Ted Cohn is the founder and CEO of Wildeye. He is a tech executive with a history of innovation and 10 patents to his name.
Ted has had the honor of working for Steve Jobs on a number of NeXT projects. He has quite a few anecdotal stories about Steve, including famous individuals he toured through their office, remodelling fiascos, and how he treated people.
At Wildeye, Ted and the team have created an influencer marketplace called BidToTalk that lets people bid or pay for one on one video calls with influencers, athletes, professionals, or anyone.
The technology handles search, bidding, scheduling, payment processing, security, and video calls.
Over the last three decades, Ted has established a remarkable career working in the software development, consulting and entrepreneurship niche.
Some quick, fun highlights of Ted’s career.
- In April 2009 Ted became the first hire at Barnes & Noble to develop the Nook. He was in charge of leading the early software tech team with an insanely difficult goal of shipping the Nook by Christmas that year.
- A co-founder at Ugobe, Ted worked alongside Bob Christopher and Caleb Chung in raising $26M in funds to create Pleo, a lifelike dinosaur robot that was massively popular when it hit stores.
- Before the days of Google establishing itself as a modern tech giant, Ted helped in the development of paid search ad technology at Webcrawler/Excite.
What you will learn
- How to add more humanity to your marketing
- How to reach the right influencer
- If engagement is the big problem for influencers in a world of noise
- Whether social media platforms are too powerful
- If the machines are running our lives?
- The big problem with digital advertising
- The two sides of Steve Jobs
- If social media is bad for you or good for you
- How to reach the unreachable
Jeff Bullas: Hi everyone and welcome to the Jeff Bullas Show. Today I have Ted Cohn with me, and it's so great to have him on the show. He's got quite a history. He hung out with Steve Jobs in the '80s when he created the NeXT Computer. I really look forward to finding out a little bit more about Steve in person rather than just the persona that the media projected him as. I'll tell you a little bit about Ted. He's a founder and CEO of Wildeye, and has been a tech executive and a history of innovation with 10 patents under his belt. That's pretty cool Ted. And he created Wildeye, which is a marketplace, called BidToTalk, that lets people bid or pay for one-on-one video calls with influencers, athletes, professionals, or anyone. We're going to dive a little bit into that as well. And it's the technology that handles search bidding, scheduling, payment processing, security and video calls.
Jeff Bullas: Ted has over the last three decades, established a remarkable career in the software development area, consulting an entrepreneurship niche. Some quick fun highlights about Ted. In 2009 Ted became the first hire at Barnes & Noble developed the “Nook”. Very cool. He was a co-founder at Ugobe. I don't know if I said that correctly, but Ted [crosstalk 00:02:27] worked alongside Bob Christopher, and Caleb Chung who developed Furby in raising 26 million to create Pleo, a life-like dinosaur robot. Who doesn't like a little bit of science fiction that becomes real. Before the days of Google there was a modern tech giant Ted helped developmental page search and technology at Webcrawler/Excite. This is the one that I'm really going to ... looking forward to is you had the honor of working for Steve Jobs in a number of NeXT projects. And he's got quite a few anecdotes about Steve that I'm looking forward to. Welcome to the show, Ted. It's an absolute pleasure to have you.
Ted Cohn: Oh, thank you very much, Jeff. It's really great to be here.
Jeff Bullas: Now. Ted's talking to us from a beautiful state where there's only 1 million people and a lot of open land it's called Montana. He's been there I think for Thanksgiving and thanks for making the time with family. Part of Montana is Yellowstone, and we know that's a series at the moment which, I would recommend to anyone by the way. It's pretty cool. But Ted, let's go back to what got you into the whole tech business. You mentioned some of your reading habits as a teenager and, let's go back to the future on that.
Ted Cohn: Okay. Wow. This is really far back for me. Yeah. I was born in the '60s. I grew up in the '70s. I remember going to a local liquor store with my dad every week or so too ... He would buy whatever he would buy and I would look at the magazine rack. On the magazine rack at the time, were magazines like “Popular Science” and “Popular Mechanics”. This was like 1975, and I remember reading some of these ... It just blew my mind. I was 11, 12 year old, and it was so exciting for people in an era. It blew everything away in terms of technology. Like, wow, here's a computer that you actually purchase and afford, and not a mainframe.
Ted Cohn: That just launched me into this my entire career. I was so enamored with the Apple II at the time that came out. In fact, I was a little kid and I would actually hang out at a local computer store, in the Bay area. It was in El Cerrito in fact, a little town in the East Bay. I met some friends and we would get to play with the Apple II for free. The staff was incredibly nice to let us just play with their very expensive personal computers. But it was an incredible experience and it really launched us to do great things I think. Back then we had this, in the San Francisco Bay Area, there was something called the West Coast Computer Fair. Some, some of your older guests will probably know about it.
Ted Cohn: But it was like the early convention. This is where people would create all sorts of new, amazing low cost personal computers. And you'd see, single board computers. In fact, I remember going there, with my friends to see the early Apple II booth, with Steve, and Steve. It was really nothing. It was a table with an Apple one. We didn't know anything about the time. Nobody knew who these guys were, but we could tell the next year we came and it turned into the Apple II and that's when everyone's eyes lit up. At that point I had to have one. I couldn't afford it. I asked my parents and they said, "Well, Nope. It's a little too expensive, so you'll, you'll have to figure out how to do it on your own and afford it."
Ted Cohn: And so I did. At the time, I think the fully loaded Apple II was $1,500 to $2,000, but in today's dollars, it's more like $10,000. It was a very expensive machine, and I didn't realize the value of money at that point in my life. Anyway, I can go on forever, but I was fortunate working at this computer store, locally to have met a few local business folks who needed software development. I got a job writing software. I think it was Pascal mostly at the time to earn money and I bought my own Apple too. And that just started me off.
Jeff Bullas: You got to meet Steve at the booth, is that what you're saying back then? Was he there?
Ted Cohn: He was there, I remember seeing them. I don't think we went up to the booth and actually shook his hand or ... I mean, he wasn't famous at the time.
Jeff Bullas: No, he wasn't. No. He was a nobody back then.
Ted Cohn: He was a nobody. Exactly. We were nobodies, we're just enthusiasts. It was just great. Of course I remember that quite vividly, but no, we didn't go up and shake his hand or, get to meet him at the time, but we did a little bit later. As kids, my friends and I, we bought our own Apple IIs. I had maybe three or four friends my age who did the same thing. We ended up writing, developing something, some fonts, designing fonts at the time, which was kind of fun. These were called eight bit or 16 bit fonts on the Apple. And we actually developed some code, some software to help you design the fonts. Well, it turns out we actually designed full set of fonts for the Apple II, which hadn't been created yet.
Ted Cohn: One of the people who brought us into Apple, his name is Andy Hertzfeld. He's one of the early Mac people. He worked at Apple at the time. He says, "Hey, Ted and Warransen and Billy and David," these are my friends. "You guys need to sell us your fonts. We really need them. The community needs them." He had us come down one day to Apple offices in Cupertino, to the headquarters. I think one of the moms drove us down. He brought us in, into Bandley. It was Bandley Drive a famous street where Apple started. We came in and we saw Steve running around. It's like, "Wow, there's Steve." Because at that point he was famous. Andy paid us, instead of in cash, he actually paid us in a disk drive.
Ted Cohn: We each got this glorious disk drive which at the time was very expensive. We didn't have to pay taxes on that. Thank God. But it was great to see, actually see Steve Jobs running around. I think it was pre Mac. It was kind of early '80s where they were developing the Mac. I can't say whether I actually got to meet him. I think Andy actually had the gumption to say, "Hey, Steve, come and meet these guys. They're selling us fonts," or something like that, and he may have come over, but I don't ... It's a little fuzzy for me at that point. But it was just a thrill to be in Apple at the time. Again, we were like 13, 14 years old, so it's kind of bizarre.
Jeff Bullas: I think Steve was ... he'd never finished his degree. Did he? But I think he studied calligraphy or something like that I think at university before he left.
Ted Cohn: That's right.
Jeff Bullas: Obviously fonts were a very much a big interest and the whole visual thing and how it presents to the world. And we're even seeing that today in the design of the Macs and the phones. Let's push forward a little bit further, say you're a teenager, you've met Steve, bought a Mac, got into it and even do some coding. Then you went on to university, where'd you go?
Ted Cohn: Yeah, I I went to Cal Berkeley, in the East Bay, and had a major in computer science. It was more of a rigorous approach to learning computer science. We had been kind of hackers, I guess, if you will develop in [inaudible 00:10:12] language and other languages, Pascal, BASIC and so forth. It was a really good rigorous, experience for me to go to college. But I was anxious to get into the computer industry at the time, it was still becoming more vibrant every day. My parents wanted me to get a PhD, and I pushed back. I said, "No, I'm not ready. I need to jump into the industry." That's what I did. I jumped into a company called Radius at the time, and these were founded by ex Mac people.
Ted Cohn: These were like Andy Hertzfeld and Mike Boich, and some others well-known people. Alain Rossmann. I think another from ... Was it Ed Catmull? Except, no, that's Pixar. Anyway, well-known people. At one point I want to say that we learned about NeXT. A couple of years later, I graduated in '87 and I think NeXT announced the NeXT machine, I think in 1988. And I, again, fixated on, "Oh my god, I want to work there because, not only Steve, but really just the amazing things they're doing." Just the operating system looked exciting. It was a really exciting time, and I knew Andy, Hertzfeld a colleague friend of mine from earlier Apple II days. Like 10 years had gone by. I gave him a ring and I said, "Hey, his NeXT hiring? I would love to work there."
Ted Cohn: He pulled some strings and he got me an interview in the graphics group there. I was lucky enough to get hired. I started, I think in '89. It was like the end of the year or something like that. Or in the end of '88, I'm forgetting it was so long ago. But, really had a great time. NeXT was just an incredible part of my career. I could go on forever about it, but it was kind of like a renaissance. It was just filled with smart people. It was a once in a lifetime experience for me. It wasn't just all about Steve. These were the crème de la crème of Silicon Valley. It was kind of humbling to go there and be part of this team. But I certainly do have stories I'd love to share with you and your listeners from my perspective.
Ted Cohn: Anyway, I joined the graphics group where I actually developed a multi-monitor desktop so that you could drag windows from various screens. It was really early, and we were using display postscript at the time, which was pretty unusual, but a lot of fun. We did a lot of interesting work with what's called graphic compositing, effects, and also real-time video, which was new and exciting at the time. Be able to import video and export video. I'll just jump into some stories because I think that's really a fun part.
Jeff Bullas: Let's hear a bit more about Steve. I'm intrigued because I suppose I have a bit of a, I suppose, entrepreneurial man crush on Steve, and also the other interesting useless information is that Steve Jobs birthday is the 24th of February, which is the same as mine. So ...
Ted Cohn: Oh my god. That's exciting.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. Also I read one of his biographies. It was one of the hardcover books written by one of the top writers. I think I dragged around Italy with me about eight or nine years ago, and ... I sort of read a fair bit about Steve, so I'd love to hear more about ... You mentioned that the public persona versus the private persona is quite different, and yeah. Tell us some stories. I'm intrigued.
Ted Cohn: Sure. Yeah, I can't say that I have a lock on all of the stories, but from my perspective, some really interesting ones. The first time I joined was just you get the orientation and, you really get an initial brain dump from Steve. I'll never forget just being part of a group of maybe three or four people that I got to sit down on the couch and just hear Steve pontificate and welcome us to the team, and individually addressing us and asking us questions. That was just my initial, real connection with Steve at that point was an employee. But, I'll never forget ... We worked in an office in a location near Xerox Park at the time in Palo Alto. There was an office on ... I think it was called Deer Creek.
Ted Cohn: This was before they moved to ... eventually to a Seaport in, Boulevard, in Redwood city. I worked at an office of like three or four people on the graphics team. It was a pretty crowded little startup. But next door in an office next to me was my friend, Keith Ohlfs, who was the designer of the NeXT user interface. Just a brilliant designer. A lot of his work has transitioned into the Mac and certainly into the iPhone since that time. He's an amazing person. Every day I would see Steve, trancing past our office door to meet with Keith, who was developing the interface for NeXT. I would hear just constant yelling. Steve would constantly yell at Keith, calling him names and, just things I can't repeat on air here. It was uncomfortable to listen to.
Ted Cohn: When Steve left, I went over to my friend's office to say, "Hey, first of all, why is he yelling at you? Why is he calling you names? And why are you putting up with this shit?" So ...
Jeff Bullas: That's fine.
Ted Cohn: He said, "I just let it roll off my shoulder." He said literally, "Steve is passionate about the UI. I'm making it happen for him. Steve really loves what I'm doing. I just let it go. He needs to get it out of his system." But it just happened again, and again, and again. I just am amazed to this day that he could put up with that kind of abuse, really. Because Keith is famous for the beach balls cursor on the Mac. You'll see it if you're waiting for something to happen. He invented that among other things. He's just the kindest soul. The really sad thing is Keith died a few years ago at 52. It's just really a shame. He had so many friends. He was an amazing guy. Very creative.
Ted Cohn: He created something called Pixelsight, which is a web based animation editor. It was really amazing. Another story was once we moved to the new offices in Redwood City, we each had our own office with a beautiful view. It was just an incredible experience to have that opportunity as well. But in a new building problems can occur. It was a two-story engineering building, really beautifully outfitted. In fact, Steve was very proud of the fact that the building had these floating staircases. I think it was designed by some Italian architect. But one of the crazy things that happened early on, was for some reason one day we found out that we couldn't go to the bathroom. The bathrooms were blocked, and we're like, "What's going on here? We need to take a pee."
Ted Cohn: We found out that Steve was in the bathroom yelling at the contractors because the tile color was wrong. I'm like, "Okay." But it was like a different shade of gray. It was very strange. Steve was very, very detail oriented, when it came to visual matters, and he basically closed down the men's bathroom for two, three weeks while the contractors refitted it. We had to walk all the way into the other building when we had to go to the bathroom. Another experience I had was he would take us to company retreats, and it was a special time. He took us one year to a location in Santa Cruz at a place called Chaminade. It's a very nice luxurious place to have a conference.
Ted Cohn: I'll never forget though, this was back in the days when they had just released the cube and they're getting feedback. Because they were going to develop ... starting to work on the next product, which was the pizza box that they called it. The flat color machine, which was the next stage, which I was, lucky to work on. But I remember everyone was sitting around on couches instead of conference tables in a big audit auditorium. It was a free for all. Steve was very humble and he asked questions, but we would ... People would literally insult him and throw tomatoes. It was just a lot of fun, and Steve was just listening like, "Oh my God, this drive does suck. What do we do about it?"
Ted Cohn: He was very interactive and very humble, I think at the time, which is, I think unusual. People say he's a dictator or ... But he really listens to his staff. I think one thing that really impressed me was that while he treated marketing folks with disdain, he adored engineers, because the engineers made it happen for him, and he was not an engineer. I think it carried over from Steve Wozniak who made it happen for Apple too. He would bring people through the office, notable people like personalities. One day he brought Ross Perot into my office Jeff, and it was pretty crazy. You know who he was, he ran for president in '92, and he's a little bit of a cookie guy.
Ted Cohn: He didn't win, but a very wealthy guy, he invested in NeXT. Steve just pops in and brings rings Ross Perot. I'm just working there and suddenly Ross Perot's in my office, and says, "Hey, Ted, I'd like to introduce you to Ross Perot." It was so surreal, Jeff, and exciting. He'd bring other people in, too. I mean, he brought his wife in one day to meet the team. So I met, I think her name was Lauren or something, and other people. It was a fun experience.
Jeff Bullas: You must be so grateful that you were able to have that experience.
Ted Cohn: I was grateful and what's interesting is, it connects me to what I'm doing now, is where I'm really interested in helping people have meaningful life-changing conversations. I never became a really good friend of Steve's, although we talked occasionally, one day he learned that I was looking to leave, and I had been there about three years. I felt that I had done a lot there. I've learned a lot, but it was starting to stagnate, and other people had noticed it, too. I had gotten this fantastic offer somewhere else in the Valley, and I decided to take it, and he got wind of this pretty quickly. He invited me to his office, and you can imagine, I had this big gulp in my throat, like, "Oh my god, what's going to happen? Is he going to curse me out? Is he going to yell at me like Keith?"
Ted Cohn: He was the nicest guy. He says, "Ted ..." He was just telling me, "Ted, you've got to stay. You're doing great work, you can't leave." He was just imploring me, and it was an interesting conversation because at that point, he had been my idol since I was a kid, and here I was working for him and realizing that NeXT may not be the be all, end all for me. That for me, I had realized, Steve's reality distortion field just didn't work that day. In retrospect, maybe I should have stayed because eventually he took the team to Apple and they all became very wealthy, but for me, at the time ... this was '91, I think I left, or '92, and there were so many other things I wanted to do. I got basically a 2X salary increase instantly from somewhere else.
Jeff Bullas: Whoa. Okay.
Ted Cohn: Yeah. I mean, how can you turn that down? I said, "Steve ..." I put it to Steve, like, I just said, what do I have to lose? "Steve, can you match the offer? It's not that big. I'm sure you can afford it." He said, "Oh, we can't do it, Ted. I can give you maybe $1,000 more." I was making $26,000, maybe $37,000. I'm not sure, but it was so low. I thanked Steve and we had a little more talk, but ultimately I left. That was my conversation that changed my career, really. I was privileged to meet him and work with him and help him, but for some reason, I decided at that point that I needed to move on and I had the courage to do it. It was a little strange.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, we get to that point. I was realizing that, there's more to what you need to do to grow. I think that's maybe what it sounds like you were at that point.
Ted Cohn: Right.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. Now, the other interesting thing about ... correct me if I'm wrong, but, so the NeXT technology became a lot of the tech that was used to drive technology in the film industry, wasn't it? So, Pixar rose out of NeXT, is that correct?
Ted Cohn: I think it did.
Jeff Bullas: Yep. And some of the tech we see in ... well, a lot of tech we saw from the NeXT got rolled into Pixar, and visual effects. Steve ... the effects of that I think are pretty profound as well, that we see today and in the movies.
Ted Cohn: Right.
Jeff Bullas: Let's go maybe a little bit further forward. Now, you've moved on, and you've got 10 patents. Tell me a bit about the patents. Then I'd like to have more of a chat about where you currently are with Wildeye and BidToTalk, and in the influencer space and social media. I think that would be an interesting chat.
Ted Cohn: Yeah. The patents really, for me, just are a fortunate experience to develop new technology and new products. There are many people who create patents. I was just lucky enough to be part of it. I think at NeXT, I contributed to several, especially around the graphics system ... Let's see. At Barnes & Noble, I remember we created a number of patents around reading technology, which was a lot of fun, really interesting work. I have some experience with writing patents, but by and large, it's developing the technology behind them that's kept my interest and drives me forward, is the technology.
Jeff Bullas: I was having a chat with an Israeli entrepreneur and he said that he loves creating technology, that he can then put out into the world and see if it works, and the reactions he gets from it. Is that the same passionate purpose and joy that you get from creating technology as well?
Ted Cohn: Yeah, for sure. I have to say so. I love consumer technology because I really enjoy seeing people's reaction to new products. I guess I like it ... it sounds dopey, but it's about the magic that the computer technology can really bring. Seeing people's awe and wonder when the iPhone came out. I didn't, unfortunately, contribute to that, but that's the kind of experience, I think, most entrepreneurs, tech entrepreneurs hope for. I mean, those are the kinds of moments of technology innovation that's so exciting.
Ted Cohn: Something that's interesting, I want to bring up, too, and I wish I had been Mark Zuckerberg earlier. At NeXT, I created this application called Who's Who, which is an internal app where it's very much like Facebook, and you could find everything about an employee. Like, "Oh my god, I saw her over there. Who is she?" I can't believe I didn't come up with Facebook, but anyway, I've always had this interest in socializing. I'm really an introvert, so I really like people, but I get ... Introverts, they lose energy sometimes when they talk with people a lot or many people at a party, but I really enjoyed it. Anyway, it was just an interesting side note.
Jeff Bullas: Well, I suppose I noticed that there's a little bit of introvert about you, when I said, "We're going to have a fireside chat," you going ... You wrote an email, "gulp", and then you're going, "I haven't done many chats or interviews for the last few years," and I went, okay. It's like, "Give me a few questions." So, I sent over a few and ...
Ted Cohn: Yeah, I appreciate that.
Jeff Bullas: And that's absolutely fine. I think Brene Brown's book about being vulnerable, I think I certainly learned a lot from her Ted Talk, as well as the book. It's The Power of Vulnerability. Guess what? 50% of the planet are introverts, and I think it's really important to understand. I don't know what I'd call myself. I think I flip between being slightly extroverted and being slightly introverted, but it's the power of vulnerability and the power of quiet, I think, that really get stuff done. Yeah. So, you're creating tech, and let's fast forward to where you are today and the whole influencer scene. I believe you and your wife had an 'aha' moment regarding creating a product from a ... and you're using a website called wildeye.com, and then you ... part of that tech is BidToTalk. Tell me a little bit about the inspiration of this BidToTalk tech and how it all started.
Ted Cohn: Sure. Yeah. Happy to. For me, it started with just the desire to create a new company. I tend to go in and out of consulting or a full-time employment situation, to start up. So, I've started companies before, and I had just come off ... COVID had arrived and I had been laid off, and strangely enough, from a very wealthy company called Anthem Inc., which is a big healthcare company. My whole team, most of my team was laid off, which is surprising. That just gave me the impetus to say, "Okay, I'm ready to jump in again into a new startup." Before that, I had been really interested in human connection because of maybe ... partially because of my introvertedness, but also my realization that this whole new situation is isolating people and people need to connect.
Ted Cohn: We have this deep seated need for social connection. It's important for survival and for thriving. We've seen a lot of deprivation with this situation this year, and so it kicked me into action. I was interested in ... it occurred to me that actually Zoom would be a really interesting platform to create a search engine where people could actually find each other. This resonated with my wife, but also many other friends and colleagues got very excited about that. Because with Zoom, you have to be invited to a session, but after some time early this summer, it occurred to me, and a friend of mine mentioned, this is ... it didn't really have a very business model. It was confusing. It was a little haphazard.
Ted Cohn: So, part of, I think, being an effective entrepreneur is to continue to hone your idea until it's really ready to sprout. At that point, early July this year, it occurred to us that bidding was a really interesting idea. That the idea that people's time is precious, it is important. We're bombarded, right, constantly with ads and media, and spam, and it's just goes on and on, and on. It occurred to me that the influencer space is huge, that it's half the planet is using social media. My wife, Diane, was a budding influencer herself. She now has over 7,000 subscribers, many hundreds of thousands of views. She really likes the space. She has a marketing background and a marketing interest.
Ted Cohn: So, we talked this over and pulled our interest, and decided this would be a really exciting space to get into. The idea, essentially, is to give influencers the ability to monetize their fan base in a new way, so that they can actually connect with their fans one-on-one to have conversations about anything that they want to talk about, but more likely about the subject matter of the given influencer. In the spectrum, as you know, this ranges pretty dramatically from entertainers to subject matter experts. There's really this amazing spectrum of talent and expertise. I think we've struck a chord. There are a lot of people really interested in this.
Ted Cohn: We're thinking that a lot of the people that were going to be using this platform are probably somewhere in the middle, or probably on the low end. People who are building their careers on social media, and we're finding that they're really interested to earn an income, earn money talking to people. There are so many influencers that we spoke to, who were saying, "I'm invited to all of these Zoom calls to participate, but it's a waste of time. I'm sitting there with a hundred people and I'm not earning any income. I'd rather have my own channel, own way to make an income."
Ted Cohn: It's very interesting. We discovered that they do live streams, but it's one way, right? Or they're on Zoom calls that they aren't paid for. So, it's really interesting to see their reaction. Another influencer told us, he is an entertainer of eight year old girls, which is odd to me, but he makes a living, I guess, doing this. He said he would love, for example, to be able to have these rapid sessions where he could talk to these fans for two minute segments or five minute segments rapidly, to earn income. That's sort of the origination of this, but also, we're getting some interesting and good validation. It's really exciting.
Jeff Bullas: So, you mentioned ... because one of the things that, I suppose, entrepreneurs have discovered about creating new product is what's the big problem or the problems they're solving. I think you mentioned much in one, which was the amount of time it takes for an influencer, or finding an influencer, I think were two of the things. Is there a big problem that you're trying to solve? Or is it a range of problems you think you're solving?
Ted Cohn: Yeah, that's a good question. So I think-
Jeff Bullas: Because I'm going to raise another interesting thing that's ... As the guy for Uber for Lawn Care, launched a product, and he thought that he launched it, and the big problem it was solving was making it cheaper for people to mow their lawns. He realized that he'd got that problem ... People didn't care. They just wanted convenience. They wanted to not waste time trying to get people to mow their lawns.
Ted Cohn: Oh, I see.
Jeff Bullas: So, yeah, I'd be intrigued on what you see as the problems you're solving with the platform.
Ted Cohn: Yeah. I think the big problem we're solving is engagement. I think that people want to maintain their engagement levels. They want to grow their engagement level with their fans. One way to do that, a big way, is to actually have a one-on-one discussion with clients, have the opportunity, but also be able to monetize that effectively in a safe way. We talked to a number of influencers who say, "This is great because I don't want to give away my phone number or my Skype ID," or what have you. They want to do it in a controlled environment and very easy, make it very simple, and it helps them earn income to support their work. Or influencers who don't need the money were finding, there may be millions of followers or they're earning income from large sponsorships.
Ted Cohn: We're finding that those people are interested because they want to stay relevant. They may want to donate to charity, so we're finding that charity is becoming a really interesting desired feature of this potential marketplace. So, I think it's a pretty big problem in terms of ... for influencers, but it's also a problem for buyers and fans, because you can see, if you read comments incessantly, like my wife does, she finds that people want to connect, that they want attention, that they send a comment and they never get ... It falls on deaf ears. So, for the buyer, this is an opportunity to get a fast pass, if you will, potentially to an influencer, to get one-on-one attention.
Ted Cohn: We're looking at other ways, not just one-on-one video chats, but multiple, end-on-end, one-on-end chats, but also chat, being able to maybe pay for a chat to actually communicate directly with somebody. If you have questions, if you're talking to a make money person, for example, how do I start this business, how do I earn money selling what have you? You can contact this person. It's very difficult to contact these people. It flows into our new motto, which we call, 'reach the unreachable' a new way to reach people. I hope that's a big enough solution ... our problem.
Jeff Bullas: Well, this is the fun part about being an entrepreneur. You're about to find out, or you are finding out, because if you do solve a big enough problem, you are going to get traction and that's the reality. Then it's the hard work of getting noticed in a big, very noisy world. I think, and the other challenge ...some other challenges along the way, too, is that ... especially in social media, maybe we'll chat a little bit about that, too, is what excited me about social media years ago was when it came out, it was the wild West.
Jeff Bullas: There was ... the number of algorithms that were imposed were minimal. People could see your tweets. They could see your Facebook posts, and then the platforms wanted to monetize by making you pay to play. In about 2013, when Facebook went public, the organic reach plummeted, and it goes across all social media platforms now. How do you see that ... And also, much a little bit more about the other power of social media. So, you've got ... a lot of influencers have got organic reach, but there must be surely some influencers now starting to see a drop in organic reach, and then hence, drop in engagement. I'd be interested in your thoughts on that.
Ted Cohn: In the drop in engagement?
Jeff Bullas: Yeah.
Ted Cohn: Yeah. I'm noticing that, too. I think it's a challenge because I think engagement is directly related to how much they can charge for sponsorships and brand deals. So, it's important in that respect. It's also important for growth, right? So, if you can knock up ... inch up your engagement percentage by a point, that's dramatic. I think for us, it's a little too early to tell, but I think what we're hoping for is, and I think expecting is, that by being available to speak with people, I think that should improve engagement. We're going to be looking at that pretty carefully on data, looking at the data over time. It'd be interesting. Unfortunately, I can't prove that right now, but I think that it's a hunch that we're going to look into.
Jeff Bullas: Right. Have you launched yet or are you still in beta? Like, you're running it in small groups? Where are you up to with your entrepreneurial journey on this?
Ted Cohn: Yeah. It's currently beta right now. It's an early version. It's like a prototype, but it works and people can join, and bid and create slots to talk. We're looking to add auctions fairly soon, which will be really exciting, I think, which will help people find that value, the right price that people are willing to pay. I think, interesting, we're looking at other competitors in this space. There's this company called Cameo, which has been around for a few years, and they're starting to dabble with something similar to this, but it's interesting. We're finding that some celebrities are just dumbfounded. They don't know what to charge. They don't know if it's too much, it's too little, and I think what's interesting about our approach is that an auction will help find that price, in a much more expedited way.
Jeff Bullas: Right. The other area mentioned was 'reach the unreachable' is your tagline. So, getting in touch. What are some of your solutions around that problem?
Ted Cohn: I think we're looking at it in two ways right now, and this could change. We're such a young company, but we're looking at it in terms of booking time. If you're an influencer, booking time that you're available, but also being available for impromptu phone calls. What's kind of interesting is, and we're prototyping this, is where people can become available for direct contact for a price. For example, if you're an influencer, Jeff, and so you could install the app and you could set a price. Say, "I don't want to be called unless my minimum price is met." It's a way to cut down on that noise, but also let people through who are very serious about reaching you, and you can change that. It can be dynamic, and so forth.
Ted Cohn: I think it's pretty exciting. I think if we can create this new system of communication, it's certainly not maybe as viral potentially as the free. There's so many free live streams, but this is one-on-one. I think this could also be useful in the professional side, too, for example, where people are inundated with potential interest. It's interesting I'll tell you my, a quick story about my lead investor in Wildeye. He got so excited about this. He mentioned that he had actually done something similar. He had spent, I think, $2,000 to reach a CEO on LinkedIn. He offered to pay him $2,000 just off the cuff, because he wanted to learn about the company before making an investment. He felt that that was an interesting way to try to get his attention and it worked. So, that was a very fortuitous thing for both of us, because he understood the concept instantly.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. Okay, that's interesting because on the other ... I find it a conundrum ... not a conundrum, but is the difference between a B2C influencer and a B2B influencer, and a B2B influencer is typically more a subject expert. How do you see that playing out on your platform, and how do you see that the landscape with B2B influencers versus B2C? I'm sure you've done some research and done some observation.
Ted Cohn: B2B, you mean experts for businesses? Is that what you mean?
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. So, it could be a marketing expert. It could be a HR expert. It could be AI expert, but ...
Ted Cohn: Right.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, because a lot of them have built much [inaudible 00:41:29] what I call, I suppose, deep content rather than just entertaining content. So, you see it, too, even with podcasts. You see someone that just goes and does funny interviews, and it's entertainment versus someone ... And this podcast, the show is more about educating and inspiring people in their entrepreneurial journey. So, how do you see the difference between those two? I'd be interested in your observations.
Ted Cohn: That's a really good point. I think the B2B blurs with B2C a bit, in a sense, because people who work for companies are consumers themselves, right? I haven't really thought enough about B2B per se, but it is a massive opportunity to do ... because you do have these influencers, you have motivational speakers, for example, you have coaches, people with expertise, HR, technical expertise, and these people can have influence. They can have thousands to millions of followers. Typically, when you get to be that influential, you're going to have an agent and it can be very difficult.
Ted Cohn: You can reach them, but it can be difficult to really break through, even through an agent. And I've tried with some people I've wanted to connect with, and I've been blocked by agents. It can be frustrating. I think this can give people an opportunity to directly reach, some of these business minded influencers for direct help, either personally or for a team, or even just propose speaking at an event. I think it's a new way to reach people directly. I don't know if the agents will allow this to happen, but I think this could take off in that regard. But again, I think it's a little early for us to know.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, well we're all humans. I think Brian Kramer, a friend of mine, one of his catch cries is it's human to human. I totally agree with him on that, but it's entertainment, which is the entertaining part of being an influencer, and it's fun. People turn on Netflix, typically not to be educated, but to be entertained. People read a blog post, typically not to be entertained necessarily, but still it's got to be good writing or a good video. Yeah, but I'll be really interested to see how your journey unfolds with the platform in terms of that. What have been some of your biggest challenges as an entrepreneur with this? Is it funding? Is it ideas? Is it discovering the problem? What are some of the biggest challenges that you're finding?
Ted Cohn: Yeah. Well, a lot of challenges, I think we're good on the funding. I'd like to see greater funding, but we've done very well. I think the biggest challenge may be personal, for me. The other may be in terms of fears, dealing with fear. I think it's an important thing to deal with, that we all have. I've been dealing with fears most of my life, like getting beyond fear of failure, fear of success, fear of people saying, "I told you so." People fearing that you might be wrong, fearing that you've missed the window in terms of timing in the market. For me, dealing with fear has been a really big challenge and I'm finding ways to deal with it.
Ted Cohn: Another is just reaching influencers. I think we're starting to. We've engaged a really good influencer marketing firm to help us reach out to initial set. We're using an interesting new database technology that we're going to be using to reach influencers. So, we're really looking forward. We're just on the cusp of this right now, but I think the challenge is to jumpstart something. That's always a challenge, to make sure that the technology is desirable and in demand. We're seeing that we're just about to hit that plateau right now of the traction that everyone's looking for. So, that's the big challenge.
Jeff Bullas: One of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs is not ... So, funding could be a challenge, solving big problems a challenge. It is also timing. In fact. I think I've watched a Ted Talk recently in that 40% of success by far was dictated by the right timing in the market. How do you feel about timing for your product?
Ted Cohn: I think we're spot on. I mean, who knows, right? But I think given COVID, I think given this issue where we need connection, I think the explosion in social media, the great interest in sharing knowledge and entertainment, I think we're at the forefront. I think we're at a good ... I think the timing is pretty good. I think time will tell, but you're right. I think you're right. I think timing is one of the biggest factors for success in any business.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. I've experienced it myself personally, both professionally as well as an entrepreneur, is that time is everything. I changed my career from being a high school teacher to being in the technology space, and guess what? I chose to get into the PC industry and it was 1984. Guess what? That's when Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were starting to duke it out, and we started to get a lot of traction. I've rode a few waves since then, and for me, too, I started the blog in 2009. For me, it was all about timing. It was the wild west and social media was discussed at the dinner table going, "What's the point of social media? It's just a waste of time." That's often the discussion, where it started at. And, "What do you do with social media?" I was asked, but it was just an observation for me and a passionate interest that kick-started me out of the gate.
Ted Cohn: Yeah. Well, I have to ask you a question, if you don't mind.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, that's fine.
Ted Cohn: Where do you see social media going from here?
Jeff Bullas: I think that the challenge, and we've experienced it both from elections, we've seen digital advertising. We've seen fake news. We've seen that social media can be used for good or for evil. I think the reality is ... and I remember going to a World Youth Forum two years ago in Egypt, and there was a round time hosted by the president of Egypt. It was about the good aspects of social media versus the bad aspects of it. I walked into social media very excited, very passionate about it, and saw it as being very much a force for good, but I suppose after that world youth forum event, I had my rose glasses taken off a little bit.
Jeff Bullas: Any technology can be used for good or for evil. It really doesn't matter whether it's dynamite or whether it's nuclear energy. Doesn't really matter. I think that certainly, the organic side and reach is getting harder, from a social media point of view. It's very much “pay-to-play”, the industrial complex. I think the other challenge I'm experiencing, and a lot of other people are, is the algorithms being put in place to try and control it scaled, the bad actors taking over the platforms. The machine is ... and I just wrote a blog article today called Human Versus Machine, that the imperfect algorithms on the machine are getting in the way of even the good actors getting their content amplified through a Google or a Facebook ad.
Jeff Bullas: I think now we're going to see, I think, governments intervening, trying to make sense of it. It's happening in Europe, it's happening in Australia. With the platforms becoming so large and powerful, they're almost like their own countries. You're also seeing the battle, I think, between man and machine, and also, well, human and machine, to be politically correct. I think as humans, we've got to take a much more active role, rather than just rolling over and letting the platforms just make more money. I think that we need to intervene in a positive, proactive way, I think, as humans, to make sure that the platforms don't have so much power, that they will just run over the people that still need a voice, heard and make sure that the right messages that ...
Jeff Bullas: We've got to look after humanity, and any technology platform, I think if it gets too large, then we can become slaves to it. I think that's the big challenge.
Ted Cohn: I totally agree with you. It's a scary time for social media, and you're seeing censorship, which is just unbelievable today in this day and age. It's just so easy to do, if you're a big tech company. I don't know how it affects, really, the average influencer, but if you're in the political space, it certainly is something where you need to be concerned. You're seeing people being deplatformed and it's pretty bad. Humanity needs the freedom of ideas and you just can't ... And what's really encouraging though, you're starting to see other platforms appear, like Rumble and Parlay, and others. I think that's they you pronounce it. Parlor or Parlay.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. I've heard of them [inaudible 00:50:40]. They have a Twitter clone, I suppose, for the free voice versus a censored voice, I think. Yeah,
Ted Cohn: Correct. They're young, they're kind of immature, but I think it's ... See, people are just going crazy with this, flocking over to these now. It seems like it's taken forever, but you continue to see privacy violations from Facebook and censorship. I mean, it's so irritating when I send articles or videos in, let's say, Messenger and I'm censored because of the potential content. It's crazy.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah.
Ted Cohn: Yeah,
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. It's going to be interesting to see how it all plays out. And also, there's a paradox with freedom as well. It's the freedom to have free speech then as the ... But then that should be with a responsibility not being a bad actor that is going to tear someone down abusively, a bully. Is that paradox with freedom? I think there's a responsibility with freedom that also needs to be acknowledged, and how do you get an algorithm to determine that?
Ted Cohn: That's the question. I don't have an answer for you.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. We battle constantly with Google ads and video, and Facebook ads because they go “sensitive issues” as one of the generic terms they roll across our ... The other one I heard recently was copyright issues. So, we just did an ad recently, copyright issues. I'm promoting my own platform, my own podcast, I'm going, "Copyright issue?"
Ted Cohn: Right. We had the same problem, Jeff.
Jeff Bullas: Yup.
Ted Cohn: Yup. In fact, we're getting feedback where they stop the ad because they say you're not being inclusive. I'm like, "What? Excuse me?"
Jeff Bullas: I haven't heard that one yet.
Ted Cohn: I'll have to send that to you, if you're interested later. But it's like, are you sure that this ad is reaching out to a plurality of different people? We were doing, basically, a BidToTalk ads, with influencers that have come on board, and the ad, the AI thought it was a grocery, like a position for working at a grocery store. I'm like, A, it's wrong, but B, it stopped our ad campaign. It's pretty bad what's going on.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. I see a whole range of issues popping their head up from platforms being too powerful to the platforms' algorithms getting in the way of the good actors, and the people that really are making a difference. And guess what? The bad actors, they've got a lot of money and can work out how to get around at any rate, you see. There's a real tension, and I don't know how it's going to be resolved, but I think we're in the middle of the transition and evolution of human versus machine, where the machines are taking over more, but in a very imperfect way. I think this journey is going to go on for a few years to resolve those issues.
Ted Cohn: Right. I think it's then incumbent upon us to walk away from these platforms if they, if they control us too much, or if they censor too much. I think people are starting to realize it, but it may take a lot longer than we think. There are people who don't even know or care about what's going on. So, anyway, and it's a different generation, too. The gen Z is less interested in privacy.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. Well, I've taken some pretty, fairly proactive actions in terms of how I interact with the platforms, from going quite dark on some of my platforms because I'm going, "Do people really need to know about this?" We all do like a little bit of attention. The other thing, too, with the intersection of both the mobile phone, we all got publishing machines in our pocket, and we can share photos instantly from Instagram, no matter where you are. I turn off ... I've got no alerts on for any of my platforms. Zero, nada, zilch. I want to control my time. I can be tempted enough to go into my phone at any rate. Also, I am quite careful about just diving into the Facebook stream because I think we leap in, and there's a quote a friend of mine shared with me about two years ago, that we judge our insides by the outside of others.
Jeff Bullas: When you leap into a Facebook stream, it all looks like happy Nirvana. It's not, as we know, because the best face is put forward, or the best voice. I think that I can feel the effect on me, I'm going, "These people are doing so well, and I'm not anywhere near that." You get to a point where you're going ... you start doubting yourself. I think these are some of the smaller effects, because we're in the middle of a huge social experiment, and we don't know what the effects of this platform and technology is with us as humans.
Jeff Bullas: I lost my partner to suicide two years ago, not because of social media, but mental health is something I take to heart very, very carefully, and now we'll take it on, because mental health issues, I think, are on the rise, COVID's even highlighted because of lack of human connection as well. It is an incredible balancing act how we use the technology to serve us as humans, not be its slaves. There's a lot more learning to come, I think.
Ted Cohn: I agree. I think, I also fear that there's a lot of self-censorship going on. In fact, I see it all over the place, where people don't want the algorithms to detect what they're saying. They'll make up a term, like the Coof, people say, for example, if they talk about COVID, or something. Other acronyms, what have you. It's this detente I'm starting to see occur, where you've got AI versus human, trying to avoid being detected in the public, right, in the airwaves, or online. It's a very strange experiment, as you said.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, and that's what prompted me to write my latest blog post, Human Versus Machine, because I don't have the answer. I just highlighted what the problem is, and we've got to solve it,
Ted Cohn: I think you could write a book on this subject. I mean, it's a big subject, an important subject, so Yeah.
Jeff Bullas: I think we're in the middle of that transition and it's going to be fascinating to watch.
Ted Cohn: Absolutely. I'm hoping that what we're trying to do here is just add more humanity to the social media, take people out of their comments and texts, and DMs, and get them talking to each other face to face, even if it's not that much money, just something, or even for free.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. But I think if you can give a good voice to the influencers that want to make a difference and connect them with the right people that want their voice to be heard, and can amplify their voice, I think you're heading in a great direction, and I wish you all the best with the platform, the tech and the market. I look forward to hearing more about it. Yeah. So, thanks very much, Ted, for spending the time with us from Montana. Look forward to catching up in real life one day.
Ted Cohn: That would be great.
Jeff Bullas: I'll hopefully get to America, I don't know when, but sometime, hopefully in the near future.
Ted Cohn: Well, good.
Jeff Bullas: Thanks, Ted, for your time. It's been great.
Ted Cohn: You're welcome. Thank you very much also. Take care.
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