Everyone has a story. My guest for this week, our very own Dano Qualls, has a whopper of a background story.
To start, he served eight years in the U.S. Air Force. He worked as an intelligence officer who partnered with security forces and aircrews to plan for potential threats. Later, he was a program manager who oversaw airplane upgrades.
After leaving the Air Force, he co-founded several wine, beer, and spirits companies using his expertise as a certified Sommelier (anyone else thinking of that Parks & Rec episode?).
He also earned an MBA in marketing and entrepreneurship, plus a master of science in human factors in information design (a.k.a. using cognitive psychology and usability research to improve product design).
After working with numerous private sector companies to develop research-driven user experiences, he switched to freelancing. Today, he is Hectic’s co-founder and head of product, as well as an integral part of our research, design, and customer success teams.
And that’s just his resume. Dano also grows bonsais, trains Muay Thai kickboxing, loves dank memes, and spends his weekends camping or skiing.
It was during one of these camping trips, in fact, that Dano recently learned more about his personal and professional motivations. Last summer, he took a solo camping trip in the mountains. While there, he built a dam out of sticks and rocks to see how he could affect the stream and the effectiveness of the dam.
“I think what really motivates me and drives me across everything I do is that I’m really a builder,” he says. “I just love to build things. I love to see how the world works, how I change the world, influence the world, how I can leave my mark on the world. That’s kinda the common thread running throughout everything I do for work and fun - building and exploring.”
As a builder, Hectic is his proudest achievement. Every great design solution comes from a very specific design problem, he says, and that’s what the team has done with this project.
“We’ve focused on freelancers and their life beyond the skilled work they do - designing, editing, marketing - and tried to think about everything else there,” he says. “I am genuinely proud of what we are building, have built, will build.”
Getting to the heart of this problem involved another of Dano’s specialties: immersing himself deeply into the experiences and problems of the freelancers he interviewed. Through his research, he learned about the systems people use and the frustrations they face. Most importantly, he learned what’s most important.
“They always have things that really matter to them. And generally the things that matter are kind of consistent, but the way that they track them and measure them can change pretty dramatically across people,” he says. “And that’s really fun to see, what matters, because that’s really what we’ve tried to instill, that core of what work looks like and that core of what matters.”
These interviews formed the basis for Hecticapp.com. From the beginning, the team used interviews and personas to guide and inform the design and product. It’s also helping him and the team continue to make feedback-driven improvements.
“So research has been interwoven through every step of the way,” he says. “I love that we’ve had that research focus from day one.”
During one of these interviews, Dano spoke to a freelancer who shared the anxiety and fears that were part of their daily freelancing experience.
“This person said, ‘I wake up in the middle of the night worried about money. I wake up first thing in the morning and frantically check my email to see if anything changed, if the requirements are still there, if the client has any feedback for me,’” he says.
Despite these stresses, the freelancer was committed to being an individual creator for the long haul. “Creatives don’t belong in cubicles,” they said. They wanted to keep freelancing for the rest of their life.
“But that doesn’t mean they’re good at the business side of things. And I think about this person a lot. And I think about how they really just need structures in place that will keep track of where they are,” Dano says. “Something that pictures your entire life as a freelancer and makes place for things, where you can know for certain that things are in control, things are good. That you are on track, that there will be no surprises.”
It’s this control that he has been striving to create through Hectic. To give freelancers the professional and mental freedom they need.
To build that great solution that allows freelancers to enjoy the work, flexibility, and benefits that led them to choose this career in the first place.
Enjoying this discussion? Hear the full conversation with Dano to learn more about a huge freelancer blindspot and how Dano recommends solving it, as well as more about his work with Hectic, travels toJapan, and the best place to find tacos in Denver