Ben Blackmer – Co-Founder of Are You a Human

[quote style=”boxed”]I find sketching or writing on paper is the best way to focus on a new idea and give it shape.  I love my computer, but it can be so distracting!  Taking pen to paper is just enough of a physical act to force decisions and crystallize an idea into something more tangible.[/quote]

Ben Blackmer is one of the co-founders of Are You a Human, developing the next generation of online human verification. Before starting the company, Blackmer worked for 5 years in the digital advertising industry, specializing in media strategy and investment.  He has worked on brands like Macy’s, Hewlett-Packard, Qwest, Discover Card, Kellogg’s and Meebo, helping design and execute digital media strategies.  He also consulted on new and emerging media platforms, writing a newsletter on digital culture and trends for the Publicis Groupe and Hewlett-Packard.

Blackmer is in his second year of the MBA program at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.  His prior education includes a bachelor’s degree from New York University in jazz piano performance, economics, and French language and literature.  He also holds a master’s degree from New York University in French studies.  He is a proud francophile who has lived in Paris twice in his life and hopes to again in the future.

In the mean time, he currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife and commutes to Detroit where Are You a Human is based. Go blue!

What are you working on right now?

I am focused on perfecting what we call the portal, which allows our users to manage their accounts.  This will also allow anyone to build their own PlayThru, customizing the game for their own site or customers.

What does your typical day look like?

My day starts with a check-in call with our development team in India.  After that, anything goes.  I usually review the recent work done to the portal development, review any comments or suggestions we’ve received from our users and see what is next in the development queue.  Then it is usually a series of meetings with prospective clients, developers and/or partners.

3 trends that excite you.

-Local: this extends to everything from digital localization to the local foodie movement.  The growing awareness of where everything comes from is fascinating and good for society.  It impacts the environment and starts to incorporate previous external costs, which is great.

– Cloud: at Are You a Human, we use the cloud extensively for our development and deployment.  On a personal level, I’m starting to be surprised when a digital product or service does NOT have a cloud extension.  It seems so old if it doesn’t.

– Entrepreneurship: I think there is a growing awareness and appreciation of the entrepreneur mindset.  This extends from small companies all the way into large companies.  If a Fortune 500 company cannot incorporate or promote its employees to develop new ideas and products, that company will have a very short future lifespan.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I find sketching or writing on paper is the best way to focus on a new idea and give it shape.  I love my computer, but it can be so distracting!  Taking pen to paper is just enough of a physical act to force decisions and crystallize an idea into something more tangible.

What inspires you?

My wife is my biggest inspiration.  She works incredibly hard, she is a faculty member and clinical pharmacist at the University of Michigan, and that energizes me.

I find movies to be quite inspirational, as well.  A great movie can make my mind expand in very unexpected and fantastic ways.

What was one mistake you made and what did you learn from it?

In one of my previous jobs, my boss assigned me to coordinate and complete a deck for a client.  I had it essentially completed, but not delivered, and I left for the day.  I got quite an email when I got home that evening asking where it was. While it sounds like a small event now, it was a huge at the time. The job was new and I was very focused on making a good impression.

The mistake reinforced how important it is to have an open and constant line of communication with your team.  Lack of communication can easily turn into unrealistic expectations, which turns into disappointments.  Checking in with your team is an easy way to avoid this.

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

I think there is a huge opportunity to install vending machines with frozen meals in medium to large office buildings.  Frozen meals are a huge lunch option for people and having an easy choice close at hand, and in the office, would be a goldmine.

What do you read every day and why?

My Twitter feed is a must.  Most of my content comes through Google Reader.  My favorite blogs come from Brad Feld, Fred Wilson, Macrumors, and Failblog.  I love the random humor blogs.  They provide so much quick joy throughout the day.  My current favorite is Bad Lip Reading.

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

I love Dan Ariely’s books. He is a behavioral economist at Duke University and his research focuses on why people make seemingly irrational decisions every day.  His last 2 books are Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality.

What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

I just upgraded my iPhone from the 3GS to the 4S, and woah, it is fantastic. I like to stare at it for a few moments each day and think of the possibilities.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why.

– Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishadt): Rishad is the Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer at VivaKi and he is the smartest person I know. His insight into life will inspire you.

– Lee Clow (@leeclowsbeard): The beard shouts wisdom uncommon among beards.

MacRumors (@macrumors): I’m an Apple addict and Macrumors provides the best, quickest and most reliable Apple news.

Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?

I’d love to see Rishad from above interviewed.

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

I laugh constantly at the Daily Show.  There’s usually at least 2 per episode.

What is the best part of working at your own company?

I love the ability to choose who I work with.  I think that is by far the best part of starting and growing your own company. I get to work with awesome people every day.

What do you do to forget about work?

My ideal evening includes coming home, turning on a baseball game, grabbing a beer, and cooking an awesome meal for me and my wife.  It is a great way to focus just enough and relax the mind.


Ben Blackmer on Twitter: @bcb212
Ben Blackmer on LinkedIn: