Some Personal News

Update: We’re live! Subscribe to our podcast here! Thanks to everyone who came out to our launch party!

TL;DR: Last February, I made a viral tweet, which has turned into a real podcast called I Drink Two Beers and Try to Tell You How to Run Your Company. Season 1 is 12 episodes and features Merit, a two-person startup based here in NYC.

Join us on October 23rd at Orbital for the launch / live recording of our 12th episode, featuring drinks by our friends Descendant Cider. Follow @garychou on Twitter to know when the podcast drops.

Me + the Merit co-founders, Randy Brown + Kirk Fernandes, recording our penultimate episode last week.

So, Let’s Recap.This is the viral tweet that started it all.

I’m happy to report that after 7+ months, what started out as an internet joke will soon become a real thing.

For those of you curious about this all came to be, allow me to walk you through all three phases of this saga:

  1. Sell
  2. Design
  3. Build

1. Sell

If you’ve ever had at tweet go viral, it’s an interesting experience. It’s like a wave, and so I thought I’d see how far we could really ride it by pitching a crowdfunding campaignThis is me selling.

Within the first hour, I had about 15 backers on Venmo, and then decided to go to bed. That’s when West Coast Twitter took over, which we got some larger sponsors on board:

After some back and forth regarding the number of beers and episodes, we had a deal. Each of our sponsors kicked in $500, so all-in, with the support of our 70+ backers on Venmo, we raised just under $2,500 to fund the podcast.Also, folks continued to give after this tweet, so the official tally is 74 individuals.

Huge Disclaimer: before this turns into a faux how-to-bootstrap-your-podcast entrepreneurship myth, y’all should know that at the time of the tweet I personally knew the CEOs of 3 of our 4 sponsoring companies (not to mention most of the backers), and the 4th was a 1-degree connection. The truth is: if you have the privilege to move within certain circles and rub shoulders with the right people, they will always be up for challenging you to a drunk dare on Twitter.

2. Design

While this was quite the clever tweet (my best by # of faves by far), in practice this was a horrible concept. Or at least, there were a few problems with the premise:

  1. Backers clearly wanted a drunk podcast but who gets drunk off of just two beers? I wasn’t planning on drinking more than I was contractually obligated to, so the concept would have to be even better than the Drunk Podcast people were hoping for.
  2. The most obvious concept was to run it as a talk show — many of the backers volunteered to be guests — where I took questions from founders, creators, entrepreneurs, etc… As I thought about it, I realized that the combination of alcohol, strangers, and semi-serious/joking advice might become problematic — honestly anything + alcohol has such a risk, especially across 12 episodes.
  3. Speaking of which, 12 episodes is a ton of episodes. This could turn into a ton of work if it wasn’t sufficiently constrained. And, the most important goal for me was to ship something by the end of 2019.
  4. And, I had no idea what to call it.Clear and concise, but kind of gross if you know the meme.Greg is great at naming things.Seriously, Greg is great at naming things.

So, this was as far as I got conceptually. I was somewhat stuck, and I had a business to run, so I put the idea on the back burner and decided to focus on my work.

A few months later, in April, I became an advisor to a relatively new startup that had been working out of Orbital since the beginning of 2019, called Merit.

And it was then, that it dawned on me — we should just make the entire season (all 12 episodes) about Merit.

Once I realized that, everything fell into place:

  • As an advisor, my job is to help founders think about some of the long-term questions to keep sight of while they’re heads-down focused on short term execution. The podcast could be a fun way for us to have regular check-ins, especially given that many of the challenges they face as an early stage startup are broadly applicable.
  • Since Randy and Kirk were Orbital members the logistics and coordination involved in recording a dozen episodes would be as easy as it was going to get.
  • And, since we all knew each other, we’d avoid the aforementioned alcohol + strangers + advice pitfall.

But most of all, if anyone deserved to be featured on this podcast, it was Merit’s co-founders, Randy Brown and Kirk Fernandes, because they were the inspiration behind the viral tweet, itself.

Some Background

Back in February, at the time of the tweet, we were running our biannual State of the Orbital, a semi-private ritual where the members present updates to each other: how they’re doing, what they’ve learned, what their goals are for the year, etc…

Thanks to one of our members, Katie Smillie, we had beers available that evening. After drinking two of them over the course of the evening (not drunk), I stopped by Randy and Kirk’s desk to chat and to see how they were doing. As I am wont to do, I offered up some unsolicited (and mostly impractical) advice on how to run their startup, and then left for the evening.

On my way to the subway station, guilt started to settle in. So, I wrote the following tweet as a self-deprecating way to atone for my mansplaining (and to generally poke fun at the ubiquity of podcasts):Now you know that the joke was really on me.

So, if it weren’t for Randy and Kirk, there wouldn’t have been a tweet, and thus there’d be no podcast. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best.

Introducing the co-founders of Merit, Kirk Fernandes (left) and Randy Brown (right), the stars of Season 1.

Introducing Kirk and Randy, the co-founders of Merit

I’m thrilled that you will all get to know Randy and Kirk over the course of Season 1.

Randy was previously CTO of Jopwell, and Kirk’s spent his career in Product, working at Microsoft, Hightower and VTS. They’ve been working together as co-founders since Fall 2018 (we cover their origin story in more detail on the podcast), and they’ve been Orbital members since January 2019.

Here’s Merit’s mission in their own words:

Merit’s mission is to create a pathway to grow for every individual, team and organization. We started Merit because of our past experiences. We both saw talented women and people of color get less coaching, unfair evaluations and subpar support for their work. We saw them become discouraged and leave faster than their peers. So we are focused on building a system that ensures everyone can realize their peak, no matter their background.

and more about their work:

Tech jobs are growing, but careers aren’t. What’s missing?
During my time building Jopwell, the thing that became clear was that as hard as organizations worked to increase their…

Thanks to y’all, we bought some gear: SM-58 mics, Zoom H6 recorder, and a Behringer HA400 microamp / splitter.

3. Build

We committed to record the entire season over the Summer, starting in mid-July (once a week on Fridays). Each episode is centered around a specific question pertinent to the company, like:

  • What makes this a good startup?
  • Are we making the right tradeoffs?
  • How do we capture value?

In addition to speaking with Randy and Kirk, we invited other special guests to share their perspectives on the company, the industry, and the co-founders themselves:

We just finished recording our 11th episode a few weeks ago, with the final 12th episode set to be recorded live (see details below).

Recording (most) of the whole season up-front and abstaining from releasing anything gave us the flexibility to learn as we went along without prematurely committing us to an episode format or sequence. We’ve definitely benefited from taking this approach, especially given the concept.

Overall, this has been an incredibly fun project to work on. While those of you who were hoping to hear 12 episodes of me drunkenly giving advice may be slightly disappointed—that would just be really sad in a traffic accident kind of way—I think you will enjoy getting to know Randy and Kirk, who are both knowledgable and funny. And, naturally I do manage to get a few words of advice in over drinks, too.

I’m excited for y’all to hear it.Why there will be no beer at our launch party.

Everything Launches October 23rd!

The first 11 episodes will drop on Wednesday, October 23rd for those who want to binge the whole season. We’ll also start to drip episodes weekly for those who want to follow along in their normal podcast apps.

On that day we’re also throwing a launch party at Orbital to celebrate the release and to record our final 12th episode live in front of an audience. Drinks are sponsored by our friends at Descendant Cider (clearly not beer, but it’s better) and tickets are available for purchase here.

(If you backed the project, I’ll be sending you your free ticket codes soon.)

And, if you just want to know when the podcast drops, follow me on Twitter!

Yay, Descendant Cider!

Thank you!

While I really can’t wait to ship this project and check it off my list of todos for 2019, I will say that it’s been great to have an excuse to work on a creative project with friends—both the folks at Orbital here in New York as well as friends across the internet. That in itself is an incredible gift, so I appreciate y’all for collectively nudging me in that direction. What a privilege to have so many people in your life who want to hear you drunk on a podcast and are willing to back it up with dollars.

Thanks to everyone who made Season 1 happen:

Our Sponsors: Gumroad (Sahil Lavingia), Sendgrid (Sameer Dholakia), Skillshare (Michael Karnjanaprakorn) and Twilio (Jeff Lawson).

Our Particularly Enthusiastic Backers: Abe Stanway, Danielle Royston, Elliot Loh and Travis Corrigan

Our Enthusiastic Backers: Amy Hoy, Bethany Crystal, Brendan Schlagel, Heewa Barfchin, Joan Moussan, Leng Lee, Sara Chipps

Our Backers: Aaron Morais, Adam Meisel, Alex Choi, Alex Dooley, Amy Ashida, Amy Wu, Archie Archambault, Arshad Tayyeb, Dan Edlebeck, Dan Kozikowski, Dan Leatherman, Danny E, Edlyn Yuen, Erica Heinz, Fraser Kelton, George Nasses, Henry R Harder, Hundson Panek, Huy Hong, Idan Cohen, JB Rubinovitz, James Gifford, Jason Branch, Jason Shen, Jed Schmidt, Joel Califa, John Dimatos, John Meguerian, Josh Beard, Juan Pablo Buriticá, Katarina Yee, Katherine Pan, Kathryn Ogden, Kinjal Shah, Leonard Shek, Lonny Kapelushnik, Mark Johnson, Mason Gentry, Melissa Hung, Michael Grinich, Mike Smith, Minseung Song, Nadia Eghbal, Nick Barr, Niko Lazaris, Nour Malaeb, Parker Tenpas, Patrick Figures, Pranay Madan, Rob Spectre, Tolar Haining, Shawn Cheng, Shyamal Ruparel, Sophie Xie, Ted Han, Tieg Zaharia, Tim Geisenheimer, Victor Carreno, Walter Chen, Walter Thompson and Zak Greene

Guests: Bethany Crystal, Bianca Soliz Haynes, Daani Sarma, Jen Hau, Randall Brown, Susan Loh

Orbital Members: Alexandria Fisk (Descendant Cider), Ben Smyth (Little Mega), Ida Benedetto, Katie Smillie

Friends: Goh Nakamura, Paola Mardo & Patrick Epino (shoutout Long Distance!).

And especially to Kirk Fernandes and Randy Brown for their willingness to step into the spotlight.Sorry, Kirk.