How I Became a Friend of Mule

This is a story about people being nice to each other. I hope it's reassuring to people like me trying to find a way to Make It in this uncertain era.

Mule Design makes awesome websites. I found out about Mule on Twitter because one of its founders behaves like a monster there. He's constantly stirring up shit and angering dumb people, dragging them into the ring and making examples out of them.

I quickly realized that Mike was using this trolling power for good, calling out ignorance and injustice, even rallying people to raise amazing sums of money for good causes in flash mobs of snarky Internet rage-fun. Fascinating. Boom. Followed.

Then he and fellow Mule Katie Gillum started a podcast on 5by5 called Let's Make Mistakes. They talked about design in an open-ended, world-facing way I had never considered before. Design is a job, yes, but it's also a way of working, and I found that I could and should approach my work as a writer and blogger in that way. Boom. Subscribed.

I got the chance to meet Katie last summer at a conference about online news at Google HQ, which I was covering. At lunch, she was talking to Mat Honan, a pretty cool guy. I approached nervously.

"Oh, hey, Jon!" Mat said. "This is—"

But I was already saying "ERMAHGERD, KERTIE GILLERRRM!" and extending my hand in greeting and supplication. They were very good about not making it weird.

So we talked about the conference and what we weren't getting out of it, got to know each other a little, then went back to our seats and listened to more newspaper people's stories about how rough things are for them. Lunch was the highlight of my day for sure.

A little while later, I heard about a new future-of-news experiment Mule was launching called Evening Edition. I saw in it all the lessons learned by not following in the footsteps of the old media, whose tough stories had made up so much of that Google conference. "There's a story for me here," I thought.

I sent Katie a DM on Twitter to ask if I could interview the Mules about Evening Edition, and she said, "Sure! Come on over!"

Little did I know, this was Katie's last day at Mule! We were all going out for lunch to celebrate, as well as to talk about the story. That's when I met Mike, as well as co-founder Erika, impeccable developer Jim, new researcher, mass transit sociologist, and incoming Let's Make Mistakes co-host Leah, and, of course, Supreme Leader of Mule Design, Rupert. Nervous though I was, we had a great conversation, and I got an excellent story out of it.

That story was my ticket to an interview. Months later, Mule posted a job for a writer. I wanted that job so badly. I applied immediately from my phone, writing my cover letter in the iPhone mail app and sending it immediately (with zero typos, I might add).

My first interview was with Erika and designer Valeda. It was wonderful. We talked about working with clients, which I had never done before, unless you count dealing with PR people, which you shouldn't. We also talked about Burning Man. I promise I didn't bring it up.

Erika diagrams Black Rock City for Valeda

Erika diagrams Black Rock City for Valeda

A couple weeks later, I interviewed with Mike, Jim, designer Tom and project manager Dianne. That one was intense. They looked at my ReadWrite stories, my own website, everything. Mike inadvertently (or maybe advertently) revealed that something about my site sucked. I didn't have time to fix it until after I finished my job at ReadWrite, but I sure didn't forget about it. I know it sounds scary, but it was actually an amazing experience. I learned a ton from them, and Mike's handshake at the end felt genuine and affirming.

I didn't get the job. Erika told me straight up that they needed someone with client services experience, which is true, and I thanked her and all of them for giving me a chance. "I hope you'll remain a friend of Mule," she said. I did.

To shorten a long story, I wound up quitting my job anyway. I wanted to start my own site, and I wanted to build it from scratch. Working at Mule would have been a great apprenticeship, but so would just doing it myself.

I knew what I wanted to build, but I didn't know how. I figured I would ask Tom from Mule for advice. He built that awesome MuleNog site with the spaceship, so surely he could point me in the right direction for The Daily Portal.

Well, he gave me those pointers, and then he offered to meet with me and talk it over. We had an awesome conversation about my plan and how to pull it off, and now he's helping me make it.

I don't even know how to explain what this feels like. It's like I'm imagining things that are instantly coming true. It would be unsettling if it didn't make me so happy!

It's not until I lay out this long, winding chain of events that I realize it didn't just happen randomly. I didn't just luck out. I gravitated toward something I thought was cool, and it turned out — as most cool things do — to have cool people behind it. An affinity this strong has to come from something mutual. I just knew Mule people were my kind of people. And now, my head swimming with designs for my site Tom and I just talked about, I know for sure I was right.

So thanks, Mule. Y'all rock. Thanks for giving me this story. I hope it can be a model for other people's interactions with the people and ideas they find interesting. Remember what I said about writing being interaction design? This is exactly what I meant.