Together with Mike Nolet, CEO of LiveBetter and former CTO of AppNexus, we’re discussing the limits of what society can achieve through startups, the health risks of being a founder and the importance of wellbeing

a p e r t u r e
Jul 16 · 49 min read
Mike Nolet, CEO of LiveBetter

Welcome to a p e r t u r e | Podcast, where we highlight the people who are thinking and doing things differently. Our goal is to expose new ideas to challenge received wisdom and to open up debate. We cover strategy, technology, business models and much more.

If you would like to speak with us on the a p e r t u r e | Podcast, please feel free to reach out to Dan Colceriu, Ben Robinson or by email at podcast@aperturehub.co

Episode #3— In Pursuit of Happiness

Also available on:

Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Buzzsprout, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, TuneIn, Overcast.


Articles / books referenced in this podcast discussion:

  1. Nick Hanauer and Eric Beinhocker — Capitalism Redefined
  2. Richard Layard — Happiness, Lessons from a New Science
  3. Anand Giridharadas — Winners take all

You can also read some of Mike’s writings on Medium.

Full podcast transcript:

Ben Robinson: For this podcast, we are with Mike Nolet. Mike is best known as the CTO and co-founder of AppNexus, which is a real-time advertising platform, which handles millions of ads per second… and was recently sold to AT&T for almost $2 billion. Less well known is what Mike is doing now, which is a startup called LiveBetter, aimed at improving people’s mental health. We hope you enjoy.

Mike, welcome to a p e r t u r e — episode #3. Thank you very much for joining us.

Mike Nolet: Thank you for having me.

BR: I have to tell you, I’ve been really looking forward to this discussion. Clearly, one of the things we want to talk about is your experience at AppNexus. How were you able to make that company so successful, some of the lessons learned?

But I also want to explore the sort of darker side of tech with you. So for anybody who follows Mike on Twitter or reads him on Medium, you talk a lot about the excesses of tech and The Valley mindset. So we want to get into some of those things too.

And then lastly, we want to talk about your newest venture; LiveBetter. And what that’s all about and also some of the change in perspective you’ve had, that led you to start that company also subsequent to starting a company.

www.livebetter.io

So let’s kick off, Mike. Just tell us about your journey so far, in particular, you know, the AppNexus story.

MN: My journey, where do we start? I guess we have to start…

BR: Where did you grow up?

MN: I’m Dutch. Born in Holland

BR: See, I didn’t know that…

MN: Yes, I was born in Holland. I moved to the US when I was nine. And I study in France for a while. Yes.

BR: So what is your first language?

MN: My first language is Dutch. But my English is now even my French is better my Dutch now. But yes, I moved to the US. And I guess the story maybe starts around the university, which is, I went to a good school…

…and all the on-campus interviews were for things like McKinsey and Goldman and Google at the time already 2004. And I couldn’t get a good job. And so ended up, my first job was working at a rather crappy consulting company. Its name at the time —

BR: What did you study?

MN: I studied economics. But I was always a geek. Actually, I did very little school and mostly programming on the side because that made money. And then I started working for a company called Answer Think, which, you know, was probably a sign in the name that, it was not the right place to go. It’s normally you think and then you answer but…

BR: Yes. Yes.

MN: So I got introduced to corporate life and hated it completely. And then kind of almost by accident ended up meeting Brian O’Kelley, who was ultimately my co-founder at AppNexus because he was a CTO. And I said I want to be a CTO one day.

And I said can I take you out to lunch? He said, well, no, I’m too busy. But you can come interview at my startup, which was at the time Right Media which was one of the first online, if not the first, online ad exchange. A place to kind of buy-sell ads.

So work there for two years, got hooked on the startup thing. And then in 2007, Brian said, you want to start a company together? And I said, absolutely let’s go. So that was back in 2007. So we started the company.

We didn’t actually originally have an idea of what we’re going to do. We always had experience in advertising. And so that’s where we started. We started with actually, first cloud computing. This was back when AWS was first starting.

We thought we’d be the cloud platform for ads. And then over several years of iterating and failing, that evolved into what it ended up being acquired as, which is, you know, real-time advertising marketplace.

BR: Okay. In my mind, there’s a world of online ads marketplaces… There’s, you know, Google and Facebook do it for themselves, right? Pretty much every everybody else uses AppNexus, is that fair to say?

MN: So on the two ends, you have the buyers and sellers and in the middle, you have a load of intermediaries because there are a few large sellers; YouTube, Facebook, and then, of course, there are millions of websites out there.

BR: Yes.

MN: And, you know, all of them are too small to have their own sales force and they end up selling their media in some shape or form. Back in the day, when when we started AppNexus that was mostly through ad networks. That has then evolved.

And so now you have this kind of complex chain where publishers, they work with supply-side platforms, which are fancy words, really, for ad networks. People aggregate a number of sites and try to sell it. You have advertisers, they can’t work with thousands of sellers.

So they end up working with buy side platforms, today called demand-side platforms, also basically ad networks in a way, in that the sense that they aggregate a serious amount of demand and supply with some specialty and put that out there.

What AppNexus built, was a platform to let anyone run a trading business.

BR: Okay.

MN: And so that could be a load of ad networks would do this. And of course, some very large buyers or very large sellers as well.

BR: Okay.

MN: And then Google, of course, —

BR: So like providing the infrastructure for the whole business rather than being a marketplace, per se.

MN: Exactly. So this is a lot of the plumbing. And so Google, they have their own market. So they’re a big seller with YouTube. They’re, of course, they also run one of the biggest marketplaces through the double click ad exchange.

BR: Yes.

MN: And of course, they also have advertising services. And they actually act as one of the biggest buyers as well, because they advertise a lot of what they do. So Google, just does everything. That’s the simple answer.

BR: And how like when you were working there, what kind of volumes was AppNexus doing? It was huge right?

MN: Yes, I mean, the volume of ads effectively because we’re infrastructure for it for the ecosystem. Well, back in, when we started and we started this model, we saw that advertising was very inefficient.

Namely that because there were so many intermediaries, and both the end buyer and seller were often rather naive or ignorant of what was actually happening. There were just tons of arbitrage and tons of people taking exorbitant fees for really not doing much work. And so our idea was if we can do a real-time auction, then we can create an efficient marketplace. Think high-frequency trading, you know, can we… when someone goes to a web page, can we just say, hey, here’s Ben, he’s in Geneva, and he likes skiing, who wants to show him an ad? And then can we in real-time?

So in real-time here really mean in less than 100 milliseconds, can we run so a tenth of a second, can we run an auction and try to sell an opportunity to show Ben an ad? And our idea was that if we do that, then we can build a marketplace that brings efficiency and makes it a win-win for everybody. So the idea is that publishers could make more money advertising, which could have fewer fees. And of course, we could build a successful business, kind of selling this technology.

BR: So it was clearly very successful. Just to give a like a sense of the scale of which you’re operating. Yes, because I just remember reading, I think it was on Wikipedia. So when I was preparing for this.

There are some statistics on there about how many ads you’re auctioning per minute, or per a second and it’s phenomenal, right? Yes.

MN: Yes. So as this company scaled, we became quite successful. We ended up effectively listening to almost the entire internet. Because almost most ads on the internet these days are now sold in real-time. When I left, we were doing several million ads every single second. And that must now be maybe 10 or 20. And what’s actually quite crazy is that each one of those would syndicate out to up to 50 different technology platforms.

Each of which was representing hundreds of buyers. So you had millions of ads going out turning into, you know, 50 million-plus bid requests per second, which is more volume than the New York Stock Exchange does.

So in terms of volume, the numbers were really quite ridiculous.

BR: Wow.

MN: And that was the part that was really fun, was actually building the infrastructure to do that. So you know, we had thousands of servers all around the world dealing with, you know, petabytes of data.

BR: And was that one of the hardest challenges in growing the company, was scaling the tech?

MN: Oh, absolutely. If you look, I mean, there were market challenges. But I think the biggest, especially this is, you have to remember, this is before AWS.

BR: Yes.

MN: So we tried AWS back in 2008, for just as an experiment, to see if you could run an ad platform. And back then, if you tried to throw more than let’s say, 10,000 or 20,000 page views per second, the load balancers would stop working.

So you couldn’t actually run an ad business on Amazon. So we actually had to go out and get physical data centre space and get bandwidth contracts and install the service. And even today, I mean, Amazon has gotten much better over and it’s been, you know, 15 years later now.

And they’ve come become much better, but you had to build the technical expertise with building internet-scale infrastructure.

And that requires a ton of capital because you know, if you want to install 1000 servers, you know, just buying servers is going to cost you $5 million.

BR: So are these challenges, you’ll say, these challenges that you faced because you were kind of pre-AWS and not the same challenges you would face today if you were to start the same business?

MN: It’s significantly easier today. But it’s still challenging as you’re still, many companies struggle to deal with the volumes of not just traffic but then also the data that spits off.

Because if you’re buying billions of ads, that’s just a load of data and getting some insight and analysis out of that is incredibly difficult. So it’s become, let’s say, 10x easier, but it’s still really difficult, yes.

…what the investors would say: hire a VP, hire a Head of Infrastructure, hire, hire, hire. But actually, you can’t hire those people unless they respect you.

BR: And what were the other challenges? So I guess, you had the usual challenges of scaling a tech, finding the team, anything else that, you know, when even was so peculiar particular to you, to AppNexus?

MN: Well, I think what’s interesting is now, I’m now obviously, it’s five years since I’ve left the company. So I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of startups about their challenges. And so what’s interesting is, I think 90% of the challenges we faced are challenges that everyone faces scaling a company.

You know when we got to about 100 people, we started having problems around morale because, you know, it turns out when you start a company and you’re five people, it’s like, a close family. And then you start growing, you’re 25 people and it’s kind of like you have a few houses on the street and you’re neighbours, everyone knows each other super well.

And suddenly you get, there’s this point you hit where suddenly people treat you like coworkers, not like family. And then suddenly you have to, you realize you don’t have an HR function. And oh, crap, you’ve never done a compensation document, you’ve never, you know, put in roles, you know, operating rules, like how should we behave in a company?

BR: So hundred, probably about the point at which you can’t know everybody personally either, right?

MN: Yes, there’s some number, magic number.

We found it was when we hit around 100 people that we started having some real organizational scale challenges. And no one had any real management experience.

So a lot of the problems we faced are ones that everyone faces, I think, as they grow, And especially I think we really have this hyper-growth story because we went, you know, we basically doubled our staff every year for six years and running.

So 50, 100, 200, 400, 800. And so that comes with, there’s a unique set of challenges when you; one doesn’t have any management experience.

BR: Yes.

MN: The largest team I’d managed before starting the company was four people. And suddenly, you know, when you have 200 people in an organization, how do you do that? Well, it turns out, there’s a lot of people know how to do it. But startup founders tend to not know how to do it.

So we had a lot of those challenges. And then I think that —

BR: And how did you overcome… Was it the kind of advice and expertise that was brought by the board, the investors that help you to overcome that? Was it hiring experienced managers? And then how did you do all that without fundamentally, sort of, undermining the culture of AppNexus?

MN: That’s a big question. So I think then missing from that, how do you do that without fundamentally undermining your own physical well being? Is another one… and that one I failed at miserably. But I think what’s interesting is the biggest breakthrough for me growing the company, was I mean, I used to have quite a big ego. I probably started the company because I had a chip on my shoulder and I had something I wanted to prove.

I don’t know to who but I definitely felt like I had to prove something to somebody. And I think the transformational point for me was when I realized that I just had no clue what I was doing. We’d gotten to a scale where I just was completely under underwater.

I didn’t know how to, you know, the tech team at the time were something like 50 people, we’re dealing with internet scale, technical challenges. I don’t have a computer science degree. We’re, you know, we’re dealing with all sorts of kind of people issues and scaling issues and comp issues and management issues.

And one day, I realized I didn’t know what to do. And actually, for me, the saving grace was a club in New York. The club is called the New York CTO club. And I ended up getting introduced to one of the guys who runs it.

And he said well come to a meeting and meet some others. And I met and it’s a great club, because you have startup CTOs of ten-person companies and you have CTOs of, you know, you have major engineering leaders from Google who are in the club or in big banks.

And then talking to these other CTOs, I realized that I didn’t have to solve these problems alone, that most of them were ones that people have solved before. And I just found some amazing advisors and mentors in that group.

That then enabled me to hire new people because what the investors would say, just hire a VP, hire the head of Infrastructure, hire, hire, hire, but actually, you can’t hire those people unless they respect you.

And I think because I was a young cocky, startup founder thinking I was amazing, a lot of people met me and said, well, you know, I couldn’t convince them to come work for the company. And that’s when I learned some humility that I just had no clue what I was doing.

And switched from, hey we’re great and amazing to like hey, you know, we’re on this great growth path. But, you know, I honestly have no idea what I’m doing. I’m looking for a season engineering leader, that’s when we started having the breakthrough.

And these people would come on board are like, yes, I do want to help you. I do know how to solve those problems. And I learned that I had a unique ability to solve some of the ad tech challenges. There’s some kind of market mechanics that make building a tech company for advertising quite unique.

And I just found the right people to come on board who could deal with, you know, issues like how do you build five data centres around the world? Well, I found a guy Tim Smith, he’d done it before and he did it again.

BR: Yes, these are the benefits of clusters, right, which is, you know, I think you find it very difficult if you were to do this from here in Geneva, Switzerland, to find that same CTO Club and those same mentors and advisors, right?

MN: Although funny story when we went out to raise money on Sand Hill Road back in 2007, Brian, my co-founder, he did most of the fundraising. And many VCs, we got several VCs, who told us, we’ll fund you if you move to San Francisco.

BR: Right.

I need my weekend. I need family time.

MN: So back then in 2007, people said New York is not a place to run a startup. And, you know, imagine someone saying that now. New York is one of, you know, probably number two in the US. I think last year that became number two in terms of funding. So obviously, you have to go through some growing pains. But I think here in Switzerland, you know, there haven’t been many exits.

There haven’t been many people who’ve been there and done that before. So certainly is more difficult, I think for founders here, just to get some advice from people who’ve done it. Because really I think 90% of the startup’s problems are just recurring problems that everyone faces as they build companies.

BR: Just do you think your evolution, so to ask a personal question, but I reckon your game for this anyway. But that evolution that in your own psyche from being you know, the cocky, these are your words, right.

MN: Yes, yes.

BR: To this more humble, more experienced founder, like, do you think the same Mike Nolet, who became more humble would have been the same Mike Nolet to have taken such an ambitious step to create the company in the first place?

Isn’t this the sort of bravada, the cockiness part of what it takes to create something with this, you know, with the same ambition that you had for AppNexus or not?

MN: I don’t think I could do it again.

I don’t think I have the right mindset. And it’s not just me, I think it’s the whole team. If I think of the founding team of the company, we were probably core set about 20 of us. And 19 out of 20 of us had no kids. Some were married. Most were single.

There’s one guy on our engineering team, who ran data who had a wife and a kid. I don’t know how he survived. He stayed with, I think he’s still there, actually. But he was a rock star. Because now I have a four-year-old, I have no idea how anyone with a baby does a startup because geez… I mean, the startup in itself is hard enough. And so I think there’s part of like getting a group of young people. And we would work together all week. And then we would go out together on the weekend very often. So there was this total mix of —

BR: A total immersion.

MN: Yes and so we’re all immersed in New York and the city that never sleeps always on, we’d go on ski trips together. So there’s this environment that helped us create, I think, an amazing product and an amazing company.

That was totally ageist because if you were not young and willing to go out, you know, the people who didn’t go out on Saturday night would come into work on Monday and be like, well, what happened over the weekend, because there was always progress.

I was in the office every Sunday. And now I can’t even imagine working on a weekend. I need my weekend. I need family time. So I think there’s something inherently I guess, ageist and I don’t think it’s sexist, necessarily. But there’s also we work with other males.

So that’s another topic maybe. But that means that I think a lot of these startups come from groups of young people because they can just dedicate their life to it in a way that if you have a family, you can’t.

BR: Yes. And I suppose there’s a sort of fearlessness of ignorance in a way as well. Right?

Just on the brain damage, there is real brain damage. The suicide rate among Founders is significantly higher than the average of the population. And the depression rates are higher too. So actually being a Founder is really bad for your head.

MN: Yes, yes, exactly. Just this idea, yes, I can do this. Of course, I can. Where it realistically you look at the statistics and the odds, I mean, the statistics are pretty bad. We talked about this, last time we saw. Had this analogy for startups, that it’s kind of like the NFL.

If you look at the NFL, the salaries in the NFL are actually not that high for the vast majority of players. It’s far above, you know, the median US wage, but it’s not, you know… You only play for a few years, the physical damage is really high. And now, it turns out, a lot of people end up with serious brain damage as well. And there are a few star players who make millions of dollars that everyone celebrates. And I think startups are exactly the same.

You know, the vast majority of people don’t make money. A vast majority of people probably work, if you look at the hourly wage of most startups people, even the ones getting salaries are far below market.

BR: Yes.

MN: And a few people make it. And I think you kind of have to be young and stupid to do that. No way. And if you get lucky, you can, you know, make it and get your millions of dollars. And the vast majority of people end up just not making it, which is the sad truth.

BR: Do you think the whole promise of startups is in a way, mis-sold or oversold? Given the odds and given some of the scars that you get if you, you know, like if you’re in a successful startup, clearly, you can make a lot of money.

But that also come with a lot of sacrifices. And people will tell you if you want to change the world, the way to change the world today is to do a startup, right?

MN: Yes.

BR: Do you subscribe to that view or do you think it’s kind of oversold?

I’ve been working in mental health now for four years. And mental health is an area where startup economics just simply don’t work. And I think actually, I would expand it to healthcare as a whole.

MN: I think it works sometimes. Just on the brain damage, there is real brain damage. The suicide rate among Founders is significantly higher than the average of the population. And the depression rates are higher too. So actually being a Founder is really bad for your head.

Let’s talk about like the promise of the startups. So I think the first thing to realize that and I read this, I gotta find the article. And I’ll send it to you so you can put it on the blog post that goes with this.

But it talks about that actually. If you look at the economics of startups, ultimately, the people who are making the money are the LPs and the VC funds, and the VCs. The VCs get their carry. And they’re basically; VCs are guaranteed not to make a loss.

Whereas often startup founders invest their life savings, they can really lose their money. So the people making money ultimately is the elite out of the startups. And you know, there’s the top whatever, I don’t know if it’s 1% or 5% of startups that end up getting a financial return that then joins that elite.

So there’s this economic model that I think is worth questioning about whether it’s the right one. I think it’s very interesting for Switzerland in particular because I think it’s very un-Swiss to do that model… a lot of people taking below-market wages at a tiny probability of making it rich.

And the people who are making the guaranteed money are the elite as part of that. So I think for founders already it’s questionable. For the employees, it’s certainly not because if you look at… I’ve never been part of two exits. So one was Right Media, the first startup I worked at. I made no money on the exit.

I worked like a dog for a below-market salary, I made no money. The second I was a Founder. Obviously, I did better off that time. But the reality is, is that startups are pyramid schemes in of themselves. So I think for founders and employees, I think you really want to question that model.

I think a lot of engineers now are waking up to it. I think in Silicon Valley, engineers now demand significant very high salaries and they’re right to do so because many of them have been through a startup, have seen it didn’t make any money.

And are saying, okay, well, you got to pay me a quarter-million dollars a year to work for you, because I don’t believe your equity is worth anything. And I think that’s a really safe attitude for anyone taking a job at a startup. The second aspect is from a societal impact.

Is the startup the right vehicle to change some of society’s problems?

BR: Yes.

MN: And so I think there’s a problem. Let’s take, for example, obesity. So where the food we’re eating right now, is bad. So capitalism got us here, right. So thank you, Nestle, for making lots of sugar-loaded products that are really bad for us.

So I think the startup model for food is very interesting. Because we have an existing ecosystem where we go out, we buy food, we eat it, and then… Oh, we have no more food in our pantry. So we go out and buy more.

And I think there are new startups coming out that are creating new products that are healthier. That has better supply chain management that knows where the underlying goods come from. They’re doing it in a sustainable way.

And I think for that the startup ecosystem will raise capital, build, develop a new product and release it to the market is fantastic. I think there are other areas where it’s quite the opposite. So we’ll get to this probably later.

But with you know, I’ve been working in mental health now for four years. And mental health is an area where startup economics just simply don’t work. And I think actually, I would expand it to healthcare as a whole.

I was at a conference a few weeks ago in London, just talking about digital health. And the entire 98% of the content of the conference was how do we treat people who are sick? And I find that just deeply wrong because we now have more people dying from preventable lifestyle-driven diseases than from non-preventable ones, right. And so, instead of talking about how to treat people with heart conditions or with diabetes, we should talk about how do we prevent people from getting diabetes and there is no economic model for that. And that is where startups don’t work.

BR: Yes.

MN: Because if you’re going to start a startup in health care, guess what, how do you make money? When the insurance company reimburses you. When does the insurance company reimburse you? When someone is diagnosed as sick. So we got to break that cycle somehow and startups are not the way to do that.

BR: Yes. There’s so much to explore there. I mean, there are other opportunity costs as well, right, which is if you tell every smart kid coming out of college, they should do a startup. There must be all sorts of opportunity cost in terms of them not doing other things that are of massive societal value.

MN: Yes, like politics or civic engagement. There’s, you know, government; public service or also if you think about Switzerland and of the vast majority people get health care as private companies. But you still need people who want to work for insurance companies, like someone’s got to do that work too, which is incredibly valuable for society. We shouldn’t just —

BR: Teachers and doctors —

MN: Yes, this hero celebration, like actually, the heroes are not saving the world.

BR: In this book, they were talking about the causes of happiness, the impact that your primary school and your primary school teacher has on you is felt in your happiness for the rest of your life. And so I mean, I don’t think we accord the right level of importance to things like teaching.

MN: Absolutely.

BR: But anyway, that is potentially a rabbit hole. So we’ll just stick with that for a sec. Because what we really want to get you on is business models. Because I think what you’re alluding to is startup business models are a problem, right? And I think maybe let’s start with the whole ad-driven business model, right?

Because AppNexus, if you go the website has a very noble-sounding mission, right, which is to, not sure about this, right. To power the ad-based business model that powers the internet, something to that effect, right?

MN: Let see, powers the advertising that powers the internet.

BR: Yes, there you go.

MN: The mission is to create a better internet and for us that begins with advertising.

BR: Is an advertising-based internet a good thing? I mean, because presumably, when you did it when you started the company you thought it was. Do you still think that’s the case?

MN: Parts of it, yes. So I think there’s a challenge, which is that for the economics of content, have basically been driven down to zero. I think the problems of advertising come in when we get to things like news.

Where the news is an important, social good, like, it’s very important that we are informed about the news. And before, you use to get a newspaper subscription, you would pay; by quarter, by year, and you would get you to know your newspaper.

My dad was with the New York Times and you would get the New York Times once a day delivered to your doorstep. And that’s how you got your news. And they had news editors and journalists who made most of the decisions of what went into the newspaper.

If you look at the news today, most major newspapers update the news in real-time, based on clicks. And that’s a problem. And the reason, so the reason they do this is clicks drive page views. So they want the most clicks.

So the more clicks you get on Google News for your articles, the more ads you’re showing, the more money you make. And now newspaper editors whose job used to be to curate and decide what was important, right, are now also making decisions about not just what’s important, but what’s driving page views.

And that’s problematic because clicks are not driven by our rational brain. I rationally know that I’m happiest when I read The Economist once a week because The Economist gives you a really nice summary of the news, is not sensationalist. They give a deep analysis.

I feel smarter when I read it and I’m up to date. Yet the animal part of my brain, when I’ve got five minutes, takes up my phone opens up Google News and clicks on Donald Trump just tweeted whatever.

BR: Yes. And then once you’ve done that, you then in a loop, right, where all these things are —

MN: And then I, 20 minutes go by, I waste 20 minutes of my life reading news that it’s actually not important. I wish an editor had cut that and told me that I shouldn’t read that because it’s a waste of my time. So I’m spending time on stuff that’s not important.

But the newspapers are making money because it’s an advertising model. So I think we have to really, there are times when advertising works great. You know, if you’re a YouTube blogger, you’ve got a YouTube stream and advertisers want to promote their products there if it’s transparent, clear, I’m all game for this.

But I think there are some areas where for social goods, we really need to consider whether or not this is the right way to do it. And I think it’s leading to this you know, the New York Times I feel it has become more and more left-wing sensationalist.

BR: Yes.

MN: Fox News has become more and more right-wing sensationalist. We have all these clickbait headlines. And we’re no longer having an informed discussion about these topics. It’s almost like which side are you on left or right. What happened, where’s the middle ground? Can we have a discussion about, you know, —

BR: How do you do think you dial back the dialogue on sensationalism? How do we go back when the genie is out of the box, right? How do you go back to a pre-internet level of, you know, have considered rational debate?

MN: I have no idea.

BR: Okay, I don’t either so.

MN: I hope someone has an idea.

BR: But what about you know, you mentioned, The Economists? The Economists works on the basis that it is out once a week. You pay a subscription. A subscription means that they can fund journalism, investigative journalism.

I mean, seems like subscriptions could be part of the answer. Seems like micropayments could be part of the answer. But I think the reason I said the genies out of the box is that if you say to people, okay, we’re going to now, this product now got a price tag.

Then people get up, you know, people get up in arms quite quickly because they’re so used to consuming content for free that, you know, I’m not sure how you get people to pay again. I’m not sure how you could wind back the clock on this.

MN: Yes, so maybe ultimately, it comes back down to government taking a role and funding, whether it is a series of independent well… funding and regulation. So if people aren’t willing to pay for it, let’s fund it with some kind of shared tax or some.

BR: Yes.

MN: At least some factual, non-sensational basis of news, where we’re not, you know, constantly pulled down the rabbit hole.

BR: So I think there’s a case for government intervention, in a way, because if the Internet has got rid of distribution costs, then things become abundant. And the very nature of public good is one that’s abundant and non-rival, so like, it doesn’t diminish in quality if multiple people consume it, which is Twitter, right?

The problem with Twitter is that it’s funded by ads, therefore, it has an incentive to keep you on it for longer. And therefore, it has an incentive to promote more and more stuff to you that you think they think that you want to read. And therefore, —

MN: And worse is that anybody can promote any point of view, non-transparently. So on Facebook, you can take a post, you write a nice, sensational headline. So you get some amplified sharing and then you promote it. And the question is, who is promoting it?

Now, kudos to Facebook that just started doing this in Canada, I believe, where you have to show your ID so at least they know who is promoting political views. But everything else, anybody… I can create a Facebook account and in 10 minutes be running ads that promote my point of view.

And I can target it in a hyper-specific way. And that’s just wrong like at some point. Yes, sure if you’re Coca Cola and you want to sell some more coke, great that that makes sense.

But at some point when you get to the information or let’s talk about truth, something has to happen here. Now, we’re in this post-truth world, you know.

BR: So there might be a case for providing public goods or the government providing public goods. I think the other advantage of government and this I think gets us into more what you’re doing now, which is when it’s a merit good because as you said earlier on, you know when it’s, there are so many merit goods that aren’t provided adequately or in enough supply.

Because it’s not an easy monetization route. And I mean, maybe we’ll come back to this in a second. But a classic example is, you know, preventative medicine that you mentioned right.

MN: Yes.

BR: So I guess the question is that, you know, it seems like since about the 1980s, we’ve had this narrative that government is bad, all the innovation comes out of the private sector, therefore, you know, again, how easy is it to roll back the clock on that?

And to say to people, actually, the government has a very important role, after all, in the provision of public goods, even things that people really wouldn’t think the government should be doing.

Like, you know, imagine if you said, Twitter is now going to be a public good. It’s going to be taken over by the state. I mean, and then how does that work across national boundaries? I mean, it’s a problematic issue, isn’t it?

MN: Let’s step away from the abstract because honestly, I’m not qualified to talk about it and move into —

BR: But you thought about it a lot, right?

MN: I thought about it. But let’s talk about more concrete things like public goods, like mental health. Just to shift there because… more context, I started four years ago, LiveBetter, as you know.

BR: Yes when you move to Switzerland.

MN: When I moved to Switzerland, exactly. And the mission of the company is to help people boost their wellbeing. So we were for-profit, idea was to take a startup model, iterate on a tech product. And can we use technology at scale to help people be happier? And can we make money doing it?

It’s kind of what Anand calls in his book Winner Takes All… this magic win-win situation. And fast forward four years, we found out that, yes, we can build technology that helps people be happier. You can download the LiveBetter app when people do, we have a research study in progress.

But you clearly see that people do basically many sessions of cognitive-behavioural therapy or well-being or mindfulness and it helps them. The problem is that it doesn’t make money because people aren’t willing to pay for apps because the app economy is going down to zero. So context that for this, which is if you look at the UK, is shifting the model a little bit.

And it’s rare that you said the NHS is a model to look for, but the NHS, because they’re single-payer healthcare system, has figured out that people who have mental health problems, cost them a lot of money later in life.

BR: Yes.

MN: And whereas in the US, there is no economic model, because if an insurance company does a lot of prevention, they’re more expensive, which means they do it for a year, and then someone switches to another insurance company who has the benefit from that.

BR: Yes.

MN: In the UK, the NHS has said, hold on, people aren’t sleeping enough and not sleeping enough is tied to all sorts of bad health outcomes. And so you now in the UK can get Sleepio prescribed by your GP and the NHS will pay for it.

And I think that’s a wonderful case of government and private working together. So I think the government has to kind of tweak the economic conditions. So that individual entrepreneur or you can call them social entrepreneurs or whatever that is, have a framework whereby they can then compete with each other to find the best possible solution.

But it has to be done within some framework, not this free for all. Not, you know, sidestepping regulation, but really, kind of working with the system to develop the best possible preventative treatment, or, for that matter, also, normal treatment as well.

BR: Yes because that’s the floor and what I was saying, right, which is there’s nothing… if you agree that certain good should be provided free or even subsidized because they have, you know, a very positive impact on society.

That doesn’t mean the government needs to provide them, the government just needs to, as you said, just to subsidize them or provide the framework for them to be provided free in the first place.

MN: Yes, every person could get, you know, a $500 annual credit to spend on their personal well being.

Which can then for any company that meets some certification, i.e it’s research-based and it actually is proven to help, let people choose what they want to spend their money on would be a really nice balance between…

And allowing entrepreneurs to be very innovative and iterative with their approach which a government can’t be but also allocating money in a way so that, you know, people spend time on prevention, which is just incredibly important.

Healthcare and education, these core fundamental goods. And those are the areas where I think, startups are not going to fix education. Startups are not going to fix healthcare. And we need to all just wake up to that reality and find a better way.

BR: There’s another point, which is that government’s kind of the only actor that can take into account externalities, right? Because if it’s provided by the private sector, they’re only interested in their own private costs and income.

Whereas a government can take a bigger view and take into account the positive or negative externalities of these things.

MN: Exactly. Exactly. And they have their vested interest of their citizens at heart right. If you look at, I was trying to avoid macro issues, but Uber in a way, like, they’ve built amazing technology. But a huge part of their business is sidestepping regulation. That’s how they became big.

And I think in the end sidestepping regulation and then taking just a percentage of all taxi proceeds and funneling them to Silicon Valley and their investors, you know, that I think… I read, I see if I can find it. I forgot the city, there’s some city, I think, was Austin. And they have now their own taxi app for the city of Austin.

And it’s paid for, it’s a government-funded product that actually feels like a decent way for the government to spend their time. So rather than having Uber who pays, you know, substandard wages to people and we still guaranteeing that taxi drivers are taking care of and has you know, the right benefits and the right wages. And the convenience of this technology.

BR: I think that’s I agree, I think there’s a massive role. Because I don’t think you want to stop the innovation, right, that leads to better customer services or better consumer services. And which, you know, if you take the case of Uber, right, I mean, there’s the whole parts of cities that weren’t served by taxi, because it was too expensive, you know.

Bringing the price point down to somewhere where everybody can take advantage of that means of transport is a good thing. The problem is on the other side, which you said, if it’s just a case of lowering wages for workers and pushing it into cheaper consumer goods, there’s a problem, right?

So I think the role of the government in terms of allowing those workers the ability to bid up their own wages by helping them to port their benefits or to port their data from one provider to the other. I think that’s like, the core kind of Tim O’Reilly idea of, you know, government as a platform, I think is really interesting.

And which again is like not directly providing consumers, not in any way stopping innovation. But just making sure that the safety net rises as innovation takes place, which I think is the whole backlash against technology. I think it’s a large part about that… which is people, as consumers benefit from these things day to day.

But as workers, they can see that it’s putting pressure on their lifestyles. And it’s difficult to, without government intervention, intervention may be the wrong word, but that government support and infrastructure, it’s difficult to see how both you get the innovation that leads to better consumer outcomes at the same time, as you get better…

MN: There was this amazing graphic in Our world in data, which they do these great infographics. And it talked about the evolution of the price of various goods over the last I can’t remember it was 40 or 50 years. And, you know, if you look at things like a TV, the cost has come down 90%.

I think that’s because of entrepreneurship and capitalism and investors who invest in Sony, Panasonic and Samsung, all these companies that make cheaper displays and competition and capitalism. And at the same time, there are a few things where the costs have skyrocketed.

And where dollar adjusted… the kind of inflation-adjusted, things or two or three times more expensive today than it used to be. And those are healthcare and education, these core fundamental goods. And those are the areas where I think, startups are not going to fix education. Startups are not going to fix health care.

And we need to all just wake up to that reality and find a better way.

BR: Yes.

MN: You know, it’s not going back to, you know, back to communism or, you know, like in America, this whole negative dialogue about socialism; socialism is bad. Like, it’s not that it’s capitalism or socialism.

It’s just that capitalism is great for making a new iPhone and making an Apple watch and making amazing technological innovation. And capitalism just sucks when it comes to helping us be happier, more educated and healthier.

And so let’s find a model that can take the best of capitalism but also invest more resources in what matters. Which to your point earlier, making sure our children have great nurturing environments where they learn, because, you know, it’s like your happiness, your lifetime happiness is almost fixed, at least statistically, before you’re 10 years old.

The sign of the upper class was having leisure time. And we’ve had this flip, we’re now suddenly everybody’s just working hard. And we’re celebrating working hard. And just like, well, how are you? I’m busy is now the thing to say.

BR: Yes. No, and I agree, I think there’s, you know, the other point is that capitalism has done amazing things in terms of lifting people out of poverty. So I think it’s about making capitalism work better rather than, you know, suggesting that capitalism is completely broken and needs to be replaced.

And one part of that would be environmental, making capitalism run on renewable rails. Another part of that is what we were talking about before, which is lifting the safety net, as people, as societies get richer to ensure that, you know, everybody takes part, everybody benefits from that improvement in living standards.

And then the third part, which is the bit you were talking about, I think, where we can maybe we’ll walk to work for a second, which is, how do you introduce more meaningful measures of progress? Because, as you said, you talked about the prices of things. And to my mind, you know, the whole way in which we measure inflation is broken.

Because if we said, there’s no inflation, but all the things that really matter to people, like the things that really determine your quality of life, like health care, education, are growing exponentially then there’s lots of inflation.

Similarly, you know, if we only look at GDP, but GDP isn’t leading to, you know, people being happier. Then again, there’s it might be a problem there. And I think the last point about happiness is one, you know, we’re talking about earlier, which is, I think quite close to your heart, right?

MN: Where do we start? We can talk about this for a long time. But absolutely, I mean, if you look at it, just very simply like the US, I keep going back to the US, it’s the country I know best. I mean, I’ve been here for four years. And Switzerland and the US have some of the highest kind of raw dollar numbers in terms of median income and things like that.

But I would say most people are not that happy. I haven’t seen the latest metrics. But if you just go there, people are stressed and working like dogs. And a lot of that is the cultural value system has shifted towards celebrating hard work. And it used to be back in England… back in the 1800s, 1700s if you’re wealthy, you would not work that much.

Like the sign of the upper class was having leisure time. And we’ve had this flip, we’re now suddenly everybody’s just working hard. And we’re celebrating working hard. And just like, well, how are you? I’m busy is now the thing to say.

BR: Yes.

MN: And I just hope it doesn’t come to Switzerland because I feel like the Swiss have still respect for free time on the weekends. And things that actually, even though maybe make a little bit less money, taking more time is just so important, for whatever reason. And there’s a number of other I mean, it’s not the only thing to do.

But there are so many metrics like that, where yes, you could make more money, or yes, we could drive kind of that cost or, you know, the how much this cost, or how much energy I spend on this. But really, it’s about relationships, spending time with people who care about eating well, and having time to sleep, like, that’s what we need to be promoting.

BR: Yes.

MN: Even if we all make a little bit less, from a kind of a national GDP standpoint, like that would result in a happy society.

BR: I’m conscious that you haven’t told us a great deal yet about LiveBetter. So how does that work, practically? So it’s an app, people download it, how then does it work? How does it help them to improve their mental wellbeing?

MN: It’s quite interesting. So they were talking about this decision making. And when I first started LiveBetter, the theory was that you know, in advertising, we’ve collected loads and loads of data, right. So what sites who visit, you build a profile, and then you can make recommendations through ads effectively.

And I thought, can we do the exact same thing, but with positive behaviours? So can we collect data about you through your smartphone, your smartwatch, your behaviour and then say, hey, you know, maybe you need to walk a little bit more, maybe you need to sleep a little bit more. Maybe you should, you know, take a few deep breaths every now and then.

Can we make recommendations and actually build a prototype I tested on myself and some friends and family. And I learned the first truth that every psychologist knows, which is that no one likes being told what to do.

BR: Yes.

MN: And there’s actually a course in psychology. It’s called Motivational Interviewing. It’s fascinating. We’re actually if you want to get someone to do something, so let’s say quit smoking. Actually, the worst thing to do is to say you should quit smoking. It’s incredibly counter-intuitive.

Because that’s normally when you see something, someone does something bad, you know, you should go to bed earlier or you should do this, you should you know, stop eating chocolate, actually, what you’re doing is the opposite. And you’re making that behaviour more likely.

But a much more effective thing would be to ask, hey, in the past, have you managed to stop smoking for a while? Which then it gets the person to start thinking about that behaviour. And at a time in the past, when they may be successfully changed it.

So anyway, so LiveBetter this was what we stumbled upon, was that one; psychologist actually knows how to change behaviour. So if you go to therapy, a therapist can help you quit smoking, give them some sessions, it’s going to be probably successful. Two; that actually, the secrets to boosting our well being are actually not secret.

So you know, if you read the news every week, there’s something… a new article, hey, you know, eating broccoli will boost your mood, you know. And so you have no idea what to do, you know, should I eat broccoli or should I sleep more, right? And it turns out if you look at the research, it’s there, right.

The things that make you happy are basically taking care of your body. So eating well, getting enough sleep and walking. You don’t have to exercise, just make sure you move a little bit, don’t stay seated all day. And then two, having strong relationships and spending time with people you care about.

And so if you take care of your body and have strong interpersonal relationships, you’ve got a great foundation, bonus points for doing something that’s valuable to you. It doesn’t have to be changing the world, it can be, you know, it can be serving coffee, at a Cafe. But if you’re proud of the coffee you’re serving, it can be meaningful to you if you make someone’s day with that.

And so actually, we started at LiveBetter… like making recommendations was totally the wrong thing to do. And actually, there’s this whole world of knowledge out there that is very accessible. That’s not in the mainstream view. And that if people would just know they would probably become happier. And so we developed an app LiveBetter.

That is a digital life coach, we have two. They’re purely virtual, there’s no real people behind them; Lia and Liam. And they try to coach you to be a little happier. And the way they do that is really sharing a little bit of this knowledge that we’ve learned through our research. And it’s all research-based.

And the other is by asking you every now and then some probing questions to get you to think about these things. Like, who are the people that are important to you? And you list those people… and then the following question might be, well, when’s the last time you were in touch with these people? And we might stop there.

But that’s just enough to get your brain going. But oh, my mom matters to me. I haven’t called her in a few weeks, I should call her.

BR: Yes.

MN: And so that’s how it works. So you can just download and install the app. And get going, whenever you want. And you will get a daily text message, a little question and we try to keep it fun and light and totally accessible.

BR: And you’ve seen reasonably good adoption of this, right? And you’ve also seen or you able to at least demonstrate now that it’s having a positive impact on people’s well being, right?

MN: Yes, well, our research study should be done at the end of this month to actually prove it. So we’re doing our first research study with the University of Denver. And we’re launching another one with Columbia and New York later this year.

But we see everything if you install the app, if you complete one of the challenges together with the coach, everything’s based on research. And so for example, Richard Layard talks about this a lot too.

In his book, you know, gratitude is something that is, the research behind gratitude is tremendous. Basically, if you can make gratitude part of your daily toolkit, you will be happier. Like it just has, it has a profound effect.

BR: For the giver of gratitude as well as the receiver?

MN: It’s both but that’s the beauty of gratitude, which is, you know… thank you for having me on this podcast. This is fun. And I appreciate the time and energy you’re putting into this. You know, hopefully, you feel a bit better by me thanking you.

BR: I do.

MN: I actually mean it.

BR: Yes, you can’t see, because it’s not recorded but I’m glowing.

MN: Yes. He’s got a big smile. And so gratitude is this wonderful thing. Right now I feel better because I made you feel better.

BR: Yes.

MN: And it’s about helping others. And so, you know, through the app, we get people to identify someone they could thank for something and then get them to write a text message, and then send that. And so we know that has a positive impact. What the research study will hopefully help us prove is, that turns then into a habit.

That you start doing on your own because you’ve done it a few times, you realize it makes you feel good. The coach explains to you why it works. And that’s so I’m kind of anxiously awaiting the results. We know we have at least a tiny boost. And I’m quite optimistic that we see some profound change.

BR: Yes.

MN: And we’ve had a few people write to us where we had some woman who reconnected with her high school best friend 20 years later and was getting on a plane to go visit her. And she wrote us a thank you note, which of course made us feel really good because she found a great friend again.

And that I mean, going back to the research, you know, strong relationships, that’s what’s going to make you happy.

BR: So without this seeming too contrived, I mean, if we get back to those earlier discussions, what you’re doing is you’re just bottom-up just nudging people towards living healthier, more meaningful lives.

So it’s not a top-down change in narrative or what did you call them the value system, whatever, but it’s a bottom-up, grassroots led improvement in people’s lives. So first of all, I think, is probably having a way bigger impact than maybe you acknowledge.

And then it’s the second thing is that you said that you know, you can’t get people to pay for this and nor should you, because the minute you, in theory, right, because the minute you put up a paywall consumption will drop. You know, it’s no more supply and demand.

And, therefore, you’ll be cutting people off from services that are beneficial to them and I guess in some cases are life savings them. So the question then is Mike Nolet just funding this out of Mike Nolet’s pocket? Are you like a genuine philanthropist?

MN: So what we found exactly to the point is that we did experience we try throwing up a paywall.

And we found just the lifetime value of a customer was far lower than the cost of acquisition. Because the app marketplace is just swamped with —

BR: People don’t, I guess people don’t refer other people because they’re embarrassed that they have —

MN: So we tried social referral mechanisms. We found it, one thing people really appreciate about the app is that it’s anonymous and private. And you don’t have to give us your email, you can use a fake name.

And the coach wants to be able to call you something it can be a Purple Koala, like we don’t care.

BR: Yes.

MN: And so it’s a totally private anonymous experience, which is why people value it. And so we ask people to share LiveBetter and the response was like, —

BR: No, I don’t want people to know I use it.

MN: Silence. No, no, not even a no… just people ignored it. Because the thing is we have with our phones, if we don’t want to deal with something, we just turn them off.

And that’s the big challenge. And so what we decided in this past December, actually, we started looking at what do we d.o Because the whole idea was as a startup was to get revenue, which would give us money to do marketing, which would lead us to have a bigger impact.

And what everyone else seemed to be doing. And I’ve talked to a number of other founders who’ve done mental health startups and investors, it’s really a trend now, where everyone’s now going corporate. So all the B2C apps are not making money.

BR: Yes.

MN: So everyone’s saying, well, let’s, if we can prove through research study that this is boosting well being, well, the person who is going to pay for it will be the company. Because if we can reduce stress, the company benefits from a lower stressed workforce. And there we go.

BR: The problem then is, again, leaving the neediest outside of the —

MN: Exactly, and we see the most engaged audience on LiveBetter is probably students.

Who don’t have a company who’s going to pay for this. And we have a few lonely unemployed people who are at home all day. And so what I realized is that the logical economic capitalist thing to do would be to do that.

But we, the entire team… that’s not what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to abandon the customers, we already had to go do this. And so we have our 501c3 nonprofit application pending with the IRS.

So we’re actually converting LiveBetter to a nonprofit because we want to make decisions not based on what’s the most profitable, that doesn’t mean we might not sell some services and try to make some money because raising money for foundations, I’m discovering is very painful.

If any foundations are interested, please call me. But so raising money is difficult. So we do want to get some revenue streams, but we want to make our priority is really to boost well being that that’s what we’re in this for. And so we’re finding for us, —

BR: What does not for profit mean? Because I guess it means you don’t pay tax on profit. You don’t make profits, I guess.

MN: Yes. So non-for-profit basically means we can’t make money. Which basically what it does is it closes one door and opens another. So it closes the door to getting investors, because… and just a sidebar if we want to start ranting about impact investing.

I think impact investing is bullshit because impact investing is still trying to get above zero per cent returns, right. I think if impact investing was up to minus 50% returns and I would believe it. But as long as we want positive returns, then you can’t really be about impact investing, yes.

So we’re closing the door to investors. But what we’re doing is we’re opening two doors on the other side. One is donations, so people who want to be generous with their money.

BR: We’ll come back to that because hopefully, there are a few generous potential donors listening.

MN: That be wonderful. And then the other is actually the partnerships. And so when we were for-profit, we tried to do some partnerships. And you know, there’s Instagram influencers who do content about well being. We reach out to a few and they said, yes, that’s great, will promote LiveBetter, it’s $15,000 or $20,000.

And we ended up in the same problem that we couldn’t afford to sponsor this Instagram influencer for $20,000 because we’re not going to make enough money on the other end. And now we’re not legally not full nonprofit yet, hopefully by end of the year. But basically, we’re already seeing as we’re now opening a different set of conversations.

We’re saying, hey, we’re not-for-profit, we have an app. As soon as we have a research study, we can say research proves that this helps. Can you please help promote us to your audience? And you’re helping them by doing this.

And already, it’s clear where we’ve got a couple of things lining up, that will let us really get the reach, we want to help people without having to spend millions of dollars in marketing. So and I think that given that the investor model wasn’t going to work anyways, without going corporate.

I think we can now make through, you know, we have some plans for building a small revenue stream. Plus, if we can get some donations from foundations and potentially direct donations from our customers, I think we can build a stable company that can offer the service for free. So this way, we don’t abandon the people who need it most.

And I think for mental health is particularly important, because if you look at the populations that are suffering the most. And suicide statistics are one of the most gruesome ways to look at it. But really quite indicative, that, you know, you look at poor communities, suicide rates going up far, far higher than rich ones.

So in Manhattan suicide is up to something like 50% over the last 10 years. In Backwater, Tennessee, it’s up 1,000%. And those people don’t have money, right. So I think if we say that all this new technology for mental health is only for people who have money, we’re just making the inequality problem which is causing so many problems around the world today worse. And so we want to make sure that we are accessible to everybody. Just it’s the socially right thing to do.

BR: Fantastic. And if somebody wants to donate like they just go into the app and it’s clear how to do it?

MN: There is in the app. If you can install the app, we added this, actually just last week, so I don’t have the stats yet. But you can become a patron in LiveBetter app. But really, we, you know, we’re looking for a few other foundations or high net worth individuals who are willing to make a long term commitment.

That will help us, fund us for two or three years at a time. So that we can get the right team on board because really, we need, a company. The reality of an internet startup is you need something like 500,000 to a million a year to have a property.

BR: Yes.

MN: In the sense that, you know, if you need someone to do the engineering and marketing, customer support, social media, finance management, it adds up.

BR: And how long will you keep this going yourself, if you don’t find those donors, and you don’t find those foundations and you aren’t able to charge for any services, like how long will you do this?

MN: At least through 2020.

BR: Cool, I think this is probably the time to wrap it up. I just want to, I think I wanted to finish by just saying that, you know, we spend a lot of this podcast, talking about kind of macro issues that neither you nor I really feel like we know how to solve.

Plus, we spent a lot of time sort of saying that startups can be a vehicle for good, but you know, a qualified vehicle for good. But yet, I strongly get the impression from you that even though you might not know precisely how to fix these macro problems, you’re using a startup to fix them, bottom-up bit by bit.

So in some ways, I feel like you’re a contradiction because I think you are solving these massive societal problems, maybe not in one go. But and I think you’re using tech and the startup to do it.

MN: And one thing I ask myself every day, which is the thing is the important question is, is it the right vehicle?

And I’ll give you an example. One thought that troubles me… I read this book Winner Takes All, recently, wonderful book, very thought-provoking.

BR: A very good book, we’ll tweet the link.

MN: Yes and he makes the point that often what we do as startups is just a drop in the bucket. And this made me think about something, you know, I’m spending my time trying to build tools to help people boost their mental health.

But you know, in Switzerland, and in the US, mental health care is not reimbursed very well, by insurance. And if we could just get mental health care to be fully reimbursed, wouldn’t we have a far more significant impact?

Because let’s be realistic, my app is nowhere near as good as going to visit a therapist.

And so if we can just get therapy to be reimbursed or to have more social workers to do more kind of real in-person sessions? Which will have a bigger impact so should I perhaps shift my energy towards lobbying? I think that’s the key question.

BR: If you want to feel better, I don’t believe those two things are mutually exclusive. Because I believe that with your app, by making mental health most accessible to people, you’re already starting to create, I don’t want to say groundswell, because I don’t know how many people to use it.

But like, you’re already starting for society to appreciate that this can help and maybe create some pressure for that fit to be made more widely available.

MN: Yes, I hope so.

BR: I hope so, yes.

MN: And I think that’s why to your point, we probably need both.

BR: Yes.

MN: But I think very few people are doing the latter. And I think that’s the point of Winner Takes All is that we’re all spending time on these things because they’re so close. It’s the socially acceptable thing is to do the startup, which I’m doing.

But perhaps we need to start lobbying more or get into politics. I can’t run for government here anyways, and I would be a terrible politician. But I think that’s the question that keeps nagging at me.

BR: Well, again to finish on a positive note is pay a compliment, because I guess compliments also boost well being. The other point in that book, one of the many other points in that book, which again, we here at a p e r t u r e would highly recommend is that there’s a lot of like, self-serving philanthropy.

And I think where you’re different is you’re somebody who came out of Silicon Valley, I guess you did well through AppNexus and you’re being a true philanthropist. Because this is a true exercise in philanthropy in a way that going to Davos each year, for example, isn’t.

MN: I guess, thank you. I’ll say thank you for, it’s a nice compliment. It’s, I can tell you, the most pleasure I get every day is trying to help and seeing when people write us thank you notes. It’s just the thing that makes my day. So I like what I do and I recommend others do the same.

BR: Can’t think of a better way to finish than than, which is I mean, you yourself are eating your dog food, right? You accept that happiness is the ultimate goal in life and you’re doing stuff to promote your own happiness, right, even through the pursuit of helping others as it turns out.

MN: It’s totally selfish.

BR: Yes. It’s like selfless selfishness.

MN: Yes. And now my head hurts.

BR: Yes. Well, good for you for pursuing it.

MN: Thank you.

BR: Okay. So, Mike, thank you. I guess you should thank me.

MN: I thank you again for having me.

BR: Well, thank you very much for making the trip to Geneva for this podcast. And again, we’ll tweet out the links to some of your blogs. We’ll tweet out the links to some of the books you mentioned and also tweet out a link to the app. And if anybody wants to make a donation, please do. It’s a very good cause. Thank you very much.

MN: Excellent. Thank you so much.


a p e r t u r e is a community built on the exchange of ideas and best-practices around technology, strategy and the dynamics of the platform economy. It is both a virtual community — sharing and discussing ideas through articles, podcasts and a bi-weekly newsletter — and a physical one, organizing meetups in Geneva, Zurich, Berlin and Bucharest. Our aim is to improve our collective intelligence by subjecting ideas to multiple filters — establishing the right context, narrowing down the arguments and encouraging contrarian viewpoints — all within a safe, non-polarizing environment.

If you would like to speak with us on the a p e r t u r e | Podcast, please feel free to reach out to Dan Colceriu or Ben Robinson or at podcast@aperturehub.co

a p e r t u r e

a p e r t u r e is built on the exchange of ideas around technology, strategy and the dynamics of the platform economy. A content hub and a community.

a p e r t u r e

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a p e r t u r e is built on the exchange of ideas around technology, strategy and the dynamics of the platform economy. A content hub and a community.

a p e r t u r e

a p e r t u r e is built on the exchange of ideas around technology, strategy and the dynamics of the platform economy. A content hub and a community.

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