Full transcript: Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes on Recode Decode

How Complete Beginners are using an ‘Untapped’ Google Network to create Passive Income ON DEMAND

His new book advocates for providing “guaranteed income.”

On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Chris Hughes, the co-founder of Facebook and former owner of The New Republic, talks about his new book, “Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn.” In it, Hughes argues that working people should receive a guaranteed income, paid for by the top 1 percent of earners in the U.S.

You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Kara Swisher: Recode Radio presents Recode Decode, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as someone who plans to get rich by selling bulletproof armor for Teslas, but in my spare time, I talk tech, and you’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music or wherever you listen to podcasts, or just visit recode.net/podcasts for more.

Now in week three of my horrible cold, which is giving me this very scratchy voice today, still, we have in the red chair Chris Hughes, one of the co-founders of Facebook. He’s also the author of a new book called “Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn.” It argues that working people should receive a guaranteed income, sometimes called Universal Basic Income, paid for by the 1 percent like Chris himself. Chris, welcome to Recode Decode.

Chris Hughes: Thanks for having me.

So, tell me about … and let me go into your background first, because this is a big topic, and the joke I made at the top about bulletproofing your Teslas was from a quote that Robert Reich just gave at an event, where he said, “You’re either gonna have to do something like Universal Basic Income or” — to the rich — “or you’re gonna have to pay to bulletproof your Teslas.” You know, so we’ll get into a really bad situation of haves and have-nots and like Brazil or some countries where the rich have to insulate themselves using security, or South Africa or somewhere else.

So, I wanted to explain that it’s not a joke but it’s a very serious issue. But first, let’s talk about your background. Can you give everybody a quick synopsis of your history?

Happily. I’ll try to give the Cliff’s Notes version. I grew up in a little town, Hickory, North Carolina. It’s at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, used to be a …

You’ve barely lost the accent, but you have.

I did a little bit.

I can hear it.

Well, that’s part of the story, actually. I grew up there, my mom was a public school teacher, Dad was a traveling paper salesman, but then I got a scholarship to go to a fancy boarding school, Phillips Andover, up in Massachusetts. And it was there where …

Nice. That is a fancy boarding school.

It is indeed. It was there where I lost the accent and then later got a scholarship to go to Harvard and met Mark Zuckerberg, freshman year. We ended up roommates sophomore year, started Facebook in February of 2004, the rocket ship took off and my life changed pretty dramatically.

I ended up wanting to write the book in order to partially tell my story and be clear that the financial reward that I got from three years’ worth of work at Facebook was entirely disproportionate to the time and effort put in, but to also make the case that my story, which is nothing but … You know, the only thing we can call it is a lucky break, is unfortunately not that uncommon in the economy today.

No, now, you are unusual …

That a small group of people … I might be extreme but I don’t think my case is actually that unusual, a small group of people are getting very, very wealthy while everybody else is struggling to make ends meets.

Yeah, extremely wealthy in some cases. What did you … after Facebook, you left relatively early?

I did. I left in 2007 and went and worked for President Obama.

Right, like digital stuff.

Back in the early days of the campaign, I had the title of Director of Online Organizing, which pretty much meant trying to not just build a community online but create a movement that was willing to take the campaign into their own hands, not just sort of the hub-and-spoke traditional model of those campaigns, but instead people standing up to organize events and raise money, knock on doors, make phone calls and using the internet to power …

Which was early on. I mean, this had been tried by … Actually, the right wing was very good at it. The conservatives were very good at it way, way, way back, but this was one of the biggest efforts to do this, an important part of his winning.

Yeah, it was a transitional moment in politics in so many ways, but I think the biggest shift was not so much in technology. We had a social network called barackobama.com The technology was good but it was in the expectations that the candidate at the time and that the campaign around him was interesting, specifically saying, “You know, we’re not going to try to lock down the message and just us, three or four at the campaign headquarters in Chicago, are going to figure it all out. Instead, we’re going to open it up and quite literally enable anybody to write anything on our website barackobama.com.”

It was a symbolic moment but it mattered because it invited people into the campaign, to participate in a way that previously they hadn’t really been asked to, and it was symbolic of a lot of other changes. So we ended up raising tens of millions, hundreds of million by the end, of dollars through the internet, had tens of thousands of grassroots events. It was an important moment.

What got you there? How did you get there, you just liked Obama?

Well, it was back in 2007 and …

Way back then, that’s so long ago.

I know. It’s not that long ago, but politics has changed so dramatically, this really feels that way.

I was working on some of the political products at Facebook and so, one of the people that I got to know was this guy Reggie Love, who was President Obama’s body man, as they’re called, and …

That’s an unfortunate term, isn’t it?

Anyway, sorry to say that word, but he was his assistant and he just went with him anywhere. We started having conversations, just like we were doing with other candidates and officeholders, on how to use Facebook. It became clear that Obama was going to throw his hat in the ring and then I talked to a few of the other people. I did really believe in Obama’s story himself and the promise that he offered. Initially I just took a leave, but the leave turned into a permanent move.

Did you miss doing that, leaving Facebook?

You know, I had mixed feelings about it, but my experience was really different than Mark’s and Dustin’s. I mean, Facebook was a mission in and of itself for Mark, and for me it was a company that I enjoyed being a part of, growing. I learned a lot, it was exciting, there were all kinds of challenges, but it was clear to me early on that Facebook was not my life’s work. It was going to be a chapter, and it turned out to be a very important chapter, but I felt, particularly in 2007 when George Bush was president, we had all kinds of what I view as unfair economic policies, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a time when I was really hopeful that the country could change the corner.

Well, you had money and means and you had skills.

Yeah, at that point I moved to the campaign and was paid I think $ 65,000. Facebook stock was all …

No one feels badly for you.

No, no, no, I know, I’m just being clear. I talk in the book about when I actually sold some stock and didn’t make money and what a massive change it was, but in that period the move from Facebook to Obama was about the mission.

Yeah, you were at a startup, it was a startup, people forget. Yeah, absolutely. So, you did that, and then afterwards had done a range of things. I’m sorry to go back in history but people find your background interesting.

It’s fun.

So, you then went on to buy a publication, you did a lot of things, your husband ran for office.

He did, yeah. After Facebook went public in 2012, my husband and I made a commitment to give away the vast majority of the money that we made and to invest that money in causes that we believed in. I started investing in, really, multiple things, and on the one hand I started the journey to cash. That is how I sort of ended up writing the book today and talking about guaranteed income and universal basic income.

I also bought a magazine called The New Republic and decided to invest there because I believed two things. That the journalism that The New Republic had done for decades, nearly 100 years at the time, was incredibly valuable, important to the world, important to democracy and also deserved, in 2012, a bigger audience than it had historically had. I talk a lot in the book about my experience there because on the whole there are more things that I regret than …

Yeah, a little rocky.

More than a little rocky.

Those are real grumpy — I’m being polite — those are super grumpy journalists. I lived in Washington, I know those things.

Yeah, but I also came in guns blazing.

Yeah, you did. I know better.

I came in with the kind of expectation that if you invest a lot of money and you bring together smart people and you set really ambitious goals, you know, you can reach them. That’s what the first two experiences of my career had taught me. Between Facebook and the Obama Campaign they taught me that the impossible was actually a little bit more possible than one might think.

What was the big problem? You write about it, but what do you think the big issue … what’s your big mistake and that big mistake? I think it’s a group of people that doesn’t like the internet in general. Most traditional media, in my experience over the years, has been resistant.

Well, I think …

Or grudging would be [a better word].

If I were to do it all over again, I would take a different approach. I would not come in and say the kind of journalism that The New Republic has historically done is necessarily made for an audience of tens of millions of people. I came in really thinking that we could and should open it up to a much broader kind of audience.

Big ideas should have big …

Exactly, and I think at the end of the day I was maybe the last to learn what everybody else already knew. The New Republic had been a small kind of magazine.

Artisanal, we would call it artisanal.

Yeah, we had 35,000 subscribers and that wasn’t because … You know, it was because there’s a community of people who are politically minded, culturally curious, literary, etc., but that community is relatively small.

Maybe. We’ll see what Laurene Jobs does at the Atlantic, they’re doing a kind of conversation.

Yeah, well, the Atlantic has a different tradition, the New Yorker has its own. You know, each of these institutions are artisanal, they make up a category. But so rather than swinging for the fences, I think the institution would have been better served, the people I worked with would have been better served and the values behind it would have been better served if we had made more modest investments. If we’d said, “Yes, we’re going to have a good website that is in line with the values of the day, but we don’t need the best award-winning iPad app guys.” Like the slickest kind of technology content management systems, we probably don’t need to create a custom one from scratch, as we ended up doing. These kinds of things …

You’re the internet guy. Someone there called you a terrier to me.

What’s that?


What does that mean?

I don’t know, don’t ask me. I get those … I’m sorry, everyone in … There’s a reason I left Washington, and a part of it was the extreme distaste for the internet no matter what, even if it was a relatively good idea.

Look, you came in with … you did come in with guns blazing, and those people, no. When I was like, “No, no, no, Chris, stop, these are not the …” It’s like when Pierre Omidyar went into Intercept, at first there was like, “Oh, they’re real grumpy over there,” but it’s like, Laurene Jobs is making investments. There’s all kind of internet people making … Jeff Bezos — the Washington Post — seems to have done a very good job of that.

Absolutely, but just one last point on that. I do think it’s important, though, to recognize that the kind of journalism that all of these institutions do is really a public goal.


And this idea that the market … We have to find robust, for-profit kind of sustainable models for this journalism, maybe we will. There’s a scenario where we don’t and that doesn’t mean that it’s not important to support it.

Well, you have ProPublica.

Exactly, you do have ProPublica and Texas Tribune, you have some …

Yeah, you have rich people backing these things.

Exactly, and when I started … I see you sort of rolling your eyes a little bit. My initial response was a kind of skepticism, “Is that really sustainable?” But on the other side of my experience, I think that is in many ways the story of a lot of the high-quality media in the country.

The New Republic had not really ever turned a profit. It was technically a company but it was really … I mean, I have a line in the book, it was a cause dressed up as a company — and I think we culturally need to get a little bit more used to the fact that even if Jeff was losing an immense amount of money at the Washington Post, I still think that the journalism is important to …

Yeah, well, it’s interesting because … We’ll get to that, because you’re talking about rich people paying for something like universal income too. There is a duty of public service and maybe that’s the way it’s going to be paid for and everyone should stop bellyaching over it, you’re right. You know what I mean, on some level. So, what’s your relationship there now? None? Or you sold?

No, I sold the magazine to Win McCormack in 2016.

Well, that’s a name of a person who should own The New Republic. Sorry. Win McCormack?


It’s a perfect name. You have a good name but it’s not as good as Win McCormack.

Not quite as austere, right?

Yes, yeah. So you have had nothing to do, or do you imagine going into other journalism-type things? You had an interest.

Yeah, and my interest is still real. I’m focused on specifically income inequality. I have come to believe that where the most opportunity lies is in making the case for cash and specifically for guaranteed income for Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, so that’s what I’m most …

Well, we’re going to talk about in the next section. I just want to finish up with you, and then your husband ran for office. You go from one thing to … he didn’t win.

Well, that was him. That wasn’t me.

Yes, but you were involved in it.

Yes, it turns out we are married.

We are married, and didn’t win. Is he going to run again or is that it?

I don’t think so. He’s focused on something called Stand Up America, which is an organization that tries to channel a resistance to Trump’s agenda. It’s quite the understatement that the energy that the resistance has cultivated over the past few years is in need of organization, so what they do is connect the dots, and on Facebook, on Twitter, email, text message, I mean, you name it. It’s trying to make sure people are aware of what’s happening, particularly when it comes to the Russia investigation but across the board, and then translate that enthusiasm and energy into boots on the ground, door knocks and eventually, hopefully, into electoral victory.

Votes will be the thing. I just had an interesting interview with Cory Booker and I’m going to be talking to Chuck Schumer later today, but I think votes would be the thing that everyone needs to focus on beyond … and how to get people to actually step out and vote. That’s pretty much it.

Yeah, absolutely.

It’s just an understatement of how difficult that is, but it’s the only thing that’s going to change anything.

Then you move to this, this book and what got you interested in the income inequality. A lot of people out here, Sam Altman’s interested, there’s an experiment in Oakland, I think there’s one in Sweden. They’re all over.

We have one in Stockton.

Stockton, California, so talk about that. Your group has one, you are what?

My interest in guaranteed income actually started around 2012, and I came in through the international door to start. So my husband and I came into this immense amount of wealth, we made this commitment to give it all away, and so the first kind of …

And you could have done a lot of things. You could have done a lot of … like a family foundation.

The first kind of question is this like, what’s the most effective thing that you can do?


And so it seems like an easy question. It’s actually an incredibly complex one, and so we went on a journey — and I have a chapter in the book that narrates a piece of it — to think about where are we going to get the most bang for the buck? How can we help people in the way that is the most effective? And particularly from an international perspective.

I looked a lot at different things and ended up finding Michael Faye and Paul Niehaus, the two co-founders of an organization called GiveDirectly, and made a first gift of $ 100,000, which was literally texted to people living on less than a dollar a day in Kenya, and began a journey myself. And, so I came to the immense amount of evidence that cash is the most effective thing that you can do to improve health outcomes, education outcomes and lift people out of poverty.

So, giving the poor money is the way to make them not poor?

Indeed, and I learned that initially through the international lens, but then here, domestically, what I discovered is that we actually already have the world’s largest cash transfer program. It’s called the Earned Income Tax Credit. It’s called a tax credit, but what it actually is is a lived experience of … it’s a check that tens of millions of Americans get and it lifts more people out of poverty than food stamps, housing vouchers and unemployment insurance combined.

Now, it needs to be modernized, I would argue, for the economy that we live in today, not just the income inequality that we have but also the income instability that the gig economy has introduced. At the end of the day, though it’s once a belief that I had because of the empirical evidence that shows the effectiveness, and one that I feel like is a moral case, I believe that the best way to respect the dignity of people and embrace their freedom is through the most fundable thing.

Simple thing.

Through cash and the ability to chase their own dreams or figure out their own futures.

Cash or some kind of money. So, you got interested in it through that, just by giving?

Initially, and then …

What did you try with that concept? Because again there’s lots of … I’m assuming you get like pecked to death all day of what you should give to and how you can help people.

Yeah, and I mean my husband and I give to an array of causes, it’s not just Cash International. LGBT rights is another thing that’s important to us, we were active in the fight for marriage equality, but particularly when it comes to income inequality and ending poverty. When you’re on the hunt for what’s the most effective thing to do, one of the things that I’ve learned is that sometimes the best solution is the simplest. Of course we need more and better education, of course we need more small businesses to create good jobs.

We’ve spent decades thinking about those things, investing in those things, and we should think more. However, sometimes we overlook the most powerful tool or the most powerful weapon in the arsenal and in many ways the simplest, and I think cash can be that. So my hope, though, is to take the conversation a little bit out of speculating about whether robots are going to take all the jobs in 2040 and driverless car and situate it in the here and now, because income inequality has not been as bad as it is today since 1929.

Wow, that’s amazing.

Since the year the Great Depression began. I mean, the top 0.1 percent — not 1 percent, the top 0.1 percent — owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent combined. And so anybody who says, “Well, that’s just the way the economy works.” No, we have chosen the rules that structure this economy and we have the power to choose different ones, and I think a guaranteed income should be at the center.

All right, we’re going to talk about that more because it’s loaded with so many different things, politics with everything else, when we get back. We’re here with Chris Hughes, he is one of the co-founders of Facebook but his new book is called “Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn It.” We’re going to talk more about that and other issues when we get back.


We’re here in the red chair with Chris Hughes, one of the co-founders of Facebook but he’s talking about income inequality because of his new book “Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn It.”

We just talked about his background and how he got to this topic. Let’s talk some more about that because there’s so many things hanging off of income inequality. There’s all kinds of efforts. Talk first about your efforts that you’re doing in Stockton. How do you approach it? Because again, there’s lots of different thoughts about this and some people think it’s … I met someone the other day calling it communism, like, you know what I mean like, okay, yeah, kind of.

I think of it as capitalism with much better guardrails.

Okay, something like that.

The group that I co-run is called the Economic Security Project and what we are trying to do is convene a bigger, broader conversation about how a guaranteed income can work in America. There are a lot of people who are interested in UBI, how might this actually evolve, and there are a lot of people who want to think about what we can do in the next three years, what can we do in the next five years, so a shorter time horizon than …

This is to solve inequality problems right now?


Whereas there’s possible job loss, we’ll get to that.

Exactly. So what we do is we convene a network of academics, policy makers, technologists, artists, all of who are talking about, “How do we attack this?” And as part of that we move money. One of the things that we’ve done is work to support Mayor Michael Tubbs, who is the mayor of Stockton, California. For those of you who are listeners who don’t know, he’s 27 years old, he’s the youngest mayor of a major American city. He’s African-American from a city that is incredibly diverse. He’s the first African-American mayor there in generations and he is committed to exploring how a guaranteed income can work for Stocktonians in the here and now.

This is beyond payments from the government?

Specifically, what we’re doing is supporting a demonstration of the idea that will provide an income to some members of the Stockton community. The community itself will decide who exactly, how much money, the duration, etc. Community meetings are beginning this summer and disbursements are likely to begin in fall.

What does it generalize, I know that the community is deciding this, but there are standards right now growing?

Yeah, one place to begin the number, a lot of people talked about is $ 1,000 a month, others talk about more … in the book I call for $ 500 a month, making the case that modest amounts of money can really have out-sized impacts and go even further. The idea, though, is to invite more people into the conversation and move us out of just the realm of theory, might this be a good idea, into the practical, the here and now.

We have lots of research already from up in Alaska, where they have a small guaranteed income from the Earned Income Tax Credit. The Cherokee in North Carolina have a guaranteed income and not to mention the international stuff and so, yes, we need more evidence. And we’re hopeful that that will emerge, but the real focus is on the storytelling. And Tubbs himself as a leader has already just, in announcing this in the work that he’s doing, brought so many more people into the conversation both in Stockton and nationwide.

Who gets the money in your … That’s going to be decided, but in general who gets it? The poorest, correct? Or not? Or working families?

In Stockton, it will be decided by Stocktonians.

It’s not me that’s going to get $ 1,000. It’s not wealthy people. Or is there a level or should everybody get it?

In the book, I make the case that the best way to start with a guaranteed income today is $ 500 to everyone who’s making $ 50,000 on down. So, it’s a little bit different than a UBI. It’s inspired by the exact same values of cash, no strings attached, to achieve financial stability, recognize the dignity and freedom of each individual, but it’s a more modest place to begin. I make the case that we can and should do this through a modernization of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Which goes to what level of people?

Right now, this is part of the problem. It’s so complex, you know, the people who get it, it depends on how old you are, how many kids you have, whether or not you’re married, what state you live in, what your wages were like. And, so what ends up happening is that people get, in many cases, quite a lot of money, between $ 500 and $ 6,000 a year, but because it’s not predictable, you don’t know where it’s coming, when it’s coming, how much you’re going to get. It doesn’t provide the fundamental financial stability, which in my view is …

Which is covering rent or?

That’s the problem that I see this is really trying to solve in the here and now. I mean, we know that jobs in America have already come apart. That is what the effects of automation and globalization in particular have done. All the jobs in the past 10 years that we’ve created, 94 percent of them are part-time, contract, temporary, seasonal. They’re the kinds of things that … Yeah, unemployment is near a record low, but the jobs that are out there are not providing the kind of 40-hours-a-week benefits …

Yes, and it’s going to get worse.

Sick leave, retirement benefits. And it’s very likely to get worse.

And then the elimination of some jobs with some of these technologies you’re talking about, some very … especially around automation, especially on self-driving, we don’t know, nobody knows.

That’s the threat that looms, right? Lots of people have predictions, but in some sense … My argument is, we don’t know exactly where the future is going to go and should have a conversation about where it might lead, but we already know quite a lot about what’s already happening to jobs and we need a guaranteed income to stabilize the lives of Americans who are working hard.

What if you’re someone that’s arguing against it, what is your argument against it?

The arguments I hear most often …

What’s the best one that you’d make if you were against it?

The one that comes up the most often is education, particularly in personal context for me. People say, “Well, you came from a middle-class family, a small town in North Carolina, you got a great education and you did super well for yourself, isn’t that just what we need more of?”

“You drag yourself up,” you drag yourself up from a modest background, right?

That’s the argument that a lot of people make. You know, on the one hand, of course we need better education. There’s no question that education in America, we’ve invested a lot of money in it and have seen some benefits but not enough and there’s an important argument to be made for more education.

But what I think we’ve often overlooked is that … Put yourself in the shoes of somebody who’s got a … Let’s say you’ve got a high school [diploma], you’ve been working in a minimum wage job. You want to go back and get retrained for really any kind of job. Right now, we say, “Well, clearly we just need more educational opportunities.” That person, though …

I’ll use this specific example. I was in Ohio last summer talking to people who were specifically in this position. They were working in minimum wage jobs, they wanted to get all kinds of retraining. You begin the conversation like, “Okay, but why aren’t you doing that?” So, first off, where are you going to go? Community college. The closest community college is 45 minutes away. You got to pay for the gas to get there and the tuition, yeah it costs $ 8,000. Well, you can get financial aid, it’s going to cost you $ 1,000. Mind you, as the backdrop, none of these people have savings. You know, half of Americans can’t find $ 400 in the case of emergency. Just from the beginning, you got to find $ 1,000 to pay for their education.

Now from there, if you’ve got kids, you’ve got to figure out childcare. How are you going to pay for that when you’re at school? And then if you’re working in a job already, you’ve got to make up for the lost hours and lost wages that you’re not going to have when you’re already living on the brink, how are you going to do that?

And then, even assuming you can figure out all of those things, when you show up for your class at 8:00 pm there’s an immense amount of evidence that shows that if you’ve already been working a full-time day, you’re exhausted and the likelihood of you being successful in that is quite low.

So my view is, of course we need more education, but let’s not overlook the power that cash has to open up the opportunities to be able to take advantage of the educational opportunities we create.

What about the current push by the Trump administration of, “These are lazy people and they have to work for their money.”

I think that’s preposterous. Not only does that not …

It’s out there in …

It’s a cynical argument that people make.

Of course it is, it’s awful and it’s cruel. Wow, cruelty from this administration. It’s cruel, it’s flat out cruel.

Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s premised on perpetrating a myth. Specifically it’s this myth of the Welfare Queen, which was authored by none other than Ronald Reagan but is still permeating.

Lee Atwater did it.

Well, in the Reagan era.

Yeah and let’s give credit to Lee Atwater, who has died but frankly deserved a lot of credit for that.

It’s a myth that has been really problematic and really destructive. It’s racialized in the sense that it conjures up this kind of idea of people who just hang out and live on the … Now, of course, the evidence doesn’t show that. If you look at labor force participation rates for African-American women, for instance, and you compare those to white men, guess which group works more?

African-American women.

African-American women. So the data shows that that is not true, and when you actually get out there and talk to working people, you know, it doesn’t take much to actually see that that’s not true. But it’s a cynical kind of story that it’s in the interest of a lot of people in power to continue to [promote].

But that’s what they’re pushing right now around all kinds of things, is that you have to work to get welfare, you have to demonstrate that you can’t … It is never leaving our society, this concept of the lazy poor.

I am hopeful that we can turn a corner. It’s not going to evaporate tomorrow. I don’t want to overstate the case here but I do think that there is a generational shift that’s happening and specifically if we can broaden the definition of work that we use to really recognize what work is.

It’s sort of similar to what happened with marriage. In the marriage fight for LGBT people, for a very long time there was an argument about legalizing same-sex marriage as if it was like another kind of marriage, this thing that’s over here that’s different. And then when the movement shifted and started making the case that no marriage … What is marriage fundamentally about? It’s fundamentally about love and commitment, and love is love and marriage is marriage and we need to make sure that the definition of marriage matches love and matches the time that we live in. The definition of marriage quite literally has expanded over time to recognize the kind of marriage that my husband and I are in, for instance.

Similarly, with work, when we talk about work all the time, clearly a mom or a dad who’s staying home with young kids who are under … particularly if they’re under 5 or 6 and not in school, they’re working and we use the word “work” to describe what they’re doing. Similarly, people engaged in elder care, if you’ve got an aging parent at home, you’re working. And I make the case in the book that students, people involved in education, those people are working, too.

Of course.

If we can expand the definition of work to recognize what people are doing, what you end up with is recognizing the role that virtually every American is playing in society.

Except the people that are doing most of that work are people of color, women are doing two jobs, raising the kids, and we’ve got an issue of around white men essentially that don’t recognize that this is work.

And, they’ve been historically excluded. Like right now, I was in Jackson, Mississippi, three weeks ago meeting with a lot of young African-American moms who lived in public housing and right now many of them were … in fact, all of them were sufficiently poor that they needed the safety net kinds of benefits. Right now, our safety net says what you’re doing at home taking care of your kids? No, no that doesn’t count. You got to go over to Burger King and get a $ 7-an-hour job — and mind you for every $ 7 that they make they’re docked about $ 4 or $ 5 of government benefits that get reduced, so their actual per-hour earnings become quite small. In order to qualify for a whole host of benefits because that’s real work, but the work that you’re doing at home doesn’t count.

Well, there are those who say you shouldn’t have kids. It goes on, it’s a deeply ingrained racism and everything is …

I think it has to change and I think we have to start somewhere. This is going to be a long-term kind of fight because it does tap into big cultural questions. Again, I don’t want to overstate the speed with which this may happen, but I do think it is similar to something like the fight for marriage equality, which over the course of decades we did see a generational and cultural shift.

For the most part, for many. Although still there’s so much retrograde stuff going on.

Not for everyone, yeah.

You know, Chris, only gay people want to get married and go into the military, I don’t know if you know that. No, I wanted to go in the military, I did, I wanted to do both.

So once you start this in place what do you hope to … What is the goal? Is it to show success, show what … Or just watch how it works?

Well, I think we can start in cities and states and build a sense of momentum.

Everything is happening in the cities and states that matters.

Most things are happening in the cities and states, although I do think that … I can talk a little bit about the opportunity, too, at the federal level. In my view, we should begin today like what Mayor Tubbs is doing in Stockton. You could also do this at a state level, it will be a more modest size, a few hundred dollars a month, but we can begin now and see how it works, see how it changes the lives of people who are getting it. Again, we have a lot of evidence already to know but specifically …

How is it changing, people feel a little more relaxed, they can do …

People certainly feel more relaxed. The recipients of cash assistance specifically through the Earned Income Tax Credit, the kids do better in school. They stay in school for longer periods of time, they do better on tests. Health outcomes improve, people are hospitalized less often, there are fewer complications in pregnancies, people who receive the guaranteed income from the Cherokee as they grow into adults have fewer mental health issues.

There’s a lot of evidence about the effective care. And all this, by the way, is domestic, we don’t even have to go to the couple of hundred studies that exist internationally that show all kinds of other benefits, you know, domestic violence rates go down in many cases and all of it.

It’s intuitive, at the end of the day, if you have a little bit more financial stability in your life you’re able to live one step or two steps back from the brink. We’re not talking about so much money that everybody wins the lottery and we’re like all just, you know, hanging out, putting up our feet, whatever the worst images are that the critics conjure up.

Lazy, eating Cheetos. Cheetos is always involved.

So there’s a lot of evidence. Developing more of a track record at the city level and at the state level and then I do think long-term at the federal level. You know, we just saw a tax bill that got passed at the end of last year, which gave massive cuts …

That was Rich People’s Universal Basic Income.

Giving massive cuts to the 1 percent and to corporations and doubled down on what I consider a debunked theory of trickle-down economics. We’ve been doing this for 40 years and median wages have not meaningfully budged, and yet …

The rich get richer.

The rich get richer and they made a decision to double down on that. Now I think that there is a movement already growing to repeal and replace that law and to rethink it. And I do think that there’s an opportunity to put a modernized Earned Income Tax Credit, which essentially provides a guaranteed income for working people, at the center of that kind of bill.

Now, whether that will happen in 2021 or, I don’t know, 2025, I mean, who knows? So many things can change, but the cynicism that’s permeating our culture about change in Washington and at other levels is the biggest hurdle. We have to begin to think creatively and begin to organize on these ideas.

You know about Sheryl Sandberg’s, I think with the College Track people, giving them cash because they need it for rent. She has a thing where she’s giving away the people who are on College Track. They get money so they can pay the rent, they can do summer internships they couldn’t afford. She’s just giving them money like she …

This is a similar concept, because what happens when they go to college through College Track, poor kids don’t know how to dress, they don’t know how to network, they can’t take summer jobs that are easy. Sometimes their parents rely on them and so the concept is give them cash to pay for those things and give them an extra comfort.

I don’t know that much about it but from what you describe it seems to make a lot of sense. I do think people often ask, again, why is it that cash is so … I was on financial aid in college. Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Muscovites, they dropped out and I was out here that first summer when they decided to stay here and I went back, and a lot of people say, “Well, do you regret that decision?” Because on paper it was the wrong decision from a financial perspective, and to be honest it wasn’t even ever really a decision for me because …

You had to go back.

Because the idea … I mean, if I were to be here, what am I going to do? Work at Starbucks all day and then come home to work at Facebook marketing? I guess I could have, but I was at Harvard and was the first of my family to have that kind of opportunity and so … Anyway, my point is this, a lot of people in college now have a guaranteed income and it comes from their parents — and my kid one day will have that too, so I’m in that category now — but a lot of other people don’t. We have a responsibility to even the playing field and to counteract how those generational cycles …

That was very important about your own experience there. They could afford to be startup people in a different way.

We’re here with Chris Hughes, he’s one of the founders of Facebook. He is very interested in income inequality with his new book “Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn.”

The changing workplace, are you worried about … You’ve benefited from technology financially and have been part of the technology sector for part of your life. Are you worried about job loss or things like that because that could stress this system even more?

I am. Alot of people are convinced that artificial intelligence is going to create mass technical unemployment.

Well, it’s combined automation, there’s a whole bunch.

It’s automation, it’s artificial intelligence, exactly.

Economics, self-driving.

Exactly, it’s a combination of multiple trends. There are a lot of economists who think that’s crazy and I talk to a lot of them, too. Jason Forman, who played a prominent role in the Obama administration, has particularly carved out a play saying, “You know, in the long-term this is unlikely to happen.” I’m concerned about it but I also don’t … I’m not in the class where I’m here saying, “It’s going to happen, it’s a fait accompli, it’s a done deal.” It may or may not.

But what I do think the trends are very clear about is the increasing fragmentation of jobs already, and it’s the gig economy that is indicative of that — the Lyft drivers and Uber drivers — but it’s also the worker at Starbucks who can only get 25 hours and who doesn’t know next week if she’ll get 10 or 40.

Or when.

The idea that you need to be able to plan, planning is made very, very difficult.

That’s very important.

You’re constantly stressed if you don’t know you’re going to be able to make rent. Yeah, you have a job, you have some hours, but if you’re not going to get enough then you’re constantly living on …

You’re in a constant state of instability.

I worry about the wholesale job loss, absolutely, but I’m also personally really intent on making clear that wherever you fall on whether or not that’s the future or not the future, we already need a guaranteed income.

I think it’s interesting. Marc Andreessen is a big proponent of this, that in the end it will be like farming to manufacturing and we’ll have more jobs than ever.

The reason I’m so interested in it this past year — we’ve done a special on MSNBC about it, we’re going to do a lot more of them — is because he was saying, I said, “The blacksmiths, what happened to them?” and he goes, “I don’t care what happened to the blacksmiths,” and I was like, “Yeah, but they had families and something happened, something not good happened to those people.” Did they retrain?

There was social unrest during that whole period, there was enormous social unrest with the farming to manufacturing economy, and we forget because we’re a national of perpetually forgetting our history. It’s happened several times, these shifts in technologies, really.

And people make the argument, too, around not just retraining but mobility. Well, yeah, the blacksmiths of today, they should just move to where all the jobs are.

Who’s going to teach them? I just want to know who’s going to retrain …

The average move across job lines cost over $ 5,000 and half of Americans can’t find $ 400 in case their car breaks down, so this idea that you’re just supposed to pack up, turn off the lights and magically move to a place where housing alone is probably five times as expensive as where you were before, it’s crazy.

I think I want to get to the idea of this 1 percent, not just the fragmentation but the wealthiest concentration of wealth moving higher and higher up to a smaller and smaller amount of people. Because I firmly believe there’s a group of people at the top who have benefited from the future. At the very top, the obscenely wealthy love the future, they will be able to change, they will be able to afford it, they will be able to teach themselves, they’re interested in teaching themselves.

Then there’s a vast group of people in the middle who like the future, are scared of the future, and this group on the top is not pulling them up and presumably they would pull the ones below them up further, but there’s no pulling up by the wealthy here. Here’s you saying that the 1 percent should pay this. We’ve just had a tax cut where the 1 percent got paid. What do you imagine this … why the 1 percent doesn’t have this duty to take care?

In San Francisco, it’s the same thing. You can see the streets right now and it’s hard living here with people doing drugs on the streets, you are like, they’re lying on the streets doing drugs in front of my house. This is not good as a taxpayer and you feel badly for feeling that way too, but most people don’t feel badly about thinking about people in that way.

Well, I think a lot of the people that I talk to are cognizant of a sense of responsibility they have to other people. It’s in San Francisco, it’s in New York. I’ll paint with a broad brush and then I’ll be a little more specific about what I mean. I think that there is a sense, particularly amongst people who have been successful in technology, that the rewards that have come are very much historically unique.

I mean, we’ve never lived in a time where 20-year-olds are able to go from zero dollars to hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars, before. Royalty is like the closest thing, hundreds of years ago, and so that is … I do think that there’s a widening sense that something is happening in the economy that makes that possible, and it’s happening at the exact same time that everybody else is having a hard time making ends meet.

That middle group that you’re discussing, those folks have not gotten a raise in 40 years but the cost of living is 30 percent higher. I do think that there’s increasingly a sense of responsibility. Now that’s probably more on the left than on the right, but my hope is to appeal not only to a sense of moral responsibility but also a sense of pragmatism. And by that I mean what we know about what creates long-term economic growth is that consumer spending is the biggest driver of that, and if you put $ 100 in the pockets really of anybody in your description there, anybody in the middle or at the bottom, they’re going to spend most of that money on whatever is most urgent for them: Housing, health care, education.

You put $ 100 in the pockets of the 1 percent, we know it goes into a bank account. It goes to work in complex financial moves but it’s not part of the productive economy. There was a study that the Roosevelt Institute did last year that modeled out, if you give $ 500 for guaranteed income to every American, what would happen to the economy? And the model shows that over the next eight years GDP would grow by 7 percent.

Based on just that amount.

Based just on that amount. And so my argument is that I think in the long run a guaranteed income is good for everyone, certainly for the middle class and the poor who need the funds the most, but it should also be good for …

The producers, the wealthy.

For the wealthy as well because it creates a kind of broad-based economic growth.

Just specifically to talk about the pay for a moment. I think tax rates on income of $ 250,000 and higher should come into line with their historical average of 50 percent. That’s where they were for much of the 20th century, for the decades after the Second World War really up until 1980 ,that’s in line with where they were. And it just so happens that that’s the period when economic growth was not only the biggest but also the most broadly shared and we had plenty of innovation, plenty of smart people starting all kinds of new companies. The idea that if taxes were higher on that income that we wouldn’t have started Facebook, that’s just not true.

It’s nonsense.

And the way that that would play out is because it’s income above, if you’re making $ 300,000, which in some parts of the country definitely makes you wealthy but not, let’s say, a part of the winner-take-all. What you’re talking about is a few more like $ 7,000 more in taxes to fund a guaranteed income. If you made $ 10 million, well, what we’re talking about is your tax bill would be $ 1.5 million higher than it is today, and it is my view that that is more in line with where our finances should be in. We can and should ask the members of that 1 percent to be footing the bill, to make sure that everybody else can enjoy the economic opportunity …

You’re with a group of people in tech who talk about that but I deal with a lot of people from Wall Street and stuff like that and I am always astounded by the continued greed of incredibly wealthy people.

I think it’s short-sighted. I think in the long-term it’s …

I would agree. I was talking to someone who is enormously wealthy, really, they were driving me crazy and I finally said, “You know, you’re so poor all you have is money.” Like, “I don’t know what to say.” He was so insulted. He was like, “Why could you say that to me?” I’m like, I just, “You’re so poor, I just don’t know how to explain it to you. You’re just …” It’s astonishing.

I’m constantly surprised by it when you get to a certain level of income and you can’t understand because you know you don’t want to give it to government, the government is somewhat incompetent. Like, “I don’t want to give it to those bozos to hand out.” I feel like when I pay … I pay a lot of taxes and I’m like, “I don’t want to give it to those crazy military people,” like everybody has a thing.

That’s why the Earned Income Tax Credit is the structure that I’m talking about using to build the guaranteed income. It has historically been really popular on the right as well as the left.

I would like to give it to regular people. Yeah, I’m good with people just getting cash.

Every president in the United States since 1975, Republican and Democrat alike, every single one has meaningfully expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit. And it’s for that reason, not only because of the evidence it shows that it works but because there’s a sense that on the right …

Also, it’s a good gimme, it’s a good gimme.

Well, I think there’s a sense on the right that we should put the money in the hands of the people.

The people’s pockets.

Of people who can figure out how to use it themselves.

That was the argument for the tax cuts.

Well, but in that case it’s for the 1 percent, not for …

Didn’t you hear Paul Ryan, didn’t you hear what he …

Well, talk about a cynical kind of … I mean, every non-partisan analysis of the tax bill shows that there are massive disproportionate returns to the 1 percent, not to …

I like that you’re saying, “Talk about cynical,” at this moment in history.

So, let’s finish up, we only have a few more minutes. Talking about politics right now, you’re in … how do you look at the political scene? Your husband is working on the resistance and Facebook has gotten smacked hard. You don’t have to just talk about Facebook but, please do Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube?

Well, I mean, so many things. I think the news coming out of Washington, it’s hard to imagine it being more depressing. However, I do think that Trump’s election has been a wake-up call on the left and the right that a lot of people feel that the system is rigged against them and they are willing to embrace a very, very different perspective. It’s scary when Trump is in the White House pushing the policies that he is pushing, but I think the opportunity is, people are open to kinds of crazier kinds of ideas. Guaranteed income a few years ago was on the fringe. I think it’s increasingly becoming part of the mainstream.

I think, though, that we’ve got to counteract the sense that things are just going to always be the way that they are. The economy is going to always be the way it is, so politics is always going to be the way that it is and there’s a lot of evidence in the enthusiasm on the left. You know, you look at the Women’s March, this march that’s planned in a couple of weeks around gun violence across the country. There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful. As you said at the top of the conversation, votes matter, and what happens this November and then in November of 2020.

The only people that are voting are … thank goodness for African-American women. That’s it. The rest of them, millennials, I want to smack them upside the head.

And specifically Facebook. I think Facebook is increasingly recognizing the responsibility that it has.

Slow progress.

Slowly but increasingly and overdue.

Yeah, sorry about that American democracy problem. But, I mean, it was slow.

It was slow, absolutely.

We were all screaming about it a year ago and they just, they slowed all this all the way to today.

It has been slow. But I think what’s happened …

Why is that? You worked with these people.

Oof. I would speculate about that just as much as you or anyone else. I think that there was a sense that Facebook as a platform was a kind of neutral algorithm. It’s just a thing that works in the basement. It’s like, you just surface things and there’s nobody …

I’m giving you my “Mm-hmm.”

When in reality, I mean, humans make the decision about how these algorithms work and right now we are seeing a different approach from Facebook.

You think they’re taking advantage of that?

With local news in particular, I find that the initiative around local news that I have … I mean, I haven’t talked to anyone at Facebook about this. I’ve read the journalism that you’ve done and many others have done to be some of the most interesting. They’re specifically working with a dozen local news outlets to do two things.

One, to help them understand how to surface their journalism to bigger and broader audiences on the platform but also to adjust the algorithms to make sure more people see it. Which is really remarkable, right? Because it is a normative statement that local news matters and is important and that specifically Facebook has a responsibility to ensure that people see it. Now is that going to be enough? Absolutely not, we’ve got to think about foreign powers meddling in the election.

Why didn’t they see it, weren’t geniuses what … I mean, I’m being reductive there but you know what I mean.

Your guess is as good as mine on that. I think that they’re turning a corner now and are focused on …

An understatement. I literally was just in an argument on Twitter with the head of ads who was like, “Well, it’s not our fault.” I’m like, “Stop, just stop talking.”

What was he saying?

He was saying that it wasn’t truly their fault.

“It” being the Russian stuff.

The Russians. I think I just said, “Hush. Stop talking. Just stop, please.”

Yeah, I think it’s very clear. I mean, you have a responsibility to make sure foreign powers don’t hack our elections. And the problem is, okay, well, how do you define “hack”? But propagating fake news on a platform to support one candidate over another is a problem.

Well, you know, the thing is, to their defense, it’s a company, not a government fighting a government. I know, but it’s a government, right? You made a face.

I mean, it’s a company, but this idea that companies don’t have responsibilities, that’s just not my worldview.

Oh, yes, of course, but I’m saying our government didn’t intervene. Well, you know these companies can’t do it by themselves, this has got to be an effort …

Well, yes, government has … I mean, if I’m talking about the …

Not the Trump government. The Obama administration certainly had a responsibility here to be more active.

Absolutely. And I am worried about the election this fall. We have evidence to show that the Russians in particular, it’s very clear, tried very hard to hack the voting systems in several states, and we have not made … I have seen no progress from a federal perspective in making sure that these elections are going to be safe and secure. There’s been some media coverage of it, but frankly, I think there’s been more media coverage of Facebook’s role than the imperative for a stronger security system. And clearly, we need more coverage of both. I think on all of this, we need to be talking about it all much more robustly, because this problem is not going to go away.

Well, this particular administration is so cynical, it’s a disturbingly cynical administration, which doesn’t mind creating havoc. In the end, it’s a group of people that love havoc and are also not very smart.

Well, but to say that sort of suggests … I mean, we have a responsibility, democracy, whatever your politics, democracy … In the democratic system it’s the responsibility of people in power to govern and defend it.

Of course, but you know, we have a president who just joked that it was good that the Chinese … I mean, you know, like, come on. It’s so funny because it’s sort of like …

Well, let’s just not excuse that, let’s not be …

I’m not excusing it.

No, I’m not saying you are, but we just can’t have this air of resignation like, “Oh, they’re just crazy and nothing is ever going to happen.”

They’re not crazy-crazy, you know. They’re not crazy, it’s just that it’s impossible to do anything when good people don’t stand up. And I’m talking about the Republicans most of the time because it’s the enablers to me who are the real problem now, which is interesting, but this will be done by voting. Chris, when do you imagine you have — we’re going to finish up — when do you imagine success for this?

The more this idea is talked about in the mainstream, not just in political conversations but around dining room tables, over coffee and over …

And how you put out there, of course.

I think that’s success in the short term. In the long run, clearly, we want public policy to change, but success in the next couple of years will be people talking seriously about how can get a guaranteed income done in one way or another? Maybe through the Earned Income Tax Credit, maybe through other kinds of ways, but the more we’re rolling up our sleeves and thinking about, “How do you guarantee financial stability through cash?” That’s the success in the near term.

You have actually convinced me. And now I’m thinking about definitely, you know, some scenario I’m interested in. You know, I agree you, I think giving people … Listen, I’d rather that than the latest tank or the latest whatever the hell our government is spending money on. I’d rather give it to average people who need a break, which would be nice so they can get to one among our many, many, many problems in this country.

Anyway, we have a lot of great things, too, and our generosity, although some people don’t agree with it, would be one of them. Chris, it was great talking to you. You’ve had a fascinating career since you stopped funding like fancy magazines. This is much better than the fancy magazines, and people who hate you no matter what you do just so, yeah.

I’ll say, “Swisher told me to do it.”

I could have told you that Chris, “Just give away money to people who actually appreciate it,” but buying a media company, still. I don’t know which one you should buy, but you should. I appreciate the effort.

I think I’m out of that.

You’re out of that business, no more Chris Hughes. Is there even one for sale? I don’t know, there’s always something for sale, Chris. It was great talking and thanks for coming on the show.

Recode – All

Cash For Apps: Make money with android app

Full transcript: Chain CEO Adam Ludwin answers cryptocurrency questions on Too Embarrassed to Ask

How Complete Beginners are using an ‘Untapped’ Google Network to create Passive Income ON DEMAND

“It’s this sort of tug-of-war between FUD and FOMO that drives the [bitcoin] price in the short run.”

On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Kara Swisher and Lauren Goode tackle the blockchain, ICOs and cryptocurrencies with the help of Chain CEO Adam Ludwin. He explains what all of those terms mean and the differences among blockchain-related products and assets, including bitcoin, ethereum, lytecoin and filecoin.

You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Too Embarrassed to Ask on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Kara Swisher: Hi. I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.

Lauren Goode: And I’m Lauren Goode, senior tech editor at The Verge.

KS: And you’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask, coming at you from the Vox Media podcast network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech.

LG: It could be anything at all, like, “Kara, what are we going to name our cryptocurrency when we start something to finance the future of this show?”

KS: Karacoin. Karacoin.

LG: Oh, I like that.

KS: Yeah.

LG: I like Goode … No, Goodebit? Goodebit might be good.

KS: That’s nice. That’s good, too.

LG: Goodethereum.

KS: No. So send us your questions. Find us on Twitter or tweet them to @Recode or myself or to Lauren with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed.

LG: We also have an email address. It’s tooembarrassed@recode.net, and a friendly reminder, there are two Rs and two Ss in “embarrassed.”

KS: There’s been a lot of interest in bitcoin and cryptocurrency, so a lot of people have a lot of questions and don’t know about it. They’re very interested in learning a lot more about it. There’s a lot of crazy people involved. There’s a lot of hype. There’s a lot of all kinds of stuff, and so we wanted to bring in someone to get some answers. Today on Too Embarrassed to Ask, we’re delighted to have Adam Ludwin in the studio. He’s the CEO of Chain, of course that’s the name, a private blockchain company. He’s going to explain what that means.

LG: I guess that means Chain is taken. We can’t do, like, Karachain.

KS: No, we’re not going to do that.

LG: We could, but … Yeah, we’re going to be answering all of your questions about blockchain, cryptocurrencies, ICOs that we’ve been hearing a lot about lately. Not quite sure I fully understand. Then, surprisingly, you sent in a lot of questions, so we’re very happy to have Adam here. Adam, welcome to the show.

Adam Ludwin: Thank you. Great to be here.

KS: Let’s just … Explain what Chain does, and then we’ll get into the basics of bitcoin. Nothing is too stupid for us, let’s just keep that in mind. You know what I mean? I think most people are confused by all the variety of things. It’s probably like the beginning of the internet, which sort of sorted itself out. So what does Chain do? And then we have lots of different questions.

Sure. Chain helps financial institutions take advantage of this new technology, basically to do two things. One, to transform their infrastructure. You can think of a blockchain as kind of like a new type of database. It’s helpful even if you’re just tracking existing financial instruments, like securities or loyalty points. But many financial institutions are also looking ahead at connecting into these public networks, like these cryptocurrency networks that you mentioned at the top of the show, which we can talk more about. We also help them to connect into that, and we hope over time bring the assets that they’re dealing with onto these new rails.

KS: Onto the new rails, all right. How did you get started in that? What was the … You were a lot of places. You were at RRE, so you were a venture capitalist, essentially.

That’s right. I was a …

KS: Consultant. All kinds of stuff.

Yeah. All sorts of jobs I actually don’t recommend many people try to do.

KS: Okay. How come blockchain?

I was working as a VC, and I was working at a fintech-oriented VC firm called RRE in New York City. I was working for the former CEO of American Express, Jim Robinson. Because of that, even though my job was kind of to do the non-fintech stuff, friends would always send me fintech ideas. I had a friend send me the bitcoin white paper in 2011 and basically say, “What do you think of this startup?” Of course, I quickly learned bitcoin wasn’t a startup, but I was completely captivated by what I was reading.

KS: Why?

Simply because all the fintech that I was looking at and investing in at RRE companies like Venmo and Square and Stripe, these were companies that were sitting at the top of the existing financial stack, the stack being governments …

KS: Underneath, right.

… central banks, regular commercial banks …

KS: Compliance.

… credit card networks, all the compliances. This big fat stack that equals financial services, and fintech … including today, when you think fintech, you’re really talking about these thin layers of user interface …

KS: Or apps, yeah.

… and apps that make it easier to use. Bitcoin was like a huge red reset button that said, “That stack isn’t relevant anymore. We already have the internet. What’s the least we can add to the internet to get back to money?” The answer was a few thousand lines of code, basically. That was conceptually very exciting.

It also struck me that it would take a very long time, if this thing ever became a meaningful part of the economy and the way financial services would work, it would take a very long time to get there. Nonetheless, I started meeting entrepreneurs, meeting startups that were trying to do something with bitcoin. It led me down the rabbit hole. Eventually, I decided I needed to spend all my time on this. RRE very graciously gave me a little bit of seed capital to get me started and that’s when Chain got off the ground.

KS: And you focused on financial firms because it was the lowest-hanging fruit, presumably?

Yeah, our original business plan was, “Let’s make it easy to build with blockchain technology.” We started with developers. We kind of then graduated into larger enterprises. Even to this day, the entire crypto and blockchain space I think is still characterized best as a frontier technology. It’s sort of like VR and AI and robots and drones. There’s definitely some clear value that people have identified, but generally, it’s still largely exploratory. That’s what’s exciting about it, but can also be frustrating if you’re an entrepreneur in this space. It’s nothing like building an iPhone app, for example.

KS: Right, right, and it’s … Go ahead, Lauren.

LG: That was actually going to be my next question. I want to get to bitcoin more, but one question I’ve been too embarrassed to ask is, when you start to consult with companies and tell them, “Here’s your blockchain strategy and here’s what you need,” does that actually translate into them hiring a bunch of people who are expert or knowledgeable in this area, and then they sit in cubes all day and they maintain their database for this company? How does that actually work?

The question we often get in the very first meeting with a traditional financial company is, “Hey, we’d love to do something with blockchain. Can you help us?” Then I’ll usually say, “Well, what’s your problem exactly that you’re trying to solve?” There’s often not a good answer to that very simple follow-up question because, like so many other buzzwords, large institutions, executives, they hear about a buzzword and they say, “Well, we’ve got to do something in this area.”

At the same time, there are meaningful use cases and opportunities that we’ve found and are pursuing, but a lot of the activity is just that: Activity without really substantial impact.

KS: Right. So what is blockchain, really? What is it? Explain. Do it as if you had to do the simple elevator pitch.

Sure. I’m going to answer the question.

KS: Very good.

I’m going to answer the question, but then I’m going to answer a slightly different one, which is, “What is cryptocurrency?” if that’s okay.

KS: Right, yes, that’s true.

Because they’re related.

KS: I just was at an event where someone said, “Blockchain is gold, but not as dumb.”

Interesting. I’ll build on that.

KS: Okay. Well, I think it’s true.

To me, blockchain is two very different things. On the one hand, as a very simple technical answer, it’s just a new type of data structure. It’s a different type of database.

KS: Stores values.

Just a way to store data, actually.

KS: Data, right. Okay.

That’s one extreme and that’s true. At the other extreme, in a much more conceptual sense it is a new internet counterculture. It’s both of those things. Collectively, all the activity you see around the blockchain space is a sort of decentralized movement to sort of challenge the status quo in both Silicon Valley, the sort of FANG stocks, as well as Wall Street. Yet, it’s just a new type of database. So I think neither of those answers actually are very instructive.

KS: Well, it’s a database that doesn’t need gatekeepers.

When implemented in a decentralized fashion like cryptocurrency, it’s exactly that: A database that’s updated without a central authority making those updates.

LG: Does it have to be digital? Can it exist in an analog form or … Actually, Adrian Jeffries from The Verge just wrote a really good piece about blockchain that I encourage everyone to go read, but that was one of the things that was brought up. Does it have to be digital?

That’s interesting. If your listeners Google “bitcoin mining by hand” or on paper, there was someone who actually mined a bitcoin block, did all the mathematical hashing functions with pencil and paper, so maybe there is something to that.

Let me define cryptocurrency because I think that is the central question I think people are still trying to wrap their minds around. What is bitcoin? What is Ethereum? What is filecoin? What are all these ICOs?

I think the best way to understand cryptocurrency is that it’s a new asset class. Like every other asset class, it doesn’t exist for its own self. It’s serving some other form of organization. You think of equities as an asset class, they support companies. You think of bonds, government bonds, they support government borrowing. You think of real estate supporting property owners.

So cryptocurrencies are no different. They’re enabling some higher form of organization, and what that is is called basically decentralized software or decentralized applications. So cryptocurrencies enable decentralized applications. That’s sort of it. Decentralized applications are a new idea and bitcoin was the first decentralized application. It was a decentralized application for payments. It was a way to, say, look at something like PayPal and replace the company with a protocol in a network. It’s for payments.

KS: Right, and give it value.

That’s right. Ethereum, it’s a little bit more meta because it’s a decentralized application for creating decentralized applications, so you sort of have to think of Ethereum like a tree. And if you really want to get at what it’s for you’ve got to look at the fruit and sort of ask, okay, well, do I think this decentralized application, whether it’s a voting system or a prediction market, is useful and interesting.

There’s another one called filecoin, another cryptocurrency where it’s a decentralized application for file storage. So similar to bitcoin looking at PayPal and saying let’s decentralize this, filecoin looks at something like Dropbox or a cloud storage service and asks the question, “Do we really need a centralized application and a company around that application to manage file storage when we have the internet and these protocols in an economic token that we can use to incent people to organize in this new way?”

Cryptocurrencies are really about enabling this new software model, and I think the open question for everyone is in which circumstances are these decentralized software models — which, by the way, are a lot less efficient, a lot harder to use.

KS: Take a lot more energy.

Take a lot more energy. There’s a lot of downsides to them.

KS: Slower.

Slower. So in what situations are they better and on what dimensions are they really differentiated from a centralized product?

KS: What exists. The centralized product, like, you could get it. You could transfer money in seconds and these take what, minutes?

It’s just hard to argue that for everyone bitcoin is better than Visa or filecoin is better than Dropbox or Ethereum is better than Amazon Web Services. What I’ve identified as one attribute that cuts across all decentralized services that centralized services just don’t have, don’t even aspire to have, is censorship resistance. Basically this ability for me to send anyone in the world bitcoin and really nobody can stop the two parties.

KS: Right. Which is why criminals and the porn people love it. At the same time, other people that don’t like all the gatekeepers love it too. Explain Ripple, then, because they’re saying Ripple could be the next bitcoin. Explain what it is and …

Sure. There are two technologies that are called Ripple and Stellar, similar models actually founded by the same person. Ripple and Stellar have a different model than bitcoin. The primary, the best way I could explain this is if you go look at the bitcoin network — and you can do this. There’s a website called Blockchain.info and you can just sit there and watch bitcoin transactions streaming through.

What you’ll see is it’s just different people, you won’t know who they are. It will be anonymous. You’ll see this person sent two bitcoins to this person. You can just watch the network. It’s pretty cool. If you look at the Ripple ledger or the Stellar ledger, again, these are global public ledgers, if you look at those you won’t see primarily the Ripple asset, which is called XRP, or the Stellar asset, which is called Lumen. What you will see instead are all sorts of other assets that are riding on top of those ledgers.

So the core idea in a technology like Ripple is to allow you to anchor in or tether in other assets, but use it as a open rail. I think I get excited about that sort of technology because it starts to now allow us to think about moving assets that are meaningful to us — dollars, loyalty points, securities, bonds — but benefit from very low cost, very transparent, very efficient movement.

KS: Movement. Mm-hmm.

LG: I want to make sure I follow you here because I’m actually on Blockchain.info right now and I see some of the transactions you’re talking about. It’s all BTC, it’s all bitcoin. The other things you’re describing, you’re saying that those are more open? Like Ripple is the equivalent of bitcoin in the sense that it’s a cryptocurrency, but it’s also providing the rails that others can trade on?


LG: Yeah, I think we’re going to have to break this down a little more.

Yeah, so I’ll explain a little bit more. So let’s start with bitcoin and then we’ll come back to Ripple. Part of what’s so difficult in terms of understanding bitcoin is that bitcoin actually serves three purposes on the bitcoin network. There’s a whole bunch getting conflated. It’s very elegant, but it’s helpful to unpack it.

So what are those three purposes? The first is that it provides the economic incentive or reward for the so-called miners which are processing the transactions to do that processing work. They don’t do it out of the goodness of their heart.

KS: They get a piece of it.

They’re getting paid, and so they’re getting paid in bitcoin. That’s its first use.

KS: It goes up in value.

That’s right. Its second use is as the fees that you pay to send a bitcoin transaction. So it actually costs a little bit of bitcoin to send bitcoin. It’s the fee or like the postage stamp that you would put on the envelope. The third thing is it’s the thing you’re sending on the network, right?

KS: Mm-hmm.

It’s like the store value that you’re sending and then you can translate to whatever your local value is, so it’s all three of those in one. In other blockchain models, those three get separated out, and Ripple is a good example. In the case of Ripple or Stellar, their respective tokens are only one of those three things, really. It’s the fee. To send a transaction on Stellar or on Ripple, you have to use their respective token as the postage stamp.

But what’s in the envelope isn’t also that — it can be, but usually it’s not. What it’s designed for is to put any arbitrary asset in that envelope and therefore benefit from the same …

KS: And transfer it.

… transfer model as bitcoin, but allow you to send other things.

KS: Right, not just bitcoin.

Not just bitcoin. I think that’s really important, because I think until we see a convergence of these open rails with assets that actually touch businesses and consumers …

KS: Meaning you’ve got to be able to spend it on something.

That’s right.

KS: So you don’t buy something in bitcoin. You don’t buy anything and … You’ve got to be able to trade in bitcoin for a horse or whatever the heck you want to buy.

That’s right. Bitcoin is not a particularly good medium of exchange. It’s very volatile, which isn’t its fault. It’s just the reality of the way the market works, but therefore it’s not desirable for merchants.

KS: No, why would you take it or give it?

That’s right, who want dollars to pay their bills that are due in dollars. Yes, you can exchange it, but with the volatility being where it is and the fees for exchanging, it all kind of washes out where it’s not that superior to just taking a traditional method of payment. But as soon as we can have the benefits of a bitcoin-like network with any type of asset, now I think you’re going to start to see innovation that will actually touch people beyond …

KS: To people actually use it. People actually …

That’s right, people actually using it.

KS: Why the volatility in price? What are people buying, precisely?

So all the price movement in cryptocurrencies is demand-driven. What I mean by that is when you say, “Well, why is the price of a barrel of oil X or Y?” The supply side …

KS: Well, people are hoarding it.

… and the demand side.

KS: That’s what’s happening, right? They’re grabbing it and holding it. Holder or whatever.


KS: Whatever.

Yeah, H-O-D-L.

KS: I don’t care for their stupid acronyms, but go ahead.

That’s because you’re not part of the counterculture.

KS: Oh, but they’re ridiculous. They’re so …

They want you to say that, though. That’s the thing.

KS: No, they don’t.

They do. They do.

KS: Whatever. What are they, 12?

LG: Wait, I have a question for you.

Many of them are 12. It’s very possible the inventor of bitcoin was only 12 or 13 at the time.

KS: All right, whatever.

LG: All right, the quick question I have about HODL is does it actually … I’ve heard two different explanations for it. It might be both. Does it stand for “hold on for dear life” or is it supposed to indicate that when you type really quickly that you might key in the wrong letter?

It’s the latter, so hold on for dear life was …

LG: It’s the latter? Okay.

… that was quite brilliant because when the thing was going down everyone is saying … But it was originally some kid, probably 12, in an internet forum during an early panic years ago saying, “Hodl,” just a typo, and he became famous. Or she.

KS: You know I have bitcoin. Do you know that?

I’m sorry?

KS: I have bitcoin.

You do.

KS: I bought it when I wrote a story about it in 2013. I don’t know where I put it.

That’s the problem.

KS: Right, that is. I know where I put my gold bars.

It’s like a Jerry Seinfeld, anyone can take a reservation, it’s the holding part. Yes, there’s the HODLers, but I think there’s something beyond that, which is because the supply of cryptocurrency is fixed, so there will only ever be 21 million bitcoins ever minted, it’s actually a very simple way to think about price. It’s all demand-driven. More people want it, the price goes up. Fewer people … So what drives people to want bitcoin and what drives people away from it?

KS: They’re scared of Armageddon, for some reason.

Yes, I think the HODLers are sort of long-term opportunistic, thinking about a better future, a future that they believe in. But I think in the short term it’s actually two different types of fear. There is the fear of missing out, which is … right?

KS: Yeah, of course.

Which is like every cocktail party you go to you hear about a cryptocurrency. You ignore it. Then the next year you’re like, “Oh man, if I had just invested when I heard it at that cocktail party I’d be on 100X return.” So that FOMO, which was really pronounced last year.

Then there’s a different type of fear, which is FUD, or the fear, uncertainty and doubt that this thing is all a giant Ponzi or there’s going to be regulatory or …

KS: Tulips.

… tulips, so it’s actually, it’s this sort of tug-of-war between FUD and FOMO that drives the price in the short run.

KS: There’s also the very real feeling that this world, everything is … I just interviewed Chamath Palihapitiya that everything is co-related, money, everything. It’s affected. This doesn’t get affected, and it’s an asset that you have. Like gold bars, that’s the first thing, gold but not as dumb.

It is.

KS: You’ve got to move gold around. It’s heavy. You need a guard.

It’s uncorrelated, for sure. It’s uncorrelated. I think gold — you brought it up earlier, too — gold’s a great example. Because when somebody asks me, “What’s the right price for bitcoin?” I just ask, “Well, what’s the right price for gold?” Unlike a company where you can do what’s called like a discounted cashflow analysis, look at the potential profit streams and do some math on it and get to a reasonable number for what a company should be worth or building what it should be worth based on rents, gold and bitcoin, they’re not really like that.

KS: No, they’re a hoarding mechanisms. That’s what, it’s a hoarding mechanism of value. Unless you want to wear it.

I think the original bitcoin paper was much more focused on bitcoin being a means of exchange. In reality, what’s happened is it’s become more of a digital gold idea and a lot of …

LG: That people are holding.

That’s not a criticism. A lot of startups start doing one thing, become something else, so …

KS: All right, we’re going to answer a couple more questions very quickly, very fast, because we want to get to the questions. We have so many. ICO, explain what an ICO is, just very quick because …

So it stands for initial coin offering.

KS: Got it.

It’s the idea that a team that wants to create a new cryptocurrency or a new token …

KS: Karacoin.

… like Karacoin, which I think you should do. You have a lot of followers HODLing Karacoin. The idea of an ICO is you’ll sell some of the coins in advance as a way to raise money to then build this project and bring it to market. It’s sort of a funding mechanism that combines a Kickstarter-like mentality with the token itself. It’s come under a lot of scrutiny recently as well from the FCC and …

KS: Ponzi scheme.

LG: How does it turn into actual functioning currency?

So the promise of an ICO is that you give us some money now, we’ll invest that in building the technology, and then when the network turns on your stake will be available on that network. That’s, by the way, exactly how Ethereum came about. So Ethereum …

KS: It’s exactly how stocks work. It’s how anything of value works, right?

Is it how stocks work, is that what you …

KS: Well, it’s equity.

Yeah, that’s true. If you think about a startup, exactly right, a private company, but I think Ethereum, bitcoin didn’t do this. It didn’t, conceptually the first one couldn’t have, but Ethereum did and because Ethereum itself can facilitate, by nature of it being a platform, further tokens to be created on top of it, you saw between 2016 and ’17 a lot of these tokens being created and minted on top of Ethereum. And I’ll say more if you want, but …

KS: No, I think we’ll go …

LG: These are not backed by traditional exchanges, so it’s not like you’re raising, it’s not on the Nasdaq or anything like that.


LG: You’re just saying I want to raise $ 150 million or whatever it is in exchange for when I get my cryptocurrency launched I will give you some of that coin.

That’s right, and then when they do launch, and sometimes even before, they’re listed on cryptocurrency exchanges like Kraken, Poloniex, etc.

KS: I see. Can you build entire societies on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology? We used to trade wheat for horses, we moved around, and assets were worth what they were worth. Not a very organized system, and that’s why we have currency.

Right. I will say there are people in the blockchain community who do see this as a foundational platform for a whole new way to think about society and civilization. As a startup entrepreneur just trying to make money and build a business and hire people, I don’t have a lot of time to be a philosopher, but there are definitely the philosophers in the community who talk about a future where everything is decentralized and enforced on networks, etc.

KS: They thought that about the internet, didn’t they? How old are you? You weren’t around for that.

I’m 36.

KS: No, you weren’t around. They were like that. Same thing, they were going to build communities that the gatekeepers were not going to be able to control.

We’re in the counterculture phase of the emergence of this technology.

KS: Right. The Whole Earth … That whole gang.

Yeah. By the way, this is what attracted me and I think a lot of people. I was in middle school and high school during the ’90s and felt kind of in the atmosphere the change the world …

KS: Oh no, that’s when the money grubbers got there. Before that it was …

Well, my dad was running a BBS out of our house …

KS: Oh yes, of course.

… in the early ’90s, so just before it got a little bit kooky.

KS: Yeah, ’94. The Netscape IPO. That’s the end.

’92, ’93, ’94. And I just loved it. I used to go to 2600 Meetups. I got my drivers license, the first thing I did is I drove to the train station in LA, went to 2600 Meetups, so I loved that era of the internet. I think I was very attracted to bitcoin because it felt like that again. So yeah, I think we’re in that phase again. It’s fun. But again, I don’t know or have a strong point of view on whether that will radically change society.

KS: There will be a Google of this. There will be a Google. There will be a …

Yeah, but they’ll just look so fundamentally different from what Google and Amazon look like that I think people will probably continue to be wrong about what is the next Amazon or Google.

KS: Right. No, 100 percent.

So we have tons and tons of questions. Lauren, I’m going to get to those because we have so many. I love all these questions. We’re here with Chain CEO Adam Ludwin talking about blockchain, ICOs and cryptocurrencies — that’s initial coin offerings and cryptocurrencies — and we’re now going to answer some questions from our readers and listeners. Lauren, will you read the first question?

LG: Sure. The first question is an email from Maryam Mujica, I hope I’m saying that correctly. The email says, “I’m definitely embarrassed to be asking this since I work in tech, but in a non-technical role so cut me some slack. Can you explain in layman’s terms how bitcoins actually work and how if at all they can be used to buy anything?”

KS: All right. Adam?

They can be used to buy things. When I’m demoing bitcoin I usually go to the Wikipedia website and go to donate and then click donate with bitcoin and then scan the donation QR code with my bitcoin wallet, like a Coinbase wallet. That’s usually a pretty good example and experience. If you’ve never used bitcoin to buy anything, I think donating to Wikipedia is a good way to try it out.

KS: You don’t give a full bitcoin to them, do you?

Not a full bitcoin. This is the other thing to know about bitcoin, you don’t have to deal in whole units. Each bitcoin is divisible 100 million times, so you can send up to a one hundred millionth of a bitcoin, which happens to … That cent is called a Satoshi, which is the pseudonym of the founder or founders.

KS: Every five, seven days I get an email from someone who says they’re Satoshi.

Do you really?

KS: One of them will be.

People are claiming to you that they’re Satoshi?

KS: One of them is. I know one of them is Satoshi.


LG: I think Kara is actually Satoshi.

KS: I am Satoshi. I am. I do, I get them all the time. So you can buy … presumably that’s the goal, eventually, is a currency. You want to buy something with it.

Yeah. I don’t know if bitcoin has missed its window to become that. I think it’s very possible it has.

KS: What would be the coin? Amazon coin.

I don’t know that it’s Amazon coin. I think bitcoin as a settlement instrument, as a digital goal, that’s become pretty clear, but I think mediums of exchange that are existing mediums of exchange like central bank money or merchant-issued money is probably …

KS: Yeah, so credit cards and cash seem to work pretty well right now.

Yup, yup.

KS: I think cash …

LG: I would love to be a fly on the wall, by the way, in a meeting room when Amazon meets with the government after it develops its decentralized cryptocurrency and starts having people buy things with it. That would be very fun.

Yeah. Well, Amazon Prime Reload, which is a prepaid cash program, is basically Amazon’s virtual currency.

KS: Yeah, it’s true. But there’s currency involved. I think all, I think currency currency, paper currency, is insane. It’s dumber than gold.

Paper currency is dumb because … I have some paper currency here and I’m just going to take it out.

KS: I never use it anymore.

I take Casual Carpool in the morning so I always have dollars, but the problem with paper, the problem with currency in general is it’s no longer free to use it. So the promise that the government’s going to give you a currency that’s free to transact in society, that’s a broken promise. It actually costs money to use money, not just in terms of bank fees …

KS: You move it around.

Just basic things like yeah, every single transaction costs the counterparts collectively 2 or 3 percent in fees. So we don’t have free money anymore. I think …

KS: It never was free money. It always cost something.

Maybe that’s true.

KS: It always cost something.

Yeah, yeah.

KS: You’re just not adding it up. You’re just not adding, just moving stuff around. You know, drug dealers like it.

Anyway, next is the email from Frank Reid. They like bitcoin better, I’m guessing. “As I understand it, there is no central depository or control of bitcoin other than trying to hide money.” That’s not true. “Why would someone want to invest in it? It seems like it’s the latest pyramid scheme. These pop up from time to time.” All right, that’s the tulip thing, or whatever, the porn center.

It empirically has been the best-performing asset class since the financial crisis, by a long way. People have been saying it’s a Ponzi scheme or the tulip thing …

KS: People believe it.

… and every few years it does have a big crash and correction.

KS: It just did.

It is right now, but it usually crashes to 90 percent higher than the previous low, so I think a Ponzi scheme is, the way I think about the Ponzi scheme …

KS: Pyramid, they said.

Or a pyramid scheme is like some entity that is intending to scam people by showing false returns that are based on new money coming in.

KS: Yeah, that’s true.

It’s not that. It’s not a fraud. It’s an open source technology you can audit and see for yourself. Whether it’s a market mania is a different thing.

KS: Right. Is it worth what it’s worth because it’s worth it?

But again, I come back to …

KS: Where are those dumb sneakers, Frank? I bet you have a pair of dumb sneakers that are not worth $ 1,000.

It’s also like the art market, like gold. There’s actually no empirical answer to what is the right price. It’s just too early. Most nascent technologies, they don’t get noticed in the first few years, nor do they have a massive capital market’s phenomenon around them. This one does because the thing itself is money.

KS: Right, but it has to convert to something. I think that’s the point, it does, but by the way, Frank, it’s not a central depository because it’s decentralized by its very design.

Right, there’s no central depository.

KS: All right, next one. Lauren.

LG: Next one is from Ravish Kumar. “Is the bubble burst and can anyone just spin up their own cryptocurrency?” That’s a good question. “I heard that many companies are working on their own, though I don’t know how true that is. #TooEmbarrassed.”

So the huge market mania in 2007 was — depending on how you count — probably the fourth or fifth big, excuse me, big bull market in bitcoin’s history. Those are usually followed by the market cooling off for a period. Anyone can … What’s the name of the …

KS: Karacoin.

LG: Karacoin.


KS: It’s going to be. It’s coming soon to a pyramid scheme near you.

Karacoin. We could create Karacoin by the end of this interview by taking the bitcoin source code off of GitHub, forking it, renaming it Karacoin, and maybe changing one or two parameters and giving it to the world. Whether Karacoin would have value …

KS: But someone would have to buy it. What price would I put on it?

It would be worth whatever the market says it’s worth. It would just be a demand …

KS: It has to start off at some price.

Well, the first buyer is going to come along and maybe you can set the price. If you’re the only one that has it at the beginning, but typically what would happen if it’s mined would be that people would run mining software and start generating them and they wouldn’t be buying it. They’d actually be converting energy into your coin. Then they would take those two in exchange.

KS: But how do I stop it from more coins being created, because that’s inflation, right?

You would. The way bitcoin works is the number of coins that will ever be created is hard-coded into the software.

KS: So I could make a number.

LG: Oh, so you can decide.

You can pick a number. Yeah.

LG: What are the parameters? When you said that you would take the source code but you’d change a couple parameters, what does that mean?

For example, you could say instead of 21 million Karacoins there’s going to be 100 billion Karacoins. You could say instead of the block time — meaning the amount of time between new blocks being added to the network, instead of that being 10 minutes, we want to make it five minutes.

KS: They can make more.

I’m basically implicitly referring to what actually has happened. So litecoin, if you’ve ever heard of litecoin, effectively took the bitcoin code base, tweaked not probably five lines of code — Charlie, if you’re out there, feel free to tweet at me and correct me — but very small amount of tweaks, renamed it litecoin and created it. It’s one of the interesting kind of emergent behaviors in this space, that you have this rich ecosystem of competing projects vying for attention and the ones that will survive …

KS: There’s going to be one Karacoin and people are just going to trade it back and …

Well, that’s kind of like the Wu Tang Clan album where there’s just the one.

KS: Just the one.

Like that. I think there’s something to that.

KS: It moves from person to person. They pay more and more for it. You see what I’m saying? It’s genius.

I like how you’ve been watching our Recode …

KS: Yeah, that’s true.

Why don’t you do a crypto-conference?

KS: We may launch a currency at Recode. You’re going to launch a currency.

You know what you should call it? Recoin.

KS: Recoin. Oh, you know what? Right now. You’re coming to Code. You are going to start a currency, you and me.


KS: Recoin. Okay, got it.


KS: Together.

I’m with you.

KS: We’re the founders. You’re Satoshi and I’m Satoshi II or something. We’ll have a name like that.

All right. “So what’s the deal with Coinbase?” Yeah, what is that? I think I have an account there. I don’t know how that happened.

Yeah, so Coinbase is a application that will store your bitcoins for you and will …

KS: And protect them from the people who want to kill you to get them.

Yeah, so one of the challenges around bitcoin is very much like paper currency, you’ve got — or gold — you’ve got to figure out a way to hold it securely. So you can hold bitcoin yourself with what are called private keys and you’ve got to keep those private keys in a secure software environment. If you’ve ever lost a password or forgotten a password, it’s about five times harder than managing passwords.

So most people have decided they don’t want to manage their own bitcoin. They want to use a service like Coinbase, which is centralized, and allow that centralized application to do it for them, make it easier to both manage and also to buy and sell. So that’s Coinbase.

KS: And presumably protect you.

They’re the most successful company in the space.

KS: The issues are some people break up their passwords. Sometimes they give it to someone else. They put it in … They don’t want to put in a safety deposit box because someone could take their kid and say, “Go get it from the safety deposit box.” People have a lot of it.

That’s right.

KS: They don’t like to talk about it. Although, these people have gold, too. I don’t know why they’re not nervous about holding the gold where it is. Anything can be taken, essentially. Some people split up everything.

That’s right.

KS: Does Coinbase stop that or is there …

Have they stopped …

KS: Because the bank, it’s really hard to take your money out of the bank.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

KS: Because people are on to that.

Yeah, Coinbase, they have this thing called Vault, which for example has certain limits. Like you can’t take all your money out of the Vault at once. There are additional policies and there are good solutions for folks that are trying to manage a lot of the currency.

KS: That’s the business, protecting it.

Yeah, custody is a big … Cryptocurrency custody is one of the business models that works in this space. Exchange is another good business model. Being your own Satoshi, if it works, is a good business model.

KS: Meaning?

Meaning having a coin that has a large market cap.

KS: Right, right, but at the same time people are worried about holding. Just so you’re aware, if you hold it, don’t tell people you hold it. Don’t. There’s going to be people kidnapping people, things like that, just like they would with gold or a pile of cash. But in the case of gold — or not gold, but a pile of cash — if you start taking it out of the bank, the bank alerts authorities. There’s a good reason for gatekeepers in some cases.

That’s right, yeah. That’s why I have zero crypto.

KS: Right. Oh, interesting. You’re just selling the picks and shovels, aren’t you?

No, I’m joking, but …

KS: Oh, you have zero. You just lied to me.

Yes, yes.

KS: Okay. All right. That means you have 10 billion cryptos. All right.

“How are ICOs and IPOs different? Why can’t ICOs be launched through stock exchanges?”

Fundamentally, an IPO is an initial offering of shares. Shares are the ownership model for companies. ICOs are an initial offering of coins or tokens, and coins are the enable economic model for decentralized software. So just very different ideas there. What unites them — and I think what has drawn the interest of, say, the SEC — is that even though they’re fundamentally different things that they’re supporting and different mechanisms, they both are fundraising mechanisms.

So can you imagine a Nasdaq or a New York Stock Exchange facilitating ICOs? Sure. It would be a totally new business for them, but you could.

KS: You could. All right. Long question. Lauren, why don’t you read the whole thing, try to do it quickly.

LG: Yeah, let’s actually Bradley Kalgovas, thank you for sending in your questions. I’m going to ask the last one in your bunch because I think this is the most interesting and we’ve answered a couple of the others. “Is the price of bitcoin fundamentally linked to the cost of electricity to mine bitcoin? So example, as time goes on, there could be more processing power and more electricity required to power the processor to mine bitcoins so the cost to extract could go up over time.”

The price of bitcoin is not really tied to the cost of electricity, but the profitability of mining is tied to the cost of electricity, meaning the price of bitcoin is X, the amount you have to spend on electricity to get said bitcoin is Y. If you’re in a country with a expensive electricity it’s going to be unprofitable for you to mine. That’s because of the sort of perfect competitive nature of the bitcoin network. That’s why you see most of the mining in low-energy-cost countries like China, potentially even where governments may be even subsidizing.

KS: You make what, 12, what was the … You get point something.

Twelve point five bitcoin. It’s either 25 or 12.5 right now.

KS: But then at some point there won’t be any more.

That’s right. That’s probably another too embarrassed to ask question, which is if …

KS: No more miners.

As I was saying, there’s only 21 million and they’re still being mined, what happens when they’re all mined? By the way, you need miners to keep the network decentralized and operating, so what’s going to happen? The answer is, in addition to what’s called the block reward, which is this newly minted bitcoin that is generating, given to the miner for investing the energy in the network, miners also are the ones who received the fees …

KS: From moving it around.

… that I referred to earlier, from moving around, so they actually get both fees and block reward. So the theory at least is that once the block rewards are all gone, the miners will still have an incentive because of the fees.

KS: Right, so they’ll become bankers. That’s all. They’re bankers, right? They’re the little green guys.

I guess so.

KS: That’s what they are. All right, so let’s do from the Canadian. Which one’s from the Canadian? Here we go. Shami Humphries, which is, “I bought bitcoin from Coinbase not realizing I could add or buy more of it, but not transfer or sell because I’m Canadian. After many attempts …” What, are Canadians barred? Isn’t tariffs enough? “After many attempts to talk to them the only response I got was sorry, not at this time in Canada or Australia. We’re working on it. Do you have any idea” — HODLer — “what might change or how I can extricate myself from this?”

This is funny because Coinbase is like the fail whale of our era.

KS: I know, they’re like Trump.

They’re so successful and they’re doing great stuff and I’m a big fan.

KS: Yeah, I know. I met the CEO yesterday.

But … Brian? Okay, great.

KS: Yeah.

But their customer support has been this perennial challenge.

KS: Fail whale.

And it’s funny that people are so desperate they’re writing in to the Recode podcast to ask the CEO of an unrelated company if he might be able to put in a good word or help out with their customer problems.

KS: Do you know what? We have some dues here.

LG: Hey, that’s not desperate. I was just going to say. We get things done here.

KS: I do things all the time with no idea.

Maybe we can just say if Brian is listening, help out, who is it?

LG: Shami Humphries.

KS: Shami Humphries. All right, next one. So too bad, Shami. You’re going to have to wait until Coinbase or someone else gets to it, essentially. But they’ll get to it eventually.

LG: But we still think they’re nice.

KS: They need to be global. Coinbase has to be global for goodness’ sake, right? Come on.

Yeah, absolutely.

KS: Come on, Coinbase. What the hell.

Bitcoin’s global.

KS: Yeah, that’s right. Next one. Let’s get through these. We’ve got a couple more. We’ve got a lot more.

LG: Next one is from Dorian Benkoil who asks an inside-baseball question for us. “What applications are most likely to take hold in the mediasphere? There has, for example, been talk of both authentication tokens for identifying authors or subscribers and then using blockchain technologies to help with fraud.” So yeah, are we going to be running our new sites on blockchain?

KS: Recoin.

Recoin. I’m looking at this Recode sticker and I could just see it perfectly there. So media, all right, I don’t know much about media. You’re an expert, so I’m sorry to even broach this topic with any sense of an idea here, but there’s this thing called the AD Model.

KS: Mm-hmm. We know it.

I lot of people don’t like the AD Model.

KS: We don’t.

A lot of thinkers in the space, the intersection of cryptocurrency and media are asking is there a way to bridge these worlds so that we can create a new economic model to incent the creation of content, the conception of content, the curation of content? What might that look like?

I won’t say any more than that, other than there are a lot of people thinking about that, exploring that space. I’m hopeful something emerges.

KS: But it’s been done, payments, little tip jars and …

Yeah, the first thought is always the micro-payments, tip jar kind of thing, but I think we know that doesn’t work and I don’t think crypto solves that. I think there are more fundamental questions about can you curate and create content with new incentives? There’s a project called Steam It. It’s Steam, it’s another … It’s like a cryptocurrency Reddit.

The problem is they went too far and the whole thing is just people gaming it to make money off of content and so it’s actually a bad experience for the user when they’re reading the website. But the more experiments in this space, I think, the better. It would be exciting to replace the AD Model on …

KS: It would be. All right, next one, Haps: “I understand blockchains, it’s secure as long as no single entity controls more than half the processing power. If that’s the case, what do I do to combat potential fraud?”

So the listener is referring to something called the 51 percent attack, which I will allow others to Google if they’re interested, but basically yes, it means that a blockchain network, specifically in this case I think bitcoin, is susceptible to being … “taken over” is too strong of a word, but it loses some of its censorship-resistant properties if more than 51 percent of the network is controlled by either one or a set of colluding entities.

KS: That would be China.

In practice, that’s right, actually. I think more than half the mining is probably in China right now.

KS: Yeah, that would be China.


KS: Well, how do you combat it?

Well, it’s interesting because I’ve always wondered why, and maybe this is already happening, but since I’ve begun in this space, I’ve always wondered why U.S. government folks depending upon the department haven’t thought about creating just like a subsidized bitcoin mining project at real scale just in case bitcoin becomes a very important part of the world’s financial system. It just strikes me that China’s been a little bit more forward thinking and taking less …

KS: They only have a science adviser at the White House. It’s not happening, Adam.

True. But this was an Obama … this was too early.

KS: Obama forgot to notice or the Russians …

It was too early.

KS: … were attacking us on Facebook. None of them. None of them.

Yeah, I love Obama. I’m not blaming him, but …

KS: Oh. Oh, I am.

You’re blaming him for not getting into bitcoin?

KS: Not bitcoin. I think the Russian stuff.

Oh, the Russian stuff.

KS: I think all the government failed us on that. You know. Going way back, all the government failed us. They didn’t know. Okay, I’m going to give them …

So you should put the government on the block. You should join these people in Costa Rica that want to do like …

KS: No, Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico. Yeah.

KS: Yeah, they’re crazy. No.


KS: A lot of … Go ahead. Next one, Lauren.

LG: Sure. Next one is from Bridget McGraw. “A lot of resources were dumped into digital badges, also known as micro-credentials in education, but the concept didn’t take off. How would we create a useful blockchain credentialing system for the broken education institution?” I feel like you just do for the insert broken institution here. This is really education.

KS: Yup, yup.

It is interesting that for whatever reason people, maybe because it’s so poorly understood, they take blockchain and make it its savior for everything. So I think tactically what the questioner is getting at is can you issue some sort of token that represents a qualification and put that on a global ledger such that it’s not run by a company that might go away, but for the foreseeable future I can always reference that?

This gets into other questions about, what about using blockchains for identity? What about using it for things like credit reports and credit scores? That whole area is fraught with challenges and I don’t have any good answers, but I’m sure someone smarter does. So I like the question. I don’t know that I have a good answer to it.

KS: Do you know if you put some blockchain on your skin it refreshes it beautifully.

I heard that.

KS: It’s like everything.

I think that’s one of the promises of Recoin if I remember …

KS: Exactly. Recoin is going to solve that.

Don’t forget to put that in your white paper.

KS: No, you’re going to make … You’ve just now been dragooned into Kara’s army.

If you put me in this red chair on your keynote stage I will launch Recoin with you. Okay?

KS: It is happening. Peter Kafka, get ready. Peter doesn’t get any.

“Is bitcoin’s future a long one or do you think it will be closed by another currency eventually?”

I think there will be an ecosystem of several cryptocurrencies. I don’t think it’s steady state to have hundreds or thousands, nor do I think …

KS: It’s like trains.

… it’s good to have one or two in the same way we have email, we have messaging services, we have web, we have Skype. I think you design a network with particular qualities and parameters and you optimize around those.

If you look at the financial system today, equities and loyalty points are very different, they’re very different systems, very different players. I think there will be several, but after any Cambrian explosion you typically get prey before predators, right?

KS: Tons. Yup.

You just get everything blooming and then something comes along and starts eating everything. So we’re kind of in that like everything has bloomed and it’s ripe for some predators, but I think there will be a steady series of several.

KS: The banks are freaking out, also the government. They’ll all try to insert themselves in some horrible lobbying fashion of some sort.

Yeah, yeah. I think that’s right.

KS: They will. They’ll have to.

It’s happening now.

KS: If someone’s going to eat their lunch it might as well be them. That’s what I always say about everything. So next one, Lauren, go ahead. Pick one.

LG: Yeah, we had several questions from our regular question asker, Liz Weeks, but unfortunately we don’t have time for all of them. Here’s one of them. “What happens if blockchain executes something and is then successfully challenged in court or an administrative process? For example, what if challenges a smart contract after it executes, is it irrevocable? If so, should we consider a higher level of capacity to execute a smart contract than a traditional contract?”

KS: Yeah, these are contracts. That’s what these are.

At the end of the day, a transaction on a blockchain is an irreversible bit of code that has been executed and forms an immutable history.

KS: Mm-hmm.

In fact, I think it’s pretty good evidence in court if you have the appropriate expert witnesses to explain it to the judge. So I think you’ll see probably more and more cases where a smart contract executed on a blockchain, if properly understood, will be about the best evidence you can have that you entered into a counterparty relationship and the thing was executed.

Now, the question becomes what happens if there’s a bug in the software and the spirit of the agreement is executed differently because it was written improperly? As everyone knows, all software has bugs. Those are issues which I think will be litigated.

KS: What happens if water pours on paper contracts? You can do that to everything.

That’s interesting. Yeah.

KS: Everything has comparability. The next question was about treaties, too. The same thing is how can you make sure people don’t go rogue on treaties?


KS: People can break them.

Yeah. I think in general folks are viewing blockchains as a solution to enforcing contracts and it’s helpful in general just to appreciate that. A blockchain can only enforce things that are native to the blockchain, so if you and I, Kara enter into a contract that says I will give you this bottle of Gatorade, the blockchain can’t say whether I did or not.

But if there’s a token on an Ethereum network that represents that Gatorade and I give that to you on the network, the contract can enforce that you have the Gatorade token, but again, it doesn’t mean that I’ve actually given you the Gatorade that it represents. So any time parts of reality live outside of a blockchain, the blockchain can’t actually help you. That often gets …

KS: So if a house gets transferred or …

Exactly. That’s a great example. A house or … There’s this IBM commercial I saw I think during the Super Bowl where it said, “This is a diamond. It’s on the blockchain thanks to IBM.” I’m going, “Okay, the diamond is sitting in a room somewhere. It’s not on the blockchain.”

So anyway, these connections between the real world and the digital, we have a long way to go before this tool can really help us.

KS: Yeah, you can’t make people from being cheaters. You can’t stop them. You cannot stop humanity from behaving badly.

I think that’s a deep and important point.

KS: For things. For things.

Yes, but on Recoin you will be able to.

LG: That’s like the internet. All tools can be used for good and can be used for bad.

KS: Okay, last question. I think I’ll ask it for both of you, but from Walt Mossberg, he’s a retiree. He’s trying to figure out where to put his money, his pile. Believe me, there’s a lot of piles of money over there, but it’s all in gold under his bed, of course, where Walt likes to keep it. He sleeps on it.

“Would you,” Lauren Goode, “accept your salary or your 401K match in bitcoin?” Same thing with you, Adam. Lauren?

LG: Only if it was Mosscoin. No, salary, no. 401K match, maybe. Maybe I’d be willing to experiment with that, but I’d have to do a little more research into it. It’s amazing actually when you think about all the people, myself included to a point, who will put things in mutual funds or say, “Sure, I’ll do it, my company will match my 401K and it will be distributed and diversified in some way,” but if you don’t actually really look at where it’s being held or what the movement is like, you could actually have no idea what’s going on.

KS: You never see your money, Lauren.

LG: What’s happening to your savings.

KS: When everyone’s talking about all these, I don’t want my money to be virtualized. It is virtual. You never see your pile of money. You don’t have a safe like in Harry Potter where it’s all sitting there making nothing, doing nothing.

It’s true. You want me to answer?

KS: Yes.

LG: Yes.

No, I wouldn’t want to take my salary in bitcoin because I think of cryptocurrencies and crypto-assets as part of a portfolio of assets, and I want to think about them separately in terms of what my allocation is going to be and which ones I want, if I want to rebalance and go long on certain ones or short on certain ones.

So I think of my paycheck as the thing I want to be the most stable kind of flat-line boring thing possible that I can then go and say, “All right, I’ll throw it away on this high-risk investment and see what happens,” or, “I’ll spend it on a latte.”

KS: What portion should people … Some are saying 2 percent.

I usually say, if you’re early in your kind of investment horizon, I tell friends 5 percent of your portfolio in crypto actually seems responsible.

KS: In which ones? All of them or just …

No, not all of them, because to your point earlier, there are a lot of hucksters and people that are just taking advantage, but there’s an emerging class of five or six that really are — and this is kind of goofy to say — but kind of blue-chip ones in this space, and there will be more. You do still have to be prepared to lose it all. It’s just, it’s that stark still.

KS: It’s like real estate in Florida. It could just be swamp. Lauren, would you accept your salary in avocado toast?

LG: You know, with how well it’s doing in San Francisco right now, absolutely.

Isn’t that the idea of a startup?

LG: That stuff is worth like $ 12.

KS: It is. It keeps going up in price. That’s because they add furikake or whatever that Japanese spice is to it. Then that’s another $ 3.

Anyway, this has been riveting. I’m going to talk to you about Recoin when we stop.


KS: This has been another great episode. Adam, we’re going to have you back to give us updates because this is really helpful. This is something that people are really interested in and they should be. It’s not total silliness. The redo of our currency system is the one thing that has resisted the internet and digital things, and so in some ways we’ve stayed in the dark ages in finance, for sure. It’s going to change. Same thing with health care and some other areas. So thank you for joining us.

Thanks for having me. This was a lot of fun.

LG: Thanks so much, Adam.

Recode – All

Cash For Apps: Make money with android app

Full transcript: Senator Chuck Schumer on Recode Decode

How Complete Beginners are using an ‘Untapped’ Google Network to create Passive Income ON DEMAND

The Senate Minority Leader talks about Amazon, net neutrality and why you can’t negotiate with Donald Trump.

On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY, talks with Kara and Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen about a range of tech-related issues, including immigration, net neutrality and Russian election meddling.

You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Kara Swisher: Recode Radio presents Recode Decode, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as the creator of the popular Facebook page “100 Percent American Patriot News, Definitely Not From Russia, But Don’t Look Too Closely. In my spare time I talk tech, and you’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts, or just visit recode.net/podcasts for more.

Today I’m joined once again by democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, who regular listeners may remember co-hosted a month of political episodes with me last year. One of the people we wanted to talk to back then was Senator Chuck Schumer, he’s the senate minority leader and the senior United States Senator from New York, obviously, and he’s joining us today from Washington, D.C., for a shorter Recode Decode, but we’re thrilled to have him. Senator, welcome to Recode Decode.

Chuck Schumer: Kara, great to be with you, I’m looking forward to it.

KS: We have so much to talk about, we could talk for hours, I’m guessing. Let’s go right into it. You’ve been in the Senate for 20 years now and the leader for one. I’d just like to know what the biggest difference … you’re in an administration that’s quite active too, so why don’t you talk a little bit about that?

Okay, well I’ll tell you a story. I like stories. Abe Lincoln said, “The best thing a politician can do is tell stories.” It’s election night, 8:00 pm, I see the exit polls of college-educated women, North Carolina and Florida, the first two states to close, and I go, “Oh, boy.” I call up Hillary’s chief pollster, strategist, guy named Benenson, he says, “Don’t worry, our firewall in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan can’t be broken. There’s no way Trump wins.” Of course, he won, and the next morning just by way of reference, Paul Ryan called me up, the Republican Speaker, and I just happened to ask him, “Well, did this come a surprise to you, Paul?” He told me this story, I hadn’t told him the 8:00 pm story.

He said, “I called up our chief pollster at 6:30 pm, he said, “Sorry Paul, Feingold’s going to be your new Democratic senator in Wisconsin. Schumer’s going to be majority leader, Hillary’s going to be president.”

Okay, I am distraught, my wife is distraught, my big daughter is most distraught, because she had worked in the Hillary campaign and had her job picked out in the White House. I taught them the old Shirelles song, some of you will remember this, “Mama said there’d be days like this,” and I moped around in my house for two days. I’m not a moper.

Hilary Rosen: As did the rest of the country.

The third day, I had an epiphany, almost a message from the heavens. It went like this: “Chuck, stop moping. If Hillary had been president, your job would be easier, it would be more fun, and you’d get some good things done. That’s why you’re there. But with Trump as president and you as minority leader, your job is much more important.” That has fueled me the whole way through. This is the hardest job I’ve ever had. Much harder than just being senator, particularly with Trump as president. I worry more in this job. I wake up in the morning and I have three or four things I’m always worried about. I’m not a worrier, I never used to worry, but I love it more than any job I’ve had because what we’re doing is so vital and so important to saving America.

KS: How is your frenemy relationship going right now? You were down with immigration and sort of up with Dreamers then down with Dreamers, and it goes back and forth quite a bit. Where is it right now? How do you characterize it? Because I can’t tell what’s happening there.

He likes to talk to me. He calls me up, but I’m right in his face. He said to me when we were debating immigration, “Everyone loves the wall.” I said, “Mr. President, 35 percent of the people like the wall, that’s your base. If you keep just appealing to your base, you’ll never be re-elected and you won’t be a good president.”

I said to him time and time again, “You’ve campaigned when you ran as a populist, and against both the Democratic and Republican establishments, but you’ve embraced the hard right. The hard right is so far away from not only where the American people are, but even most Republicans. You’re going to be an abject failure as president. You ought to change.” I talk to him like that, and he keeps calling me back.

HR: Do you sense you’re one of the few who actually does talk to him that way?

I think I am one of the few. Most of the people around Trump seem to be in the sycophant mold. That’s not quite my nature.

KS: Let’s ask about Dreamers though, where are they now? You were getting along with them, you had that lovely, I don’t know, lunch or whatever it was, dinner. This was supposed to be the easy one and it hasn’t passed, obviously. That’s a concern here, immigration issues are a major concern in technology and the technology sector.

Of course, of course. Well, we need immigration in tech. I’ll tell you an interesting thing. When McCain and I did the 2013 immigration bill — which passed the Senate with 68 votes but the Tea Party stopped it in the House, Boehner was afraid to bring it up even though it would have passed — but we put on the legislation, where of course there was a path to citizenship for the 11 million. We also said that any foreigner who studies STEM — science, technology, engineering or math — and gets an MA or PhD at one of our universities gets a green card stapled to his or her diploma.

That would have been such a shot in the arm for tech, and still today, I’ve nurtured and helped the New York tech industry, which now doesn’t need much nurturing. We’re No. 2 after California. When I asked them what their complaints are, it’s still getting talent and how many people from overseas want to come here and can’t.

With Trump, in answer to your question, I said afterwards, negotiating with him is like negotiating with Jello. I try when I’m negotiating to put myself in the other person’s shoes. I knew Trump wanted his wall. I hated the wall, but I felt, we all felt so desperate to help the plight of the Dreamers, that we were willing to give him not the cutbacks on legal immigration, which involved humanity, and not interior enforcement, and not sanctuary cities, which would hurt lives, but this physical structure of the wall, which I believe never would have been built.

To build a wall in the 60 miles that he first wanted to, you needed 982 eminent domain cases. Anyway, we gave him what he wanted but he couldn’t take yes for an answer. We sat at the table, myself, I insisted it just be his chief of staff, Kelly, my chief of staff, Mike Lynch, him and me. I didn’t want Miller there or Cotton or anybody else; these anti-immigration people. Basically, we didn’t shake hands on a deal, but we said this is the parameters of a deal, we think we can both accept it. Immediately he talks to Miller and Cotton and adds all these unacceptable things. You can’t negotiate with him because it’s like Jello.

KS: What happens now then? Where are the Dreamers? Where is immigration? This is wending through the courts and everything else. What happens?

We meet regularly with the Dreamers and the other groups that have been with us through the battles on immigration. The first thing we’re doing is urging Trump to simply extend the date. He caused all this problem.

KS: He created the deadline.

He created the deadline. He can lift it tomorrow. We’ve said that to him. If he doesn’t, we will then have to see, in this omnibus bill that comes up March 25th, if we can get something in that’s positive for Dreamers and extends the deadline. The problem has been Paul Ryan. Not so much the Senate, although some — and you saw the vote in the Senate even on our bipartisan bill — but Ryan has been very negative here but he’s feeling the heat from two places. One, the deportation, the breaking up of families, just the total nastiness of this administration to Dreamers is just an issue that strikes the heart chords of America.

Second, he’s got 30 or 40 so-called moderate Republicans in suburban districts, and those districts are putting heat on those people to say, “Do something.” Now in the past, unfortunately, when the hard right, the Freedom Caucus, says jump, Ryan says, “How high?” and that’s what’s tied us in a knot. But maybe he’ll feel the pressure this time.

KS: We’re going to take a quick break now for a word from our sponsors. We’ll be back in a minute with Senator Chuck Schumer.


HR: There’s such unanimity among Californians and in the tech community and maybe on the coasts to support the Dreamers and to support some immigration bill. There was this perception after the budget at the end of last year that maybe Democrats didn’t use all the leverage that you had to try and do something. Do you think that’s because the politics of immigration aren’t really the same way that Californians or the tech industry perceives it?

That’s certainly true, Hilary, but I remind people, we’re playing with a pair of fours. We have a Republican president, a Republican Senate, a Republican House, led by a Republican party that is the most anti-immigrant we have ever seen in the history of America. We can pressure as best we can, but we really don’t hold the cards. Democrats hate to shut down the government. We hate it. We like government. We’re not like the Republicans. The only time we’ve ever done it has been for Dreamers. We put the issue on the table. We came real close in the bipartisan vote where he got the piece of the wall, which I think would never be built. We got a really good bill on Dreamers, not just 700,000 but close to two million citizenships for them.

Then Trump lobbied against it. The Republicans backed off, so at some point we’re going to have to go back at it again, and we will, but we got to call our shots because we can’t just pound our hand on the table and say, “It’s going to get done.” One reminder, if all of those who support Dreamers, Dreamers themselves, the Hispanic community and all those who support it, if we take back the majority in House and Senate, it’ll get done like that.

KS: You’ve got this pair of fours you’re carrying around. Net neutrality, explain what you want to do here and why you think you can be successful. This is another issue. Ajit Pai runs the FCC.

Well first, I feel really strongly about net neutrality. Like building highways, in the 21st century the net is our highways, and if we were, as a country, to have tolls everywhere and say rich people could use the highways and poor people couldn’t, middle-class people couldn’t, startup businesses couldn’t, we never would have gotten to the place we have here as such a strong economy. It’s the same exact thing with the net.

I really resent these ISPs. I talked to them. They came in and made the case, I felt more strongly for net neutrality after they came in than before because it’s clear they want to maximize their profits by squeezing people who don’t have much power and acceding to people who do.

We feel very strongly about this. This unites our caucus from the most liberal to the most moderate. The advantage we have here, which we didn’t have in immigration, is since it was done by regulation, by Pai, who I think is a horror as head of the FCC — I’m not supposed to use such a strong word. Let me strike that and say …

KS: Horror?

… a very bad leader.

KS: I can think of bigger.

As the head of the FCC. We’re allowed to bring to the floor within 60 days of them passing this regulation a motion to overturn it, and it only takes 51 votes. We now have all 49 of our Democrats. We’re 49 since Doug Jones from Alabama joined us, and one Republican, Susan Collins, so we’re at 50. We get one more Republican to support what’s called CRA, Congressional Resolution Act, to overturn Pai’s regulation on net neutrality, it passes.

We are urging strongly our friends throughout America to email, write, call, picket, protest their senators, particularly their Republican senators if they’re in such a state, and say, “Support the CRA to restore net neutrality. Support restoring net neutrality.”

I remember SOPA and PIPA. We had millions of people emailing and protesting and we succeeded in beating it. We can do the same thing here. We’re trying to rouse the community.

KS: Are you working with the big tech companies to do that?


KS: Who are you working with?

Yes, we’re working with the big tech companies, the little tech companies. I was on the phone today with the head of the Internet Association asking him to get all of his membership, which goes all the way from the biggest tech companies to the others.

I put in a call to someone I know, Reed Hastings. Netflix users will pay a lot more money if this happens, and they might get slower service too. I’d love Netflix to, any time you subscribe, to just have a little chyron on there and say, “Write your senator. Don’t be charged more for your movies.” We need to get all of our tech providers, big and little.

I spoke to Fred Wilson today, who’s one of the funders of tech in New York. We’re trying to get the whole tech community to rally the way they did with SOPA and PIPA. Folks, a lot of it depends on the employees in these companies. If they tell their leaders in their companies, “Please get onboard here,” that’s going to help too.

HR: I think one of the reasons this becomes different than SOPA and PIPA is that there really are customers on both sides of the equation here. When you look at Netflix or Amazon or YouTube, they take up 75 percent to 80 percent of all the bandwidth on the internet, and then these telephone companies feel like they’re subsidizing those businesses, but both of them charge customers, right?


HR: Netflix charges customers more anyway, right?

Yeah, it’s not the fight between Netflix …

HR: It’s money versus money.

I want to be for the people, for the average person. This is going to cost them more because Netflix won’t reduce their prices, but the cable companies and the ISPs will raise their prices.

KS: Also, Netflix did do a deal with Comcast, so a lot of people felt like they backed off the fight after they got theirs.

It’s not just Netflix, it’s a whole bunch of companies that should do this.

HR: Do you think if you got 51 senators that that would lead to compromised legislation, or do you just see it as just a fight at the FCC?

I’d like to keep fighting. I am very leery with a Republican controlled House and Senate of legislation this year. Again, if we get back the majority, I’d like to do good legislation and force Trump to sign it. I’d make one more point here related to this and everything else. The M.O. of our Republican colleagues — I’m sorry to sound partisan here, but these are the facts — they always side with the big interests over the average people. That’s certainly true here in net neutrality. Average folks will pay more. New startup companies, Fred Wilson, who I talked to, who’s funded a lot of the startups in New York, they’re petrified because their larger competitors will get better rates than they do.

If you’re a new company, a new startup, that’s going to kill you. They are siding with the big special interests — surprise, surprise — and we’re trying to help the average people. The good news here is because this was a regulation that was passed in the last six months, we have the ability on our own with a couple of Republican votes to overturn it, then we’ll have to go to the House. But I think if we get people to rise up the way they did with SOPA/PIPA, there were two sides there too. There were the companies, the content providers and the tech community on one side versus the other. If we get people to rise up, we can have the same positive result. A lot of Republicans on SOPA and PIPA who never wanted to side with average folks were forced to.

KS: Can you walk us through, when it passes, what happens? If it passes, you get that extra senator, is there anyone you’re targeting? Then what happens?

Well, we’re targeting everybody right now because it’s just starting. We have 60 days from last Thursday, so we have a long time. We’re going to have days of action where we build things up. There’s a discharge petition, that’s a technical thing.

I just had a meeting of seven or eight senators, Senator Markey, Senator Wyden, Senator Cantwell. People have been very involved in this issue. We’ve divided up the heads of the big companies and calling them. I’m going to do calls with every New York college newspaper to get them to write about it. We’re just starting to rally here. And hey, Kara, it got me on your show.

KS: Yeah, that’s true. Fair point.

HR: You think the politics of this work for Democrats?

Absolutely. Here, I want to say something interesting here. It’s a little broader but it’s related. Our secret weapon to win back the House and Senate, we got a few, but one of the top ones, probably the top one is the millennials, the 18 to 35. These are the people who know tech the best. They’re going to be the largest voting cohort this year.

I’m a baby boomer. I was born in 1950. My children are the millennials. They’re 28 and 32. They’re the largest voting cohort. They’re overwhelmingly Democratic, all of a sudden. Four reasons I want to mention, and this is very nice. It gives me help. Oh, let me tell you, Hillary only won millennials by plus seven.

In the New Jersey governor race, millennials went by 41 points for the Democratic candidate, in Virginia 38 and in Alabama, where we won that senate race, the millennials and the African-Americans were our two secret weapons and we won by 20 points. Millennials in Alabama. This is a big deal.

Why are the millennials so for us? Four reasons in ascending order of importance, and this is going to give you faith in America. Fourth, college. They want help with all the burden of all these student loans they have. Third, environment, green. These folks are very green. Second, freedom. Net neutrality, decriminalization or legalization of marijuana, the freedom to do what you want, and net neutrality is way up on that list because it gives people freedom to pursue things on the internet without too much cost.

The No. 1 reason, bigger even than net neutrality and bigger than all the others, is this — and this one came as a surprise to me. The others are sort of intuitive. The younger people hate the bigotry, the smell of discrimination that’s coming out of Trump and the Republicans. The anti-women, anti-black, anti-LGBT, anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim.

I thought about it after I learned this and, very interesting, at my wedding, 1980, to my wife, not a person of color was at our wedding. There were probably gay people but we didn’t know they were gay. They wouldn’t tell us in those days. My daughter’s wedding a year and a half ago was like the United Nations. Not because she was picking and choosing. That’s who she went to elementary school with, high school with, college with, works with, has friends with.

What we’ve learned, Kara, this is so interesting, on the coasts, they would call it bigotry. In the middle of the country, even high school educated kids, women more than men because they’re more sensitive to discrimination, would say, “We don’t like the way they’re dividing us.” When you think about it, almost every group of friends has a black, has a gay, has women. When Trump picks on them and the Republicans pick on them, they tell their friends, “I don’t like this,” and neither do their white male friends.

HR: True.

This is our future.

HR: That’s the “Netflix and chill” tweet that you’re …

Yeah, that was Netflix and chill.

HR: We’re going to get some Netflix and chill and maybe slow this down.

I want to confess, I didn’t know what chill … I knew what chill meant in my generation, which means the opposite of what Netflix and chill means today.

KS: In the #MeToo movement, let’s not go down that road. We can talk about #MeToo in a second. I want to touch on a couple things: Guns.

I have a great #MeToo story, okay?

KS: All right, go ahead.

I’ve been an advocate of #MeToo.

KS: I do want to get to guns, midterm elections and Russian bots. Go ahead.

We will. When #MeToo came out, my mom, I haven’t told this publicly yet, but I’m going to do it here. She’s 89. She told me just in October the following story after #MeToo started. She was 17 years old. It was 1945. She was on the diving board at a camp where she was a counselor, and a parent of one of the kids at the camp, who was a big deal in her neighborhood, he owned jewelry stores. I’m going to leave out his name, even though he’s dead now. He grabs her from behind and pushes her into him. She says, “What are you doing, Joe?” She jumps off the diving board.

She goes into the changing room, which is an open co-ed changing room. He comes behind her, takes down the straps of her bathing suit and says, “Turn around, Selma,” and she turns around, he’s naked. She runs out of the changing room and goes back up and she tells — this is the part that really was amazing to me, even worse or as bad as the previous part. She told her mother, she told her father, she told her grandma who she was close to. They said, “Don’t tell anyone. They’re going to blame you.”

That was in 1945. Just about every woman has had stories like this or a friend who has stories like this. I tried to explain this to my male friends, colleagues, that men just don’t understand it because they’ve never experienced this, but so many women have. It took the #MeToo movement for my mother to tell me this story, whatever it is, 44 years later.

HR: God bless her. And her voice.

Isn’t that amazing?

HR: God bless her.

KS: It’s not surprising to women, I think. Everybody has a story, especially in tech. Everywhere. Every sector. There’s not sector of the U.S. economy that it hasn’t affected, at work especially and everywhere in their personal lives.

We’re going to take another break for a word from our sponsors. We’ll turn to Hilary Rosen and my conversation with Senator Chuck Schumer after this.


I want to get to regulation in big tech, because one of the things people feel that tech has — especially social media — has become weaponized and coarsened our culture. Obviously Donald Trump is really talented at Twitter, whether you like it or not, but he’s good at it. A lot of people feel that there needs to be regulation of big tech on lots of issues, from tech addiction to fake news, antitrust, advertising and transparency. Democrats, which used to be the supporters of tech, are now much more negative on it. Do you feel that way or do you feel that the regulation’s necessary?

I think it’s a very difficult question. First, let me say this. The people who most want to undo tech is the hard right. Donald Trump and the hard right do not like anything stated against them. They all watch Fox News, which is totally biased. Any time there’s groups that can talk against them, agglomerate against them, they don’t like it. The left is mad at tech for reasons, but it’s not the same. I have no doubt that the hard right and Trump would like to undo tech as much as they could, even though he uses Twitter.

Now a broader issue. For a decade, tech was a great, great thing. It allowed people to agglomerate. It allowed people who had no power, who didn’t own a newspaper, who didn’t own a TV station, who didn’t have a megaphone, to get together and have power. We would not have the guns movement. I have some optimism on guns, but only because online we’re going to have, they have five million they hope to get in Washington on the 24th against the NRA.

KS: The gun march.

Wouldn’t have happened without the net and without a big, broad, powerful internet. That’s true on immigration. That’s true on the issues. We Democrats represent average folks. Tech gives us the advantage. We don’t have a Fox News. We don’t have Rush Limbaugh who gets 20 million people a day. It’s our antidote. I am sympathetic.

Now because it’s so open and so free, lots of dark forces have taken advantage, and I certainly think tech has to modulate itself. One easy example for us in politics, all ads should have to be made public, who’s paying for the ads when they’re political ads, just like you have to do on television or radio, and I don’t know why big tech resists that.

HR: The Warner Klobuchar.

It’s the Warner Klobuchar legislation. There are probably other changes, but I think you have to be careful. Government regulation of speech is a frightening thing, and often has a bigger downside than upside. I approach the issue with care, maybe moreso than some of my colleagues who would have similar politics to me.

HR: Some of the regulation of tech in the FCC net neutrality order ended up going over to the FTC. What they said was the FTC should be more active in antitrust and in consumer protection, and now the Senate is going to …

Consumer protection I’m all for. That’s a different issue than regulating speech. That’s the worry I have here. Given tech is so new, we probably have to look at it, but we ought to approach it with caution.

HR: Do you think the FTC should do more?

I’d have to study it a little more. Any Trump-appointed agency, I’m dubious of.

KS: What about the responsibility of tech? Facebook, Twitter, other things?

That’s a different issue.

KS: Being used by Russia. Hillary Clinton, we interviewed her last year at the Code Conference, talked a lot about this. A lot of people made fun of her at the time. How do you come down right now and what should these tech companies do?

I think they should do more on their own for sure. That’s the antidote to government regulation and also the antidote to a lot of this stuff. Now they’ve had some successes. Facebook took off 50,000 fake accounts before the French election and it was relatively free. I’ve talked to the leaders of Facebook, Twitter, Google about this. I’ve told them, make efforts to figure out how to deal with this issue without doing too much impinging on free speech or the government’s going to come in and change you, and that will not be good. I think they get it, and their first big test will be the 2018 elections.

I don’t think the Trump administration will do a thing. The amount the Trump administration is doing against Russia is appallingly zero almost. It’s up to tech to do more, and I do think they’re making an effort not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because I think they know down the road their survival depends on it.

HR: That is the test, then, is the midterms, that you think that nothing is going to happen in Congress or in regulation before the midterms.

No. Oh, with these guys? No.

HR: Tech is essentially on the hook to make sure the election feels fair.

Yes. I think tech has to make sure. For instance, they should knock out all these fake accounts. They’re already, I forgot the word, but downgrading things they think are fake, so it comes up less on Twitter, less on your Facebook News Feed. If you got the Russians, let’s say they have 50 websites and they all do the same thing. First they’re talking about this and then an hour later they’re all talking about that. That’s suspect.

HR: Pretty good sign.

Yeah, that’s a pretty good sign. They should look into that. Maybe they can’t shut them down, but they can so downgrade them so it’s only one rather than 50 people bouncing around the same message so that it goes way down on their list.

HR: Do you see Facebook as a media company?

Well, it’s everything. Facebook’s a very powerful force. I think overall it’s been a very positive force. I think now people are taking advantage of the openness of the net, and Facebook has an obligation to try and deal with it. I’ve talked to them. I truly believe they want to. I truly believe they know that their future is at stake with this. I also believe it’s a hard thing to do.

And here’s another thing I worry about. They tried to deal with certain things in the past, and the hard right went and criticized them, because much of this, the left does very little of this. I mean, we don’t use bots the way the Russians would or the hard right people would, we meaning the left, not me. I think when they do that, the hard right criticizes them, they’re going to have to be a little more immune to that criticism and go after the fake stuff and separate it from the legitimate stuff, even if it’s a little bit crazy what legitimate people are saying and doing.

KS: When you talk about this power, you’re pretty kind to the tech companies. A lot of people are less thrilled with them.

Yeah, I am more sympathetic because I think they’re in very difficult position and I worry about government regulation.

KS: All right, but what about the power that they have and what’s coming down the pike? Automation, robotics, AI, all these very important technologies could make them more powerful than ever, almost like nation states themselves. Does that worry you at all?

Well, it’s something I’m concerned about, yes. Do I know what the consequences are, let alone the solutions? No.

HR: To Kara’s point, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how companies other than online communications companies, but companies like Amazon and what they’re doing to communities and retail and the like.

There’s another one. Now Amazon does great things for huge amounts of people, and they only have 3 percent to 4 percent of the retail market. Could it get greater? Yes, but again, I’d be careful. I’d be careful because they are creating cheaper better competition, people get better goods, cheaper goods.

I guess my feelings are a little more nuanced. Yes, they’re big, but big can do good things as well as bad things, and you got to separate the wheat from the chaff. Would the world be a better place or a worse place if there were no Amazon right now? My guess is a worse place. Yet, there is a lot of problems, for sure.

KS: You don’t see a Microsoft monopoly trial in any of the futures of these companies, or maybe? You were around for that.

When Microsoft was a big monopoly and I thought they were much more rapacious, I fought them. Back in the ’90s, they didn’t talk to me for 10 years.

HR: You’re not seeing that right now?

I am not seeing the same thing. I go to my small tech companies and say, “How does Google treat you in New York?” A lot of them say, “Much more fairly than we would have thought.”

KS: Not Yelp. I have just one more question.

No, Yelp, I’ve spoke to Jeremy Stoppelman. He does not feel that way.

HR: Yeah, they feel differently. Right.

I have.

KS: No. Just one more question from me and then Hilary might have a follow-up.

Kara, it’s more mixed. It’s more mixed in terms of the …

KS: Mixed, I agree with you. I agree with you. There’s too many of them. There’s lots of them. I’m just curious, Hilary’s going to ask you a question I think about where you see the midterm elections going and what you’ll do if you’re the majority leader, but I’d like to know how do you involve yourself in tech? One of your daughters works in tech. Are you a techy? Would you call yourself that?

No. I’m interested in it. I read every article about it, but I am not a techy. In fact, I’ll tell you a funny story. I’m well known for my flip phone. I don’t have an iPhone because my chief of staff, Mike Lynch, in 2004, said, “You know what, someone’s going to hack into this down the road, and you’ll say on your phone, ‘Ugh, Senator so and so, what a moron,’ and that’ll be the end.” I use my cellphone, and I actually … maybe I’m old fashioned.

HR: You don’t text either?

I don’t do texting. I get emails on my iPad. I get emails, but I don’t text. I don’t even know how to do it. I’m backward that way.

KS: You’re not on Snapchat?

Putin is not listening in to me, Kara. He can’t.

KS: You’re not Snapchatting then I’m guessing, right?


KS: Nothing? None of it? You could use Signal. There’s a thing called Signal. They are encrypted.

They will figure out how to capture your instantaneous Snapchats down the road or Signal or anything else.

HR: Communicate the old-fashioned way.

Old-fashioned. I like people. I like to talk to people. I sit on an airplane. I ask the person sitting next to me their life’s history. Wouldn’t be the same if we did it online.

KS: Okay. Hilary, why don’t you ask the election question, then we’ll let the Senator go.

HR: Two quick questions, lightning round then. When does the presidential campaign start, by the way?

It shouldn’t start until 2019. My attitude, who people ask. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Let there be lots of candidates all over the lot and let them go through the crucible of the first year, year and a half. Now, the one thing I’d say is we shouldn’t beat the daylights out of each other. We have a far greater enemy in Donald Trump. Politically speaking, he’s the enemy.

HR: That’s some advice Democrats are not yet taking from you.

No, and I think the difference between a mainstream Democrat and a far left Democrat is about 2 percent of the difference between either of them and Donald Trump. We have an emergency here. We got to keep our eye on what we have to do, which is beat Trump.

Now in 2018, to preempt your question, I think we can take back the House and the Senate. Why? The millennials I mentioned. Second, Democrats are getting much better. This is a tech issue. As we all know, Donald Trump did a better job on the social media than we did. We have learned to do. We are getting advice from some of the biggest, the best smartest people in tech, a lot of them are very comfortable. They made money and they’re working for us full-time.

In Alabama, our social media helped turn out millennials. Our social media and learning how to do turnout, especially in the African-American community where for the first time it wasn’t a bunch of white guys telling the blacks how to turn out, but we had indigenous people running the whole show. Millennial turnout and African-American turnout was higher than in 2016, but also higher than 2008 and ’12. We’re using social media really well. We’re going to kick the pants off the Republicans on social media.

You also have swing voters. I’m going to conclude by giving you one little vignette here. We looked at our five most Republican states where we have Democratic senators: Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia. We took out the people who always vote Republican, always vote Democrat, but looked at the broad middle, about 60 percent.

Here was the key question. These are Republican states. Do you prefer a Republican senator who had helped Donald Trump pass his agenda on jobs in the economy? That’s his strong suit. Or a Democratic senator who will serve as a check and balance on Donald Trump whenever appropriate? 72 percent, check and balance. 20 percent of the people who identified themselves as strong Trump supporters still wanted check and balance.

People want a check and balance on Trump, and we are now ahead on our polling in all 10 Senate races where Democrats are running in states that Trump carried. We’re ahead in three of the challenger states, and I’ll tell you this, if we take back the Senate, when I have the right to put things on the floor, we can stop Donald Trump from doing bad things and we can actually start doing some really good things. It’s an imperative.

HR: Even though voters generally like the tax cuts, they generally actually like a president who’s fighting for them on trade, as sloppy as he’s been this week, you think that the check and balance is the message?

People, swing voters, suburban voters, women voters, people of color, just lots of folks are worried about Trump and want a check and balance. Some of them like Trump, but still want a check and balance. Many of them don’t like Trump, and my prediction, now that his tax bill has been …

You know, the first month he got a big boost on that tax bill. Why? They just passed it. He had all these companies announcing bonuses, and the stock market went way up. All three are gone. A) It’s no longer just announced and Trump has screwed up on so many things between then and now. Second, people are realizing three things. One, that 80 percent of the benefits went to the wealthiest permanently while their benefits are smaller and temporary. Second, that there’s a huge deficit and third, they’re using that deficit to cut health care, Medicare, Medicaid.

The Koch brothers, with their huge money machine, put ads against McCaskill in Missouri and Donnelly in Indiana. The Senate super PAC answered back on taxes. They put ads on taxes. We answered back with the answer I told you, we won the argument. The tax issue is not going to be the panacea the Republicans think it is.

KS: Can I ask one final question?

You know what’s a bigger issue to people? Health care costs than taxes. Health care costs.

KS: Right.

HR: Now Trump owns them.

KS: Being anti-Donald Trump, does that work? It doesn’t seem to. No matter what low he goes to, it doesn’t seem to.

HR: If you’re a Senator in a state, I think Kara’s asking if you’re a Senator in a state, a Democrat in a state that Donald Trump won, are you running against Donald Trump?

Yeah, you are in terms of check and balance and saying when I disagree with Trump I will fight him. When I agree with him, I’m not going to just go against him for its own sake. In reference to the question that Kara asked, 2018 election with Trump at 40 percent, that’s a huge advantage for us. That doesn’t mean we can’t have our own positive program, and we have some of it and we’re going to have more. We just announced an infrastructure program, $ 1 trillion of real jobs. You know what we did? We took the tax cuts on the rich, some of them, $ 1 trillion worth, and put it into infrastructure. What do people prefer? Tax cuts on the wealthiest people and biggest corporations or millions of middle-class jobs on infrastructure?

In that bill, we proposed something that’s going to really help us in rural areas. In the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt said every rural home should get electricity. It was a necessity. We say in the 21st century every rural home should get broadband. High-speed internet. Right now, one third of all rural homes have almost none. We will propose it. We’re proposing a job training program, like the apprentice program in Germany, where people can get good paying jobs after a company gets a tax incentive to train them. We realize that in 2016, Democrats did not focus positively enough on people. We are. Remember, fighting Trump is also going to be very important. You need both.

KS: Perfect. Senator Schumer, this has been great. I like all your stories. I wish you would tweet, honestly. You can’t on your flip phone, but it’d be nice.

I’ve tried to make a deal with Donald Trump, “You don’t tweet, I won’t tweet.”

KS: Yeah, he likes to tweet.

HR: He’s tweeting but he doesn’t seem to do the same on taxes.

Tweeting is doing him more harm than good.

KS: I don’t know. He’s good at it, I’ll tell you that.

No, you see, you sound like Donald Trump. I tell him this. It’s good for his 35 percent. It turns off 65 percent. We’re upset because even 35 percent would go for him, but count your blessings.

KS: Well, thank you so much. It was great talking to you, and Hilary Rosen …

HR: Thank you.

KS: … who was also on as my co-host, thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the show. I’m sure we’ll be talking a lot more in the future.

Hey, make sure you write and call, email your Senators on net neutrality, audience.

KS: I’ve already done it.

Good. Thank you.

KS: While I’m sitting here. Thank you so much, Senator. Thanks again to Hilary Rosen for co-hosting this episode with me.

Recode – All

Cash For Apps: Make money with android app

Full transcript: ‘Sneaky Pete’ showrunner Graham Yost on Recode Media

How Complete Beginners are using an ‘Untapped’ Google Network to create Passive Income ON DEMAND

Giovanni Ribisi in “Sneaky Pete”

He also worked on the FX series “Justified,” and — for about a minute — “Full House.”

On this episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, veteran screenwriter Graham Yost talks about being the showrunner for the Amazon Prime Video series “Sneaky Pete.” He previously wrote movies like “Speed” and TV series like the FX crime drama “Justified,” so he explains what makes writing for Amazon different — or not.

You can read some of the highlights from the interview here, or listen to it in full in the audio player above. Below, we’ve provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka, that’s me. I am part of the Vox Media podcast network, I am here in Vox headquarters in New York City. In a minute, we’re gonna take you to a fancy midtown hotel where I talk to Graham Yost. He’s a TV screenwriter, movie screenwriter, he’s got a cool show on Amazon called “Sneaky Pete.”

So here is that Graham Yost interview. If it sounds echo-y, it’s because this fancy hotel has a lot of marble in it, so it’s a tiny bit bouncier than I would have liked, but we think you can listen to it. You’ll enjoy it.

I’m with Graham Yost, the executive producer, do I get to call you the creator as well?

Graham Yost: No, you do not.

Not the creator of “Sneaky Pete.”

You can call me the showrunner.

Guy in charge of “Sneaky Pete,” which you can see on Amazon. I think an episode at a time.

No, we drop the whole thing.

You do the full drop.


There’s my research out the door. Graham has made a lot of cool things over his career. He wrote “Speed,” which is a great movie. Made “Justified,” which is one of my favorite all-time TV shows. Want to talk to you about “Sneaky Pete” to start with, in case … this is the second season?

Second season.

If you have not watched the first season, you can go watch it now.


With Amazon Prime.

This new world. Watch anything any time.

The quick synopsis, it’s a caper show.

So he is … Marius — played by Giovanni Ribisi — as the first season opens has been in prison for three years and he’s just getting out and he finds that the world outside has changed a little bit. Some business that basically sent him to jail is still hanging over his head. The bad guy, Vince, played by this actor you might’ve heard of, Bryan Cranston.

Also a producer?

Also a producer, and he’s the co-creator with David Shore. They want their money. Vince wants his money and it’s gonna be bad for him. So Marius hides out, takes on the personality, that persona, the I.D. of his cellmate, Pete, and shows up at this farmhouse that Pete hasn’t been to in 20 years and says, “Hey, it’s me. Pete.” So he takes over that life, it’s an assumed identity, and he’s gotta kind of scramble to try to get this money to Vince and all this stuff and finds out this family is not just this sweet … Well, he thought they were like municipal bonds or something, no, they’re a bail bonds company. Yeah.

So he’s juggling identities, there’s capers involved.

Juggling identities, running cons, and it turns out he was running a big con against Vince and that’s Season One. Season One ended with him thinking it was all taken care of and then something from Pete’s past — the guy he’s pretending to be — something from Pete’s past comes up and bites him in the ass. These thugs grab him and say, “Take us to your mother and the $ 11 million or we’re gonna kill your family,” because they think he’s Pete. And that’s where we start with Season Two.

So it’s a fun show, it got good buzz last year. That’s how I ended up finding … it’s interesting to find a streaming show right now, because you don’t generally see a lot of TV ads for it. But I found it, it’s great, looking forward to catching up on Season Two, just watched the first episode this morning.

How did you get to this show? Because originally it was a CBS show, when you were originally not involved, right?

Right. So originally it was Cranston, he created it with David Shore, and they did it for CBS. CBS passed. And you know occasionally this can happen in this business, when there’s a busted pilot that someone else will pick it up.

They made the show, they made the pilot episode.

Right. Amazon said … Morgan Wandell, who was running drama at that time, said, “Yeah, yeah, okay, we’d like some changes. We want Vince to be …” Actually he didn’t say we want you to play Vince, but they said we’ll create Vince as this bad guy and they only had three weeks to get it done, and shoot some new scenes. So it was like, “Might as well be me,” is what Bryan said, “because then we don’t have to cast …”

So that was stitching together just after the fact.

Stitching together after the fact, they shot some additional scenes. In fact, there’s this one pivotal scene in the pilot towards the end between Marius and Audrey, the grandmother played by Margo Martindale, and they … and I realized, “Wow they shot that in the barn at Disney Ranch,” where we shot a lot of “Justified.”

And anyway, then Amazon said yes, you know what they would do is just put the pilot up and see how people responded, and it got a really good response, so they said let’s do a series.

You’re still not involved in this?

Still not involved. There was a first attempt to have a writers room and run it, and it was just hard to come up with the stories. I think that … so that writers room disbanded and there was a feeling because of “Justified” that I might be the right person, and so …

Get the crime and you get …

Crime and a little bit of humor in some characters.

Then Elmore Leonard — it’s not quite Elmore Leonard, “Sneaky Pete,” but it’s Elmore Leonard …

It’s got that vibe. And by the way, you’ve got some of the same actors, which I assume is not an accident.

Well, no. So once I saw it, and the … Fred Golan, who did all six years with me on “Justified” and Michael Dinner, who directed the pilot of “Justified” was our directing producer. We all signed on, but part of it was because of Margo and another part was frankly Giovanni and Marin Ireland, and Shane, and Libe, and Peter Gerety. It was just … it’s rare in the business to be handed a great premise, really good pilot, Seth Gordon did a great, great job on the pilot, you’re handed that and just this terrific cast. So, that was the reason we all signed up.

You said it’s not unusual or it happens sometimes, but in the pre-streaming days, right? If you made a show for a network and they pass, that show generally just …

90 times out of 100.

Even if it was a good show, no one wanted to touch it. It seems like in the streaming era, Amazon and Netflix are often interested in picking up something that someone passed on.

They’re more interested than … In the past, another network would be interested in picking up something.

Why do you think that is?

They’re just, you know, because they can see it. Someone’s already done that work of actually putting the pilot up and shooting it, they can tell whether or not it’s something that might work for them.

Seems logical that you would wanna do that. I think it’s less, much less logical the networks for years wouldn’t ever do that.

Well, it’s also because the networks had such, not narrow channels, but you know there is an ABC type of show, there’s a CBS type of show, there’s an NBC. If you’re shooting something for CBS, chances are working on NBC or Fox is slim, but it could maybe work on another, on a streaming service.

And when they come to you and say, “We have a show that doesn’t work and it’s for Amazon,” which even a couple years ago it’s still pretty new to TV.


Are you reticent to take that on? Do you go, “Well I don’t know”?

So, what had happened is again, I keep on bringing up their names, but Fred Golan and Michael Dinner and myself, we had worked on a pilot script for Fox that previous fall, and then in January we were told they weren’t going forward with it. So we were very disappointed.

Which is standard?

Which is standard, right. It’s that pyramid in Hollywood …

Earn a lot of money in time and doesn’t happen.

You have a hundred pilot scripts written, you shoot 10 and you put two on the air. It’s this pyramid of death. But so we found out we weren’t going forward, we had nothing to do, so when they came to me I was like, “Well, we have nothing else going on right now, we could be developing things, but might as well do …” Again: Premise, cast and that pilot, yeah, we’ll take it on.

I’ll be totally honest, there was a feeling of like, “Well, if we fuck up, if we don’t crack this, everyone else is gonna get the blame. If we succeed then we get patted on the back.” So it was … the stakes for us were not as high. We could sort of relax and enjoy it and try to do the best show we could.

Do you think about this as a streaming TV show or this a TV show that Amazon is streaming?

That is an interesting question and it’s …. As things start to change, you start to think of things differently. For example, we pitched the first episode of the first season — our first episode, not the pilot — and pitched it to Morgan Wandell and Bryan and his partner James Degus and all the Sony guys, Zack and Jamie. We had it up on the board. We use a whiteboard, I like to have a whiteboard room instead of cards. So, we’ve got it put up there and we’ve got it broken by acts and Morgan says, “Yeah, we don’t have acts at Amazon.”


Because there’s no commercials. So you’re not breaking it up every eight minutes or 10 minutes. But I said to him, “We still have acts creatively.” Because we need to know the pace of the episode, where are we hitting what, where, when.

Because viewers, you think, just have that conditioning, they expect that? Or that’s just how you know how make a …

That’s just how I know to tell a long story. But it started to change over time because you don’t have to go to commercial break. You realize that thing that normally I would put in the last 10 minutes, we could put that in 20 minutes to the end. We could amble a little bit, as long as we got a big turn at the …

Even more than on FX with “Justified,” streaming shows like a bit of a cliffhanger, some kind of hook at the end of the episode, because for them the show is working when people let it roll. When it says the next episode will start in however many seconds, if people just let that roll, then the show is working.

In the olden days, right? That was to get you to come back next week, here it’s just stay on the couch for another 10 seconds. That’s the same construction, really.

It’s the same … roughly the same construction, but there’s an urgency to it rather than, “Oh yeah, I’ll check in on that next week.” It’s like, “I’m gonna watch it now.” I have been told by someone that the best way to break out of that addiction is to stop an episode in the middle. So get about 20 minutes in and then go to bed.

If you don’t wanna binge?

But you gotta see what’s gonna happen next because they’ve just hooked you. Yeah.

So you lean even harder on, “Holy shit, this thing just happened, we gotta …”

Yeah, and it doesn’t have to be a gun to the head, it can just be, well, as the first episode of this season ends, it’s just propelling you forward into the next episode. We’ve got …

Right. “Holy shit, something happened 10 minutes earlier.”

The holy-shit thing happened 10 minutes earlier, now it’s, We have to accomplish this and it’s impossible, let’s do it.” Hopefully that’s enough to …

Are there other parts of making or marketing the show that are different for this?

Its small stuff, but it’s … A thing where you’re gonna bargain the first season and the props guy says what kind of beer do you want to drink, and it’s like, “Well, does it have to be Hampstead?” You know, it’s these made-up brands, Kingsland — well, you know, not Kingsland. And he said, “No, it can be anything.” Because there’s no advertisers, you don’t have to worry about offending Coors, if you’re putting Bud Light onscreen. So that’s a small thing but it creates better verisimilitude.

Budgets are the same, it looks like at this point now?

Basically the same. Unless you’re doing “Game of Thrones.”

Yeah, you got money for music rights. I saw there’s a Steely Dan reference in the first episode and then you end with Steely Dan in the credits.

It was very expensive, and I got yelled at. But I insisted Walter Becker had just died, and we’re putting in a Steely Dan song.

Sorry to spoil the first episode, but it’s a good song.

It’s okay.

It’s a good song.

And that was Michael Dinner’s idea to put that song in at the end. You know, it’s the same constraints, really, unless, you know, once Amazon starts doing the Tolkien series, they’ve spent a lot of money on that. That’ll be … then they’ll be spending a lot of money.

But for a show like this, you don’t need an unlimited budget, you don’t need an HBO budget on this. It’s … you can get it done in the time allowed. That doesn’t mean that it’s not difficult, it doesn’t mean that we didn’t have two crews running for many days to pick up scenes that we dropped in the previous episode and all that kind of thing. Then trying to schedule the actors and, you know, because it’s got a big cast. But, yeah, we were able to get it done.

In podcast land we take short breaks, we take short breaks here for advertisers, we do have advertisers, we’re gonna come back in one minute, or less.


See you in one second.


Back here with Graham Yost, still here, he did not move.

Not an inch.

Lousy day to move.

Aw, it’s fantastic out there.

We’re recording this on a crummy day in March, you can see the show in March. Do you think about how people will find a show like this? If you know to go to Amazon video, there’s a whole carousel of stuff there, movies, etc. Do you think about how they will get word out to a viewer? Other than podcasts? Or is that not your job?

It’s not my job.

To worry about.

It’s not my job. It really … the thing is is that some people, some showrunners, are really smart about that and know how to get involved and know how to push things in a certain direction. My feeling is that’s not my forte. That anytime I think of something like, “Hey, why don’t you do …?” it’ll be explained to me that I’m an idiot.

They politely say, “Hey, great idea.” And never come back.

And then … Frankly, you see the trailers that Amazon cuts and the ads and the ideas that they have, there’s one they call “Truth,” which is a poem written by Emily Dickinson being read by Libe Barer, who plays the kid in the show, Carly. I don’t know who came up with the idea, but it was great, it was beautiful, and it had all the cool shots of the season and stuff. Like, man, you guys know what you’re doing.

You guys go for it.

Yeah, and then you see their print campaigns and it’s like, “Well shit, that’s wonderful.” So really I just kind of stay out of that and do good job. And then now I’m in New York and I’m riding the subway and I’m seeing how many “Sneaky” ads are on the subway walls.

Those are for your benefit.

I know, what if it like disappeared as, say, I went through the station. No, but I count them, and it’s like I know that next week or the week after those will be disappearing and all “The Americans” ads will be coming in.

But you also are happy to see.

I’m happy to see that.

You mentioned the Tolkien shows, it’s reported and true that Amazon now has bigger ambitions for TV, they want even bigger shows, which have bigger audiences. You came on when they were still in the … we’re very happy that “Transparent” is a critical hit with a relatively small audience. As they are scaling up their ambitions, does that change what you need to do for a show like this?

You know, it’s not that hard to work an orc and a warg into … no, I don’t know, but listen, hey if they’re writing wargs that would be fantastic. Listen, I’m a total Tolkien geek, I belonged to the Tolkien Society of America when I was a kid. So I support anything that involves more of his world coming to life.

It’s a different kind of thing. I think that “Sneaky” is not that kind of thing, doesn’t need to compete with that. And this is one of the interesting things, is that there’s room for so much. That you can have a show like “Sneaky,” you can have a show like “The Tick,” you can have a show like “Patriots,” all these things. And some of them are gonna work, some of them aren’t gonna work. But you’re not … and then you can also have, you know “The Silmarillion” or whatever they’re gonna do.

But when they started they were really just tinkering and they sort of stumbled into — I think from the outside it looks like they stumbled into these small quirky shows that then had critical buzz. It seems like they’ve … they’re upping their ambitions and they want a bigger audience. And a show like “Sneaky Pete,” right, is not intended for … what’s the polite way to say it? It’s just not a show that can run on a broadcast network, right?

It could, except for the swearing and the sometimes nudity.

Right. It’s dark and people get killed.

Yeah, it’s dark and people get killed. So it fits this thing, it could maybe be on basic cable. Listen, “Sneaky” … Amazon doesn’t release numbers, but they do release the rankings. And “Sneaky” was the No. 1 show for them in North America and second in the world. So that’s good, so if I find out that No. 1 means 700 people, that’s not good.

Do you wanna find out?

No. Because honestly the only … And I used to say this, we’d get the overnight ratings on “Justified” and we’d get the … it’s not gonna affect our story telling, because we do so much of the shows now long before they air. So with “Justified” we’d shoot an entire season pretty much and then it would start to air. So it’s not as though any information we get from the ratings is gonna change things.

And that’s certainly the case with this, because the whole thing drops at once. So the only input … the only thing that matters is whether they say they want another season. That’s all it comes down to.

So you make “The Americans,” like you said you’re a producer.

I’m a producer on that, like I said I don’t make it, I just read scripts and watch cuts and say, “Joe and Joel, you’re doing a fantastic job.”

That is a critically beloved show, not a huge audience. When you see the numbers coming in for that, do you think, “Well, I’d rather not see the numbers there.”

It’s just I feel bad for the network, they’re not as big as they could be, but I also feel good for the network because “The Americans” has been a real success for them critically. Not only critically, they … FX loves that show. John Landgraf loves that show, as does John Solberg, and Eric Schrier, Nick Grad, the whole team, Colette. They just love it, because it’s really good and it’s smart and it’s engaging and it’s … got its own pace, and it’s … you know, people wanna find out what’s gonna happen to that family and they care.

How conscious are you of the fact that there’s so much tech money coming into Hollywood right now? Trying to make content. Netflix if gonna spend eight billion, Amazon is spending whatever they’re spending, Apple’s shown up with a big checkbook, the guys from Sony, who you know. Do you think, “Boy, there’s a window here and I’ve got to make whatever I can make because this can’t last forever”? Or do you just go about your business?

Yes and no. Which is, there perhaps is a window, but no one knows. Look, as a writer, the previous guild negotiations back in … well, we struck back in 2007 and then there was another negotiation and then there was a threat of a strike the last time around. Previous negotiations, the studios would claim poverty. This time they said okay, we can’t claim that.

When we started “Justified,” I remember Zack Van Amburg at Sony saying, “We honestly don’t know if doing shows for basic cable makes financial sense, we don’t know.” Then he would try and bust my balls on some kind of budget issue and I’d say, “Well don’t make the show.” And he’d say, “Shut up, we’re gonna make the show.” And on we would go and we’d give each other shit, but they can’t claim that anymore. It does work.

But no one’s sure … is basic cable gonna survive? Is it gonna be something but streaming? Is it network constraining? Is it a combination? How are people gonna get this? Is there gonna be a singular portal that everyone is gonna gravitate toward? Are you gonna be able to buy a package where you get Hulu and Apple and Netflix and Amazon for, you know …

Kind of like cable TV.

Kind of like cable TV. And where are you gonna watch your sports and how is ESPN gonna do? So it’s an incredibly tumultuous time and no one knows what’s gonna happen. It’s a time of great opportunity, but it’s also a time of … People also are kind of protecting their slice of the pie. So we do this and we’re gonna get a little more of that.

Do you think, “Well, I got a project and normally I couldn’t get it financed, but if the Apple guys are around and they wanna throw money around, I’m gonna pitch this thing that I would never normally pitch to another network.”

You think that, and then invariably you guess wrong. I mean, at least for me. I’ve already been talking to the Apple guys. The one complicated thing for me about Apple is that Morgan Wandell, who was the head of drama at Amazon, is now at Apple running international, and his assistant is my daughter. So there was one weekend where she had these scripts that Noah Wyle and I had written when we were doing something for Sony, trying to get this miniseries off the ground … we wrote it for FX. FX passed, now we’re having Apple read it, and my daughter says it’s on her weekend read pile. And I said, “Clementine, you have to recuse yourself, because if you like it that’s great, but if you don’t like it, I don’t wanna hear that.” So that’s part of my story.

That’s the nepotism downside.

We’ll take one more quick break, come right back.



And we’re back. It’s still cold outside, it’s nice inside. Can we just talk a bit about how you got into the business?


Because you came from … not nepotism, but your dad was in entertainment, right?

Yeah, not nepotism. I was hoping for nepotism, that didn’t work out. But certainly an example, and yeah.

What did he do?

My dad ran a show in Toronto for 25 years called “Saturday Night at the Movies,” and it was on the Canadian equivalent of PBS, it was providential, it was TV Ontario. He’d show a couple movies on Saturday night and in between the movies he’d have interviews with people who worked in those movies. Like if he had “The Ox-Bow Incident,” he’d have an interview that he did with Henry Fonda. But he’d also have a panel of people talking about … in the case with “The Ox-Bow Incident,” vigilantism.

That’s a cool show.

It was a great show, and he was just a great fan of movies, he loved movies. People would say, “Oh, your dad never puts on anything he doesn’t like.” And it’s like, “Yeah, because he gets to choose what he puts on.” But every year his producer would make him put on a couple musicals, and he never enjoyed that.

So was your thought, “I wanna do this, I wanna do a version of this”?

Yeah, and he also wrote some children’s adventure books, and my brother and I grew up in a household where we talked about movies and books all the time. We didn’t go to church, our church was the movie theater. The lights going down, we’re now gonna watch stories that are gonna entertain us and identify us and that was our life. It was fantastic.

And so my dad also … he’s the one who back in the early ’80s would talk to me and say, “You know, I heard about this Kurosawa script about a train that can’t slow down or it’ll blow up.” And he said, “I always thought it was a good idea.” Eventually it was made and it was “Runaway Train,” but it wasn’t that they can’t … that it’s gonna blow up, they just can’t get to the brakes. I came outta that and I thought, “Man, it’d be better if that was a bus.”

Thanks, Dad.

And thanks, Dad. Exactly. Thanks, Dad. Thanks to Kurosawa.

Before you wrote “Speed,” you were making TV.

I worked for Nickelodeon.

Was the thought, “I’m gonna graduate from TV and into movies and then never look back at TV”? Or …

That wasn’t the thought, but that was part of a sort of ethos or whatever, a sort of zeitgeist of Hollywood writers at that time. I worked on “Full House” for nine-and-a-half weeks and I quit four days before I thought I was gonna be fired. I’ve since found out they weren’t gonna fire me, I was just miserable there. Two days after I quit, “Speed” sold.

So then “Speed” came out and years go by, I’m on the lot, I go to visit the “Full House” writers room to say hi, a bunch of the writers were still there, and they look at me like the guy who graduated from Triple A ball off to go play in The Show, that I’ve gone up to the major leagues. They’re like, “How is it up there?” Another 10 years, 15 years go by and now I see fellow feature writers and they’re saying, “How do I get into TV?” And so the whole paradigm has shifted in the past 20 years.

Why do you think Netflix — and Amazon’s played around a bit with it as well — has not been as successful making movies as they have with TV shows. Is there something different about the process that hasn’t translated?

Maybe. I think it’s also that no one is successful at making movies. It’s really hard to make movies that work. No one is successful in television, except for the few shows that are. I mean, yes, there are, what, 500 scripted shows or whatever it is.

We talk about a couple dozen of them.

We talk about a couple dozen, and it’s really hard to make it work. You gotta thank your lucky stars if things align. It’s usually a sensibility of story and cast, and support of the network. I think that’s why … I quote unquote have been lucky, as my luck has been getting associated with things that have all these things that have come together.

I have this theory. There’s something about the episodic nature of streaming TV that just works better, and/or keeps propelling you into the next episode, like we were talking about, and in a movie, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And you’re not giving it another chance. No one wants to really engage me in that theory, but that’s …

I know, I think that’s a good theory.

Good. I have an upvote from Graham Yost.

Yeah, and the … Listen, the thing about the modern TV landscape is the ability to tell a story over 10 episodes. You can do a novel. That’s really fun. To tell a story in two hours, it’s got to be a very particular story, and you really … so many things can go wrong and then you’ve lost it in the first five minutes and you’re never getting it back.

Can we talk about “Justified” briefly? Because I’m just a giant fanboy, because I love Elmore Leonard. Elmore Leonard has made amazing books, should have made many amazing movies, less successful than you would think, right? A handful of really great Elmore Leonard movies, and then …

I could tell you his favorites.


And his least favorites.

That’s gotta be “Out of Sight,” right?

No, his favorite was “Jackie Brown.”

Oh, okay, also one of the greats.

But, his favorite I think working relationship or just palling around was with Scott Frank, who wrote “Get Shorty” and “Out of Sight.”

Who we’ve had on this podcast.

Scott Frank is a great writer and a really great guy, and Elmore loved him.

And you nailed the Elmore Leonard tone and vibe in your show.

And I said, “I’m gonna write ‘Justified’ just like Scott Frank wrote ‘Out of Sight’ and ‘Get Shorty,’” which is let Elmore be Elmore. Use as much of him as you can. The dialogue in “Get Shorty” and in “Out of Sight” is Elmore Leonard’s dialogue, even if it’s Scott doing it. It’s Elmore.

It’s like when I did the pilot of “Justified,” it’s an old story, but I would say, “What’s Raylan gonna say next?” And I would say, “Well, what does Elmore have him say next?” And I would retype it. Second episode on, we had to figure out how to do that. That was the challenge.

Elmore was alive when you started that show, did you have to …

He was alive for the first four seasons.

So were you talking to him throughout. Were you asking for script …

No. I’ll tell you what happened though. So first season, he visited the set and Tim was sitting with him and said, “Why don’t you write another Raylan short story?” And he said, “Okay.” And he went off and he wrote a story and he enjoyed it so much he wrote two more, and he packaged them together as a novel, and that was his final novel.

His 45th Raylan, and the coolest thing, the best thing that has happened to me in this business is that it’s dedicated to Tim and me. That’s something that … Tim and I look at each other and all the tussles we had over the years with “Justified,” because Tim is an incredibly creative person and we didn’t always see eye to eye.

Tim Olyphant.

Tim Olyphant. And we look at each other and say, “We’ve got that, that he dedicated this to us.” So Elmore loved the show, he got a real kick out of it. But he was always the inspiration. One of the “Justified” stories is I had rubber bracelets for the writers saying WWED, What Would Elmore Do?

Frankly, I’m gonna take that hopefully for the rest of my writing career. Because even if it’s not like Elmore Leonard, he had certain rules and goals about character and story and how you do things that I think really apply to anything I’m gonna do.

I’m really lucky because I get to do a podcast where we’re talking about Elmore Leonard a lot. Scott Frank said, I said something to the effect of, “Seems like you just took ‘Out of Sight’ and put it on the screen, you just lifted the pages.” He said, “No, no, no, it’s actually much harder than that, there’s a lot of stuff in the book that actually becomes harder to film, and you’ve gotta do a lot more work than just taking the dialogue.” But that dialogue is a great start. Why do you think other folks have struggled with his books?

Sometimes they just take it for the story, they don’t realize that Elmore isn’t about the story, the story is secondary or tertiary. It’s really, it’s character.

It’s kind of the hang, right?

That was the thing about FX. So for “Justified,” John Landgraf had worked on Karen Sisco, he actually co-wrote a script on Karen Sisco, the ill-fated ABC show. Michael Dinner had directed the pilot of Karen Sisco, Sarah Timberman at the Universal when one of the presidents, when they did Karen. So we were all Elmore fans, and I knew that John at FX would let us hang. Hang with the bad guys, hang with the good guys and just have a scene, whereas Tim used to put it, the best Elmore scenes, someone’s gonna get fucked or someone’s gonna get fucked. You know, it’s gonna be, it’s gonna go sexy or it’s gonna go violent and you don’t know, and it’s gonna go funny and it’s gonna go sad, and you just don’t know. That was really fun to work in that world.

A great hero, Tim Olyphant, he had a great bad guy …

You know, he was the role that Tim was meant to play, because he’s funny, sexy, charming, dangerous, all those things, he could do that. Then we got Walton, then we got Joel and Nick.

Which season did Margo Martindale …

That was the second season.

Second season. And, which and if you haven’t watched the show, watch it all, but go watch the second season. Because I’d never seen her before and she just one of the great all-time villains.


Did you find her? How did … where did she come from?

I said to FX, I wanna do a criminal matriarch for this season, I want it to be about a feud. They were concerned about a criminal matriarch and she’d be bad … we used to call badassery, we’re always looking for who’s a badass. So we figured that she had to kill someone in the opening episode and we thought shooting, no, knife, no, poison. So we came up with that idea, built it back into her back story and did all of that, wrote it and then casting — Cami Patton and Christal Karge were doing our casting — and they sent over the clips to look at on a computer and they said, “We think Margo is the one.”

I watched it and there was some … Adam Arkin was directing, he wasn’t sure, he was thinking maybe it was someone else. But then we picked Margo. Then one day Adam Arkin was over, he was editing and he said to Sarah Timberman, Fred Golan and myself, “I wanna show you something,” and he took us upstairs and he showed us the final scene of the first episode, where Margo … not the final scene but where she poisons poor Chris Mulkey, and we looked at each other after that and said, “Well, we got a season.”

You know, we knew, and another thing about that first episode was Kaitlyn Dever who was playing the kid, we were thinking if she wasn’t good, then we’d have her in the first episode and the last episode. But she was so good that we came up with this whole different thing and the two of them together. Margo will still talk about Kaitlyn and what an amazing actor she is.

Margo Martindale is in “The Americans” and now she’s in “Sneaky Pete.” Not a coincidence.

Not a coincidence. Now when the part of Claudia came up in “The Americans,” Joe and Joel were concerned about casting someone who’s so identified with “Justified,” and Landgraf said, “That’s part of the FX thing, we love to cross pollinate,” put Walton on “Sons of Anarchy” as Venus Van Damme, you know. That’s a cool thing to do for FX.

You like having a crew?

Yeah, the sense of this FX repertory company, so yeah. I think I was the one who got to call her and tell her, “Do you wanna be a spy?”

That’s pretty cool. Well, thank you for putting her on TV. Oh man, she’s great.

She had a great career before, but it’s just been so much fun to get to know her and hang with her.

Thanks for your time. This is great. I love talking to smart people about their cool shows. So you can watch the entire run of “Sneaky Pete” right on Amazon Prime. There, there’s your promotion.

There you go, and free two-day shipping.

Thanks, Graham Yost.

Thanks, man.

Recode – All

Cash For Apps: Make money with android app

Full transcript: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg onstage at Lesbians Who Tech

How Complete Beginners are using an ‘Untapped’ Google Network to create Passive Income ON DEMAND

For this episode of Recode Decode, we go live to the Castro Theater.

On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg talks with Kara onstage at the 2018 Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco, Calif. The two cover Russian election-meddling on Facebook’s platform, diversity, the challenges of changing the broader culture and more.

You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Kara Swisher: Recode Radio presents Recode Decode, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as someone who thinks Robert Mueller should investigate how the Russians are trying to catch Rocky and Bullwinkle, but in my spare time I talk tech, and you’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Or just visit recode.net/podcasts for more.

Today we’re gonna play an interview I conducted at the 2018 Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco. I talked to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg about tech backlash, the #MeToo movement and how Facebook is dealing with Russian meddling. Let’s take a listen.

Sheryl Sandberg: Thank you.

Thank you, guys. Sheryl, I’m so glad I finally got you here after begging you for years. But I do want to apologize just at the start, last year at Lesbians Who Tech, you weren’t here, I noticed. I interviewed Megan, who you work with at Google, and we were trying to decide who was the top lesbian in tech, ’cause it had to be one of us, either Megan or I, obviously. And then I said, “Actually, it’s Sheryl Sandberg with a drink in her.”

“Three drinks.” I think it was three drinks.

I think you are the top lesbian in tech.

So, I’m super excited to be here because what you do, just to take a serious moment, is so important because we need more diversity in tech. We need more women in tech. And the fact that you all are here, gathering together and committed, is absolutely huge. I actually … I mean, we all love Kara. Kara has been outspoken in every way possible. She holds companies like ours to task. She is a champion of this conference and this community. So we all admire her deeply, but I come bearing a little bit of bad news.

All right, let me hear.

I’m not sure she’s like, the greatest lesbian. Here’s why. Here’s why. I’m gonna tell a true story. You saw those nice pictures of us together. So Kara’s interviewed me many times, and the last time was about a year ago.


And I didn’t do it well, so I was wearing a dress. And when you’re wearing a dress and they try to mic you in the back, you know, the guy doesn’t know how to do it, put it on your bra. So Kara, who’s a kind friend, volunteered to help the, in this case, clueless man. I’m not saying all men are clueless. I’m saying in this case, clueless man.


And she was supposed to, you know, put the mic so that it hooked on my bra. Fell right down the dress. She couldn’t find it. (laughs)

We’re gonna get to the actual …

I’m just saying.

You’re just saying.

I’m just saying.

I just wanna say, in my defense, Viola Davis thought I was adorable.

(laughs) No one said you weren’t adorable.

Well, just saying, things happen. And that dress was ridiculously tight, okay? It was like one of your smoke show dresses.

I’m just saying. I’m just reporting the facts to an interested audience.

Okay. Now that we’ve got that straight. I know you’re trying to lighten up the crowd so they’ll like you, but what I really wanna do here is … I’m gonna go to serious now. When we were talking about this discussion, we wanna talk a lot about diversity issues, and for this crowd especially, but I would be remiss if I did not bring up how much trouble Facebook has been in over the last year. So let’s talk serious.

I am a good lesbian, I just wanna start with that point. Well, you wouldn’t know, so there you go. Maybe someday, probably not. Meg Whitman is much more attractive than you. No, I’m kidding. (laughs) No, she’s not. She’s totally not. She’s totally not.

Anyway, in any case, I wanna talk about Facebook and Russia. And it gets to the broader backdrop of Silicon Valley. This has been a very bad year for Silicon Valley, and Facebook, Twitter, Google have all been in the cross hairs related to the election and what happened. And you and I have talked about it a lot. I’ve talked to a lot of your executives about it. And just recently, last weekend I get into a fight with another one of your executives on Twitter about where the blame lies, where the efforts are going. Can you give a statement about what’s going on now and what you guys are doing and how you’re gonna fix this problem?

Things happened in the last election on our platform that were unacceptable that we not prepared for, and we are taking that responsibility really seriously. There’s nothing more important to us than the ability for people to express themselves freely, and that means we have to let them express themselves authentically. And people have to be who they are. Authentic identity has always been a hallmark of Facebook, and that did not happen here, so we have been careful and very thorough to find everything we can and report it to the public and cooperate with the Mueller investigation and with Congress.

And we’re taking really strong steps. We’re investing heavily in both people and technology to make sure we can prevent these problems. We’re a company of 20,000 people, we announced that we had 10,000 people working on this, we had 14, we’re gonna go up to 20 by the end of the year. And we’re investing so much in AI and machine learning that we announced it’s going to hit our profitability. We’re working very closely with election commissions all around the world.

We know this is a new form of very old problem, and you and I have talked about this. People have tried to undermine our democracy and our values and have tried to use any platform available to do so, and so we take this incredibly seriously. We’re working hard. We’re definitely playing catch-up, and we acknowledge that, but we are working hard to get ahead and stay ahead for the future.

Do you imagine you built a platform where it’s impossible not to abuse it, or malevolent actors not to use it? Because it’s not just … People in the past have tried to upset elections, but this is weaponized. They weaponized your platform, Twitter’s platform, Google, YouTube. At Google I talked to Susan Wojcicki about this, the CEO. Are these platforms inherently problematic that you cannot … Unless you really start to make choices and value choices of what goes on your platform, or is it something you all think you can solve?

Any technology that’s ever been invented has been used for good and bad, and there will always be bad people and they’ve tried to use everything from TV to radio to our platforms, and so that gets to our responsibility for the content on our platform and what we’re gonna do. So we’re being very clear and had very strict community standards all along on authentic identity, which this completely violated, on hate, on bullying, on terrorism, and we work hard and vigilantly to find things and get them down, and continue to evolve. And as people try to do the wrong thing on our platform, we just have a responsibility to work that much harder to prevent it.

So for the 2018 election, do you feel you’re ready to have this not occur again? Because after Parkland it wasn’t as much on … It was on Facebook, it was on all the platforms.

So when we think about elections … Look, anytime anyone does any kind of abuse on our platform, or any other, we’re paying attention. We try to learn and prevent that abuse going forward, as well as anticipate the next forms. Certainly after the 2016 election and the things we didn’t anticipate, we took many more proactive steps in France, in Germany, in the election that happened here in Alabama, and we’re working hard with election commissions all over the world.

We’re gonna take a quick break now for a word from our sponsors, we’ll be back in a minute with Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg.


The mood around people in Silicon Valley, from the rest of country, I think right now … And I think it’s mostly the social media companies, I would say YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, less so Apple and others, is they hate us. They really hate us kind of thing, not to borrow from Sally Field, but there’s a real sense that tech is hurting this country, whether it’s addiction, whether it’s bullying, whether it’s the abuse of these platforms. You think Silicon Valley can grow? And then we’re gonna talk about diversity, because that’s one of the big issues.

Well, I think we have to understand what’s happening, and I think there are two major things that underlie this. One is that there is a real fear of and feeling of economic insecurity, that technology has taken some people with it and either left other people behind or people are afraid they will be left behind, and that creates a very legitimate fear. The second is that, as the tech companies have gotten big, and so big, we have a really deep responsibility and that responsibility grows as we grow. And so we need to address both sides of that, and that’s what we’re doing.

On the responsibility side, we take responsibility for the content on Facebook. False news, people want accurate information and we wanna give it to them, so we’ve taken a number of steps there, that you know about, on content, terrorism, bullying, on getting the content down on elections and, importantly, on well being. We launched a change just this year around meaningful social interactions because if you look at people’s time on Facebook, the time when they’re engaged, when they’re sharing, communicating, commenting, that has psychological well-being. It’s very positive.

Well, some of it.

And some of the other times it’s less positive. Some of it is less positive, but we made a change, which has to really do with more of the social sharing that the researchers believe is more positive and do less of the other, which is less positive. So we’re taking those steps.

We also have to take steps on the economic situation facing people, and that’s something we take really seriously. There are 70 million small businesses around the world that are using Facebook. 57 percent of them will say that they’re hiring, more than half of hiring happens, and interestingly in this country alone there are 1.4 million small businesses run and started by LGBTQ entrepreneurs that are contributing 1.7 trillion dollars to our economy.


And I met … There’s a woman who started in Seattle, Cupcake Royale, and she did it … Right. Okay, you know about it. So she did it after she came out and every year during Pride Month, she donates a dollar for every cupcake she makes to the It Gets Better Project. And we are doing community boosts around the country to make sure that we’re investing in digital skills.

I get that, but some of the things that are coming … And you and I argue about this shiny, happy future that you think, and I think it’s maybe not so happy and shiny. But when you come in with automation, robotics, can Silicon Valley … And then I want to get right into diversity, I do wanna talk a lot about diversity, and #MeToo because I think it’s something we really need to focus in on.

Do you think Silicon Valley has gotten the message? Have you gotten the message that maybe this sort of generalized optimism is probably something that people are a bit more serious about some of the issues facing our country?

We are serious about the issues facing our country. So let’s go back to jobs really quickly, because the economic insecurity is what is a lot of what you’re talking about. So most growth in the United States and around the world, more than half comes from small businesses, and the small businesses that use Facebook, they’re not tech businesses. They are powered by tech, but they are the barber, the baker, Cupcake Royale, and so we need to help address that. And we think one of the most important ways we can do that — and we take it very seriously — is working with small businesses, as well as digital skill training.

I was in Detroit a while ago visiting one of our local partners. We will have trained, by the end of the year, 2.5 million small businesses and people around the world on digital skills, because we have a responsibility to make sure that technology doesn’t just benefit some, but benefits all. And that’s where this audience, I think, really comes in.

Do you think that people legitimately … When you see the attacks on tech, do you think they have some legitimate feelings that you all haven’t been paying attention to your audience really? Or not, maybe not.

I mean, we’ve all gotten criticized, both our companies and personally, I’m sure everyone in this audience has felt that, too. And there’s parts that are legitimate, but what really matters is you figure out what your values are, what your responsibilities are, and we’re doing all we can to do that.

Okay, we’re gonna move to #MeToo and diversity. Obviously, Lean In was a big cultural … What do you call it? What do you think? People noticed. When you did that, do you think about the things you got wrong in Lean In and how it relates to #MeToo? Talk a little bit about how you feel about what’s happened in the past year with some real prices these horrible men have paid for their behaviors.

I published Lean In almost five years ago, and Kara, thank you, because you encouraged me and I needed that encouragement to put that out in the world. And there’s lots of things I got wrong. I’ve talked a lot about how in the ensuing years I lost Dave and I don’t think I wrote enough about what it was to be a single mother because I don’t think I fully understood it. I’m not sure I fully understand it now, but boy do I understand it differently.

#MeToo is so important. I mean, the pervasiveness of sexual harassment that women face, we all know, but now everyone knows, and now the question is now, what now? And this I think is so important and I’ve been doing a lot of work on it with my foundation, which is that we need a world where women don’t get sexually harassed. Full stop. Period.


Yes. Yes. But this is important, that’s not enough. Not enough. We need a world where women — and women of color particularly — get equal opportunity. It is not enough to not harass us. That’s good. Necessary, but not sufficient. And I’ve been worried about what I perceive of as the potential unintended consequences.

So a few weeks ago my foundation, Lean In, with SurveyMonkey, we did a survey and here’s what we found. Almost half, almost half of male managers in the U.S. today are afraid to do a common work activity with a woman, like have a meeting, have a meeting. Senior men are three-and-a-half times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior woman than a junior man, five times more likely to hesitate to travel with a junior woman than a junior man and that is a problem.

Because I remember when I published Lean In five years ago, one of the most common responses I got from senior men was, you’re right, I take the man out for drink, not the woman. I spend time with the man, not the woman. And that is the informal and formal mentoring time that women are not getting. And so everyone needs to behave appropriately all the time but access needs to be equal. I believe people should be able to interact, including interact one on one in a work environment and nothing bad should happen. But if you’re not comfortable having dinner with women, do not have dinner with men.

Right. Okay.

We need to be explicit about this because I think this is quietly and insidiously happening, and we know one of the reasons men have gotten promoted over women …

Social issues.

It’s not that they’re more talented. It’s that … Applaud. I was once on a stage talking about Lean In and I really got catcalled, booed, it was really hard, and so I finally said, “Okay, let’s be clear, men are getting like 94 percent of the top jobs, so either you believe that men are 94 percent more talented or something else is going on. I’m going with something else is going on.” And the catcalls stopped.

So when …

But this is part of what’s going on is that informal time, and we have to make sure we don’t backslide.

Has #MeToo made it worse? Because a lot of the backlash now is really disturbing. It’s more like what you’re talking about, not going out to dinner, it’s sort of the Mike Pence-ing it. I have to Mike Pence it, because Mother wouldn’t like it.


How do you solve for that, because right now with #MeToo it seems like many of the good men are like, “I don’t know what to say now so I’m not gonna say anything. I don’t know what to do now, so I don’t wanna do anything.” Do you believe they’ve gotten to the heart of the real problem of sexual harassment? Because now you’re moving … I think they’ve gotten a lot of the real bad offenders, but Harvey Weinstein is up in, you know, he’s rapey. He just is. He’s awful. He should be in prison, really. But then there’s what happens down here, which is the more minor aggressions. Not minor, but that …

And what happens outside of corporate America, right? Think about the people who are still — and people are working on this — but people who work in homes, people who work in the hospitality industry, the stories about women — and I’ve spoken to some of the union heads about this — women who are in housekeeping and hospitality and hotels. It is pervasive and awful and we need to make sure this moment of #MeToo affects, you’re right, all levels of sexual harassment, but also people wherever they work. And there are environments like working in other people’s homes where there’s even less protection, and so we need to make sure this moment extends to everyone.

But how do you do that? Because it feels like the backlash is strong.

We need policy change. It’s not good … It’s fantastic that women have spoken out and how brave they were and I applaud all of them. I actually just did a [Facebook] Live with Tarana Burke. I just met her on Wednesday. She started this over 10 years ago. Think about the slog in which she’s been through to get us here and I think we’re all so grateful to her. Speaking out against people who do this is important, but again, necessary but not sufficient. We need policies.

Facebook, we published our sexual harassment policies publicly, not because they’re perfect, not because they’re not gonna continue to evolve, but because we believe that we need a more open dialogue about this. We were also asked by a lot of small businesses, we don’t have the resources to develop policies every year so we thought we’d share, and that would show the thing. And we’d love other people to share as well because this needs to change at the policy level. At the policy level at companies you need clear practices, things need to be dealt with quickly, things need to be dealt with fairly, action needs to be taken, there needs to be no retaliation.

We’re gonna take another break for a word from our sponsors. We’ll return to my conversation with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg after this.


All right, so when you’re talking about that happening, when you think of diversity in general, Facebook’s diversity numbers, not great, Google’s … All of them are the same. This is group of lesbians who tech, because that’s the name of the organization, apparently.

Thank you for that.

Any time. I just want to make it clear for you.

The logo is everywhere.

I know.

You can’t not know that.

Why is that, Sheryl? We only have a few more minutes, but what do you do? Here you are at the top of an organization. Now it shouldn’t necessarily be you that does it, you have been more active. What is wrong with tech that it continues to do this?

So we know that more diverse organizations get better results, and we want a more diverse organization because we build a product that serves the world and if we have more diverse voices and more diverse people building that product, it’s gonna be better.

We have in some ways a unique problem, which is a historical problem against women who go into technical and predominantly male fields. In the 1980s, women were 35 percent of computer science majors. Today it’s 17 or 18 percent. That’s a problem, and why I’m so glad to be at this conference because this isn’t just about the people in this organization, it’s about getting more people in.

I remember just a … Well, I guess it’s not just a few years ago. There’s an iD Tech camp, which is like a good tech summer camp a lot of parents in Silicon Valley send their kids to, and I sent my daughter and my niece and her friend, and they were three of the five girls in a class of like 20, and they were like 7. And I thought to myself, “Wait a second, we’re already starting in the wrong place.” And so we’re working hard on this.

It’s also not just a pipeline issue, it’s an attitude issue. I mean look at the Google suit that just … Pipeline’s always the excuse. Pipeline. Pipeline. Pipeline.

No, but it’s culture. I’ll give you an example that happened, too, at iD Tech Camp. So my niece went, and there was a game, you’re supposed to make a game, and she might have been 7. And the only kind of games they knew were like driving and aggressive games and she said she wanted to make a word game, so she went to the counselor person, who was a kid from college, and he looked at her and said, “No one’s ever asked me that before, I have no idea.” So she went home that night and said, “Aunt Sheryl, I don’t wanna go back.” I was like, “Go one more day, try it.” To that guy’s credit, he came in the next day looking kinda tired and said, “I stayed up, I know how to make a word game.” And she made her word game.

But that’s the problem. And so it’s cultural. And the good news is, when it’s cultural it means we can change it. Lesbians tech, girls tech, women of color tech, black girls code, computer science and engineering Lean In circles, the way to change culture is to … The way to get more women into tech is to get more women into tech. Because for every young girl out there who sees this audience and hears from here, they now can’t see this as an only-male field.

Do you think that removes the overarching … I mean the Google, you probably read it … But those kind of things happen at all these companies. Obviously, Uber was the quintessence of all of that. I don’t know if you can change their attitudes. I feel like some days you can’t.

Yeah, I mean look, sometimes we take a step forward. Sometimes it feels like when we take a step forward, the world takes a step back and that’s hard, but culture does change and culture has to change. It has to.

And here’s why: We know that the data’s on our side, and now hopefully momentum’s on our side. More diverse teams have better results. Relationships, if you’re straight, and they’re more even, are stronger and happier. Fathers of children who are more involved do better. They do better psychologically, they do better emotionally, they do better professionally and in school. So I’m sure with every movement, with ever movement towards equality, there are the inspiring moments and there are the moments when it feels impossible, but we have no choice but to change the culture.

Kind of arguing that lesbians raise all children, which I think is right.

Can I say a word on that?


So gay couples share chores more evenly.

Of course.

So I’m not saying there’s a choice, but if there were a choice, as a woman, you’re much better off with a woman because in straight couples women are doing 30 to 40 percent more housework and childcare.


And if we want to know part of what’s holding women back in the workplace, that’s a big chunk of it, too. Because women have two jobs and men have one.

I’m just getting started.

I know that. We can sit here all day. I interviewed you onstage and I asked you about Trump. It’s hard when you’re talking about policy changes and attitude changes, we have a president who really doesn’t believe these things. And you said at the time, in a very Sheryl Sandberg way, we’ll have to wait and see, it’s the beginning of the administration.

I didn’t say all that.

You did. It was a wait and see. I have the quote, I’ll send it to you. I’m 100 percent correct. How do you feel now? Because now Amazon’s gotta think about whether they’re gonna go to Atlanta or take Atlanta off the list because of the NRA thing. You’ve got issues around immigration, transgender, you all have to wade into this now because of the polarization. It’s not just a polarization, it’s a tax on these things that had been moving forward. Do you think — I don’t want to use the word “lean in” because you must hear it all the time — but do you think tech companies need to … Wait and see is enough. How do you feel about the Trump administration now?

I wanted Hillary elected very badly. That was true then and it’s certainly true now. I think it’s more important than ever that we speak out on the things that matter to us. I’m proud of what Facebook has done. In 2014, we launched 50 types of gender identity you could put on Facebook and a field where anyone could fill in whatever they wanted.

There’s 53 now, but go ahead.

Well, there’s an endless amount because there is a field and that’s very important in this and we know … I’m very proud of our community within Facebook, you’ve been a big supporter. I know you’re speaking at our conference next week and we appreciate that. We have a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Group that rates on companies and their treatment of LGBTQ employees. We cover gender confirmation surgery and all the ancillary things. We tell anyone to use any bathroom they want.

We speak out and we speak out often, and I think in the face of any administration we have a high responsibility. And so what am I doing? I’m speaking out. I speak out on women. I’ve spoken out on immigration. I’ve spoken out on the transgender ban. I’ve spoken out on gun control. Mark’s done the same on the issues he cares about. We work all over the world and there are issues all over the world, and we all need to keep fighting for what we believe. We also need to keep setting the right example. I can’t say again how important it is for young girls to see women and women of all types and backgrounds and colors and identity and sexual orientation who code, because tech matters and you guys matter.

All right, on that note, Sheryl Sandberg.

So nice.

I know, aren’t they nice?

Thank you, guys.

Thank you. Thanks again to Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg for talking with me at the 2018 Lesbians Who Tech summit. You can learn more about the summit at lesbianswhotech.org.

Recode – All

Cash For Apps: Make money with android app

Full transcript: GLG President and CEO Alexander Saint-Amand on Recode Decode

How Complete Beginners are using an ‘Untapped’ Google Network to create Passive Income ON DEMAND

“You could call what we do consulting, but it isn’t really.”

On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, GLG President and CEO Alexander Saint-Amand talks about running a learning platform for investors and business professionals.

You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Kara Swisher: Recode Radio presents Record Decode coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as the star of “Black Panther,” but in my spare time I talk tech, and you’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode at Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Play Music or wherever you listen to podcasts, or just visit Record.net/podcasts for more.

Today I’m in New York City with a very bad voice, and I’m here with Alexander Saint-Amand — what a name — the CEO and president of GLG, a learning platform that connects businesses and investors with experts on a range of subjects. He’s been with the company for 20 years and has been CEO since 2006. Alexander, welcome to Recode Decode.

Alexander Saint-Amand: Thank you for having me.

Let’s talk a little bit about your business because I don’t think people know what you do. When you’re saying a learning platform, people usually think of Udacity or one of the other platforms and things like that. Give me an outline on how you got to where you got.

Yeah, I’d love to compare us to some of those platforms too, but GLG’s a one-to-one learning business for professionals. I hate to use analogies, but the easiest way to think about it is Uber meets Harvard. It is a one-to-one learning business, like I said. On the one hand, we have a group of companies, a few thousand companies that want to talk to various experts on various subjects, learn from experts on lots of different things, and so we have this membership on the other side of about 750,000 professionals who are available to teach.

Like calling an Uber, you tell us what you want to learn or …

Right, such as.

Just because I was preparing for this, I looked through some of our projects this morning. To name a few that are in the news, we’re doing work on school security today. That might not surprise you. We had everyone from a really big tech company that you probably know down to a startup looking at how schools do security — and not in a political way, like what guns should or shouldn’t be there, but just how does the security work in the school.

We’ve done work today also actually comparably on hotel security after Las Vegas. I can keep going down this political line. We took a client to see the wall, the border wall with Mexico, and had a group of people who understand border security lay out how it actually works in real life. The client was not Donald Trump, just for the record, but was someone else looking at the subject.

A lot of stuff can be really boring. We did the first project this morning. When I looked at the list this morning at 6:30, the first project was on how reservoirs are designed and reservoir engineering in Latin America.

This is all done online? Their clients of yours? Talk a little bit about your background. How did you get to doing this first? Then we can talk about how it works.

I think for you, you remember Guru.com?

Yes I do. Explain for the people what Guru.com was. There were a lot of them.

Guru.com was … There were a lot of them. We’re actually one of them, although you don’t know that. We like to say, when we went to raise money for this idea, we talked to all the same people. They talked to Guru and Elance and ExpertNet, and you remember some of those, but there were more.

Yeah, what was the other one? There was another one, I can’t remember. It degenerated into Wiccans and something else.

Right. I like to say phone sex and astrology.

Yeah, phone sex and astrology.

I’m not sure that’s true.

Wiccans was a big part of it. I can’t remember what it was.

Yes, it was. I don’t remember that one either, but I know what you’re talking about.

You need a Wiccan at any time.


You don’t have Wiccans.

We don’t. Guru, if you remember, started out with real aspirations to get great experts. The idea was what it sounds like, you find a guru.

You could meet them over at a digital platform.

You can find them through the digital platform, but the idea I think on Guru is that you talk to them over the phone or you meet them in person. As you know, they raised a lot of money. I think it was ’98, ’99, somewhere in there, right when we were raising money. In fact, they announced their round a week after we went to see the same venture firms.


We were stuck because they raised a few hundred million, and what they do is they opened up the thing to anyone, and so you go to Guru and if they have the head of neurology at Stanford on there, you can come and say, “Hey, I have a headache. Can you help?” The problem is that no matter how much money you pay the head of neurology at Stanford, he’s not interested in that question. He might be if you have a real problem, but he thinks it’s beneath his pay grade, he’s not interested, and he doesn’t learn through teaching that. He drops off, and it devolves.

Adverse selection, which is the big problem. I mentioned Uber meets Harvard. There’s a Harvard part, which is you have to qualify the student and the teacher. We went a different way. We recruited the faculty at Duke and Stanford and Harvard Medical schools, and we invited them to teach.

What was the premise to them at the time? Because this was, what, in the ’90s, right?

It was ’99. It was the booming of the biotech.

Right, before everything went down.

Before everything went down, the booming of biotech, and our first customers were investors who were looking to learn about all these new things that were happening in biotech. We went to the universities and said, “It’d be good for you to share your actual expertise.” In other words, investors are making decisions based on equity research reports, based on whatever, other written materials they can find, and shouldn’t they talk straight to the source.

By the way, you’ll learn from talking to them too. It was a little bit based on some jealousy between Duke and Stanford at the time. I could get into the politics of it. I remember Stanford has always been connected with the venture community, Duke wasn’t. The dean at Duke wanted Duke to be a center of thought leadership, and so he invited a bunch of his faculty to teach with us.

You were just saying you wanted to qualify the people who are talking because it can devolve into just anybody can get a … A lot of them were open platforms for experts.

Yeah, which continues today. You saw a few years ago some of the folks behind Twitter launched, I think it was called Ask Jelly. There was Quora, there’s been Yahoo Answers, LinkedIn Answers.

I’m blanking on the one that was back then. It was another one besides Guru. It went down real hard.

I want to know, too. Guru went down hard, too.

It’s like Answers.com, too, went hard. I’ll remember it.

It wasn’t Answers. The idea has a long intellectual history in the Valley of what about all that knowledge that’s in people’s heads.

How can you get it out and sort it out?

How can you get it out?


Then you apply Uber to that idea, and you think, “Let’s just connect everyone.” Learning doesn’t work like that. I always tell people we are like eBay for learning or Uber for learning, but learning is not selling a camera on eBay and it’s not finding a car. The bar is much higher. You asked, why, the Duke faculty members, did they want to teach a group of investors? Because they learn through teaching.

Right. There also were a bunch of other things that are slightly in your area, not just so much the Udacity’s or the MOOCs, but the ones where you’d want to learn to play the guitar or you’d want to learn to do a lot of things and they would link you. They were essentially a linking service. Then others, the one that was sold to LinkedIn, and that was sort of computer learning.

Oh, Linda?



Right. Those were online courses.

Those are online courses. I think our core idea is that, and I can make analogies, but our core idea is that one-to-one or customized learning is the new learning thing. In other words, making one-to-many-many is one idea. That’s what a lot of amazing companies are doing.

Right. That’s how universities have gone online, right?

That’s right. That’s the MOOCs.

You can learn at MIT from anywhere in the world.

Yeah. The learning methodology is the same. I watched a lecture at MIT. I watched a lecture on my phone. Now of course Sarah and others have made their focus more on skills training and skills development, which I’m fascinated by. The question is what’s the delivery mechanism of that learning? The conceit of all those companies is that if you just take one-to-many and make it one-to-many-many-many, it’s going to change the way everyone learns. Our idea is not that. It’s that customization is the key to the learning and that people don’t really understand what the dynamics are that take place if you want to scale one-to-one, but if you do accept those constraints, that one-to-one is the most powerful method of learning.

Take the example I used here: As a company you want to work on school security. What do you read about that, that teaches you how it really works?

You can search Google, right, by yourself?

You can search Google.

You can send some intern in to get you as much information about it.

You can pull the other report, and those things are important. You should do those things. Then when it really comes time to start figuring out what you want to do, you need perspective from people in the space about how would your idea work in that market and what if you did this, what if you did that. It’s the development of perspective, the development of I guess you would call it wisdom on the subject that really only takes place, just like this conversation. You can learn a lot about GLG, but you’re going to ask me questions and learn more about GLG.

Right. How does that differ than say other ways of people learning or consultants, really? That’s what Bane does. That’s what all the other consultants [do]. How did you differentiate?

Bane, McKinsey, etc., they deliver you what you should do, their ideas. You say, “Should we open in Australia?” and they deliver you a report. “What should we do with our business?” They deliver you a report. I would say that we’re not that. We don’t tell you what to do. We don’t tell you the answer, per se. We teach you about things. You want to learn about markets. Most of the top strategy consultants do use us, most of the biggest companies in the world use us, or many of them do, but they don’t use us for the same thing that they use a consultant for.

You could call what we do is consulting, but it isn’t really. It’s the average interaction between, we’ve done millions of projects. Our members have answered, I believe, almost 100 million questions on our various sites, but the primary experience is a phone call.

It’s a one-on-one.

It’s a one-on-one phone call or a meeting.

Go back again to the ’90s. You started this, Guru got all this money and there was three or four others that were like this. Talk about what happened. Your original premise was the same thing that you’re doing now?

Our founding story’s a little different. The company’s called GLG. It was originally called Gerson Lehrman Group. It was started in ’98 by a fellow named Gerson and a fellow named Lehrman, so it’s Gerson Lehrman Group. The original idea that they had come up with was to start a publishing company and so they raised some money for the publishing company. It’s a long story and I’ll tell it to you because it relates to the heart of the matter. I joined them, and we came up with this other idea to do this, and we went out to raise money for it, but we didn’t and Guru did and other people did.

The publishing company didn’t work either, so we repurposed the capital from the publishing company and put it into this idea. This idea worked. Even as Guru was fairly immediately struggling, we developed a first group of customers who loved the idea and started working with us and so it took off.

There is a digital element to it because you link … People find you or not? How do you look at it that way? I want to get later into talking about where learning is going.

Yeah. Great. The digital component is just how do you scale. The digital side of GLG is fairly straightforward, but it’s not that different from Uber. There’s a car around the corner, and you now know where it is because of GPS. GLG is just how would you know who the best people are on the subject? We use a lot of different technology to find the best people and what they want to teach or what they have to teach, and then we spend just as much time figuring out, if you’re a customer of ours, what you want to learn. To do that at scale requires a lot of systems, but not super-fancy systems. Of course we use AI for it. Of course we have what you might expect, but it’s a combination of the idea combined with simple systems.

Give me an example. Someone will come, like school security. What happens then in that? They would contact you?

They work with someone at GLG. You can go to our site, but in general you’re covered by someone. We have a few thousand employees, someone covers you. You call them and you say, “I want to learn about school security, and here’s what I’m thinking about.” They will go through our database. They’ll invite new people. We’ll ask people in the membership to invite other people. It fairly has scale. We want to invite a lot of people to this idea and hopefully have you connected with someone on the phone within a few hours. It’s not quite on demand, like 15 minute on demand, but it’s on demand as in same-day or next-day.

Right. How do you vet the experts then? That was one of the issues, too, is the quality, as with any of these platforms, the quality of the expert matters.

We recruit because we think you’re an expert in something. Yes, we have a lot of inbound people applying, but in general we’re recruiting you because we heard you’re Kara Swisher and we think you know something about something.

I have no expertise in anything.

You have expertise in podcasts, for example.

I guess.

That’s such an important point because people don’t really know what they have to teach either. We will recruit a former Fortune 500 CEO and they’ll ask us, “What do you think I have to teach?” They have a lot to teach about being a Fortune 500 CEO or in a sector or farmer or whatever it is, or interacting with the White House or managing corporate culture or whatever the subject is. They don’t really know what their real thing is.

That would be valuable.

That would be valuable or that they’re the best at teaching. We always say that everyone loves to teach, they just don’t know quite what do they want to teach and where they want to teach it. Not everyone wants to go move to Boston and teach a course, but everyone does love sharing their expertise with the right people.

Right. They go and you link them up and that’s it, and the fee is paid? How do you figure that out?

We invite a lot of people to do the project. Everyone can opt in or opt out. They fill out a questionnaire of what they do or don’t know. They go through some legal and compliance and contracting type things. They’re then available. Then we pass along their information and their biographical background and the answers to those questions to a customer. The customer then gets to make a decision about who they want to talk to, and then there’s a scheduling system in our sites and stuff that helps them schedule a call.

Then a fee that you …

Then afterwards, the member bills their hourly fee. The customer pays us in a variety of different ways.

Right, different ways. When you’re thinking about where expertise is going, why do they need you? You can find everybody.

Every reporter always asks us that question, and everyone in Silicon Valley asks that question. Most people don’t really know how to find the expertise they’re looking for, and they’re not used to the process you would go through to find … I was a reporter also, just for a year.

What did you report?

I covered news for Bloomberg. I covered the Bundesbank for much of the year for Bloomberg.

Oh man, that’s enough to get you out of journalism.

I loved it, actually.

Did you?

I loved everything about it.

(laughing) Bundesbank.

I did. I loved everything about it. I’ll tell you how I got to this from that, but most people don’t know what they want to learn, exactly. They don’t know exactly who they want to talk to. They come in with a question, like, “I think there’s more to learn about school security. Where do I go? Who would I talk to?” They wouldn’t necessarily think, just to use an example, to talk to the people who now run security at the various concert halls in Paris. Those folks have thought a lot about security after what’s happened there, and so they are great people to teach just maybe a new way of thinking about it.

How do you entice them to want to teach? Money?

People like teaching good students. The key to GLG is making sure that … The reason why it’s not a consumer idea yet is because you have to qualify the student. The problem with Yahoo Answers is just all sorts of people are asking random questions, and are they worth teaching? Same with Google.

Also, crazy. We’re going to talk about that and more when we get back. We’re here with Alexander Saint-Amand. He’s the CEO and president of GLG, a learning platform that connects businesses and investors with experts on a range of subjects. This is an area that Silicon Valley’s been trying to tackle for years, and we’ll talk about how that’s going when we get back.


Today I’m in New York City with a terrible voice, and I’m here with Alexander Saint-Amand, the CEO and president of GLG. It’s a learning platform. We’ve just been talking about how GLG got created in the bust, essentially right before the bust. Let’s talk about the idea that Silicon Valley thinks they can do this through AI and everything, knowledge. Let’s talk about where it’s going from a technological point of view, because what you’re doing is pretty traditional. You’re linking people with others, not unlike LinkedIn or any of the other, or Tinder or anything. You’re linking people.

It may be more like Tinder than LinkedIn. I like to say that part of GLG is just the idea that there’s just a vacuum created by LinkedIn. You’re connected to all these people, but you’re not really connected. You don’t really have a way or there’s no human connection. Our connection is we want you on the phone with someone talking to them. We want you in a room with someone that’s the very best person to reach and learn from, to teach or to learn from. What’s the question about AI exactly?

No, the idea is Silicon Valley is trying to get at this problem with Quora and stuff like that. They’ve been trying to automate it forever, the idea of where knowledge resides and how you access it from people. Essentially they’re going to get to downloading your brain, but that’s a different thing.

Downloading your brain is a different thing.

Well, it’s not.

It’s certainly within the broad long-term wheelhouse, yeah, but I think just all of them don’t accept what makes learning work and why is Harvard a place that you want to teach or learn.

Because you can’t get in. Sorry.

Well no, that’s part of it though, because there’s admissions.

I can’t get in, but go ahead. I just can’t.

I think you can. There are admissions and you know that the student’s smart, you know the community is smart. That’s an important constraint. Once you remove that constraint, the class might not be as interesting at Harvard.


I would just say you just have to start with what works in the existing learning institutions and think how it applies once you apply some basic matching, LinkedIn or Uber whatever.

Talk a little bit about where it’s going though, because every couple of months I get one of these of how we’re going to change learning, how people are going to learn differently. A lot of it is trying to automate it or trying to consolidate IT into it. A lot of it recently around AI, this is how you’ll be learning, this is how it transforms that.

Yeah, and I’m sure you’ve thought about it with your kids, too.

Teaching. I think there’s something so wrong with schools, but that’s another …

There’s a really cool study that I like to just always point to, which is if you take the average math class, there’s a bunch of kids. Some kids are two years ahead today, some students are two years behind. That’s statistically how big the gap is on any given subject. We totally get that little piece, they’re way ahead, they’re way behind. Well, if they’re way ahead, they’re bored. And if they’re way behind, they’re confused. The teachers can’t solve for that because teacher’s got 25 students.

Has to teach to the program.

To the mean or median, whatever. The question is, how would you solve that? There are tons of cool technologies for solving that and testing, using AI or otherwise, just more simple algorithms to make sure you get questions on things you don’t understand and no questions on the stuff you’ve already mastered. Lots of software works that way today. Adult learning doesn’t take place like that. You don’t have a chance to just have exactly the right teacher.

And if you think about it, you say that where teaching is broken, imagine executive education for a second. You go to take a course on marketing for two weeks with 50 of your peers from totally different-size companies who have totally different levels of expertise. What’s the average level in that class? It’s just average. It’s by definition going to be really easy for you on one part and too confusing for you on the other part. What you need is exactly the right course with exactly the right teacher. That’s not that hard to deliver as long as you don’t just try to scale it just so fast. As long as you don’t just open the idea of …

The way we’ve taught is not that way. It is teaching to the mean and the idea of learning that is completely customized is still far away.

Yeah. I always say that GLG’s first customers were some of the best investors in the world.

They wanted some expertise on biotech or whatever the heck they were looking at.

Biotech or anything.

“What is this bitcoin?” You’re probably doing a lot of that, right?

We do a lot on cryptocurrency, we do a lot on cryptocurrency security. I always say to people, a lot is that fancy stuff, a lot of it is how do reimbursement systems work for hospitals in Eastern Europe? It’s super interesting if you’re trying to figure out are there any businesses in that space.

Where do you find that expert?

People who run hospitals in Eastern Europe and Turkish veterinarians, for example.

What if they’re not good runners of hospitals? That’s the problem you run into. Anyway, go ahead. Sorry.

That’s a different question, and I can talk about it, but the main point is that the best investors, first of all, they’re looking for perspective, not an answer. There’s no answer to how it’s run, it’s just a perspective, “What if we did this? What if we did that?” They would never settle for a report. You’ve never met someone at Sequoia that says, “Oh I just read the report on the hotel industry, and so I’m backing Airbnb.”


It doesn’t happen. They go and try to figure out what are the weaknesses in the space? Where is there opportunity? What if they did this in this city and this country? What would happen? They never have accepted the report as the answer. Of course, they’re the best investors with all the resources, so of course they can do that. The question is how many people can do that. I think eventually everyone will be able to do that. No one will accept that their learning is just a one-to-many course, because no one ever learned well that way.

The innovation is not that high in making that same course interaction, teacher/student relationship just available to more people. That’s just not that innovative. I’m less focused on AI than I am on the same thing, I use an analogy with drugs. It used to be everyone took the same drugs for cancer and now because of genomics, because of the availability of information. Yes, because of AI, but because of AI and the development of those drugs, you will get a more and more tailored drug. Same with your learning.

It’s interesting when you think about that, because we don’t think about learning that way ever. We just don’t. It’s one of the few things, health care is the other one, that hasn’t changed that much because of digitization or the ability to do that, to connect people in the same way. Dating has changed drastically, if you think about how good it’s got. Good or bad, depending on how much you like those services, but they’ve solved the problem that analog hasn’t been able to solve.

Everyone knows that education is broken in some way, when I look at some of my kids’ stuff or just myself. I don’t learn at all. People don’t learn all day long about things. I think you read the internet is what you do.

You read the internet.

Right. Google has been a learning mechanism for a lot of people. “Let’s look it up and find out.”

Yeah, it is, but who says, “Gosh, five years ago I googled it and that really changed my life”?

Right, no. 100 percent. I remember what I Google.

It’s not that there’s not enough information on Google, it’s that learning doesn’t take place totally by reading. You can learn a lot by reading something, but the question is how do you really grow, how do you learn?

I always like to say the MBA is one of those incredibly broken things. Not because you shouldn’t go or something like that, but because when you leave it, you don’t know any business. You listen to a bunch of lectures, but you can’t fire someone. You have no actual business skills.

It’ll be so much better if you apply into Harvard, you got in. Now we know something about you, but then you spent the next five years in a series of small group learning experiences in companies. You spent a year in product development at Google, you spent a year in finance at Goldman. You spent a year in the best companies, and you really learned through those experiences, which would be much closer to a traditional guild or apprenticeship in Europe.

Is that a new business for you, the new way of learning?

Well, I’ll say one more thing about it, that the faculty at those schools are typically not that happy with the experience either. They have this very specific expertise. Frances Frei’s studying culture. She goes to Google to apply it.

Uber. She’s at Uber.

Sorry, Uber to apply it.

She picked the Mount Everest of horror shows.

That’s right, because what she wants to work on is that problem. That’s her thing.

Good luck, Frances. I still don’t think you can do it. Sorry.

Maybe she can’t, but you see why she did it.

We had a podcast taping with her.

Because she’s put it at the Everest of that, what she doesn’t want to teach necessarily …

You’re going to die in the crevasse of …

She may.

She shall.

She may.

The crevasse of non-ethics, but go ahead. Sorry.

She may, but she will learn from that. And I’m sure, I don’t know this, I don’t know her, but I would imagine that she gets to apply all the things that she’s been working on.


Whereas if she goes to teach at business school, she just teaches introductory entrepreneurialism, business leadership, these generic courses. People love to teach the thing they really know and care about. Basically the whole system is built on old matching technology that should be replaced.

Old, people self-select, you mean?

No, meaning you would have to aggregate people in a classroom, so I guess that’s just the number of people that can connect. The new matching would say that Frances’s best students are Uber, Huawei and a company that’s trying to scale in Europe, and those are the thing people who are wrestling with culture the most and so those should be her students. She should still be a Harvard faculty member in teaching those students. The old world said only the people that can come to Boston can therefore be in the class.

Talk about how learning has to change then. Where does it go and how does digital technologies help that? Obviously people are mobile. People are listening to a lot more. They’re consuming tons of podcasts, a lot of educational podcasts, things like that. VR has this enormous capability of changing … VR/AR, really, or mixed reality. I think that’s the term that we like to use now. Talk a little bit about how that changes. You’re just doing better matching, essentially. If people have a problem, you’re finding their solutions for them.

We like all those technologies. If a GLG match can take place through VR or anything you want to call it, we’re very happy about that. What we’re interested in is we’re interested in two questions, which is what do people want to learn? I use an example of when you call us about schools, for example. Once you do a project, let’s say, on school security, we should be able to recommend a project to you on hotel security, because if you’re interested in one, you’re probably interested in the other.

You’re like Netflix.

That’s right.

“If you like this movie, you might like this.”

That’s right. That’s really important, because if you think about Harvard, you don’t just go to Harvard and pick all the things you want to learn. That’s not the thing. The thing is that they also can recommend, if you want to study classics, these are the things you have to know in classics.

We aim to be like that and we operate like that, meaning much of what you do at GLG, maybe 70 percent of it, is stuff you initiate, but 30 percent is the stuff that we’re recommending. We spend a lot of time on that. Similarly, we want to spend a lot of time figuring out what you want to teach, which is just as hard. Most people that join our membership …

These are the teachers?

Yeah, if you’re the head of neurology at Stanford and you study the A45-B antigen as a target in breast cancer or something like that, then you know that’s what you have to teach.

You might want to teach guitar, but go ahead.

You might want to and some of them are probably qualified to, but that’s not your primary area of expertise. Whereas if you’re a general executive, you may not know. You run a large sales organization, you may not know what you actually know about running a sales organization or management culture or anything.

Tell me about what people do want to learn. What are the things that you specialize in?

We started with science, so a lot of what we do is still science. The big buckets are technology regulation and globalization. Those are I think the three big buckets. The last one’s probably personal development.

Let’s go through them. Technology, meaning how to do things?

Technology, so, “How does that A45-B antigen function as a target in breast cancer,” let’s say, “and is it a reasonable target and how does it work and why does it work.” That’s just because medical science is where we started, but there are plenty of examples there. In regulations, it’s, How can I open a business today in Venezuela? What will the government accept? I run a copper business and I want to expand from Brazil into Venezuela.”


“Don’t.” There’s the short answer, but if you did want to and you knew certain constraints, how would you think about entering that market and what would you need to do? Globalization is, “I know my business” — same example — “I know my business in Brazil but I don’t know it in Venezuela.” “I understand this business very well in China and we’ve expanded all over Europe, but we don’t understand the United States market yet.”

The last bucket is personal development, just straight up, “I’m the head of Merck North America and I want to keep growing as an executive. How do I think about my core professional development goals?” Which you can say is more like coaching.

Right. There’s the coaches, yeah.

I give you some learning buckets. There’s of course coaching. There’s consulting. There’s executive education. There’s market research. I would say all of those categories and more are disruptible on some level by a more customized model, in the same way that Michael Dell didn’t really change the nature of the computer you can get.

No, just how you put it together.

Yeah, just made it much more customizable. They did that through a very particular business decision, which was just not to pay the manufacturer until they bought the customized pieces. One of our core ideas is we just don’t pay for any of the learning until the customer needs it. That allows us to have many, many, many, many more courses, effectively millions of courses available.

Same with Amazon. When it launched, they didn’t buy the books until after the customer ordered the books so they could have a couple million books and Barnes & Noble was stuck. This is the long tail theory. The long tail’s so important to learning. What people need to learn is often in the long tail, the right teacher is often in the long tail.

Interesting. When we get back, we’re going to talk more about where learning is going. I’d really like to think about how people are going to learn in the future, if it’s going to be a lifelong thing or students learn now. I don’t know if you saw last night the students at the Florida high school that got attacked, they had a teacher on there. Did you see her?

I didn’t see her.

Oh she was fantastic. She was trying to get the person from the NRA to explain the Second Amendment and how it started and she goes, “And I need supporting explanations.” I just had a really bad flashback to high school and they’re teaching the same way, which was funny.

We’ll talk about where learning’s going and how it changes in a digital space, because I think you’re going to see a ton more learning that way, because the way, again, schools are done, you create a Harvard and people go there, it doesn’t make any sense going forward.


Today I’m in New York and I’m here with Alexander Saint-Amand, the CEO and president of GLG. It’s a learning platform that connects businesses, investors and experts on a range of subjects. I want to talk about the future of learning, where it’s going, because when you think about this, what you’re doing is analog, but you’re linking people using a platform to do so. Where do you imagine the future of learning is going?

Again, as I said, it’s one of the few things that has resisted digital. Although there’s plenty of courses online and things like that, we still go to schools or take courses, or it’s very physical. You talk about doing things physically. When you think about your business going forward, how do you imagine it changing?

I just think always about the personalization of it, and I don’t really necessarily …

Care how it’s delivered.

I don’t really care how it’s delivered per se. I don’t really think the innovation and delivery has been much innovation. Yes, the internet makes it possible to watch a course that was taught across the country and around the world, and that’s important because …

More people have access.

Yeah, more people have access and for certain things, particularly base skill development or write and learn to code or learning base math, Khan Academy. I mean these things are incredible, but they don’t change the nature of the learning. The nature of the learning comes down to how are we interacting. There are of course historical precedents for this. There’s, I wish I knew the word, I think it’s chavrusa or something. It’s the Jewish tradition of debate that they teach in yeshiva and you’re paired up with someone else and you just keep debating.

I saw “Yentl,” but go ahead.

I didn’t see it in “Yentl” but I see it in Israel.

I’ve seen “Yentl.”

That process, for example, is really powerful, I think, or they wouldn’t have been doing it for a few thousand years, and it’s not a piece of the methodology. It’s probably closer …

It’s not even slightly digital.

Not even slightly digital.

Do you think, again, Silicon Valley’s really pushing on the idea that all learning will be digital going forward, do you think that’s just not so? Well, until you can put the chip in your head.

I think the digital piece of the match — like what do you know now and why is it that you need more help with that — is really powerful, those tests in the systems. I think there’s also game-based assessments of nonspecific qualities that are really interesting in terms of what do I need to learn, but once it’s, “What do I need to go learn?” I think there’s so much proof that a conversation is the only thing that’s adaptive enough to keep up with the person, because remember, it’s two years ahead, two years behind any given subject, but it’s any given minute, any given subject, you’re constantly a little ahead, a little behind. You’re following me a little bit on what I’m saying, you’re a little behind.

Conversation is just so powerful to achieve that. Just to make it real, let me bring you back to the founding story, if you don’t mind, in terms of the personal story I think lays out how you would think about it too. When I was in high school, my mom got sick and she was diagnosed with some idiopathic cortical atrophy.

I don’t even know what that is.

Exactly. That’s the point. It’s idiopathic, meaning we don’t know why. Cortical atrophy meaning her brain is shrinking. Her brain is shrinking and we don’t know why. It happened when she was I think 52, and we were driving to school and she got lost and then within six months she didn’t know who I was.


We went and got a first opinion, and to this point you go get a first opinion and the doctor says, “We don’t know what’s happening.” You go get a second opinion, and the doctors says, “We don’t know what’s happening.” You go read everything you can about frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s and Lewy Body and stroke, and you’re trying to figure out what’s going on.

That happened to me, and I went to college and I ended up leaving college for a few years just because of taking care of her. I went and became a reporter. When I became a reporter, I learned to ask people questions, so that I went back to school and I was a very, very serious chemistry, pre-med student and I was planning on going to medical school.

I met these folks who were starting this publishing company at the time, and it’s a long story, but I started going to medical conferences for a company in New York and I would act as a private reporter. I ended up going to the Neurology Conference. I went and talked to them.

Because you were interested.

Because I was interested. I went and I talked to the fellow who studies frontotemporal dementia, and I asked him question after question, and told him about, I didn’t use my mom’s name, but I said, “If it was this, would it be that?” He didn’t know who I was, but I was knowledgeable on the subject, and like a reporter, I just kept pushing. Well, I learned she didn’t have that. I went through all of them, and over time, this isn’t a perfect story because she had Alzheimer’s and there was no answer, but she didn’t have those other things. Of course, if you didn’t know what your mother has and she’s still alive and maybe you’re going to get it and all those kinds of things, it’s a huge comfort in knowing what she has, but I didn’t get it from the first or the second conversation.

I didn’t get it because I read a report. I couldn’t. I tried for years. I think that says everything about what we’re trying to do. If your mother got sick or if you got sick, you would not be satisfied with what you could read. You would go find the best teacher and the best teacher and the best teacher and you’d keep having an interactive experience, and you would learn a lot. You would know quite a lot about the subject if you could, in that way. I think that’s the future of learning. I think that you’ll find exactly the material that you need. Some of it will be presented digitally, that’s true, through a test that knows what you want to learn, but it’ll also be about finding the best teacher.

This brings you to the other side of GLG, which is so important, which is people love to teach. If you think about your career, you’re going to spend time learning and you’re going to spend time learning and teaching, and you’re going to spend time teaching in some continuum. People learn through teaching. They stay engaged in the workforce through teaching. They may call it consulting, they may call it joining boards, they may call it a lot of things, but just straight-up sharing your expertise teaches you a lot, too. That matters because if you think about the future of learning, you’re not going to be constrained to the people that are just readily available to you in your local community. Kind of like an Etsy. You’ll be able to find the people around the world that love to teach that thing.

I want to finish on two different things. Being in New York, you guys are in New York, essentially.

We are, yeah.

I want to get to that, yeah, but when you’re talking about finding whatever you want whenever you want, this highly customized world, which again, is a digital mentality of doing this, how does then our learning change? How we teach kids, how we teach. Should every kid have a special teacher, which seems impossible?

I haven’t really gotten to kids yet. I’m more interested in what happens through your life. I wish I had a perspective on kids because I have them and I have no answers there yet. Although I think the more adaptive the better, of course.

I always go into the classroom, I’m like, “Why are they sitting here? They’re not learning.” I constantly think the way we teach is just so wrong given how much technology we have the ability to match people, the ability to figure out people’s actual skills.

What they love and why they love it.


Getting back to my example, the key of that two years ahead, two years behind thing is that is why so many kids decide they’re not good at math: It’s because they so clearly feel ahead or behind, bored or confused. I don’t know if that means everyone has a personal teacher, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

Different two personal teachers. It can’t be one, right? It’s not like we have Socrates teaching Alexander the Great or whatever.

Not everyone might be ready for Socrates. I don’t know. I don’t have a perspective on that. I’ve been so focused on what happens. I’m a little focused on what happens in college, but then after college, how do you learn throughout your life, how do you teach throughout your life? I’m quite sure the idea of a business degree will change completely.

All degrees or not all degrees?

All degrees. First of all, medicine already functions to some extent like this. There is precedent. Law school doesn’t function like this, but medicine does.

Meaning that you work in the hospital?

You work in the hospital.

You still have to go to medical school. Hands on.

You have to take two years of science, and then you really are in clerkships and internships and residency. There’s this great expression, by the way — “See one, do one, teach one” — in medical school where you watch an appendectomy, you do the appendectomy and then you teach the appendectomy and then you know the appendectomy. That seems like a model. You’re doing this very personally. Someone’s right over your shoulder making sure over and over again that this is something you actually know.

I think to your point about digital impact, I think that that kind of learning is just much more possible than you think. Just to give you a sense of skill, we’ve paid our teachers we like to say about $ 1 billion at this point, so we’re not officially in the gig economy per se, just because we’re focused on higher-level professionals.

They called you Uber for Harvard, right?

Well, if it’s the Uber meets Harvard, there are pieces of both, and I suppose that we are somewhat of the gig economy. We’re providing gigs for people to teach for sure, but at a relatively high price point, a relatively high skill. It’s professionals.

Last thing, I want to finish and I want to talk about the idea of what people want to learn, because it changes over time. Now you said different things are really popular, and obviously today people would be interested in school security. Is that how it goes? Do you see a trend in learning?

The trends we see, we see topical trends, like digital health, for example, is the fastest-rising category.

Why? Tell me about that.

Just so much opportunity. I use digital health specifically against hospital IT. Everything was health care IT. That was the electronic medical records, etc. Now, running GLG is a little bit like running a very large virtual university. You’re always seeing people.

Or interested in.

Yeah, what they’re interested in. The consumer side of health and the digitization of that has been the fastest-rising subject. There are others like that. Of course North Korea crops up if North Korea happens or something like that, but the big subjects are China and the rest of the world or digital health. You see those kinds of things.

What do people want to know about China?

So many businesses try to figure out how to work in China, and so many Chinese businesses are trying to work in the rest of the world. Those two things lead to lots and lots of learning.

Lots of questions.

That’s true in every country, but China’s very big and the rest of the world is big, and so there’s a lot of overlap.

Then other topics that seem to be popping up? It’s just topical, topical, topical?

Those are just themes. If you look at on a weekly basis, of course you see, over the last six months in particular, you see cryptocurrency and it’s real applications, security and cryptocurrency, regulation of cryptocurrency. You’ll see that crop up. Maybe that is a 10-year theme.

Maybe. You don’t have that many experts, actually.

That’s right, but we do have experts in the things that cryptocurrency touches. If you’re interested in gambling in cryptocurrency, there are people that know gambling. If you’re interested in banks and cryptocurrency, people know banks. The Internet of Things is usually the third biggest.


That’s big tech companies trying to understand how refrigerators work, for example.

How refrigerators work?

It’s an example, but the idea is that you’re going to put technology in real things, in watches, in refrigerators, in cars, then much of the people developing those technologies don’t know watches and refrigerators and cars. They just know the technology.

They want to learn about that.

They want to learn about it.

Finally, finishing up, I was going to talk about New York, but I don’t know, do you consider yourself a tech company or what? How do you look at yourself?

We very much started as a technology idea, and then we put services on top. I just go back to Uber meets Harvard. There’s a people side and there’s a technology side.

Uber isn’t a technology company. It uses technology.

It uses technology. It’s a people business that uses technology. I suppose Yelp is in the same category in some ways. We are some blend.

Now tell me what are the strangest things people have wanted to learn.

Expanding a biscuit business into Malaysia, for example.

I wouldn’t even begin to know where to find that expert.

Neither would I. If you look through it, it’s a very long tale. It’s not long in that it gets a consumer, and there’s no, “Is Bieber getting married?” That’s not the kind of thing we look at.

He is.

Is he?

Yes, I’m an expert on Bieber and Selena Gomez.

I will sign you up and you can do that project.

I don’t know who would want that information.

There’s an answer out there. It’s not that long, but there’s so many things that are strange, that the average one would be strange. The things that are probably less strange are, “How do I grow as a professional?” It usually is more specific. It usually is things like, “How do I build an HR organization that can support a culture that I want to build? Can I talk to people like Patty McCord in doing that? Who do I talk to?”

I was just going to say Patty McCord, call her.

Would be amazing. Who can I really learn from? It’s not just Patty because Patty has one perspective, but how do I talk to the head of HR at Procter & Gamble too because that’s less fancy, but probably has really strong perspective and years of understanding how those kinds of company …

Then you call the head of Procter & Gamble HR and they say?

Not the current, you’d call the former.

Because the current would be like, “I don’t want to help you.”

No, the current may very well want to teach if you find the right student. If you find an amazing startup that’s doing something that they’re interested in, he may very well want to do the project, or he or she.

Last question: As we enter the future, how do you imagine we will learn? This is a highly customizable way we’re learning. I think you’re getting a chip in your ear, and that’s going to be like that, like “The Matrix.”

The physical property?

Yeah. Just you’ll have a chip. I want to play the piano and there will be no learning.

If the chip gets all the way in your brain, I guess it’ll figure out how to play the piano for you. In the intermediate period, I think you’ll be able to say, “What do I need to really know about learning the piano?” and the very best knowledge on that for you. It’ll watch the way you play the piano and say, “Oh, I’ve got to change the course.”


“Oh, I’ve got to keep changing the course and keep being adaptive.” Maybe it means I’ll put you in touch with a different teacher because you’re not ready for this little piece. This person’s really good — to use the piano analogy — this person’s really good at playing the piano. This person’s really good with your fingers. This person’s much better with reading music. This person’s much better with this. You’ll just have a constant stream of the best expertise from all those people.

I think my chip is better, Alexander.

The chip just goes straight in?

Right in.

You just play?

Martial arts or anything. Expert.

Then we would just be learning, and I agree, that would be a different space.

Exactly. Anyway, I appreciate it. This is a really interesting talk. Thank you for coming on the show.

Thanks very much for having me.

Recode – All

Cash For Apps: Make money with android app

Full transcript: Girlboss CEO Sophia Amoruso on Too Embarrassed to Ask

How Complete Beginners are using an ‘Untapped’ Google Network to create Passive Income ON DEMAND

“Women, it feels like, are beginning to write our own history and our own version of what success can look like for ourselves.”

On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, the #girlboss herself, Sophia Amoruso, talks with Kara Swisher and Lauren Goode about launching a new company after her first company, Nasty Gal, filed for bankruptcy. Amoruso says Nasty Gal’s ambitions were right but that she made several “naive” mistakes about fundraising, hiring and her own interests and strengths as a leader.

You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Too Embarrassed to Ask on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Kara Swisher: Hi. I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.

Lauren Goode: And I’m Lauren Goode, senior technology editor at The Verge.

KS: And you’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech.

LG: It could be anything at all, like whether Kara Swisher will ever have a healthy relationship with her phone, which we discussed last week.

KS: We have a very … it’s the best relationship I’ve ever had. But go ahead.

LG: I wonder how some people would feel about that.

KS: Send us your questions. Find us on Twitter. Tweet them to @Recode or to myself or to Lauren with the #tooembarrassed.

LG: We also have an email address, and we love your emails. It’s tooembarrassed@recode.net. And, a friendly reminder, there are two Rs and two Ss in embarrassed. If you spell it wrong, we’re not gonna get your email.

KS: Exactly.

LG: So, Code Media wrapped up last week, but the content gods keep on giving, don’t they Kara?

KS: Yes they do.

LG: Isn’t that how media is supposed to work these days?

KS: Yes. Most of these are content. Lucas Shaw from Reuters just said that he was upset that I said, “We’re content makers to the core.”

LG: What are we supposed to say? “We’re journalists to the core”?

KS: Journalists. Whatever.

LG: We are journalists.

KS: We’re journalists. So much journalism. Don’t get on our case about that.

LG: But here’s thing, at an event like this, we do a lot of great journalism. And then we have to chop it up into all these tiny bits and distribute it and monetize it in any way we can.

KS: Right.

LG: Which is really just a long-winded way of saying that we’re still giving you interviews based on this conference. Because it’s a fantastic conference.

KS: Yeah. Exactly. We had a lot of people talking about various ways content is changing and journalism is changing and how people get their information — people from Facebook, theSkimm, 20th Century Fox, all kinds of things, talking about where media is going, which has always been changing, and then buffeted and shifted by the internet.

So, today on Too Embarrassed To Ask, we’re delighted to be joined by Sophia Amoruso, who is a Code Media attendee. And, as many of you know, we’ve been talking a lot to Code Media attendees for the podcast. Sophia was better known as the founder of Nasty Gal, an e-commerce company you may have heard of.

She’s also the author of a best-selling autobiography, #girlboss, which was turned into a Netflix series, though it was short-lived. I really liked the show. She’s had a lot of ups and downs in tech and media and commerce in a relatively short amount of time. And we’re gonna ask her about that and more on today’s show.

LG: That’s right. Sophia is also the founder of Girlboss Media, which is getting a new life and fresh funding breathed into it right now as Sophia looks to reinvent her company once again. So, we’re looking forward to asking her all about that. Sophia, welcome to the show.

Sophia Amoruso: Thanks for having me.

LG: Okay. Let’s talk about what’s new first with Girlboss Media, and then we’ll go into the lessons you’ve learned from your past experiences in your time as an entrepreneur, which we all know is dog years, basically. It’s a multiple.

Yeah. It’s been my whole life. I started Nasty Gal at 22. I like to say that this is the second brand that I’ve started on accident, but the first business that I’ve started on purpose. To do that after 10 years in the trenches, accidentally having a $ 30 million business before any venture capitalists even showed up to invest. And then, probably raising too much. Probably hiring too many people. A decade later, in the afterlife, it feels like I can’t be killed. It feels like a video game: I can be, but!

LG: The beginning of things is so exciting.

KS: But, you’re an entrepreneur. That happens a lot, doesn’t it?

Yeah. I am. I guess I’ve accepted the fact it is, and I didn’t really stop for a second before I got back up and kept going.

KS: But, explain … we’re gonna get into your past, but let’s talk about what this is now. What is your latest venture?

Girlboss. And, we dropped the “media” just because the word media, what does it even mean anymore? We’re not doing a ton of journalism. We’re creating content for women about thought leadership. We really wanna be the leader in millennial about thought leadership for women and career resources and entrepreneur resources. Because, as someone who wrote this book four years ago, before so much has happened, and being an entrepreneur was cooler than being a rockstar.

I didn’t find myself in the business book section. I didn’t find the women who weren’t Sheryl Sandberg, who didn’t have the pedigree of education — I have no college education — who are doing things, who are starting businesses, who now have at their fingertips resources that I didn’t have when I started an eBay store, but I did have that resource.

And so, the internet has made it possible for those accidental entrepreneurs to have businesses. And then, the hairstylist becomes the founder of Drybar. The college dropout becomes the founder of Nasty Gal.

LG: So, in December, the Wall Street Journal reported that you’ve raised $ 3.1 million in funding from Lightspeed, also Slow Ventures, also Gary V., also Troy Carter’s company. It’s quite a list. And this idea of redefining success for women through bits of media. I’m curious what that media actually looks like. If you had to describe an emblematic piece of content right now, what would make Girlboss work? What is that?

I think one of the most highest-performing pieces of content for us was “I’m Depressed and Employed.” Like, here’s how I make it work, here’s how I talk to my employer about it. It’s just like having any other kind of illness. It’s just a mental illness. Other people don’t catch it when you bring it to the office, but it’s contagious in other ways and something that can really prevent us from doing great work.

LG: Was that a written post or video?

It was a written post. Yeah. We do primarily written editorial content. We have a series of videos right now that are behind the paywall that we’re calling Girlboss Academy. It’s like a paywall with a plugin built on a Squarespace website right now. I have an engineer starting in two weeks. She’s joining me from Tinder. And a product designer starting next week.

This is really a first for me in having control of our technology in a way where we can build something totally new. Typical media or publishing looks one way, and that’s what we do look like today. And then, e-commerce is like an out-of-the-box solution. You can’t really mess with it that much. I think what we have the opportunity to do is wide open.

KS: It’s interesting. Lydia Polgreen, who said in Huffington Post, she was talking about the same idea of service journalism, but not in the old traditional sense. A lot of old women-focused media — I’m thinking Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Cosmopolitan more than any of them — where that idea of, here’s what you do. Here’s the tips. Here’s how you get the most out of this.

It’s not to say that there’s nothing new under the sun, but you’re trying to create something where people can have a resource for a variety of things that they experience as a non-pedigree highly …

Totally. Or, pedigree. I think that the voice is just really approachable. We’re not leaving anybody out. Our audience comes to us for resources. She comes to us to find out what … We have a very active Facebook group, so some of what I’m talking about, it happens in this Facebook group. They’re gonna be asking one another to find out what kind of attorney they should talk to, to read an equity letter from an employer for the first time.

Or, they have three different options for a business name, like, “Let’s vote on which one you guys think is best.” Or, “Where can I connect in Nashville with Wi-Fi and an outlet to co-work all day if there is no co-working?” Or, “Is there co-working?” They’re traveling. They’re looking for recommendations to do their businesses, freelancing. The mobile digital nomad economy is very much at play. Many of our audience are freelancers. Fifty percent of the women that come to our conference … We have two conferences.

KS: You do. You have two events. Mm-hmm.

Our next one’s April 28th in Los Angeles. It’s called The Girlboss Rally. Fifty percent of the women who attend that are business owners. A hundred percent of them, when we surveyed them, say that they want to be business owners …

LG: How interesting.

… which is just so cool, and such an amazing audience to be creating content for. There’s nothing out there. As far as Cosmopolitan goes, they may be creating evergreen service content about what you should or shouldn’t do, but it’s coming, I think, largely from a place of … God, I don’t wanna knock Cosmo. But, I think historically women have been …

LG: Like you need to fix yourself?

Women have been spoken to in a way that is very fear-mongering, and like, “This is what you need to be to get this.”

KS: To get your man.

And we approach this future in this time where women, it feels like, are beginning to write our own history and our own version of what success can look like for ourselves individually; a conversation that we can have collectively as a group, and share ideas, learnings, wins, losses and hacks to define together what that means for us individually.

And that shouldn’t just incorporate work and money, because historically, this version of success that Forbes Magazine created, that men — old white men — created a long time ago, left the rest of us out. And so, what is this new world where we can redefine ourselves? We have these tools at our fingertips, and where women for the first time can think about how either section works and personalize.

KS: That’s right, because the definition of entrepreneur has not meant a young woman, essentially. That hasn’t, especially a young woman of color or anything else. Many of the tips may belong, maybe the tips that entrepreneur stories, do have a lot commonality. I’m thinking.

I was surprised. I just talked to Brit Morin, who was known for other things, more home and things like that. She just ran a cryptocurrency investing conference, which I thought was fascinating. She said she had 15,000 people, because most women are not involved in the current cryptocurrency [craze]. Four percent of the investors are women, which again, another great gold rush largely dominated by white men, which is interesting.

I was like, “Wow, that’s an interesting shift.” She’s like, “No it’s not.” To me, it was interesting that she’s moving in a different direction like that.

I think it is. I think a lot of people are moving in a direction of substance over … or quality over quantity, especially in publishing. I think women’s publications have a lot of pressure to represent more than just what they have in the past, and to take a point of view on how they can serve their audience beyond inspiring them to look cute and smell good. I think that just raises all ships. I think it’s good for everybody, I think, everything that’s happening right now.

LG: Mm-hmm. It’s good to smell okay too. Kara, you smell okay.

KS: Thank you. I try not to! I make an effort not to smell good! But, there’s been a lot … It’s really interesting. Lately, in the past month and a half, I’ve heard of at least six different women-focused media companies from various ages, various people and various backgrounds. It’s really an interesting thing, because there had been such a focus on how women should get information, and how it should not … I think it’s part of the #MeToo movement. Something’s occurring where people feel they need to take control.

They all read #Girlboss. (laughter)

KS: What I’m speaking of, one of the interesting things about you is that, I’ll never forget interviewing you at the height of Nasty Gal. When your book came out, and we were in a bookstore. I think I said something to you that was, you didn’t mind but, was it was crosswise to the audience. It was a tough question about something. And I literally felt the crowd was gonna kill me. They were like these uber fans of yours. It was fascinating. It was almost religious. It felt like they were like, “How could you say that to Sophia!”

That word keeps coming up.

KS: Yeah.

Interesting, really.

KS: Yeah. Interesting. “Religious.” I’m not using the word “cult,” because that’s not the right word. But, they really … it felt like you had a fan base that was very different than other media fan bases. It was an interesting experience.

Yeah. That was just right when the book was coming out.

KS: Right.

I like to say — I used to say at Nasty Gal — we had an ambitious customer, which is so weird for a fashion brand. But I think I was flattering myself in that, this is ambitious generation. These women have access to more than we ever have, like opportunity feels like it’s at our fingertips.

LG: And, the clothing styles were nonconformist, too. In some ways it would kinda make sense that that aesthetic would appeal to a certain generation of women who are just like, “I don’t really need to wear long skirts and pantyhose to the office.”

I think so. I mean, you think of me, and Nasty Gal ending up looking for the uninitiated, more like a 20-something-going-to-the-club brand. But Nasty Gal in its peak was a brand that made women feel like they could take on the world wearing what they liked and not necessarily fitting in.

It was always a part of … The spirit of Nasty Gal was something I’m really proud of, but not something we necessarily owned or played up. I think that’s a dangerous thing in fashion to do. It’s kind of hard to have meaning when you’re running a fashion company. You’re always patting yourself on the back if you’re doing that. So, for our product to be our voice, when the voice was so integral to making Nasty Gal the brand it was.

KS: Today, it’s going to the voice.

Now, I’m just like, my voice is my inventory. This is great.

LG: You also planned additional hosting events. And, in addition to having what you call Girlboss Academy, which is an effective type of paywall, you’re also looking at different types of partnerships, I’ve read, and basically different ways to monetize your media content and not rely on crummy display ads all the time. I think I’ve also read that you’re looking at media advertising.

It seems like a lot of people in media are trying to move away from the crummy display ad model and do different reputable generation things. What area of that has you most excited right now, or do you see as being …

I think it just feels like it’s wide open.

KS: Events is one. Right?

Events is one. But as far as working with brands — and brands having an appetite for something new, and the world being in a place where nobody really knows what works, and everybody wanting to invest in something that’s meaningful — Girlboss is really well-positioned. We will never have traditional display ads in traditional sizes. We just won’t.

I really admire the Outline. I think Josh Topolsky’s done an amazing thing, and I think their ad product is really beautiful. I have so much to learn about ad serving, tagging and all this stuff that’s totally new.

I think a really good example of how we work with brands is our partnership with Google. So, within the last year, along with Google, we’ve been able to work with Pinterest, L’Oreal, Cadillac, Amex, Equinox, Nike — the best brands in the world in our first year of business, on a Squarespace site, which feels like the emperor, I don’t know, the emperor does have clothes. But the emperor is still building her business, right?

And so with Google, we did something called The Startup Studio at the Girlboss Rally. We had a room of programming all day, and then built up this beautiful space that had our branding, but also incorporated some of Google’s colors. It was a beautiful room with 40 Chromebooks. Chromebooks was really the partner. We had workshops, hour-long workshops all day on everything from building a P&L in Google Sheets to learning how to market yourself to how to deal with email and manage your inbox effectively.

KS: You’re integrating the product …

We integrated the product into that program at the event. And then, we’ve also distributed the videos of those workshops. After the event, the partnership extended into email, social. That’s one that didn’t touch the podcast, but we do custom podcasts as well. We just sold our first one. That will be launching in the next few months.

LG: What is that called?

It hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s a six- or eight-episode custom.

LG: On some topic, yeah.

On a topic that a brand completely owns. So it’s really just like a singular piece.

KS: It’s hard, because I’ve been brought a bunch of those, and I don’t wanna do that. It’s interesting.

I’m not gonna host it.

KS: Yeah.

The point of Girlboss is not to be the Sophia fan club. This is about building enterprise value and something that’s hopefully really lasting and lasts beyond me and this moment in time that is such a perfect time for Girlboss to be happening. I hope we’re building something that is much more lasting than the time that we’re in, which is such a perfect time and an incredible and important time for women. Something that extends beyond that and isn’t just necessarily riding that.

LG: What about merchandise? We had Taylor Lorenz from The Daily Beast on a couple weeks ago, and she talked about the YouTube culture and how a lot YouTubers, of course, like the millions and millions of followers and get millions of views, but they make a lot of their money off the merch.


LG: With that, Kara and I came up with an ad hoc merch strategy, which we’re trying to get Vox Media to buy it.

Oh yeah?

KS: We have no merch strategy. None. Zero.

LG: But you, obviously, that’s something you have a lot of experience in, right? So talk about how that fits into media companies. Do you think every media company should be looking at merchandising?

I don’t think every media company should be. I think Buzzfeed has done a really good job with Tasty, and I think it’s interesting as these companies grow, get huge, have to figure out to get huger, they’re realizing the power of brands. I think that Girlboss is a brand, which it gives us permission to transact in every which way. I’m not precious about how that looks in our future.

One thing I’ve learned is that focus is incredibly important and just such a challenge for me. And so, merchandise … I mean, we have a few things on our website that was leftover merch from the last conference. It’s not gonna a big play for us, at least in the next year. If anything, it may be a licensed play. I don’t look forward to having physical inventory again, anytime soon. Maybe ever! But I think as a brand, we can plan a lot of different merchandise categories if we wanted to.

KS: All right. Let’s talk about that, about your experience, because you say you don’t want merchandise ever again. What did you learn? This is from Jason Del Rey, who is a reporter for Recode and editor of Recode. He covered your company, its ups and downs. “What did you learn about being a venture-backed company and taking money from VCs? How has that changed how you’re running this new company?” Maybe you need to go back in terms of what happened.

Gosh. When I raised for Nasty Gal, we were doing about $ 30 million a year. We thought we were on a runway to 130 million. We raised … the first money in was out of Index growth funds.

KS: Right. I remember.

And, it was $ 40 million dollars in 2012. From there, the mandate was hire 100 people, grow by $ 100 million in the next year.

KS: Not easy.

We were just pulling numbers out of a hat. This is a time when I was meeting with Jeff Jordan from Andreessen, and he was passing on us, because Fab.com was the pinnacle of e-commerce.

KS: I remember that.

It was such a different era. I think the best practices in eCommerce have come a long way since 2012. There’s a lot more executives with experience in e-commerce, because at the time I was hiring people who were either from a pure-play business that Bryan Lee might’ve started — ShoeDazzle — or someone who’s a veteran merchant who hasn’t really been in digital.

KS: Right, which is really different.

Finding the right leadership for Nasty Gal in the time that it came about was really challenging. And I was a young, naïve founder. I think I thought I could hire C-level executives who would just do their jobs, write their job description for themselves, hold themselves accountable. At the end of the day, I think scientifically, we’ve proven that an observed object behaves differently than when it’s not observed.

The same is the case for everybody. It doesn’t mean I lead the company now breathing down people’s necks. I have a firmer grasp today at the end of the day — the way the company spends its money, when the company becomes profitable, how ready we are for a series A. I’ve never raised a seed round before. I just did my first seed round after 10 years of entrepreneurship. All the things that I need to back into now, plan for, understand what my success metrics are that are actually reasonable and not just pulling numbers out of the sky.

KS: Yeah. You found they made things up. What a surprise.


LG: Because you feel like you were interviewing the VCs this time as much as they were grilling you about your business?

I think both. Yeah, I think both.

LG: What were you looking for in terms of looking for strategic partners and things like that?

I knew it was a bit of a party-round, so Lightspeed led, but everyone from Gary V to the founder of Product Hunt and Dribbble, and Troy Carter, Joe Marchese, Allen Debevoise, Bryan Lee and all these amazing people invested. I had this great network. I network anyway, but people who actually have had literal interest in this company doing well who know every brand that we might wanna work with, who know every suitor who may wanna acquire us, who know every other investor who may want to invest …

KS: So, not as haphazard?

Much less haphazard. When I raised from Index — and I still love Danny Rimer. I’ve cried in front of him, and been back to Index’s offices, which is such a healing experience after losing so much of their money.

KS: It’s okay. They’ll get more.

We failed each other. I think we both agree on that. We both made some bad choices. But, when I raised from Index, I had read all these horror stories of boards just taking over. And I had this company where I was able to still own so much of it. I think I owned 80 percent after they invested 40 million. It was 350 post on a $ 30 million revenue at the time. It was just bonkers. How do you live up to that? Even if we hit a million dollars, that multiple is, in private equity standards, it’s like, what? You’re not turning a profit anymore?

Anyway, I chose this one investor because I was just like, I can have two seats and you can have one, and I’ll just control my empty seat. Less conversations, great. But at the end of the day I really do feel like having more people looking at the business …

KS: Who holds everybody accountable.

… who don’t have competing priorities. It’s really important, and I do lean on our …

KS: I do like that you feel that, because most male entrepreneurs who lose their money could give a fuck.

If Index ever invested again, it would be a coup. It would be so exciting. I just saw Damir and I was like, “Do you think Index would invest again?”

KS: Yeah. But at the same time, you feel badly. Very few entrepreneurs feel badly about any losses they go through.

I really try to keep my promises. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and a promise can be hiring someone and getting excited about our beautiful future together. And then realizing, wrong person, wrong time.

KS: So, we’re here with Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Girlboss, and we have more questions for her. But first, we’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. Lauren?

LG: #money #content.


KS: We’re back with Girlboss founder Sophia Amoruso who’s attending Code Media this week in Huntington Beach, California, where Lauren and I happen to be.

LG: We just talked a lot about Sophia’s current and future plans for her media company Girlboss, where she’s also the host of Girlboss Radio. We also wanted to ask her what she’s learned from her previous ventures and takeaways for other entrepreneurs who are trying to keep a startup alive. She has a lot of experience in that.

We’ve talked a little bit about Nasty Gal. We’ve talked about how your whole experience has changed your new approach to your new company. At one point, Nasty Gal was valued at … how many millions of dollars was it valued at, 250 million you would say?

Nasty Gal?

LG: Yes.

At our peak, it was 350.

LG: 350 million. And at some point, you had to step back as CEO and file for bankruptcy.


LG: What happened there? What did you learn? What was the biggest takeaway you had from that?

I stepped down as CEO a year, a year and a half before Nasty Gal filed. That was a choice I made, because the day-to-day interactions, the CEO dropped, everyone was like, “Yeah! I wanna be a CEO.” Actually, I’m not really sure I wanna market that as a hope and dream for people, because it’s not that fun of a job.

LG: What wasn’t fun about it?

It was a lot of meetings with people who were amazing, but a lot of deliverables, deadlines, implementations, and just a lot of the guts of the organization. I’m really a creative at heart. I’m a brand leader. I’m a marketer. I know how to combine things that other people wouldn’t combine and to make something new.

I don’t think that at that stage when a company has a few hundred employees, that’s the job that I’ll want, even in this company. Maybe if I figure out someday I’ll hire an amazing Chief of Staffer. I don’t even know what I would need to do that job well. So I stepped down as the CEO, and promoted someone who was our chief product officer. At the time in our business, it was the chief merchandise officer into the CEO world. Sherry Waterson, who had run product at Lululemon, she was the CEO for the year and a half or so prior to the company filing.

LG: What happened, basically?

What happened? We raised at a 353 valuation when we were doing $ 30 million in revenue. Pulling numbers out of a hat. Hired 100 people. Spent a lot of money hiring 100 people. Got a really big office. Somebody signed a 500,000-square-foot fulfillment center space.

KS: You got ahead of yourselves.

Got a little bit ahead of ourselves. When you hire that many people that fast, there’s companies that do it and do it well. At Nasty, I felt like the Tower of Babel. I’ve said a lot about, and almost made it seem very sexy to start a company on accident. But the domino effect, or how you scale something that wasn’t organized to begin with, I think you can guess what that looks like.

KS: Was that the biggest lesson you learned as a manager, or just that you weren’t a manager, you were a creative? What was the lesson? If you had to give any of these people you’re giving advice to would say, what would be yours?

I think the lesson is, hire great people and, yes, trust them. But always know what their success metrics are. Know what your success metrics are and hold them accountable to it. Don’t be slow about course correcting.

LG: How much projection of the market you’re in do you think people should be doing?

Don’t raise at too high of an evaluation, because it really fucks you in the end. There’s less options for you. It’s great you own your company, but what does that mean if you’re too expensive to buy? We became valued in private equity multiples and not e-commerce multiples. E-commerce just became brilliant and sexy for several years. I think people are still a little hesitant to touch it, even though there’s a playbook and a lot of companies with these incredible brands that are launching and doing a good job.

KS: You also did a Netflix of Girlboss, which was a really good show, actually, but you had just one season there. Can you talk about that experience, because it was actually really good. Why did you do that? You were doing a lot of things all at once.

I know. Yeah. It was bit much. I mean, if Charlize Theron shows up and says, “I wanna do a show about your book, and we have a star writer who wrote ‘Pitch Perfect’ and ‘Pitch Perfect II’ ready to be a showrunner. And Ted Sarandos’ daughter read your book.”

LG: Ted Sarandos at Netflix?

Yeah. And, all of that conspires to get a yes from Netflix, I don’t know. I think you’d say yes.

KS: I think in your lifetime, if Forbes says they wanna put you on the cover even though you’re not sure what the next six months looks like for your company, you just say, yes. And, if they wanna make a show about your life, you just say, yes.

But all that happened in a year’s time. I was on the cover of Forbes. My marriage of a year went away. This guy bounced.

LG: Did he really bounce?

He bounced after a year. He was just like, “Never mind!”

LG: And then your company files for bankruptcy.

Oh, you release a book, and then you’re promoting in Australia at the same time your company is filing for bankruptcy. And then a Netflix show about your life 10 years ago comes out and tells people, a few months later, and tell everybody about the person you were 10 years ago and the company you used to work at while you’re in a new relationship trying to start a new business, trying to tell a new story but don’t even know what it is and haven’t processed. It’s just like, I’m pretty proud of not letting that affect me and just being like, “It’s a cool legend.”

KS: That’s a lot.

LG: You wrote when the show was canceled that you were proud of the work that everyone did but you were looking forward to controlling your narrative from here on out.

KS: What does that mean?

It was a real challenging time. I’d never seen, because I went on this crazy press story for my first book. I have never, and hopefully never again, experienced the amount of press that comes with a television show. TV is just like another beast. And so, given that the company had filed for Chapter 11 four months before the show came out, Nasty Gal was no longer, but here’s this show telling a story about a business that just became acquired out of bankruptcy by some people in the U.K.

KS: Were you relieved?

It’s really confusing to know who you are when people are like, “Is she actually like that girl on the show?” At a certain point, people have walked up to me and said, “Are you as rude as the girl on the show? You seem really nice.” I’m like, “Oh gosh!” I actually didn’t think the character was that awful, but that was some of the criticism. So yeah, it’s hard to have a character of yourself out marketing who you are, were or weren’t. At any stage, no matter what happened, or whether your company whatevered, it’s just really strange.

LG: It’s like the show was focused on your dumpster-diving shoplifting days when you were well beyond that at that point, and you had to watch that.

Yeah. It’s weird to have a story told about the last 10 years of your life when you’re starting a new chapter.

KS: Let’s finish up talking about the idea of success. You’ve been through a lot in a very short amount of time still. When you’re talking about defining success, what would you tell entrepreneurs right now looking into getting into the media business or the e-commerce business? I hate to do tips, but they do help.

At this stage in my life, be really buttoned up. Have an incredible brand, even if you have to pay someone to invent it — call Red Antler or whatever. Be really buttoned up. Find advisers who have an incredible network. I’ve just begun advising companies for the first time, which is really exciting because I have this amazing network of investors and advisers. That’s really, really important, because you can’t even get in the door to those meetings without those relationships.

Have, I don’t know, audacious aspirations. I think I put that we wanted to be “Oprah for millennials” and “Supreme with boobs” in our deck. I think that kind of, “Okay, this is big! This may be big.” We need to get into retail and things like that.

KS: How did that go over, “Supreme with boobs”?

It was fine. If a dude wrote it, I think it would not be fine.

KS: No. That’s true. That’s a fair point. That’s a very fair point.

Frank Goldberg cannot write that.

KS: No. Not at all.

LG: What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs specifically, especially given that we know the dismal numbers around female entrepreneurs. But not only female entrepreneurs, but getting investments from VCs and all of that. Is there anything specific you would say to female entrepreneurs?

Yeah. I’d just say, “Do it.” The more of us who do it, the more room there is for the rest of us. I’d say, “Don’t be a shrinking violet.”

LG: What does that mean, “Don’t be a shrinking violet?” What’s an example of how it happens?

Don’t sit on the side of the table. Lean into the conversation. Interrupt people if you have to. Don’t see yourself as the exception in the room. That goes for all kinds of people, not just women. If you’re seeing yourself from the point of view as someone who is other than, even if you are other than, there’s a psychic voodoo that you put on to the world that really can cause blocks for you.

So I just was like, I didn’t really consider that I had a vagina at any point when I entered a room. I think that is a position of privilege in that, I bootstrapped my company totally, totally different. Because a lot of women — and especially women of color — can’t even get into those conversations. But when you do, don’t operate from a place of fear or lack. Just operate from a place of power and whatever you need to do. If that is a power pose, or reading some Elizabeth Gilbert, whatever it is to get there, just get there and fake till you make it.

KS: Lastly, how do you look at the impact of … are you figuring the MeToo movement into this? Now we have the MeToo Movement, and the backlash, and then the backlash to the backlash. Do you imagine it changing the equation? I don’t imagine it won’t change. I hope it will change.

Do you think it’s just a bunch of noise?

KS: I sometimes do, because it feels like I’ve been through it 90 times and the progress is so slow. I thought Ellen Pao would change things and it didn’t. I was hoping the Uber thing would change things and it didn’t quite.

I think change takes a really long time. I think we’re in this point, we’re ripping limb from flesh, and culture’s just totally fucked. There’s gonna be room to write something new.

I think, when I was in high school, the girl who was gonna go into college and become a sorority girl would never have gone to a women’s march. The women’s march is full of teenagers and full of young people. It’s not for people with hairy armpits and hairy legs. That was super fringe when I was 18 years old. I had hairy armpits and hairy legs. I wouldn’t let people open the door for me, which I now insist my boyfriend do, poor guy!

LG: Everybody!

KS: Everybody opens the door for Sophia!

The world is really different. If you didn’t choose a gender it was super weird, and I knew people like that who lived in anarchist houses in Seattle. But that’s a global, a huge conversation now.

KS: So, what do you imagine happening? What would you like to see happen? And what do you think will happen?

Oh God. Come on!

KS: I don’t know. Come on!

Fucking Nostradamus?

KS: Yes. You’re fucking Nostradamus! Thank you.

Is that why you have people on this podcast?

KS: Yes! That’s why I have you here!

What do I think the future holds?

KS: Yeah.

LG: You’re answering on behalf of all of us. You’re looking into your crystal ball.

I think that if Girlboss does its job well, does our job well, the future becomes a place where more women see opportunity, don’t see roadblocks, are met with open arms, are given a fair shot, are also honest with themselves about their shortcomings and don’t use that as an excuse for not getting to where they get. I think a lot of what needs to happen is the individual taking responsibility for themselves, and then in what they believe in. Hopefully, culture changes along with it.

KS: Yeah. I think we have to take everything by force.


KS: I think we have to not get … People are talking about, you see a little bit of, maybe we should do the truth in reconciliation part. We’re at the truth part. And now we should reconcile. I don’t think we should reconcile at all.

LG: I think it has to be a two-pronged approach.

KS: No. I don’t think we should reconcile.

LG: But I like the idea of personal responsibility and owning too.

KS: Women always forgive. Now we can say, “Okay, now we can move on.” I don’t wanna move on until …

No. I don’t think we’re gonna move on.

KS: That’s what I wonder.

Yeah. Time’s always gonna be up.

KS: Well, that is a good ending. All right, Sophia Amoruso at Girlboss Media. That’s the last question, because we did have one question from someone about the word “girl,” speaking of which. They didn’t like the word “girl.” I don’t mind it. Did you get a lot of push-back for using “girl”? Or is there a Womanboss?

Once in a while, people like to be really literal! So, if you were really literal, and didn’t do your homework, the word feminist would mean you think women are better, which is not really what it means.

No. That’s not what a feminist is. There’s lots of uncreative people who’ll take things super literally. Being a Girlboss is much more of a philosophy than it is a literal statement about being a woman who’s a boss. I think being a girl is coming from a place of wonder and room to grow. I don’t want dudes calling me a girl. But this is a company founded by a woman for women, and I don’t think that there’s anything offensive by saying Girlboss. Ladyboss sounds stupid. Womanboss sounds dumb. Vaginaboss isn’t gonna work. It’s a good brand name, and it’s working.

KS: Yep. I like it.

LG: Kara says Ladyboss.

KS: Ladyboss.


KS: All right then. I’ll start Ladyboss and see what happens!

Someone already did! There’s a whole industry of …

KS: I think it’s a great name. Anyway, it’s been another great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. Sophia, thank you for joining us.

LG: Thank you so much for joining us.

Thanks for having me.

Recode – All

Cash For Apps: Make money with android app

Full transcript: Investor and owner of the Washington City Paper Mark Ein on Recode Decode

How Complete Beginners are using an ‘Untapped’ Google Network to create Passive Income ON DEMAND

He recently bought the City Paper in the hope of promoting local journalism.

On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, entrepreneur and investor Mark Ein talks about his recent purchase of the Washington City Paper, an alternative weekly newspaper in Washington, D.C. He’s an investor by trade, but the paper is a philanthropic endeavor. “If it turns out that we’re making money,” he said, “we’re just going to hire more people. I’m really passionate about this. I think this is a platform that we can do a lot of good with.”

You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Kara Swisher: Recode Radio presents Recode Decode, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. Hi. I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as someone who used to work for the City Paper in Washington, D.C., but in my spare time, I talk about tech. You’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts, or just visit Recode.net/podcasts for more.

Today, I’m in Washington, D.C., and I’m here with Mark Ein, someone I’ve wanted to talk to for a while, and now I have an excellent reason. He’s an investor and entrepreneur. He’s the CEO of several companies, including Venture House Group and Capital Investment Corporation 4 — is that 4?

Last year, the most interesting part, he bought the alternative newspaper here in Washington, the Washington City Paper where I used to work. It was my first and second job, or something like that. I was very young. He’s working with some of the paper’s other alumni, including Jake Tapper and Ta-Nehisi Coates, to figure out where it goes next and about local news. There’s so much to talk about. Welcome to the show, Mark.

Mark Ein: It’s great to be here.

I ran into you at CES, which was interesting for you to be there. I want to know why you were there, but let’s talk about you, because my listeners are a lot of tech and media people, but talk about what you’ve done, because you’ve done a whole bunch of really interesting entrepreneurial companies.

Yeah. We’ve really run the gamut from investing in early-stage companies, starting companies, to growth capital, to …


… to SPACs, to buying whole businesses.

That’s a big thing in Silicon Valley.

Yeah. It’s interesting. In sort of the tech boom 1.0 that you were a part of in Washington, D.C., the Washington area was a really booming area.

It was.

There was a lot of great companies, AOL, MCI, Nextel. We were involved in a lot of those. As we got to the next phase of the internet, D.C. just wasn’t a hotbed of those kind of opportunities. I had done, as I mentioned, everything from early-stage to late-stage. What I really decided was I wanted to spend my time focusing in on putting more capital and more time into buying whole businesses, but then taking a venture mindset towards them. I just felt like every time I invested in startups, I felt like the day after you invested, they started losing your money the next day.

That’s right. That’s the rules.

I felt like it was literally like a race to fill up the tank before you ran out of gas. If you’re in a market like Silicon Valley or some other places where there’s a lot of terrific companies and entrepreneurs, that works. I think if you’re in other places, traditionally that’s been really hard.

I want to get into it, but let’s get more into your background. How did you get … You worked at the traditional companies. You worked at … is it Blackstone?

I worked at Carlisle.

Carlisle, Carlisle.

And Goldman before that. Yeah, and I was at Carlisle …

Explain your background. You went into finance, which is a typical career.

Yeah, I went to Penn and worked at Goldman in the ’80s, but then I went out to the west coast and worked at a firm called Brentwood Associates, which was one of the early venture firms in LA.

Mm-hmm. This is in LA, right.

They were investors in Apple and other companies like that, and I had a great experience.

Why’d you go there?

I really wanted to get to California. I always wanted to live out there, and I loved it. I loved the people there. They were really high-quality people who were focused on being great investors, and I wanted to be. Back then in 1989, there were not many jobs for a 24-year-old kid to get into that side of the business. There were very, very few jobs. I was fortunate to meet them and hit it off. I went out there, and I learned a ton from then. I did go back to business school, and I almost went back to LA, but then Carlisle was five years old. I grew up in this area. I always had a dream of coming back.

Carlisle, explain for people. Huge, powerful, little scary, who knows what they’re up to, investment firm.

I think it is one of the largest private equity firms in the world. They do a lot of stuff. When I was there, there were 30 of us, and we had $ 100 million fund. It was a very small.

Wow, small. God.

It was the only thing in Washington I could ever imagine doing back then. That was the business I wanted to be in. It was the only game in town, and it was a little bit of a startup. To be honest, up until the first five years when I joined it, it had a sort of mixed track record of some things good and some not. I went there, and I started focusing on growth capital and wireless communications.

Big deal.

We did a lot of stuff.

Perfect timing.

We sort of hit the wave. It was amazing. The rest of the firm was focusing on buying defense companies, which was what the firm was known for, but we supplemented it with the other. It worked out great. What I learned was that if you rolled up your sleeves and got involved, as I mentioned, in companies, even if you got involved later, you could really make a difference. You could be a catalyst to helping those companies be more valuable.

I thought rather than having a big portfolio and being spread thin, why don’t I be more concentrated in a smaller number of companies with my time and capital? Eventually Carlisle got bigger, and I decided I wanted to go off on my own and do that. I left in ’99 to start my own firm called Venture House.

That was sort of the peak of the internet bubble, and also the decline. There was a whole fallow period in there.

Yeah. I started in ’99, which was kind of still the boom times.

That’s when AOL bought Time Warner.

That was when AOL … AOL did buy …


Yeah, yeah.

Yeah, yeah.


They did buy it. It wasn’t a merger.

They did. Yeah, yeah, the famous picture with Steve in the suit and Levin in the jeans. Yeah, and so it was the … I raised the money really quickly. People were excited. I had a great track record. For a year, I was everyone’s favorite genius, because everything was going through the roof.

What were you investing in?

Early-stage company, early investors in XM Satellite, a company called Varsity Books. We did some stuff that we seeded ourselves.

I remember Varsity Books.

Yeah, we were in a whole bunch of stuff like that. We seeded a few things ourselves. For a year and a half, everything was going up. I was everyone’s favorite genius around town. Then the bust happened, and I was everyone’s favorite idiot. It was interesting, because through that, I never changed my perception of what we were doing. I felt very comfortable with where we are, but you get buffeted by sort of the headwinds and tailwinds in the world around you.

I kept our head down, and I actually went to our investors, because the one thing we did is we didn’t invest really heavily the way a lot of other people did. We had a lot of capital. I went to people and I said, “Look, do you want us to keep going?” Everyone said, “No, Mark. We believe in you. Let’s keep going.” That’s when we really pivoted and said there’s a lot of companies who are really good that we can buy at the moment for good prices, but that then we can help grow as if we had …

What were you focusing in on? Because you did a lot of cloud, you did a lot of tech. Everything’s tech, in a lot of ways. Castle, which was the big success, that’s all tech, like how buildings become smart, I guess.

Yeah, so it was tech, media, telecom. One of the companies that we seeded was a company called Matrix. It became the world’s leading RFID company. We sold it to Symbol, which is the world’s leading barcode company. They couldn’t figure out how to get in the RFID business, so they bought us. Then I bought a company, the last company we bought through Venture House was a company called Cybernet that was owned by the CTIA. It was a billing protocol embedded in the billing systems of all the wireless carriers, and a clearinghouse that we bought.

When I saw it, I was like, “This is the greatest platform company I’ve ever seen. This thing has so many moats around it. If we can get … Left to its own devices inside the CTIA, nothing is going to happen, but if we can spin it out, there’s so much we can do.” We bought it for 35 million and sold it for 210 four years later.

Right. I want to get back eventually to the word “moats,” because I think it’s an important one in investing, like who has them and who doesn’t?

Yeah. This one actually did, because the company was founded by the Wireless Trade ssociation. The carriers let them own the billing protocol that transmitted all the roaming data back and forth. They would have probably not let a third party do that uncontrolled, but because it was owned by the trade association, everyone had faith in it. We acquired that. That was a true, really valuable moat.

Castle, which was the one that probably made you the most money, I’m guessing …

We still own it.

Yeah, you still own it, and you looked at that because …

What I decided was after we fully invested in Venture House …

Explain Castle. Castle is …

Yeah, so Castle is the world’s leading access …

When you go in a building …

Your building, your space. I was very happy to see that.

Yes, I have one. Got one in my pocket.

I was really happy, love to see that. We’re the leading provider of managed access control for commercial real estate. We do your access control, your video, and we do it on a managed service. The founder of the company is a fantastic guy. He started in the mid ’70s. It was security as a service back in the mid ’70s. He was well ahead of his time.

As you know in D.C., it’s an iconic brand. I was looking for a platform company that I could buy, and this opportunity came to me. In Washington and in a few other markets, Castle is to security what Coke is to soft drinks, or Xerox is to copiers. It’s one of those brands that people call it that, even if it’s not your company.

I got introduced to the company, and I came back to the office and I told my assistant, “Come here and bring my calendar.” I said, “Cancel everything for the next month.” She said, “What are you talking about? You’ve never done this.” I said, “Just cancel everything. I’m dropping everything in my life until I see if we can do this.” Three weeks later, we had a deal to buy it.

Why? Explain, because that’s something entrepreneurs … What was … Why?

It just was everything you would ever want in the profile of what I was saying.

So technology?

An amazing platform company. It had a great business model, a great brand, a great embedded …


Yeah, and so much room to grow. We could go to more geographies. We could go to more verticals. We could introduce more products into our … There were just so many things we could do when we got it. The founder of the company, who is an absolutely wonderful guy, built a great business, but he was sort of at the point where he was ready to move on and was looking for a caretaker for that company.

I’ve met probably 25, 30 people who said they tried to buy it, but they never hit it off with him. He and I met the first time, and he, an hour later, walked out and he told his No. 2 person, “I’m going to sell the company to that person.” It’s just been a great ride. It’s a great company. It’s a great business, but we also do something important. We protect people and property. The world we live in is not getting safer.

Great. It’s also an interesting area. It reminds me a little bit when Sheryl Sandberg’s late husband, Dave Goldberg, bought a survey company. I was like, “What? What are you doing?” But it had so many elements that were different than you think of a survey company, because it was … technology would change it. I think yours is one of those.

It is.

I think a lot about real estate now, real estate technology quite a bit.

Yeah. It’s an industry that, for a lot of reasons, has not adopted technology as fast as other companies.

Or been global. It’s so local. It’s such a local …

It’s local in the nature that people, and it’s just not … There’s a whole bunch of reasons. I’ve thought a lot about this, because even sometimes we’ll introduce amazing new technologies, and it’s hard sometimes to sell new stuff. Now that’s great if you’re the embedded provider, because you’re less likely to get disrupted. It’s a little harder sometimes to get new things introduced, but we’ve done amazing things. We created a system in Washington where building owners can get their video monitored by the police department.

That was one of the things that hit me, actually, watching “24.” I was watching “24,” and they’re chasing the bad guy. They’re chasing him on the camera, and they go, “He’s coming out of camera view.” Chloe O’Brien says, “Tunnel into that camera.” They did it and they caught the bad guy. I thought, “That’s the way the world should work, but it doesn’t.” We made it work that way in Washington, actually.

Right, right, but it’s all kinds of these smart buildings. Mark Cuban has talked about it, like moving by. Buildings, to me, there’s certain areas that are going to get bigger, building property is really what … Home and commercial is done in such an antiquated way. It reminds me of Oracle Database. Why do they do it the way they do it when it can be so much different, given all the cameras everywhere, given all the not just cameras, but ability to set sensors? I just think it’s a really interesting area.

You did that, and then you got into tennis. Why?

Not as a business. As a hobby.

We’re going to get to City Paper.


Not as a business.

No, the tennis has not been a business. That’s been a labor of love and a passion.

You bought it from Billie Jean King.

I bought the franchise in Washington 10 years ago from Billie. Well, Billie owns the league, so I was a franchisee. Then I bought the league from Billie last year. Yeah, just tennis has been a big part of my life. I think that sport in particular is a wonderful sport for kids. It teaches you so much. You’re on the court by yourself. It teaches you discipline, self-reliance, a whole bunch of great things. It’s been helpful in my life.

I wanted to bring that team to D.C. Our mission really was to use it as a community platform to bring people together to help local charitable partners. We’ve done that. Along the way, we ended up winning a lot of championships and having a lot of success in getting the city behind us, but it’s been a very rewarding experience.

Do you think a lot about … I know I oriented this around tech, but I’ve interviewed Ted Leonsis and others, and Mark Cuban about sports. Tech, tennis really … Serena Williams is just on the board of SurveyMonkey. There’s little intersections, but not that much, with tennis for sure.

Yeah. The great athletes in tennis are iconic athletes, back to Stan Smith and Arthur Ashe, and today’s Serena and Roger Federer are iconic. They’re highly sought after by companies. Serena’s played for our team. She’s been a good friend. She’s always had an eye to business. I always knew she would get more involved in it, but tennis is not as big in the states as, say, basketball is, but the quality of the athletes and human beings in tennis I think is unparalleled in the sports world. The athletes really understand their role in society, and they embrace it and try to be forces for good.

How do you technologize it more? Look, you have the NBA. You have everybody. We just had Adam Silver. That’s all they talk about now is digitization. Obviously with NBC and the Olympics, when you’re a sports owner, how do you look at that, because you’re really a sports owner?

Right. Yeah. We’ve done a bunch of … WTT has been the innovator in tennis. We were the first ones to do instant replay on line calling, and shot clock, and all kinds of stuff. Last year, we were the first tennis event ever where we mic’d the players during the match. It was amazing. You could hear them talking to each other and hear their strategies during the match. We have a bunch more coming this year. We do think if you want to appeal to millennial audience, you need to have a product both in person and on the screen that’s millennial friendly. We’re doing all kinds of things to attract them.

But you just like tennis.

I love the sport, and I love the people in it.


As I said, we’ve won a lot of championships. We’ve set all kinds of records, but to me, the most meaningful part of that 10-year experience is you look around the stands, and I see families having great times in the summer and helping local charitable partners who get Venus and Serena to teach them tennis. Those are the things that really matter.

Larry Ellis is into tennis, too.

Larry is super into tennis. He is.

He is. He talks about it.

There’s tons of people, tons of people. It’s not a sport that people who … It was important in their life, they know how to invest in it. If you love basketball, you buy a team. Any of the other, that’s the simple thing to do. Traditionally, tennis hasn’t been that way. It’s a bit harder to figure out how to make a difference. Team Tennis has been one of the great ways to do that. We’re looking for more people who love tennis to come be owners of teams.

Yeah. I played a lot of tennis when I was a kid.

You then bought the City Paper. Explain that. Explain how it happened, and then in the next segment, we’ll talk about local news and where that’s …

Yeah. Five years ago, the City Paper was sold as part of a portfolio. The editor came to me and …

Sold several times.

It has sold many times over the years, but it’s an iconic paper. It’s been around since 1981. It’s an important part of the fabric of D.C. It’s been a hotbed of …

It was with Baltimore originally. That was the original founding.

Baltimore was with it, right. It has an incredible alumni network. You mentioned Jake, and Ta-Nehisi, and Kate Boo, and of course, Kara Swisher at the top of the list, but also an amazing number of people who today write for the Post have passed through the City Paper. Five years ago, I looked at buying it, but got sold as a portfolio. I couldn’t spin it out separately.

Meaning it was what Baltimore …

Someone has five or six of them.

Yeah, there are.

The seller wanted to sell it as a package.

Chicago Reader I think was involved, wasn’t it?

I think it was Creative Loaf. There was a bunch of other things that got sold with it. The person who bought it, I went to them and said, “Would you spin it off?” They said, “No, we want to keep it together.” That came and went. Then in the fall …

Why did you want to buy it? Just why?

I think any local community needs strong local journalism. I think local ownership is helpful, having someone who really cares about the community makes a real difference. I’d say my conviction for it only grew dramatically in the last five years, and especially in the last two years. That’s why when I came back in the fall, I jumped at it. I jumped at it …

First of all, I met the young woman who’s the editor who’s fantastic, Alexa Mills. She came to my office, and with my venture hat on, I thought this is the kind of person I’d want to back. That was it, but then secondly, I think journalists are saving the world, to some extent, right now. I think if you closed your eyes and you imagined a world without a free press, that would be a really scary world at the moment.

A lot of people are imagining it and actually planning for it.

Well, then we need to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s really been something I’ve been thinking a lot about. I didn’t know exactly how to act on it, besides subscribing to a lot of things. Here was a way to do it in a meaningful way, especially at a local level. It’s something I’ve really thought a lot about. I’ve been disturbed by the attacks on the press, the norms, the institutions of our country. I think one of the best ways to combat that is to have a strong, high-quality journalism.

Had you looked at what Bezos had done? You didn’t buy the Washington Post, but it wasn’t actually that expensive, as it turned out.

Yeah, and there was a group of local people that we were talking about potentially doing it, but then Jeff did it.

Doing the Post.

Doing the Post. We were going to do it as a group, but Jeff did it, and I honestly I have been in awe of what he and Fred Ryan and Marty Baron have done. I think it’s extraordinary what they’ve done. Their focus has been to become more national, because they want to be a digital platform, and it makes sense, but what they’ve done has been amazing.

I’ve gone over there, and I’ve sat there. The energy in the newsroom was addictive to me. I thought some of what they did I think is applicable for the City Paper, some isn’t, but the mission is. I think the mission of providing high-quality local journalism and shining light on things that need to see the light of day is one that they share and we share.

All right, we’re here talking with Mark Ein. He’s an investor and entrepreneur. He’s founded lots of companies, been a venture capitalist, but most recently he’s gotten in the news for buying an alternative newspaper here in Washington, D.C., called the Washington City Paper, where I began my career. I was fired from the City Paper, by the way.

I’m sorry. Sorry about that.

That’s okay. Don’t worry. It’s not your fault. I deserved it.

Do you want to come back?

No, thank you. I’m okay.

Okay. We’ll hire you back.

You had a lot of other alumni, Jake Tapper, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kate Boo, and a bunch of others. When we get back, we’re going to talk about local news and what happens in the internet age with Mark Ein.


We’re here with Mark Ein. He’s a Washington, D.C., investor and entrepreneur. He has most recently bought the City Paper, which is a local publication I worked at. A lot of people have, tons and tons of great alumni have come from it. We’re just starting to talk about local news and where it’s going.

I’m especially struck by it in the internet age, because a lot of local news has been bought up. For example, the TV news by Sinclair across the country. Local newspaper is dying. Big newspapers like the Washington Post where I worked also, I focused on local retail when I was here. I covered Heckinger and the end of Woody’s, the end of Garfinkel’s, the end of everything. You know what I mean? It was really interesting.

I really did see the impact of digital technologies on these areas. Local news seemed to suffer absolutely the most, and getting no coverage. City Halls, corruption were things that really needed attention. City Paper has been at the forefront of that for years. Talk about your sort of business idea of how you saved this, because that’s really what you’re charged with doing.

Yeah, so let’s start with what the problem is, which you outlined, is that as new generations aren’t used to looking at print, it’s never become the habit, and so print dies. You have to survive on digital is the common wisdom. It’s hard to sell digital if you’re niche and small, which is why people try to aggregate big audiences. That’s where all the dollars are. That is the problem.

As it relates to the City Paper, I’ve never done anything in my life that I’ve had such an outpouring of support. There’s gratitude, but there’s also heartfelt and meaningful offers of, “How can I help? What can I do?” People around town, people who own businesses, prominent people, everyone has said, “What can I do to help?”

Explain who you got involved.

Yeah, so we had Ted Leonsis got involved, Jose Andres got involved.

The chef.

Chef Jose Andres. Jeremy Zimmer, who’s not local, but from the west coast, heard about it and said, “I want to help you think through this.” Mark Walsh, who you know.

Yes, AOL.

There’s a whole bunch of more people coming just since it got announced. That was the small group of people who I talked to before we announced it. There’s a whole bunch more. Then on the journalism side, the alumni network of Jake, and Ta-Nehisi, and Kate, and hopefully you. Everyone’s wanted to help. Hopefully in that good will and offers of support, we come up with a model that works.

Can you talk a little bit through that, because I think about this a lot. Journalism isn’t a charity, but it is. It’s sort of become that way. Bezos, I think they’re making a tiny bit of money. It’s not an enormous amount of money. I always bug internet billionaires to invest in the New York Times and things like that. I’m always trying to get one of them to put a billion dollars into something like the New York Times. I’m like, “What would they do with a billion dollars?”

It’s interesting that it’s now internet people that they’re getting the money from or tech people, but that’s where the money is. They’re interested in it, and some of them are guilty for having ruined local journalism essentially, or ruined the business model.

Indirectly. It wasn’t the goal, but yeah, through the things that they founded. I think that’s a really interesting point. It’s something that I’ve given a lot of thought to recently. As people are successful and they try to make a difference in the world, you can be involved philanthropically. You can be involved civically. Some people buy art. Some people buy sports teams. I actually think this is going to be a new category of things that people say, “I can make a huge impact in the world.” People make movies and documentaries.

I think this is going to be a category that people really focus on. I’ve seen it myself, the amount of people that are interested. Then there’s actual real foundations who you can raise money from to get grants to do journalism, of which we’re going to tap into. But ultimately what we’ve said is we’re going to stand this up and give it a long runway and a lot of resources. Ultimately, it does need to stand on its own. At some point, it needs to. We do think we can, through a combination of … there are grants, events, which is a big thing, the way people use these platforms. Then we’re going to see what happens.

There is, I believe, an audience for print that gets given to people on street corners. There is, if you look in our paper and you look at the Kennedy Center, the 930 Club, the Anthem, there is no single better way to see every show that’s coming in town in those venues and picking up the back page of the City Paper. It’s the best. There’s no digital equivalent.

Actually, we used to paste those down. One would come up, and you’d lose it on the floor. Then you’d paste it down.

I’m sure.

I have memories of that kind of stuff.

Yeah, but it still is … That’s why they give us the money they do, because it actually does sell tickets to events.

Let’s talk about the business models of these things, because most of these as I recall when I was there, it was selling ads to 930 Club. I know Seth Hurwitz is involved.

Yeah, Seth.

It was club things, it was beer. There was a lot of liquor. That was the City Paper, and the Washington Post of course had Heckinger’s and Woody’s and things like that, which soon died, and classifieds was a very important part of the City Paper.

Now Craigslist decimated everybody, essentially, and more other technologies like that. I think probably Craigslist did more to decimate local news, because that was … The fact of the matter is, classifieds weren’t good. They were expensive. They didn’t work. They were static. The people on the other end were rude. All kinds of problems with their businesses that they never fixed or addressed. When you’re thinking about that business plan, advertising is the No. 1, correct?

Advertising is the vast majority, print advertising.

Print advertising.

Then digital, and then some amount of events.

Right. How do you then rethink that? Because I sit around, and there’s almost no way out of it that is easy.

I think, just like I’ve done with the other companies that we’ve bought where you find a really good company you can make better, I think we can execute a lot better. The company’s lost money for five years but it hasn’t lost so much money. Incremental things make a huge difference for us. I think we can execute on the sales side in a big way. If we just tap into the people who believe in what we’re doing, that will make a gigantic difference. That’s one.

I think we can have a much better digital footprint. We’re going to transfer the platform to something that’s a lot more user friendly and better for serving ads. I think we can do better there.

Events is a gigantic opportunity for us. You asked about the ads. The ads are the local entertainment. It’s arts is what it is for us. There’s a way, I think, to curate interesting events with them and partnership with them and increase our events business, as you well know. At Recode, you’re a big believer in events.

I’m way behind. It’s 15 years later. I was catching up.

Look, I’ll give you another just interesting thing that we thought about is, the arts organizations in town are the ones who really provide 80 percent of our advertising. They sell about two and a half million tickets a year in Washington. If you add up the sports teams in town, they sell six million tickets. We get not a dollar from them, but we’re the best way to reach the millennial audience. We’re actually going to start a sports section. We’re not going to cover, since we’re weekly, we’re not going to cover games and standings, but we’re going to tell the behind-the-scenes story of the athletes and the teams. They’re fantastic stories, the same stories we tell about everyone else in town. We believe that the sports organizations will then want to be supporters of ours. All of these things, any one of these could tilt us over to …

All right, one of the issues around City Paper, as I remember, is always bite the hand that feeds you, essentially. It was way before snark and the internet, which now it seems tame in comparison, City Paper was always really holding feet to the fire of power, including people like the 930 Club, all your advertisers. It was always an issue when I was there. It was that, and it was quite tense. Now it’s, I would assume, even more weaponized, essentially.

I actually think it’s become a little less. I think that was they had to stake out their role in the community. When the Post was doing what it was doing, that was the right role. I think now that the Post has become somewhat more nationally focused, that we can be a little less known for just doing that. I think we are the ones who hold people’s feet to the fire. We do hold people accountable, especially local politicians. It’s funny, when I was thinking of buying this …

What was that column? What was the column?

Loose Lips.

Loose Lips. Right.

When I was thinking of buying it, a very prominent person in town came over to me and said, “I heard you’re thinking of buying the City Paper.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “Come on.” Then I said, “Well, I’m thinking about it.” They said, “Well then, are you going to kill Loose Lips?” I said, “Well, now that you’ve said that, I’m definitely not killing it.” I said, “First of all, I’m not making editorial decisions, but we’re not.” It is known for that.

I’m not a believer in snark. Alexa isn’t either. I don’t think snark for the sake of that is a tone that really is attractive to a wide audience. I think there’s a way to be responsible both positively when there’s good stories to tell and negatively when there’s negative stories to tell.

How do you do that in this age? Because I have to say, media has gotten utterly nasty. Jake Tapper is pretty tough on Twitter, or anybody is.

Yeah, but if you read the cover story about Trayon White, the new council member, it’s an amazing story. He’s a 32-year-old up-and-coming guy, just got elected. It’s really a positive story about a guy who’s a positive guy. You know what? I actually believe readers want to read those. I think there’s a role. I think people want to hear good because of what you’ve said. Everything else gears so negative. It can’t be Pollyanna-ish, but I think if there’s good stuff happening and you can write about those things, I think there’s a lot of desire for people to read that.

When you are with your editor, she was part of finding an owner. I know that. You do want to find a good owner. When I was looking for money, I was definitely very wary of venture capitalists, for example. I just didn’t want to talk to them. I didn’t want them to have any control over me, and so I picked NBC and Terry Semel, who are both media people — you know what I mean? — that really did understand those things.

Even then, it’s hard. Even then, there’s often … every now and then, even when I was working at the Journal, there was always sort of — I wouldn’t say meddling, because it never really got to that, but it was definitely a constant worry. How do you look at the new … When you look at that, what do you think about as being the owner, because you got to be … Pierre Omidyar got in trouble at the Intercept. All good intentions, by the way. Pierre has a lot of astonishingly good intentions. Bezos has managed rather well to stay out of the news on being a meddling owner, but how do you look at that?

You’re not a meddling owner. You don’t go there. I’ve literally been to the office twice, once when I was thinking about buying it and once with a bottle of champagne when we did it. I haven’t been back.

Right, but you’ve got to be thinking about how it goes, because …

I do.

When people say, “Why would you buy this?” what would be the reason?

Because I believe that it’s important to support high-quality journalism. I didn’t want it to go away, and I didn’t want it to be minimized. I wanted it to be everything it can be. That was it. Period. Full stop. That was the reason I did it. I think we’re living in a time where it’s more important than ever.

We can do that. I don’t need to go there, and you just say, “I’m not getting involved in editorial one way or the other.” You walk the walk and you prove that, and you have that separation. That’s what we’ve done, and it’s what we’re going to do.

But then …

That goes, by the way, for everyone else who was involved around it, all the advisers and everyone else. They all play by the same rules.

Right, that they can’t be irritated or annoyed and stuff like that.

Nope, and everyone knows that that’s part of what comes with the territory. I know that I’m going to have uncomfortable moments. I already had. I had someone call me last week, “I haven’t seen you in a while. Could I come see you? I hear the paper is doing something, writing something.” I just said, “I’m not getting involved in those things.” I just think mostly everything you do in life that’s positive has some negative. On this one, I’ll take a little bit of negative for all the good we’ll be able to do.

Right. We’re going to talk more with Mark Ein. He’s here. He’s an investor and entrepreneur in Washington. He has recently bought the Washington City Paper, getting involved in digital journalism and regular journalism. When we get back, we’re going to talk more about where he’s going next with his various investments.


We’re here with Mark Ein. He’s an investor and entrepreneur here in Washington, D.C. You talked at the beginning about this idea of Washington losing its step in a technology sense. Now, I was here for the Washington Post. I wrote about the first internet companies. Mark Pincus started his first company from Zynga. Obviously Steve Case and Ted Leonsis were here with AOL, which sort of ran into a wall eventually. Now it’s called Oath. I just interviewed Tim Armstrong onstage, but that company’s sort of a shadow of what it was. All of the original internet companies were here, MCI, PSI Net.




All of them, because the internet hub was here. May East I think was here. There were obviously defense department things, but it was a very … In the early stages, it was a hub of activity. I think we could pretty much say AOL was the most critical at that time. How do you look at the scene here when you look around the technology scene? What happened?

Yeah, so I’ve been a big champion in trying to be supportive. It is.

It’s important for the local.

Yeah, it is. In 1999 when everyone was going out to northern Virginia, I planted a flag on 7th Street downtown in a loft to say this is where it’s going to go. I think the first internet wave was about building the pipes and the infrastructure, and this community was perfect for that for all the reasons we said. It was the perfect place for that, and that’s what we did.

The second wave was much more about the creative economy and the creative class. That just has not been a strength of Washington relative to other places. There have been some good companies, Blackboard and others. LivingSocial was a big hope at one point here. There’s some that people aren’t … There’s a lot of genomics and stuff out of NIH that’s good, but it has not been nearly what the first wave is. It’s frustrating to a lot of people. There’s still a lot of activity and a lot of hope, but the results speak for themselves. We keep trying and keep hoping. It really only takes one of those kind of … The center …

Right. No, it doesn’t actually. There’s always one. I think of Los Angeles, Demand Media, then not. Snapchat’s obviously struggling. Myspace was in LA, and then it didn’t. Austin had a whole bunch of them. It’s never been replicated outside of Silicon Valley on a massive scale, except maybe New York a little bit, but still not.

Yeah, but when you get those sort of suns that are centers of the solar system, look at what the spinouts … Look, we’re sitting in Vox’s office, which came out of AOL. There’s a whole bunch. Ted came out of AOL. There’s a lot of stuff that came out of AOL. Entrepreneurs, venture capital, a lot of good things.

A company and talent that doesn’t get a lot of attention is MicroStrategy, actually. A company … Appian just went public. Clarabridge, Alarm.com. It was actually a little bit like the smaller version of that. You need those. You need the ones that break away that become worth a lot of money and were magnets of talent. We just haven’t had one of those in a long time. We keep trying, but it hasn’t been as good. That’s one of the reasons I also pivoted to looking to buying companies outside of this area, but ones, again, where we could be a catalyst to help them grow.

How do you create those? Here you are trying to create sort of reinvigoration of media that was popular, and then saw some really hard times. How do you do that as an entrepreneur, thinking about it? I’m thinking local is a really good idea. The LA Times just got bought by a billionaire there who’s a local billionaire. I think it’s better than the Tronc billionaires, that guy from Chicago.

When you’re looking at all this, a really interesting thing of how you … Steve Case talks about this. How do you create economies elsewhere? Because that’s what’s going on right now around jobs elsewhere in this country.

Yeah. I think that the local journalism, it’s interesting, literally in the three months I’ve been looking at this, I feel like we just found ourselves on the path of progress. Facebook just hired Campbell Brown to focus on local news. Google is focused on it. The World Economic Forum, everyone feels like this is something they’ve got to crack the code on. I think obviously with the election, people are realizing the issue of not having real news, and people are realizing there’s some amount of effort on the national level, but local is really important.

I feel like we’re in the path of progress. How it all comes together and manifests itself into something sustainable, we’ll see. Again, this is something I’m passionate about, but it isn’t my day job. My job is to help and be a catalyst, bring the talent and capital and relationships, but this isn’t what I’m doing day in and day out.

But when you think about it, when you look at the Facebooks of the world as a media owner, they’re in a lot of trouble lately of how they’ve behaved. Campbell was just on our stages and caused a lot of controversy. She said, “I’m not here to help publishers make money,” which I’m like, “You kind of are. That’s really kind of your job, but okay.” The point she was making is it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. We’re not the be-all and end-all, and yet everything’s moved to Facebook, or people’s new distribution has happened there.

I think they’re at the beginning of their journey. We’ll see where it goes.

At the beginning of their journey?

I was as surprised as you were to hear that. I think ultimately it’s not a sustainable ecosystem where people produce content and someone else monetizes it. That’s not going to work in the long term. Something’s got to give. I think hopefully there’s models that are good for them and also good for local publishers who can invest in the content.

One thing, Kara, I mentioned one area, sports, that we’re looking at a job, we just put someone new in locally. The editor Alexa tells me, she says, “Mark, every time we post a job,” she goes, “I’m embarrassed by the amount of high-quality people we get who want to work here. There are so many journalists looking for a platform, really high-quality journalists.” There’s way more content that should be written than is being funded right now.

I’ve said with this, if we ever make money, it’s all going back in. I have to assume whatever money I’ve put in, I’m never getting out. My dream would be to grow our revenues so that we can hire more of those journalists and a couple more things.

What are your revenues? Are you going to tell me? You’re not going to tell me.

No, but it’s not huge.

What did you buy it for?

It wasn’t a huge amount of money.

No. That number I saw in …

Yeah, that wasn’t right, because it came with a lot of liabilities and losses and stuff. You can never judge it by that.

Right, and how much you’re going to … No, of course, how much you’re going to lose a year.

You can’t, but it’s going to be a meaningful investment over the next couple of years. It’s not going to turn around, but it’s something that I’m enthusiastic about doing.

All right. Let’s finish up talking about where you think the next wave is going in business. What are you looking at? You’re not doing as much investing. You’re sticking with these companies, but you obviously have an itchy attitude towards new things.

Yeah. What I decided to do is to not do a ton of things, but every year to find a company that I could buy, which — not the City Paper. That is not the investment part of my life. That’s the philanthropic.

Right. It’s tennis. Tennis and City Paper.

Yeah, those are like the philanthropic parts of my life. The real business part of my life is every year or two finding a great company we can buy and help be a catalyst to grow it. I’ve used these public vehicles called SPACs. That’s what capital investment’s for.

Explain SPACs.

We go out and we raise … The last one we raised $ 400 million. It’s a public company.

Chamath just did that.

Chamath did do that. Yeah, we’ve been doing it for 10 years. We’ve done three successful, really successful deals with it. We just raised our fourth one in August.

You have $ 450 million just burning a hole in your pocket.

Yeah, 400. We’re looking for the right company to invest in. Our thing is is that we’re really long-term investors. This is what I was doing with my own capital, and this is the way to do it at bigger scale. I think we’re really good partners to management teams, the three that we’re …

This is just for people who don’t know, you buy a company and then it instantly becomes public, because the SPAC is public.

Yeah, because we’re public. We’re public with cash. Then you find a private company. Then they get our cash in the public vehicle, and they get us and the things that we can bring.

Some people are talking about internet companies doing this so they can go public very quickly without the whole rigamarole that happens.

Yeah, there’s a lot of advantages of going public this way. I believe we’ve proven it. It has to be the right situation. It’s not right for every company, but it’s right for a lot of companies. Every one of the ones that we’ve done, the companies were effusive about the experience. Our investors made money, and it’s been great. We’re looking for No. 4.

The company that we did out of the second one I love, a company called Lindblad Expeditions. It’s a company that takes people in partnership with National Geographic, Arctic, Antarctic, Galapagos. The basic thesis there two or three years ago was …

Capital constraint.

Capital constraint, huge returns on capital, great brand, entrepreneur built the business, never had a partner. We met him, we gave him capital to grow, but it was basically the theory that people in the world want experiences, not stuff.

That is true.

We take people to … It’s interesting. I thought about the arc of my own career. When I started on Wall Street, it was what tie you wore and suit you wore. Move to LA, it’s what car you drove. D.C. was the size of your office in some building here.

Is that it?

That’s what it was. Today, your brand is who you are on Instagram, right, and Facebook. We take people to the Arctic to take pictures with the polar bears, and Antarctic with the penguins, and the blue-footed boobies in Galapagos. There’s an insatiable desire for people to do that.

The Airbnb experience is unriveted too. No one else is paying attention to them, but I …

To their experiences.

Their experiences they’re adding to their business, I find them really interesting. I’ve done a whole bunch.

Yeah. I’m a huge believer in this, and I also think as we get more urbanized and more heads-down in our phones, just the need and the opportunity to take people away and to nature and see the world and get away and unplug for a little bit of time is something that’s just going to be a really, really important, profound trend for a long time. Lindblad’s one of the great leaders in that.

So the anti-tech addiction thing.

It is. I think it’s an antidote to that and a tonic to that.

Except you bring your Instagram.

We want you to post #lindblad when you’re there so people see how good it is, but you’re not when you’re on the iceberg so much.

I don’t think there’s an experience anyone can have anymore that they don’t chronicle. My goal is at some point to become a hermit where I just don’t speak to anyone, just go off of everything, and I’ll be gone kind of thing.

I think the detox idea is a good one.

It’s interesting.

It is, but we love that, and I think finding other things like that that center around experiences is a really interesting trend that we’re interested in.

What else are you looking at?

In the third one, we actually bought an enterprise software for the PR communications industry called Scission. We own PR Newswire amongst other stuff.

Oh nice.

Our mission there is really interesting. This was a large company built by GTCR, a private equity firm in Chicago, and it’s enterprise software in the cloud for that industry. Our mission there is to make earned media measurable the way that paid media is. We got the guy from Oracle. Obviously a bunch of Silicon Valley has made paid media measurable, and we’re trying to do the same for earned media. We own PR Newswire and a bunch of other assets.

For those who don’t know, PR Newswire is where everybody puts their …

You put your press releases.

Press release on.

Right. I’m a huge believer too in earned media. Obviously you look at the presidential election, the power of earned media is proven, but it’s hard to measure. People don’t know how much to spend, how much to invest. If we can take this gigantic platform we have, we’re the biggest company in the world by a factor of three and actually make it measurable, we think we can prove the efficacy of it, and people invest more in. Yeah.

I’m curious what you think Donald Trump’s tweets are. Are they earned or paid media?

I stay away from that.

All right, stay away from that.

We love that company, and we’re seeing a lot of really interesting things for capital investment for. There are a lot of companies doing really interesting things that with a little bit of capital and some help, can become great long-term world-class companies.

All right. Last couple questions. Being in D.C., what is it like here now with this mood of the country? What’s going to solve it? It must be exhausting. It’s exhausting being in California.

Yeah. It is a little harder to get away. It’s interesting. It is a company town, but I don’t work for the company, so you’re a little bit removed from it day in and day out, but you’re close to it. By proximity, you can’t ignore it. Yeah, I think it’s disorienting. It’s disorienting for all of us, no matter where you live, but it is interesting when you are in Washington, as you know, because you lived here, because you get a disproportionate amount of attention.

I’ll tell you this, that when I bought the City Paper, the Washington Post wrote an article.

I saw it.

I got a note from the president congratulating me.

You’re kidding.


What did he say?


Oh wow. Huh.

That’s a little anecdote about …

Does he know you own Katharine Graham’s house?

No, he doesn’t, but it’s an interesting anecdote about what it means to live in Washington, as you know, that you just have a greater spotlight. Whenever I travel, people are amazed at how senators and congressmen and presidents, but it’s a small community here. It’s a little … That’s actually one of the reasons I love living here. I really love this place, because people are interesting and they’re doing interesting things. They care about the world. It’s tricky at times, but it’s a place where people are making a difference, but at the same time, it’s kind of a small town.

Absolutely. Then one question I ask everybody. You’re an entrepreneur. We give entrepreneurial advice to people. Either pick something you did really well or something not so well, and what you learned or didn’t learn, or did well that you think, “That was really great?”

My best advice is just you just have to follow your internal compass and follow your true north. I’ve just seen so many times where people take a shortcut, because they think that it’s going to get them where they want to go, and it ends up being the thing that kills them. In the end, you oftentimes have to do … I just think if you take a long-term view … I’ve always thought it’s a long life in a small world. Treat people well, and that’ll … Best advice you can take.

I just think you just follow your internal compass. Always try to follow your true north. It’ll serve you well, even in the moment if it sometimes feels like it’s not the most expedient thing to do, just know that long term it’ll pay off.

In the day after, you said when your investment strategy feels like they’re just losing you money the next day, how do you feel about owning a local news organization?

Again, this is the different …

You feel better about it.

It’s different, because it’s in the philanthropic part of my life. We’ve gone in with the expectation it’s different. Look, I really believe that we can drive more revenues. As I’ve said, if that turns out that we’re making money, we’re just going to hire more people. I’m really passionate about this. I think this is a platform that we can do a lot of good with.

Okay. Mark Ein. Oh, by the way, congratulations to Mark Ein. He’s here. He just had a child today, or last night.

Eight hours ago.

Are you tired? Good luck with that.


Good luck.

Thanks Kara, it’s good to see you.

Congratulations. Mark, thank you for talking to us today, especially today.

Recode – All

Cash For Apps: Make money with android app

Full transcript: Catherine Price, author of ‘How to Break Up With Your Phone,’ on Too Embarrassed to Ask

Plus special guest Louie Swisher, who joined the #TooEmbarrassed team to discuss cellphone addiction.

On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, writer Catherine Price talks with Kara Swisher, Lauren Goode and Kara’s son Louie about her latest book, “How to Break Up With Your Phone.” Price says our attitudes about tech addiction need adjusting — rather than taking a “tech detox,” the goal should be to use our phones in ways that are useful and enjoyable, and using them less when they make us sad or distracted. She explains the brain science that makes that goal so difficult for so many people, and recommends tricks and habits that people who are looking for more balance in their lives can adopt.

You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Too Embarrassed to Ask on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.

Lauren Goode: I’m Lauren Goode, senior tech editor at The Verge.

KS: You’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech.

LG: It could be anything at all, like what’s the best peer-to-peer payments app, or how can I improve Wi-Fi at home, or when will Kara find a wearable she actually wants to wear?

KS: I’m wearing a wearable right now, I’m wearing pants, they’re very nice, I like them a lot.

LG: Are they smart pants?

KS: Anyway, send us your questions … I hate wearables. Send us your questions, find us on Twitter or tweet them to @Recode, or to myself, or to Lauren, with a hashtag #TooEmbarrassed.

LG: We also have an email address, it’s TooEmbarrassed@Recode.net. A friendly reminder, as always, there are two Rs and two Ss in embarrassed. Kara, we need to talk.

KS: We do? Okay. What do we need to talk about?

LG: Yes.

KS: For the last time, I’m not interested in going surfing with you, we’re not going to go.

LG: No. No, no, no. This is not about water sports.

KS: All right.

LG: Although, last week at Code Media, when I asked a bunch of people how they managed to take a break from tech, a few of them did say water sports, for what it’s worth. This is about your phone. I think you might have a problem and you need some help. Now, I’ve thought about what I would say to you at this moment, but I do think you need help and it’s help I can’t give you. Otherwise, I don’t think this podcast relationship can move forward. So, either you need to consciously uncouple from your phone or I’m going to have to leave you on this podcast, and eventually you’re just going to be stuck with some bespectacled guy named Rob or Will or Alex, who speaks in thoughtful tones and is going to want to turn this podcast into a 90-minute discussion about obscure films.

KS: I’m sorry, were you talking? I was looking at my phone. I love my phone, Lauren, and I’ll be honest with you …

LG: This is going to be a long, long road.

KS: I’ve got to tell you, I love my phone more than you. I’m sorry to give you that piece of information, but it’s true.

LG: Kara, that is one of the meanest things. You know what?

KS: Why is it mean?

LG: Friends, family, anybody who’s listening to this podcast …

KS: The phone is fantastic. Why would you be mad at being left by someone who’s …

LG: Leave remarks in the comments section of iTunes if you have any thoughts and feelings on what Kara Swisher just said. I’m just going to leave it at that.

KS: The truth hurts.

LG: Listen, I’m bringing in some outside help for us. On today’s show, I’m delighted to have Catherine Price join us. Catherine is the author of “How To Break Up With Your Phone, Kara Swisher.” That’s not the title, but it’s a new book about our codependent relationships with our phones and how all this connectivity is affecting our well-being.

Catherine, thank you for coming on the show.

Catherine Price: Thank you for having me.

KS: Yeah, you’ve got a big problem here, Catherine. Catherine is joining us from Philadelphia, Lauren is in San Francisco, and I’m here in Washington, D.C. And here with me in the studio is another person who thinks I’m too addicted to my phone: My son, Louie Swisher, who’s making his third appearance on Too Embarrassed to Ask, largely because you want to goose our ratings. Every time Louie comes on, it goes up.

LG: Back by popular demand.

Louie Swisher: Exactly.

KS: Exactly. Louie, I’m not addicted to my phone, am I?

Louie: Yes, you are.

KS: All right. Okay. Okay.

LG: Thank you, Louie.

KS: But so are you.

Louie: Except … Well, yes.

LG: This is how interventions go.

Louie: Yes. It takes one to know one.

LG: We all get together and …

KS: It takes one to know one. All right. Well, we’re going to be talking about this and more with Catherine. And Louie, you might want to jump in whenever you have thoughts on things. We’ll ask you questions, we’ll ask Catherine questions. I’m happy to explore the issue.

I know tech addiction has been become a big issue, Tristan Harris and others have been talking about it for a year or more. A lot of the companies are under siege for creating an environment of phone addiction and tech addiction, so it’s really important to talk about it. I don’t mean to make light of it, but I do happen to love my phone.

Just a short story, when Louie was born, I was actually holding a phone in my hand.

Louie: You were texting.

KS: I was texting.

Louie: You were texting Walt Mossberg.

KS: Yes, I was, when Louie was born. I had an emergency caesarian and it was in my hand, and they forgot it was there, and then they had to wrap it in plastic while Louie was being born

Louie: They put a Ziploc bag over it.

KS: Over it, exactly, and taped it up. Then it kept buzzing during the birth. So I have to say, I think I really have a bad problem, probably.

Louie: Admitting it is the first step.

LG: So, Louie’s first image when he came into this world was your BlackBerry keyboard.

Louie: Exactly.

KS: Yes. Yeah. All right, Catherine, let’s start to talk about this: What does breaking up with your phone really mean? In the intro to your book, you said this is not about throwing your phone under a bus or going back to the rotary phone. And by the way, I think I’m the only one among us that actually actively used a rotary phone. I’m not sure how old you are, Catherine, but …

LG: I’ve used a rotary phone.

KS: Have you? Okay.

CP: Oh yeah, I’ve used … You hate the people with nines in their number.

KS: Nine, right, exactly. What’s a healthy breakup with tech? Not just phones, because phones are sort of the center of that, but there’s all kinds of screens happening. So can you talk a little bit, what does a healthy breakup mean?

CP: Sure. I would actually reframe it a little bit and say, what does a healthy relationship look like?

KS: Okay.

CP: Because that’s the ultimate goal. We shouldn’t focus too much on the breakup part. Just as if you breakup with a human, it’d be better not to dwell on the relationship that was, it’d be better to move forward and figure out the one that you want it to be. So, a relationship with your phone and with tech that is healthy is definitely a subjective, personal thing. So, Kara, maybe, maybe you’re better than it sounds like from that … That’s a crazy story with the Ziploc bag.

KS: I have worse. I have worse.

CP: I look forward to hearing them.

KS: I will tell them through the course of this thing, but I’ve got worse.

CP: It’s funny because when people ask me that question, “How do I tell if I’ve got a healthy relationship?” I normally say, “Well, first of all, you should ask how you feel when you’re on your phone? Do you feel good about the time you’re spending on your phone?”

KS: Yes.

CP: The next thing you might want to do is, yeah, actually track the time that you’re spending on your phone using an app like Moment, which is for the iPhone, and then Quality Time. Then the third thing I say to people is, “Ask your loved ones what they think about your relationship with your phone.” It looks like you’ve done that, too, so you passed the first one, but the third question seems like we have some stuff to talk about.

KS: Louis, I think I’ve gotten better, correct?

CP: That’s a leading question.

KS: Come on, last night at dinner?

Louie: Well, yeah. Sometimes it’s out and then you’re just texting, or writing a story, writing an email or something. You’re aware of it, that’s good.

KS: That’s the first step.

Louie: It is. Admitting it is the first step.

KS: Right, but I have done less of it around you guys than I used to, correct? Is that correct? I think I have. No? Really? Come on.

Louie: I don’t know.

KS: I don’t text and drive.

Louie: At least you don’t do that, that’s good.

CP: That’s really not a very good defense. If that’s your line right there, “I don’t almost kill people every time I’m in the car.”

KS: Many parents do.

Louie: Yeah, yeah, many parents do.

KS: Many parents do.

LG: Kara, do you think that you’d be so addicted to your phone, or attached to your phone, if you didn’t work in the news?

KS: It’s interesting, because I don’t have other addictions. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I never smoked, or drugs, or anything like that. I don’t know, it’s a really interesting thing. I have liked phones from the get-go. I had a suitcase phone, essentially.

Louie: Oh my God.

KS: I know, a long time ago, and I always was riveted to them, and so, I’m not sure. When there wasn’t much on them.

Louie: Well, your phone is like your whole job, so that’s kind of where you work from, mostly.

KS: When they didn’t have uses, I liked them. So, I don’t know. Let’s talk about the bigger issue, Catherine, of addiction, this idea, because it’s getting a lot of … Let’s get off of Kara for a second, I realize I have a problem.

You were talking about addiction as we continue to seek something out, despite negative consequences. There’s been a lot recently about this idea around phone addiction, just relatively recently about people worried about it and bugging companies about what they’re doing. Do think phones have reached that point of cigarettes or other things that are actually addictive? Can you talk about the science around it?

CP: Sure. I don’t think we’re going to find that phones cause lung cancer, so I think that you’re not going to have that level of an issue here, but I think that it’s certainly … I feel comfortable using the word addiction based on the fact that you’re triggering the same circuits and chemicals in your brain that typify addiction.

I would also say, just as a more general thing, if you look at how much time the average person is spending on their phone — and I asked the guy who created Moment, that tracking app, what his data is. He’s got almost five million people who have used the app and the average person is spending four hours a day on their phone. That does not count phone calls or listening to music, it’s just times when the screen is on. To me, that was a really striking number.

KS: Yeah.

CP: Especially when I realized the latter part because you’re like, “Oh, it’s just when I’m listening to the podcast,” but it’s not. That’s a quarter of our waking lives. To me, I think the addiction question is very interesting. But I think, taking a step back, the more important kind of philosophical or life-related question is, “Oh my goodness, that’s a lot of time. Do we want to be spending that much time on our phone?” If you do, that’s fine, no judgment, but I think a lot of people would be surprised by how the minutes add up.

LG: We talk about this idea of negative consequences, because addiction is when we continue to seek out something despite negative consequences. How does someone tell when that interaction, despite the length of it, when it becomes negative?

CP: I think there’s a couple of ways to tell when your relationship with your phone is becoming negative or something you might want to look into more. One would be if your son thinks you have a problem.

Louie: Well, it’s not just the son, it’s both.

KS: Both sons, I have two. I’m not letting him in here.

CP: Everyone.

Louie: Everyone.

KS: Yeah.

CP: I did look at Twitter and I was like, “What is going on with Kara?” There’s a lot of people really worried about this conversation that we’re going to have. So, that’s one sign. Also, if you start to feel … From my personal experience, if you read the first journal entry when I started thinking about this project, very few journal entries did I write over the past five years because I’ve been on my phone so much, but it sounds like I’m crazy because I’m jumping back and forth between subjects and thoughts. In the middle of one paragraph I somehow buy three sports bras off of Amazon, there’s like a note about that. I was kind of interested, I was like, “Could this actually be related to the time I’m spending on my phone? Or something about my phone is affecting me? Maybe I’m just getting old, I don’t know, but could it be?”

So I started to look into what we know about phones and then, in a broader sense, internet, because obviously the internet’s been around longer than the phones have, and the phones are essentially internet devices that we carry in our pockets that also have been engineered to keep us on them for as long as possible. What I found from that, I came away with a couple really interesting thoughts, at least to me. One was the realization that our brains are actually … They really like being distracted.

We actually do not have a natural tendency to be able to focus on things. Which makes sense if you think about an evolutionary perspective where there might be someone that’s trying to kill you, so you kind of want to notice if there’s movement in the periphery of your vision or whatever. So our brains really like to be able to flit away from things quickly. It takes a lot of mental effort and training to do something like read a book, or concentrate enough to decipher symbols off of a page. We often think of concentration just as the act of choosing what to focus on, but it actually, even more so, is the act of ignoring every single thing else in your environment, and that is not what our brains like to do.

When you think about what we’re doing on our phones, we’re very intensely focused on them, but what we’re normally doing on them is not intense focus. We normally are switching between apps, scrolling through a social media feed, texting with someone, lots of quick bursts of stimulation that basically train our brains to be distracted again and again, and kind of work us back towards our default state of distraction and undo some of the hard work that we’ve done over the course of our life to be able to sustain that concentration.

LG: It tends to feel good when you’re productive. If I need to send an email or set reminders for myself to check my calendar, do something just productive in general, I feel good, I’m like, “Oh, I got that thing done and out of the way and I managed to do it while I was mobile.”

Then sometimes like a text message will come through and it’s from someone I like, but it comes through at that moment when I’m trying to focus on something and I just feel this very sort of acute sense of irritation. It’s not at the person necessarily, but the whole situation, and I’m like, “Ah,” it just creates this negative association.

KS: You can turn off your texts, you know. I do it all the time.

LG: Yeah, I know. You can put your phone on airplane mode if you need to, too.

Louie: Is that why you never respond?

KS: No, I’m just saying. I’m wondering, though, if it’s not unlike television addiction. I think we’re replacing something with something else, right?

Louie: Well, I think it’s kind of like with the internet and with the different mobile apps and different services, it’s kind of a different wave of television addiction. An example would be YouTube. I’ll find myself watching half of or most of a YouTube video, then going to the next one. If I see video that’s longer than eight minutes, I’m probably not going to choose that. I think that relates back to the quick bursts of attention, and I find myself getting distracted and getting caught in YouTube for hours, just watching two-minute videos over and over.

KS: What attracts you?

Louie: I watch informational stuff, like historical videos, like stuff about …

KS: On YouTube? Like is there another one playing or you see someone nearby?

Louie: Well, I’ll just see one that looks interesting or something about something that piques my interest, like cooking videos, or just videos that interest me, and then I’ll see them, and it really just is the short burst thing, I think.

KS: Yeah. Can you talk about the TV addiction thing? Because I think we used to spend those hours watching television, correct? Or not? Is it replacing …?

CP: Oh no. I actually think it’s different. Yeah, obviously it’s taking some of the time that we used to spend on televisions, but you didn’t have your television in your pocket, looking at it while you’re waiting in line for lunch.

KS: Right.

CP: So it’s not filling in … Or in the elevator, you didn’t pull out one of those giant TVs with the boxes behind them, on the elevator.

LG: Kara had one in her suitcase next to her phone.

KS: I probably did.

CP: Totally. I kind of believe that. I actually do think that they are substantially different from other technologies. And here I’m definitely borrowing from Tristan Harris and the points he’s made, that if you think about it, first of all, you do have them with you, your phone with you, at all times. Probably all of us right now have it within arm’s reach. I think mine is actually across the office, but it’s close to me. So, that’s one thing, it’s with us at all times, it gives you access to the whole internet.

It goes even further because, as Tristan Harris likes to say, if you think about a landline telephone, for example, you didn’t have engineers on the other side of that telephone trying to get you to pick up calls over and over again, and spend as much time as possible on the television, because the business model is different. The business model of most apps is advertising, so they want, as Ramsey Brown likes to say, he talks about this a lot, they want our eyeballs, they’re selling our eyeballs and they’re making money off of that in a way that a long-distance telephone company was not making money off of your eyeballs. I guess they wanted you to call a lot, but point being, it’s very much engineered to tap into our brain chemistry in a way that triggers us to …

KS: They have, at these companies, those people that know about the brain chemistry. They have psychologists, they’ve got anthropologists, they’ve got all kinds of people working there, and they have people who understanding gambling in a lot of ways. I always call it the slot machine of attention because you can’t pull yourself away from it very easily, for sure.

CP: Definitely.

LG: They also have targeting data. With old TV or terrestrial radio, they had some demographic information as to who was watching, and that age group and where they lived and all that. But now, someone could build a pretty good profile, I’m sure, of Louie’s YouTube watching habits, and then they’re going to serve him videos that are more likely to suck him back into …

Louie: Yeah, there is …

LG: Or all of us, I’m not just singling out you, Louie, but all of us, really, they know exactly what we’re into.

CP: Yeah, the amount of data’s crazy.

Louie: Yeah, it is kind of crazy. I’ll be watching these types of videos, I talked about this before, I’ll be watching this one type of video and then for one or two days, I’ll watch a completely different type. Then my entire YouTube category is just all those types of videos, it just switches so quick.

KS: Yeah, absolutely.

Louie: It’s very interesting.

KS: Do you think this is … One of the things that you were talking about, Catherine, that tech companies aren’t necessarily out to hurt people deliberately, but they have the same features that make smartphones fun, could … They know about addiction, and could you talk about some of the features? Recently, using grayscale changes, which is turning the apps a different color — to black and white, essentially, making it duller — what do the features … Is it color that attracts people or what is it? What are the features?

CP: There’s all sorts of things on our phones that make them attractive to us, and I’ll answer that, but just to take a step back, I think one thing we’re kind of circling around but it’s important to point out is that phones are really useful tools and there’s obviously so many great things you can do with a phone. Whether it’s watching a video that you’re genuinely interested in and you want to learn about that, or you’re connecting with someone that you like and when you don’t feel irritated by their text. So, just want to put that out there.

In terms of some of the design things that are there to really appeal to our primal brains and make us want to keep checking them, yeah, the color definitely is a nice thing. If anyone’s experimented with the grayscale option, it is kind of crazy the difference it makes. You probably …

KS: Yeah, you don’t like it.

CP: Yeah, it’s very difficult to find your apps. I was trying to get an Uber and I was like … I mean, that’s a black-and-white icon anyway, I couldn’t find it, what happened to it? That’s interesting, but if you start to look at some of the other things, particularly with social media apps, you see other elements built in that are meant to keep us there.

Just to be clear on brain chemistry, what are we talking about? In particular we’re talking about dopamine, which is a salience chemical, it basically tells you when you’ve encountered something interesting that’s worth remembering and paying attention to. That could be good or bad, it’s some kind of emotional excitement or relevance.

So if you think about what happens when you check your phone, you are nearly guaranteed to always find something that matches those. Whether it’s a text or an irritating email or a post that makes you mad or something that makes you happy, whatever, there’s going to be a trigger. When that happens, your brain releases a little bit of dopamine and that basically is teaching your brain to associate checking your phone … That it’s important to check your phone, which makes you want to check your phone more. Like every time you check and find something, it reinforces the cycle. That’s what really gets us hooked.

Eventually, we start to crave our phones when they’re sitting near us because we can anticipate, our brains know that we’re going to find something on that. That’s really what we’re talking about here. Go ahead.

KS: Let me just interject. It’s interesting, I was just at the White House and the new rules at the White House says they have these boxes that you put your phone in before you go in. They’re worried about leaks or whatever they’re worried about in the Trump White House, lots of things, I’m sure.

Louie: Well, it was in the Obama White House, too.

KS: Was it?

Louie: Yes.

KS: Did they have it?

Louie: They had the boxes.

KS: They had the boxes. So, you put them in and you lock them away, and they’ve checked to make sure you do that, and it was, I have to say, I had a really good conversation. At the same time, I felt like I needed cigarettes. I imagine it’s what it feels like if you don’t have cigarettes around.

Louie: Yeah. Sometimes when I don’t have my phone or something like that, when I leave it in my room or something to go downstairs, I’m always like hitting my pockets going, “Oh no, I lost my phone,” and then I remember it’s upstairs, do you know what I mean?

KS: Yeah.

Louie: It is kind of like a withdrawal, in a sense.

KS: For a short thing.

Louie: For a short, yeah.

CP: It’s interesting, too, there’s even, I think, I’m going to guess all of us may have experienced this, when you think your pocket’s vibrating and then there’s nothing in your pocket.

Louie: Exactly.

CP: It’s called phantom vibrations and it’s actually a thing that researchers study. You start to see that you really do … Again, it’s not going to cause lung cancer, but you do see that there are, that some of these characteristics, if you start paying attention to your own body and the feelings that you get when you’re not near your phone, you’ll start to really pick up on stuff.

In terms of getting back to the question of what else is in the design of the phones that makes this cycle more likely to get established, social media feeds are particularly interesting because they don’t ever end, you just can scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll, and that’s a very deliberate design choice. If you think about even like a Google search result, you’re going to have to click to get to the next page. Which, I’m going to guess if you’re like me, I barely ever get to the second page unless I’ve done a really bad job with my key words.

I think of it as if you’re bingeing on ice cream and your spoon will eventually hit the bottom of the pint of ice cream. That’s basically what’s called a stopping cue, it’s something that makes you stop what you’re doing and decide if you want to continue. You could continue by getting up and getting more ice cream, but you’d have to be proactive about it. With social media feeds, there’s nothing like that, it’s deliberately meant to keep us going and going.

Louie: It’s like a bottomless pit, kind of, bottomless pint of ice cream.

KS: Should they stop doing that? Should these companies make a bottom or not?

CP: It depends on whose interest you’re talking about. I think that they want to make money and that they will make less money if they were to put those stopping cues in there. It’ll be interesting to see if the recent public concern about tech addiction leads to them having a sense of corporate responsibility that goes in a different direction from their shareholders’ interests.

LG: Yeah. In your book, Catherine, you also cite examples of prominent tech executives, including Steve Jobs, shielding or having shielded their own kids from screens, and they’re the people who are working on these products. So, should this be alarming to us? I’m going to ask a leading question, but do you see this as at all hypocritical?

CP: Well, I think that it’s really been interesting to see, just in the past two months, after I finalized the book manuscript, how many tech insiders have started to speak out about this. You even have like Esalen, the super hippie retreat on the Pacific Ocean, is now like burnt-out Silicon Valley people. So it’s definitely been interesting to see that. Wait, I totally forgot your leading question.

KS: Is it hypocritical?

LG: Do you see it as at all … Yeah, at all as hypocritical when you hear of tech executives who shield their own kids from screens, because they don’t know what’s going on, but they’re building a lot of products that they want us to consume, passively, obsessively?

CP: I guess I actually would say, yeah, definitely, but I think that that’s exactly why you have some of these people speaking out now, that they feel hypocritical about it. I don’t think most people who go into tech are trying to create a generation of addicts and ruin the world. They’re really into the technology and they feel passionately about making these products. I think that a lot of people probably didn’t fully anticipate what the societal effects would be, which of course, we’re still even figuring out, we don’t know yet. Anyway, I think that people in the field themselves are feeling a bit hypocritical about.

KS: Whose responsibility really is it? Because it’s also like me, I do think that they design them and create them so that people … They put in all kinds of bells and whistles to make you attracted to them, absolutely, just like a casino would, or any other … Sugar, or something else. It reminds me of sugar more than anything. There is some responsibility on ourselves, right? Or is it these companies that they could just design them differently? Because I don’t see them doing that, I don’t see them … Until they get some regulatory pressure and there’s scientific studies showing this is killing our people or something like that. Even then, it took forever to get cigarette warnings on there.

CP: Yeah. Man, there’s a lot to talk about in that. To touch on what you said last, it’s interesting, actually, that there never have been randomized control trials linking cigarettes with lung cancer because you can’t do it. Once you suspect it’s a negative consequence, you can’t be like, “Oh, you guys start smoking, let’s see what happens in 20 years.” You can’t do that with phones, either, if you think that it’s a negative consequence, so it’s really interesting to …

Everyone’s like, “Oh, where are the studies? Where are the studies? I want to see brain scans of someone who has been on their phone a lot compared to someone who hasn’t.” Well, that’s really going to be difficult to get past a review board if you actually want to have a randomized control study because you’re saying, “I’m going to test if phones are negative.” You really have to find somebody who’s been spending a lot of time on their phone and then take the phone away, right?

KS: Me.

CP: Yes, maybe you could be one of the subjects.

Louie: I’m sorry, I was texting.

KS: Sorry, he was texting. I don’t believe you’re yelling at me about this when you’re over there. I’m going to take away … I can turn off Louie’s phone, by the way.

Louie: You say that, yet you haven’t done it yet.

KS: I’m going to, right now, I’m going to do it for you, yeah.

LG: Louie, what app were you using just now?

KS: Snapchat.

Louie: Snapchat.

KS: He’s always using Snapchat.

CP: So we should ask Louie what we were just talking about, see if you were multitasking.

KS: He was not.

Louie: Nope.

KS: Can you talk about your own moment when you realized you were a little too close to your phone? I can think of 10 moments when I understood that, but talk about when you realized it was too much?

CP: Well, for me, the moment that stuck out in my mind — I think it was a process, but the moment that stuck out in my mind was this time, like six months after my daughter was born, I also had an emergency Caesarian section, and I actually also had the phone in the room with me, but it was my husband.

Anyway, I was in this darkened room with her and it was like what should have been … You could imagine it as this mother/daughter bonding blah-blah-blah moment, and then I had this kind of out-of-body experience because I was incredibly tired, obviously, and I saw this scene from the outside, and she was looking up at me, and their eyes are perfectly developed enough just to see their mother’s or the parent’s face, and I was looking down at my phone, and I was searching for antique doorknobs on eBay. Which is my weird, weird rabbit hole.

I saw that and my heart sank a little bit because I just did not want that to be my daughter’s first impression of the human relationship, let alone with me, was her looking up at me and me looking at my phone. That was really a crystallizing moment for me, but that was within the context of a broader realization and awareness that I just kept finding my phone in my hand any time I had a moment of down time.

KS: Right.

CP: I’ve done a lot with mindfulness, and so combining my background in mindfulness with my own habits, I really started to pay attention to what was happening.

KS: Well, so let’s talk about the smartphone compulsion test, action, because I think we realize we have to do something about it. I’ve actually tried at meals to not look at it at all, put it down flat on the table, or move it away or put it somewhere else or put it away. I’m starting with meals and things like that, where you have discussions …

Louie: Baby steps. Baby steps.

KS: Baby steps. I did that last night, I did it.

Louie: You did.

KS: I did. That was really good. Talk about the smartphone compulsion test, to figure out if they have a problem. Then, how do you develop a healthy relationship? What are the things you need to try?

CP: Sure. So, the smartphone compulsion test was developed by David Greenfield, who runs the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. It’s a 15-question quiz and, just a spoiler alert, if you’re listening to this podcast, you’re going to get a score high enough to qualify for a psychiatric evaluation. At first, you’ll be like, “Oh, this is ridiculous, this is just … everyone feels this way,” but if you actually start thinking about the questions, they’re just talking about how do you feel when you step away from your phone, how often is it a part of your place setting at meals, do you mindlessly pass time on your phone, things like that will be like obviously yes.

If you think about it, actually just because everyone does it does not mean that it’s normal or okay. To me, I did have a comparison in my head of imagining if you’re out on the street or on the subway or whatever, if you swap out the phones for some sort of drugs and imagine that everyone, or even just like alcohol, that people are doing this around you. You start to think, “Oh wow.”

KS: Can I ask you a related question, though?

CP: Sure.

KS: I read a lot on my phone. I used to read books, I used to have a book with me all the time, and so I’m reading “Hamilton,” or I’m reading whatever book I happen to be reading.

CP: Oh my God, you’re reading “Hamilton” on the phone?

KS: Yeah.

CP: You’re in it for the long haul there.

KS: I know, I am.

Louie: She’s not actually texting, she’s reading “Hamilton.”

KS: But I am doing … I read news.

CP: Right.

KS: I used to have magazines with me all the time, newspapers.

Louie: You did. You were a huge fan of People.

KS: People magazine, for example. I replaced it, so I don’t consider that a compulsion, it’s a compulsion for reading. Is that different or not?

Louie: I don’t know. I think you’re still looking at a screen, but you’re still reading. I definitely do that. I read some articles …

KS: But I would have a magazine in my hand.

CP: There’s also the potential to be interrupted all the time — unless you put your phone into airplane mode, which I’m guessing you don’t do that often. But that’d be like the equivalent of trying to read a physical book and having a pet or a small child just like every page you turn like jump at you and be like, “I need attention.”

KS: Yeah. I have concentration, but I tend to a read ton on and not look at … I don’t look at Facebook, Twitter’s my only real compulsion, I think. Don’t laugh, Mr. Snapchat over there.

CP: Well, I think that, again, if this is a use of your phone that makes you feel good and you don’t feel like your attention is being compromised by getting texts every third sentence. Or also links in articles, those can be problematic because every time you encounter a link, your brain has to make a split-second decision about whether or not to click on that link. Even though you’re probably not even conscious that your brain did that, you can’t really absorb what you’re reading and making decisions at the same time.

KS: Right.

CP: My biggest concern, though, if you feel okay about your reading on the phone and you’re not being interrupted, I think that my concern would be just the light that you’re getting from the phone. Even if you have it on night mode, the phones will have very blue light and that basically is a cue to our bodies that it’s daytime. So if you’re looking at your phone in the hours before bedtime and you’re getting this blue light — and the closer to your face it is, the more dramatic the effect it will have — then you’re basically giving yourself jet lag.

KS: I better go to a Kindle. I need to go to a Kindle, right?

CP: Yeah. I’m a little bit confused, I have one of those, too. I like the ones that have the old-school little light that shines on the page instead of the ones that are backlit, because that also, to me, seems like it’s a problematic light that you’re exposing your face to right before you go to bed.

Sleep deprivation, even small sleep deprivation, is linked to all sorts of similar things that we’re worried about with phones, about concentration, distraction and also long-term health effects, so that would be my concern with your reading.

KS: All right.

LG: What about when you feel like you need to have the phone … So, in my case, sometimes I’ll say, “I’m going to stay away from my phone for the week,” like, “Next week I’m going on vacation and I’m planning on not having my phone with me as much as possible,” but I’m going to want to take a lot of photos, so I’ll still have it on me. I guess the obvious solution is just put it in airplane mode and use the camera, but does taking out your phone frequently just to snap some quick photos or look at photos, is that … Do you consider that to be something that could be potentially harmful?

CP: No. I think it depends … Well, I think it’s actually a really interesting question because I think that I certainly try with my phone to separate tools from temptations. I love taking photos and so I think that … I take photos with my phone all the time because I do actually have a different camera, but it’s so convenient, so there’s nothing really wrong with that. If I actually pay attention to how I feel, if I take out my phone to take a picture, even if it’s on airplane mode, it triggers some of the same feelings for me that I have if I’m about to check email or something like that. For me personally, I prefer not to do that, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently good or bad about it.

It makes me think, actually, just as a side note, I have a friend who is a carpenter, and just yesterday he gave me a present, and it is a piece of wood shaped like a phone, kind of like a 5S phone, I would say. It is so smooth, he beveled the edges, and it’s just a rectangle of wood, and everyone I’ve shown it to has this deep physical reaction to the piece of wood, it’s fascinating. Then I gave it to a friend who doesn’t have a smartphone and watched her reaction, and she was like, “Yeah, I get it, it’s a phone,” but she did not get it. She was like, “Yeah, I get it, you’re supposed to be like ha, ha, ha, it’s the shape of a phone.”

Anyway, point being, I think that there is this associations in terms of how we feel when we pick up the phone. I don’t know, it’s your call. I think for the vacation, here’s the bigger thing, I think in terms of our conversation this is important to kind of put it in this context. We’re talking about trying to reduce phone time in this conversation, but I think we should be talking more about what we want to do … It’s not about less time on your phone, it’s about more time on your life. On your vacation, I wouldn’t say your goal should be not to spend time on your phone, it should be, enjoy your vacation, and what role do you want the phone to play in that enjoyment? What are you going to do instead of the time you spend on your phone? Because that’s the other big question.

KS: Yes, what are you going to do, Lauren?

LG: Not think about Kara.

KS: So, Louie, what do you …

LG: That’s what Kara would say. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what you did say when you went to Mexico for a week.

KS: I did not.

LG: It was like you didn’t miss me at all.

Louie: I know you still used your phone while you were there.

KS: I did. I did, but I didn’t use it that much.

Louie: You would climb the mountain … You told me, you’re like, “Oh, I can only get service on this mountain,” and I know you climbed that mountain every day.

KS: I climbed that mountain, but I got in good shape climbing the mountain, so it all turned out for the best. And I got to talk to you, sweetheart.

Louie: That’s sweet.

KS: Let me ask you …

LG: Wow, between climbing mountains and reading “Hamilton” …

KS: No, I only climbed it to talk to [Louie].

LG: Kara, you are a master of justification, reading “Hamilton,” climbing mountains, these are the reasons why you have your phone on vacation.

KS: Yeah, I did, but let me …

LG: The phone is just ancillary.

CP: If that’s what we did with our phones, if it really was about reading long biographies of presidents and hiking mountains, that’d be kind of awesome, right?

KS: It’s a very important book.

CP: We wouldn’t be having this conversation.

KS: It’s a very important book and I’ve been reading it for three years now on the phone. Don’t laugh at me, Louie Swisher. Listen to me, what is your problem with the phone that you need fixing? What do you think you need to fix with your relationship with your phone? Besides extensively Snapchatting with girls, which is what you would do if you had a regular phone, you would do the same thing.

Louie: I don’t know. I’m definitely addicted to my phone. I think everybody in my generation is addicted to their phone if they have one.

KS: But you don’t get on Twitter, you don’t get on …

Louie: No, I don’t like Twitter. I really only use my phone to talk to people.

KS: Right, so communications.

Louie: Yeah.

KS: So, Catherine, is that so bad? Because he really does, I have to say …

Louie: I only talk to people.

KS: He talks to people, he interacts.

Louie: Video calls.

KS: Video calls, things like that.

Louie: Text.

KS: Is that a bad way to learn to interact? He does see his friends, too, it’s not as if …

Louie: Some people think that only texting and stuff like that makes you awkward in person, but I don’t think I’m like that, so that doesn’t … Maybe to some people.

KS: What do you think of that, Catherine? He does use it primarily for communication, I think.

CP: Yeah. Again, that’s kind of like a personal thing. You certainly don’t seem like someone who’s locking himself in the basement and unable to have a human conversation, which I think is the concern. I think it depends on what you’re doing on it. I think a lot of the studies and the concern over people in general and their phones, and then certainly teenagers, is about social media and comparison and anxiety and depression and all this stuff. If you feel like … I feel like I’m not really the person to … I don’t feel like I can tell people that if you feel good about the way you’re using your phone, if you’re communicating with your friends, sounds like a good use.

I guess my question would be, what’s the trade-off? How much time are you spending on your screen versus actually hanging out with them? Would one type of interaction be more meaningful than the other? For me, at least, I do use my phone to have some very nice interactions with people I care about, but it always would be more meaningful and rewarding if I actually just got to see them in person.

KS: What do you think about that, Louie?

Louie: Well, I definitely enjoy spending time with people a lot more than texting. I think texting is just a substitute, so I can talk to them when I’m not with them, you know?

KS: Right. Last night, you were on that phone with that lovely person, I’m not going to say who it was …

Louie: Yeah, it was my grandmother, I love talking to my grandmother. I call my grandmother every night.

KS: He does, he’s really good about that.

LG: You should cherish your grandparents.

CP: I guess the other thing, though, is like in the little universe of communication, is that interrupting other things in your life? If you get a phone call on a landline phone, you’re kind of … It wouldn’t interrupt you while you’re out having a conversation with somebody else in person, it wouldn’t interrupt you when you’re out for a walk or climbing that mountain for noble purposes.

Louie: Yes, to read “Hamilton.”

LG: Right. If you were doing homework as a teenager 20 years ago, you’d get a call on the landline phone and your parent or your sibling would pick it up and say, “She’s doing homework, can’t talk right now, bye,” but now, it’s like you could be doing …

Louie: It’s right next to me, buzzing.

LG: Yeah.

Louie: I think the only real negative consequence of it is that it does distract me from my homework sometimes. I always do finish my work in time, regardless if it’s the day before or 15 minutes before class, but I think the only real issue is that it does serve as an interruption there.

KS: What’s interesting is you leave it on a lot. He was on a Snapchat for hours last night.

Louie: What do you mean? You can’t be on a Snapchat for hours.

KS: Yeah, but you were video …

Louie: It’s FaceTime.

KS: Whatever, it kept going, it was an interesting thing.

Louie: What?

KS: I’m watching you very carefully, Louie Swisher.

CP: Not to interrupt this son/mother …

KS: Family moment.

CP: Do you and your friends have any kind of agreed upon — not explicitly that you had a conversation about it necessarily — but rules of etiquette in terms of how you interact with your phones when you’re out together in person?

Louie: No. When people are on their phones, when I’m with them, I usually just tell them to shut it off, or ask them kindly. I’m not a fan of when I’m with people if they’re on their phones, because I definitely don’t when I’m with someone, I’ll just put my phone in my pocket it, leave it there, put it on a table or something and leave it there.

KS: People are often on their phones.

Louie: It’s annoying. It does get annoying.

KS: It does.

Louie: Especially when my mom does it.

CP: What’s interesting is that I think that people always ask about this generational thing like they’re lamenting …

KS: Lack of conversation.

CP: When they were kids or whatever, but then you look at people in their 60s and 70s even, like my parents, and people … I’m kind of curious about your perspective, Louie, because it sounds like you and your friends maybe … You’re like, “Yeah, we use our phones a lot,” but you don’t feel uncomfortable calling people out when they’re being rude in person, versus …

Louie: Well, that’s just me, I think.

CP: Older couple are totally doing it. Do you think that it is just you or is that something you observe among your friends, too?

Louie: Sometimes if there’s something going on and somebody just whips out their phone, they’ll ask you to put it away or something, but I think I just personally like face-to-face interactions. I don’t really like when I’m with someone, I don’t really go on my phone, I don’t like when they go on their phone, unless it’s …

KS: Yeah. I don’t like people outside, I’ll tell you that. I do not use it walking and stuff like that. I don’t, Louie, I’m telling you. Forget it, I’m not talking to you.

Anyway, in a minute we’re going to take some questions and read some responses from our readers and listeners, and Catherine is going to answer them and Louie’s going to make rude remarks about his lovely mother.

Louie: I’m sorry, Mom. I love you.

KS: That’s okay. I love you, too. First, a short break for an ad. Lauren?

LG: Do you love me, too, Kara? Hashtag #money.


KS: We’re back with Catherine Price, the author of “How to Break Up With Your Phone.” I love the title of that book. We’re talking about tech addiction, obviously. We have a few questions and comments from our listeners. Lauren, would you like to read the first one?

LG: I would love to. The first one is from Liz Weeks, one of our loyal listeners, she says, “A lot of tech addiction literature references things like dopamine hits, but what are the measurable and/or scientific base” — I think she meant basis — “for calling this an addiction rather than a mere bad habit?” She also had a second question, but let’s answer that one first.

CP: Well, I think we touched upon that earlier when we were talking about the effects that … We do know about spending a lot of time on the internet, for example, and the issue and the challenge of how do you do brain studies on people with phones if you think it’s a negative intervention. I think, for me, what’s interesting — again, going back to the idea, okay, if you can’t study people with a negative intervention but you could study people if you thought that distraction and spending time on your phone, if that was the baseline state and you have an intervention that’s supposed to help you.

In that case, I think actually one of the people I’m really interested in, in terms of research, is Judson Brewer, this guy who’s up at the University of Massachusetts now, in the Mindfulness Center there. He’s a very experienced meditator and he does science doing brain scans of people while they’re meditating to see the activity in their brains.

There was one study in particular that I read about in which he had a kind of real-time feedback loop where people could meditate and then see their own brain activity, and you can actually see when the thought interrupted them, which is very interesting. The point that he was making more broadly was somewhat related to something I was saying before, which is that you would think that concentration would be about activating your brain in some way. Yes, there was activation in some areas, but what they really found is that when you’re really concentrating, a lot of activity is tamped down. I think it would be very interesting to do an intervention with meditation on someone who spends a lot of time on their phone and see what happens in terms of actually seeing their ability to tamp down distractions.

KS: Yeah.

LG: Yeah, that’s interesting. So, there’s some scientific evidence. There are studies being conducted, but also as you mentioned earlier, it’s also sometimes hard to get a control group because it’s hard to find someone who isn’t on their phone.

KS: Meditation study, you don’t have to … because meditation you know is good for you. All right, my question …

CP: It’s also interesting, though, just because I have heard some people, tech people, say that we’re basically in this giant societal experiment with no control, and we don’t know what we’re doing to ourselves. I do think you can draw upon other fields and research that’s been done on different technologies to be concerned.

KS: I think we’re probably in an extended version of “Black Mirror.” Liz’s second question, Lauren?

Louie: Love that show.

KS: Love that show, yeah, you do.

LG: Yeah, Liz’s second question asked whether, “It’s better to remove oneself from notifications cold turkey or should we treat this like resistance training, keep the notifications on, but manually stop ourselves from responding? I know the former can result in rebuilding concentration, but what about the latter?” This is a really good question, too, another researcher that I’ve spoken to not long ago, Larry Rosen, who co-wrote “The Distracted Mind,” I’m sure, Catherine, you’re familiar with this work. He specifically said, when I asked him, “What can you do?” He said, “Don’t think a detox will work.” Like, Kara, you went away to Mexico for a week and you said you were going to put your phone down, but that’s … Or I’m going to try it next week, but it’s one week, and is that really building better habits?

KS: Right. Right.

CP: Again, I think that we’re all tempted to come at it from this detox perspective, but I don’t think that’s the right perspective to come from because, again, it’s kind of a negative focus and it’s like a restriction in some way. Instead, I think we should be taking a broader step back and using our phones and our habits around our phones as an inspiration to ask a bigger and more general question about what do we want to spend our attention on in life? That was what I kept coming back to when I was writing the book, is that your life is what you pay attention to, metaphorically, but also, really, the only thing I’m experiencing right now in this moment is this conversation.

I’m staring at some weird wallpaper and I’m talking to you guys and I’m really enjoying it, and it’s what I’m going to remember from my day in this moment. I could be spending this time on my phone and then the phone would be my moment. Basically, any time you’re choosing what to spend your attention on, you’re making this broader choice about how you want to spend your life. That’s where I think you can make this into a positive experiment, where instead of detoxing, you’re basically using your phone and building awareness around your phone habits to try to get back in touch with your broader priorities in life, and make yourself happier and have a more meaningful life.

KS: That is a really good point. What else could you do? What else could you be doing?

CP: To me, my phone, I’m certainly still tempted by my phone. No relationship is ever going to be perfect, whether it’s with your phone or a person, but it’s been interesting to see it transition from this object of desire to something that’s really a cue for me to ask those questions.

KS: Right.

CP: If I see someone pull out a phone on the elevator, I used to pull out my phone, too, but now I see that and I notice it, and I’m like, “Huh, look at that, they’re on their phone,” and I think, “Do I want to do that?” I think, “No, I would just like to take a deep breath and just have nothing going on for this 10-second break in my life.”

KS: Ride the elevator. Oddly enough, that’s a new thing I’m doing, I don’t pull my phone out in an elevator, on purpose. I consciously put it in my pocket.

CP: So then the question is, what do you do instead? That’s the part we always forget to answer.

Louie: Listen to the music.

KS: I stare at the people on their phones and I give them …

CP: Just judge silently.

KS: Judge silently. Yeah, it’s really fun.

Louie: You could have little games, just stare them dead in the eyes and when they look back, just look away.

KS: Yeah. I told you the other thing I started doing.

Louie: What?

KS: When people are in the street, walking with their phones. When they’re walking.

CP: Oh God, I do this, too.

Louie: What do you do? You walk in front of them?

KS: No, I find it dangerous. No, what I do is, I go, “Hey!” like that, really loud. You didn’t notice I did it today, we had lunch at this place and a woman was blocking everybody, staring at their phone, moving slowly, and I go, “Put down the phone,” like that, and they get really … No one’s actually reacted badly, I have to say, they kind of feel badly for having stood there like a zombie.

Louie: That’s true. It’s kind of their fault.

KS: Yeah, they felt badly and they put down the phone, which was interesting. Anyway, it’s a nice, fun thing to do for me.

Louie: Yeah, walking down the street on your phone is probably not the best idea. I walked into many trees doing that.

KS: Please don’t do that.

CP: Yeah, just pull over. Pull over.

KS: What’s going to happen when we get self-driving cars though?

Louie: That’s going to be …

KS: That’s going to be bad, everyone’s going to be on their whatever.

Louie: Well, yeah. Wait, how? I mean, somebody’s crossing the street …

KS: Because you can text and drink at the same time, you can do anything in a car, you’re just sitting like on a bus or whatever.

Louie: So, will drunk driving be acceptable?

LG: We’ll all be wearing smart glasses.

KS: There’s no driving.

LG: Everything will just be beamed directly into our brains at that point.

KS: Yeah, there’ll be no driving. Next question is from Dan Perry, “I’m 30-something, I was ridiculed by my parents’ generation when I got my first smartphone and had it out all the time, now they have smartphones, they seem more addicted than I once was. Is it harder to quit as you get older? Do you get more addicted?” Catherine, are there any studies on this?

CP: I don’t know any particular studies that address the older generations’ smartphone habits. I’ve certainly observed that, though, and I think what immediately came to mind, to me, is that we tend to be much better at judging other people’s habits than our own.

Louie: That’s true.

CP: I’ve certainly observed that, yeah, as I was saying, my parents’ generation will lament over teenagers, and then they’re just checking their phone all the time, and I don’t think they have the same level of awareness that Louie, you were talking about, of even recognizing what they’re doing.

Yeah, I don’t think you get more addicted. I think there is something to the idea that actually younger people’s brains are still developing for the first time, so you really are shaping your brain. It’s more malleable at that point than when you’re older, but I think what us older people tend to forget is that your brain’s constantly changing, that’s how you learn things, is that your brain can change. If you’re spending four hours a day on your phone, it’s going to have an effect, spending it doing anything for four hours. Anyway, I think it affects us all, that’s …

KS: Okay, we’ll have to take out and be like getting brains when you’re dead, I’ll donate my brain to science for this.

Louie: You will?

KS: Yeah.

Louie: It’s also interesting, you’ve got to think about it, this whole thing of smartphones is very new, so we don’t know the long-term effects.

CP: Exactly.

Louie: Like we won’t know until I’m an adult or I’m in my old age what the effects of long-term cellphone usage is going to be.

CP: Then also you don’t have a baseline. I had dinner last night with some friends who actually don’t have smartphones and we were joking about how …

Louie: Where’d you find them?

CP: I know, exactly. We were joking, we were like, this is like when they find the tribe that’s been living in the jungle untouched by humanity and processed carbs, and they’re used as the control for some nutrition study. You’re going to have to find like the five people who don’t have smartphones.

KS: Do you know anyone, Lauren, that doesn’t have a smartphone?

LG: Yeah.

KS: Who?

LG: I have an aunt who doesn’t have a smartphone.

Louie: Anyone under 50?

LG: I actually gave her one of my old iPhones, so she has it. No, she’s older than that, but she does have the phone, I gave it to her, and occasionally she picks it up, I think, and does a little bit of text messaging with it, but I don’t think she’s really into the app economy or anything like that. Other than that, I’m trying to think, and no, we probably sound like a very spoiled bunch of people right now, but no, I don’t know anyone without a smartphone.

KS: No, most people have phones.

Louie: Most people have some form of a …

LG: Well, most people have phones, but in certain countries …

Louie: Yeah, how prevalent are iPhones-

LG: The tipping point has not yet reached more smartphones, right. Some are just basic phones, but yeah. No, it is. It is indeed. They’re becoming much more accessible.

KS: All over Asia, all over the world and stuff. Boy, that’ll be interesting to see how the different … Do you look at different countries’ usage, Catherine? Are there any … Because China, they use it for … almost every communication is done on WeChat, for example, and things like that.

Louie: What is WeChat?

KS: It’s the Chinese version of … If you took Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon and put them together, really.

CP: No, I didn’t do specific research in different countries, except for just recently, I was curious about the fact that there seems to be so much more talk going on about this issue, so I was searching on Google Trends for smartphone addiction and for phone addiction. It was interesting to see that the top hits for smartphone addiction, it was not U.S./Canada, it was like India, Singapore, Korea, so it was definitely … I think this is a global issue. The book actually has been translated so far into 16 languages and published in 21 countries, so I was very surprised about that. Very happy, but it’s interesting because there’s clearly … Something’s happening in the global conversation among people who have these devices, that it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

KS: Okay.

LG: Absolutely.

KS: Next question, Lauren.

LG: This question’s from Jennifer Jolly. “Hi Lauren, have any of you gone to a ‘digital detox ‘spot or retreat’? I read about adult no-text summer camps, but was wondering if there’s a long weekend place to go unplug, where you have to adhere to strict no-tech policies. I’m thinking Kara Swisher would say it’s called ‘hell.’” I’ve never been to one. If Vox Media would like to send me to one on assignment, I’m open to the challenge. Kara, would you go to something like that?

KS: I wouldn’t. Last week, I really didn’t have a lot of phone access. It was very poor and so I didn’t use it. I found the phone more useless and so I stopped using it. It was such a frustration. I think one of the things is, if you don’t have good internet access or Wi-Fi or cell reception, it changes your feelings about the phone, it becomes a brick in a lot of ways. Besides reading on it, and I didn’t even read, I read an actual book, it was just easier because plugging it in and finding places … If you remove certain elements of the phone’s usage, most especially access, it does change your relationship with it, you don’t pick it up quite as much, I think. I don’t know. Have you done that, Catherine?

CP: Well, I haven’t gone to one of the camps, although I’d actually love to. I know there’s camp, or at least there used to be Camp Grounded on the West Coast, and then the Good Life Project on the East Coast. There’s also a company, I wish I could remember the name, if she wants to connect with me on Twitter, I’d be happy to try to figure this out, but that actually rents cabins, they’re like teensy-tiny cabins on the East Coast that deliberately have no cell reception, as kind of a chance to take a break.

My experience with it has been in two different situations. One is just taking a 24-hour break where I turned off my phone and didn’t look at any screens for 24 hours, which prompted a lot of existential angst, and I think actually was a very good experiment. That actually left me feeling extremely restored and relaxed, and that’s the experience of the people who I know who have done similar, I call it a trial separation. That was very useful.

Then I’ve gotten into a tradition of organizing like an adult weekend at my former summer camp, at like a YMCA summer camp, and that just happens to be in a place where there’s no phone reception. It’s lovely, the way people are present with each other, really is quite different from how it would be, even if it was like poor reception, because no one’s trying to get reception.

KS: I’m sending Louie to a digital detox.

LG: That’s a good idea.

Louie: Do it.

LG: Send Louie and Alex to a digital detox camp.

KS: I will.

Louie: Go fishing.

KS: I will. Fishing?

Louie: I love fishing.

LG: I’m going to say the most millennial thing …

Louie: I don’t know, it’s on the East Coast, a little cabin, I thought of fishing.

KS: Fishing?

Louie: I love fishing.

KS: Fishing is the worst.

Louie: What?

LG: Fishing’s good. Can’t check your phone and fish at the same time, can you?

Louie: You know there’s apps for fishing now. I don’t know how they do it, but they say they track the fish.

CP: That’s just not fair.

Louie: Yeah, that’s not fair.

LG: Yeah, that sounds like cheating. Louie, will you come back on the show to talk about fishing apps some time?

KS: No, he will not.

Louie: I’d have to test one out.

KS: He shall not. That’ll be a huge seller, fishing apps with the … We’ll do and Louie …

Louie: Yeah, my lacrosse [coach] is a huge fisher and we can bring him on.

KS: All right, we’re stopping now.

I have two more questions left. Suzanne Horton: “I had to go lock mine in a safe while I’m on vacation for a week, best week ever,” that’s interesting, lock it in a safe and have someone else have the way to get it out, that would be interesting.

Louie: You would not make it.

LG: She said it was restorative.

Louie: You would go insane.

KS: I would not. I could get it.

Louie: I texted you, when you were on the trip.

KS: We’re going to do it.

Louie: When you went on the trip, Mom, I texted you, I was like, “Mom, you’re going to go insane,” and you’re like, “You’re right.”

KS: Yes, that’s true. What about that? The idea of physically locking away your phone?

CP: I think it’s a great idea. Again, going back to that addiction question, it’s like, “I’m not really addicted,” it’s like, we’re talking about locking them in boxes so we can’t get access to them.

KS: People do with cigarettes.

CP: Right. I think that that’s a great idea, but you don’t have to go that hardcore. For example, I have a bed for my phone, it’s actually a bed.

KS: Like Arianna Huffington has one, yeah.

Louie: What?

CP: It actually is that bed. It’s a business expense, it was $ 50 of ridiculously spent money, but I will say, the psychological effect …

KS: You plug it in, right?

Louie: Is it a tiny pillow?

KS: Yeah, it has a little pillow. Yeah.

CP: It has like satin sheets that you can use to clean its screen. It is amazing. You can do the same thing with a sock and say it’s a phone sleeping bag, right?

KS: Mm-hmm.

Louie: It has a pillow.

CP: You don’t have to spend that money. The idea is …

Louie: Put a beanbag and a sock.

CP: Find a place that your phone sleeps at night and make it consistent, and decide upon that ahead of time so that you’re not constantly faced with the decision of, “Am I bringing my phone into my bedroom tonight?” Then in your bedroom, make sure you put something that’s going to replace your phone, because you’re just going to go back to your phone if you don’t figure out what you want to use your time on.

KS: That’s interesting.

Louie: You could put that block of wood that you got.

KS: Yeah.

CP: Yes. Oh, actually, with the block of wood, what I want to do with that is, I want to take it out on the elevator and start pretending to text someone and then see if anyone notices.

Louie: Just hit it and go, “There’s no reception in here, there’s no reception.”

CP: “Can you hear me?”

KS: You would totally fit in in San Francisco, just so you know. In that case, Arianna Huffington tried to give me a phone bed and I declined her kind invitation of a phone bed, but she has one with like six … Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there are six phones at once in it.

Louie: Whoa.

KS: Whoa, exactly. One of the things is wanting to get in touch now. I have a job where people do need to get in touch with me and so, I know you’re always on, but I like when my kids text that I get right back to them and stuff like that, what about that kind … Maybe you don’t really need to get back to anybody, when you think about it.

CP: Well, first of all, we’re all less important than we think we are.

KS: That is true.

CP: That’s one thing. Second, you can do a lot of adjustments with your settings, going back to that notification question, which I did not answer. I do think you should turn off as many notifications as you can. And why bother with resistance training or trying to resist a notification? Doesn’t that just sound like torture?

KS: Yep.

CP: If you’re really into masochism or whatever, maybe you could do that, but make it easy for yourself, remove the temptation. I think you should remove the notifications, I only let them in for text messages because I don’t have that many people texting me.

KS: Yep, me too.

CP: Phone calls, it’s a real person trying to call me, which is normally just my husband or my mother, and then … What’s the other one? Oh, and calendar, although I hate using the calendar on my phone. And Uber.

In terms of how to deal with a job or a situation where you do need to have people get in touch with you, two ideas. You can set a VIP list for your email so that people whose emails you actually want to be notified about actually get to you, but everything else does not bother you. You can do the same thing for phone calls and for texts. You can set an auto response for text messages that says, “I am away from my phone,” basically, “And I will get back to you when I return,” so you don’t have to worry about keeping people hanging. Lastly, if you’re putting your phone to bed for the night and you’re like, “Oh God, I’m going to miss a call,” just turn the ringer on, then it becomes a landline where you can step away from it, but you know you’re going to hear the call.

Another idea to change your habits at home is just to make a point of only using your phone if it’s plugged in, because then you have to go and physically move yourself to use the phone, and separate yourself from the situation.

KS: Yeah, people don’t remember that. People don’t remember that idea of being stuck next to a wall or table.

CP: Yes, exactly, twirling the cable. I have a family challenge for you guys, which is that it would be really interesting to see if you guys can compete against each other, to see how much time you spend off of your phones. You can either do that just by keeping track, or there’s an app I found out about called Flipd that lets you have a leaderboard, and you can actually see who’s spending less time.

Then if you find your mother cheating, or the other way, and they take their phone out of the group basket where your phone should be sleeping, then you have a penalty, where you have to pay a certain amount of money, and then whoever loses this challenge, the money goes towards a group fun experience.

Louie: That’s fun, but in the end, I think it’d just be Kara’s money, my mother’s money, being dished around. I don’t have a job.

KS: I can totally win.

Louie: You’d win regardless. I don’t have a job.

KS: Right, that’s true. You’re going to get a job now. Now, you’re getting a job.

Louie: Once I get a job, we’ll do that.

KS: All right.

CP: Yours can just be like favors to your mother, like making the bed or doing something else that would be the equivalent, a small thing that you don’t want to do.

KS: Catherine, we’re going to do this.

Okay, last question. Lauren, why don’t you ask the last one, which is kind of interesting.

LG: Sure, yeah. It’s not so much a question as it is a comment from @JeffWPa on Twitter, “I broke up with HQ Trivia, it was no fun losing.” It sounds like Jeff was suffering the negative consequences of playing HQ.

KS: That is an addictive game.

Louie: I played it twice. I played it twice.

KS: And you didn’t want to keep playing?

Louie: I don’t know. I don’t want to play it.

KS: Okay.

Louie: I know I’m going to lose.

KS: Yeah. So, do you think those addictive games, Catherine, any thoughts on those?

CP: Oh, sure. That’s the definition of a slot machine on your phone, it’s designed to make you want to play. I had someone suggest something to me for games that I thought was useful, which was that, because this guy who liked games, I don’t really play them on my phone, but he was like, “Delete the app after you play, and then any time you want to start again, just reinstall the game.”

Granted, that’s going to ruin whatever track record you had, but are you really going to judge your self worth on how far you got in Candy Crush? So, that way, he was able to use it when it was a conscious choice and he really wanted to, and he would derive enjoyment from the game, but it wasn’t just starting at him in the face every time he turned his phone on to look at Google Maps or something like that.

KS: Right. Right. All right, so to end this episode, Lauren, I want each of us to promise to do something in the next couple of weeks, to … Lauren, what will you do?

CP: Oh, can I specify that a little bit more?

KS: Sure. Yeah.

LG: Yes.

CP: Something that you’re going to do to use your phone less, in other words, like remove a trigger that’s making you reach for your phone, but also figure out something you’re going to do instead, and how you’re going to make it more likely for you to do it. For example, like the take it out of your bedroom but put the book on your bedside table kind of thing.

KS: All right, Lauren, you go first.

LG: Okay, I am not going to check my phone at all in the bedroom for the next couple weeks. Once I enter the bedroom, I’m going to put the phone on the night table and I’m not going to look at it from that point. I either have to look at physical media or I have to go to sleep.

CP: You’re going to fail because it’s going to be on your night side table. Fail.

LG: But I put it on do not disturb mode sometimes, and I do that with my wearable at night, too, because I wear a watch to bed. Then when I wake up … I guess when I’m on vacation, what I’m going to have to do is when I wake up, I’m going to have to put the phone in the kitchen or something, and then I’ll wake up and I’ll shuffle on over, but I can’t check it in the bedroom. I don’t know, does that make sense? Not checking it in the bedroom.

KS: Kitchen phone. Kitchen phone. All right, Louis? What are you going to do?

Louie: I think I’m going to do the elevator thing.

KS: You’re never in an elevator.

Louie: Yeah, because I take the stairs.

KS: No, come on.

Louie: I think I’m pretty good with it already.

KS: No, you are not pretty good with it.

Louie: Okay, fine. I’ll use it less during homework time.

KS: All right, good, homework time.

Louie: There you go.

KS: Put it another room.

Louie: No.

KS: Oh, all right. Put it where?

LG: And how much less? How are you going to quantify that?

Louie: I’ll focus on my homework.

KS: All right, but you have to turn it off. Maybe turn it off during your homework time, off, completely. Come on, Louie, commit. One week.

Louie: Maybe.

CP: Or just set yourself like you’re going to be away from it for like 40 minutes, and then you’re going to spend five minutes on it …

Louie: That’s probably true, just put it across the room or something.

KS: All right, so we’re going to try the Flipd thing, too. Then my thing is, I’m going to not put the phone … Not look at it first thing in the morning, put it somewhere else. I’ll put it somewhere else at night, because that’s really, I think, a problem, I look at it right when I get up. I do use it for an alarm wake-up, and so it’s useful that way.

CP: Yeah. Well, that’s another thing, so many people do that and that would be another really tangible suggestion, get an alarm clock. Think about it, you have to touch the alarm clock to get it to stop alarming, so you’re guaranteeing your phone will be the first thing you touch in the morning.

KS: That’s right, exactly. That’s one useful aspect of a phone, there’s so many useful aspects, and that is …

CP: Well, it is, yeah, but it’s something like, how much does an alarm clock … I think the benefit of that particular feature on the phone is far outweighed by the negatives that come from touching your phone first thing in the morning.

KS: 100 percent. I’m buying an alarm clock. We’re going to go right now and buy an alarm clock, Louie Swisher.

Louie: See, we tried the alarm clock thing in eighth grade and I just unplugged it because it was so damn annoying.

KS: You did. You did, indeed, you did. I’m going to try that.

Anyway, Catherine, I really appreciate this, this has been a great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. It’s also an important issue and I do, as much as I love my phone, and I really do, it is an important episode because …

Louie: Kids, phone.

KS: Kids, phone. No, kids are top.

Louie: No, I know. Kids, No. 1. Phone, No. 2.

KS: Yeah. Lauren, No. 3.

Louie: Yeah, and Lauren, No. 3.

LG: Oh, I’m realistic, I’m like No. 62, but that’s okay, Kara.

KS: 61.

LG: You’re still my favorite.

Louie: Oh, 61, promoted.

KS: You’re 61. Promoted. Anyway, Catherine, we really appreciate you being here today.

CP: Yeah, I really enjoyed our conversation. Just as a last thing, I created lots of resources, like free resources, for people on the book’s website, which is phonebreakup.com, including … Oh, this is something else you could do together, you sign up for the online phone breakup challenge, which is a series of emails meant to accompany you as you go through the book, and some lockscreen downloads that you can use to say things like, “Do you really want to pick me up right now?” So that you can create a little speed bump for yourself. Yeah, it was lovely talking to you guy.

KS: Yeah, those are important. Great. Those are actually important.

LG: That’s a great idea, I am going to download that wallpaper.

KS: Yep.

LG: That is such a good idea. Everyone go to phonebreakup.com.

KS: Right.

LG: Also, leave us a review on iTunes.

KS: Absolutely.

LG: Catherine, thank you so much for being on the show.

CP: Thank you very much and good luck, I’d love to stay in touch over our phones.

LG: Just message me. Snapchat me.

Recode – All

Full transcript: Writer and political lightning rod Lauren Duca on Recode Media

Her Teen Vogue column about Trump and gaslighting catapulted her career.

On this episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, journalist Lauren Duca talks about her trajectory from her college paper to having a column in Teen Vogue that catapulted her into national attention. Her kerfuffle with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson increased her Q-factor even more, and the essay that started it all, “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,” written before he even took office, is, she says, “still true” today.

You can read some of the highlights from the interview here, or listen to it in full in the audio player above. Below, we’ve provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversations.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That’s me. I’m part of the Vox Media podcast network. I’m here at Vox Media headquarters in New York City. By the time this episode comes out, Code Media will be over. I was promoting Code Media for many weeks, now it’s done, so make sure to go to recode.net for all our coverage. There’s videos, there’s podcasts, write-ups of the interviews. It’s an amazing event, I can tell you that now, even though I’m talking about it in the future. Go read it. I want to say thanks to everyone who came.

Okay, that’s the host promotion of the event that happened. Here’s the thing that’s happening now. I’m talking to Lauren Duca, live, in person.

Lauren Duca: Hi.

Hi, Lauren.

How are you?

I’m excellent. I’m delighted to meet you in person.


I’ve been reading about you for a year plus.

That vast 15 minutes before I got in here.

How do people … No, no, no, no, no. A year ago I said, “We’ve got to get Lauren Duca on the podcast,” then we missed our window. You are the person who rose to national consciousness for writing a single article for teenvogue.com.

That’s true.

Everyone knows the article, but tell us what the headline of the article was.

Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America.” It’s still true.

It is the definition of a viral piece of content.

Oh, gosh. You know, there’s like numbers on it, and I had thought, based on the numbers that I had been taught at HuffPost that I had gone viral before, but my joke about this is it’s like an orgasm, when you know, you know.

You knew.

This was very different. It was a good tidal wave. I mean, the sheer magnitude of reactions. I still kind of haven’t gotten over it. It’s still kind of going.

That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re talking about it.

Then there was the Tucker Carlson incident.

Then there was Tucker.

And then Tucker Carlson kept a light alive for you for many months.

Yeah, he’s done follow-up pieces like my violent tweets. I’m a part of a violent left turn.

That is what I want to talk about. I want to talk about how you rocketed into public consciousness. A lot of people’s lives have been changed by Donald Trump. A lot of people in the media business, it’s been a good thing for them. Obviously, there’s a whole threat to democracy and threat to the press. For a lot of people in the press, their career has been made by Donald Trump. I think you are sort of maybe the best example of that. Is that fair?

That’s nice. I think that it definitely is unnerving to acknowledge that fact. It’s very bizarre. I talked to Jon Lovett about this when I did Pod Save, the idea that like suddenly you have this success and this giant platform, but it’s commenting on fighting back against this horrible, awful thing, and it’s just … There’s not really ever any joy in it.

The Pod Save interview guys are a little bit in that boat.

Similarly, yeah. Also, people who have been taken off into notoriety, rightfully so, but like because of the way they’re helping people to make sense of this moment.

I want to talk about all that, and I want to go back and explain how you got there, but just so we’re clear about what you’re doing now, you’re writing for Teen Vogue? There’s a monthly column? No?

There’s a monthly column and some other big projects.

Some other big projects that I can’t talk about, all right. Secret projects.

They’re TK.

That’s a journalism shorthand. That’s good. All right. I’m glad I didn’t break an embargo. What were you doing before people learned about you from the gaslighting story?

That’s a great question. I think back on the before times, which I think a lot of people have that experience in a lot of different ways post-Trump, but I wanted to be kind of a scientist of pop culture. I would kind of cheekily say I wanted to do like comedic anthropology, just kind of deeply reported soft-cultural journalism.

You were a journalist.

Yeah, that was my long-term goal was just doing more of that, you know.

You were living in New York?

Yes, and I was writing really cool pieces.

A couple of years out of school, right?

Yeah. I worked for the Huffington Post at first. So, for some examples, I had also a column called Middlebrow at HuffPost, which was pop culture analysis. The thing I like to emphasize is that I think that that kind of really paved the way in a very clear … It paved the way for me to be writing about politics, because I was doing these breakdowns of sociopolitical issues using larger-than-life figures of pop stars, and my characters were Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian, and it was parsing through all of these different iterations of modern feminism and what does empowerment look like and what does exploitation look like. These giant figures were kind of like taking ownership of the term in a very literal way when I was writing between 2013 and 2015.

Can I take one or two sentences …

Let me finish my thought, which is that …

Oh, I feel like Tucker now.

No. … that now I just think that I’m doing that same thing but my characters are politicians, and it’s just working in a different space and making things accessible. That’s kind of the work that I continue to do just in a traditionally political setting, but it was always political.

Waiting. Okay, now.


What I want to do is get just a sense of how you got into writing to begin with, because you’re a couple of years … You went to Fordham?

I did, 2013.

2013, so I’m always astonished by people who leave college and go right to New York and are writing and are working, because for me it took me a bunch of years to sort of like bumble my way into feeling like, “Oh, I think I could go live in New York and see if I can make it happen,” and, “How am I going to pay my rent?” and, “How is it going to work?”

It helps that Fordham is in New York.

So, you’re already in New York. It seemed like a logical place to go, and writing also seemed like a logical thing to do, because that always seems incredibly intimidating, from where I grew up, which is the Midwest, looking at New York. How would one find purchase there? How do you get started? How do you start writing? Flip side of things is maybe it’s easier than ever to start, because people will let you write for free on the internet, or for very little money. How did you crack it?

Yeah, everything … I think I was just running head first towards writing as a thing, and then a bunch of stuff happened. So I was writing for the paper at Fordham, literally lowercase “the paper.” It’s like the irreverent alternative newspaper, and kind of being a shit-stirrer there, honestly. I was just writing kind of … I was coming to terms with my feminism, and interrogating that through kind of op-eds and doing very proto-Troglodyte version of the kind of stuff I eventually felt up to doing.

Did you have a role model, “I want to be like so-and-so? This is the kind of writing I want to replicate?”

Yeah. You know, it’s funny because I liked different writers for different reasons, but I didn’t have somebody I wanted to perfectly emulate. I mean, at the time I was definitely head-over-heels for David Sedaris. I was a freshman in college, you know. We’ve all been there. Jessica Valenti was life-changing for me. She kind of gave me the definition of feminism, reading her work. Those are two radically different things.

That’s awesome. Jessica Valenti’s husband works over there.

Oh, hey. Hey, Jessica’s husband. I like, I guess, the way both of their work was that, you know, Jessica was making concepts accessible, empowering her readers with information, and then the just joy of David’s writing. I wanted to build a voice that kind of had this like righteous, ethical purpose to it.

Then, you get out of college, you think, “Where can I publish this stuff?”

I was publishing it in the paper and people were getting excited about it, and I think what made me realize it was good and possibly meant to be, was the kind of people that were noticing it. Bro-y finance guys, my unlikely friends, that just were like, “Wow, like I really see X issue differently because of you.”

Fordham dudes?

Yeah, and like guys who maybe wouldn’t have listened to me while we were drinking but like were reading my articles and being moved by them. It felt like the thing.

And then there was internships, I guess, kind of, that built into other internships. It started with, actually, Allure. I was like a delivery person, you know, for a summer, just …

That’s kind of the original internship. Get someone else food.

Well, no. No, no, no. I wish I was getting food. Tom Ford one time made a chainmail shirt and, I don’t know, it must have weighed about 50 pounds, and I just thought it was so hot, and you were trying to dress cute, you’re at like a beauty magazine, and I would just be drenched. I remember one time the internship coordinator was like, “Oh, it’s chilly in here.” I was like, “Yeah, do you have any deodorant?” It was hell. And then I guess from that I worked for the local paper in the Bronx, the Norwood News, so that was some actual reporting jobs and covering town halls.

The Kingsbridge Armory, which remains this empty, hollow, economic sin. It could be so much for the people of the Bronx, and like years ago as a college reporter I was distraught over this, and I have tried to pitch this to so many mainstream publications and everyone’s like, “It’s not really … You know, it’s not a big enough thing.” It’s like this languishing space, so that was Norwood News.

Then New York Magazine, which was a great internship. I will say … People always complain about internships, but they paid you some, not much, but they paid you by the hour, and I actually learned there. Like, they wanted to teach me how to do things, which was cool.

Internships are great if you can afford them.

Internships are great if you can afford them, so it was paid, so that was excellent. That’s how you can afford to do it, if they’re not free.

Yeah, and then even still, financials aside, what is someone going to do with the fact that there’s someone who wants to learn? Are they going to teach you there or are they going to send you out for food? Are they going to give you an opportunity?

They did. That was a very good one, and then I was a fellow at HuffPost. It kind of built out of that.

“Fellow” is like a next rung up, in between intern and …

It was basically an intern. They had chosen to call it something else.

I think Vox does some of those, as well.

Yeah, and then we’re back to my big thing about the Middlebrow, kind of, I think.

So, you did not find it difficult to sort of get through New York media? It seems like you bounced around, but always sort of up?

Yeah. No, it definitely went well. I mean, I think maybe I’m good at this.

That’s great. The gaslighting piece struck people for a bunch of different reasons. Like you’ve said in the past, a lot of them are condescending, like, “I can’t believe that Teen Vogue has a grown-up writing about these president things,” but it really is a fully formed voice.

Thank you.

It takes usually people a long time to sort of get to that, and this is all just sort of self-taught, and figuring it out, and writing, and?

It’s interesting, because I think that I really appreciate that, because I do feel like I’ve had to kind of refine my views in a really public way this year, so that’s been hard. Because it’s one thing to know something and it’s another thing to be putting it out on a platform that at times is dragged by Fox News and a hairpiece. There’s danger, and there is risk, and there are bald-faced efforts to take me down. That is a level of stress that’s, aside from the death and rape threats, so it’s crazy. I’ve had to be really sure about everything I say and my ethics as a journalist and my political views and the way those things intersect, because I’m definitely both an activist and a journalist, and what does that mean? That’s tricky.

I’ve had to do it on a public stage. But, I’m really proud, and now I am like fireproof. I’m unshakeable. I know exactly where I come down. I have rules and logical proofs for how I conduct myself and how I do my writing and also what I share on social media. It’s something I’ve been really intense, and has been honed on a public stage, but I do think I have always been kind of strong-willed and really vigorous about gathering information and finding the way to be confident in expressing myself.

I think it partly comes from my parents voting for Trump, having that Republican background and being told my progressivism was silly and not something to be taken seriously, so I think I spent a lot of time before I was ever writing in any capacity, really, getting the receipts for why I believe what I believe, and that’s a lot of what I do now.

I think about this idea a lot, that if you’re trying to get into journalism, you’re trying to get into media, in some ways it’s easier than ever, because there’s tweet, blog, Medium. People will pay you to write. People will pay you not very much money to write. They’ll take your stuff for free. You can get access to a public stage really quickly in some cases, but then you’re on the public stage.

I have a very good idea what I was doing when I was 23 and 24 and 25 and 26, and I’m glad there was no camera, or at least nothing digitally attached. I still fuck up publicly, but I’ve had a long time to sort of like work out some edges and realize what the boundaries are and what things I can say and can’t say. For someone like you to be shot out in the media … We can go back to how you got to Fox News and all that. Again, it’s something, I think most people would really struggle with it. When you wrote the Trump piece, did you know immediately this was a hit? What was the gap between publication and “Oh, my god.”

Yeah. Well, it’s funny, because I have a standing desk because I have back pain. I was at my standing desk as if it was like a command center, just announcing when there would be another … Dan Rather had posted something, or whatever. Totally bonkers.

Was it immediately, like it went out and then, boom. What was the gap between it going out and it catching? Where did it first pick up?

I think it was a couple of hours. By the afternoon. I went out to dinner that night, and by that time I was like, “I have had a viral piece.”

It was people spreading it on Twitter, and then it went from there, or where did it pick up? I’m sure you were watching, right, on ChartBeat or something to that effect?

Not really, no. Now it seems silly that I wasn’t. No, I don’t really know. I don’t know. It was kind of … The thing is, I expected it to do well, so it was like almost sudden when I realized it was doing a different kind of well. It was like, “This is not just …”

Was it Dan Rather?

I think Dan Rather.

What was the indicator? Dan Rather reached out.

Literally, Dan Rather is what was going on. That was overwhelming. I mean, yeah.

Are you getting feedback from the Teen Vogue people? Are they …

Yeah. I mean, I’m kind of on for the weekend, so I’m the one that would have been giving the feedback.

Giving feedback to yourself, saying, “Great job.”

“Lauren, this is Lauren. We have a hit.” Yeah.

Is there a playbook for this like, “Oh, you wrote this thing, now …”

I think what’s very interesting is that then there have been a lot of other things that have happened. So that took off and then Tucker, but then there have also been smaller things, and I think ways that people have found my voice that have given me exponential growth even over the course of this year.

I find it cool to think of it in terms of numbers, which is before it took off I had 23,000 followers and then it was like double immediately after “Gaslighting.”

On Twitter?

To like 45 or something, and then after Tucker it doubled again, and then was 80 something, so it’s like literal exponential growth. Now, I have 400,000, just to give you a sense of how much “Duel of the Fates” plays whenever I open my mentions. It’s just the level of feedback from people who love me — and hate me. Every day has just been mounting, and people will come in … Maybe somebody will hear me on this podcast and decide they love or hate me, but there’s a lot of other little smaller things, none of which have been as big as “Gaslighting,” but it wasn’t just like this thing changed it. There’s been a building, and I’ve been having to navigate who I am while people are finding out who I am.

I want to ask you about Tucker. I want to ask you about Twitter. First, I want to hear from an advertiser. We’ll be right back.


I’m back here with Lauren Duca. Of course you know I’m with Lauren Duca, because you listened to the first part of the interview and now we’re here. It’s not radio. It’s fake radio. We were talking about Tucker Carlson. We mentioned it several times. Again, I think if you’ve listened to this, at this point you know about the Tucker Carlson incident, but in case you haven’t, I want to play a clip of Lauren and Tucker. This is what, a week or so after the first piece comes out?

The piece was on the 10th, and Tucker was the 23rd.

First of all, Fox News calls and says, “Would you like to go on with Tucker Carlson?” You say, “Yes,” immediately or, “No”? How do you get there?

The funny thing is, Tucker Carlson is now such a giant, bloated thing in the public mind, but I barely knew who he was. I knew of the Jon Stewart “partisan hack” thing. I deliberately called him a partisan hack as an echo of that. That’s what I watched to get like pumped up to go on. I thought, though … I was hoping it was going to be … It was about Ivanka, the plane nonsense, and I just thought that was a lot of noise, and I was hoping to be able to move past his expectation, which I assumed was me defending her harasser because he was gay or some completely muddled logic of how liberals think, or whatever. I don’t identify as a liberal, but this is the context.

Then, I thought we would say, “Well, what is her power? How can we hold her accountable?” Rare, you know, rational discourse on Fox News, and he wasn’t prepared, so I think he brings in these lambs to slaughter, and he brings in what he sees as easy targets for him to kind of perform this bonkers like William F. Buckley at a frat party character.

So, you didn’t know exactly what his shtick was, but you knew him as Fox News so you knew what you were getting into. Did you have any hesitation about, “Well, I’m me and this is Fox News and, obviously, they’re going try to get some effect here.”

Yeah, I don’t think I understood how hostile. I don’t know how to explain how I didn’t know that, but I didn’t. I was actually shocked by it.

I think we have a clip of Tucker being hostile and you being shocked. Let’s go to it.

Tucker Carlson: What position that she holds do you disagree with?

I disagree with her providing a surrogacy for her father based on an empowerment of women, when that is an inherent disconnect between his campaign and his beliefs.

Tucker Carlson: You agree with her, but because she supported her dad, she is somehow fair game.

I did not say I precisely align with her …

Tucker Carlson: I’m trying to understand what you’re saying.

You’re not …

Tucker Carlson: What that she believes don’t you believe?

Tucker, you’re not trying to agree with what I’m saying, you’re shouting over me every time I speak. It’s incredibly unprofessional.

Tucker Carlson: I’m asking you a simple question …

You’re not.

Tucker Carlson: … which is …

You’re not.

Tucker Carlson: … why is she fair game?

You’re actually being a partisan hack who is just attacking me ad nauseum …

Tucker Carlson: Oh, I’m being a partisan hack.

… and not even allowing me to speak.

[end clip]

Okay. So, you didn’t know what you were getting into, then five minutes into it you figured out what you were getting into. You have the partisan hack line. It’s a 10-minute segment.

Which is long, by the way.

It’s long. It’s great, because then it’s got the split-screen of Tucker, and he’s so pleased with himself, and you’re there. Did you know when you got off that’s a thing?

Oh yeah. Well, so first you hear from the Pepes, first the Pepes come, you know. the alt-right.

Because they watched it live.

Totally, because they did it live, so I was worried at first. Once Media Eye picked up the clip then there was a conversation about it in which … It’s actually so amazing, if you look up this clip the way that they’re titled, like it’s just this beautiful sketch of confirmation bias. There’s ones where it’s like I had a stroke on national television, and then there’s others where I’m a feminist hero, and it just depends who made the video.

So, you get out of studio. You think, “I did well”?

No, no. I got out of the studio and I thought I’d had a stroke, and then once the Media Eye went up then I was getting the hero feedback, so it was definitely scary for a solid half hour. Actually, my literary agent saw it at first, or saw reactions to it in the immediate wake of it, and she was like, “Oh, God, what did she do?” Without actually looking at it at first before I could clearly enter it into the Twittersphere it was kind of worrisome.

So, you become famous for writing something online, then you become more famous for going on TV and fighting with the Fox News host, or defending yourself against the Fox News host.

Well, I don’t know that it’s fighting with him. It’s funny, because I had a friend tell me that he didn’t think I was giving my … He explained to me my own accomplishment, but I respected what he said, which was, he was like, “You didn’t just like demolish Tucker, you were able to make a point that resonated with people in an anti-journalistic, sexist, actively hostile environment,” and I was like, “I love that interpretation of it,” but I didn’t come up with it.

Again, did you have any experience sort of sparring on national TV, or no?

No. No.

Again, you really, you looked like someone who has done this a lot.

No, I hadn’t. I had not done it a lot. Also, I was shaking after. I mean, I was so … And, so were the people taking off my mic and stuff. I felt terrible, because as much as Fox News seems like the enemy, these are just people working their jobs, and they were all so … Everyone was very uncomfortable, and I was just trying to, you know, “Okay, well, thank you,” and keeping my head down, and then I got to the door and I was like, “Okay, well, Happy Holidays,” because it was 23rd and then I was like, “I’m at Fox. Merry Christmas!” at vaguely breakdown level. Bill-Murray-in-”Scrooged”-type of screaming.

Yeah, I have the adrenaline going now just thinking about it.

Merry Christmas.

It seems like that’s the occasion where you go, “I need a drink,” and you go have something that involves liquor and an ice cube. Is there is a thought at some point, “Oh, okay, I’m on the trajectory. The next step is …” What’s the thing above this? Or, “How do I extend this?”

Well, no, no. I just want to write, and people have offered me a lot of weird things, and crazy things, and, oh God, I wish I could say … Well, some network asked me if I wanted to be — this is recent, people are crazy — if I wanted to be an extra in an insane asylum, like in a movie. They were like, “It’s a movie about a powerful female journalist, and wouldn’t it be fun for you to have a walk-on bit?” I’m like, “In an insane asylum?” Like, they’ll literally make mugs of that in the Breitbart store. Like are you, “What!?” There’s always these weird …

And there’s TV things. I want to write, and I have a kind of storytelling I want to do and a kind of a particular kind of work I want to do. If there becomes an opportunity that fits for doing that work organically I will do it, but I really …

It took me a long time to remember that just because I’m young doesn’t mean every time somebody in a position of authority calls me in for a meeting, I do not need to take the meeting. I learned it in this really violent way, which was I was being rushed all over town for people like just being like, “You. You, what’s happening with you?” Like, “Certainly you know who we are at X, like, legacy publication.” It’s like, “What’s happening here? What are you even offering me? What are we talking about?” I think because I’m a young woman people think that they can just be like, “Get her in here, see what she’s about,” and then make me feel like I’m being tested, when I, you know, sat on the delayed stupid subway to get here, whatever. Anyway, it’s not a big deal. It’s cool, but it’s also I was confused by it and I was disoriented by it.

One such meeting, I was lost and I couldn’t … Like Google Maps was not being my friend, and I went into this building to ask directions and it was like this artsy building with these like glass walls, and this beautiful, mean woman didn’t want to talk to me at all, so I spun to run out of the place and I went right into the glass door, like a bird, and I split open my nose. The funny thing about when you cut your face is that you bleed a lot, so it was finally … I ended up being fine, but it was so much blood.

Then, I still went to the meeting, which is so crazy to me, in retrospect. I was on the street and I just have blood flowing out of my face and I just like don’t realize how bad it is. I’m trying to get someone to tell me where to go, and then I end up, they like give me ice at reception, and I’m holding ice on my nose, which is still bleeding, just like sitting across from some important someone at a desk just like, “I need to find my center, and this is a mess.”

By the way, you worked at Conde Nast, right? You are working at Conde Nast, so it’s not like …

No, freelance.

You’ve been exposed to that world, right?

Yeah, but I didn’t understand.

But not this way.

Well, I mean, I think when you’re young, like when you’re at the start of your career, you’re very much like writing is hard, and there is this sense of it as a starvation economy, and it’s very hard to get a gig and work, especially coming off of freelancing for a year, but it was not as easy as it is now. You’re used to being like, “I want anything they’ll give me,” and it took me a long time to kind of transition out of that, like, “Take the meeting, take the phone call,” and sit back and figure out what I want instead of having people tell me what I want.

Because I think that it’s easy to get swept up in a lot of smoke and mirrors, and I realized I finally … I had an opportunity to be doing the kind of work I wanted to be doing. I didn’t want something flashier instead. It wasn’t A to Z. As long as I can keep writing, that’s what’s important.

I feel honored you took my call. I emailed you, actually.

Well, I love podcasts because you can actually breathe a little.

We’re breathing. We’re breathing. So, did you go to someone and say, “I need an agent, I need a manager, I need someone to guide me through this, I need someone to take the calls I’m not taking”?

“Gaslighting” came out of a book proposal, so I had an agent, and I wrote “Gaslighting” in the wake of the election. It took like two days of just a lot of coffee and a lot of wine, and I wrote this kind of like pop culture analysis of reported pieces on what I saw as factors of him coming to be, and then “Gaslighting” was the sample.

When that took off there became a lot of options with this book project, which is still something I’m working on, but it’s not formally announced. That for me was and is the primary focus. I also felt really good about the fact that I found somebody who believed in me and my work before everything took off.

So, you have a professional person you have a professional relationship with, and you can sort of route stuff through that person?

Yes, and my lit agent was in place before “Gaslighting,” so I really trust her. I feel like she actually has my best interests, and knows what I wanted before …

She knew you before you were Lauren Duca?

The before-times, yeah.

What about Twitter? You mentioned it a bunch.

Oh, God, have I?

Yeah, you said, you know, “I’ve watched my Twitter followers increase over time,” and you’ve talked repeatedly about what a cesspool it can be, and threats. One of the themes the last couple years in the coverage I’ve been paying attention to is the power of Twitter, and how unpleasant it can be especially for women to be on there, how threatening it can be. A lot of people have quit Twitter. I just read a piece by Lindy West from the Times saying, “I’ve been off Twitter for a year. It’s been great.”

Good for her.

It seems like you are still very actively engaged. I mean, clearly, I emailed you. You said you’d come on, and then you said you were upset because I wasn’t following you on Twitter, so I’m following you on Twitter.


Sorry to expose that. It’s great. You’re a great Twitterer. You’re great. You had a great Jerry Seinfeld joke, which synced up with me. I copied it down here. “I’m convinced that Jerry Seinfeld is the world’s most affable sociopath.”

He totally is.

It’s from Coffee with Cars, right?

It’s eerie almost. Twitter is … I’m obsessed with Twitter. I definitely need to be careful with how I expose myself to a lot of just frankly unnatural nastiness.

You’re a woman on Twitter, you’re engaged in politics on Twitter, you’ve gone on Fox News, so all these things that are going to incent the creepiest, most sort of awful people to sort of hover around you and harass you on Twitter.

Yeah, but I guess I want to emphasize, too, that like I do … Twitter is a huge tool in my career, and it got me a lot of work, it got me … The initial gig at Teen Vogue came from Phillip Picardi DMing me on Twitter, and now I independently have my own channel that doesn’t rely on a network, so I can be bolder and take risks and say things, and I don’t have to worry if I piss off some ass-covering outlet because I am working for myself. And I have a following that’s sizable enough that I will be able to continue to do the work in some capacity, which is really, really important.

So, you just said for Lindy West, “Good luck not being on Twitter.” For you, you think you have to be on Twitter. It’s an essential component of your work?

I think that Lindy West has been on the front lines eating shit from ugly, awful people for years and I respect her right to take a break, but I could never imagine getting off of it. I just think that the thing that pisses people off about me so much a lot of times is just that I’m speaking out at all, so I’m definitely not going to stop.

What are your survival tips and tricks and gambits?

I have a dog, and I listen to Donna Summer, and just cuddle her in the fetal position. No, I mean, there’s times when, honestly, it is awful, and I think that it’s something that is … It’s like, science doesn’t fully understand. We haven’t been humans online for that long, and the way this stuff affects us.

Even though the person behind the screen is going through this act of dehumanization, like of separating you from who you are to be able to say these impossibly awful things, you don’t have that same vent up, and so you actually feel that act. I think that that has been the most disorienting thing is that, almost in both directions, like the way people weigh in on what I say and what I do, from thinking of me as like an entity is really, really disorienting, and it’s just something that I don’t have … There’s nothing who can tell you like, “Here’s what it’s like,” when you’re disembodied from your true self for public consumption.

You know, it’s a whole … Without an apparatus, right, because there have been famous people in the past, but usually, right, they’re a movie star or they’re a something and they have teams and a thing that sort of put them out there. You’re solo.

Also, people hate them less. My mom actually doesn’t understand social media at all, but she shook me to my core with this comment where she said she saw Ed Sheeran on the “Today Show” or something, and he said he got so much crap on social media and he can’t take it, and she said, “Lauren, I thought of you and thought, ‘He doesn’t even have any political opinions,’” and I was just absolutely floored by that, because, “Yeah, Mom.”

Yeah, and he’s a dude, and he’s got a label with a manager, and he’s got a lot of buffer there.

Protection. Yes, yes.

You’re out there.

Right, and he’s making money.

I’m looking around here at your imaginary team. You’re here solo.

Thanks, Gretchen.

I was struck. I was going through your archives. You gave the commencement speech at Simon’s Rock, which I had to look up, at Bard. You’ve got an astonishing thing in there that you say, “It’s been four years now,” this was last year, “and I’ve hurdled over every item in my five-year plan.”


That’s an astonishing thing to be able to say.

Yeah, yeah.

Four years out of college.

I had no idea it was ever going to be like this, so yeah. I don’t know, it’s cool.

Have you thought through the next five years?

Do you think we have five years?

Yeah, I’m a relentless optimist, he said, smirking. Yeah, I think it’s gonna work out.

Yeah. I think that … No, no, I don’t know. Short answer.

Okay. You have more news to tell us about but not on this podcast, so we will follow your Twitter account. Instagram, Snap?

Never Instagram.

Telegram, no.

No. Just …

You like words.

Yeah, no. My dog’s really cute, you know. I feel like it would be a couple of days before she was drinking green tea, shitting all over the place.

I want to leave this interview on that note, because there’s nothing better than that. Lauren Duca, you’re awesome. Thank you for coming on my podcast.

Recode – All