Sept. 25, 2022

Growth tactics, retention strategies, and becoming a better writer | Julian Shapiro (Demand Curve, Hyper, Webflow, TechCrunch)

Growth tactics, retention strategies, and becoming a better writer | Julian Shapiro (Demand Curve, Hyper, Webflow, TechCrunch)

Julian Shapiro is widely known as the founder of Demand Curve, where he’s helped thousands of companies figure out their growth strategy. He also wrote the growth marketing column at TechCrunch, was CMO at Webflow, and even created an animation engine called Velocity that’s now used in apps like Uber and WhatsApp. In today’s episode, Julian dives deep on product-led acquisition (PLA) and why he believes it’s the best way to grow your company. He shares specific marketing strategies for growth and retention and speaks about his framework for creating novel, engaging content, and how to choose topics for that content. He also discusses a framework called the Curiosity Faucet, inspired by prolific creators such as Ed Sheeran, John Mayer, Taylor Swift, and Neil Gaiman, to help you unlock your own creativity.

Where to find Julian Shapiro:

• Twitter: https://twitter.com/Julian

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/julian-shapiro/

• Website: https://www.julian.com/

Where to find Lenny:

• Newsletter: https://www.lennysnewsletter.com

• Twitter: https://twitter.com/lennysan

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennyrachitsky/

Thank you to our wonderful sponsors for making this episode possible:

• Amplitude: https://amplitude.com/

• Flatfile: https://www.flatfile.com/lenny

• Eppo: https://www.geteppo.com/

Referenced:

• Paul Graham’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/paulg

• Julian’s guide on startup growth channels: https://www.julian.com/guide/startup/growth-channels

• Topic selection: https://www.julian.com/guide/write/ideas

• Product-led acquisition: https://www.julian.com/guide/startup/product-led-acquisition

• Novelty: https://www.julian.capital/growth-strategy/content-marketing

• Julian’s example of counter-narrative novelty: https://twitter.com/julian/status/1348001396277186560

• Julian’s example of counterintuitive novelty: https://twitter.com/julian/status/1348001397753532416  

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction:   https://www.amazon.com/Writing-Well-Classic-Guide-Nonfiction/dp/0060891548/

• Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling: https://www.masterclass.com/classes/neil-gaiman-teaches-the-art-of-storytelling

• Ed Sheeran, Songwriter: https://music.apple.com/us/music-movie/songwriter/1411353855

• John Mayer describes his songwriting process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cNRDWEXnrQ

In this episode, we cover:

(03:42) Julian’s background

(04:46) Why Julian hasn’t been tweeting frequently

(07:43) Advice for building a Twitter following

(09:53) The main reason Julian creates handbooks

(11:33) The difference between e-handbooks and newsletters

(13:25) What is product-led acquisition?

(16:20) The categories of product-led acquisition

(22:31) What is billboarding, and how can you take advantage of it?

(25:56) UGC—leveraging user-generated content for free advertising

(29:33) Strategies for retaining users

(38:36) How to keep novelty high in writing

(45:50) Julian’s framework for choosing writing topics

(54:35) The creativity faucet—how to unclog your pipes and get it going

Production and marketing by https://penname.co/. For inquiries about sponsoring the podcast, email podcast@lennyrachitsky.com.



Get full access to Lenny's Newsletter at www.lennysnewsletter.com/subscribe
Transcript

Julian Shapiro (00:00):

Why do good ideas arrive after the bad ideas are empty? It's because when you've gone through a bunch of bad ideas, your brain, your mind starts reflexively identifying what elements are causing the badness. Then it becomes way better at avoiding those bad elements and you become way better at pattern matching the novel ideas with way greater intuition. Most creators are resisting their bad ideas. If you sat down, scribbled a few thoughts in a blank document and just walked away because you weren't struck with gold, then you never actually finished the creative process. There's no way you would've come up with gold.

Lenny (00:37):

Welcome to Lenny's Podcast. I'm Lenny, and my goal here is to help you get better at the craft of building and growing products. I interview world class product leaders, and growth experts to learn from their hard-won experiences building and scaling today's most successful companies today. My guest is Julian Shapiro. I actually spend a bunch of time introducing the wondrous Julian at the beginning of the episode. Instead, let me just share some of the things that we talk about. We get into a framework he calls product-led acquisition, which is work that has come out of his working with thousands of companies, helping to figure out their growth strategies.

(01:10):

We get into ways to increase your product's retention. Then we talk a lot about writing, the importance of novelty in your writing, how to choose a topic when you plan to write, and then a framework that Julian calls the Creativity Faucet. Julian is such a fascinating human, and I'm really excited to bring you this episode. With that, I bring you Julian Shapiro. I'm excited to chat with my friend John Cutler from podcast sponsor Amplitude. Hey, John.

John Cutler (01:37):

Hey, Lenny. Excited to be here.

Lenny (01:39):

John, give us a behind the scenes at Amplitude. When most people think of Amplitude, they think of product analytics. But now you're getting into experimentation and even just launched a CDP. What's the thought process there?

John Cutler (01:50):

Well, we've always thought of Amplitude as being about supporting the full product loop. Think collect data, inform that, ship experiments, and learn. That's the heart of growth to us. The big aha was seeing how many customers we're using Amplitude to analyze experiments, use segments for outreach, and send data to other destinations. Experiment in CDP came out of listening to and observing our customers.

Lenny (02:11):

Supporting growth and learning has always been Amplitude's core focus, right?

John Cutler (02:15):

Yeah. Amplitude tries to meet customers where they are. We just launched starter templates and have a great scholarship program for startups. There's never been a more important time for growth.

Lenny (02:24):

Absolutely agree. Thanks for joining us, John, and head to Amplitude.com to get started. Hey, Ashley, head of marketing and Flatfile. How many B2B SaaS companies would you estimate need to import CSV files from their customers?

Ashley (02:38):

At least 40%.

Lenny (02:40):

How many of them screw that up and what happens when they do?

Ashley (02:42):

Well? Based on our data, about a third of people will consider switching to another company after just one bad experience during onboarding. If your CSV importer doesn't work right, which is super common, considering customer files are chock- full of unexpected data and formatting, they'll leave.

Lenny (03:03):

I am 0% surprised to hear that. I've consistently seen that improving onboarding is one of the highest leverage opportunities for both signup conversion and increasing long-term retention. Getting people to your aha moment more quickly and reliably is so incredibly important.

Ashley (03:17):

Totally. It's incredible to see how our customers like Square, Spotify, and Zuora are able to grow their businesses on top of Flatfile. It's because flawless data onboarding acts like a catalyst to get them and their customers where they need to go faster.

Lenny (03:34):

If you'd like to learn more or get started, check out flat file at flatfile.com/lenny. Julian Shapiro is what I'd call a polymath of the internet. He's an amazing writer, marketer and growth mind, investor, community builder, podcaster, tweeter. He's also an expert on building muscle. He's maybe most known for being the founder of Demand Curve, a YC startup that trains people on growth and marketing. Prior to that, he was a part-time columnist at TechCrunch. He was also VP of marketing at Webflow, which I had no idea about.

(04:09):

He also created a JavaScript web animation engine that is used by Uber and WhatsApp and Samsung and thousands of companies. Currently he is a full-time investor with his own fund and as a partner at Hyper. He's also one of the most hilarious and generous humans that I know. With that, Julian, welcome to the podcast.

Julian Shapiro (04:28):

This is the greatest honor of my life. Thank you.

Lenny (04:31):

Wow!

Julian Shapiro (04:32):

I'm crying from that intro. Very nice of you.

Lenny (04:35):

That's the idea. This is the greatest honor of my life. We match.

Julian Shapiro (04:40):

Excellent. We'll cancel each other out and we'll see how interesting this is.

Lenny (04:43):

That's right. There's a lot of hype. I know you have something like 250,000 Twitter followers. You're very good at Twitter, but I've noticed that you've only tweeted three times this past year. What is going on there?

Julian Shapiro (04:58):

There's a few things in parallel. One is a lot of people are writing threads and I found this to be very cringe. They're like these fortune cookie threads like here's 21 ways to rework your startup or something. I found them all cringe. What they actually do when you write that stuff is they attract people who think that's valuable information, and then they cause people who you actually want to follow you to unfollow you. I remember just seeing people unfollow me early days of threads when no one was doing them and I was experimenting. They were pissing off people that I actually cared to have dialogue with.

(05:36):

I kind of lost the momentum and enthusiasm for writing that sort of stuff. And now I'm only writing anything when it's basically a reflection or a condensed version of a blog post that I happen to be writing from my website. I know it's high quality. I know it's original. I know it's thoughtful. It's not for the click bait. That was part of it. The other thing is that it's kind of like too... Here's a mental model for thinking about the quality of your followers. You have people who follow you for the quality of your brain, and you have people who follow you for sort of you being a glorified curator. If they're following you for being a curator, they're sort of what I call labor followers.

(06:16):

They're following you for the work that you're doing, where you're finding cool, funny memes. You're posting cool, funny jokes. You're doing these fortune cookie threads. In contrast, if they're following you for your mind, which is category one, it means they're following you for the original thoughts and insights and takes that you have on the world. Someone like Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, is doing original takes. He's not trying to write threads for the sake of gaining followers. He's trying to write interesting novel ideas. When he does that, he strengthens the affinity that his followers have for him and his mind, because like, "Wow! That was an original interesting take."

(06:49):

They're following you for your mind, not for the labor you're doing, putting together a virtual Buzzfeed to count on Twitter. When people follow you for your mind, when they're mind followers, not labor followers, higher affinity means more loyalty, means they pay closer attention to what you're saying. And if you actually try to get them to do something with you, you have an event offline, there's something you're selling, there's a cause you care about, they're way more likely to indulge.

(07:12):

Whereas if they're following you for your labor, you're interchangeable with all these other meme accounts and there's no real affinity for you as the individual. I just care more about the quality of the follower than I do the volume.

Lenny (07:23):

I love that. That's such a good reminder, not to just focus on follower, follower, follower. I'm curious if someone... You have a lot of followers at this point and it's just so valuable to have Twitter followers. I've learned for me, anytime I have a question about anything, I just ask and I get so many amazing answers from people. There's this power to having a large following. I'm curious while we're on this topic, if you're just starting out on Twitter, do you have any advice for someone that's just thinking about building their following?

Julian Shapiro (07:50):

I mean, generally speaking, threads, despite everything I've said, are the primary way to get followers. There's a reason why people do threads as opposed to single tweets is because when people get exposure to a thread, they're basically getting exposure to the length of thoughts equivalent to you having sent a newsletter edition or a blog post in many cases. The more exposure, the more surface area you have, the more you give people of your brain in a single tweet, the more they're able to confirm that what you're sharing is actually a consistency from you.

(08:21):

Whereas if you just tweet one clever thing, they're like, "Oh, that's probably just a drop in the bucket. Who knows if that person can consistently generate clever stuff?" But in a long thread where it's 30 tweets and they're all good, they're like, "Whoa! This person is a machine. If I follow them reliably, I'll get more great stuff." It reaffirms to readers they should follow you, which is why threads trigger more follows. Basically you do want to do threads, frankly, and that's the backbone of it. Threads with very clickbaity opening tweets kind of how it works.

(08:52):

You can also port followers over from other places like your website and newsletter, just to start giving yourself an initial sample audience through which the threads can actually take fire pretty much.

Lenny (09:02):

Awesome. I wasn't expecting to go into Twitter as strategy, but this is interesting because you're really good at it. As you've said, your stuff is actually very thoughtful. It's not just a thirsty Twitter thread trying to find followers and retweets. Thanks for sharing that.

Julian Shapiro (09:18):

Well, it sort of started that way, because me and a few other friends of mine, I felt like we were the first people doing threads at scale. And then when we realized what it turned into, that's when we just stopped.

Lenny (09:28):

I love that. I know what you mean about these cringy Twitter threads. Anyway, what I want to do is instead of asking a bunch of random questions is to focus on five big topics and kind of go deep on these topics. These are topics that are maybe most popular of the stuff that you've put out across your handbooks and writing and courses and things like that and also things that I've found to be most interesting. Does that sound good?

Julian Shapiro (09:51):

Yeah, I would love to.

Lenny (09:53):

Cool. First, a little context, you write these super in depth handbooks on a bunch of different topics on growth and writing and muscle building and things like that. First of all, could you just explain what these handbooks are and why you create them?

Julian Shapiro (10:05):

They're forcing functions for me to hold myself accountable and to be thorough when learning something for my own benefit. That's all they are. Basically if I want to go learn growth or writing well or some other topic, I will go ahead and do a ton of research, read everything I can get my hands on, do a ton of experimentation to try to build a set of novel insights that you couldn't find from other people's research hopefully, and then the next stage is try to make it as concise and actionable as possible so that I can reference it for my own selfish benefit. Here's my guidebook for myself on writing better blog posts, for example.

(10:40):

And then by the time I've done that work, what usually happens is its only like, I'm going to make up a number here, an extra 30 hours of work to make it palatable and digestible for the public. If I've done all this work privately, why not make it accessible publicly? At that point, it winds up being acquisition fodder for essentially building an audience and distributing my thoughts further. That's why I do that. But the thing that I pride myself on with them is by no means are they thoroughly unique, but in every one there's a lot of original stuff folks on average have never heard of before.

(11:14):

And that's what I'm proud of, is coming up with those insights between the lines that make that thing, whatever the topic is, much more approachable. I've succeeded, in my view, if I've made something that people often mistakenly think of as overwhelmingly complex very simple for them to follow. I think that's where the dopamine hit comes from for them.

Lenny (11:34):

Well, my experience, you definitely hit the nail in my head with the handbooks you put out. It's an interesting middle ground between a newsletter and a book. It's cool to just have a digital way of doing that, of just kind of consolidating a bunch of ideas and going really in depth, but not having to write a book. Well, speaking of the contract there.

Julian Shapiro (11:51):

You have a very large newsletter that goes very in depth. That arguably is a more valuable asset than my handbooks for someone building an audience, because the newsletter has this built-in form of retention recurrence, where they get pinged in their inbox when you have new content, and then it becomes a referable thing and people refer each other and then they sign up for the newsletter. I do love the emphasis on longform via newsletter, but the reason I do it on the web is, and we'll talk about the trade-offs in a second, is it's much more digestible and referencable.

(12:24):

No one's going to go refer to the epic guide in their email inbox that's very hard to navigate for building muscle or something. One, it's a UX decision. Two, I get the SEO traffic, which you don't. And then three, it's basically a living asset that I can keep updating over time. It's not stuck in someone's inbox and getting printed out. One of the things that might separate me from other writers, at least many other writers online, is I'm spending as many hours going back and rewriting old blog posts and handbooks as I am writing ones.

(12:55):

If you come back to anything I've written over the course of a year or year and a half, it'll be updated, because I consider everything I write to be evergreen. I avoid writing things that I feel like are a drop in the pan, just like talking about a trend or something, something very newsy. I avoid that altogether and I'm just interested in writing stuff that'll be relevant for a long time.

Lenny (13:13):

I didn't know that. That is very cool. I love that you do that. You should make that clear. That's so interesting that this is not stale. Last updated, last week. I don't know if you already do that.

Julian Shapiro (13:21):

Yeah, no, I actually don't and I probably should. People have complained to me that I haven't, so maybe I will one day.

Lenny (13:25):

All right. We got a good idea out of this, if nothing else.

Julian Shapiro (13:28):

There you go.

Lenny (13:28):

Okay. The first idea that I want to chat about is something that you call product-led acquisition. I believe it's the most popular page in any of your handbooks. It comes from you working with thousands of companies to help them figure out their growth strategies through Demand Curve. I'm curious to hear what this concept is and how people can use it to help their products grow.

Julian Shapiro (13:51):

Product-led acquisition to your audience will be more commonly known as product-led growth, but I think product-led growth is a bit of a misnomer. It's often used, as you know, to basically refer to SaaS companies who are using self-serve sales funnels where a salesperson isn't required, right? Bypassing sales and allowing the product to grow itself. That's fine. But I think the term we really care about as growth marketers is product-led acquisition, meaning the use of the product grows the product. For example, if I'm using PayPal and I'm sending $1,000 to somebody else, there is no way they will not create a PayPal account to accept the $1,000.

(14:31):

By me trying to use PayPal in its everyday intention and me getting value out of it to settle a debt, I'm automatically enticing someone else, very strongly so, to also become a PayPal customer. That's product-led acquisition. There's a few different categories I've identified, and I think the reason why people like this part of this article I wrote is because it's, in my opinion, the absolute best way to grow any startup. If your startup can grow via product-led acquisition, not all can, maybe some are enterprise-base and all they're going to make work is sales, then it is by far the best way to grow because zero marginal cost to have users invite other users.

(15:12):

It's scalable. It creates network graphs typically and has compounding effects there in terms of both moats and the ability to acquire more customers quickly. Basically to the point I just mentioned is basically viral. The other interesting thing here is there are far fewer dependencies. Let's say your company primarily grows via content and SEO, where you're at the mercy of Google releasing an algorithmic update let's say twice a year, which occasionally will absolutely tank your traffic and most people know what I mean by that if they've experienced that. It's awful.

(15:41):

Or ff you're a paid acquisition-led company, as opposed to a content-led acquisition company, meaning you're running Facebook Ads, let's just stick a Facebook for now, Facebook and Instagram, you're also at the mercy of the volatility of CPMs and whatever weird updates Facebook introduces or whatever targeting options they suddenly remove. Your entire acquisition strategy is anchored on something that is completely out of your hands and very volatile. Product-led acquisition is like the better you craft your product and the incentive structures for existing users inviting other users, that's entirely in your control and the better you grow.

(16:19):

That's the quick context. Now, I'll go into some examples. We started with the example of... Actually one thing that came to mind that I love is Paul Graham, who we mentioned earlier, Paul Graham from YC, has this quote which is "don't start a startup where you need to go through someone else to get users." That always really resonated with me. Here are the categories of product-led acquisition that I've identified. Number one, like I mentioned, is users inviting other users to settle debts.

(16:51):

If I'm going to pay you money I owe you for splitting dinner on Venmo, or a business expense that I'm paying you, you're my vendor on PayPal, or anything that's allowing me to just pay you money I owe you and I have to use a product to do so, whoever is collecting the money from me is going to make an account on that product if necessary to claim their hard earned money. Almost guaranteed way for you to have user-led growth, product-led growth. Now, it doesn't have to be money. It can be settling a debt of like an NFT, for example.

(17:19):

Someone buys an NFT from you on OpenSea and the only way for them to receive their NFT, I'm just making this up right now, is to also have an OpenSea account or a wallet that's specific to that collection. Again, making this up. The point is if you're settling the debt of something you owe someone and they must make an account to capture the thing owed, they're going to sign up. That's category one. Category two is when you're inviting someone to join the product you're using to partake in a conversation that the otherwise cannot access. Why does Telegram, WhatsApp, iMessage, all these chat apps, Discord, grow so quickly?

(17:58):

Pretty obviously because if you and your little clique of friends are having your conversation in that app, then the person who's also in your real life friend group, but who hasn't yet installed the app has to install the app in order to have the conversation with you. Inviting people to critical, social, or business conversations in an app is the other way that you can nearly guarantee you'll grow very quickly from product-led acquisition. The business version of this is Slack. You sign up for Slack. You invite all your friends or all your coworkers. Then you even invite all your vendors via Slack Connect.

(18:34):

Slack Connect was a brilliant Slack feature where they're saying, "Hey, we're now going to encourage you to invite people who aren't using Slack who are outside of your work." I don't know how that's done for them as a feature, but in theory, it's a brilliant way to expand the surface area for inviting people via product-led acquisition. Just to recap where we are real quick, one of the ways of acquiring customers is to encourage existing users, to pay other people or to encourage them to come into your app to have conversation that's only happening on the app.

(19:04):

If I'm a product person and I'm road mapping my product, I will think, is there anything in my product conducive to either one of those two functionalities, settling debts, or can I introduce chat within my product? And if so, you might be cracking open an amazing channel. When I tell people about product-led acquisition, I'm usually doing it in the context of let's rethink your product feature roadmap to prioritize features that facilitate these things that can lead to explosive growth. I'll pause if there's anything you want to dive in there, but I have three more categories we could chat about if you want to, three more ways of doing PLA.

Lenny (19:44):

Yeah, absolutely. I just want to lob a question over there as you're going through these to maybe touch on this. Most founders would love to find a way to grow through virality and invites and all the things you're talking about. I find that it's often hard to lop onto something they're doing, if it's not a natural fit. As you're going through this, I'd love to know how often have you seen startups succeed adding something like this when their app is not a money exchange app or a chat app? I'm curious how often it works to add something like this when your app's kind of something else, if that makes sense?

Julian Shapiro (20:17):

Well, the real lesson is don't start a company if you have no idea how it's going to grow. Now, that's not categorically true for all startups. It's irrelevant for deep tech and biotech and climate tech and all that stuff, but for a lot of these people starting SaaS companies where they intend to grow very quickly among B2B customers or B2C. The real point of what I'm saying is if you have three ideas before you as a founder and one of them lends itself to product-led acquisition really beautifully, then lean in that direction perhaps if you think that growth is the key differentiator between them for what's going to lead to success.

(20:51):

It's like make life easier on yourself. Because if we're relying so heavily on SEO and content, which is extremely saturated, or paid acquisition, meaning ad channels which are extremely saturated, especially if you have low LTVs where we can't really tolerate the volatility of paid CAC or just the cost in general of those CACs, then we have to be thinking more strategically at the product level. It's less about tacking it on later, but sometimes this will work brilliantly if it's very organic. When we cover my next category, we'll actually see some examples of how you can pack it on more seamlessly.

(21:24):

But the other response to your question, which is a great question, is people mistake product-led acquisition for referral programs, which it is not. Because the referral programs are a tact on incentive trying to give people something to encourage them to invite because they otherwise are not inviting. Whereas PLA, as I've currently defined it, is through the natural use of the product, you get more value when you invite others. You settle your debt with the payment recipient. You get have a better conversation because now your friend Jack is part of the conversation. You don't have to incentivize them with anything artificial, with any rewards.

(22:00):

Referral programs generally are not exciting to me because you're usually trying to... Again, you're like self-selecting for folks who just want the reward very often. And then the people they invite might also just want the dual ended reward and they're not even here for the app really. And then they can bounce. And then they don't invite other people typicall.y. It doesn't have the same compounding sticky retentive nature of PLA. I'm not a fan of it. If you can make a work though, fantastic. Anyway, third category is what I call billboarding. Billboarding is this idea that the use of the product is inherently visible to people around you.

(22:40):

The product advertises itself. A few examples. Actually, where I got the term from is I was looking at these billboards above the highway in San Francisco, where I was seeing the company that actually hosts the billboards advertise their own logo on the billboard while also showing you whatever ad they were being paid to show. They were using their own surface area to advertise themselves. Another example is when you're seeing an ad network across the web, like Google banner ads perhaps, and it says they're brought to you by Google Ads, they're using their own surface area to advertise themselves.

(23:14):

That's billboarding. It's a brilliant free way to get a ton more exposure. There's a few ways to do billboarding. One is the classic example of Hotmail and iPhone. When you send an email via Hotmail, at the end, it pens a signature saying sent via Hotmail. Same thing, sent from my iPhone. Every single email sent from an iPhone device, unless you remove that signature, is a free billboard for Apple itself, which further furthers the brand awareness and gets more people buying.

(23:45):

For example, if you have a feature in your application where people are sending emails or communications to other users outside of the org, like it's an app for sending SMS messages or it's like a way to send invoices to your vendors, when you're facilitating that generated messaging, say brought to you by the name of your startup in the signature of it, really use your own surface area to increase your own awareness. That's billboarding in two different ways. The third way is the very obvious way of having something unmistakably recognizable out in the world.

(24:21):

If I drive a Tesla, if I wear Nike shoes, if I have Apple AirPods, all of these are immediately visible to everyone around me, which is why sometimes physical products can really explode because they're just free walking billboards all over the world. And then the sort of most topical hot example right now on Twitter is when you switch your Twitter profile to an NFT in a particular collection, you're billboarding for that NFT collection, right? Same phenomenon that occurred with the Bitcoin laser eyes.

Lenny (24:50):

And also for Twitter Blue, to be able to even do that.

Julian Shapiro (24:53):

Yes, exactly. Exactly right. Like Telegram right now, they released something like Twitter Blue. I forget, I don't know what it's called. But now when you're a Telegram premium paying user, it has a little star thing next to your name that everyone else sees. "Wait, what is that? Oh, that's Telegram Pro. Let me take a look at that." Last example, which is one of my favorites, is billboarding via the nature of your product being something people are compelled to share in order to use. If I have a Calendly account, I have to share my Calendly link with the world in order to create an event on my calendar.

(25:28):

If you're like me, you get a million Calendly links every week. That's the phenomenal form of billboarding, people are sharing it willingly. No wonder they've exploded. Same thing with Dropbox sharing file links and you're seeing the Dropbox URL, or GoFundMe, when people share the GoFundMe page. You get the gist. Billboarding costs you nothing, scales infinitely, can have compounding effects. And if your product lends itself to billboarding, it's just a phenomenal way to grow if possible. That's category three, I guess. We'll cover one last one, if you'd like me too, which is basically UGC, so user generated content.

(26:05):

Same sort of thing. Basically I hop on YouTube or TikTok or Insta or whatever. I make content. I share it with the world. In so sharing that content, the platforms brand themselves on the content. At the end of every TikTok video on Twitter that you've ever seen or Insta, at the end it'll say, "Here's the TikTok user's account." They're billboarding themselves into the content that users themselves are generating, and the users are incentivized to share that content off platform, which brings users to the platform, because users want to get customers wherever they can. They're going to cross-sell to their YouTube channel and so on.

(26:41):

If you have a marketplace like eBay or some marketplace for selling collectible shoes or something where you're encouraging users to create beautiful content of the items being sold, like these cool landing pages that show off the products, and they share it elsewhere, then that's an example of users making content they're sharing off platform that is useful for their own followers. Another example of UGC that people often overlook is Quora or Reddit or Stack Overflow or TripAdvisor, where you're encouraging users to create content in the form of conversation that then surface itself on Google and SEO.

(27:23):

Basically if you just encourage users to have conversations that are publicly indexed, that increases your surface area on Google for hitting more keywords and you get way more search traffic. Basically the question that this boils down to is to leverage UGC in your product, you ask yourself, do users use my product to make content in any way, shape, or form? If so, what type of content that they make should we encourage them to then share? And then how can we make the page that they use to share the content as appealing and as easily to consume as possible? And that's basically UGC. We'll pause there, but basically that's PLA in a nutshell.

(28:03):

The thing that all of these have in common is you're not spending a dollar. They scale super quickly. You're not reliant on, well, maybe to some extent with SEO, but you're not relying on third party volatility. It's a much healthier narrative for how you're going to grow and scale.

Lenny (28:17):

Awesome. This episode is brought to you by Eppo. Eppo is a next generation A/B testing platform built by Airbnb alums for modern growth teams. Companies like Netlify, Contentful, and Cameo rely on Eppo to power their experiments. Wherever you work, running experiments is increasingly essential, but there are no commercial tools that integrate with a modern growth team stack. This leads to waste of time building internal tools or trying to run your experiments through a clunky marketing tool. When I was at Airbnb, one of the things that I loved about our experimentation platform was being able to easily slice results by device, by country, and by user stage.

(28:57):

Eppo does all that and more, delivering results quickly, avoiding annoying prolonged analytics cycles, and helping you easily get to the root cause of any issue you discover. Eppo lets you go beyond basic clickthrough metrics, and instead use your north star metrics like activation, retention, subscriptions, and payments. Eppo supports test on the front end, the backend, email marketing, and even machine learning clients. Check out Eppo at geteppo.com, getE-P-P-O.com, and 10X your experiment velocity. I have many questions I'd love to ask, but I also want to make sure we get to the other topics.

(29:34):

We talked about acquisition, which we'll link to in the show notes, by the way, this whole post. The flip side you could say is retention. If you're a reader of my newsletter, you know how much time I spend thinking about retention and how important that is. I know that's a second topic that we wanted to chat about, because you've also helped a lot of companies think through their retention strategies and to help them retain more users. I'm curious to hear what you've found to be the best strategies for retaining users and increasing retention.

Julian Shapiro (30:01):

Yeah, sure. The way I think about retention, my favorite strategy is what I call building state. It's a concept I stole from video games, where basically the more you play any given game, the more state you're accruing. That might be your armor, your weapons, your character skins, and whatever. As a player of the game, the more state you build, the more you're compelled to stick around, because you don't want to lose everything you've worked so hard for. The more state you have, the more you can exploit that state to get more. The rich keep getting richer. The same mental models apply to let's say SaaS retention.

(30:38):

This is as old as time, or at least as old as modern capitalism. If you think of credit card rewards or frequent flyer programs, you spend money. You accrue points. You convert the points into rewards. Once users build momentum doing that, they're less likely to switch to a competitor. That's the age old example of building state. Software, it's unbelievably powerful. This building state concept is why mediocre companies like eBay or Craigslist remain completely unbeatable for decades. Even though the UX is bad, people don't like using them, they fail to innovate, no one topples them and it's because of state.

(31:16):

Let's walk through some examples. State, kind of like my PLA mega spiel, mega rant there, subdivides into a few categories, but I'll make this one shorter and less boring. The first subcategory of building state is when you're encouraging your users to accrue non-transferrable reputation, meaning they're doing stuff to build reputation on the platform and they cannot take that reputation to them off platform. They're stuck there to get the compounding advantage of that reputation. For example, let's say you've spent years getting 10,000 or more feedback ratings as an eBay seller.

(31:56):

You are not leaving eBay anytime soon, because that reputation's just too valuable. It's producing a huge boost in revenue because of the trust it engenders with buyers on eBay. It probably results in you ranking better in search results for an eBay query. Because you cannot move those 10,000 feedbacks to an eBay competitor, you're not incentivized to go use an eBay competitor. This type of stickiness, this non-transferrable reputation, basically applies to all marketplaces and directories. Same thing on Yelp. You as a restaurant build your reputation on Yelp. The momentum keeps you stuck there. You want to keep getting reviews and hone your reviews.

(32:32):

Airbnb with your properties, Etsy, for you as a seller, Alibaba, all of this stuff are examples of companies that are kind of old now, cannot be top old or haven't been yet. People are like, why? Well, because of this exact reason. This is why those companies pester you so much to leave reviews and provide feedback all the time. They want you to play into this game of in market reputation building. The second state building technique that a startup could adopt, and again, this is all under the guise of how do we maximize retention and build somewhat of a moat, for example, the second way you can do this is you encourage your users to accrue a non-transferable audience.

(33:14):

If I'm a big YouTuber and I've acquired a million subs, those subs can't be transferred anywhere else. I can't bring them to Twitter. In fact, YouTube doesn't even tell me their email, so I can't even bring them to a newsletter if I wanted to. The more subs you acquire on YouTube, the easier it is for you to go viral on YouTube. This is what I mean earlier by the rich keep getting richer. It's this momentum trap. It's very, very hard to convince any YouTuber to get off YouTube. If anything, they'll dabble with another network in parallel at best.

(33:43):

Basically if you have a startup where you're creating a marketplace or an audience graph, you want to encourage users to build a follower graph within that product that they can take advantage of by pushing their product or their content or their insights too. This is why Twitter... By the way, a big shout out to Substack, which actually allows customers to export emails off of Substack. Substack is not playing that same game, which is better for users and a very nice thing for the ecosystem. But this is why Twitch and Instagram and Twitter are just irreplaceable. I mean, not necessarily. Everything dies over time like Facebook, but they're just so darn hard to topple.

(34:26):

Let's maybe touch one more. I don't want to ramble so much about this. Well, this one's kind of similar. Basically if you spent a lot of time building a social graph in a product, like if I spent the last 10 years trying to remember the names of all my high school friends and elementary school friends and add them one at a time over the years to Facebook, or I've added all my colleagues for the last 20 years onto LinkedIn and I've built a social graph on these products where I've curated and found people, that's really sticky. You're building state in the form of taking time to expand the graph. The graph is a representative of the state, the work you've put in.

(35:04):

You don't want to lose those connections with people. That makes that product extra sticky. This is why social networks in general can be sticky. It's not just the fact that you have your audience there, it's that you've invested time. If Facebook doesn't allow you to export your graph out, then that makes it extra sticky as well, because you don't know how else to talk to old Jimmy from elementary other than Facebook. Anyway, there's actually many more of these examples of building state. I'm going to just stop with that. But the basic concept is what can you encourage users to do within your product that makes them more deeper entrenched in the product, and most apps just completely lack this.

Lenny (35:39):

I like that. It's a little bit like the concept of having skin in the game and just building more skin in the game with the product that you're using. One quick question, is there a company that you've seen do this, like add it on, and succeed and increased retention that you've worked with or out there? Just like is there a good example that comes to mind that added this piece?

Julian Shapiro (35:58):

Again, none of this is really under the context of telling people to add it on after they've decided what they're building. This is all in the DNA of the product you're choosing to build. I'm not sure. I haven't thought of those examples. I'm thinking more so in whose DNA, which company's DNA are they doing this brilliantly? For example, one form of state is... One I did not cover is when you're embedded infrastructure. If you're Twilio, Striper, AWS, it's really hard to move off or segment because it's so much work to redo your code and introduce all this risk to screwing up your code base. People have built patterns around how they work with your API.

(36:36):

A lot of modern API startups automatically capture the stickiness by virtue of being so deeply embedded into a product. Generally speaking, none of this is in the context of like, hey, add it on post hoc, pretty much.

Lenny (36:46):

Got it. I like that lens actually through a lot of these things you're talking about is maybe it's less like change your product to make this happen, and it's more idea selection. I know you're also an investor, and so it's a really good lens on how many of these things does this company have that I'm investing in.

Julian Shapiro (37:01):

Earlier I was mentioning why do I write handbooks, I wrote the handbook that PLA and state building come from to cement my diligence criteria for companies I believe might grow super fast and retain customers. You're exactly right. My investor's perspective is if you have a zero cost of acquisition mechanism for customer acquisition, such as PLA, and you can retain them through something like state building, but there are other ways to retain customers, then I lean in harder because I think you'll be more defensible as a company. Actually interesting little side note is you'll often hear retention and stickiness refer to as a moat, right?

(37:41):

But I find this term actually very misleading because very few companies have actual moats. To have a real moat, you're basically exploiting kleptocratic, meaning you're friends with the government and they're creating a literal barrier to entry for your competitors, or you have a scientific moat where you have an actual scientific breakthrough in the fusion energy space, plus protected by patents. Those are real moats. But the way most people use the word moat is wrong. In practice, your "moat" is just your mechanism for retaining users a little bit more than the average company.

(38:21):

I believe state building is one of the best ways to do exactly that. Really it just comes down to what are you doing to help users build state and get more value over time out of the product, not the same level of value over any time period.

Lenny (38:35):

Awesome. Shifting a little bit away from growth and into writing, which I know you've spent a lot of time writing about, very meta, and sharing on Twitter and all the ways, you have a handbook where you go into this concept of novelty and a framework for how to be novel and why that's important in writing. I'd love for you to talk about why novelty is important in writing and ideally share your framework for creating something novel that keeps people engaged in reading.

Julian Shapiro (39:03):

Sure. This actually goes back to your question about Twitter. What can one do to build an audience on Twitter? It often comes down to writing things that are novel. Novel is what powers click bait in most cases. The other way is via curiosity gap, where you raise a question you don't answer, but the other half is novelty is what gets people to click into a thread and read it. Novelty, I define, as new idea, so something I haven't heard of before, that's also significant, so it's not some trivial fact about Kim Kardashian, and it's something that I wouldn't have easily intuited on my own.

(39:44):

When you have those ingredients, it's new, it's significant, and you wouldn't have easily thought of it on your own, that's when you trigger that dopamine hit reaction, I'm not being scientifically accurate here, but you're going to get that dopamine hit like, "Whoa! That's super cool." The more you have readers pausing going, "Whoa! That was interesting," the more novel your writing is. My whole approach to writing is write something out, and then point out all the points of novelty. I do that by actually having 20 friends read something I've written and highlight the sentences that made them go, "Whoa."

(40:17):

And then I have this visualized map in a given blog post, where are the areas that people go, "That's really interesting," and then I can see all the white space between the interesting parts. I go in and I condense that white space. I chop it down so that the frequency of novelties as high as possible. This is how you get a blog post that just has this phenomenal momentum that gets the read to completion rate to be very high. The question is, what exactly does novelty look like? I've identified about five different categories for it, and this is the backbone of how I write in many cases.

(40:51):

The first category of novelty is what I call counterintuitive information. You tell people something and they go, "Oh wow. I never realized that the world worked that way," or different categories and you tell people counter-narrative information. That's where people respond, "Wow. That's not how I was told the world worked." Whereas counterintuitive novelty is, "That's not how I would've thought the world worked," counter-narrative novelty is, "That's not what I've been told. I've been lied to. Now you're telling me the truth." That also triggers a dopamine hit. Third category of novelty is just pure shock and awe like, "That's crazy. I would've never believed that's true."

(41:30):

For example, there's a volcano that's going to erupt the next 15 years that's going to swallow this whole island. Wow, that's shocking. Holy moly. Next category is what a lot of popular Twitter users do is what I call elegant articulation, where you're taking an idea... Naval does this, Naval on Twitter, the founder of AngelList. He'll say something that's a complicated rich thought and boil it down into a very concise sentence. And then the reader goes, "Wow, that's beautiful. I couldn't have said that any better myself."

(42:02):

That also triggers that dopamine reaction. There's a few more, but the point I want to get at here is all of these are formats for identifying the types of things you could say to get people to go, "Whoa." That's what I think of as novelty.

Lenny (42:17):

Something I've found to kind of identify something that I've written is going to be interesting is I just read it myself and I feel what I feel when I'm reading it the first time. Often I find that if I'm like, "Oh wow, this is really good and really exciting," I've learned to trust that feeling wherever that comes from. That's just like another way of knowing if your thing is interesting is like, are you excited about it? Are you interested in it as you're reading it? And that fades after you read it like 10 times and kind of edit and edit, but that's just a small tip I've learned, just kind of trust your own gut feeling when you're excited about something that you're writing about.

Julian Shapiro (42:53):

I agree. And that's why I tell people when you first encounter something that to you is novel, write down with a score, like let's say out a five, zero to five, how novel that thing was to you when you first heard it. You want to remember and capture the degree of novelty, because to your point, Lenny, it's going to become less novel over time. And then if you pull that out of your idea bank for a blog post in two years, it'll like, oh yeah, that will blow people's minds, even it doesn't blow my mind today.

Lenny (43:16):

Good tip.

Julian Shapiro (43:17):

To your point, the way you basically get novel ideas is you go live your life and write down every time you come across something that interests or surprises you, or any time you come across something that makes you think, "Well, that's obviously not true," meaning you found something that people say that you know the lie and you're about to tell people the way the world really works. Some examples of novelty... I'm scrolling through Twitter up here. This is a tweet I wrote where I wrote, "Reading many books is the most socially accepted vanity metric for adults." I give zero kudos for reading a hundred books a year, but I give you massive kudos for learning efficiently and making interesting things.

(43:59):

This tweet is an example of me using novelty. As we read the key novel part, it's where I say, "Reading many books is the most socially accepted vanity metric for adults." That is counter-narrative novelty, because the prevailing narrative is all the smart people I've ever met, they read a ton of books. They always have a book in their hand. They're reading five books a month, blah blah, blah, blah, blah. I'm saying no, that's a vanity metric how many books you read. That's counter-narrative. That gives people a dopamine hit. They lean in. They want to see what my punchline is and that tweet got a lot of engagement.

(44:33):

One more example. See if you can catch the novelty here. New tweet, "The world is not run by exceptional people. This is the hidden reason for imposter syndrome. We mistakenly think imposter syndrome is due to low confidence or low anxiety. No. It's caused by not accepting that your new world-class peers aren't that special. It's just discipline." The key statement there that has the novelty is the world is not run by exceptional people, and the type of novelty being used there is counterintuitive. Your intuition is the world's run by the best of the best or many of these experts are there for a reason.

(45:15):

I'm saying not in most cases. Anyway, those are some examples of novelty. Of course, these tweets took off largely due to that reason. People love having their eyes opened. They'll reflexively retweet you to agree with your worldview if they feel like you're finally speaking truth, the power, in some sense, if that makes sense.

Lenny (45:34):

We'll link to those in the show notes. By the way, I love your reading your own tweets voice that you have.

Julian Shapiro (45:40):

I'm adopting my... Who's the guy from Star Trek who's amazing, who reads the kids?

Lenny (45:45):

Oh yeah, LeVar Burton. Reading Rainbow.

Julian Shapiro (45:49):

There you go. That's my voice.

Lenny (45:50):

Julian Shapiro, the new LeVar Burton. I know you have to run in not too long from now. We have two more topics. How about I set up both topics and then you kind of talk through as much as you want with each? That sound good?

Julian Shapiro (46:01):

Sure.

Lenny (46:01):

Cool. The fourth topic we want to talk about is topic selection, how meta, essentially picking what to write about, and you have a bunch of great advice on what's worth writing about and the framework around that. And then the fifth idea is something you called it the Creativity Faucet, which is essentially how to get more creative. I will turn it over to you to share your thoughts on these topics.

Julian Shapiro (46:22):

Sure, sure. My pleasure. The way I think about topic selection, meaning what is it you should write about for your blog posts, for your newsletter, Twitter, company blog, whatever, books, is you choose topics based on two factors, what would you actually be able to complete so you're not going to give a pathway through and what will actually be high quality. I have a framework for helping you figure out what that is. Basically I believe that your likelihood to follow through on something you start writing is a function of the objective you have with writing that piece and how strong your motivation is for seeing that objective to fruition.

(47:00):

Here's what that looks like more specifically. Anytime that I write something, I'm first trying to identify what is my objective. Here's a few examples of objectives that I'll use before sitting down to write. Number one, I want to open people's eyes to prove the status quo wrong, or two, I want to articulate something that everyone's thinking about, but no one is saying. I want to cut through the noise. Another objective might be, I want to contribute original insights to my own research and experimentation. Hence, some of my handbooks. Another objective is just telling a suspenseful and emotional story that maybe imparts a lesson.

(47:34):

These are all clear cut objectives that give me a guidepost. I know that I'm done writing a piece if I can read the piece and say, "I've accomplished that particular objective," because people don't know when they're done writing, "Oh, I petered out here and this seems like a good place for an outro." With an objective, you know whether you should actually stop. But then the question is, how do you sustain the motivation to see through an objective? Again, an objective might be something like open people's eyes by proving the status quo wrong. To do all the work necessary to accomplish that, you need a motivation in my opinion.

(48:08):

I'll pair one of those objectives that I've selected with a motivation. Some example motivations are, does writing this piece get something off my chest that I really badly need to get off? Or does it help me solve a nagging unsolved problem that I've been dealing with and this piece is way for me to explore and find the solution? Or is it like me obsessing over a topic that I want others to also geek out about? These are all powerful motivations that I pair with an objective to guarantee my follow through to get done writing the piece.

(48:41):

By the way, everything I've mentioned in this entire chat with you, the novelty stuff, the topic selection, PLA, state building, everything we've covered, I have tons of examples on Julian.com. That's why I'm not trying to go through every single one.

Lenny (48:55):

Yeah, and we'll link to all that.

Julian Shapiro (48:57):

Absolutely.

Lenny (48:57):

Awesome.

Julian Shapiro (48:58):

The flip side I'll point out is that I think writing quality overall is... Again, these are all me being hand wavy and these are not rules. There's no right way to write, just like there's no right way to paint. These are just frameworks I've developed, that when I use them, I'm more frequently arriving at success as far as I define it. The thing I want to point out though is that very closely tied to everything I'm talking about is my framework or my equation for determining how good any piece of writing is, is novelty times resonance. Writing quality equals novelty times resonance.

(49:36):

Novelty is like we discussed, here are all these things that are giving you dopamine hits where I'm opening your eyes about how the world really works and shocking you and elegantly synthesizing things, times resonance and resonance means I can tell you the most novel thing on the planet. But if I don't wrap it in a way that resonates and really lifts off the page and into your mind and is something you remember, then it's fairly ineffective novelty. It's more like just trivia. It's bland, dry trivia. When you add resonance to the novelty, now it becomes a beautifully written piece. Resonance is a matter of including examples, analogies, metaphors, stories.

(50:14):

Really writing quality is novelty times the storytelling power you have to make the novelty resonate in the back of people's minds. The way that I structure my writing process is draft one, I'm just focused on finding my novelty, just the backbone of what makes anything interesting. And then draft two, I come back and try to increase the resonance by embedding story and analogy and examples. That's basically my process there.

Lenny (50:41):

I like that a lot. Just to add real quick, something I've learned is that if your stuff is really useful, it doesn't have to be written beautifully. A lot of people I think are afraid of writing because they think they have to write really well, like be real good writers. What I've learned is it's okay if you're not like. You just be good enough and you'll get better the more you do it. The most important thing is the content is valuable and interesting, which I think you're describing as novelty. I just want to make sure people don't get scared away and be like, "Oh my god, I need stories and metaphors and all these beautiful writing." Initially you don't is my experience, but it helps in a big way.

Julian Shapiro (51:17):

I agree. In fact, the biggest criticism of my writing is that it is too dry, it's too novelty focused, and there's a lack of the resonance, but I do that purposely because oftentimes people can over-indulge in resonance and then it really bloats the piece. As a reader myself, I like reading super concise pieces, like reference manuals almost. I'm looking for the length from personal anecdotes, personal stories of people's lives or life lessons they've learned that they want to share with me, or actual fiction. To each their own. You're spot on. Do what you would want to read to me is the golden rule.

Lenny (51:52):

Awesome, and also don't be afraid. Don't feel like the bar's that high if you want to get started.

Julian Shapiro (51:58):

What have been your frameworks for sitting down and knowing that one of your newsletter editions is where you want it to be? And what do you think is the framework justifying that a piece is or explaining why a piece is good?

Lenny (52:10):

The thing that I always strive for is this needs to be actionable and useful. It's something someone could take and do something with that day versus just a bunch of theory and pontification and philosophy. It's like, oh, here's a thing you can go do today.

Julian Shapiro (52:25):

That's kind of my bar is make it very actionable, which I think is specific to the type of newsletter I have, not necessarily broad writing the way you're describing, but that's what I try.

Lenny (52:35):

I love that. I agree with you, my rules of thumb are like it has to be actionable, concise, and novel. I'm not sure if you've seen this as well, but to make something truly actionable, I have to leave them with a cheat sheet. Because if I have all these actionable steps, but they're spread throughout a monster newsletter edition, it's too much mental work to go and make my own cheat sheet out of and have a quick to follow series of steps. I feel like compression is a key part of making something actionable as well.

Julian Shapiro (53:06):

There's a book called On Writing Well that taught me a lot about cutting two-thirds of what you've written to get to the core of it. I'm curious, what else are you doing to try to harden each newsletter edition to make sure it's good? Is it just like, hey, this is actionable and we were pretty comprehensive and I checked it past experts? Is that the extent of it, or what are you trying to do to feel like it's fantastic? What's your review process when you pass it by others as well?

Lenny (53:30):

I'm happy to answer that, but I also know you got to run soon. I guess we could touch on... We could just save the fifth topic maybe for a follow up episode is one idea, or we could touch on it.

Julian Shapiro (53:40):

Sure. Up to you. Anything you want, my friend. If you want me to cover the next topic, super happy to. Up to you. Everyone listening right now is like, "Man, Julian's just been fucking rambling for an hour." I realized we were not having a conversation. Now I feel bad because I was so in my momentum of sharing some concepts that I didn't really have a conversation with.

Lenny (53:59):

This is very normal for this podcast, so do not stress.

Julian Shapiro (54:04):

All right. Good. Actually, you should leave this all in here so they know I feel bad. I'm not cutting anything. What was the last topic again? Remind me.

Lenny (54:12):

I was just saying, I think one of the things people really like about this podcast from what I hear often is they like that I'm not talking a lot. They kind of like that I'm letting the guests speak mostly, because a lot of podcast, the guest thinks they know at all, or sorry, the host and they just talk, talk, talk.

Julian Shapiro (54:27):

Oh, got you. The thing is you are brilliant. You're an actual host who is a useful, amazing human being and we want to hear your thoughts.

Lenny (54:35):

What was the last topic again?

Julian Shapiro (54:36):

The last topic was the Creativity Faucet. We can save that for another talk, or if you want to touch on it, we can do that too.

Lenny (54:43):

Sure. Yeah, let's do it.

Julian Shapiro (54:45):

The quick version here is that this is an idea that I saw recur across three of the most prolific creators in the world, John Mayer, Ed Sheeran, Neil Gaiman. Ed Sheeran might work with other producers and so on, but the basic thing between the three is they're very independent creators who are constantly making blockbusters in large part on their own. I was curious, what on earth are those three doing that very few other people are doing? Taylor Swift also. One day I actually found the answer, what is their approach to consistently making phenomenal content? The way I found it was interesting.

(55:23):

I was watching a masterclass, like Masterclass.com, with Neil Gaman and he explained his process for writing fiction novels. And then in the same year, I watched the documentary of Ed Sheeran explaining his process for writing songs and they were identical. And then a year later, I came across a YouTube video that I posted on Twitter with John Mayer spinning his process, also identical. I'm like, fuck, there's the answer. They don't have a name for their process, so I just call it the Creativity Faucet. Very quickly, what they do is they visualize their creativity as a backed up pipe of water. The first mile is packed with wastewater, and this wastewater has to be emptied before the clear water behind it can arrive.

(56:10):

Because your creativity pipe or Creativity Faucet only has one faucet, there's no shortcut to achieving the clarity, the clear water of good ideas, until you first empty the wastewater out. If we apply that to creativity at the beginning of every writing session, write out every bad idea that comes to mind. Instead of being self-critical and resisting these bad ideas, you have to recognize bad ideas is progress. Because once they are emptied out of you, the better ideas begin to arrive. Here's the key part, why do good ideas arrive after the bad ideas are empty? It's because when you've gone through a bunch of bad ideas, your brain, your mind starts reflexively identifying what elements are causing the badness.

(56:53):

Then it becomes way better at avoiding those bad elements and you become way better at pattern matching the novel ideas with way greater intuition. Most creators are resisting their bad ideas. If you sat down, scribbled a few thoughts in a blank document, and just walked away because you weren't struck with gold, then you never actually finished the creative process. There's no way you would've come up with gold. Like Neil and Ed, for example, they know they're not superhuman. What they're doing is in every creative session, they simply have the discipline to allot time no matter how long it takes, it could be an hour, to empty all of the bad ideas.

(57:28):

And then they're not worried about whether good ideas will come after the bad ones because they know the following process. You start with a weak imitation. You identify what makes your invitation weak, and then you iterate the imitation until it's finally original. And that is the process you have to just throw yourself into.

Lenny (57:46):

I love that. I feel like I don't do that enough. I feel like when I get to writing, I'm just like, "Okay, let's make this awesome." This is a really good reminder just to get stuff out. It connects to the concept of the shitty first draft. Just write. It'll be bad. And then you edit. You asked me this question, what my process is for writing, and most of it is just refining like a thousand times. I just kind of take a first pass and then I look at it, make it better, look at it, make it better, and just kind of keep editing for days and days and days until it's not bad.

Julian Shapiro (58:15):

I love that. That's what I've always done, until one day I was like, "I need a process here." Anyway dude, pleasure chatting. You're a gent. Sorry to all the listeners for rambling so much at a high pace. Cut anything you want. You can cut all of that. I don't care. Whatever you find interesting, go with. We're just going to have this final goodbye and that's it.

Lenny (58:36):

That was very anti-climactic. Cool, man. Where can folks find you online and how can listeners be useful to you?

Julian Shapiro (58:41):

Sure. You can go to Julian.com. It has everything, Twitter, handbooks, all that good stuff. And that's it. I hope you guys find the handbooks useful.

Lenny (58:50):

Amazing, Julian. I know you don't do a lot of podcasts. I really appreciate you being here. This was awesome. I'm excited to get this out.

Julian Shapiro (58:56):

Dude, truly my pleasure. I think you're awesome and you're why I'm doing the podcast. Really my pleasure, man. Have a great day.

Lenny (59:02):

Thanks, man. Thank you so much for listening. If you found this valuable, you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. Also, please consider giving us a rating or leaving a review as that really helps other listeners find the podcast. You can find all past episodes or learn more about the show at lennyspodcast.com. See you in the next episode.