What Weekly’s FritzBall Dance Party this weekend is named in honor of Kyle Fritz, a Baltimore developer and do-gooder. I sat down with him last week at his home in Canton to learn more about his contributions to What Weekly, Baltimore, and the world. Coincidentally, Kyle and I met What Weekly founders Brooke Hall and Justin Allen at the same party in 2011. Talk about Smalltimore.
Jess Gartner: Let’s start from the beginning. How did you meet Brooke and Justin?
Kyle Fritz: I met Brooke and Justin at Create Baltimore , two the first Create Baltimore… 2011.
Jess Gartner: A lot of cool stuff happened at that Create Baltimore. A lot of connections.
Kyle Fritz: They had that really good after party at Joe Squared – that’s where I met Brooke and Justin, actually.
Jess Gartner: That’s where I met Brooke and Justin, too! Did you know about What Weekly before then?
Kyle Fritz: I knew about What Weekly… I remember when it first arrived on the scene and was keeping tabs on it. They were talking about trying to get more content and they were trying to get more content and talking to me about doing more tech stuff. But before that, before I had really met them, they covered me at the First Annual Baltimore Hackathon. And we didn’t win, but we had this really cool project that was an arm for somebody that was disabled that would bring a cup up to their mouth. And it was really a good project! And Brooke and Justin wrote the article and said the project was the What Weekly favorite. I had seen the article, so I think they remembered me from that. After we met at Create Baltimore, they had content meetings with different groups of people to see what people wanted to contribute. So we were talking about content, but we quickly got into the idea that what they really wanted in addition to more content was a whole new web product. And I was thinking that actually is a better fit for what I do.
The arm that Kyle’s team developed at the Baltimore hackathon, was inspired by Kyle’s younger brother, Kevin, who is disabled with muscular atrophy. For perspective on the engineering complexity of this project, a similar arm product retails for upwards of $40,000. Kyle and Kevin have worked together to build a number of products for Kevin’s everyday use since Kevin was an undergrad. They configured all of his various remotes into an array of buttons on his iPhone, which saves him from having to carry around a dozen different remote control devices.
Jess Gartner: It sounds like you do a lot of free labor projects. What do you do for paid labor projects?
Kyle Fritz: I think I saw this on a Swiss Miss packet or something: “You can work for full price or work for free, but you can’t work for cheap.” I never have any problem working for free, but for my real job, I work for LocalUp, which does online food ordering in 25 different cities. We’re here in Baltimore (https://eatbmore.com/), which is one of our growing territories… Our established markets are in State College, Pennsylvania; Morgantown, West Virginia; Charlottesville, North Carolina – they’re all big college towns. We do really well in those markets where we have a lot of restaurants signed up and a lot of orders coming in. In a weekend, we’ll do 10,000 online orders.
Jess Gartner: What Weekly has named their ball after you. What did you do to deserve this high honor?
Kyle Fritz: It’s quite the honor. After Brooke and Justin and I talked at that meeting, the realization was that they wanted to do more with the web product. I was in a job that I liked, but I had more space in my mind to do other kinds of work. I was working with Heather Sarkissian on Betascape, but I still had some more time. So, I started to talk to them about redoing their whole website.
Jess Gartner: What did it look like at that time?
Kyle Fritz: It is now and was before a WordPress site, which is a really good platform for magazine publishing. The original product was a WordPress theme that they had hacked on to customize to roughly fit their needs, but it still felt like an afterthought compared to their email product. They spent a lot of time each week making sure the newsletter looked really good, but I think the web product just didn’t reflect the care they had put into curating the content. So, what we did with the new website was to start with empty templates, and built a whole new way to see the content, which really focused on What Weekly’s strengths like diversity of opinions and really great photos. I think the photos are what make What Weekly such a fun and interesting publication to look through.
Jess Gartner: How many hours did you put into making the site?
Kyle Fritz: Websites take a long time to build, but it’s such a fun and iterative process. We probably worked together for 15 or 20 sessions for 5 or 6 hours… getting into the 100 hour range. It was really fun because I got to know Justin and Brooke really well. WordPress is a great platform for doing some development and then having the developer leave and handing it off to non-technical people or medium technical-range people work with for a long term.
Jess Gartner: So what are you doing with all your free time now?
Kyle Fritz: All of this work – it always pays off. I put in a lot of time to work on these really fun projects like Betascape, What Weekly, Baltimore Supper Club. All of a sudden, people are talking about you a little bit and sending you offers for new jobs. Literally, just as I was finishing the What Weekly product, Chris Jeffery from LocalUp called me and said, “Hey, we’re looking for a new director of engineering at LocalUp.” I don’t know how he got my name. Baltimore is so small, once you have a little swirl going, good things can happen. Back to that working-for-free thing – when you put good energy out in the world, it comes back. It definitely came back to me.