Michael Brooks Jr – Co-founder and CTO at LifeKraze

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Michael Brooks Jr - Co-founder and CTO at LifeKraze

I recommend doing things that are different from your norm. So many times you get caught up doing the same things over and over, you start to see everything in just one way. My advice is to do as many things as you can to branch out from your norm. Take different routes to work. Try new food. Pursue a different passion. Travel. All these things provide a new perspective, and that new perspective can be applied to your business, and your life. I’ve found that by doing this, it allows me to see things from a different angle and attack problems in a variety of different ways.

Michael Brooks Jr is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at LifeKraze, where he is responsible for the development, design, and user experience of the company’s products. After growing up working for his family’s photography business, Michael took his keen eye for aesthetics and obsession with detail to Clemson University, where he earned a degree in graphic communications. As a varsity soccer player for Clemson, Michael was also able to channel his passion for excellence into athletic accomplishment, learning to be a leader for the team. After working for top-tier advertising agencies (as a Production Artist at Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York and Art Director at Ogilvy Mather in San Francisco), Michael met with Ben Wagner and David Nielson in 2010 and founded LifeKraze. Michael currently lives in Chattanooga, where he divides his spare time between matches for the local professional soccer squad, tending his garden, and crafting the perfect cup of coffee.

What are you working on right now?

LifeKraze is a community where people encourage and reward each other. You share your accomplishments with short posts (like Tweets), and then other people rate them with Points – as you earn Points, you can cash them in for real-life Rewards. But my favorite part about all of this is that, as you get this big group of people sharing about the things they do every day that they’re proud of, you have the opportunity to cheer for people where they need it, when they need. It’s very encouraging and supportive.

We’ve been going strong for a little while now, but we just (as in last week) jumped all the way into mobile with the release of our Android app and a re-release of our iPhone app, both of which are now completely native and optimized for their respective platforms. The whole dev team is finally breathing a sigh of relief (and sleeping, finally), but we’re still working on making the whole LK experience smoother and better, and this is something that we will always try to improve on. Right now I’m in the process of doing some re-designs that I’m really excited for everyone to see!

Where did the idea for LifeKraze come from?

All three of the original LifeKraze founders played soccer in college and we wanted to bring the benefit of sports to everyday life. A huge part of that is having a team. In school, I had buddies from my team who kept me accountable in all areas of my life, not just on the field. That kind of community is vital. You need people who will cheer for you, or just cheer you up, if you’re not having a great day. I’m also very competitive, so I like the idea of a point-system for life and being able to earn Rewards for doing worthwhile stuff.

How do you make money?

We help connect brands and products with active, engaged people. As our members earn Points, they can cash them in for discounts with different companies – those companies pay us based on the sales we are able to generate, in addition to the opportunity to develop positive brand association because our members connect their products with the joy of having achieved their goals.

What does your typical day look like?

Probably like a lot of the people you interview, I don’t really have a “typical” day – but there are some things I always try to make happen. I like to wake up and scroll through the LifeKraze feed in the morning, I give out some of my points and read all the amazing things people are accomplishing. From there, I check my emails and plan out priorities for the day. I really enjoy the process of crafting a cup of coffee and probably spend a little too much time getting it right each morning, but it always helps me get my day off on the right foot, and it’s usually the last thing I do before I head in the office.

Once I’m in the office, I am usually working on a bunch of different things, but I always try to get some time to talk and strategize with my phenomenal team of developers. I love to cook, so a lot of times I’ll go home to make a healthy lunch, and then come back and work late. I’m still a huge sports nut, so most evenings end with some pickup basketball or soccer. I’ve found working out is my mind’s best friend, it keeps me sharp! There is usually a round 2 at work, or from home, where the night owls crunch out the rest of our tasks. That’s when I usually get most of my design work done – when I can just put on my headphones and get into the groove. A lot of times my best work is done after midnight, and my sleep schedule isn’t the best, but it works for me!

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m a dreamer. I always have been. There isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not thinking of an idea. Most of them are bizarre and crazy, but I think some of them are fun, and those are the ones that I like to write down. I collect a lot of my ideas in Evernote, and then I decide which ones are actually feasible. A lot of the LifeKraze team is like that, actually… we’re constantly asking “what if …?” so we have pages full of ideas, which we are constantly reviewing and discussing. The ones that make it out to our members on LK are the ones that we think can best help them, support them, and allow them to reach their goals.

Once we’ve settled on what idea we want to bring to life, it’s still a constant discussion and debate – I love design (not just how something looks, but how it works) and our team obsesses over how to make everything as simple, and yet effective, as possible.

So I guess I’d say that I personally use digital tools like PhotoShop and my Wacom tablet to craft ideas, and then bring them to life – and into the lives of others – by working with my incredible team. I could not do it without them.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m really excited about all the focus on individual health, specifically the devices that help monitor what we are doing throughout the day. I have a Nike+ Fuelband and a Jawbone UP, and Fitbit and Lark and a number of others are doing great things. But what excites me the most is that we are just seeing the beginning of this wave and my hope is that one day these devices will help us make better and more informed decisions on the way that we live. Can you imagine walking to work and your bracelet sends a message to your phone letting you know that you are low on Vitamin C and you haven’t had anything to eat yet—why not stop in at this local restaurant that does hand-squeezed OJ and has a breakfast special? That stuff gets me really stoked for the future, because I truly think technology plus education can help tackle the health problems in this world.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve enjoyed all of the jobs that I’ve had. I think each one has provided me with an opportunity to learn things from a different angle, even cutting grass during the hot days of summer as a kid. Yes, it was miserable at times, but I learned to love visible results when you were done. It starts out a mess and after an hour or so it looks great, and you get paid. I try to see the positive in everything.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

We learned so much in the beginning, and we learned it so fast, that it’s hard to remember where we could of changed things. I think one thing I will say, and I’m sure a lot of us would say it—sleep more. I definitely would have tried to get a little more sleep. There were weeks that we would stay up all night, barely sleep, then get up a few hours later and do the same thing over and over. When you’re part of a young company, there’s a temptation to work yourself to death because you’re so anxious about everything, but getting some rest will help keep you sharp and let you be your absolute best when you’re awake. Also, never operate out of fear—it’s only an illusion that you create for yourself.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I recommend doing things that are different from your norm. So many times you get caught up doing the same things over and over, you start to see everything in just one way. My advice is to do as many things as you can to branch out from your norm. Take different routes to work. Try new food. Pursue a different passion. Travel. All these things provide a new perspective, and that new perspective can be applied to your business, and your life. I’ve found that by doing this, it allows me to see things from a different angle and attack problems in a variety of different ways.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

A lot of ideas that we have just don’t work. When they fail, we learn from them, and then move on. One of my favorite quotes about failure goes like this: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” This quote always reminds me to just keep trying, and keep going based off of your past experiences!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I love to cook and I’ve always wished that I could start a one meal a day program where a chef chooses local ingredients, writes out a menu and posts it. The customers get a reminder each morning what the lunch, or dinner menu will be. Then they decide if they want that meal, or both. By 10:30-11 AM the chef knows how many orders he needs to make, and then he has a service that would deliver the meals (ready to eat) to your doorstep. I love trying new things, and I love supporting local, so pairing those two together would be really cool!

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I would change the education system. I don’t know how I would go about it, but I think 2U, Coursera and Khan Academy are spearheading the future of education and I’m excited to see what they do.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I’m terrified of upside-down roller coasters. My mom once offered me $20 to ride one, and I still refused. Too many videos of accidents when I was a kid, and still, to this day, I haven’t been on an upside-down ride.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

1) Evernote – This is where I collect my thoughts, business plans, product ideas, recipes, and more. It’s an essential tool for my everyday workflow.
2) Spotify/Songza – I love music. These services provide me with an easy way to listen to things that I already love, or discover new music that suits my mood for any given day.
3) Clear – This is gesture-based reminder app which keeps me informed of everything that I need to do throughout the day. I still write things down on a post it note, but Clear has one of the most compelling user interfaces I’ve ever seen, and the experience is top-notch. I’ve custom-built some lists that help remind me of the things I need to get done on a daily basis, a grocery list, new restaurants to try, people I want to talk with, and more! Each of them have individual tasks that I need to get done.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Rework, by the 37 Signals guys. It goes against most traditional business guides and is worth reading over and over and over. I absolutely love the content and would recommend it to anyone, no matter what industry they work in.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

I used to check Twitter constantly, but it started to become a distraction. It started taking away from time I could have been using to get better at the things I want to be great at. So I made myself promise not to use it as much as I used to. Now I probably get on a couple times a week. When I did use it, I really enjoyed following Jason Fried ( CEO of 37Signals) and Dennis Crowley (CEO of Foursquare). Both of them are incredibly talented and transparent and always provide insight into their approach to business, and life, which I really appreciated. And then maybe Aaron Rodgers – Go Pack, Go!

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I just watched this video that my friend sent me: “THE NFL: A Bad Lip Reading”

Who is your hero, and why?

My parents are my heroes. They instilled a work ethic, and an attitude in me, that anything was possible as long as I didn’t give up. They did everything in the world to give me an opportunity to chase my dreams. They always lead by example, and they still continue to inspire me each and every day.

I often get asked, What is your favorite part about your job?

My Answer is two things: 1) The team that we have at LifeKraze is my favorite part. Every day I get a chance to work with some incredible people, and it makes everything we do that much better. I’m generally excited every single day I come into the office because I know how passionate our team is about making things that can bring value to people in their everyday lives and we have a blast doing it. 2) Making products that people use and watching their lives change because of something our team built. LifeKraze has helped people achieve so many things that seemed impossible before and it’s been such an exciting journey because of the impact that LK has already made and the possibilities for the future.

Connect:

Michael Brooks Jr on LifeKraze: http://lifekraze.com/michaelbrooksjr
Michael Brooks Jr on Tumblr: http://chasethefree.tumblr.com/
Michael Brooks Jr on Twitter: @michaelbrooksjr
Michael Brooks Jr on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/mbrooksjr

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This interview was posted by Mario Schulzke.
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