Today's guest on Leadership In Action is an entrepreneur, innovator, and leader in his industry who fights for the game makers of the world. As a game developer, he created one of the first commercial Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. Joining the show today is an EO Boston member of 5 years, CEO of Beamable, Jon Radoff. Jon joins host Mark Stiles to talk about what it takes to get a business started, the value of customer feedback, and what visiting Everest base camp is like.
- You don’t need to be special to be an entrepreneur. All you need is an idea and the drive to take it and run with it.
- It’s ok to pivot. Your original idea doesn’t need to be what your product looks like for the rest of the business. As you meet others, and bring on new perspectives, your idea will evolve and change.
- While those who criticize your new idea may seem demoralizing, their feedback can provide ways to improve. They might point out something technical that hasn’t been solved yet, or tell you about a customer type you weren't aware of.
- Entrepreneurship can be a perseverance game. Sometimes you will need to stick with your idea for a long time before the market is ready for it. While this will slow you down, it doesn’t mean game over.
- Sometimes the business needs to be built before the idea. If you have grand ideas of how your product will fit into the future, you need to start by selling the thing consumers will buy now.
- AI tools are something that every entrepreneur should keep an eye out for over the next few years. As new, more powerful tools emerge, they will empower you to try new ideas with lower costs and less risk.
- As AI becomes more prevalent, it will shift the types of skill sets that are needed to be successful. Instead of being a specialist on a given topic or process, establishing a well rounded skill set will line you up for success.
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonradoff/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/jradoff
- Company website: https://beamable.com/
- Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Radoff
- Medium: https://jradoff.medium.com/
Quote of the Show
- “We're all in the business of serving customers.” - Jon Radoff
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Mark Stiles: Hey folks. Welcome back to Leadership and Action, your Boston Chapter of Entrepreneurs Organization podcast.
Today's guest. Is an entrepreneur or innovator and leader in his industry. He fights for the game makers of the world and is responsible for creating one of the first M O RPGs, massively multiplayer online role playing games is what that stands for. He's been an EO member for five years. He also publishes a blog called Building the Metaverse, c e O of Beam Able.
Jon Radoff: Welcome to the show. Hey Mark. How are you? Thanks for having me doing
Mark Stiles: well. Question number one, what is the common misconception about leadership running a business and or being an entrepreneur?
Jon Radoff: Go. To me, it's the idea that you have to be some kind of special person to be an entrepreneur. Let me zoom back the camera lens though, my purpose in life as far as business is concerned is just multiplying creativity through the world.
That's what I've done through some of the game businesses I've made, through the technology company I have through the website creation tech company that I started years ago. Everything was about just allowing people to be more creative and just get online, make stuff, express themselves, because I think that's just.
such At the core of what it is to be human entrepreneurship is creativity. It's about how to come up with ideas and business models and marketing methods and channels and just put it, together, try things and, make something new, right? Like entrepreneurship is fundamentally to me about like making something new, harnessing business and organizations of people to do that.
So, you know, I was very lucky in. Respect as a kid that I would have all these crazy ideas when I was like a teenager and I'd tell my parents what I want to do. Both my parents always encouraged me. They never said, oh, you can't do that. Like, bad idea. Go, go focus on like your math problem so you can end up, uh, getting into a decent college.
I did get into a decent college, which I've then subsequently dropped out of. But um, they always encouraged me just to, to go run with my ideas. So if you didn't hear that in your life so far, I guess my message to you is, You know, run with the idea. You can do it. Like if you want to try making a business, it doesn't require anything special beyond the idea that you've identified a problem that has to be solved in the world.
And if you can go help people solve that problem. , apply your creativity to it. It, it's a, it's a great life.
Mark Stiles: You know, so many thoughts are firing through my head right now with what you're saying there. Uh, with respect to, you know, who can be and who thinks they can be. But talking about your parents, I think is such a vital, vital component to it because how many people in that creative stage of their life get muzzled down and they say, no, no, no.
get into a good school, get a good job, get a pension, retire and die .
Jon Radoff: Wow. This, this talk just took a, a damn path. But, um,
yeah, I, I think everybody needs, uh, set of cheerleaders in your life. Yeah. So for me growing up, it was my parents, um, . I had a circle of friends that were really into what I was doing, so they were too. And then I did stuff that was completely insane. I dropped outta college, I started an online games business.
Like talk about something that, like in the nineties must have sounded like completely absurd idea, but I knew. that there was a group of people who would really be into what I was gonna make and they weren't happy with the kinds of alternatives that they could play, and I knew that I was capable of doing it.
So there was, that said a huge number of things. I didn't know I was 19 when I did this. I didn't know. A lot about the world, about people, about business, but you know, bus business is something where you can learn as you go too, especially when you're an entrepreneur. So I would just say go for it. Like it.
The key thing is knowing what you want to do, knowing that there's some problem that you're gonna go try to solve. That's within the scope of the kinds of problems that you can solve, and then you can build a business around it. But, but
Mark Stiles: it interesting where you saw the problem, like, this was a problem for you, therefore it must be a problem for other people and I'm gonna solve it for everybody.
Jon Radoff: Well, so here's, here's the, even the other story around how this business was created. So I met my future wife in an online game, so Oh, cool. We were playing this game together while I was. Actually the summer before I even went to college, and then I was in college, so I met her. We were playing it together and we came up with a lot of ideas just playing that game.
Having played it together and played with other people, Hey, we could build a better version of the thing that we're playing, and we knew everyone was playing the game. We knew what a better game would look like. So then we had this crazy idea that I'd drop outta college, we'd move in together, we'd start working on this thing, and six months later we had a game.
Then people started playing it. What was the game? It was called Legends of Future Past, and Imagine taking. Like a Renaissance fair and transporting it to a magical planet far away where it's a Renaissance fair because everybody gets to kind of act in, act out a role, and stories are emerging around you and there's always people to participate with.
And we would have live what we call game masters, who would go on, take on roles and they would entertain you as you interacted with them inside the game. And this
Mark Stiles: was in the nineties, it
Jon Radoff: was.
Mark Stiles: Wow. I mean, the internet was barely a thing at that point.
Jon Radoff: The internet really just got off the ground. Around 92 I guess, was, was where you could actually first start to do commercial applications on the internet.
And we were there right in the beginning and the game ran for the whole decade. Wow. It was a great little lifestyle business for me and Angela and my wife while, while we did that in the nineties, and introduced me to a whole lot of other things and, and while I was doing that, came up with other ideas, came up with, you know, doing more stuff around the internet basically.
Then I came up with this idea called epr, which was if you were, well, when people first started making websites, , they were also very technical. You needed to know H T M L and like, so you had like what I used to call the world's most expensive typing pool where these IT guys, these programmers were getting paid to do like programming and highly technical stuff and they'd take like a press release from their marketing department and they, they'd rewrite it in H T M L.
It's kind of crazy, just, it was literally like the world's most expensive typing pool, so it needed software to automate the process. So, you know, I, I think one idea leads to another was I started with a game, but we were on the internet. We were learning about all the things people were doing on the internet because our customers were there and they were doing internet stuff.
And we started to learn about other stuff that people were compelled by, like the worldwide web and how to bring that to them. So that's another thing, like sometimes your. That you end up with is not always the idea that you start with, right? The game kept running, but we ended up having a bigger idea, which was building this whole web technology for web content creation and.
That's just another reason why I super encourage people to just deploy your creativity and start working on something, because even if that's not the greatest idea in the world, don't worry about that. Like you're gonna engage with so many interesting problems and you're gonna meet people and talk to people along the way.
You might have that aha moment, which is like, . Okay. My original idea, that was interesting to me, but now I've discovered the thing that's interesting to like tons of other people, and that's where you're gonna create a scalable business
Mark Stiles: that's really interesting. And it's, and it brings up a, a point where you, you hear entrepreneurs say all the time, you know, we're building the plane on the runway , you know, and we're hoping it goes well, but we can also, you know, lack of a better term.
I, I don't love this term, but pivot, right? So we see an opportunity in a different direction. Wow. You know, but it's also hard to leave that initial idea, right? You, you kind of get married to it and, and you hold onto it sometimes longer, longer than you
Jon Radoff: should. Well, there's pivoting completely away from your idea.
Like maybe you started out making a plane and you've discovered that what the world really needs is electric scooters or something, and that's like totally different or. Maybe there's pivots within the original idea, so you're still making the plane, but you're making planes that carry two people instead of 200 people or something.
Right? So y y I think you just have to kind of figure out things based on what do you learn along the way about your market? What do people really care about if the market's telling you that? , um, the market is limited. We'll, think of it that way for your original idea. We, you have, you have a lot of choices.
At that point, you could abandon the idea and just do something completely different. You could say, Hey, this is a limited market. . I'm not gonna go do the thing where I go raise a bunch of money from venture capitalists to try to turn this into a billion dollar company, but it's gonna be a great business for me.
Maybe I'm gonna make a business that's a few million dollars a year. $10 million a year is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, those are some amazing businesses with great sustainability behind it. Or you could say, look, . I don't wanna have a million dollar business. You live once and I wanna make a billion dollar business, and even if I fail, who cares?
Like I tried. Like that's fine too. Then you may have to go with a completely different idea. But it all comes down to exploring the problem space and being, being curious and humble, I think. Right? Because anytime we go and try to tackle problems that people haven't solved before, , there's a lot of learning that you're gonna have to do, and you have to have a willingness to set aside some of those original assumptions that you might have made in a, in approaching a business.
Mark Stiles: the unknowns too, right? You're kind of market making, right? So you are out there on an island doing things that are not customary. People will say, you're crazy. Why are you doing that? Don't do that. That's never been done before. It'll never. Unless you have parents like John had.
Jon Radoff: Well, so there's going to, if you're lucky, you'll have the people already cheerleading you, right?
If you are not lucky yet, that's a good thing to spend some time on find, find some peers who actually you can look up to. . I think that's one of the things that's great about eo by the way, just to plug us as EO members here, like you do hang out with your peers. You are there with other entrepreneurs tackling super hard problems in their life, their family, their business.
So like to me that. Peer group is something that challenges me to, to always improve and do better. So that's, that's like just one solution though. Like, there's a lot of ways you can build your peer group of people, but hang out with people that do the stuff you want to do is, is one message, but at the opposite extreme of that, in your entrepreneurial journey, if it's anything like mine, a ton of people will tell you that your idea is lousy along the way and you can't do it.
And here's all the reason it failed. Guess what? Like every new idea was a bad idea until it was a good idea. Right? Like so they're not like telling you anything really interesting with that? No. They might tell you a few things to be that you might pay attention to. Maybe they'll tell you something about a kind of customer you didn't know.
Maybe they'll tell you something technical about the problem that people have tried to work on before and it's super hard to solve. Those are good things to. , but don't focus on the naysayers. Focus on your idea and being open to learning, right? And the learning is gonna happen across a high, a whole wide range of people, the cheerleaders, the naysayers, but more importantly, your target customer, right?
In, if we're in business, like the fundamental thing that's true of every single business that exists is we're all, we're all in the business of serving customers. So go find the people who you think should be your customer and talk to them, their feedback you should listen to. Um, because, and if they tell you they don't like it, either you gotta pivot to something else or maybe you're talking to the wrong kind of customer.
Right? So those are, those are some paths that you can consider.
Mark Stiles: But again, how far do you go down that path of No, no. Everyone else is wrong. I'm right. I know I'm right. Everyone else is wrong. Who? Everybody who's giving me this negative. Clearly doesn't understand it. You know, at what point do you say, Hmm, maybe I'm may,
Jon Radoff: maybe I am wrong.
Yeah, I mean, and sometimes it's just timing. Yeah. Like right now, um, you know, some of what I'm known for is like all this content that I created around the metaverse and the future that we're going to on the internet. So just within the last two years, like there's been some incredible innovation around artificial intelligence, for example.
based on these underlying technologies that frankly are not new. The core aspects of the technology languished in academia and little research labs really for decades, some of the stuff goes back to the nineties. Part of it was that we didn't have. The computation that could scale up as big as we have today to, to work on these problems.
But a big part of it was also just people didn't fully believe in it. But that said, there were people that stuck with it for years and years and years, and now those people have created. incredible business. This is incredible science. They're doing stuff like open ai, they're working at Facebook, meta building stuff.
They're working at startups, making some of, maybe you've heard about some of this generative technology that makes art for you off of mm-hmm. , um, algorithms that have been created, like all that stuff actually took years and years and years to create. All along the way, tons of those people were being told that your idea will never.
and they understood things about it that no one else did, and they kept with it and stuck with it. So I'm sure that along the way some people just gave up and they're like, I'm gonna do something else cause it's taking too long. That is a reality of this. Like sometimes entrepreneurship is a perseverance game, right?
You gotta stick with things for a long time before the market is ready for you, for whatever reason. Right.
Mark Stiles: Especially when you're out in front of it. Right. You're, I always use the analogy of you're out in front of the fastball, you know, you're, you're way out in front and people aren't quite there yet.
The general population doesn't see what you are
Jon Radoff: seeing yet. So, yeah. So sometimes the pivot that you can make is one where you know what the long term is gonna look like. Maybe the long term for you is, you can see it 10 years. The road. It's a technology that's coming up or a market that's emerging, but it's gonna take time.
Now, your challenge is, well, that's really hard to stick around for 10 years. So what is the business that you can create to start? Generating the growth engine so that you can invest money along the way and you'll be there ahead of everybody else ready to attack the problem. But you've, you're building a business through the process of that.
So I think timing is important in business. If the market's not ready and it's not ready, or if you just can't find the customers that wanna buy it yet, yeah, that's gonna slow you down. That doesn't mean game over though. That just means maybe you gotta think about the way to fund. , the realization of that vision over time.
Mark Stiles: That's an interesting, uh, way of looking at it. Right. So, you know, sometimes the entrepreneur is saying, not 10 years, this is gonna happen in two years on, you know, autonomous cars. You know, I told my 11 year old son, don't worry about learning how to drive. You're not, you're not gonna drive you you cars.
You're gonna jump in the backseat and the car is gonna drive you where you want to go. No, dad, I wanna learn how to drive. You know, not necessarily a realistic, um, Uh, timeline, but yet in the entrepreneur's mind, it's like, why not? We're, we have all the technology, we just have to get some of the bugs out.
And it could be two years, you know, and you have to wait, but talking about that process, right? Build a business within the process. So slow down to speed up, right? So go back to like, how are we gonna get there? Are there business opportunities? in that journey to get where I see it, but other people might not see it or embrace it or are willing to accept that as a
Jon Radoff: reality yet.
Yeah, I mean, exactly. I mean, look at, look at the growth of a company like, like Facebook, right? Right. So if. If Mark had started with virtual reality as his go to market because he saw that as the end game and he just focused on that, it would've been a much slower growth path. along the way. So he focused on just getting people online and connected with each other in a so social ecosystem and being able to share content, sort of the much more immediate foundation that could lead to something like that over time.
And then in parallel to that, you know, years after he started Facebook, someone else started. Oculus, the technology that became their vr and he bought it and he was able to integrate it into it. And now he's working towards this metaverse vision of bringing the social technology and realtime interaction and immersive 3D spaces and, and bringing it all together.
That said, it's still gonna be a long path. Like they, they get a lot of criticism actually because he's burning so many r and d dollars chasing this dream. Um, you know, there's the Wall Street. Interpretation of that, which is, yeah, wall Street probably would appreciate it if he just threw more profit up on the quarterlies right now.
Um, but I personally admire his willingness to plow through it and say, no, I've got this vision. It's gonna be important. It's gonna be transformative for the world, and we're gonna invest in it and we're gonna get there. You know, they've got the capital to do it. There are. One of the biggest cash machines that's ever been created at Facebook, so they can invest in that long-term opportunity.
Similar to like, you could look at another business like Amazon, like for years and years, Amazon got all this critique, like, oh, they're reinvesting so much of their money back in r and d. Are they ever gonna make a profit? Well, we know how that story kind of turned out. Like they ended up being super profitable again, one of the biggest cash machines ever created because of that relentless focus on the customer that they had.
Um, but I think it comes down to like, if you've got grand visions of where you think the world ought to be or could be. Then you have to start with the thing that people are gonna buy now to fund the growth that gets you there. And if it's something that people will buy now that's gonna be hypergrowth really fast and be billions of dollars, then venture capitalists will fund that.
If it's a smaller scale or it's less certain, you may just have to find something smaller that you can get behind to grow. In the sooner timeframe for me at Deemable, I have this vision of just enabling and empowering creativity through the world so that it, it's what I call the direct from Imagination era, where if you can think about it, you can speak.
You know, worlds into existence on your computer screen. Worlds will be created like game worlds, immersive experiences, educational experiences. Anything that you could imagine will just leap onto the screen because you're able to articulate it and then even work with like an AI to explain it. That's gonna take some time to get to that.
Like that's, that's a big vision. But also so many of the pieces for that don't exist yet and people may or may not even be ready for that. So we started at more of a foundational level, which is there is this submarket. In the market of all people who would like to be more creative, which is professional game makers.
It's a about a 300 billion a year market when you add together game making and online ads and games and, and all the hardware for games. So it's a. Pretty large business that people just need technology to make their life easier. So we've identified pieces that we make, almost like a check the box kind of thing.
You can provision it online and it speeds up your development process. You don't need to know like how to code a server for your game. You can just run with it. And now you spend all your time on the creative aspects of game making instead of the more technical aspects. So that. Something we still, you know, are working towards building, but it's a more of a foundational level towards this massively transformative opportunity of like 10 Xing the creativity through the world.
Mark Stiles: if you can say it, if you can see it , you can make it happen. And you're sharing this vision on your blog building the metaverse.
Jon Radoff: Yeah, I d I did, uh, I do publish on building the Metaverse, and I just published a, a little deck, starts with this premise computer. Make me anything, right? Like, so if anyone has watched Star Trek out there.
Yeah. If you remember Star Trek, the next generation, it had this thing called the Holodeck on it, and they could walk into the holodeck and they didn't need to program the holodeck so much as they just spoke whatever they wanted. Into existence, and they could go off on adventures or they could go in training modules, they could run simulations.
That's the future we're going to, and people need to be able to just speak that into existence. So I, I just published a deck kind of for the Star Trek fans out there to go and learn about many of the technologies that are now converging together to, to make so much of that possible.
Mark Stiles: It's so cool that some of these sci-fi creators back years ago.
Visualize some of this, and now we're actually saying this is a reality. I mean, the iPhone, the watches, all of these things. I mean, I remember, uh, watching Tom Selleck in the eighties doing an advertisement about talking into, into the watch, and you know, here we are. , but you're not afraid to talk about it either.
Got it. Right here. Yeah. There you go. There you go. But you're not afraid to talk about it. And I think that's an important piece of it is, you know, oh my God, John is crazy. Listen to this crazy talk he's talking about and that it's really not, when you're, talk about digging into a little bit of the artificial intelligence that's out there right now.
I mean you, you touched on it with open ai, but chat G P T is really mind blowing, right.
Jon Radoff: Yes. Well, so I've studied this stuff and learned so much about it. What I'm able to do when I write about it is, is just sort of br, you know, bring I guess, a certain amount of authority to it, because I understand how the technology works.
I'm not. I'm not writing science fiction stories just right orally telling a vision of a future we might get to someday. I think this is also an entrepreneurial story, not just a writing story, but like having a idea of how you can get from point A to point B is actually pretty important. Like visions are great, but.
You know, the in between part, while you're gonna figure out so much of it along the way, and I'm definitely encouraging people just to, to jump in and start the learning process. You do have to start, start formulating some core ideas about what gets you there. It's like Elon Musk with the Tesla, right?
Like. You know, he had this multi-step plan. It was gonna start with like the Roadster and like this really super high performance luxury vehicle. They figure out a lot of problems from it. And then eventually they'd get to a vehicle that would be cost competitive to every, you know, mid-range vehicle that, that most people would buy in America.
Um, but he. Start with that. Right? Because that was just a technological possibility. That said he understood physics and the engineering of it, and he understood from a first per principles perspective that there were basic problems you can solve around energy and energy density, and if you could just kind of solve for those kind of problems.
And there were, there's no like, Like profound physical limitations in the world that stop you from doing it, then you can do it. So when I talk about Holodeck and the metaverse, and using these generative AI technologies, I've invested a lot of time in really understanding them at a fundamental level, knowing what their capabilities are, understanding the research.
So that comes across there. And if you're gonna be in a technical domain, you know, I think there's. , there's kind of two main kinds of founders. There's the, as they've said, there's the, there's the hacker and, and the hustler. I, I probably lean more hacker in my mentality because I really understand how to build these things and I understand the engineering behind them.
But understanding customers and how to reach them super well, um, is another. Persona that I think can do really, really well with technology startups. You know, I most entrepreneurs are some blend of both. It's not like a hundred percent in one or the other. I'm, I'm probably like a, uh, you know, 60 40 or something because I, I also spend a lot of time talking to customers and trying to understand markets and how they intersect with tech.
You know, get, I'd say get in deep, like, understand things. That's maybe just another lesson for people in your creative journey as an entrepreneur. Uh, be detail oriented, , get in there and know everything that makes it work. Uh, that'll become a superpower. Right?
Mark Stiles: So let's talk about AI a little bit. Like where are we and, and where do you see a realistic 3, 5, 10 year
Jon Radoff: outlook?
Well, AI is gonna, is going to be capable of doing an astonishing number of tasks that humans currently do. The rate of progress that's going on is exponential. The thing that's driving behind that is a massive increase in the amount of computational capability that is out there, both up in the cloud and supercomputers, but also on your, your devices.
So the top 500 super computing clusters in the world. add up to, it's, I, I'm gonna have to use some technical terms here, but 20 exif flops of computation. Um, that's, that's a lot of computer cycles anyway. Mm-hmm. look up exif flop if you wanna know how much that is later. But Apple last year shipped. You know, at least 50 times that in the form of phones to people, that's called a zeta flop, right?
So there's a lot more computation today than you can imagine just in phones. And that's because they shipped it with these things called neural engines, which are a allow able to run. Artificial intelligence, algorithms, what they call inference within the, within the device itself. You can even train small models on it.
And what that means is we're pushing out artificial intelligence capabilities pervasively through the world, and you actually need that for a lot of applications. Like right now, when you use chat G P T, that's a giant model running up in the cloud. You access it with a web browser, meaning. The inference is all being kind of self-contained in the cloud and you're just accessing an interface to it.
But actually those artificial intelligence capabilities, so many of them are gonna actually be right in the computers. You use your desktop computer, your device, and that's gonna open up a whole bunch of additional capabilities. So the compute is, is just wildly exponential. In the last two years we've.
So much compute capability of the world that everything before 2020 is like a rounding error. When we look another five years forward, what we have right now will be a rounding error to the level of compute that we have in just a few short years. So that computation is something that's just happening.
It's not quite a law of physics, but you can just look at the exponential curve and it's gonna happen Like there, there's not really a big question of it. So behind that, AI is able to have what they call more and more emergent capabilities. The bigger the models are or the more refined the models are.
So on top of that compute, you're gonna have a huge number of applic of AI applications that can do more and more meaningful work. So sometimes people critique chat, G P T, for example, because they go in and play with it. Maybe it got something wrong. . Take a step back though. Like who cares? Like yes. It gets things wrong right now.
Number one, people are obsessed with it because it's a really amazing toy. Like if that's all it was, if they wanted to ship a toy, they could make a big business out of shipping this AI conversationalist toy to people. But within a very short period of time, we're going from. The technology that powers that to a new model that's called G P T four, right?
And that's gonna be far more powerful. What they found is the bigger these models are, the more capabilities they have. So like the earlier versions couldn't really do math at all. Like you'd give it a math problem in text and it wouldn't even understand how to add two small numbers together. With the current versions, actually you can do some basic arithmetic functions.
Still gets things wrong sometimes. It gets currently certain logical things wrong that it can't understand well in the next generation, I bet you that a lot of those logical problems that you pose to it are gonna, um, be handled much better. And there's just gonna be other types of algorithms, different approaches to training, different models.
So all of this stuff is just exponential and it's the compute. The number of scientists working on it and studying it has gone up exponentially. The amount of dollars from r and d is going up exponentially, so you know, 10 years from now the world is gonna look very different and we as humans are not very good at conceptualizing exponential growth curves.
We're pretty good at linear stuff. . You know, if things go up a little bit like a staircase, over time we get that. But this isn't a staircase. This is gonna be capabilities that are gonna blow us away in, you know, just this year there will be amazing things. Next year they'll be exponentially more amazing things, but computers will be capable of doing so much of what we do right now, and that is gonna free.
People to do other things, right? So I'm an optimist. I think that, uh, it means that we'll have a lot more time to pursue our creativity, to put things together to solve harder and harder problems. I think actually robots are gonna be one of the slower things to come because solving all the things that we evolved to do really well in the environment of the world is actually still a super hard problem.
I think we'll eventually get there, by the way, but that'll be a slower. . So, yeah, it's, it's totally transformative. Um, and it's gonna allow smaller teams, even the individual person, to do much greater things than you can even imagine right now. Because that person who has the idea, say, we talked earlier about like everyone telling you how bad your idea is along the, along your entrepreneurial.
Well, that's only a problem insofar as it costs a lot of money and you have to put these teams together to go and help you solve that problem. But what if you have the idea in the future and you can assemble far fewer humans, plus a bunch of AI to augment your team and fulfill all these hard domains that would normally have required far more capital and people means that we're.
Dramatically increase the scope of problems that entrepreneurs can solve. And I think that's super exciting for the next decade.
Mark Stiles: It is. It's extremely exciting and I know a lot of people are really afraid of it. Um, but your explanation is really helpful and I hope people, it lands with people. If you were coaching or advising a junior in high school, senior in high school, what to be thinking about to study and to really.
Ingrained with looking forward to the future. What, what, what kind of, uh, what kind of specific knowledge would you recommend them to try
Jon Radoff: to gather? Well, two things. Uh, I'll give a specific example and then a broader, um, thesis on it. So I do think that. Artificial intelligence is, is such a transformative technology.
Absolutely everyone from people who have been business in business for decades down to, you know, not even the high school student, the the tween who's just starting to think about what they want to do with their life. You do have to understand. The impact that artificial intelligence is gonna have in that.
Now, that may mean that maybe you'll work in artificial intelligence or machine learning and figure out how to apply those tools to a problem that you really care about. Um, or maybe you'll even work on the underlying algorithms, like you want to go into computer science and figure out the next. You know, set of AI algorithms that are, that are gonna power problem solving that, that we can't currently do effectively.
But either way, like artificial intelligence is gonna be a tool that people need. Like, could you imagine not using a computer today in most businesses, like almost every business uses a computer of some kind, even if that. computer is like this phone, right? Like we call them phones, but they're really just pocket computers.
Uh, and they're incredibly powerful, right? Much more powerful than even any desktop computer that we had just a generation or two ago. Um, so you need to understand how artificial intelligence is gonna impact that. And, and unfortunately, I don't think that our educational institutions are actually that good at.
like training people for things that change at this kind of an exponential rate. So my message to anyone who in that age group would be like, don't, don't expect your school to teach you this stuff. Like you go and commit to being curious and learn this, this stuff because otherwise it could impact you in a very negative way.
So that's the specific answer. The broader answer is, I think in the future that. , um, being broader in your skillset is gonna be really important. Like down the road it's theis that will be the hyper specialists of a lot of things, right? Like AI will solve a math problem for you. You know, I think for a certain number of people, understanding all of the proofs within.
you know, higher mathematics is gonna be important, but it's gonna be a niche area of study for a few people. Almost like an area of history. Like understanding the history of how this stuff was created is gonna be important for some people, but that's just an example of something where in the future you'll be, you're already composed.
Calculus problem to a computer and it'll just solve it for you like that. That's doesn't even require ai. But in the future, much more complex problems, you'll be able to pose virtually any mathematical problem and the computer will be able to come back with a solution for you. Yeah. So thinking that you're gonna compete with that becomes hard.
Instead, learn broad sets of stuff like. My daughter told me yesterday, she wa apparently she wants to fall in my footsteps. Hopefully it's a good idea. And be, and get into like games and game design. So I was like, well, to be a great game designer, particularly one of the future, you gotta understand design, you gotta understand business models, you gotta understand how art gets made.
You gotta understand how people relate to the technology and the culture of it, like, You gotta know a little bit of everything. So I, I, I think in the future we almost, it's almost like we return to the Renaissance in some ways. We're all gonna be Renaissance people with these broad skillsets and understanding, and maybe deep in one area that we're like super passionate about, like, AI or math or art or something like that.
But being able to, to, to do what I call composition, you know, problems are gonna be solved by composition in the future, which is AI is gonna do things at the micro level and, and solve specific problems, but you're still gonna have to like be the sculpt. , right? You have to sculpt the solution, work with the ai, ai, kind of smooth out the edges and figure out how to perfect it.
That, that requires broad skill sets. Everything from understanding of humanities and people and history to math and science and engineering. So I, I encourage just curiosity, number one, like teach yourself if you are not naturally curious. It, I've, I've actually seen it be. Uh, value that can be developed.
Just become curious, like teach yourself that there is something interesting and virtually everything. And even if you think something's gonna be boring, tell yourself, geez, like, what is gonna be interesting about this? And dive in and see how you get surprised by it. That's
Mark Stiles: really interesting and probably the best explanation of.
Future of AI that I've heard so far because it is, it's the specific intelligence that the AI is gonna bring to the table and it's gonna eliminate the person who focuses specifically on one task and is really good at one specific thing, specifically intelligent, right? AI can, can step into that, right?
So, , more of the general contractor, be more of the, the umbrella that is able to see all of it put together and you're gonna be all right. Right. So the folks that are afraid that artificial intelligence is gonna wipe out, you know, um, any industry, right? Name it, right One at a time. Name them, depending on, you know, where you sit.
Think about that as, as the solution, the general intelligence, where I see entrepreneurs being more often than not, the general intelligence, the generalist, right? They, they understand a bunch of different things. Some more than others, like you said, but not one specific thing because that's not gonna make a very successful.
Jon Radoff: I think being able to go deep on certain subjects is important. Yeah. And, and bring that, bring real substance behind your problem solving. Um, you know, the, the business leaders I look up to, I think are like that. Um, you know, Elon Musk, certainly in the physics and engineering domain, but you know, Steve Jobs wasn't.
He was sort of a generalist from a tech perspective, but really incredible designer. Like he really understood the human factors that go into the design of a product that could make it stick and work for people. And he understood how to package things together into, into this whole that just worked from a product perspective.
So I do think you have to like have an honest self-assessment of like where is the area that I am well suit? to going deep on and think about doubling down, tripling down on that. But be I, but be very open to the idea that you can't just be sort of single domain, narrowly focused. You are gonna require this broad set of life skills, technical skills, people skills, marketing skills, financial skills to be successful as entrepreneur.
And the good news is today, so much of that information is just out. , right? Like even if you're someone who didn't grow up in a community where those mentors were readily accessible to you, well, there's so much content that you can get to online today. Like there's, there are business leaders out there who share that knowledge and, and start learning, and then better yet, learn by doing.
Like just thrust yourself out there and, and, and do it whatever you can. I do think though that the future, the future could get hard for people that. That their self identity is, I'm gonna be the best in the world at one particular thing. Right? That's already hard to do, to be like literally the best in the world at something.
But, you know, look at like Lee Seigal. He was the guy that, uh, he was the best go player in the world, which is a, uh, you know, ancient board game from Asia. So an AI beat him a few years ago. Apparently he hasn't played, he hasn't wanted to play go since then. It's a kind of depressing story, right? Um huh.
That hyper specialist. I think for certain kinds of jobs, probably a lot of jobs in the future, that's gonna be tough for some people that their whole identity is built around that. But for people who are about kind of looking at the broader picture and want to compose things and be more like the Renaissance yes person, like I, I do think this is gonna be super exciting over the coming decades because you're gonna.
So many superpowers around putting those pieces together and trying out ideas and rapidly it iterating and accelerating through various problems that you wanna solve. But listen, I also empathize with people who will be dislocated by by some of this because there's no question that we're probably looking at the biggest.
Labor dislocation. That's happened historically, like we've been through a lot. The industrial mm-hmm. revolution was that. Um, and you know, there were, there have been other technologies that for a particular industry were highly disruptive and, and kind of overturned everything in a matter of years. I think with artificial intelligence, it's going to be more holistic than that.
More pervasive. . And so that is a thing, and, and while you know I'm, I'm gonna be the cheerleader for things like AI and the metaverse and 3D worlds that we can experience together, because I think that the ultimate value unlock that leads to for the world is, , you know, so much greater than if we didn't do that.
But along the way, we as a society are gonna fig have to figure out like how to work through the fact that people are gonna be impacted and people, some people are gonna find that they either have to learn a new skill or maybe even be in a different line of work way faster than that they were anticipating.
So what I say with love to everybody who is worried about that is. That your, your concern is not completely unfounded. Um, I think it is coming. Try to take to heart learning as much as you can about this and either figure out how to take what you already like doing and, and using the artificial intelligence technologies, the metaverse technologies that are coming to help you multiply what you're already doing.
or, you know, it's okay to consider changes and, and do something else. Or maybe it's just sort of a one step away from being like the hyper specialist on something to words. You're gonna be more of the composer who plays with a lot of pieces and puts 'em together.
Mark Stiles: I love it. I love it. Tell me, you know, folks, we're gonna, we're gonna keep going here.
I know this is a little bit longer than usual, but I'm curious, right? At the end of the day, curiosity is what, what we're, what we're talking about right now. So Metaverse, let's talk about that for a little bit. What is it, metaverse? Where is it? What's it, where is it going? What? What are the opportunities?
Jon Radoff: All of it. Yeah. Well, I guess we should start by talking about what it means and. I feel like a little bit of a hipster saying this, but I was talking about like metaverse before, like Facebook came along and decided to make it their whole thing and rebrand a meta and all that, and now it got over hyped and, and people are trying to pretend that maybe they didn't talk about it for last year.
I'm happy to keep using the word and, and talk about it because I think, um, I, I kind of have a duty to, since I was there a little earlier than others, . Um, and I, and I think the things behind it are still important. So that's one thing for people as they are hearing this. Maybe think about the drivers, the culture change and whatnot that are behind this label that we use.
Metaverse, the label actually isn't all, all that important. Who cares what the word is? Um, we can talk about what people mean and then I'll talk about what I mean and what I think is important behind it. So, . First of all, it's a confused term because people mean different things. Sometimes they mean blockchain, right?
So all these cryptocurrencies and NFTs and stuff like that, they're taking the pieces of that, which is like decentralized economies and financial networks. And to them, that's the metaverse. For some people it's virtual reality. So you put on a headset and you completely transport yourself to another world.
For some people that's a metaverse. For other people, it's like these creative platforms that like, let you just make worlds virtual worlds and, and share 'em with your friends. That's like a Roblox, for example, like Roblox in the S one, when they were going public, they used the word metaverse. They, they called themself that.
But, so there's these, all these different versions of the way people want to conceptualize it. . Uh, and you know, I think that there's elements of all three of those in how I think about where the technology is going. But technology is not the most important thing. When we talk about metaverse, really what's important is what does it mean from a culture perspective?
If you take a step back and you look at the way culture has developed over the last couple of decades, if you ask people how important their digital identity or their digital life was 20 years ago, , not many people would've said that it was that important. For me it was cuz I met my future wife in an online game.
So I'm like a really weird counter example. And there were a few other people like me, but you know, you go back 20 years, that wasn't even a thing. But today, you know how many people. Big parts of their life revolve around who they are online, the games they play online, sharing their photos of their kids online, whatever it is, going onto LinkedIn and and engaging in professional network.
So your identity has been taken out of the physical world and brought into the digital world and for hundreds of millions of people today on its way to billions of people. , the core of what I think of as the metaverse is just driven by that fact that so much of our life revolves around this digital identity.
And then where I take that is, well, if your identity is so important online, the natural, the natural extension of your identity, the way you actually express your identity is through your creativity. All the stuff you make, and you put it online in the very earliest versions of. You're taking photos, you share your photos online, that that's a version of creativity.
But in the future, it'll be anything you can imagine that'll be supported through things like generative AI for, to help accelerate people's creativity. It'll involve the existing platforms like Minecraft and Roblox that people are building worlds in. All those kind of things are gonna get way easier to use.
And sure, it can include things like blockchain technologies because. That gives you these abilities to transfer value and currencies and assets from world to world so that maybe one company can't control everything. So there'll be aspects of all of those, but those are just the technological manifestations of this idea that culture has moved to a point where digital identity is central to what we're doing.
And that's how I think of the metaverse. So I think if you look at it through that lens, you then imagine it as a culture. Trend it becomes about people instead of like all these technologies that people are throwing at us, the technologies happen because the people are ready for it and they want it because it lets them collaborate with people online or play with people together online or explore worlds online or get educated online in a way that's more efficient than it was before.
It's about breaking down time and space barriers.
Mark Stiles: Huh again, an amazing, uh, explanation of a very complicated, futuristic unknown, right? Because people are like, well, what's it gonna be? I'm not putting on these goggles and you know, or I'm not wants to,
Jon Radoff: right? Yeah. Right. I'm not buying, goggles are terrible.
They're dorky. Like I'm a dork and I don't even wanna wear those things around too much. Like, they're heavy, they're big, but that's where you gotta kind of take a, a little bit. Yes. That's where, if you think about the culture, . Right. Then you realize people want to be able to enter a experience where maybe their coworkers appear through digital holograms and they're in the same room as them.
Yes. They just also have to realize that like expecting people to wear a headset that wears a, weighs a few pounds and makes you look like some kind of weird death star extra, um, from Star Wars. Like isn't gonna work. So that technology is gonna get down to the form factor of like sunglasses. Yeah. That's just where it's going.
That's where the semiconductor technologies are going. And if you can't stuff all the compute power into the glasses themselves, well the glasses will be like a peripheral that talks to your phone. Your phone will beam the experience to you. So the technologies are coming. The biggest problem. Metaverse technologies suffer from today is really just one of ergonomics.
Like it's heavy, it's clunky, and the ergonomics extends into the realm of software. Like blockchain is the worst. Like all these things like cryptocurrency, wallets, all the stuff's impossible to use for the normal person. Like so like the software has to get easier and that's where AI comes in by the way.
Like AI has the ability to really cut down. On the amount of complexity. Cuz if you look at what chat G P T is like, it's taking this enormous set of information and knowledge that it has access to and simplifying it, your access to it. So in the past that technology was a search engine. You go onto Google and you find information.
In the future, it may be either something like an AI agent that goes. Assembles the information for you. It might be combined with a search engine. You may even train your own version of it that knows exactly what you're interested in, what you're capable of understanding, what the edges of your understanding would be, and it'll assemble the content just for you.
Mark Stiles: you keeping up to speed with all of this? Like what are you listening to? What are you reading? What are you, what are you following? How do you stay educated on all of
Jon Radoff: it and in front?
The, well, first of all, the key skill that I've had to develop, uh, which I still need to get better at, is like, there's just so much crap in the world that doesn't really matter at the end of the day for us as individuals, like it's so easy to get caught up in a bunch of news and politics and stuff like that.
It really is, you know, for people who want, who need to be involved in that because that's where they see the. . Nothing wrong with that, but like for most of us, it really doesn't matter. So I've had to figure out, like just tune that stuff out because I'll wait. Because you can waste an hour so easily looking at stuff that does not change your life one iota.
So I've tried to turn that down and replace it with, you know, I think a big, a big, big part of who we are is like the media we consume, the friends we hang out with, like we synthesize that into ourselves. So, I don't know, but, you know, but I, I do both a lot of technical reading. So, um, the two main domains I'm always reading, like scientific level papers in, is either artificial intelligence and things like 3D graphics and maybe some, you know, game system design and scalable compute.
So every day I probably read a handful of papers, or at least the abstracts of the papers to see if they're gonna have something that, that I really need to understand. again with my thesis of like, go deep, like go to the sources, right? Don't just read, um, you know, the article on Tech Crunch, which he has a very superficial treatment of technology.
It's fine. It gives you a roadmap to things you wanna learn with, but go follow the roadmap. Go and go and go deep on stuff. Podcasts, you know, I really enjoy. , like Peter Diemonds stuff around exponential technologies. I've, I've tried to bring some of that stuff into my life. I, I think that's super interesting.
And then totally outside of technology, like I, I, um, I've tried to also bring a higher fitness level into my life over the last few years, cuz that really easily suffers when you're an entrepreneur. So I've, I've climbed, um, some of the highest mountains in the world over the last few years. I was only able to do because I got to a fitness level for it, but it's become like this positive feed lap, back loop.
Like I'm able to stick with the fitness because I do that. One guy I listen to all the time is, is Peter Atias podcast on um, on longevity. And he covers a lot of these things. So that's what I listen to and read.
Mark Stiles: Very cool. So tell me more about the, uh, the hiking. What are you doing? Where are you
Jon Radoff: doing them?
Uh, well, the last place I went was ever a space camp. I, I hiked around Nepal, um, for a couple of weeks and don't have any personal desire to stand on the summit of. Everest, but got really close and cool. Got up another summit nearby called Cala Patar, which was, which vastly exceeded my expectations. Got to the top of it and was an amazing view.
Wow. So I did that most recently. I climbed some volcanoes in Ecuador a year ago. I've been to the top of Mount Rainier out west. I've been to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. I'm working my way through the 50 highest peaks in the United States, so that, that's kind of my life goal for the next decade.
Mark Stiles: That is very cool.
That is very cool. Well, I appreciate you spending all this time with me. If someone wanted to connect with you, how would they best do
Jon Radoff: that, John? . Um, well, so there anyone's welcome to reach out to me at my company. I'm firstname.lastname@example.org. Um, if you're a game developer, then definitely check out our platform, but I'm also happy to, to talk to anybody who's curious about this stuff.
My blog is called Building the Metaverse. It's on medium, it's e super easy to find me. LinkedIn Connect with me there. You can find me on Twitter. I'm j Rado, J R A D O F F on Twitter. So those are all good places. So whichever one you're already comfortable with, email, Twitter, LinkedIn, those are good, good places to connect.
Mark Stiles: cool. Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge, your wisdom, and your time with us today. Uh, and the EO Boston Chapter podcast.
Jon Radoff: Thank you so much. It was super fun to have the conversation and hear the curiosity and get to talk about the stuff that I'm passionate about and, and hopefully I'll be able to have more conversations with people around the EO ecosystem about all this
Mark Stiles: stuff.
Yeah. Maybe, uh, maybe we'll have you as a learning, uh, event. Right. I'm looking forward to chatting with you at the next learning event. The next, oh, that would be a. Can't wait. Wait to say hello folks. Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed today's. If you learned something, which I bet you did, share it, send it to somebody.
If you're thinking about somebody who's interested in what we talked about, share it with them. Share it with everybody. Thank you again, John.
Jon Radoff: Thanks,
Mark Stiles: mark. Folks, this has been another exciting episode of Leadership in Action. We will see you next time.