Visionary, dedicated, and disciplined are three words that are often used to describe Aaron Shapiro. Over the last decade, Shapiro has worked as a technology entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and management consultant. These days, he leads the team at the A-list digital agency Huge, which is known for its groundbreaking creative projects like HBO GO and the Pepsi Refresh campaign. Aaron joined the company in 2005, when there were about five people working out of the Brooklyn office. Since then, the firm has expanded to more than 500 people and there are now offices in Los Angeles, London, and Rio de Janeiro. (San Francisco is next, as are "more global locations," according to Shapiro.)
A passionate advocate for moving business forward through technology innovation and digital media, Shapiro wrote his first book, Users Not Customers, last year. He frequently writes and speaks on both topics. He's on the road about once a week, traveling to places as far-flung as Shanghai, yet he rarely stays overnight in any location unless it's with his family. Intrigued? So were we. We chatted with the CEO of Huge to find out how he transformed the art of travel into a process that allows him to "carry nothing."
PCMag: So, where do you go each week and why?
Aaron Shapiro: I'm traveling on business; generally, meetings with clients. I travel regularly to Los Angeles and London, where we have offices, and less frequently to Brazil and Asia. If at all possible, I do day trips—even really long day trips, like to Los Angeles or London. I have two little kids, so it is important to me that I'm home as much as possible.
PCMag: That sounds exhausting...
AS: Well, you can leave New York on a 7:00pm flight and arrive in London by 7:00am, spend the day in meetings, and then get on the 6:20pm flight back to New York and be home by 9:30pm. I'm very disciplined about sleep, and I don't have any caffeine in my diet. Though, I admit, sometimes I'm pretty tired.
PCM: What is your travel style?
AS: I always carry on. I fly coach unless it is a really long distance, in which case I'll go business class. I usually take taxis, but only because there's no mobile service underground.
PCM: So you're always working, always connected—even when you're waiting for a taxi.
AS: Well, yes. It's essential to my business. But I know when to put the phone away. Family vacations, for example [he laughs]. And I work on a regular schedule; I leave the office by 5:00pm to be home with my family, and then I'm back online after the kids have gone to bed.
PCM: What websites and apps do you use when you're on the road to navigate new cities?
AS: I use Kayak to find flights and various airline websites for mobile check-in. I use Google Maps for everything else.
PCM: What are your preferred travel brands?
AS: British Airways, Four Seasons Hotels, and Royal Caribbean Cruises because they're Huge clients! And Delta, because I have so many miles that I always get upgraded.
PCM: How do you stay connected and productive on the road?
AS: You can only be so productive when on the road because, fundamentally, the Internet is terrible while on the go. That's why the most productive thing I do is make my trips as short as possible.
PCM: Tell me about an unexpected find or experience you've had while traveling.
AS: One of my most memorable travel experiences was trying to cross the street in Ho Chi Min City, where there are no traffic laws and a continuous swarm of mopeds zipping by. You just take a deep breath, raise your hand (so the drivers see you), and walk, hoping everyone swerves around you. The only thing scarier was taking a moped taxi.
PCM: As a world traveler, where have you been that you would encourage others to go?
AS: Southeast Asia and parts of China to see the old Asia and the new Asia. You can see old industry transform in to new industry, architecturally and socially. This might be the only time in history to see the transformation, because in 10 years, it will all be gone. Now is the time to do it.
PCM: What's in your carry on?
AS: My iPhone 4 (haven't gotten around to upgrading yet), MacBook Air, and 4G MiFi (AT&T service). I have an Apple iPad, digital camera, and Kindle, but I never travel with them. For day trips, I don't bring anything else; I just bring my laptop case and that's it. When I stay overnight, I just bring my toiletries and a minimal change of clothing, all neatly folded in a briefcase. There are times when I leave the office, briefcase in hand, and my staff doesn't know whether I'm headed home or I'm headed to Shanghai. The key is to travel as light as possible.
Question? Ask Aaron on Twitter.