Endless Curiousity: Urban Office Member Brook Miller Is Always Listening and Learning

Endless Curiousity: Urban Office Member Brook Miller Is Always Listening and Learning


Brook Miller

When you complain about your software on a review site, or comment on a wish-list item on your home stereo equipment on Reddit, or ask the Twitterverse if anyone else’s nail polish is doing this weird thing you noticed, Brook Miller is listening.

Well, actually, indexing tools that Brook’s team built to gather data from these kind of sites are listening. But a human on Brook’s team will see it in the end — and help their clients figure out how to address online trends and gripes.

This is actually an official Thing called “social listening.” But in 2003, before it was a Thing, Brook Miller was employee #1 at a startup called MotiveQuest, doing that thing. After business school at Kellogg, Brook came to Portland to work for Intel and got recruited for Chicago startup but elected to stay on the West Coast. He helped build the technology that made social listening possible for MotiveQuest and manages a team of 8 to keep this technology humming and cutting edge.

His favorite thing about his job is the discovery. One of MotiveQuest’s earliest clients was PlayStation, and Brook & co. dug into forums and discussion groups to learn what people liked about the games, what they didn’t, and even how packaging affected their audience’s perceptions of what game play would be like. For other clients, Brook has listened in on Makeup Alley and also investigated the “feminine care products” industry. As uncomfortable and unknown as that space initially was, Brook says, figuring out what issues there were and how to better meet consumers’ needs was fascinating. For instance, in the ever-growing athleisure wear space, Motive Quest has helped big brands understand how to describe the intended fit and feel of specific pieces beyond just XS to XL. Is it supposed to be tight? Will it fit curvy or less curvy women better? Will it breathe?

Tapping into endless curiosity to help clients ask new questions, to figure out new methodologies for gathering and engaging with data, and taking deep dives into topics he’d never given even a third or fourth thought to are what have kept things fresh and exciting for Brook at Motive Quest (now LRW Motive Quest, after acquisition) for the past 13 years.

Urban Office came into Brook’s life when he met Eric Freeman while waterskiing at a Fourth of July get-together. The Portland MotiveQuest team was at another coworking space that just wasn’t quite working for them — and Brook says hearing Eric talk about the space, he was on board right away. He loves UO’s modern, industrial design and that it feels open and inviting even while offering lots of private workspaces.

Brook is a coworking member who gathers his team for weekly work-together days in a meeting room, connecting and hammering things out — and eating. If you’ve ever walked by one of their meetings over lunchtime, you are definitely aware that these guys know how to forage a great spread from the neighborhood! For a big, tasty lunch down the road, Brook recommends Bamboo Grove Hawaiian Grill: “They do not serve small plates.”

I ask Brook who in Portland is inspiring him right now. “Well — can I say my wife?” he asks me, knowing it might come across cliche but also that it’s absolutely true. And of course, I tell him he can say he’s inspired by his wife, Amy Miller, who, he tells me, has recently become executive director of Youth, Rights & Justice. What inspires Brook is that his wife has been doing work in juvenile justice for 15 years and is still passionate and involved 24/7, because she just believes so strongly in the importance and value of keeping families together and protecting our youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems.

As for book recommendations, Brook didn’t have to think for even a second: “The Hard Thing about Hard Things,” he said. “The author, Ben Horowitz, shares his history and things he learned. He actually created Netscape and cofounded the largest VC firm in the world. He doesn’t say, ‘Use my one magical formula and achieve wild success’–he says, you know, the reason business is hard is because a lot of the things that go into it are hard and uncomfortable.”

For you TL;DR folks …

The Skinny

Employee #1 at pioneering social listening company MotiveQuest, Brook Miller builds technologies that gather consumer feedback from social media, forums, and product review sites. His favorite thing is the constant discovery in topics he never thought to be interested in.

Typical client: The same types of folks you see advertising on TV; big firms that are reaching out to the general public. Current & former clients include P&G, PlayStation, Nike, Estee Lauder, and the NFL.

Why Portland: After business school at Kellogg, Brook came to Portland to work for Intel — and stayed to be employee #1 at an exciting new startup. (Meeting his wife here made a big difference too!)

Why Urban Office: After July-Fourth waterskiing with Eric Freeman and seeing the modern, inviting space at Urban Office, he was hooked.

Influential book: The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz

Neighborhood recommendation: Bamboo Grove Hawaiian Grill

Inspiring Portlander: Amy Miller, executive director of Youth, Rights & Justice (and Brook’s wife)

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