Discover more from Future Commerce
Episode 280
November 25, 2022

The Uncanny Ability to Balance Idealism and Enterprise Value

With the advancements in technology over the years and the prospect of advancements looking into the future, how can we make sure we are looking around and keeping our approach as one that brings others with us? Is there a way to build that also lifts others and strives to not leave some behind? Phillip and Brian chat with Adii Pienaar about this and more. Listen now!

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this episode sponsored by

Human-Centered Future

  • “Going from 0 to 1 remains hard. As a founder, especially when you are responsible to your shareholders and your team members, there are some days where things don't work as hoped or planned. That is still hard.” - Adii
  • “There's an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you're going to want to go far, go together.’” - Adii
  • Adii is a technologist and early adopter and believes that AI and machine learning will continue to advance, but it will stop before the robots take over completely
  • Functionally or logistically it is easier to build a business now than it was 20 years ago, but without that balance of science and art, there can’t truly be success
  • It’s very interesting to look at the dynamics of building a business with teams where the communication has to be asychronous 
  • Writing well, being a storyteller, is an important skill set in eCommerce
  • “The core technology has probably not changed significantly, but we're probably at that stage now where there is a massive step change in the skills that you need to apply to use the same technology.” - Adii
  • As we continue to build technology, we have to consider the consequences from a human perspective and not leave some behind who may need a different approach

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Brian: [00:01:26] Hello and welcome to FeatureCommerce, the podcast about the next generation of commerce. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:01:31] I'm Phillip. And today we have... This is an unsponsored episode. I don't want to hear a single word about {laughter} our next guest. This is not native content. We just super duper like jamming with this gentleman, His Eminence, the CEO, Founder of Cogsy. Welcome to the show, Adii Pienaar. What's up, man?

Adii: [00:01:55] Thanks for having me, guys. And I just want to say, I thought we'd agreed to not call me His Eminence at this part of the show. And yet, like, 40 seconds after agreeing to that, you just kind of just decided to change your mind.

Brian: [00:02:08] I mean, what it's in your title that you put over on our guest guide? {laughter}

Phillip: [00:02:14] Actually, no, he didn't do that. He didn't do that. He didn't do that. No, we have a ton of respect for you. You're a longtime eCommerce builder. I think when I look back at the world of sort of eCommerce and the open source journey, you're certainly part of that. For those who don't know, can you catch us up on sort of who you are and what Cogsy is? Just let's just play a little bit of... 

Brian: [00:02:39] Give us a little history.

Adii: [00:02:40] Yeah, a little history. So working from current-day back, I'm pretty much a one-trick pony, guys, in terms of I've almost exclusively professionally built software for brands that sell stuff online, businesses that sell stuff online. So I was an original Co-Founder of WooCommerce, WooThemes before that, before it became WooCommerce. And that's really how I found my feet and learned about online commerce, except for also selling a digital product. It was really through building WooCommerce that I learned more about how you sell physical goods online. So that was the first stint there. I subsequently kind of left when WooCommerce got acquired by Automattic. I started a new company, which wasn't the first idea that I had. There was a failure in between there but started a company called Receiptful, which eventually became Convergia, which was email marketing automation, started about the same time as Omnisend, for example. Like Tave and MailChimp were the big incumbents. Omnisend totally lapped us eventually on growth, but we still got to a really good exit. Eventually, in 2019, I sold to Campaign Monitor and spent a year there trying to... Which is harder than it's supposed to be. And then now I'm working on Cogsy where we've raised a lot of capital from a bunch of really great investors to solve a really kind of big challenge for your modern retail brands, which is all around how do you manage inventory, how do you do planning, how do you forecast, how do you adapt to new changes in your business or in the market? So we've been going at that for about 18 months now, and it's definitely the hardest software solution that I've tried. When I say tried to build, I don't write any code anymore. I've got a Co-Founder, CTO, and a great team doing those things. But really that kind of intellectual rabbit hole has been immense, both in terms of being a challenge but also like highly stimulating to try and figure this out.

Brian: [00:04:51] That's so cool. Sounds like a lot of fun.

Phillip: [00:04:56] Was it fun?

Adii: [00:04:57] Most days. Most days. I mean, I think that when you ask me, is it fun? Where my mind impulsively goes is that with all the benefits of being... If I take out the smaller failures along the way, this is effectively my third rodeo. And both WooCommerce and Convergia were material successes that allowed me to level up in life, allowed me to diversify risk, etc. But the third time is not necessarily harder in the early stages, and I definitely thought it was going to be easier. And I thought like, "Hey, here's Adii. He's got the reputation, he's got network, he's got all this pedigree in the ecosystem. Just find a big enough problem to solve or obviously not problem solve, build a product, you know, you can do that, market it, and everything is hunky dory." And [00:05:48] going from 0 to 1 remains hard. And I think an as a founder, especially when you are responsible to your shareholders, you're responsible to your team members, there are some days where things don't work as hoped or planned. That is still hard. And I think the only change really from the first rodeo to this is I would say that the way I manage my psychology is better in the sense that the highs are slightly kind of lower and the lows are slightly higher. So the spectrum is more congested and on a day-to-day basis or hour-to-hour basis sometimes, you'll find me closer to the middle versus these extreme highs and extreme lows. So, yes, it's mostly fun. But not every single day or every single thing. [00:06:35]

Phillip: [00:06:36] Not having really gone through it and sort of the serial entrepreneur journey, I certainly have a very different background. But I'm now at a certain age where I am a bit more introspective and I have a lot of data over 42 years now to look back at myself and say, "I have some behavioral traits that come up every so often when I get into certain scenarios." This happens all the time, and the team at FutureCommerce reminds me pretty frequently, "You get like this in every big project that we do. There's a moment where you kind of have a freakout," and it'll pass, right? It'll pass and we're going to crush this, right? And so unlike you, I'm not at the Zen master level where I can self-regulate, but I've at least surrounded myself with a lot of people who can help regulate me. Brian, am I regulated? Am I well-regulated these days?

Brian: [00:07:38] You're more regulated than you were. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:07:42] And that's the best we can hope for, right? I have to assume you've worked with Matt Mullenweg over the years, and I would make an assumption that you sort of know him fairly well. Better than I do. You've been around the team that literally built the Web to some degree. What are some of the things that are the largest changes and mindset over the course of the last 15 years, not just in eCommerce, but just in the way that we build the Web? The modern Web as we know it, we owe a ton to things like WordPress and the proliferation of that kind of software and then making generational leaps to finding a way to actually monetize and capitalize open source software. Having all that firsthand experience, I'm curious if there's anything you can glean out of that that you could share with us.

Adii: [00:08:29] I didn't speak to Matt every single day. He and I chat every now and again. What I will say is that he is undoubtedly the kind of individual, especially in the WooCommerce days, where our universes overlap significantly more so than what it does today. He was the kind of mentor to me without formally having that title. So I think that kind of the way I would always describe Matt as a leader is he had this uncanny ability to find a balance between these idealistic notions that go with an open Web and open source and how things should be run, and then also building a kind of a commercial vehicle that has significant enterprise value. And I think one would argue, most critics would argue, Automattic and at least like where I can probably speak more directly or more intimately. I think if you just take WooCommerce, it is probably a subpar enterprise compared to what it should be because of balancing those two different things. So if enterprise value was the exclusive way to measure this, I don't think it's going to reach its potential. 

Phillip: [00:09:53] Those two things being the idealism of the open Web versus the commercialization of the property.

Adii: [00:09:57] Exactly. Because I don't think the kind of that alignment is not always perfect and it's always tricky. And I remember back then in the WordPress ecosystem, there would often be things that Matt or Automattic would decide that didn't "make sense" to the rest of us, but it was always like, I wouldn't want to be in his position making those decisions because I think it was always a very tricky balance. He definitely has my respect for kind of threading the needle and continuing to do so, firstly. I think the biggest learning from that and seeing how he operates that, and it's something that I now consider a part of my DNA, which is really kind of the fact that [00:10:43] a rising tide lifts all boats, and that we're not playing a zero-sum game here. And I think that when you are working in open source and you know that your competitor can download your product and they can take your code and they can resell it and market it and do whatever they want with it, you have to find different ways of building your businesses and building technology. And I think that there is something kind of beautiful in that. There's something actually very... There's an African proverb that says if you want to go fast, go alone. If you're going to want to go far, go together. So it's all these kind of different things that over the years have really coalesced for me in how I now think about entrepreneurship. [00:11:25] And then I think if I were to kind of try and package all of that for you to answer your original question as to kind of what has changed and what hasn't changed, my observation is probably the fact that we have significant technologies in our lives, i.e. WordPress, that has not changed that much. Like we want to think that new shiny thing is always better technology. And yet for most websites on the Internet today, WordPress should still be the go-to tool.

Phillip: [00:12:02] It's the tool of the free press.

Brian: [00:12:05] Still is. Yes.

Phillip: [00:12:05] The free press runs on WordPress. Legitimately civilization runs on it. Yeah. Sorry. Go ahead.

Adii: [00:12:12] Exactly right. So I think if that is the only observation here, you can build a lasting solution, a technology solution, that doesn't have to always be the best, and doesn't have to have all the latest bells and whistles. It doesn't have to have artificial intelligence machine learning attached to it. Doesn't have to have the most up-to-date UI or UX. And it can still have a significant impact. And what I would say and again, we have to detach enterprise value because so much in tech, at least enterprise value is a bit of a greater fool game, where we have investors and private rounds kind of upping things. You guys should stop me because I can go down so many tangents, but beyond the fact that I think Elon Musk seems to have totally lost the plot and what he's doing with Twitter, if he does manage to pull off these deep cuts into a publicly listed company and say, "Look, I can cut 50, 60% of expenses and stuff and still run something significant," there is a question around kind of how valuable tech companies really are. And what the lead up in kind of your fundraising means for that. And my point is that maybe there's a bigger reset and an equilibrium that we kind of need to get to. Not saying Twitter is not great and worth billions of dollars, but potentially not whatever Elon decided to pay for it.

Brian: [00:13:41] Maybe. Or maybe he just figured out how to cut all the fluff. Maybe actually the core technology is all that mattered in the first place. All of the other layers that were built around it didn't matter as much as 280 characters.

Phillip: [00:14:00] At the same time, don't you think too, though, that and Brian, I want you to complete your thought, but don't you think, too, that it's just like, fundamentally, it's a lot of luck. It's statistically improbable that you have software that has the escape velocity that becomes so generationally important and has so much impact on culture that actually that statement could apply to both WordPress and Twitter, I guess to some degree. These are highly unlikely scenarios that you have that sort of reach.

Brian: [00:14:38] Yeah. I think a better example of this might be Microsoft. Microsoft was the epitome of enterprise software back in the day. It was like you get locked in. Everybody hated paying the Microsoft tax. It was a very closed system, closed like focused on Microsoft and as a result, they lost a lot of market share. And it all whittled away over the years. And then Satya came in and said, "Wait a minute, we're going to have a more balanced mindset around being an open company and partnering and having this high-minded thought process around the web and around technology. And as a result, Microsoft's actually flourished. Maybe this comes back to that balance. And I mean, I said Elon lost his way a long time ago. Whatever narrative we're talking about. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:15:33] It's fashionable now, but we have a transcript that shows you saying in 2018.

Brian: [00:15:36] I'm OG. Yeah, one thing I did want to get back to you on though. Two things about Matt, two separate lines of thought. I'm going to start with one, but I'm going to get to the other one later. I'm sure I'll come back to it. When it comes to where things went in the past few years, do you feel like the high-minded people kind of lost out for a while? Did commercial actually advance the Web faster? And you sort of already answered this question, and you said WordPress is still a significant part of the Web, but I feel like the Web's gotten a lot bigger. So yes, WordPress is still a significant part of it, but as a portion of the entire pie, it's smaller than it was before, at least in the way when someone goes to make a purchasing decision about something commercial, they're looking at more options. Maybe that's just a perception thing and that's actually what I want to ask. I think the perception is that commercial won. Do you think that's true?

Adii: [00:16:40] I don't think it's entirely true. I think my perspective would be that the kind of pie size has also increased. I think we essentially have and I say this living in Cape Town, living on a continent where if you take technology adoption, it's still on the rise, there are still more people via mobile phone, ultimately desktop, getting onto the more sophisticated Internet, creating kind of a bigger size of the pie. So I think that firstly happens A. B, yes, if you take a simple kind of direct example to WordPress, I know Webflow is kind of the sexy kid on the block at this stage. Nobody wants to use old legacy tech in WordPress, so they pay stupid money not for Webflow itself necessarily, but for an agency that knows what they're doing with Webflow versus having your pick of ten agencies willing to pull off a WordPress project in a very cost-efficient manner. So to that extent, Webflow is a great company by all means. I have no intimate knowledge there. They've carved out their 0.6 or 0.8% of the CMS market. So there has been commercial value there, but I wouldn't say their entry itself, that's not what created a bigger pie here. They've just also been ablege to for specific use cases, for merchants that make sense, been able to offer an alternative solution or sometimes a more tailored solution based on needs. And again, the latter is probably nuanced. I would argue that I still don't understand why you'd use Webflow or WordPress, but let's assume that for some users, there is a very specific and valuable reason to kind of make a different choice of CMS or platform there.

Phillip: [00:19:46] I'm going to cop Brian Lange here. So what I hear you saying is there's room for both. But as the pie gets larger, the acceleration of the growth of the pie isn't necessarily at the same rate of growth that it was maybe ten years ago. And so the opportunity for new entrants and sort of like having these generationally, dramatic leaps forward in technology diminishes over time because, in reality, the growth rate of Web usage has slowed over time, too. And so you really don't have to be that much better to try to win over the market. You'll kind of just skim off the top and a Webflow can easily skim off the top. One of the things I think it's really differentiating around something like a Webflow is the technology is incredibly impressive to me, a developer who honestly loved the control that you have with a WordPress. But I also feel like I've had problems of my own with WordPress in the past. I've broken things. I've gotten hacked. There's a level of minutia that after 15 years I'm like, "Yeah, I just want the easy button." And so I do think that... Or let me ask you this. Do you think that there's a sense of sort of the lost art or the sense that we have it too easy now to where maybe certain skill sets and certain valuable parts of building businesses and maybe technology parts of those businesses are going to be lost to time? And that we just have a bunch of black boxes that operate on our behalf now that people don't really even have to think about inventory planning even anymore. I mean, Cogsy is just going to handle that. So if you never have to worry about profitability, are you actually building a business, or are you just assembling a whole bunch of black boxes in interesting ways? I'm curious about what you think about that.

Adii: [00:22:13] Well, someone still needs to build those black boxes, right?

Phillip: [00:22:16] But it's an increasingly smaller number of people, isn't it? That have the skill set to do so?

Adii: [00:22:21] In my mind, that's a very utopian perspective to take. I think the disclaimer here is that I am not as bullish on artificial intelligence, on machine learning as kind of many others,  beyond the kind of the novel things. Don't get me wrong, with Stable Diffusion, I love giving it different prompts and seeing what image it spits out. That's a novel experience. It is fun to do that, but I'm not sure that I necessarily believe that there's a future where very few humans, with the help of AI, is essentially creating those new black boxes. I think that's the part that I am not kind of completely sold on. What I can say, at least if I think about, let's say Cogsy. Because Cogsy has a forecasting element that is a black box to our customers and to ourselves. I think some of the kind of the microservices we use it is a bit of a, "Oh it spits out a number of, guys." I can tell you in theory, why it spits out the number. I can't tell you exactly, "This is the calculation." It was one plus one minus two, that's zero, kind of thing. But in building that business, there are still so many qualitative kind of things to consider. There are non black box things that we need to build. There are kind of customer needs that we need to understand both from a part perspective and also how do you mesh this back to kind of market? [00:23:53] I don't know whether I believe in that kind of science fiction version of getting to 2050 or 2080 or whatever kind of year it is where the robots just run things. I'm a bit of a even though I regard myself as a technologist, and an early adopter, I'm a bit of a contrarian in that sense. It will continue to progress, AI, machine learning, all these things will continue to play a bigger part in our world, but I think it stops at some point. It stops before the robots take over completely. [00:24:25]

Brian: [00:24:26] See, I would argue that because our data is too much for our linear algorithms to handle. And there's too much refactoring that would have to be done every time a new set of data came in, because eventually we will be generating more data in a single day than we have in the entire year of 2022.

Phillip: [00:24:48] Don't say it, Brian. Don't say it.

Brian: [00:24:49] I'm not going to go there.

Phillip: [00:24:53] He has a whole thesis that could derail us at this moment.

Brian: [00:24:57] Yeah, I'm not going to derail us.

Phillip: [00:24:58] If you're listening and you do want to hear more about it, Brian wrote like a 4000 word piece called Quantum Yeet on

Brian: [00:25:03] I did cut about a thousand words just to make any more digestible.

Phillip: [00:25:08] Let's move on. Yes, we don't have the evolved thinking, is what you're saying to even process it. Never mind the compute power to understand.

Brian: [00:25:16] Right. And what you're saying is that and I fully agree with this. I think that software must be applied, technology must be applied to situations, it must be contextualized, and that requires people to do that. And so there's always going to be like an element of, yeah, it's not just going to all be a bunch of black boxes. That will spit out bad outcomes for certain sets of people. And therefore, those that do personalize and do apply properly, are going to be able to address a larger market. But that only works at scale for those that are struggling with scale. Black boxes are great because they're cheap and they address enough of a market to be able to go to market. And so I think that's where we've seen a lot of the rise of these black boxes.

Phillip: [00:26:10] It's interesting, and Adii, I want your take on this because you come from the prior era before Cloud and SaaS too. I built software in the early aughts, actually I was musing on Twitter yesterday, I built software in the late nineties. But let's not talk about that. In the early aughts, if you were going to fulfill eCommerce from somewhere in South Florida, there were no 3PLs within any reasonable amount of distance from us to get products to customers. You kind of had to build that too. You had to build everything. SAP existed, Oracle existed, but if you were doing 5 to 10 million online, you had nothing like that. So what did you do? You built it in a lamp stack. Most of your business ran on Excel, and what didn't was a Web interface that was crudely put together by someone named Phillip Jackson. And so you learned intimately the certain parts of the business that you needed to succeed. And you never built more than that because you didn't have the time. And so you got really good at fulfillment even though you didn't want to. You got really good at software development, even if you didn't want to. You got really good at marketing and demand gen, even if you really didn't want to. What you really wanted to do was create great products. But to create great products, you had to have all the other stuff too. Now we don't need to have any of that stuff and we still can't make good products. So I'm not really sure how to reconcile that it is all black boxes all the way down to some degree, but maybe we're poorer for it is I guess what I'm trying to say.

Adii: [00:27:51] I'm there for that, by the way. We're a similar age, so I definitely have that. When I'm not fully kind of optimistic, I have that sense of kind of jaded ness about me as well. I suspect, Phillip, there're parts of this that were in business, but let's stick to kind of in tech and business, we seem to have come to a conclusion that there's actually a universal playbook for how to do these things. And it's just a scientific, here's a seven step process. That's how you build a business and become a billionaire. And I think the thing that's lacking there is that part of this will always be art, what I would call art. Which is the qualitative, the creative, the parts where me as a unique individual, I am able to connect two dots that a machine simply cannot do. So I think that's at least where my head goes here. Hence why I don't think it's easier to build a product or a business today than it was 20 years ago. Functionally or logistically, it's easier, to your point. You can now spin up if you are a seller online, within a few clicks, regardless of your platform or choice, you can have a fully functional website with a product listed on it that has a checkout enabled with four different payment processing options. That's pretty easy. It's a 15 minute job for someone that has a rudimentary understanding of how to sign up for for a Cloud based thing. That doesn't create the business yet. How do you find the product? So again, there're ways to find a product. There're ways to ask friends and say, "Hey, I need to source a product from Asia, where do I start?" But all of those things, it's not a simple kind of process, and anyway, again, I can go down to kind of that rabbit hole to the nth degree. There's parts of this that simply like does not replicate perfectly from the one business to the next.  [00:29:53]There is no playbook. And I said, I would firmly argue that success in business and in life comes from that balance of both science and art. [00:30:02]

Phillip: [00:30:05] So this is the typical conversation when we start talking about art in our space is the value that you sort of place on art is extremely subjective for sure. But I think that there's a lot of objective criteria by which you could judge art. For instance, a few very large format, highly detailed pieces physically takes a longer amount of time than a lot of process art. You see a lot of stuff on like Instagram and TikTok today. I'm talking about actual physical artwork where people are doing splatter paintings and and such. And I think while that's interesting and makes for great content, the rate at which they produce pieces, potentially devalues the whole body of work to some degree. Maybe one or two truly stand out. The thing that they're actually learning over time is not necessarily how to be a great artist, it's how to be an amazing content creator because they show up every day. So they're developing a skill, but maybe it's not the skill they think they're developing. And that's where I feel like we're in a transitionary period in the Web where operators and builders are building skills, but it's not the skill that they think they're building. They're building another skill. They're building a skill of how to think about disparate parts of the world and bring them together into unified experiences, but not necessarily the skill that you and I and Brian might have built 15 years ago, which is software development is really hard. Getting people to work in concert together is really hard. Defining requirements is really hard. Working under the onus of compliance is really hard. Protecting your site from baddies is really hard. Setting up meetings with frickin banks so you can finance your business really hard. All of that's getting easier. And we all develop different skill sets as a result. I'm not saying that the kids are soft today. I'm saying that they're building fundamentally different skill sets.

Brian: [00:33:35] Speaking of those skills, I want to get back to the second question that I referred to earlier in the episode. So working with Matt, I'm assuming that you did... You said he was sort of an unofficial mentor for you. And I'm assuming this means that you worked in an asynchronous context, like a lot of your communication was not live. I'm curious. This is a skill set that everyone's had to learn in the past few years, and it's something that many of us did have to learn a little bit earlier, just being in technology. But I would love to get your take on what it means to build a business asynchronously right now. I think that there is a lot of benefits. There's also a lot of drawbacks, and then also just like general thoughts on asynchronous communication in general. I wrote a piece about how eCommerce in itself is asynchronous. It's an asynchronous purchasing modality. How do you feel that people are engaged in these distance engagements where time is unbound, if you will?

Adii: [00:35:03] Yeah. So I think it's interesting, Brian, and mentioning how commerce is asynchronous in nature, the reason why that's the case is I think part of the whole concept of why asynchronous exists is I think very aligned with where we're at as a society, which is we're very individually focused. We are happy to accept individuals for whatever kind of trait they have or preference they have, we're trying to be accommodating. I'm obviously stereotyping here, but we have doubled down on this concept of individuality. And if you think about asynchronous anything whether it's commerce or communication, it ultimately is like, "Hey, you can ping me, you can send me a message, and I will respond based on my set of criteria: availability, my time, my priority, etc." It might also mean that I'm sometimes a bit of a dick because I don't respond to my mom quick enough when she texted me. But the concept again, there's a different balance there between my needs as an individual and how I am a functional contributing part of a collective in various contexts there. But I think for me that kind of trend makes total sense. Beyond that, I tend to have a bit of a bias, so when I stepped down as WooCommerce CEO, the team was about 40 people. We had a small office in Cape Town, about ten of us. The other 30 team members were scattered all over the world. And that configuration is, I think for teams are actually the hardest. So when you have the hybrid of kind of a remote team and a co-located team, I think that's the hardest because you essentially need to have more discipline to not just work to Brian's desk and have a little pow wow around something that no one else knows about this. Whereas if everything is remote and all communication or most communication is async, that gets captured somewhere and everyone is in the loop and I don't have to remember to have the discipline of, "Hey guys, I walked over to Brian's desk and we had this chat, this decision was..." FYI for everyone, right? So I think that's the first thing I'll say. But then Convergia was fully distributed remote from day one. And same with Cogsy today. And part of the kind of I think a superpower, by the way, is Stefano is now my CTO and Co-Founder. He was also my first engineering hire at Convergia. So he and I, right or wrong, we just have a very specific way of how we do kind of remote working in asynchronous communication. What I will say is I overindex for people that can write well. It's much easier to kind of come on here, for example, and spitball things, and there's a energy to it. And if someone listened to it, they can somewhat get lost in the energy. But I don't think that necessarily leads... This medium is great for storytelling, for example, because there is a bit more kind of voice and tone and kind of a flow to it. But if you really want to communicate clearly, whether it's to sell, whether it's to persuade, whether it's to ask a question, the written word is so much better. And I think doing that asynchronously means that you're also thinking about it. You're editing yourself. It's not just this constant fire hose of ideas, etc., like I'm doing whenever I'm asking answering your question. If you send me this as a kind of a list of text questions, I would have edited this much better. To your point, what about quantum yeet?

Phillip: [00:38:41] You asked for that like five times. By the way.

Adii: [00:38:44] You edit the thing, right? So I think like, again, I overindexed for it. I didn't think it's the the necessarily the right way and it's there's probably a preference thing in there as well. Some individuals should work on some teams that have a bigger synchronous component and perhaps an in-person component. That's perfectly fine as well. I just have a strong preference and bias towards kind of doing so and communicating asynchronously.

Brian: [00:39:09] I do think you're on to something with the writing component. That was sort of my point in my article was that you do have to be good at writing and not just writing, but you have to be good at at storytelling in the written word. And that and that takes a certain kind of person. You have to have a certain skill set to be able to do that. I would argue that eCommerce is actually in the same boat, both from the purchasing and from the selling perspective. It requires a certain type of person to do it well. And so, yes, buyers are, it's a little simpler. It doesn't require as much skill set to be a buyer, except for it does because returns are a huge problem and satisfaction with purchase is still a big problem. And so I think it really does require a skill set on both sides in order to do it well. And I think especially coming out of the pandemic, we're seeing a lot of people that had a hard time adopting that skill or weren't built to do things that way, coming back and changing how they want to work with people, how they want to interact with people. And it's probably why we saw some of the attrition we saw for online purchasing would be my guess. It's not so much about adoption, it's about how people want to or need to exist.

Adii: [00:40:29] And to your point earlier, Brian, about how skills are changing, when I think about commerce and the skills that are needed, the one that I'll throw in there is discovery. I think, for example, I think I'm a good Googler. If I need to find information or something, I think that there's a specific skill and yes, Google is kind of made it easier over time with suggestions and allowing you to go down certain rabbit holes, but knowing what to ask the machine and again, talking about black boxes, knowing what to ask the machine, that's a critical skill. So you don't just communicate with humans, you're communicating with machines these days.

Brian: [00:41:06] Right.

Adii: [00:41:07] And again, [00:41:07] using the Stable Diffusion kind of example, if you're asking for a nice picture or something, the way you speak to a machine is different to how you would speak to a human artist to do a commission kind of work. And I actually think, when I think about my kids, for example, and what skills they should be learning, those are the kinds of skills that I think are helpful. This is what a good search query looks like, for example. So to that extent, yes, the core technology has probably not changed significantly, but we're probably at that stage now where there is a massive step change in the skills that you need to apply to use the same technology. [00:41:49]

Brian: [00:41:49] Yes, totally agree. Yeah. My kids are being trained by Alexa. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:41:55] This is where I said we're kind of at this inflection point where we've had 150 years max of Qwerty, and maybe 40 years of mass adoption of Qwerty, meaning this one method of human device interface is fairly new as far as human communication is concerned. And that's just one way that we interact with other people online. That's the one method by which we put our thoughts into the written word. This idea of communication medium 100 years ago we were still using the telegraph. And so we have so rapidly changed the way that we communicate, commerce or not. We've so rapidly evolved the way that we communicate. We are developing a new set of skills and there are ways of thinking and styles of learning that, just by nature and sort of Darwinian evolution, will be at the disadvantage. And so engineering is a good example of that, is that it requires a great deal of not just understanding how the machine responds to your input. It's not just a slot machine. We're going to pull the crank. It's having enough understanding of how the machine responds to your input that you'll gain a new skill that has never existed in the world. In the same way that I've developed the skill to Google for things over the last 15 to 20 years. In the same way that my kids are now learning how to navigate Alexa in a way that I cannot do. They're incredibly efficient with it. Progress is not slowing down. If anything, it's accelerating. And to your point, Brian, there are people who will be at the disadvantage and potentially even left behind in a technological revolution. And I think the question is, does our sense of individuality mean that we have to as a society decide no man left behind, or will we just progress forward, march forward, we're heading towards some sort of Elysium future and there's going to be some massive divide of people who are technologically capable and those who are not.

Adii: [00:43:59] Yes, I have a huge concern around that. I think I'm very kind of humanitarian or human-first in that kind of thinking. Hence why I probably kind of also limit myself to believe that we will get to that sci fi future where the robots are going to be doing everything. Because I think when I consider, again, like many of us would use different kind of words here, but I always consider what is the spirit of being human. And I think that [00:44:28] part of being human is that we are a social creature, we care about our neighbor, inherently so. Sometimes [00:44:35] they're being dicks and we don't like them as much. Sometimes they vote differently than us and we have kind of a debate about politics and we differ, but none of us, I bet, want to be alone on this earth. So I think it is a case of building technology in a responsible way going forward and not being so gung ho. So maybe the last thought that I'll leave there then as I'm not the kind of technologist that says we need fewer regulations, for example. I'm also not the one that says we need all the regulations. I don't think that this kind of unfettered, kind of just gung ho ness that we've seen from some major tech companies in recent years, especially that kind of typical kind of let's break stuff kind of mentality that came out of Silicon Valley, I don't think that that is healthy, for example, because  [00:45:31]we're essentially giving single human beings decision making power over things that affect us greatly. So if you consider something like Facebook, it probably started with some kind of noble kind of ambition. Definitely not a malicious one. Yet, it was never regulated to the extent where we are today, where we have kind of teenage depression being at all time highs. There was technology and building dark patterns in technology for user adoption, which is perfectly fine, where we never considered what the kind of the byproduct or the consequence of unintended, maybe unintended, I don't think this was malicious. So as we think about the evolution of technology and society, I think it's all of our responsibility to look each other in the eye and say, some people can't reskill quickly enough. We need to take some other approach here. [00:46:22]

Brian: [00:46:22] This makes me want to talk with you for another hour.

Phillip: [00:46:25] Yeah, we have to do this again.

Brian: [00:46:27] And it reminds me of a book that I want to read, which is called "The Human Use of Human Beings," by Norbert Wiener. That is on my list and I cannot wait to get there. What a great place to leave it though. Thank you.

Phillip: [00:46:41] There's no way to wrap up the stream of conscious. 

Brian: [00:46:45] No. It was so good. 

Phillip: [00:46:45] And I don't think we would have gotten here had we prepared a list of questions, not to excuse our bad behavior for podcast hosting, but it's been a pleasure to have you. Where can people find you online and potentially maybe connect with Cogsy should they want a black box to work on? {laughter}

Adii: [00:47:02] Totally, so the best place is @adii on Twitter, otherwise Cogsy is just Comes from Cost of Goods Sold. Anyone in the space that should be able to easily make that connection.

Phillip: [00:47:18] Yeah I would hope so.

Adii: [00:47:21] I have been surprised.

Phillip: [00:47:24] Technologically, we'll help you. We don't want to leave you behind. Let us know. Thank you so much, Adii. Thank you so much for listening to Future Commerce. You can find more episodes of this podcast and other Future Commerce properties. There are six of them now over at, and we'd love to have you and don't miss a thing. We've got our event coming up in Miami in just about a week and a half, when you listen to this. And I can't wait for us to see there. If we do see there, let us know. It's at Art Basel on December 1st. We're launching Archetypes and you can go get your ticket or you can get the book and other assorted merchandise from Archetypes, our new 240 page print journal and collection of writings that talk about brands and the roles that they play in our world. You can get that at Thank you so much for listening to Future Commerce.

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