Opinion | The Site Trump Could Run To Next

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When you walk in the room, do you have sway?

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kara swisher

You might not have heard of Substack yet, but it’s become one of the hottest startups over the last year. It’s a subscription-based newsletter company that brings independent writers straight to the inbox of readers. It’s not sexy, it’s email. But it’s the latest iteration in the upending of the media industry by tech. Well-known journalists from Glenn Greenwald to Andrew Sullivan to Matt Taibbi are flocking to the platform, proclaiming they’ve had it with mainstream media and just want to be themselves. They’re certainly loud, throwing their word toys everywhere. But what’s more interesting are the new stars Substack has spawned, like Heather Cox Richardson. She’s a 19th century American history professor, whose newsletter, titled “Letters from an American,” is on track to earn $1 million a year.

Well, that’s a lot. Good thing my wife just launched a Substack. The thing is, it’s not actually a new idea, since blogging has been around for decades. Typepads and LiveJournals and many others have come and gone. I started All Things D in 2007 on the WordPress publishing platform, which is that era’s version of what Substack is doing now. Been there, done that. Still, I was curious to see what Substack C.E.O. and co-founder, Chris Best, thinks his company is doing differently, and whether he plans to follow Big Tech’s footsteps in moderating toxic content, perhaps the diciest issue online publishing companies face in the years ahead. [MUSIC STOPS] The first question I’d like to ask is, Donald Trump’s been sort of deplatformed almost everywhere. And there was a whole thing going around among Substack people I saw on Twitter that he could come there. How do you think about that right now?

chris best

Our general approach is we’re kind of strongly free speech and free press. We have a strong default towards allowing people to say what they want to say. You know, you need kind of far-ranging views to do journalism and opinion and all the stuff that we want on Substack well. All of that said, there are limits to that. We do have a content policy that has narrowly prescribed prohibitions. And we definitely would kick someone off if they violated those things.

kara swisher

What are those prohibitions right now, because I just had the Parler C.E.O. on and he was talking about being a neutral platform, which he, indeed, is not, but thinks he is. And he got in a lot of trouble for it. So what are your prohibitions, just so I understand them?

chris best

You can’t do porn on Substack. You can’t do hate. You can’t incite people to violence. You can’t do illegal stuff. Our approach, in general, is that we want to broaden the range of what is acceptable discourse and build a system where you can have actual broad range of discourse. But in order to do that, you do have to be willing to throw people off at the extremes if necessary. And we are willing to sort of grapple with that reality.

kara swisher

How is that grappled with? What is your system in place for doing that?

chris best

Right now, it’s us, the founders. It gets elevated to us if we get there. And we’re making decisions about how to interpret the content guidelines.

kara swisher

And who elevates it to you?

chris best

The team we have here.

kara swisher

The team, so it’s not a lot of people. It’s not by automation, or AI, or anything else. As you get bigger, that’s going to be more difficult. Do you have plans in place for making your moderation system more robust?

chris best

Yeah, I mean, I think there’ll be bunch of stuff we have to do to scale it up. In general, we see moderation as necessary, but also, as kind of like a failure case. It’s not that you’ll ever be able to get rid of it completely. If your answer is, we’ll do tons and tons and tons of moderation, we think means you’ve just built a bad system to begin with.

kara swisher

Is there anyone off limits?

chris best

Certainly anyone that’s clearly violating the content guidelines. Our general thing is we want to create a platform for good things. And we think that that means having a strong presumption of freedom of expression. But it also means being willing to take action at the margins to make the platform work if we need to.

kara swisher

Now you do realize that’s an information superhighway. Facebook has gone down and has gotten into quite a few crashes. Are you worried about that? Do you worry that Substack might become a place for disinformation? Is that on your mind these days?

chris best

It’s so much on our mind, and not just disinformation specifically. Because of the way the business model worked for the early phase of the Internet, where everything is about getting as much attention as possible, we inadvertently created an environment that incentivizes engagement. And when you incentivize engagement, you’re incentivizing a bunch of bad stuff. You’re incentivizing outrage, you’re incentivizing tribalism and tribal warfare. It’s such a powerful force that you’re creating by the rules of the system that’s in place that no moderation is going to be able to fix it. And the only way to improve upon that is to have a completely different game that you play — Different business model.

kara swisher

Different business model. So business model would be your magic bullet, so to speak. Yeah, you can make a lot of money on disinformation. You certainly can. So when you saw all these platforms deplatforming President Trump, what did you think? Is that what you would have done?

chris best

First of all, I think this is a place where there is room for some nuance. And I think part of the information ecosystem we have is like as soon as that happened, all the nuance evaporated from the air, right? And everyone was either cheering it on and saying, yay, this is great. I’ve always said that corporations should have massive power to influence the public speech. And this is something —

kara swisher

Although you can separate the two from breaking. I mean, if you have a restaurant, and someone’s vomiting into everybody’s soup, you may remove them after.

chris best

Totally, totally. And listen, this is what I’m saying is I think there are good faith cases to be made for removing the stuff for sure. And of course, on the other side, everyone’s wringing their hands and saying, oh my gosh, this just proves that we’ve been oppressed all along. Awful, awful, awful. I think that Twitter and Facebook banning Trump is defensible. And you can quibble about whether they picked the exact right moment. Maybe they should have done a bit earlier. Maybe they should have waited. Maybe there’s some real politic. But at the point that they found themselves in, I think they were well within the reasonable good faith, we’re making this decision. And I say that as someone who is critical of other decisions that they’ve made. Like I think, for example, that Twitter censoring that Hunter Biden story before the election was a horrible overreach and that it probably eroded some of the trust that people might have had in them when they went to make hard moderation decisions down the line.

kara swisher

Yeah, arbitrariness has really been there.

chris best

That’s a very credible charge that you can level, right? Like, oh, yeah, sure, you’re making this decision. But look at these million other cases where you didn’t make it. But you know what, at some point, if you’re Twitter or Facebook, you’re going to have to make that decision. I empathize with being in that place. I’m not going to lambaste them for making it. The one that I really worry about is as we start to go down the tech stack, where it’s like, OK, now, and especially the Parler stuff. And whatever you think about Parler, good argument for why Twitter and Facebook banning Trump is OK is because it’s like, well, you could always have another social network. We’re not really a oligopoly. You could always start a new one. These are some people that are trying to do that. And all of a sudden, it’s not just Twitter bans him or whatever. It’s like the App Store and the Play Store ban them. That’s kind of a scary exercise of power. And then they start to get kicked off of Amazon Web Services, where their servers are hosted.

kara swisher

There’s all these competitors in cloud services, though. So you can’t call it antitrust. They could go to Oracle. Oracle didn’t seem to want to let them in the door either.

chris best

I’m not calling it antitrust. I think that it’s within the right of those companies to work with who they want. But I do think that it sets a bad precedent in a way to think about this. And the lens that I kind of have with this is I remember the weeks and months after 9/11, which was a horrible thing that happened. Everybody agreed that it was horrible. And yet, because of that, everyone’s suddenly agreeing on this highly important moral thing. It was easy to get wrapped up in the response in a way where, I think, in retrospect, a bunch of decisions got made in kind of this fervor to do the right thing, that we ended up haunting us for decades.

kara swisher

How would you describe Substack?

chris best

At a broad level, I call Substack a subscription platform for independent writers. So rather than a place that you come, where we’re saying, here’s your feed, here’s a bunch of things that we think you should read or the algorithm thinks you should read or the editor thinks you could read or anything, we say, this is a place where you can choose for yourself who you want to trust and subscribe to as a reader. And where you as a writer, once people have kind of opted into that relationship with you, you have a direct connection with them, unmediated by an algorithm. And as a bonus, if and when you’re ready, you can ask them to pay you directly. And therefore, your incentive is to earn and keep their trust, rather than go as viral as possible or inflame people as much as possible or whatever have you.

kara swisher

You do have a little marketing at the top, we recommend this. But it’s not by algorithm. It’s just people you just — Today, look at this, kind of thing.

chris best

We have a few things that we recommend. There’s some top charts of who’s on there. We want to give you a chance to kind of get into that world. But as soon as you subscribe to a writer, that connection is between you and them.

kara swisher

Is it part of Substack’s theory that people are starting to trust individual journalists or columnists more than institutions?

chris best

I think that’s part of the theory. I think that people are starting to lose trust in some of the institutions that used to have a lot of people’s trust. And they’re looking for alternatives. And with the way that they’ve been choosing to put together their media diet, they’re starting to kind of realize, hey, this is not actually how I want to choose what to consume. And one potential, compelling solution to that is like hey, here’s a person who I can kind of name and know, who is the one that I’m subscribing to. But there’s also people that are creating Substacks as a group of people, or starting a company and doing a Substack. And I think the more important point, to me, is if I, the reader, understand the business model and I kind of know how the whole system works, is there a case to be made that it’s a good deal for me? I’m paying this writer. They want to keep my trust. I’m helping fund the work they think is important.

kara swisher

Do you find yourselves neutral, then? That’s sort of the tree that they all hide behind. And I don’t think anything is neutral at all.

chris best

The way that we think about this is that we are not neutral. We have a viewpoint that I would describe as kind of like broadly liberal in terms of speech norms and the right answers for the public discourse. That said, part of this system that we then build because of our values says that we, in this ideal world where we’re creating a better information ecosystem, we don’t want to be heavy-handed arbiters of what’s OK to say, or what’s true or not. Because in the world where Substack becomes massively popular and there’s tons of writers there and everyone’s choosing who they want to trust, choosing who they want to read, it’s really a failure case if these three guys that are making this company are heavily rooting out everything that they don’t agree with or whatever.

kara swisher

Are you positioning Substack to be a new gatekeeper?

chris best

The basic principle of Substack is we’re putting readers and writers in charge. So we want to give a hands-off approach with getting in the middle of that. There’s only under extreme cases do we think that if you’re a reader and you really want to subscribe to this writer and this writer really wants to read for you, and no one else is going to see it, it’s going to go into your email, you can stop anytime you want. It has to pass a very high bar before we’re comfortable saying, even given all of that, no, we’re going to intervene and we don’t think this should exist at all.

kara swisher

Substack is now talking about introducing bundles, reader apps that aggregate content across individual newsletter, all gatekeeper activities. And by the way, a bundle is also called a magazine in old people land. You’ve resisted calling yourself a media company. Instead, you’re a place for independent writing. This is what media companies do. Why won’t you call yourself a media company?

chris best

I mean, the bundle is an interesting point. And this is maybe illustrative for your larger question. If we do bundles, the way we’ll do it is not to come in with an editorial bent and say, OK, you, you you, and you, you would make a good magazine. You’re in a bundle now. Here’s us saying, we endorse this bundle. The way we would do it is we would let writers sell federate. And the reason I don’t call Substack a media company is because we’re allowing a million media companies to be created on Substack.

kara swisher

OK, so let me just say, you’re talking to someone who’s done this for — I started All Things D way, way, way back when, before this. But I’ve had a blog. I’ve covered blogs extensively. Let me just read them. LiveJournal, Blogger, Wix, Drupal, Six Apart, Tumblr, still around, and I leave out Medium, which is also there, of course.

chris best

I have kind of this love of what I think of as the heyday of blogging, and kind of that moment where all of these things exploded, and there was this blogosphere. And that was a major force in the culture.

kara swisher

It was fun. I’m so sad when Suck.com died, I’ll tell you that.

chris best

[CHUCKLES] Sometimes people level this against us in an accusatory tone, where it’s, aren’t you just blogs? And I’m like —

kara swisher

[LAUGHS]

chris best

— that would be great. That would be awesome.

kara swisher

Let me do that. Aren’t you just blogs?

chris best

Isn’t this just blogs? And I’m like —

kara swisher

You are, but go ahead.

chris best

We should be so lucky, I say. I actually think that’s a good thing. And I think that that blog moment had a lot going for it. It had this wild, manic energy. It had this profusion of voices. It had all of this early internet optimism. There was a lot that was great about it. I think there were two big problems. One was that it never had a business model. Everyone thought that the advertising stuff was gonna work for some people. Sometimes, it did. But really, it didn’t work for blogs. I think we weren’t ready, kind of as an Internet society, at that point, to accept broadly the idea of paying for things. There was this meme like, the Internet’s like this land grab for everyone’s attention. Everything wants to be free. No one’s ever going to pay for things. It was weird to think about paying for something on Internet. So it would have been hard to do that properly back then.

kara swisher

And I do believe things were — whose time has come. I mean, you think about — everyone talks about the iPhone being so pioneering, but there were 10 other versions of it before it suddenly hit. And the issue was apps. Apps is what made it as big as it was. So tell me about your business model, then. Why is it gonna work now?

chris best

So our business model is, if you’re a writer, you can come to Substack. You can publish. You can publish to the web. You can publish to email. You can have an email list with as many people as you want on it. All of that is free for any size, anything. And then we also give you the option, when you’re ready, to start charging paying subscriptions. Once you’re charging, we take a 10% cut of the subscription revenue.

kara swisher

So one is the software and the publishing platform. Two is the subscription business model kind of thing, not advertising-based. And then you would add on editing services, libel services. That’s a big issue. I know I’ve talked to a lot of people worried about that.

chris best

Yeah, I mean, the reason that we’re creating that stuff is we’re kind of trying to provide everything you need to go independent. And it turns out the software is a big part of that. But it’s not the only thing.

kara swisher

So it seems to me, the business model is the most important one. The software, there’s been lots of software, it’s not the hardest thing these days anymore, but —

chris best

Software is easy. That’s why everyone gets it right.

kara swisher

I know, exactly. I mean, but people have been down this software road before. You have a lot to build on. I would think libel would be a big thing. What kind of protections do you give to your writers?

chris best

So because on Substack, you own your content, you and your audience, you are your own independent media company, you are liable for what you say. And for a lot of people, that’s not a problem. There are some people, though, who are doing stuff that the legitimate reporting ends up taking you into kind of dangerous territory. So we started this program called Substack Defender that’s in its total infancy right now. It’s in an early application-only stage. But it was basically like, OK, we want to provide an easy way, if you’re one of these people doing this legit stuff.

kara swisher

All right, so there are competitors, Medium, though a free platform, has lots of eyeballs. Patreon, of course, you owe a lot to Patreon and Kickstarter and things like that. Right now, you’re sort of hot, but that can change, as you know. How do you win?

chris best

There are places where now that there are lots and lots of readers and writers using Substack, we can naturally use the benefit of that network to help people recommend and discover each other, so really natural thing. Like you were mentioning bundling, writers want to self-federate into bundles, so that they can each get more than they could have had otherwise. People want to cross-promote. People want to recommend each other. People want to discover who their favorite writers are reading and all that stuff. And if we can build on the power of the network to let writers do that, it’s a big win for writers, they enjoy it. It’s a big win for readers, they can find more stuff. But if we can tip past the point where we’re introducing more of your readers than we charge in our fee, then I think it becomes instantly —

kara swisher

Sure, but copyable. What is the thing that isn’t copyable about Substack except that everybody likes it right now?

chris best

I think if there’s value in not just one writer being on Substack, but there’s two writers, get value from both being there, either because they’re sending each other readers, or they’re interacting with each other, or they’re just in the place where all the readers are because all the writers are. If we have those effects, which we’re starting to have, and if we have the best writers, which I’m biased, but I think we are also starting to have, I think that becomes very difficult to copy. Because you could make the same argument about Twitter, right? Twitter’s really simple, service-wise, and not copyable.

kara swisher

Yeah, well, there’s a point where it pushes over. It certainly does.

chris best

Exactly. Well, so that’s our goal. We want to push over. That’s our plan. [CHUCKLES]

kara swisher

One of the things I would ask, if I ever would do a Substack, I will not, by the way, I just don’t need it. I don’t need you. I know it sounds —

chris best

Sorry to hear it.

kara swisher

I know, I feel like what do I need you for is what —

chris best

Yet. You don’t need us yet. [CHUCKLES]

kara swisher

I don’t need you ever, just so you know, just so you’re aware. Maybe someday, when I’m an old lady — probably not, I’ll probably be living in Hawaii. And I could care less about writing anything. But in any case, what’s your plan on building a platform that makes many people successful versus a few big names that already have a huge following?

chris best

It’s funny. I think people have this impression that everybody who succeeds on Substack is well-known because —

kara swisher

Well, you have a list of top 10.

chris best

Yeah, but I think people look at that and they say, oh, well, I know that person, or that person, or that person. Therefore, well-known people succeed. And they kind of skip over all of the people who are on those lists who weren’t well-known, the people who have the potential to be the best writers in the world, who if not for Substack, might never have become writers, who didn’t see that as a path, or hadn’t considered that, or just never had an easy enough way to get into it. And there are people on Substack who fit that mold, who are among our top earners overall, who weren’t a famous journalist at a known publication. Talent is very widely distributed and opportunity is not.

kara swisher

All right, give me a specific example of that.

chris best

So there’s an anonymous group of writers on Substack called “Petition,” who knew a lot about the bankruptcy and restructuring industry, but were not writers in any sense, and who were dissatisfied with the coverage of that industry and started a Substack basically unknown, literally anonymous, didn’t have a large audience, and have built a very successful business on Substack because the work is good and because there’s a set of people out there who want it, who weren’t well-served before.

kara swisher

I don’t think you should rely on the big stars. I think they’ll leave you the minute they get something better. The platform isn’t profitable yet, is that correct?

chris best

That’s correct.

kara swisher

And how much money have you raised from venture capitalists?

chris best

We’ve raised something like $17 million overall.

kara swisher

Not much. Not that much, really, actually, compared to other idiotic startups. You’re not an idiotic startup, by the way. But talk about your definition of success. Is it when you reach a certain number of users, a certain number of journalists or writers, or when you make so much money? What is your definition of success?

chris best

You know, we talked about this broken information ecosystem, broken instead of structure, the fundamental dynamics of how social media and the internet work, leading to broken brains and unhealthy reading habits and kind of just like a world gone mad. Our goal is to sort of create and help grow an alternative universe to that, where the stuff that rises to the top is not the most salacious, but is instead the one that the readers value the most. So our mission is to promote that happening. Our mission is to do that by putting readers and writers in charge. And I think that that success, then, for us, looks like building a successful independent company that enables lots of writers and lots of readers.

kara swisher

All right, but which metric? I mean, that’s very amorphous. I would like to also be successful and build something lasting for all of eternity and my children will be proud of.

chris best

I think the best overall proxy for that is recurring subscription revenue for writers.

kara swisher

For writers and therefore you?

chris best

Exactly.

kara swisher

The one thing you might worry about is echo chambers. How do you get people to sign up for newsletters by people they disagree with?

chris best

I don’t think our job is to tell you what’s good for you, what you should be reading.

kara swisher

But you don’t want to guide them in any way, because people do naturally go into echo chambers. It just happens. It just —

chris best

Well, I think it will naturally happen in any system. And some systems will encourage it more than others. One thing that gives me a lot of heart in this vein is I read the comments, often, when people launch a new newsletter. And you see a bunch of people coming and subscribing saying, hey, I just subscribed. A lot of the time, what they say is I don’t always agree with you, or I’ve hated your beliefs for a long time, but I think you’re an honest dealer. You’re someone that adds something to my diet. Not everybody that subscribes to a Substack writer is there because they’re in a 100% ideological alignment. And it’s not to say that that never happens. But at least there’s an existence proof that many people left to their own devices, making the choice for themselves, will choose to broaden their horizons. [MUSIC PLAYING]

kara swisher

We’ll be back in a minute. If you like this interview and want to hear others, hit subscribe. You’ll be able to catch up on Sway episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with Parler’s C.E.O., John Matze. And you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Chris Best after this break. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Before Substack, Chris Best was a co-founder of Kik, a messaging company that aspired to become the WeChat of the West. Near its peak about five years ago, Kik was valued at over $1 billion. But it ran into a host of issues. The company was sued for patent infringement. It was also sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission. And the platform’s prime features, anonymity, privacy, and popularity with young users, resulted in cases of child exploitation. In 2019, Kik was acquired by MediaLab. It was a spectacular failure.

What was your biggest learning from Kik? What did you take away from Kik that is working here and what did you leave behind?

chris best

I learned a lot about making products for people at Kik and the power of a good product, both to serve of an individual and as I say, to have an emergent effect on a whole set of people. I was the technical co-founder. I built some of the early apps. I started out very much as an engineer. But I gravitated towards the product side of things over time because I think that’s the thing that ultimately matters. Technology is a means to an end. It’s the effect that it has on people, positive or negative, by which our efforts should be judged. We had so many problems scaling. We were doing that for the first time, lots of fun technical stuff. This was just before it was obvious that being on AWS was the right thing. There was like a million technical things we learned that were wonderful.

kara swisher

Do you think the attitude of Silicon Valley creators like yourself has changed? I’m going to say Uber, for example. The people running HR at Uber really shouldn’t have been running HR at Uber because they obviously did a bad job. I’m talking about these companies that suddenly foist people into C.E.O. roles, who are not experienced, who never had a job before in this area. You’ve seen it happen at Pinterest, you’ve seen it happen everywhere. When you think about that, what has changed in the marketplace, in the tech marketplace for entrepreneurs? Do you see a shift in attitude among entrepreneurs?

chris best

I don’t know if I see a shift in attitude in the short term. I mean, certainly over the long term, that has been a new thing that has happened. There used to be this idea that, yeah, you could have this young tech person that starts a thing. But then you need to have adult supervision come in and kind of impose order and do the thing. And I think maybe that one of the big insights of Silicon Valley is that that’s busted. And yes, there are a ton of problems by having some random unqualified person just doing the thing, as you say. But there’s also a large upside to that. A lot of the big wins happen by people who would have been called unqualified.

kara swisher

You have been trying attract big names. You paid advances, six figure deals. What’s your pitch to a big writer?

chris best

Our pitch to big writers has basically, all along, been the pitch that I’ve kind of given you here. It’s like, hey, we think that things are kind of broken in these ways. And they start to recognize the ways in which it’s been affecting them. The reason we offer advances, in some cases, is because we’re running into people who are like, I want to do this, I believe in it, who we thought would be incredible. And they’re like, but how am I going to pay rent for three months? And we’re like, well, if that’s the problem, we don’t want to be creating an environment where having a giant nest egg saved is— that’s one of the things that can be a block to you going independent. And so if we can take away that block, in a way that financially makes sense, we’re thrilled.

kara swisher

Will they ever become employees?

chris best

I don’t think they’ll become — I mean, they won’t become employees of Substack.

kara swisher

Are you a gig? Are you Uber for writers? I mean, I don’t know. [CHUCKLES]

chris best

There’s actually, there’s a number of publications on Substack now that have employees. I don’t think it’s one or the other. You know, I don’t think that we’re going to employ writers on staff like a newspaper would. But there’s lots of Substack where I can see starting as an individual thing and turning into a big media company that employs a lot of people. Why not?

kara swisher

There’s two things I see is a risk for you, is them leaving you, the big names, as they move on and can be by themselves. And then secondly, that these things get abandoned. A lot of those early blogs, people were very active and very excited. And then people stopped.

chris best

Certainly true that not everyone has the motor to be a successful blogger or writer. Every blogging platform, you step on someone’s blog, and the first post is like, I’m blogging here now. It’s going to be every week. And then three months later, whoa, it’s been a while, but now I’m really going to do it. And then that’s the last post ever. We can’t stop that from happening. One of the things about Substack is not everybody has to be a writer. We think that everyone should have the path available to them to become a writer. We don’t think that becoming a writer should be you have to get a job at this prestigious institution, or you have to go to the right school, or you have to do this internship. But even if you create a path where anybody could, in theory, become a writer, not everybody will. And that’s OK.

kara swisher

Well, a lot of the writers on your platform has got a lot of — that’s gotten you a lot of attention. There’s sort of these writers that think they’ve been canceled. And they’re like, they flounce off their big media platform, and I’m going to start a Substack.

chris best

For the viewers at home, you did tented fingers there when you started a Substack.

kara swisher

Yes, the tented fingers. I am going there, not to stop me. I don’t want to hear about them. I want to hear from your point of view, who’s the Substack you’re most — who are you proud of? Who is someone that we should know about that isn’t a boldfaced name?

chris best

I mean, the one that leaps to mind, I think, has just recently started to get her credit, the credit she’s due, which is Heather Cox Richardson. I wouldn’t say that she is come from obscurity. I mean, she’s a history professor. She’s a published author. But she was not a famous journalist or any of these things. And she started writing the series she called “Letters from an American” that was just kind of making sense of what the heck is going on in American politics within the long arc of history every day for people who want to keep up with the world, but again, are just kind of like, I can’t deal with the shrieking madness that their current information diet is. And I gotta say, I mean, it’s a joy to read. And she’s been wildly successful on the platform.

kara swisher

Who are you trying to court right now?

chris best

All of them.

kara swisher

Who are you writing obsequious notes to right now, at this moment?

chris best

Anyone who has a perspective and a voice and would succeed at the Substack model, we are keen for.

kara swisher

All right, but you’re not going to tell me someone that you’re like, I would love to —

chris best

It’d be too juicy, right?

kara swisher

Who would you love to get on there? You don’t have any opinions?

chris best

There’s lots of people.

kara swisher

All right, OK.

chris best

All the writers.

kara swisher

You have successfully resisted my efforts to get you to say who. But anyway, last question, there’s rumors that you’re going to sell to Twitter, for example. You have dismissed it every time. Would you like to dismiss it here?

chris best

Yeah, we’re not going to sell.

kara swisher

What makes you nervous? What is the thing that keeps you up at night as an entrepreneur?

chris best

I will say, the ridiculous Parler ban hammer should be unnerving to anybody who runs an internet company. But the true answer is I feel like we’ve begun this thing, it’s starting to become obvious to people that Substack, or something like it, is real. And the thing that I actually fear most is just not building the company, not doing the right thing, is kind of failing to live up to the opportunity that we’ve created for ourselves. I feel a lot of urgency to hire the best people, build products, stay true to the mission, and kind of just do all of the work of making the company. And the thing that I fear most is just failing that, basically.

kara swisher

That is an excellent answer. I really appreciate it, Chris. Thank you, you’ve been a good sport.

chris best

Thank you. [MUSIC PLAYING]

kara swisher

“Sway” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Heba Elorbany, Matt Kwong, and Vishakha Darbha, edited by Paula Szuchman, with original music by Isaac Jones, mixing by Erick Gomez, and fact-checking by Kate Sinclair. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Liriel Higa, and Kathy Tu. If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to subscribe to a podcast. So subscribe to this one. If you’re listening on The Times website and want to get each new episode of “Sway,” because it’s obviously sexier than a newsletter, download a podcast app, like Stitcher or Google Podcast, then search for “Sway” and hit Subscribe. We release every Monday and Thursday. Thanks for listening.

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