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Standard Interviews: Andrés Aquino
Standard Interviews is a daily series that showcases the creative individuals that are making Toronto a better and more vibrant place to live.

For Andrés Aquino, eloquence is par for the course.

Whether he’s talking about his work, his new found interest in cryptocurrencies or about his love for Kensington Market, Aquino speaks with a kind of intelligence and enthusiasm that’s infectious. Aquino is the one of the managing partners at The Working Group. We spoke to him at the company’s office.

In four sentences or less, tell us who you are and what you do for a living.

I’m a managing partner at The Working Group, which means that I help lead the studio’s direction when it comes to product strategy and employee management.

How did you get involved with the company?

I used to run a design agency of my own.

Dom (Bortolussi, TWG’s founder) and I started pitching businesses together—he was already running TWG at that point. We found that we enjoyed working together, and so he invited me to join. That was over six years ago.

How did you get into design?

I studied urban development in university, which for me was a path to doing commercial real estate after school. I worked in the business for six months before I decided that I hated the job.

After I quit I got a couple of jobs with Internet companies after the dot com bust happened. I found that I liked the work, so I went back to school and learned how to become a designer.

I was a mediocre designer, but I was good at finding clients, helping them with their problems, and hiring good freelancers, and so design became my road into the world of the web.

What do your daily duties look like?

We have three main types of people that work at TWG: designers, developers and product managers. Typically, they’re all people that are dedicated to their craft and want to become the best at what they do. The way those three disciplines interact with one another is how we build software. My job is to oversee the people that work within those disciplines to ensure that they’re creating great solutions for our clients.

What’s the most challenging part of your job? What’s the most rewarding part?

I used to joke that part of my job description was to have difficult conversations with clients. I think over time and with experience I’ve learned that talking with clients is not necessarily the hardest part of the job—it’s just another part of the job.

The hardest part—and the most rewarding part—is finding the right framework for collaboration: whether that’s how your internal teams work together, or the way your internal team works with the client.

We have a particular eye for the kinds of clients that we like to work with. We want to work with people that want to be innovative and that understand the value of our domain expertise, but we also look for companies that are the top of their own domain.

For instance, if we’re working with a company that’s in the music industry, we try to see how their expertise can inform our own work and translate in to a great digital product.

Our best projects are always the easiest ones. If people are communicating well, then they’re understanding each other and they know when to defer to someone with domain expertise.

You’ve done several speaking engagements at events like Mesh. Want to talk about that aspect of your life?

Public speaking is something that I like to do.

I like sharing what I’ve learned at a high level. I’m not a tactical person; instead, I’m good at looking how to implement things to achieve the big picture. Being in this business for over 12 years now, I’ve learned a lot about the human and practical element, and so I think sharing that kind information is important.

What does success look like to you?

Success with TWG is helping our team members and clients find their own personal success.

We have regular reviews with all our team members to talk to them about their goals and where they want their careers to take them. If they’re on a trajectory that’s letting them follow their dreams and allowing them to create the things that they want to create, then they’re going to create their best work.

With our clients, it’s about solving their problems, helping them find business success, and doing it in a way that is enjoyable and collaborative.

For me, seeing new leaders emerge in our company is a big metric of success. A friend of mine told me that being a good leader is helping create other leaders. That’s something that has become a big goal for me.

Finally, success, for me anyway, is hugely linked to having fun.

Outside of your work, what are the things that motivate and inspire you?

Lately I’ve been finding a lot of convergence between the things I do at work and the stuff that I love doing outside of the office.

This year, I’ve taken on a personal project to learn about wealth and inequality.

That’s a pretty big project.

Yeah, it’s a big one.

My goal is to learn as much as I can. I guess I have a belief that there are a lot of systems that perpetuate that inequality, but with technology we have tools that can be used to empower people. One of those tools is cryptocurrency.

Are you a fan Bitcoin or Dogecoin?

I’m more of a Blockchain guy.

I see these technologies as two things: there’s the platform, and then there’s the currency. I don’t care much for the currency.

Most of the differences between the currencies are superficial. What is special and valuable about Bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies in general, is the decentralized way that two people can agree on a contract.

I think one of my favourite things about Bitcoin is you can send someone a tenth or hundredth of a penny. It’s when you start having micropayments that things start to become interesting; you start to exchange value in ways that didn’t make sense to do so before. Most people in developing countries can’t afford to send each other money digitally because a service like PayPal makes it cost prohibitive, but that’s something a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin changes.

Anyway, I could go on about cryptocurrencies, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Another thing that inspires me is seeing the Toronto tech community continue to grow. It’s been remarkable to see how much it’s changed just in the past five years. I’m proud to be a part of that, and happy to help people find their way in it.

Is there a local neighbourhood that you closely associate with? What is it about that neighbourhood that inspires you?

My girlfriend makes fun of me because I’ve lived in every neighbourhood in the city.

Okay, but is there one that sticks out in your mind?

There is.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Kensington Market. I lived there for a while, and now that I’m moving to Chinatown I’ll be close to it again.

The diversity of it is definitely interesting, but there’s something about the freedom of it that’s unlike any other neighbourhood in Toronto. You feel like you’re going into a part of Toronto that is on its own and that walks to its own beat. I find that inspiring.

What do you love about this city?

What I love about Toronto are the downtown neighbourhoods. I feel like they’re Toronto’s secret weapon. When people come to visit, they don’t realize that there are beautiful treelined streets and nice homes within walking distance of the major working hubs.

I think that’s something that will always be special to Toronto and a unique value proposition for the city. That creates the kind of work and play environment that makes downtown Toronto so unique.

What’s next for you personally and professionally?

Like I said, this year’s goal is to learn more about wealth and inequality. Next year’s goal will be to take on a local project.

I’d also like to see my work at TWG converge with my personal work and speaking engagements in some way.

Professionally, I’d like to see this company grow to be one of the anchors of the tech community, and I’d like to see our team members become leaders in that community.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Igor Bonifacic is the managing editor of Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter

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