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Postlight loves playing with code — and sometimes that play helps people be more productive. Paul and Gina introduce Account, a new open-source Labs project from Postlight that renders interactive math equations as text stories. Paul discusses the importance of creating data representations that people can explore, and thanks to Account, Gina is converted from an old-school coder to a React fan.


Paul Ford And then they come back with the moldy bowl with the dead goldfish in it. 

Gina Trapani [laughs] Man

PF I guess we’re ready for a new goldfish.

GT [laughs]

PF And then you know, you know what Postlight does. Then we look them in the eye and we go, you’re also going to need a new bowl. [music fades in, plays for 16 seconds, ramps down]

PF Hey Gina.

GT Hey Paul!

PF We’re going to talk a little bit about some software created by one of the world’s worst programmers, me. [laughs]

GT Oh, this will be fun. 

PF I know, but we should also talk a little bit about a company called Postlight where you and I both work. That is a place where some of the world’s best product strategists, product designers and product engineers work. You know, I think the thing worth emphasizing for people listening is we’re a place that loves building software, but we really like partnering. Like, I mean, think about the relationships you’re managing right now. How long are they running?

GT Oh six, nine, twelve months. Longterm partnerships. Folks who are like, ‘what should I do? Like I got this problem. What should I do?’

PF That’s right. And you don’t run in there and go like ”JavaScript!”. And you don’t run in there and you don’t go like ”design thinking!”. You go in and you say, okay, tell me about the problem.

GT Tell me about it. Tell me about the problem and let’s reduce the uncertainty around it.

PF Tell me again. Now let me me, introduce me to 25 more people and then let, let them tell me.

GT Oh yeah, the listening tour as a part of it for sure. 

PF Yeah. And then you build, then you build, only then. So, but that is, that is who we are. We are your longterm product strategy and product development partner. Okay, I’m ready to talk about this thing.

GT Great. Let’s do it. Every once in a while Paul, you come into work on a Monday morning and you’re like, I was working on this thing and here it is. And you did that recently. And I opened the thing and I was like, this thing is so cool. It spoke to my soul.


PF So let’s, okay, so it has a silly name. So in this probably won’t be its file name, it was called Account.

GT Account. So if you go to you can see it. And actually I want to know more about the name but first just to say what it is. What is Account?

PF So Account is, first of all, go check it out. It is little stories like ”hey, you drank three sodas a day” and over the year that cost, you know and if it’s 2.50 a soda, which people are like that’s crazy, but not in the New York City bodega at 20 ounce diet Coke can easily run 2.25 to 2.50, it adds up to this much money over the course of the year. So like that little like personal finance story. The only thing that’s different is that instead of just those numbers which are calculated automatically, it gives you a little slider. So you put in, it’s like a calculator built into a story.

GT It’s really cool. We built recently, Oh I don’t know, I guess last year now we built a little mini spreadsheet called Tiny Sheet and it’s a classic spreadsheet. You know you numbers, there’s two columns, rows, pop numbers in. You do a calculation.

PF It’s, it’s Tiny Sheet is the website, right?

GT Is the website. Yeah. And so Account is like similar except that there’s a narrative, like there’s a rationale, there’s a story, like you spent this much on cokes, what if you took this money and do something else with it?

PF And currently the way the way that you make the stories is they’re just simple text files and then you put the calculations in brackets and there’s an easy way to do it. And it’s pretty, if you can do algebra, you can do this, right? And so this truly was a two weekend project. I’m always as I feel as CEO, it’s important to keep my skills and my awareness up. So that’s always part of it. I’m actually, you know, I tend to read developer blogs and design blogs and try to keep aware of what’s going on out there. So I’m always looking for a little project and I’ve also been spending more time trying to tell visual stories as part of representing and selling services and talking to people about Postlight. And so that’s, that’s another thing that’s happening, right? I’m building little software tools to share screens when I’m telling people about our services.


GT Yeah, I mean this was what I was wondering about like what’s the impetus like get you focused on sales at Postlight, you’re talking to prospects a lot and I know that you’ve been, and we talked about this in recent episodes, figuring out how do I engage people on a video call? How do I show, how do I actively listen? And it feels like account is part of this. I’m of curious like is this, has this been in your head like for a while or were you writing out like I know there are other apps like solver and there’s just regular spreadsheets.

PF One of the things I believe in very strongly, I don’t believe that there are too many new ideas. There’s a tremendous focus on new ideas in our world, but most ideas are just kind of floating out there waiting for their moment and there are wonderful precedent for the kind of thing I did here. Going back to like the sixties and seventies but also on the web there’s and there is a language called idyll or idyll. And so which are all about embedding interactive elements into stories so that you can explain things. But you know, they really tend to be focused on complex visual explanations. I want to take a really complex abstraction and make it visual and interactive and show how the chart changes and so on. And one of the great lessons of my time as a writer for a large audience and then also as a business person is that you can’t make it simple enough. 

GT Caveman, right? Caveman.

PF Caveman is a — no, exactly like people understand basically how to use a calculator, how to make a spreadsheet, calculate things with cells like, like lots of, not and not everybody, but lots of people who are working with kind of symbols day to day. They get that knowledge. But then that’s it. Like you can’t really ask too much more from people than than that. And so that’s all. That’s all I’m trying to do here is I was like, you know what if it was really, really simple, I looked at those languages cause I was out looking for ways to present rich interactive so that aren’t just Google slides or aren’t just PowerPoint, but actually how am I going to get complex ideas onto screens. Boxes, architecture diagrams, things like that. And not just make them static but God, could they be interactive? Like we, we are a software company. Can I give people software instead of a deck?


GT Yeah. I mean this is the thing that Account does right there, these sliders and you adjust the sliders and then the numbers or the words change in the story and, and you used, you used react for this, which is, I feel like it’s a very, very good case for like explaining even what react is good at and what it’s for.

PF Yeah, this is the real thing actually. And this is one of the reasons why that could be a two weekend project. This would have been a lot harder in ye’ olden times. So react is basically a whole lot of stuff that allows you to write a whole ton of JavaScript functions, but it still feels kind of like the web and that is, I’m being abstract and vague on purpose here, but like react feels and looks like a lot of things. But ultimately it just everything, it kind of looks like the web and it kind of looks like you’re writing HTML and it kind of seems like you’re writing JavaScript. What it turns into is that everything is a function that can call all the other functions and so, and then the way that react really works, it’s a front end framework is that you write all these little components and components are paragraphs and divs and sliders and you know all the things that you might have in a webpage up to and including charts and forms and fields. So you write those and they look kind of like the web does, but instead of updating them or being very conscious of them, you’re always instead trying to modify a thing called state. State being a big hairy variable for the most part. Just sort of like their stuff, you know all the stuff that you do in your programming, your, your field names and your, your strings and your integers and whatever all go in this big thing called state. 


PF And what react does is keep an eye on that and when it changes it says ”that’s interesting”, you know you used to have a field here called number of dogs, underscore underscores in between those words and it was set to three but now it’s set to four and then it goes, ”what components are actually talked to that variable? Like what do we need to redraw on the screen so that that three becomes a four?”. And so what’s really attractive about that is instead of thinking too much about your interface, you just update your state and all of a sudden everything changes on the screen, which is not as big a deal programming-wise if like let’s say you’re going out to some web service to find out if a person is logged in or not. Like there’s a lot of ways you can do that. But boy is it nice when you move a slider and 25 other things need update automatically?

GT Oh it’s so nice. I mean I’m a really old school like web developer where I like you write HTML pages and then when you want to do something maybe you’ve got a little jQuery or whatever and you click on a link and the web browser makes a request to the server and the server compiles some new HTML and sends it down to you. It’s really heavy old school, hard ref, hard reload kind of system. But I think one of the things I really love about Account is that it took me a while to get my head around why anyone would want the like layers of complexity and abstraction that like react provides. I got like, like I was, I didn’t like react at first. I was like, you are taking me away from the dom and I want to get closer. Right? Like, like you had this whole new model that I have to learn and I was like resentful and hostile about it. Cause I’m old and middle-aged and I get to be that. But the thing about Account, I mean I really, you know, you move the slider and the page reacts, like that’s what the name is [laughs].

PF It’s magical right. That’s what we were told we were going to have like in 1983.

GT Yes! Yes! It truly turns the uh, web, you know, the web page into a web app. And in a way that like became really super clear to me. And because you’ve got this like textile, which also sort of spoke to my soul, right? I could say, you know, this expression evaluates to this. And so when the values change, the output changes. It’s just, it’s really well done.


PF What I’m doing, and I think what speaking to you, cause I thought about this too is okay, it’s little equations embedded in a story. All I did was get us back. I basically took all the cool things that react lets you do, which is having enormous number of interdependent components that can update when one of them changes. So I move one slider and other sliders can move or I move one slider and 50 different numbers change. And I can also automatically draw a chart if I want to because I know what X and Y values are like. So all those things that are really neat, all I did was kind of retrofit them into the document way of thinking for the web. So I was like, Oh well what if all the parts of the document could talk to all the other parts of the document. React makes that super easy. You just abstract that you abstract out the parts that are going to change and then you hand that back to state. So all you do is you say, hey, when a slider moves, update this thing over here and that’s it. And then instead of setting up a bunch of components and saying this is instead the document turns into components. So this was actually what was magical about the web in the early days of the web. And you could put forms in and people could post and you were like, Oh my God, I can do whatever. But what’s weird is and where we’ve gone in the last, I don’t know, five, 10 years or so is people have said, ”no, no, no, no, no, nobody needs to communicate with documents. What they need is rich interactive app style experiences in their web browser.” And this is a framework for making that wonderful, right? 

GT Yup.

PF And so the two worlds can coexist. It’s sort of silly that they don’t, what I will say is a lot of the systems that are there, I’m being mindful, I’m not disparaging any of the other efforts here. There’s a lot of efforts going into them and that they’re good for really complicated stuff like things where the charts move in certain ways and you know, a lot of the, a lot of the rich interactive languages for sharing visual explanations are about really complicated things with strong math and physics underneath them. And this has literally me going, what if the calculator that I had when I was 11 years old could be built into my word processor? Like it’s no… yeah. That’s it.


GT Yeah! I mean, this is, this is the other part of it that really resonated with me. So we’re, I mean, I say we’re homeschooling my child at, we’re not actually homeschooling. We’re distance learning.

PF You’re at home.

GT I’m at home and my, and my kid is in school and she’s really good at math except if you give her a formula, she is utterly uninterested in even engaging with it. But if I say to her…

PF She like, like adding? So like, multiplcation. And. yeah.

GT She like’s situations. She’s really into stories. She loves stories. She loves books and stories, right? So like the reading part is strong. The math part, she’s capable but uninterested. But if I give her a word, if I say to her, Jane has 13 apples and gave five to John, like, and John really wants to eat one, like how many does John have left? She engages with that because that is something that she can imagine and has meaning to her because there’s like characters and a narrative and, and seeing her respond to that. And I’m the same way. I mean I just, something I’ve really learned a lot about a Postlight is like these sort of back of envelopes. Like the client has these needs, we have these resources. It’s going to be about this time and you and Rich really are like masters of this, of being able to just do this calculation on your head and I’m not as fast, I’m not as good. I always have to write it down. But this like having this sort of like real word world narrative that the putting the story with the numbers was just magical to me.

PF Look, that’s where I want to get. What I want to do is have a little zoo of business models and ideas because what I want to be able to do is explain to clients and people who want to be clients and be like ”hey, you know, I heard you. We did that interactive digital white boarding session and then I went away and I heard you and I tried to model out a little bit of what I heard”. And make it so that we could understand the ranges. And once we understand where is the value for Poslight? The value for Postlight is not simply that we build software, we do that reliably and we’re proud of it. But why would you call us instead of just essentially outsourcing it for much, much less money, right? It’s because we will understand that business case and we’ll encode that understanding into the thing we built. And I mean this is not me pitching. This is why people give us more money than they would give, you know, someone they find on Upwork to do a thing. 


GT Right.

PF And so what I want to do is, is make what I’m trying to do as the person who runs sales, which look, if, if people know me and know my background, running sales for a midsize and growing agency in the hot blooded world of American capitalism isn’t an outcome people would have chosen for me when they were predicting where I was heading.

GT [laughs] I’ve known you for 15 years, fall maybe more now. And it’s true. I would not, I would not [laughs] have predicted it. It’s been amazing to watch. Actually.

PF All I’m saying is like I find a vast amount of modern American capitalism culture, utterly exhausting. And if you look at the content this company produces, it’s produced by me and you and people like us, like it’s not, we’re not going to market to you in such a where it feels like we’re licking your ear, right? We’re going to say, ”hey, you know what we do that’s pretty valuable. This.” And if it’s useful to you, god, I hope you get in touch. Like that is, that’s the strategy and what I’m realizing and look, I mean it’s too early for big lessons from the big moment that we’re in right now. It is way too…

GT  True, yeah, definitely. 

PF But a thing I keep learning is how important active listening is that I just need to listen better over and over and over again. Open your ears and how do you listen better? You don’t have to sit there and stare into the HD 10 ADP Logitech camera that I grabbed on the way out of the office. The balloon went up, right? 

GT [laughs]


PF Like I go, I, you draw pictures, you take notes, you ask questions, you say this is a dumb question, but, and you get people… and it’s not just about showing that you’re engaged, it’s about actually being engaged. And really what it comes down to is I’m doing something for you essentially for free. Like I’m doing something for you because it’s more interesting for us to learn together than for me to just tell you about how great my company is.

GT Right. And as a part of sales, I mean we’ve just got this parade of prospects, you know, many of which, the most of which we don’t close, right? But we get to, we hear a lot, we hear a lot of business problems and scenarios and models, right?

PF This is the hardest thing. So here’s number one. If I was to give myself advice seven or eight years ago or anyone advice in this world: take all the calls.

GT Yeah.

PF There was a point where we were experimenting with Facebook advertising. And let me be clear, that didn’t work. 

GT [laughs]

PF It was bad. 

GT It was bad. It didn’t work. But wow, we saw a lot.

PF Because nobody on Facebook is like, ”Oh, I wonder how racist my aunt is being right now. Oh, and agency that will build incredibly complicated software. Let me click!”

GT [laughs]

PF So it turns out that Facebook ads are not the greatest thing for an agency. 

GT They’re not right for us. 

PF Maybe they’re good for brand. I don’t care. It’s Facebook. But what it meant is that while we were doing it, the number of leads that came in a good, a good number of leads for company like ours is a couple of week. Right? And, and those are relatively qualified because people are maybe get what we’re doing. I still get, we still get lots of email that are like, I have $500 and I want to build a website and it’s like this not for you then. And I always try to send them on their way and go like, you know, go check out like one of the freelancer sites that’s… you don’t want us. But Facebook meant like a hundred leads coming in a day and may were bananas just like…

GT It was intense. It was intense. It really, it just felt like just gazing directly into the id of like I, yeah, I don’t know what it was wild.


PF What is my job as CEO? You know, my cofounder Richard is our closer especially and very good at structuring the really big stuff and I am in charge of the sales culture. I’m going to take every damn call. And I did, I did. 

GT You did. You were a soldier. 

PF And I talked to people, I talked to hundreds of people. You know what the, after the first five, 10 calls, it’s not painful anymore. This is the thing. It is hard to get started because you’re like, ”Oh boy, this is terrible. I need them. I need to sell some services today.” And then after like call five, you’re like, yeah, nothing matters.

GT Yeah, I got this. Yeah. It’s so funny. You’re you’re, and you’ve honed your instincts too. I’ve been on calls with you and you can tell within 10 minutes, you know, is this somebody we can help out by referring? Is it someone we can help out at all? Is this someone that doesn’t make sense like you’ve gotten, you’re incredibly generous with your time in general with your inbox and your and sales call time.

PF That’s very nice and very flattering. It’s very conscious, which is what are we here for? Right? 

GT Right.

PF I’m going to make money. We’re going to be okay. Postlight does well. We have a good product and a good market. Even when things are up and down, we do a thing that people want, so we’re very, very lucky. I also believe that more people should be in our world and more people should understand where the ranges are and how they work. Now there are human beings who get in touch and they’re like, I could get this done online for $500 and you’re like, well that is absolutely right.

GT Yeah, you should do that. Yeah. Like I hear I, yes.

PF Why in God’s name would you engage in expensive services firm slash consulting and product partnership from like instead of if you didn’t know exactly why you wanted it, it’s like don’t go to the cardiologist at Mount Sinai because you have a sore foot. 

GT Right.

PF Right. [Paul & Gina laugh] 

GT So, tell me what you’re using Account for. 

PF So Account’s funny because I built Account while I was on my way to build some building something else. So this is, this is the…

GT Oh! [laughs]

GT I didn’t know that! This is good backstory. So wait, you were on your way to building something else and you kind of were like, ”Oh, let me just go down this road for a little bit.”

PF Yeah. So what I’m trying to do is put together just a couple of frameworks and tools that I can use in sales communication and also publishing like Postlight produces an enormous amount of content for an agency. Yeah. We don’t talk about this a lot, but we follow pretty solid rules of journalistic ethics as a good baseline.

GT Yup.


PF And are pretty serious about style and pretty serious about tone and quality. 

GT Yes.

PF And so what I would love to do and what I truly want to do is just have more interactive software as our publishing experiences go out, right? We publish blog posts on WordPress. A great thing to do. That is very valuable, but boy is it nice to move sliders. We published, we created a thing a long time ago, meaning like three months now, like a year, uh, called RFP builder, which is like a tool for making RFPs for, especially for like CMS driven websites by just clicking. Because it’s hard to write RFPs, RFPs are requests for proposals. I love things that don’t make you do any work but let you explore and think. They’re not the same as real work but they are really great. I like messing around in spreadsheets. I like little interactive simulations. I like things where you, you know, where the graphs pop up because you can think.

GT Yeah.

PF Like all, I just want to think and I don’t, you don’t have to have the answer. And everything is very answer driven. So things that let you write the RFP just by smashing the mouse button. Wonderful. And so the other thing I’m working on and we’re working on this pretty steadily is I want the number one thing we do and we’re talking to people about what we’re going to build for them is draw what I call Layer Cakes, little rectangles with other rectangles on top, showing the platform that you know, like here’s the content part, here’s the marketing component, here’s where analytics go. And sort of bundling that together and then thinking through the work necessary to make that into reality.

GT So not the tech architecture. You’re not like, here’s postgres and here’s graphical and here’s react. It’s, it’s the conceptual components.

PF A little bit of each, it’s actually helpful to be messy because you know, otherwise you get into these very complicated arguments when you’re drawing your rectangles about like, is this content or is this marketing? Or do you just like words have to go in a box somewhere. And so sometimes it’s just good enough to just say data and then sometimes it’s branding, right? But like there’s going to be tools, then you figure out what your deliverables are and what the actual artifacts are. But the platform is mentally different.

GT Yup.


PF And so, you know, I start, I’ve been drawing those using a tool called whimsical, which is just a like a, a sketching framework tool that you can, uh, you can hit at But what I really want to do is, is have more of a dynamic system where I can, and I’ve been doing this, it actually, you write a markdown document and it creates a platform. It shows you the pictures and then you can click and it will tell you things about those components and what’s inside of them.

GT So this is Layer Cake, Layer Cake, also sort of text-based. But visualization tool. Interesting. I know we haven’t actually launched this, but this is, this is what you’re working on, on your way when you stop by it at Account.

PF That’s right. So I’m building Layer Cake and I’m also like, there’s a wonderful tool called Reveal, which is a JavaScript presentation layer. Another thing about Reveal is you’re like, Oh, okay. It’s kind of like PowerPoint but for the web, except then you realize if you can create any HTML structure at all, you have a presentation that looks roughly as good as a pretty good PowerPoint deck. This is a way of thinking that not a lot of people follow it, right? Cause most of us think about, I’m going to make a document using a tool. Okay? Because I am who I am and I do what I do. I think what is the data and how many different ways could we represent and explore it. And so if you tell me I want to draw a Layer Cake diagram in whimsical, that is wonderful. Do that, communicate it, use the, use the browser. But then if you tell me I could break up my deliverables and my prototype components into two different datatypes and write little lines of text about them and as a result I could automatically generate a diagram, a presentation that walks through every component of the diagram with bullet points and then I could add some data to that and I could actually extract a schedule or a budget. Well now I have something that with a month of training I could get someone to be able to, cause we were talking about earlier with Account, right? Like estimation in my brain and in Rich’s brain is not great because it doesn’t scale.


PF Tools for estimation thinking through, and this is the thing, it’s the spreadsheet isn’t enough. You got to do the thinking.

GT Yes.

PF And you got to tell the story and you got to understand what you’re really pitching here and what you’re really thinking through. Look, we’re a sales organization, we’re, and the way I think about the world is you have to model it out and then you have to create representations of that data in a way that people can explore and understand. That’s software to me. And so like actually taking it all the way back to react and Account. That’s all I’m doing. You move the sliders around and it updates the state and then that that creates a representation. It just happens in your browser and it seems really obvious. I want our sales and communication culture to actually be that obvious and then we’re as helpful as we can be. Then you go in and you’re like, Hey, while we were talking, I was able to figure out some key things about your platform. Let me share them with you.

GT Yeah, right. You’re giving them a way to think about their problem, which is, you know, it’s just invaluable. It’s, it’s, it’s huge.

PF The more I do that, the better Postlight does.

GT Yes. It’s a, it’s good for us. It’s good for them. I, you know, when you, when so when you build Account, you preceded it with like, and I don’t know how you were thinking about this, but there were like a few examples of using it and, and I tried to like reverse engineer your thought process in your brain. So walk me through some of the examples. If you go to there’s a little hamburger menu in the top left, which has gotten a little bit more recognizable recently.

PF Yeah. I rotated the hamburger menu, um, 45, uh, 45%.

GT [laughs] degrees. 

PF Yeah, 45 degrees. And it turns out that that was very upsetting and alienating to people.

GT Uh, I didn’t know that it was a menu. 

PF I really, neither did Rich. People get really pissed off about web interfaces. It’s funny. Never know.

GT [laughs] We were all appalled. Once I realized it was a menu though. And I saw all the other examples. That’s when the light went off for me.


PF Yeah. So if you go, I’ve got blog, coffee, disease, fire, you did that one, freelancer, funnel, hankies, magazine, and soda. So I’ll, I mean soda was just me testing, you drink two diet Cokes a day at a cost of a $1.75 diet Coke, that’s $80 a month. If you’d put that into a fund with a 6% annual rate, you’d have $13,094 in decades. All those numbers are generated, right? 

GT Right.

PF So, uh, I’m just playing essentially. And so, you know, funnel is one, if you click on funnel, if you go, it is, I know that’s react, blog is the one. Blog was actually, it’s about the, the range in which you can be successful publishing content to the internet that is funded by advertising.

GT This is very enlightening. I love this one. It’s one of my favorites because I think everyone’s like, ”Oh, I’m just going to start it. You know, I’ll start a blog and I’ll make a living and starting writing a blog and’‘, this was amazing. 

PF Well, and the defaults on it are like this absolute utopia.

GT [laughs] They are absurd. Like you generate 40 posts a day like that, that alone. I just laughed. I just laughed. I lolled.

PF Right. And so it’s like, you know, it costs money to make content and you’re, you’re lucky to get some readers and you know, maybe they go look at other pages and you know, I put this up basically it’s very easy to get into the red the minute you start paying anybody for content, that’s what you learn.

GT Right.

PF I’d never seen this part of media math and look, this is very reductive. No blog is actually this. Nothing is this simple except at some level, you know, the people I know who’ve been in the business for decades saw this and were like, yeah, that’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen because there’s an essential truth to a couple sliders and numbers that is really easy to obscure when you have an ad sales team and you can see some growth and people are telling you to pivot to video.

GT Yeesss.

PF Like, the math sucks. 

GT It does. It does.

PF On publishing online, it’s hard. And unless you hit an absolutely vast scale. Like you, you lived in this world when you were doing Lifehacker.

GT Yup.

PF Like it’s hard. You need a really good sales team and you need a premium brand and its bah bah bah bah. And ultimately it is an industry that wants to lose money. It is hankering to destroy money and that, and it’s also, there’s a lack of empathy in every direction. You’ve got writers who can’t get paid and you’ve got people who can’t make money and everybody, you know what’s weird as you’re like no, no one, you can’t have all these people just living a lie!


GT [laughs] You can. You do. Everyone’s angry all the time. 

PF I mean look, you’ve had this experience with me cause you’ve been along on this ride road Postlight, right. I came in and did this after a different background of my life because I was like, I’m writing about technology, I’m writing about economics and money and I’m writing from observation and I’m writing from theory and I know, I mean you’d have to start ups and done other stuff to Gina but like you know, we’ve been in and out. But when you go right up to the face of it and you are in sales calls and you realize I must generate this much revenue in order to have these outcomes. And you know, for me, I always think I don’t even want to talk about this in public, right. But like the amount of money that a firm needs to make every day and am I closing that much business or creating an environment in which it’s more likely that that business will be closed and it’s a high number. It’s a really scary number. It’s more money than I would ever know what to do with. And yet I have to feed that coal fire every day.

GT Yup.

PF So I walked this into the company, I was like, ”Hey, guess what I did over the weekend?” [Paul & Gina laugh] It’s always awkward, but we have a great, our head of labs is a person named Adam Pash who is great in a lot of ways, but one in particular, which has, I was like, dude, I kinda just want to get it out. Like I don’t want to do a lot of ceremony and I don’t want to have this be the boss’s project. I just want to open source it, put it on GitHub then see if there’s anything here. Cause it’s been two weekends and I want to decide if it’s worth a third. So Adam was like, yeah, fine here, follow. There’s like a little bit of a checklist to just make sure that, you know, we’re, we’re kind of doing things right, but it’s like, let’s go, let’s get it up. Especially open source. Like why not just put it out in the world? 

GT Yeah.


PF And so we put it out and look, the day is, have you put something out and 2 trillion people look at it are that, that’s not the web anymore, but the new metrics by new metrics, which is pull requests, DMs, people saying, Hey, I’d like to use this on a media at a media company. What do you think? It’s a huge success, right? Like that. Like it’s funny, it’s like three or four key kinds of contact versus a zillion hits is really different from how it used to be. But anyway, yeah. So some good buzz. And now, um, look, the, the, the gap with this thing is it is hard for newcomers to edit equations inside of an ASCII text file.

GT [laughs] Yeah. And that you have to write that you have to build locally or commit to GitHub. Yeah, exactly. 

PF But if you’re gonna, release the garbage, get it out. 

GT Release the garbage! And then like the following week we added a view source button. So if you go to and you’re looking at one of the stories, you can look at the source, press view source and you can see what did, what did the person right in order to make those sliders come to life.

PF which I think is actually really important for this cause it needs to be accountable. Like it needs to be, no pun intended, like it needs to be. You need to be able to see all the math in a story. And that that to me is a power tool for where we are now is a big messy culture. And we’re looking at ways, we’re giving it like I see them and the way I look at things increasingly especially react as like a giant SDK. And we are in the web kind of, we’ve got all the components we could want. We’ve got a simple way to tell a story in a simple way to do math inside of it. Could we make the calculator a little bit easier so that it’s easier to put in equations? Can we make it easier to understand what’s going on and can we make it possible to kind of save stuff somewhere? Cause it’s hard, you know, right now you have to host this thing in your own react environment. Like it doesn’t, that part just doesn’t work for humans.

GT Yeah. This is still very much a developer tool but it, but you can see how it’s made for folks who want to write a story about how a thing works.

PF But what I’m doing that you and I really like is make telling stories, making things that people can play with. 

GT Yup.


PF And that is the core react value proposition is most people experience it is that it simplifies building apps and app experiences. So that little element of play that is built into, ”Oh my God, I can publish my stuff” has been taken away and it’s complicated. There are layers and layers of complexity. So the dumbness of the ASCII format that I created with is a huge feature in my opinion. [Gina laughs] Cause I could cause no, because Gina, you sat down and you were like, Oh God, this is actually incredibly easy. Like what is Paul doing? I don’t understand that. 

GT Yes.

PF That’s a hamburger menu?! What? And then 15 minutes later, even though this is still in super nerd mode…

GT I was able to do something. 

PF What’s exciting to me is this’ll sound, this will be very abstract, but what got you connected to this knowing you, right?

Like it’s, it’s that you were able to ship software with very little effort you were able to make. Cause that’s what this is. This is not, it looks like a document. It’s actually software. It is a tiny programming language that lets you express equations. Now if you tell any programmer worth their salt that this is software, they’ll be like, no, it’s not. Cause anyone can do that. 

GT [laughs] Right.

PF Um, and that’s, and look, that’s fair because people don’t think spreadsheets are software. But if you watch someone use a spreadsheet in an advanced way, it’s indistinguishable from somebody who a very good like a Python programmer.

GT Absolutely. 

PF And and so like to me what I did for you is I made it really possible for you to share and explore and create experiences that you could then share out. God, we need more of that in our lives. We have so many blocks of text in this world.

GT Yeah! Different ways to tell stories and interactive ways and you get a URL after you make a story. You’ve got a URL, you can share it, you can look, bookmark it, look back at it and change it. For other scenarios it’s, I love that you made the URLs a hackable so that you get the parameters on the URL. You can actually change the number there, share certain settings.

PF I didn’t do that. 

GT Oh that just happened?

PF That is a library built by Zach Golba at Poslight.

GT Ahhh, very nice.

PF That we have also open source so that the state of the calculator can be shared very, very easily. 

GT That’s beautiful. That’s a beautiful thing. 


PF Yeah. 

GT Well Paul, thanks for letting me talk to you about Account. I really enjoyed it. 

PF Your connection to it is actually a huge motivation cause I was happy to let it sort of sit and just sort of be a silly folly. But because you engaged with it, not as a like, Hey we’re, we should use this to market Poslight but more as like this is ridiculous. That is, that’s to me that’s the ultimate validation, right? It’s like Gina would like to build these little software experiences and share them and I think about Postlight and I’m like, we could publish a little calculator every week and one out of every 15 will probably get 50,000 hits and it would say by Postlight. What a great investment in teaching the world something in our brains. And then people will yell at us on Twitter about how we got it wrong.

GT How we got it wrong. And then we’ll adjust it and get it a little bit more right. And then we’ll tell, tell them they’re wrong. Yeah, exactly. This is how learning happens.

PF And we will say thank you. Right? Like I mean, and that, that’s all I want in the world. I just want like come and let me sell you some services. Then if it turns out we’re not fit, we say thank you. Feel free to get in touch.

GT Hopefully get to talk to you again. Yeah, exactly.

PF Yeah, we’ll be glad to clean up the mess that you’re about to make in about six months. [Paul & Gina laugh] 

GT There’s the cynicism. 

[Music fades in]

PF It is one of the wild things that happens is sunk cost coming in the door, which is people show up and they go, man, you know, we went with that other company and it turns out…

GT It was bad. We were in a bad place. 

PF We spent an awful lot of money and they just literally, it’s like, it’s like they bring you the, the incredibly dead animal, and they’re like… can you, can you fix?

GT We need to sudden cost story on Account, for sure. 

PF It’s just a goldfish upside down in a bowl and they’re like, what can you do?

GT [laughs] Oh, that is dark. But it’s so true. 

PF That is real. And you’re like, I, you’re going to need a new goldfish. [Gina laughs] Like we already spent so much money on this goldfish. 


GT What if we just feed this one? Can’t we just feed this one? Won’t it just kind of revive?

PF That will make the bowl filled with moldy garbage, so you can try that too. And they’re like, okay, we’re going to go feed it for awhile. So anyway, come take a trip to the aquarium store. 

GT Yes! If you needed a goldfish we’re your, we’re your shop.

PF That is exactly right. We’ll talk to you soon.

GT Bye Paul! [Music ramps up, plays alone for two seconds, fades out to end.]