Today Greg is joined by Trung Phan. Trung is the co-host of the Not Investment Advice podcast and writes the SatPost newsletter. He was formerly the lead writer for the Hustle. In this episode, Greg and Trung talk about working at The Hustle, owning your distribution, and how to get the most out of ChatGPT.
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LINKS FOR THIS EPISODE:
0:00 - Intro
7:45 - Meet Trung Phan
14:50 - How Greg sold 5by to StumbleUpon
24:17 - Why you need a through line in your work/life
28:15 - The story behind Bearly.ai
35:30 - Competition vs. opportunity in AI
41:58 - How Greg used ChatGPT to get paid $109K
49:30 - Should TikTok be banned?
Greg: So I knew I recognized you from the hallways of McGill University
Trung: Well, I, I guarantee that, that there was no, like, photo put up. I was like, not a, a, a good student. I, uh, I, I dropped out of pre-med because the classes start at 8:00 AM I'm like, I need to do something that starts from noon. And it was like, it was history and sociology. So that's how I ended up, uh, not graduating as a doctor
Greg: So you're from BC and you went to school at McGill.
Trung: Yeah, my, I grew up in, uh, Calgary and my family, um, went to, uh, Vancouver when I was like nine years old. It's a funny story. My old man, both my parents are Vietnamese refugees, actually quite a bit. As you said, you're from Montreal. It's quite a bit a pretty big Vietnamese community in Montreal, uh, because of obviously the French.
and my dad just kept on going west, so I was born in Calgary and he's like, I need to go one more. City West is like Vancouver, like, let me get back as close as possible to Asia. But like, obviously the Pacific Ocean is massive, so , I dunno what he trying to accomplish, but he got, so he got there. But yeah, so ended up going to Miguel, but, uh, man, dude, we could talk about, honestly, we could spend the whole hour talking about Miguel Mans like, I can't believe you dropped out.
I mean, maybe it was the right move, but I, I had a freaking blast there.
Greg: what was like the highlight from your Miguel experience?
Trung: The, so I lived Did you live in, uh, residence or were you kind of, uh, where, where did you grow off the island?
Greg: No, no, no. Do I look like an off island person to you? that joke is so niche, like no one is gonna get that. No.
Trung: Yeah, exactly right. You're three listeners from Montreal. Um, oh, I mean, you guys are a pretty big audience. You might have more than you expect. Um, honestly, man, it was, uh, I mean, it's gonna sound lame. It was the partying, it was insane. It, the reason I went was because I heard how insane Miguel was, and it just delivered on every front.
Right. And I've only been back twice since I graduated, so it was like twice in 10 plus years. And now looking back, I think I, I recognize how insane it is that McGill's campus was literally in downtown Montreal. And like within two blocks in any direction was the craziest party street you could have.
And yeah, I mean, I did nothing of academic value or like professional value while I was there. So like that, yeah, that's it. To answer your question, it was literally partying.
Greg: Yeah, I feel like, you know, being social parting, whatever you want to call it, like that just sets you up. . I hope we don't have too many young listeners, but that just sets you up for like, in a lot of ways success. Like if you're able to like, go into a party, meet people, connect with people, whatever, like it's, it's really underrated in terms of like setting you up for success, doing what we do, writing on the
Trung: no, 100%. Totally agreed. What I would say is this is if, unless you're a very clear track, I mean, everybody knows this, it's cliche at this moment, but the re the, the purpose of university, it's not the education, right? Like you can get a better education, not within the
Greg: is that? That is
Trung: It's very cliche, right,
Greg: I thought you were gonna go into Twitter is a free university for, you know, for 99.9% of people.
Trung: I mean that is, that is the true, well, well, let's, let's bring, let's bring in Twitter. Actually, the best part of Twitter is in the university part. It's the socializing part. I mean, how many people I know, I know for a fact that. You and a number of other, you know, quote unquote creators or people that built pretty large audiences, you are all in one group chat together.
Right. It's like, it's a social thing. It's like, uh, it's a very social element. So even though we call Twitter free university, the best part of Twitter is still the social part.
Greg: Yeah. So that group chat is me, Sahi Bloom, Sean Pori, Sam Par, Nick Huber.
Trung: Yeah, That's
Greg: Austin Reeve Basically what happened was, uh, Julian Shapiro was also in it at one point, and he, he, he left. but
Trung: Wait, he left the group chat.
Greg: that's another, that's another story.
Trung: it just, one day you wake up and you know, you know what? The group chat, she says, I like, I I, I don't leave group chats cuz how awkward it is to see that person leaving the group chat. I just have to mute it. But when you mute the group, yeah. Anyways, go ahead man.
Greg: Also, side note, Cortland Allen was also in the group chat, also left the group chat. Yeah. So it's on for everyone. Um, but yeah, we, we created this group chat. We called it initially the a hundred K Club. It was like peak, covid, summer, I think 2020. Spring and summer 2020. And the idea was How do we build big audiences? We all had 10 to 15,000 Twitter followers at the time, and we're like, how do we get to a hundred thousand? Now fast forward today, like Sahi has almost a million. Everyone in the group chat has like 300,000 and or around, you know, that number. And it's definitely changed our lives.
Trung: Do you think that could still happen today or do you think it was a very covid specific thing?
Greg: I mean, it's happening today, you know, I feel like we're actually witnessing it in like the AI world. Like there's a bunch of AI creators that I know are, that are kind of like banding together and like, like I see them like pumping up their stuff on Twitter. so yeah, it's happening.
Trung: the thing that I always tell people about Twitter, is just the idea. Like, you'll get the top 1% of any field, right? Like they'll just be there exchanging ideas and you know, as soon as you have a couple people in that field that are quote unquote the top of their field exchanging ideas, no one else in that field that's wants to compete, concede that ground, right? They're like, oh fuck, this person's like, he's got the mind share.
So now I gotta jump in here. So can't take it. But what essentially happens is that when you look at Twitter, it's not about, Hey, what is your vertical industry? It's like, can you get yourself into that 1% where everybody's hanging around in a giant group chat, right? And like, if you can just, whatever you're like, I always use a car dealership guy as a great example.
you know, his niche is very niche. It's car dealerships, but the information is so good and it's just so, uh, engaging that he's elevated now where he has celebrities and athletes and founders and CEOs following him, right?
So just gotta get in that, gotta get in that, that, that, the layer on top. That's all I gotta say. That's like my advice.
Greg: Yeah, I think the, you know, the, just to comment on that, like the cool part about Twitter is like you could get into that room and that's actually like why I initially, me and Sahel
Trung: Oh yeah, the name of the podcast room where it happens.
Greg: Literally like that was the idea is like bring people, uh, the top 1% have conversations and I think it always reminds me of South by Southwest.
I think Gary Vaynerchuk used to have like after parties in his like, hotel room, which sounds weird, but I, I swear I I don't think it was
Trung: No. So sounds totally normal. We listen, we started off with McGill party dude, after parties in hotel room. Totally got it.
Greg: Yeah. People are gonna hate this episode or love it, one or the other. So I think he would just like, you know, Tim Ferris would be there and, know, Garrett Camp and Travis from Uber would be there and they'd have these like jam sessions, I think they were called. and probably, I mean, I was never invited, so by the way, like, you know, I was never in that invited, but I always wanted to go.
Cause I was always like, imagine being a fly in that, you know, on the wall and hearing these conversations that these people are having, like, amazing.
Greg: Twitter allows you to make that happen.
Trung: just just wanna be clear, I think we're on the same page right here. One top 1% doesn't mean, like financially, we're not saying, oh, you know, you have to be finan. We're saying like, whatever your field is or whatever criteria you choose to judge your field, like that 1%, like let's say you're your medical researcher, you're really good at publishing or whatever, right?
And you're, you're just passing, that's, that's what we mean here
Greg: Yeah, exactly. And I just wanna be clear that whatever happened in Gary's room was probably, kosher,
Trung: Yeah. Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Greg: Um, okay. So Chung fan, internet legend.
Trung: Uh, I'll take that. I'm
Greg: I mean, you are, I mean, when, when
Trung: too many compliments.
Greg: when Elon Musk replies to your Twitter, I consider you notable
Trung: Okay. Okay.
Greg: who, who are you and what are you doing?
Trung: so as mentioned, obviously partied, a lot of Miguel and, uh, had no real plans for my professional life, although you said you, you told me on the pre-chat you dropped outta McGill, so you, you totally get the idea of like not really knowing what you're doing in university,
Greg: right. And like I dropped out, like, you know, we went to school around the same time. Like it was like If you dropped out back then, like
Trung: Yeah, in the, in the, like the late aughts in like the oh five to oh 10, the tenor. Yeah. Insane right in it was. Now obviously it's way more normalized, but, uh, yeah, I didn't really have, I might as well have dropped out. didn't make a difference, right? I could have gone started earlier, so, uh, in whatever my career ended up being.
Uh, so I went to Vietnam. Ended up being there for five years, and I don't remember the time, but it was oh 7 0 8, that's when, so the Beijing Olympics was 2008, and everybody's like, oh, this is like China's moment, right? So actually, I, I planned to move to Shanghai. I had a lot of buddies that were moving there, a lot of Caucasian dudes, and they're just like, we're just gonna learn Mandarin and like, we're gonna figure it out, right?
And then I'm just like, wait a second. Like, I'm Vietnamese, like I can speak enough Vietnamese and I have family members. I'm just gonna Vietnam and try to ride the same like East Asia wave. And the, the, the running joke about Vietnam is it's always five years away. So any, any year you get the Vietnam, it's like, oh, we're five years away from being like the next Asian tiger.
Right? But it's been that way for two decades. a lot of your listeners probably know me from being an idiot on Twitter and like being an idiot in terms of ship posting about business. Two things happened in Vietnam that was completely unplanned, but led kind of that route. So number one was, Uh, I, because I had no real hard skills.
I, I, I'm like, okay, what course can I take remotely that I can just do? CFA was the easiest one, right? Is like the one that you can do. They test in Saigon. I'm like, I'm just gonna do this. Put a little discipline around my life and like work in a quote unquote real career. So I took the cfa and then the other thing I did in Vietnam is actually the thought, the thing I really wanted to do a decade ago was a be a comedy screenwriter.
So I wrote and sold a comedy screenplay to Fox. I co-wrote that and I'm like, oh my God, this is amazing. I'm gonna be a comedy screenwriter. But I mean, I know that, you know, people in entertainment industry's like you write. Or, or option at script, you're still like at the 10 yard line in your own end zone,
You got 90 yards to go and you have no control over the rest of that. Uh, so on and off for about three years. Um, uh, I thought I was gonna be able to make a movie and I never ended up happening. But, uh, tldr moved back to North America, uh, got a real job, quote unquote real job in, uh, FinTech. Worked for a FinTech firm you might have heard of.
It's called Kensho. It's based in, uh, Boston, salt SMB Global in 2018. And, uh, and then from there, somebody I knew at Kensho was an early investor in the hustle, or, or an early-ish investor, and then made the introduction to the hustle. And then that's how I ended up going down this route of being like a more public facing writer, a business, uh, thingy.
Greg: Okay. And the hustle, like, what was that experience?
Trung: So the hustle was actually a very good. Match because it was like everything says like you, you know the tone of the hustle, right? You know Sam obviously, and the way they write is like, it's like an irreverent take on business. I'm like, okay, perfect. It combines my kind of interest in business with my real interest in comedy.
And uh, it was super interesting the time I was there cuz it happened during Covid and we had a difficult patch where quite a bit of turnover. Probably not surprising anybody during that time and the writing staff for the actual, uh, daily newsletter. Cuz I mean, you write a weekly newsletter, right? You already know, like I write a weekly new newsletter.
It's like it's already calling to difficult enough just like be on that grind. But like a daily newsletter, like, I mean, you know, Austin, you know Sam, the daily stuff is truly a seven day a week job if you're in the writer's seat, right? Because. At a minimum it's six days because you gotta hit all five days during the week, but you just never stop thinking about it cuz you just wake up like, oh crap.
Like I gotta, I gotta make sure I got the next one. And it's honestly a recipe for burnout if you don't have like a team in place. Unless I had amazing editors, uh, a shifting kind of co-writers. But I'd say the experience that was great with the hustle was I'd never written at that cadence for that long.
And I'm like, okay, well you can do this. I, I was feeling myself burning out towards the end. But it was nice to know that how much you can actually pump out if you just kind of have to do it right. And it was during Covid too, so , what else are you gonna do during Covid?
Greg: It feels like there was a group of you that really took off, at the hustle, right? Like, I feel like you know Steph Smith and there's just a bunch of you, like what was in the water at the hustle that so many of you became successful.
Trung: well, I mean you'll know this from knowing Sam is like, bring on board maybe non-traditional people. Right. And I mean, I think with Steph, he found Steph from her writing, uh, as like a solopreneur, like a no, a, a digital nomad, and was like, oh, this is just really good writing. Right.
And, uh, it might not be a traditional Ivy League route, uh, former tech reporter, but, but interesting knows what it's like to be an entrepreneur and that's probably valuable for the entrepreneurs. So I think, um, it's probably a combination of having. Kind of a wider net of who would be allowed to work at the Hustle.
Cause ultimately, our editor when I was there was Brad Wolverton. he was a former Washington Post guy. Right? Or like very traditional media. but he was able to wrangle in kind of more non-traditional writers. So, you know, I think a lot of credit goes to, uh, I think Brad was a really big hire, uh, for that team.
He's still there. I believe he's running, uh, all of HubSpot's, uh, editorial stuff now. But non-traditional writing, which is very much like, uh, consistent with what's happened with Sub now, right? The best writers I know are not people that came up as journalists. The best writers are former industry people.
Like, I mean, who's gonna outright community stuff or what your expertise is, right? Like, you're gonna be the best about that. Like a journalist is not gonna outdo you on that. And I think that applies to basically every kind of vertical now, although the, I flip flopped on how I feel about traditional medium.
a bit of it is because I'm so in the tech Twitter bubble that I'm just like, oh, you know, screw the time, screw whatever, X, Y, Z. But the reality is that the actual reporting that we all riff on and write on like that is actually extremely difficult and very like time and financially, uh, intensive, right?
Like even when you look at some of the best solo newsletter writers, I mean, they're just ripping off whatever the financial times are or New York Times or Bloomberg or, uh, wall Street Journal has written about, right? Because that's still ultimately the brass tack. Like you gotta still have that original reporting.
So I, I'm, I think I'm at a middle ground now. I respect old media, but I, I do think that there, there's a lot of questions, uh, about, uh, their models and, and kind of their incentives now
Greg: I mean, I write a weekly newsletter and I plan to even write more. And I couldn't even define the word reporting to you, like properly. Like I don't even know like
how I should be citing sources and how I should be doing like good reporting, you know what I mean? Like I feel like so many people on, like me, we, we just have ideas and it's a platform to get our ideas out there
Trung: the way I think about it is, you know, if you're gonna touch on the story, you literally have to call five to 10 people like that. To me, kind of what it really comes down to, right? Like the time it takes to set up these calls, chase people down and like get the primary source versus, you know, we're often riffing on these primary sources, right?
Which is much less time intensive, but you add your own ideas, which obviously
is cognitively difficult.
Greg: Yeah. So I remember like earlier on in my career as an entrepreneur, I would get these dms from reporters being like, Hey, do you have 10 minutes or five minutes for a quick interview on something? And I'd get on the phone and it was just them like citing a source or doing a little extra research.
And I remember like thinking to myself, like waking up on a Monday morning, let's just say, and you know, the meetings in the afternoon, I'm like, clear my day. I'm talking to someone from the New York Times, you know, just so excited. And I get on the call, they ask me a few questions if I'm lucky I'm getting a link,
you know, back.
Greg: and that's like best case or maybe like best case is actually linked back one sentence or two sentences. Realistically, I'm getting maybe a link and uh, I didn't realize at the time why they were so excited to speak to me, but now I understand it. Like they need to speak to me in order to properly get their piece across the finish line.
Trung: Like, like you're giving them the, the inner workings, right? The inside baseball that they like, if, if they wrote it without your insights like that, that's just a, that's a, that's a wire piece from the ap, right? Like what's the point? They just go to AP for this. But like, you're giving like literally that one sentence where it's like, oh, here's an insight from entrepreneur.
So what did, what did that make you feel about the process though? It was like you're saying, you're saying kind of even the playing field
in your mind of like, who brings value.
Greg: Yeah. It change, it changed the. The power dynamics, at least in my head. So initially I was like, okay, there's these gatekeepers and if I get them to write about me, there's a greater chance that I get customers, users, venture capital, potential, people who wanna buy my company. like might be reading the New York Times and might say, Hey, we need to buy this company cuz we saw it in the New York Times.
Like, that's literally how deals get done a lot of the time. Like, we feel this is a threat cuz it's in the New York Times or whatever. .
Trung: Wait, has this happened to you though? Like, uh, with your own
personal entrepreneurial journey?
Greg: yeah. Yes. Like
Trung: Okay. . So somebody's like, I saw him in
the Times. Oh, that,
that's interesting, man.
Greg: Yeah. Like I remember, I was trying to sell my company in 2013, it was called Five By to a social network called Stumble Upon. And I was just trying to get the. The term sheet, from Facebook at the time, stumble upon and there was a couple others, and I just needed a little extra juice, like an extra like reason for them to like move.
So I hired Ed Zitron, uh, if you know
Trung: Oh yeah. I've read
Greg: yeah. And he, he got us in Tech Grudge and
Trung: through industry connections.
Greg: through industry connections.
I paid him $5,000 to get us into Tech. Gru, basically, and
Trung: Got you crossed the finish line. Dan, this is some inside baseball man. Have you ever told this story?
Greg: Never told this story.
Trung: This is amazing, man. Wow.
That's Balder dude.
Greg: it was published, let's say on a Monday, Tuesday, by Wednesday, Thursday.
All of a sudden Facebook came around, stumble upon, came around, just so happened that they had read the article. and, uh, it makes it, it makes a difference to be in the press.
Trung: I've been in a couple, uh, of conversations with, uh, kind of on the solo independent side and the idea being, Hey, how valuable is a traditional press? I think what you're saying here, oh, granted, this was 10 years ago, right?
Trung: I feel like it probably pulls the same weight though. Like I remember when I was, so I took a break from Bloomberg, but when I was writing over the past year, I still remember the kind of outreach you'd get and, oh, I guess on Twitter I have a big audience, but there's still some people that I couldn't reach out to over that I know from AB testing as in like when I reached out to them on my Twitter account, nothing when I'm like, Hey listen, I'm writing something to Bloomberg.
Totally different ballgame, right? It's like it still means something to get into the terminal, for example. Or in your case, I guess TechCrunch is still, I mean 10 years later. Uh, I like your thoughts actually, TechCrunch now versus 10 years ago. What do you
think the influence is or
Greg: Oh, I mean, it's gone down significantly.
significantly. At the time it
Trung: quench equivalent today
Greg: it's gotten more decentralized. Like I feel like at the time it was, there was only a few places that you'd go for, for tech news. It was like Pando Daily, I think. Um, But there wasn't that much, right. Like tech felt like more niche and TechCrunch was like TechCrunch was the holy grail.
Um, today I feel like You know, Paki McCormick, you have Lenny Subs, you have like more niche, Mario. Ben's bites for ai or we just launched one called you probably need a robot.com for ai. Like, there's these niche gatekeepers, um, that exist. so the attention is way, way more spread out.
Trung: Yeah, that's a great point. Regarding, uh, Paki and Mario Ash, you, because you've obviously seen some of their. Quote unquote sponsor deep dives or even ones that aren't right, is the, they clearly are just hitting the exact market. And to your point, that where tech Hunts used to serve. But I mean, pa I think PA's up to 200,000 subs, and I know Lenny's is, Lenny's is massive, right?
Lenny might be half a million at this
Greg: Lenny is the second most subscribed CK period.
Trung: in the, in the entire, on the entire platform. It That is wild. Right?
That is absolutely wild. He's a new tech crunch. There you go. Right. He's a new tech
Greg: Yeah. Lenny is the new tech wrench, but he, he focuses more on like But you're right, Lenny, in some ways is, is the closest thing to the new tech wrench that we have.
going back to your story, you're at the hustle. What happens? How long are you there for?
Trung: About a year, year and a half. Like I said, like a little bit of burnout feeling when, uh, when, uh, the daily, the daily pace for about a year was fast. It was a lot. I wanted to get back to writing, uh, longer kind of stuff. and I mean, you know, the deal ha, the HubSpot acquired Hustle in February, 2021.
Uh, within a year I think a lot of, uh, a lot of people had ended up leaving, uh, which is pretty typical for these type of things anyways. And, uh, I knew that I wanted to get back, uh, to kind of writing at a, at a less frequent pace and also just explore the stuff that we've talked about, like being more, being more solo and independent and kind of seeing where it, where where you can go.
I mean, you'll know this, you've been over a decade. It's just like, I prefer taking on random opportunities, uh, and not being tied necessarily to one place. Uh, just because a lot of it has to do with the fact that have built up good distribution. Right. Um, it was a little bit different maybe than a year and a half ago, but as you're building up a distribution and you see, okay, well, N that's half the battle in my eyes with the content.
It, it literally is how, how much effort you put into the writing of the, the initial thing or creating that piece, you have to put the exact same amount of effort in distribution. Right. And well, that's why people make the trade off. They're willing to work for a large publication because they don't believe that they can do the distribution on their own.
But you can actually can, as you can tell, as you know, from your group, the a hundred K club, it's possible to happen. So just wanna get off the pace of the writing. I've never really stayed at a place for, uh, extended amount of time and I still have this north star in my head of being a film like writer of some nature.
And what I found with writing independently and kind of using that as the main outlet was, you know, I do get a lot of interesting dms. I meet a lot of interesting people just from what I do on Twitter and, um, you know, moving the ball towards creatively stuff I want to do like. A lot of stuff for me is, even though I kind of work in the business world, I'm like, the things that get me excited are the more on the creative side, particularly humor.
Greg: So what are you working on? And it feels like you have some interest in film writing, ai. Um, how does it all come together? What's your, how do you describe what you're building?
Trung: Here's the through line. The through line is this is, I know what I'm gonna be doing every day, basically for the next call, five, 10 years. Like I can already see it, right? It, it has to do with the age of my kid where he's five years old. So, you know, no matter what, I know that, uh, you know, the commitment, obviously a kid, right?
So that's the main thing. It's like, that's levering me in. It's like, okay, so how do I build something I can do for 10 years around the fact that I gotta raise my kid for another 10, 15 years? Right? And what that is, and what I've come to realize over the past year and a half was, I know I can just do the content paste that, uh, some of your listeners might see, or if they're not familiar is like, you know, I'll, I'm on Twitter every day, a couple hours similar to yourself.
Uh, I'm, I'll write a newsletter, I do a podcast, and it's just solely building the audience as you know. It's like It just, it just compounds, right? It's just corny. But like, it, the benefits especially of audience building is all gonna be towards the end, right? It's like, uh, I wrote about it this last week.
Uh, Jack Butcher, who you had on recently on the show, he obviously has that amazing visual, right? Of like, it's just a straight line going nowhere, and then it just kind of implodes and, and, and there's a point on that straight line where you're like, oh, this is pointless. But it's just the idea of particularly audience building, uh, the, the benefits really do accrue towards the end, right?
In, in so many ways too. It's like the, you're picking up more people, but then the people you're picking up earlier than the journey, they wanna see you win and they're liking you more because of how much time they're spending with you. When you're asking like, you know, where's the through line? The through line is this, I know I can keep doing the audience stuff, like content that I enjoy for the indefinite amount of time.
So through that, through line then becomes okay, if you have a big audience, what can you do with that? So the AI stuff was essentially, you know, I'd advertise in my newsletter, I'd advertise in my podcast, but a lot of those advertisements weren't even products that I used.
And the, the highest value thing for somebody with a big audience, it's like, you know, you own the product, right? It's like, it's like whatever Jocko does with his, health products or Rogan now has a cotton like on it, right? It's like you find a product that you can, uh, use your distribution to sell.
The AI stuff made sense to me. the app that I launched barely ai, I actually use it quite a bit. I use it a ton to copyedit my own stuff. I don't have a team, so, uh, writing and editing are two such different kind of, uh, you know, the cognitive switch is quite large and it's really annoying to edit your stuff.
So I use, uh, uh, barely, which is built on top of water. Uh, any, it can be on top of any large language model. Obviously opening has a big one right now, but we can, we've plugged into other ones and. I'm sure Google is gonna release one soon. I I, I know Facebook or Meta just released theirs. It's like, we're gonna be able to route through this app, which essentially, uh, I guess they call it a thin wrapper, but the thin wrapper with, uh, two ways I put it is I think the UX and the convenience side.
I know you've talked about it previously and used it and maybe a little bit, but I think the, what we're seeing was that the convenience side is if the underlying models are gonna be largely commoditized because every browser will have it, like every productivity tool will have it is people will be like, okay, well which one will I actually use every day?
Because it's convenient. Right? And we're finding, like we have the Chrome extension, uh, the one short, uh, one keyboard shortcut, uh, app, and uh, obviously browser access, people are liking that it's all kind of in one place. And, uh, there's definitely enough of a market for those individuals where, uh The lifetime value for this product is higher than I can get on just ads.
Greg: Yeah, I, I was just in a meeting with my team right before this, and I think we're launching like five companies over the ne you know, over the next six weeks,
so around my
Greg: I think it's, it's a good point that you have, which is once you're known for something, once you're 1%, how do you become the advertiser
So, with the ai, with barely ai, like you were relatively early with that, how did you get into ai, LLMs and productivity?
Trung: So, uh, but I'm gonna have to give a lot of credit to my co-founder, Parham. Uh, we worked together at Kero, which was the, uh, FinTech startup, uh, that I mentioned, uh, that I worked when I came outta the States. But he was head of infrastructure there. So I mean, he'd spent his entire career, like a decade, basically plugging at the time it was a lot of data, like a lot of NASDAQ data s and p data, into kind of a, a nice UX and making it very usable.
And the l l m stuff was kind of creeping up. Uh, obviously chat, GP t's model underlying model had been around for almost 18 months and they just kind of slapped it on top. And, uh, I, I'm sure you've read the stuff they didn't, even outside of Sam Alman, they didn't even think that it'd be a success.
They're like, they, they, they, they were rushing it out the door cuz they knew that the moment was coming for Mindshare and they just kind of rushed it out. Um, so I don't think we were particularly early. Like, I mean, Jasper and copy were around probably a year plus, uh, before we launched and now everything was just swept away by chat G B T anyways in terms of, uh, uh, Mindshare.
But what, what I will say is like, it is definitely one of those situations where like, you know, the tide lifts all boats. It's just the, the biggest tide ever. And even chat, G P T and Open AV acknowledged there's just no way they could. All the different, uh, uh, customers they want. So they did that deal with Bain recently, right?
To to, to do, uh, generative text and images for Coca-Cola. But like in that press release, they're the, they're like . We can't, like, we're doing one of the Fortune 500 companies, like a single one of them. Right. And I think the economics for OpenAI and Microsoft, uh, which obviously owns about, we will end up owning 45, 40 9% of it is they're gonna have to be kind of a cloud provider and they're gonna want as many people to plug in as possible.
So I guess their balancing act, which I'd love to your thoughts on, is you know, how, how do they have a balancing app between having their own product and trying to incentivize just everybody to build on top of it? So, we were, I don't think we were particularly early.
I do think that we got in right before that crazy rush to be honest, it was, it was when Chat G B T came out that first week, I'm like, fuck this might, like we might be done. And uh, but then we saw Ashley that it really helped clarify what our value was is just some people want the UX a certain way, right?
That's just how some people want it. And that clarified for us is like, okay, let's, this is our market. We're not building the next Google. We need to find 10, 20,000 of these customers and get 'em to pay. And then you have a mid seven figure business am I trusting that my distribution can do that?
So those are kind of the, that was kind of the equation. So what, when, what, what do you think when like around, um, kind of thin wrappers and, and open AI competing against potential other, other AI plays?
Greg: So my take on. like where we are in the state of AI and building on top of it is, it feels very similar to how it was in mobile. Um, so in mobile, basically what happened was, you bought an iPhone and there were default apps. Like there was no, you know, the first version of the iPhone didn't have an app store,
Trung: Oh yeah. Steve Jobs hated the idea of an app store cuz he didn't want an app to drop the call because I don't remember. But in his is in, in the iPhone presentation, he's like the killer app for the iPhone is the A phone call. We've created a better phone call. So he was fucking really didn't wanna ruin the phone.
But yeah, you're right. There was no app
Greg: no app store, and it got preloaded with some default apps based on what they thought people wanted. And Apple knew a few of those apps because from, you know, 2000 to. 2008. There was a huge industry around pocket PCs, which were just mobile windows and palm pilots that we like often forget about. So, they understood that there was notes that you needed, you know, photos,
maps, Email Exactly. So they knew that that's the phase we're in right now with, open AI's business. And then you're gonna see Google, uh, as well. Um, so they've identified okay, text to image makes sense. Boom, Dolly, you know, jukebox music. they've, they've identified like the, and I hate the term, but low hanging fruit for the space.
today, you know, we're, we're, we're recording this, February 27th. Today I saw that Snap added, like ai, open AI integration. so now they're moving from like default apps to okay partner apps that we can trust. The next step is platform. So the app store for open ai or the app store for Google Bard.
And yeah, what you're building is like, you're building an app before , before there's an app store basically.
Greg: you're, instead of relying on the distribution for an app store, you're relying on the distribution of your Twitter account and email, et cetera. and I think that there's gonna be like open AI and Google isn't gonna figure out themselves how to build every niche.
AI based product, and they don't want to do that. So I think there's gonna be a huge opportunity over the next five years to like go and build a seven figure AI first product.
Trung: I, I love that framing of the idea of, uh, they basically figured out, so the first iPhone came with 60 naps, like kind of everything you mentioned notes, email, browser, uh, contact list. The idea of like, and a great parallel here is like the open AI playground, right? Or the, uh, the, the text playground. It's like, that's kind of the first tool you'll see everywhere is it's probably just gotten a meeting with three people and they're just like, Hey, what are, like, what are the main things we can do with text?
We just created 20 of them, right? And, um, apart from the use. Different use cases you might have with the LLMs. The other thing we've seen with barely is, so we've been reached out quite a bit by s like SMB corporates, n not even tiny, like 10, 20,000 employees.
They want to integrate some type of ll m into their company, but they don't wanna do through chat G P T right now. And then open AI just doesn't have the resources to hold their hands because they're too small. Right. So barely is actually very effective in the sense of, you know, we're working on the standard corporate stuff like sso, single sign-on, uh, localize all, all data so you can upload and just keep it, uh, OnPrem or like not in a cloud.
Because people obviously have a lot of, uh, concerns about privacy and uh, we've seen enough outreach of that where, you know, if anybody listening here, and I'm sure there are quite a bit interested in AI, is like the one thing I cannot stress enough is the market is so big. Even though like the mental gymnastics I went through and like, kind of like the anxiety when a chat g p T came out was just, it just came to mind.
It's like, listen, they're just not gonna be able to service everybody because it doesn't make sense for them too. And it's like what you said, a, they're not gonna be able to figure out every use case B, they're not gonna be able to service everyone. There's gonna be enough room for a lot of people.
Maybe not generational stuff. Right? Like, I don't know how many Googles or Ubers, Airbnbs will come out of this uh, cycle, but it's great for solopreneurs. There's no question about it.
Greg: how much anxiety does being built on open ai, Google, whatever, give you you know, cuz they could just decide, we're no long, longer giving access to, you know, chat g p t or, or they could just say it's gonna cost a million dollars a month.
Trung: it was a lot more anxiety when chat g BT came out in November, but it seems pretty clear since then, uh, that there's gonna be enough competition in this space. I mean, even stability, right? Like stability obviously is known for, uh, stability. AI is primarily known for stability of fusion, but they're working on a large language model and, and, and, and their whole, their whole ethos is to be open source.
Right? And then you just saw, again, we mentioned meta drop one last week. Google has to drop. I, I know meta is more research focused right now and they're, they have an open it widely, but there's almost no question that Google is probably going to have to within this year. So Yeah, I mean, it is scary, it's scary in the same sense that I believe it the way you'd use a cloud provider is like, yeah, could.
You know, screw you by jacking up prices and like making it really expensive. I think it's called egress fees when you have to leave the cloud. That's basically what they're doing. Uh, but, uh, the tradeoffs are worth it and I mean, otherwise, like, I'm not gonna be able my old own l m either, right? So the reality is that I'm screwed if they really do pull that
So, although there have been enough discussions where like, like are we gonna have to just do, or, or like enough, or like an interesting one enough where you can still do something super niche and uh, and kind of exist, but yeah, definitely anxiety, but I think it was much less diminished than in November.
That was a true shot. Like when, when Chad came out, the information had a great article about Jasper. So Jasper AI was the, you probably know the guy, he's like, unicorn, uh, ai, uh, startup that does a lot of copy and marketing, uh, text. But I read that information article. . And so they're in like a Slack group, uh, like a, a, a multi cross-functional slack group with open ai because they're such a big partner.
And then when Chad TPG dropped, they're like, Hey, uh, what's going on? Like, this is like directly competitive and you know, the opening guy. Like, no, no, no, don't worry about it. It's like you guys, you still have access to the different models and uh, it's just, it is just like a, just a marketing point for open ai.
But, if they're raised at 1.5 billion, like what was the ambition for that company? It's probably a 10 billion plus company, right? Like, is that still possible? I, I don't know. it seems scary that Chatt PDDs out there and Microsoft can burn X amount of money. but I think the market is just so massive that, uh, it's worthwhile for them not to screw people and they'll just make up money, uh, on whatever their, their token model ends up being.
Greg: Yeah, I think people really underestimate how big the AI market is because what is ai? It lifts productivity, it uplifts productivity. So if you uplift productivity 7%, like we're talking trillions per, per year globally
Trung: product productivity. And, and this is another thing that we've found with barely AI, is like, so about half of our usage is outside of North America. I don't think people understand the multiplier that open AI provides for non-native English speakers that are trying to compete and, and not even necessarily compete.
Just even just like, listen, I don't know how much you've dealt with, uh, uh, people in Southeast Asia or East Asia. I'm sure you have quite a bit. It's like first of all, English. The English teaching industry is massive. It's just absolutely massive. Right. And that's just to teach English.
Not even to write. Not even to read. It's just to teach the pronunciation of English. And if you throw something like chat, p t, open ai, any large language models now. Yeah. People that are, have all the other skills, right. Discipline, uh, understand, uh, accounting, understand finance, understand how to use the internet.
But the truly large barrier was, uh, writing literally just good emails. You could even write a good cold email if you were like a, a, a Vietnamese executive because you just don't have intonation and you just don't understand the nomenclature. Right? This is a massive change for you. It is truly a massive change.
We're seeing huge usage in Southeast Asia for, uh, barely ai. And even though our pricing is Western based for some companies over there, it's a no-brainer for them. It's not ex, I mean it's expensive relative to like how the per g d p per capita, but if you're running a business that can do seven figures from Southeast Asia, it's a no-brainer to be able to communicate properly for $200 a year, $20 a month, right?
So I think that's the other part of it. Totally agree with you on the productivity, but I think the massive unlock is gonna. Even the playing field in a lot of ways for, for non-native English speakers. And, uh, we had a, it was funny, we, I do a non-investment advice podcast with Baal and, uh, Jack and we , we randomly had a, a sailor on last year, Michael Sailer, and he had a great line.
He's just like, whatever you do, you can sell for more in English. Like if that's, you know, the, the language you're interacting, obviously he's a lingua Franco and he's like, and whatever you buy, you can buy it for cheaper in English. And I think that matters a lot. Like, forget about just the productivity, which I totally agree on.
Like 7% boost, like you said, we're trillions of dollars or whatever hypothetical number, right? But the unlocking of literally two to 3 billion people to compete in where the lingua Franco of, uh, the internet, which is English. I think it's a huge, and, and we can't really compute what the opportunity
is for that.
Greg: obviously, I speak English, but growing up in Quebec, like, you know, you speak English and French and you're in North America, so you kind of like see, you understand us, you understand selling into the us. but you also understand that, You might speak French as your native, you know, 93% of Quebec speak French, uh, as their first language.
So for me, like I've always thought about like, how do you, how do you localize different products and niche, different products, like barely AI for, you know, Vietnam for example, could be a huge product and, and I just find that Americans don't think often like that.
They don't think like, oh, hey, let's, like, they just think about like, if, you know, if you make it in New York, you make it everywhere, right? Like, that's like the, the mentality. But I don't think that's necessarily true, I, I, I believe in, speaking to different audiences and the way they want to be spoken to.
So I think there's a ton of opportunity in just creating. Proven products that are AI first and just focusing it on non-western countries.
Trung: Well, let me, let me use an example from, I mean, you, you, you had a viral thread a couple days ago around, uh, I think a vendor owed you $109,000
Greg: 109. 109. 500. But who's counting?
Trung: Yeah. So you, so a vendor owed you six figures. It's call, it's call a hundred k
And I asked you while I was reading it, I mean, the solution ended up being very simple.
It was like you, you prompted chat, G D P T to give you an email to send hypothetically to a vendor that owed you X amount of money, hadn't paid in a y amount of time. Right. Like, simple enough. But I think there's an insight in there, and I think, uh, it's y it kind of went viral, right? Last time I saw it was like 12,000 likes or something, which is millions of, uh, impressions.
But like, I think the insight there was something, and you, you touched on it. It was like the idea. It's good. Call it back off, right? Like, yeah, I could have written that email. I could have written it, but there's mental blockers for you to write that email. I think that, so for the listeners that haven't seen any, the, the texted email was something along the lines of, you know, hey, vendor X, like, uh, we've given you five months, uh, to, to pay this bill and we much appreciate it if you pay.
If not, here's some records. Right? Like, you literally could have written that, but the mental blocker to be like, fuck, do I wanna be the bad guy? Like, dude, you know what I mean? It's like, do I really wanna do No, but I want you to apply that. Think about that mental blocker that you as a west, a successful western entrepreneur had, right?
To write that English. Email now, now apply that to the 700,000, the 700 million Southeast Asians, right? Imagine trying to write an angry email from like your Malaysia manufacturer. You're trying to get a, a, a, a New York based company to pay you six figures. Where do you even start to communicate that properly?
But like you, I think that's what the beauty about that like, it was such a simple solution, but I don't think people understand the implications of it. So literally now, , you can have angry emails that are effective, written and sound like a lawyer. He, he, hell, this might be a bad thing, but now anybody can do it.
But I think it's a great equalizer.
Greg: I mean, a lot of our team is based in Canada, so obviously they're super nice and they're, they're just like, they're just like
Greg: Well, they, they were basically like, you know, responding to that, you know, that vendor and just being like, Hey, just following up would be awesome to get paid. You know, it's just like, it needed like a bit more, oomph.
Exactly. It was missing some oomph. And, uh, they asked for my advice and I was just like, chat g p T. Like, um, you know, initially they were like, we're gonna give it to the lawyer and let the lawyer just like handle it. And at the time we were like, we're over budget that month.
On, legal fees.
I was, yeah. I was just like,
let's just tr let's do a fun experiment. And we did it. And I just, I got that notification like 95 seconds after I sent the email, from the executive of that company. And he is like, yeah, sure, no problem. We'll pay you. I was like,
Trung: you, you knew it was good content too, right? Because I know you're a content guy. You're like, Ooh, this is good
Totally. yeah, I was telling, uh, someone on my team, I was like, it's worth, it's worth the money just on the content alone.
Trung: I'm just
forget the hundred and nine. I mean, dude, I was looking, uh, uh, cause I don't know, l let, uh, this is specific for the users that aren't super Twitter heavy, but kind of the way you plug your products on Twitter is after like a long multi tweet thread and, and, and kind of conversion is typically whatever you can convert 10% of, uh, likes from the first tweet to the bottom.
Like, you've done a great job. I was looking at some of the likes towards the end, like, damn dude, this is like, this converted really well
Greg: Oh yeah. I mean, I'll share some of that inside info. Like, you know, one of the things I launched in that thread, or put in that thread is a design service called dispatch.
Greg: Yeah. 5k a month. I put, like in the tweet. I was like, Hey, listen, like this inspired us to, to launch this product that like we actually get paid. you pay us 5K a month and it's unlimited designs for your company. And it's like landing pages and websites and apps unlimited for, for only 5K a month. And from that tweet alone, you know, that'll generate, six figures in a r r just from that tweet.
Trung: listening, did you actually launch it
because of that thread,
Greg: yeah, so
Trung: that in the works?
Greg: we had it as an idea. We're just kind of like, hey, like, a lot of companies, we, we just had a request, like a lot of companies just need, you know, our, our short staffed, but they weren't like small design tasks and they weren't right for our like, traditional design agency. we've just been referring it to other agencies cuz we're just like, hey, it's not a fit, not a.
they were like, Hey, wouldn't it be cool to have like a monthly subscription? and it was, it was on the back burner. Um, and then when that happened, I was like, Hey, great forcing function to bring that back. Imagine if we can get,
you know, six figures a month or even seven figures every single month being charged.
And it's, you know, not, you know, we work with a lot of Fortune 500 s, it's, you know, net 30, net 60, et cetera.
Trung: Well, there you go. You need 20, you need 20. And I looked at, it's not shocking at all that you got at least 20, because I looked at, man again, it's this inside baseball for people don't use Twitter. It's like, you can kinda do like a rough hand conversion of like, likes to like clicks. And I'm like, whew, this, this thread was like , like, that's hilarious, man.
So like this thread, you put a literal hit on every single level. There's like five layers of
Greg: And it, and it generated thousands of subscriptions to you. Probably need a robot.com.
Trung: Yeah. Yeah, exactly right. Um, yeah, so I'm curious then, so for you, cuz I, I mean you obviously jumped quickly on different, uh, different, uh, ideas that you think ha are, you know, quite large, uh, potential. And outside of the ones you kind of mentioned, uh, kind of the community, the newsletter, are you looking at doing a lot more AI stuff, uh, around products that you, because you said you launched five to 10 a year,
Trung: companies in the works
Greg: yeah, yeah. So well, I've been in, in some form into AI for a long time. So like my co-founder and I have late checkout, you know, I mentioned Stumble upon, like, stumble upon was like the og, you know, personalization and AI company. Yeah. So that's how I got into ai. and, and also I studied computer science at McGill.
Shout out McGill again, I learned a little from that. And yeah, for those of you who don't know, stumble upon, it was basically like a, you know, you put your interest in and you press a button and it would serve you interesting webpages based on some AI and ml. kind of similar to how like the TikTok for you page really works.
Um, but for webpages, so I've been interested in a wa you know, for a while, but, you know, with all this, buzz over the last 12 to 18 months and a lot of our clients asking us for AI product designs, I just wanted to build like a free community. because my belief is like if you attract the smartest people into a community and you have like, you know, workshops with them and masterminds with them, you get to know them.
Like you, even if you're not an expert, you can become an expert. So the fastest way to learn is to start a community, in my opinion.
And, I wanted that for my team as well. So from that, I think we're gonna build a lot of AI stuff.
Trung: a lot of the difficulties in AI is, is not necessarily specific to ai. Right? Like, again, you're not gonna build probably a large language model. The challenges is distribution, packaging, and I mean, this is your area of expertise, right? Like this is, and distribution packaging is literally like what you do.
but you worked at TikTok, right?
I was an advisor to TikTok.
Trung: Okay. Because of the stumble. Oh. Cuz I would
Greg: because it's,
Greg: yeah, Well, yeah, actually the reason why is because I had built like this app five by that got acquired. Um, it was this video discovery app similar to how TikTok worked. and TikTok hired when TikTok, after it was re rebranded to TikTok from Musically, they hired a bunch of YouTube execs, basically.
Um, and I knew a lot of those YouTube execs from my five by days. So they brought me in to help them YouTube fi and grow TikTok because at the time it was an app for like 12 year old girls.
Trung: so we need to ask then we got, we're gonna, there's a big elephant in this room.
Should the United States
ban TikTok, gimme your honest
Greg: Should the United States ban TikTok,
Trung: or force a sale.
Greg: what do you think?
Trung: You too close to this
Greg: What do you.
Trung: Oh yeah. I think there's no question I, I've written about this. I think they should, they should ban and then force a sale. Um, my logic. It was a little cold war, but The analogy, use this, if this was the 20th century, it'd be like they, if the Soviet Union owned b, abc, cbs, or b nbc, right, like one of the three big television stations that had access to hundreds of millions of Americans.
And this is what TikTok is, and I'm not, I'm not saying that there's every single day someone I, uh, within the c ccp, it's like going into TikTok saying like, do X, Y, Z. But we've seen with Chinese tech and Chinese industry, sometimes you don't even have to say it's, it's understood what you need to do.
Right. And, uh, I mean, ye Ying, the former, I meant the, I guess he stepped down as a c e O of by dance or still chairman, very involved, was he had to apologize for the, the, I don't remember pronounce it, Tut, the newspaper app. He's like, yeah, CCP is like, we're not liking the content here. So we had to make a huge public apology.
So they need the force of sale. I'll tell you what's funny. Obviously there's only like five or six companies in America that can buy TikTok, but I think it's gonna end up being owned by Microsoft, which will just, Satia is already the biggest animal ever and he is gonna own TikTok. Right.
And he is gonna probably buy for like 30 billion. Uh, I think that will be the outcome. So I don't know what you feel about that, but yeah, I don't, I don't think it should be owned by , by a, Chinese company with a CCP on the board.
Greg: I mean, I agree. I have to agree with you, .
I think Google or Microsoft, but I, like it can happen to meta because anti competition antitrust,
right. Um, it could happen to Disney. Disney could buy it.
Trung: Oh, that's interesting because Disney actually looked at buying Twitter in 20, uh, 7, 20 16. I think they had a term sheet, everything was ready and then Iger like woke up one day is like, I don't wanna deal with this fucking, I don't wanna deal with the moderation bullshit that's
going on there.
Greg: Google is interesting because then they own like short form TikTok and, and longer form YouTube, Netflix, of course
Trung: Actually, let's game this out. I'm making a prediction. YouTube is gonna buy TikTok, they're gonna spin out YouTube, it's gonna go public. 500 billion company done
Trung: this, editor. Clip this from when this happens in the next
Greg: No, I, I think, uh, I think that makes sense. I also think Satya buying TikTok, integrating open AI and then turning it into a super app
Trung: it'd be the, it's undefeated. He's , that's it. Right. Just go off in the sunset then. What, what, what other purpose do you have to exist? Like, sat, go retire after that, man.
Greg: Yeah, totally. dude, this has been fun. I gotta, I gotta run, but this is, this is,
Trung: Greg, I do appreciate the time, man. That was
Greg: Come back anytime. Uh, where could folks follow you on Twitter and,
Trung: Yeah. Uh, we keep super, super simple. Everything's on my Twitter bio strong T fan on Twitter. Uh, non-investment advice with, uh, Jack Butcher who, uh, was previously on Greg's show. And then, uh, Bizadi and, uh, yeah, barely. AI is b e a r l y.ai. Uh, free to use to try and, uh, if it's in your UX wheelhouse, I, I get a lot of dopamine with new signups.
think about that
Greg: I love it. Go follow him. Thanks, trg.
Trung: Yeah, absolutely, man. Thanks,