Jesse Thomas of JESS3 Discusses Inspiration, Team Players, And His Future Strategy

Jesse Thomas of JESS3 Discusses Inspiration, Team Players, And His Future Strategy

Social media strategist and data visualization specialist, Jesse Thomas, gives PSFK good advice about who to hire and how to launch a start-up.

Kyana Gordon
  • 22 march 2011

John Tukey, the American statistician wrote in his book Exploratory Data Analysis,

The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.

In a world increasingly saturated with data and information, the relevance of Tukey’s point is obvious. Data visualization and infographics are potent tools for conveying data, statistics, and information, as well as effective ways to tell your story, break through clutter and even inspire people to action.

PSFK spoke with Jesse Thomas, the CEO and founder of JESS3, a creative interactive agency specializing in visual storytelling. Recent work has included Facebook Stories, a commemorative project to celebrate the social network’s 500 million user milestone, The Economist Women’s Economic Opportunity Index, Google Gmail Stop Motion Animation Video, and The History of SXSW. It was an enjoyable experience to pick Thomas’s brain, as he offered insight into his team’s inspiration — as well as his own, hiring the right talent, start-up ventures and the future of his own agency.

As part of the challenge in creating unique interactive experiences, where do you and your team draw inspiration from to tell compelling visual stories?

Animation has always inspired me. We often think about contemporary culture references in our work. Movies are a huge influence. Thank God for Netflix! I often watch random stuff on Netflix while working on an old computer on my desk. Music is also a big part of my inspiration, I love all sorts of music. Have you heard the Social Network soundtrack by Trent Reznor? Great stuff!

Stick to the script. It is really important to have great role models. Studying the masters is critical to creative inspiration. I often look to Walt Disney Co. or David Ogilvy for inspiration. I wonder what they would do in my shoes. It has been fascinating watching Mad Men and I think about what a Don Draper would do.

Having super talented friends to bounce ideas off of, and to help you out, is also key. I search far and wide for as many style experts as possible because it keeps it interesting and helps me stay one step ahead of the competition. Part of your research will uncover individuals that can help you out with particular things/styles. Reach out to your role models! It never ceases to amaze me how accessible people are. Find an e-mail address and tell them you respect them and have some work/money for them. Part of a creative’s journey is to focus on creating new styles and stay as fresh as possible. You have to know what has come before you. Look outside of your region for inspiration, look around the world. Always strive for balance in your inspiration, don’t focus too much on one style.


Hiring hardworking, passionate, and talented people who are amped to be part of the agency is aspirational for any company and integral to building a solid team. What attributes do you find make for a stellar employee?

You are right to point out that being ‘amped’ is super important! We want to work with people that want to work with us. It feels right when you have a shared vocabulary with your team, so we look for people that like the crazy stuff we like.

It is important to also consider the dynamics of the present team and ensure a good fit with them. For us, we need people that enjoy the balance of independent work and team collaboration. It is always great when people have a well-balanced skill set; like a great balance of design and technology.

Please offer some insight to budding entrepreneurs looking to launch their own start-up ventures.

Partner with smart people starting from day one. It is so important to form the right team around you. I find budding entrepreneurs often lower their standards and hire people they think they can train and end up taking on too much. It is so important to reach up and hire people that are more experienced than you. It costs more, it takes longer, but it is so worth it. Create a great reputation, and as Howard Schultz of Starbucks once said: “hire people smarter than you, and get out of their way.”

Don’t skip out on the on the job training. It is critical to understand how valuable your path to the top is. Do not skip out on the learning phase. So often I see start-up ideas from people who don’t have enough experience. The trick is to cut your teeth at a reputable place and then once you have phased yourself out of a good job you then can do a start-up. Otherwise it is the blind leading the blind.

As a creative agency specializing in data visualization, how do you see JESS3 evolving in the future and what’s your strategy for realizing that goal?

We will adapt to opportunity and create new paths with other industry heavy weights. As new data sources become available, we will be there to develop easy-to-understand interfaces to manipulate it. We see the future of touch technology as an exciting future! We hope the future looks like Minority Report and Back to the Future Part 2 :)

We are currently spending 95% of our time on client projects and 5% of our time on internal product development. We are looking to flip that and spend the majority of time on our own products.

Have you come across any innovative projects recently that you have been particularly drawn to?

I love this new work for Nike Jordan. The interactive storytelling presentation style is really inspirational.

When you open your eyes each morning, what are you most excited about?

I love seeing the work that our team has created while I have slept. It is a great feeling knowing that others around you are taking care of you. I look forward to Monocle, Vice and AdAge magazines arriving in the mail!

Thanks, Jesse for participating!



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