One of the best Podcast interviews we have had to date is with Clint Hawkins who comes across with a lot of passion for digital arts and his company YUR digital. Here we’ve provided the complete transcript of the session. In this interview Clint reveals:-
- Clint’s involvement with Renderosity and what he learned as he helped successfully grew the market place.
- How YUR Digital was started and some of the early hurdles when setting up the company.
- What helps YUR Digital stand apart from other content market places. How Clint helps the content providers feel valued,
- The steps for a new seller who wants to start selling digital art content at YUR digital.
- The marketing successes of Clint’s wife Lillian who is the marketing director .
- The role of Baron Thomas Von Buettner, who is the YUR-Roving Reporter in the Visual Effects motion picture industry.
With over 30 years of experience in the computer and digital art industry, Clint Hawkins leads the daily operations of YURdigital. His work history includes 17 years as a computer engineer for Data General, 3 years as a systems administrator with S1, 10 years with Bondware and 3 years as a successful business owner and eBay power seller. While at Bondware, Clint worked his way up from a volunteer moderator, product tester, to marketplace manager. He played an integral part of the successful and rapid growth of the Render Us digital art marketplace. He has an intimate knowledge of what it takes to grow this type of business from the ground up.
Most recently, Clint spent eight months assisting Runtime DNA with their day to day operations, expanding his experience knowledge base and reputation. His technical background, business experience with two digital art brokerage sites and his own business combined with his positive reputation put him in a position to make YURdigital the place to get exceptional digital art content from extraordinary digital artists.
Clint: Thanks, Paul, appreciate the opportunity.
3D Art Direct: Yeah. It’s great to have you on and I think as I got to know you a little more and spotted you on Facebook, I noticed that you had this continual stream of wise and useful quotations for your Facebook followers. I don’t know how you’re able to produce so many! Do you have a few favorites that you can share with us that are kind of art related to inspire us?
Clint: Yeah, the quote thing is interesting. Facebook, I always swore I would never touch Facebook, that I was too busy. My wife Lillian, who’s the marketing manager at YURdigital and Beth Rogers both pushed me into Facebook saying it’s a great place to market. I said, “Oh, OK, great.” So I eventually got into Facebook for, I guess it was about two and a half years ago, basically when we fired up the YURdigital distribution site and start using for marketing and I’ve got about 1,100 followers now, I guess, or friends and most of them are artists or some sort. Some of them are traditional media type artists, songwriters, digital artists and it’s been an interesting place to promote our website and just kind of have a good time.
But some of the quotes we like to present to the followers on Facebook and Twitter are quotes from artists, writers, entrepreneurs. I think every once in awhile we’ll throw in there from Henry Ford. But typically my favorite ones are the ones from Dr. Seuss.
Paul: Dr Seuss, an essential source of quotes!
Clint: Yeah, he’s so whimsical and they rhyme and a lot of times they’re kind of way out there and you kind of go, “What?” But one of my favorites, I guess, from Dr. Seuss is, “Today is your day. The mountain is waiting so get on your way.” I try to seize every single day and make the most of it. I, a lot of times, tell people I do more by noon than most people do by a whole week because we work our butts off but we enjoy everything that we do. The quotes have been fun. We’ve gotten a lot of positive response from them and people seem to enjoy them.
Paul: Yeah, I like that. It makes your Facebook page individual. It makes it stand out, I think, in doing that. Now, I know you started out with computer graphics with 3D Studio and Poser version 2 back in the late 1990’s. I think part of your attraction to digital art was being able to mix up your computer or technical knowledge with creation. So what was some of your early offerings with these applications and did you sort of recognize, well, I guess back then there can’t have been that many communities but did you sort of try and connect with people as soon as you could to try and get help as you tried to develop your own sort of art work and content?
Clint: Yeah, that’s definitely what brought me into the brokering field even back then. I was at Data General at that time and one of my good friends, Forrest Hasbrook, introduced me to 3D Studio Max. I think it was R3, something like that. Another buddy of mine, David Lynch, said, “Hey, man, I’ve got this other cool program that you might like called ‘Poser’,” and it happened to be Poser 2 so I got those. I’m a self-study kind of guy. I love tech manuals. I don’t read fiction or anything like that. If I have a book in my hand, it’s some sort of technical manual.
So I did a lot of self-study just to try and learn the programs. Those versions of the programs were a lot more archaic and harder to use than the current versions of Poser and 3D Studio Max. They were very limited. Poser 2 was really rough. The figures just didn’t look real good but of course now we at, what, Poser 9, I think, and it’s a totally different application.
I was looking around on the Internet, and back then the Internet was totally different than it is now and I ran into a community called the “Poser Forum” and I think it was run by a lady named “Willow” back at that time. I’ve always been kind of an entrepreneur at heart and I noticed that they focused heavily on Poser and I approached her and I said, “Hey, why don’t we incorporate some other discussion forums like for Ray Dream, which is now Carrera and a few other applications and try and expand the forums that are out there on this website?” and she agreed.
So I started off moderating the Ray Dream Studio forum back then. I met a lot of the people at that Poser forum that I still work with and know today, like Syyd from Runtime DNA. I’ve known her for a very long time. Phil Cook, George Deep are just a few of the people that I still have contact with that I met way, way back then. So it was kind of an interesting place because the forum software back in the ’90’s was just very cryptic and wasn’t very easy to use but I’ve always had a love for art and grew up with computers.
In my early days, starting work, I started as a programmer as a senior in high school and just was in the computer industry forever and then got turned on to these art programs. As a kid I drew, took art classes, played guitar, I’m a musician as well. And when I saw that I could marry computers with art, it just sparked something inside me and that’s when my career path started to take a turn towards more art related and here I am today.
Paul: Did you start, because a lot of artists that I speak to said that they started creating a little bit of art with the Amiga with things like Paint Deluxe, that type of software. Were you in the same boat?
Clint: Yeah, I went the Commodore route. I had a Commodore 64 but I’m not sure if the Commodore had any actual art programs but I was a programmer, and what I was doing was I was programming in assembly language, writing little programs to make little eight by eight sprites bounce around on the screen and stuff. That was actually my first experience with, I guess, any kind of digital art, if you want to even call that art. It’s kind of like, turning a pixel on and a pixel off and making some sort of a hokey little shape move around.
Paul: Yeah, around the same time, I was operating something called a BBC microcomputer, which they sold a lot of those back in the UK. I was into things like adventure games and that sort of malarky so it was a wonderful period, wasn’t it, because you could, even on the BBC micro you had access to assembly language and you could connect with that without too much trouble and have a go at quite a deep level of the machine and write some fast code and it was good fun.
Clint: It was. I got into Zork heavily, the text-based adventure game and I think I played Zork 1, 2 and 3 and then they came out with Sorcerer and a few others that I continue to play. I actually went back and loaded up an old version of Zork on my Windows 7 PC and I was like, “Wow, I cannot believe I used to play this,” because it was so cryptic compared to what we’ve got now. I was like, “Oh my goodness.”
Paul: Yeah, a classic!
Clint: Those were the days, man, oh yeah.
Paul: So the Poser forum, you’ve mentioned that and you also have been heavily involved with Renderosity so tell us the story between the Poser forum and Renderosity.
Clint: Yeah, that’s a really, really interesting story and that’s what really got me going. The Poser forum, like I said, was run by somebody named Willow and there was another guy on there that actually was doing the coding on the site. I may have a little bit of the story wrong because it happened so long ago but Tim Choate, who was the owner of Bondware and Renderosity, he saw the Poser forum, he liked it. He was a friend of, I think his name was Roy, that was doing the coding on the Poser forum. And if I’m not mistaken, they were using some software that Tim had written or Roy had written and they decided that they thought they saw a viable business opportunity at the Poser forum.
The Poser forum wasn’t selling content at the time, it was just kind of a discussion forum and they were giving stuff away with freebies and giving tutorials and things of that nature. I think Tim saw an e-commerce model there and so he kind of came in and tried to work with Willow to bring the site to a point where it could start generating some revenue and be self-sustaining and pay for itself and make some money. She didn’t really dig on that too much. So Tim kind of came in and took over and started building this site up and I sent Tim an e-mail and I said, “Hey, I was the forum moderator here. If you’re looking for anybody to help you, let me know because I’m all for growing this business.” Tim immediately took me on and gave me a chance and that’s something that I’ll always be thankful to Tim for.
I came in and I started off as a product-tester and tested for years and basically worked for free for many, many years remotely from my home in Atlanta, Georgia in the USA. After a few years, I became the e-commerce manager at Renderosity as it started growing and it took off like a bat out of hell. It was the 1,000 pound gorilla that just kept going and going and going. It had a snowball effect. The site continued to grow and they brought me on, like I said, as an e-commerce manager and the rest is history. I learned a lot by working there about the industry and just about business in general. Then being in corporate America for so many years, I had a lot of background with computers so it all worked out really well. Had a good time.
Paul: So what were some of the top things you learned when you were there? How did it increase your skill set when you were there?
Clint: I didn’t learn a whole, whole lot. I learned about e-commerce, which is something that was brand-new to me, because that was around the time that e-commerce on the Internet started taking off. But there were some things at Renderosity that I took away that I thought we could do better at YURdigital and I tried to incorporate that stuff into the business model at YURdigital. Some of those things that we like to do for content developers or provide product testing because at some of the bigger sites, a content developer will upload a product and it could be weeks before they hear anything form the testing staff. That’s frustrating when you’re trying to generate revenue and sell your products to have to wait that long.
So at YURdigital, we definitely grab products within 24 to 48 hours after upload and usually have them released within a day or two. We really get on stuff. We don’t let it sit around. Something else I learned was that the content developers really like to have prompt and consistent monthly payments very early in the month and at YURdigital we pay the vendors usually within the first week of the month for the previous months sales. We try to do that as quickly as possible so that they aren’t waiting on their money because they want their money.
We also provide an extremely high level of customer support to both the buyers at our website, as well as the content developers. Anytime that we get a message, we probably respond within an hour or two. If it’s in the middle of the night, they’ll get a response first thing in the morning so we really take pride in giving, what I like to call, lightning fast response times.
Paul: It sounds like you’ve really taken care over the relationships with your customers as well as the content providers so that’s nice to hear.
Clint: It is.
Paul: So what were some of the early hurdles that you had when you were setting up YURdigital with your wife that you managed to be overcome?
Clint: That’s a tough thing. Setting up a e-commerce brokerage site from scratch is really rough. First of all, we had to find funding to be able to get the site off the ground. We had to come up with a name. We had a list of about 75, maybe 100 names that we had come up with and we were just writing them down on a piece of paper. So we had this massive piece of paper with just hundreds of names on it and then we started going, “OK, well, we like these,” and we came down to about 20 names, I think.
Then we started looking into buying domains and this name was taken, that name was taken, this one was taken. I was like, “Oh my gosh.” Off the cuff on night, I was sitting around and I looked at my wife and I said, “How about YURdigital?” She said, “Ooh, I like that.” We went and checked and the domain wasn’t taken so, to be honest with you, coming up with the name was a really tough thing but that one stuck. We grabbed the domain.
Then some of the other things that a lot of people don’t really think about when you’re bringing a brand-new site up is you’ve got to create your terms of service. You’ve got to create your privacy policies. You’ve got to create your copyright policies, the format of the way products you’re going to be presented with in the store, the layout of the site, who’s going to host the server, what size server do we need. I mean, the list goes on and on and on but we started developing YURdigital a year in advance before the launch, putting the business plan together and working through getting the site up and running very systematically, which is something that I love to do. I’m a very systematic Type A personality. I’ll lay stuff out in a spreadsheet and we’ll work through it and we get to the end and it’s all good.
So just bringing the whole thing together was a massive undertaking for just a couple people but we did it. One of the biggest things was once we got everything set up like we liked it, was testing it in all areas, just going through the whole site and beating it up just to make sure everything functioned like it should before we launched and went live because we didn’t want to go live and have something that had bugs and wasn’t working right because we’d immediately lose respect and acceptance from people that we were trying to bring on to sell through us if the systems weren’t working 100% perfect.
Paul: So having that foundation in the computer industry, I guess kind of just out of habit of testing code over and over again, well, it really helps, A, with developing the first development of your site and, B, with all the products that you have now and making sure they’re tested properly. So that background really helps.
Clint: It really did. I’m a stickler and, like I said, I’m a Type A personality so I really can beat stuff up from a system level and test and I’ve found bugs in the system that my CTO, Chris Patterson, was like, “Dude, wow. Really? You found that?” because I think way out of the box when I’m testing and just beat the system up and try every possible combination to make something break. And like I said, the great thing is that we beat it up so hard before we went live with YURdigital that the site runs flawlessly. We have been in business for a little over two and a half years. We have had zero, and I mean that sincerely, we have had zero complaints from customers with checkout problems or payment problems or download problems. The site just runs like a top.
Paul: Yeah. So what helps YURdigital stand apart from similar brokerage sites? I mean, it’s good that your site doesn’t crash so that’s a solid foundation but you’ve got a lot of extra value going on with your site as well, with what you offer to your content developers, don’t you?
Clint: Yeah, we do. One of the biggest things, I think, is personal interaction with both customers, site members that aren’t particularly customers and the content developers. Individual attention is something that goes a long way and I will give anyone and everyone that has any interaction with us at YURdigital my undying attention to make sure that whatever, problem, question that they have, that I help them along to make sure that they are satisfied with the resolution to the question or the problem and just personalized attention, that is huge and a lot of companies don’t do that anymore but we’re going to always do that at YURdigital, for sure.
Paul: Now, if I was an amateur content developer and I was about to try and break into the semi-professional status and then I approached your company to try and sell my content, what kind of advice would you give me?
Clint: Yeah, I do that now with a lot of the content developers. We will help guide you through the entire process. We’ve got some pages on our website that outline how you put your product files together pretty simplistically. One thing I didn’t want to do was have to have artists and creative type people read a massive book to figure out how to get something uploaded to our site because that is not what they want to be doing. They want to be creating.
If they come to us, and I approached people on Facebook, I’ll see artists out there that aren’t selling anywhere right now and I’ll approach them and I’ll say, “Hey, man, your stuff looks really good. Have you ever thought about selling it?” and we’ve gotten a lot of people over to YURdigital by doing that. I will work with them via e-mail or chat or however works best for them, to help them package their product. I’ll help provide ideas around content to create. And basically you’ve just kind of got to get in there, get your feet wet, put a few products up, see how they do and, like I said, we work with content developers on an individual basis. I’m working with several of them right now on different projects of things that we think will probably sell very well.
I don’t like to say I’m project managing it but I’m providing insight that I’ve seen in my 15 years in the industry to try and help them develop products that will sell and generate revenue for both us and the content developer. So it’s just a matter of actually getting in there and contacting us and getting some products in the marketplace and seeing what sells and the rest can be history after that.
Paul: Do you try and approach your market with surveys sometimes and kind of test them just with a set of questions to try and figure out what they like and what they don’t like? I guess that could provide feedback to some of those early starters who are trying to break into being professional.
Clint: Yeah, that’s funny. We used to do a whole lot of surveys at Renderosity, which used to drive me nuts because there was so much data to go through on those surveys because Renderosity’s member base is so huge. The amount of responses we’d get to surveys would just make your head explode. But the funny thing is we have not done any surveys at YURdigital to find out anything like that.
The amount of experience that I had in the industry coming from Renderosity and also spending a little bit of time with our friends at Runtime DNA, I’ve got a pretty good handle on what people are into and what people like. But surveys are always good. They can make you think outside your box because sometimes you kind of start tunnel-visioning and without outside influences, you keep running down that tunnel towards that white light at the end and don’t look around beside you and sometimes surveys can help you kind of look outside your box and we probably should do some of those at YURdigital. We just haven’t gotten there yet.
Paul: You’re always talking to your customers and potential content providers anyway so I think if you have that continual conversation going on, you’re getting that input even though it’s a one-on-one conversation, I guess it’s all kind of all stored up and into your subconscious and you just kind of know, after having hundreds of conversations with people, you’re going to get that mindset as to know what the market wants.
Now, you’re wife’s involved as well with YURdigital. What’s some of the successes that she’s had as she’s helped you run it?
Clint: Yeah, she’s the money person. She’s the marketing person. She’s the contest person. She does a lot of the stuff towards the community side. I do a little bit more of the tech stuff and I let Lillian and Beth, they work hand in hand together. They talk daily on the phone bouncing ideas around about marketing campaigns, contest ideas and they’re a wonderful team. They really know what they’re doing.
Lillian, her SEO stuff, her search engine optimization, to me, that’s a dark art. It’s just something that I can’t wrap my head around but, boy, she’s got that stuff down pat. She’s knows what she’s doing. She spends a lot of time doing that, trying to get our rankings up on search engines and she has put on some contests at YURdigital that we’ve gotten some amazing sponsorship from software companies over the past couple years and she secures all those prizes. So the stuff that she’s doing outside the e-commerce area just to keep the community rolling and drive traffic to the site is absolutely fantastic, something I can’t do. That’s just not my personality but she’s a master at that kind of stuff, both, and Beth, yeah.
Paul: And it’s the type of job that it’s just eternal, isn’t it? You have to work with that every single day, I imagine, in keeping track of the whole key words and so on. So to find somebody with that skill set and it happens to be your wife, you’re a lucky man.
Clint: Yeah, yeah, a lot of people are like, “How on earth do you guys work together?” and they’re like, “I couldn’t work with my wife.” But it works well with us. We’ve been married for, oh my gosh, we got married back in 1990, so 23 years and when you’ve been with somebody that long, you just kind of look at them and you know what they’re thinking. We offset each other so well. She is extremely strong with some things and I’m extremely strong with other things so we balance each other out really well. So, yeah, we’re very fortunate to have her working at YURdigital, that’s for sure.
Paul: And one of your other team members is somebody called “Baron Thomas von” – I’m not sure I can pronounce his surname right – is it “Buettner”?
Clint: You know, to be honest with you, I’m not 100% sure. I call him “Thomas Buettner”. That’s probably Southern for how you pronounce his name really.
Paul: Yeah. Where’s he from with a name like that?
Clint: Thomas, you know, he’s told me where he’s from. We’ve talked on the phone before and I’m trying to remember. He’s from over in Europe.
Paul: If he’s listening to the podcast, perhaps he can e-mail us and just remind us when it goes live. Now, here’s your YUR roving reporter and that just really intrigued me because I just imagine this chap, just driving around California, visiting all of the visual effects houses and interviewing people in the motion picture industry. Is that what he does? What does he do for you?
Clint: Yeah, yeah, he’s very tied into the FVX industry, the visual effects for the computer movies and stuff. One of the companies he works for, he’s done work for some of the G.I. Joe movies and some of the other larger companies out there. His company prefabs weapons and things of that nature so he’s really wrapped in tight with that industry. Thomas has been an amazing supporter of the website since we started up and I met him about two years ago. We wanted to find a place within the company where he’d fit real good. The roving reporter thing just kind of popped up one day and he stood right up and said, “I’d love to do that for you guys.” So he’s given us the scoop on some things like he did some behind the scenes stuff of the movie “Prometheus”. He did some coverage for us at (?) 2012.
So anytime Thomas gets out there and gets in touch with anything happening in the industry. He’ll try and get some pictures, send us a little bit of behind the scenes information on it that we can publish on the website and provide to our members.
Paul: Yeah, it’s great to get that angle from those visual effects houses so let’s hope he keeps bringing those scoops. That’s excellent. Now, is there anything that you’d like to promote that is going on at the moment or about to happen at YURdigital?
Clint: Yeah, we’ve got a really cool contest going on right now. It’s called “YURtwisted”.
Paul: Great title.
Clint: Yeah, the name “YURdigital”, when we thought of it, it had so many neat ways we could play with it and use it for marketing and promotion and that’s one of the things that we like about the name. The funny thing is a lot of people actually pronounce it “your digital” but the way we thought of it was the word “why”, the word “you” and the word “are” and “digital” but a lot of people don’t get that when they first read it. They’re like, “Your digital? What’s that mean?” I’m like, “No, it’s “Y-U-R digital”.
So, yeah, we can play off the name a lot so we’ve got a contest going on right now with some fabulous prizes. It’s an art contest. We just upgraded our servers a couple weeks ago. Our CTO, Chris Patterson, is one of the most amazing computer tech guys that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I worked with Chris 20-something years ago at Data General, presented the idea to him when we were developing the business plan years and years ago and asked him if he’d want to be a part of it and he jumped at the opportunity.
Like I said, we just upgraded our servers because our traffic has been increasing tremendously over the last year. We’re growing like crazy so we had to upgrade our server from the one we initially started with with something that was a lot more powerful. We’ve got three times the CPU processor power, four times the amount of memory and double the hard drive space so we really jumped up and the site really feeds up pages real fast now. We love it.
The neat thing is the migration from one server to the other, like I said, Chris is so good that the migration, we were down for 30 minutes and back up and running on the new server and I was just like, “Wow, that’s amazing. It was one of the smoothest migrations I’ve ever been involved with.”
Paul: So with the new servers in place, does that give you a platform to change the website, to upgrade it a little bit with some extra features in the future, do you think?
Clint: Yeah, most definitely. We’ve got a list, our “wish list” is what I call it, of things that we want to role out to the site as we continue to grow. We have some buyer incentives that we’re going to try and role out this year to help the customers. There’s a lot of things on our plate right now that we want to put into the site. The site is a PHP-based type site so it’s highly customizable. Chris can get in there and tweak it and do what he needs to do. So we can do whatever we need to. We’re not stuck in a box with some kind of canned system that you can’t expand on.
So we have a lot of stuff on the list. I don’t want to talk about too much of it because I don’t want to let the bird out of the box too early but we have some exciting stuff coming this year and I can’t wait. Like I said, we’re growing like crazy so it’s fun. We’re enjoying ourselves.
Paul: And maybe finally, is there anybody you’d like to shout out to? I mean, you’ve had an incredible career in the digital arts industry. Is there anybody you’d like to shout out to, perhaps some of those people who have influenced you most that may end up listening to this podcast?
Clint: Yeah, when we left, both Lillian and I worked at Renderosity and we both left at the same time. She was a marketing manager there. And when we left, we had a lot of people that were like, “Oh, man, really?” They couldn’t believe we’d left and we kept getting e-mails from people asking us, “Are you guys going to get back in the industry? We’re with you if you do.” Yeah, I’ve got a list of content developers that have been pushing us from behind the scenes and really supporting us. MindVision G.D.S., his wife, DarkStarBurning, Gil Brooks, Martin Frost, Raven, Uncle808US, Animation and D&D Creations are some of the vendors that jumped on board with us the minute we opened the doors and they’re still with us right now. It’s just invaluable to have these people really support us that way.
MindVision G.D.S. developed a Poser lighting system called “Poser PhotoBox” that he released with us early when we first started that really helped us get going and that was good. D&D Creations have been fantastic to work with as well. They’re our copyright agents for Vue products that come through if we need to have anything checked, because they’re like gurus on Vue.
Paul: Yeah, we had a real delight in interviewing them for a previous issue of 3D Art Direct and that’s just kind of a really wonderful interview. They’re a great, great team.
Clint: They are, they are. I’m really lucky to be associated with a lot of these people. I feel very, very fortunate. We make contacts over the years with a lot of software companies that have really, really supported us with prize offerings for contests and I’d like to mention some of them. Smith Micro, Reallusion, Filter Forge, Digital-Tutors, 3D.sk, Geekatplay Studios, Autodesk. We have a good relationship with Autodesk, which is fantastic. Project Dogwaffle, e-on software, DAZ 3D, the Best 3D, 3D Art Magazine, Digital Art magazine and, of course, 3D Art Direct magazine for sure. You guys have been really helpful as well.
Paul: Yeah. We appreciate your time for this interview. It’s been fascinating talking to you and, really, 40 minutes doesn’t do it justice, really, for what you’ve gone through over the years and how you’ve grown. So thank you again.