What the Heck Is Poke?

The first in a series of investigations into the mysterious storefronts of Tribeca….

Tom Ajello and Aaron Rutledge, two of the three founders of Poke (11 Harrison), agreed to introduce themselves and show me around. Beyond the “meeting room” visible through the window is a narrow hallway that leads to a bullpen. The company’s motto, “Don’t Give Up,” appears on several walls.

From left: Tom Ajello and Aaron Rutledge

What is Poke?
Aaron: Poke is a brand and business innovation company.

What does that mean?
Tom: We come from multidisciplinary backgrounds in design, product development, branding, and technology. Advertising doesn’t work anymore, so we invent new businesses, new products, that do better than advertising ever could. Our clients are the head of innovation at companies.

Sort of like advertising meets consulting?
Tom: Sure. [Pause.] Can we use that?

What’s an example of how you’ve helped someone?
Aaron and Tom [not in unison—I just combined what they said]: Simon Fuller of “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance” had an idea for 10 years, but the technology had never been up to snuff. Two years ago he said, “Let’s take another swing at this—let’s find someone who can figure it out,” so his company, 19 Entertainment, came to us. His idea was to take the concept of “Big Brother”—the TV show—and smash it against the part of “American Idol” where you see the contestants getting ready. We invented a new service/product/advertising system/technology platform called IfICanDream.com. Five kids with different talents—a model, an actress, a singer-songwriter, and so on—live in a house in Hollywood. They have to use social networking to build their careers. We show them 24/7: The house and the website are inextricably bound.

How many of you are there at Poke?
Tom: The office in London has about 60 people. This one has about 25.

How long have you been here?
Tom: We moved to Harrison Street in January—we were at Bowery and Bond for three years before that. The London office has been around for eight years.

Why Tribeca? Why Harrison Street? Why this particular space?
Tom: I’ve always dreamed of having a storefront space. It’s a thing of mine. We’re in Tribeca because we don’t want to be in the advertising community—we got as far away as we could. There are a lot of storefronts available now. I have a grandiose dream of opening another store here….

The "meeting room" in front

The bullpen in back

Do people ever walk in thinking it’s a shop or something?
Aaron: All the time.
Tom: People think we’re a café. We should sell coffee. We do have Stumptown….
Aaron: People come looking for a job, too. They just barge in and give us stuff. We’ll find people sitting in our chairs.
Tom: One guy snuck in and put a wallet in the bathroom. It had an ID with my name on it, five fake credit cards, and a URL saying who to contact if it was lost. I was in a meeting and someone was like, “I found your wallet in the bathroom.”
Aaron: Also, fire trucks tend to stop here a lot. The firefighters hang out outside for a while, then leave.

What do the neighbors think of you?
Aaron: Some guy tried to give us paintings.
Tom: We’re big Terroir fans. We’ll probably invent something for them. We do a lot of meetings at Bubby’s.
Aaron: I love Indian food, so Tamarind’s fantastic if you have an hour, or Salaam Bombay.
Tom: The only big bummer is the lack of good coffee right around here—Kaffe 1668 is a schlep. Locanda Verde is good (and getting better at being a café).

You should try Moomah, up on Hudson. Why is it called Poke?
We’re a collaborative beast: There’s no one person that everything gets filtered through. Everyone works on everything, all the way to the goal line. We live out loud. So if I see you need help, I’ll come over and poke you. [Demonstrates.]

This was great! Thank you very much. I’m sure people will be as fascinated to learn more about Poke as I was.
Tom: Tell people our site has a live webcam—it’s the “contact us” link. We’ll talk to people.
Aaron: If we remember to turn it on.



  1. RBC Coffee in Worth ST. is probably the best coffee in the City. Only a short walk from your office!

  2. Raise the webcam window and the button to close it is obscured by a badge for Livestream, so site must be escaped. There’s good thinking going on here!

  3. I want to start the sister company: “Prod”

    can you complete this sentence for me? Poke, Prod, and _______ .

    If it means an Invoice is coming…..nevermind :-)

    I don’t know why but Poke, Prod and Pringle come to mind at first.

    Can I have the coffee concession?

  4. “can you complete this sentence for me? Poke, Prod, and _______ .”
    Poke, Prod, and Push?

  5. I’m going to go with “palpate.” Poke, Prod, and Palpate: a massage firm waiting to happen….