CHRIS PETESCIA—What’s your least favorite question asked in interviews?
MIKE GERMANO—I hate questions about career paths or five-year plans. People who talk about career paths scare me. “I’m gonna work here, I’m gonna get promoted, in two years I’ll get promoted again, on and on until I reach the top.” And sure, that makes sense, but it scares the shit out of me.
CP—So what’s your five-year plan?
MG—You’re an asshole. Having a five-year plan suggests it’s going to take you five years to get where you want to go. I don’t want to wait that long. Aside from that, talking that way seems so permanent. If you plan everything out, you’re giving your adventure an itinerary. And having an itinerary is boring. Screw five years ahead. But what about 200 years ago? Who would we have been 200 years ago?
CP—We would have been Lewis and Clark. They just wanted to see shit and go where no one had ever gone. We would have been those people saying, “This is boring, we want to go somewhere else. There’s a chance that we might die but we get to see something new every day? Yeah, that sounds cool, let’s go.”
MG—We’d be Lewis and Clark wrapped up with The Blues Brothers.
CP—Maybe some Bill and Ted in there, too. Bill and Ted grab The Blues Brothers on their way back in time to hang out with Lewis and Clark and have an adventure. Toss Doc Brown and Marty in there and yeah, that’s us.
MG—I’ve always been the promoter, you’ve been the designer. Do orange and green work well together?
CP—Orange and green are not exactly complementary; they’re contrasting. Orange is more of an aggressive color – it doesn’t always know the right answer, but it wants to fight for its opinion regardless. Green is more peaceful. It’s definitely more respectful of other people’s views. Some of the reasons that people like green are the same reasons they don’t like orange and vice versa. They’re different, but at the end of the day the strength of the Carrot brand is the two colors working in tandem. And they look good together, too. What do you think we’ve always had in common?
MG—You and I have the exact same fear, and that’s the only thing we’ve ever had that’s similar. We’ve both been afraid of not having control over what we do, of having to show up to some job every day and be told what and how to do it.
CP—Yeah, I can easily say that my biggest fear is having to get an actual job. The idea of that terrifies me. That’s why it made more sense to us to spend an entire summer in the basement making a company from scratch than to apply to jobs, which probably sounds ridiculous, but that made sense to us. Getting a regular job sure as hell didn’t. We get to operate on our own instincts. There’s not always obvious logic in what we do but that’s OK. I think logic sometimes stops people from doing things.
MG—And the most logical thing to do – what everyone expects – is for us to sell this company. And again, that is what scares us the most.
CP—How do you think our fears have evolved over the years?
MG—When we were starting out, it used to be, “We’re not gonna eat tomorrow if we don’t make money… so, get scared.” Fear was always a motivator for us.
CP—I got a little bit worried, as we started getting successful, that not having the fear about money, or rather, lack of money, would be a problem – maybe that we’d somehow lose our motivation or drive. Fortunately, money hasn’t done that. It just allowed us to raise the stakes and take better risks, or what other people would call risks. But how much would you sell Carrot for, right now, today?
MG—Buddy Media just sold for 700 million dollars. We built their second fucking Facebook app. There’ve been four or five different times when we were asked to sell. We’ve been made offers from other agencies looking to buy us and some would have helped us grow, some would have clearly hurt us. We’re not looking for an easy out. It’s about the adventure, not so much the gold. There’s a lot more adventure left to be had. Yeah there’s gold, there will always be gold; that’s no problem.
CP—But money isn’t fun, or at least money for money’s sake isn’t fun.
MG—Right, experiences are fun. I got to go to Yankee Stadium and walk on the field. I got to sit in a box with Jerry Jones while we watched his football team play. We even went snowboarding with Jake Burton.
CP—I recently had drinks with Dave Matthews, someone whose work I’ve been a big fan of for the better part of my life. I got to work with Dan Madsen, who is a big deal in the Star Wars and Star Trek ‘verses, and someone I really admire. These sorts of things came out of Carrot and what we’re doing, and the people we have met along the way. These kinds of experiences are the adventures, the things I see as the real payouts.
MG—I’ll go ahead and throw you a meatball – comparing our Carrot adventure to the saga of Star Wars, which episode are we in right now?
CP—Well, we got through our Jar Jars and awkward love stories, so definitely past the prequels. We left for adventure and saved the Princess, braved the cold of Hoth, and trained on Dagobah… so I guess this places us at Return of the Jedi. We’re gathering other space pirates and amassing Ewoks to defeat the Empire. That was a good one, thanks. Looking back, who do you wish we hadn’t listened to?
MG—Remember in high school, we had an assignment to help a local business and write a business plan for them? You worked at the video store then, and our plan was to build a website that would let people click on what movie they wanted, send an auto email to the video store, and the video store would send them the DVD via mail. We got a “C” on that project and we were told we were idiots, and that it’d never happen. We listened to that person. Listening to people has been the worst career move I’ve ever made. The thing is though, for everyone who doubted us, we’ve had that many more supporters. It’s sort of like when Forrest Gump starts running. He’s running because he wants to run. People didn’t necessarily understand it but all of a sudden, holy shit, a ton of people are following him. People want to be part of it. People want in.
CP—So, say Carrot Creative is our nightclub. Who are we letting in?
MG—We’re more like an adult day care. We want people that don’t think rules are appropriate. We had the most fire and least direction when we started this. We want young people who have that same spirit.
CP—Exactly! We try to provide a home for people who are similar to us in that way. We’ve seen the greatest résumés in the world, but maybe the person wasn’t as ready for adventure as somebody who’s got nothing at all except the right spirit. What sacrifices have you made for Carrot and were they worth it?
MG—In some ways, we’ve already sacrificed more than most people would ever be willing to. A lot of start-ups begin and the founders are still getting salaries and it’s not a huge sacrifice on their part. We didn’t do that. But even when we weren’t getting salaries it wasn’t a big deal to us. There are also the times we like to talk about the fun margin on clients instead of the profit margin. There are times we’ve said, “Oh, we can take a hit on this one because this project would be fucking awesome.” Our finance guy hates when we talk about the fun margin, because it’s not a “real thing.” But, actually, it is.
CP—What if we had a spare 250k to blow on something for the office? What would it be?
MG—I would buy a stuffed space suit with a pirate sword and eye patch. He’d be my space pirate. I also want an animatronic T-rex wearing sunglasses who shoots money from his little T-rex hands. And he would be remote controlled so I could drive him around the office and make it rain on people.
CP—I like the idea of a first impression experience when you walk in the door, as if you’re moving into a different world or passing through a gateway. Maybe a spin-around room or the receptionist wears a different themed costume every day. It’d be like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I want people to leave this place and feel like they’re coming out of a movie theater into daylight. It should be that immersive. It should be that stark of a contrast.
MG—My goal in life would be for this thing to continue to grow and for me to become so delusional that I’m the digital age equivalent of Willy Wonka; to just be crazy and deluded and live in this world of our own creation. As Carrot grows, people think that we’ll have to start having a plan and being cautious. Just because we’ve had all this success doesn’t mean we’re going to try to become professional and conservative. Being crazy got us here. We’re not going to change that now.