Co-founder and Chief Digital Officer at Rocket Wagon, Skylar Roebuck has done everything from designing foldable surgical tables for developing countries to high-end robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles for the U.S. Navy. He’s now helping Barnes & Noble College connect its student customers with cutting-edge app development. He found five minutes in his schedule to talk with us about design, coffee and the connectivity of the campus community.
What was your first job?
During high school I ran a coffee barista station for a movie production filming in Richmond, Virginia. It was my first brush with entrepreneurship, and I was mildly obsessed with coffee at the time. I also got to meet actors Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.
How do you describe your current role in your company?
I’m Chief Digital Officer at Rocket Wagon, so I run the company’s product discipline. I am an engineer and love building things, but I also love the business side of bringing those ideas and products to market — and within the reach of a lot of people.
What specific projects are you working on right now with Barnes & Noble College?
We’ve just completed a project on their bookstore mobile app, and from there we’re looking at new tools and new ways to connect with students. Barnes & Noble College’s customers are also some of the biggest users of technology, so we’re interested in discovering new ways we can learn from their experiences and use that actionable information to inform our future product design.
Through your developing involvement with Barnes & Noble College, what’s the most significant thing you’re learning about how students are using technology?
There’s a tremendous growth in collaborative tools — how students use technology to work on a project together — and there’s a lot of development around that kind of online culture at the moment.
Is there a distinct or notable characteristic you’ve noticed about the team at Barnes & Noble College?
I think there are two really noticeable characteristics: how much of a family element exists, particularly with the teams we’ve been working with, and the incredible energy, hustle and commitment they bring to supporting the stores and their students.
Where do you think the biggest opportunity lies for Barnes & Noble College in the future?
The tremendous advantage Barnes & Noble College has is that there’s a community built around each store — and that’s a benefit most e-retailers do not have. It can provide all kinds of connected experiences from which we can develop valuable support opportunities to help them be more successful at school — and make their time on campus more enjoyable.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in your current role?
I’m doing exactly what I want to do! I started this company with my founding team and a vision that we could build a culture of engineering prowess — products that have reach and push the limits — and that’s exactly what I want to continue to be a part of.
Favorite part of a Barnes & Noble College bookstore?
As a proud VCU alumnus, you’d probably find me in their bookstore’s general merchandise section.
Favorite book or book you’re currently reading?
I read quite a bit, along with listening to podcasts and audio books. As a newcomer to Chicago, I recently enjoyed Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City.
Digital or hard copy?
I always enjoy a hard copy book for any pleasurable reading. But I’m constantly listening to audio books and keeping up with news and technology, so that tends to happen on mobile devices.
Most valuable thing you’ve learned in your career so far?
Fundamentally, I’ve always prided myself on being a ‘do right’ business person and, from a design and product standpoint, I want to make sure that if we create something, it really will help people. I think that sense of good karma in business follows you. I’ve also learned that it’s often the people you work with, even more than the work you do, who are the most important to your own career and your future business.
Best day at Rocket Wagon?
I measure all my best days here by the amount of laughter that happens in that day, even if that laughter is a little nervous, because we’ve all decided to take on 20 extra hours of work to build out a product we really believe in! That’s a pretty good day.