How I Got Here
ABOUT GARY BUCK
Thirty years is a few lifetimes in internet years, and each of those distinct lives has been truly special. Here’s the short version of where I’ve been, what I’ve seen and how I ended up here.
Chapter 1 : False Starts
Though my first choice would have been architecture, I was guided into electrical engineering by smarter people. In 1981, this was a serendipitous direction change, as my education and experience in computer design eventually led me to the Macintosh. My first job, however, involved designing complex circuit boards that fit into a bigger box, an even bigger box, then racks of equipment that were installed at a U.S. Army post overseas. (Don’t ask. I couldn’t tell you even if I remembered.)
The upside was that I spent several months in Europe for the installation. Upon returning to the states, however, I started to realize that I’d rather use computers for creative purposes than engineer them from the inside out. In 1988, I transferred to a sister company in Silicon Valley. Coming from small towns in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, my spirit soared at the opportunities presented by California.
Two more attempts with different kinds of engineering jobs didn’t improve my love for that career path but did lead me into marketing communications. The sales department at my final tech job realized that I could draw on their complex CAE systems and asked me to create illustrations for their brochures. Weeks later, I was enrolled in San Jose State University’s Graphic Design program and never looked back.
Chapter 2 : The Streets of San Francisco
After the first year of my second trip through college, my professors and advisors suggested applying for work at advertising agencies in the San Francisco Bay area solely because of my abilities with the increasingly popular and powerful Macintosh computer. I started as a production artist for a small firm in Santa Clara and met a new kind of professional being: the “creative”. Serendipity found me again, as several of these young art directors and copywriters turned out to be stars on the rise and have become lifelong mentors, trainers, colleagues and friends.
- Scott Gustlin
Vice President, Interactive
One job led to another, and I found myself working my way up the peninsula towards the city. San Francisco was a completely different league, however. If San Jose was like playing on the mini-tours, then “The City” was the PGA tour. More good fortune directed me to Saatchi & Saatchi, where I met more wildly creative people and my first opportunity to create interactive multimedia.
Throughout my career, I’ve spent a lot of time learning new applications, technologies and systems. As soon as I moved into the city, I started taking classes at San Francisco State University in the burgeoning field of interactive multimedia. To my surprise and delight, it became rapidly apparent that my engineering skills were an enormous asset in this new field. The ability to write code that directed the artwork on screen made me far more valuable to agencies. At the same time, Adobe Photoshop was finally being accepted, albeit slowly and painfully, as an in-house alternative to expensive external pre-press services.
Chapter 3 : Silicon Slopes
My first paying gig in interactive multimedia was a presentation for a Saatchi pitch to get the HP printer print ad business. The experience went so well that I quickly found myself creating pitch materials and animated videos for USWest, Kikkoman and others. Next came larger CD-ROM projects with newly formed “interactive” agencies throughout the Bay area. Once again, I found myself traveling to snowy mountains to work on a big, complicated project.
Eagle River Interactive (ERI) was formed in Vail, Colorado partly as an experiment to see if the internet would allow agencies to exist outside of the traditional city environment. Through my connections in San Francisco, I was asked to temporarily relocate to the Rocky Mountains for weeks at a time to work as programmer and art director on complex multimedia projects for Toyota, American Express and others. Serendipity had apparently followed me from California as I found myself once again surrounded by brilliant colleagues. The work was equally brilliant and won awards as well as great results for our clients. I learned how to snowboard, too.
Between ERI projects, I returned to San Francisco and continued art directing many different products for a wide variety of clients. I continued to take classes in a wide range of related fields. I also took a long-overdue vacation and drove an RV called “The Fireball” around the country for three months, meeting more fascinating people along the way. But it was during a trip to Seattle that I received a call from Vail that would start the next chapter.
Chapter 4 : Tangled in the Web
ERI hired me as a full-time “Technical Architect”, though no one really knew what the title meant. It had more to do with restructuring the entire “site building” department by training and hiring employees who could actually put code and art together. Once that problem was solved, I moved on through “Creative Director”, “Senior CD” and finally, “Vice President, Creative Services”. But we weren’t making interactive CD-ROMs any more. We were fully immersed in the new World Wide Web.
The company grew through acquisition of interactive design shops in Dallas and Portland, as well as organically in larger cities. Soon we were really big and the Vail office was designing websites for clients such as Sprint, Hyatt and 3M. As the dot-com bubble grew ever larger, we merged with Agency.com and became one of the world’s largest firms of our kind. In the meantime, I gained a wealth of experience and training in the world of big business.
The work was great, the team was great, living in the Vail Valley was great. But the rapid growth of the company came with an unending series of headaches from corporate headquarters in New York City. The same ailments that caused the national dot-com collapse were suffered at every level of the organization. Only a few weeks before the bubble burst and Agency.com closed the Vail office, I exited stage left and took my show on the road again. I didn’t get very far, though, as I had recently met the girl of my dreams (now wife) and was destined to stay in the mountains for a long time to come.
Chapter 5 : The Boomerang
One of the great things to come from the dot-com bust was that Fortune 500 companies finally realized that creating websites wasn’t “black magic” and could actually be done without paying exorbitant amounts of money to a very small group of enormous interactive agencies. (Unfortunately, a great many of them still subscribe to the adage that “no one ever got fired for hiring IBM” and continue to pay a lot for merely “good” work.) Another great result of the bust is that many, if not most, of the best and brightest that worked for those enormous interactive agencies left during the massive downsizing period and have started their own small interactive agencies.
Green Boomerang was designed to leverage this wealth of high-quality, experienced, innovative and creative professionals that exist in nearly every city across the country. Starting with the cream of the Agency.com crop, we have developed a network of small firms and individuals who prefer to work together as a “virtual agency” rather than go back into the world of big agency headaches and mediocrity. We’ve also chosen to utilize the internet—that brilliant phenomenon that houses our great work—to facilitate our collaboration and allow us to live anywhere we desire.
For nearly thirty years, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with great colleagues and excellent clients in a wide range of jobs, industries and places. We’ve all learned from wild successes as well as a few miserable failures. And as a result of the breadth and quality of those experiences, we’ve recently restructured our methodology and business practices in new, innovative and exciting ways. The future is bright and I am very much looking forward to this new chapter.