Hired as the first employee at Six Apart - the makers of Movable Type, Vox, and Typepad (which this site is run on), Anil Dash is a technologist and entrepreneur who writes and speaks widely on new media related topics. His current passion is Expert Labs, a non-profit organization that aims to help policymakers identify and communicate with experts on a wide variety of technical and policy topics.
Three Questions: 6A seems like it has been an incubator for bright, motivated, interesting people, a disproportionately large number of whom have gone on to either found or be instrumental in other exciting projects. Did Mena and Ben hire you, and if so did you have to sell yourself to them or did they come to you knowing that you were what they wanted? What do you think made them such good judges of character and ingenuity?
Anil Dash: Ben & Mena hired me, but we'd known each other (online) before they started Six Apart. So the process was much more of a "why should we trust you with our baby" vs. a "what are your skills and where do you see yourself in five years" kind of thing. Meaning, I think they thought I had the right abilities, but were just worried about trusting any outsiders at that point.
For my part, I didn't really do any selling, per se. I just said I'd work for them for free until they felt they could trust me, and that turned out to be a very short period of time. The first indication that I had that they trusted me to be part of helping support their vision was that they cut me a personal check from their own savings to pay me for helping them. That's real bootstrapping, and a real testament to how much they've been willing to believe in and invest in my career, and I'll never forget that.
I'm not sure they're good judges of character -- I was able to slip past their defenses! :) Seriously, they just really do follow the golden rule and look for people with a sense of humor who are willing to work hard. At least in the early days of a company, it's as simple as that. And it worked great -- a lot of the people I worked with at Six Apart are among my closest friends, and some of the smartest people I've ever met.
3Q: Expert Labs focuses its energy on the federal government, but I've seen first hand how state government policymakers can be even less clued-in to how technology can best be used to facilitate both communication with constituents and citizen participation. Is there room on your plate for state government-focused work as well, or will someone else need to run with that?
AD: Right now, our work at Expert Labs is focused on the federal level as our initial mandate. But part of what we think we can do is make our technology platforms widely available (ThinkTank, our flagship platform, is free and open source for anyone to use) so that other agencies, state and local governments, and even private companies and individuals can use it. Plus, we're also sharing what we've learned, which in many cases is the most valuable thing we can provide to a state government. Gina Trapani is our Project Director for ThinkTank, basically acting as our CTO, and during her work in founding Lifehacker and Smarterware, she's helped more people make smart use of productive technology than possibly anybody else on the web. So we've got the right team for the job when it comes to sharing what we've learned.
We also have some kindred spirits in groups like Code For America, which Jen Pahlka is leading to provide a "civic suite" of software for the municipal and state level. They're sort of a civic sibling to Expert Labs, and I can see all the tech and know-how that we create becoming part of their offerings for government that's not at the federal level.
3Q: You totally rock the bright colored shirt and dark suit look. Do you dress yourself? Got any fashion tips?
AD: I think that's the first time I've ever gotten a fashion question! I love bright, saturated colors, and being a brown-skinned person (often the only one onstage at a tech event), I can usually pull them off pretty well. I like the contrast with a dark jacket or suit, especially since a bright shirt on its own can seem a little too informal. While I'm always presenting for the people in the room, I am increasingly aware that most people who see my public presentations see me on a YouTube or streaming video of the talk, so I tend to wear bright colors because I think it helps my motions and gestures pop a little bit. That might just be psychological, but even if it's only in my head, it still helps the presentation, and I take public speaking pretty seriously.
I do dress myself, my wife and I joke that of the two of us, I'm much more the clothes horse. She's a great dresser, but doesn't really like shopping or any of that stuff, whereas I have no qualms about standing at a tailor for half an hour to get measured for a suit.
I'm not sure I'm in any position to give fashion advice to anybody else, but there are a few things I've always tried to keep in mind. I try to focus on fit, which is basically about ignoring numbers and what you *think* your size is and actually really looking to make sure an outfit is hanging correctly and draping the right way. In terms of color, my personality is pretty unrestrained and not at all shy, so bright colors and slightly more distinctive accessories are my style, but really you have to wear clothes (and shoes, and ties, and jewerly) that you feel confident in, so you can rock what you're wearing.
The last thing is to keep an eye out. I work and live in Manhattan, and between going to dinner in the East Village and going to meetings in Midtown, you can see a dozen amazing looks in a day, most of which aren't even expensive. Sometimes I make a mental note of what details I should look for the next time I'm shopping. Then it's just a matter of "how would I incorporate that into my own personal style?" and you're all set.
Creative Commons-licensed photograph by Joi Ito