I asked a brand for
a sweatshirt, and Nokia
said "Come on over!"
It looked like I’d never get around to it, so I asked Jay to transcribe and edit the other half of our interview (here’s the first half). He did, and it’s awesome. This is the best interview we’ve done yet.
Read on for lessons in learning things the hard way and why narratives threaten to eat the world.
Me: OK, I don’t want to talk about San Diego much anymore.
Jay: Right. That’s something that’s just a part of the story. It’s a funny thing, ’cause you know, it’s home, and there are people here who are really important to me and Katie, and my family’s here, so nothing’s just one-dimensional. But that was a part of my life where I did my best to contribute to the place where I’m from. And now that chapter’s closed and that’s cool. And now, I know myself a lot better, and I’m part of a family, and we’re bigger than just that one story. It’s time to do something else, somewhere else.
The biggest thing that I don’t want to get lost is – going back to your question earlier about what our contribution was – is that we at the Linkery were just vessels that transmitted the desires of the community into action. People wanted, you know, fantastic country hams made from local pigs, people wanted local produce at their local restaurant. People wanted Suzie’s Farm to exist and they wanted Wingshadows Hacienda to exist. They wanted Jim Neville to farm pigs. And what we did was to help turn this desire, that came from a lot of people, into physical reality. Just like Lucila and Robin at Suzie’s Farm came to meet this desire people had for an urban farm. Or like Spring Hill Cheese – they knew that with a little bit of prodding, the market was going to be there for their product.
So we can’t take credit for too much. People often give us credit for a little more than we really did. We didn’t create the demand.
Now this is where it gets really interesting to me. How much did the Internet enable this to happen? Because for you to know that the people were there…it’s what we call “latent groups” in political science. There are groups of people out there that haven’t organized yet because they just don’t know where to find each other.
Our whole business was in many ways an Internet business. I think one of the more interesting things about what I’m doing now with our next restaurant, Salsipuedes, is that it’s very much a brick-and-mortar restaurant, a brick-and-mortar business with a brick-and-mortar idea to it – in way unlike the Linkery, where everything about it except for the actual customer experience was Internet-driven.
I talk to people about this a lot. Because of the interviews we’ve done in the past, I know about the business, and I’m a Linkery booster. People tell me, “I really like the idea of the Linkery.” I say, “yeah, it’s an awesome idea.” But they say “I like the idea of the Linkery more than I like the Linkery itself.” And because it was a huge idea that existed in a very robust way, virtually, people could experience it without ever going there.
It was principally an idea. It was an Internet-operated idea. The thing was real, it was real people and real products, but the operations were very much facilitated by the Internet. Our fundamental marketing plan was to do remarkable things and share them in this very transparent way through a blog and by talking honestly about what we were doing. Which in 2005 was a radical idea for a restaurant.
The idea that you could start a blog and newsletter and get people into your local restaurant by saying, hey we got this one pig from this farm, and here’s what we’re doing in the kitchen today, and here’s who we want to win the soccer match…it all feels like Portlandia now, but in 2005 even Portland wasn’t doing it!
My background was, I had really followed where “Web 2.0” companies were going, and how they were communicating with their audiences, and how they were transforming the relationship between companies and their customers. And the Open Source movement really came together at that time. The essay The Cathedral and The Bazaar was such an influential thing for me, I think I read that right before we started the restaurant.
I read that. We probably read it at the exact same time.
Open Source was really catching fire. I was using all the Gnu tools because I was a geek. But it wasn’t long until, for example, my Mom knew what Linux was. Open Source was exploding. It informed so much of how I conceived of the business.
Even when, say, Michael came on as GM, or our chefs would start with us, that was just part of working for our business: We’re super transparent. We blog about things. We take pictures of things. Communication is an essential part of our jobs. We’re building enthusiasm for this kind of food. And then there was the part where we were finding farmers on the Internet, and saying, hey, we think you’re selling what we want to buy, or we think that you might be able to grow what we want to buy. And that was all very tech-driven.
But I think that, as with a lot of these kinds of projects, we also discovered the limits of this approach. Which was, it became too easy to consume the Linkery without actually experiencing the Linkery.
That’s also where I lost interest with a lot of the infrastructure of reviews and critics – I personally like the critics in town, but the infrastructure, including Yelp or whatever, is set up to treat what the restaurant does only as content to be reviewed, in order to generate more content.
Our online presence became its own, free, content that we were delivering to people who then added their own content around it, and then they sold it one way or another, without anybody ever just fucking eating a hot dog. And in the end, the guy who makes the hot dogs has to get fucking paid, no matter how many Yelp reviews get written, or how many articles get written about my blog post or whatever.
Now, the opportunity to build a new business from scratch is a great opportunity, and what’s become clear as we put the new place together is this: as a restaurant operator, I am not in the business of content. I’m not in the business of making things for people to write about. I’m in the business of creating fantastic experiences around local food. And, those experiences are really hard to have on the Internet. You gotta show up for that shit.
So we’re intentionally building our new restaurant to not have a strong online component, or a content-generation component.
But hey, if you want to pay me to write something for you, I’m happy to do that.
If you’re getting paid to write something, then that’s what you’re selling.
There’s a great quote from when Alec Baldwin had Seinfield on his podcast. Alec Baldwin says, “you could have your entire channel. Your own production company, you produce all your own shows, and you could be raking it in, because, it’s all produced by Jerry Seinfeld.” And Seinfeld says, “you could not even sell me that. You know why I wouldn’t do that.”
Baldwin says – I think in legitimate confusion – “I don’t understand.” And Seinfeld says, “because that’s not the thing. I want to connect with my audience. I want to write. That’s the thing.” And then he used this great metaphor, he says, “if you want to experience the ocean, do you want to be on a surfboard or do you want to be on a yacht? I want to be on a surfboard. People have a yacht so they can say, hey, look at my yacht.”
You realize the thing that you’re trying to do and the thing that you’re building have nothing to do with each other.
Yeah, I really misjudged. It started out as a really great way to distinguish ourselves as being different from other restaurants and to communicate what we were really about. It was highly effective for that. But in the end it became its own thing with its own overhead. I stopped feeding that beast a year or two before we sold the restaurant, I really just put up pictures at that point.
Which I think is an amazing thing about technology now. Instagram really is all you need. You can be like, “here, we made something awesome.” It takes you three seconds.
And now, the contextual cues make it clear what you’re about. In 2006, we had to really explain, here is what we believe, this is why we do this, this is who we’re buying from. But now, people understand a restaurant that blogs its ingredients and dishes. You could start a restaurant called “A Blog of Ingredients and Dishes” and people would know exactly what kind of food you serve.
Naming what farms you’re sourcing from and all that. People get it.
Yeah, it’s cool, I don’t want to eat differently than that. But there’s not much needed in terms of explaining what it’s all about. A Tumblr will do the trick fine.
You don’t need to host your own Wordpress blog anymore.
Do you know who Austin Kleon is? He’s really popular on Tumblr. He wrote a book called “Steal Like An Artist”.
I’ve seen that book.
He has a new book coming out called “Show Your Work.” Which I haven’t read obviously because it’s not out yet. But I’m already taking issue with it. Show your work, yes, because there’s real value in that, but that’s also work. To show your work, is also more work that isn’t your work. If you’re not getting paid for it, and if it’s distracting from what you’re actually trying to do, then don’t.
I just think a big thing right now is that, the Internet, and everyone who sits at work googling shit, and reads Facebook and their RSS reader – and I’m part of that Borg – it just creates such a demand for content that nobody’s ever satisfied. You’re not giving them enough free content.
This was a discussion that we’d have sometimes with people who wanted to review us, or write about us, or with Yelp or whoever. I’d say, you know, I don’t really care. I’m not in the business of giving you something to write about.
Look, a restaurant lives in an ecosystem of reviewers and there’s a give-and-take. It’s an environment, and you work with the restaurant media to make sure that they have enough content to keep interest in restaurants alive, and to keep their jobs going. And they in turn are respectful of the realities of restaurants, they don’t run hatchet pieces all the time. Those are the professionals, the professional restauranteurs and the professional writers, and they understand that this is how this thing works. There is a demand for written content and restaurant experiences, and together the restaurant media and the restaurants can create a really positive environment around it. The core professionals understand this.
But in a slightly more outer circle, there may be some slightly less sophisticated people, maybe they are working in the media – whether it’s print or small blogs or whatever – and some of those people really just look at the restaurants as ways of generating content. And when this happens, I’m kind of like, dude, not only do I not really want to help you with this, I don’t want you in my place. You’re not helping this guy, who’s sitting next to you at the bar, who just had a shitty day at work and he came to his favorite local place to be around friends and enjoy some food that he really likes – you’re not helping him have a better time. You’re not helping my employees do their jobs better or make a better living. You’re just kind of in here, trying to improve your own career on top of something that has nothing to do with you and that’s – that makes you kind of a dick.
Because he’ll be trying to create something, “there’s a narrative here”, and maybe there is, but it’s probably not what he’s going to write about…
There actually is a really interesting parallel with what I’ve been reading a lot lately, this kind of “new generation” of highly intelligent sportswriting. Writers like Spencer Hall of SBNation, David J Roth who started a magazine called the Classical…
I don’t know shit about sports, so –
Well, sports is just a way that society expresses itself. A lot of these writers see within sports how society is expressing itself and they write about that.
It’s a vessel to describe society.
So a topic that’s come up with some of these more interesting sportswriters is how sports now serves this purpose, for shitty media outlets to read narrative into everything. Today, nobody just scores a touchdown, instead the touchdown marks a point in some narrative about that person or the city or the team.
Like, there all these stats you can reference now…
Or specifically like, this guy overcame his problem of, I don’t know, buying too much Bordeaux wine…
His Fabergé egg habit.
Right, whatever. And now he’s turned it around. Because nothing can just happen on the field, it all has to be part of some banal narrative. And a notable thing about the narratives is that they’re always banal.
The last four months I’ve been working in the analytics side of sports. It’s interesting, we’re trying to quantify the performance of the players or the team, and associate certain things that happen on the pitch with certain outcomes. What we’re doing is trying to say, when certain occurrences happen do those tend to lead to positive or negative outcomes for the team. So we can then maximize or minimize these things that may not be at first obviously related to the success of the team.
What becomes immediately obvious when you starting working on this, is that there is an incredible degree of randomness with everything. And when you have lot of random events, they tend to cluster together in notable ways.
And that becomes narrative.
Yes, if you start looking for narratives, they’re easy to find. Because with enough random events, they’ll eventually join themselves together in such a way to support the narrative you want to tell.
That’s how brains work, they see it, and they go “hey, that’s the linkage!”
An interesting thing for me is going to the coaches after a game and saying that I think we won that game mostly on luck, or we lost that game mostly on luck. That by looking at the numbers of everything we accomplished and everything we wanted to accomplish during the game, I would have projected we would have about an 80% chance of winning…but, hey, there’s a lot of luck involved and we lost. But it looks like we should be repeating what we did, even though we lost, because 8 times out of 10 we’ll win.
Have you read a lot of Vonnegut?
A little bit. Obviously Breakfast of Champions was a big influence on our graphic design.
I didn’t know that.
You know the Linkery logo, right? It’s a circle with an asterisk in the middle. It came from, people would tell us that we needed to have a picture of a sausage as a logo. So we made a picture of a sausage, looking at the end. It was also influenced by Vonnegut who in one of his books used an asterisk as a symbol to mean “asshole”. So people who knew Vonnegut got the joke. I think it’s Breakfast of Champions that’s from, I could be wrong. You might want to fact check that.
Sirens of Titan is his first real novel. A lot of his books are informed by his experience surviving the fire bombing of Dresden. I don’t think he could ever understand how or why he survived, so it’s like, “holy shit everything is so random.” I can’t recommend the book highly enough. It’s about how sublime the universe is, and how everything just happens to us. All we can do is try make sense out of it, but really, nothing makes sense.
That’s why I think Nassim Nicholas Taleb is so important to read right now. Black Swan, Fooled By Randomess, Antifragile.
Really? He’s such a dick on Twitter.
Awesome, I didn’t even know he’s on Twitter.
He’s on Twitter, and he’s a total asshole to people.
Oh, you should totally read him. I don’t know, maybe he’s an asshole. The books are fantastic. Among the things he points out are, OK, this is the trouble with taking advice from business books. Business books are written by the people who made a bunch of money. But it turns out, if you have a million people who go into business, ten of them are going to become billionaires. And it’s probably highly random which ten become billionaires, and probably has not so much to do with their particular tactics.
Well, it has a lot to do with privilege. Because you were lucky to born into a certain family.
Or that it happened to be that your system and those certain circumstances around you worked out really well. If anything, that person whose systems worked, and they made a billion dollars, has a lot less to offer than the people who didn’t become billionaires, because the people who didn’t make a lot of money can tell you at least one specific thing that doesn’t work. <laughs> Basically, any business book written by someone who’s been really successful should automatically be disqualified as something you can learn from.
I talk with people about this all the time. Especially in the Bay Area, you’re in the center of this: Google, Facebook, Twitter: they’re all anomalies.
For every one of them, there were 10,000 insane ideas that seemed equally weird, and just weren’t the right weird ideas. For instance – dude, you hear some weird conversations in the Bay Area —
Don’t even get me started. That’s a big part of the reason I don’t want to move there now. But who knows.
Well, I will say that there’s a lot of the Bay Area that’s not like those blocks in the center of SOMA where things can get a little bizarre.
But anyway, randomness is big. When we collect sports data – and sports data is pretty limited, it’s bounded and reasonably accurate – if we draw a correlation between a 20% thing and 30% thing, that’s huge. That really jumps off the spreadsheet. Because so much of what happens is just random.
And then you take an emergent system like the one we live in, or operate our businesses in, and try to make sense of that, I just don’t think you can.
I do the same thing with social media data. I’m actually writing a blog post, I’m looking at 11,000 Tweets sent out in a week by the federal government.
It’s the NSA, in reverse.
Right, I’m looking at you, and how much you suck.
Because they don’t know how to tweet.
They don’t know how to tweet. No one knows how to tweet.
I have no other data to compare them to, but 30% of their tweets get no favorite or retweet at all. No one cares. It’s interesting looking at the correlation between audience size and engagement. You’d expect that if you have more followers, you’ll get more favorites and retweets.
It’s gotta peak at what? 5,000 followers? 10,000?
It’s just a curve. There is a correlation, but it’s weak, and it’s not linear.
It’s not linear because if you get to White House or NASA status, when you sign up, Twitter points you to @whitehouse and @nasa. White House and NASA get a lot of engagement, but they get less engagement per follower because users follow them when they sign up, and never come back. Whereas if you’re an esoteric account, people follow you because they sought you out.
I remember reading a Seth Godin thing that suggested there was an actual upper bound of where you wanted your Twitter audience to be. Or Facebook or whatever. If it was more than X, you’re unlikely to be sustaining a conversation that has value.
Absolutely. There’s no way you can be all things to all people. And, if you eliminate outliers, the relationship between you having a lot of followers and your ability to get retweets and stuff, is just not there. It’s this very ineffable thing where, you need to matter to people.
Well, It’s slightly effable. When I’m helping out with my communication clients, one thing I tell them, that I try to help them with: our communications need to be generous and engaging. We need to engage people, and be generous with ourselves.
Give them gifts.
I think it’s a well-defined thing that, to your people, you need to matter to them. You need to be generous. You need to speak in a personal voice. So there are some things that define it.
Yes. I have my list of best practices. It’s just that, people get hung up on, how many followers we have or whatever.
People are really poorly wired to deal with most of the modern context.
What’s interesting about the modern context is, there’s a guy named James Fowler at UCSD, he studies social networks. Not online ones, real-life networks. He’s done this research that shows, for instance, if your friends are obese, it’s likely that you will be and so forth. He has these interesting thoughts on privacy. One of them is that our notion of privacy that you and I have, that we’ve grown up with, is a very new idea.
Whereas, previously, people lived in tight-knit communities and everybody was in everybody’s business. And there was real security that came from that, and real social capital. And it was also a huge pain in the ass. Now we’ve thrown out all that, and we’ve thrown out so much, I think the Internet is kind of facilitating some of those things to come back. Like, a complete lack of privacy <laughs>.
Which obviously we should be squeamish about for a lot of reasons. But we also might be getting some things back that might be worth having back.
S3 buckets and
two-buck Chuck and Daryll Hall
and a cat. That’s it.
it’s like I gave up
but I didn’t! I just. I…
I keep forgetting