationship and establish that sort of kind of connection with your staff when they aren't full-time and they really aren't necessarily committed to just you? So right there, that's the first example.

Second one, there's been times where the idea of bringing on a few people to kind of cover certain topics and to join our writers staff, it seemed like a great idea at the time. However, you realize that either the grammar wasn't the greatest or their writing skills weren't necessarily top-notch. But you kind of pivot. So there have been instances where you realize somebody might not have been the best person for a blogger. However, they are super passionate about video work or other deep dives into products, and you just kind of pivot. So we've been able to do that with a few of our "employees" as well. So those are the two that really come to mind right away. It's real competition and then kind of pivoting and figuring out if somebody is a good fit but isn't necessarily the right person for a certain tactic to kind of figure out how can you adapt and keep them on board to keep the sort of creative juices going without just ruining a relationship.

Paul Estes:
I think it's been really impressive, the type of marketing content organization you've been able to build. I want to talk about another award because you are an award winner. You were named the top 50 marketer and 40 under 40 honoree from the marketing community. And I wanted to ask as you look at the agency space, large companies reaching out to their agencies and that traditional, you have an account manager and you build this relationship with a big agency. How do you think that that space is going to either be disrupted or evolve over the next say, couple of years?

Arthur Beavis:
Yeah, I think that's a great question. So I'm already starting over the last few years, I think a lot of people could attest to, I've seen more and more like PR agencies definitely have been, well, I am going to be quoted on this. However, I think there has been a shift in the way how people were approaching PR agencies. I think because of social media and the connections you perform with the right content, you now are able to get right into the hands of reporters and editors without the need of a middle person. And that's something that we've even seen with Hackster. So we have really interesting projects and we also have really awesome blogs. And a lot of times, we see new sites come to us now and just cite us as the original source, which is fantastic. So when you have, again, a very minimal budget, think outside the box, how am I going to get our content seen by the right folks? So because of social media and by the right consistent content, you could actually bypass PR agencies now. And that's something that we've experienced, and I think a lot of people are going to realize moving forward, they're not going to be so reliant on press as they once were. So that's one.

And then in terms of just overall marketing, I think agencies are always going to be around. I think they're always going to, you're definitely going to have to adjust their sort of approach as things continue. Right now, I think even with the remote sort of working, I think a lot of companies are going to realize that they don't necessarily need to be in an office anymore and that they could actually create this remote work staff and marketing departments. So I'm starting to think that agencies, I don't want to say that they're going to have a lot of competition, but I do see more and more people are going to say, "Oh, we could save some budget, hire more marketers, and have them work remotely." So I could see agencies having to compete with a lot of in-house departments in terms of certain campaigns.

Paul Estes:
One of the things I hear all the time, especially in the creative space is, look, a lot of our work is done, there's that picture of a bunch of people sitting around a table or in like a cool setting, right? All the companies show the pictures of how they work in these really cool brick offices and that can only be done in person, right? It's that in-person experience that allows these great ideas to happen. As you created Hackster News and as you do the creative work that you do, what advice would you give people that are now trying to do creative work remotely?

Arthur Beavis:
A lot of caffeine. Caffeine definitely helps. I don't really think creativity is kind of bounded by walls. So if you're super passionate and love what you do, I don't necessarily think you need to be sitting in a cubicle in order for that to kind of be facilitated and for that to kind of occur. I think as long as companies have the right people in place who really love what they do, the stuff that they're trying to push out, campaigns that they're working on and so forth, creativity, I think, could be found anywhere. So I think companies, given the current situation in this climate, I think they're going to start to see that more and more of that productivity is going to be up because people are going to be super passionate about what they're doing. And that passion is also going to be a derivative of that creativity. It's going to go hand in hand with [what] creates it.

Paul Estes:
One of the things that that I've experienced, and I just kind of want to get your thoughts on it, that as I've formed freelance teams, the diversity that is brought into that team - whether it's ethnic diversity or gender diversity or thought diversity or cultural diversity - always makes the product better. One of the things that I get excited about when I'm working with people who come from different backgrounds is I learn a ton and the project usually comes out better because they bring experience and perspective I don't have. Whereas when I was working in a captive setting for large companies, it was very homogeneous. We were all kind of, sort of the same type of people. What has been your experience with the diversity of teams and in your thoughts around the benefits?

Arthur Beavis:
So Hackster, being a community, all of these projects are open-source. So when people submit stuff, the whole idea about open source is to be a community and be collaborative, and we've really embraced that sort of ethos in everything we do. So I think as I kind of form this team of writers, to your point, I didn't want them to just be, everybody do the same. It was really trying to take that kind of open-source love for everyone, bring on different locations. So trying to cover real-time news, you need somebody in Europe, you need somebody in Asia, you need somebody throughout the United States on Pacific time and Eastern time. Just kind of having various locations and bringing those different voices, genders as well. I think having a diverse staff of backgrounds is super helpful when you're trying to kind of hone in on the different voices.

You don't want it to just be the same tone throughout the board. It's nice to have a girl from New York, a girl from the Bay Area, a guy from the UK. It's nice to have one be an engineer, one be a developer, one be an inventive designer, one just be a "maker." It's awesome when you're able to take bits and pieces from everywhere, almost like a general manager on a sports team, and pick everybody and kind of put them in different positions, and everybody has their skillsets and has their own intricacies and really cool things and kind of formed this whole team.

Paul Estes:
I think one of the things I experienced is that, I think traditional management has been supervisory, right? I'm here, I'm your supervisor, I'm here to supervise your work. And you've talked about the teams you work with and the trust that you ask companies to put into you when you started your agency is the same trust that you're giving to the people that are writing for Hackster News. And that's very different than traditional employment.

Arthur Beavis:
So I think when it comes to creating that remote staff, authenticity and transparency are key to creating that connection with them. If you're remote and you're halfway across the world from one another, just kind of building that relationship and kind of having that sort of connection with them, it's key. It's also paying. Compensation's a huge aspect to the freelance economy as well. Unlike a typical job where you'll have a weekly or biweekly paycheck, as a freelancer, you don't necessarily have that luxury.

So I think when you onboard certain freelancers, being able to pay them really quickly, on time, or even expedite the process for them, is paramount. And that really establishes a different level of relationship too, because they're going to provide for you and really support your efforts just as much as you're able to do for them. That's one thing that I've really, having had my own business in the past and having been a contractor, I understand the struggles of what it's like to chase down checks. And I've done everything I can in my power to make sure that our freelancers are taken care of and we're able to pay the bills.

Paul Estes:
That's important advice to you. The other thing I've experienced that a lot of people think that, I'm going to go save a ton of money by using freelancers. And a lot of times that's true, but it's not that the talent you're paying less, it's all the overhead and other things. And the efficiency you get from getting the right passionate expert to do the work. And my dad had a quote that I'm sure many other people's fathers may have said the same thing, "You get what you pay for." And I found that the freelancers that we engage with, because we want top-quality experts, have decent rate cards. Right? And so I think that's one of the things to also consider.

Hey, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I want to end this conversation with a quote that you have on your LinkedIn and just kind of get your thoughts on it as we close out. The quote is from Walt Disney, one of your heroes, "First, think. Second, dream. Third, believe, and finally, dare." Tell me how that inspires you and the work that you do.

Arthur Beavis:
So I think that's the quote that certainly resonated with me throughout my lifetime, whether it be work-related with Hackster, on my side work, or even just an athlete coming up. It was one of those, everybody has dreams. And unfortunately, I feel like a lot of people are kind of persuaded not to pursue them, as cliche as that sounds. But I think one thing that I've always been really good at is being tenacious. If I have an end goal, and if I have that vision, I'm going to do everything in my power to make it come to life.

And whether it was playing tennis, I’m certainly not the best player out there by any means, not having a record or sort of background to support any of these aspirations that I had. I was able to talk myself and market myself into an ATP event and do some professional stuff with literally no credentials whatsoever, but just pure marketing and pure drive. And fast forward 12 years, and here I am and the same sort of thing with Hackster. I saw that there was a huge need and opportunity to create this sort of content engine. And once I was able to kind of figure out, okay, this is what I want to see come to light, I just worked backward and kind of created that strategy and the approach, and then started putting together the puzzle pieces and took the chance.

Paul Estes:
I think that's great advice and it has a lot to do with the work you do at Hackster and your career, which is why I was excited to have this conversation. We live in a world where technology has been democratized, and talent has in a lot of ways been democratized. So the only thing stopping you in many cases from fulfilling a dream is your own desire to show up and be persistent. So that's why I wanted to talk to you about that quote. Arthur, thanks again. If somebody wants to reach out to you and learn more about the work that you're doing, what's the best way to contact you?

Arthur Beavis:
The two best ways would be right here on LinkedIn/ArthurBeavis. Or otherwise, hit me up on [email protected] I'm always open to meeting people and answer any questions that anyone may have.

Paul Estes:
And we'll put those links in the show notes. Arthur, thank you so much and stay safe.

Arthur Beavis:
Yeah. You too.

Paul Estes:
I'm your host, Paul Estes. Thank you for listening to The Talent Economy Podcast. Learn more about the future of work and the transformation of the staffing industry from those leading the conversation at staffing.com, where you can hear from experts, sign up for our weekly newsletter, and get access to the best industry research on the future of staffing. If you've enjoyed the conversation, we'd appreciate you rating us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Or, just tell a friend about the show. Be sure to tune in next week for another episode of the Talent Economy.

Arthur Beavis
Arthur Beavis is a former tennis player turned marketing executive. Artie is currently the Chief Marketing Officer and Editor in Chief of Hackster.io (an Avnet community) and was recently named a 40 Under 40 honoree by DMN, a top 50 marketer by OnCon Icon Awards, and a Communicator Award winner.