Anil Dash

Co-founder Makerbase, ThinkUp and Activate. Board Member, Advisor.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON February 24, 2016 Thank Anil Dash on Twitter

Discussion

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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
Hi, I'm Anil Dash, cofounder of Makerbase and an advocate for trying to make the tech industry more thoughtful and humane. I've also been blogging since the last century on my site and on Medium and I'm looking forward to getting to talk to the community! If you've made apps or websites, do check out Makerbase (and add your stuff!): https://makerbase.co

Update: Thanks everybody! I really enjoyed the chance to talk to you all. :D See you here or on Twitter!
Emily Hodgins — Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
Hi Anil, what is one thing that we can all be doing to make a difference in the tech industry to be more humane?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@ems_hodge This is the best, and hardest, question. I think about it a lot. I think first, we have to really examine our assumptions and biases and be honest about them and actively work to overcome them. And that leads to the larger, broader challenge: We have to develop a culture of thoughtful, strong self-criticism. We'll write 1000-word think pieces on Medium about the font choice in a new logo but not examine whether every app we're funding ignores underserved communities or marginalized people, and that's got to change.
Yolanda Enoch — Yolanda Enoch
Have you always been vocal about the lack of diversity in tech, or were there a series of events that pushed you to be publicly vocal? I’m curious because it would have been easy to remain silent given you’re a “model minority” in tech.

P.S. I never knew there were so many things to learn about mangoes. Loved your interview on Another Round. :)
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@yolandaenoch I think I've always been vaguely aware of it, but only over the last decade did I really make it a habit to loudly and consistently speak out. I don't have one single galvanizing moment, but I did have a turning point when I returned to NYC after a few years in SF and looked back at my career. I saw that the women (usually women of color) who had opened the door for me and given me my first big opportunities in tech had been pretty systematically pushed out of not just their *jobs* but the industry entirely. And I saw that when I looked around my neighborhood or at a party with my friends, it looked nothing like who I saw in meetings (or especially in a board room) at most companies.

So I just decided, since I had access, and had already earned a certain degree of respect, that i was going to focus on raising issues of inclusion and consistently and effectively as I could.
Rishi Athanikar — Cofounder Beander
Aside from Beyonce & Kendrick Lamar, who are the other current artists you think are true superstars - capable of consistently delivering mega hits?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@arishi_ Boy that's a tough one. They may be in their own league. I mean, I like Taylor Swift and obviously she's enormously popular and will remain so for the foreseeable future, but neither her songs nor her performances (lol TS dancing) seem that amazing to me? Kanye seems to see his music as almost a footnote to himself, and nobody else is even *trying* to be a superstar of the kind I grew up on in the 80s.
Ben Tossell — Community Lead, Product Hunt
What are some of your favourite questions to ask founders?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@bentossell Usually among the top questions is, "I know you're worried about failing, but if this succeeds as you hope it will, how will the world be better? And for whom will it be better?"
Ben Tossell — Community Lead, Product Hunt
What would you tell your 20 year old self?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@bentossell Appreciate your hair while you still have it -- get a better haircut. And also, stop overvaluing the fact that you're a smart young guy, there a ton of smart young guys, and on average they're not very thoughtful and don't listen well. Stop being That Guy.
Hash_tag_jeff — Book Marketing and PR - get in touch
Do Heben and Tracy smell like bourbon? Or Flowers? Or both together?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@jeffumbro Oh, they smell sweeter than flowers and far more intoxicating than bourbon!
Yolanda Enoch — Yolanda Enoch
Did anyone figure out that you were only retweeting women during your "year of only retweeting women" experiment? What was the most common/surprising reaction you received?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@yolandaenoch No, nobody noticed it until a bit later when some tools that try to guess one's ratio of retweets by gender came around. I still only RT women/non-binary folks or institutions that have no gender; it just became a habit over the last few years.
Nik Sharma — Stealth Ad Agency CEO
With the rise in micro-content sharing (Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, etc.) on social channels, and now even something like Anchor (s/o @mignano), where do you see social going in the next 6, 12, or 18 months? Do you think it will become the only spot people will end up consuming content? Or do you think micro-content will stay on social, but people will still want long-form content outside of their social channels? PS, would appreciate a follow myself: twitter.com/mrsharma :) Thank you!
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@mrsharma @mignano Wow. This is a really deep question. I've been blogging for about 17 years, and in the early days we thought "blogs" would encompass almost all of the content sharing you're talking about. It'll never be the only thing people consume -- folks love to read books and watch movies and read magazines and even as those things go fully digital, those behaviors won't disappear. But already the majority of media we consume is social content created by other regular people, and I think that will continue to increase.
Nik Sharma — Stealth Ad Agency CEO
@anildash @mignano Agreed, and thank you for the insights, Anil! Hopefully in the near future we will work together.
Marius Chawa — Analyst, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
what's the best advice you ever got as an entrepreneur?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@marius_chawa Oh, there's so much good advice. My first business partner when I was in my teens did a full-on sales training course for me, which made me understand so much more about just how to communicate in general in a business context, and to come up with solutions that help everybody involved in a conversation. So that was immensely valuable education, though I'm not sure it was "advice" per se.
Marius Chawa — Analyst, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
@anildash were you always entrepreneurial or did you have to completely shift your mindset?
Hi Anil,

You're very vocal about diversity and I've learned a lot about issues I might not have from following you on Twitter, so thank you for that!

What advice would you give to "young white wealthy straight men" (wasn't sure how else to put it) about promoting diversity and fostering an inclusive environment?
Or, conversely, what are common ways people fail to do this, either consciously or without being aware of it?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@timbeiko Tim, I really appreciate you asking the question -- that's the first step for all of us who've been very fortunate, whether by birth or by circumstance. The biggest thing someone like you or I can do is to challenge those in the room with us, the other guys (mostly straight, mostly white or asian) to think _first_ of those with the least access, the fewest advantages. We need to _start_ by making products, and an industry, that serves them, instead of making stuff for ourselves and hoping it "trickles down" to, well, the other 90% of the world.
andréa lópez — bluechoochoo
How do you see the mobile web changing?
Is everything destined to be an app, or used in-app?
Do you see any trends that lean towards edges of the web being a bigger presence on our devices?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@bluechoochoo It's hard for me to predict where mobile web is going right now. On the publishing side, we're seeing a ton of flux with Instant Articles, AMP and the like -- it feels a lot like the RSS Wars did more than a decade ago, with competing corporate concerns intersecting in odd ways with legitimate consumer desires like offline reading or faster, more responsive reading. Then there's mobile web *apps*, which seem to be going through a big reckoning, too. I can imagine some mobile frameworks (especially ones that connect to native app solutions, like React does to React Native) really starting to become mobile app defaults, in the same way that Twitter Bootstrap kind of just "won" for a certain class of relatively static sites and apps.

I'm still trying to form an opinion about whether everything moves inside apps. I hope not, if only because I love the immediacy and open-endedness of the "real" (HTML) web, but we may just be on a cycle that's headed toward All App Everything. I haven't yet found something that makes people say "I want to use the web version of this, not the app version", especially as inter-app links on platforms like iOS start to get massively better.
Emily Hodgins — Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
What are three things that you think every new founder should be thinking about daily?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@ems_hodge Three things? Hmm! First should be about those fundamental questions, like what is the change in the world you're trying to make by creating a product and a company. That's got to be the starting point. Two, how well are you serving your community (whether that's community of users, potential users, or the broader community you're part of?) And three is about the long-term sustainability concerns -- what does it look like if you succeed, how do you make sure to stay on track with what you're trying to achieve in the world while still paying the bills. Founders are already thinking about the bank account balance daily, so you never need to remind them of that.
Veronica Belmont — Destroyer of Worlds (and PM at Growbot)
What is it about Prince that you love so much? I mean, aside from the obvious.
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@veronica For me personally, Prince is sort of my lens for understanding pop culture. He's obviously somebody hugely respected within music for his talent, but he's been just as innovative in his use of technology or his questioning of the music industry as he as been artistically, which is just extraordinary. For example, people can easily get "oh, here's a pop star who had the biggest hit song in 1984", and that's true and easy to get why someone's a fan. But for me, it's just as much about saying "those big 80s hits had a signature sound that's attributable to the Linn LM-1 drum machine, which was the first to use digital samples, and they sound unique because Prince was both the first and one of the best to ever program that kind of computer". And in that way, there's an analogy between why When Doves Cry sounds so distinctive and amazing and why Instagram was a breakout hit because it was among the first to make good use of the iPhone's hardware.
Thomas Stöcklein — FoundersFundersFuture.com
1) Has ProductHunt inspired you when coming up with the idea for MakerBase?
2) Do you view MakerBase at least to some degree as a ProductHunt competitor?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@tomstocklein No, we had the idea for Makerbase years ago, actually I think the first time Ryan told me about Product Hunt I asked if he'd do something like Makerbase because I just wanted it to exist! I think they're super complementary communities, with Product Hunt having awesome conversations like this and great tools for discovering new sites, and we're really focused on helping discover the sort of entire creative process or history behind how a great product or service gets built. We've talked loosely about finding ways to connect the two services, maybe in the future we can make that happen!
Ben Werdmüller — CEO, Known
ThinkUp moved from dashboards to streams very early. How do you see that decision now in the light of bots and messaging-based interfaces? Did you have that in mind?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@benwerd That's a great question. I think we got maybe halfway there? We were right that dashboards weren't the right format, but (e.g.) Slack didn't yet exist, so we had to do a lot of work to deliver a stream of cards that were interesting. I think if we were starting today, ThinkUp would just be a Slack bot that sends you updates. Maybe we'll evolve that way!
Ben Werdmüller — CEO, Known
What are some ethical ways founders can build self-sustaining businesses?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@benwerd I think about this question a lot. It really depends deeply on the audience one is trying to serve. Every model requires careful thought about its costs and externalities. I think as long as you can be clear & up front about how you intend to sustain a product or service, and open with your community about what it takes to get there, then you're on the road to something more ethical. Most of the worst companies are the ones where their true intentions are obscured or they mislead people about it.
cassidy — Product @echo360
Hi Anil,

What are some areas in tech you think could use more focus/help/eyes and ears? (MedTech? EdTech? Security?)

Also, totally saw you in my favorite coffee shop the other day and didn't say hi because I'm super shy. So hi :)
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@cassidyfein It's interesting -- I think there are huge opportunities around medicine (especially in ensuring broader access and more uniform quality of care, or in addressing price discrepancies as things like Clear Health Costs do: http://clearhealthcosts.com/ ) and the same goes for security. But my background has always been pretty narrowly in consumer internet, heavily leaning toward media and social, and so I'm a little reluctant to guess what will happen in domains outside of my expertise. I do think there's a huge opportunity around better serving labor and workers -- sort of the opposite of Zenefits, designed for employees rather than employers.

Come say hi next time! It's always nice to meet folks in the neighborhood. :)
Asis Panda — User Experience Designer
First, learnt that you're born Odia from India, hi five. Second, looking forward how often did you worry/dream/wish of making it big, if at all ?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@asispanda I was born in the U.S. (in Pennsylvania!) but am very proud my family is from Orissa, and glad I've gotten to visit a number of times over the years. I have always had a certain degree of ambition about my career or life, but I am not sure I define "making it big" the same way other people often do.
Eric Willis — Working on something new
I'm going to up the stakes here and ask you a very serious question. What is Prince's "best" song and why?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@erictwillis This is TOO INTENSE! The answers vary by day or by mood, but certainly an all-time contender has to be "Adore", off of 1987's Sign O' The Times. One of the greatest ballads ever.
Ryan Freeze — Host, Wake & Make
You are clearly very busy but I know that you are also a proud father. As a father of four myself, I'm interested in what you can share about the work/life balance challenge and ways you manage it. Thanks.
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@rynfrz I don't know if I yet have advice to give anybody else. i am definitely very engaged on a day to day basis with my son and with the responsibilities of raising him. But I struggle with being a poor partner to my wife in managing the processes around that. Like a lot of dads, I think my wife is assumed by me (and the world!) to be the "default" parent, with me in a secondary (or worse, "helper" or "babysitter") role, and too often that's a convenient excuse to keep from having to take on primary responsibility for hard work that's often not glamorous or visible. So my suggestion for managing it (for people who have partners co-parenting with them, if those partners are women) would be to do better than I do, or to do what I'm trying to be better at, in taking on day-to-day domestic responsibility that is undervalued and ignored when women do it.
Ryan Freeze — Host, Wake & Make
@anildash Thank you for the detailed response. It is certainly a challenge and something I hope we all strive to improve on. Managing the one true currency we all share, time, is by far the biggest challenge I deal with. Appreciate it!
Marius Chawa — Analyst, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
@anildash @rynfrz this is an interesting question. i'm very entrepreneurial, my girlfriend and I are not married yet, but i wonder how we would manage that when we get married and start having kids :(
levent aşkan — Hustling at Prisync
Hi Anil, what is your biggest regret in your life so far related to entrepreneurship?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@leventask That's a great question. I think the first decade of my career I was so focused on just being able to pay the rent and keep a roof over my head that I didn't do enough to learn and think about others who would be impacted by the work I was doing. I regret being self-absorbed or maybe just uneducated about the kind of impact that even small decisions in tech products can have on the world.
levent aşkan — Hustling at Prisync
@anildash Thanks for your reply Anil. You mean start whenever you can. Don't try to find the biggest idea. There are opportunities anytime, anywhere. Am I right?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@leventask That's certainly a big part of it, yep.
Ryan Freeze — Host, Wake & Make
Obvious financial change has occurred in the Bay Area over the past several years. Do you think Talia Jane is wrong for the expectations she wrote about on Medium or is the economic divide in San Francisco to blame?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@rynfrz No, I think she's been very smart and thoughtful, particularly in the conversation that's happened *after* she posted that piece. https://medium.com/p/69ed3f150540 I think she epitomizes exactly why I'm excited about millennials and eager to see them take a leadership role in society.
David G. Johnson — Founder, Grow The Dream
What sort of differences do you find between the Bay-area tech startups and the startups in NYC and other parts of the country? Is there a real advantage to being located in Silicon Valley any more?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@thedavidjohnson One of the things I'm most proud of is that the NYC tech scene seems to have a (thus far, unfortunately rare) genuine sense of civic responsibility. I'm on the board of the NY Tech Meetup ( https://nytm.org/ ) and we've just had this great community over the last 10 or 12 years where everybody sort of expects each other to chip in. That can be, like, after Hurricane Sandy, people going to help clean up a neighborhood, or it can be like with SOPA/PIPA where the founders of the hottest startups in the city got on a train and went down and talked to Congress to try and stop bad policy.

I would love to see the Valley or other communities replicate that model of good tech leaders expecting each other to stand up and help their communities, and to really stand for some values, and that's one of the things I love most about our scene.
David G. Johnson — Founder, Grow The Dream
@anildash Great stuff, thanks!
David G. Johnson — Founder, Grow The Dream
Do you view not having a college degree personally as an asset or a liability at this stage of your life?
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Anil Dash — Cofounder, ThinkUp
@thedavidjohnson I think it's a little bit of both. The value of a college degree depends a ton on what one's background is, and which field one is going into. I was very fortunate my parents brought me all the way into the middle class through their hard work, so my decision about college was informed by knowing I had a safety net and some security to fall back on. Plus, being in tech, there's a slight *positive* stereotype about Indian men, at least when it comes to being coders or the like. And not starting out my adult life with a crushing burden of debt certainly helped me get started on the right foot.

By contrast, not having a formal college education certainly was a weakness in terms of both my discipline around learning (the whole "learning how to learn" thing that a lot of people get from college), as well as in developing a professional social network or industry contacts. Living in NYC, I often encounter people who casually, matter-of-factly talk about how they partnered with, or got support from, people they met through college (often at Ivy League schools or other "big name" universities) and it's striking to me what a leg up that provides, *particularly* for people from underrepresented backgrounds.
David G. Johnson — Founder, Grow The Dream
@anildash Thanks for the thoughtful response. I went straight from high school into entrepreneurship and have also wondered how things might be different with a network in place, but I'd probably still be on a campus somewhere with a new major (20+ years later) because of insatiable curiosity. Cheers!