RIP Blake, One of the Best Dudes Around
Blake Krikorian made me better at everything.
What most of us see as “some trees over there,” Blake could pick out the forest that wasn’t yet obvious or visible. But to just call him a visionary is an amazing disservice to the man, who actually saw the trees, the saplings, and every shred of detail in between.
The Best Product Dude Around
As we built the initial Slingbox user experience, it was his eyes that taught me how to look at product more completely than I ever had before. For example, our setup required the end-user to make a bunch of configuration settings on their routers — something crucial to the success of the product experience. Also its the kind of stuff everybody hates about tech products. For most product people, you are focused on the words the user sees when they are setting up a new device. But that wasn’t good enough for Blake. Not even close. Blake wanted people to love even the setup of the Slingbox, a part of the product experience that most would consider a throwaway.
So Blake hopped in his car, drove to every Best Buy, Good Guys, CompUSA, Radio Shack, etc within 10 miles of our office and bought one of each router he could find. He then, himself, tested the Slingbox with each individual router, taking and marking up screenshots the entire way. We then incorporated the screenshots into the setup experience, just to make the process a little smoother. Nobody I had ever met thought this way, with such completeness to the entire experience.
Not only did Blake understand product, he had a deep understanding of how to get the absolute most out of people. There was a time where he wanted some extra features added to the SlingPlayer software, and I pushed back on it for fear of slipping schedule. Rather than debate with me about the features, the schedule, or anything, Blake asked me a simple question: “Did you ask engineering what impact it would have on the schedule?” I, in my impetuous youthful ways of course had not. Blake understood the importance of being process-driven, instead of outcome-driven (yet also demanded the absolute best outcome possible!). And he wasn’t mad with me, nor did he lecture me — he took the time to educate me. His ability to not just see the world that way, but share that vision was another outstanding gift.
Love & Enthusiasm
Another favorite memory about Blake actually came via his amazing brother Jason. I can’t remember the specific of what thing had bothered Blake one given morning, but something had, and he was upset. And probably due to the love he engendered among people, you just never wanted Blake upset with you — almost like that feeling you’ve disappointed your favorite teacher on a homework project as a kid. When talking to Jason, he made it all so clear with a simple, “The thing you have to know about Blake is he wants everyone to love this company — like truly love it. So anything and everything we all do out there, it has to be on the right side of that.” And he was right, and that subtle difference in just building a company or a product, but to building something people love, was everything.
Blake’s sheer enthusiasm was beyond infectious. One Spring morning in ’04 he called me, asking if we could grab lunch. We did (Johnny Rockets!), and he was almost giddy with excitement about something he “had to” show me, right away. As he pulled out his PocketPC, I could see even his fingers were bursting with energy with whatever it was he couldn’t wait to share. That was always his way, too, he’d call you up, or walk over to your computer, and you just knew that whatever thing he wanted you to see, was going to be awesome. And it always was.
That first day though, that was the first demo of a sorta-hacked-together-semi-functional Slingbox. It blew my mind as a demo. But then he told me that he basically built the whole thing himself using a variety of technologies he could string together. It was like an episode of MacGyver, and Blake had his own chewing gum, duct tape, and paperclips. He wasn’t the kind of guy to dream up some idea and do nothing with it. He just dove in and did things. Dreamer and doer, all at once.
But not only could Blake dream something up, and get something done, he also had the uncanny ability to pull everybody he met into his mission. When he’d sit down with a VC or with the press or a potential partner, and started to talk, his gravitational pull was inescapable. It didn’t matter what the topic was, he had the art of storytelling down cold. Even sitting by his side hearing him giving the same pitch so many times over, I couldn’t help but want to listen as he crafted his tale.
The Blake Abides
Many know of Blake as a visionary — after all you can draw a direct line from the invention of the Slingbox to the mainstreaming of the disruption aroung the rules of the TV industry. And he certainly was a visionary — an amazing one. For me he was more — a mentor, a leader, a friend, and an inspiration.
When you think back on the people who really had impact on your life, and realize how short that list truly is, losing one of them is devastating.
The last time I saw Blake was about a month ago, randomly in the CNET office lobby. We caught up for a few, talked about getting together soon. I’m sad that we’ll never have that chance. But I did get those unexpected few minutes, and they were as warm as any I can recall. Even in sad times it’s nice to have a fresh memory to preserve.