Bottle Rocket’s Calvin Carter on Embracing Innovation

DI ADVISER Q+A | Calvin Carter, Founder and CEO of Bottle Rocket Studios

Calvin Carter


On March 6, 2008, Steve Jobs announced that Apple’s App Store would sell outside developers’ software for its iPhone. The next day, Calvin Carter began sketching out the framework for his version of what are now known as “apps.” He hasn’t stopped innovating since.

Today, Carter runs Addison-based Bottle Rocket Studios, which employs 215-plus people building custom apps for the likes of Starwood Hotels, Coca-Cola and Mary Kay.

WPP, the Britain-based advertising, and marketing giant, announced its purchase of Bottle Rocket in November 2013.

What makes Bottle Rocket an innovator?

We recently built an app for Starwood that allows guests to skip the check-in line and go directly to their rooms. The doors to the rooms unlock when guests hold their phones up to the doors.

To create this app, we had to build a lot of stuff that had not been built before. Being an innovator is an attitude –- having the courage to go first, knowing that we will frequently be wrong.

This means we embrace innovation at the core of our business and support innovation financially.

This doesn’t mean green-lighting crazy projects. Even though the world’s largest marketing firm owns us, we’ve always run our business as a profitable going concern.

What is the most exciting innovation in your industry at the moment?

What intrigues me most is what’s known as “omnipresent interface,” meaning surrounding users with the omnipresence of technology. An example is Amazon Echo, which lets you play music using just your voice.

Before long, you will simply say, “I want paper towels,” and they will be there.

Omnipresence should become a reality in five or 10 years. We will never come back from this.

We have positioned Bottle Rocket to build technology-abled user experiences for megabrands using omnipresent interface.

Why is North Texas such a hotbed of innovation?

In addition to our Addison headquarters, Bottle Rocket has offices in cities like New York and London. But the majority of our Rocketeers are in North Texas.

I don’t know if we could have built the company in the places where people might think we would have built this company.

People in this area have an entrepreneurial, can-do, get-it-done, never-say-no type of energy.

And you can find talent here that is likeminded in business –- people who are committed to the companies they work for.

Have you or Bottle Rocket ever failed when trying something different?

We talk about failure in our business quite a bit. Doing something you’re passionate about has a lot to do not just with being willing to fail, but embodying failure into your life.

You fail a lot less than you think you’ll fail. After awhile, if you thought you would fail and you didn’t, you should try something bigger.

You don’t fail until you give up. As long as you keep trying, by definition, you have not failed.

When we hold our annual employee hackathon, we honor the biggest failure –- something that was great, but just didn’t work out. We give an award for that.

If you could give the 18-year-old version of yourself one lesson in innovation, what would that be?

I would tell that version of myself, “Don’t overthink it –- just do it.”

Frequently we’re so afraid of being embarrassed, failing or not measuring up, we hold ourselves back.

If you take away the external pressures and external concerns and just do what you want to do, and do it all out, you achieve so much more.

What is the next big thing in your industry, and how does Dallas fit in?

Omnipresent interface is the next big thing. Your devices will always be connected, and can bypass their limitations by talking to other devices.

Add in improved computing power of the devices, increased bandwidth and cloud services, and you will be doing stuff that only would have been possible in the movies just a few years ago.

One advance that will speed this along is 5G, which will provide connectivity to mobile devices that is perhaps 100 times faster than we have today. You will be able to download a feature-length movie in perhaps three seconds.

Dallas can decide to be part of this, or not. We’re doing experiments and innovations around omnipresence, along with virtual and augmented reality.

We are just wading into it at Bottle Rocket. We don’t necessarily understand where the return on investment is. It’s a leap of faith in part, like when we’re designing apps.

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Calvin Carter testing out a new bike in the office. Photo courtesy Bottle Rocket.

Calvin Carter testing out a new bike in the office. [Photo courtesy Bottle Rocket]

Calvin Carter Nominated Favorite CEO by Addison Magazine
Calvin Carter has been nominated for Addison Magazine’s 2016 Readers’ Choice Awards Favorite CEO. Voting deadline is June 20.

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Wanting to be among the first to arrive on Apple’s new moon, Carter launched Bottle Rocket the day after Steve Jobs’ announcement about opening the iPhone to third-party app developers. “It allowed a guy like me to get up the next morning and start a business from his home,” Carter says.


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Learn more about all our Dallas Innovates’ Advisers, and watch for their upcoming Q&As in our ongoing series.

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