Brooklyn Beta 5

I can’t believe this was the last Brooklyn Beta! I’m so grateful to Chris and Cameron for making up this thing, bringing all these wonderful people (now friends) to my doorstep, and maintaining the love and energy for five whole years. I hope we all continue to share and extend it.


For me, the main theme was balance: money/love, work/life, print/digital, small/large, control/evolution. Several speakers highlighted money: how to fund your ideas, how to see business as an art, how to support art, how to take risks. And all of them had a strong sense of self/purpose/passion/service.

I took a bunch of notes so I could re-think my thoughts later, and share with friends that missed out. (I’m a big fan of Luke Wroblewski’s conference notes that way.) I tried to OCR them, but my spy code handwriting is too awesome.

These are just my notes on the speakers; with the breaks and lovely interludes, the overall experience was more like:



Chris Shiflett

Brooklyn Beta, Fictive Kin

Opening remarks

John Maeda

MIT Media Lab, RISD, now Kleiner Perkins

  • Most designers are stuck in this decade, but you need to go back further. Go to the library!
  • We must lead, not just follow. It’s often hard for makers; to lead you must be a talker.
  • When things grow, the boundary/love breaks. Purity diminishes, but diversity increases.
  • Move the positive parts forward, ignore the negatives calling out. (Manage by your outbox, not your inbox.)
  • When crisis hits, recognize what stage it’s in, and act accordingly. Fear is not an action, it’s a reaction. (Marshall Ganz)
  • Keep your feet grounded in the past, heart in the present, head in the future.

David Lowry

Camper Van Beethoven / Cracker /

  • Musicians are great losers; most of what they do is ignored, so they learn to keep going and not get bummed out.
  • Musicians are also key parts of the web ecosystem, putting the bits in (like other users). Web 1.0 was their triumph, Web 2.0 was platforms’ — what can we do for Web 3.0?
  • The new industry model is already here: 1) file sharing 2) streaming 3) selling
  • The old model actually subsidized the losers (via the winners); in the new model the percentage going to artists is LESS in all cases. It’s an architecture of liberation and exploitation at the same time. We’re stealing from artists, not corporations.
  • Problems with “free” model: peak ads, tyranny of page views
  • Benefits of paid sites: users aren’t products, aren’t exploited
  • Small market share can be more powerful; closed systems have less noise. Search is getting weird: less variety, less truth. Ubiquity means nothing.
  • Work on the now.

Anthony Casalena

Squarespace CEO

  • Squarespace phases:
    1. solo project (borrowed $30k from family for servers)
    2. hiring
    3. took investment, rebuilt (7 years in)
  • Original goal: all-in-one software, making design accessible, solving the basic needs of users, bringing up the bottom tier (of awful sites)
  • Asked customers why they stayed, why they left (management stayed because of challenges, stories, personalities)
  • Operating to break even; took investment to take risks
  • New product (Squarespace 7) envisions CMS like Photoshop: a canvas
  • SuperBowl ad was huge risk, big success
    • Measured by search queries, activiation, 1-question survey
    • Aimed to emphasize design focus of company, set them apart from mess on the web
    • Note: After TV ad, people Google you, and get a Google ad, which includes a URL parameter, which busts your cache
  • Leadership: create in your own tone, not to hold up the company


Elle Luna

IDEO, Uber, Mailbox, Medium, painter

  • When you want to look for your dreams, where do you go? Craigslist!
  • Literally followed her dream of a white room: found a studio and started painting
  • Asked friends for assignments, switched scales once comfortable
  • Do you have a job, a career, or a calling? (See Sagmeister’s TED talk.) Don’t mistake one for the other.
  • Know the difference between the work you CAN do, and the work you MUST do. (See her Should vs. Must essay)
  • Get notecards, record everything you really want.
  • Face your fears:
    • time — make 10 minutes a day for solitude
    • money — use it to buy time
    • age — honor who you are, your unique expertise
    • humiliation — list and envision worst-case scenarios
  • Many artists also have jobs. Philip Glass, plumber. Vincent Van Gogh, businessman.
  • “Mistakes are so beautiful! Let’s paint a million.”

Ben Pieratt

Cool demo of, a marketplace for digital files. Put anything in a folder, set the folder’s price, and sync it via Dropbox.

Shaka Senghor


  • MIT media lab fellow, 2014
  • Served 19 years in prison for murder, released 2010
  • As human beings, we are fully capable of overcoming any obstacle, as long as we have the strength of character and self-discipline
  • Thought (and wrote) about how he got there. Made a promise to help others. Challenged self (to write a book).
  • TV and reading can only teach you so much. Must experience the world.
  • Promises to self get you through the tough points. Friends in prison help me remember that I’m free.

Naz Hamid


  • The more time we spend on screens, the quicker we reach burnout
  • Make systems/criteria for your life, not just your brands
  • Hard work:
    • work with interesting people on what interests you
    • make a schedule that gives you the life you want
    • be committed (whole-hearted, not half-assed)
    • be thoughtful, be generous
    • say no, don’t overcommit
  • Hard living:
    • experience new, interesting, and thought-provoking things
    • travel, for perspective
    • seek new cultures and empathize, make your own opinions
    • be healthy (physically and mentally)
    • say yes (since you have time to, since you said no)
  • Home is where the heart is. If you’re feeling unsupported, go out and find it.
  • Play. It’s not just for small people.
  • Life’s too short to ride shit bikes / work a shit job / live a shit life.

More demos

Songfight — fight your friends with music
Cushion — peace of mind for freelancers
Notabli — share your kids photos privately


Jane ni Dhulchaointigh

  • Making/returning “fixing” as something we do
  • Building a culture of ingenuity, community of inspiration
  • “What if it’s not one idea, but hundreds? What if you’re not the creative person, but everyone?”
  • Kept a notebook of enthusiastic people — chefs, surfers, cyclists — who became testers. Their photos were like inspiration from the future.
  • You don’t need to be an expert. Learn it.
  • Start small and make it good. (Gave up on business advice and models; designed something to make themselves happy.)
  • A great community comes from 1) working product 2) honest passion 3) making users feel awesome 4) focus on inspiration
  • Don’t stop believing. Respect naivete.
  • Listen. Then go with your gut.

Tavi Gevinson, interviewed by Max Linsky

Rookie magazine, Longform app

  • Started as blog and Tumblr community. Wanted that community to have a home base, but nothing like what she wanted existed.
  • Wanted to be free from middlemen and advertisers, to own it all herself
  • Used online to get people offline
    • Only 3 posts per day (morning, after school, bedtime)
    • 3 key parts: website, books, events
  • Staff Facebook group is the seed for a lot of action at Rookie
  • Blurring the line between creators and readers, so it’s more like a community. Never wanted Rookie to be a precious little clubhouse.
  • There will only be 4 yearbooks, but the site and events have a life of their own.

David Hieatt

Hiut jeans, Do lectures

  • The battle of who can be the cheapest was lost. Battle for most innovative.
  • It is the job of dreams to be nigh impossible. Dreams should scare you.
  • Purpose makes you strong. Wanted to recreate jobs for 400 denim craftspeople.
  • Quality is their reason for being, but ideas are the multiplier. Funny contests, unique stories for each pair of jeans — lots of ideas that won’t succeed, but some will.
  • 80% of environmental impact of jeans is your washing and ironing (900L water). Give badges for not washing
  • The more you operate in the future, the less competition you will have.
  • If you’re small, remember that you’re nimble, and be quick!
  • Did I do the things that mattered to me the most?

Jason Scott

Internet Archive, @textfiles

  • The Internet Archive was founded because some millionaire (Brewster Kale) decided not to be a shit.
  • Everything ends, and that’s where the legacy comes.
  • DPOS attacks (distributed preservation of service), done by angriest archivists of all time! Petabytes of data, stored in the back of a church.
  • Startups are beautiful parties of hopes and dreams. But users thought you built them a home, not a party.
  • Old sites are part of our human heritage, our first moves onto the web. The first ecommerce page ever: Santa Cruz Pizza Hut. Order and pick it up.
  • Shutdown notices range from one year to yesterday. Should be forever. No laws for user data yet.
  • Replace all instances of “cloud” with “clown”
  • History and memories are part of our purpose.

Cameron Koczon

Brooklyn Beta, Fictive Kin

  • Business, engineers, designers should work together like PB&J (stable, structured, sweet!)
  • Overall grade of BB (in producing successful startups): C+
  • Keep going…

And then we said goodbye. To be continued…

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