Ben Thompson

Founder of Stratechery

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON October 14, 2015

Discussion

Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
Hi! I’m Ben Thompson, the author and founder of Stratechery. I write (and occasionally consult) about technology with a specific focus on strategy and business. I am based in Taipei, Taiwan, and am fully supported by my work at Stratechery. I’ve worked previously at Apple, Microsoft, and Automattic, where I focused on strategy, developer relations, and marketing for Apple University, Windows, and WordPress.com. I attended undergrad at the University of Wisconsin, received an MBA from Kellogg School of Management with a focus on strategy and marketing, and an MEM from McCormick Engineering school in Design and Innovation with a focus on human-centered design. Ask Away!
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Welcome, Ben! As a Taipei resident and deep thinker on tech, what's the biggest difference in the way people use technology in the U.S. and Taiwan?
Anand Rajaram@anandrajaram · Product, LogMeIn
@rrhoover I'd love to expand that a bit too, and think of U.S and Asia, and possibly think of Asia as three buckets: 1.) Developed - Japan, South Korea etc. 2.) Developing - India, Indonesia etc. and 3.) China (Cos it is so unique)
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@rrhoover in Taiwan and Asia broadly people are mobile first/only in a way the US still can't quite comprehend, particularly tech folks who work on PCs all day. It's just a massive difference that affects everything
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Ben! What' s something you used to fervently believe that you now see as misguided?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@eriktorenberg I actually really try to not fervently believe anything. I know it sounds cliche but I truly try to abide by the idea of "strong ideas weakly held". Companies I've changed my mind about publicly on Stratechery are Facebook (I'm glad I switched early on that one) and Amazon -- twice!
Nicki Friis@nickifriisw · Entrepreneur. Former Partner @ Ideanote.
Hi Ben! What advice do you give to larger corporations about staying competitive against startups?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@nickifriisw Acquire actively and for more than you think they're worth
Arjun Narayan@narayanarjun
Benedict Evans recently released a chart of his traffic numbers (http://ben-evans.com/benedicteva...) and it makes for sobering reading. Something like two years hovering around hundreds of pageviews before taking off. How long did it take you to get Stratechery off the ground? What were those days in early 2013 like, blogging for a tiny audience? What sort of legwork did you do to grow it, and what were the most valuable things you did early on?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@narayanarjun the Gruber post I mentioned earlier helped, but the most important thing was keeping at it week after week and (hopefully) making sure they were really high quality. Beyond that one post I really haven't had any big leaps. Just very steady growth from the beginning
Eric Metelka@eric3000 · Product Manager, PowerReviews
It seems like you write late at night. What's your daily routine look like?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@eric3000 I don't! That's one of the advantages of living in Taiwan. I work during the day and try to post by 6pm or so, which means my Daily Updates are in people's inboxes when they wake up (at least for those in the US). Sometimes the free posts run a bit late, but I try to have it done by them. Traveling actually does make things harder, because I try to keep on the same schedule, so then I do stay up late. I pulled an all-nighter for this one, for example: https://stratechery.com/2015/fro...
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
I am absolutely fascinated by the blogger subscription model. For someone who is starting to build a small audience and writes frequently, but wants to build toward making a sustainable living off of it, what specific next steps (and time expected for each one) would you encourage given your own experience?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@melissajoykong I expanded on my thinking a bit in this podcast: http://exponent.fm/episode-034-t... The number one thing I'd say is have your business model in mind sooner rather than later. I had the subscription and "get more" model in mind from the beginning, so I kept myself to around 2 posts a week while building my audience, and then offered the daily for pay. It was, at least I hope, seen as a value add, as opposed to my taking stuff away.
Jon@_jonleach
Hey Ben! What do you look back on as your greatest professional failure? How would you have changed the situation (if you would have).
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@_jonleach heh, I'd honestly say managing English teachers across two different schools the first time I came to Taiwan. I was also working full time and had no ability to let anything slide, prioritize what mattered, or understand that not everyone cared as much as I do. I burned out in six months.
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
Thanks all for the questions. This was fun. - You can read free articles I write weekly at https://stratechery.com - Get Daily Updates (which are substantial in a good way, I think) at https://stratechery.com/membership/ - And listen to Exponent, the podcast I co-host with @jamesallworth here: http://exponent.fm/
Kate@katesegrin · Head of Social @ GitHub
@benthompson thanks so much for joining us! 😸
Bored Elon Musk@boredelonmusk
Your podcasts with James always sound so natural. How much time do you usually spend editing episodes? Also, would you want to be one of the first 10,000 humans to live on Mars?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@boredelonmusk Sometimes we don't edit at all, sometimes it takes hours. It depends on how big of an argument we get into ;) I do appreciate you saying that though -- I think we've worked really hard on our tone and cutting down edges, and the fact of the matter is we both love talking about this stuff so we just get lost in it.
Arjun Narayan@narayanarjun
You and Benedict Evans (and Filloux and Gassée) are probably the most publicly prominent "strategy" bloggers today. Given your experience at Microsoft, and Apple, how common are people like that in the upper levels of management at large companies today? How much of what you're writing is also being written there (e.g. modern-day Myhrvold memos), except for private internal consumption?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@narayanarjun there are some very, very sharp strategic thinkers not just at big companies but at many smaller ones too. I can't discount the effect the desire to live in Taiwan had on my career choices -- many people who are smarter than me are currently being paid a whole lot more to write this stuff internally :)
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · VC at Shrug Capital
Hey @BenThompson! Looking forward to seeing you in Stocktoberfest! Great post on Twitter Moments the other week -- do you think that the fragmentation of all the different video formats will be an issue for them? The videos always looks stretched and too centered, while on Snapchat portrait mode is consistent is is the naive format...
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@nivo0o0 I definitely think they should default to the native aspect ratio. I find it very frustrating
Aaron Suplizio@aaronsuplizio · Online Lending, Fintech & VC @ Experian.
Hi Ben-you've referenced the importance of creating optionality in one's career, and as you've built Stratechery you're maximizing optionality for yourself. Five years from now, what are a few career moves you'd like to have the option of pursuing?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@aaronsuplizio I'm spending a lot of time thinking about this. Truthfully, I reached sustainability a lot faster than I expected, which is awesome and I'm very fortunate, but I don't like not knowing where I'm heading in the long run. But I'm trying to follow my own advice mostly ;)
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
Hi Ben, thanks so much for joining us today. Very much looking forward to having you on @twentyminutevc in the New Year! Where do you see the future of email newsletters? When starting what made you come to paid subscription over alternative methods of monetisation?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@harrystebbings email newsletters have an old history, even going back to print (which obviously weren't emailed). They're more common in the finance world, where many have subscription prices of $5k and up. I didn't want to go in that direction for a few reasons: 1) I want to reach as big an audience as possible 2) I don't want to feel dependent on any one subscriber. If someone is upset and cancels, no skin off my back. The big advantage of subscriptions is you get revenue from day one. I *might* be big enough to make money from sponsored ads at this point, but it would have taken longer and, as I've written a ton, I'm not sure how long term sustainable advertising in general is, particularly given that I'm niche but not *that* niche
Murdo Connochie@murdo_ · Tech Consultant, KPMG
I remember you discussing the philosophy with James that people are "right where they are supposed to be". How would you determine if you're actually on the wrong path and where you think you should be (whether that's a career change or philosophical change)?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@murdo_ I know this doesn't sound helpful, but this is the advice Tim Cook gave Apple interns when I was there: the bigger the decision, the more you have to trust your gut. You know if you're on the right or wrong path for reasons not even you understand.
Kate@katesegrin · Head of Social @ GitHub
@benthompson how often do you find yourself making decisions based off of gut feelings?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@katesegrin @murdo_ not that often!
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
You are a prolific writer. Is there a piece you're particularly proud of? Which one—and why?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@melissajoykong my favorite probably remains What Clayton Christensen Got Wrong: https://stratechery.com/2013/cla... It was something I've thought about a long time, plus Christensen is one of my intellectual heroes, which made it harder to write.
Kate@katesegrin · Head of Social @ GitHub
You have a very clear and strong sense (and written "code") of ethics. Is this something that you started to share / publish due to commentary that was made, or was this a personal decision on your part?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@katesegrin personal decision. I write a lot about the importance of incentives and how much of an impact they have on people even if they think they are impervious, so I figured I had to practice what I preach.
Yoshi@dnxx28 · Freerance Engineer
Hi Ben!! I watched https://stratechery.com/2015/ven... However do you think VC firm is shrinking down from now on due to coming AI or crowdfunding?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@dreadnoughtxx I don't think either will have a big impact. And as with all things, I'm not an absolutist, and few things are black and white. VCs still provide a ton of value and will for a long time
Joel Lewis@joellewis · Product manager
Hi Ben - You write a lot from the frame of disruption theory - are there any more recent thinkers, particulalrly anything you are still digesting, that you would recommend?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@joellewis I read very widely but usually go deeper on more historical books. There's no one I'd put my finger on. I get this question a lot, but honestly most of what I write is pretty original. To be sure, it's heavily influenced by what has come before -- I think ideas are more synthesized and discovered than invented whole cloth -- but I wouldn't say any one author has had a particular influence (beyond Christensen himself)
Matthew Guay@maguay · Marketing @ Zapier
@benthompson Would love to see your reading list/recommended books!
@samgdf · Curious George
@benthompson What's the future of apps on mobile? If apps are already micro-services, what's next? Am I asking the right question?
Ben Thompson@benthompson · Stratechery
@samgdf apps are just pre-built (and thus superior) UI for web services. I'd ask what is the best possible way to interact with a given web service and then go from there