Miguel: Learn the Language of the Internet

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Miguel Barbosa, 24, is a freelance filmmaker and web and app developer. He is the editor and director of the film production company YEAH! films and is currently working on a number of music videos, short films, and a promotional video for the city of Oakville, ON. Most recently, and most successfully, Miguel and his friends launched the viral website Pollenize.org.

As seen on major Toronto news outlets like, BlogTO, Torontoist and CityNews, the website and app offers a beautiful and informative visual guide to understanding each candidate’s political platform for the 2014 Toronto municipal election. It has been endorsed by mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, and is steadily gathering steam as we approach the decision day on October 27th.

As the Project Manager, for the Pollenize project, Miguel was deeply involved in the creation and development of the website. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with him about his life as a freelancer, and the birth of Pollenize.

R: How did you get into freelancing?

M: I started out in high school by making my own productions and short films with my friends. Then people within the school hired us to shoot and eventually we got hired by the school board. I didn’t even know what the term freelancing was then. That came much later. We were just doing stuff for money that was fun and that we were interested in.

R: How do you find clients?

M: I cold call and cold email potential clients with full pitches. I don’t really rely on word of mouth as many freelancers do. My friends and I will look up a company, research the company (most recently a winery) and prepare a full pitch. I’ve heard since then that cold-pitching isn’t the best way to get clients because they often turn you down. But in my experience contacting people and sending them a pitch can’t be a bad thing. They’re going to hire you after a while if they ever need a filmmaker anyway. That’s the difficult part about freelancing; I wouldn’t say there’s a right or a wrong way to do it, you just have to find your momentum and keep using projects to leverage others. Say I have a travel video, I can then send that to other travel agencies to show them what I can do for them.

R: How did you come up with Pollenize?

M: I was watching (former mayoral candidate) Karen Stintz in a debate in March or April; and noticed that when asked what she was going to do to engage the youth vote, she didn’t have an answer. It was at that moment when it hit me, “Why don’t we make an app? Why can’t we show the candidate’s platforms in a visual form?” So I went to my friends and they came on board and we put the team together that night. Since then we’ve been meeting at the exact same time every week for over six months. We discovered what we were building along the way, and we’re still discovering it. We didn’t know how people were going to use it or what the response would be until we put it up. Overall, we wanted to make something to help people understand the platforms. Because frankly, I think a lot of the candidates’ websites are really complicated and difficult to use. One of the major goals with Pollenize was to make it very visual and pleasing to the eye without too many words. And people have really enjoyed what we made. Funnily enough we launched the website on August 21, the day Karen Stintz pulled out of the mayoral race.

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Check out pollenize.org/toronto!

R: How did you promote the site once it was launched?

M: I knew that the #TOpoli hashtag was a big deal. I know how to use hashtags and how easy it is to jump into the conversation. We had these illustrations that were really eye-catching, so we tweeted them out with the #TOpoli hashtag and a different tweet for each candidate with their own custom illustration and a sentence stating a quick fact about their campaign. It exploded immediately and didn’t stop. We kept interacting with people and we always reply to anybody who has an issue even if it’s a negative comment. I think a mixture of us being friendly and forthright about what we’re doing and also just understanding social media really helped it take off. We used Reddit as well, we were at the top of r/Toronto the day we launched. We were in the top 10 most downloaded news apps in Canada by the end of our first week. There was no paid advertising at all because everyone on the team was volunteering their time. We just jumped into the stream. I was also able to use what I learned from sending out press releases for my films to get media coverage. It’s a matter of trying to get the people who are reporting on Toronto politics to report on us as well.

R: Do you think you would have built something like this if this election wasn’t so intense and important to Toronto?

M: Nope. If Rob Ford wasn’t involved the app wouldn’t exist. The whole election is being covered around the world. No one on the team is a Toronto voter. The designer, content director and project manager live in Oakville, Ont. and the marketing manager and illustrator live in Vancouver, BC.

R: What do you think the success of Pollenize.org says about young voters?

M: I think they’re interested in politics and what’s happening but they’re in love with apps and websites. The internet is the language they speak. If you’re doing things like a debate on the news or door-to-door canvassing, that’s so old school. You have to speak the language of the youth in order to reach them. They’re always on the internet. The idea of Pollenize is that it’s fun to use but you’re actually learning something. While Pollenize is an original creation, it grabs a lot from existing software and design.

R: As this was unpaid endeavour, was it ever difficult for members of the team to hold themselves accountable to deadlines?

M: I think we were great about deadlines. The weekly meetings helped keep us on track. We would set goals for each week and make sure to have them done by the following meeting. We’re all friends, we’re used to working together, so it never really felt like a job. There was a lot of pride in making something like this. So much of political discourse is so high-brow so we were really humbled to even get a chance to be a part of it. We learned so much, it’s been an amazing experience. And I think it’s great for Toronto. We saw it as a fun project more than anything.

R: Any advice for aspiring filmmakers or freelancers?

M: Do stuff on your own as much a you do stuff for clients. There are a lot of hours in the day, don’t take time for granted. Find your own style and completely own it.

The immediate success of Pollenize demonstrates that the best people to speak to millennials in their own language… are other millennials. Miguel and his friends have shown us that amazing things are possible with the right combination of expertise, diligence, teamwork and a good wifi connection.

The team’s mission is only just beginning. Pollenize.org/chicago is forthcoming for the Chicago municipal election, and Miguel and his friends hope to use the platform to inform Canadians about the 2015 federal election. Keep an eye on this project… it might just be the catalyst that changes the way we see politics.

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