This episode flips the script and this time, Andrew is the guest! This is a crosspost of my interview on the “How I Give” podcast exploring entrepreneurship and philanthropy.
This was a fun and intimate interview about my own career journey, mental models, and worldview. It will help you get to know me much better, and what is behind this show.
As always, I love hearing what resonates and what doesn’t land with you. Please do send me feedback on Twitter at @askotzko.
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Transcripts may contain some typos. With some episodes lasting ~2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Andrew Skotzko 00:00:05 Hello friends, welcome to another episode of make things that matter. This podcast explores how to express your creative potential in the world and do it on your own terms. Each episode of the show will help you to learn, create, collaborate, and lead better, to make things that matter to you and have a great time while you’re doing it. This episode flips the script a bit because in this one I’m actually being interviewed. Now I’ve heard from a number of listeners who’ve written in, by the way. Thank you for doing that.
Andrew Skotzko 00:00:43 I love hearing from people, please email me or hit me on Twitter. Follow the links in the show notes. Now I’ve heard from a number of listeners saying they want to hear more of my thinking. They want to get to know me better, not just hear that of the thinking of my guests. So I thought it’d be fun to share this conversation where I really opened up, uh, in a way that I probably haven’t shared on this podcast before now in this conversation I was interviewed by Phillip Kasuma of founders pledge. If you’re not familiar with founders pledge, it’s a community of entrepreneurs who are passionate about combining entrepreneurship, social impact, and philanthropy to do good in the world. It’s a terrific community that I’m proud to be a member of. Now, the way it works is that pledgers commit a portion of their personal exit proceeds from their company to charitable causes.
Andrew Skotzko 00:01:21 And then founders pledge helps facilitate the whole process. After that, whether that’s with research, with guidance, with helping you figure out which causes you want to support, as well as all the logistical stuff in short, they made it very easy and it was actually a really rewarding and fulfilling experience that I learned a lot about myself through it. So I really enjoyed it. And this was an interesting interview that Phillip asked me to do where I actually shared. And he really dug into some of my own journey, some of my mental models, a lot of the worldview that shapes how I think at a pretty fundamental level. So I wanted to share this and kind of open the kimono a little bit that hopefully will help you get to know me a little bit better after this conversation, if you are curious, and you’d like to learn more about founder’s pledge or join the community, which I totally recommend, please follow the links in show notes, or go to founders, pledge.com. They are wonderful to work with. So with all that, I really hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I enjoyed having it.
Philip Kasumu 00:02:11 So, Andrew, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Andrew Skotzko 00:02:15 Uh, Phillip, it’s a pleasure what an honor. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Philip Kasumu 00:02:20 So Andrew, for those who don’t know who you are and what you’ve been up to over the last few years, uh, can you please just give us a brief introduction? Um, I read your 22nd, your 28 second intro on your site. So let’s see if you can do that.
Andrew Skotzko 00:02:37 You know, it’s funny. I should go reread that because I don’t think I’ve looked at that page in a minute. Let me go look at it. Uh, okay, good. That page is a little bit out of date. I should update it and I should probably have a more concise answer to this question, but yeah, I’m, I’m a podcaster, I’m a product leader and entrepreneur. I live in Los Angeles, but really consider myself a citizen of the world and feel really connected to, um, two cultures from all over the place. So in terms of what, you know, how I like to spend my time, I spend my time trying to, I love building teams and working with people to push the boundaries of what’s possible and try to create something that matters together. That’s really what I spend my time thinking about.
Philip Kasumu 00:03:16 Um, I’m happy to tell you that you’ve actually shaved three seconds off your intro, so it’s actually, you could actually go onto your website and update and say me in 25 seconds anyway. Okay, perfect. I will fix it. Cool, cool, cool. So look, I really want to talk to you about kind of like your entrepreneurial journey and then delve into a bit more around your philanthropic journey and how that’s going and why you even have a philanthropic journey. Um, but before we get into that, let’s talk about, um, you, so you are a product leader, podcast, entrepreneur, philanthropists. What would you say defines you the most?
Andrew Skotzko 00:03:54 I would say none of those words define me the most. I would say the thing that defines me the most is actually my curiosity. I think, I think if I were to, um, you know, I’m reminded right now of something I heard, uh, Simon Sinek, who I’m a huge fan of something. I heard him talk about a few different places where he talks about, you know, my roles, the roles that I play, they do not define me. Um, I’m not defined by what I do. I’m defined by who I am and who I am is I’m a curious optimist and I’m defined by, I would say I’m defined by curiosity and empathy. Um, I’m very, I’m also really into like Buddhist philosophy and they talk a lot about, um, compassion as sort of a, a natural impulse that arises when you encounter suffering in the world or something that can be better. And I just think that that for me is actually kind of what’s behind the scenes running things, if that makes sense.
Philip Kasumu 00:04:45 Yeah, no, absolutely. And I saw your, your, your, um, your, your Buddhist quote on your site too. Um, eat me if you wish.
Andrew Skotzko 00:04:53 Oh yeah. It’s a classic Buddhist parable. The Saint Miller yeah. What does it mean? It’s, it’s basically a short parable of a Buddhist Saint in the middle of rapper who, in this story, he can basically, he leaves this cave that he’s in and he comes back and his cave is totally full of demons. Like there’s demons all over his cave. He’s like, what the hell? And he’s got to try to get rid of them and he’s running around like a crazy man trying to try to get rid of all these demons and it’s not working. Um, and basically the, the harder he tries to make, make the things that trouble him go away. Um, the more they stay put. And so he basically has to change his approach. Um, and one by one, I won’t, I won’t spoil the punchline of the story. Anyone who’s still interested to go read it. Um, but one by one, he, he solves it and then he, eventually he solves this problem by basically confronting the truth, the truth that he didn’t want to look at. So I think it’s really about, for me, it’s a story about, um, seeking and finding and facing truth, wherever, wherever it might be, especially the inconvenience.
Philip Kasumu 00:05:54 Yeah, totally. So, um, technology, you know, that’s your, your, your bread and butter, like we said, you’re, you’re a product manager now, but you kind of started off in the engineering space, right. So you started off as an engineer in your career, is that correct?
Andrew Skotzko 00:06:07 Actually, there’s a step before that. I actually started my career in marketing. So I went to school originally for engineering. Uh, didn’t, didn’t find a version of engineering. I liked it. I hadn’t really come across computer science at that time. And so I ended up actually starting my career in marketing a couple of years into it. I was working at a startup, excuse me. I was working on a startup and pivoted my career, like on the job and, and switched back to engineering. And basically, you know, this is sort of before there was all the startup, I started the, uh, before there was all like the coding, boot camps and stuff. And I just went into a cave and basically became an engineer on the job. I didn’t really have, I kind of had no life for about a year, but, um, yeah, I switched on the job and I did, I ended up doing engineering for quite a few years after that.
Andrew Skotzko 00:06:49 And before, you know, then after a few years of that, I kind of realized that I was, I think it was a good engineer. I didn’t think I, I, I knew what it would take to become a great engineer. And I thought it wasn’t, it wasn’t really like what I think we have to be honest with ourselves about like, am I willing to do the work to become great at something? And the real, the honest answer was no. And that in that domain, um, and I, I personally resonated a lot more with the craft of product management and product leadership as this sort of intersectional thing between technology and design and business and, and people. Um, and it just felt that, like, that felt like home, uh, much more to me. So I that’s actually how I ended up that was sort of my winding path to it. Yeah.
Philip Kasumu 00:07:31 And then I guess after, you know, the engineering career, or I guess working within that company and doing your marketing, whatnot, you actually wanted to go on and create your own company, right?
Andrew Skotzko 00:07:43 Yeah, yeah, totally.
Philip Kasumu 00:07:45 So that was, uh, was that that’s a bridge.
Andrew Skotzko 00:07:49 Yeah, that was pedigree. So I think I’ve had the, I wouldn’t say that I was like that kid who was, you know, had the entrepreneurial streak and was like starting businesses when they were seven or whatever. I think that’s a great story, but I don’t think it’s representative of most people’s stories. Um, I didn’t come into, you know, interest in entrepreneurship and starting things until much later than seven years old. Um, but I, you know, by the, by the time it was in my twenties, that was solidly something I was very, very interested in and, uh, is, you know, it’s a long journey, but yeah, that, that one that was Pettit bridge, which is still going on today. Um, I started that with, uh, with a friend of mine and we, we basically saw this opportunity to, um, bring a, sort of a technical innovation to a different ecosystem sort of, it was like we saw this happening in one technical ecosystem, but it didn’t exist in this other technical ecosystem. And so we said, oh, we think there’s an opportunity to build this kind of software and these kinds of tools for developers over here. And so, yeah, we, we pursued that one, uh, pretty aggressively and that was, that was a bootstrap company. So all the stuff I’d done before that was, um, was funded. That was the first time I’d ever, uh, taken a crack at something. Wow. That’s awesome.
Philip Kasumu 00:08:57 So what did you guys, what did you guys do? How did it, how did it, you know, you talked about how you and your friend kind of came up with this idea and let’s like, do this thing over here, over there. Uh, what did you guys do and, and how did it, how did it grow?
Andrew Skotzko 00:09:10 Yeah, so, and I, so my, my co-founder, that was Aaron standard who still runs the company today. Uh, and actually when wanna give credit, this was really pedal bridge was really more errands idea than mine. We we’d been friends, we’ve been looking at stuff together and we just would, you know, we’d go have dinner and beers and all this stuff. And he had seen, he had seen this idea. He kept talking about this one open source toolkit called AKA, uh, and OCHA is a, it’s a, it’s a framework, um, for doing it for what’s called middleware, which is basically a behind the scenes type of software. That the way it was being used was to help people create really, really scalable dynamic infrastructure for their applications. So think about the way I always explained it was like, imagine your Netflix. And I actually don’t know if Netflix uses OCHA, but it’s a decent example.
Andrew Skotzko 00:09:54 So if you’re Netflix, you know, you have a, uh, um, your servers get hit with load every night at primetime. You know, whether it’s like seven, wherever it’s 7:00 PM in the world, because that’s, and that’s always moving around the world, wherever that is, Netflix has servers that are just absolutely getting smashed. And that’s great because they need to do that. But to actually handle that on the backend, like with your servers and with your technical infrastructure, um, to have something that can be really flexible, that can scale up when it needs to and scale down when it needs to, and then, you know, transfer scale to other places that gets really, really complicated and it’s hard to do well, and it’s hard to build these distributed applications. And so, uh, this had been pretty well addressed in the Java ecosystem. And then Aaron and I saw this opportunity to bring that kind of the kinds of innovations that were happening in that ecosystem to the.net ecosystem, which is basically the Microsoft ecosystem, everything that’s written in, C-sharp the.net framework, uh, et cetera.
Andrew Skotzko 00:10:50 And so we, we basically said, we think there’s an opportunity here for, uh, for a company to be the leader of open-source software in this space. So it was the idea of taking a, it was an open-source software company. So we were the primary and, and Pepperidge still is the primary driver and sponsor of the oca.net open-source project. And that’s on GitHub and you can go look at it right now. And then the business models that open source software are really different than that most, you know, you end up having, is it, it gets really complicated, but what’s one thing I loved about the business models there is that you could kind of help everybody at whatever level of support made sense for them, right. If people didn’t have any money or any funding, they could just use the open source tools in the community tools like I spent, uh, you know, we spent a huge amount of our time.
Andrew Skotzko 00:11:34 I spent all of my time basically on evangelism and community, and we built a really strong international community, um, or, you know, there’s higher levels of, of premium or paid support where, you know, companies want up a support line. They can call, they want, uh, you know, certified builds of the software, things like that, or training and things like that. So we, we sort of had this multilayered business model, uh, which is a little more complicated than like a straight, you know, um, you know, I make this and you buy it. It’s just, it’s a little more complicated than that, but it’s an interesting way to do business because you end up kind of being able to help when you can figure it out and you can end up being able to help a lot of different people at whatever level makes sense for them. Yeah,
Philip Kasumu 00:12:15 No, that makes sense. I really liked, I think the open source, she’s always been quite interesting to me cause it’s like, Hey, there’s this business model where you can give everything away for free and help millions of developers all over the world. Some of which may never pay you, but then the small,
Andrew Skotzko 00:12:31 Most will never pay you.
Philip Kasumu 00:12:33 Yeah. So it’s always been interesting. Uh, I guess for you guys, did it, did it, did that model work out? Like what did it make sense?
Andrew Skotzko 00:12:41 Yeah, I mean, I think, I think when you ask the question of like, does this model make sense? You have to look at that from a bunch of perspectives. Like there’s, you know, there’s the model as it relates to the product you’re making and the customer you’re trying to serve, but there’s also like, well, what kind of company are you trying to build? And that’s something that I think, um, people don’t spend enough time thinking about, you know, I, I certainly at that point hadn’t spent enough time thinking about what kind of company did I want to build. I was still very much programmed by, by my background in, in the venture backed world. Right. Which is fine, but it’s a very particular, like if you’re going to do a VC backed startup, that’s a really particular beast. Um, and it makes, it makes total sense in certain kind of certain types of scenarios in certain types of conditions.
Andrew Skotzko 00:13:25 And most things are not that even though most people like VCs startups and everything, like all the Silicon valley stuff that gets most of the hype, you know, it, it takes up the lion’s share of media that we consume as it relates to technology and startups. But if you look at the actual numbers of like businesses in the world, it’s not, it’s not the majority. And there’s an extraordinary amount of, there’s a huge range of possibilities of kinds of businesses you can build that are somewhere between like, oh my little side project that does nothing. And it’s a billion dollar unicorn. Like I reject the frame, the implicit frame of that Silicon valley sort of drives, which is it’s, you know, it’s billions or busts. Uh, and that’s just not true. It’s true if you’re playing that game. Yeah. If you’re gonna play that game, you gotta play it that way, but that’s not the only game in town. Yeah,
Philip Kasumu 00:14:14 No, a hundred percent. Um, I actually recently just read a book not too long ago and it literally spoke about most of the biggest failures in tech or in business do come from like the tech companies trying to swing for the fences. Whereas actually there’s this huge space in the middle for just growing really good businesses that generate millions of dollars. Um, and don’t require a VC funding. Um, and you know, good cash flow businesses, unprofitable. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko 00:14:42 Oh, a hundred percent. And it’s, I think it’s, uh, I think we all got kind of programmed that, like, we also got sort of negative conditioning around those ideas from the media around Silicon valley. Um, and you know, a lot of people who wanted to build that kind of business where they’re like, Hey, I want to, you know, I want to build a company, but I want to have a life too. Like I’d like to be sane and have a startup, you know, they sorta got, they sorta got, uh, can we kind of cuss on this podcast? I forgot to ask you.
Andrew Skotzko 00:15:11 They sorta got shit on. Right? Like people got, were made to feel like they were lesser than for wanting that. Um, and that, like the only real, the only true option for an entrepreneur was like the Silicon valley unicorn thing. And it’s just not true. Um, and, and I’m really happy that in the last couple of years, there’s a lot more opportunities. Uh, and a lot of more people like broadening out the space that people that entrepreneurs can play in. Right. Look at, um, you know, my own podcast, I just interviewed, you know, we were talking about this before we hit record. Like I just interviewed Rob walling who’s, you know, and Rob is probably one of the best known people out there advocating for this middle way, uh, look at what he’s doing with tiny seed or, you know, shit that the tent, the last 10 years of everything he’s done with MicroComp and startups for the rest of us. And, you know, Rob is a really good example of that, but he’s not the only one, like he’s, he’s, he’s a figurehead of a large community. And so there’s a lot there for people. There’s a lot of interesting space to play.
Philip Kasumu 00:16:04 Yeah, absolutely. Um, and I guess talking about kind of like the whole tech startup and playing that game, you actually did a stint at a couple of companies that I guess did subscribe to that way of living. You had some time at a company called chill, uh, which was wired by Tinder and then pebble, I must where I’m watch, I got acquired by Fitbit. So while you were at both of those companies, we can start with chill. Um, what was your experience like there? You know, and, and I guess, were you there through to the acquisition stage?
Andrew Skotzko 00:16:35 Yeah. So th those change, those are really, really different experiences. So chill was where I switched from marketing to engineering. So before it was chill, it was something called namesake, which most people never saw, I don’t know existed, but was, that was actually what birthed the whole chill and chill was this crazy. It was this crazy ride over, over a few years, like the amount of new versions of the product we went through, uh, was, was pretty crazy. And so, um, chill was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. Uh, you know, I, the culture we had, the team we had, I’m still really good friends with a lot of those people, even though it’s been almost a decade, uh, and like the people like man, what, a team, we had a chill, it was like, we could turn around a whole new product faster than some people could turn around like a new feature.
Andrew Skotzko 00:17:23 Um, and it just really was credit to the team, um, to the leadership. It was just an extraordinary culture. Um, I remember how things changed when we got the funding, the, the, the, the large amount of funding, uh, the series a, you know, before that we’d had angel funding, and then we sort of hit this big inflection point right around the time that I don’t know if you remember, maybe your listeners do Facebook had this thing called open graph. It was in 20, I think it was 2012 where, and this was like, right when Pinterest was blowing up for the first time. Um, and a lot of companies got their user base has exploded really, really fast on the back of this open graph protocol that Facebook was testing out, but then Facebook kind of changed their minds, as well as a lot of the consumers of these apps.
Andrew Skotzko 00:18:09 They weren’t, they weren’t really, they weren’t really that interested. So the retention numbers for a lot of, a lot of companies who were building their user bases on these, like, it looked like everybody was getting traction and they were in one sense, but there wasn’t like good traction, the retention numbers and the, and the quality of these user cohorts was, was really not a good fit. Uh, and so if you were looking at the numbers, if you were looking carefully, you could see the problem developing before, before it was obvious. Um, but ended up being an extraordinary experience. Unfortunately, things, I still don’t know the full details here, and, and I don’t want to speculate too much without a real good information, but, but anyways, I, so I ended up leaving a little while before the Tinder acquisition. So, uh, it was, it was sometime in the year after I left that, uh, the Tinder Tinder acquired it. And then all the, all the folks who I worked with kind of re you know, help guide Tinder’s rise into what Tinder is now, uh, you know, Brian and Dan, um, and, and Scott and Mike, and, and a whole bunch of people, um, behind the scenes. So it really was an extraordinary team that like deeply, deeply understood the dynamics and the mechanisms of social software. Um, yeah, yeah, no, that sounds fascinating. And I guess your
Philip Kasumu 00:19:24 Role there as a, as a, you left before you said the acquisition, but you will, you have a software engineer there. Um, but I can imagine that being a bit of a roller coaster, I mean, would you grated it’s happy? Was it happy that you guys created
Andrew Skotzko 00:19:37 By no means was I the software, like the only software engineer? I was a software engineer on an extraordinary team. Uh, like the, I would, that, that team of engineers was the best, probably the best I’ve ever worked with. Uh, and I was so, so fortunate to like the patients, they, they showed me and co like the coaching and everything. Like, they were the people who incubated me shifting from marketing to engineering. So they, I mean, extraordinary, extraordinary team will probably the best I’ve ever worked with. And so, yeah, after, after I left, we ended up shutting that they ended up shutting down shill, uh, and then like, kind of taking a lot of the infrastructure that had been built and starting to experiment with Tappy, which was sort of a mobile social video thing. Um, Tinder, you know, acquired at a fairly short time afterwards. I don’t remember exactly how long, but I think it was within, like, it was within a year, uh, that Tinder Tinder acquired it. And then, yeah, pretty quickly thereafter, I started working on, on pebble, which was a whole, a whole other crazy rocket ship. Yeah.
Philip Kasumu 00:20:34 Yeah. That’s a whole nother beast. I mean, I watched the whole pebble thing explode. Um, did that, did they start off as a, like a Kickstarter campaign?
Andrew Skotzko 00:20:45 Yeah. Pebble was as far I know pebble was like the first mega Kickstarter campaign. I mean, I think their first Kickstarter was like, it was like 10 million or something.
Philip Kasumu 00:20:54 It was insane. Never seen anything right now.
Andrew Skotzko 00:20:57 Yeah. Up until then. Nobody. I mean, nobody had seen anything like it, I think the biggest before that was like maybe a million or less than a billion. And then all of a sudden, there’s this smartwatch that I think sold, I think it was like $10.3 million or something. I’d have to look it up. Um, and yeah, that they just, they, that was funny. Like I, uh, if you look at the history of pebble and I’m, I’m like, history is rusty here. I haven’t thought about this in awhile, but, you know, after YC, uh, Eric Makowski, the founder had like, had a really hard time raising funding and the Kickstarter was almost like a last, a last ditch thing. But by the time I got involved with pebble, it had sort of shifted into like hyper-growth mode. And so that was the, my first time really being in a, I guess you would, what’s the, what’s the phrase everybody loves now, like blitz scaling or something basically started growing so damn fast. Yeah.
Philip Kasumu 00:21:44 I can, I can imagine. Um, how long were you there for, um, and what will come and what kind of the main roles that you had at that organization? I worked
Andrew Skotzko 00:21:54 On with pebble for, I don’t remember exactly how long it was. It was about a year and a half. And at the time I was doing, um, I was doing a lot of the, I was helping with a lot of the backend software. So I didn’t, I didn’t actually work on like the watch. Uh, I didn’t, you know, that was the first time I’d ever worked on anything or worked around anything, hardware. Um, so I didn’t, I didn’t do anything that had like the, I didn’t touch the firmware or anything like that. I was working on a lot of the, um, the, the systems engineering and the software that helped run the business. So like a lot of the e-commerce software, the stuff that was helping the user experience scale. Um, and that was led by a friend of mine, Ben, who, who brought me into, into pebble.
Andrew Skotzko 00:22:33 Um, but yeah, I, I, so I didn’t, I didn’t actually, like, we worked with the firmware folks sometimes, but I didn’t actually touch the, the firmware, but I think the most interesting thing for me about pebble was I don’t think I’d been in that experience before, like with chill, we’d had the product growing very, very aggressively. There was a period of time there where, you know, our, our user base was doubling so quickly. Like it just destroyed every single one of our technical scaling plans. You just like our CTO, Dan had to keep like every week he was like throwing out the plan and starting over. Um, but pebble was really different because the organization was scaling and, you know, it was just growing really, really quickly. And that’s just a whole, that’s just a whole other kind of chaos that I had never been around before, you know, it just organizationally and like the people and understanding who people are and how do you get things done? And that’s, it’s just a whole, that’s a whole thing unto itself. Um, that I guess has been a lot, has been studied a lot more now by, uh, by folks who I think, who was it wrote that book blitz scaling. I can’t remember, but, uh, yes, yes, I man, who certainly knows what he’s talking about.
Philip Kasumu 00:23:40 That’s incredible. And then, yeah, so you’ve had, like you said, like we said before, the show you’ve had quite an interesting career path. I was fine. Um, you know, career path like yours, probably the most interesting, because you’ve just touched so many different things in the, you know, we haven’t even spoken about kind of like at home as an EIR, um, at PhD ventures or your time at 500 startups and like just really tasting everything. And so kind of brings you to where you are now as a, as a product lead. Right?
Andrew Skotzko 00:24:08 Yeah. So, you know, it’s, it’s a bit of a winding path. Yeah.
Philip Kasumu 00:24:10 Yeah. So talk to us about your, your role at the moment and where you’re, where you are right now.
Andrew Skotzko 00:24:15 Yeah, for sure. So after, gosh, it was the after, after pedal bridge, basically by the end of ah, okay, got it. So, you know, basically in, in 2016 I was looking to sort of make a trajectory shift and I think this is where my involvement with founders pledge probably began. I don’t remember exactly when I got involved with founders pledge, but it was probably somewhere around here. And at that time I ended up going to a place that has become quite controversial, uh, called singularity university or SU for short. And I did this program called the GSP, the global solutions program, which is basically this, like, I think of it as like nerd summer camp for adults, um, where you basically had, we had like 80 folks from all over the world, huge range of disciplines from technical people, the product people to artists, to activists, scientists, you know, this wide range of people and basically your job for like the whole summer was you would just have this access to all these really interesting people and like the cutting edge trends and data and labs and all this stuff.
Andrew Skotzko 00:25:15 And your job was your mandate was like, think about problems and how you could use technology to solve problems. You know, that affect a billion people or more, it was just such a radically different way of thinking. And, um, S you, you know, for all of the controversy around it has done truly an amazing thing. They’ve basically incepted the world over the last 10 years with the messages of abundance and technical abundance, and like all the stuff around, like the fourth industrial revolution, that’s now at the, um, uh, what do you call it like Davos and everything like S you for all of its problems has incubated an incredible message and a pretty incredible community of people. And so anyways, how I got to where I am now, what I do now, uh, for the last last couple years, I’ve been leading a lot of product efforts at a place called applied invention, which is a multidisciplinary innovation company.
Andrew Skotzko 00:26:01 You can kind of think of it. Like if you’re familiar with the term skunkworks, it’s kind of like a skunkworks where it’s like an outsource skunkworks, where basically we team up with large, large companies and entrepreneurs, and try to solve really, really hard unsolved problems where if you could solve it, like these are problems where it’s less of like a market risk problem, but more of a product or a technical risk problem. Uh, I mean, I’m not going to, it’s not, as far as like cancer, like, you know, cancer, you know, if you solve cancer, you know, there’s a market. Um, it’s not that far, but it’s more along the lines of like, we know there’s a market for this, but no one’s figured out how to do it technically. And, um, that’s where applied dimensions is really, really good. So we have this incredible multidisciplinary team of, I mean, every sorts of people under one roof, from scientists to designers and engineers and mathematicians and physicists and biologists, and like all just crazy combination of people and we’ll team up, and it may do these, it’s almost like a joint venture where we’ll go after some really unsolved problem, uh, that we think would, if you could solve, it would not only be good for the world, but like there would be a business there.
Andrew Skotzko 00:27:03 Um, and we, we do that with, uh, with these partners when those partners sometimes are big corporates, sometimes they’re entrepreneurs. And so, uh, I’ve been working there with an incredible group of folks for the last couple of years. And, um, I’ve, I’ve worked on quite a few different things when I’ve been there. The main one that I worked on, and this goes back to my time at SU I got really interested in my time at SU in kind of two big, uh, two big things looking forward to the future. The first was what I, the way I language it is the intersection of human and environmental systems. So basically where to human systems overlap with the environment, how do we make that overlap? Like that interface? How do we make that a good interface, uh, especially relevant there? So that’s, you know, things around climate change and the food system, um, in particular there.
Andrew Skotzko 00:27:49 And so I, I, this was especially interested in the food system as it related to the ocean and the other broad thing that came out of that, which is what I’m starting to explore a lot more of now is really like the future of work. Right? So you think about whether it’s through vehicles of economic empowerment or changing people’s engagement in their jobs. Like those are the sort of the two broad interests that I, that I developed starting a couple of years ago was one, how do we have good human systems that are regenerative or enlivening with natural systems? And then secondly, just how do we create human systems that are regenerative and enlivening to people? Um, and so I’ve spent the last few years mostly working on the first of those. And, and now I’m starting to think a lot more about the second.
Philip Kasumu 00:28:30 Awesome. And I love how, I guess your day job, if you will, as a product manager really ties into the way you think about philanthropy, right. And what you care about. Um, and that’s where I guess I want to switch gears and kind of talk a bit about philanthropy and I guess, you know, founders pledge and how you got involved with us. So can you tell us about your, your personal giving journey and when, and how did it start? And I guess why?
Andrew Skotzko 00:28:57 Yeah, great question. Um, you know, I, I guess the, why goes back to kind of where we started this conversation, it’s like that sense of, you know, I was gonna say empathy again, but that feels a little bit trite right now. I would say it’s a sense of connection. Like, I, I grew up differently than a lot of people. Like if you, you look at me, you’ll see, you know, you’ll see a cis-gender hetero white guy. Um, but, and you might assume like he grew, you know, I grew up in, in some normal, typical way, but I kind of grew up in what I think is a fairly atypical way where my parents both worked for the U S government. And so, uh, I was basically a military brat. So I grew up us. A lot of my formative years were outside of the United States.
Andrew Skotzko 00:29:37 Like my first memory, uh, is in, in Chad, in central Africa. I like, that’s my first memory. I came online, you know, at whatever. It was like three years old, walking down the street in, in central Africa. Um, and the reason I say that, and the reason I think that’s relevant is because I think for me, it kind of goes all the way back to, like, I’ve never known, I’ve never known what life was like, not being connected to the world. Like some people grew up on the same street with the same, you know, few friends around them for like 15 years and went through all schools together and that whole thing. And that’s cool. And, and frankly, part of me probably envies that, but I never, I never really had that experience. I always was. Yeah. I was always connected. I always felt connected to, um, to the many ways of living life on this planet.
Andrew Skotzko 00:30:22 Like, you know, there’s not one way to do things. And so I think for me, that’s like, that’s the why, and that’s where it, that’s where it comes from. Um, in terms of how I think about it now, I would say, you know, to get deep about it for a second, like for me, it comes, you know, I’m gonna reference Simon Sinek again, but like, for me, it does come back to that underlying reason. Why, like, for me, everything is about exploring what’s possible so that, you know, people can flourish and bring their unique contributions into the world to make their little corner of the world a little bit better, a little bit brighter. Um, you know, because I believe that there every single person’s ideas matter, their experience matters. And so, um, anything that hits on those ideas is going to resonate with me.
Andrew Skotzko 00:31:05 And so to make that come back around to your question, I think that giving gets too narrow of a definition. I think giving, we usually hear that and we think about giving money, which is great and it’s important. And, you know, a hundred percent people should learn about things like effective altruism and, and all that. But I think a, a larger resource that we all have to give that doesn’t get enough attention is our time and our energy, you know, what do you get up and do tomorrow? And what’s the impact of that? How do you feel about that? Um, and that’s where, uh, you know, give another shout out to, uh, an organization I’m a big fan of called 80,000 hours, which is really about how to use your career for positive impact. So anyways, for me, I think it comes back to back that way, growing up, I grew up in a very mission driven family. Uh, and so it’s always been normal for me that work and mission and giving, if you wanna use that word, like those have always been connected. It’s not something that like, my worldview was never that you bolted it on later. It was always there from day
Philip Kasumu 00:32:04 One. Mm, no, I think, I think that’s super important as well. It should be more of a, I guess, a lifestyle, right. As opposed to this one-off activity that you engaging every now and again. Um, so I guess what kind of challenges have you faced when you first, or did you phase rather than when you first embarked on this journey of like, I want to, I want to give, or I want to, I want to do something more than just live my, my standard
Andrew Skotzko 00:32:30 Line. Yeah. Thanks for the question. I think it’s a, it’s a great question. I think the biggest challenge that I faced, and I don’t know if, I don’t know if this one ever goes, I, part of me hopes it does, but I have a feeling it doesn’t, but the hardest thing for me was figuring out what I really cared about. You know, I think we are certainly, well, I won’t, I won’t glow. I want to generalize that I’ll speak for myself. I was strongly conditioned to that. I should care about XYZ. I should care about this. I should care about that. And there’s, I think in our society, or at least the way I grew up, you know, there’s a lot of that. And I think it’s really, really hard. There’s so much noise. There’s so many different interests and people and belief systems telling you what you quote unquote should do.
Andrew Skotzko 00:33:16 And there’s not enough space for connecting with what you actually want to do and actually care about. And so for me, it’s that, that was really the journey. And I think that journey for me is still going on is, you know, figuring out cause it, cause it changes, right? Like I think I used to think, oh man, I’ve got to solve this once. Like back when I went to SU I was like, cool, I’m going to work really hard to suffer it. I’m gonna figure out the, all the stuff I care about and that’s it. And I’m going to be, you know, I’ve cooked, I got it. And that’s what I’m doing for the rest of my life. But I don’t think it works that way. You know, nothing, nothing is static, everything is impermanent, everything’s changing and it turns out that’s true with the things we care about too. So it’s, um, I think the hard part has been allowing myself the space to explore my own interests, to truly indulge my curiosity and not to feel guilty about it. Um, I think that’s something I really struggled with for a long time. And it’s something I still struggle with honestly, is, is really, you know, connecting with what, which pieces of this matter to me, what do I want to contribute, uh, as opposed to what is somebody else tell me I should.
Philip Kasumu 00:34:18 Right. Right. Absolutely. And I guess that makes a lot of sense as, as the why, I guess you would want to have joined founders pledge. Right. So, so you joined, like you mentioned back in 2016, um, and you kind of touched on this already kind of like your key motivations for forgiving, but I guess what were some of your key motivations for, I guess, taking the pledge and, and what have you learned so far along that journey? Cause I know you mentioned, um, kind of like 80,000 hours, which actually another interview I did today with another one of our members. He mentioned that when he was going to go and down on these journey and thinking about how can he, I guess, remove the fuzziness of giving and actually be a lot more practical with his giving goes well. Right. Um, how, you know, talk to me a bit about taking the pledge and what you’ve kind of learned so far on this.
Andrew Skotzko 00:35:06 Yeah, for sure. So quick, just really, and I will answer that, but as a quick aside for the 80,000 hours thing, a hundred percent of people should check that out. Amazing resource for sharpening your thinking about how to create impact with your career. One thing I will say is that their framework that what’s so great about the framework is that they have one and it’s principled and it’s opinionated. Um, I think where, where it does go a little bit working, it’s a little bit clinical and that’s a criticism that people make of, excuse me, that’s a criticism people make of, oh yeah, that’s a criticism. People make a VA, well is it’s like two clinical and there’s no, no space for, you know, your, your subjective experience. But, um, I just think as long as you take it with a grain of salt and use it as a tool and not a gospel or a dogma, you’ll be fine.
Andrew Skotzko 00:35:50 Um, now to come back around to your question of like, well, what have I learned in this? What motivated? Like, I think what motivated me is all of the things we’re talking about. Right? Like I don’t think it’s one thing, but like when, when, when, uh, when I came across it, it just made sense. You know, I was like, oh cool. Like if I am able to create a successful outcome of any scale, like successful outcome is like a tiny exit or some big exit, like pre pledging and saying like, yeah, I want to have it just made sense to me as an extension of like, I’m already spending my time and energy, trying to use everything, everything I can bring to bear, to make parts of the world better and make something I care about better. Why wouldn’t I want the outcome of that work to also do that.
Andrew Skotzko 00:36:35 So to me it was, it just sort of felt obvious, right? Like if this, if this, I feel like if you’re, if you’re someone who believes in the kinds of things I’m talking about here about using your time and your energy, this way, you know, to spend your time making contributions and making things that matter, then it just makes sense to me that like, if that’s your worldview, that you would also want the outcome of your efforts to similarly have added knock on effects, right? Like I only have so much time and that’s, that’s actually the beautiful thing. That’s the beautiful thing about giving money and being able to like create, create financial wealth to give away as well as like it can do, you know, it can be placement for time in a sense, like you can be a multiplier. Um, it can go where I can’t go.
Andrew Skotzko 00:37:16 Cause I only have so the hours in the day, just like everybody else, I think I have a mind and that loves frameworks. Right? I love principles, frameworks, ways of looking at things. And with that, I love trying to figure out like how a system works, what makes it tick, et cetera. But the reality is that there’s no one right answer here. I think that’s maybe the biggest thing I try to approach. I think I tried to approach giving and a lot of these subjective questions too much like an engineer and not as enough, like a designer, right. Engineering problems. When you, when you try to, a lot of times in hearing problems have like the, you know, there is, there is a right answer and then there’s design problems. There’s a lot of right answers. And I would say giving is a design problem.
Andrew Skotzko 00:37:56 There’s a lot of ways to do it. There’s a lot of right answers. And I think it’s finding the mix of approaches and causes, et cetera, that work for you that have you excited, uh, and wanting to keep doing it. And I would say, so that’s, that’s one lesson, I would say the biggest other lesson I’ve had. And this goes in the realm of thinking about career. I definitely, you know, this totally makes sense, given everything I said about like the way I was raised and all that, I think, um, a place that everybody trying to make the world better with their time does a disservice is we think the mission will all, we treat it like, or at least I’ll speak for myself. I certainly used to approach things like it doesn’t matter how much I like it doesn’t matter how much fun I have doing this.
Andrew Skotzko 00:38:46 It’s important. Right. It’s important. It needs to be done. We’re going to get it done. And in a very, like almost military mission driven sort of mindset. Uh, and, and there’s some utility there for sure. But what I realized is that, um, that’s a recipe for martyrdom and martyrdom is not a good look and it doesn’t sustainably make the world better. So I think it’s really, really important to find pathways for giving and making the world better that you actually enjoy walking, right? Like if you don’t enjoy the path you’re on, you’re not gonna be able to sustain it. Like maybe you can grind it out for a couple of years, but for the long haul for like the, the decades it takes to truly change things in the world. There’s no way you’re just not going to do it. And that’s something I learned the hard way by burning out, um, was that no matter how good the, how good, how noble I’m using good and sort of air quotes, but like in this sort of moral, purest sense, right.
Andrew Skotzko 00:39:43 This sort of noble aspiration that we aspire to, um, no matter how good that was, if I wasn’t enjoying, if I wasn’t familiar enjoying the activities I was doing in, on, in pursuit of that goal and I wasn’t enjoying the people I was around, it just wouldn’t matter. Like at the end of the day I would, I would burn out. I wouldn’t be able to go the distance and I wouldn’t be able to actually give the, you know, make the contribution I was hoping to make. So I think those would be the two big lessons. There’s no right answer. There’s no one way. And you have to find a way to enjoy the ride as cliche as that is. Um, I know indirectly, as, as I know, I know this sounds so cliche, but if you just look at it, like literally, what do you spend all your time doing? Who are you doing it with? And then what’s it pointed at? And if you don’t feel, you know, it takes all three. It can’t, you can’t just feel good about what it’s pointed at. You need to feel good about literally what you spend your time doing and who you spend it around, or you’ll never get to the thing you’re pointed at. Mm,
Philip Kasumu 00:40:38 No good points, good points. Um, and I guess, you know, talking about the things that you want to do, um, and how you spend your time and energy and resources, what cause areas, do you care about the most? Like, what are you most passionate
Andrew Skotzko 00:40:52 About? Yeah, I would say my, my, my passions, like I was saying earlier, they, they, they have shifted. They are shifting. Maybe they always will be. I don’t know, but I think I’ve spent a lot of my time in the last several years, last three and a half, four years really focused on the environmental side of things. Um, like we were talking about, especially in the ocean and I still care about that a lot. I’ve spent a lot of energy and time thinking about, uh, the ocean, how we make it better, fish, farming, ocean science, and sensing, et cetera, that are active areas of work that I’ve been involved in and still am. Um, I’d say the things that are the new passions that are, that are firing me up lately are much more on the human systems. I’m really interested in. How do we build a better future of work for people I’m really, really interested in the future of organizations and the role they play in creating a more fully alive world.
Andrew Skotzko 00:41:46 Right. I think organizations are where we live our lives. They’re where we spend our time. And I think they’re like the key lever for shifting the quality, not only of people’s experience, but also all this, all those second and third order of second and third order effects that organizations create. So I’m really interested in the future of people’s experience in organizations and how those organizations are vehicles for, uh, for people’s development, their expression, and the PA, and having a positive impact on everything, every stakeholder that they come into contact with. So I’m, I’m really, that’s the, those are the things I’m nerding out on a lot these days. And that’s why I started a podcast and a lot of that sort of thing.
Philip Kasumu 00:42:25 Yeah, totally. Um, and I guess you, you have in the past donated to, um, the IOD and global network, which is, um, I guess one of our recommended charities and education reports. Um, can you tell us a little bit about, you know, why you, why you did that, why you chose to support them and a little bit about their work as well?
Andrew Skotzko 00:42:45 Yeah, so I definitely not a deep expert on their work and I’ll, I’ll refer people to, you know, we could link to some better resources and show notes, but I would say the process, this, this was actually something that I found really valuable. So, you know, a few minutes ago, I said that one of the hardest things about going on this journey is figuring out what do you want to support, whether it’s financially or with your time, your energy, whatever. Um, I had such a great experience actually working with the deployment team at founders pledge that we did. I think it’s called, uh, remind me, I’m forgetting it’s a values discovery conversation. Is that what it is? Yeah. The value discovery process. Yes. The value discovery process. Thank you. So I went through that and it was, you know, basically this really intense conversation for a couple hours, uh, talking about all sorts of crazy scenarios and values.
Andrew Skotzko 00:43:33 And, and I won’t spell it for people, but it was a really, really interesting experience. And it just out of that experience, it became obvious that this was a like that, that, um, that, that was a great way to support, you know, the things I care about. I really care about economic empowerment. I care about the environment. I care about, you know, health and nutrition, um, education. And, and that was one example where it just makes so much sense because you’re like, okay, wow, this is a high leverage. This is a high leverage opportunity. Right. I can give something here that is like proof it’s proven to be effective. It impacts multiple cause areas. Um, and it’s a well-run organization. Right. And so kind of putting a little bit of that. I think you have a little bit of that balance of there’s the subjective side of figuring out, like, what do you care about? And then I think once you, once you sort of bound the world and scope things in a little bit from there, then putting on like the, the EA or the effective altruism hat is, is really great, because then you’re saying, okay, cool. I’ve already BA I’ve. I’ve decided what I, where I want to now, how do I play? Who do I support, et cetera. And as we went through that process, that just seemed like it just popped out as a great candidate, you know? Um, it’s not the only one, but it’s a fantastic one.
Philip Kasumu 00:44:41 Yeah, no, absolutely. Absolutely. And I guess, you know, working and looking towards wrapping up now, you know, the work that you’ve done with, um, the IGN, um, and the way that we do in Nigeria is obviously remarkable. And like you said, it’s, it’s one of the many areas you could focus your energies. Um, and I think that’s actually kind of one of the hardest things about philanthropy, about charity in general, it’s there are so many different players, like you said, how you decide, I guess obviously with the work that we do here, we try and help you make that decision as much as, as possible. Um, so look like wrapping it up now. Um, you know, obviously it’s been a very, very turbulent year, so
Andrew Skotzko 00:45:20 Yeah, that’s, that’s putting it lightly.
Philip Kasumu 00:45:24 I think we’ll go through some tablets now. I mean, we’re still waiting for the elections and whatnot to, to wrap up. Um, so I guess to end on a bit of a positive note, um, I’d like to ask you one thing that you are most optimistic about, like, what are you looking forward to? You know, we’re coming, we’re at the tail end of 2020, we’re going into 20, 21. What, what are you looking forward to?
Andrew Skotzko 00:45:47 Yeah, thanks for that. You know, despite being kind of a dumpster fire of a year by a lot of measures and a really hard year for all sorts of people, I, I I’m, I’m re like in really hard times, I’m reminded of the beautiful side of human nature. I’m I, you know, when I look at what people’s responses are to the hardship, and that’s like, of course there’s conflict and conflict is a, is a natural thing. It can be healthy. It’s not inherently bad, but I’m reminded I just look around and I see people, I see their best instincts coming out. Sometimes, you know, sometimes it’s hidden, but you have to look for it, but it’s there. And I, I know 2020, if anything has taught us that controls and illusion, and now we’ve all had a direct experience of that for most of the year.
Andrew Skotzko 00:46:40 That’s probably a good thing I think. And I’m looking forward to seeing people and mass, hopefully start to live more, according to their values. Like I’ve had a lot of conversations with people this year, friends, acquaintances, et cetera. And this, I think for a lot of people has been the first time that they’ve really taken stock, that they’ve really had the chance, the time to kind of be still to contemplate. Um, you know, the world is so frenetic by default now. And a lot of people don’t have any practices in their life, any habits around contemplation and this has sort of forced it on them. And I think that’s a really good thing actually. And so high level, despite a dumpster fire of a year, man, I think that long-term a lot of good things are going to come out of the reflection that has been forced upon humanity this year.
Andrew Skotzko 00:47:40 And I think that’s good. We’re going to see that in big ways. And I think we’re going to see it in small ways. Like there’s never going to be a day again that I take for granted being able to hug somebody. I love dinner parties. I will never again, take a dinner party with people I care about for granted, right? Like that sense of community of connection. Um, I think when things go really sideways, like they have this year, you’re forced to, to really reflect and reflect on what’s important to you and you know, then inevitably you end up back at the place of like, huh. Okay. So what do I do different tomorrow? And I think having basically all of humanity forced to confront that question, despite it being kind of painful, I think net net will end up being a really good thing. Awesome. But like I said, I’m an optimist.
Philip Kasumu 00:48:26 Yeah. And Andrew, thank you so much for coming on the show. Um, if people want to get in contact with you, uh, to learn more about your podcast, um, the things you’re doing in your current role, uh, where conveyed, where they get, where can they find you?
Andrew Skotzko 00:48:41 Yeah. You can reach out to me. Um, I run a podcast that’s called make things that matter. That’s probably obvious by now why I care about that, but the show is called make things that matter. We talk about a lot of these questions that we’ve been exploring here about, you know, how do we make things that matter? How do we use our time, our energy as well to make products and companies and organizations that all the things we’re talking about. Uh, so check out the show to make things that matter.com, uh, just all spelled out and you can email me [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter. I’d love to hear from anybody who, uh, thought this was interesting, wants to talk more. I, I really enjoy that. So please, please do reach out and I love to help anybody. If I can be helpful to anybody on their journey, I would absolutely love to. So please, please do take that as an
Philip Kasumu 00:49:24 Actual open invitation.
Andrew Skotzko 00:49:26 Coming on the show. Absolutely Philip, my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me, my honor.