Over bowls of pho in the Mission district, we sit down with Bin Chen, friend and fellow cosmic voyager, to discuss his creative projects, ranging from work on his popular and influential blog YouMightFindYourself.com, art direction at Timbuk2, launching and running his own startup Boba Guys and his new projects to start off 2015 with a bang.
Voyager: So tell us about the Blog? Why do you do it?
Bin: The blog started what 6 or 7 years ago and has been around for a really long time in terms of the internet. I was lucky enough to be an early adaptor on Tumblr and if you were around since then when Tumblr first started, you probably have a sizable follower base. For me it was just a new platform to put all my cool shit in. Before, people sometimes had folders to keep things, you know you would have a porn folder, another folder with inspiration or some other folder and the blog started as a place to toss everything in that I was interested in. [The blog] used to be just this storage, a locker for everything. I was not interested in getting followers but the site snowballed and weirdly grew exponentially in response. Now the site over these years has become an awesome calling card of sorts, more than a portfolio, more as a business card to interact with the world. If you have put something out there that is personal, your point of view, its almost better than having a portfolio. Its natural. So its been a great way to open doors and have a dialogue with people that I wouldn't have met in any other way.
Its been the quickest way to find something in common with someone else and has been a vehicle for me to connect with people.
V: So it started as an inspiration board? What was that inspiration for?
B: I was in a creative rut at the time - I was art director at an advertising agency and I wanted an escape. This is and was a funny enough a way to escape that world. It was perfect timing. I was an art director and working on automobile campaigns, it was soul-sucking and shitty and I was trying to find a way out. Obviously a blog is not a way to get a new job, but for me it was a way to get my brain conditioned and used to thinking outside of the box.
V: Can you walk through me the name? What is history behind YouMightFindYourself?
B: Its an extension of a Talking Head's song. "You might find yourself ... living in a shotgun shack"...
V: So that creative rut you were in was that "shotgun shack"?
B: Yeah, definitely. The site was the shack, a starting point moving forward. The site has always been anonymous, some people know who I am but pretty much there is no contact information. You can't get to me too easily through the site, but a couple of years ago, Roger Ebert contacted me through the site because in my about page is a missing scene from the film "Days of Being Wild" by Wor Kang Wai. It's a random scene, a very obscure reference, but Roger Ebert found that scene, found me through that point and started the [Ebert Fest] festival. But it was really cool to have these points of connection and because of "you might find yourself..."
V: Cool! Anyway else of note or interest that connected with you through the site. Are you still anonymous now? But if people really push they can find you then?
B: Yeah, I like it to be separate from myself, but at the same time I meet people randomly and connect with people. It's honestly a spring board for my other projects like Boba Guys. The blog has a critical mass where I can kick off ideas and get some immediate feedback and respond to them. Its nice to launch ideas and have an audience.
It's always been a storage bank for ideas, for inspiration and this has freed me to explore. There is no profit motive in editorial direction. It started very visually with my interests in architecture, clothing, design, etc and has moved towards more compelling long blocks of text that I enjoy and want to share.
For better or worse other sites people get caught up in curation, but for me I haven't aimed at that airing. Its more of a personal dumping ground for things to explore and bounce ideas.
Its always its own thing, there are no ads. I want to keep it pure in that regard because it's useful to me and then other people find it useful to them.
V: What is your process then posting / dumping into it?
B: I'll give you my secret on how I find content - there is a lot of information out there, more than ever, something that grows exceptionally, so that challenge is to filter all that. What I do is, instead is finding things in the zeitgeist (other sites curate and filter things that are of interest to the general hive) what I do is take a fork in the road at the point of the zeitgeist. For example, say everyone, every blog is talking about some certain article. Instead of reiterating that point, i'll follow the source to the origin and then fork and explore that original idea in random ways. I might for example dig out something 5 years prior that's related or just look at things in the same context but from a different relation. Things are in the same sphere/ecosystem, feeling familiar but they feel like new perspectives. If it's posted everywhere, I then look at things.
V: Do you ever feel the internet is a nexus of the same voice? The sphere is a hive? Isn't it hard to escape that hive mentality?
B: Yeah definitely. I try to escape and hide that group thinking. A lot of sites group think and reblog similar things. I like to go random and crunch things through my trained eyes in a second. I blast through things and suddenly when something catches my eye, I rewind the tape, and dig. Dig deeper.
V: It's the same thing then for Boba Guys, your tea venture? You're trying to take away all this crap and then narrow down what you think is pure.
B: For sure. I'm shameless in trying to find the best in anything. From any industry, from costume design to uniforms to how people build furniture to reading to 10ks to secrets that I find interesting. Any creative idea is marrying two weird ideas together. Ours was craft + something they knew, in that case boba. No one had done that before and we rode with that.
V: Your partner is less curative, editorial than you, he's definitely more analytical? How is that relationship? Has that amplified your process?
B: Yeah, my partner Andrew is more analytical, I work more gut-based, but I think that gut is refined through that analytic lens.
V: Where do you see the blog in 5 years?
B: Hopefully more of the same, leading to sudden connections with valuable people and thoughts. I'm not interested in monetizing the site through any type of advertising. I'm more interested in keeping it pure and using that energy into projects that are based on trust. I'm giving away a library of things. Nothing was mine to start with. I want to offer a jumpstart for people for free and connect with others in that way.
V: Did you ever read that blog Click Opera? Amazingly popular blog, but then Momus quit to explore other ventures? Do you think you ever will quit the site?
B: I never feel like I'm on a schedule to post. Sometimes people write me and ask me to post more. With no advertising. Like the Japanese way where a craft man might take months off. I'm like that. Sometimes I need creative breaks. If I run out of things to say then maybe.
V: What's next for this year?
B: This year is big for me. I'm working on a new brand called Tea People, the retail arm of Boba Guys. Traditionally, the tea world has deep complex world that is difficult to penetrate. The mission is just to make a simple way to get more people to drink more higher quality tea. I'm not trying to do 60 flavors and overwhelm people, but instead refine blends and offer something simple. People don't want a ton of choice. They want to trust [that business] to make the right choices and practice for them.
V: Where do you think this whole movement towards simplification is coming from? It's like the Bauhaus of choice?
B: Every trend is a reaction. It's a reaction to the overwhelming amount of choice people have been given. When things are so overwhelming in choice, there is a desire for insanely high quality and less choice. There is a beauty in that. Things are focusing and niching, and striving in simplicity without dilutions of distraction.
What's working for brands is staying true to what they original motivated by. It's much more interesting to stay true that desire and explore things from that point instead of chasing trends. It's first about intention, I want to feel that motive. It's impossible then for people to copy that intention.
V: I think thats true but whats so great about that focus is still sometimes taking side steps and exploring that intention from a different unexpected angle.
B: Yeah, it's important to not thread water and stay away from the mechanical line from the black hole. It's important to add something that people haven't seen before and being original to our desire. I'm really, really excited by new directions and new projects in same sphere. From my own projects taking things brick by brick and really trying to explore them in unique ways.