By Rand Schulman
There was a cold snap in the winter of 2000 and the New York City sidewalks around Andrew’s office on John Street were frozen solid and the front doors to his building were buried in what seemed like several feet of snow.
The late 1990s was a time of digital agency rollups and I had moved to New York to lead a similar effort for a public holding company whose assets included the venerable Harvard Graphics, as well as Renaissance Multimedia, where Andrew was CEO and founder.
I was the Executive Vice President of the company which just acquired his, and was cautioned by my board to “take it easy” with their shiny new acquisition and its “quirky” founder. I’d been in technology since the early eighties and, having just founded and built one of the first web analytic companies (eventually sold to Yahoo), could relate to that advice. Founders can be quirky and touchy. After all, it takes one to know one.
Renaissance was hidden away several flights up a rickety elevator, in a building not far from Wall Street and a block away from the Italianate Federal Reserve. The location was archetypically New York. I met Andrew for the first time in a cold lobby on John Street that winter’s day.
Andrew is a New Yorker’s New Yorker and has a “don’t mess with me” presence at six foot four, black horned-rimmed glasses, and a Long Island accent you could cut with a knife. For our first meeting, we crossed the street for lunch to one of those hidden places, down a flight of stairs, and beyond the heavy velvet curtain to a dimly lit restaurant ringed with big guys dressed in tuxedos. This was a place only a New Yorker would know.
We went to a booth, behind another curtain, sat down and ordered a pair of dirty martinis and huge steaks. The waiter closed the curtain. It was like something that Scorsese could have directed.
There I was, seated with this looming guy, having a drink around noon in a part of the city that rarely sees the sun, and wondering where the conversation might go. I remembered my caution as I downed a couple of drinks. And I learned that day that Andrew is a Renaissance man somewhat on the order of a digital Kerouac or Dali. That he paints and writes. His paintings are stunning and sarcastic. Overall he was quite opposite the digital guy I thought I’d gone to meet.
That was the first chapter.
Andrew believes that life begins where one’s comfort zone ends and he understands that technology breeds disruption. I know that because we’ve worked together at almost a dozen transformative digital companies – like Webtrends, WebSideStory/Adobe, Unica/IBM and together we co-founded the Digital Analytics Association. We have guided some of the world’s largest brands and youngest, most innovative firms. We’ve taken risks on new emerging market sectors and have made some hard calls about picking winners and losers. Mostly we get it right.
He has illuminated this story with a special light of reflection from decades of pioneering digital work, tempered and filtered through the prism of a painter’s vision and a writer’s prose. He is able to capture and question the duality of the age. Is Digital is Destroying Everything? Or, he asks, “maybe it’s all bullshit”? With his curious mind, Andrew is at his best when he has a powerful narrative to command.
His book is lyric almost as much as it is a narrative on our digital condition; and the stories and his perceptions are filled with wit and humor fueled by his personal experience.
We have helped shape the digital age. We have helped shape the digital divide. I think the best pages are those where he repeatedly questions the assertion about how wonderful the digital age really is. So then, is Digital Destroying Everything? The ending has yet to be written.
Andrew shines a bright light on those dark places so that you might decide for yourself.
January 21, 2015
Executive-in-Residence for Digital Media and Marketing
University of the Pacific
San Francisco, California