Brian Lam, Jacqui Cheng & Ganda Suthivarakom

Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Executive Editor of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 24, 2015

Discussion

Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
Hi. I'm Jacqui Cheng, Editor-in-Chief of the Wirecutter and the Sweethome, buyer's guides to the best technology and things for your home. I run the editorial on both sites as part of a power team with Wirecutter/Sweethome founder and CEO Brian Lam and Sweethome Executive Editor Ganda Suthivarakom. Through the work we publish on both sites, we hope to reduce the stress and wasted time involved in shopping by employing a team of researchers, scientists, reporters, and testers to find the answers for you. We even have a crack team of deal savants who sort through tens of thousands of "deals" every holiday season in order to find the best 1% (or less) to post on our sites. If you have questions about the Wirecutter process, our recommendations, or deals, let's do this Product Hunt Q&A!
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Brian, Jacqui, and Ganda! Welcome. Love the Wirecutter -- you've filled a gap in the product review/recommendation space. Other than your phone or computer, what's device could you not live without and why?
Ganda Suthivarakom@ganda · Executive editor, The Sweethome
@rrhoover Surprisingly, for me, it's my Bose Quiet Comfort earbuds. I can't conduct my many, many daily video calls without them. I once put them through the wash and they still work! TBH, I bought them before I started working here, so they may not be WC picks, but everything else I own is.
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@rrhoover Nest thermostat. You have no idea how great it is to turn up the heat from your smartphone while lying in bed on another floor of the house.
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@rrhoover HMMMMMMMMMMMMMM passport, credit card, leather jacket, surfboard(s)
daniellevine@daniellevine · Fireside
@ejacqui @blam & @ganda so excited for this AMA! I'm wondering, what's the best thing you've all come across in the last 30 days and why? Could be anything, a product, an article, a tea, a quote. Anything! Thanks for answering.
Ganda Suthivarakom@ganda · Executive editor, The Sweethome
@daniellevine Best thing for me: Charlotte Tilbury Red Carpet Red matte lipstick. A gorgeous, classic blue-red, matte but not bone dry, and the "bullet" has a square shaped tip which makes it easy for drawing. But it's all about the texture, which is not tacky or waxy but smooth. Must have silicone in it. I love it. Trying to wear lipstick more often because Jacqui Cheng has the best lipstick game. Brian's lipstick game leaves much to be desired, though.
daniellevine@daniellevine · Fireside
@ganda Thanks for answering!
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@ganda @daniellevine wow - I am sold! Adding to my Christmas wish list immediately!
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@daniellevine For me personally, I just installed the new Kevo smart lock (version 2) -- this is our upcoming smart lock pick for a new guide we're getting ready to publish, so I just went for it and I'm already crazy about it. (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CPTD... ) Anyone who has fumbled with keys in front of their house or apartment will know instantly why something like this is super useful, especially if you're always carrying a million things like I am.
daniellevine@daniellevine · Fireside
@ejacqui Fantastic! I'm hoping to get one too!
Tyler Hayes@thetylerhayes · Bebo
How are the economics of Wirecutter and your similar properties working out vs. your previous ventures which were focused more on "the latest" than "the greatest"? It may be a wrong assumption, but from the outside it feels like it's harder to make substantial money in Amazon Affiliate revenue (which IIRC is how Wirecutter, etc. make $) vs. advertising? Direct response vs. scale?
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@thetylerhayes Let me answer it this way--We have had so many copy cats try to come here and do what we do and they all realize this is not how you make money and quit. We make enough to do great work, but we also could take that same money and make a ton more doing clickhole type stuff with the same effort on ads. But its an easy decision to not do that because that's not the point of why we exist and what we love doing. We maybe make reviewing things like garbage cans seem epic and glamorous but what drives us is being useful and providing help to our readers. I also don't believe that ad driven businesses very often reward deep content, so I choose not to make that our primary model. The models will always follow the content here, though.
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven't been before?
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@jacqvon Morocco and secondly, Portugal
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@jacqvon I have had a lifelong obsession with living out a grand Mama Mia fantasy in Greece. (great name btw)
Ganda Suthivarakom@ganda · Executive editor, The Sweethome
@jacqvon Anywhere in Africa. The only country I've been to there was South Africa, but I wept for days over how beautiful Kruger National Park is.
©Chris Ramirez®@iamcpramirez · Product @ Jet.com
Hi Brian, Jacqui, and Ganda! Welcome, and thanks for sharing your insights with us today. ... I'm sure the team has explored the options of video reviews, similar to youtube or cnet. Will you ever incorporate these types of reviews, or others, into the wirecutter or is sticking with editorial content the most effective medium right now?
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@iamcpramirez We're really interested in getting into video, but we want to do it the right way and for the right reasons. There are a lot of really crazy, fun, and interesting discoveries that we make in the process of producing our guides and it would be cool to show some of that stuff in video form. The key is making sure we're serving the reader and not just being goofy on video—we want to make sure we're sharing useful information while also perhaps telling you interesting or weird things, but our main goal is to make sure we are offering useful content, so we're trying to take it slowly and make sure we're approaching it smartly.
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@iamcpramirez To be honest, we're working on our video strategy but we need to figure out how to best do this, and I know we also just have to start. We plan, to, though.
©Chris Ramirez®@iamcpramirez · Product @ Jet.com
After thoroughly expanding to various categories through your drip system, what is your long term vision for the portfolio .. (create sustainable and separate domain properties across categories, become a better api plugin than Bazaarvoice, become the go-to rating & reviews portal over Amazon, etc)?
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
What is one of the biggest challenges (in work and/or life) you have overcome in the last 2 years?
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@bentossell Communicating with others deeply and directly and compassionately so we can improve as individuals and as a team. And have complete trust with each other.
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@bentossell Honestly I think one of the largest challenges that I am currently dealing with is taking care of my aging and disabled parents (and grandparents). I won't go too deep into the details here but this is something that virtually no one talks about in advance (on the adult child side OR the elderly person side), which makes it that much harder to deal with when it happens. It's so much more than just bringing meals a few times a week or helping them with walking their pets. There are endless legal documents, medical documents, financial documents, etc. etc. and it only increases over time as their needs increase. Actually it's kinda cheesy but if you are interested in preparing yourself and learning more (which I highly recommend for all humans who have parents), I very much recommend reading this book by Jane Gross: http://www.amazon.com/Bitterswee...
Ganda Suthivarakom@ganda · Executive editor, The Sweethome
@bentossell To be honest, these last two years have been the most difficult of my life. My father died last year, and my younger brother died suddenly this year, leaving behind a wife and a daughter who had just turned one. There is no way to make life events that major stay within the "personal life" lines. There were times when my grief seemed insurmountable. But work is important to rebuilding life, and having a job with humane expectations has eased my road back to the living. I'm so grateful to work for a company that let me take time off to be with my family. Nobody batted an eye when I said I would be moving to a different city to help take care of my niece. Brian, Jacqui, and all of my coworkers were so supportive, even when the stress of my personal life affected my relationships at work. I've been shown great compassion by my colleagues, and I hope to give the same to anyone I work with.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@ejacqui totally! I completely understand... Awesome recommendation - I'll get it up on our book section for sure!
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@ganda wow thank you for sharing and so sorry for your losses! Would you say that work has been a big help in you dealing with things recently? What else has helped you get through it? (if you care to share... you don't have to of course!)
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
What is something you used to believe in but no longer do?
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@bentossell Great question! I used to be a lot more conflict oriented, but I see the world as a more cooperative place now.
Ganda Suthivarakom@ganda · Executive editor, The Sweethome
@bentossell Food and restaurant worship. At first I said "So boring!" but that's just sour grapes. I have to watch my health because I have extreme cholesterol genes. So my eating habits have become much more boring, and I'm okay with that as long as I get to live a little longer.
AYE BEE@andyburr_nyc · product design @ dwnld.me
@blam @bentossell ( sounds of waves crashing on the beach and a cool breeze at your feet. )
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@bentossell I used to believe hangovers were something people experienced because of poor planning. Now I know that hangovers just naturally get worse as you get older. (Seriously though, I used to believe no one could be trusted, which I have since found is not true.)
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
What was the inspiration behind starting the Wirecutter and the Sweethome? How did everything first come together?
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@ems_hodge I hated comparison shopping and knew that a lot of people just got advice from people they know and trust. Most sites that recommend stuff are not that whole hearted about the work, too academic, or force you to click through too many pages to do so. It's a small thing, but a thing we're very good at, this being useful and helpful and short cutting a lot of research. The other thing we do is we hire obsessives who love helping people, so no matter what, we just can't help but do our jobs well because it is NOT just a paycheck to anyone here, and I believe that makes all the difference. I started it out as a simple list with a few friends and it grew from there. Took us over 2 years to become profitable where I could pay myself regularly. I Airbnb'd my house, sold my car, and lived in an old VW van and friend's couches for a lot of the early times. I just didnt want to take a job, even though I had some serious job offers to be like one of those tech columnists for like half a million dollars a year but I didn't feel that medium or kind of work was where the action is. But you know, I just couldn't help it, I wanted to build this thing above all else. And I still do. There's still so much to build and I just can't wait to get there. The real way it came together was that I tried to do right by readers and writers, and gave more than I should have at lots of moments. And it all kind of just started to add up, you know? We'd be cool to people, and go the extra mile, and those people would be cool in return. People would freak out and we'd try to help them out, and it would just come back around in a good way. I asked for help, and they gave it, and then I gave help and they gave it back. That's really it.
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@ems_hodge I'd just like to add that Brian came to me sometime before launching Wirecutter and asked whether he should take another (unnamed) job that was being offered to him at the time, and I told him to take the job. (Wirecutter was a mere glint in the eye.) He didn't listen to me AND WE'RE ALL SO GLAD THAT HE DIDN'T.
Ganda Suthivarakom@ganda · Executive editor, The Sweethome
@ejacqui @ems_hodge Haha, I didn't know that!
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@ejacqui @blam & @ganda Thanks for being here today 🙌 This questions is directed at each of you - During your career to date, what has been your a) most challenging moment and how did you overcome it? b) proudest moment and why? c) most surprising moment?
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@ems_hodge Negotiating with Steve Jobs was dramatic but building a business has been harder. Building a business and not being a dick while doing it--just learning that being CEO or any figure of authority entails a lot more gentleness than I ever realized. When someone is a new manager or leader and they get rough, I now read it as them not feeling their power or support from the team. Being chill = feeling secure, so I hope to get more and more chill as time goes on. Edit: Didn't really answer your question directly enough, apologies. Most surprising moment was when we hit 50 employees. Never thought a little site I started with a few friends would get to this size.
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@ems_hodge I think being recognized for my work by other well-respected writers and editors is repeatedly the proudest moment of my life. I have had some famous editors come directly to me to praise my work, not to mention lots of other very talented but maybe less famous editors and writers, and I can't thank them enough for giving me the confidence and advice they have given me in life and this insane business.
Tyler Hayes@thetylerhayes · Bebo
Is it a focus of yours to templateize the success you've seen with these properties & communities and take it to other verticals (more so than you've already done)? Any specific verticals you can announce publicly?
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@thetylerhayes IDK! We have a roadmap but we won't force the roadmap artificially. We're not VC funded so very often we use that cash constraint as a strength by being patient and thoughtful and taking our time.
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@thetylerhayes I wouldn't say we're "templetizing" anything but we do feel like we know how our own formula works. We are always experimenting and making tweaks to how we do things, which is a great way to experiment with new subject areas or things we're not totally sure we want to jump into yet.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@ejacqui @blam & @ganda - what apps are currently on each of your home pages? (plus any others you're secretly addicted to but bury further in as a guilty pleasure 😜)
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@ems_hodge Oh boy, my iOS app home page is pretty boring. I've got weather, photos, Google Maps, Apple Maps (because the two never seem to match up), Uber, Sonos, my calendar, Peapod for buying groceries online (I am super lazy), Nest, Instagram, Twitter, and Tripit.
Ganda Suthivarakom@ganda · Executive editor, The Sweethome
@ems_hodge Same boring stuff. Slack and Waze are probably the two most used. And Line is on there because it's what my family uses to communicate. I also not-so-secretly love communicating via Line stickers.
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@ems_hodge Slack, Pocket, NYTimes, Foursquare because it's more useful than Yelp for me, Instagram, FB Messenger (but not fb), United, Trip It, Messages, Fantastical, Both google and apple maps for some dumb reason, Surfline, Camera, Rdio (RIP), Safari/Chrome for some dumb reason, Outlook (yes outlook), Things, Simplenote, Zoom.us, Yahoo Weather, Audible, Settings App, Dark Sky
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@blam @ems_hodge this is a great list :)
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
Thank you for joining today! Love Wirecutter. Quick question for you, how do you think about growing your business?
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@corleyh We treat it like a small business and the business objectives serve the content and product, not the other way around. That makes all the difference because the point is to make money to make useful things, not the other way around. I went to a conference recently about publishing business and no one who spoke ever spoke about great content or reader service and finding a model that supports the type of content you do. That is kind of insane, in my book. I also believe that a company is a great place to practice karma, so taking care of readers and people who work here comes ahead of anything else, and so far, that has also made a huge difference.
AYE BEE@andyburr_nyc · product design @ dwnld.me
any plans to move the smart watch to it's own category and out of mobile extras? also any first impression or opinions on the ipad pro?
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@andyburr_nyc Right now, we still don't think smartwatches are something most people in the world "need." We don't explicitly recommend them to most people, but we know there's a group of people (myself included) who really WANT to try them out, which is why we still provide recommendations with that caveat. Smartwatches still have a long ways to go before they become appealing and useful to the general population—hell, they are struggling to be useful to nerds, still. One day if smartwatches suddenly become as useful and prolific as, say, smartphones, we may end up splitting them into a separate category, but for now they are built to function directly with your smartphone (iOS or Android) and so we consider them to be a mobile accessory.
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@andyburr_nyc Yah, that sounds reasonable. It's Jacqui's call though!
AYE BEE@andyburr_nyc · product design @ dwnld.me
@ejacqui @andyburr_nyc Trying them out is the key! The apple watch has grown on me a ton since getting one and sticking with it. I'm not so sure a lot of the UX hate on the interface / OS is really valid yet because there are so few apps for the watch that really take advantage of the recommended limited but useful experience patterns. Designing experiences for the watch isn't as tricky as people are making it, it's all about simple, supplementary and useful. It's awesome to just control my itunes from my watch when on the subway rather than have my phone out. It's as simple as that to me. It's become really fun, though I wish more friends had them, I've converted some of our office though. :)
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@andyburr_nyc Oh, forgot the iPad Pro impressions! It is very very large. Very large. My husband is big into illustrating, so he loves it for drawing (right now using FiftyThree's Pencil product since Apple's is backordered). Let's just say it's not something I'm using to read with in bed.
AYE BEE@andyburr_nyc · product design @ dwnld.me
@ejacqui @andyburr_nyc yeah agreed, I have a problem knocking my ipad off my bed as it is. I want one for the office, I use Fifty Three's pencil on my air as well. I think it's really going to be best for creatives that gain a lot from the surface area. Could be great for collaborative white boarding sessions with remote designers. As an education and in store commerce tool, i think it will be pretty cool as well.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
How do you go about determining which product to review next? I assume some things are seasonal like the best gloves around winter, etc. Are others based on public interest at the time?
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@jakecrump we just hired head of research from Consumer Reports who was there for 28 years, and we also have two data scientists who are all helping us understand things like, "do people need to read 7000 words on veggie peelers?" The answer is no. They're also building a protocol to help inform editor instincts on what to do next. We have some cool stuff i'm working on that I can't wait to share in the future, too.
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@blam @jakecrump To build upon what Brian said, what we do (currently) is a mixture of market research, data, and editorial judgement. Our goal is to serve the reader, so we try to take all those elements into consideration when deciding what's next and how we can best tackle a particular topic.
Ganda Suthivarakom@ganda · Executive editor, The Sweethome
@jakecrump We also have a running list of requests from readers that we take seriously as we plan out what to cover. Those requests have a lot of weight, so if you really want us to cover something, be a squeaky wheel!
Chelsea Otakan@chexee · Design Director, Vouch
Expanding TheWirecutter to the Sweethome was really cool. It's a class of products I never know enough about, so I want one answer for what to get. Any plans to expand into any other classes or products? (Personally, I'd love to see more sports and outdoors gear :))
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@chexee Yes, we'll get into more stuff when the time is right and when we can make a positive contribution to the scene in a way that fits our values. The best way to accelerate this happening is also to tell lots of people about our work, because we've grown almost entirely by word of mouth.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
hi! what's something you used to fervently believe that you now see as misguided?
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@eriktorenberg I used to believe that hard work was all it took and privilege, racism, sexism weren't real. They're real as hell.
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@eriktorenberg I used to believe that you could trust literally no one in this world (to be fair, this was taught to me). But now that I interact with a LOT of people, I've come to realize that a lot of people believe this (sometimes they just don't realize it). Trusting other people is really hard when you're taught to mistrust, but it is something you can unlearn if you really want to. I really wanted to unlearn that and have made conscious efforts towards doing so, including heavy emphasis on meditation, and I can honestly say it has changed my life & how I interact with people. Learning to trust has added a level of enrichment and satisfaction with my life that I didn't even know was possible before.
Kate@katesegrin · Head of Social @ GitHub
Who are some of the people who have made the biggest impact on your life? (Please include stories 😺)
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@katesegrin 1) My junior high and high school orchestra teacher, Mr. Joseph Malmquist. He is a professional violinist who plays in multiple professional level symphony orchestras but pours his entire life into teaching kids. What he teaches is so far beyond the music and music theory, too—he was by far the most influential teacher in my entire life because of his approach to learning, teaching a hunger for learning, teaching to accept messups or failure with grace, and teaching humility in a hypercompetitive environment. I went to a very competitive high school in a very competitive district where most of my peers are now wildly successful entrepreneurs, executives, doctors, lawyers, performers, writers, etc. so the environment can be vicious, but Mr. Malmquist is probably responsible for the majority of my personality traits that allow me to be a decent leader today. 2) A Purdue communications professor who I had for one semester freshman year before he was let go for not being tenured. He was a very aggressively radical professor who announced on the first day that we would be writing two 50-page papers during the semester, which caused almost the entire class to drop out. At that point there were only 5 of us left and he led one of the most influential and enlightening semesters of my life. He is the one who taught me how to healthily understand and approach conflict in real life and a work environment. He taught us to run towards conflict in a healthy way, and that if some form of conflict doesn't exist within an organization, there's a lot of trouble lurking. 15 years later, I have learned that he was so, so right. 3) BRIAN LAM. I met Brian when he was at Gizmodo and I was at Ars Technica, and we met in one of the most competitive of circumstances: at an Apple event. My team was having technical troubles before the event started and Brian lent us some of their equipment to use. Previous to this, my experiences dealing with other tech press at these kinds of events were nothing but horrible incidents, with people shoving me on the ground, pushing me aside, swearing at me, sexually harassing me, etc. And for sure, no one would ever HELP another publication. So when Brian did that, my mind blew up and we became friends. Brian taught me that amidst even some of the most terrible kinds of adult behavior, there are still good people lurking around if you can find them.
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@katesegrin So many! David Carr, the late columnist at the NYT and awesome dad to his daughters and a lot of young reporters. Chris Mascari, always helping me out from our days starting at Gizmodo, helping smooth out the rough edges in work life. My grandfather, who always did shit his own way, which set a great example for me to just not give a F as often as possible in some cases, but to care a lot in others. Lisa Katayama, who introduced me to the magic of dogs. Mark Lukach for stoking my fires in the water. Jon Lam, my brother, for being the perfect sidekick and now, star. Matt Nix, my best friend from college, and Matt Buchanan, the brightest star from my Gizmodo days, for being honest and supportive. Simon Baumer for letting me crash on his couch for 3 months while I started Wirecutter, in hawaii. Jacqui Cheng for running the shop and being my partner on building great content here and believing in Wirecutter enough to join up early on. Ai Bihr and Josh Davis for reminding me how to live a little more stylishly. Blaise Zerega for hiring me at Wired, and Jon Phillips for my first internship. Plenty of people I will leave unnamed who set perfect examples of how I did not want to live my life, too. They always believed in me more than I believed in myself at times. There are just too many stories to recount here, but suffice it to say they're all about me fucking up and them saying it'll be ok.
Ganda Suthivarakom@ganda · Executive editor, The Sweethome
@katesegrin Other than family, probably biggest influence is my best friend, Doug Faneuil. We met on Craigslist when he was looking for a roommate and I needed a place to live. He's the most emotionally intelligent person I know. He defends me vigorously when I am being hard on myself. As I get older, I recognize how lucky I am to have a best friend. For that stroke of providence I will be forever grateful.
Kate@katesegrin · Head of Social @ GitHub
What was a pivotal moment in your life?
Brian Lam@blam · CEO, The Wirecutter
@katesegrin I used to be a lot more conflict oriented, and I don't think that is a good way to practice life. There are two experiences that life gave me that formed this opinion. http://www.sfgate.com/news/artic... http://thewirecutter.com/2011/10...
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Also - one more from me ;) Has there been a standout product that was hugely popular that you totally didn't see coming?
Ganda Suthivarakom@ganda · Executive editor, The Sweethome
@ems_hodge Vibrators. A lot of people are reading about vibrators.
Jacqui Cheng@ejacqui · Editor-in-Chief @ The Wirecutter
@ems_hodge Personal breathalyzers. We explicitly say in our guide that the ones you buy online for home use are inaccurate and misleading, and we don't recommend them for most people if they can avoid it, and yet it's a wildly popular guide for us.