Wednesday, November 25, 2015

45 Degrees

What Does it Mean to Adjust an Angle or Fall in Between?

I spent the better part of a day last month driving through a tunnel of trees, turning all red and gold and trying to retain their outward green composure even though the truth is this: it's getting cold in the Midwest. People walk by in sweatshirts and down jackets with their hats pulled squarely over their ears. It smells like wood smoke in Wisconsin. And why not? My friend Laurie writes "I can smell November all buttered and bare" but I think she's likely talking about trees somehow, too.

So degrees are falling and for the past five generations the weather has been the central point of all small talk yet, as I sit here tonight, I can't tell you the fastest and most effective way to type the degree symbol – as in "hey, it's only 45 degrees outside, you better grab a coat" – on my computer, let alone on my Samsung Note smartphone. This is sad because, like a percent symbol, the degree symbol is both (a) better at visually conveying the impact and idea of temperature and (b) allowing quick access to express the relative. There's too little of that. When we're all wrapped up in black and white, we miss out on the halves and portions.

To wit: The leaves don't simply wither and fall in a single day, we get a whole season for that. Indeed, we get a full season of incremental change capable of disputing the dialectical opposition that the up/down, for/against crowd would have you buy into, the gradual drop in degrees giving us a smaller percentage of leaves hanging on until they end up on your lawn. Minus a simple degree symbol, I'm think I'm supposed to tell someone by text message: "It's unbearably cold" or "It's incredibly hot," but today, it's neither, it's just mild. That's how Fall goes, marching step-by-step into a big pile of dry, raked leaves.

A few years ago, speaking of degrees, we had the privilege to work on the legendary Litespeed bicycle brand; they were hoping to develop a new symbol for the front headtube badge and had a variation of an intersecting "L" and "S" from their logo. We helped to iron out the concept, a fine designer at 3VERB working to bring both elements together so it felt more like a coherent symbol rather than an collision. Then we simply turned the whole thing on its side by 45 degrees and found that it gained an upward momentum and recalled the switchbacks of the infamous Alp de Huez climb at the Tour de France. I nicknamed the cocked symbol "The Ascent" given its resemblance to that race route, but today I recognize that 45 degree angle for what it really is: somewhere between heatstroke and frostbite, the perfect temperature for a brisk, principled ride up the next hill.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Right Image: Your Biggest Fan

Push a Bicycle Up Into the Jetstream with Any Old Household Fan

It always helps to admire the engineering and ingenuity of products you work on, for sure. In 2012 and 2013, Quintana Roo was keen to market the SHIFT technology of their triathlon bikes, a clever offset of the downtube to move air from the drive side to cleaner side of the bike. For me, the most important parts about this shot were (a) capturing motion in the ribbon and (b) making sure to include the 1940s stainless-steel, Chicago-built Fresh'nd Aire 'bullet' fan as a reference to a streamlined design era and counterpoint to the black carbon.
The idea of using the ribbon to illustrate the SHIFT feature was developed by the crew at QR and we made sure to incorporate it not only in the photography and marketing but also in our design work at 3VERB for the actual frame graphics – a simple red band making its way from headtube to seattube to chainstay – as shown above.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


A Reminder to Choose Wisely.

Last weekend the WSJ Magazine ran a selection of insights from notable folks on the nature of willpower. I burned through a few of the small articles – David Sedaris on his obsession with his Fitbit and daily walking/exercise routine, for example – then sat back and wondered what the heck I thought about willpower as a concept.

The first thing that popped into my mind was a few of my favorite E.L. Doctorow lines – the novelist died in July at the age of 84 – from his perfect collection of short stories, "Sweet Land Stories," published in 2004:

"And when those black clouds came sailing in from the west, pouring thunderstorms upon us so that you couldn’t hear the cries or curses of humankind, I liked that best of all. Chicago could stand up under the worst God had to offer. I understood why it was built – a place for trade, of course, with railroads and ships and so on, but mostly to give all of us a magnitude of defiance that is not provided by one house on the plains."

Like any good, profound sentiment, those few lines turned the idea of willpower – so often represented as personal trait or singular, focused, and magnified virtue – into a much better idea: "a magnitude of defiance" – physical stature and fortitude – among a concentrated and unified group. Or, a city built as a support framework for collective willpower.

If we're lucky, we know this already: willpower doesn't exist in a vacuum. That's what I think about willpower.

I'm OK to let stamina, perseverance, gumption, and courage remain individual virtues, but willpower is relative to the family, friends, and colleagues who surround you, those who give you a wayside when you're road-weary and guidance when you're ready to step on the gas.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Close Your Eyes. Fall Backwards. Meet the Wrong Person.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to run across the All Things Considered interview with Jason Isbell. I knew of the Drive By Truckers, Isbell's old rock band, but I wasn't familiar with his solo or 400 Unit records. The interview itself knocked me out. Jason was on the edge of sorting out a few things in his life, including his alcoholism, and to hear him tell the story, you just knew he was on the edge of a great album. He recounted the story of a drunken evening contemplating rehab with his then girlfriend (now wife) who stated pretty matter-of-factly: "You're telling the wrong person." By this, of course, she didn't mean she was about to do nothing, but everything.

Not long after this, maybe even before I bought the record, Isbell played the Letterman Show and played the tune "Stockholm" from the new album (Southeastern) with his band. They were great. Here's the video. Like the interview, but for other reasons, it felt like I was witness to a small triumph of sorts, a performance of a song on the flipside of a fair amount of heartbreak, with the earnest support of people who really cared for him. The song ended and one word struck me about the performance: inspired.

I wanted to keep that moment and word – inspired – in my pocket as a memento of the feeling that I'm occasionally lucky enough to encounter. And, I wanted to make sure I used it sparingly, so it didn't dilute like "awesome" or "spectacular," once reserved for only the best fireworks and true wonders of the world.

Now, I've spent the better part of 20 years involved in the creative pursuits, sometimes for projects of my own and often as part of my job at 3VERB where we develop marketing and tech for companies. In that time, like any good Midwesterner, I've consistently put an emphasis on the perseverance and hard work needed to produce meaningful creative work; it often takes plain stamina to push through a thousand "no's" on the way to the best art and work. Also, as taught by my father, I've sought out and respect craftsmanship in all manners of creative: the discipline and diligence to write a complete novel, the depth of woodworking knowledge to craft a Thos. Moser chair, the professionalism and mannered approach of Tom Dowd as documented in The Language of Music.

But, in the hunt for perseverance and craftsmanship, I've often given inspiration less credit than it deserves. I don't trust that it'll come around as often as it should. So now I'm out actively lookin' for it among my colleagues with the confident belief that it might be around the next corner even when I'm not clearing an emotional hurdle like Isbell.

Just last week, I had a client apologize after a energetic conversation about his work because, I suppose, it felt somehow emotional and tangential to our work. But for all the block and tackle that needs to happen with that particular project aren't we really mostly in it to help support the inspired design, that exact passion, we're meant to share with a wider audience? When we stumble across the next fast and inspired moment, will we just let it burst open high in the sky to fall into small ashes at our feet or catch it on film – lock it in our memory like that picture of the Grand Canyon – so it can punch us in the soul a second time? Will we be ready for it?

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Postscript. I stood outside Chicago's Merchandise Mart watching the rain this morning, thinking about finishing this article and the first line of Joe Henry's song "Our Song" – "I saw Willie Mays At a Scottsdale Home Depot Looking at Garage Door Springs At the the far end of the 14th row." It's a line I often cite to fellow writers in the description of my editing process. One day, I'll learn to leave that kind of inspired line alone at the outset.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

4th & Walnut

How to Spend a Quality Afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky

I spent last weekend in Louisville, Kentucky at the North American Handbuilt Bike Show (NAHBS) – a gathering of folks who are absolutely obsessive about their bicycles and all the parts and pieces that go into making a truly unique ride. In addition to the incredible bikes, oddball accessories, and perfect products being produced by companies like Boyd and Silca, the show has become a bi-annual chance for me and my dad to unplug from our daily worlds, catch up, and remind ourselves about this shared love of bicycles. I flew into Louisville from Chicago on Friday afternoon, my dad drove from Cincinnati, bringing a bike that he built (from tubes) over the winter which I rode along the carpeted halls of the hotel later that evening.

On the way into town from the airport, I noticed that we passed “Thomas Merton Square” and I remembered the story about Thomas Merton – I first read about it in Fr. Greg Boyle’s book “Tattoos on the Heart” – at the the corner of 4th and Walnut in Louisville in 1958, in the middle of March. Merton was trappist monk at nearby Gethsemani abbey, running afternoon errands in the city on a normal day when he was interrupted with a revelation about the nature of the people surrounding him. To paraphrase, without doing justice to the nuance and depth of Merton’s own words, Merton was allowed to see a vision of people that removed much of superficial clutter that acts to divide us and more plainly recognize his unity with others. It must have hit him like a bolt; he wrote about it later in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander with a clarity that allowed it resonate: a profound moment on a simple afternoon that went on to affect a lot of people. Today it’s memorialized with a plaque.

After we spent about five hours at the bike show – remember the bike show? – I took a walk over to 4th and Walnut (now Muhammad Ali Drive) to see if I could find what Merton had encountered at that corner and snap a few photos. I read the plaque and I stood there for three or four minutes trying to find the angle in the surrounding architecture that unlocked the revelation for Merton.

As I walked away, back through Louisville’s revitalized entertainment district, a woman paused and politely asked if I wanted my picture taken against the backdrop of the buildings. She saw the camera in my hand. And, this thought hit me:

Some places are, indeed, special. You can’t drop a nickel on the floor of Sun Studio in Memphis – where Elvis made his first record – and have the clink sound anything but perfect. 4th and Walnut was no different.

And, while these kind of places might sit directly beneath perfectly aligned stars, they don’t get to be truly remarkable without first being imbued with a sense of purpose. That’s what has happened at 4th and Walnut and, also, might happen at an intersection near you. Today, if you stop and reflect at Thomas Merton Square in Louisville you won't only validate Merton’s experience; you'll get to validate the goodwill of countless folks who have stopped to consider an improved existence since.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

*N.B. I've used the historic reference to "4th and Walnut" rather than the current intersection ("4th and Muhammad Ali Drive") out of respect for Merton's original text, though I acknowledge that Muhammad Ali was the greatest.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Technori Hits a Home Run

It's Good to See Someone Good at their Job

About this time each year, I inevitably start to miss baseball. It’s a function, of course, of the grey snow, the arctic blasts of cold air that whoosh their way through the train when the doors open at Clark/Lake, and the lack of sun. I await the first hint of spring training, though, not only for the reminder of warm weather, but also for the opportunity to see the skill and craft of the game again after six months. A dropped fly ball or two aside, baseball has always offered me the opportunity to see a sincere effort towards developing fine-tuned teamwork and individual dedication toward improved performance. Not always, of course, but a lot of the time.

Our company, GimmeAnother, had the chance to pitch at Technori just over a year ago when we launched our ‘Save to Mobile’ functionality and our iOS app on the same day. For us, it was a nerve-wracking, fun, exciting time and event… and somehow the experience itself felt like it was designed with those emotions and elements in mind. The collection and diversity of start-ups we pitched with that night (including DonorPath, BadgeCert, and AmStatz) helped to create a vibrant dialogue and pace, keep us (and the crowd) on our toes, and fire up good exchange of ideas at our company even the next day.

So, when I learned that Technori Pitch had changed to be theme-based – rather than a simple and crazy collection of interesting start-ups – I was somewhat suspicious of the move. As an interdisciplinary devotee I'm inclined against too much over-specialization and the tendency toward group-think it can sometimes produce. Start-ups, in particular, need – I still believe – to be shaken out of their silos. But, I think what I found with the new theme-based Technori Pitch was, simply, a more coherent and better organized event that still retained the depth, dynamics, and vibrant display of really clever business ideas that I had seen in the past. Given the success of the event, both in press coverage and attendance, over the past few years, this initiative toward an updated format is really pretty commendable as far as I’m concerned. It's easy to not change.

The event looked and felt like a professional team, honing their game, getting better, and feeling confident in the direction. It felt like a satisfying game of baseball without the booziness or disappointment of a ninth inning dropped fly. The keynote at this most recent Technori event (@Properties founder, Thaddeus Wong) provided a really nice, appropriate foundation for the pitches that followed, many of the presenting founders referencing the keynote itself as a legitimate guidepost for the logic and usefulness of their businesses and direction. That alone makes a ton of sense.

There’s something satisfying, of course, in the excitement of a start-up and the initial chaos that ensues. Lots of entrepreneurs are attracted to that. There’s also something to be said for the discipline it takes to step back, reassess, then dig into the hard work necessary to improve an already good product, making it more cohesive and useful. Technori Pitch has done that. It’s a good lesson for me, too.

Do yourself a favor – ignore the theme if it doesn’t match your specific industry or vertical – when the next Technori Pitch rolls around, go for the ideas.

-- Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB. He blogs at

P.S. Technori has good set of their pitch and keynote videos available online. You should check ‘em out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Weather at Fruit Hill

New Sincerity Drops The Pretense

44, the excellent new album by the guys and gal in New Sincerity Works, has had it's share of glowing reviews and accolades. A look-no-hands-barred open letter documenting a raft of heartbreak and written big as a billboard, 44 shoves songwriter Mike Tittel out from behind the kit for the first time in a long time.

I won't drag you through a full review – because I don't know how to write one – and because you'd do better to own it and judge for yourself. If you live in Southern Ohio, it's already required listening or been duly banned by your local municipality anyhow.

Here's the true low-down on three important tunes:

1. "I'm Not The Problem" is as good as any problem-based song I've ever run into and that includes a fairly heavy emotional connection to Jackson Browne's "My Problem is You" as well as The Replacement's "My Little Problem," which I've witnessed performed live as a duet between Paul Westerberg and Dan Baird.
That's how good.

2. "As If We Are 24" features lyrics intricate enough I'm still somewhat afraid to unpack it fully. The second guitar on the chorus doesn't sound like Keith Richards, it sounds like Ron Wood.

3. "Less Me, Less You" – the sleeper – drops us in a room filled with "shiny pants" (favorite line: "hey, best friend with the hillbilly dance") but reminds us how easy it is to plug the pinholes of our lives with criticism of others. It's not me, it's you. Wait, I mean it's me, not you.

Mike Tittel, the engineer behind this entire episode, lives on Fruit Hill and spent the first part of his career as a photographer, so you'd not be surprised to learn that the graphic elements shine on the packaging, too. The cover sings. It's the San Francisco you should know, not the one you do. And, the typography sings, as well, though certainly the two 4s should face away from each other. If you buy the record, Tittel promises to lob other visual elements at you via text message.

And he delivers.

In the band's promo poster below, half of the message is absolutely plain to see: The bass player looks like a keyboard player. The drummer insists on wearing a hat indoors. One guitar player won't put down his soda, the other won't tell us what's so funny. Tittel can't even look you in the eye.

The the other half ain't so obvious, though, leaving the curious wanna-be fan with more uncomfortable questions than not. Who is this group? Are they knowable? Do I want to know them? Are the broken aparts alone ever greater than a sadly tethered sum? Can they put down their Kinks covers long enough to make another record?

We'll find out well before 55 if the weather at Fruit Hill holds.

Cue the handclaps right after O'Callaghan's solo. If you haven't heard this album yet, go hear it. Or, go watch the video about the making of the record. Or, go find fifteen songs you never knew you had in you.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother, founder of 3VERB, and occasional musician.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Right Image: A Zippo Lighter

Finding the Real Meaning of Utility and Reliability

About a year or so ago I got wise to the toll that constant (often well-meaning) external opinion into my creative world was taking and I set out to reset my bearings with purpose. At the time we were starting to be responsible for more product photography at 3VERB and the studio was set up and ready to go.

My idea was to assemble and shoot a quick collection of daily items that represented my world but, more specifically, also represented a stack of conceptual ideas – reliability, utility, and goodwill – which I hope define my approach at 3VERB. The watch, the notebook, the knife shown in the picture were all easy choices. I rely on each, in some regard, every day and certainly expect each item to be 'on-board' as I walk out the door each morning. They are my 'Every Day Carry.'

More complex, though, was another item I wanted, for sure, in the picture: my grandfather's Zippo. Having given up cigarettes a dozen years ago, I no longer needed access to quick, pocket-able fire. What I needed access to, at that time and now, is the reminder of my grandfather's way, his goodwill, his nature and demeanor. For me, these provide the groundwork for an honest shot at the reliability and utility I'm searching for around the corner of so many marketing and product corners. I needed his name stamped in metal.

The end result, a printed marketing piece, wound up being one of my favorite 3VERB outreach cards, crisp and kinda poignant, and an important reminder that my responsibilities go beyond production. I was proud that it felt sincere and not cynical or ironic. I've included front and back (magnified, clickable) images below.
For the purpose of this blog and my renewed commitment to writing on a regular basis, the title "Right Image" will serve as a searchable tag (at right) and excuse to find (and write about) other images and strong visuals that resonate with me. Look out for more soon.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of Chicago-based tech innovator GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.