About this episode
In this episode, we'll hear about his passion for locking, learning a new language, finding a complimentary work partner, and how mistakes are often the best learning experience.
Matthew Munger: Hey, Jose, thank you for joining me today.
Jose Urbano: Hey, Matthew, thanks for having me. I'm really happy to be here.
Matthew Munger: Why don't you quickly start off with telling us a bit about yourself?
Jose Urbano: So my name's Jose. I am a Filipino, born and raised in Hong Kong, and I currently work in my own studio, Studio Sal Romero, which we do web design and development for businesses in Hong Kong as well as international clients. I love music and I love dance. I'm also a dancer. I've been dancing for 10 years, 11 years, and if I'm not designing, I'm dancing.
Matthew Munger: What kind of dancing do you do?
Jose Urbano: A dance that was created in the seventies. It's called locking. You know, when you hear the term like pop locking and all that stuff, and popping and locking. It's like how HTML and CSS are different, you know, it's popping and locking is different. So yeah, I do locking. It's kinda my main style. I use that to like teach, I use that to choreograph, I use that to like compete and all that. So I would say that's just my defining style.
Matthew Munger: Where are you located, Jose?
Jose Urbano: I'm located in Hong Kong, and it's very fast paced. It's densely populated, since everything's so small, it's just way convenient. Everything's just like a five minute train ride or a five minute bus ride, but I live in what you call a village, very far away from civilization. So in the normal Hong Kong environment, you see a lot of skyscrapers, a lot of buildings. But where I'm at right now, in my house, you just see green and just like plants, trees, you know, you see wild animals here and there, everywhere. A little bit of a contrast to Hong Kong lifestyle and it kind of helps me live harmoniously in Hong Kong. You know what I'm saying? You’re just in two different worlds.
Matthew Munger: When I visualize Hong Kong, like you said, I just see endless skyscrapers, you know, nestled between the mountains and the sea. But there are greener areas with smaller villages as you described them?
Jose Urbano: Yeah, definitely. I think most of the business stuff and the financial district is all centralized within like one area, probably like one half of Hong Kong. Then the other half of Hong Kong, which is near towards China, it's all green, like, it's all just nature and just more trees. It's a bit of a refresher.
It’s a little bit inconvenient for me, myself. To travel in and out of the city it's probably around like an hour to get somewhere by train, through taxi, or something like that. But I kind of got used to it and think I would prefer living in a more open space rather than some things like living in an enclosed space where the majority of Hong Kong people live in.
Matthew Munger: Mm-hmm.
Jose Urbano: So I’m grateful that I live in such an open space like this. When I'm at home trying to do some work, I can go to my rooftop and sit with my laptop and I look up and then there's just mountains and trees and, you know, there's the occasional cow, there's occasional wild boar here and there. And it's something memorable and something that kind of just brings peace as opposed to all the, you know, the fast paceness in life.
Matthew Munger: When you get out of the house, what do you like to do or where do you like to visit?
Jose Urbano: When I get out of the house, I just go to the office and then I work at home. I can also work at an office near where my studio is, and pretty much travel to the office. If there's anything I need to do after that– let's say I go to dance and I do some dance practice, or get to hang out with my friends– it's literally just like five to 10 minutes away from my office. And then after that I just head back home. So it's really just there and then coming back. That's what it's like living in Hong Kong. I would say there's only just like two things to do: going out and coming back home.
Matthew Munger: You said you work from home and you work from the office. Kind of describe your workspace, and it could be either place or both.
Jose Urbano: When I work at home, I basically have just like a computer in front of me. Like a really old iMac that I bought off for like, $300 usd. I use that to do my work there.
And like on the right you can kind of see there's only one window, which is on the right of the computer, and you can see pretty much everything that's happening outside my village, you know, whether there's a car coming in or there's dogs walking around. Occasionally that's where my dog sits and he kind of just spies across. Like, he just kind of sees what's going on in there. And if he sees a dog he doesn't like, he gets all angry and stuff and then I have to calm him down. And it's just kind of like a fun space. I don't think I can really do any deep focus work there, but it's just something that, you know, it's very lively.
My second workplace is in the office, which is in the city. Me and my co-founder rented out a really small studio space. It really just fits the two of us and has all our supplies. My workspace is right next to hers. We share like one table facing the window. Fortunately we have a window.
She has a monitor, which she connects to her MacBook. And I have a monitor which connects to my MacBook, and then we just work alongside each other. If we need to get some water, if we need to get snacks, just walk a little, like five seconds away and there’s a water dispenser and a box of all of our snacks. And then there's a guitar here and some beanbags there. So we kind of wanted it to be a space where we can focus really deeply, but also if we get burnt out or if we needed to be somewhere a few hours after work, then we could just relax there and just take it easy and probably invite three friends over and stuff. So those are the two workspaces I go to on an everyday basis.
Matthew Munger: Do you listen to any music while you work?
Jose Urbano: I listen to a lot of music when I work. I really love anything. I listen to hiphop when I work. I listen to funk music, disco music. Music gets me in the zone, and if I really need to focus for like a short amount of time– perhaps if I'm fighting a deadline, I have to submit something in one hour, and I'm like, “Okay, I gotta do this thing, that thing.”
What's really crazy is I used to listen to drum and bass or dubstep and stuff, and then just put on some noise canceling headphones and go at it and just do the thing that I need to do. And a funny story is, I was focusing one time and I had to go to the toilet suddenly. So I had to drop my earphones, I forgot to pause the song, and suddenly the computer started blasting dubstep. It scared my co-founder who was right next to my computer and she was just like, “What the heck do you listen to when you're working?” And it was just very funny. I didn't realize it.
Matthew Munger: Do you have any hobbies and interests?
Jose Urbano: I used to play guitar. It was actually like, I used to play in high school, it was many years ago. I got into Guitar Hero. Have you ever played Guitar Hero or like something similar to that?
Matthew Munger: Yeah, oh yeah.
Jose Urbano: I got into Guitar Hero and I was like, “I could probably beat some levels. Maybe I could just start playing guitar.” And I started playing guitar, taking some lessons, and then that's how I got introduced to blues music, rock music, jazz music. I don't play that often anymore, primarily because I have trouble finding people to play with. But occasionally if I get stressed out or if I wanna chill out, I just grab the guitar from the studio and then I just pluck a few chords and then that should be it. Yeah.
Dance is my main hobby, I’ve been dancing for 11 years now. It started off as just like seeing somebody perform live and I'm just like, “Oh, I wanna do something like that.”
And getting into it, finding the community in Hong Kong, attending events, attending classes and all that, and finding my place, actually, which is very interesting as a Filipino kid in Hong Kong. It's very difficult to find your place where mostly everyone just speaks Chinese or is just of Chinese ethnicity.
I'm never really around Filipino kids in general. But then the street dance community just welcomes anyone to just come inside and grow together, we learn together, we have fun together. And that’s primarily the thing that's been driving me to just keep on dancing and stuff, and I've been doing so for 11 years now. We usually do it to funk music: James Brown, Kool and the Gang, Chic, Cameo, all those guys. And we do a little bit to disco music, like maybe BeeGees, 70’s funk.
Matthew Munger: Some 70’s funk.
Jose Urbano: Seventies and 80’s, yep, definitely. It's just beautiful that this dance is just reminding us of those types of music from way back, you know, which we hardly ever listen to nowadays and stuff. So It's kind of nice to use this dance to kind of discover old things and to repurpose them for the present. You know what I'm saying?
Matthew Munger: Mm-hmm. What is something that would surprise people to learn about you?
Jose Urbano: I picked up learning Cantonese.which is the language spoken in Hong Kong, purely by people on WhatsApp and just like translating each of the words in a dictionary and comparing it. And eventually I start to form my own sentences. It's all purely just from text. As a kid growing up in Hong Kong, I grew up in an English speaking school, so they didn't really teach much Cantonese.
But when I got into university and higher education, that's when everyone started speaking Cantonese and I was feeling really left out. I just didn't know, and I didn't really wanna feel left out anymore. So I started communicating with my classmates. I started trying to learn more about the Cantonese language and the culture and stuff, taking any class. I felt like class didn't really help me learn language itself. It was just by communicating with others and just trying out the phrases and sentences.
Jose Urbano: I would say I'm conversational.
Matthew Munger: Mm-hmm.
Jose Urbano: Not in a business way, but more like in a friendly way I can communicate. It's all just from text messaging, you know, WhatsApp, you know, so it's a good thing.
Matthew Munger: What is your day-to-day role and how would you describe what you do to someone who doesn't know what you do?
Jose Urbano: Formally, I'm the co-founder of my studio, but I'm also the one who does the designing, the sales, the strategy, the developmental Webflow, and just overseeing the more operational and technical feasibility of the stuff that I do.
I have my hands on a lot of things, but to summarize it up, I would say I do the sales and marketing for the studio, and I also do the work. As opposed to my co-founder, her name's Ivy. She manages the projects and she keeps things in the timeline, and also keeps the client in check, reminds him of the timeline and the administrative stuff. It's kind of a full package. But that's my role and that's her role as well.
When I started out freelancing, I was good at doing the work, but not really handling the project and not handling the administrative stuff. And fortunately, my co-founder is actually my girlfriend. She was working at a huge firm for quite some time, and unfortunately because of restructuring her position, she had to be let go of her position. I was just like, “Hey, why don't you come work with me and we can figure out if this could be possible.” At that time it was a risk because I didn't know her style of working. Until that point we'd been dating for quite some time. I knew her personality, but I didn't know how we would do it from a professional perspective.
But, you know, she just got out of a job so I was like, “Why not?” And so we started doing some stuff. She helped me out of a lot of sticky situations regarding timeline stuff. And then we kind of found out how our skills complement each other and she helped us get back on track and laid the foundations of this new studio. So I'm really fortunate and really grateful to be in this situation where I can work alongside my significant other in a business that we're building together.
Matthew Munger: What would you say motivates you about what you're doing?
Jose Urbano: There's always something new that's happening, not just the web design development industry, but just the world in general. Each new discovery, like whether it's AI, or Webflow comes out with a new feature, or a studio gets an award for something. And because they use some sort of new tool, there's always a new tool to learn. There's always a new industry to discover. There's always a new technology to try out.
I'm always looking around just trying to see what's new. That's what really excites me too. And having to work with clients, it lets me immerse myself into their world, learn how things are done in their world, and translate that into like a website or an app or a design or something. I love it. I just like discovering and learning new things, and that's really what excites me most about the position I'm in professionally.
Matthew Munger: What do you think is a resource that more people in the community should know about?
Jose Urbano: So one resource that I want people to know about is something, an online book, an ebook called “MAKE” book. And basically it's a book written by an entrepreneur called Pieter Levels. He’s very well known on Twitter for his experiments and just carrying out as many ideas as possible. This book breaks down the process of how you take an idea and just test it and execute it. And see if it's worth exploring, and then if it's worth exploring, how do you, you know, move on with it, or how do you sell it, something like that. It's a very interesting book. I think it was one of the first books I've ever read. I was just like, “Wow. People can actually make a living just trying different ideas here and there.” Because I was brought up in a way that, you know, you have to do this one thing till the end.
But this guy Pieter Levels, he's saying you could try this and if it doesn't work out, do the next thing and do the next thing and do the next thing. And sooner or later, maybe the thing that you did two years ago is gonna be profitable. And it just opened my mind up to a lot of new possibilities, you know, and it validates my curiosity to kind of just get into it and try different ideas as well. If people really wanna learn how to be an entrepreneur in an interesting way, like an indie hacker type of way, I would recommend the book “MAKE” book. It’s readmake.com
Matthew Munger: Who is someone in the community that inspires you?
Jose Urbano: Everybody's really inspiring. Yeah. But two people come to my head. The first one is Ran Segall, he was the first one to really teach Webflow and put out tutorials on YouTube. And when I was freelancing in the beginning, I only knew design software, I didn't know how to code. When I discovered that this Webflow thing was a thing and this guy, Ran, was teaching it. I was just like, “Oh, wow. I gotta try it out.” And his tutorials really helped me build stuff.
The second person who really inspires me is Joe Krug of Finsweet. The reason why is because he's very transparent about his journey into building Finsweet. If you go to finsweet.com, I think you can read his entire story from when he first started freelancing up until this point. It was a journey and I could take reference from it because I don't really have any other person to learn from in Hong Kong. But seeing Joe's story and just being able to learn from his mistakes and kind of apply it to prepare myself, it was really foundational for me to take reference from his story whilst I was doing this studio thing.
I think some others would probably be more technical people Joseph Berry with his crazy animations, Timothy Ricks with his coding and GSAP and implementing in Webflow. And I also really appreciate the community as well because they are very responsive. Like everyone's helping each other out. Everyone's giving to each other. If you have a technical issue, they're just a tweet away. I'm getting inspired by the community every day, you know, their small wins in the community as well.
Matthew Munger: What is some advice you would give to others in the community?
Jose Urbano: If you wanna get into something, you have to try it. And don't be afraid of making mistakes. Don't second guess yourself. Trying something and then making mistakes on the way is a better learning experience than if you’re always trying to be perfect with some things here and there, you know?
I'm not like a developer, not even a designer or anything like that. But I just had to learn Webflow to do the projects that I was supposed to do. I just had to learn on the spot and then just watch a few videos from the Webflow University and just try things out on my own. And eventually, you see all the mistakes you make along the way. I would say mistakes you make along the way are a better learning experience than anything else. That is my advice to people in the community.
Matthew Munger: How can others in the community reach out and connect with you?
Jose Urbano: You guys can connect with me on Twitter. Jose Urbano one. And I'm also on LinkedIn, so you can just type my name on LinkedIn. You can search me up or you can find me there. I'm also trying to start this YouTube thing recently where I just record my work and just post it online.
So if you could give that channel a follow, that would be great too. You could just type “Jose Urbano" as well on the search bar, you'd probably find me. So they could find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube.