Technology is a part of branding that professionals need to get right. Remaining on the cutting edge of technology can place a business ahead of competitors, and sometimes, getting ahead of the pack is as simple as having a functional, clean website. Navigating the hi-tech sphere can be tricky, with its ever-changing nature and constant innovation. But if companies aren’t sure where—or how—to get started, Michael La Plante is prepared to help.

La Plante is the lead front-end developer at Proforma, a distributor based in Cleveland, Ohio, with 650 member offices across the United States and Canada. Among other things, the company works with member companies to augment and streamline the integration of promotional products, along with commercial printing, business forms and ecommerce solutions. At Proforma, La Plante is responsible for remaining abreast of leading technologies to incorporate into existing processes, along with mentoring the development team, guiding them to grow both as individuals and developers. He also works closely with Application Development Manager Josh Young and Chief Technology Officer Brian Carothers “to drive decisions to place Proforma at the forefront of technology in the print and promotional products industry.”

Having attended grade school in the ’90s, La Plante’s passion for technology sparked during a time of massive industry growth. The World Wide Web, HTML protocol and HTML language were first developed in 1990, web browser Netscape Navigator was launched in 1993, Internet Explorer in 1995, Microsoft’s Windows 95 became available in 1995 and email started growing in popularity, specifically Microsoft’s Hotmail. “I was just a kid who grew up in the age of technology and fell in love,” he says.

La Plante now shares his passion and expertise with audiences nationwide, having led some 53 speaker sessions on topics ranging from front-end technologies to entrepreneurship, networking, working remotely, designer and developer collaboration and more. Recently, he spoke on a livestream YouTube session during the 10th Annual Hall of Fame Week at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida—La Plante’s alma mater—with Margaret Haag, product design manager for Capital One, discussing the relationship between designers and developers in the workplace, which included LinkedIn as a sponsor.

PPB What are some of the most rewarding/enjoyable parts of your position? Challenges?

I think some of the most rewarding parts of my job are getting to work with our entire development team and watching them grow. We have an amazing model here at Proforma, where we foster a culture of learning, and it’s really rewarding getting to watch the other developers on the team help the new hires with a problem I helped them with not six months earlier.

I also find it rewarding to know that the system we are currently working on is going to change the print and promotional products industry forever. I get to come to work each day to develop a system that is fundamentally changing the way people are running and growing their businesses. There is no other system like this currently in the industry, and it gives me a lot of pride to know what this team has accomplished together. I love my job, so I wouldn’t say there are many challenges that come with it, aside from continuing to make the technology better, and position the company as the place that people want to work in the technology sector.

PPB What are some of the projects that you have helped put together?

I’ve had the pleasure and resources to be able to work with some amazing clients over my career. I’ve worked on short turnaround projects with Shell, doing one of their gas giveaway campaigns, to larger ecommerce offerings for Under Armour. I’ve also had the opportunity to work on large-scale health care and business applications, as well as in the cyber security industry. Early on in my career, I worked on a lot of old-school, integrated application giveaways on Facebook; think $5 coupons or free appetizers for some major restaurant chains.

PPB Are there new trends in interface design and development, both for mobile and web, that you’ve noticed in the promo industry recently—or across all industries?

I have definitely noticed a trend, in general, for always being connected and have technology no matter where you may be located. This makes my job really fun, because we are always focusing on delivering the best experience possible with what we like to call the “shortest load times.” So I am, almost weekly, analyzing our technology and problem-solving to figure out how we can make a page load faster to deliver a better experience.

PPB What are a few takeaways that you can offer to people who are just starting a business—whether in or out of the promo industry—who haven’t yet launched their website, on the importance of doing so?

I cannot stress enough how absolutely imperative it is to have a website for your business. It does not need to be something crazy fancy, just something to get your information and message out there. Your website should be easy to follow, easy to find and, most importantly, it should convey your current and future business well. It’s important to remember we all walk around with super computers in our pockets these days with information available to us at all times and almost instantly. It’s important to take advantage of this and use it to propel your business.


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.