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Meet John Reid of Sky in The Arts and Innovation District

Today we’d like to introduce you to John Reid.

Thanks for sharing your story with us John. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
When I was a kid growing up in Oakland in the 90s, I used to think there was no stronger force in the world than friendship. But one afternoon, my whole perspective would be turned upside down forever. For me, the 90s was a special time in history. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, 2Pac and Biggie, Super Soakers and Jordans. I and all of my friends did what we could to get our hands on a fresh pair. It seemed like every night on the 10 o’clock news there was a story of a kid getting robbed for his J’s. But we never thought something like that would ever happen to us. I was a sophomore in high school. Football practice had ended and all of the guys were getting dressed to go home. I was almost dressed when coach asked me to come into his office to talk about next week’s game plan. I set my shoes down on the trainer’s table and hurried into the coaches office to talk about strategy and what I could work on to be a better player. I was hoping to get a scholarship somewhere and I knew that this year would be an important one for my development. Coach was encouraging and after about 15 minutes, I returned to my locker to put on my coat and head out to catch the “88″ bus back from Berkeley to Oakland. We were a small school and a close-knit team and I cracked a few jokes with the guys as the locker room emptied out. But after a few minutes, I suddenly I realized that I had forgotten to put on my sneakers. I went back to the table where I thought I left them but they weren’t there. I went back to my locker and thought they must be hidden under all of my gear, but nothing. I sat down to think of where I might have misplaced my brand new black and red Jordan 12’s. One by one, my friends said their goodbyes and after a few minutes, I found myself alone in the locker room, wondering where I had hidden my shoes from myself. Then, along with the cold air coming from the locker room door as the last teammate left, it hit me. I didn’t misplace my sneakers; I remembered specifically leaving them on the trainer’s table in front of the coach’s office. If they were not there, someone had to have taken them. They, indeed, were not there. I wasn’t used to feeling sadness, anger, regret and confusion all at the same time. I wanted to sit and try to make sense of what I was experiencing, but I didn’t have time and I had to get home. I had no shoes, but luckily, the walk to the bus stop wasn’t a long one. Socks would have to do.

In the winter, it rains a lot in the Bay Area. And this evening and walking to the bus in soggy tube socks, I was reminded of the real reason humans have footwear. But as I walked, I didn’t notice the cold, hard, rain-soaked ground under my feet. During the whole trip, I was preoccupied with a puzzling question. I saved up all summer for the magical shoes that helped Michael Jordan overcome flu-like symptoms to win his fifth championship. All of my friends knew how special those sneakers were. So, why would one of my best friends steal one of my most prized possessions? I eventually made it home, gave my mother a quick “hey” as I shuffled through the kitchen, and hurried into my room. I couldn’t tell her that I lost the shoes that I had spent so much money on. When I got to my room, I sat on my bed and sank into the emptiness of realizing I lost my savings and trust in my friends.

As I sat there, I stared blankly at the empty shoe box with the Jumpman silhouette logo on it. But underneath all of the feelings of shame and anger, lingered that same question that accompanied me on my trip home and that question rang louder than all of the emotions or any plots of revenge or retribution. How was it that a logo embroidered on leather and rubber was more powerful than friendship? What was it that made that symbol, and symbols like it, so enchanting? What exactly was that mesmerizing force that motivated people to spend their time, money and energy so passionately? I didn’t arrive at the answer that night, but the question puzzled me through my high school, college and early years as a professional in design. Years later, while talking to a creative friend, he told me about a college that offered a class at a renowned art and design university in Southern California titled “Consumer Psychology and Product Development.” When I saw the name of the class, I immediately enrolled, hoping to find others who had knowledge about that elusive force I was introduced to as a kid in high school. I thought that if I could study this phenomenon and harness its power, I might be able to use it to motivate others and achieve some good in the world.

Once enrolled, I learned that the professor of that course had been responsible for some of the most iconic brands and products the world had ever seen. We immediately hit it off, as he saw my enthusiasm and drive to master the discipline. But the college classes weren’t enough. So, the professor, Dr. Robert Reiher, Ph.D., suggested that one of the best ways to learn was through experience and that we, the professor and the professional, could start a creative studio aimed at using consumer psychology to create products that make people, culture and the environment better. It was this idea and union that became the origin of SKY.

Today, our small team of designers, developers, artists, engineers, marketers and thinkers use the principles I was introduced to as a teenager, along with the consumer, product and media psychology I’ve learned later in my career to work with clients of all sizes to get their products and messages “above the noise” of our current crowded business and media landscapes so that they can have the greatest impact possible. At SKY, we know that brands have the power to create culture and shape values. Therefore our studio only works with brands that aim to create a positive impact that goes beyond the singular goals traditional commerce. SKY’s work is dedicated to creating a “triple bottom line” of improving people, planet and profit. From our perspective and as we continue to learn and watch global trends, this “triple bottom line” isn’t just wishful thinking. It is the future of business.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The journey of an entrepreneur is an interesting one where their road can be both smooth and rocky. When you’re doing the right things like working with integrity or pursuing a greater purpose, it seems that different opportunities automatically open up to you. It seems to be true that if you plant seeds of good will and good intentions, good fortune comes your way. And you need some good fortune to assist you in the turbulent and unpredictable waters of business. And then there are challenges that every business person faces. Scaling your business, inspiring your team, managing your time when it feels like you don’t have time and juggling the other responsibilities you have is one of the greatest feats anyone could endeavor. But the greatest challenge is on the inside. Becoming willing to eliminate all unnecessary distractions to maintain a laser-like focus on your tasks and vision, doing what it takes to stay motivated, and becoming truly fearless requires a level of courage and self-reflection that many aren’t able to sustain. But for most, here is where the battle is either won or lost.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the SKY story. Tell us more about the business.
In a world where people are struggling with information overload and tuning brands out, how does a business get their products and messages “above the noise” of technology and consumerism? In order for a brand to elevate above the distractions, it has to get underneath the limitations of demographics and guesswork and have a deep understanding of how humans feel, learn, and are motivated. SKY is a Psychological Brand Design studio that combines deep psychological human needs, global trends and leading-edge product and communication design to create brands that have meaning and relevance both now and in the future. Our work translates into retail products, and digital experiences like e-commerce site and mobile apps, but we also train other companies on how to understand emerging markets or the psychological factors driving a particular audience. We are extremely proud to have worked alongside companies like Nike, Mattel, the NBA Nickelodeon and Marvel. But we also appreciate the underdog and love the opportunities we get to help shape the futures of new companies with emerging technologies – when they are in their critical startup stages.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
We have had some proud moments of successful high-visibility projects. But the moments that have had the most profound impact on me have been those that have come within the walls of our studio. Earlier this year, a young designer came to me to talk. I thought the designer wanted to discuss a potential raise or a question about a particular project. But they wanted to thank me for giving them the opportunity to work at SKY and for giving them the opportunity to be part of our team. The young designer expressed that they walk away with a feeling of immense personal fulfillment every day they leave the studio and that they couldn’t imagine ever working for any other agency or creative company. Moments like these are more rewarding than getting an award. These moments taught me that the primary people we serve are the ones that come here every day and SKY with their futures. The trust that our team members have put in me and our company is humbling and inspires me to continue to push towards the vision I saw as a kid; to create a place where thoughtful and talented people could use their talents to create undeniable positive impact.

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1 Comment

  1. Marguerite Versher

    April 4, 2018 at 05:31

    So proud of John and his accomplishments. We’ve known John since kindergarten and knew even then that he would accomplish great things. Thank you for highlighting his journey.

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