Collective Intelligence podcast speaks to Managing Editor of Grit Daily
In this podcast, Alex Shkor speaks with Stewart Rogers.
In this episode CoInt Podcast talks to Stewart Rogers, editor of Dataconomy, Grit Daily, Venturebeat, and founder of Badass Times about the importance of inclusion, work-life balance and mental health.

We focus a lot on technology, but now it's time to focus on humanity and real human issues, optimize and improve them in the same way we optimize technology.

Work-life balance is a very abstract thing, but it should be built on some principle foundations to make it easier to navigate in the world, where basically every device is designed to grab our attention constantly.
Stewart Rogers
Episode highlights
• How inclusion and equality can help startups?

• Do we need to redefine millionaires and why?

• How do you pull yourself out of the crunch mode?

Learn what Stewart has to say about this and more by watching the interview.
Episode transcript
Alex: So, hi Stewart! Good to meet you again, like and yeah, just a couple of small introductions. Like I think I will just briefly introduce you like, you have so many hats on, like and your co-founder of, like four startups, right? Like and also for editorial positions like in VentureBeat, Dataconomy, Hackernoon. What else?

Stewart Rogers: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Alex: And advising startups like, and to, and still talking about mental health, you know, like. Are you sure he is in the right position to talk about this? Yeah.

Stewart Rogers: Yeah. And great to see you again. Yeah. We, I think we worked out that this is our third country?

Alex: Yeah. This is our third country. That's right.

Stewart Rogers: So yeah, that's, that's pretty good. We should add a few more to the list.

Alex: Yeah. Yeah. This is just the beginning.

Stewart Rogers: Yeah, mental health. Am I in the right position to talk about it? It's a really interesting question. Yeah. I think what is difficult for a lot of people to imagine is that because we work in very similar ways to each other, especially in this industry, where everyone is like, in crunch mode, and it's like work, work, work, gonna get the product out. You know, we've forgotten that there might actually be better and more optimal ways to work.

You know, we've optimized all of our technology, all our technology is more powerful than it ever has been before. Works faster, works smarter, is smaller, you know, and yet we've done nothing to optimize the way we work, the hours we work, you know, any of these things. That is the next sort of thing we need to focus on.

Yeah, and I've been, I've been working in a different way for many, many years, and optimizing that, making sure it really does get me what I need in terms of results, but at the same time gives me a lot more balance, gives me have the ability to see my friends more and have fun, and, you know, all of these other things that are super important to our lives. Yeah, you know, we shouldn't just be like conveyor belts producing stuff.

Alex: Yeah. But I think your experience is also very valuable, and you need to share it. And I know, I know you like writing a book about your style of working on your, your approach. So, anyone will be able to run simultaneously so many startups and be an editor in chief in a couple of media and still have a work life balance. Right?

Stewart Rogers: Exactly! I mean, I think that, you know, the book, book should be out in 2022. But it's super important for us to take a look at, you know, some of the things that are human processes, human values, you know, we focus a lot on technology, I've got nothing against technology. And in fact, we need technology in order to make the processes and systems that I use, work and work effectively.

But we really need to focus a lot more now I think on humanity and real human issues and socio-political systems, and optimize and improve and, you know, those in the same way that we've optimized and improved technology.

Alex: Yeah. Have you heard about this experiment, like they did in Finland, when they started to work four days instead of…?

Stewart Rogers: Yeah, there's been a lot of experiments. Microsoft and, I think it was Japan, did a four-day week. They've done it in Finland, various countries. You know, whenever they do studies on that, make sure that productivity goes up, accuracy goes up, people are happier.

You know, if you can increase retention, do you know what that does for your runway? You know, it's crazy. You spend $100,000 in salary on somebody, and they leave after three months. Yeah. The next person that comes in is $150,000 because it's the $100,000 salary plus another 50 grand to hire someone. And all the time if you have low retention, and people are just coming and going, coming and going because morale is low, because it's difficult, because the culture isn't good, because it's too hard to work there. You're running out of runway first, and you're gonna burn through all of that money.

And then if you can't get another round of funding or an exit that's it, you're done.

Alex: Yeah, it looks like you know like, like well our planet is kind of, like in this startup mode like, like you're running and like you just need to zoom out and you don't have time to zoom out and reconsider, what should be this work life balance.

And this is actually what I'm curious about, because work life balance is very abstract things like and, but there should be some principal foundations on top of what you can build this work life balance.

What are yours like, principles, foundations, how can you like segregate this work life balance into maybe multiple pieces so that the person can, can navigate to work on like, for example, one is good, one is already kind of already have balance with, if it's in one direction, but I may, I need to work on another one. Can you elaborate on this, please?

Stewart Rogers: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the biggest things, and one of my biggest tips for people is, you know we do have, we do have, and we do live in a world where, you know, smartphones and laptops, and pretty much everything else is always trying to get our attention, you know. And notifications ping on your smartphone. And not only do you instantly react most of the time, but also for a lot of people, the ping of a notification on their phone actually causes mild anxiety for a few seconds.

They wonder what that is, they wonder if that's something that they have to deal with.

As a result, we've got conditioned to respond to urgency. Urgency has become more important than importance. We need to recondition ourselves. And you got to sit down and think what is important, my important is shipping the product to a customer. It's important to spend time with your family. You know, important is very different to urgent, but we've been conditioned to respond to urgent.

If you focus on the things that are important, then you'll find that your results are much, much, much better than if you focus on the things that are urgent.

Obviously, you have to do the things that are important and urgent first, okay. And none of this is new thinking like this, this all comes from, you know, Franklin Covey, and you know, other people before them. But important and urgent must come first. What I do is I look at my tasks, and I order them by T-shirt size. You know, if it's an hour long, it's an extra-large T-shirt.

So, XL, you know, if it's a 10 minute job, it might be XS for extra small. I do the most important, urgent and biggest task first. And that gives me a massive sense of accomplishment that really fires me up for the rest of the day. Then it'll be important, urgent, and so on and so forth.

You know, eventually you get to the stuff that's important, but not urgent. So that's, that can wait till later. And as the stuff is urgent, but unimportant that can wait till later. And if it's not urgent, not important, you shouldn't be doing it in the first place, you should be taking it off your list.

Most important thing is once you've done one task, and the other thing that we do is we multitask, very inefficient, it's actually damaging to your brain. There's lots of studies that show that you are literally damaging the neurons in your brain if you multitask. You're also causing yourself massive amounts of recovery time as you move between tasks, so it's slower than single tasking.

But if your single task most important thing to do next is play, have fun. Like dance, slide down a slide, swing on a swing, paint something, do something childish, because that kicks off a protein in your body called brain derived neurotrophic factor, BDNF.

BDNF is the same protein that is kicked off when you're in flight, or flight mode. It acts as a reset button for your brain, makes you think clearly. So that when you do the next task, it's going to be inspired, creative and accurate like the first task was.

Alex: Yeah, and you know, what's interesting? My background is in distributed systems. And in distributed systems, there's like always been a problem with data consistency when you distribute like a multiple server. Yeah.

And what is interesting. So usually, people like we're trying to parallel things do simultaneous computations on as many cloud servers as possible. But what approach showed the best result, like and what is laid out is a foundation for many Blockchains now and like, but first was introduced in London multi-task exchange is a process where you process everything one by one, like every transaction way beyond without any realization at all.

And basically, it allows you to optimize the right model specifically for producing these, like processing these data and processing these transactions and without switching any context. It's so similar to human right, yeah, so, so similar.

Stewart Rogers: Yeah, absolutely! Yeah. I mean, you know, we have got trapped into this multitasking world, we feel like we have to do lots of things all at the same time. It's extremely inefficient. It would be inefficient.

Alex: But like you know, like in our world, like, especially in crypto, we tend to be reactive, like you have to be like, re- you have to resist this reaction mode like. And it's not that easy and like even as a founder of company, even if I want to promote, for example, working less like four days per week, I always have a trade of, you know, they can either start working less and being afraid to be perceived as a lazy, or but if I don't do this, it's much less chance that someone will follow my example.
Stewart Rogers: You know, I think that anything is possible if you prepare and do your research, and then show that there are some extremely bright people out there who researched this, and here are the results and why don't we try it?

You know, when you go and you do, let's say you go do some mobile marketing, for some, you know, mobile user acquisition, you're going to read a report to see if cost per install is the way to go, or whatever cost per action is the way to go. You know, the report will tell you that if you want lots and lots of users that may uninstall within a few minutes, CPI is the way to go. Yeah. It'll get you the vanity numbers, but it's not going to get you money. And it will tell you that, you know, CPA, it's more expensive per, per user, but you're paying when they actually start subscribing or something like that. Doesn't get you to vanity metrics.

You know, you got to now make a decision which one is which. And you go to your, you know, your board, your CMO, your CEO, CFO and you say look, here's the research, which of these aligns with our business goals? Yeah. Why should your life or why should your workweek, or you know, why should anything that you do be any different to that process? Yeah. There's a lot of research out there, gold standard research, that shows that working in these different ways is incredibly good for you.

So, you take that research, and you weigh it up, and you take it to the people that matter. And you say, look, here's what it says. And not just this research with these other two papers on this peer reviewed, everyone's agreed versus good data, specifically significant. I think we should try this because I think it'd be more effective for our company.

Alex: Yeah, this sounds good. So, I think, could you give me my sunglasses. So yeah, so like, sorry. So, but yeah, I agree. Like, there's already you know, like, so much proof like, about like, that we need to change like this, it's becoming even urgent, you know, like it's, this thing we can urgent to like, switch from this work.

Like, I don't know, when we just kinda like running to achieve something, we don't even know what exactly is. But we are coming to the new kind of Web3 and there's like, and these will change, probably everything. You know, probably also will change the way we work. And yeah.

And I feel that there is something you know, at the very root of this problem, which can cause this change, like if we just change, change the world system, you know, it was an old economic model. Yeah. Because like, when you, for example, when you're a creator, like, can we build in create a common protocol, you can also have a trade of, like do things you're passionate about and do things which pays your bills. Yeah. And anything, this thing pays your bills is exactly the thing, which puts you into a condition of running for the things which don't really matter that much. Yeah.

And it's very similar, you know, like, it seems to me that it's also encrypted with these high returns, also motivates people to work more, more and more and more, even though they earn a lot of money, they still kind of in this mode, they still like don't want to lose it and so on.

But, the future of work ethic, and in general, the gig economy or whatever, would you name it, like in Web3 could be so much different, we maybe even don't, if we're not able to imagine it right now. Yeah. What do you think will change if, like digital nomad style of living, which, you know, a big fan of will become a standard, if it will be like, really convenient to be digital nomad? If you can, like live anywhere you want, if countries will be able to track where you were located.

And for example, if you create something beautiful, and like some good content from one location, there's like, there's a percentage of all this revenue that goes to this country because basically, it inspired you, I don't know, like somehow to make these beautiful things.

So, and if it feels to me like that, it can be really different from what we consider work now. Yeah. What do you think about these things?

Stewart Rogers: There's a lot to unpack there. I mean, one of the things that, let's talk about the sort of the human element of this just for a second before we get into the technology.

Certainly, I see a lot of startups, obviously, I have seen a lot of startups over many, many years. I mean, I still get between 200 and 400 pitches a day from startups that want me to write about them. Nice. Which, you know, just shows you, first of all, what the competition is like out there.

You know, unfortunately, a lot of startups are trying to produce something that's already extremely well covered. Yeah. And sometimes they're trying to produce something that's actually baked into people's operating systems already. And, you know, I feel for those people, because they're going to spend a lot of time and money and blood, sweat and tears and effort creating something that ultimately is already in every Android phone or, you know, something like that.

You know, so I think we have to be a little bit more honest to ourselves. A lot of this stuff is created by extremely intelligent, technical people, but because their egos get in the way, we have this problem with subscription, or they make themselves a CEO of the company.

And being a CTO is a very different mindset and skill set to being CEO. Technical people, unless you get a unicorn, it can do both. Technical people generally tend to be totally differently minded to the kind of person you need for a CEO, which is sort of sales, business development, people management, the kind of person that protects the stars in their company, makes sure they don't leave and does deals and raises funds and that kind of thing. And that puts those CTO people who shouldn't be, you know CEOs, I presume will have a lot of pressure.

Similarly, artists, you know, an artist's brain, an artist's mindset, creators mindset, that is very different to the kind of mindset you need to sell that art. One of the reasons I'm so, so excited about the, you know, the NFT platforms that are being created, and what's happening in that world, is, we get a chance to cut out a lot of the, you know, middle people that are involved in say, you know the music industry.

You know that the artists can sell directly to the fan, they can make sure they get something extra to say thank you. And then when it's resolved, they still get a royalty.

You know, we can start thinking about cutting out music publishers and distributors, and, in organizations like PRs that count how many times something has been played and you know, pay a royalty on that, you know, we can do things in a different way.

Same with artists, you know, is it fair, but, you know, the artist only makes money once when their art is sold, shouldn't they make a percentage of the resale value rather than the collector who just, you know, bought it and flipped it? Yeah.

NFT platforms, if done right, represent an opportunity for us to make it very easy for artists, for musicians, for creators of all kinds, to actually sell and market their art in an almost automatic way.

So, they don't have to learn, you know, about new mindsets, new skills, they don't have to bend their mind to sales and business development, which might not suit the creators or the artists' mind in the first place. Yeah.

So, I'm really excited about that. I think this use of technology to solve problems that previously we could only sort of through either psychology, or good mentorship advice. You know, there's a lot of great mentors out there who have said to people, you should not be the CEO or have said to artists, you need someone to help you sell this.

And as long as people are more honest with themselves, and they put themselves in the right position for their skills, for their mindset, they would do a lot better.

Now we have technology that can direct that, make it a lot easier. And hopefully, we've created especially with artists, we can get rid of this whole sort of struggling artists syndrome, where you've got somebody who creates things from their heart, so but they're scratching to pay rent every month because they don't have any understanding or knowledge on how to make money from what they do. Yeah,

Alex: It resonated so much with me. So, as soon as this is the reason, we started what we're building. But we want to just do like distributed systems and invent new technologies and not worry about selling them you know, like and promotion like and the kind of have some, like this part of these, job is basically we have value creation and capturing, and the current economy is much more beneficiary to be really capturing like mindset because then you basically deciding how what is the cut, creator gets?

But the more capital you have, the more powerful your decision is. But to be so great if we can automate as well capturing and this is what NFT can bring, like not only NFT, NFT is just like one single piece of all these technologies.

And how we see this like, is that we just need to shift the world economic model from, from value capture into value creation, and put in the center of the economy, human equator, and basically design all the principles of this economy around it so that the impact which creator makes, and not even measured with money, they're measured with something else, but it still has to be measured.

You know, and this is the thing like what is, what I want to pick your brain on about? It looks like if something is not measured, it's very hard to scale this thing. And this is actually I think, why people are so much into money, because they are very objective, $1,000 is $1,000.

And this is actually the ultimate measuring system right now in the world. And it's, it's not efficient in terms of accuracy, but it's efficient in terms of scalability, because accuracy, definitely bad because $1 billion, earned by Elon Musk, $1 billion, earned by a drug dealer, and $1 billion, like you get from your wealthy parents, like it's very, very different contribution, but still the same number. Yeah.

And like, and this actually, like, makes me think, even if it's good idea to call people billionaires, because the kind of developer is like, all the contributions they make, and like and just put a sign that they have for 1 billion,

Stewart Rogers: Yeah, I mean, I. I don't know if it was Richard Branson that originally said this, or if it was somebody before Richard, and then he adopted it, but I like this, too. I like to adopt this myself. I think we should just redefine millionaire and billionaire anyway.

I mean, I would prefer to be seen as a millionaire, not because I got a million dollars, but because I've positively affected a million people's lives. Yes, right. That is more valuable to me than anything. And there's a lot when it comes to, you know, globally scalable solutions. Global scalability is not just a technological problem.

One of the reasons I'm very hot on diversity, equality and inclusion, for example, you know, if you just constantly end up with startups that are run by five white kids who just came out of Stanford University, you're constantly going to get products, services, and creations and anything else that will inherently appeal to white guys.

And, you know, white guys, maybe of a certain age, maybe you know, sort of 20 to 40 age range, because they've just come out of university, they're gonna design that product or that service that whatever it is, with their mindset, with their worldview, it's going to appeal to maybe 2, 3, 4 million people.

If you have, you know, a woman, a man, a black person, an Asian person, someone from the LGBTQI community, a disabled person on your team, you are most likely going to create products and services that will work for and appeal to 3, 4 billion people because you'll make changes to the design, so that everyone can use it, everyone can get access to it, everyone can enjoy it.

I mean, it's one of the reasons we started Badass Bureau, you know, my co-founder, Victoria Hospitaller. You know, we thought, well, the balance needs redressing. You know, we need to find a Serena Williams of tech to inspire the next generation of girls to get into his industry and change it so that we have equality as our first sort of target point. We'll, we'll look at marginalized communities and other, other areas later but, you know, we're creating something that is a storytelling agency for female founders and executives.

And it's important that we do that because we need to create for a Serena Williams of tech. Yeah, so we're, we're looking to create the next generation of female role models in the tech industry. And that's important, because that speaks to global scalability, much more so than technology will be able to affect that. Technology will have its part to play in this process.

And I believe that, you know, decentralized technologies have a better chance of us, you know, increasing global scalability and also increasing access to communities that wouldn't normally be touched by the sort of technologies that are created in Silicon Valley.

So, a combination of diversity, equality, inclusion, and decentralized technologies are our best chance at real global scalability for the future solutions that are going to help humanity.

Alex: But yeah, it's, I totally agree. And what, I'm curious about this, what you just said, it's really important to include into the design process, more people. Yeah. And with, in diverse community, so they kind of can provide the information you will not be able to get anywhere else because they can take a look at what, your billion, take a look of houses he's built, and basically match what is, where's the friction, what is the friction for their own community?

And this is like really hard to do without those people because you are, you, you had a totally different life experience, and you just use them. So, you see from your eyes, from your perspective.

But startups in order to deliver something, have to be small enough, you know, like it's, you cannot have like 1000 people in your startup in the decision making process like architecture, high level architecture of the system, like at least in early stages.

And, diversity is unlimited.

So, they're an unlimited number of minorities, like unlimited, literally unlimited, because they're created like every single day. So, every single day, there is like some, some minority is created. And I do understand how it can be solved.

Like later when you have your feasible decentralized system launched. And the governance process is very inclusive, and it doesn't even know who you like, you just have an identity like tech, but how to transition to this.

Stewart Rogers: I don't think you have to transition. I mean, I was judging a pitching competition in Kiev one time, New Sphere conference, all about you know, space and new mobility and all these things. And there was a startup there that had, what would effectively look like a massive DJI drone, right. Yeah. It was an air taxi.

And, you know, you could fit two people in this air taxi, and then artificial intelligence was going to fly it from point A to point B without crashing into another one, or a big tree or whatever. Okay. And then it came time for the judges' comments. And I couldn't grab the microphone fast enough. Because what I said immediately was, this isn't a question, it's a statement. You don't have a woman on your design team, do you? And they said no, we don't. How did you know?

I said well, the way you've designed the entrance into your air taxi, I challenge you as the CEO to put on a short skirt and get into that without embarrassing yourself. You have designed this for people who wear trousers, and don't even get me started on if I rock up to this in a wheelchair. All you need to do to fix this is hire a woman and a disabled person on your design team and then you can make this product work for everyone.

That is not five years down the line after a MVP alpha, beta, release candidate, release stage and then growth phase situation, that is absolutely table stakes. And you need to do it really, really, early. Hiring your founding team is one of the most important things that you will ever do. And too many people are hiring people that look like them, which is a lot of time unconscious bias. You know, people like people that are like them.

So, if you're going to do something scary, like run a startup, you would want to limit the scariness by having people around you that are like you, right? Yeah.

But you need to think really, really carefully about that decision because if you hire initially on the founding team for diversity, equality and inclusion, you will find that immediately, even if your market opportunity is not there just yet, because you're just starting out, you can't even afford to have too many customers.

But you will find that it will pay back in massive dividends later down the line because what you design will be effective for a much, much bigger audience and you're setting yourself up for success from day one. Not trying to, you know, basically fix issues a year down the line when you suddenly realize that everything's gone wrong.

And a great example of that was one of the early paper towel dispensers that worked with a sensor where you wave your hand in front of it and then a towel comes out. A company in America sold 1000s and 1000s of 1000s of these into bathrooms in restaurants, cafes and clubs all over America.

And then a video went viral on YouTube, because a black guy waved his hand in front of the towel, it wouldn't give him a, you know, a sensor wouldn't give him a towel. And it went, and then his white friend waved sand in front and the towel came out, they'd used a sensor that wasn't always sensitive to black skin. Yeah, one black person on their team, they would never put that product out there.

As a result, they had to recall everything, they couldn't afford to retool them and get them back out into the field, actually some company that's, that's a big, big, huge issue. You solve that from the get-go, you don't wait till further down the line, you don't need to wait for your 1000 people, you can solve that from the founding team onwards.

Alex: Yeah. And that you know what is interesting, I think open-source mentality and approach kind of solves it all from a different perspective, you just open in like a contribution for everyone, you just made the guideline for the integration and like now anyone can contribute.

Stewart Rogers: Yeah, it's exciting. And I love the idea of crowdsourcing effectively. Crowdsourcing knowledge, crowdsourcing different points of view, you know, it's a fantastic way forward, and we should do much, much more than that. We have to do open source for the right reasons, you know.

Some people in the past have of open source, not because they particularly want to crowdsource people's knowledge, understanding and ideas, they've crowdsourced to stir the pot for the entire industry, and, you know, just make the pie bigger server, instead of them having to take bigger market share of a small pie, they can take the same market share of a bigger pie in the first place.

You know, they will always spin back from a marketing standpoint of being altruistic and helpful to the community.

But the reality is, their intentions are not, not, you know, sort of valiant very much, just trying to make more money and, and have more power in that sector.

But if you do it for the right reasons, and if you do it with the right impetus, and ask the right questions in the community, that's incredibly powerful, and you can really get much further ahead a lot quicker.

And really, you know, get the knowledge, understanding and you know, so many different viewpoints that what you're going to create is going to be valuable for the whole world and not just a small subsection of it.

Alex: Yeah, I cannot agree more I think this is like the best ending for our discussion and like we self can in positions that we now reconsider how we work on our project, how we can engage community more how we can make it like more open because like even if it's like open source, it's, it's not enough, you need to work on building these processes community so they can start contributing they will not be afraid that their contribution will not be like counted or whatever.

And, and let's, let's check like in couple of years I think it's, it's actually looks like this is a way, this is way to go like and not on the Open Source but also all inclusivity in these processes, like in community building, especially crypto now becomes like a big, big thing like a very important one that, which drives all the projects. Yeah, sure. Yeah.

So, thank you very much. And good luck with all the projects you have and especially the book I think the world needed it.

Stewart Rogers: Thank you so much. Yeah, really looking forward to getting out. And thanks so much for having me on.

Alex: Thank you.