April 5, 2023

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OSOM's Head of Comms on Community, the Team, and Talking About Phones

A company is nothing without its people and the community it attracts. Ryne Hager, OSOM’s Head of Communications, finally takes his turn on the other side of the interview to discuss editing, marketing, engagement, and being part of a team he loves.

Hey Ryne, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. How does it feel to be on the other side of the interview?

I have done this so many times that I always walk into an interview with a certain degree of confidence — knowing what I am going to ask, how to ask it, and how to be personable in asking. I realize now it has never occurred to me how to be a good interviewee… so this could go very poorly. [Laughs.]

So you started work at OSOM back in August. What did you do previously that brought you here?

Yep, I have only been here for eight months! I was a senior editor at a tech news site called Android Police, and I had been working there since about 2017. It was a job I got accidentally. I founded a startup prior to that, and as it was spinning down, I was looking for other work. I really just wanted something that tied me over between startups. But I enjoyed the process of following the news, researching topics deeply, and informing people with a high level of accuracy on a subject I was so passionate about. It turned into a career… rather unexpectedly.

How was the shift from editing to community engagement and communications? How much overlap do you see between the two?

Well, that is tough to say. I love writing, and I definitely write less than I did at Android Police. As you know, at a startup ‘everyone wears a lot of hats.’ So at this point, community engagement is probably the minority of what I do. However, there is a lot of overlap when it comes to the sort of community we are trying to build here at OSOM and the community that was cultured at Android Police — not just in terms of the marketing to attract these individuals, but in how you approach that interaction. And there's a lot of overlap between comms and community work when it comes to understanding your message, getting it out there, and taking care to consider concerns and feedback that come in.

What’s been the most difficult thing about marketing at a startup?

One of the most difficult things is just understanding the market. At OSOM, we have our own specific values, like privacy and choice. You don’t want to make a product that appeals to absolutely no one, you need to appeal to those with the same shared values, but finding the different spaces those people inhabit and the ways they want to be interacted with can be a challenge. And not everyone is the marketing machine that Apple is, hyperbolically and hypocritically claiming to be everything for everyone.

Another difficult thing for me has been trying to help communicate how our partnership with Solana is actually, and quite intrinsically, tied to many of the core values that some may believe we might be paying less attention to — things like privacy. I know that some people are Web3 and crypto-critical, and it is a subject we have to treat deliberately and thoughtfully. There is a lot of overlap on how privacy needs to work digitally, and the crypto and web3 spaces are exploring these concepts with novel approaches everyone can learn from and build on. These advancements really will lend themselves to other overarching privacy advantages in the mobile space, both immediately and down the line.

So you have interviewed almost everyone at the company at this point, do you have any insights you have taken from these so far or any interviews that stood out to you?

It has been fascinating and humbling to see just how smart everyone in this company is. Whenever I sit down with our software or hardware folk, they start spouting off these profound insights as if they were flippant remarks that came to them a few seconds ago. The level of attention and consideration everyone at OSOM pays to their work is next-level. This is such a smart team, and everybody here immediately feels their ability to come together. There’s so much experience and so little indecision. Everyone knows: This is how you build a phone.

How about you? After seeing what everyone is working on at OSOM, what do you most look forward to with the upcoming Solana Saga? And after?

One of the things I have always been interested in — probably due to my own ignorance of the subject, because I am not an engineer — is the engineering. I find it fascinating because there are new details to dig into every time I am exposed to it. I like to think of myself as a mechanically minded person — the team all know how I spam our chat with pictures of me working on my van or keyboard stuff. I like to wrap my mind around how things come together or how they work, figuring out how a part moves. It is all interesting to me.

After learning all of the details about this phone, the thing that still appeals to me the most is the industrial design and materials. I love the fact that out of all the Android manufacturers, we are the only ones playing with things like stainless steel, ceramic, and titanium — nobody else in the space does this sort of stuff. I’m also glad that we have developers from ROM communities at Lineage and CalyxOS here. They have such a deep insight into what they are doing and know what is important when it comes to delivering quality Android software. It really makes me confident in our long-term software future. 

Do you feel as though you get a lot of exposure to the engineering teams through your work? 

I’ve picked their brains here on the blog, and they entertain my presence where I might have a little subject knowledge or useful context. Every now and then, they let me meddle in some interesting decisions.

It has always been my deep fascination to know more about how phones are built and be a part of building one. Now it’s happening, I am involved, and even if it is in a small way, these experiences have been impactful in my understanding of the process. I can’t overstate: This is the coolest job ever.

Tell me about you outside of work. I heard about the van you are fixing up; you mentioned a bit about it earlier. Are you converting to van life?

I bought a Vanagon camper, and it was in worse shape than I thought, so I have been working on it… it’s coming along. The state finally says it’s safe to drive, so that’s a pretty good accomplishment. [Laughs.] Now I’m planning a big cross-country trip — we’ll see if the van makes it.

Plus the mechanical keyboard stuff — oh man. As you can see [waves arm at masses of keyboards in background], there are ten assembled and at least ten unassembled keyboards back there, and I’m designing my own from the circuit board up with some help from the folk here. I am really into experiences with very nice materials; my favorite keyboard is walnut and brass, and I have a marble one that I am waiting on ceramic keycaps for — that should be a fun one. I also do leather working, making cases, bags or sleeves for things.

Last question I have for you. You have been at OSOM a bit longer than I. What do you like about the company, and how do you see us moving forward?

I really like the overall vibe here. Everyone is very laid back, and you’re responsible for yourself. We are a well-made clock, as much of a cliche as that metaphor is. We get things done so well, so efficiently, so easily. 

There isn’t a lot of ego here. For as smart as everyone is, when they come together, it is just about getting the work done as well as it can be. But we’re still fun. We do big weekly games. Me and some of the guys on software and camera are trying to put together a Halo team to challenge another startup.

Everyone is also willing to explain their work, which is great if you want to learn. Part of the advantage of a startup is getting to go outside your comfort zone and experience to become multidisciplinary — if not in truly learning how other types of work operate, at least in better understanding your work in context to everything happening around it as part of a larger structure. Everyone here is very approachable and friendly. When you want to learn more about a process or understand more about a given system, you just ask. Everyone appreciates pulling aside the curtain.

There’s no better place to grow than in an environment that encourages learning new skills and supports that type of flourishing. I hope to see some of your input in the next round of design!