Adrian Harris (AKA BigF350, and formerly IB Adrian) is a former Senior Operations Manager for vBulletin.
Adrian was kind enough to spend some time anwering our questions so let's find out some more about him.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am 27 and I was born in the North West corner of Tasmania/Australia on a dairy farm. I am currently residing on a motorcycle seat as I travel across the America’s.
What is your educational background?
I hold both a Mechanical Engineering degree and a Business degree (Management) from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. I also have a piece of paper that says I am a qualified CNC machinist, but I haven’t done any work in that field for a while.
What kind of jobs did you hold before becoming becoming Senior Operations Manager for vBulletin?
A big variety! While at University I worked for both Ford Motor Company as a service engineer then as a Research and Development engineer on the Ford Ranger that was recently released, and at Skilled Engineering supervising the maintenance teams and projects at various manufacturing facilities around Melbourne in Australia. In my spare time, and for fun, I administrated the website www.ford-trucks.com.
In 2008 I was given the opportunity to be the Community Manager for all of Internet Brands Automotive communities, which meant relocating to Los Angeles. I jumped at the opportunity! I gradually got more and more interested in the vBulletin software while I was at Internet Brands, and it was a natural progression.
What were your responsibilities as Senior Operations Manager?
Customer Relations, overseeing the excellent support team, marketing, business development, PR and communications. I also enjoyed dabbling in working with the product team too on upcoming features and provide feedback that I had seen customers talking about on the vBulletin forums (or elsewhere).
What was the status of vBulletin development when you took over?
I think the best way to describe it was in the process of “stabilization”. In the previous year there were some changes in staff, and the migration of the product from being developed in the UK to the US, and the vBulletin staff were wrapping their hands around such a rapid transition.
What was the status of vBulletin development when you stepped down from that position?
I think it had evolved into a more mature development process, good QA practices, better specs, more timely delivery of a higher quality product. I will add, I don’t think I had a great deal to do with that transition, Allen Lin, Kevin Sours and Fabian (who I understand has since moved on) were the main people who made the changes to make these improvements.
In retrostpect, what if anything could have been done differently to improve the development of vBulletin and reputation of Internet Brands?
I think a stronger and closer relationship with our customers. As mentioned earlier there were a number of changes in a relatively short time for customers of vBulletin, and better communication with them on what those are, and what each of them meant I feel would have been important, but it easy to look at things with the power of hindsight.
What were the high and low points of that job?
The high point for me were working with people that were incredibly passionate about what they do (both vBulletin staff and customers), I also personally got a lot of enjoyment working on the future product of vBulletin – was kind of cool to have a hand in sculpting the product you love. The low points were when I felt I didn't do as good of a job as I should have, for example I feel I could have done a much better job in the integration of Skimlinks in the vBulletin product, something that I think is incredibly useful for vBulletin customers – but perhaps wasn’t received with the reception it deserved.
Where do you see vBulletin going in the future?
I will add, this is where I feel it should go, and doesn’t really provide a direct indication about where vBulletin might go. Forums are great. I love them, as I guess does most of the people reading this. They are a wealth of information and offer a great sense of community that often transcends the Internet, a lot of my closest friends I met through forums, however I see more recently that forums are being used more as a research tool, and less as a community (or social network if you will…)
What are you doing now?
Eating incredible food, dealing with corrupt police and border officials, camping, seeing some amazing sites, and quite a bit of this:
Are you involved in any interesting projects and/or ventures at present?
Not really. I am looking forward to continuing and finishing this trip in a couple of months – and has been all-consuming then I am looking forward to returning to study to get my Masters. Once that is complete, we will see!
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?
Honestly, making the decision to go on the trip I am currently on. It was probably the riskiest decision I have made in both a career sense, and potentially in a longevity sense too, often I think taking up heroin as a habit would be safer than trying to ride a motorcycle off-road through Latin America, but it has been incredibly rewarding and I hope that as I get older I will look back on the decision favorably.
Any failures you'd care to tell us about?
How long do you have? Haha. I have made a number of poor decisions in my life, I think the ones that I regret the most are the ones where I wasn’t as ambitious as I should have been. I didn’t take an opportunity to study overseas when I was in University (although I am hoping to make up for that), I probably stayed in engineering too long before jumping ship to the Internet industry etc. etc.
How did you become interested in Online Communities?
I find this quite funny. Back in 2004 I was trying to find an answer to a question from a Ford Engineer in the US, and had e-mailed him, due to time differences I wouldn’t expect an answer until the next morning. Later that day I was navigating around the Ford Motor Company internal site, and there was a link “See what our customers think”, I clicked on it and it took me to the site I mentioned earlier, www.ford-trucks.com, I found the answer to my question in under 5 mins and began to use the site as a resource for technical information – and as an engineer I was able to answer a number of the questions by customers on there. It quickly evolved and I became a moderator, super moderator then administrator before the owner of the site, Ken, sold the site to Internet Brands. I really enjoyed the social interaction on the site, the friends I had made and that I had learnt a lot from the community.
How would you describe your Moderating Style?
I would like to think relaxed. In the end, it is just the Internet.
What are the common mistakes you see Forum Administrators making?
From a community standpoint, they get caught up in drama, they are emotional, they are there for the wrong reasons (often power), they ban influential users and they don’t listen to their community or communicate effectively. Most of these things occur from the fact that they often overwork themselves, build up a strong team of admins, moderators – let them do the work for you, guide and lead them, but do it from a distance. I was proud at the site I mentioned earlier, it has over 600,000 registered users, and I think it has been around 2 years since someone was banned permanently (spammers excepted).
What can forum owners do to increase traffic and revenues?
Traffic can be easily built using Facebook, Twitter, always thinking about SEO (and I am not talking about complicated stuff here – think about what you name your forums, their descriptions – every word is a keyword). Build a network with other sites that might find your site a resource to get strong in-links, get useful and interesting content (writers can be cheap!)… the users will come. Revenue is easier again, typically the highest return is having people advertise directly on your site, but unless the site is very large, the time invested to build and maintain those relationships with advertisers may not be worth it. Look for ad partners beyond just google adsense who offer higher CPM’s (although adsense is a good partner, just because of the number of advertisers). Tier the intrusiveness of your ads. People who are unregistered/come from search are going to have a higher tolerance for more ads for example. Offer people the ability to either donate or become a premium member. The sooner you introduce monetization options with your site the better, not only does it validate your site as a business, but you will receive less backlash from users than if it was done at a later date. Also look at more forum specifc ad partners – aforementioned skimlinks for example, PostRelease is another.
Where do you see the Internet 5 years from now?
How is everyone else’s crystal ball reading skills? We have seen the social revolution with the Internet, and we are going through the Mobile revolution… I think the biggest change with the Internet in 5 years will be how we access it, which will be mostly from mobile devices (which a lot of us do already anyway). It will be substantially more competitive, as the need for a lot of the local stores/services we have today gets slowly removed. It will be also be more pervasive in our every-day existence, from a consumer standpoint; fewer purchases will be made without checking for reviews online – how many people out there go to a restaurant now without “yelping” it first?
What Websites do you visit for fun and relaxation?
I still visit ford-trucks.com regularly, I also actively participate on advrider.com. Recently I haven’t had a whole lot of time (or access) on the Internet.
What do you know now that you wish you'd known 5 years ago?
To get my money out of the stockmarket and put it in gold! Honestly I have learnt a lot in the last 5 years and it is incredibly difficult to pin it down to one thing, but most probably how important it is to empower people. Give them the tools to do their job, then get out of their way!
What offline activities do you enjoy in your spare time?
Riding motorbikes , working on anything that moves, traveling, drinking good coffee/beer/wine/whisky, cooking, eating, hiking and swimming.
What are your favorite books? TV shows? Music? Foods? Beverages?
A book that really resonates with me is “Zen, and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, I also enjoyed The Godfather in both movie and book form. I don’t watch a whole lot of TV, but usually make time for TopGear (the UK version). My music taste could be best described as “eclectic” and it typically changes on a daily basis, The Beatles will always be a favorite, as will Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. Today I have been listening to “The Roots”. I could eat a good pasta alfredo with crusty bread every day of the week (cooked al dente please), although living in the US good carnitas tacos or Chicago style pizza have become favorites too. I usually drink water, but if you put a Port Brewing Older Viscosity in front of me – it will disappear quickly!
Tell us something about yourself that we don't already know.
When I grew up, I didn’t like mushrooms.
Do you have any pet peeves?
Yes. People that take it all too seriously.
What does the future hold for Adrian Harris?
As I mentioned, I hope to return to study to do my MBA, after that I really don’t know. I have enjoyed working in the Internet industry and hope to return to it however, but am keeping my options open.