Perfect, and I think we're rolling. Okay, so Alistair,please do a clap for me when I say, anytime now. Perfect, thank you. We shouldstart now. Okay, so hey Alistair, welcome to the show. Thank you for the time.
Alistair Croll (00:18.376)
Hey, thanks for having me.
It's my privilege to talk to you today, so I reallyappreciate it. Usually when I talk to somebody, I talk about the earliestcontext that they have of their life. But I want to talk to you about the book,and I usually don't start with the book. So I want to just make a change today.So over the years, you have co-authored, I think, a few books. Some of themwere really influential and went on to do great all around the world.
Has there been a particular concept or an idea thatchallenged you, that challenged your own beliefs during your research andwriting process?
Alistair Croll (01:00.224)
I think the thing that I experienced the most cognitivedissonance with is I tell everybody else that they shouldn't believethemselves. They should get out of the room. They should go talk to people thattheir idea is not as cool as they think that they should go and test whetherthere's demand before building something, which is like the core lesson of LeanAnalytics really. And I'm terrible at doing that myself. I think we all love tobuild a thing. We all love the feeling of creation. And
It's very easy to create, but if you create somethingwithout having confirmed demand beforehand, that's called a hobby. Like unlessit has a, you should start with a business model and then you should de-riskthe business model and then you should build a product. I was talking to HarleyFinkelstein at Startup Fest. Startup Fest is this big tech event in Montreal werun each summer and the president of Shopify, I got to interview him. And hewas like, look, we used to build a product and then go find a market for it.
but today we create an audience and then figure out what tosell it. Like Mr. Beast has feastables, right? He sells candy and junk food,but that's because he built an audience and then he's pretty passionate aboutsnacks. So, but what I found most interesting in that sentence was the shiftthat Harley made. I said market, he said audience. And I think we're in thisworld where the line between market and audience is blurring. We've, you know,digital has taken away all of the connections.
all of the middlemen, now a person can go straight to theconsumer, not just to promote their product, but to take payment, to deliverthe digital good, to offer support, to offer upselling and to resell and allthat stuff. So this channel has changed and we still think of it as likeproduct market fit, but we've ignored the importance of the medium and I'mterrible at that.
Okay, yeah that's very interesting. How do you build anaudience? Like if you were to do it, how would you do it?
Alistair Croll (03:02.208)
So this is a thing I struggle with myself. I have dozens ofpeople who are like, dude, every time you say something or post something, I'mreally excited. And I am terrified of actually doing it. The one thing that I'mstarting to do now is, and most of the people I know are a literal audiencebecause I've been running conferences for a while, honestly, those are peoplethat I engage with and I meet over time. Over the years, I have run aconference for my friends. It's called Bit North.
because it happens a little bit north of Montreal. Irecently ran one called BitWest in Berkeley. And it's basically 50 or fewerpeople who show up and everybody gives a talk on something that's not theirjob. And then we party. We do it over a whole weekend and it's amazing. Nowthere's like a WhatsApp channel of about 200 people who've been over the years,because you can't do more than 50 people because that's the most talks you canget through in a day. And...
the way I'm starting to feel comfortable publishing content isto say, I'm just making this for my friends. Like, all right, I'll recordsomething. Hey guys, I learned something. This is the thing I learned. So I'llgive you an example. One of my co-authors, Sean Power, is doing a startupthat's music-based. And one of his co-founders was a guy at Beatport. I like toDJ.
And I've never understood why when I put a mix that I makeonto SoundCloud, sometimes it gets taken down, sometimes it doesn't. But itturns out that if I use a song that I bought off iTunes for like 99 cents,that's a mainstream song in the mix, it gets taken down right away. If I use asong that I bought off Beatport, which costs $2.50, which is EDM, never getstaken down. So I was like, is there a licensing thing? And he goes, no.
the DJ world knows that their song has like a lifespan ofsix months, unless you're like a timeless track, like, you know, Sandstorm orSash's Expander or something, everybody knows it gets played a lot. You'regonna make almost all your plays in the first six months. So when the artistgets that message saying, would you like to take this track down? They go, no,I wanna leave it there because that's how other people learn about it. So I'mlike, I wanna interview this guy because this has bothered me a long time and Ifound the guy who knows.
Alistair Croll (05:20.584)
And I'm like, oh man, I couldn't really publish that. Andthen I thought, you know what? My group of friends from Bit North would findthat interesting, so sure, I'll record that. I'll put it on YouTube and I'lltell them. And if the only thing that happens is my friends see it, that'sfine. And I think that's how I get over this imposter syndrome. I'm stillworking through this, which is how do I just make it for my friends? And ifother people wanna listen in, that's fine. And I think that's a shift where weused to say, like, I have market segmentation.
Well, that was segmentation when I was figuring out how topush my message out. We live in a world of search where people go, I'minterested in electronic music. Okay, they come across this thing. So you haveto kind of lean into the idea that we are no longer pushing things out, theworld is pulling it or algorithms are pulling it. And so you put stuff outthere that you're passionate about. I think that mix of authenticity andspeaking of friends, you just make a thing for your friends and then it doesn'tfeel as creepy as like,
Alistair Croll (06:16.928)
Who the hell am I? Why am I streaming something?
Now, usually, you know, when I talk to somebody who has thisbig of an exposure, creating a content, especially coming out, coming out liveand just talking about a whole lot of things is not a problem for them. Butthat's real for you.
Alistair Croll (06:34.14)
Yeah, but I have almost crippling imposter syndrome. I mean,that's the other side of the Dunning-Kruger effect, right? Like theDunning-Kruger effect says people overestimate their expertise and they don'tknow something. I'm lucky enough to have talked to a lot of smart people. Iknow how stupid I am. Like I talk to wizards and most of my job is teachingmuggles. So I am at best Hagrid.
Okay, yeah, usually it's the other way around. So one of thequestions that I wanted to ask you, which is like further down the interviewthat I had, was when it comes to go to market strategy, so just throwing it outhere at the beginning, when it comes to go to market strategy, you could go toLinkedIn. And I don't know how many people are on LinkedIn, like 800 million,something like that, like that's the total user count is. Feels like a billionpeople know how to perfectly, how to perfectly, you know.
plan a go-to-market strategy, but not a lot of peopleactually do know how to you know perfectly plan a go-to-market strategy So it'sjust like you know people are pretending to know a whole lot about things, butthey actually don't know But they're writing content on that
Alistair Croll (07:34.804)
Yeah, LinkedIn feels like a whole bunch of people shovingbusiness cards at one another. It's not exciting. It's gotten better now thatpeople have abandoned other places. So I think let's pick apart the word go tomarket strategy. First of all, the best definition of a strategy that I've everheard is a plan for how to win. Like tactics are the steps you take, but astrategy is just to have a plan for how to win. What are you gonna do to win?And when I talk to startups these days,
Yeah. It's not exciting anymore. Yeah.
Okay, let's do that.
Alistair Croll (08:03.464)
The team's important, the product's important, but the realquestion is how do you change the, how do you capture the attention and usethat to change the behavior of a lucrative target market? So when I talk to afounder, I'm like, what are you gonna do to change the behavior of a targetmarket that no one else has done before? If you can't answer that, I don't carehow good your technology is, right? And so go to market strategy. Well, go tomarket implies you're not already at the market.
which as I said is kind of a mistake, you should already bepart of your market because you're an audience to them. Whether that's just,let me give you a concrete example. There was a conference called Lean UX a fewyears ago. Lean UX asked me to speak at it. And I said, what are you gonna pay?And they said, well, you're flight and we'll give you a good bottle of scotch.Literally we'll give you a bottle of scotch. I said, okay, well, you know, LeanAnalytics had just come out. I'm eager to get some visibility on it. Not likeNew York, let's go. And then I asked them what they did.
And they said, well, we wanted to run the whole conferenceusing the Lean Startup model. So if you're not familiar with Lean Startup, andI know you've talked to Ben about Lean Analytics, so anybody who's listening tothis might wanna go listen to that, because he's way smarter than me. But LeanAnalytics and the Lean Startup model says, figure out what the biggest risk is,and then get rid of that risk as soon as possible. So what do you think is thebiggest risk in running a conference?
People not showing up, guests not showing up. Yep.
Alistair Croll (09:33.82)
Right, bums in seats. What's the first thing conferenceorganizers do?
book multiple guests in case one doesn't show up, the otherone isn't. Yeah, book guest in a venue, yeah.
Alistair Croll (09:43.304)
Book guests in a venue. Is there any risk that someone won'trent you a room? No, there's people whose job is literally to rent you a space,right? And you can probably get speakers, they may not be good, but you can getspeakers. How come we do this stuff that's not risky, like booking speakers ina venue, and then we leave the risky stuff, like do you have an audience untilthe end? That's stupid, but we all do it. So what these guys did is they said,if we can make a mailing list,
Alistair Croll (10:12.02)
that has a thousand subscribers, then we will go to steptwo. Step two, we'll mail our mailing list and say we're thinking of running anevent on one of these two weekends within 25 miles of downtown New York. Willyou come? Yes, no. And if you wanna come, you're gonna give us your creditcard. If we don't do it, we'll give you your money back. Still no risk. Theygot 300 people to say yes. Then they call people like me and say, will you cometo New York? Because the next risk is can we afford the speakers, right?
We said, enough of us said yes. Great. Then they went andsaid, okay, we're gonna pick a venue that can have 300 people and we're gonnapick a date. Okay, they checked the date, they checked the venue and theystarted selling tickets. They sold 400 more. Then they knew how nice of anevent they could run and so on. Then they picked a venue and they told all 700people it's gonna be at this date and time. You have like 20, 48 hours tocancel your ticket. A few people canceled, but not a lot. And then they ran theevent. At no point was there a risk. So they went to their market.
but they went and built an audience first, right? So thatword, go to market strategy. First of all, you should already be in yourmarket. You gotta be researching it, you gotta be knowing it, you gotta bereading the subreddits it's in or chiming in on the threads that it's talkingabout or whatever that thing is that you do. And so you're not going to themarket. Second of all, it's not a market, it's an audience. And third of all,it's a strategy, it's a plan for how to win. What are you gonna do that nobody elseis doing which will give you an unfair advantage?
so you can capture attention and turn it into profitabledemand. And none of that is properly reflected in the marketing you learn atuniversity. There it's all about product market fit, and it's all about valuechain analysis, and Porter's Five Forces, and that's great, but no.Go-to-market strategy should be a plan for how to win by doing something noveland unexpected that gives you an unfair advantage with the audience who caresabout the product or service you're gonna offer.
Alistair Croll (12:12.964)
It's not simple. It's very hard to do. It should be, Ibelieve that half of the job of any startup founder should be solving thatproblem. The features are nice. Like product features are great. Features areone way to change people's behavior, but they're not the only way and they'reusually the hardest way.
It's not simple. Yeah, it's very hard to do.
I was listening to somebody, he was from India, and he builta huge billion dollar product or something like that, and then he saidsomething very similar to what you were saying, and he was like, solve thedistribution, then build a product. I was like, yeah.
Alistair Croll (12:42.876)
Well, solve the demand distributions. But if you'redelivering a digital good, then digital channels that are direct to consumerconflate the promotion, the acquisition, like all of Dave McClure's piratemetrics thing, right? That, that idea of like, um, awareness, activation,revenue, referral and retention, that's all done digitally. And that's a bigchange that
Yeah, that's gonna matter.
Alistair Croll (13:10.28)
unless you're dealing with consumer packaged goods, but eventhen we have logistics tools, you have a platform like Shopify that takes careof all that stuff if you throw it in.
Do you think when a founder, you know, he just starts tobuild something and the idea feels nice, I think everybody thinks that everyidea is just the next unicorn or like whatever. Do you think products matterthe most or marketing matters the most? In your opinion.
Alistair Croll (13:35.848)
marketing 100% marketing because how do you know whatproduct to build
is because you need to figure out the marketing.
Alistair Croll (13:41.284)
Yeah, I mean, look, I used to have a t-shirt I wore to VCevents that said, your mom is not a valid test market. It's great to get yourfriends and family to start with things, right? And that's when you decide ifsomething is more than a passion project. But like having a business plan isstupid at the outset, but you need a business model. A business model is ahypothesis for how you will add enough value to something.
that you will extract a profit you can reinvest into thebusiness and eventually pay yourself.
If you were to considering all the things, all the successesthat you have over the period of time, we'll talk about year one labs and we'lltalk about acquisition and stuff like that. But considering all the things thatyou know now, if you were to go back like 20 years ago, how would you start anybusiness at all?
Alistair Croll (14:31.88)
Well, I mean, I started a company called Corradiant and withmy lifelong friend, Eric Packman, we had been building like BBSs together whenwe were 15. For you kids in the room, a BBS is a website before there was theinternet and you dialed up to it. And the text basically came in as slowly aschat GPT. So it was like, when I see chat GPT scrolling by, I'm like, oh,that's like my old 300-bot modem. That's how old I am. And Eric and I startedthis company called Corradiant and we started as a managed service provider.
Alistair Croll (15:00.48)
which means we were running websites for people. We closedbig funding because we needed a lot of infrastructure and it cost a ton ofmoney. In fact, we gave away more than half the company because we needed like$20 million of hardware. And we were competing with LoudCloud and SightSmithand so on. And we went.
How long that was ago, sorry, sorry.
Alistair Croll (15:18.128)
So it was 2001. At the time it was the largest series Afinancing in Canadian history. And yeah, it was a lot. And this was after thebubble burst, so it was painful. But we were countercyclical in that all thesetech companies were losing money and we were like, we can help you share, wecreate shared services. So it was an early version of cloud computing, right? Iused to run Cloud Connect and stuff. And then we figured out that
Oh wow. Yeah. That's what I was thinking about, you know, inearly 2020 million votes, like, that was like a lot, yeah.
Alistair Croll (15:47.612)
what people needed was there were three ways to tell if yourwebsite was working, right? One is you could test the website yourself and seeif it worked, but that doesn't mean it's working for other people, it justmeans it's working for you. The second is you could look at the machines andsee how busy they were. So is my computer CPU at 100%? There's a problem. Andthe third is to watch the actual users. And web analytics will show you whatthose people did. But it...
doesn't show you if they could do it. Like what if someone'strying to get to your website and they're stuck in like a redirect loop or theyget a 500 error, you don't know. Turns out that's a real problem. And so webuilt this product called TrueSight that literally sniffed the wire andreconstructed every user's session. So you could see round trip time and delaysand all this low level internet gobbledygook that most people didn't understandthat was in the operators. Like the operations people knew about that. Theoperations people knew that
latency was high, but they didn't know what the userexperience was. They didn't know who was affected. And the analytics peopleknew, you know, somebody wasn't buying, but they didn't know why. And werealized that you could stitch those two things together. And we created whatbecame a new product category called real user monitoring. And there were fouror five companies, uh, Adlex, Tealeaf that were competing in that space. Ericbuilt the first TrueSight box, um, as a prototype in a few weeks.
I remember him, this is like almost the legendary story. Wewere at Interop, which was the big networking trade show at the time. And I wasout talking to VCs. I actually had to take a photo of all these investors so Icould make an expense report because it was a really expensive dinner. So I hadthem all stand there and label the photo. Like this guy was the VP of networksat Goldman Sachs or whatever. And then Eric was in his hotel room in Vegas. Hehad stuffed some socks into the fire alarm.
so he could finish soldering the device so he could take itto the show the next morning. Like this is, you know, garage level stuff. Andwe won best of show, it was huge, very, very big. But that was the thing weshould have built. So if I could go back in time until, I don't know, 25 yearsyounger Alistair, I'd be like, dude, don't start the managed service provider.Sit down with Eric and build this little thing. I don't know whether I wouldhave known, we would have known to build TrueSight.
Alistair Croll (18:06.32)
unless we had spent three years running other people'swebsites and realizing that was the blind spot. So like I needed to waste themoney in order to have the user experience to figure out that that's the thingI needed to do.
Amazing. What a great story. So Alistair, tell us about theearliest context of your life that you have and how those early years shapedwhoever you are today.
Alistair Croll (18:32.984)
I got a good story for you. When I was a very little kid, Iwas kind of miserable because I was a jerk. I was like a smart ass. Both of myparents were scientists. I was born in England and went to school early. And Iremember going, so my dad was a pretty remarkable scientist. He was the fatherof modern parasitology. Like he wrote his first book at 18 and it was atextbook for when he was in university. Like he was very smart. He died at 39.
Alistair Croll (19:02.undefined)
went back to school at 35 to get an MD in two years. Likevery smart, right? My family moved to Florida so he could go to school and theeducation system was terrible. We were still learning the alphabet and I'd beenreading small print books for like five years. So my parents said, this isstupid. We're gonna take all of our insurance savings and we're gonna investthem in Alistair, go to boarding school in England. So I kinda liked boardingschool and I would invent games.
that would be very popular and everyone would forgot I hadinvented them. So one year we started having this contest where we'd makeparachutes. We'd fold the parachutes, we'd tie them to a rock with string,throw them in the air and whoever's stayed up the longest won. And there's atrade off here because if you have a heavier rock, then you go up higher, butyou fall down faster and so on. And this took over the recess, like the park,like wildfire. Everybody was doing it. And this boarding school was prettynice.
My dad had gone there and so one of the students came backafter spring break and it turns out his dad was like someone in the Saudi AirForce and had like an aeronautical engineer make a proper parachute that nobodycould beat. Like we were using napkins and rocks and he had like a ball bearingand some silk and we were like, dude, that's not fair. He's like, yeah, but I'mgonna win. So I realized two things. The first is.
It's amazing what can get done if nobody cares who getscredit. Like these games that I would invent took over the schoolyard. I'dstart treasure hunts and stuff. And, and like, I wasn't popular, but I survivedbecause it was the guy who came up with these interesting things. So I guessthree lessons. Number one, it's amazing what can get done when nobody cares toget who, who gets credit. Number two, if your idea is good, someone else willalways come in and
take over with an unfair advantage, unless you're very smartabout monetizing it quickly. That's what I learned from the parachute guy. Andnumber three, you should always solve for interesting. And solving forinteresting, it's actually the name of my company, Solve for Interesting. Therewas a guy named Herbert Simon, who was one of my favorite thinkers. The guy wasa Nobel laureate, father of like modern AI and computer science.
Alistair Croll (21:25.036)
Economist, he came up with the term satisfying, which islike a blend of satisfy and sufficient, which is how humans, before thateveryone thought humans were economically rational actors. He said, no, they'renot. And he said back in the 70s, people were talking about the informationeconomy and he said, no, you idiots, economies are based on what's scarcebecause what's scarce is what's valuable. So we need to ask, what doesinformation consume? And it turns out that what information consumes...
is our attention. And so we don't live in an informationeconomy, we live in an attention economy. And when there are too many thingsto, this is in the 70s, when there are too many things to pay attention to, wepay attention to what's interesting. So I think those three lessons, numberone, solve for interesting. Number two, someone with more power is always goingto come in and take over the thing. And number three, it's amazing what can getdone when no one gets credit.
You should write a book on the number three. You shouldwrite a book on that.
Alistair Croll (22:28.804)
I mentioned to you before we started this, I'm currentlyworking on an idea that might help with AI in a big way. Some of the people Italked to are like, yeah, but how would you make money off of that? I'm like, Idon't want to make money. This is just good for humans. We should put it outthere. I run a conference on digital government. It barely breaks even. It hasbecome the world's biggest digital government conference. But I had someonecome up to me last year in tears at the end of the conference. I said, what'swrong? She goes.
Alistair Croll (22:55.732)
This is the first time as a public servant I've wanted to goback to work in three years. How do you not do that, right?
Yeah, tell us a little bit more about that. It is calledFWD50. 450, yeah. Yeah.
Alistair Croll (23:05.588)
Forward 50, yeah, FWD 50, 450. The name, so forward becausewe're nonpartisan, so neither left nor right, but forward. And 50, we askeverybody to talk about three timeframes. What policies would you enact in 50days? What platforms would you build in 50 months, which is roughly anelectoral term? And what society do you want in 50 years? And I think forcingpeople to think in those three timeframes tends to make the content muchbetter.
It is really, I mean, it is the world's largest gathering ofdigital public servants. We've had 51 countries participate. We do it virtuallyand in person. And any public servant from regional governments like statemunicipal can get two passes for free. So we're for profit, but we try veryhard to be good about that. It has shifted from a technology conference wherewe used to talk about AI and blockchain and clouds and stuff.
almost a culture conference, because the problem is neverthe technology. The problem is the culture. But we have a huge crisis right nowbecause the cost of governing people is going up exponentially. If you look atthe number of local public servants in the US, they have quadrupled in the timethat the population has doubled. And this is always a problem. There's a guy namedJoseph Tainter. He's an economist who looks at the energy of complex systems.
He shows that as systems get more complex, the energyrequired to keep them organized increases faster than the energy the systemproduces. And this is, he actually wrote a book called the collapse ofcivilizations. Like this is why civilizations collapse. There are solutions toit, but the public service is, and taxes and budgets are going way too fast.There are solutions. The best book I would recommend on the subject, there's awoman named Jen Polka who wrote a book called Recoding America. She's thefounder of Code for America.
and she was the deputy CTO for the US federal governmentunder Todd Park. And she explains the problem is implementation. The problem ismodularity, ownership, there's all these issues. We know how to fix thesethings, but we can't fix them because the systems themselves are resistant tochange. And in some cases, that's a feature in government. So we started theconference really to talk about those issues. And it's helping, but it's a veryhard topic for a lot of people.
Usually when you talk to a business person, and I privilegedenough to talk to a lot of business person, they mention this thing that everysingle thing that they start, every idea, every conference, every book theywrote, every tweet they put out, they're selling something. The underlyingmessage is like it's just getting monetized in many ways, right? Somebody'stweeting and he got, I don't know, pick a number 50,000 followers or somethinglike that, so he's just directing that towards something. He has a company.
Alistair Croll (25:51.392)
Sure, I guess.
is pitching somewhere or something like that. You're notlike, married to that particular idea. Why is that?
Alistair Croll (26:07.424)
I'm bad at making money. I don't know. I think if anything,like, I've never really thought about why I share something, but I guess it isto enhance my reputation, if I'm honest about it. And I don't mean that in away, like I think if someone accused me of something on the internet right now,I think a lot of people will be like, that's not that guy. Like there's nothingbetter than having people who got your back.
And so I don't have, like I just ran Startup Fest inMontreal. We had 40 mentors show up from around the world and spend three dayswith thousands of founders, like literally sitting at tables. We gave them allcolored lineages. They showed up cause I said, come here. It'll be good. You'llbe helping founders. Yeah. I had an after party at my place and you know,whatever, but, but like, that's a reputational thing. I don't think I can, it'snot transactional. I don't think I can say, Hey, because of that tweet, thesepeople came to Montreal. But I think that.
We have, the only real currency of the online world isreputation. And that's gonna be even more important as we have AI that can sortof flood the rink with noise. So I don't know why I do stuff like that. I thinkI, I mean, the arrogance of thinking that I have ideas the world needs to shareis a pretty significant hubris. But I think if anything, we are all trying toestablish ourselves maybe as experts, maybe as desirable, whatever, butultimately we're trying to establish
There's only three currencies online. There's money, there'sattention, and there's reputation. And like I wrote a blog post years ago aboutthe three currencies of the online world. Each of them is transactional. So Ican spend money, like philanthropy, to improve my reputation. If I havereputation, I can use that to direct people to a product. I can use myreputation to capture attention, and then I can turn that into money. Like youcan do exchange rates between those three things, but those are really the threecurrencies that people deal with online.
Yeah, do you think at the end of the day, it comes down tovalues like who you are at the end at the bottom, like inside your heart whoyou are?
Alistair Croll (28:06.42)
Well, I mean, like my mom was a microbiologist. My daddevoted his life to, you know, saving billions of people from horrible diseaseslike malaria. I hope I'm doing some of that. I think as a species, I just wishthat we would actually, like we don't have a single leader who's willing tosay, hey, the world is screwed up. We've cooked it. Like we gotta fix stuff.And part of that is they're so worried about the next election cycle. Nobody'swilling to just go,
We're kind of screwed as a species unless we get our acttogether. And like every day that we wait, we have less resources. And thisshould not be like a zero sum game. Let's see who's left, you know, whichbunker ends up being in charge. We should be able to fix these things. Like,here's a good example. I was having a discussion with somebody on Facebook,which I should never do. And they were like, oh, we need rent controls. Rentcontrol turns out to be a horrible economic.
problem for a ton of reasons. It's very well researched.It's one of the few things all economists agree on. Meanwhile, we have a wholebunch of malls that are empty. And the owners of those malls don't want toadmit that nobody goes to the mall. Those malls have giant parking lots, lotsof shared infrastructure. They have easy access. We could turn malls intocollective housing. People are not living in the same nuclear family modelanymore. Why don't we turn malls into houses that have shared workshops andshared resources?
put the, you know, cover the parking lots with solar topower them. That's a pretty good option. Put some gardens out there, butnobody's thinking about that. And that seems like a really good solution. Oneof my favorite examples of this, cause we have a coordination problem and LivBorey, who is an amazing science explainer, has talked a lot about the problemof coordination. Like no country wants to have its own army. We'd all, everycountry would rather spend that money on itself than having an army, buteverybody needs an army cause everyone might attack, right?
So these are called coordination problems. We have as aspecies, the tools to coordinate our behavior in good ways if we change theincentives, but we are not doing that for a bunch of complicated reasons. And Igave a talk at Forward 50 last year. We've only had 50 years since the internetcame along and the advent of deterministic software, software that haspredictable outputs.
Alistair Croll (30:32.244)
We've got about a year in this new world ofnon-deterministic software where we don't know what it's gonna output,generative AI and stuff. But if you look at the printing press, you can draw astraight line from the printing press to 400 years later, the French Revolutionand the replacement of the monarchy, which was divine rule, with the Republic,which is kind of the basis for modern government. Anybody who thinks that theway humans govern themselves in a hundred years time will be similar to todayis not paying attention.
Our government in a hundred years time will be asunrecognizable from what it is now as what we have today is from the printingpress. If you believe that the internet's a bigger technological advancementthan the printing press, and I would argue it obviously is. So we're trying tofigure out what to do. And unfortunately we're not sitting down. We don't haveleaders who are like, this is the truth. Here are the facts. This is theproblems we face. These are the things that we're going to have to do. And thisis what we get if we do it right. And I just wish someone like that would showup.
Do you think in the near future or in far future somebodywill like that? Will come up?
Alistair Croll (31:37.32)
Well, it's either that or revolutions. Like, there's onlytwo ways that the world changes, culture or revolution, right? And so we canmake a cultural, I'd much rather, there's a lot less bloodshed and starvationin a cultural revolution.
So it has to be the revolution.
But I think usually it's the revolutions. Usually it's therevolutions.
Alistair Croll (31:55.136)
Oh, history shows that the current, you know, 100 yearpeace, and I'm saying peace in air quotes because there's people in Ukraine,then there's people in India, they're dying of wet bulb heat and people inUkraine getting blown up by drones. But the, this idea of like the globalpeace, at least since feudalism, it's a fiction that humans are a peacefulspecies. Most advances have been made through huge violence. It's just, weshould be able to figure that stuff out and realize it's, we're the firstself-aware creature, as far as we can tell.
that can like communicate speculatively. Language lets ustalk about what might be. That's the thing that we have that nobody else has iswe can like think collectively with language and then talk about what might be.We just don't have enough people talking about what might be good becausenobody wants to give up their, you know, plastic container Uber Eats deliveryat home or their one day shop Amazon box. And unfortunately, that's the system,you know, the best system we have for figuring out how to efficiently allocateresources is capital.
It's money. And so I don't have an answer for this. I'mtrying to bring together people who might.
Okay, coming back to, no, not at all. So a lot of the thingsthat you're mentioning is just like, oh wow, okay, so much knowledge coming to.So happy to learn as much as I can.
Alistair Croll (33:03.504)
I don't know if this is very startup oriented, but you justwanted to chat about stuff. So here we go.
Alistair Croll (33:16.956)
Yeah, ADHD is a really tough, I'm very lucky that my momtaught me how to deal with my ADHD properly. I have a few simple mechanisms likemy list of things to do changes constantly. One day it's organized by priority,then by task type. But I will say there's one thing I learned that was veryprofound. I spent a lot of time reflecting on these things.
How do you deal with that?
Alistair Croll (33:44.608)
The thing I would say to anybody who's listening thatstruggles with procrastination, ADHD, and task completion, and let me prefacethis by saying, I am not a doctor, and I'm not your doctor, and you shouldprobably ask someone else. I needed to learn how to trust future me. What Imean by that is like, at any given time, there's a task I'm working on. LikeI'm working on Startup Fest, but I'm also thinking about Just Evil Enough, thebook I'm writing with Emily Ross. I'm also thinking about how to fix AI.
I'm thinking about the challenges of late stage capitalismand what might replace it with syndicated democracy. I'm thinking about allkinds of things, stuff I wanna build for my house. And anytime I'm working on onething, there's these voices in my head telling me about the other things. Hey,while you're doing this, there's a meeting you have later today, maybe youshould be getting ready for it. You're doing a podcast on Product Circle, maybeyou should be getting ready for it, right? So there's constantly five otherthings reminding me I'm not doing them. Now,
Some people are control freaks. I'm probably a controlfreak, but they're control freaks in the sense of it won't be good enoughunless I do it. I think that my type of ADHD, I'm a control freak in thatcurrent me doesn't trust future me to do a good job. So what's happening is mybrain is like, hey, you should be working on that digital government conferencewhile I'm writing a book, and that makes it harder to concentrate on writingthe book. It's interrupting me. And I need to go, what you're really saying isthat future me
won't be able to work on that digital government conferenceas well as current me can. So that's a kind of arrogance, not just arrogancelike I can handle it better than others, that's an arrogance like present mecan handle it better than future me. So I just keep telling myself, you gottatrust future you. And like that's a mantra that really helps me focus is trustfuture you. Do the thing you're here to do now, future you's got that otherstuff. And if you don't think that, you got a problem with future you, you needto think about that a little bit.
How often do you reflect? Because a lot of the things thatyou're talking about, so this is my personal opinion, and I am not asexperienced as you are, not have that much of an exposure or anything likethat. But one thing that comes to my mind is like, you pay a lot of attentionto a lot of things that are happening, so which is good, which may not be goodfor some people. But also you spend a lot of time thinking about a lot ofdifferent things, self-reflection, thinking about how you are spending your time.
what you're doing with your time. Okay, is like buildingthis particular idea product just so you can help the world or something likethat. How often do you do that?
Alistair Croll (36:22.556)
Um, probably less than I should. I tend to think with wordsand, uh, I tend to think out loud too much to the disappointment of my friends.Um, I don't know if you can hear that. There's a screaming in the background.There's some kid outside. So I do want to wait a second until they're donescreaming.
problem. OK. Is it your kid or like this somebody?
Alistair Croll (36:40.584)
Hang on, no, I'm just gonna poke my head out, so give me asecond.
Okay, no problem.
Now I have put a marker here, so just take this one out. Soremove this part when it comes back. So just dropping a marker. After this, Iwill put another one.
Alistair Croll (37:25.172)
All right, why don't you ask me that? So you want me to, youask the question about reflection, I'll just take it from there.
Okay, so one thing that I heard you, you know, from bymentioning all the things that you're mentioning, how often do youself-reflect? Because my idea is that somebody who's thinking about generativeAI, somebody who's thinking about saving the world, improving policies, thisand that, like this is like not one particular way of thinking. So you'rethinking about this thing, that thing, that thing, so a hundred differentthings. And that does not come unless you sit down, reflect on how you spendyour time.
How often do you do a self-reflection thing?
Alistair Croll (38:02.544)
I would say I don't do it nearly enough. Part of that isbecause I reflect by thinking and speaking out loud, much to the disappointmentof my friends and my partner who has to listen to me. She's pretty tolerant.She's an entrepreneur in her own right and crazy smart. She has also like, sheruns a company called Lumo Play, which is, you know, when you go to the malland those fish swim on the floor in a projection and you walk through in thefish swim way, that's her company. She's also writing a book and she taughtherself puppetry and she's just crazy talented. So, you know, I have to dealwith
She has to deal with you in that, some of my co-authors aswell. Um, I think that the, I'm trying to pattern match. It's notself-reflection. Once you are lucky enough to encounter a large number ofideas, you inevitably start looking for the commonalities between them. Uh, myfavorite author, science historian in the world is a guy named James Burke. Um,many of the listeners may have seen that video clip of the best timed shot.
on the, in television where this guy explains how rocketswork and then points. And as he does, one of the Apollo rockets takes off.Right. That's James Burke. He had a TV show called connections. And this is aside note, but James Burke is an amazing guy. He's now 80 years old. I got tomeet him. And then I introduced him to my friend, David McCraney and David,along with the guy behind you are not so smart and some other people. James isreleasing a new episode of connections.
Yeah, I remember that. Yeah.
Alistair Croll (39:30.792)
Like this year, we convinced them to make a new season.Yeah, it's coming out this year. So that was a fun project. James's wholethesis is that things advance because of connections. There's actually this, Ithink he was like Ukrainian guy, maybe Azerbaijani, who invented a systemcalled TRIZ, T-R-I-Z, which is an innovation system. And he says, allinnovations start with a contradiction that gets resolved. So let's say youhave a product and you want to make it
Alistair Croll (40:00.624)
more powerful but also lighter. That's a contradiction,right? More power implies heavier, lighter implies less powerful. How do youresolve the contradiction? Or, you know, easier to use but more serviceable orwhatever like those, like, and he says, and he's made this grid of like 40 by40 contradictions. And he says, okay, here are the methods. So like, to resolvethis contradiction, there's three methods. One of them might be modularity orsomething. And I think that
all his, the Tris thesis, and I think this is very inalignment with what James Burke said, is that you find a contradiction andinnovation happens by overcoming that contradiction, but that pattern existsacross many industries. So you might go and look at, we have an example in JustEvil Enough of Formula One pit crews and how they do tire changes. And there'sa doctor who went and learned from them and applied it to surgery to improvelike the efficiency of operating rooms and improve patient lives.
So I think once you are lucky enough to talk across avariety of domains, you start seeing patterns that are sort of archetypes thatyou can apply. And then the most innovation is not genuine, like real research.It's just the combination of two different things. One of my favorite examplesis Netflix. Netflix repurposed the US Postal Service. So when Netflix startedout,
broadband was not fast enough to stream video to enough households.But it turns out that if you take a DVD, which contains 4.2 gigabytes of data,and you stick it in the post over two days, US Postal First Class Service,you're getting around 235 kilobits per second. Well, 235 kilobits per second,because I did the math because I'm a jerk, is actually faster than a dial-upmodem, right? So Netflix repurposed.
Alistair Croll (41:54.42)
the US Postal Service to turn it into a broadband networkthat by law could reach every single house in US. That's why they won. It's notbecause like, nobody knows this, but Blockbuster had streaming before Netflix.They just didn't care because they were, yeah, Blockbuster is making money offleap fees and candy sold in stores, right? So Netflix, and it got so successfulthat they actually had to ban.
I did not know the math behind that.
Alistair Croll (42:20.384)
the DVD people from management meetings so that would die,so that people would switch to the streaming. So, like that's a great exampleof repurposing something. And one of the things in this book that Emily and Iare writing is we have these tactics like repurposing. We've analyzed about 300case studies from throughout history, but going back as far as like GenghisKhan or Dieu La Dieu Martins or all these other, all the way up to moderntechnology and innovation.
And there are like 10 tactics that people always seem touse, bait and switch, repurposing, access arbitrage that stand out as likethese mechanisms you can use to find an unfair advantage in your target market.And we're trying to sort of synthesize these into very tactical, full of greatstories, but very tactical lessons that an entrepreneur can use to find theiradvantage.
Speaking about that book, so let's talk about that.
What's the main idea behind Just Evil Enough?
and why anybody should read it.
Alistair Croll (43:26.9)
The, well, everyone should read it because I'm brilliant,right? No, just kidding. So here's the truth. The title of the book is a trap.We're not actually saying be evil. We are saying you gotta capture attention.And so the title of the book captures your attention. Whoa, evil enough? Whatdoes that mean, right? Like that's intentional. The reality is that if you wantto innovate,
But, but, yeah.
Alistair Croll (43:51.992)
you have to subvert the norms of an industry. The rules ofany industry were created by the people who are dominant in that industry. Andthose rules, some of them are laws and you shouldn't break those, but otherones are just norms or traditional ways of doing it. So what can you go in andchange that will give you an unfair advantage? And so the simplest way to putthis is that
you have to have a subversive marketing mindset. Subversive,subvert just means get the system to behave in a way it was not intended,right? Like Netflix using the postal service in a way it wasn't intended as asubstitute for a broadband network. And there's a lot of sort of, you know,hacker mentality in this, but we draw a big distinction between growth hacking,which is like,
Alistair Croll (44:49.104)
incremental small improvements that apply to everyone andsubversive go to market strategies where you are Changing the rules of the gamein a way that give you an advantage that puts your competitors on their heel Wecall that being just evil
Okay, you mentioned Formula One and operations, you know, asurgeon or something like that. What's the, what's the comparison here? Like.
Alistair Croll (45:14.868)
So I mean, I can give you tons of tons of examples. Like forexample, bluffing. We don't talk about bluffing much, but we probably should.So Dula du Martins was this woman who was running a besieged castle because herhusband was away in like the 1400s. And they were running out of food and theenemy army was outside. So she gathered up all the remaining flour in thecastle and baked some bread and threw loaves out to the besieging army saying,you guys look hungry, have some bread.
Alistair Croll (45:43.932)
and they left. Like the coat of arms of this town is a breadloaf. Nobody talks about bluffing. Bluffing is a pretty important strategy,right? But we don't talk about it. We're like, oh no, you got a product marketfit. One of the big ideas in the book is this. I talked earlier about productmarket fit. We omit the medium. We believe that you should talk about productmedium market fit. The medium represents the channels, the platforms,everything between you and the customer. And as I mentioned earlier,
Alistair Croll (46:13.96)
We now live in this world where the channel is everything.It's how you capture attention. It's how you take payment. It's how you deliverthe product. It's how you offer support. It's how you retain the customers, howthey share the thing with others. The medium is so much more these days. We'restill behaving. Most marketers are still behaving like the medium is abroadcast network. You go on LinkedIn and you post something. That's, you know,very newspapers. Newspapers are one way, one to many expensive.
We live in an anycast world where anyone can send anythingto anyone else, but we haven't really thought through marketing. I mean, yeah,okay, you have a community manager, you have a head of growth, but when youlook at product market fit, well, you could have two companies that have thesame product selling to the same market and one does way better, why? Becausethey've got medium fit. Their product works really well on a certain medium orthey're really good at that medium. We kind of overlook that. Like if you'rejudging startups, you should be asking not just,
Do you have a good product or are you targeting a lucrativereachable target market? But also is the mechanism that you are going tocapture attention and turn it into profitable demand well defined for aparticular medium? That's a question almost no investor asks that everyoneshould.
Almost six years ago, I was working on an oil rig in theMiddle East. And I had a manager, he was Sri Lankan at that time. And then hementioned one thing, and we were thinking, we were just like thinking aboutgoing to tech or something like that, like carrier switching thing and this andthat. And one thing that I was talking to him was product market fit. And thenhe brought this point, similar to this one, and I never heard.
re-heard the same term, somebody said that. He was like, Ithink it should be not an MVP, like not minimum viable product, should beminimum marketable product. I was like, what do you mean by that? He was like,so viable means, and then, actually, you know, you actually know him, so youknow Lenny from Local Minds? Yeah, so, yeah, you're one labs.
Alistair Croll (48:20.356)
Oh yeah, sure. Lenny from year one labs. Yeah.
And he had this podcast where he invites big product leadersand then he had somebody from Webflow team and he was talking about minimumlovable product, like people fell in love. They were talking about Thread byInstagram, Meta, whatever. So going back to the old story, and then I was like,what do you mean by minimum marketable product? He was like, nobody gives adamn about what viable is, what viable not is. If it's marketable, if it's ableto sell, if it's able to capture user, able to solve some problems.
Alistair Croll (48:52.744)
Well, it has to also delight the user. I mean, Steve Jobshad that line about, um, you know, insanely great. Uh, April Dunford talksabout obviously awesome. Um, I think that the reason people share stuff, andthis is a very like low level reptile brain kind of thing. We share thingsbecause we're a social species and we want the approval of our tribe, so peopleshare a thing because they want their peers to think more of them for sharingit. Like, I'll give you an example of this.
Alistair Croll (49:22.472)
Um, if I can tell you something where you're instantlyashamed that you didn't know, like I tell you something obvious, you are wiredto go and tell as many other people as possible quickly so that you don't losethe approval of your tribe, like, like there's currency. If I tell you, youknow, there's a meteor that's about to hit the earth in four days and you go,Oh my God, I need to tell everyone right away. One of the reasons, I mean,other than saying goodbye to your friends, sorry, this got dark fast.
One of the reasons for doing that is you want to be thebringer of knowledge because you'll gain social currency from bringing valuableknowledge to the group. And I think we undersell that online when Steve Jobssaid insanely great. It's like things that you feel compelled to show othersbecause you feel dumb for not having seen them first. That's a mechanism wedon't exploit enough. Right. And so a lot of the book talks about cognitivescience and it talks about the line from attention to relevance to fluency toaction.
Alistair Croll (50:22.152)
that we have a ton of new psychology and neuroscienceresearch that changes everything about whether we think humans are rational,how information flows, we have an updated marketing for most of it.
a very dumb question to ask, like really low level dumbquestion. Yeah, very kind of you. Usually when you go to high leveluniversities, you could go to McGill, you could go to Harvard, you could gowherever you want in the world, and when you talk about marketing, it's exactlythe same crap that's been taught by everybody, it's just like, yeah okay, needto run the Facebook ad, you just need to share the message on LinkedIn andstuff like that. But the more I listen to you, the more I, you know.
Alistair Croll (50:38.752)
There are no dumb questions.
understand the concept behind the book, the more Iunderstand why you wrote this book and stuff like that. It feels to me thatmarketing is more of a psychology thing. It's just more of a cognitive bias. Ithas more to do with the brain, with the behavior, than to just compare to justrunning Facebook ads.
Alistair Croll (51:22.204)
Marketing is the art and science of changing human behavior.
Yeah, but people don't teach it that way, right?
Alistair Croll (51:27.664)
Of course. Well, I mean, I, I had an amazing teacher, TonySchelling, who was the only non-tenured teacher at my university. He was theonly one that had a job. He's still running a consulting company in hisseventies. He understood that he was amazing. Changed my life. No, I had peoplewho just taught the same slides over and over. So you do need a foundation,right? There's the sort of being a functional business person, you need tounderstand accounting and you need to understand ledgers.
But not widespread, right? Is this not widespread?
Alistair Croll (51:57.268)
I talk about Ansoff's matrix and the bass diffusion curveand Porter's five forces. Yeah, I learned all that in business school, but likethat's block and tackle stuff. That's just the, the language library thatallows business people to communicate. Once the thing that just evil enoughrecognizes is that if you do the same thing as everyone else, then you have thesame advantage and it's just competing on a level playing field, only an idiotplays a game on a level playing field.
So find a reason why you have an unfair advantage and thenlean the hell into that. Like, and it can be massive. Here's an example, IKEA.For hundreds of years, the way that you bought furniture was if you were richenough, you called up someone and you said what furniture you'd like and it hadlike, please put a secret shelf in or broider it with this or whatever, put myfamily's initials in the corners. And then a few months later it showed up andpeople brought it in your house. You would have places like Amsterdam and thesehooks hanging out from the buildings
crank all the furniture up, right? IKEA was like, let's lookat the value chain of furniture and let's not just like make it more efficientor make our furniture better. Let's change the value chain. Let's replace,let's change who does a function or the order in which things happen or whopays. That's different from value chain analysis, which is what Porter said,that's value chain disruption. So IKEA said, what if we get the customer tobuild the furniture?
And then they went, okay, what are all the consequences ofthat? Well, one thing is we would need to invent some fixtures that allowed theaverage person with a screwdriver and an Allen key to build something. Anotherthing is we'd have to create really good showrooms so you could see what thesethings looked like. Another thing is we'd need to figure out how to standardizethe flat packing of these things so they fit within a typical car and so on,right? But there was this one idea of I'm gonna disrupt a value chain and thenwork back from that. And that was a strategy for how to win.
I don't see enough organizations thinking like that. Tesla'sdone a great job. They realized that the supercharger network was instrumental,right? Tesla's wouldn't work without the supercharger. That's the reallyvaluable thing. I mean, the Tesla software on the car is great, but it's thewhole package. And I don't think people take a really big look at something andthen go, what is the impediment? In fact, that's one of the things that ElonMusk does really well. He's like, SpaceX, yeah, the problem is the cost oflaunch. It's gone down dramatically because of rocket reuse.
Alistair Croll (54:25.34)
So look at a problem, find the root cause. What's the one thingthat would produce the most outcomes and then work back from that. That's thekind of thinking that we need more of in entrepreneurship instead of like, ooh,I've got a million followers, I can create a community and monetize it.
What's your opinion or what's your take on venture backedstartups in general?
Alistair Croll (54:45.468)
Venture is a very useful financial instrument. So ispatronage like Patreon or Kickstarter. So is banking. The answer is verysimple. If you have a source of revenue that exceeds the cost of interest, youshould borrow money. If you have a source of revenue that's uncertain, but mayresult in a great payoff, you go for venture. And it's just a simple economicequation. There's a lot of people out there that should not be looking forventure backing.
Alistair Croll (55:14.76)
especially with current costs, they should be looking forloans. I think convertible debts and safe documents are a good compromise,because it's like loans that turn into equity. I also think that we need tolook at the way we incentivize founders and board members. I'm a big proponentof things like give everybody options, including the founders, because thenwhen one of your founders has a crisis or changes their mind,
Alistair Croll (55:43.144)
you don't have to claw back their shares. They didn't earnas much. So we need to change the structure. But I also, I had thisconversation last week. I had three, four VCs on stage and they were like, weask all of our founders to vest over time so that they have to earn theirmoney. And I said, well, should the investors vest over time? Oh, no, we gaveyou money. I'm like, yeah, but you promised me that you're also giving melawyers and recruiters and all these other things. So if you don't follow through.
Alistair Croll (56:11.156)
How about, I said to them, how would you feel if you got 20%of the company, but you only get 15% of the shares and the other 5% arecontingent on you doing all the things you said you was an investor. Andthey're like, oh, no, no. I'm like, it's a little disingenuous to say that whenyou tell the founders they can't have their shares. So I think we could do withsome restructuring, but in general, I think the venture model's very useful. I'ma big fan of a company called Georgian. They used to be called GeorgianPartners, one of Canada's leading tech firms. They see themselves as afinancial services company.
They have data sciences in house. They do things likeimplementing differential privacy in the companies they invest in, but they dolike six investments a year. I mean, 40 or $50 million investments, but theysee themselves as a fintech company that happens to be in the investmentbusiness. I'd like to see more of those.
That's a totally different approach than most VCs havetoday. That's a very different approach to most VCs that they have. Right?
Alistair Croll (57:04.552)
Well, for sure. I mean, if you're a bank, your businessmodel's pretty clear. If you're a venture capital firm, your job is to amortizea different risk profile so that limited partners can put part of theirportfolio into high risk and they can diversify their portfolio. People shouldunderstand what those reasons for existing are.
Yeah. Speaking of the same, starting something and then, goahead.
Alistair Croll (57:32.768)
Well, hang on, I want to ask you a question now. How'd youget from an oil rig to doing this?
How do you get a word?
Alistair Croll (57:38.932)
How did you get from an oil rig to doing this?
Oh, wow. OK, so very funny story that way. So I was amaterial science graduate. There's a kid in the background. OK, yeah, he'squiet now. No problem. OK.
Alistair Croll (57:53.096)
I'll ask it again, hang on, and then I'll mute. So I wannaask you a question. How did you get from an oil rig to doing this?
Interesting story. So I was, so yeah, this is how the storystarts. So I was studying material science and engineering, like advancedmaterials. So you can talk to me back then, like 10 years, 15 years ago. Youcould ask me all about nuclear materials or this and that. I would know a wholelot of things about that. But it was, I think, so for more years, in myuniversity when I started the first company, three months later, shut down.Started another one. Two months later, shut down. Started a third one whilestudying.
that was a media technology company. We did enough to breakeven and then shut it down because one of the founder left. And then Igraduated right after that and I was like, okay, just need to find a job.Couldn't find a job and I was like, okay, so this is like tough because 2013,2014 was a time when oil crisis was about to hit the market. And fortunateenough to get a job at Halliburton.
in Abu Dhabi, so one of the auto rigs. So they were like,yeah, okay, come here. That was a funny life, you could say that. So it's like,you spend three months on the rig, three months off the rig, so that kind ofstuff. You live in a container offshore, that kind of stuff. And they werelaying people off, so there was a time when they laid, I don't know, half amillion people or something, and they're globally off. And then what they didwas, one out of three people
will stay and the other two will leave. So that was theratio that we figured out. Obviously nobody told us. And then they transferredme to their tech, what do you call that, department, like tech department. So,Halliburton has a huge tech department, the people usually don't know that. Shalombudget has the same, so they build like massive, massive products. And theyjust, you know, moved me there. That was a time when I was getting a degree inproject management and product management.
So I was getting a master's in both of them. The moment Igot them, they transferred me to one of the products and we did, it's nowcalled as I think, G was petrophagy or something like that. So we just rebuiltthe whole product. So that was the thing. And then I started working with, leftthat job, started working with somebody in Phoenix when I was building apresidential campaign, some sort of software, which is a story for another day.
But, and then eventually moved to North Carolina and thenstarted working with a previous company, previous co-founder. So we startedthis company, which was a supply chain fulfillment analytics product. So that'swhat we were doing. One of the person I met, and it's funny, he's gonna be aguest on the podcast in a few weeks time. And then I met him and we were doingthat pre-seed and then I talked to him and he was like,
you know, one of the three founders, why are you talking topeople on Twitter? Just, you know, I was like, because I like meeting newpeople. And then he just jokingly said that, you should start a podcast. I waslike, okay, about what? And he was like, what do you think is the biggestproblem that you could solve at this point in time? I was like, I think if I goback, as a first time founder, I made a whole lot of mistakes. Like a whole lotof mistakes. Like I started a company. Yeah.
Alistair Croll (01:01:24.252)
Well, you've got three first time foundings. So tell me whyeach of those three died.
Yeah, so the first one was, I did not even know that was acompany thing. So the first one was like, okay, we're going to teach people howto get into university by taking courses or like whatever. So how to get intothe engineering university. And I was like, okay, yeah, cool, let's do that.And at that point in time, courses were not like as popular as they are today.Didn't figure out how to market that. And that's why I asked the question aboutif you figured out the distribution of marketing, you could do that.
So build a course and had nobody to sell it to. And then, sothat one died that way. The second one that we started was around the same attech thing and it was more like, so people could go to any universities butthey need to figure out like which universities you pick up. Because inPakistan there's like millions of universities that you could go to, so thatwas the thing. And I was like, okay, so just need to figure out like which oneto go to and we kind of built.
A and B and B of universities and stuff like that. But atthat point in time, venture thing was like pretty much non-existent inPakistan. We couldn't figure out like how to fund that thing. So we built asystem, went to some accelerator there and nobody was like no, like we alreadyhave 50 times the influx of a student we could take. So we obviously not gonnapartner up with some programs. So that one died pretty quickly. The third onewas, so I got my first job as a...
lead designer in a production house. I was still studying,so that was a part-time gig. And I was like, okay. So I could design thingsreally well. Partnered up with somebody who was doing marketing. So I was like,okay, let's just start selling something. So we just kind of built that five,six people team, started selling this thing, okay. So you're on a restaurant,we're gonna redesign your whole thing. The menu, the this and that and stufflike that, and we can charge you. And then six months later, we just went intothat. We were profitable.
You could say that barely profitable, but at the same time,you were like, ah, okay, this is not working out because it's just hard to findleads, did not know how to sell, and then couldn't figure out how to productizethe services. That's the biggest problem I think that we had. So yeah, that wasthree things that we had a problem with.
Alistair Croll (01:03:50.784)
So in the first one, you kind of add the build-in and theywill come to illusion. If we make this thing, people will, we'll use it in thesecond in. Go ahead.
Yeah, it was more like something that you said at thebeginning, like, I have a cool idea and my idea is the best in the world. Thatwas the thing, yeah. Yeah.
Alistair Croll (01:04:08.884)
Yeah. So build it and they will come as a fallacy. And thesecond one, it sounds like you were trying to become a middle man in a marketthat didn't justify the middleman existing. Like a two-sided marketplace,right?
Exactly. Yeah, exactly like that. And they were like, yeah,we already have the access to all the students. Why would we pay somebody to dothat?
Alistair Croll (01:04:27.452)
Right. So you need to justify your existence as a middleman.And then the third case, you are a design services company and it's hard toscale that without humans because you didn't really have a product. So, um, ifyou had to start a company now, what, what would, how would you go aboutfiguring out what problem to tackle based on the fact that you don't want to dobuilding, they will come. If you're a marketplace, you want to justify yourexistence and you need to be able to scale without human services. What wouldthat, what kind of businesses?
Yep. Yeah, exactly like that.
Alistair Croll (01:04:55.124)
How would you go about figuring out a new business? If gunto your head, getting a new business plan in 48 hours, what would you go do?
So one thing that I would do differently, I think I shoulddo differently, was I had this weird sentence that I would call that, like,whatever, so it's just like, don't get married to an idea. I think in all ofthese three times, I was kind of, oh no, this is it, this is it. Like, you'regonna pay for it or not, but this is it. So that was the idea. So the firstthing that I would do is exactly the same thing that I would double down onTwitter or LinkedIn, newsletter stuff.
you know, do the podcasting, build a community pretty wide,big community, so I have the access to, yeah. And then I'll figure it out,like, yeah.
Alistair Croll (01:05:34.068)
But a community for what? I mean, how would you decide whatyour community was about? Is it a passion for you or is it, you know, you golook at the world, the UN's data on demographics and figure that out. Likewhere would you go figure out what industry to, how do you find thatintersection of things you care about, things you can make money for, andthings that are going to be growing in a way that allows you to find anopportunity.
Yeah, it's a hard question, honestly speaking. Don't know ifI have the answer to it right away, but the way that I would think, or at leastI would imagine, is building an audience is about learning as much of theirproblem as possible. So suppose I have an audience of, I don't know, 10, 20,000people, and I know, okay, everybody's talking about one particular problem.Could be anything.
but they're talking about one particular problem. And thenit'll be more like, okay, am I passionate about that or not? Okay, I am. So,and then just doing a test, okay. So hey guys, if I build something like that,yeah. Prior to Circle, so we crossed 10,000 views across all the platforms. Butthen again, 10,000 people across all the platform does not mean you have anaudience. Yeah, more than 100 people, yeah.
Alistair Croll (01:06:35.892)
So how many people do you have listening to Product Circle?
Alistair Croll (01:06:50.684)
Yeah, but you have more than 100 people. So if there's onething you would like everybody listening to this podcast right here, right now,if you're listening to this, you know, this is your call to action in thecomments for this or send a message, what, what one question would you likethem to answer for you right now?
Is that a question for me? OK.
Alistair Croll (01:07:13.14)
And you can pause and we can restart this, but like we'regonna ask one question in this podcast. And I think you should do this from nowon. You have an audience. We've been talking about audiences, right? I thinkthat every episode, you should ask the audience a question to help you figureout what your startup should be. So what question right now in this podcast atthis moment, Alistair and Muda Sir, is Muda Sir, Muda Sir?
Okay. Uh-huh. Okay.
Should have a question.
Yeah, yeah, perfectly fine, yeah.
Alistair Croll (01:07:43.132)
Alastair and Moudassir are saying, we have a question foryou, and if you found this valuable, don't like and subscribe. In the comments,provide the answer to the following question. What is that question?
So I, sometimes I have this feeling that I would want tocreate a marketplace. Yeah.
Alistair Croll (01:08:05.588)
That's not a question. I'm gonna bug you about this. What'sthe question? What's the thing you do when you wake up in the morning? What'sthe thing that most annoys you about cars? If you had a hundred bucks rightnow, what would you spend it on? Find a question. What's a question that willhelp you on? Yeah, I want you to ask your audience a question. You have thousandsof people that might listen to this. What question do you want them to answerfor you?
Okay. So, one question that I would ask everybody, what'sthe thing that they look forward to every morning?
No, I'm going to ask the same thing again.
why you do whatever you're doing every morning when you getup. Like why, like what's your reason of doing whatever you're doing every day.
Alistair Croll (01:08:55.668)
So everybody has a morning routine.
Everybody has a morning routine. Some people look forward togoing to their office, some don't.
Alistair Croll (01:08:59.808)
And so, so I guess the question is, but you can predict thatmost people like brush their teeth and have breakfast. So what is, so how abouta better question is what's the one unusual thing that you do every morningthat you think nobody else does?
I mean the work thing.
Yeah. That's much better.
Alistair Croll (01:09:18.652)
I mean, because you can predict them. What's theunpredictable? We want to find the outside things. Because if it turns out thata whole bunch of people do a thing they think is unpredictable, but they're alldoing it, that's interesting.
Yeah, that's an interesting one. That's an interesting one.Okay.
Alistair Croll (01:09:30.268)
Yeah, so my challenge to you, Mudassir, is every single oneof these from now on, you're gonna talk to the person you're interviewing abouta question, and then you're gonna ask the question, and you're gonna get all ofthe people who listen to Product Circle to give you an answer. And then maybein there, you'll find a solution.
Okay, can I ask you something which is?
Alistair Croll (01:09:50.836)
Thank you for coming on my podcast.
No, thank you for that. I was like, all of a sudden it waslike very uncomfortable. Oh my, okay, so I need to answer the questions. Yeah,I'm sorry about that. Just a question, probably gonna take this part out. Yeah,yeah. So when it comes to building business and stuff like that, what if Idon't want to start another startup?
Alistair Croll (01:09:59.912)
Yeah, well, you know, now you know how I feel.
Alistair Croll (01:10:07.228)
No, I'm kidding. I love doing this. You kidding? I think bytalking, this is great.
Alistair Croll (01:10:21.3)
then go work for a good one. I mean, you know, there's afamous saying that there's a, you know about the BCG box? This is another thingyou get from boring business school, the Boston Consulting Group Matrix. So theBoston Consulting Group Matrix is a two by two graph, because a two chart,because everybody loves two by two charts. And it has fast growth, slow growth,big market, small market.
Mm-hmm. No, I'm not.
Alistair Croll (01:10:49.32)
So if you're seeing fast growth in a big market, that'samazing, right? That's a star. If you're seeing slow growth in a big market,that's a cash cow. If you're seeing fast growth in a small market, that's aquestion mark. Slow growth in a small market is a dog. And apologies to peoplewho love dogs like me, but you take the dogs out and you shoot them or sellthem off. Everybody talks about startups, startups are question marks, and theywanna try and figure out how to get their question mark into a star, meaningyou wanna try and figure out how to attach to a growing market.
Alistair Croll (01:11:19.592)
But if you're in a slow growth marketing, you have a verylarge market share, you're a cash cow. Most of the money in the world is madeby milking cash cows. We wouldn't have food on our plates or gas in our cars orTVs that worked if there weren't most of the workforce milking the cash cow.And so I think that milking the cash cow is an underappreciated skill. You canmilk a cash cow.
Alistair Croll (01:11:46.92)
You can have a very good life. You can earn some money. Youcan buy a boat and retire and all that kind of stuff with a pension. I think wehave glorified the startup world so much. We've overlooked the fact that just,you know, being a reliable, predictable operator, finding efficiencies in slowgrowing markets with large market share is a very good job. And unfortunately weincreasingly use trickery for that. Like many companies that become big.
Alistair Croll (01:12:14.816)
This is what Cory Doctorow calls the in shitification ofsocial media. We start to abuse our customers. We try to, you know, this istelcos trapping you into egregious contracts. This is banks that are giving youall kinds of service fees and selling your data. There's something veryvaluable about just delivering a good product consistently to a market thatneeds it. And I think we've overlooked that. And I believe that, especially inan era of social media where people get called out for this, we're going to seethe rise of respect for people who just.
deliver a good product that has good value to a market thatlikes it repeatedly. And there's something very important about that.
Okay, no, the question that I asked you about not startinganother startup was, I'll take this part out, so this is just purely personalreasons. So I had a baby boy a year and a half ago. And then at that point intime, I started up being the same company that I was talking to you earlier.Not a good time. If you're having a kid and you're starting a startup, it's nota good time. That's what I learned. So I was-
Alistair Croll (01:13:08.658)
countless hours and this and that, and he fell down, youknow, hit his head, bumped his head wide open, this and that. So I just get torealize, okay, is family more important than a startup? The answer was yes. Tome, the answer was yes, I don't know. A lot of people said no, but to me, theanswer was yes. In that point in time, I realized, yeah, okay.
maybe this is not for me, and I just, you know, and thispodcast thing was something that I wanted to start like quite some time ago. Ihad a thought and like never quit for like whatever reason. And then I waslike, okay, so this is what I want to do. So I want to host a podcast, build anaudience. Never thought about what I'm gonna do with the startup thing, butyeah. That's why I asked you, because like if I don't want to, you know, starta startup, is it like, there's something wrong with it?
Alistair Croll (01:14:19.954)
I think that
We need to, so if you want to start a startup, you have tobe comfortable with a high level of uncertainty. That's the kind of moneyyou're attracting and it's also the kind of lifestyle you're taking. So I'vealways said that the people that can start a startup either can afford to loseeverything or have nothing to lose. We had a session at Startup Fest a fewyears ago.
Yep. Mm-hmm. Yep.
Alistair Croll (01:14:47.408)
something we call a chain reaction panel, which is a greatformat for panel discussions. Instead of like five panelists on stage, it's thefirst person interviews the second, and then the first person leaves the stage,and the second interviews the third, the third interviews the fourth, and thenat the end, like the fourth person interviews the first person. It's like acircle, and everybody, it's like a little seven minute conversation. They workreally, really well for online events as well. And the title of the session wasStreet Smart Entrepreneurship. By the time we were done, it came down to
Alistair Croll (01:15:16.308)
do you need to come from a broken home to found a company?Which you don't know where the conversation's gonna go, but the people who aresuited for startups can either afford to lose everything because they have likea trust fund or they're a rich white dude or whatever, or they're young and youknow, if they lose everything, they can still earn stuff later on, or they havenothing to lose. Meaning like they're not, they don't have a guaranteed futureanyway, so they may as well.
Alistair Croll (01:15:45.276)
And in both of those cases, they're motivated to do stuff.But I mean, statistically, the success rate of immigrant founded startups isway higher. The success rate of women founded startups is way higher. There's alot of arbitrage to be done simply saying who's most motivated and who isunderutilized. If you had, imagine that we treated chess clubs like footballclubs, right? So in a football club at school,
Alistair Croll (01:16:10.776)
Only half the team can play because football is a men'ssport for some dumb reason, well, American football. And like the math club,you just want to take all 100 students in your class in the school and seewho's best. Imagine if you only choose from your math club 50% of yourstudents. Clearly you're leaving behind the other 50% that could be great. I'drather draw from all 100 of them, right? So I think that the more we can do tocreate diversity, the more that we can do to help people take those risks.
Alistair Croll (01:16:39.248)
The more we're going to see the best players take thoseroles. And the people that are going to be best for that are those who eithercan afford to lose everything or have nothing to lose, statistically speaking,they're probably better investments for founders. So I think a lot of this hasto do, I mean, the, I can afford to lose everything as a privilege thing. Andthe has nothing to lose as an opportunity thing. But I think that people whoare funding or starting companies need to look at themselves and say,
Am I willing to lose all of this the same way that the VCis? Cause otherwise you shouldn't be taking VC money. Like VCs expect anoutcome and they expect an outcome that is like a hundred X all the otherstartups they invest in just to pay for the losses of all the other startups.
Like Lean Analytics has sold 100,000 books in China alone.Ben and I don't make that much money often. We get 16% royalties, and that'sonly because we've sold a certain number of books, which we split two ways,right? But O'Reilly gets to keep most of that money because they're paying forall the books that didn't do well, and that's just how the game is played.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Speaking of startups and thengrowing them or something, one other thing that I just found out was you had animpressive run with Year 1 Labs. That was like, what, 300 and?
Alistair Croll (01:17:55.036)
Well, we had a year, we had one year, that was kind of thepoint, was an experiment. But yes, it was a great, at the time, I think we hadthe highest IRR of any Canadian accelerator or startup or VC. So Year One Labswas an idea that Ray Look, who's an amazing, if you're not following Rayman,look on LinkedIn, you should be, he's one of the smartest people I know aboutpitches out there. Ben Yoskovitz, who's my co-author, and the guy named Ian Raywho founded CloudOps, he recently had a great liquidity event for that, supersmart guy.
So the four of us decided to start this accelerator, but itwas a very different economic model. It was 50k per startup for a pair offounders for a year. Now in Montreal at that time, you could live on 25k,basically ramen budget, come to the office, we'll give you broadband and adesk. You're paying for a computer and ramen soup and that's a year of yourlife. But we felt and I continue to feel that most accelerators, when they giveyou 90 days, that's enough time to figure out a pitch which you've alreadythought of.
Alistair Croll (01:18:53.66)
And the lean startup model is like, get out of the buildingand go and research things and figure it out. Every one of the five companieschanged its business model. And so we had five companies in, each one of themgets 50K. We, I think we gated it. So you had 10K to figure out your business,what you're gonna do, 20K to build it, and 20K to go raise money. You can takea whole year. It's the year one labs referred to, it's your first year of astartup, but it was all built on the lean startup model. Lenny Ratchitsky camein.
didn't really have ideas. In fact, I think the local mindidea was Ben and Ray coming up with it. Brought in this friend of his, Bo, thetwo of them started the company. They brought in a guy, Nelson, who is anamazingly smart coder, but he just worked for free initially. And they builtthis app that lets you ask questions of a place. So you could be like, hey,Times Square, what's the weather like? And people in, like you could ask aquestion and people would answer. This is a marketplace problem. You needenough people on there to answer questions. So you got to...
ask and answer questions. One of the ways they de-risked it,like one of the first questions is, will people answer questions from astranger, was they geo-fenced New York Times Square and they would askquestions. What, where's the wifi? What's the weather like? Where's the toilet?And surprisingly, like over 90% of people would reply. Now, the challenge withtheir product was not that people wouldn't reply, it was that people wouldn'task questions. And so they're sitting around trying to figure this out and thisis the first time I said it. I said, Lenny.
Are you being evil enough? And he goes, I'm not evil. Isaid, not evil, just evil enough. And what they've decided to do was create anautomated system that sent questions on your behalf initially to get theconversation going. That was their hack, right? Kind of cool. They launched itsouth by, Scoble said it was the greatest thing ever. At this point, I ceasedto add any value. My great friend, Randy Smarik helped them with some of thedetails, but they got acquired by local mind, sorry, by Airbnb.
Alistair Croll (01:20:47.58)
Lenny became head of supply side marketing there and growth.The rest is history. Lenny is brilliant, but also one of the nicest people I'veever met. There are some people that are successful and you begrudge them that.Lenny is just a wonderful human, like just a deeply wonderful, caring human.He's one of the few people where every ounce of his success he deserves.
Wow. So the number is like you turn 350k into like what, 10million? Is that right? OK. So, yeah.
Alistair Croll (01:21:16.504)
I don't know the exact numbers, but all the people that gaveus the money were like, do more of that. So we got 350k and then 250k went 50kto each of them, 100k paid some of Ben's salary and also the wifi and the rentand stuff. We used a co-working space in Montreal on Régie. I think one of thecompanies pulled out having not spent their whole thing, they kind of decidedit wasn't going to work. So we took the rest of that and put it into local mineand then they raised around. But
Alistair Croll (01:21:44.68)
the amount that they raised versus what they got acquiredfor gave us like ridiculous multiples on a very small amount of money.Technically we had the highest IRR in Canada that year, but it was a greatlearning event and Lean Analytics came about because we would ask them, how areyou doing? And they'd go, great. We'd say, based on what? And they'd go, stuff.And we'd say, what metric do you care about? I guess churn. Okay, how's churndoing? Good. How do you know it's good? Well, it's 14%. Like, is that good? Idon't know.
Alistair Croll (01:22:13.856)
Ben and I realized like, you need to know your one metricthat matters. You need to know the line in the sand. And all of those thingscame out of the experience of trying to help these companies within year onelives.
I asked him, I asked Ben about, you know, when's the nextversion of Lean Analytics coming out? And then he was like, you and I, you andhe had a lot of chats about that and you thought about that, but yeah, when'sthe next version coming out? When's the updated version coming out?
Alistair Croll (01:22:40.404)
So I had a blog and I'm long overdue for updating on mywebsites because I have like seven websites and I'm putting them all underalistaircroll.com. But I had a blog called Tilt the Windmill, which was allabout enterprise innovation portfolio management because a lot of big companieswould pay me to come in like DHL and Shipstead and stuff would pay me to comein and help them with their innovation strategies. They're different in bigcompanies. And so there's this idea
Please do that. Yeah.
Alistair Croll (01:23:10.304)
of innovation and Clay Christiansen talked about adjacent,he talked about sustaining and disruptive innovation, but I don't think he wentfar enough. There's really like four big tiers of innovation. There'ssustaining innovation, which is like do more of the same better. There'sadjacent innovation, which is where you change your product, your market, oryour go-to-market method, just one of them. There's disruptive innovation,which is where you actually destroy the previous model. And then there'sdiscontinuous innovation, which is like the world will be different. So goodexample is sustaining innovation in cars would be.
Next year's Mercedes-Benz has more cup holders. A Jasoninnovation would be like the electric car. Cause it's still sold throughdealerships and it's still sold to drivers, but I changed one thing, right? Uh,it could also be like changing direct, going direct to consumer or whatever.That would change one of those things. Disruptive innovation is like car to go.So car to go is a rental car service owned by Mercedes that allows you to get acar on a daily basis or an hourly basis, but it fundamentally eats.
Okay. But yeah.
Alistair Croll (01:24:07.188)
the existing market. If you have a car to go, I don't buy acar. And discontinuous innovation would be the self-driving car. Like we don'tknow what that's gonna be like. I mean, we could, yeah, it could be like, I'vegotta go from Montreal to Boston, give me a car with a bed in it, right? Or I'mgonna shave and do a video call on the way to work so my calendar's different,I don't know. And so companies need to manage who they staff across thosethings, what metrics they use for those four things to manage a good innovationportfolio.
Yep. Let's go and change the world.
Alistair Croll (01:24:37.044)
Excuse me. And Ben has been having similar thoughts becausehis current company, Highline Beta, helps some of the world's biggest brandsbuild innovation studios. And so if we do something, it will probably be aroundthat. We're both kind of busy. I got to finish just evil enough. I have likefour other books that I could be writing. That's one of them. But Tilt theWindmill is one of those ideas.
when is Justy with enough coming out.
Alistair Croll (01:25:03.96)
That's a long answer. I'm hoping that we will be out thisyear. The challenge with any of these things is that the publication process isvery complex. Also, my co-author, Emily, who is a fantastic entrepreneur, sheused to have a marketing agency called Inkvine, she's also been a circusperformer and a videographer and all kinds of things, she's brilliant. She isthe head of Twitter Next for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. And...
Alistair Croll (01:25:32.34)
She started that role early last year. It's a very big role.She has a team of data scientists. They work with some of the world's biggestbrands on things. As you can imagine, there's been a lot of things going on inthe last year and a half. Excuse me. As you can imagine, there's been a lot ofthings going on in the last year and a half. So it's slowed down some of this.The other thing that happened is we were invited to create an online course forMaven, which is a cohort-based learning program. And...
in doing that, it's much easier to write a book if you don'tactually have to teach it to someone. So once we asked to teach it, we're like,now we got to put the cohort together and the courses and all this stuff. Andthat forced us to kind of revisit a lot of the book. The challenge of any booklike this is you can write a subjective nonfiction book that's just a bunch ofopinions and prose. And those are wonderful, but they're really hard to apply.Like you can start to bring them back to your desk. They're like a good storyand they're inspiring. Lean Analytics did well, partly because it was verytangible.
founders could be, I am this business model at this stage, Iknow what to do. And so we are trying, we have these ideas like the reconcanvas, the ripe model, we have this idea of innovation provocation discoveryas ways of finding your asymmetry, there are 10, our list of the 10 sort ofasymmetric advantage archetypes, value chain disruption. There's a lot ofthings in there that could wind up in business textbooks. And so writing a bookthat's fun to read, but also has a lot of concrete takeaways is a realchallenge.
so you don't have it ate.
Alistair Croll (01:26:58.004)
So we'll probably do it this year. We have some plans for,like I'm going back through it from the start right now and then we're gonnahand it to an editor. So it's in good hands. But it's, I mean, it's alreadylike 140,000 words. So we're gonna, one of the things about writing is youdon't know what the book is until you write it. Then you go back and carve awaythe parts that weren't the book. It's a weird process. But it's alsoexhausting. Like every time I'm like, I'm never doing this again. But I thinkthat the,
The coolest thing will be when we have some ideas for how toput it out that are pretty subversive. Like you wouldn't buy a book onsubversive marketing unless we were pretty subversive about how we're doing it.We already have some subversive stuff on our newsletter. If people go tojustevilenough.com and sign up, you'll immediately be going down some weirdstuff on there. But we have a bunch of plans for promoting this and kind of,you know, making people go, all right, you got me, but because you got me, I'mwilling to read your book. There's a little bit of...
You have to be just a little bit naughty, you know?
Yeah. How did you get into writing?
Alistair Croll (01:28:00.824)
I've always, writing is an amazing tool for thinking aboutthings. Like writing is, language is, is the way we speculate. And I thinkwriting forces you to clarify and structure things in an ordered way. It's aprosthetic memory. I don't know. I, I like, I grew up in a family ofscientists. I was reading books when I was a kid. So I've always liked writingstuff. My first book was, I was the product manager for policy based networkingat 3Com and I was asked, I got a call from Prentice Hall and they said, wouldyou write a book for us?
The managing editor of the series, who's a friend of mine,is a guy named Paul Mockapetris, who invented a couple of things you may haveheard of, DNS and SMTP. Just a couple of little protocols, right? Yeah. I oncejoked that he's personally responsible for all the spam in the world because heinvented unauthenticated mail and unauthenticated addresses. Super smart guy.And so I wrote that for Prentice Hall. That was pretty good. And then because Ihad started Corradiant, I was asked. I proposed and was...
Yep, yep, both. Just a couple of them. Yeah.
Alistair Croll (01:29:00.556)
asked to write a book on how to monitor and measure the webcalled Complete Web Monitoring that came out in 2008, which was like rightaround the start of people starting to analyze social media with a friend ofmine, Sean Power. So I wrote Complete Web Monitoring with Eric Pakman, sorry, ManagingBandwidth with Eric Pakman, Complete Web Monitoring with Sean Power, LeanAnalytics with Ben Joskiewicz, and I'm writing Just Evil Enough with EmilyRoss. I like working with another author because they keep you honest.
Okay, awesome. So, I just hope we got some, you know, justmoving towards the closure of the episode. So I just got some, yeah, youcovered a lot of stuff. So, had some interesting questions. I hope they'reinteresting. So, okay.
Alistair Croll (01:29:31.024)
Yeah, we covered a lot of stuff, dude.
Alistair Croll (01:29:39.1)
Yeah, no, this is great. I just got on here to chat, so I'mhappy to talk about these things.
Okay, so what was your biggest failure in business world orpersonally? What was the biggest one? Your rock bottom.
Alistair Croll (01:29:53.893)
I separated from my wife in 2014 and we have a 12 year olddaughter and I probably could have handled that much better. It's probably thecruelest thing I've ever done and I'm continuing to try to atone for that andbe a good parent and a supportive co-parent of a child. That was tough. Wecould have done much better at Coradient if we had figured out TrueSight first.I have a startup that I'm working on the side right now that
we should have done much more market research for beforehandand the team that was building it did not have the oversight. They needed toget clear direction. So we had to claw back a bunch of features and may havemissed the market window. That's hard. I ran a conference in Panama calledPandemonio that was amazing. The tagline was the smartest beach on the planet.But the person I was running it with who lived in Panama at the time was not.
He was very certain of demand for the conference and thedemand didn't exist. It's the only conference I've lost money on. But I don'tcomplain about that one too much because I got to invite like 30 of my friendsto Panama and we had an amazing time. I get to meet Hugh Howey, the guy who wroteSilo, which is now that Apple TV. Like he showed up at the party we threw. So Idon't know. I don't know if they're failures because I learned something fromevery one of them. But I think that every one of them has made me a person.
Alistair Croll (01:31:19.764)
that realizes what he did wrong, but I wouldn't be thatperson if I hadn't had the failures. So I don't know. I'm just hoping that whenI die, people say nice things at my funeral. And hopefully I made the world abetter place while I was here.
Absolutely. 100%. Given the extensive knowledge of cognitivebiases, importers of data, so how do you approach personal decision making?What are the specific frameworks or maybe mental models do you use? OK.
Alistair Croll (01:31:46.664)
Not as well as I should. It's ironic that many humans,including me, have great tools and frameworks for decision making, but we don'tapply them to our personal lives. Part of that is that the things that haveturned out to be the best in my life are the things that just seemedinteresting. And if you look at the way that the human brain works, there'svery good neuroscience that shows that we have made a decision, often seconds,before we're consciously aware of it.
Alistair Croll (01:32:15.572)
that our conscious mind, excuse me, that our conscious mindis simply telling us a retroactive story that makes sense of the world. This iswell documented and it's kind of weird to think because it sort of takes awaythe idea of free will. But it also means that there are many, many things goingon in the background that we aren't consciously aware of. You know, when you goto sleep thinking about a problem and wake up and you have the solution, thatkind of thing. Or you look at a chess board and then a day later you know themove, something happened. And so I think that
overdoing the planning frameworks doesn't allow you toharness the part of your brain that's sort of off deliberating in privatebefore it surfaces an idea. I think that there's a framework I really likecalled premortems. So a premortem and in forecasting, they use something calleda Janus cone, which is like, look at where you are now and make a 25 years inthe past, 25 years in the future. And by defining where your industry was 25years ago, it makes you more realistic about your projections. But...
Figure out what you want to be. Describe the world whereyou'd like to be in vivid detail. Write a plan for how to get like, write ashort fiction story, like almost write an autobiography, how you got from whereyou are to that. And then work back from that and find out all the places whereit could have gone wrong. Like doing a post-mortem or a, but doing itbeforehand. And then figure out if you can mitigate all of those things alongthe way.
because that's probably the most rational path of like jumpinto the future and then walk back to the past and then make a path forward.It's really good to have a friend who will do that with you. So if you sitdown, my friend Randy Smerec is great at this. We'll sit down and we'll talkabout stuff. I also kind of like, you know, the Persians used to do this thingwhere they believed you should debate any serious thing twice, once when soberand once when drunk. So you could look at it from two different perspectives.So I think...
Anytime you're doing something significant, look at it fromtwo perspectives because you're always lying to yourself. Sometimes those liesare glorious though.
You mentioned probably 25, 30 people in an hour, hour and ahalf. What's your opinion on building a network? Because somebody who islike... Yeah.
Alistair Croll (01:34:29.608)
Don't be a jerk. Like bring value to the network. Again,it's amazing what can get done when nobody takes credit. I couldn't build thisnetwork if I wasn't like a loud white dude who came from middle class scienceparents. Let's be honest. I have the luxury of being able to lose money on aconference. That Bit North thing that I run, I lose four or five grand everyyear, every time I do it. And I charge people, they pay a little bit. I don'tcare, it's how I see my friends. I have a...
Alistair Croll (01:34:57.8)
WhatsApp thread with them in it and they're amazing. And Ilove those people. Just today, a friend of mine who is a technologist for anindigenous cumulative effects organization is dealing with a situation and he'slike, I need to know how to deal with this. Ask that group and got 15 answersin like an hour and really good answers, like connected to people who areworld-class at the problem he's having. That's valuable. Good networks maketheir own gravy. Everybody feels like they're sharing and there's some trust.
Um, I think that one of the things that works about BitNorthis we get people together for 48 hours. So you see people in their bunnyslippers. You see them when they're groggy and having a coffee. You see them inan unstructured environment. And I have three rules for my friends. They haveto be funny and like fun to party with. And that's actually, I think thatpeople who are intelligent are okay going off script because they know theirstuff. People who are
to rehearse that's like they're not really comfortable incollege. So number one, they're gonna be fun to party with. Number two, theygotta be smart. Like there's no room for dummies. The bandwidth, if someoneslows down the bandwidth, doesn't work. And number three, I don't have to apologizefor them. Like they can apologize for themselves. If they screw up, beself-aware enough to own it, but don't make me apologize for you. If anybodybreaks any of those rules, they're not really part of that network. But I thinkonce you as an organizer of that network,
Alistair Croll (01:36:22.884)
enforce those rules, people will trust you. I've had a fewcases where someone's done something that's not cool and I call, I message themand call them out. There's a, I think it was Bertram Russell said, there's nosuch thing as a tolerant society because a tolerant society must be intolerantof intolerance. And so if you are trying to build a network and you're luckyenough to be the person that network trusts to convene people, you have to takeon the role of curator.
Alistair Croll (01:36:51.668)
because it's more important to retain the trust of the groupthan to avoid alienating one bad actor. And you have to move very fast on that.You have to let everybody in the group know that is the case. Like that's justthe number one rule for maintaining a community. Otherwise people will go,whoa, I can't be myself here. I can't be open. We had a conversation aboutclimate change with a friend of mine who speaks for a living. And he's like, Ican't have this conversation anywhere else, but I can have it here.
And three other people jumped in and they started talkingabout data and outcomes and all this stuff. And he wound up like going to talkto the head of the IPCC, but he started with a trusted group of a few dozenpeople who were smart, fun to party with and didn't need to apologize. And Ididn't need to apologize for that.
Awesome. So we have this one ritual on the podcast. So whatwe do is we ask all the guests a question for our next guest without knowingwho the next guest is going to be. So we got a question for you and we're goingto take a question for our next guest but obviously not going to be part ofthe, you know, recording. So the previous guest had a question for you withoutknowing who you're going to be. And his question was...
One question that you wish someone had asked you in yourlifetime before but never did. What was that?
Alistair Croll (01:38:09.408)
How will you land the plane? My father was 39 when he died.I only ever got to see him take off and keep flying up. The guy had a BSc,master's, PhD, DSC which comes after your PhD and nobody knows about, MD, wrotelike 20 books, changed the face of modern parasitology, contributed to thesaving of potentially billions of lives. Incredibly smart guy. I never saw himland the plane. Most...
Most lives have a takeoff, a cruising and a landing. I findmyself in my late middle age, having spent very little time thinking about howI wanna retire, which skills do I wanna keep? Which abilities do I want? Whatshould my hobbies be? Where will I live? I don't think about those thingsbecause I was modeling what my father did. So I wish somebody had sat down withme earlier and said, have a plan for how to land the plane because I didn'thave a model for that myself.
And it's something I struggle with a lot now. I alwaysthought I would like him keel over on a racquetball court at 40 years old. Hisdad died like that, he died like that. I was just like, keep going as fast asyou can until you're not there anymore. And I never thought about how to landthe plane.
Do you think about that now?
Alistair Croll (01:39:26.467)
Yeah, a lot.
Did you have the answer for that?
Alistair Croll (01:39:29.66)
Now hell no. If anybody, if there's a family office outthere who wants to pay me a lot of money to think about these things so I canbuild my bunker in the woods slash Airbnb glamping, tell me because I'd love todo that. No, I don't think about that, but I am surrounded by amazing peoplewho helped me in all kinds of ways. So, you know, I'll figure it out.
You know a lot of people.
Awesome. Thank you for the episode. Let me stop therecording and then we'll continue. So thank you for the episode, Alistair. It'sbeen fun. Yeah.
Alistair Croll (01:39:57.14)
Thank you for having me. This was by far the most wideranging and unexpected set of conversations I've had in a while, let alone onrecord.
Thank you so much. It was fun, interesting, and it was apleasure. Thank you for the time.