#1 Regrid CEO Jerry Paffendorf chats w/ Andy Didorosi
Living In The Map is a new video podcast series hosted by Regrid CEO, Jerry Paffendorf - featuring conversations with geospatial artists, activists, historians, futurists, and business leaders.
In episode 1, Jerry catches up with Detroit Bus Company founder, Andy Didorosi, about a wide range of topics, including shared Detroit inspirations, approaches to working on gaps in public services, new opportunities in mobility, and DBC’s pivot to making hand sanitizer during the pandemic.
Living In The Map Ep. 1 - Transcription
Andy, how are you, my friend? Thank you for joining me here.
I'm good. Sun is not shining here in Detroit. It's a wonderful day.
You're in Detroit, I'm in Calumet Michigan.
Full confession, I’m a first-timer in this interview series I'm starting. My name is Jerry Paffendorf, co-founder and CEO of Regrid, Regrid.com. We provide nationwide land information -- free viewer, free mobile app, lots of cool data you can license for your own apps and business processes.
I'm here with my good friend Andy Didorosi, who I had the pleasure of seeing in person a week or two ago. He took the 10-hour drive up to the Keweenaw Peninsula, to lovely, freezing cold, covered in snow Calumet.
How are you first off? How's Detroit? You mentioned the weather a little bit. What's going on?
I've been chasing sunrises lately. I just got back from Belle Isle, our little island park here to go say hi to the sun. Things are good.
I'm the founder of The Detroit Bus Company, the social benefit bus company. We'll get into all kinds of stuff, but I'm generally a maker/creator/entrepreneur person and sometimes end up accidentally doing marketing stuff too.
You're definitely a man of many talents. It's interesting to try to connect the multiple threads we've had together over time.
I'm really interested in talking to artists and creative people and people doing cool projects and not necessarily building big businesses. I don't always think of transportation and logistics in that same space-- it obviously is.
Funny how we met too, right? This would have been around 2010. We met at a speakeasy in downtown DC, Cafe Domingos. You were reviewing a truck that had made the claim that it was strong enough to pull down a house--
2011 F-450 dually. For the truck humans amongst us.
Yeah. And this is very Detroit and very that time period-- I was involved in a project that was trying to deal with a collapsed, fire damaged, dilapidated house and we needed some way to start pulling it apart.
So we said, "Do you want to get together tomorrow or the next day? And put some things around the house, and try to pull it down?" And you were up for it. That's a very odd alignment of the stars, I think.
I remember being there the next day, 8/9 am. We were cutting holes in the house to wrap a chain around it. And spoiler alert, you just cannot pull a house down with a pickup truck-- doesn't work that way.
If people need a visual analogy; it's like pulling a steel wire out of a block of cheese, and rather than it toppling the cheese, it cuts straight through.
We've had so many kinds of mutual influences and inspirations in Detroit and my team really went down the rabbit hole of all the land issues and opportunities. Thinking spatially about the need to know who owns things in the city, what's at risk of foreclosure, what needs to be repaired, and how you can use geospatial and parcel information to plan. You've been much more inspired by cars and transportation and logistics, the gaps, and getting people around in the city.
Did you know I was in town for 11 years until the pandemic? You have a longer history and more inspiration tied back to the Motor City part of Detroit than I do.
06:23- Growing up in Detroit, MI
I grew up here, so I've watched the city change. I could look up and know where I was based on the tall objects passing by; the ‘hammer hammer nail sign,’ and the Fox Theater marquee.
I started coming down myself as a young adult, to look and drive around the city, and traipse through old abandoned factories. I got so frustrated with how bad public transit was.
I traveled a little bit and you'd go to New York or you go to San Francisco and there's just transit. You just hop on a thing and it gets you somewhere. And so I was like, why in God's name can we not have transit here in the city? We put the world on wheels-- it's not a new thing. It's actually a very old thing.
I ended up just studying transit and trying to be a fly on the wall. And by not knowing all of the complicated city politics, just looking at it from a first-principles basis. But these people have different intentions. How can we get a group of people to want to go somewhere together on a vehicle?
Large enough to be efficient, to go from cars to buses. I just got fascinated by this fractal issue where the more you look at it and the more you dive in, the deeper and more challenging it gets. Then add on the layer of humans and politics and money and racism and the fed and all that. It's a multiple lifetime problem to dig into.
People who are not from Detroit, I feel sometimes don't know how really like interesting Detroit is -- because of the problems you're facing that you have to surmount kind of make you think like differently.
There’s this stereotype where, and I think this is kind of changing a bit now, but if you wanted to be really successful or the best at something, there were really only a few places that you could go-- New York City, San Francisco, LA, maybe you'd go to Austin or Boston or something like that.
Detroit really is like Manhattan, or whatever you want to call it, for thinking about a lot of these issues differently. Because you see these gaps in the systems. In Detroit, you still can't even take a shuttle from the airport to downtown, unless I'm wrong about that.
There's a thing that comes by a couple of times a day; as long as you're willing to wait around for two hours and pay I think it's like 18 bucks--it's a long-term screwed-up thing. This is a pressure cooker for all of society's issues; red-lining, exclusion, deed restrictions. I'm looking out the window to the backyard right now cause there's like a half-fallen down bar right behind my house I look at every day.
People drive around this town and they think to themselves like, shouldn't someone buy these poor buildings and fix them up? It is far more complicated. You've got owners that don't want to sell, it's impossible to get the money together to fix these things up. No bank's going to give it to you. It's just that problem, multiplied.
There's Oakland, McComb, and Wayne County--there's just not a lot of cooperation for lots of reasons. As you said, historic redlining, racism, and a city suburb divide are perhaps the more key issues. That leaves room for this kind of private innovation -- independent maybe even like a better word.
I think this might be an interesting segue into this…Mary and I have recently been watching Super Pumped, which is the Uber docu-drama. This is very much a story of a Megalomaniacal character. I'm not here to judge the people, but that's certainly the character type that's played up. And I'm speaking on behalf of Travis Kay. Taxis are the mob essentially everything in government is broken and stupid.
Uber's job is to superimpose on top of this system; a new, private, better way of doing things, one that doesn't have to play by the rules of the road.
I remember when Uber first came to Detroit, I was aware that Detroit was definitely lagging behind in smartphone adoption at the time. And I even forget what year this would have been. I remember thinking at first, I don't know if this is going to work here because… there are many reasons. Even though I'd had those awful experiences just on the cab side.
As soon as that service was launched, a surprising number of people of all kinds started using it because it was so much better. It was absolutely life-changing in the city.
Versus the cab system that was in place. I don't know if you can riff on this picture of how, when you're doing these independent projects, that do interface with the city --do you interface with permissions? Do you interface with existing transportation? How has that experience gone? What have you learned from it? How has that changed over time? And how has that put you into thinking about certain niches for what you can do with transportation and logistics that are either easier or faster to permission, but just that interplay between like, let's build a new system versus like plugged into this stuff that needs certification?
How long have you got Jerry?
Let's keep going until we've run out of interesting-- Try to give it to me short.
14:00 - Public transit in Detroit
I started the bus company more as a protest piece to say, if a 22-year-old can buy a bus and run it on this route that the public system was supposed to be running, and then didn't-- why can't you idiots get it together? With your like tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars; It's not a question of the bus, It's a question of politics and it just spiraled from there.
Every time you take a public bus ride in a major city, it's subsidized 90 to 95%. That two bucks you pay actually cost 25 bucks to provide your ride. And that's fine. We don't question when we have water infrastructure or public safety or the fire department, that's just a service that's provided to lubricate society. It's the agreement that we have together.
Transit’s’ the same way. People look at public transit and they want it to be profitable-- it doesn't work that way. I bought the bus to fill a gap and I quickly realized that there was no private financial model that would rely on the people who need the rides to pay for the service, nor could we get enough grants or subsidies or begging foundations to fund this thing.
There's no way to make a profitable business providing rides to people who can't afford rides. The solution that we came up with over almost a decade of struggling was a high-margin for-profit. We rent the buses for weddings and for corporate events on the weekends. Then during the week, we give kids free rides to school and after-school programs.
I'm very proud of the work that we've done, but after 12 years, 11 years now running the scale of what we're able to do is not nearly big enough for what we're trying to impact. When you look at an Uber, yes, it is better than the government taxi system. You go to like Manhattan pre-Uber, the taxi cabs were fine. Here in Detroit, the taxi cabs are wild.
New York just has that insane density. I imagine you went back 30, 40, 50 years you might find that density in certain areas of Detroit.
It's a coordination issue.
You've got people who want rides. You've got this huge area, 140 square miles. How are you going to get them effectively a car to get them to the airport over the phone? It's a difficult problem. Especially if you're a dispatcher,-- how do you coordinate all these people in a low-density situation?
600,000 people over 140 square miles and almost entirely cash-based. How are you going to do that? It isn't any individual contributor within that system that makes it bad. No one company, no one driver, no one cab, but the system itself doesn't work.
An Uber shows up that can verify reputation through reviews. They do some vehicle inspections, they do the paperwork checks. You've got people who are hungry to provide rides. They're charging 2, 3, 4X, what a normal taxi cab ride is. You took a near market failure and you turn into a market success, but with a lot of subsidies-- you've got a lot of Silicon Valley subsidy money on top of that.
Just like the buses, it's never as simple as Uber=good, taxi=bad. Spending Silicon valley bucks to make the Uber rides better than the taxis last for a while. But we don't know if there's going to be a long-term, durable -
Forgive my ignorance, but what are the latest economic check-ins on Uber, Lyft, et cetera?
The scale of Uber and the volume of rides, it's so many. I don't know what the multiple is- I'd be lying if I made up a number. Much bigger than Lyft. And Lyft positions itself as the Pepsi to Uber's Coke. It's not even close.
Uber is still burning cash. They found profitability on the Uber Eats side, especially with the pandemic. The ride service is not succeeding financially. The AV service that they were supposed to come up with, it's not coming to fruition. They're just going to buy an AV solution from someone else. That in itself is going to be an unmitigated disaster for road congestion and the environment.
You're going to have all these empty cars doing all these deadhead miles -- it will be a solution for Uber and for the shareholders, but it's going to be a terrible thing for the rest of us.
20:33 - Building Solutions with Farebox.io
I do want to ask you about your thoughts on AV and how that plays in here, but, you mentioned first trying to get the business model to work.
One of the things you learned is using these higher-margin tours, weddings, and things of that nature to help subsidize or offset some of the more community-oriented programs and rides. I know you've done stuff like busing kids from, from school and different things of that nature.
I know you worked on a project, like a bus. Farebox, right? Is that correct?
Farebox. io got to market. It took all of our learnings from the bus company and turned them into the software.
The things that are spatial, like buses on a map, a schedule in time, money with time, all the things that you need to run a bus company are actually very compatible with the software. They're quite simpatico. Software for bus companies and for transit was actually made a very long time ago. We're talking like the early nineties, mainframe stuff, server-based stuff. Transit, in general, is a very mature industry, by definition. It's been around for a long time.
You've got a few very entrenched players. They run on this old server-based software that's just ancient. It's super expensive, super slow. You pay per seat to log into a Windows NT server. It's wild how dusty it is. We bought into all those systems and we tried and switched through different ones, but we found a continual issue.
They were fine for operating the bus company on the backend-- once you already had agreement from your customer -- then it would help you deliver the service quite well. But getting the customer to agree to the service, to understand what high volume information they're giving you ... think about one wedding-- you've got a church, you've got a reception, you've got where you're picking up the group, you've got how much they're paying, and when the break time is. You understand all of this. There's so much information that you receive from the wedding planner or the wedding booker. And that's just one wedding. When you've got a fleet of 15 buses and you've got to standardize all that so that your front line team can deliver it. And then get it to them in a way that has as few duplication errors as possible.
You've got to do this seven days a week for 15 buses, and we're a small fleet. It's just this huge bandwidth issue. And so we looked at all this and we just have to build our own thing. I hired a mutual friend of ours. Allen land grant helped us build the software. We worked from 2020 until 2022 to build this.
We use it every day and we also integrated this little box called a Particle. We even have a gateway on the vehicles now that we get to see where they're at. We realize any of the telematics stuff that's out there doesn't really deliver what we needed to do.
The costs of making software are getting low enough that companies like ours can actually build their own solutions. It was a lot of work. We made it available as a SaaS solution for other transportation fleets. We call them fleet-based businesses because it's not just bus companies; if you run a lawn care service, you could use Farebox to run your thing.
And really it's just like Shopify for fleets, essentially.
Interesting. Quick side note, because you reminded me, but my colleague Matt Hampel, our Chief Data Officer at Regrid, did Code for America in Detroit. I remember one of the projects he worked on was putting the trackers in the buses.
I was trying to solve that problem of you were sitting at the bus stop, how can I see it move around in such a manner? So for Farebox, is there kind of like a group of people, or a customer, or an investor, or a kind of project that you want to talk to that could interface with that.
Or where is that, as far as something other people could plug into right now?
We're going to open it up soon with an API that you could use Farebox as a basis for other things... Do you want to expand it to be an OS for ice cream trucks so you could do so, like, we really want to be a platform that you can stand on?
Moving stuff around in time and space-- I wouldn't know what to point you to right now to do that. When you're in this creative headspace around these things, there are always ways to bend the instrument, so to speak. And it seems like a really cool instrument.
Yeah. Many of the issues shared between different fleet-based businesses or location-based businesses are similar. This asset, which is eating me, eating my bank account every single minute needs to be utilized to its maximum effect. And it can only be in one place in time, in a moment.
And so I can't double book it-- I hope that I get the most amount of money I can for this asset or the most utility for this asset. And then also, who's driving this thing? Who's assigned to it? Is it inspected? I mean, again, running a bus company is this endless fractal of complexity that you can really dig into if you want.
Most small companies just ignore most of that complexity and offer a subpar service. We're trying to take all this enterprise-level stuff, make it super simple and easy. And then make it available to everyone for a subscription. Of course, it's the SaaS marketing model-- but taking these enterprise-grade server-based things and making them available on a monthly fee versus a huge annual payment is a way that a lot of people can make success in the SaaS marketplace.
26:50 - AUTONOMY
You mentioned autonomous vehicles before. I just got to ask because with what I guess I'll call the events of March 2020 and forward-- where life sort of changed for a lot of us-- I've not been in Detroit.
I've been back for a couple of trips, but I have not been living there since then. And, just prior to leaving, I was elected to a neighborhood advisory council for the Ford project to renovate Michigan Central Station in Corktown, with their plans to turn that into their headquarters for autonomous and electric vehicles.
All sorts of headiness around innovation related to autonomous vehicles, EVs, and offshoots. And by offshoots, I mean there were Bird Scooters, there were Lime Scooters-- Ford is the SpinScooter, right?
All of a sudden in Corktown there's Spin. There are all these modes of on-demand, decentralized, get-me-from-here-to-there kinds of systems. I saw videos of food delivery robots in Corktown over the last year. I wasn't expecting to necessarily see that.
What is sort of the vibe in the scene at present? My guess is that it's not super advanced yet, but even seeing those things take place, it's sort of surprising to just kind of have that stuff all in the air after it was pretty like dormant, as far as that kind of thinking.
What's your take on any AB experiments in the city and any of those, like offshoots that may be happening? Is anything interesting going on there?
Yeah, we see that little May Mobility. It's like a golf cart that seats six people driving this little loop downtown.
And of course, it has an operator
That's been doing that for a minute.
Of course, they've got a bunch of investment and it's one of those things where yes, robots are cool. Maybe some of these dreary, repetitious jobs should be worked by robots and, you know, they're infinitely attentive.
In the age of deepening inequality, do we take away all of these like pretty well-paying jobs? It's contentious. It's hard, you know? And it really only solves one thing which is profitability for major fleet owners and people who run large corporations. That's truly the only thing that I can see it benefiting right now. Humans are quite good drivers, even though we have 30,000 traffic deaths a year. That's amazing compared to the hundreds of millions of miles that we drive every single year as a nation.
It seems like a dumb thing to say, but it may be worth bearing, repeating, and appreciating; I'm shocked at how good people are at driving. Whenever I drove back and forth, almost twice a month for a while, from Detroit to county, 10 and a half hour trip; All-weather, all conditions, night, day-- I'm just appreciating -- what is my brain even doing right now?
All I'm thinking about is one line on the side, one line in the center. I mess up playing a video game. I don't mess up driving. Of course, anything bad that happens is super serious, but you're right. It is incredible, how good we actually are at driving.
The table stakes are much higher in real life than in a video game. You have a survival instinct to not crash that car. I think we're just super well-tuned to object detection and perceiving how this thing is moving.
It's also a gorgeous system, look at how we've made this system of fixed lines and dotted lines and signs, and that use just sort of perceiving naturally.
It's why autonomous vehicles are so difficult. It's because there's this iceberg processing going on-- all these decisions that we make that we don't even really know.
It's like, AV's kinda neat. But is this the future that we're very excited about? The big innovation is like a car that can drive itself? I just don't feel as pumped about that. This isn't the future we were promised, Jerry.
Really thinking about it, especially when Mary and I were going back and forth, such a great distance from Detroit to the upper peninsula, I really could, maybe imagine, I fall asleep in my autonomous vehicle in Corktown- I get in there 10:00 PM, fall asleep, and then wake up in Calumet the next day. And I've been safely transported. What could that do to like change my life and give me a better quality of life? I guess it's not really that overly compelling per se to have something like that, right?
It's one of those things that might be fun to think about, but would you actually do that in your life? I don't know.
Yeah. One of the curious things there is autonomous RVs, right?
RV is such a lame term. It's a recreational vehicle, so it's municipal, a housing pod that can drive itself, and teleports you across the country in comfort with your Chef Boyardee and your bed.
That's interesting. And to see these sort of dock up together and make communities, and remote work- what we're doing right now, talking and having this conversation through the computer. It wasn't possible that long ago and it's amazing. And it's magical. Well, what if AVS and EVs and everything can meld together to be this?
I don't know this greater national and global community. It sounds crazy out there, but I think those are the edges where we're really going to find transformation is that kind of stuff. And also making it accessible through a subscription or a borrowing service. You shouldn't own an AR they're expensive, bad machines. But experiencing them-- they're very fun and joyful to be able to wake up to a mountainside and not have that be your house.
I think people will always seek flexibility and freedom. We're always like arrows towards freedom. And we can experience short periods of bondage where we're stuck in these crappy dead-end jobs and stuff. We're always going to go towards some kind of freedom.
A lot of interesting stuff in there too. I mean, one, I think is just the form factors on vehicles and how to get around. It does seem like there's a little bit of like a Cambrian explosion at least brewing for this kind of stuff. Right. Whether that's either super tiny cars or more mobile housing you're talking about, or the robot that delivers food or the drone stuff, there's just a whole world.
I think that breaks out of like traditional like card bus delivery. It's just because the form factor can be so wildly different, but still. Please you, and that's a whole different conversation about human living patterns.
Another conversation that I want to have on this series is speaking with somebody who's an expert in kind of mapping and collecting all the information so people can see where the native nations in the US lived, who they were, and what their territory spans were.
One of the essential misunderstandings. This is too big to say, like in a small space. When America was settled by Europeans, there was this kind of thought that like, nobody really lived anywhere. So it was okay. Take the land, but really what people were doing was seasonally migrating to the most optimal places to date, but in ways that very much had to do with ownership and stewardship and everything else.
And not to take your RV comments too far on that, but change our roads and even change the expectations of where you could park your house because I love living in one place, but you also like to travel and do other things too. It's all part of that big, weird future we're talking about
It's a lot of what I'm thinking about lately too, is that, right now, you buy a house, you sign a deed-- you're basically signing up for this giant subscription to the city, county, state, and country that you live in. And so as things become more flexible through coordination efforts of Uber and Airbnb and whatever, I think there's going to be more of those-- we have the greater chance to be stainless.
It's sort of one of these things about Bitcoin and Ethereum and such. Once money moves to not be connected to a single state, then you get to choose what state you're a part of, not state in the US sense, but what government are you subscribing to? And you can be quite portable.
Right now there's not a lot of competition for states. I'm very much here for a lot of reasons. Where I grew up, where it's what I know. But also we've got this big defense military thing around us, but what happens when people become more portable, either physically through cool RVs that might drive you around the country are also monetarily, like you're free politically from stuff right now, there is a lot of difficulty in being an American.
You travel and people have a lot of opinions about your country and what it does. And also you're like, I didn't do it that I didn't make those choices for the thing that the country did. But you're paying your taxes to do it every day. So this is quite a tangent, but I think as we become more flexible, we're going to go back towards slightly more nomadic, uh, financially, politically, geospatially you know, like we want to, we want to move to where we're what best suits the moment.
06:04 - VR as a reality
I'll believe almost anything now because so many things are changing at the same time.
My kind of observation was like, man, I'm looking back in the recent past and I'm seeing how much change happened in the 20th century. Industrialization, building the first cars, to begin with, road systems, mass migrations of people for jobs, things of this nature. I look at the world wars, look at the 1960s, all of the social change, and tumult that was self-evident and visible.
And it's really been within the last few years, for me personally, I'm like, okay. the singularity is happening a whole bunch of crazy stuff-- all these capabilities that we built up that hadn't been used are all bouncing off of each other in unpredictable ways. But you're right, it makes it an exciting time to be alive and a scary time to be alive. And an opportunity-filled time to be alive, but also one with like non-obvious opportunities too
Talking about documenting the abstract is very difficult. I can look outside my window right now, and I've got a canal back there, that's been there a hundred years. I've got a house that's been here a hundred years. I've got a road out front that's named Jefferson because it is named after Thomas Jefferson probably
it's all been formed a very long time ago and it would be nearly impossible to change. Even a single parcel in this grid. It is very locked in. Now you can join parcels or split them apart, but like, you're not changing this grid. It is done. You want to find a new city, great, but you're not going to change the layout of any major city, barring a massive fire or something.
And so then you look at that and you go, this world isn't changing at all. This world is exactly the way it's been. Then all of these abstract things are changing so quickly, like in a year, nothing changes, but in 10 years, everything changes. Right now it's 2022, which is just a wild number to say, it's very odd to me.
I've got a VR headset sitting behind me. Right now it's kind of a toy and things that seem like toys now are generally going to be the modus operandi of the future. Right now it's like the silly thing that I wave a lightsaber around with.
One of those VR experiences is going to get into your brain, even just like a little bit in some new way and something is going to shift. I don't know what that says.
It's happening. This is how far technology goes. Every day I get a notification on my Apple Watch that my friend Derek has completed a VR workout. Every single day, seven days a week. He always plays the exact same game, it's called Supernatural. On the Oculus, which is now Meta. He has stopped going to CrossFit, stopped rowing, and stopped doing all this other stuff. He only plays the VR exercise game. The device, there are no wires, you just grab it and go.
I thought VR is this silly toy that really won't reach dominance. And then, my friend is using this thing literally every single day of his life. That is a seismic change. It's going to go from nothing to, hey, Derek uses this almost every day, to like, holy crap, everyone uses this thing every day.
And so where does the land grid go? Does it matter that I'm in Detroit or Tuscaloosa or Manhattan? Does place become less physically important and therefore transit and Uber's-- suddenly self-driving cars are the solution to something that we no longer care to solve.
Yeah, this is probably too far out, but a good way to culminate in the freewheeling style of the series, Fermi's paradox-- while you don't see it, you know there’s been another life in the universe. Even though it's so big and it's been around for so long, you're probably not the first group to do this. Is there anything else that you'd want to share or anything you're doing that you think people should know about? Or just something particularly interesting that you want to say?
12:18 - Basecamp
I'll just boom through a whole bunch of things real quick here. I started all these small businesses, I got offered a job to be the head of marketing for a software company called Basecamp. It was a wonderful experience, I did it for two years. You can Google about it. There were a lot of big changes there and I left the company. I decided to resign and come back to entrepreneurship, to small projects. During all of that, we experienced a global pandemic, which is still ongoing. My bus company, which relies on selling tickets to people to go and be together obviously could not-
I totally forgot about the elephant in the room; you had to pivot when people could not be with other people.
It's okay. We made this hand sanitizer.
The FDA made it so that you could make hand sanitizer legally as not a pharmaceutical company. We got into that. It was largely successful. It was crazy. This entire arc that I'm telling you right now is going towards-- I'm thinking more and more about a product-agnostic team.
Originally I bought one school bus and we provided the bus service and all was well. Then that was taken away from us. All of a sudden we couldn't operate buses anymore because of the pandemic, and rightfully so. Then almost all of the people from the bus company started making hand sanitizer.
After hand sanitizer, we started making software and people call us; 'Are you calling us to rent a bus or to buy your Bus OS for your company?’ You hit the same person. We've got greater opportunities to be product agnostic, as far as the things that we offer to the world. We all get to be these ‘slash’ people. I've been an entrepreneur, but I also drive race cars, kayak, and make films. I'm diving into VR, and what it means for a silly little bus company.
14:30 - 'Slash' People
To some people that can be really unsettling and unmooring, and quite scary. But if you're on the bottom and trying to come up and don't have a lot of turf to defend, it couldn't be a better time for flexibility and autonomy. And to lean into that. I think this is the time for the generalists.
I think the people who are the many hatted will succeed now.
Interesting. This is a gut feeling, but building something that's really hit a growth trajectory and has a lot of responsibility to a lot of customers… If you built something that's is working, how do you do the handoff on that properly? Do you know what I mean? So that it continues to be supported. Because I think you're right, because. There are so many stable organizations that are capable of producing much more innovation than they do, but don't because how would they support it if it worked? What's the ghost kitchen of customer support for an experiment that you did that worked?
Yeah. The long-term carrying costs… that's the Byzantine General's problem, right?
The larger my domain, the larger the cost of maintaining this entire nation/organization. The duality is having to understand when to cut projects off. The hand sanitizer experiment? It went up very quickly-- we went from one drum that I was mixing up with like a plastic paddle to buying a tinker truck inside of a couple of months. It was massive, and anything that grows that quickly and that virally almost certainly has a matching down curve.
Of course, the big hand sanitizer companies in the US were going to increase production and fill that demand-- if you walk into a Home Depot right now, you can get a gallon for 99 cents because they're trying to get rid of it. We still sell it online at Clean.com, but there will become a time when we need to say this project is over; to clear the decks for new things.
I probably have 14 LLCs in my name still, maybe 15 now. It's a complex, weird world, but I think this is the direction work is going, for the people who are ambitious and want to keep driving.
There's always a flip side to it. If you are maniacally focused on something now that is probably pretty rare in this universe of slash people. Lots of ways to succeed.
I think the grass can be green on all sides.
If it wasn't already clear, I would definitely say Andy, as one of your best attributes, in addition to just being a good friend and generous person, is that you're an excellently organized brainstormer and project maker. If anybody ever wants to like brainstorm or sharpen their saw with somebody fun, talk to Andy about it, because it's a rare mix of business sobriety, with creative thinking that can resonate in a social setting or in a marketplace.
Thank you. You can't test an idea until you put it out into the world. Like standing up a little tiny website, I used to love Launch Rock, where you can make a very simple signup site and put it out.
I remember you put together Unicorn Diet, which was a credit union-
This was going back quite some time too. The potential for getting permission to start your own bank through the vehicle of a credit union, and just all the things you could do, or at least the creative space if a group of like open-minded people got the keys. Letting people store money, give loans. What would you do? It was fun. I didn't do anything with that because, like many projects, who has the time of the day to start a bank? Even if it's not that hard, theoretically.
You were onto something though. Look at what's happening with crypto and, DAUs, decentralized autonomous organizations. It's the same ambition behind the bus company. We all want this thing and we're willing to do it. People want to ride it. People want to provide it. It's a thing. But there's something in the way. You were onto the right thing but using the old tools, whereas other people went well, let's make some new tools.
The reason Vitalik built Ethereum-- he was upset they nerfed his world of Warcraft character, and was like why are things mutable on the internet? Let's make immutability through code, all because he was upset about his Warcraft character. I think it takes these very small frustrations or slights, and they could turn into huge things. You're just like, whoops, I built a massive lever.
With a whole new set of mistakes to make too. I remember one of my favorite quotes, sort of grim, but it's, 'the invention of the ship is the invention of the shipwreck.' The new thing has its own thing.
Unicorn Diet is a name, it's definitely a charming one to me. When I'm trying to come up with names, I'll often just type words into anagram generators, just to see if you can rearrange letters, and credit union became Unicorn Diet. I was so happy when I saw it, usually, it's total nonsense and I was like, yeah, Unicorn Diet. We'll go with that for a code name.
Andy, just like wrapping up here, do you have any suggestions for me, either guest types or just formats, as I try to make this a regular thing?
The only thing I tell people with this kind of stuff is, just be interested. One cannot be interesting--
--Which is funny because, sort of counter to what you just said, I'm going to try to say something interesting.
I recently heard a podcast by a guy named Auren Hoffman, the CEO of Safe Graph, a company we have a partnership with. He interviewed Jack Dangermond, the CEO and co-founder of Esri, the biggest GIS company in the world. And he asked Jack what business advice would he give? I think I'm saying this right, that he said he's only got one piece of advice, which is ‘be interested, don't be interesting.’ It's exactly what you're saying.
That's a funny coincidence.
You're looking for the depth in someone's knowledge and maybe not the breadth. Those are really the best shows-- asking the questions that you would ask in a bar setting, at three in the morning. Not the press release questions.
I'll try to carry that with me. Andy, I appreciate you, man. I appreciate your time. Appreciate you coming up and visiting recently. Thanks for your friendship and for spending this time and just for being a cool person, doing this stuff.
You're welcome. It's very pleasurable. Keep the boot warmer on for me. I will be back in California.
We're ready for ya.
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