1,000 Paths to Success with Jack Conte
Hey everybody, what's up? I'm Chase. Welcome to another episode of the Chase Jarvis Live Show here on CreativeLive. You guys know this show. This is where I sit down with amazing humans. I do everything I can to unpack their brains and help you live your dreams in career, in hobby, and in life. My guest today is a musician. He's half of the group Pomplamoose. He's a YouTube star, but probably most notably, you may know him as the co-founder and CEO of Patreon. My guest is Jack Conte.
Yes. (upbeat rock music) (audience cheers and applauds)
They love you. (Jack laughs) We did it; we made it happen.
I'm so excited. Thank you for having me.
Thank you for being on the show. You've traveled a whopping six blocks or something like that to our studios here in San Francisco.
Yeah, it's a very short, painless walk.
And we were just talking. I end up saying this a fair bit, because anytime someone who's about to be on the show, we're talking, as we'...
re getting mic'd up and we started a thread of a conversation I just wanna jump right back into. We agreed to stop.
Let's do it. (Jack laughs)
Like, let's save it for the for when we're recording. And that is your transition from musician, I wouldn't really call it a transition. That's probably the wrong word.
Your sort of addition of a new set of roles and responsibilities when you founded Patreon after being a career musician.
So, we have similar paths, and we were talking about that. Mine was from photography.
Yes, we're unlikely founders, I think is the words that we were using prior to the cameras rolling, but tell me your story. Like, you're making music to now, you're the co-founder and CEO of a company that's raised a ton of money and serving tens of thousands of creators all over.
Yeah, I mean, I've been a, as you mentioned, I've been a professional YouTuber for the last 10 years. I've made my living, you know, making YouTube videos, making music, and uploading things online and hustling to try and figure out how the hell to convert that into a living and money. And yeah, about five years ago, I started working on this music video that I ended up pouring my, like, life into, including my entire savings account. Maxed out two credit cards, got this like, roboticist hobbyist to build this head that snag the lyrics to the song, and, not CGI; like, an actual robot head singing the lyrics to the song, and then the other robot was this like, hexapod 3D printed thing that this guy from the University of Tucson built. It was the most intense music video I ever made in my life. Took me three months. I was working like, 19-hour days. It was crazy. And at the end of all this, I uploaded the video, got about a million views, that's what I was getting g at the time, and I checked, I remember checking my dashboard. I got 166 bucks from that million views, after like, $10,000 and maxing out two credit cards. I was like, fuck this. (Chase laughs)
Something is wrong.
Something is so, 'cause I made this behind-the-scenes video, and my fans saw the behind-the-scenes video. They knew how hard I worked. They were so pumped about this thing. It was clearly, like, the best thing I'd ever made in my life. And it was just such a light that was shining on the fucked up, super broken system online right now that converts art, people call it content; I hate that.
Me too, I hate it.
It's art. (Jack scoffs) That converts art into dollars for the people who make the art. And the way the web is set up right now sucks for solving that problem, and it was a moment where I looked up and I felt like, we've gotta do something about this.
And I called up my co-founder. Okay, the next part of the story.
Hey man, we gotta do something about this. (Jack laughs)
It was my freshman year roommate from school. We've just got so much luck here, you know? So much weird happenstance and luck. And he, I pitched him this idea for Patreon, sort of drew it out on 14 sheets of printer paper. He got so pumped about it, started coding it that night, actually.
And we launched three months later. He built the whole thing by himself in three months. Sam is his name, Sam Yam. He's a monster engineer and product thinker and just an amazing human being. He built this whole site by himself, and we launched, within two weeks of launching Patreon, I was the first creator on Patreon. We launched with three creators: me, my roommate, and my girlfriend. (Jack laughs)
Yes! See, if you're trying to build it for an audience of a billion people on day one, you're doing it wrong. Three people!
It was three people on Patreon, that was it. And yeah, within like two weeks of launching, I was making like, over 5,000 bucks per month. And it was just this moment where, you know, you A/B. The your dashboard, $166; Patreon, $5,000. And it is so, it was like, explosive. I mean, creators starting signing up in droves, because it was just, there are so few products that actually pay you for being a creative, artistic person. And this was a, this was the, you know, a first in so many ways, and creators just, you know, the rest is history. We ended up, we got so many support tickets that we had to raise money and hire people and then build an office, and I think the word we used was unintentional founder.
Yeah, I mean, it was a snowball that kind of rolled and suddenly we found ourselves managing people and building a company and looking for office space and, you know, and the rest is history.
That's virtually the exact same experience that I had building CreativeLive.
Looking out there, realizing that the industry is fragmented and that there was a bunch of misinformation and information portrayed in negative contexts, and learning was growing, but there were a cross section of people who didn't wanna see it grow. I'm not saying that YouTube doesn't wanna see it grow, but YouTube's taking YouTube's money, right?
And they're trying to keep, give you just enough to keep you interested. And so we saw a similar industry, or opportunity, and never really like, I can't wait to be a founder and manage people and have venture capital, but there's a certain calling.
Yeah, yeah. The way I kind of think of it is like, I don't have a tattoo. (Jack laughs) But if I were gonna get a tattoo, it would be because I want a tattoo. It would be because there's something that I want to see every day, and I want to remind myself of that thing every single day. I think starting a company is a similar kind of thing. If you're starting a company because you wanna start a company, that's not the right reason to start a company. If you're starting a company because there's some problem that you just can't help but solve, if it's just in your veins, and it's just the most important thing, and you must do it, then a company is a good way to accomplish that.
'Cause there's a formal structure for bringing people on board, and you can pay them in exchange for their time and energy.
And it can scale, and, yeah, and so, yeah, at least for me, you know, the reason Patreon is here is because this problem is so important, and creators have been systemically pushed down for thousands of years. And with the internet now, all of that can go away. And I mean, it's such a, it is the best time in the history of humans, literally in the history of humans, to be an artist, right now, in 2018.
And if you don't believe it, just check yourself, right? Seriously, I think that's the thing that, like, the sky is falling, the value of photography is X, now my design services are falling in value. Okay, there's infinitely more money being made, converted, infinitely more ideas being created and shared, infinitely more photographs, designs; all those things are at an all-time high and rising, still rising. So, I understand that as individual creators, sometimes we feel alone; sometimes we feel lost; sometimes we feel afraid, all those things. If you're not feeling those things, also probably doing it wrong. Something is A, not right with you. No, I'm just, I paraphrase. But I believe as you do, that it is an amazing time, in part because tools like Patreon, in part because you're leveraging the internet. But let's put this, let's put a pin in this just for a second, pink, and I wanna do two things. I wanna first say that I believe that there is a misunderstanding, and I wanna get your take on this. I believe there's a misunderstanding of how artists have always made money. There have basically always been patrons of the arts, right?
People who are funding, like, the Sistine Chapel ceiling didn't get painted by a volunteer painter.
Okay? It was very well funded, and he had people who were willing to write checks to support him in his endeavors. So, while this is new, it's not entirely new.
It's not new at all.
But what you've done is scale it. So help the folks at home, if you don't know what Patreon is, this is gonna be an amazing episode for you, 'cause you're about to go sign up for a new service. (Jack laughs) But, so, give us a little, like, how you see, historically, how you look at how artists were paid, and then what you've done as sort of an homage, or you've taken a piece of that, and where you wanna take this.
Okay. I remember pitching Patreon to VCs, and some folks get it, and some folks don't. 'Cause it's a little weird. It's a membership platform, right? That just makes it easy for creators to get paid. And you sign up not to buy a piece of content. When you pay five bucks a month, you're not paying five dollars a month to, you're not paying five dollars to download a song, or to get a digital good on your computer. It's not a transaction; it's membership. You're paying five bucks a month to a person so that they can keep being creative. It's similar to, you know, something that KQED might do, or being a member of the New York Times or SF MOMA. It's the digital online version of that, right? It's a membership platform. And I remember talking to some VCs, and they were saying things like, wait a minute, so this is like, voluntary payments? And I was like, ugh, no. (both laughing) If you're thinking of it like that, we shouldn't be in business together. Because I think ultimately, and your question was about the historical context here. The truth is, some people think that it's weird. It's not weird at all.
It's only in the last hundred years, literally since the turn of the century, around 1900, that we started putting art, our art, on physical things, audio and video, you know, the invention of celluloid, the invention of the wax.
Tape and photography.
Tape, yeah. A wax cylinder to record audio, and then, you know, turning that into records, and then packing those things up and shipping them around the world and building billions of dollars of infrastructure and industry to move a physical good from a manufacturing facility to the hands of a consumer. There's a hundred years of infrastructure there, but that's only since 1900. Before that, artists were paid like you said. They were paid, hey, you're a cool person. You make good stuff. I like the things you make. I'm gonna pay you, I mean, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, when it debuted, the names of his five patrons were in the libretto. He was getting paid because people said, wow, I really like your music. Here's a bag of coins; go make more music. That's how the arts have been funded for a long time.
Yeah, so, forever.
And when you sit down with the venture capital folk who are trying to decide how they're gonna fund you to go do your venture, like you said, there's probably half are part of them that get it immediately and for whom that resonates, and there's a cross section of those who don't. What do you find in common with the people who don't understand this?
Yeah, well, I can tell you, the people who do get it. (Chase laughs)
I was trying to pin you down to say who don't get it. (Jack laughs) But let's just go, who does get it. Who gets it?
I can tell you about who doesn't get it.
Let's just say who, it's maybe more fun. We'll keep it in the positive. Who gets it?
The people who get it, it's the folks that we end up working with. Like, Danny Rimer's on our board. I remember when I realized that he was the right person for Patreon. He was on the board of SF MOMA, and you walk into his house. It's full of sculptures and paintings. He's an art collector. He would like, commission artists from around the world to do things for his home. Like, art is, it's like a way of life for him. People who understand the history and context of artistry and how it's been financed over time, those people look at this, and they go, oh my God.
This is how, this is how we fix what the last 20 years did to all these supply chains and distribution houses and infrastructure that we built over the last hundred years. Those people who understand that context, those are the folks that get it. And you know, the folks who don't get it are folks who, they have no familiarity with creators. You say creator to them and they say, what's a creator? They don't see this emerging class of people who are making things, and they don't sort of view it as a market. And that's, you know, if you're not in it, it's hard to see it emerging.
Yeah. I think that's a really important thing. I have historically talked about sort of two, you know, as we think about who we make this show for, there's people who identify as creators and for whom we at CreativeLive and the industry I think is trying to take them from one or two or three or five to 10. Like, how do we help you grow and develop, and, you know, maximize your creativity. And then there's another cross section, people that I don't wanna ignore. I call 'em creative curious. And they're like, cool. Like, I see this happening. I would love to stop doing the things that everybody else told me I had to do to be a grownup adult and realize that chasing your passions, the distance between where you are and where you wanna be is much closer than you think. And so, if we were talking to this, the group trying to go from zero to one now, what's the message that you would share to them about how to decide, 'cause I think of it as a decision, maybe you think differently, but to decide to pursue the thing that you love, because you had to do that, right? What message would you share with those folks, and, by extension, how did you make that jump?
Yeah, what a great question. You know, I have a particular viewpoint on this, and I think I've already expressed it around, this is the best time in the history of humans to be an artist. I really believe that. There's no excuses at this point. You do not have to wait for somebody to stick out their thumb walking by you on the street and see your face and say, you're it. Lemme make you a star. Those days where there were three pipelines from giant conglomerates and media companies to the masses are over. The internet has made it possible, and it's a wonderful, wonderful thing, for any human to speak and connect with other humans. Holy shit!
Yeah, it's crazy.
Still, it blows my mind when I think about it.
This is our first time meeting, for example. I just sent you an email. Dude, love your stuff; let's chat.
That's how the world works now, and it used to not be that way, right?
And that opportunity is like, if you don't take advantage of that opportunity. (iPhone dings) No worries. (Jack laughs) Do you need to get that? (both laughing)
Are you kidding me? Like, we just went through this big drill about turning our phones off.
Yeah, if you don't take advantage of that opportunity, then you're making excuses. Like, this is the, this is the best time. You have every tool imaginable. There are people who want to find you. Even if you're, let's say you're a total weirdo. Like, let's say your art is so weird that you show it to a thousand people, and 999 of them say, eh, don't like that. Well, guess what? There are millions of people then on the internet that would like your work, because if you're one in a thousand, there's two billion people on the internet. There's plenty of people to enjoy your work, make a living, build a business. So, at this point, it's entirely up to individuals. I think that's a really empowering thing. That's kind of what motivated me and got me going about it.
So, let's talk a little bit about your personal journey, then.
So, gimme a little bit about, like, backstory, childhood.
Like, were you a creator from day one, you knew what you wanted to do, and you set off trying to figure out how to do it, or did you have a winding and meandering path? Gimme a little bit of that context.
I mean, I've had it figured out since day zero.
No, I'm kidding. (both laughing)
No, I mean, I loved music as a kid, and, you know, my dad was a doctor and mom was a nurse, but both musicians. My dad played the piano; my mom was a jazz singer. They would play together, so I grew up with like Cole Porter and The American Songbook.
I mean, it was amazing. I grew up listening to jazz, and it's like a part of my music now. My dad taught me the blues scale when I was six, so I was immediately like, improvising and writing songs and stuff like that. And then of course, all through high school and college, I was playing in bands and combos and jazz groups. And then I got really, I remember, you know, starting when I was around 12 or 13, my parents got me a camera, and I just filmed everything. I filmed, I have literally hundreds of hours of footage of just my life and hanging out with friends, and I fell in love with filmmaking and storytelling. And in college, there was a moment. I went into college thinking, I'm gonna be a physics major. And I remember the single moment where I realized, fuck, I'm gonna be an artist. (Jack laughs) I was coming out of a physics lecture, and I was sitting there, and I just glazed over, and I went outside, and I sat on a bench for like an hour by myself and just thought, look, I love music and filmmaking. Like, it's why I'm on earth. It fills me with joy and passion. It's what I think about all the time. I go to sleep thinking about stories and music videos and piano arrangements, and I dream music. I dream symphonies and arrangements and compositions. It felt like purpose to me.
This whole physics thing feels like something different than that.
I love, I still love physics, and I'm a science geek.
Dear physics, I still love you. (both laughing)
I do, that's what it is. But it's not my soul.
And, you know, there was that moment where I realized that, you know, I was gonna be an artist. And I applied to film school, got into film school, decided not to go 'cause I was in a pop band, so decided to be in a pop band. The band didn't work out. (Jack laughs) I ended up having to move back in with my dad, and I lived with my parents post-school, which was so embarrassing, 'cause all my friends, and I went to a good college. All my friends were getting high-paid jobs, and I was, I remember, actually, it was kind of humiliating, to tell you the truth. Like, it was embarrassing. And I did it anyway, 'cause I loved it, and I started making a little bit of money and selling .mp3s and reaching people, and one thing led to the next, and then Pomplamoose came around, and for whatever reason, that combination of me and Natalie, who's now my wife, our music just really resonated with people, and it took off. You know, we started playing huge venues and touring and selling lots of songs and building a fan base, and that's kind of how I got into music. But, you know, filmmaking has always been a part of that, because I'm making YouTube videos and that kind of stuff.
Well, that's what I appreciated in sort of tracing your history in preparation for our conversation today, is it seems very intentional, and the mix of this is to me, why it's very easy for both of us to sit here and say that it's the best time in the history of the world to be a creator, because you're in charge of your own brand. You're using your own skills and some relatively inexpensive tools to create not just the music that you sell but the world that that music gets to live in, through videos, through things that you make for your fans, to the platform that you, you know, websites and distribution channels and whatnot. I think that's really, really, at the core, what we're trying to get at here, is that it's the first time in the history of the world where the gatekeepers are largely not there anymore. That's not to say they're absent, because you still have, you gotta play by the rules of these channels, the distribution channels. YouTube has rules, for example. But by and large, relative to every other time in history, these tools are democratized, or near democratized. So, if that's the case, and you started making money doing the thing that you're doing, you're still making music, right?
Yeah, I released two music videos a week.
Okay. What's this whole other path, and why are you picking up new things to do, because you're living your dream, right? You're tapped into getting to make a living and a life doing what you love, making music on the internet and using places like iTunes and YouTube to reach fans and provide them value. This whole Patreon thing, it's separate from that.
Yeah. (Chase laughs) (Jack sighs) I mean, we're going deep now.
We are. We're going there.
This cuts deep. I could bullshit for a while, (Jack laughs) and I'm not going to. This was like, really emotional for me, one of the most difficult emotional transitions of my life. Patreon is, I work 12 or 13 hours a day. I don't have weekends. I'm all in it, building a startup from scratch, building nothing from something, sorry, building something from nothing, and especially doing it for the first time, especially as a non-technical CEO in Silicon Valley, managing people for the first time. It was my first job. Like, I'm all in. I have to be all in. So many people have put their trust and faith in Patreon, from our investors to our employees to friends to people we've recruited. Anything less than giving my all to those people is unacceptable. And so, music, you know, one time a month for two days, I fly down to LA, and I record for two straight days, on a Saturday and Sunday, and then we put out those music, those songs and videos over the course of a month. So, it's like, this much of my time, and there's teams now that are helping do all that. My wife basically runs Pomplamoose. She's CEO of Pomplamoose. But moving to that world where, I mean, you know, I describe music and the arts as my soul, right? And it's not easy. It doesn't get easier. Like, it's pain, and sending checks to my friends and people that I've been following for years every month, you know, through Patreon, sending them money for doing what they do best and helping them be passionate and live their lives and live their dreams and fixing this problem, I can't describe the long-term reward of that. I literally, I feel it in my arms. Like, it feels good in my arms, like, when I think about paying those people.
Do you have special arms? (both laughing) No, I get it.
It's a physical sensation.
Yeah, I get it. You can't get more real than that.
Yeah, I can't, and I can't describe it, other than it just is so rewarding and feels so good. And it's the only thing, it's the only thing that could tear me away from making music and videos.
Lemme play devil's advocate, because in transparency and vulnerability, the same exact set of circumstances in my life, except as a photographer. But why would you, like, you're making hundreds of thousands of dollars as a musician, like, touring and playing. Like, why would you possibly give that up? Isn't that the, aren't you giving up the best life ever to have sort of investors and a lack of freedom and have a ton of responsibility? Aren't you, isn't this doing it wrong? (both laughing)
You're literally, you're playing the conversation that happens in my head.
Because, Jack, it's been in my head for years too. I just wanna hear, how have you managed it? We can bond here.
On video and audio about how we're managing this. But honestly, like, tell me, what's your response when someone asks, like, wait, what are you doing?
Yeah. I love all those things, and I've stumbled into this thing. It was stumbling into it, right, stumbled into Patreon. The opportunity for growth and learning and the opportunity to be a CEO. (Chase laughs)
I did the same thing; I laughed.
Of a tech company? I would be a fool to snub, to give that up. I would be a fool to turn my nose up at that opportunity for growth and learning and to build those skills that will apply to everything I do from the rest of my life. It feels like, yeah, it would feel like a, it would feel like a fuck you to the universe, right, on so many levels, to me and to all the people that use Patreon to do what I love to do. And so, there is an element of it. Look, I love it, and it is ultimately for me, and there's an element of it that is a moment where I feel like I can give back, you know? Patreon feels, it's a for-profit company. We wanna make a profit. We have investors. All those things are true. And it really is a moment where I feel like I'm giving something important to the world. And yeah, that ultimately overpowers any other feeling that I have, as strange as that sounds. And, you know, I say that, and it's true, and I still have that echoing conversation in my head.
What am I doing?
And part of the reason I'm asking you to share this, thank you, A, for being vulnerable, B, for just telling it like it is, and putting it out there in the world for people to hear, and that is, I want people at home to know that, like, very successful musician still has self-doubt. Wildly successful entrepreneur, you've raised a hundred million dollars. You're paying out hundreds of millions of dollars to creators all over the world. Still in your head saying, aw, shit, what am I doing?
Oh my God.
Are people gonna find out that I don't know what I'm doing, that all this is the first time? (Jack laughs) I mean, I'm putting words in your mouth now, but I feel like I'm resonating with what you're saying about these are, it sounds to me like you're compelled. Am I putting words in your mouth, or is that accurate?
No, I mean, look, everybody has imposter syndrome. I think I remember seeing a stat around the number of CEOs that have imposter syndrome, and it's something like 60%, which blew my mind and made me feel way less alone. But there's an, there's an element of it that's just like being alive. Building a company is like being a human. You stumble; you make a lot of mistakes. If you do a really great job, you know, 30 to 40% of your decisions are good ones. And you just have to have grit and guts to deal with some of the bad ones. And you have to correct quickly and pick back up. I think the hardest part for me, there's a wonderful book by Ben Horowitz called The Hard Thing about Hard Things.
I love that book.
It's such a good book.
It's incredible for, I'm gonna do just a small, like, digression. It's for people who are building companies, and it's, instead of like, most business books are this rosy, like, this is how you do it, and if you were to do it perfectly, you'd do it like this. But the reality is, nothing's perfect. This book is like, how to fire your friend. What do you say to investors when you tell them you've lost all their money? Like, it's a series. So you're reading The Hard Thing about Hard Things.
Yeah. I mean, one of my favorite quotes from that book is like, you know, when you ask CEOs, like, how they did it, the crappy CEOs will point to their brilliant strategic moves or, you know, key decisions in the path, blah, blah. And the great CEOs say the same thing every time, which is, I just didn't quit. I just stumbled and fell and got back up without losing enthusiasm and pulled the mud out of my teeth and kept running, and then I fell face-first again and slammed my head and woke up in the hospital, and took off the bandages, and kept going. And you just keep going. And that's why I think it's like life, because, you know, you cannot prevent failure. You misstep and misstep and misstep and build and build and recover and misstep and build and recover, and that process is the process of being a human being. It is also the process of building a company. So, so yeah, don't, don't quit, I guess. Just keep going, and guess what? Everybody else is making mistakes too.
Yeah, and they're showing you their highlight reel, and you're comparing their highlight reel to your real life, which is confusing and painful sometimes, but just know. I think that's, again, thank you for sharing that. So, you're talking about building companies right now, and we've heard that as a musician, you found success creating Pomplamoose and other projects. Let's go to the Jack who's alone at night in his own head.
So last night at four a.m..
Last night at four a.m..
Like, play the talk track from last night at four a.m..
I'm not gonna do that. (both laughing)
Just being honest.
Yeah, no, no, that's fair. Okay, paint a picture of the difference between what people think that Jack Conte's talk track is and the reality.
Okay, we're going deeper. Yeah, I mean, look, it's all the things that you mentioned. It's the replaying of moments, right? For whatever reason, I describe my brain as a Velcro brain. Something happens, and I can't unattach it. I'll replay a moment and think about how I could have done it better, or how I could have phrased my answer better, you know, or how I could have approached a situation better, or a better version of the decision. One of the things I have to combat at four a.m. by myself is just, I feel like so many of your filters are down and your brain's just going.
That's the monkey mind. That's the two-million-year-old organ. It's not there to make you happy. It's to make you survive, yeah. (Jack laughs)
All my perfectionism just rears its ugly head in those moments, and, you know, I usually work pretty hard to combat perfectionism, 'cause I think it can be, I've noticed I'm a perfectionist. I like to make perfect things, and if I don't actively fight against that, if I don't allow myself to be aware of that in every moment during the creation process, I never finish anything, I never publish anything, because I'm always trying to make it better. And at a startup, you have to balance that with speed. You need great things, and those great things need to happen really quickly, at a really good cadence. And so, I think my four a.m. self is just, so disappointed about the speed versus quality trade-off. And it's just a never-ending struggle.
So, I'm gonna summarize that in one word. I'm gonna call it mindset.
So what are some things that you do to manage that mindset, knowing that it's the mindset of every creator, some of the most successful human beings on the planet, by every outward measure. Let's take Robin Williams, for example. Wildly successful. Tony Robbins told stores about, you know, asking people all over the world, literally millions of people. Like, who liked, not who liked. Who loved, you know Mork and Mindy? Who loved this guy? And 99 out of 100 people with their hands up. And yet, he did not have, he had his demons and took his own life. So like, literally loved by billions and billions of people. Won every award you can make in filmmaking, even outside his genre, the highest awards, and still didn't find peace? So we know by a sort of negative example how important mindset is. And then we see in athletes and the best in class that the difference is less about skill and more about mindset in those, in the success stories as well. So, mindset is a thing. What do you do? What does Jack Conte do to preserve a healthy mindset, to build himself and those around him up, not just at four a.m., but just in life, do you have a set of practices? Do you have a way of approaching things? How do you do it?
Yeah, I have some specific things I do, and then I just have some like, general overarching principles. I'll start with something really clear and specific. Thank you. A couple years ago, I realized that, and it slipped on me. It just slowly developed. I realized that I was horrified of flying. I hadn't even like, admitted it to myself. And then I realized that I couldn't get on an airplane. And I had been like, deferring on travel plans and making excuses to not go see friends who had moved cities. Thanks, thank you. Yeah, it was a terrible realization. I didn't even realize it was a thing, and then suddenly, I realized it. And so I went to cognitive behavioral therapy to get over this.
Oh wow, cool. And it was about a year and a half.
What does that mean? What does cognitive behavioral therapy mean?
It's like more based on action than it is like, so tell me about, like, your relationship with your parents.
Like, it's like things that you can do, and like techniques; it's more tactical. And I had to like, retrain my brain. And so, the thing that eventually worked for me, and it doesn't work for everybody, this particular thing worked for me, was you wear a rubber band around your wrist, and when you start to have negative thoughts and feelings about flying, you just pick up the rubber band, snap, and I am, you say, I am healthy and safe, and all is right in my world. And then immediately, your brain goes back to flying. Snap again, I'm healthy and safe until, you do that over and over, until your brain just doesn't think about it, and then you keep living your life. And then a couple hours later, you start to drift into dark fantasy land about, the plane crash or whatever. You snap and you do it again. If you do that for, or, when I did that for like, eight or nine months, repeatedly, eventually, I noticed that the time between rubber band snaps just got longer and longer and longer, 'til it was days and weeks, and then I took the rubber band off, and now I'm not afraid of flying anymore. And it was a long retraining process, where I just had to kind of, I don't wanna say trick, but I had to force my brain into it. And that's a technique that I've brought with me on a lot of things, is just like, when I'm having unproductive thoughts that are not useful, I'm not gonna take action on, they're just stupid things that are hurting me and my life, I just do a mental rubber band snap. And I've used that specific technique since then to kind of clear out the bullshit that you carry around in your head.
And I wanna try and put a bow on what you're saying, and that is that eight or nine months. So folks at home that think you can just like snap that little guy or gal on your shoulder, oh, hey, beat it, like, we're talking about very successful Jack Conte has spent months and months and months around a thing like flying, and then we're able to apply that to other things. So, that's the level of commitment of, and how important it is, to have a mindset, because you probably couldn't succeed in your job without that mindset.
I wasn't succeeding in my life.
I wasn't succeeding in like, keeping good relationships with people that I loved, right?
Yeah, that's powerful. So, if you, to me, I think that's a really, A, thank you for sharing that. Also, well, what's the right way of going at this? So, if you are willing to put that much time into mindset, do you feel like that is a life-long, like, you talked about it in like, I cured myself of my fear of flying. But you also said, well, and I bring that into other areas of my life. So is this an ongoing struggle, or is this a, you feel like you got to where you need to be?
Yeah, so I actually didn't use the word cure on purpose.
That was mine.
I said, I'm not afraid of flying anymore, because I spend very, very little time being afraid of flying, because every time I am afraid of flying, I snap the rubber band. And so, holistically, like, how much time do I spend being afraid if flying? Maybe a few seconds a year. It's there, and if I let it come back, I could let it come back. But you hit the nail on the head. This is not, like, you're not done with this, ever. It keeps going.
And these are frameworks. That's why I love hearing what your sort of methodology is, and thank you for being super explicit about it, and whether that works for you folks at home who are listening of watching, the takeaway for me is not just the tactic; it's that this is a thing, and you know, to reference something I had earlier, we have a two-million-year-old organ in our skull. Its job is to keep you safe, not happy, and so we have to learn how to drive this thing.
And this is a theme throughout the show. Like, all the top performers that I've had on the show, they have a very, it's a repeated theme that mindset is a focus, is an area of focus and passion, and they direct a lot of attention to it, so. A, you're not alone; you know that. But for the folks at home, it's really important to hear I think over and over and over again. So we're gonna go from, again, thank you, that vulnerable place. We're gonna do a 180 now, and I'm gonna say a couple things that I am freakishly admirable of your ability to do.
And that is to win, whatever win is, to find success via crazy nontraditional methods. (Jack laughs) And I think, you know, A, it's so fun to watch, you know, my friends and peers do that, and you're a master. And I'll just use one very specific example, which is you wanted to, when Casey Neistat, whom we both know, announced his 368 project, you thought there might be something with Patreon. And you live in San Francisco; Casey lives in New York. And you basically, you got his attention and went and had a meeting with him by very nontraditional modes. Tell us that story.
Yeah, saw Casey launch 368. It was a super inspiring launch video. It really felt like the beginning of something that he was gonna be spending the next year on at least, or more. And I wanted, I thought it would be incredible if, 'cause one of the big pitches of 368 was let's help small creators. Let's help them get a jumpstart. And like, I thought, what if Patreon were financing that ability for 368 to get small creators a jumpstart? I think that's something the community would be super excited about. People would totally pay monthly to help creators reach the world for the first time. And I thought this was a great opportunity. So, I made a video. I just made a video. Dear Casey Neistat, from the CEO of Patreon. And look, I know, like, Casey, I thought, God, he's gonna love that.
He likes videos, right?
He loves videos, and plus, like, I feel a sense of familiarity with his filmmaking style and his storytelling style. He's a genius, and I wouldn't pretend to be as good as he is at that.
Oh, man, you get the chops. Don't let anybody kid you here. You're an amazing video maker, amazing filmmaker.
Well, thank you. But I've been influenced a lot by him and his storytelling, and I thought, what if I make a video that's a little bit of an homage to Casey, so I can show Casey, hey, look, I get you, and like, I feel a connection to your style of storytelling, but I'm also gonna show you a little bit, like, of my creative flair that I can sort of put on this, do something a little differently. And I thought, you know what, if I make that video and I do it well, and I just publish it, like I just put it up, I bet that Casey would see that and like it, and also want to use that as an opportunity to create a splash and get a little spike and, you know, have the CEO of Patreon fly out to see him. And so I did. I made the video. I put it up. He saw it. He loved it. He did a couple tweets about it and invited me to come to New York and be in one of his videos. We made a video together. It was this awesome thing. It was so cool. He asked me to like, pitch Patreon on his channel, so I got to like, talk about Patreon.
To 10 million people.
To Casey's audience. It was like, such an awesome opportunity. And yeah, it was a little different, a little untraditional, but I thought it was a cool chance.
So, in the particular lies the universal. So, in that example, what's the takeaway? And to me, this is, as I've watched your career and what you're building, to me, this is actually your MO. It's like, how you do everything.
And so, I have a saying that you can't both stand out and fit in at the same time.
I love that.
What is it, if that is an example of how you got to connect with Casey, what are some other things that you've done that are completely nontraditional, and the reason I want to go down this line of questions is because people are at home thinking, I have to do it just like everybody else. And so, let's try and free people of that through your life examples.
What have you done differently?
Okay, I'll give you a really clear example. We have this model in our minds of how it's supposed to be. You're supposed to, blank. This is how it's done. And it is, you don't even realize those models are there. You've built them in your heads. They're these massive constructions, and they're detailed and specific, and there's one, two, three and steps and checklists. And they're architected in our heads, and we're completely unaware of them. And the takeaway is that all of those plans are total bullshit. (Jack laughs) They're just BS. They don't exist. I'll give you a very clear example. I went in for like, our first few pitch meetings to VCs. And I, I remember pitching Patreon, and I, you know, I was like, these are VCs. There's like 12 people around this table, and they're partners, and they've raised billions of dollars and given it away, and they've invested in these massive enterprise companies. And so I went in, and I'm talking about patron retention and forecasted revenue over the next year, and here's the retention cohorts of our creators and how they're performing over time, and these are the products that have driven these, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and we're not raising any money. Do that over and over again, not raising any money, no interest. And I finally went into one of these pitch meetings. I was like, yo, here's me. Here's how Patreon started, and I tell the robot music video story, with pictures, and you see me rocking out with an electric guitar and a robot head singing the lyrics to a song, and everybody around the table is like, looking at each other and at these slides.
What is this dude? This is crazy.
And like, it was this moment where like, I had this model in my head of, I'm a CEO, and here's how CEOs are supposed to be, and here's how you raise money, and you talk about these sorts of things. And like, all that was wrong. It turns out, investors wanna see somebody who's really passionate about solving a problem and is connected to their customers and cares deeply about what matters to them, and like, that's how you raise money, at least in the early stages. Toward the later rounds, it's more about company performance. But I just didn't realize that, at all. And it really hit home for me when I was supposed to give a presentation, and a lotta people were gonna be there. A lot of people, you know, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and a lot of people are in the audience like that. And I remember talking to our investors about this presentation, and Danny Rimer, the investment manager, he's like, he was like, dude, tell the robot story! And I was like.
Really? And he was like, yeah, tell that story. And I did, and it was awesome. But yeah, we have these models, and they're wrong.
I think that's just, there's so much embedded in that story. And it's not just with investing, and it's not just with how to build a company. It's with everything. All the rules, those rules were largely meant or largely put there in place by people who are trying to keep you out of something, not give you permission to go into it. So it's like, this is another pattern that I just, I'm so passionate about reinforcing, is that there's no right way. If there's anything, in addition to that it's never been a better time than now to be a creator, the corollary to that is that there's a thousand paths to get there, and no one path for one person looks like another path for somebody else.
And that's such a truth in and of itself, is that what has worked for me is not gonna work for some other person, and I can't just open up a rule book from someone else's life and their trajectory and follow what they did, because it probably won't work for me either. Companies are the same way. Like, sometimes people will say things, you know, when you're building a company, they'll say, well, at Facebook, they do X, Y, and Z. Like, well, we're not Facebook for so many reasons.
Sweet, they're down the street, so, you can go there.
And yeah, you know, sometimes it makes sense; sometimes it doesn't, and we all have to use our own judgment to kind of figure out what works for us, and at the end of the day, that's what it is. It's like, is this working for me right now at this particular moment in time? And if it's not, adjust, and figure something else out.
Talk about being uncomfortable. How much of a role does that play in your personal life, your career, professional? Just like, are you always comfortable? Do you create comfort for yourself as a sort of nurturing thing, or is being mildly uncomfortable, or is it like Mario Andretti that if you're not almost crashing, you're not driving fast enough? Where do you fit on that spectrum, as far as like uncomfortability in your day-to-day?
Yeah. So, this is one of those moments where I wanna re-echo the last point I had, which is like, this may not be right for the folks watching. But for me, it's just where I've played, especially in building Patreon. I would say I spend 95% of my time feeling very uncomfortable. Like, more uncomfortable than I had ever imagined I'd be willing to feel for those extended periods of time. Now, an interesting thing happens when you do that to yourself. You develop a new baseline. It's kind of like just tolerance. It's like, you get a new threshold.
Yeah, a muscle.
You keep building a muscle.
It's funny, 'cause humans have that ability. If you, you know, if you go through the death of a parent, you know, you can't imagine living without that parent. And the six to 12 months after that is just the worst kind of grief and discomfort and horror that you can imagine. It's brutal. And then, we get better. We feel better. Nothing has changed. Your mom is still gone. And it's less painful. It's weird to say, and it's just true. And so, I've noticed that that phenomena has happened to me over time. My threshold for emotional pain and for discomfort has just gone way, way up. Things that I do now at a pretty regular cadence, you know, I'd have to kind of emotionally prepare for for weeks five years ago, and now I just kind of do those things on a daily basis. And, you know, one of our investors said to me, what was the quote exactly? It was like, hey, your life, you know, you can measure your life by the number of difficult conversations that you're willing to have. (Jack laughs) If you stray away from things that are uncomfortable, I think you're just staying inside the bumper lanes. You're just gonna coast, and that might feel good in the particular moment, but I think over the long run, it's not the way I wanna do it.
Amazing, thank you for sharing. What's a thing or couple things about you that other people from the outside wouldn't know to be true? They would be surprised, like, oh my gosh, I had no idea that Jack Conte, fill in the blank.
Whoa, what a cool question. (Chase laughs) Okay, this is a little intense. I think I'm a pretty warm person. I'm pretty, like, amiable. (Jack laughs) And I'm empathetic, and so when people meet me, I'm excited, and all those things are true. And all of that, it is true. And I'm also not afraid to do things that are gonna make me not liked.
What's an example? Is that make hard decisions with friendships? Is it make decisions as the boss? Is it push people away because you're afraid?
At a company, you can't get consensus on things. If you try to get consensus, you'll never make any decisions. And so, now I find myself in a place where I often sit down and talk with folks and say, hey, I'm gonna do something that you disagree with, and here's why I'm gonna do it, and the decision is final. And so I wanted to let you know, and what I heard from you was X, Y, and Z, and here's why you wanna do it, and here's why I wanted to do this thing. And I'm gonna do this thing the way that I wanna do it. And I have those conversations like, regularly now. And I think it probably would be surprising to people who see me as just like, so open to feedback, and I am; I'm super open to feedback. I'm super open to like, talking to people. I'm friendly, I'm warm, I'm all those things. But I also wanna get things done.
There's a practicality to that, yeah.
Yeah, I wanna move. I wanna get results. I wanna send money to creators, and that means that sometimes, I am warm and firm. I can work on it. I haven't nailed that balance. I'm not an expect at it, but yeah, I have to do things at this scale where not everyone's gonna be happy, and I'm willing to do those things.
What are some of your favorite things?
Yeah, what are some of your favorite things? Peanut butter and jelly?
Favorite things, like physical things?
Things, or things in the world.
I love old instruments.
Old instruments, from the 60s and 70s. There was an analog quality and sound to those instruments, and some of the keys aren't quite perfect, and they have so much character, and they're dusty, and there's a little bit of a buzz when you plug 'em in and there's a, you know, tone wheel organ with a giant thing that's spinning, and it plugs into a Leslie speaker with cones that are going like, this, and you can control the speed of the rotation of the cones, and it changes the way the cones sound as they emit frequencies, and I just think that shit's so cool. I'm a geek. I love those physical, mechanical things, and even when I'm filmmaking, I find myself gravitating towards practical effects as opposed to like, CGI or After Effects, yeah.
You're not a big plane flyer, you don't love it. But I want to know, do you have some favorite places to go? Do they require planes, and have you gotten over it?
You know, I feel a little weird about this, but I'm not like, a travel nut. It's not that I don't love being exposed to new things and different places, and the world is an awesome place, and it's great, but I don't get a lot out of being in a place. I like ideas and execution and making things, and I can make things wherever I have tools. And so like, I'm happiest where my tools are. (Jack laughs) I know it's probably like, really lowbrow.
Yeah, it's cool. This is what I'm trying to get at. Food, what do you like?
I'm a picky eater.
Cool. Describe it.
It's so funny. (Jack laughs)
I notice you didn't go for any snacks like we have over there in the catering area.
I would probably like those snacks. I don't like cultured dairy. I hate sour cream, hate yogurt. I won't eat cheese. I gotta eat melted cheese. I only eat cooked cheese. So I'll eat pizza, but I won't eat a block of cheddar and crackers. I don't like raw fish. I don't eat like, offal meats or like, weird stuff. I get skittish around that stuff. One area where I'm not willing to be uncomfortable.
I love it. This is why I'm asking you. Artists?
Artists that I love?
A few that are just in me. Brad Mehldau, the piano player, jazz pianist, one of the most lyrical and incredible pianists I think in history, and also just an incredible combination of, I call it in and out, like beautiful and weird. He balances those two things. He'll play this wonderful line, and then it kind of goes in a really weird direction, and then comes home, and the balance of that in and out is just, he does it right to how I like it. I mean, it's incredible. I love listening to him play piano. Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
I mean, all of those movies.
I could watch all of those movies over and over and over.
Yeah, City of Lost Children, yeah. I mean, those films, and Amelie, of course. I remember seeing Amelie and just being like.
He's my wife's favorite filmmaker.
We just perpetually have a Jeunet film on.
I mean, he's incredible. Tim Burton, as a kid, like, you know, Nightmare Before Christmas, God, talk about in and out. I mean, the sort of two-world themes of his movies have forever affected my art. Like, I literally make music videos that are just basically short Tim Burton things, where the verse is this one type of world and the chorus is this like, you know, fake perfect Pleasantville-y kind of world, and yeah, I love Tim Burton. I think he's an incredible filmmaker.
Drop a couple books. You'd already said The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.
Yeah, Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull.
[Chase Yeah, amazing.
Incredible book. What a wonderful thinker, and so many good ideas in that book.
Pixar, Pixar guy, for those who don't know.
Mmhmm. There's a book called Good to Great that I just finished, which I love. They just, it's a really cool concept. They just look at companies that outperform the stock market by 3X or something over a period of 15 years, and they dive deep into what made those companies great. How do they have sustained high performance for such a long period of time? And like, the things that come out of that exploration are so counterintuitive and awesome, and really wonderful insights around like, humility and ambition for something outside of yourself. Instead of ambition for yourself, it's ambition for a cause or a problem or an identity. So that book was really wonderful. I love that book in particular.
Love it. I just tried to traipse across like food and just a bunch of weird things. Anything else under the heading things Jack likes?
Things I like.
I just was gonna say, this is my first time doing this sort of a concept.
Oh, it's cool. Yeah, I like, I'm a introvert. I recharge when I'm alone. That probably also surprises people. I think people see my, like.
The video making and yeah, yeah.
Yeah, but I'm like every other YouTuber, or not every other YouTuber. Maybe YouTubers, where on camera, they're like, like right now, I'm all excited and pumped and we're having a great conversation, and then, you know, if you put me in a party, like, I just freeze, and like, I don't know what to say.
I don't know what to do with my hands.
Oh, my God, literally. I feel like my hands are huge, and I can't, I don't feel natural when I'm like, walking around.
Where do I put my?
Oh, it's, yeah, so I like, you know, when I was making music, I'd be in a dark room by myself for 12 hours a day. I love that, 'cause I can just, I can do work and be creative and just, you know, own the process.
I think that the, it's just so wonderful to feel humanity. I think that's what I love about long-from conversations, is you can actually, and, you know, you've done a lot of media because of your role in life. Me the same. Everything gets chopped up into sound bytes. I just wanna say, thank you so much for sort of just being able to tell the long version of I don't know what to do with my hands. (Jack laughs) For everybody at home. What's on the horizon for Patreon?
You guys have acquired a couple of new companies recently, one that's a white label that people are gonna put on their own platform.
And another one.
Yeah, Kit. So we made two acquisitions recently. And they're all sort of wrapped up in this concept of membership, what does it mean to be a member in the digital world. I think we all have pretty good concepts of what that means in the physical world, and Patreon is exploring and defining what that means to be a member online, a member of a creator and their business. And so, one of the things that's important to this concept of membership is recognizing and rewarding patrons and making sure that those members feel special and get some exclusive content, exclusive access, feel a little closeness with the creator. And so one of the initiatives that we're doing, and the folks that, you know, on Kit are now working on, merchandise through Patreon as a way of rewarding patrons and thanking them for their patronage and their membership. And so that team is building out, you know, fulfillment and partnerships and how to make sure that members are getting rewarded with physical goods, if the creator wants that for their membership program, and what the business logic is around that. You know, do you get it when you hit $100? Do you get it after, you know, six months or a year? Do you get it when you up your pledge value a certain? So whatever it is. So, they're defining how, you know, merchandise interfaces with Patreon and creators and members, and then this white label thing that you mentioned is a company called Memberful with just an incredible founder and CEO, this fellow Drew, who, he and I just see the world in the same way. We just seem the web going in the same direction. Wonderful human being, and very machine-driven. So obsessed with customers and helping creators, so outward-focused. His ambition is all outside of himself, wonderful person. And Memberful is gonna allow us to essentially offer Patreon, but without any of Patreon's branding. So if you wanna run a membership program on your own website with your own colors and your own button text and your own systems and your own plans, it doesn't look like Patreon at all. It doesn't even look like Memberful. You can run it so that it just looks like you're interfacing a fan and a creator, and there's a big group of people that are like, you know what? I don't like Facebook, I don't like YouTube. I don't want a platform in between me and my fans. I want a direct relationship. I don't want branding walls between us. I just want it to be, you know, fan and creator. Memberful allows people to take those experiences, build their own websites, fully customize them, and have a more branded particular experience that they're looking for.
It's a new chapter.
That's very, very cool. What about for you personally? New chapter? Or is it just more of the same? You got your head down, and you're working, you know, that 16-, 19-hour day that we talked about? (Jack laughs)
What's new and next for Jack?
Yeah. I mean, I think the thing about startups is it's almost new and next.
It's completely consuming, isn't it?
Yeah. I mean, it's.
Just like these bags under my eyes. You look great, by the way. I don't know how you do it. (both laughing) I'm like, oh, I feel it.
Especially for being up at four a.m. last night.
I was up there with the monkey mind, too.
It's, yeah, it feels like every couple months is a new chapter. I mean, we just crossed about 170 folks, and gosh, it's a different thing. It's a different it's a different company. You know, 170 is so different than 100 is so different than 50. And so, whole new set of challenges, whole new set of like, communication systems and Katie's helping us with all that kind of stuff.
Whole new set of like, you know, now you have like, several layers of management at the company. You have to make sure those folks are empowered and autonomous and have all the information that they need, and that's a whole new set of challenges. So yeah, the next chapter is just continuing to scale Patreon, which it's just, it's a lot of change very quickly. Yeah.
You've been really clear throughout the conversation about, you've done such an eloquent job of qualifying your answers, like, well, this is how I would do it, realizing everyone's got their own path.
Can you give any absolute advice?
Yeah, don't quit. That's it, and it's just a repeat of that Ben Horowitz advice. I think a lot people don't realize that succeeding at something and failing at something feels the same for a long, long time. It feels exactly the same. And so many times, people feel that, feel that, feel that, for this long, long time, and then they give up right here, and they don't realize that right here is when something clicked, would have clicked, but they gave up here. And don't quit. Keep going. Get through that point. Be okay with that feeling. Know that everybody else feels like they're failing, too. Make it through. Have the grit to just, to just face plant in the mud, brush it off, stand up, smile, pull the mud out of your teeth, and charge forward.
I cannot think of a better way to end an interview. At risk of ruining that, I'm just gonna moonwalk away from that one, 'cause that was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing so much of your story with us, being transparent, vulnerable, open, and some just amazing nuggets of wisdom in there. Super grateful for you being on the show, bud.
Thank you, Chase. Thanks, man.
Thanks, man. All right, signing off. See you again probably, hopefully, tomorrow. (steady electronic music)