Andrew: Hey, they’re freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder, mixer G, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. For an audience of ambitious entrepreneurs who are, guess what, building their businesses. I am so excited to have today’s guest on because I don’t know what the hell he’s doing here because frankly, his company has done incredibly well.
I don’t think he needs more of an audience, but I really appreciate him coming here because I’ve been fascinated by them. Lyndon Tibbitts is the co-founder of ift. I knew them back when they were, if this, then that. It was an amazing, and still is an amazing piece of technology because what it does is it connects multiple tools that we use to make them more useful.
Little things like if you post to Twitter, also save it to your own notepad in case you get booted off of Twitter. Those little connections are helpful. And then when you start to add connections in the house, like if a sensor goes off, turn on the light. If this, then that. If I’m excited to have ’em on here because I wanna find out how the ear about the early days of how the business.
Came about how they’ve grown. And uh, also I feel like today marketing is being done for them by the tools that use them. So I can’t tell you, we were just looking for automation, uh, tools for our new house, light switches, plugs, that kind of a thing. I think every one of them made sure to tell me they work with Alexa, Google, and ift.
I think in the headline of all those products, when you, you got your name in there, I don’t think you need a Mixer g interview. So I’m grateful to you Lindon for doing it and I’m grateful to the two sponsors who are making this happen. The first. If you’ve been listening to the Web three space, and a lot of it is turning you off, but this doo idea of how communities get together and own and decide and do things together, I’m gonna tell you later on about why you should subscribe to a podcast I’m creating about how Doos, uh, how Doos work, and it’s firstname.lastname@example.org slash podcast.
And the second, if you’re hiring developers later, I’ll tell you, you should go to lemon io slash mixergy. But first Lindon, good to have you here.
Linden: Andrew, thank you. Happy to be here.
Andrew: Do you know how many different tools, how many different products include IFT in them?
Linden: I think we’re really close to 800, just under 800 now, so, um, yeah, lot, lot of smart home stuff in there, but that, that makes about a fourth of the services on if, um, but hopefully if it’s a tool you use brand you love, uh, it’s on if or we’ll be on there shortly. Yeah.
Andrew: What’s an automation that you create? Gimme a sense of what’s possible and fun.
Linden: Yeah. I mean, a couple of ones that I go to, uh, uh, whenever I’m asked that question, you know, so I’ve had a Tumblr, I don’t even call it a blog. It’s like a, like a log of all the things that I like and a Feedly reader. So I have a, uh, an outlet is what we call the kind of unit of automation on if, uh, that takes, you know, Feedly likes and creates either pictures or video posts on t.
Uh, it takes like YouTube, uh, uh, favorites. Um, sometimes it kind of pulls from a few different things and it’s a combination of three or four different apples. Um, and I go back and look at it every once in a while. But, uh, I think the, the other thing I do with an apple that’s kind of related to that is then pull some of those, uh, pictures.
So anytime there’s a new photo post on my Tumblr, Uh, I pull that into a folder with Dropbox, uh, save it in a very specific folder that then like powers my, uh, screensaver. So, you know, I’ve got, I’m here, my home office set up. I’ve got the super nerdy, like three big ass monitors here. And so I like annoy my whole family with the, the nerdy design photos that I like.
So, uh, it only goes about 20 minutes, uh, before they, they, you know, can’t take it anymore, but it, I like it. I could do it for two hours.
Andrew: The little one I wanna set up is if someone’s taking a shower. Then turn on that fan. I hate having that, that, uh, steamy bathroom.
Linden: Oh yeah. Yeah, that’s a good one. We, we have, I think one shower head. There were a couple for a while. Uh, that was one of the iott kind of products that didn’t quite take off. It’s, uh, tough to convince someone to replace their shower or shower.
Andrew: Well, I, I’ve been watching these people on YouTube who talk about different sensors and I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable my house by having a sensor in there. But if it’s small enough that you don’t notice it or is attached to the door of the shower or something, I gotta think about what it is.
But it’s kind of fun cuz what you’re doing is you’re programming your life with ift and that’s, that’s the exciting part. And as someone who’s watching businesses from afar, what I like about your. Every one of these tools, every one of these apps is kind of promoting you, and so you don’t have to get out there and buy ads.
The products are already telling people that, that you exist and how you work. But I, I brought this up before we got started and you gave me this surprise look. So I said, let me bring it up in the interview a while back, like three years ago, I think four maybe. Um, TechCrunch said that you left and you were replaced by like A A C E O of Monster who’s now taken over, but you back.
Linden: Yeah. Yeah. I, I never left. Uh, and it was, um, it was, uh, my, my decision actually, and so this kind of gets a little bit into kind of the, the recent history of the company, but you know, we. , we had always been successful. Uh, to your point about just kind of almost having like free advertising, we’ve always been successful getting people to sign up and use it, right?
We see 6,000 new users sign up every day and it’s almost like no matter how we try that that can’t stop, right? Like we haven’t grown it as much as I’d like to. We’d love to grow a lot faster, but it’s just kind of like we’re here and, and there’s kind of a network effect there on the kind of services.
That, you know, is, is really awesome. But, um, you know, the business itself, uh, was always a little bit of a struggle. Um, you know, I think, uh, we started, uh, I’d say now been about six years ago, we felt that we wanted to build something for a very broad audience, make it as easy as possible. You know, how do we make, you know, automation or effectively programming.
As like user friendly as possible. One of the ways you do that is never say programming and really even never say automation if, if we can avoid it. Um, but uh, you know, I think the other part of that was okay, if we’re kind of building this very broad, generally useful tool, how likely are they gonna be to pay for this?
Right? If you know you, you know, I think there was a time there. Um, I think this has all changed thankfully, where it was kind of like if, if you paid for something online, it was probably like Netflix. There was a pretty steep drop off after that. And so we tried to build a business around the brands themselves.
We felt that we were doing something that was really difficult for those brands to do themselves unless they were, you know, some massive social network or something like that. Uh, which was effectively kind of build out their developer platform and API in that developer community. Um, so they could kind of shortcut that in a lot of the hassles that come with it by plugging into if, and we thought, well shoot, that, that would be valuable enough.
uh, these companies to pay for. And we did okay. You know, we had a full sales team, customer success team, all really awesome people, and, uh, got to about a 5 million a r business. Uh, had, you know, probably about 10 or 15 brands, uh, paying six figures or more annually, uh, to essentially be on if, right, like we.
We played with all kinds of ways, you know, figured out how to meter it or, or you know, how does a brand pay more or less, depending on their usage. But it was so damn hard to sell. You know, it was, um, if you’re an enterprise, you understand, you know, buying Slack or buying, you know, Microsoft Office. You know, like these are tools for your employees to do their work and you can put a price on that.
It’s very kind of, you know, it’s a, it’s a motion that you’re kind of going through, you know, all the time. , but you know, when you’re asked to put a price tag on something that your users or customers are gonna value, um, it’s a lot more difficult. And that was, that was our challenge. It was just very, very hard to sell.
The sales cycles were like six month plus and we couldn’t figure out how to get ’em shorter. Um, but anyways, you know, somewhere in the middle of there were, I kind of going through this process is figuring out how to grow this business faster. Uh, I decided, you know, I just wasn’t the right person to build an enterprise business.
You know, it, it. Uh, something I had a lot of experience with, or, you know, passion for, I had passion for building the company and building the product. Um, but it just wasn’t something that I, I felt myself kind of getting up in the morning and saying like, I can’t wait to figure out how to shorten our sales cycle.
And, uh, so yeah, I, I told the board, Hey, maybe someone else can do this better than I can. And uh, yeah, they were, they were pretty open with the idea. So I stayed on, I was the. , uh, I can’t even remember what my title was, but it was, you know, head of product or design or something like that. And, uh, you know, somewhere in that process as we made that transition, I think we also ran into the kind of realization that this business wasn’t gonna be the a hundred million opportunity that we thought we could build.
And so we shifted gears. Kind of in the middle of that, I stepped back and as a CEO and, uh, started working on building the business around consumers. So, uh, we launched a thing called If. Two, two and a half years ago, and like within two months we had another $5 million ARR business . So it was kinda like, oh, just maybe a lot easier and kind of aligns with who we are and what we’re passionate about.
So we’ve never, never looked back.
Andrew: If Pro is for consumers who need multiple outlets,
Linden: Yes. That’s right, multiple outlets more, more, uh, you know, kind of features more complexity. So if this, and that is kind of the basic outlet, if you want to add what we call a query in there. If, if something happens when you’re home or when you’re away, or when someone’s in the shower, or what have you. Uh, and then do you know multiple things, you know, uh, send an email or send her an email and log it to a spreadsheet.
So on and so forth. So, uh, kind of power user tools and we’re shifting more and more. I think, you know, smart home is almost, uh, something that found us and it’s always been really exciting cause it always kind of, kind of matched the vision of, you know, everything was gonna be an internet service. You know, not just, you know, abstract digital things, but you know, physical things too.
Um, so I think that will continue to be a, a big driver for the business. But we’re really excited now. Individuals kind of not unlike yourself. I think you probably, uh, maybe are, are just outside of that category. But, you know, calling it the enterprise of one doesn’t necessarily mean it has to just be one person.
Uh, but there’s just so many ways that people are building businesses that aren’t necessarily VC back startups with the internet today, and even if you’re a real, real kind of brick and mortar business, you run a barbershop or tattoo parlor. That business is so much more digital than it was even three or four years ago, and so we think that’s kind of an exciting new customer for us.
Andrew: I always wondered why you didn’t go into. Business tools. So you are always on the consumer side. In fact, I think on your homepage right now is the featured Apple is date night and it sets everything up for date night, but. People don’t really pay to have that kind of a setup for home versus business where you have a real problem.
A problem that I had, for example, was we were using review the Twitter email software to collect email addresses. I wanted those email addresses to also go in our crm and then frankly to go in another email provider because who knows what’s gonna happen to review. Actually, I now know Elon Musk killed it.
And for that, you pay because it’s a business need, and each one of those interactions is a potential customer. Your tool could have done that, but you never pivoted towards that. I wonder why.
Linden: Maybe until now is kind of what I’m saying. I think we’ve, we’ve realized, you know, maybe a more general statement is I can’t think of a startup or, or founder that has been given the room to make as many mistakes as we have, you know, and, and thankfully none of those mistakes have really been the, a nail in a coffin.
Um, and none of those mistakes were like negligence as, as much. , uh, I’m one of the things I’m so grateful for, not just investors, but you know, people that have worked at IFT over the years. You know, I’ve been working on if, since like 2009. Still just as excited, I think. Uh, but you know, for different reasons.
Uh, and we’ve just, we’ve changed so many things and tried so many things, but have also come back around to things that we thought were. almost like core principles. And, and so one of those core principles that we’re now starting to realize was kind of a bad idea was kind of this aspiration to build a very general tool, uh, was really inspired by just how magical search is.
And maybe kind of a tie into what you were saying earlier about, you know, uh, ai, uh, perhaps it, you know, you can use it for so many different things, right? Like, you know, Google didn’t build search for this one use case. It was kind of a use case that. To all kinds of different problems. And so we always kind of said, well, hey, let, we don’t need to pick an audience.
You know, in fact, even though the smart home found us, we never said we’re a smart home company. Um, in fact, the majority of what people do with their smart home products on ift. Is connecting their smartphone product like a purely digital, you know, service Dropbox or the weather or something like that.
Um, I think that was a mistake, , and I think we, I think, you know, just like a lot of those other mistakes we still have room to make up for, we’ve been, you know, effectively breakeven running the company break even for about three years now. Um, the team is growing again. We’ve, I think we’ve gotten back. The largest the team has ever been is about 44, 45.
I think we’re there again now. Um, so yeah, I think, I think this, you know, kind of focusing on exactly what you’re describing, the problems that involve helping people build a business.
Andrew: business people because they’re more willing to spend and then as opposed to features that make your life better, features that solve problems. And for me, the problem was review, email addresses, moving over to, I don’t know, convert kit or something. Um, okay. I gotcha. Um, . And I wouldn’t say that that it was, maybe it was mistakes of oversight, but it’s not a mistake of we screwed up and lost everyone’s data.
We screwed up. And you, you never made any of those mistakes where you did something bad. It was maybe a different opportunity that you could have gone down. And I think for that reason, there’s still a lot of positive energy for, for, if you know what I saw, there’s. . There’s one person in the space in the Automation for enterprise space that had an interesting idea because a lot of them are just, let’s just go for a cheaper product and, and make it maybe a little easier.
There’s one that, I forget who it was, who said, why do people even need these outside services? Why don’t we just embed ourselves in with the tools? And so if you’re using. Convert kit or send in Blue or MailChimp, why should they say, go use one of these automation tools. Why don’t they just embed it in?
And to me that made sense a lot and that seems like an enterprise worthy expense, but I don’t know. Enterprise of one might be a better diversification.
Linden: Yeah. Yeah. It’s, um, I think we’re gonna avoid going back into selling directly to an enterprise.
Linden: but, uh, but the, uh, but you, what you, what you hit on is actually what we were trying to do. when we were building that enterprise business and we actually had been fairly successful. It’s one of those, maybe one of the mistakes that we haven’t quite come around to acknowledging yet.
Um, you know, the, uh, we build a thing called Connect, um, and it has an SDK and it allows people to take again, kind of that unit of value, what we call an Apple automation and embed that in a mobile app or a. And, uh, we’ve got some awesome brands using that. iRobot Husqvarna, YouTube actually uses it for some things, and so it allows them to kind of shortcut, you know, Hey, go use if for this.
It’s more just like, here’s, here’s an integration that we offer on onsite. You don’t have to go anywhere for it. Um, and yeah, we’ve got a lot of people, I think we still see thousand, uh, folks a day sign up because of those types of.
Andrew: Mm. I am curious about how you got started and then about where you think the future of automation will be.
Andrew: I saw very little on your LinkedIn profile, uh, you really are like, well, you’ve had a couple of different positions before. Id o but it was ideo and then if it feels like Id, IDEO was. Helped shape the way you think.
Even your logos are fairly similar, that clear the letters stand for themselves. We’re not adding another image type of experience. How did it shape you?
Linden: Yeah, I mean, maybe even before Id, I think there was one other thing that maybe only gets, you know, 10 pixels on the LinkedIn page. I, my first job outta college, I went computer engineering, you know, always knew both computer engineering and in a weird way, I don’t know how, uh, knew I wanted to do that in Silicon Valley, largely about like, Pixar was.
Uh, electronic Arts, Lucas Arts, and some more like entertainment and video games. So I worked at electronic Arts right outta school, and that allowed me to three months, three total months, you know, and it was, uh, it was video game night shifts. I literally had days where I would go to work at like 10:30 PM.
and leave at 8:00 AM . Uh, so yeah, it was, uh, it was pretty nuts. But there’s a reason they, they can do that is because people that build those things are really passionate about that stuff. So, uh, they sometimes get taken advantage of. So anyways, that was like, okay, I checked this box of what I thought I always wanted to do, then like, now what did I really want to do that thing?
Um, and uh, then it kind of worked. You know, I, I wouldn’t call it a dead end job, but it was more just kind of like it was. , very much like an office space job for, for a couple years after that. Uh, and it was during that time period kind of that period of pain that was really the catalyst. And I decided, okay.
What I liked about games and movies was you were automatically oriented around the, the, the, the user, the person that was consuming it, right? Like you, every decision you make was just naturally, whether you were a designer or not. Like you were thinking about this other person and you were building something for.
Um, and, you know, if it’s not games or movies, you know, we call that design for everything else. Um, and so I got really interested in design. I was just like, you know, uh, maybe I don’t just wanna be an engineer. I want to be a designer. And so basically applied everywhere. Tried my hardest over a course of a year.
The only person or company I even heard back from was Ideo . And so I was very lucky. And for, say, they’re actually the person in HR said, oh, you applied on the. We never hire anybody on the website. So, uh, it was, it was because I applied as an engineer, so I was like one of two or three, uh, computer engineers at ideo and yeah, I was just like a kid in a candy store.
It was just like every day learning from people. So many smart people worked there. Um, and it was so, so fun. So that obviously was, like you said, so influential in what. Became, and, um, part of that kind of founding story, uh, is one of the people that worked the idea with a woman named Jane Fulton Sur. And she, uh, you know, kind of in the design world, she, she really kind of spearheaded this idea of, uh, human-centered design, you know, is probably something you’ve heard thrown around.
But, um, you know, back in the sixties and seventies, design was much more about kind of, The veneer, the, the look of it or, you know, the designer’s design furniture. Right. Um, and uh, and she really kind of brought this kind of rigor about okay, understanding the person, the person using the product, doing research.
And she wasn’t a designer, she was a, uh, psychologist. And uh, you know, she had a couple, you know, they’re almost more like, uh, lead gin kind of published books from id, but there’s one of those books called Thoughtless. It’s just like a small little book this big, and it’s really just like a set of pictures of people using physical products outside of the range of what whoever built or invented that product intended.
You know, an example would be like holding your hair up with a pencil or, uh, you know, like ashing your cigarette in a beer bottle top or something like that, right? Like, those are essentially like creative inventions. You know, somebody like solved a problem in their physical. . Uh, and it, you know, they don’t stop and say, oh, wow, I’m so clever.
You know, so many of those decisions are almost just like, yeah, that’s, you know, what you can do. Um, and I begin to see that as a, you know, essentially programming, you know, on a really broad spectrum. Somewhere along the line you cross over from physical world programming to digital,
Andrew: Ah, so someone putting a pencil in her hair to keep her hair from falling down, like to keep that ponytail in place. She is programming using a pencil, and you are starting to see that also as the same kind of creativity as a developer has.
Linden: Yeah. Well, we have so much creativity in our kind of purely physical space that we take it for granted, right? So like you understand what a pencil is. It’s almost seems silly to talk about it like this. You understand what a pencil is, how it works, what are its properties, what are its functions, and then you can then say, okay, well I could write with this.
That’s what it’s used for, but I could. Put it in my hair or I could make up a game and play pencil break. You know, like you kind of come up with a hundred different use cases and everybody is capable of that. No one really stops to think about it. So in a way, in the physical world, everybody is a programmer.
We’re kind of constantly modifying our physical environment to solve problems, right? Like it’s too bright outside, close the blinds, like, you know, maybe a little bit of a stretch to say that’s programming, but like we’re very confident that we can solve problems and kind of creatively reuse things in the physical.
And so the inspiration was, okay, well when we go digital and everything is going more and more digital all the time, well it’s kind of haves and havenots programmers can kind of express that same creativity, but everybody else is basically kind of, kind of tied to the whims and fancies of those programmers.
And so it was really a response to say like, how do we, how do we make programming something that is accessible to.
Andrew: You know what? I’d read that article, I think you even wrote a blog post about it. Once that idea hit you, you were standing in line for something, the idea hit you. You said, okay, this is where I’m going. And I didn’t fully understand the connection between a pencil and a hair to developers, but now I’m getting it.
You’re saying if we could give people a box of tools like Lego, let’s see what they put together. What if we give them Lego that allows programming and essentially that’s what if always. Coding for the regular person.
Linden: Yeah. Yeah. And, and even, uh, not to kind of mince words, but even Lego is like more like coding, coding than what we’re talking about. Like it’s, um, people are, let’s, the silliest example I used to give was, so you have a window open, you have papers on your desk, and the papers start to blow around.
Take your coffee cup, you put ’em on the paper, , right? Like you’ve just creatively solved a problem. Wasn’t intended to be solved with a copy cup. Uh, right. You just know that the copy cup is heavier than the paper, you know,
Andrew: My, my
Linden: so obvious.
Andrew: my favorite recent one is you go to people’s offices, they have high-end, very expensive computers sitting on books or an Amazon box because they don’t have a tool that quite gets the, the thing up high enough and so they do it. Okay. That was your idea. I’m curious about what your next step, but first let me tell people about my other podcast.
It is about DAOs. Do you know much about Dows Linden?
Andrew: No. Okay.
Andrew: No problem. I’m gonna actually gonna open your eyes to it. Dowser. Basically, they’re decentralized, autonomous organizations. They’re communities. They can just go off and do what they want on their own. I’ll tell you about the one that CR that led to the creation of Origami.
My sponsor, a bunch of Y Combinator founders. Uh, we’re on a chat group talking about different crypto projects and different things that they like to invest in. And they decided, all right, let’s just make an investment together. And they pulled their money together, and within a few days they made some investments in a few crypto projects coming out of Y Combinator.
They said, you know what? Why don’t we do this again? But if we’re gonna do it again, why do it in the traditional way? Why should we go and become another venture capital firm? Which frankly, San Francisco had tons of them. They said, how do we do it differently? And they said, what if we created DAO in this decentralized organiz?
Just about all of us, not just about any one of us. Y Combinator alumni could help bring forward a potential company or project for us to invest in. Every one of us could actually, uh, support those companies. What if we make a dao? And so they did. They created a Dao. They raised a bunch of money most recently, um, I think they announced that they’re up to 80 million now.
And the cool thing about Adao is not only did they make a hundred investments within, I think it was 90 days, because it’s a group of people who are all hunting, who are all working, who are all supporting, why wouldn’t you want to take the their money? Um, but also they said, why do we have to limit ourselves to investing if our whole vision is to help bring about a better world?
Why don’t we do something else? And they’re in this chat group thinking about it. And one of them said, you know, how about if we invest in entrepreneurs, not just in companies? And so within a short period of time, he put it up, everyone in the Dow got a chance to vote on his idea. They voted and supported it.
They took some money from the Dow, they gave it to him, and now boom. They have what they call a fellowship, which invests in entrepreneurs. Like I could probably go and get funding from them. And then I learn about Web three through this fellowship, who, the money that they’re, that they’re giving me through the, uh, opportunity and the people they’re introducing me.
And then if I create a company using what I learned within, I think the period is three months, then they could get equity in it. If I don’t, no harm, no foul, I just move on into the world with this goodwill associated with the Dao that is called Orange Dao. And it has been amazing. And so a few of the Y Combinator founders behind it said, why are we just.
Doing this for ourselves, let’s open it up to others. And they created an organization called Origami. Origami, just like the thing you do with paper that creates dows for others. They’ve done it for, um, Kaufman Fellow. They’ve done it for a bunch. I don’t think they allow me to tell you about all the different organizations that they’re, that they’re doing it for.
um, because they’re like the, the invisible support for these Doos. But if you’re curious about Doos, I created a podcast with them because I’m also curious and I wanna see how it works. And Linden, if you’re a podcast subscriber and everyone else who’s listening to me, you should go to join origami.com/podcast.
The same kind of experience that you have here, talking with entrepreneurs who’ve created companies, you’re gonna have with Dao, uh, creators and members in the whole. , join origami.com/podcast. There you go, Linden.
Linden: Very cool.
Andrew: All right, so now you had this idea. Coming back to your story, what’s the first step you took to build it?
Linden: Well, yeah, talk about one of the thousands of mistakes, but I think the first thing I could think of was buy a domain . Uh uh, so I think I bought, you know, a handful of ’em, but you know, weirdly enough it was, it was almost like the name of the company was the idea, um, if this, and. And so, uh, I think I convinced Vince someone that was running a blog around if this and that, just kind of a personal blog, uh, that to, to let me buy the domain for five or 600 bucks.
Uh, and that was the beginning. And I think, um, really it took about a year and a half to kind of do enough of the, the work that really gave me the confidence to say, okay, I’m gonna go do this full-time. So was saving money, you know, not, you know, taking all the money I was earning from the day. Uh, spending nights and weekends, uh, kind of building a prototype of it, um, kind of getting something that that could actually work and people could take a look at.
And yeah, we, we have had so many really kind of fortuitous things happen. You know, one of those, uh, had a couple buddies, uh, through Idio that, uh, had gone to m mit. So when we launched kind of into like a private beta. , you know, he shared it with, uh, those folks that were still at m MIT in the media lab.
And I, you know, I always, uh, thought of the MIT Media Lab folks as these kind of like, you know, superheroes or something probably are. Uh, and so in a weird way, we got like so much credibility from them getting excited about it. And I think it was somebody there that then posted that to like Hacker News.
And so like a lot of the marketing, you know, wasn’t even me thinking like, oh, okay, how do I get this, you know, really credible person to say this is cool. It kind of just happened. Um, so yeah, we were very lucky in that regard.
Andrew: You used APIs in the beginning, did you get permission from those companies to use their APIs or did you just go ahead and use them?
Linden: Well, I mean, I like to say if was kind of founded at a time, uh, that has passed the golden age of APIs, you know, if you remember back it was kinda like Flicker had on awesome API and then like Foursquare and Twitter and Facebook, you know, all these companies that really kind of thought of their API. as you know, the more open, the better.
Like they were going to be the platform and the ui, you know, they just happened to be also the UI for the time being. But then like, you know, let other people build the UIs. And, you know, Twitter most famously is the one that has struggled the most to go from, you know, anybody can build a Twitter client.
You know, no one can build Twitter client. And so I think some of that was maybe, uh, uh, folks being naive, but also some of it I, I thought was actually really good and positive. And I think that’s, you know, the only thing I’ll say. Uh, Dao or any of the web three stuff that it feels like they’re kind of starting from that same place, right?
Like, you know, we want to be decentralized, we wanna be the platform. You know, it’s about APIs, it’s not about UIs. Um, and I think that’s, that’s, uh, I think both righteous, but I think it also makes it a little bit more difficult, especially if you’re trying to build a business. Um, so anyways, yeah, it was a very special.
Andrew: I do remember that it was Flicker that was the most famous for it because they, they were an early web two company for photo sharing. They were an early exit to Yahoo, and they also were very big on saying that they created the APIs first, and then they happened to use their own APIs to create their website.
And that opened people’s eyes. Yes, Twitter did the same thing though. They struggled, and you’re talking about Twitter’s problem with it, which, Why would anyone use the Twitter app or see the Twitter ad if there’s a third party software that was better and faster and didn’t have any advertising and et cetera, et cetera.
Okay. And so you, you were able to actually create connections. Do you remember the very first connection that you made?
Linden: I think it was, it was probably Twitter, cuz I think Twitter had like one of the most kind of easily accessible and it had a lot of other like third party kind of open source libraries. So it was probably like Twitter to email, using email through send. . Um, I think weather was an early one. Uh, at the time Yahoo had a great weather api, you know, so like tracking the rain and getting an email.
So it’s like some combination and all, all of our IDs in the database are numericals, so I can like go back. Twitter was ID number two. Uh, I think, uh, email was three. Weather was for, I don’t even know any, uh, ID one is anymore. I some got deleted. Um, but it was, uh, yeah, there was definitely something magical even when I did it the first time, you know, kind of went.
This kind of, if this in that process basically came out of it with a program that didn’t look like a program and didn’t feel like a program.
Andrew: And so you. When you had it, it took you a year on your own to build this whole thing. Then it started to spread because this is the kind of thing that naturally would spread in the tech community going for social happened to be because Twitter was so easy to work with, but also it gave you an upside in that Twitter is such a good sharing mechanism and especially was back then that all helped to take off.
It. Was your brother and another co-founder from the very beginning or at that stage, was it still just you?
Linden: Yeah. So, um, my brother, uh, actually only just recently, uh, left. He’d been with us for a very long time. Uh, he was sleeping on my couch in the living room. I had this kind of like little shoebox apartment in Hayes Valley, in San Francisco, one bedroom. And so the living room was like my office.
Uh, he had just moved over from New York. Uh, was kind of doing some job searching, uh, sleeping on the couch. And so, uh, it was almost like out of necessity, like, holy shit, this thing is working , you know, we, we, we need someone to do other things. Uh, so he started working and, uh, really kind of grew his career in a totally different direction.
He had a, a film background, so it was really lucky to work with him and. kind of navigated all that. You know, you’re someone that started a company with your brother as well, it sounds like. And, you know, that’s, that’s not easy. Um, and so we, we made it through, and then we had, uh, actually two other buddies from IDEO in the early days.
And, um, you know, one of ’em within about six months said, uh, this yacht, I don’t think I want to do, like, the kind of, you know, startup journey. Uh, and then the other one, you know, a couple years later, uh, kind of had a similar feeling so, . But yeah, it’s one of the things that, you know, not just kind of saying this to say this, we’ve been so lucky to attract like good people, just like kind of naturally, I don’t know, it’s just, there’s something, I could probably create a slideshow about it and call it the culture deck, but like, we did something right and we keep doing that something right to attract folks that are kind of passionate, super talented, and, you know, easy to work with.
So we’ve, we’ve been lucky in that regard.
Andrew: Let’s think about why. I feel like partially because you are developer type of product, you’re, you’re democratized, democratizing development. So you bring in more developers and at the same time it has a virality and a, um, , maybe not, maybe virality is, is not high powered, but there’s still a lot of sharing in it.
Um, and I feel like that combination helps almost like Twilio would get great developers because who’s using Twilio? It’s other developers. What do you think it is? And, and take me beyond what I see surface level.
Linden: Yeah, it, it’s definitely that. Like we’ve always had a brand that was, you know, a hundred times bigger than our business. You know, we’re, we’re still working on it. Um, but like something about the brand. But I also think that, um, you know, I’m still very much just like, you know, almost a optimist by default.
And so that kind of golden age time period was just like, uh, it’s magical. I, I kind of want to get back there and it’s one of the reasons I think Web three is exciting. . But, uh, you know, I think that then came through in the decisions we made, the product, we built, uh, the kind of care that went into building that.
Um, and also like, just kind of decisions that we would make, how we kind of communicated to folks. So there was something authentic there. Uh, the, you know, the brand certainly didn’t, didn’t hurt, um, but it was kind of a way to have an early stage startup experience, uh, but still have confidence, you know, because there was this big brand and you.
Especially in Silicon Valley, walk around and say you work for, if people are like, oh, if to school . You know, so it’s kind of like, okay, well that’s, that’s also confidence inspiring. This can’t fail. You know, this isn’t just like joining some ragtag thing that they’re not quite sure it will ever work. We had kind of worked to the extent that that, you know, there was some de, you know, de-risking there
But again, you know, the business itself is, has been the thing that we’ve struggled with and I think I’ve really only just recently figured out to the extent. No, I’m totally confident we’re gonna be massive, uh, but the brand already is so.
Andrew: We talked about the challenge of going into device makers and enterprise and partnering with them and saying, if you build IFT into your software, into your hardware, then you could get a better experience for your customers. I’m curious about how you were able to do that in the early days. Like what’s the first physical product that you got into?
How did you convince others to jump in today? I feel like it’s a natural, but back then it seemed challeng.
Linden: Yeah, it was, I think part of it, uh, had to do, you know, talked a little bit about some of the, the very kind of physical inspiration. That led to what if was, um, you know, some of it was us talking about that. Uh, some of it was even just like kind of design decisions, how the product work. You know, everything was like really big, uh, type and font, really sparse and just like the logo there.
And it was really easy to kind of see like, okay, well you put the Twitter or the Instagram logo there, uh, but what if we put like a light bulb logo there? Uh, and that was kind of the intent. Like we. In a way we didn’t build if in anticipation of iot and connected devices. Uh, but it kind of just like came together.
And so like Nest thermostat and some of those early iot things. The first iot device was, um, Beltcon. Wemo, uh, and I think they now have 10 or 12 different things. Had a, had two things. One was a motion sensor and one was, uh, basically a plug. You plug it into the wall and you plug something else into it, connect it to your wifi.
And, uh, yeah, they found us and somehow convinced us to work with their like crazy , you know, is when hardware manufacturers start building web APIs. Uh, you should run for the Hills a little bit. You know, they’ve gotten way better over the, over time, you know, as they’ve evolved. But yeah, I remember that first API looking at it like, oh shit, what have I gotten myself into?
Um, but yeah, we
Andrew: But they said, please build in with us. Was were the early clients, were they clients? They use early hardware manufacturers.
Linden: No. No. And you know, we, we didn’t know at the time how the business would work. I think this was all, I think this, we, we built some of the bean stuff. I, I think I recall building that in the living room. So we were still just like two or three people in the living room. Uh, probably had raised some of the seed funding by then.
But uh, also, you know, one of the other problems with the golden age was, you know, hard to even imagine it now, but you know, there was a lot of, you know, just build it as big as you can. You can raise a lot of money on that. Keep building it bigger, right? Like that’s basically what Twitter was for a long time.
Um, uh, what kind of the path Instagram was on, I think they all had ideas. They all knew it was probably gonna be advertising. There wasn’t a lot of pressure to figure that out earlier to have. Coherent story. And that changed pretty quickly, you know, 2013 or 14. Uh, and I think that’s actually good. Um, but yeah, there was, there was a lot of other weird stuff that, you know, that they just never even thought about the business.
Not, not that we never thought about the business as much as we just didn’t think we had to. Like the incentive was to get it in front of as many people, get as many other brands on there as possible. And at the time, the easiest way to do that was to not charge them. . So, yeah. Yeah. They weren’t our, weren’t our customers at the time.
Andrew: At what point did you start charging
Linden: I think we started to
Andrew: customers, users, I mean,
Linden: yeah. The brands themselves, uh, six or seven years ago. Um, and, uh, that was. . Like I said, it was, it was very difficult. It was, you know, convincing. You know, a lot of those brands that had been on there for free, you know, it’s always hard to go, and we’ve done this twice now with the brands end users.
It’s always hard to go from like, Hey, you know, you thought this was free? Not anymore. No one likes to hear that. E, even I don’t like to hear that. But you know, when you really think about it, and if you’re not a total troll, it’s, well, yeah, we are trying to build a business. Uh, you, it just kind of sucks to get caught up in the, in the pivot.
Um, but you know, the brands were pretty pacing with that. They understood. Uh, they definitely saw the value. And because we’ve always had, and I think we have 26 million users now, we’ve always been big enough just in terms of a user. Uh, and you know, more than half those users are still active, you know, so that we, we have people using it all the time that, that kind of let us, I think, get away with it and almost, you know, I wish we had failed faster building that enterprise business, right?
Like, I think we felt like we were kind of on that trajectory where you get to like a million in the first year. Two, two and a half million. Okay. 5 million. Okay. Okay. Well this is kind of the path, right? But. Yeah, somewhere around 5 million, 6 million. We just decided this is really, really hard, . Uh, it’s too hard.
It should be easier. Um, so yeah, that’s switched over to pulling the bandaid off with users.
Andrew: And so what was it like charging users? Were there a lot of complaints? Was it, it seemed like it was revenue pretty quickly with some.
Linden: Yeah, definitely complaints. Um, kind of goes back. because I think so many of the decisions we’ve made have come from a, a place where we do care about the people that use the product. And it’s so much, I think, easier to care about an individual person than it is to care about like an enterprise of people.
Um, so we just naturally cared about people using the product and so, It was, you know, even painful internally, uh, to convince the team that that was the right thing to do. You know, oh, everybody’s gonna hate us , you know, in the same way that we’ve been able to hire a lot of good people because, you know, you can walk down the street in your if T-shirt and someone said, oh, if is really cool.
Um, I think people were worried that they wouldn’t say if was cool. Uh, what’s happened though, and I think is, is still happening and you know, I’m sure we’ll be able to say something even more definitive about it in three or four years, is that we went from, you know, people paying for Netflix, maybe Dropbox, you know, I’m talking consumers here.
Uh, you know, maybe a couple other things to, I think a much broader audience, especially in kind of the developed countries saying, you know what, maybe we should pay for some of this. Uh, and I think, you know, it, it will continue to expand, uh, to the point where, you know, we’re all gonna be happy to pay for Google, uh, not just for our businesses, but just for Gmail.
Uh, I don’t know when that’ll happen, but, uh, you know, I think if you ask some of the people really high up in Google, they’ll tell you in 10 years they, you know, they all are gonna say their business will be totally. And they’ll, they’ll, they’ll be charging the same people that they’re giving all this stuff away for, for free.
How they get there and how they kind of make that change. And when they’re gonna be forced to make that change. No one really knows, but they’re pretty
Andrew: you and I talked about, uh, chat g p T before we got started. I feel if they started off. With a search engine or at some point, and they said from the beginning, you pay for this, but here’s how it’s going to work. I think they would have a much easier time than Google would transitioning people to paid.
And I think a lot of people would feel comfortable paying if it hit on some of the real pain points they have, which is lack of privacy. But then again, I don’t know, consumers pay for entertainment. and then they pay for problem solving. So, you know, if it was, if it was just a general search engine, I don’t know that they would pay.
But if you said to homeowners, this is going to be the chat that solves your like handyman chat. , I think people would pay because now they have a handyman bucket. They own a house, they have to pay a certain amount. This is gonna reduce it. Great. This is gonna be your, I don’t know what, where, if you could save the money, if you could reduce an expense.
I feel like that’s where they, they pay.
Andrew: don’t know. I’ve been thinking about this a lot too, as you
Linden: Oh yeah. Like I, and I’m, I’m kind of right there with some of the, those Google folks where it’s like, I think it would be bad advice to like start a social network today and say, oh, well this is gonna be, you know, something that people have to pay for. You know, people just aren’t ready, like you said, to pay for, you know, photo sharing or, you know, like, and I think what, what has to happen is there has to.
some other wrinkle where it’s, it’s maybe solving the same problem but in a different enough way. And that’s what you’re saying with chat gp, right? Like it’s, they get an opportunity, even though they might be able to solve the same type of problem that Google search does, it’s different enough that you almost have a fresh, you have a fresh kind of slate with their potential customers.
And so that I think is that difference, uh, that we just almost have to wait for in so many different categor. Where people will say, oh, actually yeah, we should pay for this. Um, so yeah, it’ll, it’ll take time, but I, it feels inevitable.
Andrew: Uh, I told you my second sponsor is lemon. Anyone who needs to hire developer already knows about lemon.io/mixergy, so I’m not gonna beat it. Death. I’m just gonna say Linda knows. I know now you. Actually, you always did lemon io slash mixer G to get an even lower price from them on developers than they ordinarily have. What are you exploring for fun? Like what, where are your new ideas and maybe your escape from ideas? Where’s that?
Linden: Uh, you know, I think for fun, you know, I love to read. Uh, I’ve gone way into like, You know, kind of like the, the, uh, ancient history slash conspiracy. You know, Graham Hancock has the new Netflix show, and I think I had read all his books or continued to read all his books over the years. Um, but things like that, you know, trying to understand kind of where we come from, where we’re going, how does that connect into, you know, I was, uh, very fortunate to, to be raised in a family that was, you know, kind of like the first generation of folks, both my mom and.
Who kind of consciously decided that, you know, religion wasn’t gonna be a big part. You know, they weren’t like anti-religion, you know, uh, as much as, you know, I don’t think we need to go to church every Sunday. Okay. And, uh, I think there’s kind of an absence there then that, you know, I don’t think it was a bad thing.
I’m very thankful cuz that. I think made me very open-minded. Um, but then you start to question Yeah. You know, what is it all about? And so, uh, uh, books that kind of scratch that. It’s one of the, the books I’ve read, um, uh, recently that’s kind of similar-ish, but you know, a little bit less either religion or conspiracy is called, uh, the dawn of everything, I can’t remember is by two authors, but very, like, if you like sapiens or guns terms and steel or anything like, Uh, it’s kind of in that same vein where it’s almost like, uh, a different lens to look on a historical narrative that we’ve kind of gotten wrong, and that, that was really about, um, uh, you know, the, as we came over from, you know, Europe to North and South America, you know, you know, everybody was talking about, you know, how plagues and, you know, it just, it was basically a terrible, terrible thing.
Uh, uh. . What was lost was, you know, a lot of our kind of, uh, uh, thinking about what was actually there, not just in terms of the people, but like how those people were governed, how they were organized. And kind of getting back to like, you know, the stuff about the Dow and thinking about new ways in which people can organize.
Um, but a lot of the folks, you know, the Native North Americans, native South Americans, uh, whether it was the inks or the, you know, the folks around, uh, the, the Great Lakes had very unique ways in which they organized and created peace. , you know, like the, uh, in the Great Lakes, they had what was effectively NATO where they had, you know, uh, centuries of peace because there were five or six different tribes, you know, massive groups of people that said, you know, if you attack one, you attack all.
Uh, and the way that they actually kind of went about that, and you know, how they would elect who was the leader and they had different leaders at different times. And so like we’ve. gone, you know, kind of walked past all that and have this, I think that, you know, very negative stereotype is now. I think we’ve kind of opened up and realized that that was wrong, but I think we haven’t totally turned the corner to say like, oh, actually there’s probably a lot of stuff you can learn , uh, if you go back and really kind of study, uh, what was possible, um, with totally different variables.
And so that, that, that is so interesting to me. Uh, thinking of the book was called Dawn of Everything, but, uh, kind of thinking. , uh, what was it really like and what did they actually get right that we thought you’ve gotten right all along, but have probably gotten totally wrong.
Andrew: What do you do with all that? I remember. Read business books. It opened my eyes to what was possible in the world, that I could create a company just like all these other people and where it could go and how accessible it was. And now when I read a book, I feel like, where am I going with it? I’m much more interested in general interest topics because if there’s a specific thing I need, I can go find a video, a blog, a podcast, and anything about it on that issue online.
And so books are more for general understanding, but then I’m left going, now what do I do with it? What do you think?
Linden: one of, um, one of the like, company values. You know, every startup got ’em. If you’ve got a, if you’ve got an actual physical wall, maybe you put ’em on the wall. But the one that I always felt was our strongest value was always learning. And, you know, just kind of another way to say, you know, turn mistakes into learning opportunities.
But like the other aspect to it was, um, kind of this desire to pursue understanding something, uh, just because that that path or that journey to understanding is the reward, right? Like, you don’t necessarily have to take that understanding and then make something with it. I think you can, and. , uh, kinda like yourself.
I, I went there for, it was probably like a decade where you just like read every business book. All the ones in the past, you know, you know, a hundred different versions of crossing the chalin, you know, and, and they were really exciting and interesting. Um, but I, I don’t think I’ve read a business book for two or three years now.
Um, and it’s not because I think I know everything as much as I feel like. I’ve, I’ve satisfied my appetite for learning there. Right? Like I, I’m sure there’s always more to learn as much as I, I found other areas where I didn’t know as much, or, uh, learning comes much more quickly and those are just so much more interesting.
Andrew: But you’re saying I’m having an issue here because you and I rec are recording on a day that I don’t usually record, and we ended up having cleaning people in here, and so I’m messing with my microphone levels to make sure it doesn’t come through. . Um, I used to record these interviews when I first moved to Austin. I got excited about being outside.
I used to record them outdoors, and then I would have all the systems in place to eliminate all the random noises. And now that I’ve been back indoors, it’s, it’s more challenging when noise comes on. I guess what you’re saying is, look, Andrew, this is just education for education. Learn for the sake of learn and enjoy the pleasure of that.
Linden: Totally, and I think it’s what ends up happening though is the. , the broader, you know, IEO used to have this thing that I always go back to is like the T-shaped individual. Have you ever heard someone talk about that? It, it’s one of those things that have kind of a, a little bit more, but you have deep expertise.
There’s like something you’re like world-class and the best in the world, but to really get the most out of that thing you’re the best in the world at, you’ve gotta have a broad set of interests and that broad set of interests. You know, so that kind of makes the. . It’s that broad set of interest that allows you to approach, you know, problems in that kind of deep specialty, in a new way.
And so I think sometimes to have a broad set of interests, you almost have to pursue those just because you’re interested in them, not because you have a plan for what to do with them. Um,
Andrew: How? How has that helped you?
Linden: I think, um, You know, for me it, a lot of it has, has helped me in relating with people, you know, for a long time I was very interested in like psychology and, and thinking about how, um, people communicated both, you know, kind of negative and positive, you know, uh, kind of the classic one that a lot of, uh, you know, entrepreneurs probably talk about is like how to make, make friends how to win a friends and influence people, the Dale Carnegie or something.
Carnegie. But, um, I always thought that was really funny because. . I think that was like Ted Bundy said that was his favorite book as well. . So, but it’s like, you know, just like books like that where you’re thinking about, uh, you know, you’re interested in basically how people work and how relationships work.
And then you can immediately then think of, okay, well how do I apply that? Um, uh, working with people you know at, at building a company of, of any real size. You know, I think most entrepreneurs will probably say their biggest problem is people hiring people, getting people to work well together, uh, getting, you know, people to work well with you, uh, at the right time in the right place.
And so I think, you know, not only if you’re building like an internet company, you probably have to be pretty technical. Uh, you probably have to have a really good business savvy. You know, at the end of the day, if you’re gonna build a a, a big company, especially, you’ve gotta understand people and, and figure out ways to connect with them.
And sometimes the skills that make you really good at programming, you know, as we’ve seen, there’s a lot of stereotypes, don’t make you really good with people.
Andrew: My problem has always been that I felt that anything artistic was a waste of time. Focus on the business, the numbers, and then when I. Did my marathon on every continent. I, I decided I would videotape and photograph and things like that. And that gave me a real appreciation for how to make other things more interesting, like how to do better storytelling in interviews, how to communicate with people.
Um, and also as I started driving even during Covid, Olivia, my wife and the kids, and I would go and find these random beaches off of San Francisco, which I never discovered before.
Andrew: and I would start to look out the window and see things that I didn’t see existed before and notice visuals in landscape and frankly even locations that I’d passed through in a way that I didn’t
Linden: Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm.
Andrew: and I wish I’d done that more at the beginning of Mixer g I remember Ryan Carson, the designer who went on to found Tree House and is now doing stuff in crypto, he always used to say to. You’re suffering for lack of design, and I never understood why, but I understood that he was right. And then lately I’ve been really understanding
Linden: Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . Yeah. It’s, uh, you know, I have so many books in that direction. You know, it’s, I think like a lot of people refer to like Zen and the Art of motorcycle maintenance, almost like, you know, as a book that, you know, help helps you appreciate almost like the divine and the mundane. Um, and so like I love to run.
but not because of the athletic activity of it. It’s actually, I i’s really impressive that you’ve done a marathon in every comment. Um, I love to run just to like look around and, and just, you know, living in San Francisco is, I think such a beautiful city to do that in, but it’s just, you know, when I plan my run, I don’t plan, like, you know, how do I get the best exercises?
Like how do I see the coolest stuff? You know, like how do I look in the biggest houses
Andrew: especially when I land. If I land in a new country, I wanna see how quickly can I go for a run because it’s the best way to experience it. Kinda like zen in the art motorcycle. Uh, what was it? Zen art, motorcycle repair.
Linden: Ma motorcycle maintenance. Yeah.
Andrew: he talks about how the best way to see the world is not in a car because you’ve got the windows everywhere keeping you back, but on a bike because you’re really out in it.
I feel like for running, it’s even further and I get to go and see the area and get to know the environment and also it helps with jet lag cuz if you do a good run when you land, you’re gonna sleep well.
Andrew: All right. Well thanks so much for being on here. Congratulations. I had an idea for. Oh, I know I had an idea for an automation earlier while we were talking that I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of before.
So I’m getting echo in here because of the windows. I don’t know that I can get rid of the windows, like shut them up. But wouldn’t it be interesting if as soon as the app that you and I are using to connect turns on, I get one of those things that Amazon is selling that will shut the, these soundproofing, uh, shades that I brought.
And then give me the experience. Then when the thing is closed, open it back up. It’s the only time I keep it open.
Linden: Boom. Yeah, that’s.
Linden: Totally. Oh, the, the use case that has been pretty popular is like that same thing, but like for like watching TV or watching movies, so more entertainment based and then kind of, you know, back to our kind of consumer versus like building something for a business. Um, also reminds me there’s a number of folks like working from home.
uh, that, uh, you know, do something with their doorbell, like mute it when they’re in a meeting. Uh, sometimes we’ll actually take the doorbell and have it not make a sound, but like, show up as in like a slack channel, uh, if they’re online. Uh, so those are all, I, those are things that reminded me of what you’re saying.
But, uh, I think we have some automated blinds, but that use case I’ve never seen.
Andrew: Automated blinds are pretty interesting. They’re, they’re really expensive and I understand why they’re moving. Um, but the other thing I thought of when this app, I’m using Riverside, when Riverside is open, you can imagine that I could get on a little stand right outside my door now that I’m working from home.
A thing that says on the air and turns on, and now everyone knows Andrew’s on the air. Just, that’s one of the few things my, my family respects. Um,
Linden: There you go.
Andrew: chess. If I was playing chess, they would gimme space. Now it’s like, well, you’re always playing chess, then we gotta talk to you. Uh, but interviews they respect. All right, Lyndon, thanks so much for being on here. I’m glad that you’re doing interviews. I’ve seen over the years you haven’t done like a ton of them and you’re not really somebody who’s loving getting attention for yourself. I feel like you’re much more of a subtle person. Your site has always been, I’ve gone back through the internet archive.
It’s always been really clear and simple. I even went back to film for a, um, your old website for your old business. It’s very much inspired by id o. We care about what the person cares about and nothing else. They’re not gonna be random stars on on your site. Well, thanks for being on here.
Linden: Well, thank you as well, Andrew. Pleasure.
Andrew: Thanks, bye everyone. And thank you to my two sponsors. Uh, the first is if you’re thinking about or curious about what these new organizational structures called dows are, go to join origami.com/podcast. Listen to my podcast there, and if you’re hiring developer, you, you already know, go to lemon.io/mixer G and now that I’ve said that, I should say thank you everyone.
Thank you, Linda. Bye bye.