Episode 1 / Turning Pirates into Future Customers
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Welcome to the first episode of our podcast, Well Made. In this show, we'll share conversations about the intersection between business and design. It's our excuse to go deep with friends, entrepreneurs, designers, and a few of our heroes.


In this inaugural episode, we talk to Jeff Veen, who happens to fit all four of those categories. In the world of technology and design, Jeff has done it all. From launching Typekit and working as Adobe's VP of Design, to his new role as Design Partner in the VC world at True Ventures

After sharing lessons from his expansive career (in the most humble way possible), Jeff talks to us about bringing better typography to the web, Adobe's acquisition of Typekit, and the role of design in modern business.


Stephan: Hi Jeff Veen. How are you doing?

Jeff: Hey! I'm doing great. How are you?

Stephan: I'm doing really well and I'm super happy to talk to you. Tell me about London, because I don't know anything about why you moved to London or what you're doing there, or how long term this is. What's going on over there?

Jeff: Oh, it's long term. I have moved here. And it's been almost two weeks now, so I'm sort of just barely getting my my legs under me. I moved here for family reasons, but it also turns out it's just a tremendous opportunity for the kind of work that I've been doing over the last year or so, which has been investing in technology startups and looking for a design angle in all of that. And man, that's going really well over here. There's just this great startup scene and it's been a lot of fun. But yeah, I have young kids who are going to grow up through the whole English school system. So I'm here.

Stephan: Wow. They're going to have a British accent then, right?

Jeff: I know. It's already happening. They've only been here a few weeks. My daughter is four years old and so she's already calling me "daddy." Oh no.

Stephan: Is your wife's family from England?

Jeff: Yeah.

Stephan: Oh, wow. I didn't know that. So maybe it would help for people who are listening to get a quick idea of who you are. You've done so much in your career, maybe you can give us a 37-second version?

Jeff: Thirty seven seconds, let me see. I came out of school with a degree in journalism and worked at some newspapers and magazines. And this is before the web. This is a long time ago — early 90s. But that all kind of got me into a position to be able to get a job at Wired magazine back in like 1994, and and I built websites for them then which was not a job that very many people had at the time. So yeah, I kind of learned how to do all of this web stuff. We all sort of learned it collectively on our own while we were building what we called at the time Hotwired which eventually got sold to Lycos. If you haven't heard of Lycos it's this old...

Stephan: I'm old enough.

Jeff: Yeah you're old enough, maybe your listeners aren't. But basically a Yahoo competitor back in the 90s — a web portal with a search engine. I worked there for about a year. It was a really weird place. I was very happy to leave. And when I did, I got together with a few friends and we started a consulting company called Adaptive Path, and we did user experience research, and usability interaction design, and stuff like that. Again, at a time when not a lot of those disciplines were very well defined, and that company persisted until just last year, although I only stayed there for about five years doing consulting.

While I was at Adaptive Path, I realized that the life of a consultant was not one that I wished to continue to pursue and so I convinced my partners that we should do products as well as services. And so I hired some engineers and we developed a product called Measure Map which was an analytics tool for bloggers and we worked on that for about a year and then sold it to Google, where we went over and designed what became Google Analytics. So that was a fun couple of years at Google working on Analytics, and then we worked on some of the the more social products. We did some work on Gmail and Google Docs and Blogger and stuff like that, so that was pretty fun. And I left Google after a couple years to start a new company and the product we came up with — this is the same team that built Measure Map that had come out of Adaptive Path — and we built Typekit, which was a web font serving service that really sort of brought web fonts kind of out of nowhere into, I think, pretty much the de facto way of designing on the web today. It was super fun and grew really big really quickly. We sold that company to Adobe and I worked there as the V.P. of Design doing the transition over to the Creative Cloud and did that for a few years, and then left and joined True Ventures as design partner now. So, I think I went over my 37 seconds.

Stephan: There's so much in there to unpack. Are you retired now? Is True Ventures an easy job compared to starting Typekit and doing those crazy things?

Jeff: I wouldn't call it easy, but it's different in absolutely every way. And I'll tell you man, I never thought that some day you would ask me what do you do and I would say "I'm in finance." It just never occurred to me, but True Ventures was the firm that was the lead investor in Typekit. I had known many of the partners there previously as friends, and the fit was really good. I was leaving Adobe, I didn't really have a sense of what I wanted to do next, though entrepreneurial something was on the on the horizon. But we had a good chat about it, and it turns out this is just a great way to leverage all the experience that I've had and do stuff like that.

The real difference that I've seen in just the year that I've been doing it is the feedback loop is so different. Like, when you're doing product work… and you've got a good process like I know you guys do, you can sort of get an idea materialized and out in front of customers in maybe a week, like maybe a few days, and then you can measure qualitatively and quantitatively. Did it work? Was that a good idea? Should we fix it?

Stephan: Right.

Jeff: And when you're investing in companies, it's much more of like a five to ten year horizon to see: Did it work? Am I good at this? Were our instincts were right? And stuff like that. So that's a big adjustment to not having that sort of daily feedback as to whether the direction you're going is right or not. And I mean our companies have lots of metrics and we can measure all of that kind of stuff and everything, but you get what I'm saying, right? Like this idea of, "We've got wait a long time to see if this works."

Stephan: Sure, yeah. And what is the design angle of what you're doing now?

Jeff: Well, it's really just like I said: Leveraging a lot of the experience that I've had. But it turns out that a lot of the other firms in Silicon Valley were kind of seeing things the same way. About a year ago, as I was thinking about, "Oh, maybe I should join True. Maybe be a VC... being helpful however can," a couple of people that I really respect and know pretty well as designers did the same thing. In fact my old boss at Google, Irene Au, who was the VP of User Experience over there, she joined Khosla Ventures and took on the title of Design Partner and then the former President of the Rhode Island School of Design, John Maeda joined Kleiner Perkins and he took the title of Design Partner. And then there was this great group of people that I had worked with at Google and they all transitioned over to Google Ventures and they were calling themselves design partners. And so clearly there was something going on, and now there's maybe a dozen of us that all of our experience and our careers have been in design... and we're all sort of practicing that in an investing context. And I find that really really interesting.

Not only that a bunch of us with the same kind of experience all kind of doing the same kind of job, but that there is a market for it. That the part of Silicon Valley, the engine that runs on the capital that powers all of these companies, has started to realize that design is a crucial part of their investing strategy. Like that user experience, the quality of the experience that people have with products, can take risk out of the overall investing equation. It feels like one of these overnight sensations that took us 20 years to get to, you know?

“[Silicon Valley] has started to realize that design is a crucial part of their investing strategy.”

Stephan: Yeah, it seems like the bar for good design is so much higher and the expectation that startups should have well-designed products... at this point, it's just an expectation. And what do you attribute that to?

Jeff: I attribute that all to mobile, to be perfectly honest. I think people had an expectation of sitting down in front of a computer as being a work thing that is generally a little bit painful, right? Like, it's hard to do. You have to get some big complicated spreadsheet program, and I only know how ten percent of this thing works, and then I get weird error messages, and that's what interacting with technology was for most people up until about six or seven years ago. And then they got one of those computers in their pocket, and instead of having a distinct period of time where they sat down and did painful work, they just had technology with them all the time. So they had these thousands of micro interactions a day, and it turns out that the better those interactions went, the more people sort of had an affinity for them. So that gave people the sense of like, "Oh, there's five different options for how I can communicate with my friend and I'm going to choose the one that has the better experience that doesn't cause me pain, and I'm going to do this all the time." And the bar has been raised so much higher for having things that are just fundamentally intuitive and easy-to-use-delightful that it is no longer a competitive advantage to have that in your product. It's just like table stakes. You just have to have it.

Stephan: Yeah, so if design is table stakes at this point, what does that mean for design going further?

Jeff: Well, I think there's this interesting intersection between that cultural phenomenon with the fact that we have people that have well over a decade of design experience now, and that those people have been in companies like Google and Facebook and Apple itself, and in Silicon Valley you have this layer now of design leadership. And a lot of those people are considering the entrepreneurial path since building companies, and starting companies, and all of that has become a lot more accessible over the last six, seven, eight years.

So what that means is you have this sort of rise of the design entrepreneur. Like the founder of a company whose background is not computer science, doesn't have an MBA, but instead has been building and shipping and designing products for the last 15 years. And I find that absolutely fascinating, and I find that a part of that bigger cultural shift of design in Silicon Valley is the acceptance of the fact that designers can start companies and that they are getting funded to do so.

Stephan: Yeah. I guess one question is, as you've seen some of the companies over the past year working at True who come from that background, who come from a more design-driven background, are you seeing that they need to catch up on other sides of their business? They're maybe not as strong operationally, or something like that?

Jeff: No. Not necessarily. It is maybe a gross generalization, but I'll make it anyway: the companies that have been founded by designers are not necessarily like patentable technology-driven companies. You know what I mean?

Stephan: Sure.

Jeff: Like, they're not doing the real machinery of the internet or things like that. Again, that's a gross generalization because some of the technologies that I saw being developed at Adobe while I was there — phenomenal... but in general, yes. It is designers that are building products that can leverage a lot of the infrastructure that already exists. Like the fact that we have a AWS and Heroku and things like that now, just give everybody this head start that they don't have to reinvent all of that infrastructure just to make a company that can scale.

Now it's also important to say, that just because a company is being founded by designers and has a really good sense of user experience in their products, it's not going to make it successful. It means that they will, all things being equal, on other parts of the business model and the technology platform and all of that — I believe they'll have a higher likelihood of being successful if they do well at design. But if they don't have those other things, design isn't going to make them successful. And I think what happened earlier this year with Rdio is a really good example. I thought Rdio was a far better designed product than Spotify, or for that matter, even Apple Music. But it wasn't enough for it to survive because of the way in which Spotify so excelled at licensing and marketing.

“It is designers that are building products that can leverage a lot of the infrastructure that already exists.”

Stephan: Yeah, so there are those pitfalls and you still have to run a good business with a real strategy. I think Typekit is kind of an interesting example of this because when you look at fonts – designers know about fonts – but I think most people take them for granted. They don't even really think about them. They know the little picker that they have in a word processing document, but aside from that, they might not be aware of the impact of fonts that are all around them. Do you think that's true? And how did you guys build such an amazing business out of it?

Jeff: So first of all, I totally agree with you that the vast majority of the people in the world, to them, typography is invisible. It’s like spices in the food that they may not be able to identify, but you know they will have a sense that one is different from another. But they wouldn't say it is because of the font that was there.

Stephan: Yeah. I think the long-term implication of Typekit is that now businesses can design brand identities that overlap between the physical and the digital worlds much more than before. In the past you had your corporate font, whatever you were using out in the wild for your packaging and your your flyers or your posters, and then on the web, you’re using Arial or Helvetica.

Jeff: Right, exactly. So yeah, I think that's come a long way and that did, to your earlier question, allow us to build that business on top of the world's typography. There were two key things that we did there. One was just from a pure technology point of view, we enabled a marketplace to exist that just didn't exist before. That is, there was this little bit of technological innovation... it just seemed like a minor thing. The @font-face CSS declaration was enabled in the big browsers all at once at the end of 2008. That was something that had existed in a specification for a dozen years? In the 90s, the CSS had done that.

There were some pretty crappy implementations back then, and then nobody ever gave it another thought. And most of the type foundries were very vocal in their opposition to it, because they felt like the same thing would happen to them that happened to the music industry, and rightly so. I believe that's actually true. You search for most fonts in Google and the second result behind the foundry website is a BitTorrent site. Fonts are one of the most pirated software ever.

So it was this sort of little bit of technology that allowed us to do some level of lightweight protection of the font files themselves, so it wasn't as simple as simply like typing in a url and getting the font. We did a number of small things that just made it [to where] you had to be very deliberate if you wanted to go get the font out of a page enabled with Typekit. And that was enough to convince some of the foundries, and some of the foundries that we really wanted to work with, to give this a shot.

And then the other piece of innovation we did, was to try to unpack and normalize the weird font licensing business that's out there, where every individual font foundry has its own sets of rules and licensing agreements for what you can and can't do with each font, as well as a wild variety of pricing schemes. Everything from individual styles like bold and italic cost different amounts of money.

If you step back and take a look at the industry as a whole about six or seven years ago, it was it was just utterly complex and hard to hard to negotiate. So many designers that I talked to were always a little like, "Well I used this font with this client. I'm not sure if the client actually bought the license. They can be in violation. I don't know, I bought the license . I don't know if it transferred," on and on and on. So the other thing we did on the business side of things was a standard web font license. That was it, and that was the requirement for anybody who wanted to put their fonts in Typekit was that they would use our terms, and we worked really hard on those terms and talked to a lot of foundries to find a way to do that. And then on top of those standard terms, we did standard pricing. That is you pay a subscription fee and we would distribute a portion of that fee out to the foundries based on how much of it was used, which in some ways, it's very much like the Spotify model just applied to a different kind of creative asset.

“Fonts are one of the most pirated software ever.​”

Stephan: Yeah, and I think this whole little conversation goes back to that previous point. In order to make that business successful, it wasn't just about appealing to designers with this cool thing that they use all the time, but it was also making it work from an engineering standpoint and from a licensing standpoint, and those are two of the major things that you had to work on that are not really designy or design-driven necessarily, and so you kind of have to be prepared to get your hands dirty with that kind of stuff.

Jeff: Oh, absolutely. I mean we were deep into marketplace dynamics and pricing models and like measuring CDN costs for bandwidth and... it just went on and on and on. Big complicated algorithms for all that kind of stuff. So yeah, we had to hire some people that knew math. That was helpful.

Stephan: Now when Adobe acquired it, they were still going through their transition to services, right?

Jeff: They hadn't started yet.

Stephan: They hadn't started?

Jeff: No, in fact that was a lot of the motivating factor in the Typekit acquisition was that we had covered a lot of that ground already. We were selling design assets and products as services on a subscription model with the payment systems and stuff like that.

Stephan: Can you talk a little bit about that transition and how it felt from the inside? Because it's one of the most remarkable transitions in the history of modern companies, and it happened so seamlessly. There were a few complaints here and there, but for the most part, it was a remarkably well done.

Jeff: I'm so glad that it appears that way from the outside.

Stephan: Well, as someone who spends a lot of time in those applications, I saw it as a big benefit because I always say that if I hadn't pirated Adobe products, I probably would have never become a designer.

Jeff: Totally.

Stephan: I started using Photoshop when I was in middle school, and I would have never been able to pay $600 or however much it cost at the time. And eventually that has to break, you know? For me it happened when I was in design school. I had to start paying for this thing, and I was much happier to do it once Adobe switched to services. Not only was it more of a modern business model that fit in with the way people were buying operating systems now, in fact not buying them because they've become free, but also a way to basically make money from people who were pirating their software this entire time because pirating was easier because there was no big upfront cost.

Jeff: Yeah. I remember being in a meeting one time with the CEO of Adobe and the Head of Sales, and the CFO, all these people, and talking about strategy and stuff and somebody was talking about piracy and pirates. And I said, "You know instead of calling them pirates, why don't we just call them future customers?” Just silence in the room. You know, because they look at the numbers and it's like it's an extra billion dollars in revenue that's going to piracy. And I'm like, “Yeah, well you could also call that our freemium model.”

But anyway, to your point, yes. It was a very difficult transition from inside. One, because I mean 30 years of doing business was going to stop and go a different direction, and that's significant no matter how you cut it. But it was also more than a billion dollars in business that we're just going to put on the line, and just say like, "We're going to do it differently now." And if you go and look at the last four years of Adobe revenue, there's just a huge, huge dip where there was this expectation in the spring of 2012 that everybody would buy Adobe Creative Suite 7, or whatever the next version was... And everybody would sort of dole out their $800 upgrade fee, but instead everybody switched to $10 a month or $50 a month. So you imagine this huge dip in revenue, but it's recurring revenue and so it'll build over time and like the executives at Adobe did a tremendous job like walking the Wall Street through that and saying, "We're going to come back next quarter with a lot less revenue than you're expecting, but it's all going to be good." And it was, and you look at the stock price over the last four five years and it's been phenomenal. Totally, totally worked.

But what I liked about it is the point that you brought up which is that made the software so much more accessible to so many more people. And the stark reality of that business is that, honestly there is just no market anymore for $1,200 software. Like, nobody buys a big giant box of software with a huge manual in it for $1,200 like they did 10 years ago, and Adobe was seeing that and the revenues on that were getting flat. They were recovering from the 2008 recession, and things were looking a little troubling and so this was an attempt to revitalize that in a way that has made the software available to so many more people, that even at the much lower price, the revenue has just been fantastic. The growth has been fantastic for Adobe.

“Instead of calling them pirates, why don't we just call them future customers?”

Stephan: Yeah, and you could imagine an alternate reality where they hadn't done that, at least for another five years or ten years. I think they could have gotten away with it. And it's a one-way switch, you can't really do that thing half way. You kind of have to move your whole company over to that method in order to push the customers to use the new model, otherwise they just wouldn't. So, I think it's a really inspirational story and I guess the question that comes out of it is like, how do you put your whole business on the line? In your experience so far, whether it's with the companies that you advise or the ones that you've started, when those types of things happen, how do you think through it and make that kind of decision?

Jeff: So that's the big difference between what I experienced at Typekit and then what we went through at Adobe. Because when we did it at Typekit, we didn't put anything on the line except perhaps our reputations. We'd raised some venture capital, obviously that was on the line, but it was nowhere near the the scope and magnitude of what Adobe was attempting to do. So what it ended up with, was just so much more risk analysis and modeling that went out five, ten years in a way that obviously would have been a waste of time had we tried to do that for Typekit.

So the rigor involved is probably the thing that impressed me the most and that I learned the most from while I was there, which was you don't just sit in a room and say, "Yeah, let's try it. Okay, let's go. That sounds good. Let's build some web pages and make it a subscription service." But in fact, it was months and months and months of evaluating an overall model and figuring out pricing schemes and structure for world wide distribution in multiple currencies and all of that kind of stuff. Just a tremendous amount of analysis that went into all of that. Not to mention, then actually the tremendous amount of work that went into the systems behind it because Adobe had no proper contemporary subscription service, and certainly no user experience to sit on top of something like that that felt like the user experiences that we use every day when we manage subscriptions and relationships with all the products we use like you know, Dropbox and GitHub and stuff like that. 

So all that stuff had to be built from scratch, but built on top of legacy systems that this Fortune 500 company used to manage their publicly traded stock and finances. It was remarkable. You don't get to just create a Stripe account and start getting recurring revenue. You have to build the stuff on top of SAP. It was a lesson in change management at the biggest corporate level for me.

Stephan: I guess my question is how does that ripple down to a much smaller company, because I think even though the listeners might not be dealing with billion dollar companies, it might still feel like they're betting the farm on a big decision or a big change to their business model or to their company. And if you were advising them through that what would you say?

Jeff: One of the tricks... or let's call them strategies. One of the strategies we used at Adaptive Path in consulting, which is something that's just picked up from management consulting, is one of the ways that you identify a solution that's going to help a business with a problem is to find somebody lower down in the organization who has a tremendous conviction for how things should be, and then translate that conviction into language that the people in charge, the leadership of the company, would understand. And that's a great consulting strategy to use. And that's just the advice I give everybody is to find that conviction, so that you fundamentally know, "No, this is the right direction. Let's find a way to do it." As opposed to, "Oh, there's a bunch of directions. Let's study them all and just see what the best one might be." You know? It's the same way we do design. We back it up with A/B testing and metrics and analysis, but ultimately it's about the intuition and conviction for what the right solution is that gets us to the creative solutions that we can then test.

Stephan: It seems like you have such an intuitive overlap between designing a company and designing a service and working on tools and products that are useful to designers. Do you feel like all those things are just one in the same?

Jeff: I do, sort of. You know, there's this much maligned concept of "design thinking" which which makes it sound like rarefied and only designers get to do it and you capitalized the "D" the "T," and you know all of that stuff, and I don't have a lot of time for that. But at the same time, the skills that we learned when doing user experience consulting for Adaptive Path, I think apply so much more broadly than just interaction design, or layout, or what have you. It's that idea of starting from a place of empathy for the person who's going to be using the thing that you're creating, goes so much farther in all aspects of business and technology and just everything.

Like, if you can instill a sense of empathy in an engineer who is responsible for administering the database... To say, "The work you are doing is saving people time and giving them more time with their families," it's going to make that person want to do better at what they're doing and that, to me, comes from the same training that I had when I was learning to be a designer. Everything that I make is going to affect somebody in some part of the world, and I want that to be a great experience. So whether it is the way that we wrote our Terms of Service, or the position that we would take when having partnership discussions and biz dev deals, or how we managed our sales pipeline, like all of that stuff all came from the same position and the same set of skills that we were using for user experience design 15 years ago. So I think, I think that might be what people call "design thinking" and how you apply it to broader business in a way that you can market an airport book. But that to me, that's the that's the line through everything that I do.

Stephan: I think a challenge with design-driven companies, especially the ones that are making something for designers, is that the design community is so tight-knit and enthusiastic and passionate about this kind of stuff, that it can feel like you're building something that a lot of people care about, but then it doesn't pan out to be like a huge company the way Typekit was, and with the companies that you're now advising, how do you help them think to what the bigger idea is?

Jeff: It's a little bit the opposite of that, in that I look for companies that have that. That's a difficult thing to teach.

Stephan: Well here's an example I'm thinking about. Do you know a product called LayerVault.

Jeff: Sure, yeah.

Stephan: Yeah, so that company shut down a year or two ago and they were making basically what I think is a feature of Dropbox. It would be a way for designers to see changes within a file and communicate with clients or other people. But really, it felt like it should have been something within Dropbox — a way to see the iterations for design-specific files. I think what ended up happening is they realized that the market wasn't big enough or the opportunity wasn't big enough that they could really sustain that business. It feels initially like there might be something there, just because designers happen to be really passionate people. Or maybe I'm looking at it wrong. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Jeff: No, I think so. And I think I think one of the real challenges there is that designers also are very, I guess the word is "rigid," in how they work. In that it's very difficult to get somebody to change the way they work. Look at the the transition that's been happening between Photoshop and Sketch, and just how many people absolutely love Sketch, but how slowly that transition actually is really going. Because you get Photoshop like wired way down into your reptile brain, and that's how people work. And I think asking people to take additional steps in their pre-existing workflows, which is I think a little bit what LayerVault was trying to do — to say instead of sending an e-mail with feedback go to this web page. I mean that was essentially the thing they were trying to get people to do, and that was I think too much to overcome. So I think InVision or companies like you UXpin which is one of the companies we invested in, are doing a much, much better job of doing that outside of the the traditional workflows that designers have been in. 

I think another problem with LayerVault might have just been the economics of it, in that they were essentially hosting these giant PSD files and the value that they were providing for people wasn't enough for them to pay to cover their costs I think. But it's hard to say. It's all in retrospect, but I thought it was a beautifully designed sort of work in progress versioning control collaboration tool. I thought they were doing a great job.

Stephan: So how did you go about talking to designers when you were selling Typekit to people? What did you guys do to make it work? And side question, how did you figure that the economics would work for it?

Jeff: We were able to get the economics to work by just being very, very careful with fractions and fractions of pennies. Like all the way down and really modeling it out so that we could make a go of it. To me, I think one of the biggest successes I personally felt was around the marketing that we did for Typekit which was very technical, in that we were figuring stuff out about web fonts and then we would implement them, and then we would tell people about them, and it was just so simple that way. And we could then augment that with just frequent week-by-week, new releases in the library. "We got these new fonts, and we figured out this thing with how the timing of web fonts in the DOM is working, and so we've adjusted it and now you can do this." And we just kept that up sort of relentlessly.

And again like this is six or seven years ago, so the lean startup thing was really new and we practiced that religion fervently. We would chop every feature we could up into the smallest bite-sized pieces and then release them continuously day by day. This is also the time when when marketing via Twitter was very new. Gah, it sounds like so long ago and it just really wasn't. But all of that stuff was new, and so you know our conduit was Twitter and our blog, and we would have new stuff to share with people two or three times a week. And we had this momentum that felt like if you were following Typekit, there was always something new to go check out and it was not just new, but digestible because it wasn't some huge new version of something that you had to wait months for.

Stephan: Yeah, and I think the flip side of what I was talking about with the passion that designers have is also a good thing when you are selling something like Typekit or in the case of what we make at Lumi, oftentimes there is a distinction between who is the end consumer. In this case with with fonts, oftentimes you could say the end consumer is the person who's visiting the website — so the millions of people who are actually seeing the fonts. Then there's the person who's making the decision and in your case it was probably a designer or a developer. And then there is maybe someone like their boss who needs to agree to paying this monthly fee now, so there are different parties that you have to deal with, and if you do a really good job talking to designers and getting them excited about the value of what you're doing and they become this incredible advocate for you with their users and the rest of their company, right?

Jeff: That's right ... So we had enterprise accounts too which were just much higher volume and much more expensive, and we would look week after week at these new enterprise accounts that we were creating that we were selling, and in every single case there would be three or four free or individual paid accounts with the same e-mail addresses that had been signed up for months already. Most of our enterprise sales were being done by the designers in their companies trying to convince people higher up that we should we should be using web fonts on our website. So that was that was a key learning for us too.

Stephan: You know there's that quote from Marc Andreessen that software is eating the world. Do you think it also implies that design is eating the world? Is good design coming to every part of what we do?

“​We haven't even scratched the surface with the change that's going to happen to the world.”

Jeff: Yeah, I totally agree with his sentiment there, that there are only a few really pure technology companies and that almost every other company now just is going to be as if it were a technology company. You know what I mean? Both Netflix and HBO are technology companies. Major League Baseball is a technology company now. They just have to be as good at it as Google or Apple at the stuff that they do. What I think that means is that the kind of design that's going to be valuable is different now, where as people's exposure to design in the past might have been, what is the label on the box of detergent I'm buying or how does my toaster work? Now everything is going to be interaction design mediated by a screen or by voice or by messaging or things like that. And that's a fundamentally different kind of design than we've done in the past. It's inseparable from hardware design or industrial design as we've called it. And that's just such a huge change.

Stephan: Yeah, and I think as an investor this seems almost like a rhetorical question, but you're optimistic about the future in that way. Right?

Jeff: Yeah. We've only scratched the surface. Like we've only barely gotten started. Maybe a third of the world is even online. Like we have so much farther to go. Just think of what's going to happen in the next decade with transportation. We haven't even scratched the surface with the change that's going to happen to the world.

Stephan: Tell me about transportation. Let's let's end on on that topic because it's one that I'm really passionate about and I'm curious to hear what you're seeing for the future.

Jeff: Well, sure. I spent the last 20 years in San Francisco and most of it was inaccessible to me until Uber came around. Like, who thought cellphones would disrupt the taxi industry? I am absolutely fascinated by what's happening with the autonomous vehicles and how fast that's going. And I still hear people say oh it's 10, 15 years off. I just think it's going to happen slowly for another couple years and then all at once. It's just going to be one of those things where like, "Oh my god. How how did we ever let a human steer one of these things? That was ridiculous." And you couldn't look back 10 years and imagine what the phone would do to change the world. I don't think we're going to be able to look forward ten years and imagine what that sort of technology is going to do to fundamentally change the the way goods are shipped around the world, the way we get around, the expectations for how our cities are even designed. It's phenomenal and it's massively exciting. It just makes me thrilled to be alive right now.

 Turning Pirates into Future Customers

Stephan: Do you know Bret Victor? Have you seen his work online?

Jeff: It sounds really familiar. I'm sure I've heard of him.

Stephan: Yeah, he used to work for Apple. He has some very interesting articles about technology, and software, and all kinds of things. But he made this very simple diagram that changed my life, which explains what a tool is and it's a picture of a hammer and a hand holding the hammer and it has two arrows. "This part fits the problem. This part fits the user." You know which one is labeled, but it's all about converting what you as a human being have which are arms and hands, into an action that you want to perform on the world, which is nailing something. And when you think about the world like that, it becomes so weird. A car is really all about converting what arms and legs can do into forward motion, and that is pretty weird. I do think that in 20 years when my kids are growing up or my grandkids, that's going to seem totally insane.

Jeff: Yeah, I agree. It's exciting!

Stephan: You have a prolific blog. It hasn't been updated in several years at this point, but all that stuff is still super valuable and I'm glad you kept it online because there's a lot of interesting insights there. You've talked at length in different podcasts and videos about your career, and I hope people go check that out because there is so much good stuff there. Is there anything else? Should people go check out the True Ventures web site if they're trying to figure out whether you might be a good fit for whatever they're doing?

Jeff: Yeah. Trueventures.com. We just did a redesign with the Mule Design. It was really fun.

Stephan: It looks really nice.

Jeff: Thanks, yeah that was fun.

Stephan: Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate you taking the time.

Jeff: Thanks for having me. This was a lot of fun.


On the next episode of Well Made, Stephan chats with the typography legend, Tobias Frere-Jones. Find this and all future episodes on iTunes, Google Play, and here on the blog.

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