Episode 73 — Jason McArtor & Zachary Kern of FarmBoy

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Geoff Wood: Welcome to the Welch Avenue show, episode number 73. We have two guests with us today, Jason McArtor and Zachary Kern of Farmboy, a Des Moines-based creative firm. Actually, the design team behind lots of things that you see locally, including the Powered by Fries food truck. We actually talk a lot about the design of a food truck on this one. Before we start the show, just a quick reminder that the Welch Avenue show is almost entirely funded by our listeners like you. Hello listeners, thank you for supporting the show. If you'd like to help out, just go to showtipjar.com to find out how. Now on to episode 73 with the guys from Farmboy.

So the company name is Farmboy Inc., is that right?

Jason McArtor: Right. We go by Farmboy typically. I kind of drop the Inc. 

Geoff Wood: Farmboy. Okay. 

Jason McArtor: The Inc.'s on the website just because I ...

Zachary Kern: Farmboy.com was taken.

Jason McArtor: It wasn't back when I first came up with the idea actually, but that was dumb not grabbing that right away.

Geoff Wood: There was actually a conversation on Facebook I saw the other day, they were talking about how, I think it was Miller, passed up miller.com, like Miller Brewing Company, for millerlighttastegreatlessfeeling.com was their original domain name. Just how things have obviously changed in the way we do online spaces like that now. So, I guess you can't ... Miller didn't go for it either, I guess is what I'm trying to say, so I don't think we can criticize the passing up Farmboy.

Jason McArtor: I wouldn't do it these days. Now, I register everything I think of.

Geoff Wood: What's your Godaddy bill?

Jason McArtor: It's a lot. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah.

Jason McArtor: It's 1000 bucks a year or so, at least, I suppose.

Geoff Wood: They get you. Do you have them come different months or is it all at once?

Jason McArtor: I do them just one by one unless they call me up and hit me for like 500 bucks at once on something. I have the - what do they call, the domain discount club, DDC or whatever they have. 

Geoff Wood: Oh, nice. 

Jason McArtor: So it's couple hundred bucks to get you like five years of discounted domains. I think they're up to like $15 or something like that now, but if you have that club, it's like $8.50 or something. But if you look at my receipt from this morning for the one we just registered.

Geoff Wood: Yeah. We're rolling. 

Zachary Kern: Oh, cool. Thanks for telling me.

Geoff Wood: Yeah. We try to keep it ... I told you it was casual. 

Zachary Kern: Really casual.

Jason McArtor: He doesn't have a red light over there that says, "Hey, we're recording." Now, we we're getting all this ...

Zachary Kern: the king's speech. 

Jason McArtor: ...web by off the cuff stuff. 

Zachary Kern: Here, talking about ... 

Geoff Wood: That's what people. That's why they tune in is for that type of stuff. 

Jason McArtor: Do you upcharge for that initial first five minutes before the show?

Geoff Wood: We should. We should. 

Zachary Kern: ... before the show actually starts. We listen to a couple of podcasts that do that, design related ones. 

Geoff Wood: Oh, yeah. 

Jason McArtor: You get to hear the interview, and then afterwards it fades to nothing so you get your speakers turned up to 100 or whatever, and you can kind of hear the last part of it. 

Zachary Kern: Oh, yeah. The five dollar club. 

Jason McArtor: Yes. 

Zachary Kern: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. 

Jason McArtor: It's not that one though. It's what's his name? The other guy. Ricky. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah. Okay. I'll have to check them out. 

Jason McArtor: He talks about design, screen printings. Stuff like that. 

Zachary Kern: Pencil versus pixel.

Jason McArtor: That's one of them. 

Zachary Kern: What was the other one? Adventures in design. 

Jason McArtor: It's called adventures in design. It's a cool ... He does about three of them a week or something like that. 

Geoff Wood: Too many. 

Jason McArtor: I would think so, yeah. 

Geoff Wood: It's too many to try to consume that many too, I think. 

Zachary Kern: Kind of, yeah. 

Geoff Wood: Depends on how long they are. 

Zachary Kern: We just backpedal log them and pick and choose as we go what we want to listen to this week. 

Jason McArtor: We'll throw one up on there and listen to it, so it's cool. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah. Nice. Okay. Why don't you guys tell us a little bit about Farmboy and what it is you guys do?

Jason McArtor: Farmboy ... What we do, we do graphic design and web development and corporate branding for any size of company really. From some larger companies you would have heard of all the way down to people who just find us on a Google search that are looking to have a logo done or something like that. That's a frequent request that we see off of our website. "Hey, we're looking for a logo." That type of thing. 

Zachary Kern: I need a logo. Yeah. That's my favorite. 

Jason McArtor: They vary. We like working mostly with people who are looking for really high quality work, but we really work with all different types of budgets. It's not always that you have to have a huge budget to come talk to us because people who are exited about what they're doing and just want the high quality image presented in all of their material, some of their material. Hopefully, all their materials. We certainly would not turn down that type of a job, but sometimes you just got to start at square one with people and see where it goes from there. We're not afraid to take a risk on something, assuming that we have the time available. 

Geoff Wood: Sure. 

Jason McArtor: ... which sometimes isn't always there in terms of turning something around real quickly if you need something. If you can give us some time on projects, we can usually figure something out so we can do something cool and you've got something that's better than if you tried to do it yourself or had a cousin do it or something like that for you. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah. We should tell people that you're Jason.

Jason McArtor: I'm Jason. Yeah. 

Geoff Wood: Zach, why don't you say something so people can understand who's talking there. 

Zachary Kern: Hi, this is Zachary Kern. Farmboy. 

Geoff Wood: Is that how you're going to talk?

Zachary Kern: I did take a radio in high school. I always mumbled as a kid. Then I started taking speech in order to overcome that and just get really loud and clear. 

Geoff Wood: Is this part of the king's speech or is this your story? 

Zachary Kern: Yes. This goes out to all the fans and the peoples of Farmboy. Actually, we don't really have any fans. 

Geoff Wood: That's fine. 

Zachary Kern: Yeah. 

Geoff Wood: Maybe talk about that ... How did the company get started and is it just the two of you or how big is the company today? 

Jason McArtor: It is just the two of us. 

Zachary Kern: Yep. 

Jason McArtor: I've been doing graphic design ... This is Jason ... I've been doing this for-

Geoff Wood: You don't have to do that every time. 

Zachary Kern: I think they can tell us apart. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah.

Jason McArtor: I've been doing this for coming up on 20 years. 

Geoff Wood: Oh, wow. 

Jason McArtor: People sometimes ask about where you'd come up with the term Farmboy? I grew up on a farm; people refer to graphic design services that somebody would be looking for as sometimes farming things out, so that's where we came up with merging those two things together. That company name didn't really show up until about 1999 or something like that, I suppose, when I added that name to the calling card, I guess. Part of that, I just worked under my own name, which is Jason McArtor. Farmboy is really easy to remember when people show up at events. People bump into me and they may not remember a Jason McArtor, but they remember Farmboy. I've always branded things as orange. My hair is not quite as orange as it once was, but I've done it for about 20 years. A few side tracks along the way where I've gotten into some other entrepreneurial stuff. In the last four or five years, we've gotten back into doing more client work. 

Zachary Kern: That's where I came in.

Jason McArtor: Yeah. That's where I brought on Zach. We've worked together pretty much full time since he's been out of school.

Geoff Wood: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Where was the farm? 

Jason McArtor: The farm was in southeast Iowa in a town called Winfield, south of Iowa city. That's where it was. The nearest Wal-mart was in a town called Mount Pleasant, which is where I grew up going to church, which is where former governor Vilsack was from. 

Zachary Kern: Also the state penitentiary, or something. 

Jason McArtor: There is ... That's been in the news a little bit lately. There is a prison down there and a mental health center, I believe maybe, too, or something along those lines. I think that's maybe been in the news. 

Zachary Kern: Hopping place. 

Geoff Wood: Old Threshers. There's lots of good things going on there.

Jason McArtor: Old threshers, yeah. You're from that area?

Geoff Wood: Not at all. 

Jason McArtor: Oh, you're not. 

Geoff Wood: I'm from Cedar Rapids, so I remember old threshers as a kid.

Jason McArtor: Okay. 

Geoff Wood: My sister-in-law worked at Iowa Wesleyan for a while. She's at UNI now. She was a career counselor at the college there. 

Jason McArtor: Sure. 

Geoff Wood: Tiny little school. 

Jason McArtor: Yep.

Geoff Wood: ... there. How did you go from being on the farm to doing graphic design. What was that path like? 

Jason McArtor: When you're growing up and going to a school of about, a class of about 30 some people, you quickly become labeled as the art guy. That was just just something ... I used to like to draw, design things. Then, in searching for a school, my art teacher from high school said, "Hey, DMACC has a really good program. I'd been looking at larger schools and whatever. There's art institutes all over. You see them on TV. 

Geoff Wood: Draw the Turtle.

Jason McArtor: Advertising trying to get you to go there. 

Zachary Kern: Yeah. 

Jason McArtor: I'm like, "Okay. Des Moines is pretty close. I came up here in 1994 and have never left. Been here ever since. I have enjoyed the entire time, really. I've worked at a couple of agencies, a couple different firms. Starting out, I had a job with an agency and lost the job within 30 days. The business closed down. It put me in a spot where I had to go out and find something to so. I ran into a gal who did a lot of marketing independently. I kind of partnered up with her. She was looking for somebody who needed a graphic designer and we did event promotions and graphic design for a lot of non profits in the area in addition to a lot of other mid to larger sized businesses in the area back in the mid to late '90s. That's how I paid the bills in those days, worked real well, and self taught myself web design along the way and learned. I just made mistakes as I went. Now I hopefully don't make as many of those mistakes in those early days, but it was certainly an interesting route that I've taken to where we are right now. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah. Zach, how about you? How did you ... What's your story?

Zachary Kern: I am not an Iowa native. I got here in 2000. I moved here with my family to the metro area. I lived out in Waukee. I started in the design program out at D Mac to start out back in 2007 or so.

Geoff Wood: All the way back in 2007?

Zachary Kern: Oh, so far back. My age is showing. Yeah. I had started there. When I got done is when the market crapped out, so I'm like, I am going to go to a four year just for me, and maybe it will recover. I transferred over to Grandview. Both really good programs. I actually remember getting done with D Mac, asking this guy for a job. I'm pointing; they can't tell. He actually turned me down because that was when he was doing one of his other entrepreneurial things. I went through Grandview. About my last year there, he got back into doing design stuff. I had to basically start over, as he told me. I told him where I was working, they're like, "Oh, he still does stuff. That's cool." I started with him doing part time. I was the last of a long line of interns. I don't know how many you said you've had? 10 to 15? 

Jason McArtor: I've have to go back and count. There's been a lot. 

Zachary Kern: A lot of people. I kept doing it. I started doing more full time stuff. I'd say about a year, two years now, we've been doing it about. Full time. For the record, I am not from a farm. Not a farm boy. I jokingly told him I bought cityslickerdesign.com in case things go south. 

Geoff Wood: Nice.

Zachary Kern: ... and I want to branch off and juxtapose it. It's been a lot of fun. It's been a good growing experience for me as a designer getting to work with a lot of the local people and some of the bigger companies. The kind of work that we can do as a two man team, it's amazing what you can do. He had a pretty impressive back catalog of stuff just basically him. Now the two of us got into it. We get to work with some bigger places, too. We really like working with a lot of the local people. Some of the folks who've come down here through the start up city and now fast forward a few years here to gravitate. It's a really cool scene. I really like helping the people out. It's a lot of the like-minded folk. 

Geoff Wood: Sure. 

Zachary Kern: It's cool to help out. 

Geoff Wood: Is there a niche client base that you guys find you're best suited towards? 

Jason McArtor: We work with really ... We work with people in real estate. We do work with larger companies in the community as well. Like I say, we always get the start ups. We recently ... Zach had talked to it a little bit as well, but we got involved with a little bit of the food truck scene that's been going on in Des Moines that you've been seeing on TV, in the newspaper, whatever. Some people with a truck called Power by Fries, which they do really cool, fancy french fries out of their truck. They contacted us around last fall, winter. Somewhere in there. 

Zachary Kern: October, November. 

Jason McArtor: Yeah.

Zachary Kern: Right before ... That kind of just fell in our lap. Matt Smith with Bamboo ...

Geoff Wood: Mm-hmm (affirmative) 

Zachary Kern: I think works two floors up?

Geoff Wood: He does. 

Zachary Kern: I got to go say hi after we're done, if I'm not saying hi now. He contacted us and they said, "this is what we're doing." They were basically a start up They don't have a lot of capital. Most of it was going to the truck to retrofit it because it runs off of fry oil, which I thought was genius. I'm like, "Yeah, I want this project." Not a lot of people around here do food trucks. They're new. I thought that sounded like the coolest thing. We wanted to do whatever we could because that would be our ... [inaudible 00:14:28] cool concept, it's a really cool showcase piece. 

Geoff Wood: Sure. 

Jason McArtor: You don't get to see your artwork driving down interstate 235 too often. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah. 

Jason McArtor: That's kind of an automatic yes. 

Zachary Kern: Actually, I did. I did see it last month. That was the first time I'd actually seen it. I just did the designs for it. I almost crashed. Oh, truck!

Geoff Wood: Food trucks are certainly, because of Zach and Matt and all the stuff that's going on there, certainly are being talked about now. What goes into doing designs for a food truck? Is it the wrap of the truck and whatever the hand the fries out in? Do you do all of the pieces for it or what?

Zachary Kern: Yeah. We've touched everything with it. 

Geoff Wood: Okay. 

Zachary Kern: First, they talked about doing the truck, but that would also involve probably doing some branding for it. We ended up doing the website and then as time goes on, we'll probably do more and more for them. I've done a couple t-shirt designs, tabletop menus for the breweries they stop at that they can keep on the tables so everyone can see what they have. There's a couple other things in the work that we're doing. It started with a truck wrap, and then from there we developed a style. We probably went through a couple different revisions and feels in the aesthetics. Matt and the team had some really cool ideas for how they wanted it to be. 

Geoff Wood: Did you guys choose the name or did they have that already? 

Zachary Kern: They did. It grew on me. I won't lie. At first I didn't really like it as much, but it really grew on me. I suggested something else, and now in hindsight, I don't like it. I can't remember what it was. I think it was Power from Fries. Originally it was going to be this Stalinist 1940s propaganda poster kind of feel to it. It was like Power to the People. 

Jason McArtor: The cool thing about it is that their truck actually runs on fry oil. Yes.

Geoff Wood: Is it their fry oil or do they have to bring in external stuff. 

Zachary Kern: They have to start somewhere. 

Geoff Wood: True. 

Zachary Kern: ...and then. They probably have to power form somebody elses fries, and now it's powered by their fries. 

Jason McArtor: Now it's all their fries? That's a good question, yeah. 

Zachary Kern: Probably. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah. We should probably have them on as guests too, and learn a little more about the food truck business.

Jason McArtor: Absolutely. 

Zachary Kern: Yeah definitely. 

Jason McArtor: Outsourcing the fry oil or if they just do it all in house. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah. Nice. That's really cool.

Jason McArtor: As far as the clients that we work with, we just really look for people who are essentially passionate about what they're doing. If they're excited about what they want to do, we can usually deliver something that gets their customers excited. Something that's different. The thing that you don't like to hear, at least in my seat as a graphic designer, is when somebody comes to you and they ... I just need this, you know or whatever. It's not always necessarily that we need to make a lot of money on a job, but one thing I heard not so long ago from another graphic designer who put this in words that it a philosophy that I've worked with over the years and just never put it on paper necessarily was ... First of all, we're a for profit business. Yeah, we want to make money. The first question is, can we make money with this? The second question is, is it something that when it's done we can show it off? Like the fry truck. People are going to see that. It's something that we can showcase on our website that we can be proud of. The third thing is can we learn something from this venture? 

If the answer is no to all three of those, we probably don't take on the project. Those are essentially the types of people that we want to work with. It's not always about the money. We make money in certain ways, and we have clients that pay our bills and those types of things and other clients that we're in the infancy stages with. The Powered by Fries thing; it started out with, "Hey, we need a food truck wrap." From there, we did a logo for the. It starts out with a logo, which is something that we excel with. Most people that have seen our work would probably agree with a lot of that. The opportunity to do something like a full wrap of a truck and making sure that everything fits the truck like it should and getting the schematics and measurements and doing everything as well as we can to make sure that at the end of they day, at the end of the job, the truck looks like it's supposed to. You know? Now when you see it driving down, it's like, "oh, hey. We have artwork on our computer that looks like that. It turned out like we wanted it to. That's always cool. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah. I have to imagine that it's really fun to work on a truck. That seems like a medium I never would have thought of. It's like, "Let's design what a truck looks like." You know? 

Zachary Kern: Yeah. 

Geoff Wood: All the schematics in that piece seems like different enough, but still within what you guys are doing. That had to be pretty exciting. 

Zachary Kern: Yeah. When that dropped in my lap, I was like ... We'll, I'm not going to tell them that, but I probably would have done that for free. It was just a really cool thing. You don't get that everyday, so that was just a really cool showcase piece for us. 

Jason McArtor: They had some budget. They had some budget. They get it. I mean, that's the whole thing about ... When you're an artist, you've got to maintain some sort of a price point with what you're doing. Now, there are certain things that you'll do on a lower scale if you're doing work for non profits or if you're doing work for someone who's just a start up, you know. Smuckers grape jelly, we're going to charge them more than we charge grandma who's making grape jelly out of her basement. It's all relative, and as long as you're reasonable with your expectations ... We're pretty reasonable with ours. 

Geoff Wood: That makes sense. As entrepreneurs in the design field, what's the biggest issues you guys are facing today? I don't know a lot about the design field, so I'm curious about that.

Zachary Kern: Well, we're a little bit different than some of our peers who just do design work. I mean, we have a lot of different ads. We have some kind of side things we've been involved with from the ground up, so we're juggling a lot of different ... 

Jason McArtor: ... different types of client work. 

Zachary Kern: Yeah. 

Jason McArtor: You're probably talking about our magazine that we started, maybe. 

Zachary Kern: The magazine ... 

Jason McArtor: We get in to some work of our own, so we are sometimes our own client. Sometimes ... 

Geoff Wood: You guys have a magazine?

Zachary Kern: Yeah, we started a community magazine out in Waukee. It's called My Waukee. It goes out to about 20,000 residents. That's something we've been doing now for about a year. We just had our year anniversary. 

Jason McArtor: At mywaukee.com. 

Zachary Kern: Yeah. Mywaukee.com. That one wasn't taken. We've got all the other domains, but that will be something that we've had ... Yeah, it's been our thing. We developed that from the ground up. That is very much a ... Well, it's client based, but it's you know. It's an ad sales driven publication.

Geoff Wood: Sure. 

Zachary Kern: We try to ... We focus on really good content. We work with really good local writers. We work with local photographers. We put it all together. We work with a local printer. It just one of those cool local things. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah. 

Zachary Kern: ... that we get to work on. We would like to see that grow as time goes on. We even do some work with an app based out of Chicago that he's been working on for quite a bit of time, so we get our our regular design, web work, and web development. We work on various levels with some other entrepreneurial things. Yeah. Stuff that they do down here like Gravitate is very near and dear to us. We want to help that community as best we can. We actually, in some ways, are involved with that community, too. 

Jason McArtor: Yeah, we do our own client work, and we plug in our own ideas around that. You know. Buying URLs or trying to come up with what we can do. If we're not busy enough, which is typically pretty rare.[crosstalk 00:22:01] They don't want to buy one from us. 

Zachary Kern: It's true. Today that happened. 

Jason McArtor: Yeah. 

Geoff Wood: Cool. Anything else you want to share before we start to wrap up a little bit? 

Zachary Kern: Think of something.

Jason McArtor: Yeah, that's really it. I think ... The graphic design thing, it's something that has been enjoyable. I also like the business side of things. Having somebody around like Zach that has been able to pick up a good chunk of whatever our work load is is definitely beneficial to where we're at today. It's fun working with new people. Like I said, I got out of regular client work for quite a while. It's fun getting back into it, but it's also nice to have that balance of regular client work or just ideas that we come up with or if we can partner with other businesses on a stakeholder type of level to bring ideas that somebody maybe has to life and make it even better than what that person maybe thought that idea could be when they first came up with it. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah. Very cool. Where can people find out more about you and what you're working on?

Zachary Kern: We are all over the interwebs. Farmboyinc.com, @farmboyinc on Twitter. We're on Facebook. My Waukee stuff we have; mywaukee.com, also on Facebook, Twitter.

Jason McArtor: Instagram now too. 

Zachary Kern: Instagram. Yeah, we really want to ... 

Jason McArtor: Which I like. 

Zachary Kern: Yeah we want to draw stuff and take pictures of it, see progress. That stuff is really sexy to us. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah. 

Zachary Kern: Yeah, we're all over. Give us a follow, shout out. We're always open to talk. That's the most thing. 

Geoff Wood: When you go get your fries from the food truck be sure and appreciate the design that went in to ... Who's bringing it to you. 

Zachary Kern: Yes, please. I got to have some finally yesterday. It's been a couple months, but I finally got to have some. Now I can sign off on the fries. They were really good. Beer mustard ... That was pretty tasty. 

Geoff Wood: Nice. 

Zachary Kern: Down at Confluence on Sundays and I think Firetrucker on Tuesday. If I'm wrong, Matt, don't be mad. 

Geoff Wood: All right. Sounds good. Thanks guys. Thanks for coming in. 

Jason McArtor: Thanks for having us. 

Zachary Kern: Thank you.