The Changelog – Episode #503

Building Reflect at sea

with Alex MacCaw

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This week we’re talking with Alex MacCaw — he’s well known for his work as founder and CEO of Clearbit. In May of 2021, Alex shared a personal update with the world on his blog. After much reflection, he decided to step down as CEO of Clearbit to go back to his roots. In his words, “I love the early stages of company building. Hacking together code, setting up the Stripe account, getting the first customer. That’s my jam.”

We talk with Alex about this portion of his journey at Clearbit, the Catamaran he bought in South Africa and then sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, and the new thing he’s building called Reflect that let’s you keep track of your notes, books, and meetings.

Featuring

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Notes & Links

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Chapters

1 00:01 Welcome
2 01:23 Sponsor: Fly.io
3 03:44 Hey Alex!
4 05:19 Living and working on a sail boat
5 10:49 Jerod lives nowhere near the water
6 13:30 This is like being stranded on Mars!
7 17:18 Hiring a captain was a wise move
8 19:37 Running on a lithium-ion battery at sea
9 30:02 Sponsor: FireHydrant
10 31:50 Collaborating at sea
11 33:33 The difference between Clearbit and Reflect
12 36:55 Did you consider ways to stay at Clearbit
13 37:54 What does it take to find and hire a CEO?
14 42:01 Building the team at Reflect
15 45:59 Who is Reflect for?
16 48:42 Alex's view of the notes world
17 54:38 Taking notes with Notion
18 1:00:09 Sponsor: Sourcegraph
19 1:03:06 Sponsor: Honeycomb
20 1:04:38 A refreshing place to be in life
21 1:06:35 Journaling and mental health
22 1:10:29 Kindle and searching your notes
23 1:14:08 Jerod likes Blinkist
24 1:15:35 Is Reflect open source?
25 1:17:42 Could Reflect be local first?
26 1:21:14 Getting back on the water
27 1:21:47 Let's not wait another 10 years
28 1:22:53 Outro

Transcript

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Changelog

Click here to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧

Alright, well we have Alex MacCaw here. Last time you were on the show, Alex - episode 71. this was like multiple lifetimes away. December 20th, 2011.

It’s been a while. My memory doesn’t even extend back that far.

Well, you were talking about Spine, CoffeeScript, writing books… So I guess writing is still a thing for you…

And you were working at Twitter at the time.

Yeah. CoffeeScript… Wow, that was a long time ago. [laughter]

Well, we could do a catch-up, but how do you catch up for a decade of time? There’s just way too many life events to even do that. So let’s start with where you are now. You’re not on a sailboat, it doesn’t look but you are on a sailboat, I guess, metaphorically, or I guess generally speaking, but not specifically right now. Tell us what you’re up to in life.

Well, I would be on a sailboat, except for one reason, and it’s hurricane season right now. So between July and November, the hurricanes roll through the Caribbean, and my insurance actually says that I can’t be around the Caribbean.

Okay…

And so right now I’m in New York, and I am working on a little lifestyle business, Reflect, after leaving my thinking business, Clearbit. And yeah, I’ve just – I love writing. I still love writing. My languages have changed from CoffeeScript to TypeScript, and I love that. And I love all these new technologies, like Mobx, Next.js… All these new things that popped up in the last 10 years.

For sure. Well, let’s hover in on the sailboat, because you’re not on it now, but gosh, what an interesting lifestyle you’ve chosen. So you actually, generally speaking, live and work from a sailboat. Is that accurate?

Yes. So to give you some history, in the middle of COVID I was “You know what - it’s time. I’ve always wanted to do this. I’ve always wanted to go sailing around the world.” So I basically bought a boat, and in January I picked it up in South Africa, where they’ve been building it. They’re well known for building catamarans out there. And in January, I sailed it across the Atlantic. It took me a whole month, 30 days at sea, from Cape Town, all the way up to Grenada. And then I spent the summer basically sailing between all the Caribbean islands, one by one, up and down, up to the British Virgin Islands, and down again to Grenada. And I’ve been walking from the boat. That’s been quite an interesting experience, trying to build a software company from a boat.

[06:26] Yeah. Did you sail before? Have you ever sailed that far?

I’ve never sailed that far, and I got a captain to help me sail across the Atlantic. Otherwise, we probably would not be talking…

Now it’s making more sense. I was like “Wow, he is bold!”

I know I was like “fill in some gaps for us” because that is crazy.

[laughs] Yeah… But I do grow up sailing. My family had the boat, and we were on the water all the summer holidays, and I absolutely love it. I think for some people, it’s just in their bones, and I’m definitely one of those people. And so I’ve always had it in me. When I was in San Francisco, I did a little sailing on the bay in San Francisco, I did some amazing sailing there… And then recently I got my own boat, and started sailing for real.

I wanted to get a boat that actually could sail. Not a sort of slow – not a motorboat, not a slow boat, but one where we were primarily powered by the wind. And so when we crossed the Atlantic, we had two days of no wind, but the rest of the time we had 15 to 20 knots. We averaged nine knots the whole way, which is pretty good. All powered by the wind; we only used the engine two days.

To give people a visual of this catamaran… Is it roughly 44 feet? I’m just looking at them on the internet… And I’ve been on a catamaran before, so they’re like yachts, kind of; they have a deck…

Yeah, give us some dimensions and understanding…

Yeah, so it’s about 52 feet, and it’s fiberglass; she’s white.

What’s her name?

She’s beautiful. She’s called Stargazer.

Stargazer. I love that.

Actually, your audience might appreciate this… I’m a huge Trekkie, and Captain Picard’s ship for the enterprise was called the Stargazer.

And I always thought that if Picard was alive in this day and age, where there wasn’t a space travel, then he would be sailing. Because you are really in a spaceship, basically, and you have your life support machine around you. We literally had a watermaker that our lives depended on.

Yeah…

And at one point, halfway through the trip, it broke down, and we had to fix it, and no one else could save you, because you’re days away from anyone.

Oh, my goodness…

Days away from the nearest human. So you’ve got to fix it yourself. And I liked that – that’s one of the reasons I also wanted to get a boat, was because I’d been working in the world of bits and bytes, and I wasn’t very practical. I think if my UberEATS delivery was late, I would starve… [laughter] So I wanted to change that about myself and learn the world of atoms, and learn how systems work and machines work… And also kind of take responsibility of my own life. And that - you really get that when you’re sailing.

Yeah. Especially for the water. If you don’t take the water with you - what, do you turn ocean water into drinkable water?

That’s what we do. That’s what the desalinator does. It basically forces saltwater through a membrane, a very fine membrane, with a giant piston, and then comes out clean water.

[10:08] Does it taste good, or has it got a different taste?

In the middle of the ocean it tastes great… Because that water is so, so pure. On one of the days where we didn’t have any wind, we actually went swimming, right in the middle of the Atlantic.

And you can just imagine, just looking down…

Wow…

…and you just see miles of sea. It’s insane. It’s pure, it’s really good quality of water it out in the middle of the Atlantic. Now, if you’re in the middle of an estuary or something and the water’s a bit muddy, then the water quality will suffer. It removes salt, but it doesn’t remove everything else.

Well, I’ll tell you what, Alex - I am from Nebraska, and we are one of the few states that are actually landlocked on all sides. Like, we are touched by estates. We are not touched by any water. Of course, we have lakes, but that’s about it. And the life you’re describing couldn’t be further from my bones. I mean, they’re in your bones, but I have never imagined a lifestyle like that. To me, it sounds… It sounds stressful. I can see the beauty, but I also feel like – have you ever been caught in like a nasty storm, and you’re in the middle of the Atlantic, and you’re like “I’m gonna die tonight”, or has it been stressful at all?

Well, the Atlantic crossing is pretty straightforward, honestly, because you have these trade winds. Across all the oceans, you have these big clockwise trade winds. And at the time of the year that we did it, these trade winds were pretty perfect, and behind us the whole time, so we’d just put the spinnaker up and go. So we never really had big storms. We actually have incredible weather forecasts. We have satellites. Well, we have satellite internet, but it’s not internet like you might think. It’s basically not even dial-up speed. It takes about an hour to download the new weather forecast.

Oh, wow.

if it works at all. But we have that weather forecast, which is incredible. So we will know for the next week what the wind is going to be almost exactly in each spot.

So when you say incredible, it’s incredibly accurate.

Yeah, I think it’s crazy that in the middle of the Atlantic they can know what the wind is going to be. So that’s obviously a huge benefit these days. Obviously, even just having GPS… For the longest time, they couldn’t tell longitude, and they didn’t have clocks that worked at sea, so they couldn’t figure out longitude… [laughs] So they used to like sail along at the same latitude until they hit something.

Talk about stressful… Yeah.

Yeah. So it’s got a lot better. You can imagine back in the day when you didn’t have a watermaker, so you brought all of your own water with you… And your water reserves are going down and down and down… Maybe you’re in the middle of the doldrums, which before they understood the weather patterns in the Atlantic, but the doldrums are basically in the center of this giant clockwise circle of winds… And there’s no wind in the doldrums. So you can imagine you’re in there, and you’re there for weeks, and your water supplies…

Yeah, very stressful. This reminds me of so much like being stranded on like a – like on Mars, basically. I think of like The Martian when I think about like this journey across the Atlantic. This is almost as close as you can get to being on a foreign planet.

Yeah, it pretty much is.

Because you’re all by yourself, your resources are basically none… You’ve got finite resources, that are potentially tapping out if you don’t have this water reclamation or whatever the process is for it.

[13:56] Yes, that’s right. The other thing we have to think about is power usage as well. And recently, that has got so much better since the advent of lithium batteries. Those changed everything. Back in the day, you would have to start up your engine to boil up your kettle. And now you can boil the kettle off a lithium battery. So we have four or five of these big lithium batteries, and then we have about 3,200 watts of solar on the coach deck. And that is enough for most of our needs. Certainly cooking and fridges and things, pretty much…

The music…

The music, yeah. The deep house…

How are you gonna get in the flow without music…?

[laughs] We had a lot of music on that trip.

I bet you did, yeah.

Yeah, we did… And there was five of us on that trip, and then we would have two-hour shifts. So you can imagine there’s no stopping once you get started. There’s no nowhere you can anchor in the middle of the ocean. So you basically go, go, go, and you have these two-hour shifts. And I would say – getting back to your question, was I ever worried about anything? I’d say the only worrying moments are on those nights when there was no starlight, and there was no moon… And so you were just barreling into the blackness.

That’s a little freaky. And you hope you’re not gonna hit anything, you kind of cross your fingers… And you have a watch who’s looking at the radar, and something called the AIS to look out for other ships… But I don’t know, you might hit a shipping container, you might hit a whale… I don’t know. Maybe the maps are inaccurate and you hit a rock… So I would say –

There could be an iceberg out there.

Yeah, there could be an iceberg. [laughter] Who knows…?

You wouldn’t really get that because it’s so cold, but there could be an iceberg. You said you averaged nine knots. Was that correct?

Okay. So I did a google on that… So nine knots converted to miles per hour - I don’t know if that’s actually accurate to do, because I know knots are way different than… But it’s still speed. But Google says it’s 10.3 miles per hour as an average.

Yes. So I like to joke that sailors use knots so that no one else knows actually how slow they’re really going… [laughter] But yeah, I sailed across at 10 miles an hour.

Well, now it’s not so scary. I get it.

Well he said “barreling”, so I had to –

He did say barreling. Well, into the darkness it feels like you’re barreling.

When your boat weighs 13 tons… [laughs]

That’s true. Yes, you are barreling.

You can’t exactly slow it down…

10 miles an hour is quite fast, yeah.

Yeah…

And water speed does feel faster. I’ve been on jet skis and things like that. When you’re on the water, 60 miles an hour on a jet ski is like - you’re really, really moving.

Oh yeah, you’re rippin’.

It’s insanely fast. Water motion feels so much faster than land motion.

Well, yeah. And also, there’s no brakes.

That’s true.

On the jet ski, probably…

Well, there is the brakes, it’s called the water, and you hit it and it hurts.

[laughs]

So you were wise, you bought a boat… It was in South Africa, you went and picked it up, but you hired a captain.

That was a wise move, right? Because you probably didn’t know how to sail that far by yourself.

Oh, good Lord, no. I don’t know if I would have made it.

Could you do it on your own now, now that you’ve done it and now that you’ve sailed more?

I still wouldn’t do it by myself.

Having a captain is like the wisest – it’s like having a pilot. If you’re on a plane, you can probably fly it, but if you have a pilot who knows what they’re doing, knows the ship, knows the aircraft, knows the engine knows all the checklists… It’s like Sully all over again, right? I just watched that movie again recently, Jerod. I watched Sully recently for… But we were talking to Nora about Sully, and checklists, and how it goes back to incident management and resolution, and what you learn from incidents, essentially… And Sully came up in that conversation. But yeah, having a captain is like – you need it.

[18:12] So a captain is key, because you can imagine that everything’s under strain the whole time, and the boat’s moving, and stuff is chafing And the captain is – once the boat is set on a course, maybe you would change the sails every hour or so… But that’s pretty much set. But then it’s a question of listening, and being observant, and basically looking for these tear signs.

Observability. Even on a boat. Wow.

Yes, exactly.

This is your SRE or your network administrator…

But can imagine… you might interview someone for your team at your company, right? And the stakes are maybe you make a bad hire, and you are slow to ship your product. Well, in this case, I was interviewing all these captains, and there’s a lot at stake. This is potentially quite life-threatening. So yeah, I was extremely lucky to get a South African guy called Pete to help us across, and then I had a few other people - my brother, a close friend who is really good at sailing, and this other guy who started MakerBot, and he was like our Scotty on the trip. So he was our mechanical engineer. He was just fixing little things.

Nice. Take us to the lithium batteries, man… You were talking about solar before the call, and I’m like enamored by solar. I have an RV, so this the closest I get to a boat, is I have a bumper pull travel trailer RV. We call it an RV, and I specify travel trailer, because you think motorhome when you think RV. At least you do because you watched the Robin Williams movie, or something like that, called RV. But I’ve got solar, I’ve got a battery, I can decouple from the grid… Talk about, what it takes to do that at sea.

Yeah. So the big difference - we went from lead acid batteries to lithium. And the biggest difference is that lithium can take a lot of power into it, and discharge a lot of power out. It’s just unbelievably good compared to lead acid. On my boat we have 12 volts for the batteries, and then you can put them in parallel to 24 volts. And then we have some basically converters that step up the voltages. So we have 125, and 240 as well.

So you get to learn a lot about electricity with a boat, because there’s maybe 100 different machines, and they all have different requirements, and they’re quite fussy about it… For example, the whole kitchen was 240, so I had to take all the appliances and everything over to South Africa in my bags… But it’s – yeah, lithium has really changed the game, honestly… I don’t know where we’d be without it. You can now really live on a boat. This is a thing that’s really changed. You can actually properly live on a boat.

I guess you have to fish for your food, right?

So we fished the food, and we had lots of sashimi… That’s really lovely.

Oh, yeah. The ultimate sashimi.

Especially as you get into the warmer parts, the warmer climates, you get some – we caught a six-foot-long sailfish. That was a beast.

Yeah. And then once we got to the Caribbean, then I started living on it for real, you know? Living and working on it. And that was quite interesting, because, a lot of the day is dedicated to the boat. So you have to balance that and your other work. And the boat always comes first. So if your anchor is not set correctly and you’re floating away, you need to fix that before you know comment on that pull request.

[22:20] That’s right. [laughs]

Right.

You’ve got to constantly be observing. And the other thing, once I got to the Caribbean, I have to contend with this data. So for 30 days across the ocean I didn’t worry about data, because it wasn’t on, and I actually just read a lot of books; it was quite nice. But when I got to the Caribbean, I had to worry about data. And there’s actually really good coverage throughout the whole of the Caribbean, 4G and 5G data coverage. It’s just expensive.

It’s metered, like you can’t get an unlimited plan, and…?

Yeah, well, I used Google Fi, but every now and again they’d shut me off because they’re like “Oh, you’re not in the U.S. You’re breaking our terms.”

Right… Do they GPS-locate you, or just based on what you’re connecting they know where you are?

Yeah, what cell towers you’re connecting to… And then I have actually a device that turns my mast into a giant aerial, and that’s quite useful for data as well.

Oh, that’s cool.

But when I get back to the boat, the [unintelligible 00:23:29.28] gonna be using Elon Musk’s new satellite internet.

Okay, so there’s regular Starlink, and then this is like Starlink for boats.

Yeah, so there’s Starlink for boats, Starlink for RVs, which - Adam, I don’t know if you have yet…

Oh, yeah? How’s it going?

I’m not happy with it.

Oh…! Don’t kill Alex’s dream here. He’s waiting for this.

Yeah, my experience with Starlink for RVs was very volatile in terms of its speed. It was either way fast, or way, way slow. And even in like an open field, I had trouble getting really fast coverage consistently… So much so that I’m like “Wow, this hotspot I have is way consistent, cheaper, and a much smaller form factor.” Whereas the Starlink required me to put a hole through the RV, all this different stuff to essentially damage to a membrane, which is a seal to keep the RV climatized and whatnot. Same thing with a boat - very similar properties really, when it comes to like an RV or a boat; very similar in terms of your seal and all the different things you want to have to keep your climate good.

So my experience – I hope you have a better experience, but my experience with it was like “Hm… Yeah…” It’s expensive, and it’s spotty. But I admire the innovation and the direction. I think it’s gonna go there, it’s just not there yet for me. So that’s my opinion on Starlink so far.

Yeah. That’s fair enough. And it still is not going to work in the middle of an ocean yet…

Right.

…I think, until they get that laser antenna grid going.

When you say expensive, Adam… Give us some ranges. Because I know residential is like 500 bucks, and then whatever; 100 bucks a month, or something.

I think there’s a premium plan for residential that’s 500 bucks a month, but it’s 130 bucks a month for the service, and you have to buy the gear.

And the gear for the RV is…

Well the gear for it - I guess in any case it’s the same cost. The gear you would use for the RV is the same for the home. It’s the satellite, it’s the Wi-Fi… I don’t know what you’d call it. I guess a modem of sorts. And then the ability to plug it in. We’re talking like 800 bucks for gear, 130 bucks a month for the service…

Okay. It’s the same gear though? I thought there’d be like RV-specific gear, or something.

What about for the boat, Alex? Because what I’ve seen is like Starlink for yachts, and I think maybe they just know yacht people have money, so they’re gonna charge more… But is it the same stuff?

[25:59] Yeah… I’m not sure they know what they’re doing.

[laughs]

I mean, suddenly, just going off the images in their marketing, which maybe were just not the real images… But it looks like the household –

The exact same stuff.

Starlink. The exact same thing. And if that is the case, that’s not gonna work. you’re talking about the most corrosive environment in the world.

Right. I mean, it has to be hardened, or something.

I mean, essentially, you have a satellite, a cable coming from the satellite, that plugs in… It’s basically a USB-C plug from the satellite. Actually, it’s built into the satellite itself. And then the other end is a USB-C that goes into the modem, or whatever you would call the actual Starlink device. I think even their industrial design on the modem could have been better. It could have been a different shape. It’s like this – I don’t know, like a trophy. it’s big… I don’t know if it’s on purpose big, but it’s not even a nice shape. You can’t rack-mount it. You can’t tuck it away. It’s kind of – I would even say you can’t even like adhere it to the wall via screws, or something like that. It’s kind of like “Really? Does it need to be that shape?” I mean, I love the idea of it looking cool and stuff, and it’s got celestial-looking design on the front of it, but I’m like, “Can’t you just give it to me where I can hide it? I just want to tuck it away. I don’t want to see the thing ever.”

Well, on a sailboat I don’t think hiding it matters all that much. But I think on an RV, if you’re driving down the road…

Well, you’ve got a gear rack, right? You’ve got places you want to put it. This thing is worse than a cable box. It doesn’t sit flat, it stands up… Like a trophy. It’s like vertical.

Maybe they think you should have a trophy. you’ve earned it…

It’s a strange thing… I don’t know.

You win. You win one Starlink trophy.

Do you have like a local area network, Alex, on your catamaran? Do you have Ethernet and Wi-Fi?

I do, actually…

I figured.

Yeah, yeah.

Unify? What’s your system?

Yeah, we have a little router, and it’s actually kind of a crazy system, because the thing that hands out IP addresses is right at the top of the mast. So if you want an IP address, it’s coming from the top of the mast, which is kind of bizarre. But yeah, we have the whole – the whole boat is bathed in Wi-Fi, and then that system connects to the phone networks via a little SIM card.

So do you have to climb up there and reboot it?

I haven’t yet, but it’s gonna happen… At least I got the extender, so I didn’t have to climb out there to put the SIM card in it, which…

Right. I was wondering if you set up a sort of like smart swapping or anything, you know… So I had a similar – I had internet problems when I first moved out here in the country, and so I had… it’s not the same, but it’s like I’ve got a hotspot, and then I’ve got this other thing, and it works sometimes, and I can hook to my phone as well if I need to… And I had this, kind of a Rube Goldberg setup in order to just do my work. So I can at least commiserate a little bit on that end. But I never got it set up to where it would smart-switch between networks, or anything. Is it all manual, like “Oh, this cell network’s gone. We’re gonna switch to this other SIM card. Go plug it in”? Or did you ever get any sort of setup where it could detect connectivity and switch things?

I’m constantly turning it off and on, and smacking it, and cursing… [laughter] Yeah, but that’s just boat life, you know… At any one point in time something is broken.

So we have the practical stuff, like batteries, electricity and connectivity… But there’s probably other things when you’re talking about – you know, the people that you’re collaborating with on software, they’re not living on a sailboat. So you’re connecting, having these sailboat issues… I’m just wondering, is it any different than any other kind of remote work, where you have special concerns or things that you have to get over because you’re on a sailboat, in order to collaborate with people who may be in New York City, maybe they’re in San Francisco, maybe they’re in London?

Yeah. Well, I’m very fortunate in the way that my company is designed is that it’s totally asynchronous, and I don’t think the way I do it, certainly, it would be possible if it wasn’t asynchronous. You never know when you might be traveling between anchorages, or cell/reception might drop out, or what have you… So having any kind of Zoom calls or anything just doesn’t work.

So with Reflect, my new company, we have an engineer in Slovakia and an engineer in China. So our timezones are bananas so the company has to be asynchronous.

Right. No pair programming.

Yeah, no programming… And we actually use Whatsapp to communicate, because it’s just unscalable. And I specifically wanted and unscalable chat, so we couldn’t scale the company and hire more people… Because I just love this small team. And then we use a bunch of other tools, which I can go into… But yeah, we keep the company totally asynchronous, and I think that’s what you need to do to make it work on a boat.

So you want to keep a small team. Previously, Clearbit was your business… Tell us the difference between Clearbit and Reflect in terms of - you know, it seems like you had a change of mind about things, or at least the way you want to live your life.

[33:46] Yeah. So you’re really kind of at the mercy of your business model when you when you start a company, and I think you realize this probably as a second-time founder. As a first-time founder, you kind of stumble into some kind of businesses working, and then scale from there, and you have to deal with it regardless of what you’d rather.

But Clearbit, my last company - that company required a b2b sale. So the company – we sold business data, and licenses started at $12,000. So as soon as that happens, that means you have to have a sales team, and then you have to have all the support for the sales team, and then you have to have a marketing team… And basically, the more revenue that the business makes, the bigger the team you need to have. It’s just the classic b2b business.

So by the time I left Clearbit, we’d scaled it to about 100 people… And don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved working with these people. But when I looked at myself in the mirror, and thought about what the company needed for the next few years, and saw what was staring back, I realized that guy was not the CEO of a 100, 200-person company. It was just not for me. And I just love engineering, I love coding every day, I love setting up the CSS, design the UIs… I even like doing things like setting up the tooling, and the Atlas account, and figuring out all the tax structure and things… I’m like a one-man band, and I just love doing everything myself.

One of the sad things about if you’re a founder/CEO and you scale the business - very quickly your job just turns into management. The vast majority of your day turns into management. And I really gave it a good shot at becoming a good manager. I got a coach, I even ended up writing a book on management with my coach, but ultimately, I decided it was time to get back to my roots, my zone of genius, which is small companies, and going from zero to one.

So we actually found another CEO to run the business, and I wish we did it when we were like 20 people, honestly, because that chap has done way better than I was doing at this stage. And the company’s happier, and I’m happier… And quite frankly, it was the best decision. The only reason that we didn’t do it earlier is because of my own ego. It’s hard…

Yeah, hindsight helps out. It’s hard to make those decisions when you’re in the fog of war. Did you consider maybe bringing in a CEO, but staying on as an engineer? Or are you done with the business model in general, and just kind of ready to move on?

Well, I wouldn’t wish that on any CEO…

[laughs] Having a founder as a subordinate…

It’s already hard enough to run a company without me engineering at it.

[laughs]

I’m the kind of guy that’s like 100% in, or not. Having said that, I am on the board and I’m still quite involved in the kind of long-term prospects of the company, and the vision-setting, and what have you… But the day-to-day operations - I’m completely removed. And I’ve set that expectation at Reflect - if Reflect grows to more than 20 people, I will replace myself, and we will have a new CEO.

[37:53] What’s it like, I guess, hiring a CEO? What’s involved in that process? There’s maybe somebody listening to show that like “For now, and in the moment, I’m a future one-man band”, a future Alex, for example. And at some point, they may grow a company and have to hire a CEO. What is involved in that? Do you have to hire a headhunter? Do you have to interview a bunch of people? Are you personally involved? How do you remove your ego? There’s a lot of questions, but it seems so challenging to be in your shoes and your position, and hire CEO.

Yes, it’s incredibly difficult. The ideal situation is if you’ve got someone internally who you think could be a CEO, and everyone else thinks could be CEO as well. So it’s not a nepotistic move, turning them into – promoting them into a CEO, as long as they’ve [unintelligible 00:38:45.10] and everyone else around them views them as a CEO, then that can work out really well. And they already have the context of the business, and that’s a very smooth transition. So that should be your first plan.

And then there’s other ways of doing it. So you can go and buy companies and make the founders running those companies the CEO of your company… You can get bought… And then if those are not on the table, then yes, you should go and look for a CEO, and use a search firm. And if any of your listeners are going through this, then they can reach out to me and I’ll introduce them to the search firm that I used, and I’m very happy with.

Okay. So you did a search then.

We did a search, and I think it took about six months, but we found someone incredible. They’d never been CEO before, but he had run a massive business. He basically ran Survey Monkey. So he was absolutely qualified. But it doesn’t matter how many qualifications someone has, how many times you interview them… At the end of the day, it is a bit of a leap of faith.

Yeah, it is.

And we just got so lucky with Ross. He’s worked out incredibly.

Well, congratulations on being able to make that move, because that is a challenging process. I can only imagine having to hire… Because I think about buying a house, and all the stressful things you ever do - buy a car, buy a house… Even when you buy a house or sell a house, or something like that, there’s a lot of stress in that… Like, “Is this gonna be the house I want?” All these different things. But when you hire a CEO, it’s very much a leap of faith. Like you had said, how do you even get assurances from that person? You have to totally put a lot of faith and trust in that process, and all the work it took to interview them, and to define the criteria, and whatnot. How did you even define the criteria? Did somebody help you with that, this firm searching? Or did you and the team define the criteria to say, “Okay, this person should have these attributes, and these moral values, or these business values” or whatever?

Well, you definitely try and reduce the risk as much as possible… And the way you do that is with systems. Because systems basically get around human biases. We’re all biased, and we are all susceptible to making poor decisions based off those biases.

So you put together these systems, and… Actually, one of the parts of the book that I wrote on management, called “The manager’s handbook”, that I’m most proud of - and it’s free online, if you want to search for it - is the section on hiring. And it will take you through how to create a hiring system. One of those things is putting together a scorecard, and all the attributes that you’re looking for, and then you can score all the candidates that go through the system, as objectively as possible at least, against these attributes.

[42:00] Nice. So you’ve moved on from Clearbit, you’ve decided to start Reflect, you’re going to be a one-man band, but not really, because you’re gonna have a band behind you… You have employees, or you have – I don’t know if they’re co-founders, or whatever you have; you’re gonna describe the team. How did you find this group of musicians? Did you just pull out the managers handbook and read what you had written? Or are these friends of yours? Just curious, when you’re starting fresh, all the way over, what do you do?

Well, you’re right, I have an amazing supporting team. It’s tiny, there’s just three of us, but they are just incredible engineers that I work with. And we just code day in, day out on the product, and we do all the support as well. So how did I find these engineers? Well, I’ve found one of them through Twitter, just by tweeting, and he reached out to me. One of the nice things about being in the note-taking space is that there are a lot of engineers who are really interested in it, and they have little hobby projects on the side where they make notes apps… So when you go out and hire engineers, often it’s quite interesting problems; you’re dealing with end-to-end encryption, and real-time sync, and dealing with sync conflicts. Some people really enjoy that stuff.

Obviously, the downside of that is that you get a lot of competitors, started by similar engineers. But there are upsides So that’s one engineer. And then the other engineer I’ve found through an open source project that we heavily relied on. So if you think about a notes app, which Reflect is - I’m not sure if we’ve elaborated on that, but yes, it’s a little note-taking application… The biggest part of it is the rich text editor. So making sure that you pick the right library is incredibly important. And we had a few full starts, but eventually we picked a project called Remirror, and I noticed there was an incredible committer to Remirror, who was just pushing really, really good code. And so I reached out to him and hired him.

So those are two ways that I hire people. I often will just keep tabs on open source projects that I really admire, and see who’s pushing really good stuff to them. And then I also just keep a list of people that I want to work with. I’ve been creating this lifts for years; it has engineers on there, and designers. And whenever I have a project, I will reach out to people on that list. And I honestly have near 100% success rate of working with those people. I’m very, very fortunate.

How do you do that? How do you get 100% success rate? How do you approach somebody and say – are you telling them you’ve got a sailboat? “Come on. I’ve got a sailboat.” [laughter]

I just take them sailing… Yeah you– here’s the implication Well… Yeah, I would say part of it is the project, part of it is the sell… It’s unique each time; you’ve got to figure out what someone wants, and if what you’re offering fits in with their life plans, essentially…

But I think I think software engineers like working with other good engineers. So if you’ve got a good team, and also if you’re a good engineer as well, I think that helps. It’s unusual, I think, for a highly technical SEO to be reaching out personally, and working with people in the trenches together. So I think all that helps. But also, maybe it’s just luck of the draw… I don’t know. It could be. All I know is I got incredibly fortunate to work with some amazing people, and I owe almost all my success to those people.

[45:58] Who is Reflect for? I know that you say on the site thinkers… And I think – and I take a lot of lists, so I’m a big Things user… And I said before the call, I know of Reflect; I haven’t used it yet, but I’ve been paying attention to your journey. I remember when it was just a landing page. It was early, early ideas, and I was surprised to go back recently and see end-to-end encryption. That was super-cool. And it’s always been fast. But I remember the early days, like “I don’t even know where this thing is gonna go.” I just had this idea, I wanted a place to put my notes, and nothing really fits… I’m paraphrasing months and months of me paying attention to your moves.. But who is this app for? Who should use it? If I’m a Things user, which is basically just tasks… And tasks to me are kind of like notes, but not writing. What should I do? What direction should I go? And in some cases, I can take notes within it. But if you’re a Things user who’s getting things done like that, or a thinker, in this case, who is this app for?

It’s for me, honestly. I’m trying to basically make the perfect Notes app for me. It’s just my passion project. And I’m hoping there are enough people out there that are similar to me, that people will pay for it. And we’ve got just over 1,000 customers now, so it seems to be working… But to answer your question in a slightly more expanded way, I think the type of people who like Reflect are generally the ones who are moving off Apple Notes.

So if you are a note-taker and you love writing Markdown, and you like customizing your tools, and writing little shell scripts and things, then I’d point you towards Obsidian, because I think that’s the best for that crowd. If you are a bit more of a visual person, and you like just writing in a beautiful interface, and not writing Markdown, and you want everything handled for you, and you want integrations into Kindle, and all the other places that you use, that you write notes, that you use to collect your thoughts, then Reflect is quite a good option. But the thing is, these notes apps are very, very personal things. People really care about them. And the people that use them, use them religiously. It’s a part of them. And that is why I say to people, try it. There are lots of notes apps out there, and you will find one that works for your brain. And maybe it’s Reflect, maybe it isn’t. But just give it a shot.

So what’s interesting about your particular view of the notes landscape - it’s for you. So what is Alex like? What’s your taste? You said it works with your Kindle… That’s not something that I would have ever thought of, but you apparently like to read your notes on your Kindle. That’s one example of the kind of stuff that I’m looking for. What makes Reflect unique, and what’s your view of the world of notes?

Yeah. So in regards to the Kindle sync, actually, it’s taking your highlights from your Kindle books, and pulling them into your notes.

Oh, it’s pulling them in. Okay. I thought you were saying you could read your notes on your Kindle. I gotcha.

Die-hard Kindle user at that point…

That’s how you fake-write a book, you know? Write some notes, get it on the Kindle

That’s right… [laughs]

“Look what I did, mom! I wrote a book. It’s right here on my Kindle!” [laughs]

That’s right… No, I find it’s really nice highlighting inside the Kindle; that how it’s been added to your brain index, basically.

Gotcha. Yeah, that’s a cool feature.

Whenever you search, you’ll see those notes. But I really care about design. I really, really care about design, I care about speed, and I care about simplicity. We actually have published our product values, and we run every single thing that we build by the values first. One of our most important values is speed. And if we’re gonna build a feature and it’s not gonna be fast, we won’t build that feature. I also just want to strip out features, because there’s no code faster than no code. I love having these guiding principles.

[50:16] And then security is something I really care about. When I was setting out to build a notes app, I was thinking to myself, “What are the worst-case scenarios?” And I was like “Man, what if one day this thing gets hacked, and all your friends’ notes published all across the internet?” That would probably be the worst-case scenario. And I don’t know if you’d have any friends left. So… I don’t know, this is how I think. It might be a little crazy, but… So from day one, we put end-to-end encryption in the app, so none of the data sees our servers; at least not in any plain text form. And I can tell you, it makes it about ten times as complicated, because you have to start running data migrations on the client. And that is so difficult to get right. But I still would do it, I still would do it. I think it’s so important, and there’s very few notes apps out there that actually have that kind of security.

Yeah. There was one - I think it’s called Slight, if I recall correctly, that has end-to-end encryption. It’s either Slight or something else that’s similar. It’s like network docs for teams… But at some point with note-taking, you’re either with the individual, or you get to a point where it’s like – even with Things, for example, for me, I kind of like want to have a team in there to some degree, but then I’m like “No, keep it simple.” At some point with notes you have to push back on the complexity, because you want to now have a team of notes.

Yeah…

With Craft, for example - it’s a beautiful iOS-focused note-taking, docs, very Notion-like, similar… But it got complex, and it’s just too much for me, so I had to bail on Craft even. And I feel like anywhere I go with my notes, it somehow goes down a path… And maybe Reflect is for me, because they always go down this path of complexity, jumbled-up interface, different things like that… And I want end-to-end encryption. I would like to have, speed, obviously; this kind of primary to that. But more than that, a really good user experience in the actual app. But I feel like when you’re in this note-taking space, you almost have to go down – not have to, but maybe because they’re a first-time founder or something like that, by way of success you’re forced down a road that you may not actually want to go down. So maybe the fact that this is for you helps you be so simple, because you have such a simple focus for you as an individual, versus as –

Yeah…

…it’s not you plus Alex’s team, it’s just for Alex. In your brain.

Yeah. Well, actually, you caught on to a very important point there, which is the incentive system. So the problem with a lot of these consumer apps is that they raise venture funding, and then the incentives change. And the incentives are basically to grow, grow, grow, whatever the costs.

And the way that you grow, grow, grow is you add team features. And if you look at Notion’s history, they have gone from the single player application to the multiplayer application. And there’s a much larger business, it’s a lot more successful… But the single player always suffers in that scenario. And they just – I see it happen time, and time, and time again. And the thing about Reflect is we do not have traditional venture funding, and we don’t intend to raise traditional venture. I think maybe a crowdfunding round could be in our future, but I want to pay dividends; I don’t want to grow, grow, grow. I don’t want to do round after round after round, because that’s what I did at my previous company. I’ve done that, and I don’t need to do that again. And when you change the incentives like that, it actually changes everything, right down to the way the product works.

[54:12] Yeah, because it can stay more in line with the user that you intended, versus the original user that kind of gets left behind, in some cases. I mean, some products can get it right, and go team, and still – like, I use Notion as an individual, and maybe because I use it in our business too, as a team, I understand its shortcomings and drawbacks, so to speak. I still thrive instead of Notion, personally. It’s not for everybody personally, it’s certainly not a great note-taking app, because it can do it, but it’s not – it’s just good enough, basically.

It’s too heavy for that.

Yeah, it’s a little heavy for that.

It’s good for a knowledge base where like after your thoughts are formed, and you want to share them, you can put them into Notion. But for me thinking, it’s too much.

Yeah, that’s right. I think of it as a wiki, rather than a note-taking tool.

And one of the biggest differences is hierarchy. In Notion, everything has a hierarchy. In Reflect everything is flat. And things link to each other, and notes are associated with each other… And that’s kind of how the brain works, you have these associated thoughts. But it doesn’t have a hierarchy, which is quite important. It comes back to speed. Speed doesn’t just mean the speed of the app, the user interface of the app; it also means friction, like overhead, mental overhead of entering data. And if you have to think about where something goes whenever you enter something, that’s a little bit of friction, that takes a toll, and it gets in the way of flow. I really care about it being an amazing writing tool. So that’s one of the differences.

But Notion is great. And like I said, we all think differently. If Notion works for you, that’s amazing. Use Notion. We [unintelligible 00:56:00.28] different.

You’re saying a lot of things that remind me of Jesse Grosjean, Adam, who we had on the show, from Hog Bay Software. Alex, he does what he calls “tools for thought.” And he has a MacOS native app called Bike, which is an outliner. But a lot of the exact same principles, I guess, or ideals, he shares with you. And goals. Now, he’s never done the big startup, raise money company… He’s been doing the same thing the entire 20 years of his career, like solo, indie…

You should acquire him and hire him. [laughs]

Clearly smarter… [laughs]

Very talented guy. And he pushes back… He actually talks about the perfect 1.0 product, and how what happens with him over time is he begins to dislike his product as he adds things to it, because actually it was perfect when it was 1.0, which is an interesting view… Sometimes adding stuff actually just ruins what you created. That’d be at least an interesting conversation for you to go back to listen to. Actually, you should hook up with Jesse and talk to him; I think you’d have a lot in common.

But we talked to him about this as well, this incentive for him… I really like Bike, I use it as an outliner… It actually is kind of the way I think, because I kind of think in outlines, just inside of a text file… But then I’m also like “Well, I want to share this outline with Adam.” And he’s “Yeah, but think about all the things that I have to do to get that done.” That’s a lot. And that made me think of my notes app, which - I’m just an Apple Notes guy; I’m fine with it. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it, but it’s there. So that’s friction for me, is like installing something and using something. I’m just okay with Apple Notes. But then you go to try to share an Apple note, and you add a collaborator, and the thing just slows down, as does who has access. And now this person’s editing it, and it’s like trying to do a non-web-based sync colab thing, that even Apple’s best engineers - I’m not sure if their best engineers are working on Notes…

It should be.

[57:59] …but great Apple engineers can’t seem to get right. But you have an advantage. You have a web-based tool, right? So you’re already doing web. Have you considered – I mean, I know you don’t want to go teams, because that’s like not incentivized for you. But have you thought about sharing? Because sharing is a pretty big deal.

So we do publishing notes. So if you want to publish your notes, you can do that. And as soon as you click Publish, we decrypt the note and stick it on our servers, and then anyone with a secret URL can get to it. But yeah, I just don’t wanna add that stuff… Hey, if you want to collaborate on a note, use Google Docs; it’s great for that.

But it’s so painful…

Yeah, it is painful. [laughter]

So different tools for different jobs maybe…

Yeah, I think so. And I can understand why Apple is struggling. CRDTs, which is a technical term - it basically means the data structure that you use for conflict resolution… This is extremely, extremely difficult. I was chatting to the author of YGS; it’s a famous library in the CRDT world… And he was telling me that in order to get perfect merging of merge conflicts, you actually need an AGI.

Oh, really?

Yeah. That’s why–

And we don’t have one of those yet.

But that’s why Git uses – Git uses the AGI to do merge conflicts.

Oh, I thought you mean Artificial General Intelligence.

Yeah. It uses the –

[laughs] Oh, it uses us. I gotcha.

I didn’t follow you there. I didn’t have my AGI there Gotcha. Yeah, we have to do our own merge conflicts, because there is AGI. I’m with you.

Exactly. Yeah. But yeah, that’s the one thing I’m looking forward to with the AGI. Forget all the living forever and so on getting. Git conflict merging. [laughter]

Yeah. And more GitHub Copilot. Just GitHub Pilot. Just go ahead and do the merge conflicts for me. I don’t want to stress about it. [laughter]

That’s right.

It must be refreshing though to be in this position, having been down that road and determine that being a CEO is not what you personally want to do, and having the courage to go through the process of dropping your ego. As you said before, your ego held you back from doing it at 20 count, versus whenever you did it in the outcome… To now be doing something that is totally focused on your specific desires, with note-taking. And then even pushing back on Jerod saying “No, no, no… If you want to share a doc or collaborate, use Google Docs.”

Which as a guy who likes design, I don’t know if that’s a sincere recommendation, but I’ll take it nonetheless…

[laughs]

I think it was. I think it was. But that shows a sign of somebody who really knows what they want, right? That must be a refreshing place to be in in life.

Well, I can tell you going through the “rollercoaster” of starting a venture-backed company and growing it, and along that way, having a lot of help and a lot of people giving you a lot of feedback every step of the way, and having therapists and coaches and so on - it helps you know yourself. That’s one big benefit that you walk away from that with. I really feel like I’ve got a good handle on myself. And as you say, it is really nice to be back in my what I call zone of genius, which - I’m not trying to toot my own horn - is a term that I use when someone is good at what they do, but also that thing gives them energy. That’s the key thing a lot of people forget. They generally know, “Oh, I’m good at math”, or “I’m good at this or that”, and then they kind of pick their career around that, but they don’t think about what gives them energy… And it’s so important. It’s such an important part. If something gives you energy, you can just keep on doing it, and you love every second of it.

Self-sustaining.

[01:06:34.24] On the note of mental health, since you kind of alluded to that… How has Reflect helped you – I guess maybe what did you use before Reflect to note-take? You seem like a good note-taker. I know you were a Svelte blogger, prolifically. I’m sure we’ve even covered you in news over the years many times… And I know you’re a good writer, and I’ve seen your book, and I think it’s super-cool that you actually did a podcast around the Managers Handbook. I think that’s phenomenal… That each chapter sort of has its own podcast… I love that.

Yeah, that’s cool.

But you were a note-taker beforehand, before Reflect… How has your ability to think and process your thought and keep that thought…? Because one of the things I think that makes us human, or really good humans, like superpower humans, is our self awareness. You mentioned therapist, and counsel, and people who give you advice… All these people make you more and more aware of who you are. And the more you are aware of who you are, the better I think you can be you, really. So self-awareness is a superpower. I’ve gotta imagine that note-taking has been that superpower for you, because it let you put out your thought, critique it, fine-tune it, edit it, even revisit it, or reflect back on it whenever you go back to your old notes… How was that for you?

Yeah… I did a lot of writing, and I love writing, and I actually think that writing and software engineering are very similar. So I think it’s no coincidence that I love writing. But to your question, I didn’t really have a tool; the only tool I had was a little Heroku bot that would email me once a week. And it would say, “Hey, how did your week go?” And I would respond to this email, and I would write a little paragraph or two, and it would save it in a Postgres database. But the neat thing about this service was that it would send a random email from the past, like a random diary entry from the past, and it would include that when it would prompt “How’s your week going?” And it was very nostalgic, just seeing like “Oh, that’s kind of the space that I was in a year ago. That’s what I was thinking about. And there’s a little pattern, or maybe some rut that I’m in, some thought that I can’t get it out of…” But it was a really good tool. But now I feel like with Reflect I have this superpower. And I don’t want to say this is just a Reflect thing. A lot of these notes apps are very, very good, and I highly recommend you use one of them at least… But now I just – everything I read, every thought I have, everyone I meet… And then I can mix these ideas with something called a backlink; it associates these ideas, and it just means the recall is incredible. I have a very bad memory, and so I really lean on flags, and I’m just typing up, typing in people’s company names to find what people work at that company when I forget someone’s name, but I can remember where they work… Or the same with the location - if I just type “New York City”, I can see all my friends in New York. It’s kind of like a little mini database for my mind.

Yeah, that’s the way the brain works, is like “I know where, I know what movie it was”, or some sort of basically, some sort of like location marker, right?

[01:10:07.07] Even when you go through a town, like “Oh, make a left at X.” Some sort of mile marker, or historical landmark, or just some sort of landmark in generally; it gives you a point of reference, and then it’s like “Oh, okay, from there, it’s this, this or this.” Or “I know those people over there.” That’s how your brain works. It’s like a graph, essentially. That’s interesting, that you put everything in there. I can even see how your Kindle notes make sense, because for me, when I use my Kindle, and I note-take in there, or at least highlight what I’m thinking about in there, I want a good way to search those, especially when it’s a brand new book. Something that doesn’t require it obviously isn’t that pertinent, but something where – maybe I’ve read books about the brain from Daniel Siegel, for example, where it’s like super-deep thought thinking of what it means to be mindful, or these different things that think in the present, and all these things that sort of anchor you to now, versus the fear of the past, or the fear of the future, which causes anxiety - these are things I want to Reflect on and get those notes somewhere else, and the search engine for Kindle is terrible. Terrible!

So having them in a different engine, and they’re the same notes, and I can use them - that to me is a really interesting feature.

Yeah, it is honestly great being able to export those. It’s a shame they have no API. I had to do some heinous things to get that working, I can tell you… But yeah, we basically have kind of hacked together an API for what they provide… But it’s really nice being able to pull all of that out.

In fact, I’ve been thinking about this idea, and you know, when you search for a book, what’s the first result? It’s an Amazon page, right? That’s kind of crazy. It should be a Wikipedia page, it should be a wiki page with the synopsis of the book, and links to other relevant material or other things the book has pulled on; maybe a few reviews in there. But we needed something better. I’m mulling over this idea in my head, and maybe one of your listeners wants to try and create this company… But I really think we need something better here.

Yeah. I think Goodreads tries to do some of that… Amazon’s really tough to compete with when it comes to –

Well, but Amazon bought Goodreads, didn’t they?

Did they?

They did.

Oh, well… There you go then.

Yeah, they did. It’s a sad story. They haven’t really done anything since.

I don’t know if book authors would like us to land anywhere but the Amazon page. Maybe their own page, but… I think they’re happy.

That is sure. I didn’t think of that. That’s very true. I’ve been taking this idea one more step, actually… There’s this book called The Beginning of Infinity. It is an incredible, incredible book by this physicist, David Deutsch… And it is all about human progress, and how progress happens, and our unlimited potential… It’s a really amazing book, but it’s very, very dense, and it’s hard to read… So I actually created a website around it; you can check it out, thebeginningofinfinity.xyz. And I created this new UI, this new format of exploring books through a graph database, and you can kind of drill down into each idea. So you have the page, which is - you could read the synopsis of the entire book, it’s not that long, and then you can drill down into all the concepts. And I wonder if – I’ve been playing around with this idea, and I wonder if we should make more books into more of these websites…

That’d be really cool.

Well, it certainly makes finding them easier, and digging into them a little bit more useful… Because I guess that’s the point of the book, is you have to kind of read it to get what’s in it. Right?

It’s kind of a modern version of CliffsNotes. Modernized for the web.

Yeah. A lot of these non-fiction books are three times as long as they should be…

…and we should just have the cliffnote page, and then…

Totally.

…be able to drill down into anything we don’t already understand.

So not a sponsor, but I have talked about Blinkist in the past - they do this in audio style, where they’ll give you the 15-minute rundown of an audiobook. And a lot of the business books are like two or three good ideas, maybe one good idea, and a couple adjunct ideas, and then example, example, example, example, because they have to have 200-300 pages to sell it to you… You know, if it’s like a 70-page book… I was just talking to somebody about this the other day, where they were initially complaining that this person’s book – oh, I know, it was Darren Murph’s “Remote work handbook”, or something… And it’s like a 70-page book that Darren Murph wrote about remote work. And this person was complaining - and which is a natural reaction of like “I was impressed that he wrote a book, and then I was like “This is only 70 pages.” I’m like, “Yeah, but what if he had just fluffed it up with examples, 300 pages? Would that be any better?” and they’re like “Yeah… Actually, now I’m happy it’s only 70 pages”, you know?

So you have these artificial limits…

Yeah, maybe you should charge more for a smaller book. [laughs]

Yeah, exactly. It’s like that old saying, “I’m sorry this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to make it any shorter.” It’s actually harder to think in a condensed way, in a way that’s actually efficient. It’s easier just to spew.

But this is cool, I like this idea. So Blinkist does that. They’ll give you the 15-minute synopsis in audio, 10 to 15, of all the high points of the book, without you having to read it. And if you want the full book, then go from there. But even that’s audio… I like this; you could just scan this real quick and decide if it’s worth a read or not. Yeah, cool idea. Is this open source, or anything, like the way you’re building it?

Yeah, it’s all open source. And also, a lot of the ideas were stolen of course, not just the book contents… But the structure, the UI… It’s all in the About section.

Yeah, that’s why I’m asking, because if anybody wants to kind of take this idea and run with it, this is a great starting point, right?

Go for it, yeah. It’s just Markdown files, so it should work for any book.

So is this meant to be written from a singular person, or would this be similar to like Wikipedia, where eventually editors and other authors can contribute to whatever this becomes?

Yeah, it’s a good question… I don’t know. I mean, maybe ideally it’s written by the author, but like you said, a lot of them are trapped into this kind of publishing incentive system that makes them a bit too verbose… So I don’t know. I am starting to write another one, a book called Scale, that I really like; it’s about cities, and systems, and bodies, biology… And you know, we’re just going to run with this idea and see if anyone likes it.

Very cool.

Hm. Maybe eventually you will have a small list of books you’ve read, and then written this thing for, and others will contribute and do the same for their books, and maybe that’s the way you scale it… Because you’ve read a couple books and you’re like “Man, I’ve put my thoughts out there, and here’s the way you do it, and then you could do the same if you want to contribute to it.” Maybe there’s like two versions; like, somebody does “The beginning of infinity”, that you’ve done. And there’s Alex’s version of it, there’s Adam’s version of it, and maybe you can get something out of it. I don’t know, that’s an interesting thing.

And you can rank the curators, curate the curators at that point. This could be a cool feature of Reflect… You know, like “Here’s your notes on it”, like export this kind of a thing…

Well, it’s funny you mention that… Yes, it has gone through my mind, yeah…

Oh, okay. [laughs] Yeah, I can see that being a tie together, for sure, because they’re – especially both coming out of your mind; I think it’d make a lot of sense.

[01:17:41.23] One last question about Reflect before we let you go, Alex… You are trying to get more people living this lifestyle, maybe the sailboat lifestyle, but also just like the “live where you want to live, and work from where you want to work” lifestyle. Is Reflect local-first? Because here you are, disconnected at many times, and I think a local-first would be like something that you would want. But I’m wondering - because it’s also hard to do, especially with end-to-end encryption… Does it work offline?

It does work offline, and it works quite well offline. We’ve put a lot of effort into it… But it’s meant for a plane ride,

or a…

Not a trip across the Atlantic.

Not a trip across the Atlantic. Yes… Maybe I should have made it offline-first… You do get a lot of benefits though from the sync, and having it all on all your devices… And I’ve found that people tack that sync on “Later.” Often, it doesn’t work quite as well. We actually used Firebase for our storage, but we had to have a lot of things on top of it to get it performant, and to get all the merge conflict thing working, and what have you.

You know, there are some really interesting ideas out there right now. There’s a library – well, a company called Replicache, that is trying to solve this exact problem. And I do think this is going to be the next wave of internet applications, especially ones that are kind of pseudo-desktop-web, they’re kind of riding that line, where you expect that desktop performance, the instant access, and so on… And check out Replicache, we may end up using it at Reflect, honestly, because they do all the merge conflicting, and syncing, and all that jazz. They do it all. And it would be nice to outsource that.

I think a Firebase built today would be offline first, and deal with all that. And what would be amazing is if I could just power the UI, my react UI, off a local SQLite database, or maybe something a bit more object-orientated, but basically a local database, and do all my writes and reads from that database, and have it reactive. So whenever that database changes, my UI automatically updates. And then something deals with all of the synchronization. And that would be amazing. And I think that is the direction that we’re going in.

Well, if you’re thinking about synchronizing SQLite databases, check out what Ben Johnson is up to. He’s been working on that kind of thing with Litestream and his other more recent efforts… Because SQLite is becoming maybe the next big database, even though it’s already a huge database, with our ability to distribute around the world and have it on all the edges, and synchronize it around there, giving us finally a globally-distributed, synchronized, lightweight SQL database. Interesting times, for sure…

Alex, anything we haven’t asked you about, talked to you about, wondered about? When are you getting back on the sailboat? I guess November, is that what you said? Are you chomping at the bit, are you liking life on land? Or you can’t wait to get back on the ocean.

It makes me really appreciate all the things. You know, I have a shower on land, and I’d have to worry about the water being depleted. Or I have a nice steak… It’s hard to find in the Caribbean, or what have you. So I definitely appreciate it, but I am my best self on the water. I just love it; it is my thing. So yeah, I will be back. Yeah, I don’t know what else we haven’t covered… We covered a lot. But all I will say is that I hope it’s not another 10 years until I’m back on the podcast.

Let’s definitely do that. Let’s catch up more often.

I would love that.

I’d love to hear, especially – I mean, your brain, I’ve gotta imagine at some point you may do something with solar too, because you seem so enamored by the lithium battery and the possibilities… I’ve gotta imagine, once you get to 20 people - well, you won’t be the CEO anymore of Reflect, and you’ll move on to innovating in solar, or something like that. Who knows? [laughter]

Right.

Who knows, yeah. Anything can happen.

I’m enjoying that idea too, because solar is a really interesting thing. I’m liking it for my RV, and I’m liking it for my future home I’m in the process of building… We’ll have solar there, and be able to go off the grid… It’s just a cool thing, not being tethered. The freedom of that like a tether is really interesting to me. I’ve gotta imagine it’s why you like the boat so much.

Yeah, for sure. I do think there’s an argument to be made that solar is our future. So who knows, maybe I’ll be dabbling around in it.

Alex, it’s been awesome, man. Thank you so much for your time, man. Appreciate it.

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Changelog

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