Q&A with Ben Haynes, CEO at Monospace Inc & Project Lead at Directus

Ben Haynes, CEO at Monospace Inc & Project Lead at Directus, comes with a background that is evenly split between design and development, and he has founded several highly successful digital agencies at this intersection of the creative and technical realms. His experience spans over 20 years of building innovative and high-profile digital experiences for industry-leading clients such as Google, Snapchat, AT&T, AOL, SoulCycle, IDEO, MoMA, Interbrand, HP, and the U.S. Government.

With remote work now the norm, companies need to adopt technologies that go beyond text-only chats and scheduled Zoom meetings.



MEDIA 7: How did you come up with the idea of Directus?
BEN HAYNES:
In the early 2000's I was working on client work for my agency, trying desperately to avoid building websites with WordPress. Since our engineers preferred to work with the database directly, it was then that I had the idea to recreate “phpMyAdmin” (a highly technical database administration tool) as a safer and more intuitive CMS.

Essentially, Directus uses an approach we call “database mirroring” to dynamically provide a powerful API layer for developers and an intuitive App for non-technical users. This allows organizations to democratize their data while maintaining complete end-to-end control. The idea is pretty simple in concept, but quite complex to build properly.
To ensure we had the broad adoption required to test all use-cases, and to nurture a spirit of openness, transparency, and good-will, we decided to make our premium platform completely free and open-source.

M7: Recently, you have also launched Monospace- the legal wing of Directus. What has been your approach towards branding the company, its products, and services?
BH:
Monospace grew from our need to decouple our digital agency (RANGER Studio) from the Directus ecosystem and intellectual property. This new legal entity was a requirement for us to raise VC and serendipitously happened at the same time as our Directus rebranding.
We knew that only products and services of the Directus ecosystem would be under the Monospace umbrella, and so our goal was to create a brand that felt similar yet distinct to that of Directus. In the end, using the same design system (color palette, line weights, border radii, etc) was enough to tie them together.


Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to solve immediate problems, such as capitalizing on current COVID-19 issues. Instead, focus ideation on the future implications of where this trajectory is taking us. 



M7: How do you target content to your audience, and what are the challenges that you face while producing effective content?
BH:
Except for documentation and guides, we actually do very little content creation internally — mostly due to working within an open-source budget. Our technical content is typically very utilitarian, and due to the “agnostic” nature of our software, we’re very wary of creating content that is too opinionated.

Beyond this pragmatic content, we do occasionally post informal articles to our website for larger platform updates, and Twitter posts for discovery and member ingestion. From there we direct users to our Docs for learning and Discord chat for interaction.

M7: Directus has over 36k followers on Twitter. How do you ensure optimum utilization of social media channels for your marketing and promotional activities?
BH:
We’ve focused exclusively on Twitter for broadcasting our real-time Directus updates, with no other reposting or cross-channel marketing. Just like our software, our thinking here is K.I.S.S.
Twitter is the broadest point of our community funnel. By us staying extremely engaged here we’ve noticed more and more users advancing on to GitHub, Discord, and our Cloud service. Our Core Team gets immediate notifications for all new activity and we try very hard to give quick, meaningful responses to all comments and mentions.

While we have never run formal marketing campaigns or advertisements, we do like to offer giveaways and compensated rewards for different types of community engagement. We’re planning to increase these efforts in 2021 with a weekly contest for innovative contributor extensions.


Building your idea properly will take more time than you think, and that more distant future comes with too many uncertainties to completely plan everything out



M7: What do you believe are the top three product marketing challenges in the post COVID-19 era?
BH: Standing-Out From the Noise
- 2020 saw an increase in idle outside sales reps looking for new ways to generate leads. All this online marketing activity adds to the digital noise, and makes it harder for your brand/voice to be heard, so it’s important to find innovative ways to differentiate your messaging.

Cloud Everything- With corporate offices shutting down, the importance of a decentralized data infrastructure for efficient remote work is being realized. With this mad rush to get everything on the cloud, nascent tech and rushed legacy migrations are leading to mountains of piecemeal services filled with technical debt. All teams (especially marketing) need to perform judicious due diligence for these pivotal company upgrades to ensure they shift to properly “future-proofed” (5-10 years) systems.

Team Communication- There’s no denying that the “watercooler” days of impromptu team communication are fading fast, but those unplanned conversations were often the catalyst for amazing cross-department ideas. With remote work now the norm, companies need to adopt technologies that go beyond text-only chats and scheduled Zoom meetings. Innovative new team communication platforms that foster ephemeral telepresence discussions will now be required to fill that void in the workplace.

M7: How are promotional tactics changing for products and services launching during these periods?
BH:
One of the biggest changes over the past year has been the shift towards digital chat communities. A requirement of most remote work positions, services like Discord, Slack, and MS Teams are now extremely commonplace, with an ever-growing number of users and categorized channels. These communities are a great way to find and cultivate brand advocates, quickly grow your user-base, perform market research, and more.

Similarly, with lockdowns, curfews, and general pandemic isolation, there is an increasing number of people looking for social activities online. Promoting hackathons, digital meetups, and other sponsored events after working hours can help gather and coalesce your users and leads within a positive and constructive context.

M7: Your advice to the budding entrepreneurs?
BH:
Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to solve immediate problems, such as capitalizing on current COVID-19 issues. In many ways, COVID-19 simply highlighted and expedited many fundamental issues that were already in our near future. Instead, focus ideation on the future implications of where this trajectory is taking us.

Building your idea properly will take more time than you think, and that more distant future comes with too many uncertainties to completely plan everything out. So start iterating now based on your high-level concept, and then continue to hone-in over time. Our Directus “headless CMS” was actually created a decade before that term was even coined — and well before managing omnichannel content was a common company requirement. We didn’t predict the future, we just stayed flexible enough to keep up with it.

ABOUT DIRECTUS

Directus is an Open Data Platform for managing the content of any SQL database. It provides a powerful API layer for developers and an intuitive App for non-technical users. Written in JavaScript, Directus is completely open- source, modular, and extensible, allowing it to be fully tailored to your exact project needs.

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