The Funny Business of Managing Creatives

Recently, Ricky Van Veen announced that he would be leaving his role as Editor-in-Chief of College Humor to launch a production company, Notional, which will focus on creating content for television. As the co-founder of Connected Ventures, which was responsible for launching CollegeHumor.com, BustedTees, and Vimeo, Van Veen has overseen the evolution of College Humor into one of the Internet’s most successful content-driven ventures. We sat down with him to discuss managing a goofball creative team and the advantages of being bored.

Van Veen attributes the lion’s share of College Humor’s success to a simple hiring practice: “I always hire people that are smarter than I am. If you look around at the people [in the office], they do what they do a lot better than I could. It can initially be a blow to the ego, but it pays off in the long run.” Put another way, the art of management lies in recruiting people who can manage themselves.

As he says, “Hire people that don’t need to be managed, and can make decisions.”In terms of organization, Van Veen likes to keep each division intensely focused on their area of expertise: “I try to isolate [the editorial team] as much as possible. Their goal is just to be funny. If they’re worrying about marketing and sales, they’re not going to be as funny.” Along those lines, Van Veen relates a piece of advice given to his business partner, Josh Abramson: “If you want to be creative at your job, you should make your job boring. Meaning, the more you have to do in your day, the less of a chance that you’re going to think of that great idea.”

At the core of any new venture I do is a love of building stuff.

When it comes to working – and brainstorming – collaboratively, Van Veen believes that starting out with some parameters is the most effective approach (it’s easier to brainstorm about “water” than “whatever.”) As Ricky puts it, even “joke pitches are okay, because a lot of times they’ll actually lead to something.” Lending some initial structure, or constraints, to the ideation process helps kick-start the conversation. Then, once a team is past this initial groundbreaking, concepting becomes much more fluid.

So why move on from College Humor when the site’s going like gangbusters? In a word: reach. Of his decision to launch Notional, Van Veen says, “We looked at what we were doing well. I’m of the belief that we do video for the Internet better than anybody else. College Humor has reached the peak of online programming.” So the question was, “Can we do that for all platforms, including television? And, although there’s certainly an analytical aspect to what to launch, like many entrepreneurs, Van Veen’s focus is on a more visceral why: “At the core of any new venture I do is a love of building stuff.”

More insights on: Hiring, Leadership, Office Dynamics
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