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Julian Gutman, CPO at Patreon, Part Two

Published 1/12/2022

We continue our discussion with Julian Gutman about community and culture in today's episode.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone, welcome to Developer Tea. We continue our discussion today with Julian Gutman, the CPO, Patreon, and while you're listening to this episode, I have an idea for you. As you're listening, take down a few notes, whatever your thoughts are, your initial reactions, and to take it one more step. Perhaps share those notes with the Discord community. That's at developer.com slash discord. That's totally free for you to join. And I can almost guarantee that someone will find your notes valuable. You can start a conversation around your ideas by just sharing them in that community. So while you're listening today, I'm going to ask you to be an active listener. Let's get into the interview with Julian Gutman. Culture is a big word. It means a lot of things. And I think that's what you were getting at earlier, right? It's a big umbrella. There's societal culture. There's popular culture. It's a very overloaded term. And I think I'm glad you brought it up because I think it's important to make the distinction between what I think I've mostly been trying to talk about, which I would say is more organizational culture or operating culture. It's not even about the social culture of an organization, right? Do we do board games? What are the expectations in terms of your social participation? I think that's actually a separate topic. Social culture is a bit of a separate topic. There's somewhat intertwined, obviously, the operational culture of an organization will somewhat define the social culture, a banking culture, which is an operational culture, also, to some extent dictates the social culture. But I think what I'm really pushing on is the operational culture piece as people that are builders, as people that have values in terms of how we build and how we practice our craft. There are some people that believe, again, going back to my earlier example, the only way to make decisions is with data. And that's a valid point of view. And you should make sure that you're at an operating culture that believes the same thing, or else you're going to be out of alignment that's going to be a constant point of stress and tension. Versus there are other folks that believe, hey, data is important, but we need to be data in form, not data driven. And those are forms of operational culture. It's a very specific example, again, but those are the types of things that I'm referring to. More so than societal culture, broad culture, even social culture, which is a totally different category of culture. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think it is a question around, and there are overlaps to your point that you don't really draw hard lines, there are soft lines between these things. But I think I watched the culture at many companies I've been at, the company that my wife currently works at, you know, culture in a lot of these scenarios is expressed as we believe X. So therefore we act in this manner. Right, we believe something. And so when we're operating, when we're working on a project, when we're under the pressure to meet a deadline or something like that, we look to those beliefs, kind of a core structural kind of way of thinking together to draw some inspiration for how we should act in those circumstances. And that to me is a, and it goes, it's a little bit different from values in the sense that values are, from now we're getting into some really, like you said, some squishy territory, right? Because there's lots of overlap there. But I do like this idea of deriving some kind of you know, structure for decision making based on some set of beliefs. That to me, it has a huge overlap with what you're saying, operational culture. That's exactly right. So I'd love to kind of take this conversation of culture and apply it a little bit to your work at Patreon. And as an enabler of many different communities, very broad, I imagine completely different from each other very often. I wonder, first of all, you know, what do you see as commonalities in building these communities? But also, where do you see this operational culture? You know, and when you take that and you pull it out of a company, right? Let's not talk about companies, but instead talk about how operational culture might work out in a community where everybody is there kind of of their own agency, they're there to participate. Does that carry, you know, what kinds of principles carry over to that environment? Yeah, I love this question. One really interesting thing that I think is underappreciated about creators and the creator economy is how much of it is about community. In the end of the day, it's almost a, the audience around a creator and in particular, you know, what we call this superfan audience, or the most passionate fans. Yes, they're certainly there for content. They certainly love what you do, what you make, your voice, your style. But a big part of it going back to, again, values is they love what you are about. They love your message. They love the way you see things. They love your culture. And that becomes a creator in a sense, becomes this focal point for a community to form. And that community has a life of its own, it's organic. And it enables a sort of shared space and a reason for people to come together, you know, in an age where there's a lot of talk about community, obviously a lot of the traditional communities, whether religious or otherwise, have sort of, you know, in many pockets gone away. But community being a very natural and fundamental human need in many ways. I think people underestimate how much creators today really serve as a focal point for communities to come together. And then to spend time together and interact with each other, whether the creator is present or not, actually, I think that's a really interesting dimension of these communities where the creator, you know, kind of lights the spark, but the community is really coming together around that spark in their in and of their own right. And that's something that we think about a lot, and we're thinking about a lot moving forward is going back to what I talked about earlier, you know, part of our mission is to help creators have more ownership and independence around their audience, around their community. What tools can we build for creators to really host these communities and and and and for lack of better term, have ownership over these communities because today, obviously a lot of this community happens on other platforms, platforms they don't control, they don't really have a say in a lot of creators suffer from trolls and very negative behaviors. And so while there are people in their communities that are very positive and want to come together, there are dynamics of those platforms because that's not what they're built to do. That really don't allow this very powerful form of community and this emergent form of community that I think is very important to the world to happen. And you know, we really see an opportunity in what we do kind of building product and technology for creators to really create a space, particularly again, for this membership audience, this superfan audience, to come together as a community and have a space that really belongs to them and where the where the creator can set the rules. So obviously that's important. Creators can't set the rules on these large platforms. They very often will sort of submit requests to the platforms that get denied because the platforms need to manage a much broader ecosystem. But what we're excited about is giving creators space that they that they create that belongs to them where they can set the rules of engagement where if there is trolling behavior other things happening, they can just kick those people out and where they can allow the organic things to bloom. And when they choose to, they can also step into the community and create topics of conversation, create certain directions that they want the community to go in. And so there's this really interesting blend between sort of the organic community, the participatory nature of the creator, and doing it in a space and with some of the fundamental underpinnings, right? When you're a large platform ad-driven platform engagement driven platform, there are just some fundamental rules and some fundamental product behaviors that just exist because that's what the platform is. Therefore, we see a really exciting opportunity to help creators enable this new form of meaningful community that is I would say part and part so we're equal to what they do in the world in terms of their content and their creativity and their artistic contributions. Yeah, this idea of a community is so difficult to wrap your head around sometimes as a creator. It's hard to understand, okay, how do I even get started? How do I go from having this community of people who listen to this podcast, for example? There's some people who've listened to it for five, six years and developing something that is what goes beyond this. And so far right now, at least for Developer Tea, for example, a lot of the people who listen to this show have a lot of goals in common, but I say we, like I'm a part of this community. You are part of the community. Exactly, right. I tend to have some similar, again, very culturally aligned with this group of people. And some of that is maybe a natural extension of the fact that if you don't like talking about philosophy, you're probably not going to listen to this show. And so when we get a chance to talk together, then there's natural overlap there. We'll continue our discussion with Julian right after a quick break. I wanted to take a quick break. And in lieu of a sponsorship, say thank you. Thank you to everyone who listens to this show. We just passed the seven-year mark. And your listenership is what keeps the show running, not purely because of the numbers that you provide, but because of the support. And the emotional fuel that you give me personally to keep doing this, your messages, your involvement in the discord community, which you can join at developer.t.com slash discord for free. The reviews that we get on iTunes, all of that, that compounds. And it gives me another reason every time to keep on recording this show. So I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you right in the middle of this episode in lieu of a sponsor. Let's get back to our discussion with Julian. I'm interested in understanding, you know, there's this idea of kind of buying in to a community, which is what Patreon basically pioneered, sorry, I couldn't think of the right word there. This is a good word. Open opportunity to provide. And I think of the space as definitely has gone from, you know, if you think just 20 or 30 years ago, there was nothing really open to creators to have a platform like they do today. And even less than 20 years ago, the superstars had the kind of primary platforms that you might have had like, I was a musician. So I'm thinking along those lines in my head, you know, the kind of local band versus the national band and not very much in between, right? There might have been something like a regional band, you know, but that was really rare because it took a lot of money to go and tour around or to build a following. And, you know, people who did that, they didn't do it as their primary outlet for expression. It was always on the side. And now we have this global community opportunity where you can legitimately create a deep and very invested community of people around your, you know, whatever your niche subject is or even your personality, whatever that thing is, you can create those communities. And I'm interested in this idea of investing in a community. How do you see that behavior changing the way that people think about community versus, you know, for you mentioned, for example, a kind of religious community, religious community, you might have some kind of an investment in it, but the primary investment in those communities was time, right? Or membership. It was location and presence. How does that balance for communities, for example, on Patreon, who you kind of have different tiers of investing time and money into these communities? Yeah, so a couple high level thoughts on a community. I think first of all, one thing that I think you're pointing out is different creators have different communities and maybe a different desire to participate in their communities. Some are very community driven. Half of what they do is community. They love it. It gives them joy. It's part of what they see as their creative undertaking. And in that case, you know, we want to make sure to give them the tools to be successful, to participate, how they want to participate, to create the type of communities they want to create. Other creators, I think, are more focused on what's called the artistic or the creative work. They're happy for the community to be there. They're happy for it to thrive, but they're not necessarily want to be driving that community or participating in it constantly. And so we think about the design of the product. How do we facilitate that spectrum on the creator side? I think there's a similar thing on the member side where some folks are really passionate about engaging in communities or they might be have different levels of activity or passion for certain communities. Or some where they want to invest a lot of their time, a lot of their energies really participate. There are others where they might want to sort of jump in and out depending on what's happening, what is the topic, how much momentum is there in the community at any point in time. And so I think a lot of it is designing experiences that give people flexibility. Whether that's the creator, whether that's the member, give them the flexibility of participation and also the awareness of when to participate. Different people want to participate at different moments. There's different things that interest them. And so how do you design for awareness of participation? I do think there is what you're pointing out one thing that is universally true. And I actually think this is a core part of why humans need community. There is some minimum time investment necessary to be part of a community. Fundamentally, to some extent, the nature of the word is coming together. And that's in space and in time. And obviously over the last two years and increasingly, that's in virtual space. And there's a lot of interesting things happening there. But one of the fundamental units of community or the most fundamental unit of community is spending time with other people. Whether that's playing games, whether that's talking about things, whether that's experiencing something at the same time, obviously when going back to religious communities. A lot of the time is actually depends on the community, but not necessarily spent in conversation, although there's certainly some of that. But it's in having a shared experience. And then kind of using that shared experience as a forum for further conversation and for social connection. And so I think community on the internet and in this next phase of community, there's obviously all sorts of interesting things happening, which I think are different than the last 10 years. Obviously Discord has created some really interesting communities. Obviously there's some interesting things happening in the Zoom and Zoom 2.0 realm. There's a lot of talk about the metaverse, obviously. But I think one of the most interesting design problems on the internet today is going to be around these communities and how to sort of facilitate them and what does true investment or true value for individuals, the collective, the creator, the facilitator, me, and how do you design for that in the virtual space? That I think is going to be one of the most interesting challenges as an industry that we're looking at in the next decade. I believe so too. And I believe that the space is wide open. And I do think, I'm going to posit an idea to you. And you can tell me whether you think it's totally right or totally wrong or somewhere in between. I think that we might see a blurring of these lines of community and possibly even company. The idea that we have these people that come together, they might have a common goal and they might even be able to work towards it without formalizing that under a company kind of umbrella. And I'm interested in what you have to say about that. I've seen some of this happening with various kinds of hiring platforms, for example, particularly with freelancing and networking of freelancers together. And that can create that community atmosphere. But I'm curious about what you think about that kind of direction. I think it's absolutely right. It's already happened. If you think about open-source software, which was a shocking idea to folks not that long ago, I mean, I think we think it's been generations of open-source software, but it's a relatively new idea. And I think that is the fundamental power of that idea. It's folks coming together, building enormous value in the world, most of the biggest computing platforms are generally built on top of open-source software. That's not a company. It's a loosely coordinated mechanism. It's a community, right? You generally will have some folks that have more standing in the community, our approvers of certain things, or at least our scene as sort of the important people to get their point of view on certain changes. There's a collective decision-making mechanism. But, you know, open-source software has happened. And I think it's just a precursor of what's to come in other areas. The promise of the internet in many ways is it's a, you know, obviously there's a lot of talk about decentralization in the crypto realm, but it's a decentralizing force. It allows people to configure in ways that was impossible in a pre-internet world. That aside from sort of the information component of it, you know, there's two components, there's probably a multitude, honestly, but fundamentally there's two components. One is an information component to it, information processing retrieval, transfer, right? What we've seen happen in the media realm, what we're seeing happen with data and machine learning. The other component is a social configuration component. Everyone can configure and connect in entirely new ways. And I think a lot of actually what we're seeing play out right now with what's happening in crypto is to some extent just a furthering of that theme. It's about how to we configure as people in different contexts. And so, yeah, I think that is one of the strongest forces of the internet. And I think people forget because of how dramatic and fast and impactful the internet has been. As a technology, we're relatively early in terms of the impact it's going to have on the world. And there's no question in my mind that reconfiguration of how we come together, how we achieve objectives, how we work, how we culturally come together. We're still in the very early days of that. The social the social internet has obviously been a huge part of the story of the last 10 years. But I think we'll look back on it as relatively a relatively primitive moment in time in terms of the impact of the internet on how we how we come together. I believe that's probably true. Julian, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today about community and about culture. There's so much more we could talk about and maybe one day we will have a follow up to this conversation. But for today, I want to leave you with one final question if that's all right. Let's do it. And if you could give advice to engineers of of all backgrounds and in the spirit of moving towards talking about engineering leadership, in particular for engineering leaders, what would you tell them? I think oftentimes when you're on the journey of leadership in particular, but a career journey, you are very focused on external things. You're focused on different organizations. You're focused on what companies doing well. You're focused on a piece of technology, especially folks I think earlier in the middle of their career. There's a lot of external focus, which is good and makes sense in this necessary. I think we all want to be improving in certain areas and growing our skill set. But as you move towards a leadership direction, the focus needs to turn inwards to some extent. You have to understand what's important to you. You have to understand the shape of the type of leader you are. You have to understand the types of things you want to accomplish as a leader, as an individual, as a manager. And it's really about kind of marrying that external focus and that internal understanding, that internal clarity. When you see people who are really successful on their journey, what they've done is created as much fit as possible between those things. What they want, who they are, what are their natural strengths and weaknesses, what do they want to achieve, and the types of organizations that they participate in, the types of communities that they participate in. The number one piece of advice I always try to give people is definitely worry about the external factors and know different things and get better. But if you don't achieve the internal clarity, you're operating at an inefficient point because you don't know how much fit you have because you don't know what fit means for you. This is a very good advice for figuring out beyond just what is the culture of a company. Where do I fit in that? Do I actually work in that culture or not? And why? I really love this advice. We've been talking about how to understand the culture of a company. But we might assume that we know what we want. And that's a really big assumption. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of thinking to really know what we want. That's great advice. Julian, thank you so much for taking the time today. Thank you for having me. I really enjoy the conversation. Thank you again for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Thank you to Julian for joining me on today's episode. Go and check out Patreon. Certainly you've heard of it if you're listening to this episode. But if you haven't, head over to patreon.com. There are tons of podcasts that are on Patreon. We've considered doing it ourselves with Developer Tea. If you're into this idea, I'd love to hear from you. You can join the Developer Tea Discord. And if we do get enough interest in starting a Patreon community, we will definitely consider that as an option in this new year. We want to continue growing what we offer to listeners in a sustainable way. And that seems like a good option. So join that Discord community first. We're going to talk about this idea in that community. Head over to developertea.com slash discord. And of course, if you have any other recommendations or advice or criticism or just things that you like about Developer Tea, it's always good to hear from you, the listeners of this show. Once again, that's developertea.com slash discord. You can also email me directly at developert.gmail.com. You can find us on Twitter, at developertea.com. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time, enjoy your tea.