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Aligning the reader and the writer: This week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade talk to Michael Sippey, head of product at Medium. Michael joined Medium after the company made a massive strategy shift from an advertising to a subscription based revenue model. He’s also the first-ever returning guest. We talk about: Pushing publishing where it doesn’t want to go; the importance of collaboration in product management; and how to pay writers. Michael lines up his 3-step approach to Product Management with his work at Medium and the company’s mission to create valuable content (caution: we talk briefly about fake news).


[Intro music]

0:17 Paul Ford Hi! You’re listening to Track Changes, the podcast of Postlight, a digital product studio at 101 5th Avenue in New York City.

Rich Ziade Tenth Floor!

PF Tenth Floor! My name is Paul Ford. I am the cofounder of Postlight and the cohost of Track Changes.

RZ And I’m Rich Ziade, the other cofounder of Postlight. Paul!

PF Yes!

RZ What does Postlight do?

PF Postlight builds platforms for –

RZ Anybody!

PF But finance, NGOs, media, we’re known for it.

RZ Yeah, we build big, sprawling applications.

PF Insurance.

RZ Web.

PF Yeah. Whatever you need.

RZ We don’t make video games. Let’s confess.

PF No, we do the –

RZ We love to mess around though.

PF We like the big, infrastructural, complicated [the meaty stuff] and then the products on top of it: the apps and the websites and the admin tools –

RZ And the mobile apps –

PF Yeah. Um so today on our podcast we asked Michael Sippey to come back. He is –

RZ This is unprecedented. Never had a guest back on.

PF I don’t believe we have. Michael is a product manager of much repute and has been at it for a really long time.

1:24 RZ He was at Twitter.

PF Yes and had a startup and last time we talked to him he was winding down or had just wound down a startup called Talkshow and talked about his sort of general approach to life and since then he’s gone on and he’s had a product for Medium. Before we talk to Michael, I need to disclaim: I’m an advisor to Medium, I’ve had a long relationship with the organization. That’s — people should know that. Judge me accordingly.

RZ Go!

PF Alright. Let’s talk to Michael by [let’s do it!] phone from the Bay Area. So welcome back to Track Changes, two-time guest –

RZ Unprecedented.

PF Michael Sippey.

Michael Sippey Wait, unprecedented? Am I really the first?

RZ Yeah, yeah.

PF You are the first.

MS Alright, I feel blessed.

PF Michael, I’ll tell ya: of many of the podcasts that we’ve done, all of which are cherished angels from heaven, every podcast is.

RZ We love them all.

PF But we got a lot of very straightforward feedback on yours because people appreciated your three-step approach to product management and your honesty about where your product, Talkshow, had succeeded and then –

PF Not.

PF Not succeeded. Word: fail. Just let’s, you know –

RZ Embrace it.

PF We’ve all enjoyed and wrapped our arms around [RZ oh yeah] the F bomb. Let’s start there actually, let’s remind people of the three things that you ask when you’re doing product management.

2:52 MS Yeah, it’s a really simple three questions which is: what problem are you solving? Who are you solving it for? And how are you gonna measure success?

PF Alright.

MS That’s basically it.

PF Now you — since we last spoke, went and took a new job.

MS I did. I did. It’s pretty exciting. I’m am now head of product at Medium.

PF Medium, the well-known blogging platform.

RZ Is that what they call it?

PF No.

RZ Can you say blogging platform?

PF [Laughing] No, I think I –

MS We don’t really say blogging — Paul says blogging platform [PF laughs].

RZ Paul refuses to let go is what’s happening [laughs].

PF I know. It’s been a week [MS laughs]. Ok. You’ve got three things you ask when you’re doing product management and you have a new job at Medium. So line those up for me. Answer those questions [MS yeah] for Medium.

MS That’s a great — that’s really great. So, ‘what problem are you solving?’ is I really wanna be smarter about the world and understand what’s happening and that’s ugh it can be in a particular topic or genre and really, you know, understand a little bit better what’s happening in the world. ‘Who are we solving it for?’ It’s for educated readers on the internet. ‘And how do we measure success?’ It’s can we essentially deliver you content that is interesting and engaging and, eventually, can we get you to subscribe and become a member of Medium?

PF Alright. Product goals: smarter about the world.

4:10 MS Yeah.

PF First of all, if I went to Rich and said I wanted to make a product that makes people smarter about the world. Rich, what would you do? Would you punch me in the face?

RZ I’d probably walk out of the room.

PF Ok.

RZ In a huff.

PF I mean well it’s a client-service –

MS Why?!

PF We’re — it’s a client-service business. So if somebody came and said that to us, we’d probably go, “That’s really interesting.”

RZ Actually, we’d light up.

PF Yeah we would [MS laughs].

RZ I mean that’s a seven to eight year engagement.

PF Ah and you’re just sort of like, “Well, that’s gonna require a lot of spidering” [RZ laughs].

MS And this is, you know, a seven to eight year engagement. Medium’s five years in, right? So this is a long-term project that I’ve just joined. Um and it’s — I think that the approach that the company’s been taking around essentially building, what I think and I, you know, I think a lot of people would agree, is the best place to write online. The best tools for writers, the best experience for creating content, and a really fantastic experience for reading, and finding new voices to discover. So I think that that mission of, you know, essentially helping people get smarter about the world and believing that words matter and that doing that well is an important thing to do for the world is — that mission is alive and well. So that’s the thing that I love and why I joined.

RZ Alright, so I’m gonna be a bloodthirsty capitalist devil’s advocate.

MS Go for it.

RZ That is not a way to make money [MS chuckles]. I need to see 30-second cooking videos that are accelerated. I need to see [MS chuckles] really tasty –

5:40 PF Top down! You need to see that bowl from the top down.

RZ Yeah. That’s right.

PF There are forms of media that you engage with which — look, I mean, Medium is a place for long pieces, right? And those have been around for basically 2,000 years but I think the tasty videos — like people develop an immune system. There’s — you know memes wear out. Ideas and forms that are too fast and too manipulative wear out.

RZ 30 seconds, 200 words, what does the cast of Happy Days look like today? That’s the stuff that makes money.

PF I don’t know if anything makes money. Let’s [laughs] –

RZ Well I mean there’s a multi-billion dollar ad tech industry, right?

PF Right. That makes money. That’s doing good.

RZ It’s doing great!

MS That’s doing well for the ones on Facebook.

RZ Yeah, yeah.

MS I don’t think a lot of the publishers that are doing that are doing well. And I think that, you know, I’m not gonna sit here and speak for the entire media or publishing industry but I think that the trend line that we’ve seen in terms of revenue per page, you know RPMs, is essentially trending towards zero. The way — the revenue mile that we’re taking is subscriptions which is essentially deliver value to readers and if you deliver them a good enough product both in the content and the editorial side, and in the delivery vehicle of website, apps, email digest, et cetera, that people will pay for it. That’s the bet. And the bet is working so far.

PF So take me back a step. You’re an experienced senior product manager in Silicon Valley and you’re a product management leader and you start at a company, now you’ve had a relationship on and off with Medium for a while [mm hmm] but what is your first day like, what do you do?

MS First day uh is essentially meeting the team cuz it’s all about the team. So spending time with the product managers that are here, with the engineers that are here, the designers that are here, to understand what people are working on, what motivates them, and what they care about on a daily basis. And just to understand a little bit of the history. Uh so that was really the first, you know, 30 days roughly, was just spending a lot of time listening and understanding what each of the teams is working on to have a little bit better context because you think you can have context looking in from the outside or even from a few weeks of discussions and talking with the team before you join. But once you get inside you really wanna understand like how does the place run, what makes it tick, and what makes the teams operate.

8:11 PF What surprised you?

MS I — you know, I don’t think it’s a surprise: the level of thoughtfulness, attention to detail, and care that the people here bring to the work they do, both in terms of at the kind of micro level of when we ship a feature, like the thoughtfulness that goes into the design, the testing that goes into the product, like how we actually roll it out, the thoughtfulness about the language that we use, ratchet it up to like what is the business strategy? And where is the product going? And how does that align with what we’re doing on the editorial side? I think that there’s — it’s not a surprise, and it’s one of the reasons why I joined is because of that culture and having had exposure to it in the past but it is really great to see from the inside. The other pieces — you know, you always wanna understand a little bit about how the sausage is made and every company kinda does it a little bit differently. So just understanding like what is the meeting structure like? Like how do we communicate with each other about product status from a metrics perspective? Like what kind of tools are available on the product science side? To um what’s the pace of execution? How do we ship? How often does code get rolled? You know, what is the devops situation look like? All of that. Like, those are the types of things, like once you’re on the inside, it’s kind of always fun to learn how a company operates and literally what makes it tick on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis.

RZ Very helpful. You know, it’s such a different perspective as we listen to this from the agency world. You know, this is something we talk about inside of Postlight which is the mission is weird, right? [Mm hmm] It’s a bunch of baby missions that show up [mm hmm] um and you’re trying to assemble sort of these ad hoc teams and motivate um and for us it’s very much about Postlight and the quality of the place, and the culture we’ve created, and the goodwill that we’ve built.

PF We focus very purely on the craft, right? Because that’s what we are.

RZ That’s right. That’s exactly right.

MS Yeah.

PF And we’ve had one client for 18 months, we have a new one for six. Like working with Postlight for a year or two is normal, even at two years old.

MS Mm hmm. It’s an interesting thing because the folks that are working with that client have to really understand the client’s culture, and their processes, and what they’re actually trying to build, and their business objectives –

RZ Oh, without a doubt.

MS And live the Postlight life, right?

10:36 RZ That’s right.

MS Um because you’re trying to build a business, and a culture, and a mode of operating. And I did the consulting thing for a couple of years and it’s always that uh you’re always straddling that, right? [RZ mm hmm] Of we’re trying to do both things: we’re trying to build the business of the agency, and build the business of the client.

We’re trying to build the business of the agency, and build the business of the client.

PF Well, here’s the thing, right? What are we but our process in this job? Like there are a set of skills, knowledge, and understanding, but the reason you have a job is that you can apply some kind of process to a very abstract problem and get a piece of software out the other end.

MS Mm hmm. I mean I think what you guys are is you’re that collective process and the culture that produces it.

RZ That’s right. Um ok so you do you have a mission and it’s an interesting one. I mean you’re coming in, you’re getting to know the team, you’re getting to know the culture, you’re really — you’re processing a lot, and then there is this particular mission which I guess, you know, as head of product you have to internalize that [mm hmm]. For us, I mean, again, I keep going back to us, but this is just what we relate to: if it doesn’t connect, it’s not gonna come out as good, right? [MS right] Consistently we hope that the work that’s coming in is going to be something that you don’t have to fall in love with it cuz it’s — you’re just gonna date for a while. We’re an agency but –

PF I feel that that’s the contract right there [RZ right]: your job and my job is to deliver more and more interesting work [RZ yeah] into the organization [RZ yeah]. That’s our core social contract with our employees.

RZ Correct.

MS Right. Because here’s the thing if you are — it’s I mean it gets to the processing culture thing, right? So if you’re only essentially executing the same process for the same types of clients then you’re not going to be able to keep people around for very long. Cuz it’s like, “Oh another one of these? Like, I just did that. I’m not growing.”

RZ Mm hmm.

MS “I’m not learning anything new.”

PF Yeah yeah.

12:26 MS And so part of the culture is essentially bringing a little bit of the bright and shiny into that process and make each of those kind of, you know, crank turning of that process a little bit interesting and different every time [yeah]. So that the organization learns and you get better at what you do. So it’s that constant kind of levelling the problems that you’re solving and the different types of clients that you’re serving in order to change and make the organization better, right? [Yeah] Make that muscle stronger.

RZ That’s a great observation and it’s a challenging one, right? Because you’re also — you’re a business and –

MS Right. And like repeat revenue is useful [laughs] –

RZ Exactly so you’re balancing all of that out.

MS Right. We’re balancing — you’re balancing like sale cycle versus — right, yeah.

RZ That’s exactly right.

MS It’s hard. It’s really hard.

RZ So I wanna go back to the — I mean you arrived. I mean there was a pivotal point for Medium [mm hmm]. It bet on a particular strategy and it didn’t take. There was sort of this pause for a minute and then a really dramatic shift kicked in and the chatter [yeah] — and again, I don’t know all the chatter, but the chatter was like, “They gotta take on ads.”

MS And they went down that path [yeah] for a little while and I think this is — I mean it gets to — your choice of the word strategy is interesting because it’s basically like you kind of always operate at kind of, you know, vision slash mission, strategy, and tactics [yeah]. And the mission of the company hasn’t changed. The strategy and the tactics that it’s using to build a business around it definitely changed at the beginning of the year and, yeah, I mean I think they realized that their — the ad business wasn’t going to work for this particular company [yeah]. The mission hadn’t changed, the strategy changed, and the tactics were “Let’s go build a subscription business.” [Yup] and so in March, this is before I joined, they launched Medium Membership which is a five a dollar a month, and recently added an annual option, so 50 dollars a year, membership that gets you access to content that is published and syndicated for members by writers that we commission, publications that we syndicate content from, and then the kind of large crew of people that are actually writing on Medium can now join the partner program and choose to uh make their content available to members, and then share in the revenue that is generated from the members that actually read those stories. And so it’s the, you know, again, from a mission vision perspective: that hadn’t changed [yeah] like since we deliver great content to people [yup], and like we wanna get writers paid [right]. Like words matter, writers matter, we want our writers to get paid. Uh the tactic that the company is taking now, essentially opening up this partner program and letting anyone choose to participate in that program and get paid based on member engagement with their stories, I think is really fun and exciting. And done in a way that aligns the incentives of the reader and the writer. So it’s fun.

Words matter, writers matter, we want our writers to get paid.

15:13 RZ It’s, it’s –

MS It’s really fun.

RZ It’s fun because you get to like, “Ok I’m gonna land on Mars, nobody’s ever been here before.” [Yeah, yeah] Right? I mean –

MS Yeah I talk about Medium as — people say like, “Why did you join?” And I say, “I think this is the interesting media company on the planet.” We’re trying to do something without ads, with — on a base of, you know, 10 to 12 thousand posts a day that are coming in [mm hmm] and build a platform on, you know, we have this great history of user generated content and there’s amazing pieces that are published everyday. And if we can do that and build an interesting and growing and large subscription business, we can fund all sorts of great content that can be funnelled through Medium. And I think that that’s like really fun and exciting.

I think this is the interesting media company on the planet.

RZ So can I imitate one of your investors?

MS Sure.

RZ “Are you insane? What the hell are you doing?”

MS [Laughs] uh they actually so none of our investors uh say that [RZ laughs] actually [ok]. Uh what they say is um –

RZ Bad imitation, sorry.

MS Yeah, it’s a bad imitation [RZ laughs]. I mean essentially our like, you know look: I’ve been in two board meetings so far and the discussion has been: “This is great.” You know? “Let’s grow it. Let’s go.” So –

PF I don’t understand Silicon Valley [laughs].

RZ Well, that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s actually almost, you know, people jab at Silicon Valley but –

MS Yeah. But like why? Here’s the thing: it’s actually a really simple business model. Right? Which is: deliver something of value that readers will pay for. Like a subscription business is a very simple business model. So my job, and like our job collectively as a company, is to build a product that is a combination of, you know, delivery and content that has value for for enough people to pay for it so that we can essentially grow the business and be able to pay salaries and afford office space, and pay writers, and pay for content. I don’t think that’s crazy at all and what’s interesting is the reaction from a lot of folks that are in traditional media of like not understanding what we’re up to and it’s like, no, I find it very simple and very clarifying and uh and frankly like I think all of the, you know, having all of the incentives aligned makes a ton of sense to me. That we wanna deliver something of value that readers will pay for.

What’s interesting is the reaction from a lot of folks that are in traditional media.

17:36 RZ I think, you know, probably it originates from, I mean that’s great and it’s a great idea but you can’t — it doesn’t scale. You can’t pull it off. I mean let’s look at the world, right? There’s The Washington Post, there’s The Atlantic, there’s The New York Times, I think it — I dunno I’m sure there are others but it just about stops there.

PF There are lots and lots of paywalled sites for publications that are very niche [mm hmm] and there’s things like Elsevier and um large scholarly publishing efforts –

RZ Which are very expensi — like that’s professional –

PF Very controversial.

RZ Yeah yeah yeah.

PF So there are, you know, thousands of journals behind paywalls.

RZ Right.

PF So there is a precedent for people paying for high quality content. The precedent that’s really unusual here, and this is tough to address, I mean I say this as a friend of the organization, right? Like people will pay lots of money to access scholarly journals from the last hundred years because they can count on the content that’s inside, they can um there’s just a set of standards –

RZ Those are often subsidized by whoever you work for.

PF Almost always by your university. Most universities have free access, campus-wide, to JStor, right? So there are institutional access, there’s all these things that raise the value of that content in people’s perception while also lowering friction for specific community and you’re creating internet-born content, for the most part, like things that are reacting to the day, written by people who might be professional writers, might not be, and asking people to jump over that threshold. And that to me is novel, like that’s new: asking people to pay for work by — that doesn’t have a specific kind of brand imprint on it like The New York Times or The Washington Post but is more about the author’s voice.

That’s new: asking people to pay for work — that doesn’t have a specific kind of brand imprint on it like The New York Times or The Washington Post, but is more about the author’s voice.

MS Mm hmm. So this is why I think it’s the most interesting media company in the world which is this is the challenge that we have. It means that we have to turn the Medium brand into something that people are willing to pay for and that means delivering people — finding the diamonds in the rough, polishing those diamonds, and delivering them to readers. That takes work. That takes uh a lot of really interesting kind of writer/community management work, it takes some interesting curatorial work. It takes you know a sprinkling of machine learning and personalization to go find interesting things in the corpus of things that are published on Medium everyday and delivering those to you in a way that it is a great reading experience. And you know so far the results are really, really great and growing and what we’re finding is that as people are discovering and reading content that is from members cuz we, you know we have a meter and paywall type situation, as they find and read more of that they subscribe and it’s because we deliver things of value to them that, again like, helps them understand their world and the things they’re interested in. And those voices don’t need to be necessarily with — aligned with a classic media brand. They can be first-person experiences from the people that are kind of living the things that you want, whether that’s photography, or you’re into cryptocurrency, or you’re into life-hacking, or if you’re into I mean there’s just all of this great content that’s there and the people that are there have wonderful voices and it’s our job to go surface that and makes sure that we’re delivering that great content to people. And that’s why it’s — this is why it’s really fun and really challenging which is there’s all of this great stuff that’s published on Medium everyday and we just have to get better and better and better at finding it and surfacing it to the right people and making sure that when you come to Medium you understand what it stands for and uh and we’re delivering like great stuff to you.

21:20 PF There’s a point in here that I think it’s important for people to process a little bit and let me try to unpack it which is about the job that you do because I think when I think ‘product manager’, even though I know this isn’t what the job really is because I live it everyday, I think: here’s someone who is going to ship a product. They’re going to get the website up, get the apps in the app store, and make sure that the platform that supports them is really strong and good. But everything else that you’re talking about: setting up business processes, hiring people, staffing, against editorial work, getting a machine learning track kicked off is connected to that [mm hmm]. So how should people think about that kind of work, like how do you think about that? Cuz, you know, you’re a web person and a business person for quite a while now –

MS Mm hmm. Yeah, I’m old.

PF I know [RZ and PF laugh], it happens. Me too.

MS Who isn’t?

PF And uh –

MS Grey and you have no hair left.

PF It’s very confusing, right? Cuz the medium is still very young [right]. Um how does — what is the role of the product manager when the product manager isn’t just making product but also kind of building the business and the enterprise, and often kind of quietly organizing things around product needs?

The really interesting part of my job is being able to collaborate with curators, and editors, and folks that are creating content, and figuring out that mix of form and storytelling.

22:45 MS Well it’s — you know there’s all sorts of that that happens on a day-to-day basis. Like we’re running lots of experiments all the time and looking at A/B test results, and you know writing product reviews, and all the, you know, usual stuff that happens in our product work. The really interesting thing that I love about my job, given like I was an English lit major undergrad, I’ve been writing online for a long time, uh I’ve launched, you know, media websites and worked in the space for awhile and so the really interesting part of my job is being able to collaborate with curators, and editors, and folks that are creating content, and figuring out that mix of form and storytelling that I think is really fun. Uh and I’ve been doing that for a really long time. But now I get to do it for my job. And it’s the same thing of like working with engineers of like being about personalization, and machine learning, and how we’re doing topic classification, and how do we understand if the story is quality, and all of those things that are really hard, interesting computer science problems that I don’t know how to do that stuff but I love working with those people. For me, this feels — I mean this feels like heaven. Like I’m working with all of these really, really smart people in a very, very multidisciplinary way about um delivering essentially an end product that when you look at your phone you wanna tap on the Medium icon and like dive in.

RZ So I wanna step into the role of the writer for a second: “So I wrote a great piece on Medium, it blew up. Lots of claps. Do you reach out to me?”

MS Uh, yeah, sometimes we do. Yeah.

RZ Ok. Second question: “I’ve got a good following, I write a lot of great pieces, nothing’s blown up but it’s building and it’s doing good. Do I click a button and tell Medium, ‘Hey, I wanna be part of your premium services?’”

MS Yeah [ok]. So anybody today as a writer on Medium can essentially become part of the partner program [got it]. So you’re an individual writer, you write on Medium, you can opt in to the partner program and then you can make a decision when you publish whether or not you wanna get paid for that piece.

RZ Ok. And if you wanna get paid, it goes behind [yup] — behind the paywall?

MS It goes behind the paymentwall [ok]. And if you’re a signed-in user of Medium you can read three locked stories per month [got it]. And we’re working on evolving that over the next few weeks so that if you can imagine as a logged out reader you can actually read those things because we wanna make sure that if you’re writing and you’re opting in to get paid for a story, that we’re not limiting your distribution. So when you write you can say, “Yup, I want this to be — I wanna be able to get paid for this story and it’s available both to logged-out readers of Medium as well as logged-in readers of Medium.” And then we have essentially metre mechanics just like is happening on other um kind of mainstream media sites that have a subscription component.

25:30 RZ Ok. I want to talk about fake news.

MS Hmm hmm. Ok.

RZ And I think this is common for the three of us. We live in a particular corner of the internet. We don’t bite a lot of the silliness, and we stay in sort of certain circles, and we avoid certain sites, and we can sniff out bullshit, and all of that. But Medium, to me, and, again, I only have read a particular corner of Medium, seems to have, even to date, even with the subscription model, have carved out a corner of the internet that seems to have been immune to a lot of that stuff. Uh and meanwhile it’s a place where anyone can write. I mean ok The New York Times can do it but they’re completely controlling obviously the content that comes out [mm hmm]. Talk to me about that for a second. I think it’s amazing that they did that. And again, I’m not sure they did, maybe there is a lot of garbage on Medium, I have no idea. Um but I’ve never, I’ve rarely, rarely, rarely seen it. If ever. Is that something that is part of the mission to some extent or did you guys just sort of found yourself in a place where higher quality stuff’s getting published and the like?

MS Well I think that this is no work of mine and all the work of the team that’s been here for years. I think there are a few layers to answer this question. One is anytime you put a essentially a text area on the internet, you’re at risk of having things that are abusive, inflammatory, fake news, all sorts of problems. And we have our share those problems. And I think we do, without setting ourselves up as a target, I think we do an above-average job of dealing with those issues. We have an excellent trust and safety team. We have a really clear and I think really clear and exemplary set of policies around that type of content. We act on it quickly. And I think that the system is engineered to not — the fact that you haven’t seen it means that the system that has been engineered means it’s working [mm hmm]. So both from a policy perspective, a staffing perspective of the folks who actually manage those issues, and the technology that makes sure that those stories actually don’t get surfaced to readers. It’s just takes a lot of work. I think the other piece is the brand [right] and like it’s a combination of the brand and the fact that we act quickly means that we’ve been lucky that that type of content really hasn’t found a purchase in the site. And I think that that’s — I think that’s a lot of hard work and it continues to be hard work. You know, I’m never gonna say that we’re perfect or that the site is free of this stuff because there’s bad content on Medium and it’s our job to make sure that when it gets reported we act on it quickly, that we have a clear set of policies, and that we make sure that we engineer the system so that, as best as we can, that content isn’t surfaced to people. I think that the fact that — I mean one of the things that — I’ve just been thinking a lot about what’s been happening with Facebook and Twitter and going in front of Congress is that, you know, the difference is um that essentially they have a promoted content business model at Facebook and folks can essentially put things on websites and then promote it on Facebook and essentially drive distribution [right]. Um and that’s just not the way that Medium works.

Anytime you put a essentially a text area on the internet, you’re at risk of having things that are abusive, inflammatory, fake news, all sorts of problems. And we have our share those problems.

28:49 RZ Right.

PF Alright. One last question.

MS Yeah.

PF How do you measure success in the job? How do you know you’re doing a good job as a product –

MS Oh good question! That’s a really good question. I think it’s about clarity [huh]. I think it’s all about clarity which is: is the organization clear about where we’re going, about what we’re doing, about how we’re executing, and about how well the experiments we’re running are succeeding or failing, right? So I don’t have — like I love like crazy hypothesis testing and all sorts of like, you know, being really bold and adventurous in the experimentation as long as there is like really crystal clear thinking about why you’re going to do that. And there’s honesty and transparency about the results that happen so that the organization learns. So I think that really success in this type of role is about clarity combined with like sense of purpose and mission. That like I look at my job as making sure that the teams that I work with, everybody is aware of what’s happening, that we document things clearly, that we have like clarity of thought, and that all of the work that we’re doing essentially lines up to mission and purpose. And so it’s a little bit of like repeating the same message over and over again and being a little bit of a cheerleader for what we’re doing. And I think that that’s, for me, that’s really exciting and fun and then what you want is, like that’s internally, and then on the outside I mean the ultimate judge [music fades in] of whether or not this thing is actually working is like: do we get the business results that we want? Like, is the business growing in the ways that we want in our kind of key metrics as the company is going in the right direction? But really, internally in how we work, it’s about clarity and sense of purpose.

PF I can’t ask for more than that. Michael Sippey, thank you for coming on the Track Changes.

MS Thanks for having me back!

PF Well, we’ll have you on a third time.

RZ No doubt about it.

MS Alright great [all laugh].

PF That’s a thoughtful guy.

RZ Very smart dude and a very nice person. And attached to actually a mission that I really, really respect.

PF Obviously I do too.

30:52 RZ Every other mission’s tied to money. This one’s tied to money too but it seems to have a couple of things ahead of it.

PF Well there’s a path to get to that money as opposed to [yeah] like what’s the shortest path to get to that?

RZ Well, I mean the whole internet is smeared with shit right now. So it’s nice to see a mission that is trying to clean up the shit.

PF It is true. It’s a little bleak out there and this is not bleak.

RZ No, it’s not.

PF It’s almost hard and confusing to listen to someone who isn’t deeply cynical about media and the internet right now.

RZ Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

PF It’s like, “Well, what memo did you miss?” But you know?

RZ Hey, we’re fans. I mean let’s be honest: I read a lot of stuff — it’s like not like I say, “Oh let me go to Medium right now.” I just — half my clicks end up at Medium.

PF So, thank you, Michael. This has been Track Changes, the podcast of postlight, the digital product studio that lives at 101 5th Avenue on the tenth floor.

RZ Pfft. I’m Rich Ziade, one of the cofounders of Postlight.

PF I’m Paul Ford, that other cofounder and if you need us for anything just send an email to

RZ And if you’re on iTunes, five star that mo fo!

PF Yeah, like we’re a fancy French restaurant.

RZ Yes. Thank you.

PF Bye!

RZ Have a great week!

PF See ya [music ramps up].