How creatives win friends, influence people and break the internet

The rise of design collectives, technical designers, no code + production-ready tools and viral side projects (e.g. Amazon Dating 💕)

A few Saturdays ago, I was running late for drinks at the Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. My friend Ani was already waiting by the pool. I had dozens of messages on Slack, WhatsApp and Twitter to coordinate who was arriving when, and most importantly, what everyone wanted to drink.

On my way up the elevator, I had the strangest thought: “I have NO idea what my friends look like
”


 

After months of catching up, hours on the phone, and really meaningful advice that inspired new companies, cool collaborations and my own new fund Worklife

Here’s the catch, we’d never met in person.

This whole collective of creatives was connected through an invite-only chat room started by a mysteriously cool guy in Scotland named Marty Bell, the Founder of the famous Poolside.fm, sunglasses company Tens, and plenty of other projects that have broken the internet.

As the night went on, I was reminded of how this interaction represents the shifting gravity of technology. Companies are increasingly distributed, people are choosing smaller, selective social networks for our personal and professional lives, and tech is moving further and further away from Silicon Valley.  

In many ways, this experience was similar to the early days of Silicon Valley where curious minds assembled in a garage for meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club in Menlo Park: no membership requirements, no minimum dues, no elections of officers.

Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution describes their earliest meetings: 

“It was a club of young people—every one of them could have been an entrepreneur—the sort of people that liked to put together gadgets at home and make them work.” – Steve Wozniak*

[Photo of the Homebrew Computer Club]

In my case, what started with a late arrival, long lines at the bar and random banter with internet friends by the pool evolved into an early preview of Ani’s new Amazon Dating site, Marty’s new creative campaign for Tens, and our unannounced collaboration coming soon. (Invites for newsletter subscribers coming soon 💌) 

This is how I describe the future of work: it’s creative, collaborative and more flexible than ever.   

Hacker culture in its purest form still exists today with makers like Simone Giertz emerging as the new face of hardware. Local hackathons from London to Lagos assemble based on programming languages like Javascript and React. 

Conversations and collaboration are less exclusive and more distributed with online communities like Hacker News, Dev.to, and Stack Overflow. The open source community continues to grow exponentially with 10M+ new contributors over the last year and 44M+ new repositories on GitHub.  

In addition to the traditional technical hacker culture, I’m excited to see a new class of hackers that use both art and science to create iconic experiences inside tech companies and online: designers.

From founding startups to experimenting with an emerging set of design tools to developing cult-followings with side projects, designers are using their skills and growing influence to transform the tech industry one pixel at time.

Let’s discuss:

  1. The rise of design driven companies: great tech & company culture = iconic companies
  2. The new design stack: editing apps for consumers & professional grade tools 🚀
  3. The design projects that win friends, influence people and break the internet 

The rise of design driven companies

Iconic companies are a combination of great technology and internal culture. 

The story of the “founding hackers” is familiar. A handful of engineers working out of a garage eventually strike genius, and go on to launch the next big thing. These companies are decidedly engineering-led, with a focus on technical excellence. Think Larry Page and Sergey Brin with Google. 

[Photo of Sergey Brin and Larry Page in Susan Wojcicki’s garage]

In Sachin Rekhi’s “Finding Product Culture Fit” he discusses engineering-driven companies like Google and Microsoft:

“Engineering-driven product cultures often start with a unique technical insight that becomes the basis for their products. Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s Page Rank algorithm, for example, was the unique insight that enabled them to build the world’s most successful search engine.”

On the other hand, design-driven like Apple and Airbnb are decidedly different:

“Design-driven product cultures obsess over every detail of the user experience.”

In the case of Airbnb, Everlane, Webflow, Zendesk and other design-driven companies, design thinking and an emphasis on building a strong internal culture are influenced by the background of the founders and the structure of the executive team. 

On a recent private tour of Airbnb, Brian Chesky shared some early lessons with Worklife portfolio companies including the importance of having a design leader report to the CEO. 

This is especially important as a company starts to scale and the role of the CEO becomes increasingly tied to board meetings, reporting financials and ultimately public earnings call, he said. 

The creative voice that serves as a champion for the customer will continue to push the product and user experience and, increasingly, the employee experience, into new and innovative directions. 

Design is a core competency, not an afterthought

Founding members of Airbnb, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, attended the Rhode Island School of Design and infused design-thinking into every part of the company. The company is now regarded as one of the top design-driven companies, making way for more designer founders. 

Yet, their backgrounds in design raised initial skepticism:

When we came to the Valley, no one even wanted to invest in Airbnb. One of the reasons was they thought the idea was crazy…But the other reason is that they didn’t think a designer could build and run a company.” – Brian Chesky*

This attitude has shifted, with companies like Dropbox as part of a pack of design driven companies. It turns out these companies also make business sense; McKinsey linked design-driven companies with superior business performance, specifically 32% higher revenue growth and greater returns to shareholders.  

Just as “the first engineer” was a key distinction, we’re seeing the rise of “the first designer”. First Round’s Designer Track, underscores the increasing importance of a startup’s first design hire with instruction from folks like Jessica Ko, the First Designer at Opendoor, and Davey Nguyen, the First Designer at Gusto. 

Designers aren’t simply contributing to small product features at companies as employee number 100 or 1000. They’re founding their own companies and joining startups in their earliest days. In doing so, they’re pulling influence from engineers in steering product and diverting clout from marketers in defining brand. 

As people try new tools, we’ll increasingly hear “who designed this?” rather than “who built this?” With hybrid roles like UI Engineering or “designers who can code” taking a foothold in tech companies, the answer to both questions will often be the same.

As the influence and importance of design continues to grow, dollar signs will follow. Just as the best hackers command high salaries and set off bidding wars, we’ll see design wages rise, inching closer to parity with software developers, and cults of personality build around an increasing number of talented designers.

The new design stack: editing apps for consumers & professional grade tools 🚀

Homebrew hackers like Steve Dompier tinkered with the Altair to make it play “Fool on the Hill” by The Beatles. Modern day hackers like Jane Manchun Wong reverse engineer apps to find hidden features and security vulnerabilities.

[Jane Manchun Wong discussing unreleased Instagram feature]

Designers are doing their own tinkering, using a range of emerging tools in the process. 

With the rise of no-code tools, designers have been empowered to do their own hacking, creating functioning prototypes and live sites without writing a single line of code. Designers who’ve caught the experimentation bug are putting their skills to work creating Webflow cloneable templates of popular web properties like Airbnb listings or Facebook

Engineers continue to be cut out of design workflows with tools like Rive that let designers and illustrators create sophisticated interactions and animations without writing code. 

That means working on as many iterations as needed to get it just right on a new game or app. Better yet, it’s all done on a browser. The speed, performance and the convenience of browser-based tools are driving massive productivity gains in the design world.

Similarly, Thinko’s Animation Studio is building Mr. Puppet, a hardware tool that uses puppetry to give artists greater creativity and control by letting them animate their creations instantly. 

Of course, design hacking isn’t only for experts – beginners and amateurs alike can play around with presets like Figma Valentine’s Templates as a creative outlet and an exercise in creativity within constraint. 

[Alex Muench’s popular Figma Valentine tweet]

As new dev tools and languages are created, the number of software enthusiasts grow and we see more hackers. With the rise of every day design for assets like flyers and Instagram posts, casual dabblers who start with consumer tools like Canva and Chroma Stories will eventually graduate to more complex hacking.

With the design gold rush, we’ll see a new class of designer hackers who solve interesting problems with design-thinking, define new styles for product design that shape the next generation of apps, and bring a playful hacker spirit to everything from prototyping to wireframing.

The side projects that win friends, influence people and break the internet 

Hacking together side projects is an outlet for curiosity and creativity, but it’s also a way to get noticed by people you admire and attract new opportunities. This was true of why members joined the Homebrew Computer Club:

“This was my way of socializing and getting recognized,” Woz wrote. 

“I had to build something to show other people.”

In the new American Dream, I shared how creative expression, online influence and extreme optionality is changing how Americans define success. Extreme optionality is leading to greater societal expectation for creative outlets.

Side projects are an opportunity to showcase inventiveness because they avoid the trap of creativity under the gun. While the trope of coming up with the perfect solution in the 11th hour is ever present, people tend to think less creatively when they’re under pressure. In fact, it generally leads to feelings of being “overworked, fragmented, and burned out”.

Instead, individuals perform their most creative work when they have less time pressure and feel like they have the time and space to explore ideas. For many of us, this is during evenings or weekends.

A side project shared across Twitter, Product Hunt, and Hacker News can net a brand new following, a business with revenue and profits, or job offers at a FAANG or high-growth startup. Hackers have always embraced the power of the side project. 

Inspired by a Paul Graham tweet, 16 year-old Samarth Jajoo built an app that lets you keep a private journal over email.

[Embed: Initial Paul Graham Tweet]

[Samarth Jajoo’s side project]

Designers and creatives embrace side project culture too.

Amazon Dating, created by Ani Acopian and Suzy Shinn is a satirical site remixing Amazon with the concept of finding a date – complete with a rating system, details on love languages, and Amazon prime delivery. The side project garnered press from publications like Dazed, Fast Company, New York Post, and Refinery29. 

[Screen capture of https://amazondating.co/

Pablo Stanley, a designer at InVision, controversially launched Open Doodles as an Open Design side project to help anyone to “copy, edit, remix, share, or redraw” illustrations without restriction. In hacker spirit, the project encourages collaboration.

[https://www.opendoodles.com/

Designer led side projects take countless forms ranging from memes to parody accounts that manage to go viral and blow up the internet for the day or week. Rather than kudos for technical complexity, they’re often complimented for creativity, irreverence, and style. 

Even venture capitals at top-tier firms are using creative hacks to win friends and influence people (founders) with their own personal flare. 

Side projects are better together. Having a group of peers to bounce ideas off of can help with everything from accountability to finding collaborative partners. Designers and creatives are creating their own Homebrew-eque collectives to share what they’re working on. Exclusive online memberships like Jacuzzi Club include creatives from companies like Airbnb, TikTok, and Poolside FM with discussions about creative projects or job opportunities. 

Similarly, teamLab, a collective of artists, programmers, animators, mathematicians, and architects bringing tech-art experiences to cities around the world is reimagining the museum experience with video game elements for Gen Z and Instagram-worthy moments for Millennials. 

In 12 months, teamLab’s Tokyo Museum has become the world’s most popular single-artist destination, surpassing the Van Gogh Museum. 

This is just the beginning of design hacking in the public sphere. We’ll see more public art space and new uses for retail, such as Sandbox VR, where interactive experiences will replace physical stores that have moved online or been replaced by modern brands.


The Homebrew Computer Club’s collective of hackers was described as “a mĂ©lange of professionals too passionate to leave computing at their jobs” and “amateurs transfixed by the possibilities of technology”. 

We’re seeing the same spirit in today’s new cohort of designer’s who are unsatisfied with simply shaping products at their day jobs. Instead they’re branching out and starting companies or bringing their influence to early stage startups, tinkering with design tools in their off-time, and envisioning and executing on design side-projects that make the internet a better and brighter place.

If you’re a designer who is thinking about your next move or want to show off a side project, say hi on Twitter: @briannekimmel

Kylie Jenner, Joe Rogan and the new American Dream

I recently joined the Square One podcast with Romeen Sheth to discuss the latest trends impacting the way people work.

In this episode we’ll discuss three themes that I’ve been actively exploring as an early stage investor:

The new American Dream

How creative expression, online influence and extreme optionality ie: remote work, calendar flexibility and the freelance economy is changing how Americans define success.

YouTubers and Twitch streamers

The age of the individual   

How the gig economy exposed a need for better tools for freelancers and side-hustlers including personal finance, productivity tools and new economic opportunities for blue-collar and white-collar workers.

And why customer support is a good analogy for augmenting (and not automating) knowledge work.

Founder as a service 

Following events like Fyre Festival, we’ve seen Distrust Go Viral and a shift away from pay-per-post influencers to a new generation of creators.

In the next wave of online influence, celebrities will launch their own brands and move away from paid posts and collaborations w/ legacy companies.

Kylie Cosmetics is worth $1B+ w/ only 12 employees!

How 20-Year-Old Kylie Jenner Built A $900 Million Fortune In Less Than 3 Years

With Shopify, we saw the ability for anyone, anywhere to create their own e-commerce company.

In future, we’ll see new platforms for celebrities, influencers and aspiring creators to build just about any type of tech-enabled business.

Listen to the episode or skim the full conversation below.

But first, sign up to get future essays delivered to your inbox:


You’re listening to Square One, a podcast where we interview entrepreneurs, investors, and executives at the cutting edge of business.

I’m your host, Romeen Sheth. Today’s guest is Brianne Kimmel, network leader at Village Global.

Scale and reach are off the charts today. Joe Rogan gets more views than CNN, Kylie Jenner’s dominating cosmetics with less than 30 employees, and Conor McGregor can sell more pay per view than UFC.

But with access comes real responsibility. Fyre Festival is the latest SNAFU to fall trap to this. So what’s going on?

Romeen Sheth: The age of the individual is on the rise, and AI is automating away old world jobs while increasing leverage for new world jobs.

This paradigm shift is causing us to reimagine work. What does it mean to participate in the workforce?

How will we interact with one another, and what are the skills of the future?

Welcome Brianne, and thanks so much for joining us.

Brianne Kimmel: Hi, thanks so much for having me.

Romeen Sheth: So Brianne, really excited to have you on the show today and dive pretty deeply into your perspective on all things future of work, but before we jump in, tell us a little bit more about your background.

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, sounds great. So I spent most of my early career at Expedia. I worked across the consumer experience and also the B2B side of the business.

This was where I got most excited about enterprise businesses and the future of work.

Expedia was one of the first technologies to really tackle a very large antiquated sector and bring them online.

So if you think about airlines, hotel chains, car rental companies, before Expedia, essentially the entire landscape was fragmented and heavily reliant on travel agents. 

Brianne Kimmel: By bringing all of these services online, it actually created a whole new level of transparency in terms of pricing, standardized star ratings and publicly available consumer reviews. 

I think what was really interesting was during my time at Expedia was the mass consolidation of these online travel agencies. 

Expedia had acquired Orbitz, Travelocity and HomeAway to bring non-traditional, Airbnb like accommodations to the platform. 

Brianne Kimmel: It was great to experience first hand the size and scale of a platform like Expedia with supply consisting of the world’s oldest hotel groups and airlines and demand

So it was really great to really understand how do you use software and how do you use a marketplace, essentially, to bring in an outdated sector or category of businesses online, and then how do you use even reviews and recommendations and really strong data science to essentially bring a whole new level of transparency to a certain category.

Following my experience at Expedia, I got recruited for a role at Zendesk. 

So I took my platform experience from Expedia and applied it to enterprise software. During my time at Zendesk, we went from one product to seven products.

Brianne Kimmel: A lot of folks know Zendesk for Zendesk customer support, which is our core product, but essentially we built a whole suite of additional services such as live chat, more robust analytics, and a number of basically new technologies that would help us not only sell better into the enterprise but ultimately compete against Salesforce.

Brianne Kimmel: It was really cool, because during this time, I started spending a lot of time with our customers, so Peloton, Allbirds. I built a program called Zendesk for Startups, which was our way to create a dedicated program of the next generation of great companies. So it was a really interesting time in Zendesk journey where essentially, as we were moving that market and tackling more large antiquated enterprise companies, we also wanted to make sure we had programs and infrastructure in place to really support the next generation of great, disruptive companies.

Romeen Sheth: Yeah, your suite of experience is really interesting to me, because I think it ties to kind of a fundamental underlining of what’s going on in the labor markets today, right? So the labor markets we’re living through right now are, I think, incredibly interesting. It’s only at certain times in history that we reach such inflection points where policymakers, business leaders, and workers, frankly, are thinking through the benefits and uncertainty at such scale.

Romeen Sheth: So it’s a huge point we can obviously talk about for a full episode, but at a macro level, what’s your view on how to think about the intersection between technology and the labor market?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, that’s a great question, and I’m happy to kind of dissect it in terms of how I’m thinking about how do we even just categorize work? Because I think right now, there are just so many different ways to actually think about post education. How do we classify our work? There’s a lot of conversations around things like a side hustle, or you’ll hear folks talk about underemployment.

I’ve really been thinking about four types of labor:

  1. Centralized white-collar: knowledge workers in an office
  2. Decentralized white-collar: remote & freelance knowledge workers
  3. Centralized blue-collar: manual/physical labor in factories or warehouse facilities
  4. Decentralized blue-collar: desk-less workers such as delivery, installation and maintenance professionals.

Brianne Kimmel: So what’s interesting today is that in addition to having white collar work and blue collar work, we actually are starting to see new trends in terms of centralized and decentralized.

Technology companies will talk about what does it mean to have remote teams? Remote teams are becoming more and more important. You see that white collar distributed work is actually, there’s a broader trend where people actually like working from home.

It’s great to have your own setup. They like the flexibility. We’re seeing trends, even, in terms of how does this create a more inclusive workforce, I think specifically for new parents and also for the aging population.

We’re seeing that people are willing to work longer and they’re willing to continue contributing to their places of employment longer if they’re able to choose the way that they work.

Oftentimes, the way that they work is best from home.

Romeen Sheth: I like the decentralized, centralized framing, because I think if you look at the value stack, you see kind of different dimensions of what’s going on today. You have one side of the value stack which has a ton of increased opportunity sides, right? Finding talent and high skilled workers can be challenging in today’s market. But then you have the other part of the stack, more low skilled workers in many ways are being left behind. 

You have a pretty interesting perspective actually specifically on how millennial men are less likely to work than any other gender demographic. Talk a little bit more about that.

Brianne Kimmel: There’s also a lot of research that’s been done lately on the millennial work opt- in rate, and what’s interesting is when you look at recently changes. We’ll look specifically at the US labor market. Specifically with the US labor market, we have seen a shift where millennial men, so primarily men who are 25-34, they’re actually opting in less than previous generations, and more specifically, post-global financial crisis and post the previous economic downturn.

We’ve seen a major shift where actually, there’s an element of unemployment that’s happening, or underemployment that’s happening across the board. However, we’re seeing that men in particular are actually opting out rather than accepting underemployment, which is quite interesting.

Romeen Sheth: It’s interesting too because you can cut it kind of from a demographic perspective, but you can cut it from a skills perspective. One of my favorite or most interesting stats is if you look at it from a skills perspective, there’s actually a huge technical talent shortage.

Brianne Kimmel: Yes.

Romeen Sheth: So by 2020, there’s gonna be over a million and a half software development jobs than actually applicants who can fill them. So how do you think about it kind of from a skills perspective?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, I think this is a really interesting point, because I think historically when we talk about software development, there’s an assumption that you need to have a computer science degree. Now that we are seeing different types of software development emerging, we’re actually seeing a whole new landscape of both software technology that will help us build faster, but also ways for people to learn how to build software faster, as well.

So I think what’s interesting is we’re actually starting to see that computer science majors are opting into much more challenging roles when it comes to the full stack of things that we need to build.

So you’ll notice, we’ll talk a lot about in Silicon Valley is the smartest and the most technically capable developers, they want to work on things like AI, ML projects.

There’s a shift towards the smartest people really want to work on these new applications and these frontier technologies where essentially you need to have a computer science degree or you need to have additional training for that.

Brianne Kimmel: What this has actually done though is it’s actually created a whole new landscape of roles and responsibilities within an organization where essentially, you don’t need a CS degree. So there’s a lot of great programs. I think in the previous tech cycle, we saw coding camps and things like Dev boot camp or like general assembly, where essentially you can learn how to build great applications and especially in sort of front end web development. You can actually do a lot of things without a CS degree, which is great.

Brianne Kimmel: So we’re kind of seeing these two paths where I think there are individuals who are technical-ish or technical enough to really be able to add value outside of having a traditional computer science degree. I think this is where we’ll continue to see programs like Lambda School, for an example, where essentially, it does make sense for us to provide new classes of work for people who would like to work for a tech companies, but they either can’t or aren’t ready to commit to a full CS degree.

Romeen Sheth: It’s interesting because I think that has some pretty deep implications for skilling capability building. I want to jump into that a little bit later in the conversation because I think there’s some interesting nuances there. I’m curious to hear your perspective on how you think about job characteristics and job skills that folks should be thinking about.

So the McKinsey Global Institute did a study pretty recently on looking at characteristics in occupations that could be automated away. It was interesting because the conclusion was less than 5% of jobs were at risk of being full automated away, but up to 40% of skills that are the underlying components of those jobs will be affected by technology.

So how do you think about kind of that conclusion or that statement both from the perspective of a startup that’s building and then from the perspective of an individual worker?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, so this is a topic that I think about a lot, and I think what’s great is the time that I spent at Zendesk was very much a time period where I learned a lot about various functions within an organization. I think that customer support is actually a really good analogy for the way that I think about automating work versus augmenting work.

If you look at the sort of day to day roles and responsibilities of a customer support agent, there are a lot of things that we can augment and that we can automate to make their day to day much more enjoyable.

Brianne Kimmel: So I think the question and what you sort of read in a lot of headlines is that jobs are being replaced, things are going away, and I think that oftentimes, those sort of headlines don’t really dig into how complicated and how nuanced each individual role actually is.

So I’m an investor in a company called Forethought AI which does enterprise search and they do what we call human augmentation. They’re starting with customer support.

The reason they started with customer support was this is one function within an organization where essentially, agents don’t really have the tools that they need to do their job.

What I mean by that is we have created a whole suite of different technologies for agents to receive comments from customers and to respond to them, but we haven’t gone the next layer deeper where we actually give them access to the right information internally to solve problems quickly.

Brianne Kimmel: At Zendesk, we’ve done a lot of research around this as well, as far as how long does it take to respond to a customer’s question?

Oftentimes, the reason that it takes so long is that the agents don’t have the information they need to solve the problem. So they don’t have access to internal information or maybe data is sitting in different technologies that they don’t have access to.

So I think what’s interesting is often times when we talk about replacing roles, or when we talk about workplace automation, what we really need to focus on I think in the next 5-10 years is how do we actually augment a person’s day to day and actually remove some of the daily annoyances that keep us and hold us back from doing what we’re meant to do faster.

Romeen Sheth: Yeah, I like that framing a lot, because one of the things I’ve been most interested by is this idea of digital transformation at work, and specifically two buckets of it.

One which is entirely new forms of work, and then the second which is work that can created on a scale by platform businesses. On that kind of latter point, I had JD Ross, who was one of the co-founders of Opendoor on the show, and he talked about how he’s seeing individuals actually created larger home services businesses off of the Opendoor platform.

Romeen Sheth: I think it’s a very interesting kind of nuance. I’d love to get your perspective on how do you think about, there’s obviously the gig economy, but how do you think about how the gig economy and this opportunity set particularly unfolding?

Brianne Kimmel: I absolutely love what Opendoor’s doing and I think that’s, Opendoor will be an analogy for a number of other sectors. I think the same way that the Lambda School model which basically, you can learn without any sort of fees and you don’t have to pay until you get a job.

I think these sort of models are great starting points, and I think they will carry into other sectors, which is awesome. What’s interesting about building services on top of these platforms is that it creates a whole new opportunity for people to make money.

Brianne Kimmel: So I think historically, when we think about the gig economy, I think one of the challenges with the gig economy is typically, you will not, they’re used as basically complimentary or supplementary income.

Oftentimes, Uber drivers still have a full time job or you have to essentially have multiple gig jobs to really make a true salary. Whereas I think with a lot of these platforms, I’ve spent a lot of time and done research with specifically with people who do full time HomeAway rentals or Airbnb rentals. Essentially, you could build your own services business on top of a number of these platforms.

Brianne Kimmel: I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking at marketplaces for knowledge workers, and I have two examples. So one is a company called Wonder, which is based in New York. They do market research on demand, so essentially, if startups all the way up to Fortune 500s want to access additional individuals to help with research, so think basically early research that will then be passed to management consultants or to lawyers or accountants.

This is a job that didn’t exist before, but for the average person, especially someone who is either in college or recently graduated from college to build your own business where you’re able to do research from home is actually a really compelling alternative to driving for Uber or doing Postmates after you’ve recently received your college degree.

Romeen Sheth: Let’s dig into that a little bit more, because I think what you’re hitting on is kind of the intersection between doing new services on top of existing platforms. Then there’s another bucket which is just entirely new types of work, and you have a really interesting perspective on this with your thought process on influencers and streamers.

There’s a really good tweet that I was reading this weekend, and it pointed out that now Joe Rogan gets more views than CNN, Kylie Jenner is dominating cosmetics, and Conor McGregor can sell more pay per views than the UFC.

Romeen Sheth: I think there’s two threads there, right? One is just entirely new types of forms of work, and then the second is kind of the age of the individual and a little bit of the power of technology with distribution scale. Let’s talk about the first one first. Talk a little bit more about your perspective on not just digitally enabled work but really entirely new type of work.

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, I mean, I think this a really interesting point where I think we’re seeing this shift where in generations prior, I think specifically post World War II, oftentimes people took the job that was open and available, and they took a job that was close to home. I actually have recently done a lot of research on post World War II, like how did we transition from a wartime culture and specifically very much a blue collar culture into these new communities of white collar workforces. Where did we actually start transitioning from kind of the industrial revolution into where we are today?

Brianne Kimmel: During this period in time, that’s when we saw the introduction of things like the Myers-Briggs and the sort of new ways of thinking about work where essentially, people want purpose. I think prior, it was how do you work hard, how do you demonstrate that you’re working hard, and how do you basically provide for your family? Where I think today it’s more about, how do we find purpose? How do we find new ways to be creative and to build? I think what’s different about our generation is that we are highly creative and we are a generation that wants to build something.

Brianne Kimmel: We see with these new platforms, Twitch is a great example. YouTube is a great example as well where we have these new platforms where essentially, you can actually create your own type of work. There’s nothing stopping you from becoming an expert in basically any field that you’d like. I think an example I have here is I recently went to TwitchCon, which was an amazing experience to spend time with a large group of people, thousands of people, actually who have either built a company on top of Twitch from a tech standpoint, or who actually stream full time.

Brianne Kimmel: What was interesting was I had a conversation with an individual who is a streaming coach. I was saying to her, I said, “What did you study? What did you dream of doing when you were growing up?” She’s like, “When I was younger, I never thought I was going to be a coach. I never thought I’d be a professional coach, and I would’ve never thought that I would be helping individuals become more animated as they’re broadcasting their ability to play video games. There’s just so many classes of work that we didn’t know it exists. I think touching on influencers and streamers, there are amazing ways to do what you love and make enough money to not only pay the bills but also become incredibly successful.

Brianne Kimmel: So I’m super passionate about these new platforms for distribution, how people are using them to create new types of work.

Romeen Sheth: That’s interesting. Let’s dig into that a little bit more, because I think one of the things that I’m seeing is as we move more and more towards this world where individuals can leverage all sorts of technical platforms, whether it’s infrastructure or distribution and have the ability to create upsized economic value and influence. It’s exciting because of the leverage, but it also requires, I think, a new set of responsibility guidelines and standards. We saw the effect of this on a really small group of influencers and how it exacerbated the impact of Fyre Festival.

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, I agree, and I think what’s interesting and one thing that when you talk to influencers who are just getting started, it goes back to the early days of Hollywood where yes, your quality of content does matter, but also there is an element of access and of luck. I think specifically for YouTubers that are just getting started, oftentimes as these platforms start to mature, it does become increasingly hard to get discovered or to become famous.

Brianne Kimmel: So I think it’s really interesting to see over time, in the age of the individual, we actually start to revert back to very tried and true behaviors of individuals ultimately need groups. I think that’s something I saw at TwitchCon where essentially, streamers don’t operate on their own. They actually find ways to collaborate. Influencers also create this whole network of other influencers where they can promote each other’s content or work together and do a lot of collaborations with brands.

Brianne Kimmel: So I think while we’re entering this age of the individual, we’re actually starting to see these kind of next gen of social constructs being built, which is really fascinating. I think to kind of talk about Fyre Festival for a little bit, Fyre Festival was only successful because they leaned into a very human truth and something that’s very true today, where people are looking to have access, and they’re looking to actually build credibility through spending time with other influencers or experts.

Brianne Kimmel: So while over time we are kind of the age of the individual, I will say that I think with Fyre Festival for an example, these influencers that were involved in actually promoting the event, part of the hype and part of the demand was actually, wouldn’t it be great if I could get access to these influencers and I can spend time with them and I can kind of live, access that lifestyle by paying for a ticket. It turns out people are willing to pay for those tickets.

Romeen Sheth: Talk a little bit more about kind of distrust and how in kind of the age of today you have companies where reputations take a long time to build and one misstep or trust can kind of exacerbate out of control. How do you think about that from the company perspective on how to proactively manage?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, I mean this is something that I’ve been spending a lot of time on. I think a lot of these heritage brands that we know and love have become so large that it’s very challenging for them to be transparent. So I’ve seen this when working with Fortune 500 companies where we start to, as your company grows, and this is natural, we start to have more policies. But one of the challenges with a lot of these policies is we start to lose our transparency over time.

Brianne Kimmel: This is an area where as we see this next generation of great companies, direct to consumer brands are doing incredibly well at being transparent from day one. They’re also aligning to their, they are developing their own mission and values, which really resonates with today’s consumer, but I think one of the questions I have is long term will these direct to consumer brands ultimately consolidate, similar to the way that Expedia brands ultimately had to consolidate? And will they eventually lose their transparency over time?

Brianne Kimmel: I think it’s a little bit early for us to see that, but I’m very optimistic and excited to see these next generation of brands that are more transparent, that have better ingredients, that are really starting to prioritize the consumer. I’m just kind of skeptical and wonder at what point in time do they become large and bureaucratic as well?

Romeen Sheth: So as you’ve worked with a lot of, as you’ve observed kind of future of work from both an early stage startup and an investor perspective and you’ve kind of seen both sides of the gamut, what do you think large corporations and larger organizations get wrong? One of the things I see a lot of the time is this idea of just capturing data without having a really clear framing of the problem that you’re trying to solve. But when you think about future of work, what do you think that large companies or large organizations get wrong?

Brianne Kimmel: That’s a great question. I mean, I think as far as large companies go, I think you’ve really nailed it in terms of saying, oftentimes the problems that these large companies face is actually, it’s a problem of access and of information. So over time, as your company grows, fewer and fewer people have access to core data. Fewer and fewer people are truly connected to the core mission of the company, and I think oftentimes, this has to do with size and with scale.

Brianne Kimmel: Now, what I think is really interesting is now we’re starting to see where companies that want to go back to their early mission or that want to innovate and get access to the next generation of consumers, they are willing to acquire companies that match that profile. So I think we’ll continue to see large acquisitions, specifically in the retail/eCommerce space, specifically with consumer packaged goods where essentially it becomes harder and harder to innovate as a large multinational company. However, it is very easy for them to spend time with relevant startups and to actually acquire them and fold them into their portfolio of brands.

Romeen Sheth: Yeah, it’s interesting. I see a lot of, especially in the consumer goods space, a lot of, and R&D and innovation is just done via acquisition as opposed to any sort of internal, organic R&D. I’m curious to hear your perspective on the flip side of that same question, which is what do you think startups get wrong about large companies, right? I think there’s a lot of truth in corporates being very legacy and not adapting to technology, but I think it’s actually a lot less about sophistication with technology, which is often the conversation in startup rooms. But it’s more so about some of the things you mentioned, right? Organizational issues, cultural challenges, [inaudible 00:27:32].

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, I mean, this is something that I talked to startup founders a lot about. I think what’s challenging is that oftentimes in the Bay area or if you’re in a very startup centric ecosystem, it’s very easy to sell to other startups. You understand their buying behavior, you understand how to partner with them or sort of what’s in it for them longterm, but one of the challenges is that selling to the enterprise is very different. It typically requires a different feature set. Oftentimes companies are looking for maybe if it’s healthcare, they’re looking for HIPAA compliance. If you are a large enterprise company, you have to start thinking about different types of contracts and different features, and there’s a lot of customizations that come when working with large enterprise companies.

Brianne Kimmel: So we see that oftentimes, startups, I feel like wait too long to talk to enterprise customers. I think that you can get a significant amount of traction by selling to other startups, and I think we see this a lot specifically with the YC ecosystems. So if you’re going through Y Combinator, you get access to not only your current batch of startups, but also any YC alumni companies. So you can see companies get to 500k, a million in MRR, and actually it’s just selling to other startups either in the Bay area or outside of the Bay area.

Brianne Kimmel: What you’re missing is actually a deep understanding of what are the nuances that comes with moving out market and just selling to larger companies, which I think this ultimately comes down to how large companies make decisions. Large companies typically make decisions based on how do you maintain current traction and kind of not rock the boat too much, and how do you think about incremental change rather than disruption. I think oftentimes that’s where startups will come in and if you’re presenting to a large Fortune 500 company, the last thing they want to hear is disruption or a complete change in structure processes, because essentially, what they’ve been doing is working well. It’s good enough and longterm, they want to figure out ways to align with partners that can de-risk what they’re trying to achieve and provide incremental change over time.

Romeen Sheth: Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about what’s going on in the world of rescaling and capability builder. I also know Allred, the CEO of Lambda School, and Shaan Hathiramani who runs Flockjay, another interesting capability building and scaling startup out of YC right now in the current YC batch on the show. We talked about the education system at large, and I’m interested in your perspective on what you’re seeing with scaling and coaching startups. When you think from first principles, the experience can be pretty neat. Real time feedback, dynamic course experiences, flipping the classroom. How do you think about rescaling and capability building today?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, this is a great question. I think over, I would say even let’s zoom out over the past ten years. We’ve seen a number of great platforms that are focused on skilling and coaching, whether that be mentor mashing, like helping you find the right person to learn from, either as a peer or as someone a little bit more senior. We’ve seen education startups like Udemy and Coursera which have done a fantastic job in terms of essentially democratizing education that historically, you would have to either go get your MBA, go get your MFA. They’ve taken a lot of these really core, fundamental courses and brought them online for individuals.

Brianne Kimmel: I think in the next cycle, we’re seeing great, new companies like Lambda School, which I think what’s very interesting about Lambda School is they have infinite scale, because as they’re tackling such a large sector, which is education and more specifically an alternative to undergraduate college education, which is historically extremely expensive. Student loans are one of the largest point of stress for individuals. I think we’ll start to see new types of education and new types of even classes of work that come after individuals graduate from Lambda School.

Brianne Kimmel: Now, what I think is interesting about a lot of these re-skilling and a lot of the education and coaching startups is if you’re selling to a consumer or you’re ultimately competing for attention. I think one of the challenges that I’ve seen with specifically a lot of marketplaces that essentially offer professional coaching as a service or mentorship as a service. One of the challenges here is accountability, and it’s also competing for attention. So one of the things that I’ve seen is oftentimes with these marketplaces where one side is either an expert or a mentor or someone that is historically fairly time poor.

Brianne Kimmel: Facilitating that matching is very important, but also ensuring what’s in it for both sides? It’s very clear that there’s a whole category of young professionals who are hungry and eager to learn more, but on the supply side, it’s always a little bit more challenging to actually find the right people who a, have the time, and b, have the right incentive to actually invest in an individual for even a short, medium, or longterm period.

Romeen Sheth: Yeah, one of the things I always, and I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this. One of the things I always kind of wonder with with some of these kind of coaching on demand platforms or so, especially when they’re consumer focused, is how do they solve for the platform leakage problem, right? So if you think of, all marketplace businesses are different, but if you think of some of the kind of high profile companies that ended up not succeeding, like Homejoy out of YC, right? Raised $40 million.

Romeen Sheth: I think one of the big learnings from the nature of the transaction itself was that they were doing a great job of helping you match and find someone, but then the nature of that transaction was once you found someone to come in and service your home, you’re kind of, you trusted them and you didn’t really need to go back to the platform. So you ended up having a lot of these kind of platform leakage problems where folks would say, as a consumer, it doesn’t make sense for me to pay [inaudible 00:33:58]. Then as a vendor, it doesn’t make sense for you to take a price cut just by being on the platform. If we’re gonna develop a kind of longterm relationship, it just makes sense to take your transaction off of the platform itself.

Romeen Sheth: That’s something I think about a lot with kind of mentorship as a service, training as a service, et cetera. How do you think about that?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. I think in early marketplaces, we’ve seen that even with home sharing apps to an extent. We’ve seen that with the dog walking on demand services. Once you find someone that you really like and you build a longterm relationship, it is difficult to maintain a platform lock in over time. What’s interesting with a lot of these coaching applications is I think there is an opportunity to do more than just one on one matching, but also how do we think about the group facilitation of conversations.

Brianne Kimmel: I actually recently read an article that I thought was interesting that made the comparison that events and conferences are the new, that’s the number one choice for editorial. So historically, you would have magazine coverage. It was more about impressions and eyeballs and creating, brand building was actually built on a very specific aesthetic and look, whereas now that we’re in this sort of individual economy as you said. Now that we’re in this individual economy, what happens is actually people want to be directly involved in your product experience, whether that’s events or becoming an influencer in part of your platform.

Brianne Kimmel: I think there are ways to facilitate a lot of these service marketplaces by doing more of kind of a focus on community building rather than one on one matching. But I agree, I think to your point, one of the challenges with a lot of these services marketplaces is when you’re competing for attention from a consumer point of view, then oftentimes you’ll find these companies will ultimately convert to almost an enterprise sale. If it’s something that your work is paying for and it’s something that becomes a core part of your education or your career, then people are more likely to opt in and to lean in.

Brianne Kimmel: An example that I have there is there’s a company called Plato, which is also a YC company as well, and they do mentorship for engineers. What’s interesting is for Plato, they see high retention on both sides of the marketplace. So both on the supply side, these are mentors. These are mentors at top tech companies, and their goal is to essentially build a personal brand for themselves. They use it as a way to hire and recruit up and coming engineers, and then on the demand side, you have very hungry and eager young professionals who want to connect with leaders at other companies. Not necessarily even in terms of I’m ready to switch careers. I want to move to this company, but there are a lot of great things that you can learn from individuals at another company.

Brianne Kimmel: I always use personalization as an example. So if you’re working at a Bay area startup and you want to learn about personalization, then Netflix is obviously one company that you’d love to spend more time with. They’re actually located in Los Gatos and it doesn’t make sense for you to ever facilitate and in person conversation, but even getting access to someone who’s worked on personalization at the size and scale of Netflix is a really compelling offer.

Romeen Sheth: Well, let’s talk a little bit, I want to pick up on that last thread of personalization and I want to use it a segue to talk a little bit more about ML and AI and how it’ll affect the workplace. You alluded to this a little bit earlier in the conversation. One of the companies that I’m an angel in, Imbellus is doing really interesting work in the assessment space. I see a lot of interesting applications for ML and AI in helping improve the end to end talent equation. So screening at the top of the funnel by mapping the skills, matching and rerouting talent internally. Talk a little bit more about what you’re seeing in the space and how you think about it from a macro perspective.

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, I think it’s interesting. With AI, ML, we’re seeing the impact across multiple, different sectors and functions. I think from a recruiting standpoint what’s great is we’re actually able to facilitate much stronger matches. I think what I’m starting to see as far as a macro level trend is oftentimes, the recruiting process is a pretty complex one. You can divide it into college recruiting, which historically, there has been a matching and facilitation problem where essentially you would have one person in recruiting who works at one company and they would go to a career fair which happens once or twice a year.

Brianne Kimmel: What you would find is essentially students would go to these career fairs in hopes of meeting someone. You’d wander around, and it was just sort of like antiquated version of matching, which is not great for the employer, because they can only meet a limited number of candidates. It’s not great for students, because they don’t really have the time or the ability to truly have a conversation and to demonstrate how they’re different from the hundreds of other candidates that you’d see at one of these large university or college career fairs.

Brianne Kimmel: So what’s great is we’re actually starting to see these new platforms, like I’m an investor in dev.to. Dev.to is one of the largest communities of software engineers, and the way that it’s different than, say a GitHub or from other platforms is it’s actually more about the individual. So it’s a place where you can create a profile. You talk about your skills as a developer. You also talk about what you’re looking for in terms of culture fit, and you can write your own blog posts that are related to remote work or work/life balance, or any sort of parts of your day to day that matter in both a personal and professional context.

Brianne Kimmel: What’s great about that is you can actually start to facilitate matching that extends beyond just these are the things that I’ve done. I think LinkedIn is great in terms of having a nice resume, but the challenge with resumes is it doesn’t really ensure future happiness. So with a resume, they are data points that really communicate where you’ve been, but they don’t really communicate where you’d like to go. I think that’s where recruiting and matching is really broken, because it’s actually a way to lean into any personal biases that you have. So then you start selecting candidates based on where they went to school or what their most recent job was. But it doesn’t really communicate appetite and hunger and drive and all of these things that we look for when hiring new candidates.

Romeen Sheth: Yeah, I like the framing of kind of a historical perspective versus a future oriented perspective. That’s actually one of the things that I like that Imbellus does the most is this idea of recruiting by set in order proxy or where you went to school, what your previous job was. It doesn’t really give you a great, full picture of the story, right? But if you can start to understand how people think about problem solving, critical thinking, right? Judgment, how they exercise judgment, these are the core skills that you really want to see, right? You want to see in any sort of type of worker. It gets especially interesting I think when you actually put blind screens on top, to your point a little bit around kind of confirmation bias, right? I think you actually end up getting more interesting results based on the actual kind of first order observations that second order observations might not have gotten.

Romeen Sheth: But what are the most interesting kind of specific applications of technology you’re seeing as related to the workforce and kind of workforce productivity and what you’re most excited about today?

Brianne Kimmel: So I’ve been spending a lot of time in basically three areas. We talked a lot about new platforms for distribution and new classes of work such as streamers, influencers, and some of the new workplace applications that will tie into the gig economy. I’m also looking at distributed teams and not from the lens of do companies allow you to work from home one or two days a week, but what does it actually mean for a company to be fully distributed from day one?

Brianne Kimmel: I think we have a few examples today that have proven out this model. So we have InVision, we have GitHub, which is primarily distributed as well, and we have a whole kind of plethora of new startups that are essentially starting with distributed teams from day one, because it’s a great way to reduce overall cost. So you can remove real estate from the equation. You can hire great talent from anywhere. You are not constrained to only one or two markets where you have your HQ and maybe a satellite sales and marketing office.

Brianne Kimmel: So we’re really starting to see what are the deep mechanics to build a decentralized team from day one. That’s more on the white collar and on, in terms of knowledge work. I think on the blue collar side, what’s really interesting is we’re starting to see new applications that truly understand both centralized blue collar work, which is more factories and more kind of large companies. We also see new applications for decentralized blue collar work, which the example that I use there is a company called Earnin. Earnin is backed by Andreessen Horowitz, and they allow people to get paid in between paychecks.

Brianne Kimmel: What’s great about the model that they’ve built is they’re actually using a number of models that they’ve built to understand how many hours are you working on a weekly, monthly basis? How much money can we give you in between paychecks to actually unlock new opportunities for you as an individual? One way that they do this, which is super cool, is the actually can forecast on when are you actually at work? So they can use data from your phone, which tells you on average, you’re spending 5-10 hours, let’s say if you work an hourly wage job. You’re spending 5-10 hours at this certain company. Maybe you work at a restaurant, something like that.

Brianne Kimmel: But then you also have a side hustle where you also spend another 5-10 hours. So it can actually start to forecast how much money can we give you in between paychecks because we know the number of hours that you’re working. We see that you are fairly consistent in the hours that you work. However, like most people, unforeseen bills come up. Maybe it’s as medical expense. Maybe it’s a family holiday. Whatever might come up, there are just certain times where we need a little bit of extra cash, and they’re able to facilitate that using what they understand about the hours that you’re working and more importantly, the data that goes into this model that they’ve built.

Romeen Sheth: This has been a super interesting conversation. Granted, as we round out, I’d love to ask you that kind of Peter Thiel question as applied to the future of work which is what do you believe to be true about this idea of future of work that most people wouldn’t agree with you on?

Brianne Kimmel: I think to date what I’ve been thinking a lot about is how do we augment the way that people work today? I think that makes AI, ML, fairly approachable. I think in the short term, it’s really great for us to align on the fact that there are a number of things that we do in our day to day that are highly inefficient. But I think longterm, I’m actually very optimistic about the automation of work. What I’ve noticed in terms of understanding a lot of deep nuances in terms of blue collar work is there are just categories of jobs that shouldn’t exist.

Brianne Kimmel: I don’t believe that people should be truck drivers. When you look at the overall side effects and from a safety standpoint as far as number of car accidents, but also when you look at just the overall health of truck drivers, it’s a really, really sad job to have. I think that there’s a number of ones like this where when we start to look at different categories of work.

Historically, we haven’t had the technology to automate jobs that are, quite frankly, unsafe for people. So I think over time, I’m really optimistic in terms of automating things that are incredible unsafe. We can look at a list of these are the top 20, 40 jobs that have the most amount of workplace injuries and fatalities. We can just figure out ways to solve those problems. I think that is the starting point.

Brianne Kimmel: If I were gonna start a company today, I would start with that list. I would look at, I think another space that’s really fascinating is if you look at, when we talked about millennial males opting out of work, a huge percentage is actually driven by the opioid epidemic, which is a manmade epidemic. It’s a problem that’s impacting a large percentage of specifically American males. So how do we actually find alternatives to prescription medication? How do we disrupt certain, I would call them cartels, essentially these large, antiquated spaces where essentially, we are causing harm to the average American person.

Brianne Kimmel: So I think for me, short term, very much aligned in terms of let’s augment what people are doing today, but I think longterm, we need to automate work. We need to automate certain jobs that are incredibly unsafe.

Romeen Sheth: Well, Brianne, this has been a really interesting conversation, and I’m glad you were able to make the time. Thanks again for joining us. We really enjoyed having you on today.

Brianne Kimmel: Yes, thanks so much.

Distrust has gone viral! What companies can learn from Fyre Festival and the new sources of trust for consumers

The release of two Fyre Festival documentaries on Netflix and Hulu has sparked a much needed debate on consumer trust and the misaligned incentives between influencers and their followers today.

In my presentation Distrust goes viral, I present an in-depth look at recent events where distrust has been amplified by millions of people in a matter of seconds including:

Why Fyre Festival is a pinnacle moment for influencer culture and late-stage capitalism   

What happens when an ultra-exclusive event backed by the world’s most popular Instagram influencers ends in disaster as thousands of ticket holders, some of which paid up to $250,000 to get last minute tickets, are stranded on a remote island in the Bahamas…

Distrust goes viral. 

This is the first time we’ve seen lawsuits citing “100 Jane Does” — 100 unnamed influencers who promoted and posted about the festival. One lawsuit claimed these influencers acted “with negligent misrepresentation, fraud, breach of contract for failing to ‘provide the festival experience as promised’ and for ‘misrepresentations’ that caused people to purchase tickets.’”

What happens when major corporations like Samsung face distrust on a global scale 

Following multiple instances of exploding devices, we’ll look at the data behind the recall of 2.5 million Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices.

Distrust goes viral. 

Why United’s “Fly the Friendly Skies” slogan failed to deliver on multiple occasions. 

We’ll explore why celebrities like Seth Rogan and Chrissy Teagan tweeted about the unfair treatment of two young girls who were barred from boarding a United flight and the infamous passenger removal on United flight 3411 where a paying customer was dragged off a plane.

 

Here we see two situations in less than one month where a company put policies before people.

This is a scary time for companies. Every private conversation can we shared publicly in a matter of seconds. 

Every interaction that we have with our customers is critical and this is the new reality. So what can we do? 

We’ll look at the new sources of trust for consumers today:

  • People trust themselves
  • People trust friends and family
  • People trust people like them

Distrust goes viral was originally presented at Pioneers Tech Conference just after the shocking events that unfolded that Fyre Festival.

Read the transcript with slides below or watch the video.



This summer, all eyes have been on one specific event…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A festival on an island in the Bahamas: an ultra exclusive venue with amazing accommodations and backed by some of the most popular influencers in the world. When you look at this event, it looks pretty incredible. 

As we go through the festival lineup, we see major acts that we would expect to see at Coachella but without the lines or the crowds. VIP packages including airfare and luxury tent accommodations for US$12,000 and last minute sold for up to $250,000 per ticket. 

The best part about Fyre Festival? It was backed by the coolest celebrities and Instagram influencers, you had to be in the know to hear about it. From Kendall Jenner’s post alone, Fyre Festival saw 6 million unique impressions.

Celebrities, influencers and models created a total of 78 million impressions to promote the event. 

Following the social media push led by celebrities and influencers, traditional publications fast follow with earned coverage promoting the ultra-exclusive festival that everyone is talking about.

Let’s go back to the beginning. A remote island, an elite crowd, two unforgettable weekends. What could possibly go wrong, right? Well, let’s look at what really happened.

You’d expect beach-side bungalows in the Bahamas and a great place to stay for those two weekends. Well, what actually happened is we start to see a disaster is about to unfold.

The dining experience. A very important part of a festival experience because you want every moment to be Instagram worthy. So let’s just take a couple minutes and look at these cheese sandwiches. What a joke. 

Finally, we see a price tag for celebrity endorsements.

Jenner was paid $250,000 to promote this event. For Jenner fans, this news is disappointing.

For influencers and celebrities, lesson learned. It’s your job to protect your audience and keep advertisers honest.

The FTC has previously brought cases against Warner Bros., Sony and the fashion brand Lord & Taylor over influencer-centric marketing campaigns, but never against individuals. In the case of Fyre Festival, we see lawsuits citing “100 Jane Does” — 100 unnamed influencers who promoted and posted about the festival.

One lawsuit claimed these influencers acted “with negligent misrepresentation, fraud, breach of contract for failing to ‘provide the festival experience as promised’ and for ‘misrepresentations’ that caused people to purchase tickets.’”

 

One day before the festival, the talent cancels blink-182 pulls out completely. They say, “We’re sorry, this isn’t the type of festival we want to be involved in.” But for someone who has already bought tickets and booked their flights, it’s a little too late. You start to imagine who actually organized this thing and how is this even possible?

Well, we look at the event organizer, Ja Rule.

In his public statement to talk about the festival, he makes two really bold claims.

He says, One: “This is not a scam.” Two: “It’s not my fault.”

So as the co organizer of this event, it’s all hands-off. Sorry, I don’t want to take the blame for this.

Next, we look at the main source of truth. People on the ground.

These are two tweets coming from someone who bought tickets to this festival. She’s tweeting from the plane saying, “Look, I’m stuck on a plane. The government won’t let me in.”

Next one, “I just heard they are emptying our plane and literally rescue people are coming.”

As she’s live tweeting from this event, there are millions of people watching on Twitter and waiting for the full story to unfold. 

Every interaction has the opportunity to go global.

In a matter of seconds, any situation can be amplified by billions of people, but this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen this happen.

Let’s look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, it’s a cool product from a trusted company.

 2.5 million phones were recalled after live videos, tweets and photos went viral on social media. 

My personal favorite, you can see here a new slogan for the Galaxy Note 7: Now our technology explodes. Not ideal right? Now as we zoom out, you can see each spike is a new video being posted on social media. 

 

The major spike at the end is one short video coming from a Burger King in South Korea.

Millions of impressions and thousands of people jumping into the conversation.

This is truly a disaster for Samsung.

We have one more example. Trust keeps going viral.

United has invested a lot of time and money to create a “customer-centric brand.” Fly the friendly skies. 

The photo is pretty graphic, but it’s impossible to ignore. If a company sells you on “fly the friendly skies,” and this is your personal experience, you’re going to think twice before flying with them again.

The expectation of flying the friendly skies was much different than the actual reality.

When we zoom out, here’s where things get really interesting.

Most people don’t know this wasn’t the first time United had this sort of situation.

It was actually the second one in one month. 

Leggings Gate was situation where two minors were not able to board a flight with their parents because they were wearing tights. As you can see from this situation, big companies put policies ahead of their people, and it’s really frustrating.

As we look at the three examples that I’ve shown, a really powerful quote comes to mind.

Trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair.

“If we take a step back and we think about trust, it is the core component to all relationships. Whether it’s personal or professional, we will not last without trust.

Nothing works without trust, so when we apply this to the recent examples that we talk about, trust takes years to build, it takes seconds to break, and it takes forever to repair, but imagine amplifying that by millions of people.

This is a really scary time for companies. Every private conversation can we shared publicly in a matter of seconds. Every interaction that we have with our customers is absolutely critical, and this is the new reality.

 

In 2017, distrust has gone viral. Companies are afraid to talk to their customers because the stakes are so incredibly high. We’re afraid to deal with those sort of situations. So the question becomes, what can we do about it?

How do we build trust and how do we make sure that our customers enjoy talking to us, and they feel a sense of trust with us? We need to figure out ways to speed up this process. At startups, how do we build a company that’s trustworthy from day one? Let’s take a look at the data.

The number one source of truth for people? It turns out people really trust themselves. Sampling a product or service is the most trusted source for information today. Product samples and free trials for software are the new norm. 

People trust themselves 

People want to see things for themselves. They want to try before they buy. If you have a tangible product, they want to experience it and make sure that it’s legit. People also care about word of mouth, editorial content and reviews

Let people get to know your product before you expect them to pay. 

Don’t try to sell them the full suite without getting them first using the base features. Next thing to think about is easy refunds and cancellations.

Now, from a company perspective, this can be really hard to deliver.

Refunds can be costly. Cancellations are annoying. We don’t want to have to deal with these two things, but building trust is a long-term game there are no shortcuts. 

Let’s look at Amazon. Each individual feature is outlined, and it’s very clear to see that with Prime you’re getting more bang for your buck. You can also see very clear and transparent pricing. You understand that you’re able to try this product, and you’re able to cancel at any time. There’s no frills here. It’s just the facts.

Get in, try our product, and if it’s not right for you, cancel. 

People trust their friends and family

In fact, 92% percent of consumers trust recommendations from their friends and family over traditional forms of advertising. We need to figure out ways to get our friends and family to talk about products.

For startups, this is an area where we can move faster than big companies. We don’t need major brand campaigns.

What we actually need is to build trust with our customers from day one.

For big companies, this is a very scary challenge. No longer can we hide behind major brand campaigns. We need to figure out ways to make sure that our experience matches what we’re claiming and advertising.

Let’s look at an example from Strava, the fitness activity tracking app, which has a highly engaged community of runners, cyclists and athletes who track their progress and cheer each other on. 

In addition to tracking your progress on Strava, you can also push all of your updates to Facebook to share with an even group of friends and family.

People trust people like them

When you think about it, we’ve had enough of experts and paid influencers.

We’ve seen first hand with Fyre Festival that experts have their own incentives and sometimes those incentives are misaligned with their followers and constituents. 

Following Brexit, we’ve seen everyday people gaining power and influence in a country where government trust has been declining.

For companies today, the success of your company is truly in the hands of our customer, and when we look at the data here, you can see that a person similar to yourself is on par with an academic expert and with a technical expert.

Everyday people have power and influence.  

 

People trust people like them. 

Every company today needs to have a review strategy. Listen and engage on sites where people are talking about your product. It’s also also important to collect reviews in a controlled environment, build feedback and reviews into your core product experience.

Rent the Runway is a clothing subscription company and the great thing about the runway is they offer designer dresses for a reasonable rental fee.

Rent the Runway’s initial wedge into the market was weddings and formal events, so the stakes were high for them to get the customer experience right. Size, fit, delivery time and quality all matter. Through the use of profiles, Rent the Runway is able to leverage user-generated photos and reviews to build trust with customers.

Consumer reviews are also becoming increasingly important when you’re selling B2B software.

G2 Crowd aggregates reviews from everyday people who use specific tools at work everyday. These unbiased reviews create a trusted source for individuals who are buying software for their company. The stakes can be even higher at work, you are putting your professional reputation on the line when you choose a new vendor.

 

Sadly, companies can easily find shortcuts and ways to game the new sources of trust thus perpetuating the complicated relationship between companies and their customers. Let’s look at the dark-side of reviews:

In May 2018, BuzzFeed Technology Reporter Nic Nguyen conducted a deep investigation inside Amazon’s fake review economy where third-party merchants pay on average $4 to $5 per review, plus a refund of the product, to individuals who willingly write positive reviews irrespective of their personal experience with the product.

“The systems that create fraudulent reviews are a complicated web of subreddits, invite-only Slack channels, private Discord servers, and closed Facebook groups, but the incentives are simple: Being a five-star product is crucial to selling inventory at scale in Amazon’s intensely competitive marketplace — so crucial that merchants are willing to pay thousands of people to review their products positively.”

One listing read, “The reviews don’t need to be verified or anything, so the task won’t take more than a minute of your time. I will send you the link to the product, you go and leave a brief 1 star review, and that’s it. I will pay $5 to you through Paypal as soon as the review is live on Amazon.”

In 2019, distrust has gone viral and every interaction we have with our customers is critical. 

One private conversation with your customer can be shared with millions of people in a matter of seconds.

My challenge to you: stick to the sources of truth. Now that we understand what it takes to build trust with our customers, let’s build trust into our product and let’s keep calm under pressure.

Thank you.

Companies and products mentioned in this talk: 

Fyre Festival – A music festival scheduled to take place on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma over two weekends in April and May 2017. Organized by Fyre Media founder Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule as a luxury music festival to promote the Fyre music booking app, the event was promoted on Instagram by “social media influencers” including socialite and model Kendall Jenner, model Bella Hadid, model and actress Emily Ratajkowski, and other media personalities, many of whom did not initially disclose they had been paid to do so.  Learn more here. 

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – a now discontinued Android phablet smartphone that was produced and marketed by Samsung Electronics. On 2 September 2016, Samsung suspended sales of the Galaxy Note 7 and announced an informal recall, after it was found that a manufacturing defect in the phones’ batteries had caused some of them to generate excessive heat, resulting in fires. Learn more here. 

United Airlines Flight 3411 incident – On April 9, 2017, O’Hare International Airport Aviation Security Officers forcibly removed passenger David Dao, from United Express Flight 3411, after Dao refused to leave the aircraft as airline staff insisted. Aviation Security Officers were called and dragged him off. Dao screamed as officers pulled him out of his seat, and his face hit an armrest during the struggle. Officers then dragged him, apparently unconscious, by his arms on his back along the aircraft aisle past rows of onlooking passengers. Learn more here.

Distrust has gone viral! What companies can learn from Fyre Festival & the new sources of trust.

The release of two Fyre Festival documentaries on Netflix and Hulu has sparked a much needed debate on consumer trust and the misaligned incentives between influencers and their followers today.

In my presentation Distrust goes viral, I present an in-depth look at recent events where distrust has been amplified by millions of people in a matter of seconds including:

Why Fyre Festival is a pinnacle moment for influencer culture and late-stage capitalism   

What happens when an ultra-exclusive event backed by the world’s most popular Instagram influencers ends in disaster as thousands of ticket holders, some of which paid up to $250,000 to get last minute tickets, are stranded on a remote island in the Bahamas…

Distrust goes viral. 

This is the first time we’ve seen lawsuits citing “100 Jane Does” — 100 unnamed influencers who promoted and posted about the festival. One lawsuit claimed these influencers acted “with negligent misrepresentation, fraud, breach of contract for failing to ‘provide the festival experience as promised’ and for ‘misrepresentations’ that caused people to purchase tickets.’”

What happens when major corporations like Samsung face distrust on a global scale 

Following multiple instances of exploding devices, we’ll look at the data behind the recall of 2.5 million Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices.

Distrust goes viral. 

Why United’s “Fly the Friendly Skies” slogan failed to deliver on multiple occasions. 

We’ll explore why celebrities like Seth Rogan and Chrissy Teagan tweeted about the unfair treatment of two young girls who were barred from boarding a United flight and the infamous passenger removal on United flight 3411 where a paying customer was dragged over an airplane.

 

Here we see two situations in less than one month where a company put policies before people.

This is a scary time for companies. Every private conversation can we shared publicly in a matter of seconds. 

Every interaction that we have with our customers is critical and this is the new reality. So what can we do? 

We’ll look at the new sources of trust for consumers today:

  • People trust themselves
  • People trust friends and family
  • People trust people like them

Distrust goes viral was originally presented at Pioneers Tech Conference just after the shocking events that unfolded that Fyre Festival.

Read the transcript with slides below or watch the video.



This summer, all eyes have been on one specific event…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A festival on an island in the Bahamas: an ultra exclusive venue with amazing accommodations and backed by some of the most popular influencers in the world. When you look at this event, it looks pretty incredible. 

As we go through the festival lineup, we see major acts that we would expect to see at Coachella but without the lines or the crowds. VIP packages including airfare and luxury tent accommodations for US$12,000 and last minute sold for up to $250,000 per ticket. 

The best part about Fyre Festival? It was backed by the coolest celebrities and Instagram influencers, you had to be in the know to hear about it. From Kendall Jenner’s post alone, Fyre Festival saw 6 million unique impressions.

Celebrities, influencers and models created a total of 78 million impressions to promote the event. 

Following the social media push led by celebrities and influencers, traditional publications fast follow with earned coverage promoting the ultra-exclusive festival that everyone is talking about.

Let’s go back to the beginning. A remote island, an elite crowd, two unforgettable weekends. What could possibly go wrong, right? Well, let’s look at what really happened.

You’d expect beach-side bungalows in the Bahamas and a great place to stay for those two weekends. Well, what actually happened is we start to see a disaster is about to unfold.

The dining experience. A very important part of a festival experience because you want every moment to be Instagram worthy. So let’s just take a couple minutes and look at these cheese sandwiches. What a joke. 

Finally, we see a price tag for celebrity endorsements.

Jenner was paid $250,000 to promote this event. For Jenner fans, this news is disappointing.

For influencers and celebrities, lesson learned. It’s your job to protect your audience and keep advertisers honest.

The FTC has previously brought cases against Warner Bros., Sony and the fashion brand Lord & Taylor over influencer-centric marketing campaigns, but never against individuals. In the case of Fyre Festival, we see lawsuits citing “100 Jane Does” — 100 unnamed influencers who promoted and posted about the festival.

One lawsuit claimed these influencers acted “with negligent misrepresentation, fraud, breach of contract for failing to ‘provide the festival experience as promised’ and for ‘misrepresentations’ that caused people to purchase tickets.’”

 

One day before the festival, the talent cancels blink-182 pulls out completely. They say, “We’re sorry, this isn’t the type of festival we want to be involved in.” But for someone who has already bought tickets and booked their flights, it’s a little too late. You start to imagine who actually organized this thing and how is this even possible?

Well, we look at the event organizer, Ja Rule.

In his public statement to talk about the festival, he makes two really bold claims.

He says, One: “This is not a scam.” Two: “It’s not my fault.”

So as the co organizer of this event, it’s all hands-off. Sorry, I don’t want to take the blame for this.

Next, we look at the main source of truth. People on the ground.

These are two tweets coming from someone who bought tickets to this festival. She’s tweeting from the plane saying, “Look, I’m stuck on a plane. The government won’t let me in.”

Next one, “I just heard they are emptying our plane and literally rescue people are coming.”

As she’s live tweeting from this event, there are millions of people watching on Twitter and waiting for the full story to unfold. 

Every interaction has the opportunity to go global.

In a matter of seconds, any situation can be amplified by billions of people, but this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen this happen.

Let’s look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, it’s a cool product from a trusted company.

Well, 2.5 million phones were recalled after live videos, tweets and photos went viral on social media. 

My personal favorite, you can see here a new name for the Galaxy Note 7: Now our technology explodes. Not ideal right? Now as we zoom out and we look at the data, you can see here, each spike is a new video being posted online.

 

The major spike at the end is one short video coming from a Burger King in South Korea.

Millions of impressions and thousands of people jumping into the conversation.

This is truly a disaster for Samsung.

We have one more example. Trust keeps going viral.

United has invested a lot of time and money to create a “customer-centric brand.” Fly the friendly skies. 

Well, this photo here is pretty graphic, but it’s impossible to ignore. If a company tells you you’re about to fly the friendly skies, and this is your personal experience, you’re going to think twice before flying with them again. The expectation of flying the friendly skies was much different than the actual reality.

 

When we zoom out, here’s where things get really interesting.

Most people don’t know this wasn’t the first time United had this sort of situation.

It was actually the second one in one month. If we zoom out and look at leggings gate, this is a really interesting situation where a company policies come before people.

What happened with leggings gate is a couple of little girls were not able to board a flight with their parents because they were wearing tights, so moral of the story, the next time you try to get on a United flight wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt, I would definitely think twice.

Their policy doesn’t allow for that. As you can see from this situation, big companies put policies ahead of their people, and it’s really frustrating. As we look at the three examples that I’ve shown, a really powerful quote comes to mind.

Trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair.

“If we take a step back and we think about trust, it is the core component to all relationships. Whether it’s personal or professional, we will not last without trust.

Nothing works without trust, so when we apply this to the recent examples that we talk about, trust takes years to build, it takes seconds to break, and it takes forever to repair, but imagine amplifying that by millions of people.

This is a really scary time for companies. Every private conversation can we shared publicly in a matter of seconds. 

Every interaction that we have with our customers is absolutely critical, and this is the new reality.

 

In 2017, distrust has gone viral. Companies are afraid to talk to their customers because the stakes are so incredibly high. We’re afraid to deal with those sort of situations. So the question becomes, what can we do about it?

How do we build trust and how do we make sure that our customers enjoy talking to us, and they feel a sense of trust with us? We need to figure out ways to speed up this process. At startups, how do we build a company that’s trustworthy from day one? Let’s take a look at the data.

The number one source of truth for people? It turns out people really trust themselves. Sampling a product or service is the most trusted source for information today. Product samples and free trials for software are the new norm. 

People trust themselves 

People want to see things for themselves. They want to try before they buy. If you have a tangible product, they want to experience it and make sure that it’s legit. People also care about word of mouth, editorial content and reviews

Let people get to know your product before you expect them to pay. 

Don’t try to sell them the full suite without getting them first using the base features. Next thing to think about is easy refunds and cancellations.

Now, from a company perspective, this can be really hard to deliver.

Refunds can be costly. Cancellations are annoying. We don’t want to have to deal with these two things, but building trust is a long-term game there are no shortcuts. 

Let’s look at Amazon. Each individual feature is outlined, and it’s very clear to see that with Prime you’re getting more bang for your buck. You can also see very clear and transparent pricing. You understand that you’re able to try this product, and you’re able to cancel at any time. There’s no frills here. It’s just the facts.

Get in, try our product, and if it’s not right for you, cancel. 

People trust their friends and family

In fact, 92% percent of consumers trust recommendations from their friends and family over traditional forms of advertising. We need to figure out ways to get our friends and family to talk about products.

For startups, this is an area where we can move faster than big companies. We don’t need major brand campaigns.

What we actually need is to build trust with our customers from day one.

For big companies, this is a very scary challenge. No longer can we hide behind major brand campaigns. We need to figure out ways to make sure that our experience matches what we’re claiming and advertising.

Let’s look at an example from Strava, the fitness activity tracking app, which has a highly engaged community. 

 On the left you can see what a Strava feed looks like.

There’s everything from publishing your run and also sharing your individual personal journey, but there’s also these great moments where you can share and interact with other Strava users.

There’s ways to comment and to like and to really build community, this community is highly engaged because if you’re a runner or a cyclist, you want that motivation coming from other people using the app.

Another thing to think about is Strava doesn’t just stick to their own community, they also leverage the power of Facebook. After every run or every cycle, this is automatically published to Facebook, that way friends and family and people that aren’t using the APP are able to still give you credit.

I always use the example whenever I publish automatically on Strava, the number one and number two comments are generally coming from my mom, and generally coming from my best friend, so it’s creates a really great opportunity where even though people aren’t using our app, they still feel part of that community.

People trust people like them

When you think about it, we’ve had enough of experts and paid influencers.

We’ve seen first hand with Fyre Festival that experts have their own incentives and sometimes those incentives are misaligned with their followers and constituents. 

Following Brexit, we’ve seen everyday people gaining power and influence in a country where government trust has been declining.

For companies today, the success of your company is truly in the hands of our customer, and when we look at the data here, you can see that a person similar to yourself is on par with an academic expert and with a technical expert.

Everyday people have power and influence.  

 

People trust people like them. 

Every company today needs to have a review strategy. Listen and engage on sites where people are talking about your product. It’s also also important to collect reviews in a controlled environment, build feedback and reviews into your core product experience.

Rent the Runway is a clothing subscription company and the great thing about the runway is they offer designer dresses for a reasonable rental fee.

Rent the Runway’s initial wedge into the market was weddings and formal events, so the stakes were high for them to get the customer experience right. Size, fit, delivery time and quality all matter. Through the use of profiles, Rent the Runway is able to leverage user-generated photos and reviews to build trust with customers.

It turns out the same came be true for buying software at work. G2 Crowd aggregates reviews from everyday people who use specific tools at work everyday. These unbiased reviews create a trusted source for individuals who are buying software for their company. The stakes can be even higher at work, you are putting your professional reputation on the line when you choose a new vendor.

 

In 2017 we’ve seen distrust has gone viral. In social media, every interaction can go viral.

One private conversation with your customer can be shared with millions of people in a matter of seconds.

My challenge to you: stick to the sources of truth. Now that we understand what it takes to build trust with our customers, let’s build trust into our product and let’s keep calm under pressure.

Thank you.

Companies and products mentioned in this talk: 

Fyre Festival – A music festival scheduled to take place on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma over two weekends in April and May 2017. Organized by Fyre Media founder Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule as a luxury music festival to promote the Fyre music booking app, the event was promoted on Instagram by “social media influencers” including socialite and model Kendall Jenner, model Bella Hadid, model and actress Emily Ratajkowski, and other media personalities, many of whom did not initially disclose they had been paid to do so.  Learn more here. 

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – a now discontinued Android phablet smartphone that was produced and marketed by Samsung Electronics. On 2 September 2016, Samsung suspended sales of the Galaxy Note 7 and announced an informal recall, after it was found that a manufacturing defect in the phones’ batteries had caused some of them to generate excessive heat, resulting in fires. Learn more here. 

United Airlines Flight 3411 incident – On April 9, 2017, O’Hare International Airport Aviation Security Officers forcibly removed passenger David Dao, from United Express Flight 3411, after Dao refused to leave the aircraft as airline staff insisted. Aviation Security Officers were called and dragged him off. Dao screamed as officers pulled him out of his seat, and his face hit an armrest during the struggle. Officers then dragged him, apparently unconscious, by his arms on his back along the aircraft aisle past rows of onlooking passengers. Learn more here.

A primer on influencer fatigue for brands and b2b2c.

Will we see the end of influencer marketing this year?

In this essay, I will present the latest industry research as featured in Forbes, ZD Net, and highlight macro trends for brands, consumers and the growing landscape of influencer marketing tools.

Influencer Marketing Tech Landscape

Over the past few months, I’ve conducted a series of qualitative interviews and read a number of quantitative studies to understand how the influencer marketing landscape is changing.

Influencer fatigue has become a common theme for brands, consumers and influencers. In many ways, the current model is broken, here’s why:

According to a recent study featured by Forbes, brands pay more than 10x what they would pay to reach the same number of people in a traditional or digital media buy.

According to a recent study by Sprout Social, 46% of marketers believe influencer marketing should be part of their marketing plan, however only 19% have budget for it.

In many cases, the pressure to launch an influencer campaign often means that campaigns have loose metrics. Influencer matching continues to be a huge challenge for marketers. No tool has been able to solve the matching problem.

Brands are spending up to $500 million a year on fraudulent followers.

Changes in follower count attributed to fake followers

From an influencer perspective, the pressure to grow your fan base leads has led to top celebrities and influencers paying for fake followers.

Patterns that indicate fake followers include batches of new followers created within a certain timeframe, many of these accounts will appear and disappear within a short period of time.

While nine of out ten influencers say they must already like a brand to accept its sponsorship, 71% of influencers’ income is almost exclusively from sponsored content, versus more traditional ad streams like display ads, affiliate links and e-commerce. If you want to make money, you have to partner with big brands.

Bad matching = more brand control = fake posts. 80% of influencers say they are deterred to work with brands that control their content too much. Influencers want to create their own brand, not mirror someone else’s brand.

Fake posts = low engagement from consumers. The average engagement rate for an influencer post is around 4%. This means 40 likes, comments or clicks for every 1,000 impressions.

In many cases, brands are reducing paid spend for influencer marketing and re-investing in owned channels such as customer support as a lever for user-generated content and reviews.

Consumers are almost twice as likely to consider a product recommended from a friend rather than an influencer. 61% say they’d be more likely to research a product or service recommended on social by a friend versus only 36% for influencers.

This essay is Part I in a series on influencer marketing and new channels for user acquisition. I would love to include additional research and data points from founders working in this space.

If you’re working on a project in the influencer marketing space, please DM me on Twitter: @briannekimmel