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Episode 8 April 12, 2016 | 33min

Takin’ it Meta

Our podcasting co-founders Paul Ford and Rich Ziade make a podcast about a podcast.

Show Notes

This week Paul and Rich make a podcast about making a podcast — or more specifically, about the difficulties of publishing content on disparate platforms across the web. They discuss native advertising versus more traditional marketing, and Rich asks for clarification: “I just need to know Paul Ford hasn’t whored himself out.” Plus they answer a few listener questions and discuss how to build a team.

Paul Ford: Hello and welcome to Track Changes. My name is Paul Ford, and here is my partner —

Rich Ziade: Rich Ziade. That’s like a call out. It could be like there’s the signature call out.

Paul: Thanks for taking it meta, Rich. Let’s get going with today’s podcast!

Rich: Great.

Paul: OK, we’ve got a newsletter now. We’ve got a podcast. We’re doing all this stuff, right?

Rich: Marketing.

Paul: Oh my God. All right, so there’s a lot of marketing. It’s great. I’m really happy to be writing a newsletter every day. That’s actually really fun for me. But what I’m realizing is we’re building a media platform.

Rich: Whatever, Paul.

Paul: I know, OK, but there is stuff everywhere. The entire web has become and insane garbage heap of interlocking platforms that don’t quite talk to each other.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: When we publish this podcast, I put it in this thing called Libsyn for LIBERATED SYNDICATION!

Rich: Is that what it stands for? I didn’t know that.

Paul: It’s bad. And the forms on Libsyn look like something that goes into Microsoft Access that you’d run on a Windows 95 machine.

Rich: Yeah, it’s pretty dated.

Paul: It’s pretty dated, and you fill out the data, and you don’t know how it’s going to look on iTunes. It doesn’t load into Overcast right away, and you cannot tell what’s broken.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Then I publish — everyday I try to put our newsletter into Medium. Then I cut and paste it into MailChimp.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: When I cut and paste it, the images always break, so I go in and I hand edit the HTML and make the pictures a certain width and make it all a little better.

Rich: In MailChimp.

Paul: In MailChimp. And then I send that out. I think this might be where we’ve ended up.

Rich: How do you mean?

Paul: I mean that you’re not supposed to build your own media anything anymore. You’re supposed to go where the audience is and build distribution there. I’m going to build my mailing list in MailChimp. I’m going to use my Medium audience. I’m going to use my Twitter account to promote all of that. And I’m going to syndicate all my podcasts out to all the different podcast networks, and let sort of everything trickle back in.

Rich: I mean that is marketing for us essentially.

Paul: It’s marketing, but this is also how media platforms are supposed to work. Any new media company that is out there, they’re like, “OK, we’re going to start on YouTube, and then we’ll eventually figure out where we’re going to go.”

Rich: Right.

Paul: It’s all really broken. It’s all really hard to use, and it’s no fun.

Rich: It’s very disjointed.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Content can’t help but trip on itself as it hops from place to place.

Paul: That’s right.

Rich: I think that’s what happens.

Paul: What do you you? What do we do to fix that?

Rich: There are tools that are trying to solve this because they see an opening.

Paul: Like what?

Rich: Buffer is trying to do something like that.

Paul: Right, so Buffer lets you post a tweet to Facebook or Twitter and schedule it. That way you have this like steady trickle.

Rich: And propagate it, so it’s sort of …

Paul: It’s very Pavlovian though. It’s like the dog getting a certain treat, like, “Hey, we’ll just feed your audience like the animal garbage that they are.”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: That’s what I hate about it. It’s like it’s not actually about crafting experiences. It’s about let’s schedule this so that the analytics are boosted.

Rich: I think the tension, or the …

Paul: I should point out I’m a very happy Buffer user. I’m enjoying it and we pay for it.

Rich: I like Buffer actually.

Paul: Yeah, no.

Rich: It’s really cool.

Paul: I hope you guys all like your little trickle of pellets out there in podcast land.

Rich: Little snacks. I think where we’re at is people are working really hard so that marketing doesn’t look like marketing, and it looks, like, genuine — I mean, you hit on it before because you sort of roll your eyes and say, “God, they’re going to see through this.”

Paul: What bugs me is that no one will just accept it. This is marketing. I’m having fun doing it. I like writing my daily corporate newsletter. I’m not going to go do like a six-part investigation into why the venture capital industry is evil.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Because that would screw up my world.

Rich: Right.

Paul: I’m just not going to do it.

Rich: We want to deliver. I think this is what marketing is at least for us.

Paul: That’s a bad example because the venture capital, I would actually probably do that. If somebody wanted to pay me to go write about why venture capital is —

Rich: Yeah. Look, you’re a writer, right?

Paul: Sometimes.

Rich: A pretty well-known writer, and I think what we’re trying — here’s what you’re backing into.

Paul: The venture capital industry is evil. OK, what I’m backing into. Sorry.

Rich: I think what a lot of people are trying to back into is how do we —

Paul: Those people are monsters.

Rich: Rather than just put up a billboard with the new and improved above our name, we have to deliver value and latch our names to it. So I’m going to give you something of value, and then at the bottom, sort of coyly, I’m going to mention that we are Postlight and we sell services. That is, in many ways, how marketing is evolving now.

Paul: I think what you’re saying really, it’s all conversational. Everything is a conversation and anybody can talk back at any moment.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Because it’s all conversational, that begets more conversation. It’s just like, “Oh, OK.”

Rich: You’re hoping that.

Paul: It has to keep going. I’ll give you an example. Something that happened to me. I was once paid to write some native content, like native advertising, for GE. Little company, upstate New York, not a lot of people have heard of them.

Rich: Wow.

Paul: General Electric.

Rich: OK. Go ahead. This is interesting.

Paul: It was via Medium. They paid handsomely.

Rich: OK.

Paul: I have a little policy. I always like to kiss the hoof. Everyone’s like, “Oh my god, native advertising, it’s ruining everything!” And I’m like, “OK, fine. Maybe it is, but let’s try it. Let’s see what it’s like.”

Rich: OK.

Paul: I’m going to have just a little heroin. Just a little bit and see if I like it.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It’s an interesting experience. I wrote about the future. It’s like I wrote this sci-fi piece about the future of cars, like cars forming an ad-hoc network, delivering things.

Rich: I’m going to stop you for a second. Did they tell you what to write about?

Paul: No. They said, “Write about the future.” And I —

Rich: OK, so they gave you some guardrails, very wide.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Write about the future. That’s it?

Paul: Pretty much.

Rich: At the top, it’s going to say, “GE: Powering Your Home.”

Paul: Pretty much. It was just brought to you by.

Rich: OK. They just wanted that association.

Paul: I put things that were kind of related to major GE endeavors into the piece, and they were like, “Nah, take those out.”

Rich: Yup. Interesting.

Paul: They didn’t want any of it.

Rich: See, here’s what I struggle with around this kind of content. It’s actually a lot cleaner than banner ads. Classmates.com is in a box and then your essay is below it, right?

Paul: Fine.

Rich: For number one, version one. Common, more common. Version two is this essay on the future is brought to you by GE. Here’s what I struggle with, right? What I struggle with is that the agenda of the advertiser has seeped into and driven the content, and I don’t know what to make of it. I’ve seen this for a long time in the very small print advertising section you see inside The Atlantic for like eight pages, and you didn’t realize it was that, and then you saw the fine print.

Paul: I have a thesis.

Rich: Go.

Paul: OK.

Rich: Just to finish the thought: I want to know that when I see a piece by Paul Ford, a writer I really respect and I really enjoy his writing, I need to know that it’s an uncompromised piece of writing.

Paul: What if it says “sponsored by GE” on the top?

Rich: I think knowing that they gave you a homework assignment, and I don’t know. You just explained to me the boundaries, which aren’t bad, but I don’t know. I’d say, “Look, Paul.” Here, I’m going to be GE for a second. “Look, Paul. We’ve got a big plan. We’re putting about three billion dollars into…”

Paul: Turbines.

Rich: Self-driving cars.

Paul: OK.

Rich: “I need you to start the conversation here. I need it to come under Paul Ford’s name. I’m not asking you to do anything. I just need you to write about self-driving cars, and say it in your own words, and tell your own story, but I’m just going to put GE up at the top because I need to start to create that correlation. I need to start to plant those seeds.”

The problem we have here, as the reader, is that you just explained to me the boundaries, and they weren’t bad, but the truth is I don’t’ know what those boundaries are. If I pick up the Paul Ford piece, I’m like, “Oh shit. Ford’s writing — ”

Paul: They always blur, but here’s the thing that I observe. First of all, I don’t think they —

Rich: Very dangerous in my view.

Paul: They didn’t particularly know who I was. I think I was sort of put out there by —

Rich: Yeah, but I know who you are. I’m the reader.

Paul: OK. Fine. But what I realized was going on, because I published it on Medium, and I could see my own analytics for how the piece did, it performed pretty well.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: What I realized what might be going on is that you’re GE, you have a certain amount of money to just spend on stuff, social media. You have a Twitter account with a quarter million followers. You have a Tumblr account, who knows why. You have a Facebook presence and so on. You actually need to use those to link to something. You can’t just link to anything. You can’t be like, “Hey, go check this out in The New York Times,” because the bottom of the page might pop up and be like “Hudson Yards Clean Up” — or “Hudson River Clean Up” or whatever.

Rich: You have to control the content.

Paul: You have to control it. It’s very important.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: There’s this tremendous vacuum of content that corporations can actually sponsor.

Rich: Fine.

Paul: That has been created by social media.

Rich: Fine.

Paul: Right?

Rich: I get their agenda and I get why they do it.

Paul: No, but people don’t think about it that way. They think of it as an invading force into the media. I think what they basically are looking at is like, we need to fill up the gap that we’ve created over here and the media, as an industry, which is a tiny, tiny little — like, the entire media industry is roughly the size of GE, right?

Rich: Right.

Paul: It’s like … Whatever.

Rich: All right, but I’m going to be a reader who really respects and values Paul Ford. I just need to know Paul Ford hasn’t whored himself out.

Paul: OK, but I literally whore myself out every single day writing a newsletter for our company.

Rich: I know, but this is what I want to get to. This is something I need to come to terms with because I think it nets out pretty good. This podcast is not around because we have to feed our egos and —

Paul: No, no. This is an opportunity for people to get to know us so that, if they get into a room with us, they actually know what to expect.

Rich: No, but also to market Postlight.

Paul: That’s what I mean.

Rich: That’s why this exists.

Paul: No, but that’s what I mean. If you hear this, you’re like, “All right, I get what it’s going to be like to actually work with these people.” In a way, I feel it’s honest marketing that way. We’re kind of …

Rich: I think so too.

Paul: We’re trying not to cover that aspect of ourselves up because when somebody walks in the door, we’re going to be kind of a pain in the ass about getting their work done.

Rich: I think you’re jumping ahead here, Paul. Yes, they’re getting to know us a little bit, but more than anything else, you’re just hoping that this just gets more and more popular and more and more people hear about Postlight.

Paul: That would be nice.

Rich: I’m not even thinking further than that, and that’s fine.

Paul: OK. All right, I’ll take that.

Rich: Should we just end this podcast forever?

Paul: We could.

Rich: No. No, because we’re doing good work.

Paul: For who?

Rich: For the listener.

Paul: All right, for the listener.

Rich: It’s worth it.

Paul: We need to help the listener more then. We need to do better.

Rich: I need to come to terms with the fact that marketing today has evolved to a place where it’s a little more subtle, and a little more obfuscated, and that’s OK.

Paul: Well…here’s what I would argue. The last thing I would say on that is that I bring things a lot back to tools. I think tools have an enormous influence on what people are able to do.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: The world of the big text box with the headline is the world that created native advertising.

Rich: Fair.

Paul: The content that people are creating that everyone’s, like, glomming onto, it’s like it’s the forms that they already know that exist. Meanwhile, over here on the right, it also gets really tricky on stuff like Instagram, right? Where it’s like I have four million followers, and I also really love this yogurt drink.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Right? And that’s…it’s so blurry and so messy in there, and I think part of it —

Rich: I was just reading yesterday about this woman who has …

Paul: With the tremendous abs.

Rich: You read this too?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: She had to explain to her followers that the Dyson that she loves was not sponsored by Dyson.

Paul: She just really likes a certain vacuum cleaner.

Rich: She just really likes it. You can’t like a vacuum cleaner on Instagram anymore.

Paul: No, you can’t. Not unless, I mean —

Rich: You could have two hundred followers and nobody cares.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: If you have millions, you need to explain your vacuum affiliation.

Paul: I mean, this is the thing, Rich, right? We’ve got these platforms that are all over the place.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You make your media in a million different directions using a million different tools.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: And then you have these ad networks and ad products that are sort of like poured in from a bucket on top of all of it.

Rich: Sort of like a glaze of sorts.

Paul: [heavy sigh]

Rich: These platforms are like a big cinnamon bun, and then that white glaze that gives you a stomachache.

Paul: Ugh like at Cinnabon, yeah.

Rich: It’s just ad networks getting poured on top.

Paul: Yeah, that clay.

Rich: That’s a strong metaphor.

Paul: Sugar clay.

Rich: Yeah, we know how to title this podcast.

Paul: It’s tricky, right? I’m going to keep uploading the podcast to Libsyn. I’m going to keep using Medium and MailChimp.

Rich: Newsletter.

Paul: I think everyone who wants to communicate out in the big world and build their own platform and —

Rich: Build a voice.

Paul: Build a voice.

Rich: Yup.

Paul: Is in the same bind. There’s no magical product that’s going to fix this just yet.

Rich: No.

Paul: Should we go build one?

Rich: [shuddering noise]

Paul: It’s a lot, right?

Rich: Gasp.

Paul: When we go talk to big media companies, that’s not where they are either.

Rich: No.

Paul: Everyone is in this boat together.

Rich: They’re not ready, yeah.

Paul: There’s no magic future solution that everyone is going to converge on.

Rich: Unifying force, no.

Paul: Unless it’s just like, “Oh, we let Facebook handle it all for us, or Apple.”

Rich: We may not get to decide that ourselves.

Paul: No. They’re going to decide for us. So maybe our cross-platform future just happens when Facebook buys all the companies and says, “Here’s how you do it.”

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Yay.

Rich: Yay.

Paul: OK, I hope that…that’s something to look forward to.

Rich: Cool.

Paul: Rich, there’s a question. We encourage people to get in touch with us at [email protected] and ask us any questions that they might have. We have one here from Andrew.

Rich: Let’s do it.

Paul: OK. Andrew has a kind of long question. I’m going to read it. “Here’s my question: I’m one of those insufferable twenty somethings that you talked about in episode two, so please forgive me if this is an easy fix.”

Rich: Did we say that?

Paul: Probably. We’re kind of dicks. “Right now I’m marketing a product that’s been proven by existing customers to reduce time on a tedious task by 98%, thus saving customers proverbial time and money. Unfortunately, because this is such an outrageous reduction, most people we talk to say it just doesn’t work like that, or that’s just not plausible, even with concrete statistics and case studies. What’s the best way to cut through the clutter?”

Rich: I just want to first off — when you’re creating something that you think is disruptive, a certain level of delusion is really important. You just need to believe that you’ve got it, and this guy believes it, so credit to Andrew for just saying, “Hey.”

Paul: 98% better. Whatever it does.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: All right, we have to come up with something concrete that it does so we can talk about it. It cuts your mortgage payment by 98%. What does it do, in your head? What could you ever conceivably…?

Rich: It’s a, what do they call it? The produce drawer in the fridge?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: That if you take the lemon out in a certain way, it just squeezes the juice out of it.

Paul: Oh my God. It’s a self-boiling egg.

Rich: A self-boiling egg. Thank you. It has a little button on it. You just hit boop, and it just boils.

Paul: OK, so there’s a whole world out there going, “I never want to self-boil my eggs. I like to boil my eggs on the stove in boiling water.”

Rich: Right, so some chefs and some people said, “It just doesn’t work like that, Andrew.”

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: He just feels pity for them because it does.

Paul: At the same time, he’s in the defensive position, because they won’t hit the button on the egg.

Rich: OK, we’re almost making fun of Andrew at this point, so let’s —

Paul: We shouldn’t do that. Sorry, Andrew.

Rich: Let’s answer his question. What’s the best way to cut through the clutter? The best way to cut through the clutter is put it out and let the world fall in love.

Paul: Just tell the story relentlessly and exhausting —

Rich: No, actually don’t tell the story. Put it out in the world, and let it disrupt. Let it do what you’re saying it does, it’s going to do, which is reduce a tedious task by 98%. If it’s really going to do that, it will work. It will take off, and it will speak for itself.

Paul: That’s true. Eventually someone is going to be like, “I’d actually rather just hit the button on the egg.”

Rich: Exactly. Every so often we create something that explodes because of its utility, immediately obvious utility, and it just takes care of itself. Stop pitching and just put it out in the world.

Paul: Yup. The next time somebody writes in with one of these, you kind of do have to tell us what it is.

Rich: It would be helpful.

Paul: Yeah. It’s hard to give specific advice —

Rich: I’m actually curious about Andrew’s invention.

Paul: I know. Also, it’s 98% better.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: That’s a lot.

Rich: It’s confidence, and I think that’s the right attitude to have.

Paul: It is. It is.

Rich: All right. Thank you, Andrew, for writing in. Please write more.

Paul: OK. Rich, I’ve got a question.

Rich: Let’s hear it.

Paul: Dederick writes, “In a recent podcast, you basically said WordPress isn’t a good platform to use for a presidential campaign website. What would be warning signs that the platform/solution you choose was the wrong one, developed in house or not?” First, we really should clarify. WordPress is very powerful.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: We use it. Some of our clients use it.

Rich: It was also, I think, a joke.

Paul: It’s tricky for people. I don’t think we can assume that people get out subtle content-management humor shadings all of the time.

Rich: Yeah. Our CMS stand-up routines aren’t landing.

Paul: Yeah, exactly. You’ve got to understand. WordPress has been around for a while, and even it’s archest defenders will admit that internally it’s a little bit of a hairball. It’s been getting better.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: But it is a lot of code, and it’s difficult to modify. Part of it’s success has meant that it has a lot of janky plug-ins that do things like SEO.

Rich: Yeah, but you know what? Most of the time, it’s probably the right call. In a lot of cases, people have bigger ambition and they want to conquer the world, but really, WordPress, some very, very big brands and platforms run on WordPress.

Paul: The tricky thing for me, too, is it’s really hard in our world because there’s a lot of things I like and don’t like about WordPress, but we live in this very marketing-based technology culture.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: So it’s hard to talk about it critically as like this giant thing that runs 20% of the web, which it does. It’s enormous.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You say a word against it, and everybody is like, “No, no, wait a minute.” You have to be either completely black or white on these things in the public sphere.

Rich: Which just isn’t the case.

Paul: It’s crazy, and no one at WordPress is totally black and white on WordPress. Nobody in the media industry who uses it to host sites that have millions of users.

Rich: Sure, it’s another option.

Paul: There’s this thing that happens in the public sphere where you’re either a fan or you’re a critic, and everyone gets really upset.

Rich: That’s just the human condition in a way.

Paul: Exactly. I just sort of want to clarify that. I’m going to continue to make fun of and criticize WordPress until I die because it will still be here.

Rich: Also, it got big enough. I mean, that’s success in my mind.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: We make fun of Madonna. We make fun of a lot of huge phenomena.

Paul: It is a little weird in our industry, right?

Rich: It’s a beast.

Paul: I know Matt Mullenweg. I ended up at a dinner with him once.

Rich: Here we go with the name dropping.

Paul: No. I mean, I’ve never name-dropped on the show so far. It feels uncomfortable because, when I make fun of that product, I see a human being who has human feelings, and is a human person across me, across the table, right?

Rich: OK.

Paul: What they have accomplished is very significant. It’s an open-source product. They’re focused on an open web.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: They’ve had some incredible entrepreneurial success, but at the same time, it’s just there’s a part of me also that’s like…WordPress. Because it’s so successful, it’s the …

Rich: There’s debt, right? It’s old. It’s not old as in rickety. It’s old as in there’s lots piled up, and it just has a lot of…you ever meet someone for the first time, and they’re twenty nine, and you can just tell there’s a lot there?

Paul: Right.

Rich: There’s a bad story or a couple of bad stories that have shaped that person.

Paul: Sure.

Rich: But they’ve got it. They’ve kind of pieced it together, and they’re sort of carrying what they experienced in their lives. That’s WordPress. [laughter]

Paul: That’s right. They have a lot of memories of going —

Rich: How about we answer the guy’s question instead of expounding on WordPress?

Paul: OK. All right, let’s do it.

Rich: What would be warning signs that the platform solution you choose was the wrong one?

Paul: There’s a couple things. Problem scaling is one. I think the number one warning sign I see with any content management system is an over-reliance on caching in order to publish pages.

Rich: I don’t know if he’s talking about publishing CMS necessarily. I think he’s asking a pretty broad question here.

Paul: What would be the warning signs that the platform/solution you choose was the wrong one?

Rich: Yeah. I mean, this is almost metaphysical, this question.

Paul: No, let’s start at the very basics. The first warning sign is you can’t access it, or it breaks a lot.

Rich: Sure.

Paul: That’s an actual warning sign that many people ignore.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You’re trying to put content in, and it keeps giving you various errors, but when you refresh the page …

Rich: Yeah. You’re narrowing on content again, but …

Paul: No. No, but you have to put stuff into a platform as a user, as an editor.

Rich: Yes. Is it busting on you early days?

Paul: Is it busting, or even at any kind of scale. Let’s say there’s 50,000 users, and you keep getting these bug reports? That’s a sign that the platform is the wrong one. That it’s not scaling or you haven’t put it together properly.

Rich: I’d add a second bullet. A warning sign to me is if you’ve imposed it on the team. If the team is pumped and excited about the platform that they want you to get behind, and they want to commit to, it’s a whole other game. If you force a platform on a team, they may be able to do it. The team is all pro-Python, and you tell them, “Guys, we’re going Java,” and you’re going to force that on them. They’re capable. The energy and momentum and passion behind a team that gets to decide the tools that are going to take you there is a very big deal.

Paul: Well and also, they commit, right?

Rich: It’s a very big deal.

Paul: The tricky thing with our industry is —

Rich: They’re going to prove themselves right and you wrong if they tell you, “Look, we’re going to make this successful on React. Leave us alone.” You trust that team and they’re talented. A big warning sign to me is if you force a decision on a team.

Paul: How many people do we know, how many corporate environments have we been connected to where they force a decision on the team?

Rich: And it’s bad.

Paul: It’s always the case though, and that’s the default.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Default is you talk to an engineer who is like, “Yeah, I got to get out of here. They force me to use X.”

Rich: Blah.

Paul: X could actually be Python. X could be the thing that is theoretically sexy.

Rich: I think that’s a big warning sign.

Paul: But they haven’t been able to take ownership of it, and… All of these platforms, all of these solutions, all of these frameworks have really significant warts, and the only way that you get …

Rich: They all do.

Paul: Yeah. No, I mean, they’re all broken in their own way, and they all represent compromises. Good engineers, it’s not just that they work around them. They factor that into their thinking.

Rich: They defend them.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: They defend them. They’ll say, “It’s not a big deal. We’ll get past that.”

Paul: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

Rich: Cool. Thank you, Dederick, for a great question.

Paul: Great question. It’s a broad question, right? It’s a hard one to answer.

Rich: Very hard one. We could spend a whole hour on it.

Paul: All right, Rich. There’s something we should talk about. We talk too much about ourselves and our own opinions on this show. We don’t talk about the team that we’ve built and we don’t talk about the people who work with us.

Rich: We don’t? It’s your fault really, mostly.

Paul: It is actually.

Rich: I’m here. I’m a co-founder of, you know?

Paul: We’re getting this started.

Rich: Acme Inc, and I’m here with my co-founder.

Paul: We’re building our media platform, but hold on a minute.

Rich: OK.

Paul: There are thirty-five people scattered around America and Canada, and also New York City who work at Postlight.

Rich: That’s true.

Paul: For the most part, they’re very nice people. Very smart. They tend to be engineers, project managers —

Rich: Designers.

Paul: And designers. We also have some head of HR and people who support the organization.

Rich: It rounds out a company.

Paul: Yeah. We should talk about them more often and the work they’re doing.

Rich: We really should. People make the place. We don’t make a really great, expensive sweatshirt. That’s not what makes the place.

Paul: No, that’s true. All we have —

Rich: We are about people. Right.

Paul: It’s interesting. One of the things I’ve been learning since we started this. I never spend a ton of time looking at P & L statements, profit and loss, OK?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: I never thought a lot about the actual economics of running an agency, and all of our costs, like 95% of our costs, are human.

Rich: Humans.

Paul: We throw nice parties for people, and we try to get everybody a good laptop. We have an OK office in New York City.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: None of that touches the cost of the human beings because that’s really all we are.

Rich: That’s all we are. You said agency, but the truth is, if you skew towards tech start-ups or young app companies or whatever, it’s mostly people also. A company like Medium, they’ve got server costs and stuff, but it’s mostly people. What they create, there is no warehouse with inventory. It is humans that make Medium what it is, or make Square what it is. That’s where the bet has gone is on those people, even though they’re not agencies.

Paul: The technology gets cheaper and cheaper. It’s actually hard to spend money unless you’re developing hardware.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: I think Google has to spend a lot of money on self driving cars, right? You’ve got to build cars and drive them around and make new things.

Rich: They have their warehouses too, where they have their servers and all that stuff.

Paul: Yeah, Intel. There’s a certain scale, but for the rest of us who are making sites for merely ten million people —

Rich: We write code.

Paul: We write code, and it goes on some cloud server. It’s just like those costs are down in the dollars now.

Rich: Yeah. AWS and GitHub and the few other services that we use to sort of do everything are nominal in terms of, if you cut up the pie, in terms of what it costs, even for us and for a software company.

Paul: All right, so what’s the secret for running a successful software company? In one sentence?

Rich: Can I have two sentences?

Paul: Yeah, maybe.

Rich: Have a clear mission and get great people. Oh, that is one sentence.

Paul: Yeah, it’s a compound sentence.

Rich: It’s a compound sentence.

Paul: One of the things I’ve been learning since we started this thing is I was very anxious. I’ve run teams and I’ve run projects before, but I’d never managed a company or been a co-founder. I wasn’t sure how that was going to go. I just had no real clue. I was trusting that —

Rich: It’s something, isn’t it?

Paul: Yeah, it is something. It really is. There’s a lot to learn. What I’ve learned, there’s two things. One is I don’t really get to be ‘the boss.’

Rich: No.

Paul: I don’t get to say, “Do this,” and it happens. It’s amazing how human beings will find reasons to not do things if you do that.

Rich: If someone is not believing in what you’ve asked them to do. I don’t know every industry, right? Look, somewhere where they’re making those sweatshirts — I’m thinking about sweatshirts, by the way, because there’s this sweatshirt that is very expensive and has like a ten-month wait. Do you know about this sweatshirt?

Paul: Yeah. I see this. It’s in the chumboxes on the bottom of web pages where they’re like, “You won’t believe how long the wait is for this sweatshirt.”

Rich: I think that’s their marketing plan is that you have to wait a long time. Anyway, the people that are in those factories making that sweatshirt don’t have to believe in the sweatshirt, right? They’re going to make the sweatshirt.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: She may say to herself or he may say to himself, “Wow, that is an awful color. That is sad that somebody’s going to wear that.”

Paul: I think a lot about this as a —

Rich: They’re going to make that sweatshirt. In our world —

Paul: I’m a big guy, and I think constantly about the people who are making my giant man clothes who are probably like, “What the hell is wrong with America?” every time —

Rich: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: Or they’re thinking, “I can’t wait to go and buy a moped.” That’s really what they’re thinking.

Rich: But you know what? They’re making it. In our world, I think there’s such a care about what they produce and the craft behind it, and it’s a tension for us as an agency because we’re young, so we can’t just yet truly cherry-pick the work that we think is going to be most satisfying and most interesting and challenging for people just yet. We want to get there obviously, where we’re turning away people who are like, ‘ahhh, it’s not really for us.’ We’ve done that actually a couple of times.

Paul: We’ve already done that, but in general, it’s not. It’s not like we’re sitting there going, “Ugh, we’re going to take this.” It’s more like, “OK, we need to do a good job here. We need to get everyone bought in.”

Rich: Build on that.

Paul: Yeah, but because we’re new, we don’t have full control over how we’re going to structure the engagement.

Rich: Not yet. We’re brand-new. We’re building this place and building the brand and building a reputation, and that’s a source of anxiety for you and me because we know how important it is for the people to feel good about what they’re about to get on.

Paul: I can’t run into the room and be like, “OK, everyone get excited about WordPress.”

Rich: I don’t think it’s even just platform. That’s true. I mean, that is true. We’re not a Word Press shop. That is reality, right? We want to go deeper. We want to go more challenging and harder than that, and again, I feel like WordPress is the enemy of this show.

Paul: It’s not the enemy of the show. It’s the dominant platform on the web, and we react to it every day.

Rich: Right.

Paul: You and I react every single day to WordPress. There’s not a day that goes by in my life where someone doesn’t say —

Rich: It’s one of our big competitors, interestingly.

Paul: It is, and there’s not a day. Whenever we go and talk to a client, this is what they say. “We have custom over here, and we have this over here. We did those five sites in WordPress.”

Rich: Just about every time.

Paul: Then they say, “OK, can you help us get to one consolidated platform?” Then they say, “Should it be WordPress or should it be something else?”

Rich: Right.

Paul: It’s hard to articulate, so I think people see it as a kind of enmity as we talk about it, but it actually is just fundamental. It’s like talking about HTML at this point.

Rich: Yeah, it is fundamental. So. Yeah, Postlight is awesome. We’re OK.

Paul: We’re the best.

Rich: The people make the place truly —

Paul: I mean, here’s the thing, right? We’re OK. We’re kind of stumbling along, but that’s been the —

Rich: When we say we, I mean you and me.

Paul: You and me, yeah. The people are very solid. They’re just gems that I’m working with.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: What I’m finding though is that it has been an education for me to realize that simply saying something is not actually management.

Rich: No.

Paul: I had that in my head. At this level every day —

Rich: Not in this world.

Paul: Not in this world.

Rich: No.

Paul: In fact, it’s much more about listening. It’s much more about what do you think, and then slowly internalizing, and honestly trying to get people to be as empowered as possible to just talk to the client, do the right thing, make the right technical decision, giving them backup, talking to the client on their behalf, and making sure that they have coverage.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: That’s a big part of it. Adding value where I can, where I know something, but not pretending to be the smartest person.

Rich: You’re not.

Paul: I’m not.

Rich: I mean, it’s clear. It’s become clear over the last few months.

Paul: Exceedingly clear. [laughter] Look, I have a lot left to learn. This is the best thing I’ve ever done professionally and personally. This is the most engaged I’ve ever been in my life.

Rich: It’s a tornado, right? It is a little bit of a tornado, but it’s great to be around great people, and I don’t mean that as in like let’s round of applause. I actually need to be around people that are going to challenge and really think about interesting things and talk about interesting paths. That’s a big deal for me personally. The price you pay is that it is a lot of anxiety and difficulty around building businesses, but it’s worth it.

Paul: It’s true. I don’t think people, if they think about the role that we have, they don’t know that our engineers and designers and product managers look us in the eye and go, “I think you are wrong.”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: That’s a very normal interaction. That might happen many times a week.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Yeah, so that’s the joy of leadership.

Rich: Yeah. By the way, if you’re awesome, and you’re a product manager, designer, or engineer, and you know a little bit about Postlight —

Paul: You want to come tell me that I’m an idiot.

Rich: If you want to come and tell me I’m an idiot, let us know. Reach out and [email protected]

Paul: We’ll listen, although we may also have feedback in return.

Rich: Yes. This has been a lot of fun. Seriously. Really enjoyed it.

Paul: Yeah. I’d give it a five out of five stars on iTunes is what I would give it.

Rich: That’s what I’m going to go do right now.

Paul: Yeah because I’m not a selfish, bad person. I’m a generous, loving person, and I rate podcasts highly on iTunes.

Rich: You are. Love yourself. Yes.

Paul: That’s Rich Ziade.

Rich: This has been fun.

Paul: I’m Paul Ford. This is Track Changes.

Rich: See you next week.

Paul: Bye.