Changelog Interviews – Episode #368
Finding collaborators for open source
with Jeff Meyerson
Jeff Meyerson, host of Software Engineering Daily, and the founder of FindCollabs (a place to find collaborators for open source software) joined the show to talk about living in San Francisco, his thoughts on podcasting and where the medium is heading, getting through large scale market changes. We talk at length about his new project FindCollabs, the difficulty of reliably finding people to collaborate with, the importance of reputation and ratings systems, and his invite to this audience to check out what he’s doing and get involved.
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Jeff, what I find interesting about your past is you’ve lived in a lot of cool places. Austin, not far from me (I live in Houston), Chicago, which I have family in Chicago, in Chi-Town; it’s an amazing place… And then finally, the epicenter of all things, San Francisco.
Seattle as well, for a little bit, right?
It’s been the same mostly, because wherever I am, I’m mostly just on the internet. It’s really a matter of how’s the weather and how steep is the grade of the hills that I’m running when I go for a run outside. But other than that, it’s mostly just I’m on the internet.
What about in terms of a podcast, for those who are recognizing - is that Jeff Meyerson’s voice? Yes, it is. Your friend from Software Engineering Daily. You probably recognize that voice… A clashing of two podcasts that are very similar, and often listed right next to each other in people’s favorite podcast lists, which - we love to see our name there, we love to see your name there as well, Jeff…
From a podcaster’s perspective though - like, now you’re in the Valley; you weren’t always there, and that’s very different from us… And one thing we were talking about when we met at Open Core Summit and we were hanging out was how you have the opportunity for a lot more face-to-face conversations than we do being remote. So I’m just curious if your location now being in the valley, living in San Francisco, if that’s changed your perspective or changed your opportunities in terms of podcasting, or even in terms of the tech industry.
Yeah, the reason I came here was to be closer to the things that were really emergent and at the tip of the spear. As you guys know, the world is changing in a way where now there’s interesting stuff going on everywhere, and technology is infused with whatever local set of concerns there are. In Houston, for example, Adam - I’m sure you could go out and find oil companies and banking industries who are going through a “digital transformation”, and there’s plenty of interesting software stuff going on there… And you could ask them to point you to their new vendors and they would have probably a wide suite of new vendors and new technologies and new design patterns that they’re exploring right now because there’s so much going on in software.
What I like about San Francisco is there’s kind of a filter for people who come here, where it’s sort of hard to make it here. It’s expensive, it’s hard to elbow your way into the right conversations and figure out how things work here, but there is so much opportunity and the overall ethos of San Francisco is so welcoming, and there’s such a diverse lineage of arts and culture and technology and all these different things that for somebody like me who is really addicted to just stimulus of all kinds, I haven’t found any place that comes close to it.
Another trend when we’re talking about opportunities elsewhere, or not necessarily the ethos of having to be in the Valley, which was very much a press upon many entrepreneurs and technologists, like “You should be in this area”, we’re seeing opportunity in lots of different places now. Another thing that we’re seeing which as a podcaster I’ve been tracking, is the move away from in-office colleagues to remote work.
We just had a call with Bob Martin, where we were talking about the pros and cons of that. A team that’s collocated, he says, will always be more productive together than a team that is distributed. That being said, we have huge personal and life advantages of remote work… Kind of a side thing that’s happening there, and something I think about and I’m curious as a podcast, Jeff, if you think about this, is the thing that remote changes for podcasters is it removes the drive time commute, which is where a lot of our audience is listening to this.
In fact, if you’re out there listening, you’re probably in a car, you’re probably on public transit, you’re probably on your way to or from work… I’m curious if you’re thinking about that, or if you’re concerned that this awesome thing where people can work remote is not so awesome for us, who kind of have that commute as a time for them to listen to our shows.
Bob Martin is Uncle Bob, right?
Right. So I think Uncle Bob is hilarious, and I think he’s got a lot of software wisdom, but I’ve gotta say I can’t disagree more with him on this one… And I think it makes sense that he believes that, because that has been an antiquated axiom for a while, but for a long time it was just an axiom.
The reality is our current structure of how software is built is not going to last. This model of gigantic corporations where most people go in and do extremely boring work all day, and hate their lives, despite the fact that they have the skills that they could use to build world-changing technologies from their bedroom - that’s just like a market inefficiency that will erode over time. And one thing that makes that glaringly obvious is just you guys know how pleasurable it is to work from home, and live the life of a software podcaster. It is unbelievably enjoyable. I wake up pinching myself every day, and my sense is that you guys have an element of that as well.
It’s all you could ever want, basically, and yet we’re not even like - I’m wearing my Indie Hackers T-shirt right now - close to the top of the totem pole of indie hackers in terms of how much money we’re making, or the kind of freedom that we truly have… Because we’re on a schedule. We’ve gotta crank. These indie hackers - they just make a business and they just go to sleep, and it makes money… And most people just don’t know about this movement. Uncle Bob is just wrong here.
And yet you’re drawn to the Valley.
Absolutely, because there are new things that are extremely hard to build, and it makes sense to collocate for. If you’re building out Databricks and you’re trying to go to market with a world-changing data engineering technology, if you’re building something as novel and strange and controversial as Airbnb and Facebook, you basically need to treat your company like a military force, and you simply cannot get the level of necessary bandwidth from digital communication, and you cannot get the level of understanding of the discipline of your workforce, or the creativity of your workforce through Slack channels. All due respect to GitLab.
Yeah, you need face-to-face for a reason. It’s called humanity because it’s actually humanity. It requires humans. And I think as part of that, human communication has evolved in the last 100 years because of the internet. Sorry, not even the last 100 years; the last 25 or so years, really… So communication has always been in human race, face-to-face. For a while there we had television, and that was –
For a while…
We still do, I’m sorry. Ha-ha! But it’s becoming less and less important though. It’s sort of like abstracted to something else now.
Then you had this advent of the telephone, maybe even say a walkie-talkie, but the point is that human communication thrives, in my opinion, by face-to-face. But I’m on your side, Jeff, where I’m advocating - and I did on that show with Uncle Bob - that there’s trade-offs. If you’re a distributed team, it’s not gonna be the same as a collocated team, and there’s trade-offs on how you build that team. And as you’d mentioned, you don’t build a Facebook or a Google or an Airbnb with a collocated team in everything. You’ve got to have this militaristic attitude and formation around the ranks, so that the humans can thrive together. It’s so weird to talk about humans as a human… It’s weird. Anyways.
So I guess I’m not quite following you… Are you saying he’s right then, Uncle Bob? Because you’re saying we have to be militaristic and face-to-face, but you’re saying that he’s wrong about remote work. Maybe, Jeff, what you’re saying is in the short-term it’s true, but over the long run, as we get more used to this kind of communication, we see the benefits of remote work and working from home, that the trade-offs will be no longer worth it, and everybody will be working wherever they want to be, because our tooling, our communication skills will all have advanced so far that there’s no advantage, or the law of diminishing returns on collocation will no longer be worth it.
Maybe. We don’t know. I think you’re broadly correct…
It’s my favorite kind.
No, but we don’t really know what kinds of technologies are gonna be built in five years… And that is one of the things I like about Silicon Valley - whatever the weirdest technology style is, it’s probably occurring in Silicon Valley. Like, drones on the blockchain, just to – you know…
It’s like buzzword bingo, yeah.
Some buzzword bingo that actually could make sense, eventually. Like, maybe we need a decentralized drone network because only the blockchain will enable the necessary crowdsourced security protocols that will secure our drone force, because the security problems are so difficult… Like, maybe. I don’t know. Whatever. That problem sounds difficult enough that you would want a collocated workforce who can really hash through problems quickly and effectively. But who knows…? Maybe communication will get good enough. Zoom VR, or something.
So let’s assume a world where the benefits of remote are massive, and it’s become the way that developers live their lives and work… When are they gonna have time to listen to Software Engineering Daily?
Yeah, I mean – I kind of just operate Software Engineering Daily assuming that whatever we’re going through with podcasting is a total bubble… So I’m basically ready for the business to die. I assume it will. [laughter]
Okay, so you’re living in a world where you assume at some point it’s gonna go away.
It seems almost in the near future to you… You’re not banking on Software Engineering Daily as your long-term forever thing; you’re assuming that at some point… So most businesses at some point either fail, or dissolve…
Yeah, there’s some sort of change. That’s gonna be a case. But you’re saying the actual podcasting business bubble will change.
I mean, maybe… This is the innovator’s dilemma - you don’t wanna put yourself, as Jeff Bezos says, in a situation where you have to throw a Hail Mary. You don’t wanna get backed into a corner where your podcast literally cannot make enough money that you can pay for your healthcare, or something. You just don’t wanna get into that situation. And I’m kind of exaggerating in saying that “Yeah, it’s gonna die”, because probably I could get on the Patreon dole if all else failed… But I’d rather just assume I’m gonna die, because – I don’t know if you guys know, but I used to play poker, and basically the bottom dropped out of the poker market. I think most people who are in the technology industry have not lived through a significant crash. Maybe the crypto people, who were day trading s***tcoins… Sorry to curse; you can bleep that.
He said Bitcoins, it’s okay… [laughter]
Oh no, oh no, you can’t…
I definitely did not say Bitcoins… But yeah, so I’ve been through a market crash, and I was not prepared for it the first time. Now I’m ready.
So to answer Jerod’s question on what do you do with listeners - if the remote workforce is remote and not collocated, and there’s no commute, your response is you have a plan B.
Go do something else.
Yeah. I think that’s a good – I mean, you can’t turn back time. Things change.
Right. If there’s no market, there’s no market.
My response would be I think that they’re still listening, you just have to augment and change how you deliver the message… Because clearly, there’s an interest, otherwise they wouldn’t have listened in the first place. Now they just have less time. So the interest may remain, it’s just how do you now fit in a new time slot, or less time?
We see a lot of people listening to our show mowing the lawn, taking a run, hanging out with a sleeping child on their belly, or hanging out, or whatever. There’s different places where [unintelligible 00:13:58.26] so my answer is I think the commute will eventually go away completely, but I don’t think we will lose our listenership, it will just change how we reach that listenership.
And I would say to that good riddance, because I would much rather have all these people get rid of that commute than maintain our podcast… You know what I’m saying?
That’s a much bigger win for humanity… But these are the funny and interesting things that we think about, like “Wow, how could remote work modify what we do?” And I think - yeah, you fit into where you can, and you provide value where you can, and the fact is that mediums do change. Look at the world 15 years ago, before YouTube existed. It’s massively different now, and that’s just the way it is.
I think specifically to us too, as technologist podcasters, people who speak about software, technology etc - you have to ask yourself how big of an audience do you need to make a living? In your case, Jeff, you are solo; Jerod and I are partners, so we’re two people and families… So our burden is probably slightly heavier, assuming, than yours might be. So to answer that question, it might be – well, you might need to double your audience. You might need to only have X; who knows what that X is, but at the same time you also have this sort of loyalty of 1,000. So if you have 1,000 loyal followers, that’s enough, to some degree, potentially, to really kill it. But you have to ask yourself how much do you really need, how many listeners do you really need to thrive. [unintelligible 00:15:22.24] in particular.
Well, it’s probably worth turning the camera outward and stop gazing at our navels so much, and gaze at Jeff’s navel. I don’t know, is that a weird thing to say?
Come on, Jerod…
The thing about Software Engineering Daily which I learned recently, Jeff, is it’s your – I mean, you put out five shows a week; it’s very impressive. You’re cranking them out, you work very hard, you’ve been doing that at a sustained pace for a very long time, and it’s a high-quality show… And yet, it doesn’t seem like that’s your passion; you have these other ideas, you have other projects… Today we’re gonna talk about FindCollabs, which is something entirely different, maybe somewhat related… So let’s turn to FindCollabs a little bit and say - where did this idea come from, what is it, and is it related to SE Daily at all? Is it just a completely different thing?
FindCollabs is a solution to a set of problems that I have been dealing with since college. The main problem is how do you find a collaborator who you can trust to work on a project with using the internet? The way that this came together is I’m a musician, and in college I was writing a lot of music, I was composing a lot of music on the computer. I used a program called FL Studio; it’s kind of like an IDE for music… And my friends are musicians, they’re really good musicians, but they don’t ship. I tried so many times… I was just like “Hey, can you guys just come over…?” My friend, who’s a guitarist, “Can you come over and just play some refs? I’ve got a great mic set up… I’ve got four hours blocked off on Saturday. I wanna help you bring out your best work. We’re gonna write a song together. It’s gonna be amazing.” And they always flake. Just always. I couldn’t get them to be reliable, and I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand why people did not want to actually ship.
So I have been unable to find collaborators for music. I became a Quora power-user near the end of my time in college, and Quora is amazing because they managed to gamify the question and answer process, and build a reputation system around that… So the idea of FindCollabs is to create a reputation system around people creating projects and contributing creatively to each other’s projects in order to build your reputation. Because I built a reputation on Quora, and that was kind of the backbone, that was the bootstrap for a lot of the things I did after Quora. Quora is basically just a blogging platform, and I used that to bootstrap into a lot of other things.
So these reputation platforms are super-novel. This is like a super-new thing we have on the internet. The idea that you can build a public reputation… Yeah, we’ve got LinkedIn. LinkedIn is kind of like this JSON blob of a reputation, but with FindCollabs I wanna create something that’s highly ordered. It’s like, you can say “Here are the things I’ve done. I did this on Saturday. I wrote software here, I fixed your bug, I wrote a song here, I wrote the lyrics here, I fixed this production issue here… Here’s my backlog of stuff I’ve done. Do you wanna collaborate with me? I’ve got a good reputation. So if you wanna collaborate with me, you’d better bring a good reputation as well.” I want to bring together people who are serious about their work, whether it’s creative work, or work-work, or whatever. So that’s the goal of FindCollabs.
So is collaboration, collaboration, collaboration in terms of – if I’m collaborating on music, is that just transferable over to collaborating on software, which is transferable over to collaborating on a quilt? …or I don’t know what other things you’re gonna collaborate on. Medical stuff, or anything creative; help me out here, because I’m not very creative… Like, can you just say “Well, it’s a collaboration platform”, but maybe the things you do to collaborate - are they the same across these different niches?
Right. As you guys probably know, I’m pretty terrible at focusing on a specific thing. The initial go-to-market with FindCollabs was “Look, FindCollabs for anything. Find your collaborators for online quilt-making. Why not…?” And music, and whatever. I tried to make all these different projects, and it kind of gained some traction, but now I’ve kind of done the thing where you make a mistake of starting too broadly, and then you really focus and you double down on the thing that works the best. Obviously, my best distribution channel is to software engineers, so I have kind of focused FindCollabs into a platform for software engineers to collaborate on mostly open source software.
I love GitHub, obviously… GitHub has the LinkedIn problem, where – not the JSON blob resume problem, but…
You mean, Microsoft.
That’s a joke. [laughs]
That is pretty funny.
The GitHub problem and the LinkedIn problem are what do you do when you have too many opportunities? What do you do when there is so much opportunity in your social network that you can’t capture it all? And with GitHub it’s like an added problem, because what do you do when your social network is also an infrastructure tool? You just can’t do everything that GitHub could do. GitHub could obviously encapsulate the functionality that FindCollabs has right now, and you can use GitHub to find collabs. You can find collaborators.
There’s so much latent information on GitHub… That’s great. But I don’t see a whole lot of people finding collabs on GitHub. I do see people joining the Kubernetes project, or whatever, but it’s like – FindCollabs is really at this point focused on open source software projects, hence my cloying to come on Changelog and promote my own platform. It’s a place where people can find collaborators for their open source projects. It’s a match-making tool, a dating website for open source.
Yeah. I think what’s interesting is that I can’t tell you where I would go on the internet to find people that I share interests with. In software - sure, it’s a little easier; we have a couple different directions. But even when you go to a project’s homepage, it’s still difficult to find your way in, to find that they’re even seeking collaborators. Sure, it’s open source, you assume contributions or potential ability to become a maintainer, a core team member as an opportunity, just because of the nature of it, but there’s no real direct conduit.
In the case of something like FindCollabs, you’re saying that there’s a lot of people out there with shared interests that don’t know each other, that need a place to essentially gather or look for opportunities, because in GitHub it’s latent; the data is there, but it’s not surfaced… And in FindCollabs you’re surfacing these opportunities to have shared interests and actually work together, and potentially even provide communication opportunities, not just “Hey, I like software. Do you like software? Let’s make software together”, but how do you do it.
It seems to me there’s a few different aspects to FindCollabs today, and of course, like all projects, it’s evolving and changing, and you’ve even changed - probably since we talked a few months back - the aim… Because I know it was more music-focused, or more broad. Like you said, FindCollabs for anything. You’re focusing in on software… Does it seem like the reputation system itself is the nudge, that’s the linchpin of FindCollabs idea, and you’re building tooling around that, but if you can provide this service of this reliable reputation system for people to work together, then that’s a hugely valuable thing?
That’s the long-term vision. Bootstrapping a reputation system is super-hard. Airbnb in the limit is a reputation system, but obviously there’s some bootstrapping that needs to be done, because it starts with no reputation. So if you try to say “Hey, we’re a reputation-based home-sharing platform” on day one… Like, “Okay, show me your reputation.” “Well, we’ve got some photos…”
“No one has stayed here yet…”
No one has stayed here yet… [laughs]
Right. And they also have the advantage of that bootstrap process, I think, is much more iterative than with collaborating on a thing… Because I can stay at a different Airbnb seven nights a week. I could start one week with no reputation, and by the end of the month I could have 30 reviews, because each night is a new opportunity for a review. But on collaborating on software - these are long-term projects sometimes; you don’t know right away if somebody is reliable or they’re gonna show up, until… You know, maybe they showed up and they were awesome for three weeks, and then week four they started to flake on you. So it’s gonna take a lot longer to build those reputations because you just have longer iterations.
Yeah. It’s also difficult, I would say, to quantify a reputation… Like, what are the criteria for which people gained this reputation. Is it simply by showing up? Is it by contributing awesome things? Is it through pros? In what way can you quantify a reputation? And is it a star system, is it in written form, is it criticism-based? Like, if I collaborated with Jerod and Jerod flaked on me on week four, as his example showed, do I showcase Jerod’s reputation with me by saying “He failed me, and then therefore he’s a failure, and he will fail you as well”?
My incompetence, on display.
Right. Like, how do you display reputation? I guess less maybe how does FindCollabs do it, more “What are your thoughts on displaying reputation?”
Yeah, I’m sure you’ve been thinking about this.
I think it will work similarly to how the reputation systems we already see in place are playing out. My favorite reputation-based marketplace is Fiverr. Do you guys use Fiverr or UpWork?
Heard of it, haven’t used it yet.
I’m familiar with Fiverr.
Okay. I would heavily encourage you guys to check it out and just see what you can do with it. It’s a great place to spend money.
I know some people get their jollies from impulse shopping in a mall, or something… I get my jollies from impulse-shopping on Fiverr.
Oh, gosh… That’s awesome.
What kind of stuff are you buying?
You can find like game designers…
Musicians – I wrote an album with musicians from Fiverr. I found a bunch of singers on Fiverr. Some guitarists, some violin… I mean, I’ve gotten design work; that’s pretty straightforward. Some software work… It varies what it’s good for, but it’s definitely the future, in some ways, that people are kind of underestimating.
But anyway, when you hire a singer on Fiverr, it’s a very subjective process. Even more subjective than Airbnb, in some ways. My typical workflow for writing that album was I would have a song written, I would have the whole track written, I would sing the lyrics, and then I would send them, basically “Here’s my take, with my horrible atonal voice, here’s the lyrics written down. Sing this, give it back to me.” And then they would sing it, give it back to me, we do a revision… In most cases, like “Hey, you did a few things wrong. Can you sing this a pitch higher?” or something.
You iterate on it, and then eventually they give you a finished product that’s satisfactory, and you give them a five-star rating. And you also give them – Fiverr has a star rating plus a review system. That gives you some highly-ordered dimensionality, and some less-ordered dimensionality in the review system. And I think the reviews are optional… There’s additional little reviews you can add. You can really give a lot of feedback, or a little bit of feedback.
So there’s a wide range of amount of feedback you can give, but the net result is that they develop this reputation system that’s pretty amazing for designers, and creators, and artists, and game animators. There’s game animators making a living on Fiverr. It’s quite amazing. Or Twitch – like, “I’m the person you go to when you need to set up your Twitch channel. I’ll help you with all the marketing and stuff for setting up your Twitch channel.” That kind of random, longtail work that you guys know as podcasters, that I know as a podcaster - there’s a lot of random, longtail work that I need help with… And if I can leverage somebody on Fiverr, I will absolutely pay them $30 to solve a problem that would take me five hours. Sorry, I’m going on a tangent here, but Fiverr is amazing…
You like Fiverr a lot, clearly.
I love it. Fiverr is like, it’s – I mean… Oh, gosh… It is the AWS for people, basically. It really is. Fiverr is very under the radar.
Can I ask you a question real quick then on Fiverr, that relates probably back to FindCollabs? Have you considered this idea of portable reputation? It seems like you’ve been able to collaborate very well on Fiverr, similar to the way you might want to on FindCollabs… And one of the ways you’ve done that is by accessibility to talent, and being able to potentially see if they’ve done a good job elsewhere, they’re reputable. Is there an idea where maybe there’s a world where their reputation system is an API (for a lack of better terms) and you can share this gig economy reputation system? FindCollabs can use it, Fiverr can use it… Or is it simply just a proprietary world where you have to build your own each time?
I would not be opposed to what you are describing developing…
Because wouldn’t it be nice to start FindCollabs leveraging that reputation model…
…and that marketplace?
Or does FindCollabs simply become a feature of what Fiverr could build.
No, so you could imagine – we have a sign-up with GitHub. You could definitely imagine a sign-up with GitHub where you sign up with GitHub into FindCollabs, and then FindCollabs crawls your repositories and figures out how many commits you’ve made. And then it’s like “Whoa, this person is really great at contributing to software projects.” They just do a great job, and they’re always – you look at their status page and it’s always green. Straight up green, green, green, and then we could give them a high reputation, just kind of inferred from their past behavior. That could totally work. I think that would be great. I think if you take it too far, it becomes the Chinese credit system.
It’s a data point, but it’s not– yeah…
An indicator, not truth. A source of potential truth.
Yeah, and you don’t want this to be centralized into one kind of provider. I like the idea of federated. Federated rating identity.
Well, I think in that kind of world you can’t really be JeffM125. You’ve gotta be you, all the way.
You can’t be some inauthentic identity.
I mean, you could do pseudonyms. There’s some great pseudonyms on Twitter.
I will give a high rating to certain pseudonym accounts…
What I mean though, does the system require – I think of it like, we use Breakmaster Cylinder for a lot of our music production. In fact, everything we do is Breakmaster Cylinder music… And so we know that Breakmaster Cylinder is–
What is that? Is that a platform for finding –
Yeah… Basically, it’s a person. Or persons. We’re not really sure. They have this level of anonymity. Breakmaster Cylinder is…
…a person. I don’t know how to describe Breakmaster Cylinder.
It’s a musician. They’re a musician.
They’re a musician, composer. But I guess what I was trying to drive at was should people on this kind of system, this reputation system - it would seem you’d wanna attach that to an identity, but I can see how a Breakmaster Cylinder wouldn’t wanna be their actual name. So you have to have aliases, or as you said, pseudonyms.
Yeah. I mean, like Banksy… I think Banksy makes a good living. I don’t know how he makes a living, but… Or it, or them…
They… Yeah. Exactly. That’s like Breakmaster Cylinder.
Banksy makes a living by burning its own work.
Shredding it, that’s right. He wasn’t burning it, he was shredding it.
Shredding it, yeah. Well, I think that’s a whole different level though.
Fiverr has one of these systems. Uber has one of these systems. Amazon has one of these systems. It goes on and on. And I’m curious if what’s happened on Fiverr and what could potentially be a pitfall for FindCollabs is what’s happened on Uber, where it’s like anything less than a five-star rating is death to these drivers, in certain cases. They will do anything because there’s this presumption if it is not perfect – like, a four start is really bad. I don’t remember where that ethos came from, but it exists and now everyone’s a slave to it. Is there anything like that on Fiverr?
I could see where like maybe I’m a good collaborator, but I had a bad day, or we just didn’t get along, and the person reviewed me poorly, and now I’ve got this bad reputation, and maybe it was a personal thing… Because collaboration is multi-faceted. It’s not just nuts and bolts… Was it delivered on time? Was it high-quality? And so on. Have you thought about that possibility? How do we guard against those kinds of issues?
Well, on Uber there’s a lot of drivers, so we should have extremely high standards… And plus, people can die. If you don’t die, and the ride is safe and clean and the driver seems like he/she has gotten enough sleep, it’s pretty easy… Just like “Yeah, here’s a five-star rating. All good.” If they do something wrong, that’s a pretty bad sign. It’s a pretty well-ordered transaction. Obviously, there’s subtlety, and that’s why there’s five stars, and you can do tipping, and ratings, and you can write into customer service and tell them something… There’s all kinds of embossed reputation reviews that you can add.
Fiverr, there’s a much – I mean, first of all, this is a very new domain. And also, if this was an issue for FindCollabs, it’d be a very good problem to have. I would be very happy to work through this problem.
It’s kind of actually the same thing, the more that I think about it. If you work with a designer and you see their portfolio when you hire them, you see the best that their portfolio has to offer, if you’re not a jerk, you’re gonna cut them some slack, you’re gonna admit this is creative work… Like, if they showed up, they were reliable, you’re gonna give them five stars. And part of the reason for that is because most people - they flake. It’s almost like if somebody doesn’t flake on you…
…you are just so grateful. Just so grateful. Because the modus operandi of most people is just “Yeah, I don’t wanna deal with that commitment. I’m just gonna ghost.” And it’s like, “Okay… Cool. Good luck succeeding.”
That’s so true. That’s a lifehack for those listening. If you wanna completely stand out from a crowd, and just set yourself apart in the world, when you say you’re gonna do something, do it. Don’t be a flake. It’s amazing that the bar is that low for success in many places, but it really is. If we can find somebody who’s reliable and does what they say they’re gonna do, I know I personally will bring them business for the rest of my life… Because if I can find that person, I love them, because they’re hard to find. So that’s a very good point, and it’s so true.
Let me ask you guys both a question. When you seek a collaborator, whether it’s on FindCollabs or just generally, one of the things you often ask people, especially if you have a reference, is “Would you work with them again?” And often, for me at least, my willingness to work with that person that’s being referred to me, if they answer yes, is like “Sure, I’ll work with them if you would work with them again.” But if you would say no, then I would probably say no as well. Do you think it’s just that simple? That if the review system is - for lack of better terms - binary in the fact that the people reviewing them would just say “Would you with them again? Yes or no?” And if the answer is yes, then higher credibility. If the answer is no, then it’s a decline in credibility.
You need to have the option to not fill out a review. There are many contexts –
Just a yes or no then.
If it’s just yes or no, like “Would you work with this person again?”, I’m answering yes, or I’m not answering at all, in most cases.
Because there’s just risk. You just don’t wanna give somebody a bad rating, because they could be a sociopath.
Well, I guess what I’m trying to drive at is less the semantics around it, or the mechanics you could build around it, and more like – for me, if I’m gonna choose to work with somebody, it’s because somebody said “Yeah, I’d work with them again.” So my inclination is to work with them as well, because somebody I know and trust, or at least somebody I can perceive to know and trust, whether it’s an internet friend or literal neighbor friend, or something like that, then my trust is extended by their willingness to work with them again.
Well, for sure.
And you’re saying you wouldn’t say no because of a social fear of some sort.
I’m saying if you want the honest truth about somebody, especially if they’re a crucial hire, you have to back-channel references. There’s this really famous book about – well, not famous, but pretty popular book… Like, if you’re trying to hire in Silicon Valley in particular, or really anywhere, there’s a really good book on hiring called – I think it’s called “The Who”, or “Who”, or “The Who Test”, or something. Multiple very successful entrepreneurs have referred this book to me as like “This is the way that you hire.” And it basically boils down to references. Just back-channel as many references as you can.
Everybody that is worth working with has a gigantic list of good references. It’s that simple. And the people who only have no references or dubious references, or references from people who seem sketchy - just don’t work with them… Unless they’re like an intern, or they’re really young, or they seem like they’ve recently gone through some kind of transformation in their life and you wanna take a gamble on them. But you probably don’t wanna put that person as your head of sales in a 400-person organization.
What we’re talking about is FindCollabs though, so it seems like small teams, right?
So we’re not talking about head of finance at a large corporation on FindCollabs… I’m not going there to get a hire, I’m going there to find people that have like-minded interests, and if I’m somebody who’s running their project or somebody who’s running the collab, then I want to allow people in or disallow people in based on - what, I guess reputation? Is that it?
I mean, it’s not really a disallowance or an allowance. The way that it works today is you create a project and anybody can join the project. And you can kick people out. If you’re the admin, you’re the project manager, you can kick anybody out. But the default is anybody is allowed to join. We could add permissions, and hopefully we will at some point, once we have demand for that kind of thing… But right now, you show up and you say “Hey, can I jump into your music project?” or “Can I jump into your ope source compiler thing for Rust?” Like, “Yes… Please… I’m working on this by myself. Please help me.”
Right. So what you need is the market place, as you mentioned before, prior to concerning yourself with reputation. So we’re actually talking about reputation early, and putting a lot of weight on it… It seems like you’re more of a match-maker on interests.
And in the long-term, as you mentioned, reputation is gonna matter. But not today. Because today it’s almost like “Hey, if you’re here, you’re here… And we’re gonna try you out no matter what”, because the demand is low.
This is another reason why I wanted to come on, in extreme self-interest, and wanted you guys to interview me - it’s because it’s hard for people to understand this. It’s a carrot on a stick, and the carrot is the long-term vision for getting a reputation, for building a reputation that will help you. That’s a lot of buy-in to agree to. And you know, frankly speaking, FindCollabs is in the early days, and it’s hard to get people to understand this. I’m really doing my best. I’m trying to paint a picture of a world where people can reliably find collaborators for their projects, and there will be a norm of not flaking. Or if you’re going to not do something, just say “Hey, I can’t help out right now. I’m peacing out. Sorry… Maybe next time.” That just doesn’t exist today.
So the carrot is for early adopters, because that’s what you’re trying to get as the bootstrapped early community. Everything gets easier… It’s one of those perpetual problems for entrepreneurs. It’s like, everything gets better as the network effect takes on. But until there’s a network effect, it sounds like the carrot that you’re offering to the early adopters who are out there listening and potentially are interested is it’s easy to build your reputation right now…
…because it’s low-hanging fruit, or there’s just not much competition, so to speak, in the collaboration marketplace on FindCollabs, and so you can get in early, build that great reputation, and if and when FindCollabs gets network effects, then you’re gonna have a strong reputation built in.
Correct. And this happened with Quora. It happens with all the new platforms. The people who are early adopters and then the platform takes off - they have this huge headstart. Quora did this thing to accelerate their growth, called The Top Writers Program, where basically people who wrote a lot on the platform, and wrote good answers, got a big, red “Top Writer” thing…
Something special, and they got their answers promoted, and they got a nice fleece in the mail, they got invited to these amazing events, where all the top writers were… They created this form of scarcity to reward the people who were really putting in the work in developing their platform. And that level of honesty between the platform owner and the platform creator, basically the platform owner saying “Look, you guys are building this for us. We understand that, we’re gonna reward you”, that adds fuel to the fire, and I would like to do that at some point. We kind of did that in the early days with the FindCollabs hackathons, where basically I just like, you know, earned money by rewarding people for their projects on FindCollabs. It was a little too early to do that, but I would like to do other things like that. But yes, I mean… You get it.
Right. Well, even based on the ratings mentioned on the homepage, you’ve got Communications, Projects, Video and then Trust. And inside of Trust, you say, as a prescription, it seems, “Reward a great collaborator with five stars. If someone is flaky and unresponsive, give them one star.”
It seems like to me - and now we’re just riffing here - that five stars… These kinds of rating systems are very difficult because the star ratings are so subjective. That’s why I was kind of driving out with the Uber scenario, where it’s like, it’s five stars or bust. I’ve noticed that certain recommendation engines–
Well, even in his copy it says that, basically… It’s five stars or bust.
Right. Some recommendations engines such as Netflix eventually moved on to “Did you like this show or not?”
And it’s like “Yes, I did.”
And it’s kind of going back to what you were talking about, Adam, with like “Would you work with this person again?” or “Would you recommend this collab?” Maybe just thumbs up/thumbs down is better, because now I don’t have to decipher what is 3,5 stars…
I know I go on Amazon sometimes and I look at two products, and they both have thousands of reviews… And one’s at 4,5 and the other one is at 4, and I’m like “What’s the actual quantifiable difference there? I don’t know, I’ll go with the 4,5.” You know?
Right. It’s probably nothing, really.
It’s probably nothing. And then, of course, they’ve got the big problems of paid reviews, and all that kind of crap.
And then it’s just an opinion.
You could buy those on Fiverr, by the way. [laughter]
Zing! Well, I like that you’re on my rift end. So are you agreeing with me, Jerod? That that’s sort of a system that keeps it simple, and it’s enough to understand if you do or don’t wanna work with somebody.
But then I also understand the granularity argument, because again, going back to now Uber - and I know we’re just camping out on reputation systems, but maybe that’s just the point here… Is that there are different aspects to that ride. And like “Would you ride with this person again?” maybe doesn’t allow you to express your concerns.
It does for me. Because there was somebody I came home from in Denver, on the way to the airport - I would never get in that person’s car again.
Sure. Sometimes it’s fine. But what if it’s a person that you’d totally ride with again, but they still talk a little bit too much, and you just wanna doc them for like “Well, don’t talk to me quite so much.” But it’s not like it’s dangerous…
So maybe a first-class citizen–
That’s don’t leave a rating.
Here’s what’s interesting - we all create these systems in our mind. I didn’t even think about “Don’t create a rating.” I’m like “Well, they’re asking me to review…” My “Don’t create a rating” is when I don’t care. I’m like, “Yeah… No. I don’t want to.”
Yeah. I would put weight on the “Would you work again with them? Yes or no?” first. And then second, beyond that, if I wanna get into the granularity of the person, written reviews of some sort… Whether it’s eBay style, “Would buy again”, ++, whatever… Or just some sort of narrative from the person. And then I think, back to the concern you had, Jeff, as to whether or not this person is a sociopath, and they’re gonna hunt you down…
Is that a checkbox?
…and get you.
On Uber is anonymized. I don’t think the drivers know who is rating them what. Although if they drive and drop you off, and then immediately get kicked off of the Uber platform, they’re gonna be able to figure out like “Who’s rating resulted in me getting kicked off the platform?”
They could assume.
And they might drive right back to where they dropped you off…
Uuh… Danger. Dangerous.
Well, that’s why you have delayed jobs. You just delay that job until the next day.
Well, we hope so…
That does speak to another difference with collaboration versus these things. We’re talking a lot about products and services. Amazon is products, Fiverr is services, Uber is a service, and it’s a unidirectional review. Of course, there are opportunities for – I think an Uber driver can also mark a writer as like a problem, or whatever…
Yeah, they can. It’s a two-way system.
But collaboration is inherently collaborative, right? It’s in the word. It’s bi-directional. And it’s not just like “This person’s services were insufficient for me, so I’m not giving them my $30, or I don’t think it was worth $30.” This is like two people - or maybe more, five people - teaming up, melding together to create something that they couldn’t create on their own, and that’s a much more dynamic and interwoven relationship. It’s harder to just review that… Don’t you think, Jeff?
Well, you leave a star rating and then you also can type something. You can leave three stars and say “This person’s handwriting was great, but the words they were writing were incoherent.”
Right, but they’re gonna have something to say about you as well…
Oh, it’s bi-directional.
So there’s the project owner, and then there’s the roles. That’s how it works. There’s basically two types of roles. There’s an owner role, and then there’s roles that the owner creates. So you have the project owner, who’s the admin, and then you have people who can join the role. So it’s like, if I create a project, I could be the project manager, and then I can create four developer roles. I create front-end, back-end, two QA roles… And whenever somebody finishes their work and they decide “I’m gonna leave the project now”, they click “Finish project” and it’s a bi-directional review. I can leave a review about you, you can leave a review about me, we can both choose to not leave reviews, one of us can leave a review… It’s bi-directional. And the review is a star rating, plus a written review. Or just a star rating.
I mean, I know that reputation matters, but if we’re speaking specifically to FindCollabs, as you said before, Jeff, I don’t think it quite matters just yet. I think the nut you need to crack is the fact that there are people out there with similar interests, and giving them a place to connect. And right now that’s “Randall through Twitter, buddy/friend/whatever, told me somebody recommended…” It’s the typical word of mouth, social network way that it happens. There’s no place to go and say “My name is Jeff. I dig music. I’m looking for collaborators.” Or “I’m looking to collaborate with other musicians on XYZ genre. Where do I go find these kinds of people and put my two cents in, and put my talents into the pool?” And there’s not really - that I’m aware of, at least - a place to do that. That seems to be the place where you focus your attention, rather than reputation, which sure, does matter, but you need the marketplace first before the reputation comes into play.
My thesis is that there’s a problem with the norms. On Fiverr you’re going to get paid or you’re not going to get paid for your work. So there’s an implicit norm of actually your reward being highly-correlated with how good of a job you do. But in software, or in writing music with other people, people just flake all the time. And the people who don’t flake, become Coldplay. It’s that simple. And the reason we don’t have more Coldplays–
Is it that simple…?
I mean, you might not like Coldplay, but…
Depeche Mode, yeah. I mean, how do you succeed if you’re a healthy person, who has digital skills, and some small notion of what creativity might embody? You just work. It’s that simple. It’s not very complicated. And yet, we just have norms that make it much more complicated, like “No, I’ve gotta wait for my muse. Netflix has a new show that I’ve gotta go watch…”
“I’ve gotta binge this thing…”
Well, those are people that don’t belong, in my opinion. They’re the excuse makers.
They don’t belong to what?
In the collaboration.
Right, int he collaboration. I don’t think that they would – those arent’ the people I think are seeking the opportunities… I would imagine that, at least, because – okay, if I’m a musician and you’re a musician, and I dig the kind of music you’re doing and I go to a marketplace where I wanna find people - I wanna put my hat into the bucket, so to speak - I’m gonna show up and I’m gonna wanna know what the reward is; I’m gonna say “Is this a free opportunity? Is this a social credit opportunity? Is this a get-paid opportunity? And if so, let me put my application, and let me put my hat in; let me raise my flag, whatever that digital artifact is inside of FindCollabs. I wanna tell whomever is running that collab that I wanna get involved. That doesn’t really exist now. Later on reputation will matter, but reputation is like wisdom. It will come through experience.
You need to have the marketplace, and the reputation system will play itself out based on just showing up, just doing. If they flake, like you say most people do, they’re gonna be clear that they’re flakes.
He’s already coded the reputation system, so it’s there…
It’s all there.
It could take different forms, and it could change over time, but that’s there. What needs to be there is that match-making.
Well, really it comes down to volume and to enough people coming in the door who are really willing and wanting to do this work. Right now we’ve got a few projects on there where the people are really cranking on the projects, and they’re believers. They believe in what this thing is built to do, and they’re willing to bear with the cold start. I will shower those people with my gratitude in all kinds of ways.
I think that will continue. I will continue being extremely grateful for the early adopters, and eventually it will build momentum, because I think that this is something that we really need to have just better norms around.
So we talked - maybe it was even before we hit Record, but we were talking about bootstrapping versus funding. Earlier on - I know we had hit Record - you talked about how you did a thing, which was basically burning money, and how SE Daily is finding FindCollabs in terms of development capital… And I’m curious if you’ve considered saying “Well, I’m in the Valley, I’m connected here, and I have a money problem…” Because you could go the Quora route, you could do the concierge, whatever you call it, like take your early adopters and blow it out for them, make it really worth it for them, if you had cash, like lots of it. Have you considered…
Money to burn.
…going out and trying to raise some money, or are you trying to keep this all in-house?
I mean, maybe… I wouldn’t mind having some more money, but speaking of norms, I don’t really like the norm of like you take money and then you’re subservient to the people that you take money from. If you take money from mortgage, you don’t have to send to the bank monthly updates about how your house is going. It’s just a really stupid set of norms, I think, that exist around a lot of the VC stuff. It’s mostly to stroke the egos of the venture capitalists, and I just think it’s hilarious and kind of preposterous… And I don’t need it, so why sign up for that?
And what does money get you? It lets you run faster. Does that even matter? This problem has existed since I was in college. It could have been solved back then. Nobody is doing it, so…
Well, you were talking about how Quora spent money on their early adopters in order to make it worthwhile for them. The hard part with a social network, which FindCollabs essentially is, is making value for the initial adopters. You could use money to do that. You could literally give them money, or something… You could be more creative.
So that’s the answer to what would it get you - that’s what it would get you.
I tried that already. I tried that already, and I might try it again.
At scale though, I think is kind of where Jerod’s at.
Blow it out.
Yeah, like blow it out.
If it worked a little bit, you can get a lot more.
The events you’d mentioned, the extra flair on-site, swag…
I’m not saying you have to take VC funding for that. I’m just saying have you thought about that process? Maybe that’s a route towards success.
Absolutely. I would much rather first try going on Changelog now, you know…?
Yeah. [laughter] [unintelligible 00:58:38.29]
The first business I’ve built - or I tried to build - after Software Engineering Daily was this business called Adforprize. Adforprize was basically another network effect business where I tried to solve the cold start problem with paid acquisition… And I burned all of my money. So paid acquisition is really, really – I mean, it’s fun in the sense that you see results, but you don’t really know how sustainable those results are if you subtracted the capitals. It’s just hilarious, and very dangerous…
And early on, my leaning was to do the same thing with FindCollabs, so I did these FindCollabs hackathons. I did a couple, and I threw some cash at the problem, and you just get skewed results. And that’s not– I’m not sure I’m looking for the person who is motivated purely by money… Because in college, if I had FindCollabs, I would have been all in on this thing. I would have leaned into this thing so hard. That’s what I did with Quora. I was like “I am so desperate to find people who think like Silicon Valley people, because I was at the University of Texas, in Austin, which is sort of like the home of lackadaisical creativity, and…
I mean, that’s kind of changing as the tech companies are sort of infusing it with a little more realism about what it takes to succeed in technology at the greatest heights… But I certainly did not find that in college, and I was craving it. And I found it on Quora.
So if the early FindCollabs community is these people who are just like “Look, we’re just gonna build stuff. That’s what motivates us, building stuff, and creativity.” Money is a means to an end for building stuff… So yeah, I don’t know. Money, eventually – absolutely, I would love to have FindCollabs paid hackathons, and things like that.
So you’re going the organic route for now. Admirable. It’s also the route that I would tend to go as well, for the same reasons that you’ve stated about VC requirements… Are you building FindCollabs on FindCollabs? I know it’s open source… Are you “dogfooding”? Or as our friends at GitLab like to call it, champagning, where they drink their own champagne?
Yeah. So I have a FindCollabs help collab. It’s a called FindCollabs Help and Support. So you can file bugs and stuff in there.
Hm. But an open source project though… You think you could use it to find some collabs for your project… Or who’s building it with you?
FindCollabs - there’s a developer that I work with, Sterling Salzberg. Shout-out to Sterling. Big ups to Sterling. He is an incredible developer and designer. Please do not try to hire him away from FindCollabs, but he is amazing.
So a lot of the design intuitions and the UI/UX stuff, and of course the engineering - it’s like a pretty well-built React app at this point - is Sterling’s magic.
On the subject of acquisition, though… Are either of you familiar with the way Airbnb growth-hacked early on?
The photos thing?
Properties, opportunities. They actually scraped Craigslist. They didn’t have an API. And that’s how they bootstrapped early on to have a marketplace - people with listings on Craigslist. Craigslist did not have an API, but Airbnb used that to their advantage. And the reason why I bring that up is because it seems like based on your passion for Fiverr, you have the inverse of Fiverr with FindCollabs, in the fact that Fiverr has a marketplace of talent, and collaborators go there to find talent… Rather than the opposite, which is a marketplace of collaborators who desire talent to say “Here’s a place you come to find things within your interests.”
And the rewards system is varied, whether it’s an open source contribution, free welcome to the community thing, or a paid opportunity… It seems that you have the inverse. Have you considered using Craigslist the way that Airbnb did, and use Fiverr as your opportunity pool? Reach out to – have opportunities and build a marketplace of collaborations, and allow Fiverr to just en mass come to FindCollabs, and just join up and collaborate, do their thing.
Yeah, there’s a lot of little things we could do to solve the cold start problem. There’s a lot of things that are operationally-intensive to do, and I’m trying to first attempt the ones that are less operationally intensive, because I have a team of basically two people… So I would love to do things like that; I would love to scrape Fiverr. I don’t wanna make an enemy out of Fiverr…
Well, even personally reaching out to some of them. Let’s say you’ve got open source opportunities - well, then tap the talent pool within Fiverr. I don’t even know if this is even legal. I don’t even know if I’m suggesting you to break the law. I don’t know, really…
We are not lawyers.
…what I’m trying to say is just have you considered how you can use other networks like this?
…well-aware people, to say “Hey, there’s opportunities here.” And sure, as you said before coming on this show, talking to a large software developer community like yours is an opportunity to share this idea with like-minded people. I’m just wondering if you considered that.
Changelog is that network. You guys are the open source media company, basically… Most of these projects are open source, so I’ll see how this goes. Part of my shtick is I just don’t like to spend all of my time on one thing, so I kind of have a set of projects that are in a Round Robin queue, and my processor just kind of round-robins through these different things and works on them, until I’m kind of wanting to go do something else. Then I go do something else. This is one of these Round Robin things.
So going on the Changelog, and people learning about FindCollabs and then going to do it - that’s like more of an async thing than figuring out some kind of scraping mechanism, or some kind of manual import mechanism for solving the chicken and egg problem.
Well, let’s key in quite tight there. You’re speaking directly to our audience right now… Tell them what you want. How can they play a part in your success? What do you offer them? What can they do? What do you need?
My guess is that a large proportion of the audience will find me extremely abrasive, and probably will not at all be interested in the kind of creativity that I’m offering them…
I doubt that.
You know, kind of high-commitment creativity that they are not getting paid for…
…on this guy’s platform.
This is an interesting pitch.
I love it.
I’m really selling it, right?
You really are. [laughter]
But if it resonates with you, come on FindCollabs. I’m on there every day. I just made a song with this guy T.D. Bryant. He’s working with us as a community manager - Timothy - and he’s also a rapper. I had a beat, I gave him a beat, and he rapped over it, and we found collabs.
If you’re looking for people who are ready to ship, and you’re ready to ship, and you’re sick of waiting, you’re sick of working on projects by yourself, you’re bored with the state of your work, you’re looking for the kind of creativity that the internet enables at a collaborative level, rather than an individual level… FindCollabs, you know? Come on FindCollabs.
FindCollabs. I love it.
You can make a new project, you can find existing projects… We’ve put a ton of engineering work into our search engine, that is just Algolia, basically, so it’s actually nothing… But you can search kind of effectively and find other projects… And yeah, we’ve got a video chat…
And it’s open source too, right?
No, it’s not.
It’s not open source. I thought it was open source.
No, no, no. It’s the hypocritical model.
The hypocritical model. [laughs] Well, either way. I like the idea, and - geez, dude. We love you, man. We think you’re awesome, and we’d love to find ways to support you. I sure hope the audience isn’t [unintelligible 01:07:27.11] like you had said they might be… I think they’ll love you just as well, and that’s awesome.
I hope so. Thank you for having me on.
Thanks for coming on, Jeff. We appreciate it.
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚