The Agile Podcast: Say Hello to Blake Newman

Blake Newman has had these moments in his life, these epiphanies, where he has realized the importance of being agile. It happened in the mid-80s when he left the army and chose a career path. It happened when he worked on a big government project that was canceled after 4 years because of the emergence of the World Wide Web. It happened again during the dot com bust. These moments have shaped who is and how he sees the world. Before the first season of The Agile Podcast starts, we’ll be telling Blake’s story. So, say hello to Blake Newman, CEO of Agileana and co-host of the Agile Podcast.

Transcript

HANS ANDERSON: Hi all, this is Hans Anderson—I’m the producer of the Agile Podcast, where we explore the stories and people behind agile web solutions. 

Over the next few months we’re going to be telling a lot of different stories about, say, migrating out of Drupal or how 508 compliance, that’s that mandate that requires federal agencies to make their website more accessibility to people with impaired vision or other disabilities, improves accessibility for nearly everyone who visits your website. In these stories, we’ll be talking a lot about the concept of agile.

It’s something that Blake Newman, one of the hosts of this show, talks about all the time. 

And to tell you about Blake’s story, we’re going back to the mid-’80s. Blake was maybe 21 and about to leave the military. He was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. And facing a choice that many people in their 20s face—what am I going to do for work?

He knew one thing for certain, he didn’t want to re-enlist. 

BLAKE NEWMAN: When I was in the army, it was the 82nd Airborne Division. I was in an infantry unit. It was an elite unit and it was a pretty rough way to make a living. And so, after 3 years, I realized that you can grow old fast doing this type of thing. And so, I was highly motivated to get out of the army, go to college and be a professional.

HANS ANDERSON: Because, as Blake says, all he was learning about was …

BLAKE NEWMAN: Hand grenades, hand to hand to combat, and you know weapons and demolitions and stuff like that.

HANS ANDERSON: As part of leaving the military, Blake was given a few options in the for vocational learning.

BLAKE NEWMAN: I think it was auto mechanics, barber shop, bartending and computer programming. And I thought, huh, I think I’ll take the computer programming class. And so, it was an eye opener. And I just … I really enjoyed it and I really absorbed it, you know, we were working on these old Apple II computers and you had to plug in a keyboard and monitor to it. But once I took that class, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. And that kind of set the direction of my career there after. And that was like in 1985, so that’s um, I gotta do the math, I guess that’s 35 years ago. 

HANS ANDERSON: Blake went to college after that, he actually ended up taking mostly business classes there. But his electives were computer programming. He did this for a simple reason: his dad.

BLAKE NEWMAN: My father always told me you got to study business. You got to be a businessman, you got to be an entrepreneur. And since I was a child, he kind of like said that. And I think he always fantasized about being an entrepreneur. Maybe when he was a kid he sold fruit or something like that. But he always told me, you know, be an entrepreneur. So, when I graduated I got a job at Defense Information System Agency. 

HANS ANDERSON: Which was under the Department of Defense. Blake was hired on in the 1990s. He saw the emergence of the World Wide Web. Which lead to a rude surprise. 

BLAKE NEWMAN: I remember being on a program and after four years, and the government dumped two, three, four hundred million dollars in program. They canceled it abruptly because it was overcome by technology. It was basically rendered obsolete. Because at the same time, this World Wide Web basically emerged. Everything that they were doing was assuming that the web didn’t exist but when the web existed, whatever they were building wasn’t really relevant anymore. And, I realized, I just wasted four years of my life and the government wasted 400 million dollars.

HANS ANDERSON: This experience wasn’t all for nothing, though. It taught Blake a lesson that he still carries with him today about being agile.

(MUSIC)

HANS ANDERSON Agile basically being the ability and, arguably more importantly the willingness, to change. It’s often used in relation to agile software development, where you quickly prototype and adapt to feedback. Just so you know, there’s a lot more in there, and we’ll talk about it later … but I’ll leave it at that for now. 

Agile can also be applied to almost anything in life. So, when you spend four years working on a project that quickly becomes obsolete after the rise of the World Wide Web, what do you do? 

BLAKE NEWMAN: I’m going to get out, I’m going to become an entrepreneur and maybe I’ll become an artist.

HANS ANDERSON: Blake embraced the World Wide Web. It’s now 1995

BLAKE NEWMAN: So, I registered photographer.com. I basically decided I was going to become an artist, photographer and entrepreneur. 

HANS ANDERSON: Blake did what many people want to do when they’re no longer working for the government, move far away from Washington, D.C. He ended up in Santa Monica, California. Enjoying the sun, enjoying the beach. He wanted to be an artist and developed a platform that set people up with photographers. Things were working out for a few years. And then they weren’t. 

BLAKE NEWMAN: That was 1995. So, ’99, 2000, there was the dot com bust. There was a recession. There was 9/11. Here in D.C. we had this sniper who terrorized the city for about month. All that just basically caused people to reevaluate their values and things like that. And at the same time digital photography came out, digital cameras, Photoshop–the whole photography business, which was great for about 5 years, just started to crash and plummet.

HANS ANDERSON: Blake says that, if he’d sold photographer.com before the dot com bubble burst, he’d be rich. 

BLAKE NEWMAN: If I’d sold it in 1999 or 2000. I probably wouldn’t be in this interview right now, I’d be in a different interview. But I would have had enough money to live the rest of my life. 

HANS ANDERSON:  Of course, he is here talking to me instead. In 2005, he sold it to a buyer who just wanted the domain name—which, by the way, today is worth 600,000 dollars today. He started a company called inQbation. 

BLAKE NEWMAN: Finally I decided to create a services company because I knew that, you know, you can get money doing services. So that was basically the inception of the company. At the time we called it inQbation, we were out in the West Coast, we’re in California, and most of the people coming into my office were aspiring startups, they wanted to create the next Facebook. So, we were kind of to help incubate and accelerate start ups. 

HANS ANDERSON: So, small clients, lots of projects. 

BLAKE NEWMAN: But then, there was another recession, 2008, 2009.

HANS ANDERSON: And time to be agile again.

BLAKE NEWMAN: We decided to move to D.C. and get as close as we could to the White House because we figured Obama would be a tech president, would be investing a lot of money in government websites. So, we moved to D.C. and within 18 months I was sitting in the White House with the White House CIO working on data.gov and USAspending.gov. I mean, we set the goal and 18 months later, we were there.

HANS ANDERSON: It was a culmination of a lot of work and, a testament to being agile. Blake loved the idea of agile so much, he changed his companies name from InQbation to Agileana 

BLAKE NEWMAN: I decided that we were going to be lean and we were going to be agile and we were going to serve the federal government. So, that kind of became the name Agileana, lean and agile, 

HANS ANDERSON: Two of the core tenants of his business. Throughout Blake’s life, there are these moments. They’re like Agile insights. One was way back in the mid-’80s, in the military, when he chose computer programming over, say, being a barber. Another was working for the government and seeing millions of dollars go to waste when they failed to adapt to emerging technology. He adapted to the World Wide Web shortly thereafter. Then there was what happened next at inQbation. And eventually, Agileana.

Today, Blake has become more of a strategist. He identifies problems, trends and new opportunities for Agileana. And he’s going to be sharing some of those insights on this podcast along with his co-host Brie Ripley, who, by the way, you’ll be meeting soon. 

So stay tuned, we’ll be starting the show on September 10th. 

This podcast is produced by Agileana, a DC based web development company. To learn more about Agileana, you can visit our website Agileana.com. Or send us an e-mail, we’re at results[at]Agileana.com. Talk to you soon. 

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