Episode 10: Kickstarter’s Co-founder on Paralyzing Fear & Staying Punk Rock

First Contact with Laurie Segall is a production of Dot Dot Dot Media and iHeart Radio. 

Yancey Strickler: the moment that I can remember where I most felt the pain and pressure of all that was, in my last year as CEO and I was just standing there and my wife thought I left for work and then found me standing by the door. And I like had tears in my eyes. She’s like, “What, what’s going on?” And I’m just like, “I just can’t, … I can’t go in there and be that person today.”

Laurie Segall: Yeah. I mean, what an extraordinary thing to just be sitting at your front door and not even being able to open it. 

Yancey Strickler: I remember the moment so clearly ’cause it was like I was looking at the doorknob, and I couldn’t figure how to make my arm- It just, it just, it just wouldn’t move, and I could just feel, My body was just telling me, you know, “This is, this is not working for you.”

Have you ever left something that was so tied to your identity you wondered who am I without it? A job, maybe a relationship?

You just heard Yancey Strickler talking about leaving Kickstarer. He’s one of the cofounders, and for 5 years, he was the CEO. 

Often times,  shedding an identity is where a lot of the magic happens. Who you are, and what you actually stand for becomes a little more obvious. At least it has for Yancey –  

I’ve known him for many years so I’m gonna throw out a couple words to describe him. Quiet, thoughtfu and a little punk rock. Now he’s in the midst of stepping into his own identity without the backbone of kickstarter. 

Yancey left Kickstarter in 2017  and immediately he started thinking a lot about what we value as a society and how those values define who we are as individuals. He wrote a book on it. It’s called This Could Be Our Future. He calls it a manifesto. The book outlines an exercise that’s worth trying out… it’s called the bento box and it’s meant to keep us grounded, and most importantly, true to our identity.

I want to start this podcast, with one of my favorite Flannery O’Conner quotes – she writes “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said in any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what that meaning is.” –

To hear why Yancey cares about what we value, to understand his manifesto and its meaning I think you have to go back to the beginning. You’ve gotta understand his story. From growing up on a farm.. To punk rocker..  – to building a tech company that transformed creative communities around the world — it took us every word to get here. 

I’m Laurie Segall segall and this is First Contact. 

Laurie Segall: Okay. So welcome. The podcast is called First Contact, and what I love to do with our guests,  is talk about my first contact with our guests.

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: And you, Yancey I found one of our last on camera interviews, which was me at the Kickstarter Headquarters.

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: And it was … I’ll go to this one ’cause I think it was kind of significant. I mean all of them were significant.

Yancey Strickler: Sure, sure. (laughs).

Laurie Segall: You know-

Yancey Strickler: Every interview special.

Laurie Segall: Yeah. ‘Cause you’re … I should say you’re, up until a couple of years ago, the, the CEO of Kickstarter, and like, really, created, I would say like at the forefront of crowd funding. Like people didn’t even know the word crowd funding until you guys came along.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: But I remember sitting in the Kickstarter offices in Brooklyn, it’s like an old … It’s like a pencil factor-

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: And old pencil factory.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, that’s right.

Laurie Segall: Um, and it was when you guys were announcing that you were becoming a public benefit corporation, and you did that with me.

Laurie Segall: We were sitting at like … It almost looked like a picnic table or something.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, yeah.

Laurie Segall: And it was like you were fundamentally changing the structure of your company to say like, “We’re not just going to be about money, we’re going to be about doing public good.” That’s like the idea behind B Corp, right?

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: That, that was that moment.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, it was a, you know, we’d always been a very mission oriented company, and very present in the halls and rooms of Kickstarter. but had … We never really articulated what that meant. And the tech environment that was about hyper-growth, and raising a lot of VC and there’s a Silicon Valley template that we just turned our back on from the beginning. Just felt strongly that raising a lot of money would just be a compromise, but we were still like existing in that world while being the weirdos in that world. And then we, we learned about the PBC format, and we learned about it after Patagonia did it. Patagonia reincorporated from a classic C Corp to a PBC, and created a dual mission of financial purpose, and non financial purpose basically.

Laurie Segall: Well, I guess if I could kind of go back to like the root of that is what you were, what you were kind of saying, which is like, well, you know, this is like this hyper growth period. It was weird when you guys did it. Like let’s just take a step back.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: Like it was like a weird move. I remember sitting in the, (laughs), CNN newsroom being like, “What is this? They’re changing structure. Like, okay, they’re not going to be all about profit.” This is before the conversation that were like Silicon Valley companies are way too much about profit. Like are we ruining the world? Like there was before a lot of that. And you as an individual, um … We’ll get into this. You’ve always been like a little Punk Rock.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: And a little anti-establishment, but Kickstarter itself always felt a little bit Punk Rock and anti-establishment I would say, as, as someone who’s interviewed founders for a very long time, they kind of embodied their founder.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: And I think it kind of embodied like Who you are and where you come from, which was … Did I read like grew up on a farmhouse?

Yancey Strickler: I did.

Laurie Segall: Sorry, (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: I did. I did grow up on a farm.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: I grew up evangelical Christian.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: You know, I’m from the country. I’m a country boy.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: But I didn’t …. Even, as I grew up in that, and was a part of that, I, I knew it wasn’t me. Like I knew I didn’t fit in. And, um during high school I got selected to go to a Magnet school in, in Virginia where they picked like a couple of kids from each, uh, school to go to like a gifted school. And, and that was my first time being around other people that felt like me. And, it really changed my worldview, and made me aware of this larger world. But yeah, I, mean I grew up wanting to be a writer. I had no entrepreneurial desires whatsoever. And Kickstarter was just that. It, um, you know, when, when Perry Chan, who first had the idea for Kickstarter, you know, we started working on it together because it was just like this fun secret project to work on.

Yancey Strickler: This is in 2005, like a very different era of the internet. Like you had to have a room with a rack of servers somewhere to, to like do anything which we were incapable of doing. Um, but it was just really being driven by this idea that for funding creative projects, the only projects that a movie studio, or a book publisher will fund are things they think will be hits, but most ideas are not gonna be hits. They just want to exist, and there was no economy existed for those things. And so we were driven by this idea of like non financial motives for creating creative and artistic work. And like that was the vision for Kickstarter. 

Laurie Segall: I want to go back to just ’cause like even when the book you read about like going to church where people are dancing in the aisles and speaking in tongues, like, I mean, like I think of like all these tech founders, like growing up and going to Stanford, like having kind of like a very different upbringing than you. And I read that your dad was a, um, a waterbed salesman?

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, that’s right. So when I was growing up, like from the mid 70s to 2000, my dad was a traveling waterbed salesman. And so he would go out on the road every week. He always brought his guitar. He’s also a country singer.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: Uh, and he would sing songs and then go sell waterbeds. And he was doing that in the Bible belt in the 70s and 80s. And, yeah, now he’s like a bedding salesman in the mall in Virginia. So like, I have some words for Casper, uh, (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: All the podcasts ads, like, you know-

Laurie Segall: (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: … taken down salesmen and middlemen. I’m like, that’s my dad. And he knows a lot about beds. So step off. (laughs).

Laurie Segall: I mean, my, well I guess I would say like, well, so, so watching him and watching what he did, you know, what, what did that do for you and, and kind of the person you would, you would become?

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I think that, um, like my mom was a secretary to college, there’s a weird way that I’m an amalgamation of these two human beings. I mean, they divorced when I was very young, so like, I have no concept of them together really.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: But, I could see how a mix of these things, like I’m definitely the son of a waterbed salesman. (laughs). I know how to-

Laurie Segall: What does that even mean. (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: Just know how to talk, you know, a waterbed salesman is going to be able to talk someone into anything, you know. And then my mom is just like a wonderful, smart Christian woman who like reads books like nobody’s business and did the crossword every day. And I really, I’m, I’m her son and in so many ways. You know, coming from this background, was a source of anxiety for me for, you know, especially coming to New York after college, and like people here are very pedigreed and come from lots of backgrounds and I’m like, “I’m just …I feel like a country boy.” You know? And uh, so there was like a little bit of that culture shock, but over time,  I’ve grown to see the benefits of that, the benefits of coming from a different place. Cause I think a lot of the instincts that I have and that are part of Kickstarter, it’s this mix of like kind of Christianity and Punk Rock together. You know, I …

Yancey Strickler: The church I grew up in like, wealth is something dangerous. The Bible talks about it’s, it’s easier for a camel to pass through the needles eye, than it is for a rich man to go to heaven. Right? The notion is like wealth produces selfishness, produces, uh, a less giving kind of person. And so that was, that’s the water I was grown up in. And that was just like the table stakes that you’re taught. And Punk Rock has similar sorts of ethos about, you know, being true to your community. And so I, you know, I got pulled into the business world through the circumstance of Kickstarter and, and um, but I think it’s those values that also made us successful, just made us clearly different. And I think let the creative community trust us. Someone puts a project on Kickstarter, we get 5% of what they raise. We take no ownership. Like-

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: The peak design projects, the pebble projects, they’ve made more money through Kickstarter than the company has… To me that’s a great sign of success.

Laurie Segall: When you say Punk Rock, I mean, I remember for me maybe this is why I started covering technology back in like 2009, you guys launch- Kickstarter launched in 2009.

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: I remember I grew up in the South, I remember being the girl that would go to the Punk Rock shows alone sometimes.

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: I loved Punk Rock.

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: Um, and ska bands and all this kind of stuff, and there was something very Punk Rock about technology-

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: … back in 2008, 2009, um, that second wave of tech, it was people who didn’t fit in the lines, who didn’t believe you had to do things just because They said you had to do them. And, and it really felt like that mentality was very there. So I, I think I could almost see-

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: I could kind of see the parallels between people who were outsiders, and who didn’t fit really kind of being attracted to this world that all of a sudden became incredibly corporate, and incredibly mainstream. So much so that we have to have these real interesting conversations now. But back in the day, it was, it was kind of like another iteration of Punk Rock.

Yancey Strickler: It was- yeah, it was like the internet was a blank slate.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: You know, it’s like we can rewrite and redesign everything. There’s like the John Perry Barlow, like, you know, very utopian vision. And I think Kickstarter is an example of that mindset. I mean, the notion of a trust based system where millions of dollars change hands, and it’s like all about future ideas. I mean, it’s such an optimistic product.  and really like believing in the goodness of people. and the internet just seemed like it’s gonna enable every type of model, and instead, because of the huge influx of capital, very quickly the internet just settled on this business model of data-driven advertising. And you know, just a very small suite of, of possible ways to survive.

Laurie Segall: You talk about, I mean, growing up and actually literally being on the bus and having people put gum in your hair, and like say homophobic things to … I mean say really terrible things to you?

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: Why is it that you just didn’t fit? I guess this is a question I ask a lot of people that go on to do something big. The one thread maybe like people always ask like, “What’s one thing that a lot of successful people have in common?” And I’m like, “Well, they were, they definitely kind of like, were weirdos, or it didn’t fit when they were younger.” Like, why do you think you didn’t fit?

Yancey Strickler: I mean, if you saw a picture of me first day of sixth grade, maybe you would. (laughs)-

Laurie Segall: (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: … maybe you would know. Like I’m wearing plaid shorts and a plaid shirt and a Fanny pack. But you know, I just-

Laurie Segall: I mean but it’s still kind of weird-

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: Like isn’t your like photo now you’re kind of barefoot 

Yancey Strickler: Yes. Yes, that’s true.

Laurie Segall: Like you’re still kind of a weirdo. (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: It’s true.

Laurie Segall: (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: Yeah I don’t know. I mean it’s, um, it’s, it’s something deep. I mean, I spent a lot of years trying to get rid of it. I mean, once I started going to public school in sixth grade, like I  really felt like an outcast. And I remember every year, like new year you go buy clothes and I, I’m just buying all the most normal things I can. Like I’m trying to dress like everyone else.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: And it never worked. And I was just like, “What? Like I’m wearing the same thing as him, but yet you call me a name and like you … He’s cool? Like how does-.”

Laurie Segall: It’s just like all the normal clothes just like looked different on you?

Yancey Strickler: I don’t know. I think it was just that people could see deeper, they could see deeper than I wanted them to.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: And, and then it’s like that Magnet school moment where I like, accept that for the first time rather than trying to run from it. So for most of my life, if I could have programmed that out of me, I would have, now I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m so grateful that I have those things and then I’ve sort of grown into them.  yeah, I mean I’ve a lot of anxiety, a lot of self consciousness. and those things are still there, but I’m, you know, I have a better handle on them now.

Laurie Segall: Is there a mo- is there a moment? I … For me it’s Bobby. I’m not going to say his last name.

Yancey Strickler: (laughs).

Laurie Segall: Just like, I remember Bobby, like I remember parents are going through a divorce. I’m at a roller skating rink and, and I was … I went through a, unfortunately a larger phase. and Bobby, and him screaming like “Fat girl, fat girl what you gonna do when she comes for you.”

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: To this day, I remember that.

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: And just wanting to like curl up into a ball and just like not be there. Is there a moment that you could remember that, like you can go back to that is just like-

Yancey Strickler: Thank you, thank you for this by the way, this is-

Laurie Segall: You are welcome.

Yancey Strickler: I’m gonna have to have to call my therapist after this.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, no, there was, it was a, you know, it was, it was riding the bus to school and it was a, a boy named Bubba, who always sat on the back of the bus and it’s just him screaming, uh, slurs at me. And one day spitting skull on me and then throwing a can of Coke at me. And I talked to my mom about this, about what the bus was like for me. And her advice was to just ignore them and to pretend it’s not happening. And so I just sat there not moving while this guy’s yelling at me. And, um, yeah. So it’s the smallest I’ve ever felt, you know, and, and… That period of life feels so eternal, you know, the idea of ever getting outside of it, you know, just seemed impossible. And, um, and I, yeah, it was really hard. I didn’t know, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I think I buried myself in books and, um, just kept my head down and  tried to not be noticed. Um, but that was … Yeah, it was very, very tough.

Laurie Segall: Um, but you did, right? And you move and you made the move to, to New York city and you became a, a … We both have The Village Voice in common. Um, I did not work at The Village Voice, but I remember it was my dream to work at the village voice. Weirdly, I said … I remember coming to New York city and handing over my resume. I walked in there, hand over my resume and I never heard anything. I’m still waiting for that call. I don’t think they’re with us.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: So, I, so I’ll be waiting for a long time. But you ended up working at The Village Voice for-

Yancey Strickler: I free- I freelanced for I freelanced for them. Yeah. I mean my, my first job was as a radio and news reporter, and I was rewriting news blurbs so that they were 60 word things That a DJ would read out on air.

Laurie Segall: Right.

Yancey Strickler: Um and my, my editor was a big fan of the New York post. And so all of our stories had to have puns as their headlines. Um, and so the, (laughs), the only story I remember reading, it was an … It was an article about … It was J-lo, this is like 2000, 2001 peak p- I mean, now it’s a new Peak J-lo, but first Peak J-Lo. And, and she was saying that she regretted … she once talked in an interview about, uh, her butt and, and she said she regretted this, because now everyone talked about her butt.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: And I titled that story, deri-error.

Laurie Segall: (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: And that’s, that’s my journalistic peak, um, right there. But yeah, I mean, I, I moved here and I, yeah, just got, got jobs writing about culture, film, music, and I mean, it was all I ever wanted to do. And, and I had nine years here freelancing, having day jobs and, and editorial organizations, you know, but probably the best job out of all those was still like the job where I had to rewrite a dozen news stories every day into 60 word blurbs. I mean, what-

Laurie Segall: Why?

Yancey Strickler: ‘Cause it was such a factory that you just had to churn out. I had to turn out six stories by noon and another six stories by four. And I had a good editor who cut out everything that was bad.

Laurie Segall: Right.

Yancey Strickler: And unnecessary, and so it just teaches an economy of writing and thinking. It teaches you what’s important. You know, it’s just like that, that-

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: That deep end kind of work of like all your little cute tricks. No one cares. You know, here’s how you do this. And it’s … I think the writer I am today is still, is still because of that.

We’ve got to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors, but when we come back why the company’s success freaked out Yancey and made him question everything.  

Laurie Segall: You know, I don’t, I don’t think a lot of people remember, um, interesting tech comes… And people kinda, you know, scoff at it and everyone’s like, “No.” And then all of a sudden it’s like we can’t remember life without it.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: I remember, you know, covering Uber back in the day and AirBNB I was like, “No one is gonna order… get into a stranger’s car. No one’s gonna live in like a stranger’s home. No one is gonna ask strangers to pay, ask for money on the internet.” Like I think we forget that we all shook our heads at this… And I think people forget about this whole phase of like, “You had to be crazy enough and had to have enough resilience to just go out there and continue to be crazy enough to, to do this.” Crowdfunding didn’t really exist before Kickstarter. I mean there were ideas like this, but, but really Kickstarter was the first way that we really made this idea of crowd funding mainstream. Right?

Yancey Strickler: Yeah. I mean there’s like a sort of utopian knowledge, “If only we could all pitch in and do something.” and you know, we normalized it and we, we create a platform that had trusts that, there was a sense of validation by someone putting a project on the site. And it … You know, just sort of perpetuated itself.

Laurie Segall: But, but take me to the specifics. What was it like when you guys sat around and you’re like, “Okay, we’re going to ask people to ask for money, and see what they say.” Like, what were those initial reactions like?

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, I mean, I… I mean Perry had had the idea in 2001 and we met in Brooklyn where he, he was working as a waiter at like a cool restaurant, and I was a regular there and we became buddies. And, um-

Laurie Segall: Why?

Yancey Strickler: Why did we become buddies? 

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, sure.

Laurie Segall: Was that when talked to each other in public places?

Yancey Strickler: (laughs). Yeah, it’s a long ago when people used to do that. Uh, yeah, we just had, we just have a similar sense of humor, sensibility, just, could just feel that we we collect … We ended up, we both love the same NBA team, which is how we really started talking.

Yancey Strickler: And then at the time, my day job was at a company, emusic.com the first like music subscription service. And because I worked at a company that had dot com and its name, I think that made me the most technical person, and maybe I countered that like seemed to buy into these ideas.  and so, yeah, he, he pitched the idea to me. The first time he pitched it to me, I actually didn’t like the idea ’cause like-

Laurie Segall: Take me, take me to the pitch.

Yancey Strickler: So we’re, we’re sitting-

Laurie Segall: We’re here.

Yancey Strickler: We’re sitting in my living room and, and I was in Green Point.

Laurie Segall: So you invited, so you invited him home?

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, I invited him back to mine. (laughs).

Laurie Segall: Uh-huh.

Yancey Strickler: And uh, put on some music, uh-huh. (laughs).

Laurie Segall: What music were you listening to? I know you’re a music guy.

Yancey Strickler: Who knows, who knows, probably some Ethiopian jazz.

Laurie Segall: (laughs), okay.

Yancey Strickler: Uh, crack a couple of beers-

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: And I think he made me sign an NDA before he told me.

Laurie Segall: Smart man.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah. and yeah, he just talked about this notion of like fans coming together to fund things, and like people voting for what they wanted to see in the world. And my response was, “This sounds like American Idol.” And in … Like in a bad way. This is like, you know, Ruben Studard, and no, you know, no shade on Ruben, uh, but sort of like peak-

Laurie Segall: Shade on Ruben.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, peak American Idol. And, uh, I was just like, “Who needs this?” Like I’m … I like institutions, I like gatekeepers and Perry flipped it on me just saying like, “Well, it’s not about the mass stuff, it’s about like the niche stuff. It’s about the sculptor in a small town that no one living there gets their work, but the internet, they’re appreciated. And like, how does that person do something? And like, that’s who we speak to.” And you know, that I immediately understood just like, you know, I love David Lynch and if I could give David Lynch money to do anything, I would. So of course, you know, I could see that. And you know we were … I mean, we were so sure of ourselves early on. It’s like the certainty of … That you have when you don’t know a lot. (laughs).

Laurie Segall: (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: And then, and then we go around telling you-

Laurie Segall: That’s a beautiful thing isn’t it?

Yancey Strickler: Oh, it’s wonderful if only I could go back there. (laughs). And then we’d go around and tell, show people how much we knew and a house-

Laurie Segall: And then what?

Yancey Strickler: And then, yeah, there’s a lot of like, you know, “Y’all ….what do you, what are y’all thinking about?” I mean, the creative people we talked to really understood like the, the idea for the first Kickstarter project, was to try to save Arrested Development. This was when Arrested Development was getting canceled by Fox. Fans were sending bananas to 20th century Fox studios to like say, “Put the show back on the air.” And we’re like, “No, this is like, this is the Kickstarter project. This is what Kickstarter is for. The fans step up.” And Perry went to college with the cousin of one of the stars of the show, David Cross, the comedian David Cross. And so Perry went and pitched David on like, “Let’s, save Arrested Development. Here’s this thing.” And um, David explained that clearly we didn’t know how the entertainment industry worked, (laughs), ’cause there’s no way anyone would go for this.” But as an artist, he loved the idea and he’s just like, “I’ll invest.” And so the very first investor in Kickstarter was David Cross. Most of the early angels were creative people, musicians, like people who ran labels, people who ran magazines, like people who understood that problem.

Yancey Strickler: When we spoke to more traditional investors, there was a much higher degree of skepticism, which we heard more of like, no one’s going to give anyone money without financial upside. I mean, all any investor would say it was, “Great. So I get points on the movie?” Like, “If I back a project, I own it?” You know?

Laurie Segall: Or you get a mug or uh …

Yancey Strickler: Right, we would say no, ” You get a mug and your name in the credits.”

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: And they’re like, “Well, who wants that?” 

Yancey Strickler: I remember one of the very prominent VC telling us, “There’s already too much art in the world. Nobody needs this.”

Laurie Segall: No?

Yancey Strickler: Yeah. And so it just …

Laurie Segall: What did you-

Yancey Strickler: What did we say with that?

Laurie Segall: We’re not moving on from that yet. What do you do when someone says something like that to you?

Yancey Strickler: Well, you’re just like, (laughs), “This meeting isn’t going well.” So this is … Yeah, I just remembered there was a moment where it’s just like, you sort of let that hang in the air and it’s like, “So, okay, well, uh, you know, anyone you think we should talk to?” You know, you’re just like, “Let’s try to get some value out of this.”

Laurie Segall: But, but is that what you do? I mean, I guess because I think for a lot of other founders, you know, people don’t understand, even people like you who’ve had a lot of success, like part of success is just having a lot of people be like, “This is a terrible idea.’

Yancey Strickler: Right.

Laurie Segall: That’s literally, if I could, if I could code into success, it’s, it’s people telling you your idea’s shitty.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: Did you ever kind of question yourself-

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: … and be like, “I am crazy.”

Yancey Strickler: Yeah. Yeah. I haven’t stopped. (laughs). Um, yeah,

Laurie Segall: You know, you said in the book. “The truth is everything is made up.” what an interesting statement.

Yancey Strickler: (laughs).

Laurie Segall: You said, “The truth is there is little order. The status quo persists because people continue to wake up and believe in these ideas each day, or they’re so deeply embedded, we don’t recognize them as ideas anymore.” And then you say, “Kickstarter happened and it showed me things were way more fragile than I was taught to believe.” Not to create story time out of this, but I thought that was an interesting statement, a powerful statement. What did you mean by that?

Yancey Strickler: Um, you know, I grew up thinking that the world makes sense, that there’s people in charge, that history is logical and the natural progression, and I just trusted in those things and when Kickstarter started being successful, it, it freaked me out. Um, it freaked me out because I kept waiting for like, “Where’s the five people with clipboards who come by our office, and like make sure that we’re allowed to do what we’re doing.” You know? Just this notion that like, we can put out this idea that we had made up, and that people just believed in it and then it was real. And now it was just, that thing was just so strange to me. and it just made me, made me feel less certain about almost everything in life. And,  I felt terrified by that for a while. And then eventually I came to feel a kind of like a superpower of that, of, “Well, if, if Kickstarter works this way then other things work this way too.”

Yancey Strickler: And that leads me to the conclusion that the world is far more shapeable, than I’ve been taught to believe and that, I can fear that or I can seize the agency in that, and you know, just try to use that as like workable knowledge. And, yeah, I mean it’s something like the idea that we’re just following ideas that previous people accepted. you know … It makes sense, like if someone says that to you, you’re like, sure. And I don’t know why that’s relevant, but sure.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: Um, but really feeling it firsthand, just created a kind of before and after moment in my life.

Laurie Segall: Like there was Yancey before and then there was Yancey after.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, and the Yancey after, like I had to adjust to that. I had to get comfortable with like the notion of having a larger power than you maybe thought. and that that has some responsibility. but yeah, it-

Laurie Segall: Was that messy at all?

Yancey Strickler: I think it’s, it’s, uh, it’s, it’s just part of what allows the company to be unique, you know? Just doesn’t feel like we’re following someone else’s script. ‘Cause like, you know, I felt so alienated from the business world, like I …

Yancey Strickler: As a writer who started working in companies and I discovered that I was good in meetings, and good at strategic thinking and I was a good manager, and like Punk Rock me is like just so destroyed by the fact that I’m good at those things. Like am I a sellout? I’m good … Like “My CEO likes talking to me. It should, I feel good or bad about that.” And, uh, and I had to get, I had to get comfortable, uh, with those sorts of things. And um, but yeah, that, that mix of like wanting to learn the tools of how to make an organization work, or you know, having that more traditional mindset, but bringing, uh, a different value system to it, there’s a best of both worlds there, that if you can bring them together, it’s powerful.

Laurie Segall: Maybe Punk Rock you just understood, human nature.

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: You know, maybe that’s part of being Punk Rock-

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: Is kind of understanding the pain and joy of being human.

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: You know?

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: It’s harder to stay Punk Rock when you become corporate. Right? Did you struggle with that?

Yancey Strickler: No, because we, we were our own thing.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: You know, I think that’s like, um, all the ways we made things hard for ourselves. (laughs).

Laurie Segall: I was about to say you guys didn’t do high growth. I’m sure that was hard with investors.

Yancey Strickler: No.

Laurie Segall: You guys didn’t become like the hockey stick growth, Silicon Valley companies, stayed small, you are in Brooklyn, not Silicon Valley. I mean, I can imagine that was hard for you.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah. I mean it’s … But they were, you know, weirdly like the, that stuff gets harder, when you compare yourself to external narratives of success, when you’re like reading TechCrunch or whatever every day, and you’re comparing yourself to like other people that are going the other path and you worry, “Oh shit, am I … Are we like being passed by, by everyone doing the Reid Hoffman Blitz Scaling?” You know? I mean, there was-

Laurie Segall: What does that mean?

Yancey Strickler: I mean Reid’s … Blitz Scaling, a book about, it’s just like the idea of using capital as a, as a weapon, you amass as much money as possible to block your competitors from raising money, and you just outspend them, and you get as big of monopoly as you can and then you sell it to Microsoft. You know? I mean, that’s like, that’s, that’s that success model. And we were not, you know, just weren’t interested in that. And yeah, I mean, there are lots of moments where I would doubt that path. I mean, I remember I became CEO of Kickstarter in 2014, in my first month as CEO Two other crowdfunding companies raised like $60 million in VC money in my first month. And it was like the Blitz Scaling idea where they’re just going to outspend us.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: And immediately, like in all the categories that we served, like they’re offering zero fee, they’re offering whatever you want, just using that money as a moat, to try to eat away at Kickstarter. And so there’s this moment of like, “Do we have to do the same? Like if someone escalates, you have to match their escalation or not?” And we end up deciding, “No, like we’re, we’re on this path. Like the chips are gonna fall where they may, but maintaining independence over the long term, like, we just got to weather this.” And, and to that, you know, that was a hard call. And weirdly, a lot of the pressure you get is as also from employees. You know, your employees want you to succeed.

Laurie Segall: Employees often want you to grow in the traditional ways, both for, maybe they’re imagining their own upside of like their stock, or things like that. But also they’re just like, you know, they’re more in the trenches of facing off against competitors, and they want … They want the company to be more cut throat, and we’re just like, “No, that’s not, that’s not how you’re going to succeed in the long term.” So there’s a lot of moments where you’re trying to hold on to this more benevolent mission, this larger, bigger picture mission and you’re just facing pressures from all sides to let go, to bend those things. And I think leadership is about, you know, knowing how to hold on to those while … I mean, there are moments where you, you do have to evolve. You know, you can’t play the same script over and over. But still maintaining those values when everyone is telling you, you’re wrong is … Yeah-

Laurie Segall: That’s hard.

Yancey Strickler: That’s leadership.

Laurie Segall: I don’t … Yeah but, and, and I think we can talk about it from very high level, but when you’re in it, it’s such a different story. Right? Do you have any specifics you could go to where, where you think about an example of-

Yancey Strickler: Well, I mean one … The, the, like the, the external pressure. I mean, I remember the moment like, I think it was within this 48 hours, there’s these announcements of like one company raising 40 million, one raising 20 million. That was a real like, “Like, am I allowed to do this job?” Like, “Are we sure about this?” Um, but I don’t know the, the moment that I can remember where I most felt the pain and pressure of all that was, I mean, it was in my last year as CEO and, And I was, really exhausted, and there was a day where I was going to leave my house to go to work, and I like stood in my front door and I just couldn’t even lift my arm to open the door. And I was just standing there and my wife thought I left for work and then found me standing by the door. And I like had tears in my eyes. She’s like, “What, what’s going on?” And I’m just like, “I just can’t, … I can’t go in there and be that person today.”

Yancey Strickler: Like I just don’t know how to be the one who’s holding all of these things, who still sure, who still, you know, has the strength and energy to project all the things that I need to project.

Yancey Strickler: And the idea of stepping into that role was just like filled me with a level of exhaustion that I’d never felt ever before. And, and that was, yeah, it was just about living up to what I thought. I sort of an image I felt I needed to live up to. And also just like, just doing it for so long, you know, just pouring so much of myself into it for so long. ‘Cause I was the Kickstarter guy for 10 years, you know, every went to events, you know, the community guy, like always out there, always the press guy, always telling the story, and always believing it to the, to the deepest depths of me. And, and then that it ended up just like kinda emptying me out by the end.

Laurie Segall: Yeah. I mean, what an extraordinary thing to just be sitting at your front door and not even being able to open it. Right?

Yancey Strickler: I remember the moment so clearly ’cause it was like I was looking at the doorknob, and I couldn’t … Like, I couldn’t figure how to make my arm- It just, it just, it just wouldn’t move, and I could just feel, could just … My body was just telling me, you know, “This is, this is not working for you.”

Laurie Segall: And you know, identity is a funny thing because… And I can say this, having left a job of 10 years too, I was at, I was Laurie Segall from CNN who covered Yancey from Kickstarter.

Yancey Strickler: Totally.

Laurie Segall: and so When I left, I left my job of 10 years too. And I remember leaving, uh, writing the goodbye email, sending it to CNN super desk, which goes out to every employee in the company. and, and waiting to hit the send.  waiting to hit the, the send note. And I remember the, the amount of anxiety I had, I had to have my boss at the time hit send, because I just couldn’t do it. I was just like … Because it was just like watching my identity go.

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: Because, because it takes … And I think this is probably for anyone leaving a job. and, and by the way, and I say this is a smaller scale than you, because you are the CEO and the creator of a company.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: when you leave something, it’s such a part of you. Um, and it does mess with your head. I can only … I can only imagine, leaving behind Kickstarter, for you must have been an extraordinary thing for your head, and an extraordinary thing for your heart.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah. I mean, initially, you know, the plan was to stay on the board, and you know, be connected to the company in a different way. And then as we’re … You know, Perry and I were doing the transition, and all that was happening. It just, I just thought, “Rather than re-orienting my emotional relationship to this, like, I don’t know, I don’t know what’s in there for me. And because the company’s a PBC, like my values are there. Like, we did this whole thing that’s supposed to solve for like one of us being hit by a bus. So like maybe I just got hit by a bus, you know, what maybe, maybe the right thing for me is to just move forward.” And it was very hard to reach that place and to like, let go of that identity. But in the end, the idea of half holding onto that identity seemed harder to me than just like, I just have to blow it up. And yeah, I mean, it took … it took a bit for it to feel like that was … Had been the right thing to do. but, you know, pretty quickly I’ve found, you know …

Yancey Strickler: I thought that I was gonna leave, and then just like sleep for three months and instead I discovered like the very next day I had more energy than I had had in years, and I realized that I’d spent a decade filtering every thought I had through the organization, through the brand, through like “What’s best for the creators, what’s best for the employees, what does everyone else need?” And that I was suddenly in a place of hustling for myself. And that was so exciting, you know, to, to be, yeah … To have that freedom of movement, and action, where I’d been such an organizational kind of leader, and I believe like that kind of servant leadership is the way to do things. Uhm. Yeah, I was really surprised by the amount of energy I felt hustling for myself, versus trying to manage this larger concept that I had responsibility for.

Laurie Segall: How did you feel, uh, your last day walking out?

Yancey Strickler: Great. Uh, great. I mean, there was, it was like, uh-

Laurie Segall: Take me to that day.

Yancey Strickler: yeah, yeah, it was, uh, it was an all hands. Um, where, you know, I led always the company and I stood in front of them, the, the team and the board was there, Perry was there. And I said yeah, I’m, I’m here to let you know that, yeah, this is it for me, you know, and, and, that I’d made this decision, you know, with the board and that Kickstarter is a small independent company in a world of giant monopolies, and that we have to have an extraordinarily high bar for success. And then I’ve been, uh, I think a very good CEO for the company, but like, the company needs to keep raising its game and that I could do this because I was certain that that was gonna happen. And I just believe so deeply in everyone there and that  this had been the greatest honor and pleasure of my life.

Yancey Strickler: And, you know, people gave me a standing ovation. And then I walked out. (laughs), you know, it was like, it was very painful. I mean that day I’m just like, “What have I done?” You know, you’re walk … I’m walking around Williamsburg afterwards being like, “What, what did that really just happen?” And, but yeah, it was, it was, it was, it was right. And I, I could immediately go back to like … I went back to that Perry being in my house, showing me the first ideas of Kickstarter, and to think like, “This journey started there in 2005, and it ends with me here, saying exactly what I wanted, the company people giving a standing ovation, hugging all these people I love. And then I’m just now what’s next?” And so I came to see that as like, actually this is a wonderful story and I should, I should, I shouldn’t feel shy or weird about this. Like this is … I, I did my part and I feel great about it.

Laurie Segall: And it led you to the next thing that you’re doing now. I did read that there is one moment that you cried.

Yancey Strickler: There was a moment that I cried.

Laurie Segall: There is a moment that you cried. You wrote about it on your website.

Yancey Strickler: Oh.

Laurie Segall: It was in a deli, right? (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: Oh yeah.

Laurie Segall: (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, yeah, that was true.

Laurie Segall: Sounds like you didn’t when saying goodbye your employees, but someone cried over an egg sandwich. (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: Yes, yes, saying …. Well listen, I practiced my speech so many times to make sure that I don’t cry.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: I mean that … The morning I gave that talk-

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: … um, I was sitting in my house reading my speech to my dog, (laughs), and crying like, you wouldn’t believe, crying, like you wouldn’t believe But I had to get it out, because if I cry while saying that to the company, then it’s like, what, what is this? So I had to empty myself. Yeah, a few months after that-

Laurie Segall: So you covered that, that is so powerful. I mean, you have to think about this like you just practice and you prac- I can just see you practicing a speech of saying goodbye to this thing to your dog and just tears. That’s unbelievable.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, I had to get it out. Yeah. And then three months later, four months later, I decided to leave New York. I’ve been here 20 years, and just felt like I can’t start a new chapter in the same place where I’ve been. So with my family moved to LA, and um, all kinds of goodbye parties, went to, you know, all my favorite restaurants again, et cetera, et cetera. It was all lovely. I had no emotional reaction. But my very last morning I went to Happiness Deli on Broome and Ludlow, which is the Deli where I’ve gotten an egg and cheese sandwich almost every morning for like 18 years. And I went in there to see the guy, I used to see Mohammed and ordered my egg and cheese, and told him I was moving in, like the three guys, came out from behind the counter and each hugged me, and I’m just like, they’re holding my tin foil bagel crying.

Yancey Strickler: The only time I cried is when Mo and the guys, yeah, just sending me love, good wishes. And I, I met them when I was 21, moving to New York, you know, and so they’d like known me for so long. They … When Kickstarter happened, they knew, when I came back to New York a few months ago for the release of the book, the very first thing I did when I got here is I went to the deli to give Mo a copy of the book. you know, so that was like, yeah … That was like my real New York moment of saying, yeah, saying goodbye to the guys at the deli.

We’ve got to take one last break to hear from our sponsors but when we come back… we’ll get into the manifesto Yancy wrote after he left the company. He also opens up about his struggles with being himself online.

Laurie Segall: So you left and you didn’t … When you left, you didn’t really know you were gonna write a book. Right?

Yancey Strickler: No.

Laurie Segall: I, if I, if I read correctly, you, you almost did some like business process in your head. You kind of put yourself through like the ringer a little bit.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: And, and decided that you would write a book.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: And not even just a book. It’s not a memoir, it’s not a business how to. It is a Manifesto.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: Right?

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: Um, which, which I think is fascinating. So, tell us the premise. It’s all, it’s all about kind of really understanding value. Right?

Yancey Strickler: Yeah. Yeah. So, yeah, I was searching for the next thing and, and you know, starting in 2014 every talk I gave around Kickstarter was about this macro environment that we were in. Looking back, I’m like, I could tell that I was a little bored of the job when I only wanted to speak about larger forces and not the product of the company. But I’d given this … I’d given this talk just like explaining how the world had been overtaken by this belief that the right choice in a decision is whichever option makes the most money. And in doing research, I found the moment in time where I felt that that had happened around 1970 with a, famous Milton Friedman essay about maximizing shareholder value. And so I gave a talk sort of telling that story and showing how it, like … That’s the reason why there’s so many movie sequels.

Yancey Strickler: That’s the reason why they’re chains everywhere. It’s the reason why Taylor Swift used to be on the cover of every magazine. And so like found this way to make something that’s hard to see, easier to see. So I, you know, I just kept pulling on that thread and thinking about it and then began this process of, of writing this book. And the book is called This Could Be Our Future.” And the first half argues about this idea of this, uh, sort of the the primacy of financial value, and sort of tracking the history of that and showing how it’s created.

Yancey Strickler: And then the second half of the book argues that we are in a, a moment where we are progressing to a new value system, and that the, the world where financial value is the only rational form of value is ending. And I, I call this way of seeing Bento-ism

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: … based on the Japanese Bento box. And the word Bento comes from a Japanese word, meaning convenience. And because of the compartments and lid of a Bento box, it lets you have a convenient and balanced meal, not too much of any one thing.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: And the Bento honors the Japanese dieting philosophy of hata hachi bu, which says the goal of a meal is to be 80% full, that way you’re still hungry for tomorrow.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: So Bentoism is the same idea, but for our values and our decisions, and it’s using the four spaces to argue that the world of value, the world of self-interest, the world we should be creating encompasses all these spaces. And that the mistake we’ve made over the past 50 years is believing that if we just maximize for this one value of financial value, that will just solve everything else. But the truth is that, we’ve learned now it doesn’t work that way.

Yancey Strickler: So an example I give in the book is about how Adele does ticketing for her shows. In 2014, Adele went on tour. When she goes on tour, all of her tickets sell out, fans have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars more on the secondary market to get a seat. So Adele was either playing shows for rich fans or for fans who weren’t rich, but who were spending more money than they could afford to see her play.

Yancey Strickler: So Adele found a startup in the UK that had built an algorithm that would approximate the loyalty of her fans. It would analyze social data, and like Spotify data, everything they could find to identify like here’s the top 30 percentile Adele fans in whatever market, and use that as a way to invite those people to buy tickets. They could resell the tickets if they wanted to. But the thesis was that if we optimize for this like communal fairness value, this loyalty value, that a different kind of experience will be created.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: The shows were still profitable, she still like was in the black, but they were optimizing not for a financial value, but a non financial value.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: And so like you’re satisfying your financial needs, but satisfying the financial needs is not the point of the enterprise. The point is something else. Peter Drucker, like business guru of all business gurus, he calls this post-capitalism the idea that the capital base, how much money you make will no longer be what distinguishes like who’s a market leader or who’s most meaningful. But that instead we will build another set of values, on top of just like the financial standing financial platform we’re all standing on. And this is the moment in history where that is happening. And and so all of our dashboards are going to be expanding, over the next couple of decades.

Laurie Segall: I’ve asked Zuckerberg when I, I’ve interviewed him is, is the business model broken? Is the business model broken? This is the question we ask every executive in Silicon Valley. Is this the right question to ask? Should we be asking and even larger question is … Are these companies structured the right way? Are we doing the right value proposition? I mean, what do you think the question is? 

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, I think it’s like, you know, maybe it’s about value creation versus value capturing. I mean, we’ve assumed that creating value means keeping it for yourself, and monetizing it. I, I think a, a shift like this happens from consumers demanding companies behave different ways, and employees wanting to work at companies that act a certain way. And there being new role models, and new metrics of success to work towards. You know, there is a world in which Facebook should easily be able to evolve in this kind of way.

Yancey Strickler: But what it requires … It requires them letting go of financial performance as the most important thing. It requires them letting go of like perpetual growth being the right thing. And basically it’s, it’s imagining, a different notion of success and success being like longterm meaning and trust, and seeing that as like, Simon Sinek just wrote a book about it, and then there’s the Jim Carr’s book about infinite and finite games, that we think business is a finite game that at the end of every year we give out awards of the best performing businesses. And that’s it. But actually like, no, it’s an infinite game. It never ends. Success is survival. It’s not beating your competitor. It’s surviving. It’s providing value, it’s providing meaning, it’s sticking around.

Laurie Segall: How do you apply this theory? I mean, this theory applies so broadly to everything, right? tech is what I know. It’s what I’ve lived and breathed my whole career and it’s what’s incredibly personal to me. And I, and I know to you, like you’ve had the pressure from investors, you’ve seen the downside of not growing in a huge way. You’ve-

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: … you’ve dealt with it from the inside. So how do you apply, you know, this idea of really maximizing for value-

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: … the things that’s going to help us as a society. How do you apply this theory to Silicon Valley right now, 

Yancey Strickler: you know. The Bento is a, is a simple compass that allows for self coherence. Like the hardest thing I found as a CEO was even if you thought you knew what to do, like how do you stay true to that? How do you hold that in a moment where everything is telling you every …

Yancey Strickler: You know, everything makes your value seem irrelevant or wrong. And as silly is it seems a piece of paper where those things are written down a way that you’re accountable to your staff to like make a certain kind of decision. Those are the kinds of tools that make those choices a lot easier. Um, and so how do you, how do you equip someone to make a better choice?

Yancey Strickler: And, and so we know it’s important to think long term. We know it’s important to consider our impact on others, but it’s, especially in moments of fear, uh, moments of anxiety. It’s, it’s hard to reach for those places. And so I think of the, the Bento is like a loving framework that acknowledges our weakness, that respects our weakness and just says, “Hey, you know, we, we know we want to be better people than this. So here’s like …. Here’s a tool that sets you on that path.” 

Laurie Segall: I can’t let you out of here without talking about a piece that you wrote that I found fascinating, um, called The Dark Forest Theory.

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: First of all, you’re a tech company founder who struggles to be himself online.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: Which I think is delightfully ironic.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: And also very now, you know?

Yancey Strickler: Yes.

Laurie Segall: I think all of us kind of struggle with this idea that these spaces, the internet as it was supposed to be, which is a place for us to connect and be ourselves isn’t exactly that anymore.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: And I know for me personally, it’s become very self-promotional. I look back at Facebook posts I did maybe a decade ago, and I’m like, “God, I sound so much more myself than I do now.”

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: And, and so when you wrote this post, um, and you talked a little bit about this and I, and I want you to explain what the dark forest theory is, it really resonated with a lot of people, myself included.

Laurie Segall: So. What is The Dark Forest Theory-

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, so uh-

Laurie Segall: … and how does this relate to this moment we’re in right now?

Yancey Strickler: So it started, I … You know, I’m, I’m 41 years old, and I had this realization that I’m like a well-adjusted human being. (laughs). Um, we could sit next to each other on a plane and have a great time, but on the internet I’m just like, could not be more awkward, and I don’t know how to be myself and I-

Laurie Segall: Why?

Yancey Strickler: Well, I first wrote it off as like the Internet’s stupid..

Laurie Segall: (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: People who are good at that are stupid. You know, I’ve just tried to like, excuse myself, being bad.

Yancey Strickler: And then I came to think, well, it’s probably worth a little more self reflection, (laughs), than that. And also just like, there’s … It seems like, uh, you know, there’s such a benefit to coming into yourself, into your own as a real person. Like maybe there’s an online version of that too. What would it mean to become that? So I had to ask myself, why, why can’t I be myself? And it made me think of this, this book, this amazing Chinese science fiction book called The Three Body Problem written by this author Cixin Liu, and there’s this part in the book where a character talks about how, um, when human beings look into space, we keep sending out messages into space and we don’t get any response back. And we assume this means that we’re the only ones here. But instead, his character asks you to think about this a different way, which is to imagine a dark forest at night. It also seems like there’s nothing there. It’s quiet, nothing moves, that could lead you to conclude that the forest is empty.

Yancey Strickler: But in reality the forest is full. It’s just that all the creatures have realized it’s too dangerous to show themselves, that predators will find you if you stick your neck out. And I came to realize that I had the same feeling, that like if I put my neck out, then you’re, you’re going to get taken down by trolls. You’re, you’re … The advertisers will know more of your interest graph, your … You know, you’ll be exploited in all these ways. You’ll be taken out of context like, uh … And it just feels … You feel very vulnerable, and it’s very dangerous. And so what we do instead, is we don’t put out our real selves on the internet, and instead we use our real selves and WhatsApp groups and private channels on podcasts, which like feel less like the internet, and that the public sphere of conversation has really emptied out of real people being real. And instead, the social networks are full of bad actors. It’s, it’s GRU trolls. It’s advertisers looking to exploit you. It is like a … You know, you’re kind of an idiot, like to stand out in those- ’cause you’re just like, there’s so many people after you, right? Like you could easily take that mentality. And that this is driving people to be less and less real, and that this is dangerous.

Laurie Segall: Well, it’s interesting because Mark Zuckerberg,  you know, he always does these new year’s resolutions that he posts on Facebook, and this year he decided not to do a new year’s resolution. He said he’s not doing them anymore, but this is his vision for the future. And he talked about the future is privacy, and these private networks where, because people don’t … You know, it’s kind of this nod to what you’re saying and people don’t feel as comfortable sharing publicly, and people are kind of going into these more private spaces and the future is privacy. But, but what you’re saying is, well, you know, we’ve gotta be really careful with that because you’re creating this space for extremism, and the, the louder voices that maybe we don’t want to hear, as much. And then all of us kind of disappears with that.

Yancey Strickler: Right, I mean you get into like there’s … At this second, in this moment of time, like the, the Twitter beef between Bernie Sanders supporters and Elizabeth Warren supporters, where it’s like, who knows how many of these are real people, right? Like, but yet there is this, you know, we, we project what happens in these spaces, and imagine that’s what everyone must be thinking or feeling. Whereas like the real, most real voices are not being heard. Like to borrow from Nixon, there’s the silent majority that we don’t really know what people are thinking and feeling. when I had this realization, and I thought, well shit, I need to like … I can’t just let this go. I can’t just accept this. So it made me try to be better at the internet. And I … So for a while I did like every day I tried to tweet twice a day and I’m like, “I’m going to be not cool. I’m going to accept being uncool.”

Laurie Segall: By the way I love … First of all, can we just pull it back? Like you’re an internet CE- like a tech CEO, former tech CEO, and we’re like talking about how you had to force yourself to try to tweet two times a day.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: I’m a former tech, no- I mean I still cover technology, but the former, uh, senior technology correspondent scene and I feel like I would say like, I would have to force myself to try to tweet two times a day too. That’s like a painful process for me.

Yancey Strickler: Well it’s even, even, even better is you do that and you’re like, “I’m not allowed to self promote.”

Laurie Segall: (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: That’s the, that’s the other, that’s the other thing you’d like. But like, but you know that’s just …

Laurie Segall: How was that, how was that process for you?

Yancey Strickler: Well, I only stopped … I mean, I still self promote all the time. (laughs).

Laurie Segall: (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: Uh, it’s good. I mean I … This, you know, I, I, it ebbs and flows. Uh, but one of my new year’s resolutions, for this year was to, to step into my power more to, to, not be, to not be so considerate all the time.

Laurie Segall: Right.

Yancey Strickler: And, um, and so kind of like my theme song, I don’t know if you, if you know, the Future song Mask Off-

Laurie Segall: (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: (laughs) … but like I’m trying to be mask off, just be more fearless and, and you know, there may be unintended consequences, uh, but I feel like in my gut it, it feels like a, a more value creating thing, versus me just hiding and um, you know, and I dunno and I guess I’m assuming my opinions matter in some way by doing this, but, uh, I don’t know … There’s just, I’ve just … It didn’t sit well with me, this idea that like, I can’t be real in this place, where actually it seems really valuable to be real? Because like I knew was when I was a CEO, like anytime I spoke to a peer CEO, or read a post by someone that’s like really being honest about the challenges. Like, I wanted to weep in gratitude, that someone was like sticking their neck out and, and saying what they really believed. And You know, here I was feeling fearful of doing that. 

Laurie Segall: Well, it’s this idea that if the internet is the town square right in the town square got overrun and crowded and people started going away from it, what does the town square look like now? I don’t know.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, right now, it probably looks like, you know, downtown Aleppo, or something like that. Right? It’s just, it’s just emptied. Uh, and you know, the election’s going to make that, you know, even crazier.

Laurie Segall: Um, I think it’s, uh, incredibly important right now. You say you do the Bento box theory with people.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: I just want people to understand what this, what this means. 

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, let’s do it.

Laurie Segall: what does it mean? And could you just do that with me?

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: This is an exercise you give to people-

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, yeah.

Laurie Segall: … about understanding their values. So like-

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: … put me through it Yancey I think I-

Yancey Strickler: So-

Laurie Segall: … I’ve asked you, questions through out your career.

Yancey Strickler: (laughs). Yeah.

Laurie Segall: So like I’m going to turn the tables a little bit. You’re, you’re allowed to ask me some questions.

Yancey Strickler: If I have a pen I’ll write … Or, or we could just talk it through, but, 

Yancey Strickler: so this is  a process that I lead … There’s a Bent ism.org. You can go through this online.

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: But I’m going to draw here a blank Bento. And by doing that, I’m just drawing like a two by two box.

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: Uh, and the bottom left here is now me. And so this is thinking about … This is the most selfish part of you, the part of you that wants to be secure, that like-

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: likes pleasure.

Laurie Segall: Uh-huh.

Yancey Strickler: Doesn’t want to be told what to do. It’s like the most selfish part of you, uh-

Laurie Segall: Great I see her there.

Yancey Strickler: Um, yeah. And so you’re … So the first thing is just to ask what does now me want and need? Like when I just tried to isolate that part of me, what do they say matters. So when I did this-

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: Things that come out are like good health, money in the bank-

Laurie Segall: Right.

Yancey Strickler: Like working on things that are interesting to me.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: Um, but I just sort of like, just like the basics of if I don’t have these things, I’m in trouble.

Laurie Segall: Okay So I guess, um, good health is important and money in the bank, not to steal yours.

Yancey Strickler: Yep.

Laurie Segall: work that matters to me and that fulfills me.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: Um, great people who I surround myself with. Is that selfish or is that just kind of um …

Yancey Strickler: We’ll get into people go to that. That’s good.

Laurie Segall: Okay. Um, and I mean is this … Should they be good or bad ones that?

Yancey Strickler: Either way. Either way. What’s funny is that everyone, like virtue signals in their Bento of like all the ways they’re great, and then …

Laurie Segall: I know, ’cause I feel like some of them 

Yancey Strickler: They’re all shadowing, they’re all also shadows, right?

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: They all also reveal what our faults are.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: So anything else you want, you want to speak to here as like when you’re, you know-

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: When you’re working on a project that’s like really right for you, what kind of project is that?

Laurie Segall: It’s definitely a creative project that’s in line with my values, that’s incredibly fulfilling. And I’ve, I’ve left jobs for that.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: So I think that’s, that’s incredibly important to me.

Yancey Strickler: Okay, so a deeper fulfillment-

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: As part of your now me.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: So now, now we think about future me.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: So this is, you have beautiful white hair, you’re elegant, you have your health, you’re doing Zumba every day.

Laurie Segall: Great, yep fabulous dresses, generally do a Broadway dance class every so often.

Yancey Strickler: Like the Times has already written your obituary-

Laurie Segall: Great.

Yancey Strickler: And it says everything you want.

Laurie Segall: Perfect. I hope I get to choose the writer.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah. What, what does that person tell you is important? So like every, every moment you face that person leans in and says, “Laurie, here, I want you to remember this.” So my answers to this were like, don’t sell out. Being loyal to my friends.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: I grew up a child of divorce-

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: So like creating harmony between disharmony-

Laurie Segall: Right, okay.

Yancey Strickler: … is like crucial for me.

Laurie Segall: Okay, so I think that I … So I would go with that. I would say as someone who grew up a child of divorce, not to keep stealing yours, but I think that creating a very, very healthy home environment, I was able to do that. I think that would be something. I was able to do right by the people I worked with th-

Yancey Strickler: so was that loyalty?

Laurie Segall: Loyalty, I did the right thing.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: If that makes any sense.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: ‘Cause I think there are always opportunities for you to not do the right thing. I did the right thing.

Yancey Strickler: What about like, um, being curious, or learning, or

Laurie Segall: I continued, I continued to learn. I think, I think that’s something, I think a lot of people get really stagnant. I think it’s easy to just settle. And I think I continued to grow, and I took the risks. Right? Like you continue to take risks throughout your career.

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative), that’s what she’s telling you. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: Um, yeah. So like, so like I did the unpopular thing that ended up panning out.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah. Yeah. You, you, you took the risk and you didn’t look back.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: Great. All right. So now two more. so now is now us.

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: So now us, you’re thinking about all the people in your life that really depend on you.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: Really like an emotional relationship with.

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: And what I’d ask you to think about is what’s at the heart of your relationships? So when I did this, I like listed out all the people in my life, and I suddenly realized and I thought, what is at the heart of my relationships? And I suddenly realized that, if someone texts me, it’s like a 30% chance I’m going to write back.

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: (laughs). But, but like I could have a five hour dinner with him and never look at my phone once, and like have this deep time.

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: So like I, I’m like the hyper present friend.

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: In one ways, but also like a bad friend in other ways.

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: So like what, what do you, what do you bring to your relationships, do you think?

Laurie Segall: Um, I think I bring an extraordinary amount of loyalty to a select few amount of people. (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yup. Yeah. I can tell you a lot based on that. I’m similar.

Laurie Segall: (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: That’s your, that’s your shadow by the way.

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah. Not letting people in. (laughs). Any, any-

Laurie Segall: Well good thing we only have two minutes left for this interview.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah. Uh, any, anything else for those? So loyalty with a small group.

Laurie Segall: Um, uh-

Yancey Strickler: Are you adventurous? Are you the fun, or are you giving advice? Are you like the-

Laurie Segall: I’m the, I’m the truth. I’m the, I’m the confessional. I’m the one you can tell anything you want to without any judgment. I’m your, I’m your, uh, your first call prison kind of friend.

Yancey Strickler: (laughs).

Laurie Segall: You know?

Yancey Strickler: Great, that’s a great first call from prison. Got it.

Laurie Segall: Yeah. I’m your.

Yancey Strickler: I’ll make a note of that

Laurie Segall: I’m, you’re kind of like, let’s … And I’m, yeah, I’m, you’re nonjudgmental. Like, let’s go there and like, we got this kind of person.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, I’m gonna get your cell for if I need it later-

Laurie Segall: Yep.

Yancey Strickler: For something.

Laurie Segall: (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: Uh, and finally, so we have future us. so future us, you’re thinking about, uh, your children if you have them and everybody else’s children too, but like that next generation, what, what do they need from the world? My answers were like a world that’s not on fire.

Laurie Segall: I was about to say, hopefully, hopefully one that doesn’t currently look like Australia right now.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah, yeah.

Laurie Segall: Which is horrible, like horrible. Um, I think, they need from the world a, um, I mean, selfishly I say this as someone who’s genuinely concerned about the state of like technology, and democracy. I think they need a, an open and caring environment that they can grow up in that’s good for their mental health. and a place that’s a little bit kinder than the one I think we’re currently heading in.

Yancey Strickler: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: That’s great.

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: That’s great. 

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: So here I have in front of me, I’ve written down the things you’ve said.

Laurie Segall: Uh-huh.

Yancey Strickler: And they’re like written in these different boxes. So this is like a map of your values-

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: And a map of your goals and priorities in life. And what I would teach you to do in a workshop is we would go through some real questions, you’re facing your life right now.

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: And we would sort of ask each part of the Bento, so it to give a yes or no answer, like does this inline with your values or not? And what I talk about as the goal is being self coherence.

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Yancey Strickler: Which is to be able to act in a way that you’re always in integrity with all these parts of yourself.

Laurie Segall: Hmm.

Yancey Strickler: Because the challenge of the modern world is like being a good employee means being a bad partner. You know, being a good CEO means bad … Being a bad parent. There’s like these compromises that we, that we take, and that we just think are, we, we can’t get out of.

Laurie Segall: Hmm.

Yancey Strickler: But to me this says that these are things that you actually can bring together, that coherence is possible. So to give an example of how I … The way to use this, it’s like a practical thing is, when the book came out, all I wanted to do was self promote my book. I want it to be like … I thought, who is my inner Gary .V.-

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: Gary, Gary Vaynerchuk, and how … What would Gary do? And so all I wanted to do was to like, yeah, just do giveaways and just get attention on me.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: Um, and then I thought, “This is not … I know this is not like the best way to be thinking. So I, I wrote down in my notebook, I said, what should I do with my energy? And I drew this blank Bento, and I’d done my Bento, so I know my values and each of these spaces. So I thought like “Now me, what does it want?” And it now me, it was like “Sweepstakes, get attention. Like let’s go Facebook live right now.” You know, nudes, (laughs) whatever, whatever-

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative). (laughs).

Yancey Strickler: … it takes. Uh, but then the future me which is about not selling out and creating harmony is like, “You need to read these three books.”

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Yancey Strickler: You need to learn more. Um, my now us, uh, it said, “Why are you thinking so much about the book? Like you should create time with your wife.”

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: “You should call this friend.” And my future us reminded me of this larger project of Bentoism and like, “Hey, the books in the past, you’ve got to think about these bigger things.”

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: And so I’ve started doing this as a, as a weekly to do list to where normally a to do list is like your errands, and whatever work has to happen right now. Now my to do list is filled with like schedule a date with my wife, read this book, call these friends, and it’s like I’m forcing myself to use my time on a weekly basis, on all of these things that, that matter to me. Some of these things I was already doing, but it’s like I will be spending time with my son as a parent, and it’s like I’m just waiting to get back to work. You know, it’s like non-time. I’m thinking of that time is not valuable, because it’s not growing. Like whatever my ego is.

Laurie Segall: Right.

Yancey Strickler: But instead I now can accept that as like, “No, this is valuable time. It’s just in a different space of my life.”

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Yancey Strickler: And so this has dramatically reshaped my … How I use my time every week, and it’s just … It gives me agency, it gives me agency and, and again this phrase that I’d never been in my mind before, but self coherence I keep coming back to is like-

Laurie Segall: That’s right.

Yancey Strickler: that’s, that’s the place to be. You’re just … And integrity, and what we lack as a society is the self coherence. We’re not, we’re not in integrity with our environment. We’re not in integrity with our values. And this is the evolution that has to happen now. And so the Bento is a framework to get there. And whether you buy that language-

Laurie Segall: Yes.

Yancey Strickler: you know, uh, is less important to me than really us coming to see the truth of these spaces. And really the, the opportunity and responsibility we have to think about them all.

I  was thinking about how to end this one and I thought, “Why try to tie this up in a pretty bow? Startup life is messy. And having an idea that transforms communities and industries that comes with a lot of highs and a lot of lows. 

Leaving a job that defines your identity is messy. So is staying at one when it’s clearly time to go. 

I think you can hear that tension from Yancey. 

We are also in a similar moment in tech. We’re trying to figure out our own identity in what Yancey calls a “dark forest where the loudest and most extreme voices are amplified.” 

You could argue it’s a pretty important time to understand our own values, and what we value as a society as a whole. Via bento box. Or however you want to put it.  

I’ll leave you with that.  

For more about the guests you hear on First Contact sign up for our newsletter. Go to firstcontactpodcast.com to subscribe. Follow me I’m @lauriesegall on Twitter and Instagram and the show is @firstcontactpodcast. If you like the show, I want to hear from you leave us a review on the Apple podcast app or wherever you listen and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.

First Contact is a production of Dot Dot Dot Media executive produced by Laurie Segall and Derek Dodge. Original theme music by Zander Singh. Visit us at firstcontactpodcast.com 

First Contact with Laurie Segall Segall is a production of Dot Dot Dot Media and iHeart Radio.