I talk to people and record it! Some call this sort of thing a podcast. I call mine Moth Minds and the premise is “interviews with high-agency humans." Subscribe to hear the latest on a bi-weekly(ish) basis: Spotify, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Pocket Casts.
One commonality between all of the investors at Benchmark is that they’re extremely curious, truth-seeking, and able to quickly spin up on a given topic. Blake in particular has learned to lean into his innate curiosity about what’s happening in weird corners of the web as a way to differentiate himself as an investor.
Building a unique brand for yourself (perhaps even a pseudonymous one!) makes you relatable and helps generate serendipity online — ideally done within a subculture of the web that contains people who share your interests and understand your intentions.
Consumer products will increasingly take inspiration from games — especially the way games go about monetization and retention. Games are powerful in the way that they manipulate agency and often succeed by taking advantage of technological and cultural shifts.
MM: Hi everybody. Today I’m joined by Blake Robbins, a principal at Benchmark. Prior to Benchmark, Blake was an investor at Ludlow Ventures. He also co-hosts a podcast on the history of the video game industry called Gamecraft.
Our conversation covered Blake’s unique insights from studying the business of games, how curiosity drives his investing, and his thoughts on being a person online. I hope you enjoy.
MM: Blake, so happy to have you on the podcast.
BR: Oh, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.
MM: To kick us off, my first question for you, digging right in, is what would you say are the three big takeaways from your podcast series on gaming?
BR: That's a fun question. For maybe people who haven't listened, I did a podcast with my partner at Benchmark, Mitch Lasky, on gaming history overall and the world of business through a gaming lens. And for me, there are a couple major takeaways. One is, man, I grew up in a very golden period, probably similar to you, of games, but mainly as a player. And I never actually fully understood or appreciated what was going on behind the scenes. I think the other major takeaway for me is just how important business model shifts and distribution innovation was in gaming.
“I think the other major takeaway for me is just how important business model shifts and distribution innovation was in gaming.”
And a lot of people look at the art side of gaming, and that's a lot of what gets the love, for the creative side, but the business side is honestly, if not more important, equally important, to the creative side. And it actually shapes and impacts everything, which obviously sounds very obvious now, but when you look back at it through a real lens, wow, even the shift to free to play or why there was a shift to free to play and why do games get distributed on Steam? All these things is just really amazing.
And then I think the third major takeaway is just Mitch is a legend, and really getting the opportunity to sit down with Mitch and hear his perspective. There's probably two or three other people that went through the same career arc that Mitch did within gaming, and he has such a unique vantage point, and for me, it was just a real blessing and opportunity to just get that perspective and out there in the world. For me, I was having those conversations behind closed walls and we kept talking about we should have this conversation in public because someone will benefit from it, yeah.
MM: Yeah. That's amazing. How have you evolved your thinking since doing the podcast, do you think?
BR: It's funny. I spend a lot of time in games and thinking about games from an investor perspective, and for me, I always wanted to invest in games, but there was a part of me of like, "This is a hit-driven business. This so hard to invest in." All the standard tropes that people say about games. For me, my thinking has evolved and much more of there is real method or reasoning of why these games broke out or why certain companies succeed. And I think that just makes me a better investor, but also just a better thinker of the space. And almost every game I play now, I think through the lens of, "Why is that game number one on the charts?" Or, "Why did this game break through?" And for better or worse, just the analytical side of me now thinks through the lens of the podcast of, "Oh, okay, that's of course the shift that this is taking advantage of or why it's breaking through."
“And for better or worse, just the analytical side of me now thinks through the lens of the podcast of, ‘Oh, okay, that's of course the shift that this is taking advantage of or why it's breaking through.’”
MM: Has it trickled down into investing in other things too, like frameworks that you apply also?
BR: Yeah. Again, it sounds obvious in hindsight, but it's more that business model and distribution, or the innovation around those two things, is so important, not just in gaming, but in almost everything, and catching the wave or understanding how you're going to attack that. It's actually pretty shocking the number of companies you talk to when you push on one of those variables of like, "What are you actually doing to make sure people play your game or use your product?" A lot of people just assume if you build it, they will come and it's just not the reality. And a lot of this is really scrappy. How do you think about taking advantage of the wave that's happening behind you?
“How do you think about taking advantage of the wave that's happening behind you?”
MM: That's super interesting. Where do you and Mitch disagree?
BR: There's a few different places where Mitch and I disagree. I think the biggest is I'm still a pretty big believer in mobile. And I think Mitch is a believer in mobile, but I still think that there's investible opportunities on mobile. I think Mitch is a little bit more burnt out on the flywheel of how you have to spend a bunch of money to acquire users and whether that's sustainable or not. I still think that there are investible opportunities there and I think there's real opportunities. Mitch, I think is a little bit more like, "Nope, this is all just CAC all the way down." Like it's the same as direct to consumer type of CPG products.
I think there's another view which is I probably overweight the importance of streamers and content creators within the world of gaming. I think Mitch respects where those people are and their role within the ecosystem, but I still think that's really the biggest unlock within distribution.
MM: Yeah. Do you think that's going to increase over time, it's suddenly going to become more and more popular?
BR: I think so. My personal view is that over time most games are just going to partner up with the biggest creators, and you're starting to see a little bit of that happen. But you could totally imagine the biggest, I don't know, shooting game in the world, partnering with the best first person shooter streamer, and bringing them in. It's a way to hack community, but also marketing and then get that person to have some upside and have them be an ambassador. And I think that will for sure happen more and more over time, and they're just going to be more deeply integrated, at least for the hardcore type games and more of the core type games. But the other side of this market, I don't know, maybe not, but you also have Mr. Beast in and random mobile games right now, so that also happens.
“You could totally imagine the biggest shooting game in the world, partnering with the best first-person shooter streamer, and bringing them in. It's a way to hack community, but also marketing, and then get that person to have some upside and have them be an ambassador. “
MM: Where did those strategies start, the one of teaming up with the best content creator? Was it the last 10 years, last five years for YouTube?
BR: Yeah, it is probably the last decade. Really League of Legends and Minecraft were the two that benefited the most from it. You could take a very, I don't know, firm view of how games have broken out and you can be like, "Riot and League of Legends broke out because of Twitch and they sort of rose at the same exact time and they were very symbiotic." And then you could also say Minecraft and YouTube really were tied in together as those both really benefited from it, and Roblox is also probably in that same wave with YouTube. It's very strange to think about how those two actually... They all grew with each other and YouTube has greatly benefited from Minecraft, but Minecraft also greatly benefited from Youtube. And both Minecraft and League of Legends weren't necessarily super thoughtful of how they were approaching their creator ecosystem early on. It was much more of the games were great for that and Twitch was a great platform to stream League of Legends and so forth. And now it's become way more.
“YouTube has greatly benefited from Minecraft, but Minecraft also greatly benefited from Youtube. Both Minecraft and League of Legends weren't necessarily super thoughtful of how they were approaching their creator ecosystem early on. It was much more that the games were great for that — Twitch was a great platform to stream League of Legends and so forth.”
Probably the most calculated version of this that we saw was a game called Apex Legends from Electronic Arts. And for their launch, they actually did a massive pay every streamer on Twitch to play for a day. They just blanketed it. It was a very extreme approach, and every streamer who played games on Twitch went and switched to Apex for, I don't know, 48 hours, and it just created so much hype around the game. The game immediately became number one, all this stuff. It actually fizzled out and didn't do that great for the three months after, and then eventually it came back. But they definitely made an explosion on the scene. And I think they took the route of we aren't going to pay for billboards and do the standard TV marketing, we'll just put that budget towards directly to creators. I think that will continue to be a thing over time.
MM: Yeah. It's really meeting the people that they want to meet and will actually buy where they are.
BR: Yeah, it's like getting a trusted person... It's the same as buying radio ads or podcast ads where if you listen to that person all the time, you're just going to naturally have more affinity towards what they say, that they want to sell or buy.
MM: Yeah. It's interesting to see even early stage startups are using this strategy more and more. Synthesis, they employed a first grade or preschool teacher or something to be their ambassador, and it actually does seem to really work. It's like this is the trusted source. They're actually deferring to an expert and bringing them on board and having them tell the story for them.
BR: Yeah, I think that's right. I think a lot of this is marketing today is primarily driven by relatability, and the biggest streamers are just very relatable, not actually relatable maybe day to day, but they feel very relatable. And parasocial relationships are a very real thing, but within these ecosystems.
“I think a lot of marketing today is driven by relatability, and the biggest streamers feel very relatable — parasocial relationships are a very real thing.”
MM: It reminds me of the very good meme of the guy sitting next to a poster of some friends and they're just eating something and he's laughing and he's like, "How it feels to listen to a podcast."
BR: Yes. Yes.
MM: It's very real though.
BR: Yes, no, it is. It is. And I think podcasts in particular is you're basically just a fly on the wall, listening to a conversation. And it's part of why podcasts can be so powerful. You don't need a massive audience, but as long as people listen to them often, they'll think that they know you, Molly, and how you think about things, and that's really powerful. It's a way to scale your thoughts and hopefully this isn't too much work from a editing perspective for you.
MM: Not at all. Yeah, the thoughts can be much less polished and still be more relatable to, as opposed to writing, which I feel used to be the default.
BR: Yeah. Yeah, I think it is harder to have a distinct style in writing. The best are amazing at that, and it's very clear, but for, I don't know, call it the 99% of writers, it just seems like they're regurgitating other facts or just throwing random stuff out there. So I think podcast allows personality to shine through a little bit more clear.
MM: Yep, agreed. Going back to games, my last question for you, I'm just curious, at a high level, where do you see the world of gaming going in the next decade?
MM: Big question.
BR: There's probably a few different thoughts, but my biggest belief within gaming is everything is a game. I think all of life is a game, which might be a really, I don't know, sad way to look at life. But a lot of how I've thought about things is I'll study so I can increase my ability to do better in the world type of thing, or I'll work hard so I can do better, and that translates into actual currencies and whatever. But I think there is leveling up in all of these different pieces. But what that actually translates to, what that means for gaming and business, is I think every consumer product over the next decade will really learn and take inspiration from games. I think games have figured out monetization and retention better than anyone else, at least on the consumer side. There's a lot of people that might be like, "Wow, it's because they're super predatory." And I actually just don't think that's the case. I think you look at something like Strava, and Strava has some real game mechanics within it and that's a net good.
“I think every consumer product over the next decade will really learn and take inspiration from games. I think games have figured out monetization and retention better than anyone else.”
And I think one of the main things that I believe around gaming is games manipulate agency, and that just creates some really powerful things. And that could be a weapon for bad, but in a lot of cases it can be really good. And you look at Duolingo and Duolingo is a game. That's not an actual learning platform today, but still people will go in every single day and take their lessons because it feels like a game. And I think that will just continue to shine through throughout all of consumer. I think within gaming specifically, my view is you're going to have way more of these massive multiplayer games and you're going to live in these worlds. I think games and social will blend a lot more clearly over the next decade in that games understand social better than social companies understand games.
“I think one of the main things that I believe around gaming is games manipulate agency, and that just creates some really powerful things.”
I think all of the execs at social companies are just like, "We know that games are a thing and it actually drives a large portion of our revenue, but we have no idea how to actually make a game or why people are sticking or downloading these games." And I think it's easier to understand the social side of this and that will happen over time. It's going to get very interesting when you have a game... The next major social network, in my opinion, will look closer to a game than the standard Facebook or Instagram.
MM: Interesting. I really like that thesis. Shifting more to thinking about investing and potentially where the investible opportunities are within that shift, my first question for you is actually more along the lines of just being an investor. And it's how do you think about the trade-off between being in a smaller fund with more opportunity to make decisions and to learn from everything that's going on versus being in a bigger fund and reaping the benefits of more of an apprenticeship model where you are closely paired with somebody?
BR: Yeah, so I've been doing venture for, I think, eight years, nine years, something like that at this point. And the first six and a half, seven years, I was at a fund called Ludlow, and that was a $50 million fund, seed fund. And very much we were writing, not a lot of checks, but we were writing a pretty high volume of checks and working with a wide variety of companies, very generalist, probably doing 30 companies per fund. I was there for about two and a half, three funds or something like that. So just a large number of investments. And that was very much like you're just run in to the fire and learn, and we were all learning as a team of three. We didn't know what we didn't know. And that's a really unique learning experience for me, and I wouldn't trade that for the world. I learned everything I know about venture through that lens.
What I think is I reached a point where I was seven years in or six and a half years in, and I knew the world that I was in. I knew a very narrow view of venture, of seed stage, complimentary style investing. And I talked with Benchmark briefly, and Benchmark was just like, "You should come and join us in a principal role." And we talked a lot of what that would look like. And for me, I got the conviction of, "Okay, I'll do this role because I want to learn. I want to learn a different style of investing." And I think there's only so many periods in your career where you can do that, where you can dip your toe into other places and be like, "Okay, I know this one, very narrow view. Let's see another narrow view of venture." And for me it was just such a compelling opportunity to be like, "Wow, these are people I truly respect and are truly amongst the best in the world at their craft." Getting the opportunity to learn from that seems stupid to turn down or to pass up.
And for me, that's how I evaluate it. I think I'm almost two years into that today, and I would say it's one of the best decisions I've ever made just from learning from this group, is they're really special. And I've learned so much, so much that I didn't even think I needed to learn or thought I would learn, all these random things. Mainly soft skills more than anything else. It's hard to actually put into words, the tangible learnings, but for me it's just been incredible. And I think nothing will replace just making investments.
And so when I was evaluating this, I remember talking to a mentor and they're like, "The only thing that matters as an investor is making investments and finding great companies and working with great founders, and I think for the position you're in, keep doing it. You're learning a lot and you're going to learn a lot. But if you ever do reach a point of like, "Wow, maybe my grats have stagnated, or my learnings have stagnated." I think there's always other routes to pursue that." But yeah, that's at least how I've thought about it.
MM: I like that a lot. It reminds me of the explore versus exploit model, too. You explore, you do a lot of investments, then you refine it down and really learn the craft from the very best. I am curious, what are some of the key learnings that you have gleaned from being around Benchmark people and seeing how they think and make decisions?
BR: I think it's just more of the clarity of thought that everyone has at Benchmark is just so unique and rare in that I can sit in at a pitch meeting with them and we'll be sitting there and they'll ask questions. I'll be like, "That's an amazing question. I would've never even thought to ask that question."
We might reach the same conclusion of whether we want to invest in this founder or not, but it usually is just the way that they get there is so systematic or more clear and concise in how they think about these things. That's a really hard thing to actually take away tangibly other than just watching and continuing to learn and observe where they might push.
I think that Benchmark for me is just an absolute obsession with working with founders. That is not scalable in any way. That's why the fund does a small number of investments, but we really work with our companies.
The discipline and obsession with that craft, I just have never seen anywhere else. It's part of what attracted me to join here so much is we really take it seriously, so much so that we believe that we can't just simply increase fund size. That makes us better at our job.
Instead, it's like we need to make a small number of investments and take our board seats very, very seriously, and the role of working with founders very seriously.
For me, it's just been amazing to watch. I've learned so much in how to approach even that and how you manage the relationship between a board member and a founder and make sure that you get what's best for everyone and how you make sure that the company actually succeeds.
MM: Yeah. Great answer. Are there any throughline qualities to all the investors at Benchmark that you think makes them a Benchmark-like investor?
BR: Just an insane amount of curiosity and just actual truth-seeking in a way that they'll go down rabbit holes, or you'll mention something, and they get up to speed in 24 hours because they just spent the past 24 hours just reading all about it and talking to every single person they can.
“[The throughline quality to Benchmark investors is] just an insane amount of curiosity and truth-seeking in a way that they'll go down rabbit holes, or you'll mention something, and they get up to speed in 24 hours because they just spent the past 24 hours just reading all about it and talking to every single person they can.”
I think it's more of there's no ego when it comes to should they know or shouldn't ... How could they learn? I've seen them approach new topics where they're not experts, but they get up to speed so quickly because they're so curious and they want to learn, and they talk to the right people. I think that's just rare.
To maintain that even at the highest level is just really, really rare. They actually are just always trying to meet amazing founders, but also just find the rabbit holes to go down and actually learn.
For me, it's part of why I love this role so much is getting to watch that and getting to do that myself.
MM: Yeah, really interesting. If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 23 to 25-year-old, whichever one you pick, self in regard to career advice and what you wish you'd known?
BR: I think it's more just slow down. I know that sounds strange, but it's a lot of ... This is a long game, and really takes the relationships and friendships. Just enjoy the journey more than anything else.
I think it is really easy when you're 23 and you're in venture to get caught up in the world that you're in and feel like you're in a race or you're comparing yourself to others. Whatever it might be.
For me, it would've just ... Invest more in myself and spend more time just thinking and breathing. Investing in the relationships that I really did want to nurture. I'd probably still say that to my 23-year-old self. I'm 29. I'd still say that to my 29-year-old self today, but I suspect that will forever be my advice to my younger self.
It's just like, man, you should have just slowed down and enjoyed the journey more. I think it's try and just find really amazing people, and your filter of who you spend time with is just really important. Make sure that you're just being really thoughtful about that and why you're polarized or drawn to that person.
MM: Yeah, I think always analyzing, yeah, what is it, these qualities, that keep popping up that makes me drawn to somebody? I feel like that's a very worthwhile inquiry to figure out and take notes on.
MM: Something that's really surprised me about venture is how oftentimes it's learning about unconventional weird things that are not about the macro or venture or something. Anything that will make your perspective interesting and unique and your brain bloom in fascinating ways was actually probably worthwhile for your differentiated edge and making an interesting decision that maybe other people would pass up.
BR: Yes. Yeah, I think that's sort of the thing I love most about venture is there's no right way to do this role. In a lot of ways it might be like you could make an argument that six months of the year you should just be reading and writing and taking one meeting a week. If you told me that was the way that the best investor in the world did it, I actually wouldn't be that shocked. Then there's the other side of some people who want to take a million pitches a week. That's another way to do it.
“You could make an argument that six months of the year you should just be reading and writing and taking one meeting a week. If you told me that was the way that the best investor in the world did it, I actually wouldn't be that shocked. Then there's the other side of some people want to take a million pitches a week.”
I think a lot of this is very individual and trying to get comfort in the way that you think is the best way to perform and best way to work with founders.
For me, a lot of it ... My reflection has always just been the best way for me to use my time is actually really sitting and breathing and going down rabbit holes and following my curiosity.
I think that more of that would've always been good. My 23-year-old self is I had infinite time to do that and I should have been doing that even more instead of taking pointless calls, or whatever it might be.
MM: Yeah. What are some examples of rabbit holes that you've gone down that have led to decisions or investments if you care to share?
BR: It's such a difficult question to answer because, similar to what you were saying, the rabbit holes often will look like they're not related at all.
Or it will seem like it might even be a waste of time, but it can be like, oh, wow, I went down this rabbit hole, I'd learned about this, and that connects to this completely other thing that I would not ... No one rational would be like, "That's connected," but the way my brain works it's like, "Oh, that sort of reminds me of this weird SaaS company. I should go and message them again and see how they're doing."
I think that's more often how it would work for me, where it's just going and exploring and spending time in these weird places, then being like "Oh, wow, okay, I should actually reach out to that company or "I wonder how that company's doing" or "Is there a company in this space" is much more how it works, but it's hard for me to pinpoint exactly the ...
Every investment or every company that I've ever worked with, the journey of how I've ended up to conviction and making that investment is so serendipitous.
Every one of them has their own journey and story. That's also one of the more terrifying but exciting parts of this role is to create serendipity. It's hard to scale that in a lot of ways, but it's also impossible to replicate of how you found some company.
“A lot of what you do it is try to create serendipity.”
It's very strange often. It's not super scalable.
MM: Completely. It reminds me of just putting coins in a slot machine, hoping that some of them will work.
MM: And they often do, but it'll be years later.
BR: Yeah, I think it's a lot of you need to ... What you're doing with this podcast, for example, is for me it's like you're just trying to plant seeds in a bunch of different places and make sure that people think of you.
MM: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
BR: Or it's like, "Oh, Blake has unique thoughts on gaming. I should send that to him." Whatever that might be, or thinks about this or Molly thinks about this. That's a lot of how I think about at least my public persona is you need to make sure that people understand who you are or why they should even think of you.
MM: Yeah. That reminds me too in shifting more towards how you go about being a person online, which I find very inspirational and really commendable. What is your philosophy on both writing and sharing thoughts online? How has that evolved over time?
BR: It's funny. I was born and raised in Michigan and primarily do this job from Michigan. What that means is how do you actually build relationships or stay top of mind? For me, it was very early on I realized I need to use Twitter. I was like, "Otherwise, no one's ever going to know I exist at all." I just became super active on Twitter early on.
When I look back at my early tweets, I was shameless. I would tweet at insert big name venture capitalists or big name CEO, and I'd be like, "Hey," this is public, I'd be like, "Hey, I'd love to chat. Would you be up for it?" People would jump in and be like, "You should talk with Blake." I'm like, "Oh my gosh, this is crazy that I used to do this."
MM: It works.
BR: Yeah. I mean, look, I was shameless at the time.
BR: I cringe a little bit now, but I joke because it actually worked.
BR: For me, Twitter is the town square of venture in tech. I sort of think of it as you need to be active there to make sure people just understand that you're still alive and talking and spending time thinking about things. Otherwise, it's really easy to just be forgotten about.
For me, a lot of it early on was just me actually just sharing my thoughts, just completely raw of what's going on in the world. I would jump into a lot of conversations that I had no reason to be jumping into.
My advice to anyone who ever wants to actually build a brand and an audience on Twitter is just try and add value to a conversation if you can, even if you're not involved in that conversation. That's what I obsessed over when I was in college. I used to just jump into random people's conversations and be like, "Have you seen this one? Have you heard of this? Have you read this?" It created so many interesting conversations over time.
Then as I've ended up in venture, I sort of view it as my public persona has gone through periods of my curiosity, so I've gone deep on creators, I've gone deep on eSports, I've gone deep on gaming. I've gone deep on probably five or six other areas. Depending on when people sort of followed me or started the journey of following me, they might have a very different skewed perspective of where I spend time.
The reality is I'm actually pretty generalist and spend time in a lot of different places, but what I try and do is I try and share my learnings or thoughts or weird crevices of the internet that I find interesting.
Thankfully that's resonated with people, but never explicitly with the goal of actually building an audience. Actually, my unpopular opinion is I think you should cap your following, your followers, at like 15,000.
MM: I think I agree with that, yeah.
BR: I think once you get past a certain threshold ... I think if you take the town square analogy to the extreme, it's like everyone's just walking up to a microphone in the town square. At some point when you get too big of an audience, it starts getting picked up in towns very far over. You're like, "This wasn't intended for you."
“I think if you take the town square analogy to the extreme, it's like everyone's just walking up to a microphone in the town square. At some point when you get too big of an audience, it starts getting picked up in towns very far over. You're like, ‘This wasn't intended for you.’“
MM: We're not even speaking the same language.
BR: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. This was not meant for you. This is meant for the people that know me and understand that I would not say this in a completely out-of-context way.
That can be frustrating and annoying at times. Not that I actually have to deal with it that often, but I'd be lying if I said that wasn't something that's always in the back of my mind when I'm public.
MM: Yeah. It seems like there's always going to be a lot of opportunity for the people that are just focused on contribution and creating serendipity on platforms like this, because it is, it's just not connecting.
MM: Which I always feel like is the same role as venture, a similar muscle, actually.
MM: But I do think that you're very right about that. There is a certain hard cap of which people are no longer really reading it in your voice or the good faith culture voice of the space anymore, and then it gets totally taken in different directions.
BR: Yeah. My Twitter profile picture is a green gradient. At some point I realized I'd love for something that's more of ... It's just a blob rather than a picture of me.
Even in my old Twitter picture, I don't even remember the last time I had a picture of me, it was probably, I don't know, a 21-year-old version of me. It's like, okay, someone could just look at this, and they're like, "Who's this kid? Why is he tweeting things like he knows what he's talking about?" Or whatever.
It's like I just want to remove all of that. It's just like evaluating my thoughts for who I am and that's it. I don't want some weird, like, okay, this is what this person looks like and now I've assumed that this person has some weird perspective, or I think that they're dumb or smart or whatever, based off of that.
MM: Yeah. People, they really do project a lot up to the small scraps of data points that they get through online.
BR: Yeah. Yeah. They'll latch onto it. Even now, right?
MM: They will.
BR: When I tweet, I'm sure they're like, "Ah, just typical VC tweeting something."
MM: But it's good. I like the green blob. I think it projects the right ethos. It's like, yeah, it's just a faceless, voicing thoughts into the ether.
BR: Yeah, it's ...
MM: It's what the internet used to be.
BR: It's sort of inspired by if I could have been pseudonymous in another life if I could have actually built a brand publicly without ever having to show my face, would I have? For sure.
I think given the role and job that I have, you can't really do that, but what's the next closest thing you can do is don't make it super easy to become a target of, like, here's your face online.
It's at least just be yourself, and you can abstract, so when it does get picked up from another town square a couple of cities over, it's like they don't actually need to know who you are or make some weird biases of who you are.
MM: Yep. Yeah. Do you think that's going to increasingly become the norm online?
BR: I personally think we'll look back at this era of the internet and think that we're all just crazy that we used our real names and our faces online.
“I personally think we'll look back at this era of the internet and think that we're all just crazy that we used our real names and our faces online.”
I think it was a detour of the internet. I think Facebook, after we just created that we went from a shift of you should never have anything online, like when I was a kid. It's like, don't put your name or anything, and then Facebook somehow broke that. It was like, yeah, of course you should have your name and all of your photos and every single thing you've ever liked online
MM: Put everything online. Yeah. Yeah.
BR: I think it will gradually shift back. Maybe there will be a big change of like, oh my gosh, everyone's getting canceled, blah, blah, blah, but I think there is a little bit of like, we're all a little bit crazy for having our real names on the internet, I think.
MM: Yeah. How do you think about this when sharing somewhat, as original, as original can be, thoughts in terms of writing and things like that and actually authoring stuff? When do you go to the page and think something is worth publishing, putting your name behind it, that kind of thing?
BR: Yeah. This is a real curse that has happened to me over time. I'm much more tough on what I put out publicly from a writing perspective in that whatever I put out I want it to be polished and can go through the rigor of the public of, like, yeah, Blake actually knows what he's talking about, or he researched that well.
I actually think it's probably the wrong ... I've overcorrected and I probably would be much better served just putting out my raw thoughts and not having to go through, like, here's the whole background of a space. Instead, it's just like, here's ... Assume that the reader understands the space fairly well and just give my thoughts there.
I think it becomes more tough, at least for me, the deeper you are into your career. Early on I used to write stuff, and, again, I'd look back and I cringe, but it's like at least I was putting stuff out there. I think, again, 23-year-old self, I would tell myself, "Write way more and really solidify your thoughts out there in the world."
MM: Do you think that that will increasingly be the currency that people find serendipity going forward? Because I wonder if Twitter will continue to be the town square and how it will all fit together.
BR: I think it's Twitter and writing, let's just say Twitter and Substack or wherever, these places have become way more noisy.
It's harder to differentiate yourself. For me, I'm always thinking about, well, where do you actually create content that no one else is? Is that the right place to dig in or do you just go and make content where your audience already is? I just always go back to someone who should really create a great YouTube channel around this stuff.
MM: That's the core atomic unit.
BR: Yeah, I just think it's just sort of mind-blowing to me that no one from our world has fully cracked that. I refer to it as smart YouTube.
Most of YouTube is junk food, but there is ... You and I would love to watch normal, smart YouTube stuff.
MM: I do. I love it.
BR: Yeah. I think there's just a big opening. Right now, it's just educational and then documentaries, and then junk food. I think there's somewhere in between all of that.
MM: Yeah, I think that sounds very right, especially short-form video, all that kind of stuff, or shifts.
BR: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I think someone will nail TikTok as well at some point.
MM: It's surprising how few tech and VC people have gotten this.
BR: Yeah, yeah. It's like zero.
MM: We're all so used to hiding behind a screen or something.
BR: Yeah, exactly. It's probably just who we are as people, just like our personality types.
MM: Yeah, it filters.
BR: Just goes more towards writing.
MM: True. Where do you go to find inspiration? What are your favorite corners of the internet these days?
BR: I spend way too much time on Reddit and TikTok.
MM: Reddit is what Google search used to be.
BR: Yeah. I think it's more of you see ... I don't know. Let's use you go to the coffee subreddit as an example. You go down the rabbit hole of coffee. Again, you would think that's not a deep rabbit hole, but, like, oh my gosh, it is a deep rabbit hole.
MM: So deep, yeah.
BR: You go to the Wikipedia page on the side, or the wiki that they put together, and it's like, here's the buying guide. Here's the 9,000 things of how you should think about this, and then you're like, "Wait, some random person did this for free? What?"
MM: Yeah. It's so in-depth.
BR: "They did this because they're so passionate about this?" Then, by the way, there's probably 200,000 people that go and read that. I was like, "Okay, wait. This is actually crazy."
I just love finding random subreddits, like sub 50,000 members, and being like, "This is a passionate community. What's going on here?" I love also following drama within hobbies or communities.
I think it's just such an interesting look of, okay, why is ... I don't know. I went down a rabbit hole of Warhammer figurines and things like that. It's like, here's all this weird drama that's going on within the space. I'm like, "This is amazing."
MM: It is.
BR: There's probably learnings of why this is happening. Maybe there's a company that gets formed out of this. I don't know, but at the very least, you get to see ... Reddit is, for better or worse, the purest form we have of observing all of the internet and how the hive bind would interact. As long as you acknowledge it is, it's the hive mind.
“Reddit is, for better or worse, the purest form we have of observing all of the internet and how the hive bind would interact.”
You could read an ask Reddit thread to me and I could tell you what the top 10 posts will be, top 10 comments will be, just automatically.
That's how good of a pulse I have on how Reddit thinks, which is scary and bad, but it's become so obvious what people want on Reddit.
I spent a lot of time on Reddit. I go down a lot of rabbit holes on TikTok as well. TikTok as a search platform is really fun and interesting to go and search a weird hobby, like coffee or something. You're like, "Wait, what? Oh my gosh. There's all this amazing content that's out there."
Between that, those two, and then I try and ... I also go down a lot of YouTube rabbit holes as well, but I don't know. It's not systematic at all. It's very just follow whatever breadcrumbs.
MM: Following your curiosity, yeah.
BR: Yeah. Whatever breadcrumbs are out there, I just chase down.
MM: Yeah. It's like quality breadcrumbs, too, I feel like is what you're chasing.
BR: Yeah. Yeah, exactly, exactly. Yeah. It's ideally not junk food, but occasionally do end up with junk food.
MM: Yeah. Yeah. Whole wheat.
MM: Yeah. It reminds me ... I think I feel like one of the best questions to often ask on a topic is always what is the most contested issue currently.
MM: To get at the crux of what is tearing them apart and what is interesting and what people are thinking of. Then you have to fill in so much context to even understand why that is the crux of an issue.
MM: But you'd be surprised. Yeah, there are so many things that have hotly-contested debates in aerospace figurines or something like that, and it's like why are there even debates?
BR: Yeah. I mean, it's more of the fact that these people are so passionate about this. It's like these people would all do this as their full-time job if they could, but they're probably working some nine-to-five, or whatever it is.
That's where their real passion is they're sitting and debating the future of some random thing. It's like, "Oh my gosh, that person is amazing.” I also want to go down the rabbit hole of every area that they spend time in. My view is most VCs just default to, I don't know, what do other VCs spend time in and think about? For me, it's much better to just try and observe what's actually happening. You're just like, "Oh, wow, okay, this is a thing. Is it venture-backable? I don't know."
“I also want to go down the rabbit hole of every area that they spend time in… For me, I try to just observe what's actually happening. You're just like, ‘Oh, wow, okay, this is a thing. Is it venture-backable? I don't know.’”
Again, all this weirdly gets connected over time. I try and reach out to a lot of these people. Mainly, I don't know if it's a researcher or if it's a company. It could be really niche, but I try and just build those connections and dots over time so that I can connect them all.
That's the best part of this job is actually connecting all these pieces.
MM: Couldn't agree more. Yeah, it's the most fun.
MM: It's like Reddit and many areas of the internet where people are just completely obsessing over things, it's a really good way to filter for the people that are in the top one or 99 percentile of just being obsessed with a thing.
BR: Yes. Yeah, yeah.
MM: There's probably no better way of finding them in the entire world.
BR: Yeah, exactly. It's just like, "Why are they so obsessed? What's going on here?" As you continue to peel the onion back, it's just like, "Oh, I can see why they're obsessed. Yeah. This is crazy."
MM: Yeah. Really interesting.
MM: Yeah. Yeah. My last question for you in closing is just how do you think that venture and the internet are going to change over the next decade? How is it going to change how we do this job and all this kind of stuff?
BR: I think my view is more and more power to the individual, just that would be my overall theme in that, I think, in direct contradiction to everyone will regret having an online identity of themselves. I also think everyone should really invest in their personal brand and their personal audience.
I think being known for anything is, well, not bad things, but being known for being unique is good. A lot of what I think the next decade on the internet will be about is how you express yourself uniquely and build a personal brand.
“I think being known for being unique is good. A lot of what I think the next decade on the internet will be about is how do you express yourself uniquely and build a personal brand?”
I think there's another piece, which is there's some probably really crazy thesis I could say around AI and how all that evolves and whatever else. I think that'll happen. There's going to be some really crazy stuff that happens around AI, but I don't have a strong enough thesis today to tell you how that evolves. I think it's just more and more value accruing to the individual and rewarding the individual.
MM: Yeah. It's interesting how, yeah, it becomes more and more atomized, but then people still find themselves craving the community and the groups and all that kind of things, rebuild what they've been ripping apart at the institutional seams for a very long time.
I think it's good. It's just like a reorganization. It's kind of, okay, now we're building from first principles. How do we actually want it to be organized and which people want to work together?
BR: Yeah. Yeah, I think that's right. I think it will be very interesting to reflect on 10 years from now, like how the world's changed, because it's just ... If I've learned anything, I can't predict any of this stuff. Instead, it's just trying to observe and pay attention and make sense of it as you can.
MM: Great answer. Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
BR: Thank you.
MM: Blake, it was a pleasure.
BR: This was awesome.