Andrew: Hey, everyone. I’m Andrew. I won’t go through the whole intro. What I want to do is kind of an untraditional interview here and just start off by being open with my guest and see where the interview goes. You’re hearing me okay now?
Andrew: Cool. I’ll be honest with you. We started the interview 20 minutes late and it’s not because I had any technical issues, it’s because I’ve just been researching you trying to figure out how to do this interview, how to do it right. That was my big challenge. It never takes me that much longer to do prep.
Mahbod: Oh dear.
Andrew: Why don’t we start off by–I’ll explain the problem. But why don’t we start off by introducing you. How do you pronounce your name? Your cofounder was on here. He said he struggled with it.
Andrew: Here’s what I got, Mahbod.
Mahbod: Yeah. Well, you do it perfectly. That’s excellent.
Andrew: I practiced.
Mahbod: The middle H, that’s the tricky part.
Andrew: And the last name?
Andrew: You were the cofounder of Genius.com, a website that does what? According to SimilarWeb, over 30 million unique visitors a month to the site, really active site where people get to annotate the web, annotate any kind of content. It started with rap. It was called Rap Genius and then it moved onto anything. Today you’re on a site called Everipedia, which is kind of like encyclopedia of everybody, right?
Mahbod: Yeah, it’s chill-ass Wikipedia. It’s basically if Wikipedia was chill. That’s the vision behind Everipedia.
Andrew: So, you’re listed as the cofounder of Genius.com. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have you on here. But at the same time, you told our producer, “I never had an idea in my life. I just kind of glom on to other people’s ideas.” Is that true?
Mahbod: It’s 100% — I think if you’re not a technical person, I think that’s the only way that you can succeed in tech.
Andrew: Glom on to smart tech people like Tom Lehman?
Mahbod: A talented person is going to build your idea. That’s why the official stupidest thing you can tell someone at a cocktail party in this day age is you say, “Dude, I have a really sick idea for an app.” It’s like no one cares. An idea is not even–there’s a lot of discussion of this in “The Social Network,” the movie about Facebook. It really speaks to this notion that an app is not an app until it’s built.
Andrew: So, you want to find someone who’s got an app that’s kind of built. Tom kind of built it. It seems like, if I understand it right, he built it. He wasn’t super-excited about it, didn’t know exactly where it was going to go. You worked on it first and then that helped them see the vision for where it was? Is that the way it worked?
Mahbod: I think he was probably downplaying it. I was the first person working on it full-time, but that’s because I didn’t have a job. But what Tom built, I think he’s just trying to give more credit to the engineering team, like Andrew Warner, the guy with your name, he’s the CTO of Genius. He’s a really talented guy. But I’m not a technical person, so maybe this is why I say this, but I feel like a lot of people feel this way. I think the version one is pretty much the app.
Andrew: And he built it?
Mahbod: Yeah. I was using Facebook in 2005, like pretty early on right after it got started. I don’t think it’s that different from what Facebook is now, even though they’ve spent billions of dollars making it better.
Andrew: You’re saying the seed of the idea was there. Tom built it. You saw it. You said, “You know what? I’m not a developer. I can’t build my own stuff. I’m going to connect with somebody who’s got a good idea.” Tom did it. You had no job because I think you were on a sabbatical, according to Wikipedia. So, you started working on it full-time and that’s when the thing started to flourish. Later on, we’ll talk about how you were fired from the company. I’m curious–do you still own a piece of the business?
Mahbod: Yeah. So, I resigned from the company, but for some reason everyone said I got fired. It was actually a mutual thing. When I resigned, it was on CNN and Fox News and all this crazy shit and no one seemed to understand. People thought I was the CEO of the company. But in fact, three months before I resigned, I had become a part-time employee. I decided I don’t want to be in New York anymore and then also I was having some complications with a recovery from my brain surgery.
Andrew: But wait, you loved the site. You still love the site. You were the most active person on the site. You bled for that business. You weren’t going to quit. You were pushed out because of the things that you said, no?
Mahbod: No. I had actually kind of quit three months before.
Mahbod: I was getting seizures from my brain surgery. Basically my brain surgery didn’t heal up the way it was supposed to because three weeks after my brain surgery, I had to go to Kanye West’s engagement party and then I had to take all these trips to Detroit for Dan Gilbert. So, I started getting–
Andrew: So, you’re saying leaving had nothing to do with how you annotated a killer’s message?
Mahbod: I think that was, to use some law school talk, that was the proximate cause.
Mahbod: No, I guess… Never mind. That was the for cause, but it wasn’t the proximate cause. Really the reason I left the company was a) Gawker had decided I’m a bad person for whatever reason and that was getting us a lot of bad press and then b) I didn’t want to be a part of this big–so, my responsibilities when I left the company for three months had been I basically wasn’t getting anymore equity.
I was getting a part-time salary. I was living remotely in Los Angeles. Before we had a Los Angeles office, but we closed the Los Angeles office. So, I wasn’t even in contact with any other employees. I wasn’t managing anyone. I was only reporting to Tom. My only responsibility was just to put stuff that I thought was cool on the site. We called it “editor at large.” So, I was a part-time employee, kind of like recovering from brain surgery and I–
Andrew: You weren’t getting any more shares, the shares that you had vested? Am I understanding that right?
Mahbod: Yeah. Most of my shit had vested.
Andrew: What percentage of the company do you still have now?
Mahbod: I’m afraid I can’t say. I don’t know what the rules are for what I am allowed to say.
Andrew: Is it under or over–you now care about the rules?
Mahbod: I don’t know, man. I’m scared. Until you see the money, none of this is even real until it’s actual money.
Andrew: Is it over 5% at this point?
Mahbod: I’m scared, dude.
Andrew: You’re scared of that? Really?
Mahbod: I was a founder of the company, but one thing that’s funny is right now we’re getting angel investments for Everipedia. Everyone thinks like, “Well, if this is like Rap Genius, it will be a huge success. But then I have friends who angel invested in Rap Genius and they’re like pissed at me, like even though their money on paper has like exploded or whatever, no one has gotten anything back. So, until you get the money back, until I see an acquisition or an IPO, Rap Genius was a failure.
Andrew: A failure?
Andrew: Wow. $29 million is how much the company raised according to CrunchBase, right?
Mahbod: It’s actually $57 million.
Andrew: $57 million.
Mahbod: $2 million angel, $15 million series A from Andreessen and then $40 million series B from Dan Gilbert and Andreessen.
Andrew: So, before we started, I just said, “What is it about Mahbod that just really fascinates me? What do I want to learn from you?” What I love about you is your ability to get attention and your ability to connect with people. I’ve got a quote from your cofounder about how you did that.
The ability to be interesting–there’s something about you that does that. Why don’t we go to the beginning? I asked Tom in his interview about you and he said that you built the community. You weren’t just the most prolific person on the site, but you got the early people to join. What are you looking at right now? Be open with me. Something came up.
Mahbod: Oh, a pretty girl just texted me, “What are you doing?” I told her, “I’m on TV and I wanted to take a screenshot of the thing.”
Andrew: I see. Did you get a screenshot of the two of us?
Mahbod: Yeah. I wanted her to think that I’m important.
Mahbod: Thank you.
Andrew: I like that you said that openly. What did you do in the very beginning to get the early participants in Genius who were going to annotate the rap lyrics that you guys had on the site?
Mahbod: So, when the site first started, my goal was for it to be a coffee table book, like Tom and to some extent Ilan saw the bigger picture. This site had come out, Stuff White People like. It was a blog and then it got turned into a coffee table book and they got like a $100k advance and I thought that sounded really cool.
Andrew: I see. So, you were thinking, “We’re going to create content online that will eventually be turned into a book. We’ll get $100,000 advance and people will be able to understand the lyrics of these popular songs by looking at the book.” Okay. How did that shape how you were going to get the community.
Mahbod: All of us had blogs. Like the way that I became–we all went to college together–but the way we actually became friends was after college, we all had blogs on Blogger. Ilan kind of started that. Tom didn’t really have one. The main guys were me, Ilan, this dude Liam, who was like a good friend of ours who’s really, really talented. So, my vision was basically me, Ilan and Liam in the voice of our blogs write annotations of Cam’ron and Jay-Z. The only rappers that were really into were basically Cam’ron and Jay-Z.
I remember when he said that he’s going to let people make users and contribute stuff, I got really, really pissed. That kind of ruined my vision. It was kind of–I guess it’s not unlike the Larry Sanger-Jimmy Wales beef at the start of Wikipedia. There is something to be said about the notion of having a professionals only Wiki site.
Andrew: And you wanted it to be people who really had a good voice for expressing the meaning behind lyrics and who understood it and Tom and Ilan, I’m guessing, are saying, “No, no, let’s open it up to everybody.” That was the battle.
Mahbod: The girl just texted me back, “That’s not TV lol.” It’s like, “Come on, it’s Mixergy, girl.”
Andrew: That’s even better than TV. Why don’t you call her up right now? Let’s do it. Call her up right now. Let me see how you talk to a woman in real life.
Mahbod: She’s not even a woman.
Andrew: What do you mean she’s not a woman? Dude, while you’re texting her, I have to say–I forgot to say at the top of the interview–this interview, including the phone call to Mahbod’s girl interest, is sponsored by Toptal. Later on I’ll tell you why if you need a developer, you’ve got to check out Toptal. And it’s sponsored by HostGator and I’ll tell you about them later too. They’re a good hosting company. You will not call her right now with us?
Mahbod: No. She’ll get embarrassed. But I’ll make Toptal and HostGator some Everipedia pages and maybe we can give them…
Andrew: All right. I’d like that.
Mahbod: Everipedia is starting advertising next month, by the way. People ask me what are the differences between Genius and Everipedia–A, Everipedia can get way, way, way bigger. This could become huge. Imagine every single person, everything, everyone has a page on Everipedia.
Andrew: Let me come back to Everipedia in a bit. I’m curious about it and I’d like you to at some point and show me everything that’s going on in this place where you guys are living and working. And anyone who’s listening on audio, I will describe it in detail and pick up stuff they can’t, that they wouldn’t necessarily pick up themselves. But really, I’m really fascinated by how you accumulated the community. So, you said this wasn’t what you originally wanted, but you had to do it. How did you do it?
Mahbod: I was very antagonistic to the notion of community. I remember the first guy who started annotating who was not one of our core group of blogger friends ended up becoming a big, big dude at the company. He ended up also becoming one of our first hires. He has the second highest IQ on the site.
Mahbod: I never got along with him. One reason was he was a hip-hop head. He knew a ton about rap. But my approach wasn’t so much like I want to educate people what these lyrics mean. My approach was more that I want to make people laugh. So, whereas all of us were writing all these pithy, tongue-in-cheek, the voice being like, “Oh, look, these kids went to Ivy League school and they’re breaking down rap lyrics.” That was the joke of the site. And this guy wasn’t following. This guy was just writing like boring actual information.
Andrew: Okay. So, did you do anything in the early days to build a community or am I misunderstanding that?
Mahbod: I guess the main thing that I did was I didn’t want anyone–my attitude was everyone was just kind of like, “Listen, this is my blog. This is supposed to be a blog for me and my friends. For some reason, Tom decided to open it up to you guys too. At least try not to be stupid.”
Mahbod: At this point, the site is pretty dead. That voice, the humor and the voice are kind of gone. But it’s at least not totally gone like Wikipedia. Wikipedia is completely just dry, bland, whereas like I think the core that I set for Genius is going to make sure that there’s always going to be at least a little bit of an element of something playful going on.
Andrew: Okay. So, you’re saying you were antagonistic to bring into the community and you weren’t the guy who was bringing them in.
Mahbod: Well, Shawn, the guy I’m talking about who ended up becoming the first hire was all Ilan. Ilan was the first one who reached out to two people and coached them and taught them how to use the site. I think a lot of the early people were attracted to my voice, though. The worst thing you can do if you’re trying to build an online community–this is what everybody does, by the way, all these websites, their community manager is someone that doesn’t even use the site.
They’re just there because they’re getting paid. Then all they do is message people and say, “Hey, join our community.” That’s not the way you’re going to get anyone to join. For one thing, why would they join it when you haven’t even joined it? You’re not using the site. You’re just–
Andrew: Go on.
Mahbod: You’re just there because you’re getting paid. At this point, everyone who was at Genius when I was there is gone. They’ve been replaced by a bunch of people who I’ve never even met. These people all seem cool, but one thing that bothers me is they don’t have high IQ. The people who are on the payroll at Genius don’t have high IQ.
Andrew: IQ, you mean Genius IQ, which is the point system that you guys gave out to people who are contributing good, valuable stuff to the site. So, they don’t have those points. Okay.
Mahbod: And then Everipedia gives IQ too. What’s cool about Everipedia is everyone is getting a shit ton of IQ. The guy who’s our iOS developer is putting up like Monster Fire pages. The guy who built the site, he’s upstairs right now, he’s the Persian Mark Zuckerberg, and he’s still on the site. He’s contributing, just nerding out on the site. Whereas like Tom never really did that. Tom to this day does not have a very high IQ on Genius.
Andrew: No. But I do see him annotate stuff. You guys had a Business Insider story written about you. Business Insider used the Genius system to allow people to annotate the article that was written about your firing, frankly, and Tom went on there and he actively commented and every part of it.
Mahbod: One thing–they don’t have to allow. Right now with Genius Beta, you can annotate anything. So, it’s not like Business Insider has to implement it. And then let’s take a look at his account. He did a good job on that story, just because he’s in love with me and whatever. But a lot of times I’ll check his account and he’s like putting Genius Beta annotations that are like, “Lol.” That’s exactly what you’re not supposed to–the downfall of the site is if the annotations just turn into a shitty comment system like Gawker.
Mahbod: I see this staff member is just writing like, “Lol, haha, I’ve got to show this grandma,” or whatever and it pisses me off. And then I have so many good things I could be doing on the site and then I’m banned from using the site. So, how fucked up is that? Literally the number one power user is banned from the site.
Andrew: So, what do you feel was your strength there?
Mahbod: Like I’m saying, I’m good at using these kinds of things. Right now, on Everipedia, I’m the one who’s making a lot of the pages that are getting a shit-ton of traffic. I think it was kind of a similar deal at Genius. I’m just good at using–on Facebook on Twitter, I’m really popular too. And they’re not even paying me.
Andrew: What did you do to keep things interesting in the beginning? What do you do to get attention online in general?
Mahbod: A lot of jokes. The big criticism of Rap Genius, not when it started but when we raised the $15 million was that, “Oh, these are white guys analyzing hip-hop,” which like A, that’s funny to me because I’m not white. I’m actually Persian. So, I don’t know why I keep getting called “white guy.” B, that was kind of the mechanism early on in the site. I wasn’t a white guy analyzing hip-hop. What I was trying to do was impersonate a white guy analyzing hip-hop as a joke.
Andrew: I see.
Mahbod: It’s a caricature that I’m playing.
Andrew: Got it.
Mahbod: Of course, now like I’m saying, the site has transformed. Now it is people who know a ton about hip-hop and there’s a ton of information you can get on it. It’s gotten a lot drier, but I hope it will never get as dry as Wikipedia. Even Urban Dictionary is a huge, huge site. That was also started with kind of playful voice and it’s been able to maintain it. I still think when you go to urban dictionary, you can learn a lot from it, but you can also be entertained.
Andrew: Yeah. It’s not a dry understanding of what [inaudible 00:19:44].
Andrew: You get to see.
Mahbod: That’s a good site. We met the founder a couple times and he was super supportive of Rap Genius.
Andrew: I have to be open with you. We’re like 20 minutes into this interview and I feel like I haven’t been doing a good job of it. I feel like I haven’t tapped into what your strength is and as a result, I’m not learning enough from you and I feel that you want to talk more about Everipedia, which I respect. You didn’t come here just to hang out with me. You came here for a purpose and I need to give you time to do that. But what am I missing that I should be learning from your experience at–let’s hold off on Everipedia–at Genius? What am I missing that you feel you’re so good that the world needs to understand how you did it?
Mahbod: The Genius and Everipedia situations are very similar. It’s like crazy some of the…
Andrew: I would suggest talking about Genius. I’ll tell you why. Nobody yet knows Everipedia. If you tell them about the stuff they love, the stuff that’s done really well, then they’re going to say, “What is he on to now and want to hear more about Everipedia and think and understand that just as you caught lightning a bottle the first time, maybe you’ve got it now.”
Mahbod: I’m saying bigger lessons gleaned apply here too. It’s just sort of uncanny. I’m living like the sequel. But one is I had tremendous, tremendous respect for Tom.
Andrew: Okay, the founder of Genius.
Mahbod: You hear about stuff like Elon Musk and Max Levchin, where the guy who’s non-technical is the CEO and he gets to yell at the technical guy and tell him like, “Why aren’t you building this?” In my understanding of history, who changed that was Zuk. Zuk was the first guy like, “Yeah, I built it and I want to be CEO.” So, Rap Genius was definitely that Zuk model. Tom, to this day, his title is the CEO. He was the boss.
And then the other big thing that I learned from it is that you have to use your own product. It’s just insane how many people in tech are not willing to use their own product. So, I think that was the weirdest thing about me, that I wasn’t just like reading Hacker News and talking about how much I loved Slack and talking to my other founder buddies. I was racking up IQ on the site.
Mahbod: What was helpful was I was never part of the tech community before that. I never read Hacker News. I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. I had gone to law school. I was planning on being an attorney. So, I just came to the site as a power user. I think that was the most helpful thing. The way the community got built was there was one dude out there who didn’t care about building a community. I just wanted to share my jokes. I wanted to make people laugh.
Andrew: I see. That was it. The thing that got you guys penalized by Google was an email that was sent out to bloggers that said, “Hey, we’ve got this new affiliate program. If you put links at the bottom of your pages to these lyrics on our site, then you can…” I think it was you can make money, right?
Mahbod: No, no money.
Andrew: There was no money involved?
Mahbod: All I did was I was giving a false promise–
Andrew: That you were going to tweet out their sites from the Genius Twitter account.
Mahbod: Yeah. That was bullshit because the email that I sent, I thought I’m sending it to some blogger kid. If it’s a 14-year old blogger kid, I’ll say all kinds of bullshit in the email. Meanwhile, this guy who like now is trying to be my homie or whatever, he’s considered one of the biggest losers in YC history. Everyone in YC tells me how whack this guy is. Oh shit, here’s Christian, iOS guy. We all live together here.
So, he like decided to post my email on his site. I think part of the reason he did it in his defense is he didn’t think we were doing anything wrong either. And then Matt Cutts, who seemed to me to be this totally out of touch senior dude, decided to penalize us. So, a) that got Genius a ton of press and back links. So, in the grand scheme of things, it actually might have helped Genius’ SEO, which would kind of be–
Andrew: Because all those people are writing about Genius.
Mahbod: Not ironic. Would Alanis Morissette consider that ironic? I don’t know. Then also he left Google. This guy who worked in Google search, a friend of ours, told us a lot of the Google search people were really, really pissed at Matt Cutts because the number one philosophy of Google is you show the best thing as the first result. They were penalizing us, who were the best lyrics.
Andrew: They were penalizing you because you asked people to post links to your lyrics as a way of increasing your rankings in Google search and they were against that. So, what did they give you, like a negative 50, which apparently means that everything drops 50 entries in search results.
Mahbod: They penalized it for about two weeks. So, what’s funny–what was really fucked up was our traffic fell a ton, which led all of these haters to say like, “Look, their traffic is just bullshit search traffic. They don’t have actual users.” But they weren’t watching our Twitter stream. Our Twitter stream for that two weeks was like every half of a second. Thousands of thousands of tweets, “Oh my god, Rap Genius is not on the internet anymore. They took Rap Genius off.”
The reason is because at the time, there was no app. So, anyone who wanted to get to Rap Genius would search Rap Genius on their phone. They’re searching Rap Genius, 25% of the searches were for Rap Genius. So, the most fucked up part was that there was no app.
Andrew: Were you in charge of getting traffic at all?
Mahbod: Yeah. There was no…
Andrew: What did you do to get traffic? I’m still trying to tap into what you did that was especially great at Genius. I feel like your attitude was great.
Mahbod: I didn’t do anything great. Everipedia is blowing up now too and Genius blew up. So, if I get–
Andrew: What the hell am I doing interviewing you then? I should just have your cofounders on.
Mahbod: Because I’m entertaining.
Andrew: You’re not entertaining at all and it’s not your fault. It’s not working, is it?
Mahbod: Yeah. Well, the true geniuses don’t want to get in front of the camera. I guess Tom does.
Andrew: Tom was here.
Mahbod: Tom’s kind of whack. There’s the famous TechCrunch Disrupt interview where he’s trying to be colorful. It seems like Tom is basically trying to imitate me. Tom would be a shitty imitation of me. He loves me and he really looked up to me and stuff. So, he’d be trying to imitate me. But he just kind of comes off as a loser. Meanwhile, he’s like a revolutionary genius. He’s the one that built this thing that actually changes the world.
Andrew: But he doesn’t pull off the attitude the way that you do, you’re saying?
Mahbod: I think I’m a good Cyrano for these guys. I’m just better at–
Andrew: I had him on. He was such a thoughtful interviewee. He really had thought through his business in a way that most people don’t think of and if they do, they’re not aware of the thoughts in their head to the extent that he is. We had an interesting conversation even after the interview where he broke down things about the way he thinks, about where he gets his information that I thought was interesting. All right.
Mahbod: Well, Tom is an only child. I could write a novel about Tom’s psychology.
Andrew: Tell me about Tom’s psychology. I’m here to try to learn about you, but if it’s not working, let’s learn about Tom.
Mahbod: The key to Tom Lehman is that Tom is an only child. What’s crazy is that my Everipedia, the Persian Zuk is also an only child. They have so much–they were both philosophy majors in college, all this shit. So, Tom is an only child. Tom’s mom, who like–she was my homie. We got along very well. But one thing she did was she has a room in their house called the Tommy room, which like you know it’s kind of like a cellar for all of his awards.
Mahbod: So, that kind of upbringing made him end up being really weird.
Andrew: Where his mom loved him and is so obsessed about him that she still has a room about him.
Mahbod: Well, you shouldn’t have a fucking Tommy room. It still to this day just adds insult to injury. But there should never have been a Tommy room. That’s still his personality. In some ways, it makes him good. He’s good at pitching a startup. Hopefully he’s going to be good at being a CEO.
Andrew: He is. You’re seeing good as a CEO of a publicly traded company, I’m imagining.
Mahbod: Oh yeah, shit. I’m counting on it. It kind of makes him whack as a dude. He needs to put some kind of brakes on that shit.
Andrew: All right. I feel like I’m not fully tapping into it and I’m ready to admit defeat in that. I’m still going to publish this because I’d like the audience to tell me where I went wrong. I’m not blaming you. I heard your interview with Erik from Product Hunt. You were just kind of rapping. People had to have a little bit of backstory or knowledge of your history to get the beauty of the interview, but if they did, he captured who you were. I really respect that. Why don’t we just shift over–go ahead. What were you going to say about that?
Mahbod: I was just going to say I’m a sphinx. If you want to get to know me, read my Twitter. Who is the famous author who said that? I think it was like T.S. Elliot who said like, “To really understand me, you must read my Twitter.”
Andrew: All right. Let’s take a look at your office right now. Where are you guys right now?
Mahbod: We are on UCLA campus. So, that’s another thing. Genius was all Yale guys. Everipedia is all UCLA guys except for me and then I’m even from LA and my brother went to UCLA and my nephew goes to UCLA.
Andrew: And you’re sleeping on campus?
Mahbod: We live on campus. We have an office on campus. We have a lot of people who are already coming in here and working. A lot of times this place fills up. I was going to say if I ever give any kind of money, it’s going to UCLA. Yale is not getting it.
Andrew: You’re living there without having to pay anything?
Mahbod: No. We pay.
Andrew: You personally. Are you allowed to live on campus at UCLA?
Mahbod: We’re across the street from campus.
Andrew: Got it. I see. You guys are living and working in the same place.
Mahbod: We got our original funding from a VC called MuckerLab, which is very cool. It’s like the Y Combinator of LA.
Mahbod: I was actually a mentor for them. They’re great guys. They’re awesome.
Andrew: That’s by the guy who was Lady Gaga’s manager? Is that who created it?
Mahbod: No. That’s Atom Factory.
Mahbod: Atom Factory is cool too. Troy Carter, he was actually a Rap Genius investor. But no, MuckerLab is in Santa Monica. It’s Will Hsu. He’s a really cool guy. He’s my boy. And then now we’ve got some angel investments from very cool angels. If anyone wants to get involved by the way–our only rule is if you’re an angel investor, you have to use the site. Ashton Kutcher invested in Rap Genius and he annotated the “Steve Jobs” screenplay and shit like that. So, that was legit. The plan is–I don’t know why everybody doesn’t just make this rule. If you’re an angel investor, you make a commitment to use the site.
Andrew: You need to be part of the site. All right. Cool. The website is Everipedia.com.
Andrew: You’re getting up. You’re going to show something?
Mahbod: This is Christian.
Andrew: Hey, Christian. Christian, what do you do there? You’re the iOS guy?
Christian: [Inaudible 00:32:17] the first version of the app right now.
Andrew: Who’s in charge of the website?
Mahbod: That’s Persian Zuk.
Andrew: Is Persian Zuk is asleep?
Mahbod: I think he just got out of the shower. So, he might be butt naked.
Andrew: Let me ask you this–the bottom of your site still has a copyright from 2015. How long does it take the Persian Zuk to make that change to the site or can someone else do it too?
Mahbod: Persian Zuk? I’m the one who went to law school, so maybe I should.
Andrew: Can you do it? You’ve got access to it, don’t you?
Mahbod: Here is the man. Here is Persian Zuk.
Sam: How’s it going?
Andrew: Hey. Good to see you. I’m Andrew.
Mahbod: By the way, we have a loft right here. It’s a loft.
Andrew: Got it. How many of you guys are living and working out of this loft?
Sam: Right now four.
Mahbod: Four but it goes up, it goes down. There’s this dude, George Beall, who’s starting his own company. He’s a Wharton dropout.
Andrew: And he’s also there with you?
Mahbod: He’s coming this weekend. He does all kinds of crazy shit on the site too. He’s also friends with Christian.
Andrew: And you guys are living in a one-bedroom loft?
Sam: No, four bedrooms.
Andrew: Okay. I got it. Let me ask you this–how long does it take to change the copyright on the bottom of your site?
Sam: Not too long.
Andrew: Want to do it right now while we’re on the call while we end it?
Andrew: I’m always curious about how long it takes people to make adjustments to their sites.
Andrew: Let me know when to hit refresh.
Mahbod: I’m not the one to ask about this kind of thing because I don’t know how websites work. I only know how Twitter and stuff like that…
Andrew: You’re just like a heavy user of a site, it sounds like, not the developer at all.
Mahbod: I do not know anything about it.
Andrew: Cool. Is there pressure now to really kill it with this business because the first one did well? You’re covering up the mic.
Mahbod: Oh shit. Is it working?
Andrew: Yeah, a little better.
Mahbod: Like I said, the first one, let’s see it make money. At this point, Rap Genius doesn’t even have any ads. It doesn’t make money.
Andrew: I see. You seem a little bit frustrated with that, that you should be able to get some money out of that business instead of living with three other guys, don’t you think?
Mahbod: Seriously. That’s another thing that’s really, really upsetting. I guess the real problem comes from the 2002 tech bubble bursting and Sarbanes-Oxley and all this bullshit legislation. But the present model is not sustainable. It’s bullshit that people are raising $1 billion in VC. So, Sam got me hooked on Robinhood app. I don’t know if you use that. It’s an app for trading stocks. It’s sick. It’s absolutely free. You can do as little or as much as you want. It’s just on your phone.
Mahbod: So, how cool would it be if anyone could just go on Robinhood app and give $5 in Bitcoin to Everipedia and get exactly that much of our company, whatever the valuation?
Andrew: There are sites that do that, aren’t there?
Mahbod: I don’t know. For one thing, you’re not allowed to invest unless you have $1 million.
Andrew: What’s the problem that you’re trying to solve with that? You’re saying that you’d like an easier way to get investment. It sounds like you’re also saying with Sarbanes-Oxley, companies aren’t going public and so people like you who worked hard on the site, on the businesses don’t get to cash out and companies aren’t going to–
Mahbod: Yeah. A, you can’t cash out. B, the cool thing would be if we could just go on UCLA campus and get people to give like $5 to Everipedia as if they’re giving a donation but they’re getting equity too.
Andrew: Doesn’t it suck that you’re at a place now where you’re looking for just another $5?
Mahbod: That’s the thing. We don’t even need the money. So, one thing that’s cool about Everipedia is Genius only had one developer, Tom, whereas there are four founders and this five-person team at Everipedia and three of the founders and four of the team are technical. So, we actually already have more engineering talent than Genius did until it had raised $17 million.
Mahbod: And all we’ve done is raise like a little bit of angel money.
Andrew: You’re not upset that–how much salary are you taking from the business? You’re not upset that you don’t have that much money right now?
Mahbod: We’re not taking salaries.
Andrew: You’re not taking salary? So, doesn’t that suck? Here’s one of the observations that I’ve made now that I’ve lived in San Francisco for a while. There are a lot of really smart people who have no money, who are surrounded by people who have no money but are pretending they do and every once in a while there’s someone who has a jet. It’s a really crappy environment to live in and no one is upset because people are afraid to admit that it sucks.
If you ever read the book “Freakonomics,” you know there’s a story about why is it that crack dealers–if selling drugs is so lucrative, why do crack dealers live with their moms? It’s because most crack dealers don’t make much money, so they’re living with their moms hoping one day to rise to the top of the food chain and then make a ton of money. I kind of feel like that’s what’s going on in tech.
Mahbod: Or become rappers.
Andrew: Don’t you get frustrated by that?
Mahbod: Personally, I just don’t even care about money.
Andrew: To be honest with you, I’m looking to push some buttons here. I believe there’s some emotion there and I’m trying to find it. I’m trying to push a button that will get you fired up.
Mahbod: What bothers me more from a philosophical perspective, it’s not cool that investing is so difficult and so byzantine, especially in a world where there’s Bitcoin and there’s Robinhood app. It should be that anyone can invest $5 in any app or any business they want instantly and the paperwork gets sent electronically. So, that’s a world I’d really like to see. That’s why I’m so into Bitcoin. The only angel investment I’ve ever made is Coinbase. I love Everipedia. But I love Coinbase too. They’re a really amazing company.
Andrew: All right. I’m hitting refresh on the page.
Sam: We’ll do it later tonight.
Andrew: You guys are going to do it later tonight?
Andrew: You guys have a site where you can’t change the copyright on the bottom until later tonight?
Sam: No, we can, but we’re working on a big update and I have to remove a lot of that. If you want to see what I’m working on, it’s all of this stuff.
Andrew: What’s that? You’re angling the camera over.
Sam: It’s all of this that I’d have to delete just to change something and put it back. We will definitely update the site. You’ll actually see the big update too.
Andrew: I’m looking forward to seeing it.
Mahbod: Tell him what’s in the big update.
Sam: It’s like the Wikipedia info box. You know how on the right side of an article, it has all of the quick facts? We’re finally adding that kind of support. It’s much more modern and new.
Andrew: I see the site. I see where you guys are going with it. You want anyone to be able to contribute to this understanding of the world, kind of like Wikipedia, but also with a little bit of Reddit in there where I can vote on the articles that–
Sam: Discussion. Most people don’t even know Wikipedia has a talk page to discuss the topic and what’s important enough to actually make the article, but we’re trying to make it more modern. This is how people discuss stuff on the internet now.
Mahbod: Dude, the site is blowing up. The only thing you need to know is Wikipedia has 5 million pages and they delete 1,000 pages a week.
Andrew: So, Wikipedia I can see is big. But I looked up Everipedia. I don’t see that much traffic for you guys.
Mahbod: What’s that?
Andrew: How much traffic are you guys getting? According to SimilarWeb, you guys are at like 23,000 a month.
Mahbod: Well, it’s growing very fast, dude. Yesterday was our biggest day ever. Also, the growth is guaranteed. All we need to do for the growth is to keep on existing because the more stuff that gets added, the bigger the site gets. There’s an unlimited number of things.
Like what blew up recently was Craig Strickland died and he’s like a big famous country singer, but he didn’t have a Wikipedia page. He has a Facebook. He has a Twitter. He has everything else. Why would he not have a Wikipedia page? But it’s because Wikipedia is a pain in the ass to use and they delete all these pages. I’m not on Wikipedia. I’ve tried to get on Wikipedia a bunch of times. They keep taking down my article.
Andrew: You mean a page about you is not on Wikipedia?
Mahbod: No, even though a lot of people want to know about me. So, now you can go on my Everipedia. That’s the reason I joined. I was giving a talk at UCLA. At the time, Sam was a UCLA student. So, he came up to me at the end of the talk and he’s like, “Yo, check out your Everipedia page.”
Andrew: Bring the camera back on you now.
Mahbod: I suddenly was like–it hearkened back to all these times that I tried to get a Wikipedia page and they keep taking it down. I was like, “Holy shit. How many people feel exactly the way that I do about this?”
Andrew: All right. The site is Everipedia.com. Thanks so much. I feel a little defeated. I feel like there’s some greatness there that I haven’t tapped into. I feel like there’s some fight in you that I haven’t been able to provoke and people who are listening can hear me try to provoke that and also try to understand.
Mahbod: I don’t know. I said some mean stuff.
Andrew: I’m not necessarily looking for mean stuff. The truth is that I do feel like you’re an interesting person and I’m not yet sure how to tap into that, how to figure out the origin of it and more important how to understand what I could take away from it. What can I learn from the way that you did–the way that you helped Genius?
Mahbod: Well, with both of these companies, one thing that I do is I spend a lot of time with young people. We’re on a college campus. There are all these college students involved. The main advice that I’m constantly giving them is don’t be one of these Hacker News talking about how great Slack is wantrepreneur people. Actually sit there and work on something.
It’s not okay if it says on your profile that you have your own company but you’re not tweeting about your own company. All you’re tweeting about is about what Marc Andreessen just said and the new Slack update. You can’t be that person. The only way to succeed is if all you’re doing is working on your own company.
Andrew: All right. Congratulations on the new business. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes.
Mahbod: I have the number two IQ on Everipedia. So, I’m not just like sitting around waiting for shit to happen. I’m putting it up myself. Everipedia is actually planning on making IQ someday interchangeable for equity or Bitcoin.
Andrew: I see.
Mahbod: So, think about that the next time you’re sitting around futzing on Facebook or even if you’re contributing to Genius.
Andrew: Contribute to Everipedia and at some point you might get shares in the business or you might get Bitcoin. In some way, you guys are looking to reward your members. All right. Let me end the interview here. People can go and check out your Everipedia page. They can check out Everipedia.com to see other pages. You guys are quick about creating pages for people who are in the news.
I didn’t get a chance to really do a sponsorship message for my advertiser. I was so deep in the interview. So, I promise the advertisers I will redo this, not redo this interview. I don’t do that. I like to publish things as they are and get feedback. I will run another ad for those two sponsors, for Toptal and HostGator. Mahbod, I love that I can say that name. Thank you so much for doing this interview.
Mahbod: We’re going to be put Toptal and HostGator on Everipedia and tweet out their pages.
Andrew: Good. I’d love to see that. Cool, man. Thanks for being on here. Thank you all for being a part of Mixergy. Bye, everyone.