But it’s critical for leaders at every level to “keep their hands dirty” in their crafts. The more removed you become from this work, the more likely you are to make bad decisions.
Jaron Rubenstein is the founder and president of Rubenstein Technology Group. His experience, deep technical expertise, and passion for design empowers creative partners to identify opportunities, manage complex projects, and maintain the integrity of their work. Rubenstein Technology Group is the leading technology partner for top creative firms. Recent high-profile engagements include Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Bloomberg LP, Citi, Harvard University, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, UBS AG, Vanity Fair, and Wolf-Gordon. Before Rubenstein Technology Group, Jaron held technical positions with Lockheed Martin and Reuters.
Where did the idea for Rubenstein Technology Group come from?
I founded Rubenstein Technology Group to create well-designed websites, mobile apps, and software in partnership with leading graphic designers. At the time I started the company, most software applications, especially web apps and even many websites, didn’t focus much attention on aesthetics or how users interacted with them. I studied both computer science and cognitive psychology in college, and I was most interested in human-computer interaction and human factors research, now known as user experience. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to use my software engineering skills while working with some amazingly talented graphic designers, and, through that process, I developed an appreciation for great design.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I tend to spend a lot of my time working with clients and prospects to guide their creative visions into technical implementations while taking full advantage of available technologies. I spend a small portion of my time looking at code and managing systems to keep my technology knowledge sharp. I spend most of my day communicating, yet I fear I don’t spend enough time communicating. I stay productive by trying to focus on the task with the highest priority, though I can’t say I’m always successful.
How do you bring ideas to life?
For better or worse, I’m a “just do it” kind of guy. I have a brilliant team, but I love nothing more than opening up a sketchbook, drawing up some ideas, jumping into the code or system configuration, and helping implement those ideas. As software and systems get more complex, it’s getting harder to jump in and get something working in the amount of time I typically have to focus on such tasks. But it’s critical for leaders at every level to “keep their hands dirty” in their crafts. The more removed you become from this work, the more likely you are to make bad decisions. I try to be diligent about jotting down ideas whenever they come up (organization is key here!) so I can prioritize and flesh them out later.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The entire industry has become focused on user experience, and it’s thrilling because it’s been a passion of mine for so long. Apple deserves a ton of credit for ushering businesses into the golden age of design, where branding, aesthetics, and user experience can make a significant difference in the bottom line.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I absolutely love what I do. I love technology: building it, using it, explaining it, and helping others achieve their goals with it. I taught myself programming in high school. It was so rewarding, but I never expected to make a career of it. It’s that passion that drives me every day.
I was recently at a career fair and had the opportunity to answer hundreds of questions from college students contemplating their majors and futures. The best advice I can share is to do whatever it takes to find your passion, and when you find it, dig in. Too many people bury those passions in pursuit of other, often more lucrative or prestigious, careers and spend their lives toiling. Whether it’s 40 hours or 80 hours a week, it’s not work if you love what you do.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
The worst job I had was packing boxes at a shipping store during the holiday season. This relatively simple, rote work was not intellectually stimulating, and I made a ton of mistakes. I learned that I needed to be challenged and do different types of things throughout the day. If I’m not being challenged, and challenging others, complacency and inattentiveness quickly set in, and I can’t even pack a box correctly.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I have no regrets. I think you should make mistakes and fail, but you should learn from those mistakes and grow. Never make the same mistake twice. I try very hard not to have regrets. I don’t spend much time looking backward, and I try to spend enough time on important decisions to at least justify them in the future. For that reason, I probably wouldn’t do anything differently.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Set goals and prioritize. I have learned to regularly prioritize and reprioritize my task list and goals. I do this at least daily (sometimes multiple times a day), and it keeps me focused on the most important tasks that I need to complete and/or delegate. In a small business, priorities are constantly shifting, and urgent items come up regularly. Prioritizing is the only way I’m able to achieve any degree of success.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
In our work for clients, I won’t accept anything less than 100 percent (from myself and my team members). But for many business management and marketing tasks, 80 percent is good enough. It took me 13 years to learn this lesson because my engineering mindset was constantly looking for the best and most complete solution to each problem. I learned the power of “good enough” not too long ago, and this strategy has led to personal and business growth.
Some business challenges require the perfect solution, but most don’t. Eighty percent is usually good enough. That tweet doesn’t have to be perfect, that email can be shorter than a novel, and that blog post can go up even though it’s not worthy of a Pulitzer Prize. This mindset helps us avoid analysis paralysis, saves a ton of time, and allows my team to focus on the tasks that need to be executed perfectly, such as client work.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I worked with an employee, practically a partner, for several years and groomed him to take over a lot of the day-to-day management for the team so I could focus on higher-level strategies. He moved on one day, and it was the first time in my career that an employee had left my team. I was upset for a year or two — not at him, but at the world. I was upset that I’d invested so much into him, upset that he left, and upset that I was back to square one doing it all myself. It took a few years to replace him, and we could have spent that time growing and thriving instead of stagnating because there wasn’t a manager in his role. I won’t make that mistake again.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
For 20 years, I’ve had a fun idea to start a nonprofit co-op that would collect the deposit fees for bottles and cans. It’s a refund, not a payment, so (I think) it’s completely tax-free income. There’s a gold mine out there for somebody willing to do the work and help others get back on their feet.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Every business professional should have a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot to stay connected while on the road. Having one has made me a lot more productive, and it pays for itself in the first one or two uses each month.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I manage my tasks via a text editor and Dropbox. It’s the simplest, quickest way for me to add, update, reprioritize, and remove tasks. I’ve tried dozens of alternatives, and the text editor wins every time.
I’m also a big fan of wikis and Trello, which we use as a team to keep documentation, tasks, and lists in sync with one another.
And for the hackers in the community, I’m an Emacs guy. Thanks for asking.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Great by Choice” by Jim Collins is a fantastic book that is full of actionable ideas that have helped me grow and shape my business. The story of the “20-Mile March” provides immeasurable lessons from the story of explorers Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott and their race to be the first to the South Pole in 1911.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
For business reading, I’m all about Bloomberg Business and Harvard Business Review, and I get a lot of my best news from my contact’s posts and articles on LinkedIn.
On the design side, I’m truly lucky to work with some of the most talented graphic designers in the world. I’ve learned a lot by observing what works for our partners and clients in their businesses and through our projects together. I really enjoy Fast Company, WIRED, and Design Observer. Many of my friends and partners contribute to the latter, which has excellent content.
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