Derek Jensen

Evan Olson

Derek Jensen
Evan Olson

Evan loves gathering people together when he isn't blogging, reading a book, or in his notes app.

Describe who you were as a kid.     

When I was about ten or so, I can remember this neighbor kid coming up to me and saying, “You always have your head in the clouds." I think it was meant as an insult, but I ended up taking it as a compliment. (Laughing)

Ask any of my close friends and they'll tell you that I have a very, very active imagination. I'm always jotting down ideas and concepts for a book I want to write someday. The notes section on my iPhone is definitely used often. 

Both reading and writing have been big parts of my life. I can clearly remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time and feeling completely enamored by Harper Lee’s storytelling abilities. Her characters felt so real and three-dimensional, especially Dill. I always felt sorry for him. You don’t know much about his life back home, but you know enough to understand it’s not an ideal environment.

Reading that book helped me to understand the innate power of the written word. While that memory doesn’t necessarily describe me, it definitely gives you a look at a moment that ultimately shaped who I am today.

What's keeping you busy?

I’m a program intern at Des Moines Social Club and that keeps me pretty busy during the week. It’s such a cool place and their overall mission really resonates with me. I love helping to provide people with a place to meet and to experience something out-of-the-ordinary. 

Once the seasons begin to change, I tend to read more often. It’s a wide variety - the New York Times’ Sunday Routine series, old issues of Fast Company, Seth Godin books – it goes on and on. My guilty pleasure is this lifestyle site called Love Taza. It’s all about this family living in New York and their lives seem so fun and effervescent.

Walk us through the days leading up to starting your own thing.

When I decided that if I was going to create content on a consistent basis than I needed a more formal online presence. I had been using Tumblr and I knew that I needed something more substantial going forward.

Building and designing a website is a really fun process and I think that having a well-designed site is important in this day and age. People look at your website and view it was your portfolio, so it’s vital that your site is visually appealing and easy to navigate.

Talk to us about a big fear you’ve had recently.

I’ve moving downtown at the beginning of next year and I’m really wanting to work on building my community. I think I imagined a really large friend group at this age (like Friends) but it has been more difficult to create than I anticipated. Once I move downtown, I think I’ll be able to concentrate more on inviting people over and hanging out.

To answer your question: I worry about finding “my people.”

"Absolutely nothing undermines the unity of a group like gossip."

Talk to us about one problem you’ve been focused on solving and why.

The first phrase that popped into my head is I hate gossip. I've served on a lot of different teams and I'm telling you: absolutely nothing undermines the unity of a group like gossip.

I have really firm boundaries about that sort of thing and my friends know that no matter how good the story may be, I don’t want to hear it if I’m not part of the problem or the solution.

Someone is starting a project for the first time, what’s your advice?

1.     Get advice from people who are older than you.

2.     Find people to work with who don’t have the same strengths as you. If you’re bad at organizing, it’s probably a good idea to work with someone who’s gifted in that area.

3.     Don’t think about the project 24/7. Balance your time.

4.   Also, don't look at your phone for the first hour of your day. We all know that endorphin kick we get from opening up Instagram, but I've found that it also stresses me out when I open it up first thing. I've been trying to reserve the morning for thinking and coffee - so far, so good! 

Why Des Moines?

Good question! It was definitely a conscious decision to stay here. Des Moines is a city that’s full of opportunity. I look around and see so many folks doing their own thing and absolutely killing it! It's very motivating. 

Regardless of the long term impact, I think it says a lot about our region when Facebook and Apple want to build here. It means they see what's happening here! I think the next few years will be a really exciting time for Des Moines. I think we'll see a lot of folks move to town because of the innovation happening and that influx will bring a lot of fresh ideas and fresh thinking. It’ll be a win/win.

"Des Moines is a city that’s full of opportunity. I look around and see so many folks doing their own thing and absolutely killing it! It's very motivating."

What’s one new thing in DSM that caught your eye?

Lately, I’ve been really impressed with Nicole’s work at Preservation. I think she’s a great example of someone doing their own thing and doing it really well. She’s chosen to live in Des Moines, but isn’t allowing the city to constrict her creativity. When I think of successful people, she comes to mind right away. I think she’s especially savvy with marketing and promotion. Her overall brand is very cohesive.

Someone just moved to DSM. What do they need to do first and why?

I would say the very first place you should go is Horizon Line. It's the kind of place that makes our city feel like a home. I think it has impacted the city so much already and it's not even six months old. Go there and you'll feel like you belong here.

Also: Eatery A for pizza and wine, RoCA for drinks, and Cheese Bar for communal dining.

What is your favorite item or product you bought locally in DSM? Why should someone else buy it?

I recently purchased a print from Domestica. It's a print of the state of Iowa and and each county has a logo featuring a brand that originated from that portion of the state. Right now it's hanging up in my workplace down at the Social Club.

"I think people expect me to be a chatterbox because I have a blog, but I can be a total introvert if I want to be."

What are you most proud of and why?

I’m a doer. I love dreaming, but I also love doing what it takes to realize a dream.

It’s easy to dream of doing interesting things, but it’s a whole other ballgame when you actually start implementing your ideas - it will never not scare me. Someone once told me, “Excitement sometimes feels like fear.” I’m learning to do things even when I’m scared.

In three months what do you hope to accomplish?

Ha! This question made me think long and hard about, well, life. I find it easy to get caught up in planning my days and weeks, but I think it’s wise to focus on months and years, too. Our culture is so fast-paced, so I'm drawn to this concept of living in such a way that your impact isn't necessarily immediate. 

I’m not even sure if that answers your question. Does it? I guess I want to be more aware of long-term goals and less concerned with being instantly gratified.

What’s one thing people need to know you really care about?

I have such a deep need to connect people. At this point, it's not even conscious, it's just something I do! I love gathering people together and seeing strangers become friend.

I also enjoy having conversations with people I'll never see again. I know it sounds weird, but it’s not. There’s a special magic about those interactions because you both know you’ll never meet again and I think it frees you up to be more transparent.

Last spring, I was riding the shuttle from LaGuardia and asked the guy next to me if he was from New York. He was actually from Chicago and had flown into the City for an audition that afternoon! He landed at 9am, his audition was at noon, and he was due to fly back to Chicago at 6pm. We only talked for a few minutes, but I’ve always wondered how his audition went. (Laughing)  

Short conversations like that make the world feel smaller and kinder. It’s easy to have them in other cities, but I find it harder to do here in Des Moines. That’s something else I’ll be working on: more spontaneous conversations. I think people expect me to be a chatterbox because I have a blog, but I can be a total introvert if I want to be.