Experiential marketing aficionado howie rubin on music, design, clocks, and living life to its fullest by slowing down.
Howie Rubin is a music lover. A social butterfly. A captivating and comedic storyteller. A home chef who likes to turn the heat up by choosing unfamiliar recipes to serve up at dinner parties. He’s brushed up against some of the biggest names in the music industry without losing his cool. He’s a New Yorker who became an accomplished business leader by age thirty, never leaving any part of himself behind. Most of all, Howie is an all-out experience seeker, and he’s now spent over twenty years designing and orchestrating memorable and meaningful experiences for global audiences.
Howie grew up in the suburb of New City, twenty minutes up the Hudson River from New York City. Despite being at a slight remove in what he describes as “a really suburban Jewish neighborhood,” Howie felt deeply connected to the city’s culture, energy, and architecture from a young age—an interest he says was spurred in part by his grandmother.
“My grandma Blanche was totally old world but she loved to travel and she loved architecture. She and my aunt lived together in a tiny apartment in Queens, but would take these amazing trips around the world. She turned me on to a lot of modern design and global architects like I.M. Pei and Frank Lloyd Wright at an early age” With his grandma nurturing the conceptual interest, Howie’s dad handed down the practical know-how and social finesse required to get things built.
“My dad had a huge workshop at our house and I would sit over his shoulder like a parrot. He built everything,” Howie says. “He’d throw a dinner party just to gather a group of friends who could help with the heavy lifting of whatever project he was in the middle of.”
As a result, Howie grew up with a whole bunch of tools, the appetite for making fine and functional art (he’s currently on a papier-mâché kick), the ability to lure a crowd, and the ambition to fix what’s broken (he’s keeping an illustrated diary of everything he’s repaired in 2022). When he wasn’t making stuff in his late teenage years and early 20’s, he was listening to music and going to raves. “I was a night owl and got pretty embedded in the electronic music scene, it wrapped up everything I felt about growing up near the city. I just gravitated to it—it was raw and creative in a way I hadn’t experienced before, and I met a lot of really expressive people.”
All the while, he was diligently studying business at SUNY Buffalo (after initially entering the architecture program). After road-tripping to Colorado with a friend during Spring break of his sophomore year, he rolled into Boulder and made the immediate decision to transfer to CU. He was soon enrolled and shifted from the warehouse music scene in Buffalo to dancing under the full moons of Colorado.
“Music has followed me everywhere,” he says. “It’s just this thread. It’s what I’ve always lived for.”
Intending to take a year off after graduation before diving into a career, Howie waited tables at Boulder’s Dushanbe Teahouse for about eight months. Soon a friend nudged him into an interview for the Action Marketing Group, the event marketing arm associated with the iconic Warren Miller Films—now in its 60th year. He was interviewed and hired as an intern by Rob Schuham, an integral player in Howie’s career and someone he would go on to work for and with, as well as develop a deep friendship, over the next two decades.
“Experiential marketing was an entirely new field at that point, so even though I was super young and inexperienced, it was an environment I felt comfortable in,” says Howie of his early years with the Action Marketing Group. “I started on accounts like Nike, Dockers, and Pepsi, producing experiences for niche audiences up to stadium-sized crowds. Right away, I felt at home. Rob and I were incredibly fortunate to work with a phenomenal team and brand partners and we grew the company from 12 employees to 600+, organically and through acquisitions, over the course of 20 years.”
Howie recounts a career-defining moment that occurred at the Nike Play festival in Harlem in 2001. “After I’d been working on the ground in New York for four months, Rob arrived and we got to the site for day-of load-in at 6am—greeted by locked chainlink fences. Rob looked at me and said, ‘What are you going to do?’ It was decision time and I said, ‘Grab the bolt cutters.’ Shortly after, Rob and I became partners in the agency.”
In 2018, Howie decided to pump the brakes on his travel-heavy, high-intensity career. He and his wife Deb had two young kids, and Howie remembers feeling like “he wanted to provide something else,” something that provided more spaciousness and presence for his family. “I love to hang out with my wife and kids,” he says. “We just play. I wanted more of that. I left my job and we went on a six-week trip to Southeast Asia. When we came home, I vowed to do nothing but bike, spend time with friends and family, and reorganize my nervous system for a year.”
And make a clock.
“It was around this time that Jamie was like, ‘Hey, I have this idea,’” Howie says. “Jamie and I have always talked about technology being pervasive in our lives—that’s just been a theme for us. I’m very steeped in technology but have major boundaries. The idea for OneClock spoke to me on a visceral level.”
“I’m a huge connector. I share a lot. I put everything on the table—emotions, feelings, you name it. And phones are a huge block to that,” Howie explains. "They disconnect people. They’re an energy killer. I knew this idea to get the phone out of the bedroom fit my needs, and because I know I'm not some special flower, I thought surely there are others with the same need.”
Perhaps more than anyone else, night owls need to find a way to make mornings easier. This was an opportunity for Howie to do just that, in a way that had the potential to impact a large audience. Also, it was going to be fun. He was especially drawn to the idea that with the right blueprint, the clock could transcend object-hood and become an experience, a marriage of his three big loves: music, design, and ambience. “The clock is like a little event, every day,” he says.
Howie acknowledges that his wayback decision to study business rather than architecture was a move he made for stability and comfort. But he has no regrets. Every one of his personal and professional endeavors has somehow allowed him to channel his energy in a way that has propelled him to the next right thing, experience to experience. “I just move toward what feels right, what I’m attracted to,” he says. “I’ve been really fortunate and have stepped into a lot of good situations, not always knowing they’d be exactly that. And here I am, ready for what’s next.”