Corey Vilhauer is a content strategist for Blend Interactive in Sioux Falls, a downtown organization that specializes in web-based custom design and development. Simply, Corey helps agencies better understand how to use the web. He’s a friendly face with a background in writing, public speaking, photography and biking. He really loves our bike trail.
Name: Corey Vilhauer
How can people connect with you? (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Website):
• Twitter: @mrvilhauer
• Facebook (business): /blendinteractive
Where do you live now? Where do you call home?
I live in Sioux Falls, and — outside of a five-year period during college — it is where I’ve always lived.
Give us a behind-the-scenes look at your average day.
I’ve got two kids, so the beginning and end are both hectic and pedestrian. A lot of Cheerios and badgering and shoving arms in shirts. But in between, there’s a lot of love, and it’s pretty great.
Beyond that, there’s the workday: I help make the web a little more coherent and organized by working with really smart people to plan websites. It’s a collaboration with a really smart team of designers and developers and project managers on our end — the people who take our plans and make them real. But the real fun happens on the client end, where we get to solve some interesting problems and rally to get everyone on the same page. Making changes on the web can be really hard, but more than that, it’s nerve-wracking, because changes to a website mean changes to internal workflow and changes in the very relationships we build around us. It can be scary, and our job is to make it less scary.
I used to write, but writing is hard. It doesn’t happen as often as it should. Now, instead, I try to ride the 20+ mile bike trail all the way around, come home to return the house to the state it was in before the kids woke up, and listen to 90s post-hardcore.
What projects are you currently working on, both in your career as well as hobbies or passions?
At Blend, I work on a lot of different projects — higher ed institutions, university museums, large club organizations — but I also get to help reshape internal processes, which I think is really nerdy and fun. There’s something great about helping people understand how to use the web.
I have spent the past decade writing less and less for a blog called Black Marks on Wood Pulp, and I used to be an amateur photographer, but unfortunately I have fallen off of both hobbies. Now I just collect old records.
I like to ride my bike.
What challenge in your life or work are you most interested in overcoming?
You don’t have to like everything.
My job relies on thoughtful decision making. It means sometimes I need to communicate some hard truths: that there’s no value in anything if you try to do everything. You should curate your project to a handful of key messages and tasks. You should be deliberate about what you say and do.
And in life, this is a hard lesson to learn. But it is a crucial one, and I’m still working on it. If there are things that do not improve my way of life — a personality, an opinion, a certain social network — I have learned to simply remove it. Life is too short to care about your uncle’s views on gay marriage, and it’s sure as hell too short to juggle unhealthy relationships. Sit back, have a beer, and press “delete.”
If you could do any job, what would you do and why?
The one I’m in is pretty great. This is what I enjoy doing: helping people create cool things, organizing thoughts, and making change happen.
What’s your desert island album/book/TV show/movie (answer one or all)?:
I grew up reading T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King” every year and developed a misguided anglophilia throughout high school and college as a result. I haven’t read it in a while, but I love the modern interpretation of Arthurian legend — the idea that such serious legends could be humanized. When Arthurian legend was first being passed around, it was tales of battle and brutality — “The Once and Future King” gives it a narrative flow and real feeling in a way that the original “Le Morte D’Arthur” never could.
Today, I lean toward two very different life journeys: the lives of Adam Trask and his sons in Steinbeck’s “East of Eden,” and the life of Rabbit Angstrom in John Updike’s four “Rabbit” novels. Something about how life continues to just move on despite all of the decisions we make is totally fascinating to me. Give me a complex life history of a person who keeps making bad decisions and I’m entertained for months.
Since you live in one of the OTA states:
• Why do you choose to live here? I grew up here. I like bison. And I like space.
• What is the most beneficial aspect of living in the region when it comes to your career? When I speak at content strategy conferences, I find there’s a strange novelty in being “the one from South Dakota,” which almost always leads to conversations with people from Boston or San Francisco or Minneapolis lamenting their busy city and dreaming they could spend time somewhere a little quieter. I have that quiet all the time, and I love it. It helps me stay honest and unswayed by microtrends, and it keeps me humble when I discuss the web industry with clients.
• What’s one thing you would change about the OTA region? South Dakota politics. Frankly, it’s the one thing I’m embarrassed about when I talk to people from other states.
• What’s one thing most people don’t know about the OTA region? We are really good at chislic, and we’re really good at building great bike trails.
Where do good ideas come from?
Good ideas come from anywhere but at a desk. I have to remove myself from a project in order to make any kind of breakthrough. An hour on the bike, or kayaking, or laying in a hammock, is great for the mind.
What’s one current trend you think will change the world?
The very slow and onerous crawl toward accepting women as equal visionaries on the web. And anywhere in science, technology, and the rest of the world. We’d do well to make that crawl a bit faster.
What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
Work harder at your hobbies, and stop being such a boy with that Kerrie person. She’s going to marry you someday.
Who is the most creative person in your life, and why?
My kids come up with the most ridiculous and amazing stories, and I could learn a lot from the way they buck convention and piece together random things.
Who is the most connected person in your life, and what personal characteristics make him or her so well-connected?
I honestly have no idea. I don’t think about life in terms of connections — connections are surface-level and overrated. They stand in for real communication. They are data points.
I think of people who have cultivated hard and honest relationships, which is much more difficult than collecting business cards and networking at events. And there’s no number you can put on that. The number of relationships you can keep up with is the number that’s right for you.
Who is the most community-focused person in your life, and how do they impact their communities?
It’s not a person, but an organization: we take for granted what a wonderful resource the public library system is, and we don’t use it to the extent that we could. Siouxland Libraries provide: information, inspiration, imagination, technical resources, space, research assistants, distractions — all for free. To many, they are a wildly important resource for making positive change happen. To my kids, it is like magic.
At what intersection do you live your life? (ex: creativity and community, humor and humanity, art and athletics)
Earnestness and professional wrestling.
Who are the three people you need to have coffee with when you visit Sioux Falls?
I live here, so coffee is with whoever is close to me. Co-workers. My wife, Kerrie. My kids. My kids don’t drink coffee, though, because they are wimps and they think it “tastes bad” and “is totally gross.”
What’s the best way to put inspiration into action?
I’m too realistic to think that inspiration always needs to be put into action, so my first suggestion would be to determine whether that inspiration has legs. We tend to chase after every fleeting bit of inspiration, but the real challenge is knowing when to act and when to let go.
Hell, if I pushed after every wild idea that came to mind, I wouldn’t have time for the things that actually inspire me.
Who do you hope to leave a legacy for?
Sierra and Isaac, two weirdos who are also my kids. I make decisions based on whether it will make the world a better place for them.
Who’s one regional writer/artist/leader/entrepreneur we should pay attention to?
I can’t answer any of these other questions with any kind of solid thoughts, so I’ll overstep my bounds and suggest a handful of fantastic people who are hard at work making fantastic things.
We should pay attention to Dan and Liz Nissen at Total Drag, who are bringing back everything we used to love about music and records and the community that grows around it, from offering a place to perform, to understanding the complicated culture of physical media, to ordering in records when I want them. When you think of what a record store should be, you should think of Dan and Liz.
We should pay attention to Brian Bieber, who has been writing and producing with a voice that’s beyond typical. I am jealous of Brian’s writing. I want to grow up to be Brian. Brian is my spirit animal. Brian is a welcome voice in a time when entrepreneur-culture has turned honest creativity into a thinly-veiled push for cash. Be serious when you need to be. Take a piss on things often and always.
We should pay attention to Bianka Groves in Minneapolis, who is making beautiful pottery you wish you owned. (And if you do own it, you wish you had more.) We should pay attention to people who go out of their way to support the music scene, like Tony DePaolo, who has killed it with Oddfest every year. We should pay attention to brewers doing things the right way, right away, like the guys at Fernson Brewing.
We should pay attention to our friends, because they’re all doing great things, and we don’t notice those great things because they’re OUR FRIENDS, and OF COURSE they’re doing great things.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?
Assuming I know how to raise children still scares the hell out of me.
What’s your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it?
Once, I worked with a larger organization to plan a new website. After a few months of weird and combative feedback, we were dropped altogether, and I took it on as a personal misstep — I internalized the feedback, and it messed me up. Because here’s the thing about criticism: creating things is hard work — really hard work — and I am never prepared to have hard work written off. So I didn’t. I just held it in and questioned every project I worked on for months.
Really, the failure wasn’t in the work itself — which I still stand by — but my inability to move on from it. Work is work. Nothing is perfect. Sometimes you mess up. And then you move on to the next thing, always learning from the mistakes you’ve made.