Husani Oakley

With over 220 million worldwide subscribers across over 190 countries, it’s hard to imagine pop culture without the media juggernaut that we know as Netflix. But how do they manage to distribute and create so much, while also maintaining a top-class user experience for so many people? It’s thanks to geniuses like this week’s guest — Husani Oakley.

Husani talked about stepping into his role as Director of Creative Practices during the pandemic, and shared how his team helps define the art and science of great creative work at a huge scale. He also spoke about how his previous stints as CTO of online investment platform Goldbean and CTO of advertising firm Deutsch NY helped prepare him for the biggest role of his career. It takes a lot of work and nuance to create experiences for global and local audiences, and Husani is the right person to make those experiences happen!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So, tell us who you are and what you do.

Husani Oakley:
My name is Husani Oakley. I am the Director of Creative Practices at Netflix.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a pretty big title. I was going to ask what all has changed since you were last on the show, which was in 2014, you were Episode 40. That’s a long time ago. Tell me more about this new role in Netflix. It sounds exciting.

Husani Oakley:
Well, it was a very long time ago. That’s a whole two jobs in a global panini ago. That’s quite crazy. I hadn’t realize it was that long. Yeah, so my role at Netflix is in a group called Product Creative Studio. It’s a new role, even though Product Creative Studio isn’t necessarily new. We’re part of a team of people that are responsible for launching titles on platforms, so all shows all movies, whether they are Netflix originals or our non-original content that ends up on the platform globally. Everything is related to how those titles appear on platform. Everything from the descriptions, the synopsis that appear when you’re looking for something to watch to the tagging that appears. But specifically the art and clips and trailers that appear in the rows when you’re on the Netflix home page and when you’re on one of our titled detail pages.

Husani Oakley:
That’s the sort of work that’s done on my side of the organization. And my department and thus, my role specifically is looking at that work from a creative perspective, less than an operational perspective. And trying to figure out ways to make that work the best possible work for our members. We really want that art and those trailers and those clips to stand out and give you enough information as a member to let you decide whether this is something for you when you’re going to hit play and watch. We present you that evidence.

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean, it can be overstated just how big even Netflix has become in the past seven years. I mean, it really was something that was largely, I remember back then, I feel like it was mostly largely just for the United States or maybe for the Americas. But now, I mean, it truly is a global platform, not just in terms of reach of members, but also the content that it offers. I see trailers every week from content that’s in Spain, that’s in Italy, that’s in Nigeria, that’s in South Korea, everywhere.

Husani Oakley:
That’s what is both I think amazing to see from the inside. And then as a member to also experience from the outside that our content is we are a global company, our content is global. The way we create that content is global. But by global, I don’t mean from one location and spread throughout the world, it’s not one to many. It’s really many to many.

Husani Oakley:
Squid Game, I think is a great example that came out of South Korea for South Koreans. It was so great. Everyone on the planet ended up watching it. But the way we think about this global scale and reach, it’s almost like every area has its own Netflix. And the beauty of the platform is that content from those little Netflixes can be seen by members of Netflix as a whole.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you started this role last year. How was it to start something this big during the pandemic?

Husani Oakley:
I’ve got to say I was really scared. I was really scared to start during the pandemic. The role I was coming out of, I’d been in for a couple of years, so I knew everyone I worked with. And then we went into the pandemic and so, you’re on calls all day, every day with people, but you know them because you’ve known them before everything changed. I was really scared about the ability to form relationships with my peers, with my bosses and certainly, with the team that I lead only over a screen. Without having any indication of when the relationships could be built outside of just from behind the screen. I was terrified. If I am, to be honest, I was excited and terrified really, really because of that. But I have to say, this is the largest company I’ve ever worked at.

Husani Oakley:
And from day zero, and the fact that I say day zero gives a hint as to my dev background. We started zero. From day zero, I was impressed by the level of craft and the level of thoughtfulness that went into, not just starting, but the interviewing experience. And then starting, and then the onboarding experience. All of this with me sitting in my home office, having stepped into an Netflix office once in my life for maybe 30 minutes. I was terrified, but after really getting into things with folks who were aiding me along that interviewing and onboarding journey, that fear really went away and I was just able to embrace it.

Maurice Cherry:
What does your team look like? Who are some of the people that you manage?

Husani Oakley:
My team has, I was going to say some of the most brilliant people at Netflix, but that wouldn’t be fair because everyone in Netflix is sort of scary smart. And that’s I think a thing a lot of people say outside of Netflix like, “Oh, the folks in Netflix are really smart.” People in Netflix are really smart. I mean, back to this starting at day zero and how all of those interactions were clearly well-thought out and well-defined. The thoughtfulness is almost the hallmark of what it feels like to interact with these folks on the outside, I’m sorry, inside the company.

Husani Oakley:
My team is interesting because the team itself is new, but the people who are on the team are not. They’ve been in Netflix for an average of five years, four years and maybe. And so, they have such a deep understanding of not just the culture and sort of how we operate on a day-to-day basis. But the relationships with cross-functional partners across the globe. One of my amazing practices leads spent a lot of time and working with our APAC region. And has deep relationships with the folks there. So, they’re really able to bring to me the new person, this rich library of knowledge, which is incredibly helpful.

Husani Oakley:
Now, my folks come from varied creative focused backgrounds, creative strategy, art direction. Some from entertainment. Some from outside of entertainment. Some from marketing and advertising. But they all share a passion for TV and film and a passion for telling stories about TV and film. We tell stories about stories. I say that my team, with apologies to the late great Stephen Sondheim, I say that creative practices focuses on the art of making art. Inside of Netflix, I think that’s really important.

Husani Oakley:
We have these amazing editors and producers and strategists and designers spread across the planet, building out stories about stories, designing the art for our titles, cutting the trailers and clips for our titles. And because my team has experience doing that actual hands-on work, they are able to use that experience. And like I said earlier, use the rich knowledge of all of the cross-functional partnerships that they come to the team with. And elevate the work that our stunning colleagues do to represent titles on platform. I think I’m the luckiest person in Netflix with my team.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember from other people who I’ve had on the show before Netflix, they me that Netflix mostly hires mid to senior career people. You have to be at least kind of five years in to start at Netflix. There’s no “junior.” I’m using air quotes here, but there are no junior positions. Everyone kind of starts at a high level because you’re really in one way expected to kind of hit the ground running.

Maurice Cherry:
But to your point about how global and cross-functional, it is, I mean, you’re trying to deliver this consistent experience across hundreds of thousands of customers. And then Netflix is so unique because it’s a tech company, but it’s also media. And I just know from working with tech startups that try to do media, that’s often like mixing oil and water.

Husani Oakley:
Yeah, it’s hard and it’s also really worth putting the effort in. I think the space in between art and science is somewhere that I’ve spent my career and Netflix has spent its time existing like playing in the space between. I think if you are and I’m really talking about companies that I think I could argue this for really strong creatives as well.

Husani Oakley:
If you are solely focused on the art side, certainly in the medium that we’re talking about here, in digital. If you are focused on the art side, you’re missing out on the abilities and capabilities that are possible if you lean into the science side. But if you just lean into the science side and you don’t have the art, then you’ve got math. And I say, and then you’ve got math knowing, Maurice, what just like in college sounds silly. But I think you’re a great example of what I mean in this combination of art and science.

Husani Oakley:
There is such something that builds upon each other and allows things to build and move and merge. And I think that’s a fascinating place for a brand like Netflix to be, I think from a brand tone perspective, but from the day-to-day perspective of Netflix employees. And I hope that that experience for our members comes across. We talk a lot about our members all the time. We are member centric. We care so much about the member experience.

Husani Oakley:
Also, we are members too. I make this thing with my team in every other weekly status meeting, “What are you watching on Netflix right now? Let’s talk about it a bit.” Because at the end of the day, we’re focused on a lot of the science stuff, but it’s science for a reason. It’s science for the art and that’s just a fascinating space to play in.

Maurice Cherry:
The interesting thing really also with Netflix is it’s become just so ubiquitous within culture, writ large. I mean, of course you can look at the idiom of Netflix and chill and stuff like that. But with Netflix being such an early player in streaming and the rights with so many other streaming services, Paramount Plus, HBO Max, et cetera. There’s all these sort of affordances and things that they’re inheriting from work that’s been done in Netflix around how do we structure the UI? How do we provide a good user experience?

Maurice Cherry:
And it’s so interesting to watch conversation about streaming services on Twitter. Because one thing that I’ve found probably within the past couple of years, and I’ve noticed this, is that content, there are so many streaming services in places for content to land. And I mean, I’m using content in a broad sort of way to describe video. But I’ll watch 10 trailers and it’s almost negligible, which platform they’re on. It could be on IIB. It could be on Amazon Prime. It could be on Netflix. It could be on IMDB TV. It could be on a number of different platforms and stuff, but what sets it apart is that kind of experience of how do I use the app?

Maurice Cherry:
People talk all the time about HBO Max’s, the app. People say they’ve never seen an app that hates their users like HBO Max or I use Paramount Plus. And actually, Paramount Plus is the one service I’ve stopped using because the interface I found lacks the features that I would see on a Netflix or a Disney Plus or something for basic things that Netflix kind of pioneered, like Watch List and favorite-ing and ratings and stuff like that.

Husani Oakley:
I’ll tell you the secret. The secret is this amazing collection of smart people that work for Netflix that are spread across the globe. Just a little while ago, you talked about the level that we hire and you said, I think, the common thought is that folks are expected to kind of hit the ground running. And I’d say yes and no to that. So, I’ve been at Netflix are about seven and a half months and I think it took me about seven months to even understand anything.

Husani Oakley:
And the ongoing internal joke is, “You should spend the first year just soaking up information, understanding things, but we hired you because you’re great.” But your greatness at what you do, you need the information, the context about how we think about problem solving. How we’ve solved problems in the past, who people are and what they do and what they’re good at. You need some time inside before you’re really able to use the skills that you’re walking in with and apply to these sorts of very difficult problems that we are spending 24/7, 365 across the globe attempting to solve for our members.

Husani Oakley:
I hope that that effort or it’s funny. I was going to say, I hope that effort is clear to members. What I actually hope is that it’s not clear to members. I actually hope that it’s a magical experience that you sit down, you grab your remote control. You go to Netflix and you look, there are things that you want to watch.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s effortless. The experience is so seamless across. And I have to say, across a number of different platforms. I mean, I probably think like my toaster probably has Netflix now. It’s on every game console. It’s with every smart television. It’s on every smartphone, like yeah.

Husani Oakley:
Yeah. We have an amazing partnerships team that works in a lot of those sorts of situations and they’re just great. You should be able to enjoy this content where you’re at. Whether you’re sitting on a flight and you’ve got your iPad with you or you’re on a train and you’ve got your phone with you. You’re sitting on your cell phone, it’s a television, you’re on a laptop or you’re in the kitchen making toast. We briefly want the ability for you to be entertained because that’s our job.

Husani Oakley:
And I think there’s a huge responsibility in entertainment brands and the folks who, who work at them, certainly at brands as large as Netflix, and with such a global footprint. There’s responsibility in the driving of global culture. And so, you see this a lot or you saw this a lot during the pandemic. I think even more so than pre-pandemic. Life is hard and you’ve had a really difficult day, a difficult week. There’s family stuff. There’s work stuff.

Husani Oakley:
There’s the state of the world, in general. And what we want you to do, what we want to be able to do, what we focus so much time on, on an effort on allowing you to do easily is to sit down on your sofa or in front of your laptop or in front of your toaster, grab a remote. And for 43 minutes, for 60 minutes, hopefully for longer, you are able to take the weight of the world off of your shoulders and immerse yourself in a story. And live in that story and watch all of that story if you want or stop and sort of reemerge back into your life and do some more things and then come back and reemerge yourself in that story.

Husani Oakley:
That is an awesome responsibility that we have. And my team, because we are supporting the folks who make and the processes by which we make this creative work that represents titles on platform, we’re the front door and the last door to those moments of joy. And that’s what I tell my folks to, that’s what they focus on, that’s what we focus on. That’s why we are here at this company to focus on giving members moments of joy.

Maurice Cherry:
And I have to say, the way that Netflix has sort of expanded in the early 20-teens with not just expanding globally, but then also expanding into original content. The development of original content sort of further kind of lets Netflix seep into the culture in that way, because as it expands out more, now we’re making your own shows. Because there’s a lot of, or I think it’s probably is still this way.

Maurice Cherry:
You have all this platform hopping of old shows and movies and stuff. Particularly, I think with a lot of NBC properties and stuff like The Office, it was on Hulu. Now, it’s on Peacock. Now, it’s on this. And it’s amazing how people will follow a platform for a show that probably hasn’t been online or is still in syndication or something like that. But Netflix now moving forward with their own content as they also expand their global footprint, at the same time, huge. That’s huge.

Husani Oakley:
Yeah. There’s real power in that. And you only get to those sorts of insights and then execute on those insights and then continue to execute on those insights with more insights and do that at a global scale. The only way to do that is with stunning colleagues. It’s the only way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. To that end, what does a regular day look for you? Does that exist?

Husani Oakley:
Nope. There is no regular day. Well, there are constants, let’s say. And maybe it’s almost like what does a week generally look like? And there’s things that happen in any given week are totally different. I said to someone, I said to a colleague the other day, “There’s never a boring day here is there?” They just sort of looked at me and they were sort of laughing of like, “Yep, no, no, no. That just does not exist here.”

Husani Oakley:
In any given week, I think like many people, we live on video chat. So, I’m on video chat a lot, but the conversations are so different and so rich and meaningful. Remember the days before everyone worked at home? And you might have eight meetings a day, but only three of them were really important. And the other five, you could of phone it in sometimes. Apologies to my previous lawyers who may or may not be listening to this.

Husani Oakley:
You could be with your phone checking Twitter under the table, that kind of moment. Not that I ever did such things clearly. It’s sort of the opposite of that here. So, if I’m on 10 calls, each of those 10 calls, is the most important call that day. And there were pre-reads read for those calls. There was prep work done. There was active participation in those calls.

Husani Oakley:
So, I think in any given couple of days or a week period, I’m having, it’s a really a collaboration session meeting with my team. My team, we don’t call them status meetings because it’s a waste of everyone’s time for all of us to sit on a call and go round robin and people tell me the status of their projects and initiatives. That’s a waste of their time. I think it’s disrespectful to their time. They can send me an email. They can update Slack.

Husani Oakley:
They can also do what they do because I trust them to do it because they’re the best people in the world to do this job. I don’t need to hover over them. So, we take an hour every Monday and collaborate on things. We’ll take a moment to celebrate on the latest content that we’re all or some of us are into. And then we really get into sort of the nuts and bolts collaboration, because these folks do have different backgrounds and different perspectives, different experiences.

Husani Oakley:
And because we’re a little a bit spread out and it’s a new team. It’s not as though we have spent so much time physically together. So, this moment is where you can start learning about each other and what each person kind of bring to this collaboration moment. I do also have a weekly status, also it’s less of a status. It’s more of a big thing that’s going on with my peers and the person that we report to. And we’re thinking of sort of bigger picture, strategic vision and what are the priorities for this year and next and how our cross-functional partnerships are doing.

Husani Oakley:
But a lot of time for me is spent watching Netflix. And I’m just smiling ear-to-ear when I say that. I watch a lot of Netflix. I watch Netflix during the day. I said to my mom, when I started, “I get paid to watch a lot of Netflix and that’s pretty damn cool.” And I’m watching as a member, but I’m also, I’m watching to gauge where we’re at creatively with title representation on platform. Does that feel right? And if it does, how can we do that not once, but twice but 5000 times. And then next year, 10,000 times. And then the next year, 30,000 times. So, there’s a lot of focus on getting content in.

Husani Oakley:
There’s a lot of task forces that are, we’re really big on cross-functional partnerships and cross-functional relationships. So, I’m on a couple of handfuls worth of internal working groups and task forces focused on all sorts of issues and initiatives and challenges to solve. Maybe there’ll be a meeting in that. And one person from the taskforce is going to present a deck or a super long memo about the latest findings from a test. And we debate them and we dissent openly and give feedback about what we’re talking about in these conversations openly.

Husani Oakley:
This is kind of what my life is these days. I watch TV a lot and I talk a lot. Which is for a person who talks a lot and watches TV a lot when he is not working in Netflix, that’s kind of a dream.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of this new job?

Husani Oakley:
I think maybe the most challenging and the most rewarding, the most rewarding is being able to work with colleagues across the world from completely different cultures and perspectives and backgrounds. And then I think one of the more challenging parts is coordination of the working with amazing colleagues from across the world.

Husani Oakley:
Time zones are a thing. It’s always going to be painful for someone. I mean, it’s either 8:00 AM for me or it’s 8:00 PM for me. It’s certainly when I’m working with colleagues on the literal other side of the planet. And trying to coordinate that with super busy schedules ends up being more challenging than you kind of think. “Oh, send a calendar, invite us all. Fine.”

Husani Oakley:
But our days are so dynamic. They change all the time and these meetings run long and maybe they run short. And then there that’s a company town hall. Trying to keep schedules in that space when there are so many dependent time zone dependencies, it ends up being a significant challenge and maybe that’s a challenge for me. The old school Netflix folks do this with their eyes closed. I’m still catching up and trying to figure out kind of the best way to handle that.

Husani Oakley:
One thing about that, when we have sort of larger meetings, larger department meetings, or all hands in our part of the organization, we do those meetings twice because of time zones. So, if you’re presenting in a meeting and you’ve got a couple hundred people on a call, for me, I’m in those conversations all the time. I’m presenting in those quite often. I’ll have one at 7:00 PM on a Tuesday and then I’ll have the exact same meeting the next day at 10:00 AM, but just with different participants, but I’m saying the same thing twice.

Husani Oakley:
And there’s a challenge in that sort of human communication moment. Sometimes, I feel a little bit like I imagine a politician feels giving a stump speech. And they’re, “Okay, hello, Rapid City.” And they’re like, “You’re actually at Albuquerque.” “Oh, sorry. I was in Rapid City yesterday.” That sort of when you say the same thing a number of times it starts to become rote.

Husani Oakley:
And I think that would be unfair to our colleagues in our various locations across the world. So, trying to keep that stuff fresh to get their excited unique perspectives is also sort of challenging for me sometimes. But you work through it, you work through it.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, when we had talked back in 2014, I know we’re talking now about Netflix, but I want to kind of go back to really track the progression to how you’ve gotten to where you are now. Back when we talked in 2014, you were fairly new, I think CTO at this FinTech startup called GoldBean. Tell me about that experience. How was it?

Husani Oakley:
Oh, GoldBean. Oh, wow. It’s funny how the perception of time is so malleable and the past two years feel like 30 years. So, really thinking back to the GoldBean days, it’s amazing. I’m watching right now there’s, there’s like what? Three or four prestige TV series about well-known startups happening right now. I don’t know what they’re called, but there’s the Uber show. That’s what I call them at home. There’s the Uber show. There’s this there no show. There’s the Uber show.

Husani Oakley:
I’m watching all of them at the same time. And I just, I laugh a lot when there are moments that they are talked about in these shows that I remember. Like begging for funding, a launch day, getting your first non-direct connected customers and that sort of thing. GoldBean was a blast. It was a massive learning experience. You’d wake up on a Monday morning and you’d think I am right. Our product is right. Our brand is right. Everything, we’re making the right decisions. We are so smart.

Husani Oakley:
And then by lunchtime, you’re like, “Wait, no, actually we don’t know anything. What the hell have we done with our lives?” Then it might change. It might go up again by dinnertime. That sort of emotional rollercoaster. That I think is inherent in startups. I guess when I think back on the GoldBean era, that’s one of the things that’s top of mind to me, that riding that rollercoaster.

Husani Oakley:
So, GoldBean, I was so lucky to co-found GoldBean with a former colleague. She was actually a former boss, truth be told. And we were, you have colleagues, boss or not, you’re close in, and when you’re working together. And then time goes by, you both have different jobs, different parts of industries. You don’t talk again. You drop each other notes on Twitter or LinkedIn. One is a Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday kind of a thing.

Husani Oakley:
I was so lucky to reconnect with her and have the opportunity to build something from nothing. And to think about all aspects during that building of something from nothing. Where it’s not just the product, not just the tech of the product, but the design of the product, the brand, but the brand values. And how those brand values would be expressed through visual design, but also through our own behavior in the marketplace and how we raise the money.

Husani Oakley:
Really all of that coming from a core set of brand values, which is really about, could we have a financial brand that didn’t just focus on straight white dudes? How do you take that kind of a phrase and express it in design and express it in the tech and express it in product design? Solving those challenges was so much fun.

Maurice Cherry:
And you were kind of going back into the startup world then, because prior to that, you were at Wieden and Kennedy before you were at GoldBean?

Husani Oakley:
That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. My career has been startup, ad agency, startup, ad agency. At a certain point, it was like startup, startup, startup, startup. Oh, no. Ad agency. I’ve kind of, I’ve lived a lot in both of those worlds, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And I guess, to follow that pattern after this startup, you were at an ad agency. Right after that you were at Deutsch New York. How did that opportunity come about? Because you were at GoldBean for a good minute.

Husani Oakley:
Yeah. It’s a funny story, and I think it was like four or five years at GoldBean. And we did the typical, it’s sort of like the typical startup life cycle. Even though there were all of the roller coaster at any given day if you kind of zoom out from that, there was the typical, “Have an idea. Ooh, that’s a good one. Let’s bootstrap it. Let’s make it. Let’s raise some money. Well, let’s raise some money. Oh, wait. We’re a woman and Black gay man as CTO-led financial technology brand.”

Husani Oakley:
So, we’re raising money and raising money and raising money. I continued that for a very long time before going on to the next part of working on a startup. But we got to the point, I guess, near the end where we had a lovely relationship with a company that ended up buying the GoldBean.

Husani Oakley:
I was having drinks with an old colleague from my Wieden+Kennedy days who for maybe a year or so, she was at Deutsch New York. And she had been trying to for a year to get me to talk to folks at Deutsch. And I kept saying, “No, I have a job. It’s called a startup. Ever heard of it?” I was sort of getting snippy about it after a while. But she was a friend. We finally had a moment in a bar where I knew that, “Hey, we’re actually going to be wrapping GoldBean up soon. Fine. I will talk to your precious Deutsch New York people. Fine.”

Husani Oakley:
And so, she did an email introduction to some folks there. And one conversation with a person who ended up becoming my Deutsch collaborator and then personal friend, one conversation, I was sold. I was excited to join Deutsch specifically because of the people. It’s always about people for me. The culture was much around, “Hey, here’s the thing. Let’s figure out how to do that better.” And that really, really kind of called to me.

Husani Oakley:
It’s funny. Where did we, where you and I spoke at a conference together in Atlanta, what was that?

Maurice Cherry:
That was How to Design Live in 2016.

Husani Oakley:
Wow, 2016. I remember standing on a stage there and I know this happened. I hope there’s not a recording of it. I stood on a stage and I said something like, “I will never go back to advertising.” And the crowd sort of giggles. And I’m like, “No, I’m serious. I will never go back to advertising.” Fast forward two years, I’m [crosstalk 00:32:43]. So, never say never, I guess.

Maurice Cherry:
What are some of the things you worked on?

Husani Oakley:
Deutsch work was and is focused on helping brands through inflection points. There’s a product launching, there’s a major change in company leadership and now there’s a new brand tone or value or look and feel of something. But no, I think the specialty of Deutsch was finding those moments of change and developing coms around those moments of change and to support those moments of change in the eyes of a brand consumers.

Husani Oakley:
I think a good example, some work that we did for, for AB InBev. The world’s largest brewer. Speaking of global scale, AB InBev has got it. I was going to say we designed and built an app called Hoppy, but that doesn’t come close to kind of what the project was. That’s what I loved about the work at Deutsch. It wasn’t just the what is the tactic that we’re leaning in on. It’s why is this tactic important? What larger program in an inflection point for a brand is this tactic a part of?

Husani Oakley:
For AB InBev specifically, it was around really wanting all of their employees to have a deep, deep, deep appreciation of, and understanding of beer. And I think that might sound a little silly sometimes, like “Well, it’s a brewer, how do they not understand and love beer?” But at a brewer, there’s a lot of employees. That’s just the folks in the brewery. You got sales people, you got marketing people, you have operations people, you have number crunchers.

Husani Oakley:
And there was a real desire by the heads of AB InBev to internally have every single AB InBev employee be educated about beer. Be able to champion beer and what beer could do from a cultural perspective like throwing people together and having sort of moments of meaning in people’s lives, who work at AB InBev. And how could every employee of AB InBev share that passion for beer to their friends and family and so on and so on.

Husani Oakley:
So, one of the tactics that we came up with was called Hoppy and it was an app, internal only. It has since gone public on the web, I believe, but it was an iOS and Android app that essentially gamified education. And we took a lot of cues from how people use their phones when they’re not supposed to be at jobs. Really wanted a little bite size content. AB InBev has a super competitive internal culture and we leaned in on that in some of the gamification as well. So the idea was, if you log into Hoppy, you read some bite size content about beer, and it’s all different sorts of courses. And from beer history to beer science, to the making of beer.

Husani Oakley:
It was very specifically about beer, not so much a sales tool for AB InBev brands. No. It was about beer. You read this content, you interact with these little games then you would get quizzes. If you answer the quiz, you get a badge. Every badge comes along with beer coin. Yes, I know. Every time I would say it then and said it now is I cringe a little bit. I won’t take up too much time complaining about crypto and my thoughts on that. But the idea was giving the AB InBev employees again from the super competitive internal culture a thing to compete with. We built leaderboards, not just in the app, but around offices.

Husani Oakley:
We allowed managers to create what we called Beer Code, C-O-D like a QR code, QR code. You go into an admin system, you make a beer code and that beer code could be for an extracurricular meeting you were having with your team or a happy hour that you wanted your encouraged your team to show up to. You’d make it, you’d print it, you’d stick it on the wall. Every employee that walks in, they log into Hoppy as they’re walking in, they scan that code. They get some beer coin. They move up in the leaderboard.

Husani Oakley:
All the content could always be refreshed and it was all very beautiful. And there’s this amazing design that the super talented product design team at Deutsch New York created. That sort of deep, deep, deep brand integration coming through via a digital tactic for employees. That’s the sort of work that Deutsch did and does. And it’s work that I, years later, am still super proud of.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at both your time working at GoldBean, which was a startup and working at Deutsch New York, which is an agency. When you look at those two specific experiences, what unique skills do you think you’re able to bring now to your work at Netflix, which is in a totally different space?

Husani Oakley:
The ability to tell a story succinctly, last answer to your question, notwithstanding. You know what I mean? Taking super, super complicated concepts and distilling them down to their essence, not 30 slides, but two. But when you are the digital per person in a non-only digital environment like a big ad agency. And anyone who is in that position sort of understands and I think even folks who are sort of new areas of larger older companies will understand this, you run out of time in a meeting.

Husani Oakley:
You run out of time in a pitch because your part of the pitch is like Slide 38 of 50. I’m sorry. Your part of the pitch is Slide 38 out of 40. And by the time you get to Slide 37, you look at the clock and it’s almost time and all your colleagues are looking at you like, “Okay, you had a whole lot to say when you practiced this pitch, but now you have seven seconds to say it because we took too long to say our part. You don’t have time anymore. Go.”

Husani Oakley:
When you experience that over a career, my ad agency career of being the digital person in these sometimes, non-digital native environments, you get really good at taking 30 pages of really complicated stuff and distilling it down to three sentences. It’s a skill that has come in handy at a place like Netflix where things are so and so cross-functional, and cross-functionally complicated. Cutting down to the essence has really, really served me well.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, from what you’re able to share, I mean, you’ve already shared so much about Netflix, what would you say is probably the most surprising thing that most people don’t know about Netflix?

Husani Oakley:
Netflix employees pay for Netflix.

Maurice Cherry:
Really?

Husani Oakley:
We pay a subscription, just like everybody else. And listen, I got to say when I got the message, when I logged in Netflix one day and I saw that my subscription price went up, I did have a second of a gasp. I did have a moment of like, “Hey, wait a second.” Then I remembered that I work there. Yes, we pay for Netflix. I think it’s actually really important that we pay for Netflix. We are members, too and when you pay for something, even if you work at the place that makes it, even if your work is available on it, come at it from a different perspective. It’s much more than empathy for members when you are a member.

Husani Oakley:
We, too, are sensitive to price changes and know that they are done with respect. We too are excited by content. We too are sad and disappointed when our favorite show isn’t renewed. And really being, having that perspective in the product, as expressed by, “I’m paying the same price everybody else is paying,” I think really gives us a strong, strong perspective when we are working on things that are potentially challenging or difficult.

Maurice Cherry:
That is wild. I didn’t know that you all were paying for Netflix. I mean, ooh, interesting. Okay. So, yeah, when those prices go up, you all feel it, too, so I guess that’s a little bit of empathy out there for folks who didn’t know that. How have you changed since we last spoke here on the show seven years ago?

Husani Oakley:
I think I’ve realized what I’m good at. I don’t always know what I’m good at to be, to be fair. But I think I’ve kind of narrowed down what I’m good at and I’ve embraced what I’m good at. And that is living in the space between art and science and leading teams creatively in that space between art and science.

Husani Oakley:
And I think earlier parts of my career, I sort of fell into this in between space. It was never a conscious intentional choice to sort of be in the middle. But I started out way back in the day as a dev, but I was a creative. In my day job, I’m writing code and I just happen to be the one of all the devs in whatever place I was at, at that time, that could have a conversation with designers or creatives. And really understand their perspective and then translate that perspective.

Husani Oakley:
And in the startup world, that was a superpower. I didn’t realize that that was a superpower. And in the agency world, again, it was a superpower I didn’t quite realize was a superpower at that time. And I think as I’ve matured as a human, as I’ve grown as a leader, and I think as I’ve grown as a creative, I’ve understood that as being a major tool in my tool belt and I recognize that it’s a tool in my tool belt. I know how to wield it. And I knew how to wield it back when we first spoke. I think, I didn’t know how well I actually could wield it and I think I’m really doing that now.

Maurice Cherry:
Are you where you wanted to be at in this stage in your life?

Husani Oakley:
Well, listen, having gotten started in my career in the dot-com boom, I thought by now, I’d be retired on a yacht. The yacht would be called the Husani. It would have my face on it, giving the middle finger to everybody as I go from port to port, island to island. Living my retired before mid-40s amazing life. That didn’t happen. It took me a little while to realize that wasn’t going to happen.

Husani Oakley:
But you know what? Yes, I am. I have always wanted to be in a place professionally and personally where my passions for storytelling can have an impact on more than a handful of people and a lasting impact on more than a handful of people. And it’s been a long road. I’ve been doing this for a long time, but I am certainly now in a place where my creative ideas, my creative leadership and the wielding of the in-between art and science tool can really have an impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people. And that’s what I’ve really always wanted and that, I feel like I have that now.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have a dream project that you would love to do someday? I mean, it honestly sounds like this work that you’re doing on Netflix is kind of, I mean, I’ve known you for 20 plus years. But this sounds like the pinnacle of where you are in your career, but is there more that you want to do like bigger dreams and aspirations?

Husani Oakley:
I want to write a Broadway musical.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm.

Husani Oakley:
All I get is a “Hmm?” Wow. Wow.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no. What would it be about?

Husani Oakley:
You’re difficult. Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know, but I want one. Look, I discovered a love for musical theater when I was a super, super young kid and saw Sarafina! on Broadway. It’s up to Google what year that was because I really don’t remember. I was super young. And then my love for musical theater was cemented when I became obsessed with Little Shop of Horrors in the late ’80s. And it’s just sort of grown and been there ever since on the wall that I sit in front of when I’m on video chat all day, every day.

Husani Oakley:
I mean, there are a bunch of pieces of art and some things that are meaningful to me. But on one side, there’s a Star Trek poster. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Best film ever. Then there’s also a stylized drawing of the logo of Miss Saigon because that show has had big impact and meaning on my taste in theater and understanding of the interplay between words and song.

Husani Oakley:
And I don’t know what my show would be about. But I would like to before I leave this planet to whatever comes next, write a show and hopefully have the same sort of impact emotionally on people that the work that I love so much has had on me.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, you’re in New York. If there’s any place to write the next Broadway musical, that’s it. All you have to do is get Netflix to give, I don’t know, Lin-Manuel Miranda, a project or something. Find a way for you all to work together and make that happen. I mean, seriously, because I mean, Netflix has, I mean, we’re talking a lot about Netflix because you work there. But just to kind of talk about more with their expansion, they’ve gone into games, they have a book club.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m surprised that they haven’t went into theaters. I know Amazon did that with their Amazon Studios. They bought, I think it was Landmark. I think it was Landmark theaters they bought that chain or they wanted to buy it or something. But I’m surprised there’s not brick and mortar Netflix theaters. I’m pretty sure that’s probably somewhere down the pipeline.

Husani Oakley:
We do own one theater. Hey, here’s another maybe thing that people don’t know about Netflix. We own a theater in New York, a movie theater.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Husani Oakley:
Yeah, the Paris Theater. It’s a beautiful old landmark theater and there are screenings. It’s open. It’s a public, it’s a theater, it’s a movie theater. You can buy tickets and see a movie there. The Power of the Dog was there a couple of weeks ago. There’s something happening there tonight with Judd Apatow. That it’s open to the public as in you could buy tickets like everyone else, but yeah, we own that theater, which is a lot of fun.

Maurice Cherry:
Aside from the musical, what is it that you want your legacy to be?

Husani Oakley:
One of my early pre-career claims to fame, such that it is I had a first amendment related lawsuit with my high school in the town I grew up in. And back then, I really wanted to leave behind a changed world. There are a million and one things wrong. If I could change four of them, no one ever needs to know my name. No one ever needs to know that I was the person who changed those four things as long with those four things got changed.

Husani Oakley:
And I guess I’ve gone from then, I’ve run startups, so I’ve been at companies big and small. I’ve done all of this stuff. I’ve spoken on stages. I’ve been around the world. All of this stuff. And I think all I still want to do is change for things on this planet for the better. And so, the people who come after me don’t experience those four things of the million things being wrong as wrong.

Maurice Cherry:
One thing I didn’t even touch on that we focused on your work at GoldBean and Deutsch, but you’ve also done a fair amount of civic tech work in these past seven years. I remember vividly you being invited to the White House, Obama, not Trump, invited to the White House. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Husani Oakley:
Yeah. I was invited to the White House twice. Let’s just be clear.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Husani Oakley:
And so, the first invite was the Obama administration understood the importance of inclusion. And there was a group of LGBTQ senior technology executives invited to spend a day at the White House and put our heads together on the problems that plague our society and humanity. So, of those million and one problems that I acknowledge exists in the reality we live in, could we take 15 of those and solve them. What do we think would be great, great moves to protect against climate change? How can we think about employment and unemployment certainly, in the tech sector, since we were folks coming out of the tech sector.

Husani Oakley:
And that was just a fascinating moment, an amazing experience I’ve developed lifelong friends from that moment. Then it actually then led to the next moment later that year, and it was 2016, I believe. Yeah, it was 2016 because the last time was actually post-election, that election. It was around, “Okay. We made some really good strides in that first summit around digital and technology employment outside.” Thinking about it as not just being an issue in the major cities, but they’re really being huge opportunity outside of the coasts and the major cities.

Husani Oakley:
Now, there are smart key people outside of just New York and LA. Shocker, I know. How can we spread the unheard of in human civilization wealth that has been generated by the internet and digital to technology, IT in general, outside of just those centers from a jobs program and continuing educate perspective. We were worried that with the election having gone the way it did that any strides that we’d made. We had folks from the department of labor involved and a lot of the conversations we’ve had in that first summit, our assumption, a safe assumption, was that all of that was going to get thrown in the trash.

Husani Oakley:
And so the second time, a bunch of us got together at the White House was around, if we can’t ensure that it’s not going to get thrown in the trash, how can we on the outside of being in the executive branch continue kind of driving these initiatives? So, it turns out that continuing to drive those initiatives were one of a million problems caused by that guy. So, I think we all then found ourselves really busy from that date, I mean, through forever now, because the fight against fascist never actually ends.

Husani Oakley:
But yeah, I think when this technology was new, we didn’t know what it could do. A lot of us were naives in thinking that it was all a net good and connecting people was always in that good and base core infrastructure. Technology was always in that good because it didn’t have intention and then over time we learned that that’s not true. And now, we recognize that high AI biased, high moderation on social platforms a big issue, high identity on social platforms a big issue.

Husani Oakley:
I look back at those early times and think about how naive a lot of us were, myself included, about what these technologies would do. And so, now, I think those of us who remain in the space and certainly more so folks that are new to these spaces have a responsibility to use these tools for good and not for evil. An active good, not just being neutral. Technology is not neutral.

Husani Oakley:
That’s a responsibility we have as creatives, as technologists, as creative technologists, as humans, as Americans if that’s what we are. We have these things on our hand, we got to use them right. So, focusing on the betterment of society is it’s clearly, perhaps never far from top of mind for me. Now, actually, my little sister is running for Congress. I think we share a lot of similar perspectives on the need for being involved in the government of the world that we live in.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, Husani, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find more information about you, about your work and everything? Where can they find that online?

Husani Oakley:
On Twitter, I am @Husani Oakley. On Instagram, I’m @Husani. And if you can’t remember any of that, I’m at husani.com on the web.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Husani Oakley, I want to thank you so much for coming on this show. I mean, as I sort of mentioned earlier in the interview, we’ve known each other for such a long time, so I already knew this was going to be a great interview. But really getting to hear you talk about the work that you’re doing with Netflix, the fact that you’re able to take the talent that you have and be able to apply that across a global scale with a company like Netflix, I feel like this is exactly where you need to be right now. And I’m excited to see what the next thing will be. I hope it’s the musical. I’ll be there. I’ll buy a ticket for the musical if it happens in the future, I’ll be there. So, thank you so much for coming on the show, man. I appreciate it.

Husani Oakley:
Thank you, Maurice. A blast as always.

When it comes to his work, Mattieau St. Cyr’s philosophy as a creator is to always stay open. The multi-talented Torontonian has his hands in a lot of projects and wields a number of skills. As a visual storyteller, Mattieau created Mannik Realm, a vehicle for all his creative projects which includes film, apparel, design, and more.

We talked about the inspirations behind Mannik Realm, and Mattieau talked about how his time in Japan helped change him as a designer. He also shared the processes behind some of his work, as well as his influences and some of his goals for the rest of the year. According to Mattieau, anything is attainable, and I think Mannik Realm is a great example of creating the world where you want to live!


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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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Revision Path is also sponsored by Hover. The first 100 clicks on hover.com/revisionpath will get 10% off their domain!
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If you’re ever down in Miami for Art Basel (or otherwise), then there’s a good chance you’ve experienced Mikhaile Solomon’s influence. As the director of Prizm Art Fair, she’s helped curate and exhibit cultural activities from the African diaspora for the past five years.

Listen as Mikhaile talks about how she began with Prizm Art Fair and shares what makes the Miami art and design scene so unique. We also talk about her recent travels throughout Africa, the beauty of Ghana, the controversy behind the Whitney Biennial, and more. I love that we can have these kinds of conversations here, and thanks to Mikhaile for helping bring this culture to the masses!


Did you like this episode? Get special behind-the-scenes access for just $5/month!

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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
fbdesign_logo_75
Revision Path is also sponsored by Hover. The first 100 clicks on hover.com/revisionpath will get 10% off their domain!
hover_logo_75
Revision Path is brought to you by MailChimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
mailchimp-logo
Revision Path is also brought to you by SiteGround. Save 60% off all hosting plans by visiting siteground.com/revisionpath. Excellent!