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Becoming The Boss: A Q&A with Paul Bartlett

Walk up to Paul Bartlett's office and you'll notice it's the nicest one on the block, by far. That's because Bartlett's boutique Internet marketing firm, Kittyhawk Studios, is based out of his home, a stunning Arts & Crafts bungalow from the early 20th Century. He and his co-workers call it "The Queen" because it sits on a block filled with bland, mid-to-late century ranch and manufactured homes in Rochester Hills.

The circa-1918 house was moved from University Street in downtown Rochester (and replaced by a parking lot) in the mid 1980s, preserving details as big as the fine woodwork of the Mission Style interior and as small as the ornamental front doorknob. A quick tour makes it obvious why Bartlett choose this 1,300-square-foot home as the base of his virtual business a decade ago, instead of the more stereotypical urban center.
"Space is pretty expensive (in a downtown), frankly, to do what you need or want to do," Bartlett says. "You really need to be a full-service agency or have clients who need to do a lot of copy-writing. We don't do that. We strictly take content and repurpose it for media X, like websites or iPad apps."

The lower overhead costs are what help make Kittyhawk Studios competitive. Bartlett figured out early on in his career, while working for EDS and as a senior project manager for Buick.com, that A-list clients expect visits. "One hundred years ago, we all didn't drive to one huge building and work," he says. "Everyone went to their own particular specialty, done at their location and people went to them. It worked brilliantly."

It also helps that most of the people who work for or with Kittyhawk Studios also do so from the comfort of their own homes. "We're very virtual. I worked at Campbell-Ewald for six years in a department that had 80 people. We do about half the amount of work of that department virtually with four people. It allows us much more flexibility."

Bartlett agreed to sit down for an interview with Metromode's Jon Zemke on a sunny fall day in "The Queen's" backyard to talk about his business, the future of Internet marketing, and being your own boss in your own home.

When you went from employee to employer, what was that leap like for you?

It wasn't that much different, because in my last few years I was a project manager overseeing teams. At the max, I ran a team of 30 people for an e-commerce project. The only thing that changed was the paperwork.

So there wasn't any fear?

That cracks me up. The security of having a job that anyone can fire you from any day you go in (sarcasm). That sounds particularly secure. I can't be fired from my job as an owner. It's up to me to generate the business and keep things moving along. It isn't as hard as people think.
Is working from home more of a blessing or a curse?

There is no curse at all. My working at home is probably 25 percent of what I do. It's similar to corporate sales people, a lot of whom work from their homes. All they need is a place to manage their accounts and plug in their laptop. My home is a base for me to come back to and manage things.

Some people would say a big advantage of working at an office is you can leave your work there.

I don't have any way to escape that. Your job bleeds into your home life. It's true. But I find the benefits of the blurring to be better than the negatives.

Name one off-the-wall thing you would like to see our local leaders do to make life easier for entrepreneurs in Metro Detroit?

That thing that jumps immediately to my head is better, cleaner, faster mass transit, i.e. light rail like we used to have. It worked brilliantly and it can again. A main reason I started my business is to get rid of the commute. The one thing I gave myself is eliminating 1-2 hour commutes everyday. That's more time to spend with my family and relax.

Do you want your kids to follow in your entrepreneurial footsteps?

I highly recommend doing your own business because the freedom of doing what you want to get done is huge. I rank entrepreneur with any profession because of the opportunity.

The Internet has evolved dramatically over the last 10 years. Do you ever have a hard time convincing customers to buy into your services when the landscape changes so rapidly?

It's not a hard sell to people who want it, need it, clamor for it, beg for it. I get emails all the time from people who say I need SEO (search engine optimization) or a new website or a blog. The issue though is do they have the time and budget to dedicate to do it? They don't realize the scope of what it takes. We have tons of customers asking for Cadillacs but they want to pay for Cavaliers.

You have blogged about the rise of smartphone usage and your firm is even creating iPhone apps. How much of your business do you think apps will occupy in five years?

Probably 100 percent. There is a certain hybrid functionality to mobile apps. Any website we do will be based on optimizing it for a mobile device. It will still be fine on a desktop computer, but its focus will be on being seen on a mobile phone.

Kittyhawk Studios uses a number of independent contractors, some of which have become employees. These types of workers are a growing segment of the work force, especially in the new economy. Do you think we'll ever hit a point where the number of 1099s will rival W4s?

No. A vast majority of jobs need a public place to interact with customers or a facility where people have to do some sort of processing. The corporate model, as much as I decry it, has efficiencies that will never go away.

A lot of new entrepreneurs struggle with making their first hires. Any advice on the type of people they should be looking for?

Our magic trick is we try people on a by-project basis or as interns and see how it goes. If it works out, you hire them.

People have complained that unless you want to buy something Google is becoming less useful since businesses are dominating searches through search-engine optimization services. Do you think SEO-based businesses are compromising the very search engine they rely on?

Is the independent information getting overwhelmed by the e-commerce links, most certainly. There is a lot more money put into that than anything else. It's true in the real world, too. You have billboards and TV commercials.

We've gone from iPod to iPhone to iPad. What's next?

E-paper is my ultimate technology leap. You can have something four times the size of an iPad, roll it out on a table with full color and display. When you're done with it, roll it up, put it in your pocket and walk away. That's the ultimate next step up. It's coming but it's an issue of cost and battery life. When it comes, it will come with a vengeance. If Apple sells it, it will be iPaper.

Jon Zemke is the News Editor for Metromode and its sister publication Concentrate. He conducted this interview outdoors in the last days of Indian Summer and condensed it inside when the first crisp days of fall began arriving. His last story was The Young & Entrepreneurial: A Q&A with Jon Citrin

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All Photos by Dave Lewinski
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