For instance, once I get into the office, I write down three tasks. As I’m working my way through them, I go out of my way to connect with people and talk about our projects. If I complete those three tasks, I know I’m moving my projects forward, and if I connect with at least one person each day, I know I’m a part of this world that’s rotating with or without me.
Balind Sieber is building a lifestyle brand called Modern Nerd Apparel for young, Los Angeles professionals who want to contribute to social good while looking hot. Every purchase provides a t-shirt to a homeless person in Los Angeles, California.
Balind is dedicated to connecting Los Angeles entrepreneurs through collaboration. Each week on the Nerd Collective, he interviews a brilliant creative who’s bringing his or her passion to life.
Balind is a creative director at RED, a digital agency comprised of technologists, designers and marketers. At RED, Balind bridges the gap between strategy and creative to turn insights into ideas, and ideas into concepts.
What are you working on right now?
I’m building a lifestyle brand, for geeks turned professionals, called Modern Nerd Apparel. A significant portion of building the brand involves the Nerd Collective, which I’m equally excited about. I found myself going to a lot of conferences hoping to meet people with whom I could collaborate, so once I launched Modern Nerd Apparel, I finally had a reason to build a community.
My interview style consists of a legitimate photo shoot, combined with the types of questions I’d want to know the answers to if I was soliciting for a creative partner. I don’t care where interviewees went to school or where they grew up; I want to know how they’re turning their dreams into reality.
Where did the idea for Modern Nerd Apparel come from?
I wanted to build a sustainable business around social good. At some point I noticed that I only wore about 30% of the clothes in my wardrobe, and I thought, “What if I bought only slim fit pieces (because I’m slim), in the colors black and/or grey?” By following those guidelines, I created a wardrobe that allowed me to get dressed in only a few minutes, and had me looking polished for work but true to my inner nerd. I found that I could wear comfortable clothes like sneakers, jeans and a t-shirt, and I always looked professional in front of clients. If I felt fancy, I could add a colored accessory as a highlight–like a watch, belt or scarf.
What does your typical day look like?
It depends on how many projects I’m juggling at RED, because that dictates how much time and energy I have for other things, including Modern Nerd. A typical day consists of all or one of the following tasks:
- Attending internal and/or client meetings
- Explaining ideas on a white board (or listening intently)
- Pumping out creative that will hopefully dazzle everyone
- Hitting one of the many tech, entrepreneur or startup events on the west side of Los Angeles
How do you bring ideas to life?
I invest the least amount of time to produce a minimum viable product. Then I get feedback and iterate. My board of advisors consists of anyone who influences me–my coworkers, my clients and my girlfriend. They’re all coaches in my corner. It’s very common for me to start with insights, sketch out ideas, design a concept, and then end with a prototype–all in a short amount of time, by getting feedback between each stage.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Hybrid digital creatives that couple brand strategy with a working knowledge of design. Most strategists rely on designers to visualize their ideas, releasing ownership of their concepts. Conversely, too many designers are missing the strategy skills needed to grow out of a production role. If you can have ideas founded in strategy and present them visually, and then couple that with an understanding of trends in technology, you can work alongside any person or department at a digital agency and become the nexus of collaboration and the ultimate definition of a creative person. I imagine the future agency will be filled with people like this, and I’m doing my best to both become one and help cultivate them on my personal blog.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I worked as a freelance interactive designer for several years. I remember waking up one day around 6:00 p.m. (because my schedule was totally backward) and looking at myself in the mirror. I had a full beard and thought, “I have no reason to shower today, except for myself.” Fortunately that period paved the way for where I am today, but if I ever do it again, I’ll definitely buy a cat.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I’d use the productivity habits I’ve built through the years, and I wouldn’t be such an introverted p*ssy. For instance, once I get into the office, I write down three tasks. As I’m working my way through them, I go out of my way to connect with people and talk about our projects. If I complete those three tasks, I know I’m moving my projects forward, and if I connect with at least one person each day, I know I’m a part of this world that’s rotating with or without me.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I communicate my ideas visually (when needed). I have a background as an illustrator, so I can sketch almost anything from a conceptual thought to a literal execution. It’s a skill that’s about as valuable as being able to write well. I’m currently drafting a blog post on this subject, because sketching ideas is not as hard as you think, and I want to teach you how to do it–so look out for that.
What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I finally learned how to make people feel important through brief moments of connection. This is a f*cking skill, and anyone who works at an agency knows what I’m talking about. I didn’t grow up super sensitive, so it took me a while to realize not everyone wants to be treated like a jock, especially young women (go figure!). Now I treat everyone like the most precious client I have, because I understand the value of making them feel good about themselves.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Create a digital strategy course for financial advisors, and build a business around it. Gen-Xs in the financial sector are scrambling to figure out how to use social media. They recognize their success is built on word-of-mouth (which social media caters to well), and are looking to build their reputations. They’re also willing to throw money at anything that can help them get ahead.
Tell us a secret.
I was born in Canada, which means I’m an American, except I’m leaner, faster, and of course, healthier.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
- Evernote is an incubator for all my digital ideas and inspiration. It keeps me organized and on top of everything I need to develop my projects.
- Spotify has broadened my musical tastes. It lets me listen to albums I normally wouldn’t commit to buying.
- iPad rekindled my love of both drawing and reading. I’ve never liked Wacom tablets, and as a mobile minimalist, I don’t like carrying books with me. My iPad and my stylus have removed those boundaries. I now sketch and read wherever I go, whenever I want. It also gives me an excuse to carry a man-purse (dashing!).
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
If you’re at all interested in building relationships for life and business, you should pick up Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. It’s a lifestyle guide that will help you build loyal connections with everyone you meet over the course of your life.
Name three people we should follow on Twitter and tell us why.
- @NikkiShum because she’s the perfect strategic complement to my creative, and she’s got my back.
- @JennyInTheOffic because she’s smart and driven. If you want to join the best agency in the wold, hit her up.
- @JaredKroff because he’s humble, funny, and one of the most talented people I know.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I laugh all the time at RED. The peeps here are some of my very best friends and have a way of conveying their observations about digital culture that my hipster friends don’t.
Who is your hero?
Timothy Ferriss springs to mind. I don’t know if I’d call him a hero, but The Four Hour Work Week was a real eye-opener for me. I’ve never forgotten the following quote from him: “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” This is so f*cking true.
How did you get up and running with Modern Nerd Apparel?
I started with what I do best: strategy and creative. I built a site in WordPress and tracked every click. I focused on the brand positioning, pivoted my strategy, and updated my design based on feedback. Once I nailed it (in about a week), I quickly moved over to an ecommerce platform and invested in the first run of shirts. I’m currently building relationships with wholesalers, fashion designers, and marketing peers to continue building the brand under the original creative vision. It’s so much fun that I just soiled my pants writing about it.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of starting Modern Nerd Apparel?
Meeting amazing people and having an instant connection with them. Everyone loves fashion, and they appreciate the brand I’m building and respect that I’m still hustling despite having a demanding career. I’ve met more creative badasses in the last few months than I have in the last few years. That includes you, Mario.
Balind Sieber on Twitter: @balindsieber
Modern Nerd on Twitter: @modern_nerd
Modern Nerd on Facebook:
Modern Nerd Apparel’s website: http://modernnerdapparel.com/
RED Interactive Agency:
Balind Sieber’s personal blog:
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.