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Josh Miller is the CEO and co-founder of The Browser Company, where he helped build Arc, my go-to web browser. In today’s episode, we get an inside look at the unique structure and values of The Browser Company and how their company culture has helped them land some of the best talent in tech. Josh shares ways that his company embraces experimentation, including their “optimizing for feelings” approach to building, and explains why extreme transparency is at the forefront of everything they do.
Where to find Josh Miller:
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/joshm
• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/josh-miller-b31259106/
Where to find Lenny:
• Newsletter: https://www.lennysnewsletter.com
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/lennysan
• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennyrachitsky/
• Early access to Arc: https://arc.net/gift/lenny
• The Browser Company: https://thebrowser.company/
• Arc: https://arc.net/
• Hursh Agrawal on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hurshagrawal/
• Hacker News: https://news.ycombinator.com/
• Scott Belsky on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottbelsky/
• Notes on Roadtrips: https://thebrowser.company/values/
• Shahed Khan on Twitter: https://twitter.com/_shahedk
• Paper by FiftyThree: https://www.hellobrio.com/blog/digital-drawing-paper-fiftythree
• Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/
• Peter Vidani on Twitter: https://twitter.com/pter
• The Verge: https://www.theverge.com/
• Ellis Hamburger on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ellishamburger/
• Airbnb’s Snow White project: https://uxdesign.cc/how-airbnb-proved-that-storytelling-is-the-most-important-skill-in-design-15d04ac71039
• General Magic: https://www.generalmagicthemovie.com/
• Linear: https://linear.app/
• Raycast: https://www.raycast.com/
• Cron: https://cron.com/
• Thrive Capital: https://thrivecap.com/
• Tuple: https://tuple.app/
• Figma: https://www.figma.com/
• Harold and the Purple Crayon: https://www.amazon.com/Harold-Purple-Crayon-Crockett-Johnson/dp/0062086529
• Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: https://www.amazon.com/Seeing-Forgetting-Name-Thing-Sees/dp/0520256093/
• God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State: https://www.amazon.com/God-Save-Texas-Journey-State/dp/0525520104
• The Last of Us on HBO: https://www.hbo.com/the-last-of-us
• Adam Curtis documentaries on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLStWlBRkr0N_aYjPmbrrjm_rsstpkUBLc
• Notion: https://www.notion.so/
In this episode, we cover:
(00:00) Josh’s background
(03:56) Arc and the metrics they use to track growth
(04:42) Arc’s retention numbers
(08:22) Josh’s product-building philosophy and why he believes in optimizing for feelings
(18:57) How The Browser Company’s values create a culture that allows them to ship so quickly
(22:46) The “Notes on Roadtrips” doc about values
(27:48) How Josh is able to hire such amazing talent
(37:29) The good and bad of building in public
(45:16) Some of the odd teams at The Browser Company and why Josh calls it a prototype-driven culture
(46:01) The membership team
(48:07) The storytelling team
(52:00) Why The Browser Company doesn’t have traditional PMs
(54:07) A case for adding PMs
(57:32) The role of data, even in a company that optimizes for feelings
(58:30) Airbnb’s Snow White project
(1:02:14) How impactful moments in Josh’s life influenced values at The Browser Company
(1:03:08) How the film General Magic has inspired Josh
(1:04:32) The value of novel names
(1:06:50) Why The Browser Company’s approach works for Arc
(1:12:47) Why you need to nail latency and why Josh loves Tupl
(1:14:33) The shift to cloud computing and the ultimate vision at The Browser Company
(1:23:15) Lightning round
Production and marketing by https://penname.co/. For inquiries about sponsoring the podcast, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Josh Miller (00:00:00):
Silicon Valley, at least the most modern version of Silicon Valley, has this obsession with graphs. And has this obsession with numbers, and metrics. I mean, you saw me in the previous answer. I'm talking about D5, D7. What's a D5 D7? And it is an incredibly effective way to achieve certain outcomes, to focus on numbers. ‘Cause it's, it's very quantitative, it's objective. You can see the graph go up or go down or stay flat depending on what you want. But what we've found is that optimizing for metrics leaves a lot on the table and it misses a lot. And so what we do at The Browser Company, is we talk about optimizing for feelings. How does the software, how do we want to make someone feel on the other end of our software? Do we want to make 'em feel joy? Do we wanna make 'em feel fast? Do we wanna make 'em feel organized? Do we want to make them feel focused? What is the feeling we are trying to evoke in whatever we're doing on a specific project or a specific feature? Or a specific piece of storytelling content? And I, I, I can imagine what's going through the heads of, of your listeners right now, which is probably a number of things, but among others, that sounds really damn romantic , like, okay, optimizing for feelings.
Welcome to Lenny's podcast, where I interview world-class product leaders and growth experts to learn from their hard one experiences building and growing today's most successful products. Today my guest is Josh Miller. Josh is the CEO and co-founder of a company called The Browser Company, which makes a product called Arc, which has quickly become my default web browser. I fell in love with this product as soon as I started using it and wanted to get a glimpse into how Josh and his team approached the craft of product. There's this cohort of companies like the Browser Company, [inaudible 00:01:09], a few others that are just laser focused on building the best possible user experience, almost above all else. And I wanted to spend some time exploring this trend with Josh. We cover how he thinks about prioritization, team building, storytelling, company values, metrics, shipping, building in public so much more.
Josh is such an earnest, genuine and humble human, and it was such a pleasure getting to learn from him. And, just to be clear, I'm not an investor in the Browser Company and I barely knew anything about the company before I chatted with Josh. So, I'm just a fan. And as a special surprise, Arc is normally invite only. But if you're listening to this now, check the show notes for a special link that'll get you right in to use the browser, if you want to play with it yourself. With that, I bring you Josh Miller after a short word from our select sponsors.
Speaker 3 (00:02:01):
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Josh, welcome to the podcast.
Josh Miller (00:03:59):
Thank you so much for having me, Lenny.
It's absolutely my pleasure. You are the CEO and co-founder of The Browser Company, which builds a product called Arc. Can you just talk about what is The Browser Company? What is Arc? And then whatever you can share about just like the scale of Arc at this point. That'd be really interesting to hear.
Josh Miller (00:04:15):
Sure. I hope you don't mind me doing this. I'm curious, I hear that you may, may or may not use Arc? How would you describe Arc to somebody?
The simple explanation is it's just the best web browser that I've used. So, to me it's a browser. I know that you have a bigger vision than that, but that's the way I see it as a layperson who hasn't seen the full vision.
Josh Miller (00:04:38):
Awesome. I think we can go home now. That's great. That's awesome.
There we go.
Josh Miller (00:04:39):
No. To be totally honest with you and your listeners, we have a really hard time describing Arc, which is something I'm not proud of. But it is, objectively, a replacement for your default web browser. And people who try it seem to really love it, and most people seem to have a hard time using the internet in the old way. So, that may sound like I'm being coy, but we have work shopped many a one-liners and the words have escaped us so far. So, to be honest, it is on our to-do list to get sharper about that.
And then in terms of our scale, since we have a lot of product managers listening, I'll give you the PM answer to that question, which is, we really focus on one key metric as it relates to tracking our growth or how we are doing. We call it D5, D7. A lot of other companies call it L5, L7. But the human explanation for that is how many people turn to Arc at least five days a week? That is all we obsess over from a metrics perspective, because for us it captures retention, engagement, and growth in a single metric. You can't game it. Right? So from retention perspective, it's not just opening it accidentally once a week. You need to open a tab on a day in order to count as an active for a day.
But so it tracks retention. It tracks engagement because five days a week is no joke. There are very few apps or pieces of software you actively use five days a week. And then, obviously, it tracks growth, because of we track the count. So that is what we track. And then we also don't obsess over absolute numbers, because if we're successful, if you zoom out and out and out, any point in time will be inconsequential and small. So, what we really look is growth rate week over week. So, relative to last week, what is our growth rate? And for the past eight months or so, we've been growing over 10% every single week. So very, very thrilled with that. Do not think that will continue If anyone is listening. I would be shocked if we continue like that for another eight months. But, yeah. We obsess over how many humans use Arc five out of seven days a week. And we really want that number to grow as fast as possible every single week.
I love that we're already talking about metrics and retention. This is off to a good start.
Josh Miller (00:06:57):
You got to know your audience. Lenny.
We're going to talk about just how public you're about everything. But would you be for sharing your retention actual numbers? The D5 and D7 you just mentioned?
Josh Miller (00:07:07):
Yes. With the asterisk that I didn't prepare for that. So, Rebecca correct me on Twitter after this, if this is wrong. So once again, we don't look at DAU retention. We don't look at weekly active-user retention. We really just look at D5 D7 retention. Depending on the cohort, that's somewhere between low to mid-30s and low 40s. So really, really fantastic. Again, not going to continue. If there is anyone on this call that is going to check this in a year, it will be lower I'm sure. But so far, we're really thrilled with it.
And most importantly, in the same way, we don't look at absolute gross growth number, we don't look at retention in this moment. We look at, is it improving cohort by cohort? And so, what I think I am most proud of is that, if you go back a year, by all means our retention curve, we were really proud of it. And I think one of the best in our category of software. But, what I'm really proud of is, 12 months later we've been inching it up and up and up, despite getting further away from the earliest most passionate adopters. So, our retention curve's going up and up a little bit, which is-
All right. All right. If you haven't shared that, that'd be cool to share on Twitter someday. I'm a retained user.
Josh Miller (00:08:15):
I'm going to wait and you can share this clip. We'll share this clip.
Okay. Okay. I love it. We're just ready. We got the marketing strategy coming together. So, I told you this ahead of the chat, but the reason I wanted to have you on this podcast, even though, as folks may know, and as I've told you, I try to actually avoid founders and CEOs on this podcast to give other folks a platform who aren't often invited on podcasts. But the reason I wanted to have you on is, I just feel like Arc is a remarkable product. It blew me away the first time I used it. I don't know if you saw it, I tweeted as soon as I signed up? I had to share how awesome it was. I was like-
Josh Miller (00:08:47):
Of course I saw it. It made my day.
Okay. Okay, great. And, also as an outside observer, it just feels like you're building remarkable culture and team that's really unique. And, so I just want to selfishly learn from how you think about product and team building and all the things that go into it. So yeah.
Josh Miller (00:09:03):
Thanks for saying that, Lenny. What a cool way to kick off an interview.
Absolutely. First question I have along those lines is, you mentioned at some point that your product building philosophy is a reaction to the traditional Silicon Valley way of building product. I'm curious to hear what led you down that road? Why did you feel like you had to react to it? And then how would you just describe your product building philosophy at The Browser Company?
Josh Miller (00:09:27):
I'll share this caveat once and never again in this interview. But I want anyone listening to know, I'm someone who doesn't believe there is a single right way to do things. So, what I'm sharing today is truly just what we have found works for us in this moment for what we are doing. But, I remember when I was earlier in my career, I'd listen to podcasts like this and take it as dogma, because there are these people that had done it and I respected what they'd built. So, if any of this sounds like "better than thou," it's not intended to. This is just what we found works for us and what we care about. [inaudible 00:09:59].
Okay. So early in my career started a company also with Hursh, my current co-founder and CTO. We were fortunate enough to have that company acquired or acqui-hired by Facebook and spent a number of years working at Facebook. And remarkable organization, probably the best executing I've ever seen at that period of time. And, by the way, I'd never been a PM before, so I'm not complimenting myself, I was just learning for the first time. But what struck me at Facebook in call it 2014, and I've seen through to this day, is Silicon Valley, at least the most modern version of Silicon Valley, has this obsession with graphs, and has this obsession with numbers and metrics.
I mean, you saw me in the previous answer, I'm talking about D5, D7. What's a D5, D7? And, it is an incredibly effective way to achieve certain outcomes, to focus on numbers, because it's very quantitative, it's objective. You can see the graph go up or go down, or stay flat depending on what you want. But what we've found is that optimizing for metrics leaves a lot on the table and it misses a lot. And so, what we do at The Browser Company is we talk about optimizing feelings. How do we want to make someone feel on the other end of our software? Do we want to make them feel joy? Do we want to make them feel fast? Do we want to make them feel organized? Do we want to make them feel focused? What is it the feeling we are trying to evoke in whatever we're doing on a specific project, or a specific feature, or a specific piece of storytelling content?
And I can imagine what's going through the heads of your listeners right now, which is probably a number of things. But among others, that sounds really damn romantic. If they're like, "Okay. You optimizing for feelings." But if you allow me, I would posit that actually this modern way of optimizing for numbers and graphs, especially for what we all do every day, which is make things and put in the world, is what's fairly odd. Because, if you just to yourself daydream about, what are your favorite products or product companies and brands, while it may sound cliche for me, Nike. Nike was one of the first companies that at a very deep level resonate with me as a child. Disney? Disney, same thing. Apple? Before I was a professional in an industry, these were the brands and the products that they made that really made me love something that was ostensibly a commercial product I could buy.
What do you think Walt Disney was optimizing for when he was crafting Disneyland? What do you think Phil Knight was thinking about when he made that first version of the Nike running shoe? What do you think Steve Jobs was imagining and daydreaming about when thinking about the iPhone or the Macintosh? By all means, numbers are a fantastic way to be honest with yourself about whether or not you are achieving what you aim to do. But at the moment of creation, at the stage as product people, wondering what should we do, and why, and how? We think it's much more important for us to think about the human, the person at the other end, and how we really want to make them feel.
I think one tangible example of that is when I was at Facebook, I joined in the midst of Snapchat's ascendancy. And, there was a lot of feelings about how are we doing, should we be worried? And the way that we would have that conversation would be, how many times per week do people share on Facebook? Do they post something? We even had an acronym OBPS. It's like seared into my memory. What is OBPS? And how is it trending over time? Well, I think we should have been asking, and what we at least would ask at The Browser Company and our way of product development is, "Do we think people feel closer to their friends and family?" Or something of that nature?
I think that's what Snapchat got so right. They weren't obsessing about something like, "How many people put an image into the composer and hit the plus button. And the number of times per week means success." They were thinking about something much more human and essential. And so, that is what we've [inaudible 00:14:07] The Browser Company. Don't optimize for metrics, don't optimize for graphs. Use that as a way to keep you honest, and use it as a tool in your toolkit. But fundamentally, none of us are here for that. We're there to make people feel something.
As you pointed out, I think a lot of the people are listening are like, "I love that. I wish I could do that. I want to optimize for feelings, but then I got to drive the business forward. I got goals to hit. I want to keep people accountable." I'm curious how you operationalize this approach? How do you actually implement this idea? I imagine you still have goals and metrics and you guys, you talked about retention and things like that.
Josh Miller (00:14:42):
Yeah. Obviously it's difficult to do that in the abstract for another company, and it may not work for every company and every product. But, for example, one of the reasons we found this to be so effective so far is, if you pick the right feeling, it typically tracks pretty closely with the metric you care about. So, for example, we don't have a growth team and we have no semblance of growth projects. However, in many of the new features that we put out into the world, we want people to feel surprise or joy or an emotion like that. Guess what? When people feel that way, they go, "Oh, my God, what was that?" And they start telling their friends and family about it, and they start dropping a screenshot in Slack, et cetera. So, there's one example on the consumer side. I've never built traditional enterprise software selling to CIOs, et cetera. But I can imagine maybe someone in the IT department of a large enterprise wants to feel smart, or wants to feel ahead of the curve or wants to feel secure and ease at what they're doing.
I think sometimes we just forget that whoever your buyer is, or whatever your business objective, at the end of the day we're a bunch of people in a bunch of rooms at the other side of these screens. And just thinking about that person, it could be a buyer, it could be a customer. But I think the truth is the answer to the question Lenny is, when I was earlier in my career, I was searching for the answers or the way to do things, the right, the wrong, the binary. I think anyone that's been doing this or anything for a while learns that it's all nuanced. It's a spectrum. It depends. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
But I think the true answer, Lenny, is just optimizing for metrics so purely is deeply flawed in my opinion. Optimizing for feelings so purely is flawed as well. And it depends on what you are doing, what the project is and a lot of other things. But I think the reason we come out so strongly is, I do think Silicon Valley has tended so far towards optimizing for graphs and metrics, that if we can reel it back in a little bit, at least as just one company, I think that will be good. But the truth is, it's both. We need to use all the tools we can get, but I think hopefully that's one way that people can operationalize.
I'm curious, just to poke out a little bit, how you actually implement that? So maybe as an example, you recently launched this Peek feature, where you mouse over, I think, a link and it opens up in a little browser that doesn't last. Do you put together a little spec of some sort of, "We're trying to create surprise, and maybe here's a metric we think about it." What's actual day-to-day operational approach to a new feature, in terms of feelings versus metrics?
Josh Miller (00:17:32):
Yeah. The truth is I don't think we've operationalized it as formally as we should one day. And we'll probably need to one day. The lucky thing is we are a very tight group of individuals that have now worked together for a long time. So not so formal as there's a PRD at the top of it, we list out the emotions. It's much more, with that project, get Ben in a room and whoever else is working on it and say, "All right. So here's what we're trying to do for people. Here's the problem we're trying to solve or the way we fit in their day. And in that moment people want to feel very light and airy."
So, for the Peek feature [inaudible 00:18:07] he's referencing the use cases. You're on Hacker News and you want to probably in pretty quick succession check out five to seven URLs. And you're not really sure which one you're going to spend time on, but you're going to open a bunch of stuff really quickly. And Peek allows you to effortlessly just peek into it, without leaving Hacker News and context switching to this whole new tab and going back and forth. So in that scenario, the conversation was how do we make it feel really airy and effortless to just whoop, pop it up, pop it back down, lightness, airiness, speed, agility. So again, it's not that we have a, "What is the number one feeling and the number two feeling?" It is much more conversational at this stage, but I am actually really excited. Hopefully we got the privilege one day to have such a large team that we have to figure out a way to do it. So, that's an example of how we think about it.
It's a good segue to a question I wanted to touch on. So, I asked Scott Belsky what I should ask you. He's a big fan of yours. I don't know if he's an investor? But he's just like, "I love Josh." And asked him, "What should I ask Josh?" And one of his questions was about, you guys ship very quickly. You're shipping meaningful features every Friday. And you also close the loop really well with customers when they come ask for something. You're like, "Hey, here. We did it." What is it that you do, and what can people learn from the way you all operate that allows you to ship quickly?
Josh Miller (00:19:26):
Well, first of all, thank you Scott, if you're listening. It's somewhat of an awkward question admittedly, because it's like someone complimenting you about your product. It's always impossible to really take and accept the compliment, because you see all the blemishes. Of course we see all these ways in which we don't ship fast enough and could be doing a better job listening and building with members. But, at risk of sounding a bit cliche, I really think we ship our values. So, we thought a lot about our values as a company. You can read about them online. And I think if you examine those values and then you look at your compliment or Scott's compliment, you can see [inaudible 00:20:05] one-to-one. So the first, and I really think the most important is, we hire people that show up with heartfelt intensity.
And, a lot of companies I think obsess over craft details. They'll be a value like, "We obsess over the details." What we say is, we want people that show up to our company with some fire in their belly, something that they are out to do. And for each person it's a little bit different. For some people it may be UI Craft details, for other people it may be achieving double the performance with a quarter of the engineering head count. Everyone has something, but they show up with this heartfelt intensity. And I think even relative to everything else, I'm going to say, that's it. If you have a team that has heartfelt intensity and is there for a purpose and something to prove, you give them a very exciting, ambitious prompt and get out of their way and they will do remarkable work. So, showing up with heartfelt intensity.
Our second value is assume you don't know. Assume you don't know. And the value "assume you don't know" is, even if you're a subject matter expert. We have someone in our company that literally built the first version of Chrome and ran it for 16 years. But he more than anyone embodies this beginner's mind of, "I have no idea how this should work or what will happen." And the follow up to that value is, "So we got to get going." It's like dropping in a new city. You just got to walk out the door of your Airbnb turn left and ... Maybe you'll turn right and then you'll hop on the subway, but you just got to get going and see what you find. And so, we have this attitude of, you're showing up with this heartfelt intensity. But you start by saying, "I've no idea what I'm doing. I have no idea what's going to happen." So we've just got to get going. And that biases in a default to action.
We have another value of, start by asking, "What could be?", which is pushing ourselves to be as aspirational, ambitious as possible. So the Peek feature that you mentioned, we just didn't want to solve the problem of context switching. We wanted to almost blur the line between native and web software, and make it feel like a sheet of paper. And really pushing ourselves to be as ambitious as we can be, which is the consequence of blowing back around and more deeply motivating the people working on it.
So, I mean, I could keep going. We have a value, "You're doing it for the crew when you got to swarm. When you got to swarm," and we have value of, "make them feel something." But I think what it all adds up to is, a team that has a lot of heart, has a lot of intrinsic motivation and a, "It's the first day of my career. I wonder what's going to happen?" attitude. And I think all of those things add up to a culture which is, "Let's get something out there. Let's see what happens."
How did you come up with these? What was the process to come up with company values? Because I know a lot of companies are like, "We should come up with these." How do you do that?
Josh Miller (00:22:54):
The secret is I hate corporate values. I've never resonated with them. And I'm fortunate, we're fortunate enough, to have a lot of really spectacular, experienced leaders in our corner. And I got hammered to the first year, two years on, "Josh, where are your values? How can your team operate without values?" And I always experienced them on the other end as almost corporate propaganda, these cliche fortune cookie, Panda Express-like, "You should care about the detail." It didn't resonate with me. And the thing that clicked was maybe a year and a half, two years into working, I just kept hearing the same things from the team. And I would do things like a year into someone joining, "How's it going? What's going well? What's not?" And I realized that there are some traits that define our team, extremely organically and naturally. No one told people what our values were.
Again, because I was this naive, ignorant 31-year-old being like, "Values are a corporate, late-stage capitalism creation," and just very, very hardheaded. And it was really special two years in, hearing from the team why they love The Browser Company, why they think we're doing ... Just the passion there. And then we challenged ourselves to what became a value. Well, if something about the five one-liners on the corporate webpage feels off, start by asking what could be in dream a little bit. And what I realized was, all of the statements people would say about what they loved about The Browser Company, what they thought defined the way we work, they reminded me of how I like to take road trips. I'm a big traveler. I'm a big fan of dropping in somewhere new and just exploring. And so we just had this "Aha!" Moment. Let's, instead of having a corporate landing page with five value titles and subtitles, let's write a manual for how to take a road trip.
So we wrote an essay called "Notes on Road Trips" that use this semi-biographical, but mostly fictional, story about a person and their father taking a road trip when they're a teenager, to tell the story of how we do things at The Browser Company. And share these values, but in a way that hopefully won't feel so propagandary and feel a little more, you're reading an essay. So I say that, again, not to say there's anything wrong with traditional values. I'm actually sure I'm going to get an earful for a lot of people that coach me and give me advice that I sounded too indignant on this podcast. But I'm pretty proud of that story because it was a great example of assuming you don't know. We were sure that corporate values were not for us. And then very organically without trying it turned out, "Wait! They run through this company in a pretty profound way. We should put some words around it, because it's happening whether or not we like it, or say it is or not."
That's awesome. I have the page here and it's quite beautiful. And, pulling to it in the show notes just very briefly and tactically, did you just sit down and start writing this thing and then people gave you feedback? How long did this process take? Just for folks that maybe you want to go down this road?
Josh Miller (00:26:03):
Yeah. Warning downside of this process that it takes a lot longer than we thought it would, because we put so much heart into it. So, what it started with was again, in my natural one-year, check-in type conversation, starting to notice these patterns. And then we actually very comprehensively were like, "Okay. Let's sit down and interview everyone at The Browser Company. But no survey. One by one, talking to people, asking questions. And then we pulled out those words. So, actually what's really cool about these values, if my memory serves me, I believe every single one, with the exception of maybe a word or two, was something that someone on our team said. So we interviewed the entire team and then these are meant to be a mirror. The putting it in road trip essay form? That took a long time. That that was a lot of ... Yeah. I don't recommend the way that we did that, but-
How long is long?
Josh Miller (00:27:03):
Probably three months.
Oh. That does not sound that long. Okay.
Josh Miller (00:27:07):
Yeah. Maybe this goes back to Scott's comment that maybe our bar to how quickly we should ship stuff including values is, it's like I don't know. But, yeah. It felt like a long time. And this was not just me. Just for anyone listening, this was not CEO in a corner writing a missive. This was a team effort. There's a woman Abby on our team that did so much work on this project. The words themselves came from our team. So, it has my name I think somewhere on that webpage, but by no means was this me writing this essay in a corner with the fireplace on, or anything like that.
Okay. Awesome. That was really helpful. As you also saw, I asked on Twitter what to ask you, and I got a ton of questions. People have a lot of questions for how y'all do stuff. The most common question turned out was from Ched Khan who had the most likes of all the questions that people asked you. And it was around hiring, that basically you've been able to convince some of the most amazing people in the world to join The Browser Company. Like you just mentioned, you hired the guy that built Chrome, basically, to work on Arc now. What is it that you do that convinces amazing people to join? Because everyone wants to learn from you and copy you, and do that themselves.
Josh Miller (00:28:15):
Thank you for that question and for all the legs. I will admit, this is also a fairly awkward one to ask. I actually just came from an interview with a candidate and they asked me a fairly similar question. And I said, "You know what? You should go ask the people that work here. It's not me. I don't know why they ultimately join." But what I will tell you is, the intentionality, which is another secret, sharing a lot of secrets. This one will probably get me in trouble. I don't care about web browsers. I've never cared about web browsers. I never wanted to build a web browser. If you had told me a decade ago that I'd be working on a desktop first web browser at 32, "I'd say what in my career went horribly wrong?" The origin story of this company was Hursch, who I met when I was 20. We started a company together. Lots of mistakes, a lot of successes, a lot of growing pains and figured out who we are. And a decade later we were still friends, we went to each other's weddings.
We'd worked in all these different industries and different-stage companies and we just realized, "You know what? There are a lot of ideas that get us really excited. There are a lot of shapes and sizes." But as we were nostalgic for looking back on the decade prior, it was groups of people and moments in time with those people that were our best memories. And so, what Hursch and I decided, long before the company started was, we want to build a company, but we want to build a company where we feel like we can hire whoever we want. And I don't mean whoever we want in terms of who would dare say no. But we want to work on something where the greatest minds in our industry and adjacent would want to work on that prompt in a hypothetical sense. And then build an organization, build a team where we can work in the way that, after a decade of trying on a bunch of hats and ways of doing things and metrics this and [inaudible 00:30:04], we could do what was right for us.
And so, where we went to with a new web browser, let alone a web browser as a new form of computing, which is our true aspiration, to build an internet here. You can look up the internet computer YouTube video on our Browser Company YouTube page. But our ambition's even higher than a web browser. The intention of that is, we just want to go hire our favorite people that we know and don't know and build a team that, we'll never get bored working with this crew, because of how incredible they are and how humble they are. And so, when you think about it like that, I as the CEO as notionally the head of product, I view our product as our team. And I know a lot of companies say that. I actually think they probably all mean it. I don't think anyone's being disingenuous, but we really meet it. It is the genesis of this company.
It is not a new web browser. It is, let's build the dream team, our dream team. And let's build a way of working that is really fun for us and really speaks to our values. And let's go find people that resonate with that. And that trickles down to everything we do, whether it's our policy about this or the way we do that. I'll give you one example. Our goal of interviews is to convince people not to join The Browser Company. If I have an interview with someone, I don't pitch them and say, "What do you want to ask me? Anything you want? I'll be super honest, most people shouldn't want to work here." So I think it all starts with us viewing our product as the company, as the team, not Arc itself. And then, I think being self-aware, that that's how I think that's how we think.
But again, flying back things that I've heard, we have been fortunate. We've hired a lot of really remarkable people, especially on paper and especially off. I mean, all around. I'll just give a couple examples to share one thing that I've heard. A few recent hires, we hired someone named Darren who, as I mentioned, he co-created the first prototype of Chrome and then ran it for 16 years. I think hundreds if not thousands of people reported to him. He joined the Browser Company as an IC. We just hired a woman named Tara. She was on the original Paper by 53 team, one of my most inspiring products at the beginning of my career. Most recently she was actually, I believe, Senior SVP of product at Vimeo and a senior director of engineering. She joined our engineering team as an IC. We just hired someone named Peter Vidani. When I was 20 building consumer social software, he was the coolest, most impressive person. He was the first designer at Tumblr. Ran the design team at Tumblr for seven years and the most recently was SVP of design at Slack. Joined the team as an IC designer.
And though that sounds like I'm bragging, the thing that was really interesting and perplexing to us was, these are people that have made a lot of money, that have had really fancy titles, that have worked on transformative projects. Why are they joining this team? And I think something that people show up to The Browser Company with is, in addition to heartfelt intensity, this aspiration that their work at The Browser Company will come to define their careers. And that's coming from people that have done really remarkable things, by all accounts. And I think more than anything, we've realized that, in order for people like that to join and to show up with that, there are a number of things you have to promise and provide them, that make folks like that gravitate with the intention of doing their work of their career, ranging from an incredible and ambitious aspiration, really empowerment to act on the prompts that they're given on behalf of the team in the way that they see fit, and truly trusting and empowering them.
A very kind culture. I think if you've been doing this for a decade plus, your intolerance for bullshit is very, very low. And so, by no means do I think we're perfect. I don't think everyone shows up The Browser Company saying, "If I'm not on the equivalent of the early iPhone team, I'm going to be bummed." But I think generally speaking, Hursh and I, and everyone that was on the early team showed up with this aspiration of making The Browser Company the product. And I think that's carried forward to this tumbleweed of people saying, "[inaudible 00:34:23]. That's where I'm going to finally do the equivalent of building the iPhone." And we all know we probably won't, but there is that, "I want to give it one more shot. I want to go for it." And that just tumbleweeds, I think, at some point.
That tumbleweed is, I think a big part of it is, once you get amazing people, more amazing people want to join. So I think that's very much helpful. Something else this resonates a lot with is, just the mission of a company is such a powerful tool for pulling people in, the best people. I've seen that a lot with founders. If they have a meaningful mission, it's so much easier to hire, versus not. And clearly you're really good at sharing that vision and mission. And then you also have a really interesting mission and vision. I think there's also, you're just a charismatic founder and that helps a lot too. And you're a great storyteller.
Josh Miller (00:35:08):
Well, the other thing I want to add Lenny is, again putting myself in the listener, I imagine a lot of what I just said probably sounded a little bit ... Could come off, if you don't know me and you don't, as a little bombastic or a little again romantic. Very tactically, I'll give you something that was just who we are, but I think has helped contribute to this tumbleweed. From the very first person we hired, we celebrated them publicly. The fact that they joined. And in a very heartfelt way, telling you about them as a person and what they did. Long before we had anyone that anyone would've heard of before working at The Browser Company, just because it was earnest, we were really proud. Again, if you think of our original mandate as building the companies, the product, when our first designer joins, we want to tell everyone about it. That's a product launch. That is the product launch.
And then, whenever we ship something, we go out of our way to celebrate the people that worked on it publicly. I think there's a CEO-hero worship sometimes in Silicon Valley. I do very little at the company. Or sorry. I do very little as it relates to the thing people fall in love with Arc. I do a lot for The Browser Company, but I don't make Arc. I didn't make Peek. And again, that's just who we are, which is, "Alexandre. She killed me! Look at how cool this is!" because it's earnest and it's honest to who we are. And then I think it creates this reinforcing cycle of you're someone that's done something incredible, which is, "I'm going to be celebrated. They truly want me here. I'm going to be recognized for the work that I do.
It's not going to just accrue to this like CEO figurehead who everyone thinks is some genius visionary. And so again, by no means are we perfect. By no means do I think we get it right all the time. But, because it's such an authentic expression of who we are and what we were trying to do, I think we do little micro implementations like that, that ladder up to that principle I got so excited about but are as simple as someone tweets about some animation. They're like, "Woo! This was fun." Tag Sherry. Sherry made that, Sherry's incredible. And you don't see that that much in Silicon Valley. You see corporate blog posts and the CEOs more than anyone else. That's probably why you don't have CEOs on the podcast, because you don't want ... You know this Lenny. That is why that's your policy. You don't want to hear from the CEOs. They're not the ones building the product. You want to hear from the people actually doing it. That's why I love this podcast.
That's right. That's right. Thank you. I'd say just hearing everything you're saying, The Browser Company sounds like an incredible place to work. I could see why people want to go work. It's pretty simple. You touched on being public and sharing everything that's going on. And that's another area I wanted to spend a little time on. You guys are very transparent about what's going on and inside the company. You bring cameras into the board meetings. I watched a half-hour meeting you had with your head of design talking about a project that's behind scheduling. You're trying to figure out how do we get this out the door. You just share actual things you all are doing within the company, publicly. And I'm curious just, why did you start doing that? What have you seen as a good or bad that has come from that? Is there anything you've shared that maybe you regret like "Oh, maybe we shouldn't have put that out there." What's been your experience with that?
Josh Miller (00:38:17):
Why don't I start with the regret. It's not yet a regret, but the thing that I wonder ... Because this is very much ... I may have hopefully spoken with a lot of earnest passion to some of the questions before. This is one that I would really characterize as a prototype. We really have a prototype-driven culture. And this is one that I'd put high on the list of, "Maybe we'll regret this later." And specifically what I hope is that, I'm uncomfortable putting myself too central in our story. But, naturally, when you're doing storytelling publicly, there's a gravitational pull for the CEO and the founders to be at the center of that. And so, sometimes even this morning, we had our best-performing YouTube video ever. The first one that really broke out of people that already follow us. And it's a reaction video in classic YouTube form to MKBHD talking about our product for the first time.
And I honestly watched it right before this again, and I was like, "What the fuck am I doing? What are we doing? Why am I trying to become a YouTuber?" So, to be totally honest, I don't regret anything yet. But I wonder if we could take this too far? So if anyone's listening, if you see us starting to take this too far, especially as it relates to me, we want to hear about it, because that's keeping me up. But I do think the intentions are pure and earnest, which are ... And another thing that defines people that have joined The Browser Company, in addition to wanting to do the work that defines their careers, is I would characterize it as a little bit of hopelessness, maybe feeling jaded, questioning this industry that they've worked on or products that they've worked on and wanting to rediscover. But, at the end of the day, we are a group of idealists, of optimists, wanting to rediscover what we fell in love with when we were kids, whether it's the part of our craft or the potential of technology, the internet and software.
And, as part of that, I would view Arc and the Browser Company as an experiment in we can do it. Better is possible. And as we were thinking about better as possible, rediscovering what we love and believe in deep down and trying to express it in the world, one of it related to trust. I remember when I was a teenager using the internet for the first time and early on to college, just the hopefulness of what was possible, and the belief that these people building these tools, they were like heroes to me. Not just the leaders, but the teams, the companies, the brands. And somewhere along the way, I'm not blaming a single company, I'm not even saying that anyone did anything wrong, but culturally ... I was a sociology major. Culturally, we have lost trust in tech companies and in tech brands.
A lot of people tend to. I've noticed a lot of friends in my life that I know them behind the scenes, but the way that people perceive them publicly here don't know them. They interpret it the other way, because there's not that trust. And so our bet is that if you get to know us, Nash, Dina, me Hursch, and you really feel like you get to know us as person and all of our imperfections, we're average looking, we're average to all that stuff. Then when you see that we're asking for a permission, you might trust it is because we want to make you feel a certain way that's better. And if not ... I'll say someone tweeted something yesterday, who apparently we didn't earn the trust yet and they haven't gone to know us. And their interpretation of what we were doing was the worst possible interpretation you could [inaudible 00:42:40]. And, at first honestly, I felt a bit of anger, like, "Who was this person on a Thursday just saying we're doing X and Y?" And then I realized, "You know what? I'd have the same feeling because of the experiences I've had with technology in the past five to 10 years."
And so, the intention with these the building and public experiments are radical trust building. Not radical transparency, we can't share everything, but radical trust building. You get to know us as humans and I worry that we'll regret that, and that it could potentially turn into, "Oh, they're trying to be internet celebrities that they're so important, they should share everything because ... Thank you, them, for gracing us with their opinions." It's not the intention and it feels worth taking that risk. But that's the intentionality behind it.
That is a really interesting insight. It makes a lot of sense for a browser to find that so important, to build that trust.
Josh Miller (00:43:31):
I haven't done podcast interviews, I haven't done this. I really like you. I really like the feeling of your conversations, the intentions behind them, the warmth, even your intro music is a friendly jig. So, I mean, it's a great example, where I think it's one of the most wonderful things about the podcasting medium is I've had you in my ear for a year and the people on your show and you feel a sense of trust in you and your intentions here. And your intentions both in this interview, in terms of what you're trying to do for listeners. To some extent your show, and the warmth that you bring to it and the perception I have as a human being ... We've never met. We've maybe DM'd briefly, maybe five messages exchanged. But I feel like I know you and that makes me trust you. And so, in many ways this podcast, at a meta level's an inspiration for it.
I feel the same way in reverse. You made this point about being worried about being two front and center for your company. I have the same exact feeling. Even though my newsletter's called "Lenny's Newsletter," I only named it that because that was the default recommendation when I was signing up for Substack. I didn't want to be this, "I know it all. Come to me. Welcome to my know-it-all place." I really dislike that. And that's why I created this community that lives along the side, where people can help each other, because I'm not going to have all answers. And so, I've had to lead into that. "All right, people." They want a person to help them understand what's going on, learn about ... And in your videos you do a great job highlighting other people. I was watching your board meeting video and it's like, "Here's all team members coming along. Here they come. How are you doing?" So, anyway. All that to say, you're doing a great job finding the balance.
Josh Miller (00:45:14):
Oh, thank you. You as well.
I appreciate it. You talked about storytelling, and you mentioned that you have a whole bunch of odd teams at The Browser Company. One of them is a storytelling team. And that actually explains, I think, how you're so good at making these really amazing videos, because making great videos is hard. Can you just talk about some of these odd teams that you have, that probably other companies don't?
Josh Miller (00:45:34):
One of the other things that, hopefully, you're picking up in this interview, so far, is we are a very prototype-driven culture. It goes back to the "assume you don't know" ethos. We try a lot of experiments, and we try them related to product features related to how we work together, related to the stories we tell. So, this isn't a category of, "I'm not sure it's going to work, but we're trying it," and it seems to be working so far, at least for us. What Lenny's referencing is, we have a handful of teams. I'll pick two just as an examples. We have a membership team and we have a storytelling team. And though you probably recognize or are obviously familiar with those terms, those aren't historically startup orgs, or startup disciplines and teams. And let me tell you about the intention behind both.
Membership. Membership was, when I was at Facebook, the most impressive thing to me about how Facebook built product was their user research team. Shout out to Lowie and Jane. I don't know why you'd be listening to this podcast, but you deeply inspired me when we were at Facebook together. They had the most incredible team of user researchers. And it always felt odd to me. And this isn't Lowie and Jane's fault. Actually, in fact, they suffered from this. That user research almost felt like a service organization, relative to product engineering design. There'd be a PM. The PM would get assigned a researcher and the PM got to decide how to use the researcher, and ask them what to do and ask them questions. But seeing the potential for when you really get to know the people that you are building for, that you're serving, at a really deep way, it is extraordinary. How do you build product any other way?
And so, we took that to the extreme at The Browser Company, which we said, "Let's not think of it as customer support, customer service, customer success, user research. Those are just business terms. Those are just industry terms." At the end of the day, what we're saying is if there is a human being, from the moment they touch our software or our products for the first time, to, if they have it last, we need to have a deep, genuine, ongoing relationship with them.
And on day one, that may be air quote, "customer success." "How do I use this thing?" On day 37, that might be, "I have a bug. Do you mind helping me fix it?" And on day 58, that may be, "Hey, we're shipping the mobile app soon. What do you want from mobile? What do you want on your phone?" Other companies view that as different orgs and disciplines. We view that as, there are a bunch of people at the other end of this that we are serving from the moment they touch our product the first time. Let's own that relationship full stack and think about it holistically. And so that's the membership team.
On the storytelling side, very similar, different type of person. Again, we're a humanistic the company. So, the theme here is the people on the company, the people at the other end. So if the membership team takes people from the moment they touch our product for the first time to the last, the storytelling team is about people we don't have the privilege of serving yet. They don't use Arc, they don't know what Arc is. That could be an investor, air quote, "investor relations." That could be members of the press, air quote, "PR." That could be just people out in the world, air quote, "marketing" and one-day sales. But at the end of the day, it's telling our story to people. It's telling our story to people and thinking about that holistically in full stack.
So that's how we think about teams is, we start with first principles asking, what are we really trying to do here? And what is the most direct way to manifest that, even if it's not how other people do it? In practice, one of the benefits of that is I do think it leads to certain pieces of content. For example, that people go, "Oh, wow! I've never seen that before." But again, I think anyone's capable of this. I think we have an extraordinarily talented storytelling team and membership team, but I really think it's as simple as the intentionality of what is the team? What are their incentives? What are the disciplines on the team? Even hiring a video editor, for example, as a small company. But the video editor, not having make a TikTok account go viral. But think about it more holistically in terms of the people.
So, again, there's a lot that breaks down. There's a lot that's not going well about it. I have no idea how the scales, the 500 people ... Yeah. So this is not me saying this experiment is ultimately going to be a huge success, or right for everyone or even us at different times. But that was the intentionality of the membership team, the storytelling team and others. And even product management. We don't have PMs at the company. My title at Facebook was Product Manager. I love product management. But, we view it not as a team. We view it as a leader, a role on a project, on an effort.
And depending on the projects, different types of people should be a PM. So, we have a performance-related project going on where, of course, an infrastructure engineer should be that air quote, "PM." We have a product project, where actually I think someone from membership should be the PM, because ultimately, yes, we're building software product, but it is really about serving our members in a specific way, so we should have someone for membership be a PM. Again, as you can imagine, as is going through the heads of everyone listening, "That must break down in 18 ways?" Oh, it definitely does. And so I'm not promising one day it won't change. But again, continuous through the company is, assume you don't know. Start by asking what could be, and let's just try some things and see what happens.
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So, I was going to ask you actually, you talked about why you don't have PMs. Do you think you'll hire PMs in the future, having a PM background? Do you think you'll get there or do you think you'll try to stick to this? People do the PM role, depending on the project?
Josh Miller (00:52:12):
Yeah. We've increasingly hiring people that at other companies may have a PM title. I'd say we have two to three right now, that could have a PM title at another company. I don't think we will have a pm organization, or a PM role, because again, we believe depending on ... If you unpack the verbs that a PM does, I think those are verbs that anyone that we hire could do. And it really depends on what is the project? And what are we trying to do? I think the thing that will be unwavering is we like to hire mutts. And I haven't yet figured out a term that comes off as more endearing, because it's meant to be very endearing, but ... For example, there's a woman in a company named Rebecca.
Rebecca was a data scientist we use at Cora. She got her PhD in MIT in I think behavioral psychology or something. I'm probably going to misquote that. But, got some crazy degree at MIT, and then was a software engineer at Stripe. And I'm talking about Rebecca through her resume. There's so much about Rebecca. She plays effectively a PM role right now. She is effectively PMing our effectively our multi-player team. But what was so awesome about meeting Rebecca is her and other people at this company have the mindset of, "I make things, and I will do what I need to do to make what I want to make. Whenever that verb is, whenever that discipline is." And that requires people that are multidisciplinary in practice and multidisciplinary in approach to their work. It's not that we don't hire PMs, but we want to hire people who have a multidisciplinary approach and view things as, "I like to make things. Tell me how I contribute to making it." And sometimes they may play the verbs of a PM and sometimes it may be something else.
This can be a really interesting story to follow. I've seen this journey a few times at different companies. What I find is a lot of times people that are good at other things like engineering or design, for a while, they're like, "Yep. We don't need PMs. I'll do the PM job." And then eventually they're like, "This sucks. I hate doing this stuff. I want to design. Leave me alone. I don't want to sit on a [inaudible 00:54:29] all day. I don't want to be in meetings." So eventually, it turns out, they're like, "Okay. Let's find someone to do this thing that loves it." And so that's one thing that happens.
The other thing I find is, I'm sure you've seen this, a lot of people are wary of PMs. They come in and they're like, "Here's what we're doing," and they're just adults process complexity. What I find is those are just bad PMs. If you have an awesome PM, everything just gets better. Everyone's happier, things move faster. So I think companies often get to that stage. And then also there's just career development stuff, eventually as you scale. It's like "What happened to my career path," and they're like, "All right. Well, we got to go on one road or another." It's hard to stay in this hybrid role. But I super respect the first principal's approach of let's just-
Josh Miller (00:55:08):
And, for what's worth, Lenny. I think you're almost, definitely right. And I think it will almost definitely happen with us. And again, this goes back to the "assume you don't know." The "assume you don't know," is try a prototype and then assume it's not going to work. So, even in my own experience, I remember getting to know Evan from Snapchat just enough to know how he talked about PMs at Snap. And it was, "We're never going to hire PMs at Snap. Everyone's a designer." And, I have no relationship with him anymore, but you can look, there are a lot of PMs at Snapchat.
So I know from my own experience with people that I respect from a product perspective that were indignant, they would never hire PMs, their organizations now have PMs. And that's probably for a really good reason. I would tell say also on our team, if any of our designers are listening, they'll tell you these, whatever you want to call it, "These verbs are taking up a lot of my time, and I do not have as much time to think and dream and design and do user research." And so, we're already feeling it breaking into our company.
I think the intentionality, whatever comes next, whatever it is, is leaders of the project should be picked for the projects, not because they're in a certain org at our company. And, if we ever hire people to do the PM role, we want them to think of themselves as people who make things and have lots of different disciplines and tools in their toolkit, not just the PM discipline. And, of course, even that could be wrong, and maybe in a year we cave. I got it totally wrong. We got it totally wrong. So, we'll see. But I would also, that that of all the things I shared on this podcast so far, this is probably the one I'll come crawling back to your podcast in a couple years, being, "Lenny, you were right. It all blew up!"
But it's a fun experiment and Snap is a good example. Stripes another, where they waited a long time to hire their first PMs. And I think it's because their designers or engineers were just incredibly good at that element. And it was also very design-forward or very edge-forward, so they didn't need as much PM skill initially.
Josh Miller (00:57:03):
If I had to predict, I would predict that if we found that we were missing this discipline as a team, I think we would evolve Rebecca's team, which is technically the data team, and do something closer to a technical PM or data plus [inaudible 00:57:19] Again, it's all live, but the thought has even crossed our minds recently, that we may be wrong, and what org might we create if we need folks that have more of a background of [inaudible 00:57:29] like this.
I'm excited for the video of this discussion that might happen. It's also interesting, your PM that you mentioned, Rebecca is very data oriented. And then, the initial discussion we had around focus on feelings and that sort of thing. So, that's cool that you have this really interesting balance of people that are very data focused and then this, "Okay. But let's not obsess with that. What are the feelings we're trying to create?"
Josh Miller (00:57:50):
Yeah. Because again, the point of optimizing for feelings is not hire people who make feelings. It's like Rebecca's title is Data Lead. She runs our data team. But, Rebecca's one of the most humanistic people I know. You meet her and you feel the warmth that you feel when you talk to you, and you ask her what she does outside of work. And so, it's not that data doesn't have a role. Actually I'd say, for better or worse, data is part of our practice. It's more about what's that top-level intentionality? What are we trying to do here? But, yeah. We have a lot of people that, data is either a noun they've had in their resume or it's been a part of their practice a lot in the past.
Awesome. One very tactical question with the storytelling team makes me think about Airbnb's video team. A lot of people are joking internally for years and years that the videos Airbnb put out in the early days accounts for half their market cap, because they're so good. And you're just like, "Oh, my God, I want to go on an Airbnb." They just make you feel so much and they're soul made. So, what is the makeup of your storytelling team? Because I imagine some companies maybe listening, like maybe we should do something like this on our team.
Josh Miller (00:58:57):
We have a three-person storytelling team. It's run by a woman named Nash. There is a gentleman named Ellis, who is a ... Background, started as a reporter at The Verge. Maybe there was a publication before that. But I met him when he was a reporter at The Verge covering social media. And then he ran marketing strategy for Snapchat for seven years. And then we have a person named Josh Lee, who I actually met as an intern. He was an intern at Facebook as a designer, that an intern for me at the White House when I worked at the White House, and then decided that he was over product design and over design, and totally just jumped and be like, "I'm going to be a filmmaker," and has been making really fascinating indie films for a few years now. And he's our video editor on the team.
And it's so interesting. Nash's background, she had a brief stint at NBC. But again, you get to know her and she writes poems after hours and her dream is to write a fictional book. I mean, anyone that knows Nash, especially [inaudible 01:00:00] is just a force. A force. And the three of them, what's so interesting about them, which also relates to our design team ... One of the things I also found at Facebook is there was a tendency toward homogeneity. As you know, there's a stereotype of a Facebook PM for example, or a Google PM, the contrast between them and the way they work. And one of the things we also have purposely done on the storytelling team and otherwise, let's hire radically different archetypes. Ellis cannot be more different than Nash. Nash cannot be more different than Josh. There's some shared values, there's some shared beliefs, but they're very different.
Ditto on the design team. Our design team? They are all over the place in terms of who they are, what they've done, their sensibilities, their aspirations. And whether it's the storytelling team or the design team, that can be hard sometimes, just to be honest. It's a lot easier to say, "Hey, we're the Acme Co storytelling team, we're Acme Co design team. We hire designers like this and storytellers that." We hire people all over the place. We have an extremely diverse team, but in all senses of the word. But again, the no PM thing, it's not without flaws. I can see why a lot of large companies over time tend are like, "It's the Facebook way or no way," or "You're not good for here."
Yeah. It's actually I think, exact makeup of Airbnb video team. I forget what they were called. They didn't have a cool name, the storytelling team I think. But it was a videographer, an editor and then their producer, basically.
Josh Miller (01:01:26):
Yeah. I mean, I remember going to Airbnb's offices early in my career and seeing the storyboards lining the walls and just being like, "I want to work here." So, I'm actually not familiar with the ... I mean, I'm familiar with Airbnb's videos and brand marketing, fucking fantastic, excuse my language. But, yeah. I remember just walking around that office being like, "Oh, my goodness! Are they making a movie or something? I want to [inaudible 01:01:53] here."
Funny you say that. And for folks that want to find that, we'll link to it in show notes. But if you Google "Snow White Airbnb," you'll actually see these storyboards. They basically hired a Pixar storyboard artist to draw out key frames of the journey of a host and a guest. And that became a central element of the strategy of, let's make each of these moments as amazing as possible. And it was based on the movie Snow White. You can read about it.
Josh Miller (01:02:15):
For what it's worth, this is a great moment to share. All of the beliefs that I've shared here on behalf of our team, these aren't things that we just originally came up with. They're moments like when I went to Airbnb's office early in my career and saw these Snow White storyboards lining the walls. That had an impact on me. Even the idea that you would think in terms of that moment, you could actually see the lineage to, well, how do you want that person to feel when they open that door for the first time? So, I think it's just a great moment to shout out that we've accumulated a lot of doses of inspiration, like that day at Airbnb, that trickle down to us talking about optimizing for feelings. But that didn't come in a vacuum. That's our expression of what we've seen in the industry. This is building on the backs of so many people and companies that we've been fortunate to see.
And now the trickling is happening from your lessons and experience and your unique approach.
Josh Miller (01:03:07):
I hope. There's a documentary that I highly recommend called General Magic. And it's one of the best pieces of media I've seen related to technology industry. And it's really interesting. I think there are two types of people to just be very ... There are people that watch that and view it as, "Wow! What a missed opportunity," or almost like a sad story. And I view it as, "If only we could be so lucky to assemble a group of people like that." And the thing about that documentary, for anyone that hasn't listened to it is, essentially was the iPhone before the iPhone, with the most legendary group of technologists working there. And it totally failed, completely failed by all traditional business definitions.
But, what stuck with me from the documentary, how proud and nostalgic and passionate those individuals were in reminiscing about their time there. And then, what they all went on to create. And the fact that even today on this podcast, I'm sitting here talking about General Magic. So, I mean, to your point of hopefully Browser Company will have ripple effects. That to me is the ultimate goal, for me personally, at a very emotional level. If we could only be so lucky. That, to me, seems like success in many ways.
Yeah. What's cool is you're getting a lot of footage that will be very useful for a future documentary on the history of The Browser Company.
Josh Miller (01:04:30):
[inaudible 01:04:30] I didn't think about it like that, for better or worse.
One last thought, I was going to mention it in terms of the storytelling movie-making elements of Airbnb. Fun fact, there was a period where product managers were actually called producers, because one of the founders was like, "We don't want to manage product, we want to produce beautiful experiences," like a movie producer. And so that was a year and a half maybe of Airbnb's history, where product managers were producers. The problem is, we got a lot of job applicants from Emmy-winning producers and they're like, "oh, I want to work at Airbnb."
Josh Miller (01:05:01):
I know this podcast is about very tactical advice. So, one tactical piece of advice I'll give is, whether or not you like the idea of the storytelling team or something else, a byproduct of some of these experiments that we've found works really well is when you give something a new name, it sheds a lot of preconceived notions of what the thing should be. We found that even with product. So if you say you're building a browser history feature, then the benefit is everyone knows what you're talking about. And the downside is, everyone knows what you're talking about. And you show up with these preconceived notions of what it has to be. And so, if you go back again to revalue ask what could be ... In many ways the point of calling the team, the storytelling team or the membership team, or not having PMs as an organization ... All of this stuff isn't meant to be novelty for novelty's sake. It's meant to almost be a rhetorical tactic, to make people think truly first principles about what are we trying to do here?
And again, if at the end, producers are called PMs, that's fine. But I assume when it was called a producer, a much more intentionality was given to you communicating and talking and discussing, what does a producer do? What's their relationship with design? Because no one knew what the heck a producer was. And so, ultimately, that may have been failure in other ways. But that's one of the things we found tactically to be really helpful is, whether it's a product feature or a team, or whatever, give it a made up name just to really get to the root of what you're trying to do there. Or not borrow too much from wherever you worked before, whatever you've seen, popular media or whatever.
I love that. And it's very undo ... Like, you've got to undo it. It was-
Josh Miller (01:06:41):
It's a two-way door. And I like just the vision, the value you have of just prototyping things and whatever. It didn't work. Let's go back to what everyone else is doing. You mentioned great product and there was something I definitely wanted to chat a bit about, which is just, there's this group of companies who are just focused on, "Let's just build the most amazing product experience." And I feel like The Browser Company is at the forefront in a lot of this. But it's like you guys, Linear, Raycast is this product, Cron. There's probably a few more and I'd love to actually hear if there's others that I'm not thinking about. That are just obsessed with the user experience and less focused on drive metrics, drive revenue.
And I'm curious, just where do you think this goes? What's your take on this trend? Why isn't every company thinking this way? Or is this just like, "We don't know if this is a good idea in the end?" So what's your take on this cohort of just like, "We're just going to build the best possible product and hope it all works out,"?
Josh Miller (01:07:41):
Yeah. Well, I'll say first, I love those products, or many of those products you mentioned. There's some I haven't really used. But, for example, our company runs on Linear, and has run on Linear since day one. So, I'm a big fan of that. So, the way that we think about it is ... So, I actually spent two years at a venture capital firm as an investor, called Thrive Capital. They've invested in Slack and GitHub and a lot of really transformative companies. But I was an investor there. I was a venture capitalist. It even feels weird to say that. And I learned a lot. A lot. A lot. A lot from that experience. It has made me, I think, a better CEO and a better product leader. And one of the things I learned is different ideas, product ideas, business ideas, company ideas come with different attributes and things that will matter to their success.
And so, when thinking about starting The Browser Company and picking this category of software, Hursch and I were incredibly intentional about what that would mean for what would need to matter for our company. And so, if you think about the web browser category, traditionally ... I'm not saying forward facing, I'm not saying it is what we are doing. But, if you were to look backwards and take The Browser Company out of it, and look at the web browser category, you'd notice a few things. The first is, it's actually one of the most consumer pieces of software out there. People forget that. That's the opportunity to us. If you ask someone in the street, "What's your web browser? What do you think?" They either won't know or they won't care, "[inaudible 01:09:15]. I don't know."
But what pieces of software do your parents, do your little nieces and nephews and you use? What's at the center of that Venn diagram? Your parents hopefully don't use TikTok and Instagram, or probably don't. Your nieces and nephews, I hope don't have a reason for email at the tender age of 16, or a calendar. And a web browser's one of the few things in the middle. So it's an incredibly universal piece of software consumer, unlike very few other things outside of a smartphone and messaging, and maybe video calling in 2023 and a web browser. So, it's very consumer, very universal.
The second attribute is, it's a commodity. I'm not saying that Arc is a commodity or we want it to be, but objectively web browsers are interchangeable. They all do the same thing. Increasingly, they're literally just carbon copies of the exact same code chromium, with little tweaks, little tweaks around the edges. So, they're all the same. It's a commodity market. And they're unbelievably lucrative. Browsers print cash. There is a reason why they're owned primarily by Google, Apple and Microsoft. They're incredibly high margin, they're incredibly lucrative. Low marginal costs. The cost of revenue is incredibly low, et cetera, et cetera.
So we have a product that everyone in the world uses, where they're all identical, essentially, interchangeable commodities. And if you can get people to use it, you're going to print money. So, the attributes of that business and that product category mean, you have to win on how much do people love your product and feel an emotional connection to it, and choose your brand, your product over the other, almost not rationally, but emotionally. And so, if you tie that back to everything I've said before, bingo! That is what we want to work on. That's what we want. We want to create emotional connection with people. We're creating that emotional connection with as many people as possible and delighting them with surprises and animations, is the way you win. It's not romantic, it is practical. In many ways it's capitalistic. This is how we win this market if you want to think about it that way.
So, the reason I hesitate to answer your question directly is, I don't think that applies to every category of software. And to be totally honest, I don't know enough about the ticketing space or the calendaring space or the whatever other space to know, honestly, off the cuff, if that approach is good for those industries. As a human being, at the other end, I'm really grateful that they picked some reason to do it, whether or not it is part of their business strategy or not. It's a really wonderful trend as a human at the other end that cares about feelings. But I would say, we actually think about it not as a, "We're focusing on the user experience over revenue or growth." We, in fact, picked a category of software we're focusing on brand and user experience is how you get growth and revenue.
And, because we knew that this is who we are, and if we were building cybersecurity software that you sell to government agencies, they are not going to give a shit about rounded edges, or what color the button is, or how surprised you feel with every member update. So, we didn't build cybersecurity software to sell to the government. So, I hope that more people build things at the craft bar of something like Linear, but that's how we think about it, is less of a "this versus that," and more "could we pick something we're going to work on, where that's how you win."
I think that's a really powerful insight, that for consumer software especially, and for commoditized consumer software especially, experience is a differentiator. You need to give people a reason to even try it, and then end up sticking with it when there's awesome alternatives. And so, just an obsession with the experience is a really smart strategy. If you get that right, people use it and continue to use it and you win.
Josh Miller (01:13:13):
I've seen this with a lot of ... And COVID is, I'm sure everyone listening, has a lot of the remote-work collaboration tools. A lot of them obsess, to their credit, over really interesting design details and product feature concepts that were imaginative and brought people together in new ways. And then the latency of the video of the audio audio was horrible, because they relied on some third-party API that was significantly worse than Zoom. And so, that's a great example where in that market, that category software, you better nail latency. I think a great example of this ... One of my favorite products these days, but past years is Tuple. It's ostensibly a paired programming tool that just lives in your menu bar. I'm not paired program with anyone. It is the fastest way to talk to someone at your company. And they have an unbelievably simple user experience.
The designer, based in Lyon, France, is incredible. It's a beautifully designed product. And it is the best audio quality I have ever experienced in a communication tool. Better than Zoom. So, that exact same product with all their craft details, sand latency, not going to do it. But also Tuple wouldn't have beat a lot of the other competitors for me if it wasn't unbelievably beautiful and easy and simple to use as well. So again, I think it's like, what are the attributes you need to win and picking a market that the ones that you want to excel at and work on, are key to that.
And also how much better you need to be. Like, if there's a 20% better than Chrome product, people are just going, "That's fine. I don't need to learn something new and everyone's using something else. I'm just going to have all these problems." So, you got to be significantly better. And that's a high bar for consumer products. Final question I wanted to touch on. You talked about the big vision for Arc and The Browser Company. And you mentioned this idea of the internet computer. And this is another question Scott Belsky suggested. By the way, Scott is the CPO of Adobe and just an awesome product-thinker person. And he just wanted to make sure that we touch on this, because I think there's a big idea here that maybe people don't realize. So, if you could just give us a brief overview of, what is just the actual vision and plan for The Browser Company and Arc, long term as a final question?
Josh Miller (01:15:19):
Yeah. So, we call it The Browser Company of New York almost as a misdirection, because as you know from the intro, we view Arc as a replacement for your default web browser, but we're hoping it will be much more. And so, to start at the highest level and bring it down to reality, one of the things that I've done many times in my career already is underestimate pretty foundational changes in how we use technology. I've appreciated them but underestimated them. Great example is mobile. I think me and Hursh's first company would've been much more successful if we really appreciated the tidal wave that was mobile. And I think one of those macro trends we're underestimating right now is the shift to cloud computing. The shift to the internet, which may sound weird because every big public company mentions Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services. You hear about cloud, cloud, cloud and cloud. But again, that's this business term.
What I mean by the shift to cloud computing is, everything in our technology, in our computing lives is moving to the internet. It has been moving, but it's going to move even more. And what I mean by that is, your applications are almost all today web-based, internet-based applications. And they will all be soon. There's very, very few pieces of truly local-only software or even local-first software left. All of our files are moving to the internet, if they're not all already there. So if you really think about your files today, and again you ignore the word "files," the stuff you need for work in your personal life. They're not sitting on your desktop, they're all URLs. It may be an air quote "PDF," but that PDF is probably out on Dropbox somewhere and you're accessing it as a URL.
Your photos may seem like they're on your iPhone. They're not on your iPhone, they're on some iCloud server somewhere. When you get a new iPhone, they'll be right there. The manifestation of that actually is, if you smash your device that you're listening to this on right now, whether it's a phone or computer, other than being sad that you lost the resale value and there's a chore of replacing it and a cost of replacing it, you would not lose any of your stuff. So, imagine in five years our entire computing lives are not on our devices, on our computers, on our phones. They're out there somewhere. They're out in the internet, they're out in the cloud, which begs the question ... I remember when I was 10 and I got my first computer. It was a see-through iMac. And I wonder ... My son is two. When he's 10, what will his computer be?
[NEW_PARAGRAPH]And I mean computer not in the technical ... Again, going back to words and the words that we use. I don't mean computer in the literal sense of my MacBook Air, but computer in the human sense of, what you need from your computer, your stuff, your applications and tools that people ... Where is that going to be? Where is his computer going to be? I think it's obvious at this point that we're going to have airflow computers everywhere. We already do. My car has CarPlay, my TV is a computer, my laptop is a computer. I think that's going to be even more true in five years, where hardware is commoditizing. And it will commoditize even more. They're becoming empty shells that don't have anything on it. They're just vessels. They're just interfaces to viewing our real computer, which is out there on the internet somewhere. And so, our view is that what we are building at The Browser Company is an internet computer, is a air quote "computer," where the move to the internet and move to the cloud accelerates and continues the tsunami as much as we think it will.
And the way we represent that is, we say we want to be to the web browser, what the iPhone was to the cell phone. Yes. The iPhone replaced your cell phone, but it really was something much more. And so, we want Arc to be the iPhone for the internet, and that yes, it replaces your default browser. But whether or not we call it the internet computer or something else, it really is that interface, this new type of computer. If you play that one step forward, then what we're building today is, we're building our equivalent of multi-touch gestures and the first party-notes app. But, on any new computer, any computer or computing device, the developer platform itself is much more interesting and lucrative and world changing than the first-party computer itself. And so, we have no doubt that in the next decade, if we're successful, if we still exist, Arc as a development platform is going to be much more central to what we're doing, building on top of these internet computers, ours and others than anything else.
So to bring that down from reality. If you think about it, the internet, the web, is really the best development platform out there in many ways. It is accessible on every single device. It doesn't matter who makes it or the shape and size. It is free to access for individuals. You don't need money to access it. It's free for developers. You don't have to pay a license to use it. There's no 30% tax on what you make. And it's democratic. The best frameworks can win. And so, in many ways, if you were to say, "Hey, in this future we want to see, what is the platform that we should be developing on top of, what has the best attributes?" The web has that. And that's why you're seeing today. Why do you think Figma is in the web browser?
Why do you think Figma's blog post was "Meet us in the Web Browser"? Because as the development platform, developers cross platform in one click. There's no tax. Everyone should want to and wants to make for the web. The challenge, though, is there's an experience gap. Native software feels better for whatever reason. And the problem is the people that control our interfaces to this development platform that is the web, that is the internet, have incentives to keep it from being as good as local software, from truly native, immersive software. Apple? They don't want you making web apps or applications for the web. They want you making them for the Mac and the iPhone so they can taxi you when you do it through the app store. And also surprisingly, Google doesn't want you making stuff, more native and immersive for the air quote "Web," because they want it to be indexed by their search engine.
So, there's a reason that the Chrome extension platform is one of the most underutilized opportunities. They view it as a loss leader. They built chrome extensions just so they could have parity with Firefox. They don't want you making extensions, because you have some immersive extension experience that's not something that you could index in Google. And that's taking away from doing searches. And so, I think we look at this and say, everything is heading to the internet, which means we need interfaces to the internet that are truly more robust than a browser, that are more of a computer. And if we do that, then the most interesting opportunity on top of that is actually the things other people were built on top of this development platform. And if you look at this development platform, which exists today, the worldwide web, the open internet, what is missing is an interface and a set of capabilities and APIs to make web-based experiences as immersive and rich and powerful as native experiences, which require that interface to the internet to provide those.
And our interfacers to the internet today are the web browser companies. They have perverse business model incentives as big public companies that have lost the soul of the founders, that they don't want to do that. They don't want to do that. So it doesn't mean we're going to do it. And in fact one of them may win. And I actually think that this is something [inaudible 01:22:51]. We're trying to sell anyone in our vision. We feel fully confident there are going to be many types of internet computers and Arc may or may not be one of them. But we feel very confident that that is the future and the development platform on top of the web and the internet, and these new interfaces will be the most exciting opportunity.
My next question was going to be how do you make money with a browser, which people get for free, really well? And now it makes a lot more sense where y'all are going. And so, with that, we have reached our very exciting lightning round. I've got six questions for you. Are you ready?
Josh Miller (01:23:26):
Okay. So, ready? What are two or three books that you recommend most to other people?
Josh Miller (01:23:34):
Harold and the Purple Crayon, Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, which is a book about Robert Irwin. That's my number one PM book. So, if you're asking from the perspective of the disciplines of people listening, that book is absolutely fantastic. And then God Saved Texas by Lawrence Wright, who's one of my favorite authors, who if you're interested in road trips, politics, food, culture. So, three very different types of books.
What's a favorite recent movie or TV show?
Josh Miller (01:24:01):
The first TV show episode I've cried from in recent memories, episode three of The Last of Us. I thought I was watching a zombie violence thing and I just was sitting there bawling. So that one. And then I've been re-watching all of the Adam Curtis documentaries on YouTube. I'm a huge Adam Curtis fan.
I have not heard of Adam Curtis. I will have to go check that out.
Josh Miller (01:24:23):
Hyper-normalization is my favorite. And I would view his work as less non-fictional documentaries and more video art.
There's been a meme of everyone saying White Lotus is the show to watch. And I feel like it's about to transition to Last of Us. And so we will see how that goes.
Josh Miller (01:24:40):
Can I get it first? Was I the first guest to say it?
I think you might be actually. I forget, but I think you might be.
Josh Miller (01:24:45):
All right. Well, I'll say episode three, specifically.
Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. People love that one. But every episode's awesome. Next question. Favorite interview question you like to ask people when you're interviewing them?
Josh Miller (01:24:56):
What would you like to ask me? That seems like a non-answer, but my interviews at Browser Company are all, "Ask me anything," and I find what people ask, and how they follow up, is as revealing about who they are and what they care about than anything I could ask them.
What is it that you look for in an answer that tells you, okay, this is a good candidate?
Josh Miller (01:25:17):
Authenticity, probably more than anything else. Do they really believe what they're saying?
Awesome. What are some SASS products that your company uses and loves, other than ... ? I don't know if you consider our SASS, but probably not. So, yeah.
Josh Miller (01:25:29):
I want to plug Tuple. I think I'm going to put everything on Tuple, relative to ... We run on Notion, we love Notion, we love Linear. But I'd say the closet hit that I just cannot believe is not a hundred times larger company is Tuple. It is ostensibly a pair programming tool, but don't go in with that mindset. Go in with, "I need to talk to a colleague right now," or "a couple of colleagues right now, to do some work together," and it is absolutely fantastic.
I love it. I love these products I've never heard of that are super cool. We will link to that. Next question. What's something relatively minor you've changed in how you build product, that has had a significant impact in your team's ability to ship and execute?
Josh Miller (01:26:11):
This past January, a couple months ago, we have started removing me from a lot of the product development process, which seems to be really healthy. So, that has been the big shift this year.
That's a big transition. I went through that at Airbnb and it's great. It's great for everyone. Final question. Best pro-tip for using Arc, that people may not be aware of?
Josh Miller (01:26:32):
Try your best to not think of it as a browser. And have a beginner's mind about how it works and how you might use the internet.
Whoa! Big idea.
Josh Miller (01:26:42):
Yeah. Big takeaway from this conversation, we got to get much better at describing what the heck we built. And why it's good for you. So, I'm not proud of my first or last answer, but it is what it is.
And, actually, I mentioned this in the intro and if you listen to this already, you probably heard it already, but we're going to link ... In the show notes, we'll have a link to actually get into Arc, because right now it's wait-listed and we have this link that will get you straight into Arc. And so go check it out. Josh, you've shown up with heartfelt intensity. I feel like I want to go apply for a job at The Browser Company now. But you're not hiring product managers, so I'm not going to do that. Just kidding. Thank you so much for being here, for being so genuine and insightful and warm. And thank you.
Josh Miller (01:27:29):
Thank you so much, Lenny. I really enjoyed this.
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