Our new blog series, “The Entrepreneurs of Saggezza”, will feature the unique journeys Saggezzians have taken in their careers. Each tells a compelling story of how taking your own path can get you to wonderful places. There is no set path on this journey to find your passion.
“Just do it. Take a chance and do it now before you regret it. Anyone can dream it but those who are successful make it happen.” Those wise words come from Richard Alvarez, Saggezza’s UX Practice Manager, who has led a colorful and ever-evolving career.
Richard grew up dreaming of being a journalist. He got his Bachelor’s Degree from DePaul University in English and Spanish Literature. Following college, he got an internship at Microsoft that turned into a job. He believed the hot technology of the time, CD-ROMs, might turn into a cool new way to digitally share his writing, so he decided to keep with technology. He went back to school to get a Graduate degree in Computer Science.
This did not last long, however. Once he was learning more on his own than in school he dropped out. Around this time he met his future wife, Jenn, and decided to stay in Chicago, rather than go back to Seattle and Microsoft. At this time, he started working at Britannica.com, which churned out so much content, it was the #3 site in the world and won several Macromedia “Site of the Day” awards. Here, Richard was tasked with creating interactive stories using Flash.
Luck would have it that Richard attended a Macromedia (now Adobe) conference per his use of Flash. At this conference someone told him he should write a book about Flash and so he did. Thereafter, he started getting calls from companies, including Intel, Volkswagen and Sports Illustrated, who wanted his help based on his Flash skillset. This led to his first startup venture called SurpriseMedia. For a time, it was doing well with all the inquiries the book brought in. However, after 9/11, things started to slow. The best business option was to merge the company with a competitor, doubling in size to become MethodEngine.
Ten years went by and Richard began to get too comfortable. The entrepreneur in him needed something new. He decided to leave the company to build a product. The Gemini Project began on the inkling that people desired to have certain experiences but didn’t always have the means to do so because of geographic, financial, or physical limitations. To combat this, Richard and his partner worked on developing a human avatar using an iPad. Users would be able to “rent” time from human “avatars”, who would walk around and do what the user requested. For example, someone in Spain could rent someone in Tokyo to walk around in their avatar gear. Through the iPad lense, the person in Spain would have a first-hand experience exploring Tokyo for much less money than going themselves.
The duo pitched to VC’s and even Google at one point, and as time went on, the product evolved into CafeXplorer. CafeXplorer was a live streaming platform where users could create an event, charge for it, stream it, and allow people to ask questions, all on one platform. For example, museums could put cameras at certain exhibits. People could then go online and book some time for personal tours of the exhibit. This was also tested for seminars hosted by insurance companies. Unfortunately, no matter what was changed it just didn’t hit the mark for investors. As their timeframe closed in on them, they realized it might never happen and decided to abandon the project. Richard believed it was too ahead of its time. He learned a lot and this venture made him even hungrier to learn more about emerging technologies.
Towards the end of this venture, Richard started his career with Saggezza as a front-end developer. He incidentally found success solving a clients’ problem by defining ways to streamline a process and replicating it for other products. This led to the creation of the client’s UI library, which allowed them rapid prototyping. He really enjoyed this work and helped the client continuously build applications quicker than ever before. He realized the questions he was solving were ones he had always wondered about: Why does this look like that? Why does this have to go there? It took him back to his development days at Microsoft. Richard decided he wanted to start a User Experience practice at Saggezza to further this work, and with some luck, he was given his chance. He now leads a team of ten UX researchers and designers. His largest client is a Fortune 500 Payment Network. He’s a highly respected and successful manager, and he couldn’t be happier his journey has brought him to where he is today.
Have questions for Richard? Want to know more about this series? Contact us here.
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