Daniel Honig is the CEO and Boomer Digital. According to the company website, Boomer Digital helps companies launch creative experiences. While I love social media – hello, Instagram! – my relationship with certain parts of the digital world is shaky at best. I know what a creative experience is IRL, but online? Daniel patiently broke it down for me over lunch at Osteria al Doge, one of the few good restaurants near Times Square. For a quick education in all (okay, maybe not ALL) the technology you wish you understood, read on!
So I looked at your website, and I want to know what you mean by “experiences,” and how that translates into the work that you do.
I’m primarily focused on custom software development. First and foremost, I think amazing experiences start with an amazing team. Software development is so difficult – if you get one thing wrong, then you’re not providing an amazing experience. The work is late, or it’s over budget. What we bring is a really experienced team, and we’ve had about 30-40 large Web projects in the last few years. We’ve got the know-how.
How did you end up in software?
I worked on Wall Street. The schedule is really grueling. At least twice a week you have to be at work at 6:30 to accommodate EMEA (Europe/Middle East/Asia). Then the market crashed in 2008, and I saw what was going to happen. I had already started talking to a friend of mine about working at a start-up, creating one of those discount services, like daily deals. We wanted to be able to offer special deals at places like Chelsea Piers, or at certain hotels. Today, everybody’s doing it, but in 2008, nobody had.
So are you doing the design of those kinds of websites?
We’re not doing the design. We’ve been really focused on the engineering. With a large-scale website, there’s a lot that goes into it: catalogue management, e-commerce, asset management, content management – everything you need to transact business.
And you created your own software for this?
No, but my former business, RailsDog, created an open-source platform named Spree.
I’m not sure what open-source means.
There are three big players in the e-commerce space. Spree is a Ruby on Rails platform. We were leaders in the Spree community, and we’re still heavily involved in the platform.
What does it mean to be a leader in the Spree community?
We wrote all of the most important extensions. My company employs all of the people who helped developed it. Spree has separated, and they sold themselves to First Data. We went into the consulting side.
Which do you prefer, the building side or the consulting side?
I really like consulting. You get to solve real-world problems. When you do development without customers, you end up in a very ivory tower situation. That’s why you need to do both. You need to have your eye on how the software is actually used. If you just build it, it’s all very theoretical, and it’s hard to get right.
How does your process work as a consultant? Someone approaches you, and then what happens?
We look at a number of factors. Is it an e-commerce project, or is it a general project? With a general project, we have to look at what’s going on in the industry. With e-commerce, we’re always asking the same questions: what is the catalogue size? Is it one SKU, or is it a thousand? You’d be surprised. The one SKU project can sometimes be more complex than that one that’s a thousand.
Explain how that would work.
A great example of this is Aloha, a lifestyle brand we did. They sell supplements – they’re basically a non-evil GMC. Aloha started with a pill pack, and there was a lot of branding and storytelling needed to establish that particular product. Consumers aren’t just going to show up and buy a pretty pill pack. They have to trust what’s inside of the pills. We had to work with the company to design the site so their content authors were able to create content and establish editorial processes. They wanted consumers to benefit from the content they’d asked experts to produce. When you have a lot of SKUs, all you really care about is getting the inventory online.
How did you end up focused on the lifestyle space? I noticed that you’ve worked with Blue Apron and some other companies in the food space.
It really is the framework – Spree. It scales really well across all those verticals. We have deep expertise in that framework. All of those companies were using that product, or were interested in developing a project within that framework.
So it’s not necessarily reflective of certain passions that your team has?
I’m really passionate about fashion because of the art and creativity and expression and storytelling that go into it. I’ve gone to some really great fashion shows in London. I’ve developed an understanding of the business, to a certain extent. My best friend runs a fashion company selling denim and T-shirts, which led us to doing business with Chipotle. So I am in that space, to a certain extent. I love the humanities, and the tech world is all about one way of thinking. I balance it out with other things.
Were you working at Chipotle when they were doing their campaign with literary writers like Jonathan Safran Foer? Do special projects like that have an impact on your side of the business?
Absolutely. We’re often working with the same marketing teams. Personally, I’d love to be more of a social entrepreneur, I just don’t get that many opportunities. You want to think that the work that you’re doing does something more than put food in your belly. There are few opportunities in technology to do that. I’d like to find them. That’s a goal.
Have you always been interested in technology?
My father was a mainframe programmer. So he was always working in tech. I was around it from a very young age. I did everything I could in high school to get away from it, but I couldn’t.
What are your other interests?
I don’t do anything artistic, but I am a patron of the arts. I love to snowboard. I love to cook. I try to hit the gym or a SoulCycle class a couple of times a week.
What are the strongest areas of your business at the moment?
E-commerce, mobile development and our development and operations practice. We have a lot of partners that we’ve joined up with in the last six months. We have a really visual dashboard, and 24/7 monitoring – all of these capabilities that took us a while to acquire. It’s all based around Puppet, which is an area we think is really important. It’s also kind of a foundation area for us, and something we’re using to get the business to scale.
What are three pieces of advice you’d give someone who wanted to build a website?
- Understand your minimum viable product (MVP). You can probably live with less than you originally thought. Put everything off that you can.
- Make sure you have a great team, and don’t be afraid to bring in consultants.
- Make sure you have data that backs up your strategy. For example: Spending lots and lots of money on tools for cross-selling and, say, market segmentation, personalization of content – some of that can make sense. But the number one driver of conversion is email. So why not personalize your email? Focus there first instead of worrying about the content personalization on the site, which can wait until later. If you think you know something, make sure you can find the data to back it up.