At a Matter. Design Review a million years ago, when Erin and I had just finished getting feedback for Known, something magical happened. I’d gone through the whole presentation and feedback session, and nobody on the feedback panel thought I was the CTO.
Afterwards, Corey bounded up to me with a big grin on his face and proudly told me, “they thought you were a business guy!”
I’m now his Director of Investments in San Francisco, so I guess that worked out pretty well.
I learned to code at the same time I learned to write. We had a Sinclair ZX81 at home — one of those early computers that had BASIC command shortcuts on its keyboard. I wrote a lot of stories, and my characters would often GOTO places. Sometimes they would RUN.
My whole life, I wanted to be a writer. I’d get up extra early every morning to write comic books before school. One year I gamed the system at my Montessori-style school and managed to sit at the Story table all year long, churning out fiction in lieu of supposedly more helpful subjects like math or science. My high school yearbook said I wanted to be a journalist.
But code could make my stories live. I wrote games and exchanged them on the playground with my friends. I built a hypertext magazine as a teenager, interviewed people like Garry Trudeau and Roger Ebert via email — and then distributed it on the covers of paper magazines, who didn’t yet understand the existential threat they were facing. Eventually, I chose a computer science route rather than English, but even then, my college friends and I built a satire website that attracted millions of people a day.
In my career, I chose to build platforms to support other people’s stories instead of my own, first with Elgg, then Latakoo, and finally Known. I worked on Medium, helping to connect it to the rich storytelling tapestry of the web.
And now I’m at Matter., helping to find and support great storyteller entrepreneurs. In some ways, this is the role I’ve been leading up to for my whole career.
It’s also the first job I’ve had since my one-month stint as a barista in college where I haven’t written any code.
Okay, so I’ve written a bit of supporting code. I fixed some CSS, and I plan on rebuilding the website. I also hand-rolled the feed for the podcast, because have you seen podcast hosting services? But overall, and certainly on paper, my point still stands: I’m not a coder. They thought I was a business guy!
Which also means this is the first moment since college where I’ve been free to code as a form of self-expression. There’s no need to worry about a business model or think about user acquisition: I could build something just for my own amusement, without answering to a single other person.
I’ve been thinking a lot about stories.
Recently, I described to a visiting friend how my dream Britain is constant: every dream I can remember has been set in a world so vivid and constant that I could map it, loosely based on the real world, but identifiably separate and differentiated. King’s Cross is a series of caves connected by tunnels. Edinburgh is a multilevel maze of pedestrian cobbleways where the wind is sentient. There’s a pit at the corner of Regents Park where a brick castle sits, suspended; in it is a bookstore.
I want to map it, and tell the stories of the people who live there. And: I want those stories to come alive.
I’m inspired by the people I meet who get to build new kinds of platforms for storytelling. I’m lucky to get to support them. I also want to take my own space and time, and the intellectual freedom to code and write, and tell my own stories, for no other reason than just because.
I’ll keep you posted.