Jason Cohen on Missionaries vs Mercenaries and The Impact of Passion in Business

Jason, welcome to the show. Thank you for being the first guest of 2024. When I was reading your bio, I was very surprised and impressed and jealous that you've been documenting it for about 17 years on your blog, you know, which is like, that's so cool.

Building mission driven business, which very few are. People kind of have a mission statement. That's not what I mean. Everyone writes one down. That's not a I mean, really, you have, like, a bigger purpose or a thing that really, truly is why you did this.

So Tom's making shoes, Patagonia with the environment, even Tesla with changing the climate through the transforming energy. Those are missions, Like real mission driven. That has to come from passion or it's

not genuine. Just be you on the Internet. You know, that's how you just grow your influence. I was reading this book by called Invent and Wander and in which I think Jeff Bezos talks about there's 2 kinds of people in the world. There's the missionaries and the mercenaries and you can tell by Hey everybody.

Welcome to the Building Public podcast. I'm your host, KP and on this show, I interview world class entrepreneurs, Ambitious startup founders, creators and builders on the internet were boldly building the future in public. This podcast is my to use to take you off on a curious journey to understand, learn, and hopefully be inspired by the world views, insights, stories of these Happiest people joining the world. So far, I've gotten the rare privilege to sit down with incredible guests like Gary Lee, Alexis Ohanian, Kat Cole, subtle living GF, and many more leaders. So check out the full podcast listing at philippypodcast.com.

Now buckle up and get Ready for our latest episode. Jason, welcome to the show. Thank you for being the first guest of 2024.

Alright. Let's go.

I'm really honored to have you here. There's been quite a buzz on Twitter, you know, since you announced I mean, since I posted about a couple of weeks ago, I think. And even today, I got a couple of DMs. Mac Martin, one of my close friends, It was saying, like, I'm excited for this interview. So I'm excited.

Looks like you're ready. But as I was saying earlier, I kinda want this to be a curious exploration of of your journey as a founder. You know? And I when I was reading your bio, I was very surprised and impressed and jealous that you've been documenting it for about 17 years on your blog, you know, which is like, that's so cool. I wish I would you know, I think I'm doing it for the last 3 or 4 years, but it's amazing that you've kind of You kept writing long form content for a long time, so that's awesome.

I wanna start with the first question, which is, how does writing feel to you? Like, how do you keep up with writing when a lot of people think writing is a Very tedious and cognitively heavy task.

Well, it is. A lot of things in life are like that. I think even if you're in a band and you're practicing that, It can be tedious and maybe cognitively heavy. Certainly writing code, I mean, everybody that loves it, like me, a lot of it is tedious, and it certainly occupies a lot of your brain. So, Yeah.

Of course, it is. It's hard. A lot of things that are worthwhile are hard. For me personally, I get a couple of things out of it. One is I get to try to, you know, almost, like, To the cud of my ideas or thoughts or the things that we do, whether that's like a a framework or a process or or some kind of thing that we developed at work, Or if it's just something that's in my head, I think writing forces you to figure out, like, wait, what is this?

You know, in the usual way that teaching someone else Make means you have to really understand it and all that kind of stuff. And so you get that personal benefit. So, yeah, it is tedious and it's a struggle, but of the things you get out of it is just what do I think about things, and do I have any new ideas at all? Or maybe even it's not that new of an idea, but I have a way of talking about it or or, communicating it or thinking about it or replying it, which is maybe a little bit new. I think that counts too.

And so early on, I was just learning how to get better at writing, and I didn't know what I was doing, and I would copy a lot of styles I would I would see other people who I thought were really cool at writing, whether it's, like, copy blogger at the time or James Altucher, who was popular then and And it was really irreverent or like Seth Godin who would write, little tiny, like, miniatures, but they were, you know, each one was just had this nice little ring to it. And and so I I would Try them on almost like clothes. What about this style? What about this style? Of course, eventually, I found my own voice, right, which was none of the above, but it was it was whatever, you know.

But I don't think that's bad either to just say, like I mean, because if the question is how do you do it or how do you get into it or whatever, you know, you just you you start by anything, including even copying, not copying the words, But maybe the style or this that in fact, there was one even where I wrote about the fact that I was copying on purpose to learn and did it in the style of the person I was saying I was copying And tried to even copy the form that they wrote in for that, and it was kinda neat but also wasn't quite right, and and that's Fine. Anyway, so over the years, I I I wouldn't say I documented the path like I it's not a timeline. It's not news. It's not like here we tried this and this did or didn't work per se. And, again, it's more like ideas or frameworks or processes or, sometimes it's just observations about psychology or stories from that kind of thing.

And, just Anything that was on my mind and and seemed useful to get out this way. And another benefit for myself is this is now it's now easier to recall and use any of these things because I spent so much time on each concept, and then yet another benefit is ego. If I publish something online, even one person says, oh, this was great, then that feels really good. And that's a perfectly valid reason to do anything. I mean, not doing evil or bad things, but, I mean, as long as the thing is fine, you know, that's not a bad reason.

To to receive that is not a bad reason to try to do well and put it out there. And I definitely do it for that reason also.

Yeah. Now what is the current writing routine look like? Do you have an allocated time in the day where you think, okay, 8 to 9 AM every morning, I'm just gonna sit down and write something. Or is more so organic where you feel like, oh, Wednesday, 4 PM, you had this thing and you wanna sit down right.

Right now, it's it were I say right now. It's always been organic. Sometimes I'm in the mood and I write all day, Not usually during the week because I've got work, but, like, on the weekends or a break. But it's it's mostly just sometimes it comes, and then I do it, and sometimes it doesn't. Of course, a real writer has to sit down and write every day.

I guess you could debate whether that's true that statement is true or not. I think it's roughly true, and certainly it's It's, commonly said. So but fortunately, this isn't my business. I don't make any money on it. I don't want to.

I don't have to. This is strictly for me and all those reasons we just said. It's for those reasons Specifically and no others, not for making money, etcetera. So that means I don't have to apply myself every day and make sure that a thing comes out here. I have no restrictions on it because it's just for me.

Did you do your 2023 review at the end of last year, or do you do reviews? Do you do you believe in that?

No. I don't do any Things like that. I don't make top ten lists. I don't do reviews. Because I

was gonna ask you that was a prompt that No. You know, Kinda help you

with that one. Prompts.

Yeah. I

don't use prompts either because I'm not I'm not trying to fill first of all, I'm not trying to fill Space or time. If I don't have something that I think is good and new to say

You're like

or at least in a very new way, in my own way, I'm simply not gonna do it. If that means I write more or less or longer or shorter, some of my things are, a 30 or 40 minute read in one article and some are a A 3 minute read. It's whatever. It's whatever I think. If I have a lot to say and I think it's really good, I'll it'll be long.

If I think I have a short amount to say, that's What I'll do. I'm not trying to fill a business book, you know, or you've had it. Right? So whether it's, when do the articles come out or what is the topics or what is the form, Like, what is the format? I I just won't do that.

And and I guess it does it would make it harder to to do this regularly or certainly every day. I don't know how to ever do that. Thinking you probably need more templates and forms to do that, and probably I could have more quote unquote followers or actual subscribers if I did some of these things that work better. You know, probably, but I'm not trying to do that again. I'm trying to do whatever I think is the best that I can do and put out, whatever that may mean.

I don't do any of those things. I'm not, In fact, I I probably would write a lot worse if it was, oh, use this template and here's the outline. I'm I'm sure it would just come off as, less genuine and less, Fluid and organic. So And, I think it'd be harder to to write. I don't and that that's just personal.

I I know people where they could never write like that. They love making the outline first and filling it in. So this is there's no rules here. This is just personal preference and style straight up. Like, this is not a law.

So For me, it's been interesting because I downloaded, like, 4 or 5 templates during, second half of December to kind of write my 2023 recap because it was a big year in terms of so many, you know, highs and lows and so but none of those templates really moved me to start writing, and they felt Very much like a like a gratitude journal, which is, like, cutesy and not so deep. And so I was like, Yeah. So I came up with my own prompts. We're like, woah. What were the 3 things that energized me this year?

And I kinda first finished those outlined prompts of, like, 6 or 7 things, and I got excited because of my own prompts because I know the upcoming answer to coming answer to each. And so that kind of motivated me to kinda sit down. And it's very hard for me because I'm like you know, I'm I'm very impatient as a person Restless. It was very hard for me to sit down for, like, I don't know, 2, 3 hours. So I did it in 2 days, and then I finished it.

And I felt so great because Back to your point, it didn't really feel that I was doing it as a checkbox or as, like, everyone has this template and gotta fill this out. I felt like I did it what was authentically, you know, like, my reflection of the year. Also, purely selfish about, like, I wanted to pluck out some lessons and Keep them top of mind into my next phase of career.

Yeah. So, like, for me, I I would never ever write anything like 33 things that excited me about this last year. Again, it's just personal preference. No judgment or anything. It's just not what I would do.

But I if I did that for myself, that sounds useful. And then, like you said, You oh, man. That second one. Oh, man. This, that, the other thing, and ideas start coming.

Maybe maybe you even get out a tool like audio pen or something and just talk. Just go blah blah blah And let AudioPen, you know, turn it into text, and then that text is still not a blog post, but at least now you can sit down and maybe Edit or reference that while you write something that you're excited about, that you have something to say about, maybe with your own scattered thoughts as input or, you know, That sounds more, more useful, but you're you're making a composition. Just say the thing that's interesting. Like, I guess, again, this is just style, but to me, The process behind it or what people people, like, thinking on their own, I'm just so not interested. Don't care.

I don't care Even the stuff like, hey. So, you're you've done startups. Where'd you get where'd where were you born? How did you oh my god. I don't care.

Now a lot of people do care. So again, Just personal style. But for me, who cares if you have something interesting or useful or hopefully both to say? Just do that as well as you can as my style.

So let's talk a little bit about the one of the articles that you talked about. You were so passionate about this concept of SLC, which I like, and I thought it was a really nice twist on the, you know, Accepted wisdom on MVP, minimum viable product. Right? And I had to, like, really get into what is SLC? What does he mean by simple, lovable, and complete?

Did I get that right right, SLC? And I I was really interested, and I thought you would be the perfect person and this would be a great platform for you to cut for you to double click on Right? So walk us through what you didn't like about MVP or didn't feel like it was a great sort of a fit to what you're trying to describe and then how SLC is, like, a better vehicle for the idea.

Yeah. So the idea of an MVP, or a minimum viable product is that you do something small that you can put out quickly, maybe even 2 weeks, but, okay, 2 months, Certainly not a year. And start to get feedback from customers about it so you can find out the truth. And this idea of doing something small and finding out the truth, I like. That part is check plus in my book.

The reason I wrote that article is because for, like, the 3rd or 4th time in a row, either by request or I just found the software, and it was just complete garbage. And I realized, oh, this is someone's MVP, and the what happened is they put out something that was garbage and didn't work, and using me as Essentially, a a guinea pig or quality control so they can learn. But meanwhile, they're abusing me, and I'm the customer. Right. And I don't think it's okay to abuse the customer.

Furthermore, I don't think any of us are in this, you know, like, in other words, doing a start up, making a product because we wanna build crappy things and give them and, you know, and foist them on people. It's not really why we're doing this. Does an MVP does it supposed to mean that it's bad a bad product? No. It's not supposed to mean that, but in fact, It often means that people emphasize the m, minimum part.


And it's not really that viable. And the word p product isn't is actually you can throw that away. It's not a useful word. So I just I thought people weren't, it wasn't a good idea, but the idea that it's simple, You get it out there quickly and get feedback I like. What I like and so so so I, have this new way, this SLC, so simple, because, yes, you do need to get it out fast.

And so the product itself must be simple or you won't be able to do it quickly and get it out there quickly. So simple, yes. The simple's different than minimum. Now you might say In practice, there should be no difference. And I would say, fine.

Then why don't you pick a word that means the right thing?


Because minimum Does mean something different than simple.

It also can signal, like, minimum effort.

And so simple is the first one.

Signal minimum effort and that is not a great thing. Right? Like, if you put in the bare minimum effort into something, it it

Yeah. Like, if if I said write a poem and And you did a minimum effort that

you shipped. Not a great thing. Yeah.

If I said do a poem and you write a 4 word poem that's perfection, as They often are and say Latin or maybe a haiku, for example. That's simple and beautiful and wonderful, not minimum. And I a haiku is not minimum. It's simple. Okay.

So they're not the same words. So for anyone that says, but that's what I meant. It's, like, well, then why don't you use the right word if that's what you quote meant? Okay. So simple not minimum.

Then lovable, this is the part where we're not abusing the customer. It is possible for a product to not do very much, but you like it. Oh, it doesn't have all the features you want. Okay. That seems like a like an okay thing.

Just being bad is not an okay thing. So lovable that people should like it. The other thing is new product's gonna have bugs. It's not gonna have all the features you want. It's not gonna integrate something.

It's not gonna support some device you want. Of course, it's brand new. Like, of course. If the product is delightful or lovable, that Helps you bridge that gap. Oh, it also had this one bug, but I like it so much.

I'll stick with it. Like, it helps you get over the fact that, of course, Of course, it's not perfect. So lovable and then finally complete. If it if I can't because, again, I found with these products, I would wanna do some task and it could do, like, half the task. Well, then it's not useful to me, and, again, you're abusing me because you made me think that it could do this task, and it just can't do it.

So complete meaning it's it's a finished product. It may be Too simple and not doing enough for a lot of people, that's okay. But if it can do something from soup to nuts so that it, you know, then it is complete. It's in some simple way, And and then you're not abuse again, you're not abusing your customer. The other nice thing about complete is you can stop.

You might just make a simple product that works and you're done. This is especially true if you have an existing product and if what we're talking about is a next feature or a next component that you're again testing. Starting out with it being simple and lovable and complete for some feature, right, you might realize, okay, that was fine and we should stop and move on to something else, or you could determine, oh, There's this is a great, vein to mine. We should just do way more. We should and you could, of course, go in and work on it for years and expand what that is, right, into more and more and more.

If it's complete, you're you have optionality of what to do. Whereas, if it's incomplete, as many MVPs are, it's just it doesn't exist. It's it's It's a nonstarter. And so either you have to finish it or I don't know. It you can't leave it because it's broken.

Close the loop. Right?

Once again, people will say, well, that's not what an MVP is supposed to be. And I would say, okay. But it doesn't say that anywhere. Maybe it means maybe viable sort of means that. But, again, I feel like people people see viable as The question that the person who makes it is asking rather than the customer finds it to be wonderful.

So, You know, can MVP mean that? Should it mean that? Yes. It should. That's what I'm saying too.

I'm just picking different words that say what I think it actually should mean.

I I also like the fact that Your definition is coming from the customer's lens, which is ultimately what, you know, is way more important than just, like, self serving from the founder's lens. You know, the product that came to mind while you were describing the SLC framework, which is what you just mentioned, like, a few minutes ago is AudioPan. It's actually built by one of my friends. His name's Luis Pereira. I think we we both follow him, I think, or we know him, on Twitter.

Yeah. And I even saw it.

It's such a simple product, and it's complete in its own. Right? Like, he could extend the roadmap for another 6 months, 8 months, whatever, and then there could be some more additional features. But, like, on its own right, from the 1st week itself. I think for the 1st 2 days itself, it started working, you know, and it's simple and it's lovable.

It's got a low personality. He's like, put a little care. And he I love the fact that he actually, he's a no quarter. Did you know that? It was built on bubble, which is insane, right?

Like, So it's such a great, I think, example for

Yeah. Or, something like, Snapchat. You know, it first came out. It was this Very simple thing. You can send a message and it's not saved.

And it just went from there, and then it's a video, and then it's this, and then the stories. Like, of course, it went on and on and and added stuff, Obviously. But at the beginning, it did almost nothing, but that almost nothing was something people wanted. Or WhatsApp, which also started with literally just you have a status And not even a history, a status, and if you changed your status

A little bit.

Your friends could be notified. That's it. And it was really popular because SMS messages are expensive. Especially back then, they were very expensive globally. And so this was a way to sort of have a weird broadcasted SMS Message for free.

And as bizarre as that is, that was also already very valuable for millions of people. Of course, it became much more feature rich after that. That's all it was when it started. So there's a lot of examples. Those 2 are from consumers, so fair enough.

But, but, yes, like, you can you can see this kind of thing evolving.

So if you reflect on the last few questions that, a founder has asked you or a couple of I don't know if you've been to a, you know, a meetup or hackathon or whatever. I'm curious about, like, what are people coming to you to ask about? Is it product market fit advice? What's been, like, the theme of some of the questions you've been getting, even on Twitter?

In private, people people are interested in things like, I have an offer to sell the company. I've never done it before. I don't really even know how to think about it. Maybe an offer to raise money is is a lighter version of that, although there's a lot more information about that, I think, available. On Twitter, yeah, sometimes it's, how to do very specific things.

You know? Oh, man. I'm trying to break into this market. I don't know where to start. Or, another one that's that's hard is, I've been working on this thing for 18 months.

Not really working. I'm not sure if I could continue working on it or not, which is always a hard one. I think that one's one of the more difficult things to answer, maybe unanswerable, In fact, you know, that's that's a real toughie, especially because getting a year 18 months in and it's hard and not quite working Is the origin story of many successful companies where then it started working, and it's also the story of

You get it.

And then they then they worked on it for another 18 months, and it never worked. Was an enormous waste of time. And so you're like, well, what's the difference? Because they they this seems in common with both. How the hell do I know the difference?

And, that can be, you know, that it's not. I'm not sure I know the answer to that either, but, that that's a common one.

How much, I saw in your product market fit article, the first item you put on there is, like, passion. Right? Like founder's passion and, like, actually giving a shit about that particular problem statement or the space. How much of that has changed for you. Do you still believe that's like the one of the number one first things you look for?

Or like one thing, because when it comes to this question

is that it It's true.

I read the premise. I read what you described, but the the the premise to that question, the reason that you brought that up is I genuinely believe without Actual real passion on that particular problem or customer base is very hard to pull it off. And I'm constantly having to redirect people who come with this one off pieces of sound seemingly sound, smart ideas that come to me and they're like, here's the dates that no one's looking at. It's just like, what if you just made these military housewives or, like, whatever, and then they made, like, a TaskRabbit for them and, like, I'm like, do you, like, You don't care about that? And they're like, no, but it's a huge overlooked opportunity.

I'm like, yeah, but there's 7,000,000,000 of them.

Right. Right.

Such opportunities. Right? Like, you have to care. And I think there's a lot of gurus on the internet who are like, oh, here's the 15 niches in a PDF, Excel sheet that you can monetize tomorrow. And I'm like, that is useless in my view unless you actually personally care.

Well, yeah. There's a lot of thoughts here.

Yes. I want I want to hear that.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So first of all, you need passion To get you through the tough times. Like we said, that you're 18 months in blah blah blah.

Like, something's gotta be driving you. So you need some kind of passion about, yeah, the problem or the solution or or just being here. We'll quit, and it'll never have had a good chance, and that's just not a good use of time. At the same time, passion obviously is not a business model. And a lot of people are passionate about stuff that isn't a good business.

In fact, that's kind of the problem. They're passionate about the solution and they don't find the problem or they're passionate about the problem, but it's not a business. You know, you you don't know how to find customers. They don't care. They don't have a budget.

You're charging the wrong thing. You don't even bother trying to sell because you're just busy making it, and you're not you're not trying to sell. There's all kinds of ways in which you can have passion and not a business. So it certainly can even be a trap, but it's certainly not not the business. Now another thing people say is If you're good at something and you dive into it, you fall in love with it.

And that can totally be true. You can fall in love with something as you You get to know it and it starts to work and you start to make money and and you fall you do fall in love with it and you're passionate about it. That happens. So it is possible to develop it, I think. At minimum though, I think you need to have a passion for the act of making your company and wanting to be whole hog in it, But it's not guaranteed that you'll fall in love with it, and so it's a risk.

It's now everything in business has risks. So I say it's a risk. I don't mean that in a negative way. I just mean that's one of them. I do think you don't want too many stacked up in a company because then it's just unlikely that they'll all come out good.

So that just becomes one of them. So for example, if you do have a great niche because you bought one off a PDF and people are buying it, maybe even bought a company that's working So there are all kinds of risk about can the product be built? It already is built. Will people buy it? They're already buying it.

You know, all these different risk points are are solved. And now the question is, will you develop a passion? That is not necessarily a bad risk. Whereas if I don't have passion for it and I'm not sure I can build it And I never talked to a customer. I'm not sure there's a market.

It's like, look, how many of these risk levels are you gonna accept? Because, like, the the chance that all of them work out seems real low, doesn't it? Like, just Seems like a bad choice. Right? So I don't have, like, a rule of how many of these things, but, like, that doesn't sound good.

So not having having passion is nice, not having it, and maybe you'll grow into It is a risk and you have to just sort of weigh. Is that you know, is there enough other good stuff that you'll take the risk? And another thing is, if you Building mission driven business, which very few actually are. People kind of have a mission statement. That's not what I mean.

Everyone writes one down. That's not a you know? I mean, really, you have, like, a bigger purpose or a thing that really truly is why you did this. So Tom's making shoes, Patagonia with the environment, even Tesla with, you know Yeah. Changing the climate through energy, transforming energy, Those are missions, like, real mission driven.

I don't see how that can't be that has to come from passion or it's not genuine. You can't just decide I'm gonna and you don't really believe that. If you don't really believe it, then sorry. It's not mission driven. So you don't have to make a mission driven company.

I didn't. SmartBear was not a mission driven because There's no requirement. Just saying if that's the kind of thing you want, which it does confer amazing advantages to be mission driven genuinely is Quite amazing to do. If so, that's gotta be an existing passion too, I think. Because that's what it's kind of part personal of what it is.

But again, like, most businesses aren't, and that's okay. So so that's fine. But that's another kind of place for passion, I think, where you could say you have to have it on day 1.

I think yeah. I mean, I A lot of what you just said resonates with how I think about it. I think fundamentally, it's been for me because maybe I'm, like, so blinded by It's sort of like mission driven. Like, I'm very like, there I was reading, this book by, called Invent and Wander and in which, I think Jeff Bezos talks about there's There's 2 kinds of people in the world. There's the missionaries and the mercenaries, and you can tell by spending time with them.

And he said, like, I spent time with the whole foods CEO. And, like, within 20 minutes. I'm like, this guy is mission driven. And again, I don't, like, actively think about Whole Foods as a mission driven company as much as I think about Tom's or or, Patagonia or Nike. But

Well, I do, but but they're but they were founded in Austin.

Oh, I see. I see. Maybe that's like because I I don't usually shop like a co op. Yeah. So obviously you have the

I was, I was there when it was the club where everyone was barefoot and smelled weird. And they're like, I didn't get into that.

That's what's been fascinating is I think, you know, when, when you are, I I guess very mission driven. I think it's it's very for me, it's like you have one life. You have one chance. You can build the company that you personally give a shit about. Right?

Why not is how I think about it as opposed to picking the 85th column or a row in a Excel sheet that's like, oh, it's got a highest SEO ranking. Let's go build something. I'm like, you know, but,

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, but, I mean so to me, it's it's not it's not just that it's a company you want to be at. It's more there's this higher purpose that you have, and and you believe that through a company, you can help. You could you can be a part of achieving that higher purpose.

You can help push it along in some way. And it's amazing because you can whether it's employees Or customers or investors or etcetera, for people who are also passionate about that or at least are impressed and wanna be associated with someone who is passionate about that, it just gives you In all those areas, which is everything, you know, it just gives you this automatic advantage, which especially with things like customers or employees can be a decisive advantage. For investors, maybe, but they have to think about money too if it's not an angel. But, but for employees to want To be there and work extra hard because they want to and and stay and be loyal because they want to. Enormous advantage.

And, of course, customers. I mean, if if 2 people have identical products, one has a mission though, I mean, it's obvious that that can be a genuine, permanent, unassailable competitive advantage. Well, there ain't many of those things in the world. So that's, you know, I mean, on on the other hand, how can you blame someone who says, I work a job or maybe I don't even do that. I wanna be independent.

I wanna make businesses. Maybe my very first business won't be Whole Foods. Maybe what I'll do is I'll grab something off the list. I'll make a thing. And if I can if that can mean I'm independent, if that can mean I can make more money, If that means I can develop these skills while making money.

I don't know what I'm gonna do with the rest of my life, probably more. Maybe one day it'll be a mission one. So Is that a bad path, or can you say that person is doing it wrong or something? No way. Like, I I totally understand that.

Some people might want a mission right out of the gate. 1st first company, I don't wanna waste one second on this earth that doesn't have a big purpose. That makes sense to me. But also someone that says, no. I wanna, you know, I wanna make a company become independent, etcetera.

I don't see anything of being certainly not ethically wrong or anything like that. And I I just, I feel like there's many ways. I do think it's good to be consistent of what you think you're doing and saying you're doing and actually doing. Don't say you're a mission driven company and then your mission is to sell towels. That's not a mission.

You know, don't do that. You know, just Just admit that that's not what you know.

That's what it is. I think I think the bottom

self contradictory things is is is counterproductive.

Actually there. But but, at the bottom integrity.

It's okay to have a mission or not have a mission.

No. I think that's that's what I'm saying. Like, it's the top to bottom integrity thing. Right? Like, say the same thing, do the same thing, and think the same thing.

Right? Though. You nailed it. Tell me about this car seat story that you have, which I loved, by the way. That whole paragraph, that whole it made me think of like, my first time in America was in Nashville and I remember going to Nashville downtown and like, it really was such a, such an experience, you know, like for I grew up in India and, like, moving here and, like, going through the downtown, the buildings, and I'm like, woah.

This is insane. You know? And so I love the fact that You you I mean, I wanna actually don't not spoil the thing about this for for listeners. Tell me about what is the car seat story and why are we talking about this? Like, what made you write about it?

When I was a kid, there was this bagel store, that we would get bag that was, like, the one good place to get bagels. Right? And Yeah. In Austin. And so but it was on the edge of downtown.

And as a kid, downtown was this scary place where you never went ever. And And it wasn't that great in the early eighties in Austin. It was there was crime and it there wasn't anything there. There's no stores. No one lived there.

There were all the buildings that there now. Many of them were not there. And so, now, of course, it was exaggerated in my kid brain. Right? But but still, like, it was Right.

But okay. This still wasn't for kids. That's for sure. So what would happen is we would go down 5th Street, toward downtown, and, we would stop kind of on the edge of downtown. And my The parents would go and get bagels, then we turn around and leave, you know.

And I knew we were getting there because or we were there because I'd look out my car seat which was on the left driver's side I look out the window, and I could see this parking garage that was like this long sloping ramp that went into a parking garage. When I saw that, Then that's how I knew we were there. WP Engine is now 4 floors of that building, and we have our name on the outside of the building And big light up letters. And so that same building that I thought of as, like, when I was a kid, I'm like, that's downtown. Like, now our name is literally on the building.

I loved it.

And, it's amazing. Now, of course, pre COVID, we had about 450 people there on a typical workday or weekday. Now that's not the case. People like working at home. So now office space, I guess, means a very different thing.

But, that was very of course, it's Really meaningful. Also, my, my dad passed away in 2004, and so wasn't alive to see that. And that that would have been really great. So that was another thing I was as a sign went up.

You would have gotten a kick out of it. Yeah. I mean, and and to close the loop on in this, like, this is an article where you're talking about, like, when do you know your company is real? And you make a list of, you know, all the bullet points and this is one of them for you. I love that.

Okay. So this is the question I keep getting a lot of the times. And I always ask my smart guests this thing because I know that the more perspectives we get on this, the better. Just how do you hunt for a great idea when you're getting started? Let's say a bootstrap startup founders listening to this or when a potential VC backed founder who wants to the next Amazon's listening to this and they're like, okay.

How do I pick a great idea among, like, 50 ideas? What is your framework?

So is the is the question, how do I get ideas in the first place? Or is The question I what you just said, I have 50 ideas, but I don't know how to select between them.

I think more so the latter. I feel like a lot of people have ideas even if they're terrible. They have like some idea, like Uber for dogs


whatever, you know? So this is a high, high, high achieving this is like very common. I'm sure you, you know, you've this is a very aspiring founder problem where there's a lot of these ambitious professionals, and they have 5 or 6 ideas, and they're like, how do I decide which is a better one? Or how do I even, like, think about ideation?

Well, if if you can't decide, what that means is on the primary dimension that you care about, they're the same. Yeah. Like, if one of them stood out as, Oh my god. I love that one.

Then you wouldn't have anything. Yes.

Considering 5 of them. So the good news whenever you're stuck on something like 5 is, like, maybe any one of them would be fine. And right away, you can let the stress go level go down a little bit because you realize that no matter what you pick, it's okay. So then you start asking, well, what are the secondary characteristics that I wanna I wanna, do. I think there's a couple ways to approach that.

1 is what we were just talking about. What is at risk? What do I know versus not know? Well, this idea, I know I could build it. What I don't know is will people buy it?

At what price is there, you know? This one, I know the market's there because, I don't know. It already exists and so forth. And actually, the risk here is there's already 20 competitors and I don't know how I'll stand out or compete with them with advertising. So in that way, in that manner, you could look at each idea and look at all these different things.

You know, I have some materials on this, but things Like the market size and whether people buy, whether they're already buying, and how bad the competitors are. And there's there's you know, you can get lists of these kind of things on online or you can think through what a company needs or, you know, I have I have some of this kind of information On

the blog. Right? Yeah. Yeah.

On my side as well. And and and you could just ask, like, which of these things are known and solid Versus which of these are sort of unknown, which of these are maybe just bad. There's always some things that are hard and bad. That's not a deal breaker. It's just that's what it is.

So when you're looking at them, it's like which combination of stuff do you want? So which is better, an idea where the market is real and busy, But the competition's high or market that doesn't seem to exist. And there isn't competition, but it's not clear whether anyone would ever buy it. Which one's better? And the answer is no.

There's no which one's better. There are different challenges, different kinds of risks, different bets you're taking, different challenges. And the question is which do you want? And that's Still comes down to a personal question, but at least you've identified what the choices really are. This is the shape of the things that'll be easy and hard, the risks and the knowns.

That's the shape of that one. That's the shape of that one, and you're picking between these bags of risks and goods and bad things. So that's one way to try to Analyze it better to so that you're making a decision with more information. Of course, you could just simply solve for, like, which one seems Most likely to succeed. That's an obvious one.

So, again, you can go back to these things and try to add those up in some in some fashion. You can also ask about emotion and, like, can I see myself still working on this problem in 10 years? And, of course, you don't know. 2 years from now, you might feel really differently. So Not about predicting that really, but just could I see myself doing it is an interesting question.

Because some of these might be, like you said, I picked the thing off the list. It's probably a decent business. But god, no. Like, if 10 years from now I'm still doing that, I'll kill myself. It's like, well, then you don't really wanna do it at all.

Like, why would you spend 1 year on it? Whereas something else is like, yeah. I mean, it may not work, but if it did, this could be like my life's work. Okay? That's that seems like a positive vote.

So you could you could take that sort of long term, even emotional view that might select 1 or at least deselect some, You know, that don't qualify there. So you could take that view as well. Another place I always go to is keep talking about passion. But what about what your strengths are? Like your abilities, your experience, Your capabilities or maybe what you have access to.

Maybe you have access to more money and so you can apply money to things, or you don't, and so you can't apply money to things. That's not a strength and so Maybe you have the network because Twitter. Maybe you don't because whatever. So what are these assets and things that you have, whether your abilities or things around, And which of these ideas leverage what you have? Right.

So, like, oh, I'm I'm great at writing code, but here's a business that, doesn't involve writing code. Okay. Well, you can still do it, obviously, but you have no intrinsic advantage. There's no reason why you should do it. You're not gonna be especially effective.

You're not gonna you're gonna have to make mistakes that an expert would never make because you haven't done it before. You'll be slower because you're figuring things out and so on. As opposed to, like, look, I'm an expert in x. Okay. Well, if you can leverage that expertise in something, you'll be more efficient, faster, less likely to you know, You'll make higher class of problems and so forth or whatever the challenges are in the business.

At least this will be no problem because that's your expertise. Put that to bed and just work on the other challenges. So if you're not leveraging any of your strengths, they're just everything's a challenge, everything's riskier, Everything's harder. That's no good. Of course, this requires you to know what they are, which is hard.

It's hard to be introspective. It's hard to analyze yourself. Hard to know what the strengths are. So that's hard. You can try to do it.

There's there's things online that help you try to figure it out. It's often nice to ask other people. The people, whether your coworkers, family, spouses, etcetera, They know what you're good at or not, probably better than you. And, especially if you can make it anonymous like a 360 often review is, if you can manage that, that can be hard. By the way, maybe an interesting use of AI.

People put in their stuff, but use ChatGPT to keep the meaning, but Take their, take their unique style completely out of the equation so it really is anonymous. That's a fun use of AI to anonymize writing. Like, normally, it's like Chachi Batee's writing is Boring and crappy because it's just has no style. It's like, yeah, but for anonymous stuff, that's what you want. So, you know, maybe that's good.

That keeps So that keeps us from guessing,

anyway, who the person wrote that. Right? Yeah. Yeah. Maybe it helps people be more

on person wrote that. Right?

Yeah. Yeah. Maybe it helps people be more honest. Maybe, you know, it's it's always hard. Anyway, the point being is if you could If the more you can get the truth out of other people, the better is what I'm getting at.

Right? So you get an honest assessment of these things. And it'll surprise you Because there are things that you, feel, man, I'm I always struggle with this, but everyone else thinks you're

the best. Right.

Because that's what it means if you're a perfectionist and you care about it is that Never good enough for you. So you're like, but other people think, like, no. This is, like, this is amazing. I just can't believe that you can even do that. You're like, Yeah.

But it's hard, and I work really hard on it, and it's no good. It's still, like I feel like that's

the right way. I was gonna ask you. What is what is that?

Absolutely. I I rarely put out something where I think, oh, this is great. I just think, like, goddamn. I'd like this needs so much more work, and other people are like, this is so perfectly written. And I'm thinking, like, no.

It isn't. Like, is it you know? No. You're wrong. This this one end of this one paragraph, I'm proud of that.

But the rest of it, I don't know. You know? So that's That's how it is. So from an outside

that you

From an outside perspective, you can you get that and vice versa. There's things you think you're really good at that you are not. I'm good with people. Maybe not so much. I know a lot about this.

You think you do, but everyone just kind of doesn't say anything and and, actually know. You think you're patient about certain things. You're not. So really you can get a lot of feedback. And another way you can do this and and this is, by the way, if you're interviewing people or sorry.

If you're if you're, if you're doing, like, a a a reference call on someone for interview. Right? It it's hard to ask some stuff because they only say nice things. It's a sort of an analogous situation. Right?

A nice trick for that which you can apply to this too is you ask Without saying what the culture and environment of your company is, you ask the other person, what is the culture and environment and situation and responsibilities and In which you think this person absolutely crushes it. And they're like, oh, yeah. Well, they're good at this. So this and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then you're like, okay.

And then what would be, like, their anti environment? Like, not that they're a bad person or anything or that they're bad, but just if they were stick in a certain environment, they would they would be Crushed. They would die. They would be horrible. They would, you know, they would be awful.

They would act badly, like and they're like, oh, yeah. Well, if this and that, then, you know, it's an Safeway for them to say kind of what they're like and their in a sense, their strengths and and and weaknesses and how they interact with the world In a way that's safe because they don't know what your company's like, so they don't know how to tune it to you. And it's a perfect it's a good question. So I like those first follow-up questions like that. And so that's that's a useful little nugget in itself.

But so back to who you are, you could ask people that, like, it's one step removed. Hey. What environment do you think I thrive in or what environment do you think I I I would I would die in? And it's a nice way for someone else to be more honest than they could otherwise be because they're talking about the environment now, not it's like one step removed from you. Oh, yeah.

You're great if you know, no one you hate it when people tell you what to do, even when you're wrong. And so, yeah, you gotta you know, that's probably true. If you're an entrepreneur, that's probably one of the things. Anyway, it's easier for people to say that, I think in tell the truth and and and it's almost like a like a a mold, it isn't you, but you're you're the space That that mold leaves behind is is you, and and it's easier for people to describe the mold maybe or or be honest about it. And so you I think you could use that.

So That's just a long way of saying it's hard to figure out about you, but I think you must. And, yes, passion is one of those things, but, like, all these other things, That is another way to cleave these ideas. And so all the way back to the ideas, okay, is it a good business or not? Obvious one. What's the risk what is the basket of risks that you're taking?

And And then this question of applying your strengths and knowing what they are and then saying, okay. So which of these are in, quote unquote, environment in which I would thrive, you know, that you kind of I was trying to apply that, and that might help to say, man, I would just crush it on this one idea because of who I am.

You know, that nugget around asking someone the environment question. I'm going to remember that and I'm going to take that forward into, you know, whatever I do next. Because I had one similar nugget like that 2 years ago when I was at OnDeck and I was hiring I was, was a director. And I found this somewhere. I and someone advised to me the same way you you just wrote it out in a random conversation.

This particular thing that has stuck with me. And it's an amazing hiring question too, which is who would be a great companion for this person to be next to, to be paired to? So they balanced their strengths and weaknesses. So you're not really asking, hey, what's the weakness of KP? Mhmm.

As on a reference call, because they will never tell you exactly the weakness because, you know, they're trying to protect them. But if they say, oh, KV would really thrive with someone who got their ops and organizational strengths together. That's actually true. This is a real example. I'm like, I'm I'm great big picture thinker and all that.

I'm, like, terrible at the file system and operational things. So I always had someone who's my right and person who did that. And but that awareness has been really helpful. So in when I did my own company, the first hire I made was an ops person because I'm like, I know that. Right?

I got so many people to tell me the truth about applicants by simply asking this question. And what I'm gonna do now is ask the second question, which is the culture question. In what environment slash culture they'll thrive, which will also open up another side of theirs, you know? So I love that. It's it's fascinating.

So, Jason, Let's talk Twitter. You're online. You're extremely online. I don't know if you're extremely online, but you're as online as I am. Like you're you use Twitter prolifically.

I mean, the benchmark is someone like my wife who opens where once a year. So that's the reference point I'm saying. What do you love about Twitter? What do you hate about it? Or what do you I I feel like I'll tell you what I love about your Twitter is your replies and your DMs and just the way you engage with it is so authentic.

And it's like, to me, that's like the benchmark of how people to be on Twitter. Now it does it get followers or not? It's secondary, frankly. I I don't I could care less, but to me, that's what makes

Yeah. It probably get more followers if I

do those stuff, but oh well. To me, you know, like that's what our with calls for us like that, you know, Drew Riley, one of our good friends. There's there's a few that have a really authentic presence and they use it like like a chat chatbot, right? Like a telegram or WhatsApp. I love that.

You know? So What is your relationship with Twilert? Like, how do you view it? What's fun for you there, connecting with founders? So what what is it about?

Yeah. So it it it looks like I'm online more than I am because I, You know, cue things up, like and they get sent out. Right? So I'm not like yeah. But, yeah, when I reply, I always think, I mean, unless it's a quick thanks or something.

Right? I need to add something to the conversation. And so I think if you think that way, you know, hopefully, it's maybe it's genuine, but but certainly it's, like, worth reading or something. I do think, I try hard that everything I put out is something I think is saying something. Meaning, again, there's a lot of, like, people just put out a platitude.

Mhmm. And and sometimes those things go viral, you know, and it's fine. Or some quote from someone else. Alright. It's fine.

You know, it's it's I guess it's engagement. It's just you're just not adding anything. Some I I try to do that. I also have a deep buffer of stuff I put on Twitter. In other words, I don't ever wanna be, like, oh, my buffer is running low, but I've gotta keep posting.

So now I have to post crap. You know, I don't wanna feel that way. So I make sure the buffer is really, really deep so that that's not the case. Another thing I do, another fun trick I I don't think I've ever talked about this. It's not a It's not like bad or a secret.

I just haven't you know, I just don't talk about my processes very much. Is this, because as you say, it could take a lot of time, like, okay. I'm gonna take a lot of time to write a tweet. I'm gonna Take a lot of time to reply like this doesn't take too damn long. I double up my time on the replies and new tweets in the following way.

Someone says something and it triggers something in my mind or they ask a question and okay. At that moment, I think, oh, let me let me think of a really good answer and then I will write that really good answer in there and also put it in a draft in the queue. Same text, just pasted in like a draft area. Right? So I send the answer right then.

But then I have this draft and I rewrite it to be a standalone tweet. Because the answer is often like, oh, yeah. And also, you know, because there's a threat. So just so, it it's just like I just rewrite it. Same concept.

I don't have to think of a new idea, and most of the text is probably fine too. Maybe length, but, you know and I just simply rewrite a little so that it just is self contained, And that goes in the queue. And because my queue is long, that won't come out for a long time. Like So

it may take, like, 2, 3 months. Yeah.

Yeah. Because, you you know, if that person read my instant reply and then saw me, like, repeat it, that's just kind of weird. I don't know what that means. Right. But if it but if it's comes out months from now, neither one of us will remember that we did that happen.

You know? So in other words, I double It's a gift to your future self.

You know, I

I double you my time. And so so it's this like, how do you have time for all these great replies? And it's like, Oh, you're right. Except that's also where I get my tweet. I did not everyone, but, like, a lot.

I would I would say, like, you know, a third, maybe even a half Come out

of there.

It's still me and like you said, it's still me and genuine because it's my thoughts at the first place. Like, I I didn't take it from somewhere else. It's I'm just repurposing this thought. If it's so good, quote unquote, obviously, you know, I'm the but if it's so great, okay, why shouldn't I say it again in 2 months? It's Twitter.

That's fine. So so So there's a little trick that doubled my efficient, you know, my productivity, you might say.

I get a lot of, similar ideas from just replies. And I feel like replies are underrated. You know, one, from an engagement point of view, it's good and all that. But apart from just the metrics aside, replies are sometimes when I'm so lazy and that morning, I'm like, I'm not in the mood to write something new. Like, my brain's not, like, creatively, you know, open that way.

I just look at some smart person's tweet like yours, for example, or Arvid Goss, and I'm like, because obviously the people I follow, the 10, 20, 30, 40 close people that I follow are smart and they will tweet smart shit. And so I'm like, oh, If a smart conversation is ongoing, adding to it naturally is intellectually stimulating because you're like, they're talking something really cool like MLS, MAP or SLC or whatever. I'm like, Oh, this is interesting. So over my experience, I try to think about from my experience, this has been a different way and here's my unique take, blah, blah, blah. And that itself is fodder to my original posts.

And so back to what you're saying. And so a lot of the times, you know, when I'm helping founders with content, like, I don't know, I advise and they're like, KP, like, they're mostly lurkers. And they're like, how are you coming up with they seem to think that there's some magical, you know, way in which I I or, you know, I'm not saying me, but I'm like, how do you come up with great content ideas and post them? They come from listening and reading and observing others. And what they skip is they often skip the engagement part because it's they feel like it's below them.

You know? And if you're a big account, you don't engage with and I'm like, but that's where gold is. Like, that's where the unpanned gold is, you know, in my view. I also personally am a very social person, so I'm like, I love engagement, you know? That's been very helpful on Twitter.


You know, there's there's an interesting way to do that engagement. So I forget if it was Larry I think it was Larry Page. It might have been Sergei. But I once heard this really funny thing they do with email, with one of them, which is they're like, look. I get I mean, other than Company email.

I just get gobs of random email. I'm not gonna I can't look at it. Right? So he says, so here's what I do. Every once in a while, I'll open up my public email and I'll respond to the first thing on the list, like the thing that just came in.

And What what happens in this person's, words is most people who email me get exactly what they expected, which is no response from the CEO of Google. Yeah. Like right? But there's but one person will say, oh my god. I emailed them and literally, like, 30 7 seconds later, he responded, the dude is a beast.

Like, what the hell is this dude? Yeah. So someone has that experience. And that always stuck out to me as, like, absolutely hilarious. And and and actually not not, not unwise.

So apply that to social media, and here's what I think you get. So Okay. Don't you know, you don't have to watch everybody all the time, but sometimes open up Twitter and go do your feed or whatever you have of people you're trying to talk to. And just if someone posted 1 minute ago, go answer it. Right?

And it's like same it's the same thing. Like, don't do that all the time because that's crazy. But if you do it sometimes, then people will have it in their head like that dude's on it, you know. So The

other thing too is, about your content and my content is similar too is that You are generous in resharing other people's ideas or to post and tweets. And I feel like you just don't have this weird, like, you know? Oh, like I think boundaries or egotistical boundaries. Some people you'll be surprised. I think you're not in the same circles that I'm in.

There are some circles that I'm in, Their feed is so manicured and pedicure or whatever cured that is. They're like, oh, KP, this is such a great idea. I wish I could repost. I'm like, just repost it. I'm like, oh, I can't do that.

I'm like, why not? Like, They're like, oh, yeah. Because I just don't retweet other people's stuff. I'm like, what? Who put this artificial construct that you can't retweet other people's shit?

And like, yeah. It's gonna mess up my feed for the rest of I'm like, Oh my god. Is this your account or are you kidnapped for this? Like, what? Come on.

Right? And so I feel my favorite account is Gary Tan's account where Gary Tan will just tweet whatever the f that comes to his mind. Same with PG. Like, you just don't know what you're gonna get out of PG's account. Right?

And I love yours. I love it. And so it's like, Just be you on the Internet. You know, that's how you just grow your influence. But if you're after this sort of Audience building games, I feel like that's just not a you're not gonna do any of these, you know, things because they're, like, anti audience building.

Yeah. I don't know. Again, like, I I'm not trying to do all the things to build a following, quote, unquote, and I'm not, I'm certainly not trying to make money at it. I'm not selling courses and I'm not, you know, And so I don't know. I don't maybe you do need maybe all that stuff with the manicured feet, etcetera, etcetera, maybe that's absolutely required.

If you do the

if you want that mountain, if you want to climb that mountain, it is. Because I've taken some courses and I'm like, this is disgusting. That's why this year, 2024, I feel like I'm coming back full circle to just being completely my favorite posts, despite the engagement have been where I was myself and at peak, like at best, you know? And I'm like, even with the podcast, with my Twitter or whatever, I'm like, you know what? This is More sustainable is more fun.

And I also actually get to build relationships, and that's what I care about ultimately. Right? Like, when you but what's the point about having 87,000 followers versus 76 k. So

Yeah. I mean, I there can be a point. The point is, you know, you feel more important. You Do you as long as you're not bots, you do have a bigger audience, and maybe you wanna do something with that audience. Do you

wanna monetize and all that? Yeah. True.

Yeah. Like, so there can be answers. So, I mean, As usual in life, it goes back to, like, what are you trying to do here? What are your goals? And it's not that you have to predict everything or and it's not it's and you can also change your mind.

So we're not trying to, like, you know, not trying to artificially set things in stone. At the same time, yeah, like, either you're trying to build an audience because it's good for your ego or, like you said, I wanna make more relationships. Okay. Well, that's a wholly different thing then that you're, that you're. It's a different model.


So, yeah. Awesome. Anyway, I think we're almost at the end of our, our Jason, this has been a blast. I feel like I could go another hour easily, but in respect for your time, I wanna say thank you.

We'll just do it again. That's fine. We should.

We'll definitely do it again. I, I'm grateful for your presence here. I'm excited for this year's lineup. I have Rob Walling coming up soon. I have, I have got a couple others, like, I'm excited for this has been, like, my theme, as I said earlier.

Like, Folks who I really am excited about, I really wanna learn from them is who is on the lineup. So thanks for your time.

Great to be here.

Awesome. I'll let you know when comes out, and for now, it's a wrap.

Jason Cohen on Missionaries vs Mercenaries and The Impact of Passion in Business
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