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5 Questions for Mike Burns, CEO and CCO, Fuel Industries

Mike Burns
Mike Burns co-founded “Fuel Industries”: in 1999 and has since led its evolution into one of North America’s most advanced online branded entertainment agencies. Fuel has created console-quality online games, worlds, viral campaigns and digital toys for major brands throughout Canada and the U.S., and has partnered with some of the world’s largest advertising agencies to help them navigate the branded entertainment landscape.
Burns has been recognized numerous times for his creative approach to game development, and has been the recipient of several industry awards, including being named one of the Top 40 Entrepreneurs under 40 by the Ottawa Business Journal. Over the past year, Fuel has doubled in size to over 85 employees, and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

*One Degree: Fuel Industries has managed to build quite a reputation for high impact web sites and viral campaigns – Can you tell us a little about how you got to where you are now?*
When we started Fuel seven years ago, we wanted to deliver the web applications and interactive sites that most other Canadian firms weren’t able to. We knew that web-based gaming was going to be huge in the future, and we started developing that side of our practice about five years ago. In the past few years when technology had caught up with consumer demand, we were ready to capitalize on it while other agencies were playing catch-up. Advergaming is only a part of what we do, but it’s been a major part of what has driven our reputation over the past few years.
*One Degree: What comes first – the technology or the insight?*

Absolutely the insight – there’s no question about it. We start from what the client wants to accomplish and who they want to target, and we start brainstorming. Once we have that killer idea, we decide how we’re going to make it work. Technology is important, but because we have experts in online video, Flash, Shockwave, Virtools and pretty much any other online technology that you can think of, we don’t have to tailor our ideas to one specific technology because we can’t execute a certain type of project.
*One Degree: What are the most common mistakes you see agencies making when they tackle viral campaigns?*
The biggest problem most agencies have is not fully understanding the technology and underestimating the intelligence and savvy of the consumer – especially with young consumers. We’re dealing in the attention economy, and if we can’t give the consumer something they want in exchange for their attention, they’ll move on and spend their attention on something that will.
*One Degree: Does being located in Ottawa help or hinder Fuel?*
Most of our work comes from the U.S., and they really don’t care if they deal with Toronto or Ottawa – it makes no difference to them. We do have a number of clients who are in Toronto, which is why we opened the satellite office there, but for the most part, the quality of life benefits of living in Ottawa far outweigh the inconvenience of having to hop on a plane every couple of weeks.
*One Degree: What’s your take on finding talent to help all these clients get the most out of the web? Is it getting harder to find people with the experience needed or is supply catching up with demand?*
Finding the best talent has always been hard. A lot of creatives are graduating as jacks-of-all-trades, but in this space, we need people who are experts in specific areas. It’s great if you know Flash and Shockwave and Virtools, but if you’re only mediocre at all of them, you’re of no use to us. We’ve got an amazing team of creatives and createchs right now, but it’s been a long process to get to where we are. The bigger we get, though, the cooler our projects, and the easier it is to attract the talent because they want to work on sexy brands and cutting-edge projects.