Max Dichter—Creativity, Versatility and Drive02 Jul 2014, Posted by Advice for Aspiring Producers, Expert Interviews, interactive television, Mobile App Development in
Max Dichter describes himself as a “40 something Vice President of Product at a home services startup with over 18 years of experience in the industry. “ He has two kids and, in describing his work, says, “each day at work feels like my first day on the job.” Anyone who knows Max knows he’s very modest. So let me fill you in.
Max currently works at SERVIZ as VP of Product Marketing. Prior to SERVIZ, he was Director of Production for Mattel Digital Network where he lead a large team responsible for the production and brand engagement of Mattel’s global websites. Before joining Mattel, he was Senior Producer for the Electric Sheep Company, a pioneering virtual world developer, and worked with clients such as at&t, Pepsi, Sunkist, Universal Pictures and more.
- 1. You began your career at GTE MainStreet Interactive television. Can you tell us what that was and what you did there?
Sure. GTE MainStreet was an interactive television network. It operated in two test markets and had two basic services. The first was an interactive scheduled video service with an interactive overlay. We basically took old game shows like Jeopardy, Press Your Luck, and Joker’s Wild, and made them interactive. We would transcribe the questions being asked as text on their screens, and then assign a value of say 1,2,3, to a list of multiple-choice answers. The end user would need to pick an answer before their time ran out. Players would earn points that would get them on a leaderboard. Each week, month, and year we would award prizes for the players with the most points.
In addition to these scheduled interactive game shows, we had a number of on demand services. Some were ports of popular services like the travel system Sabre, while others were very basic games using decision tree logic.
I started out as a Production Assistant, the lowest of the low, and worked my way up to producer. As a producer I was responsible for coming up with new shows, content and app ideas. Drafting those ideas into a presentation. Pitching them. If approved I would then produce the content, show, or app. The first step was to build out a flow of what the interactive elements would be. From that I would then wireframe up the different pages of the app, or storyboard if it were a video production. Once that work was done, we then brought in the designers and writers to help realize the idea.
Once we had a script we would cast. In most cases we would be dealing with voice over talent. As a producer you were making the final casting choice and overseeing the voice over session.
In both the app and video production I would oversee the editing, sitting in the editing room working with the editor.
The final audio mix edited video, or both, would then be coded. Once all interactions were done, I would test the final product to make sure if functioned as expected.
- 2. Some might say that the web made technologies like Main Street obsolete. Did you see it coming? What, if anything, did you learn about emerging technologies from the experience?
Hmmm, in some ways I think we are still playing catch-up to what Mainstreet was doing. I am constantly amazed that there is still no mainstream player who is gamifying shows like Top Chef. My iPhone has never asked me who I think will win the next quick-fire, nor has it rewarded me when I get it right.
While MainStreet never developed the technology for on-demand video, we talked about people paying $.25 cents for a commercial free Seinfeld instead of waiting for it to air.
That is now a reality. With that said, what I did learn was that the idea of a proprietary delivery for interactive services was not going to make it. Being on AOL, and then seeing how the web was making that service obsolete, I realized that everything would be web based.
The question was how would we view that content delivered through the web. Again, we are just now seeing the explosion of video delivered through the web, but displayed on our TVs.
It took much longer than I ever thought it would.
- 3. What are you most proud of in terms of career accomplishment?
I think what I am most proud of is running my own web studio. It is bittersweet, as we had to close our doors after only 2 years. While some clients were straight work-for -hire jobs, the work I am most proud of is where we partnered with a client to help visualize a dream online. I experienced the most creativity of my career doing this type of work.
- 4. We call this blog, Influences and Influencers, who are the people who have influenced you? Have you ever had a mentor? Can you tell us about him or her? Whose work or input has impacted you the most in your career and how?
In some ways I think we are still playing catch-up to what Mainstreet was doing. I am constantly amazed that there is still no mainstream player who is gamifying shows like Top Chef. My iPhone has never asked me who I think will win the next quick-fire, nor has it rewarded me when I get it right.
I have had two mentors in my career. The first was my boss at GTE MainStreet, Bob Regan. He was the president of the studio, and took the time to mentor me even when I was just a production assistant. He had a great capacity to realize a vision exploring creativity within the confines of what was possible. I think he is the one who taught me that all production comes down to three things… budget, scope and time. The other mentor was Tony Christopher. He has hired me a number of times throughout my career. He really showed me how to blend being humble and giving as a boss, while maintaining a level of authority needed in a good leader.
- 5. What is the most surprising result you experienced in your career? For example, is there a product you intended for one demographic that turned out to be more appropriate for a completely different one? Was there a product you thought was a sure winner that bombed? What did you learn from this experience?
At GTE MainStreet, I pitched a Tarot Card Reading game for the network that I had envisioned as a kids’ game. It was a very simple app, that only had a few hundred outcomes. The aesthetic was modeled after those old wooden penny booths you would find at Coney Island. I think we launched it in connection with a Halloween event. To everyone’s surprise it became one of the top apps on the network, and was popular with adults not kids.
At CornerHardware.com we spent a lot of time and money developing a very robust set of community features. We were all convinced that these tools were so great, our users would not be able to help from using them to share ideas, reviews, etc. To my great disappointment, we had unbelievably low engagement with any of the features. Ever since I have been a huge proponent of fast development with frequent iterations… Get something up… If it works iterate on it.
- 6. What product or service have you seen lately that really excites you?
Kickstarter. I think this is one of the coolest things happening. While sharing economy is interesting and certainly Uber is exciting, these are all disruptions of existing models. I think Kickstarter is completely new, and extremely exciting.
On a just pure fun app front, I think these guys are doing some very cool things: https://www.canva.com/
- 7. What are you working on now?
Re-designing and re-architecting my companies’ consumer experiences for desktop web, mobile web, and app.
- 8. What advice would you give an aspiring interactive producer or media executive? If someone wanted to get into this field, how would you advise them to start?
Internship. I think there is nothing better than actually working at a company. If you can’t find a real internship program, call up a small web agency and volunteer yourself.
- 9. What is the biggest risk you have taken in your career? Did it pay off. How and why or why not?
I have quit two very solid jobs to join startups. While it is harder to justify these risks now that I have a family, there is something about the energy and excitement of a start-up that I find almost irresistible.
- 10. What is the biggest risk you have taken in your career? Did it pay off. How and why or why not?
Same, but I would have taken programming courses.