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Guy Kawasaki talks about Alltop

Guy Kawasaki talks about Alltop
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First Published: Mon, Jan 19 2009. 10 56 AM IST

Updated: Mon, Jan 19 2009. 10 56 AM IST
This is Kamla Bhatt. You are listening to Part 2 of our conversation with Guy Kawasaki. Guy is the Silicon Valley based investor, entrepreneur and writer. He is also the Managing Director of Garage Technology Ventures.
Kamla: And how much money are you making from Alltop?
Guy: It’s in the order of a few thousand per month although it probably cost us to keep Alltop going right about 10,000 a month.
Kamla: To keep it going?
Guy: Yeah.
Kamla: Are you breaking even?
Guy: No. So you know- it costs us 10,000. We make a few thousand, we lose a few thousand. But the order of magnitude is credit card money, alright? So five years ago, if you wanted to do Alltop, you couldn’t just use open source; it didn’t exist. Right, so you’d have to go buy a copy of Oracle’s SQL or “S-Q-L” you know do all this kind of stuff and you’d take three programmers and they would take a year to do it and all that. But the world has changed.
And so now hosting is cheaper. Alltop- it exists in a cloud and there are no racks or servers anywhere. We hosted it at Media Temple, the development that is done is off the code by – you know, we outsourced it to a foreign country and life is good so for ten grand. We’re taking a shot.
Kamla: And where do you want to go with it?
Guy: Oh, we’re on a world-wide domination of our achievements. That’s my goal.
Kamla: Are you an information fiend? I mean, do you like to hunt for information?
Guy: I don’t like to hunt for information. I like the information to be delivered to me. That’s why Alltop works so- now I need the cars, I check Autos.Alltop everyday. I need Macintosh, I check Mac.Alltop everyday. We just introduced a new topic called “most popular” which is, I don’t know why we didn’t do it before. So “most popular”, there are sites like The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CNN, USA Today, where they keep track of the stories that had been most e-mailed by their readers and they have created feeds of the stories that are most e-mailed. And so what we’ve done. We’ve aggregated all the most popular stories from these publications. So if you went into “mostpopular.alltop” you would see what’s the most popular stories at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today.
Kamla: And just put them all together?
Guy: We put them all together so if you went to mostpopular.alltop, you would see basically, you know, we do take the most delicious and all that, but we take the most popular publications. I don’t know how else you could do that. You know you could bookmark CNN’s homepage, USA Today’s homepage, you know- 50 homepages and you could one at a time or if you’re sophisticated, with Firefox you could open them up in 50 tabs and tab 50 times and see what we show in one page, with no tab.
Kamla: How is your day organised?
Guy: My day? My day is organised- you want a typical day? Typical day- I get up at 7:30. I take my kids to school. I maybe have a breakfast meeting that goes from 9-10, answer email for an hour, go play hockey till 1. I have another meeting at 2-3. 3-5, I answer email, 5:30-pick up my kids and then from 9-midnight, I answer email, twitter, all that stuff. When I say answer email, I’m also tweeting. When I’m at the computer, I have entourage open, and tweet deck open and Firefox open.
Kamla: Is it just one laptop or a couple of laptops?
Guy: I have a Mac book Pro, I have I-Mac and I have a Mac Pro. So the Mac Pro is in my whole office with the 30 inch monitor, I have an I-Mac in the room where I watch the TV and then I have a Mac book pro that I take youo know whatever room I am in or where ever am sitting or if I am travelling, there are a lot of people who think that you know, they can’t understand how I tweet so much.
Kamla: Yes, so that’s the question.
Guy: Yeah, yeah.
Kamla: Are you on auto pilot mode or do you manually Twitter? This is a question quite a few people want to know, because you have such a heavy Twitter stream.
Guy: I have a very heavy Twitter stream. I try to scare people off. So this is how I do Twitter. So if I’m at a computer- first you have to back up. First you have to understand my philosophy. So, Twitter for me is a tool. It’s not to make friends; it’s not to be popular. It is a weapon. Okay? So first of all, many people- that pisses them off already you know because Twitter is supposed to be like this social thing, for friends and all that stuff. Twitter for me is a weapon. Okay? It’s a weapon. It’s a weapon. This weapon- I had made the calculation that the more powerful the weapon is when I have more followers. So right now, I have around 38,000 followers. I don’t understand how Barack Obama can have five times more than me because my tweets are more interesting than his. I’m sorry. Both are -
Kamla: He went to the other school.
Guy: Yeah the other school. His tweets are nearly not as good as mine. What can I say? In fact, I can’t tell you people between me and number 1, who is better but -
Kamla: Who is number 1?
Guy: Barack Obama is number one.
Kamla: And then where are you?
Guy: I’m like 12th.
Kamla: So you keep tabs?!
Guy: Oh every hour! Because I’m going to break in to the top 10 before the end of this year. That’s my goal. You know that’s a kind of silly goal that people say you shouldn’t have those kinds of stupid goals because it demeans you. Well, tough shit. It doesn’t demean me. I like that kind of goals. Pardon my French. So anyway, as I said, Twitter for me is a tool, or a weapon. The more people follow me, the more powerful it is.
Now the question is, how do I get more people to follow me? If I use it too much to advertise Alltop, then I will lose followers. Right? So, it’s a fine line. So the calculation that goes in my brain is, I have to have really, really high quality tweets. I have to have tweets that find things that nobody else has found. Cool pictures, cool websites, and funny stories, whatever! Studies that have come up from, psychologists you know, Lifehacks, Macintosh’s products-
Kamla: Oh. So are you constantly monitoring their RSS feeds?
Guy: No. I’m constantly monitoring Alltop.
Kamla: Oh, okay.
Guy: I am constantly monitoring Alltop. So I have science.alltop, technology.alltop, neutralsites.alltop, lifehacks.alltop, mostpopular.alltop, and autos.alltop.
Kamla: And then feed it into your twitter.
Guy: So as soon as I see something, I’m constantly looking at those topics. As soon I see something interesting, I tweet it. I also use Stumbleupon. Stumbleupon is very good at pointing interesting sites that nobody else has. So all of this, all of these tweets, basically every tweet that you see from me with a link; the thinking is- I have to create just a great tweet that people will say ”Thank you Guy because I would have never discovered.”
Today I tweeted about the myths of sugar. A lot of parents believe that if they give their kids candy, they’re going to be hyper active. It’s actually not true. It’s just not true. They did a study where they gave kids cool-aid without sugar; unsweetened, artificially sugared thing- no sugar. But they told the parents it was cool-aid with sugar, and all parents were in this blind test ”Oh my kid’s gone hyper active” So this is the brain chewer anyway.
So this is the kind of stuff that I like to do and the thing is that I have to have such high content tweets that if people get pissed off because I talk about Alltop a lot, and un-follow me, I want in their brain for them to think “Ah, but if I don’t follow Guy, I won’t get all of his informative tweets” so the model value is PBS. So the PBS is- has to have really great content, really great documentaries because every once in a while, they run a telethon. So the pressure of PBS is that there be great content and they run telethons. People are so appreciative of the good content that they donate money.
I’m not asking for the donation part. I’m just saying, I’ve such great content that when I start tweeting about Alltop, that’s my equivalent of a toha.
Kamla: Can I interrupt?
Guy: Yeah.
Kamla: So the quality of content that is on PBS is different than the quality of content that you’re showing through Alltop because PBS has longer shelf life, you know- if you were to watch a documentary say -
Guy: No, but I’m not saying that I have documentaries in my tweet.
Kamla: Oh, is it? Okay.
Guy: I’m saying that when you go through all the link, it will take you to a very interesting place.
Kamla: Just for that moment, people are not going to remember so -
Guy: I have to do it constantly.
Kamla: So are you then addressing a very different world? You know the audience that watches PBS is not your audience for-
Guy: No, no. You’re drawing too many parallels. I’m just saying PBS has good content because they need to solicit donations. Guy has good tweets because I want to tweet about Alltop. If it were purely Alltop propaganda in my tweets, I would not have followers.
Kamla: So Alltop is the end result.
Guy: Alltop is the end result. If I didn’t care about Alltop, there would be a lot less tweets of high quality. Then I would say, I would use it like most people, my cap rolled over; the line at Starbucks is long.
Kamla: Do you read other people’s tweets?
Guy: I only read at and directs. I never read timeline of my followers because I have 38,000 followers. So what I do is I read the directs, I read the @guykawasaki, I read any message that has the word Alltop in it and read any message that has the word Guy Kawasaki in it.
Kamla: So you’re- are you searching for those constantly?
Guy: I have dedicated searches for that. Somebody says something about Alltop or Guy Kawasaki-
Kamla: So this is war? I mean-
Guy: What did I say? It’s a weapon. Some people, the way they can define their career or their job is they’re product manager and they want to go to Twitter for entertainment or education or whatever you know; the sort of a Social network. It is like nobody’s job is to be on Facebook, alright. It’s kind of like; this is something extra, some fun or whatever. It’s different for me. My job is to be on Twitter. My job is to look for my name; you know the guy at Comcast Live or Comcast helps?
So it works for Comcast. I don’t know what- maybe this is his only job at Comcast but his job is, anytime somebody says something about Comcast, he needs to see it and respond. That’s his job. Not like he’s a producer of Comcast or a tech support person of Comcast. He’s doing another phase as every once in a while he delves into Twitter. I think for dedication that is what I see from here, that’s his job. This is my job. My job is Alltop evangelist.
Kamla: What are your views on Social media and where do you think people are using Twitter differently? You mentioned Comcast as one. What are the other examples? Social media first.
Guy: Well, I don’t know what social media is. Social media is- I don’t know- it’s like anything without a business model, I don’t know – why does it matter what the definition of social media is. See, I would have a very different definition. Social media for me, Twitter for me is a branding mechanism. Not that many people would say that. Not that many people would dare say that because that is anti- you know-Birkensocks, vegan, airy, whatever, Southern California, laid back.Life is wonderful in this information age, democratisation of technology, you know hallelujah- hallelujah! Twitter is a web. What can I say? And obviously, I make no bones about it. This interview will irritate some people because you know, they will think-how horrible.
Kamla: You like to polarise?
Guy: I don’t purposely go around pissing off people but thing is you know, there will be much criticism of this interview. You know, they will say Guy is just taking Twitter, he is just using Twitter in an unintended way? It’s not about making the world a better place and all that, he’s just using it as a tool.
My outlook is- Twitter is a platform. You use it how you like, okay? If you want to tell people that you’re capital lover, God bless you. I’m not criticising, go ahead tell people you’re capital lover. I’m using it to tell people that I’ve just shifted to Mac.Alltop. There’s a new topic on Mac.Alltop and so I never tell people, oh you’re using Twitter wrong! You’re not using it as a marketing weapon. You’re using it to talk to your friends. So why are you telling me that I’m wrong? It’s what you make of it and you know, in that sense, what can I say?
Kamla: So Obama has used Twitter in a very effective way.
Guy: Yes, he has. I guess you could be very upset with Obama because he’s using it to get votes. How horrible. He’s supposed to be using it to be people who are __ and they’re cat mold over too. I don’t know. What can I say?
Kamla: Okay. Who are some of the people that you think are effective twitterers? Is that the word?
Guy: Yeah. One measure is to just look at who has a lot of followers. So Scoble has a lot of followers, Leo Leoporte has a lot of followers, Jason Calacanis has a lot of followers, obviously Obama has a lot of followers that he is using effectively. What intrigues me the most is stories which I hope are not poker folded- Dell has used Twitter to sell million dollars worth merchandise or Amazon- Amazon deals? I think Amazon deals or something like that-
Kamla: Yeah, it came on, yeah.
Guy: I don’t know. Amazon deals is like a feed and it got a special line of scope, right? Comcast help is one. If I were Southwest Airlines, I would have you know, Southwest Airlines and I would just say with two hours notice, we got five empty seats from San Jose to San Antonio on this twitter special is 20 bucks because the airplane is going to go anyway. Right? So, even if I’m going to get 20 bucks and not going to get 75, every airline I think should do that- Virgin is flying from San Francisco to Las Vegas and its 20 seats on it. That plane is going to go anyway; you might as well.
Kamla: That’s a plug for Virgin. I saw the photo.
Guy: Like he (Sir Richard Branson) shone my shoes and I am returning a favor. What is wrong with that? Hey, I take care of my friends.
Kamla: So do you have anything for Branson’s (The Virgin Group) company?
Guy: Actually I’ve been talking to them about how they can use Twitter better. I think we can make great use of Twitter. If I were there, I’d have airfare specials all the time being pumped through that- why not?
Kamla: Is Apple using Twitter?
Guy: Apple doesn’t believe in social media. What? Name one Apple blog written by anemployee. Does Steve Jobs have a blog? I don’t think there is an Apple blog, not an official Apple blog. It would be interesting to see who has Apple at Twitter.
Kamla: So what does it tell you about branding and Apple and what you’re doing?
Guy: Well, clearly Apple is more successful than I am so clearly they’re right and I’m wrong!
Kamla: No. What I am talking about is in terms of branding you know, is Apple so well established that it doesn’t need to use Twitter?
Guy: I don’t think it will move Apple’s need all that much if they were on Twitter.
Kamla: But they did increase their market size in recent years.
Guy: But not because they were on Twitter but because of iPhone and iTunes, Macintosh. -Microsoft is shooting itself in the foot with Vista. If Apple had the Twitter things, lets’ say- purple nanos for sale for 3 hours, $50 each- there would be thousands of scrappers to that. You know, there would be dumping the stuff there all the time. The day after they announced the new Macbook, if they offered the old Macbook at; they can do all they want! They might spend millions of dollars just like Dell; even Dell sells millions of dollars worth of stuff. If you’re doing 12 Billion, what’s another million?
But Apple is a strange bird. You know, for all these things about how it’s this open, wonderful non-corporate kind of thing, it is very buttoned up.
Kamla: That is interesting coming from you because you worked twice at Apple.
Guy: I worked twice at Apple. It is very buttoned up. You know it would be interesting if I went back to Apple; it ain’t going to happen but if I went back to Apple, could I still have my blog? That would be a root question, right? Could I still Twitter as much? You’ve a very good question. I doubt it.
Kamla: So you know the answer.
Guy: Well, I’m not going back so it doesn’t matter what the answer is but I would be surprised if I could. Let’s see if you feel you can have a blog. If Jonathan and I had a blog, you know- the Apple design blog?-everybody would be reading that. Now you could make the case that why waste his time? You could make the case of why deal with the secrets and codes, but that’s how you create companies. Not because you worked with somebody for 20 years, and giving away free Wi-Fi’s for Google; he’s not proven!
Kamla: So you’re hitting upon a thought that I’ve had for quite some time and that we’re entering the next age of new companies, new products; it’s all going to be based on experience because-
Guy: No, it’s not. I don’t think so.
Kamla: No? Because the user-
Guy: The user experience or the experience of the entrepreneur?
Kamla: No, the user experience because it will be based on the experience of how you consume that content, how easily it’s going to – so that’s—that’s where you’re coming from?
Guy: I’m coming from “people should create cool stuff” And a lot of it will fail. But some of it will succeed and you don’t know it in the beginning. You just take your shot. That’ the best you can do.
Kamla:You graduated in the ’70’s which was tumultuous period; the ’70s. Stagnation with everything.
Guy: I don’t remember it that way.
Kamla: You may not remember but what- the point I’m making is - VCs and entrepreneurs have a mantra. Economic downturns are great times to create companies. But this downturn is very very different. What do you have to say?
Guy: Well, we all say that because- what are we going to say? We see business sucks right now, we have to say that. I could build the case that it’s a good time; rent’s cheaper, you can find employees; people’s salary expectations are lower, you can get everything for free because it’s open source; it’s a great time. But don’t get me wrong. I wish it were a boom time and then stupid companies are buying everything so that would be a good time too.. so if you’re an entrepreneur; if it’s bad time, you rationalise why it is bad time; it’s cheaper and it’s easier to start a company and if it’s a boom time you rationalise by saying it’s a great time to start a company because everybody is spending money like there is an endless source of cash. So if you are an entrepreneur, there is really no good or bad time, just start a company. You either believe or you don’t believe. There’s nothing to do with who’s President for sure, there’s nothing to do with unemployment statistics, nothing to do with whatever the department of commerce, economic report; you either believe or you don’t believe. If you don’t believe, even in the greatest times, you might get funded, you might even be in investment banking position to start a company but still you know, I mean, that is not the major variable, logical pressure. It’s whether you believe or not.
Kamla: That’s it?
Guy: That’s it.
Kamla: And you believe in Alltop.
Guy: I do.
Kamla: Okay. Thank you so much.
Guy: Thank you. Thank you.
You were listening to Guy Kawasaki who’s a Silicon Valley based investor, entrepreneur and writer. In case you missed, you might want to check out part one of our conversation where Guy talks about growing up in Hawaii and his background and working with Apple and how he became an investor. This is Kamla Bhatt.
This interview was brought to you in association with Live Mint Radio and as always, thank you for tuning in.
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First Published: Mon, Jan 19 2009. 10 56 AM IST