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Episode #2: Joseph Cohen - Building digital products is an everyone thing at Universe
July 15, 2020
Podcast

Episode #2: Joseph Cohen - Building digital products is an everyone thing at Universe

Universe

Serial entrepreneur Joseph Cohen launched Universe as a no-code, mobile-only website builder to help nearly 400,000 people easily build websites via its grid editor on the go.

A graduate of Y Combinator's Winter 2018 class, Universe raised $7.2 million from firms like Box Group and General Catalyst. Plus an addition Series A raise of $10m from GV - Closed at the beginning of April 2020.  

Ben & Joseph talk all things Universe, capital raising, no-code and the future of building digital products.

To learn more about Universe visit: https://onuniverse.com/

Visit the Makerpad Podcast to see notes and further episode at:  https://www.makerpad.co/podcast

Transcript

Joseph Cohen - Universe - Spotlight  Podcast-MP3 for Audio P...

Mon, 5/18 1:37PM • 50:59

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

people, build, web, tools, interface, universe, mobile, computing, evolve, code, creating, building, product, world, internet, touch, thinking, question, design, payments

SPEAKERS

Joseph Cohen, Ben Tossell

Ben Tossell  00:00

Joseph Cohen  00:29

Yeah, so great to be here. And thanks for having me. Universe, we make an app that allows anybody to build a website from their iPhone or iPad. So we are the first and only sort of mobile website builder. And to do that, you know, we've had to create a new kind of user interface that makes the process of building for the web, not just possible on a small screen, but really fun and really powerful. And so We've created an interface that's based on a grid with a set of building blocks, which we can talk about. But it's a really sort of novel and intuitive way of building four screens without having any technical or design experience. We are a 12 person team soon to be a bit larger, we're distributed around the United States. We make money by charging for a premium version of our product. That gives you things like a custom domain and other features we can talk about. Then add it for about three years did Y Combinator in 2018. And most recently closed a round of capital from gv that's Google's venture arm, those $10 million round, which we're really excited about, so we're going to use that capital to continue growing our product evolving it when we first started the company. Rather when we first started this product, it was a it was a very Simple landing page builder. And we've since evolved it to a full fledged website builder, you're doing it all from your phone. And so this is going to allow us to take next step. Alongside the fundraise, we did announce the ability to actually take payments on your site natively through universe. And we've made this process exceptionally easy. You can in seconds, you'll add a Buy button to your site that allows you to take Apple Pay or any other credit card. And it is by far the easiest way to sort of take money on the internet. And the way that we look at it is that, you know, if you're building a set of tools that allow people to build online, you need to allow folks to sort of express their vision, a set of creative tools, you need to give them a set of technical tools so that they can get up and running with hosting and domain but you also need to give them a set of economic tools. So we we look at the tool set of building online as having three components technology, creativity, and Economic economy. And so that's sort of how we think about empowerment. And with payments, we're taking our first big step into economic empowerment to layer on top of the technical and sort of creative empowerment that we've been focused on today. So that's the high level, you know, incredible team I get to work with, we're growing fast. And, you know, we, we, I've been thinking about no code stuff for over six years. It's been an obsession and a passion of mine. You know, before Well, before it had a label. I think that unlike most other no code companies and products, we are focused on mobile. And what that means is that we're actually focused on people who are not in the tech industry. For the most part, you know, the people who use our product are really like everyday people, everyday entrepreneurs, everyday creators and artists. And so, you know, I think that's a decision distinction from a lot of the other no code oriented companies and products, which have, you know, made it dramatically easier to build software, but it's sort of expanding the radius from the tech world out. And we're actually starting with people who have never even they don't even know what a domain is. And a lot of cases, they don't know what HTML is. They don't know what no code is. They don't know what producthunt is. It's sort of a totally different world, if you will.

Ben Tossell  04:25

Yeah. So that's one thing I was going to go into was, like, being in the no code space, you tend to see a lot of things like no code tools built for no coders. And then there's like this circle of go round around in this, like smaller community of no coders within often the tech industry. And when I was a product, and there was a lot of like, this is like tech product, like the goal there. I think when I was there, at least was how do we make sure how do you make these product things Not just techie, there's like, a lot of products or tools end up not through sort of, like negative means or anything, but like sort of seem to be the circle around the same groups. So why is it that you've tried to focus on like, outside of that group and almost have it like, overlapping on under certain touch point about and and almost purposely not going to the technical, technically minded, I suppose. was that? Was that why you thought? Like, because I wouldn't put together website builder and I'll do it on my phone, like that. But I don't know whether that's my bias from being this tackles and just thinking that this is how you do it. And obviously mobile was mobile was hot, like a few years ago, and everyone said the web was dead. I don't think that ever happened. I don't know if ever will happen. I'd be curious to hear what you think about that.

05:58

Yeah. So there's a lot there. Um, We'd love to talk about all of it. So, a couple things I first started thinking about alternative interfaces for creation. years ago, I was really inspired by Brett Victor and a lot of his writings and talks, and that whole sort of canon of thinking and design dating back to the 60s. So you've got folks like Doug Engelbart, augmenting human intellect. You've got people like Alan Kay. And then there's the famous sort of bicycle for the mind, Steve Jobs. You know, quote, it's this idea that a computer can accelerate and augment our cognitive and creative processes. And that is what I am passionate about. It's what got me hooked on computing. It is what inspired me It's why I do what I do. I've always felt, however, that the tools that exist for creating with the true power of a computer, don't work the way that my brain works, my brain is much more direct. It's not, you know, I don't like I can code but it's not how I like to think it's not, it's not how my brain works, I don't want to sit in front of a computer, at a desk at a wall of at a wall of text and to reasoning about things in my mind, abstractly. It's just not how my brain works. And I realized over the years that that's actually true for 99% of people. Most people brains do not work. In this sort of abstract way, that code encourages you, too, to think and so. So that that's where it started. And I particularly got intrigued by the idea that if you built tools that met people where they were, that met other kinds of people where they were, you would be able to combine the power of computing with the depth And, and uniqueness of some someone's mind that was interested in something else. So for example, if you take someone who's a farmer, or a painter, or a scientist and you couple of that expertise with the infinite power of computing, you would empower a whole new range of creativity that you wouldn't have if the people were creating software, we're just skilled at writing software, if that makes sense. In other words, software, the creation of software is itself a special, it's not a specialty. And so if you can find the people can create software to those who are gifted in that way. The range of things that are created are going to be inherently limited by the the skills and experiences of the people creating that that software, but if you expand the interface to include folks who are skilled in other areas, you'd end up with an output That was very different. So this is sort of Marshall McLuhan quote that I really like, which is, you know, we shape our tools, and thereafter they shape us. It's this idea that the world around us is a function to some degree of the tools that we have to execute it. And, you know, this isn't some, you know, this isn't some mistake that was made in the development of computing that code is the interface. It's just a rudimentary and sort of evolving and nascent medium. And so the tools start more crude and more esoteric, and they evolve. But the way I like to think about it is like in the physical world, I think the closest analogy to something like the web or the internet is something like New York City, where you've got, you know, every kind of person, every kind of business store, Hawking their wares, sharing their ideas, sharing their vision, you walk down Broadway, you rock walk through the Lower East Side, it's this sort of melting pot of activity. And, you know, if you sort of opened the door, Have a random small shop mom and pop shop that sells maybe, I don't know, I've once down this, this store on the low reset that sells stamps. All they do is sell stamps, rubber stamps. And, you know, you walk into this place and there's a guy there who owns the shop, and he makes the stamps in the store.

10:21

Does that person know about the construction of buildings? How cement holds up his store? No. Does that person know about how the plumbing gets water to his bathroom know what he knows about his stance. And that's his focus. And the infrastructure that we built as a city as a society allows him to specialize in that area and share his gifts with the world at that level of abstraction. And so what we need on the internet and what we need with software is that set of skills, that set of tools that enable someone who was gifted in a particular area to express themselves in that way. So that's the high level interest. No, no good. Do you have a question?

Ben Tossell  11:10

It's just, I've always tried to explain that this is the exact passage of what you just said was the reason why I am so passionate about the no code space. And why sometimes probably get frustrated or just like, you just see the same things over and over, or the same things being built with the same sort of tools or something. But the point why I'm in no code, especially and why make pad exists is because we want to, like, expand and show and unlock the creativity of the person who has no idea whether it's code or no code, or like doesn't care just wants to know, I want to build something or this is something like that. My fiance's mother is a professional chef, who had a book years and years ago was none other than anything else since but there's like, I'm like, Well, you could you could have like The recipe apropos you can have, like all these different types of things. And obviously, that's just a bit how my brain works. But it's, it's interesting that like, you're talking about enabling the people who have all these different backgrounds, different skills in completely random creative areas. And just like giving him even then the foundations of like being able to use that creativity to do X, whatever the next piece is. I just think you put it in a really, really awesome way with a good story to visualize,

12:34

quote, thing I'd say there also is that the creative process is not simply

12:41

it's not an assembly line. In other words, people often think about the process of producing something as I have an idea, and then I make it real. But that's not actually how the best work happens. The best work happens, you have an idea. You make a gesture. So if you're an artist You know, work in a painting, you have an idea, you put paint your paint on the canvas. And then you see how the paint is sitting on the canvas. And it inspires another idea. And then you make another gesture. And then you see how those two things are interacting. And then you're like, Okay, I'm going to take it here. And so there's this feedback loop between ideation and execution. And that feedback loop leads you somewhere that you didn't intend to go at the onset. You know, as you're creating, you're getting new ideas. And then those ideas are taking form in a continuous loop. That's how all the best creation works. It's how my company the creation of my company has evolved, right? Like I didn't, I set out with a vision, the vision remains true, but the particulars of how we get there are changing on a daily basis. So you need that feedback loop. And what I'm trying to say is that when you're building stuff on the internet, when you're building something with software, you need to allow for that feedback loop to happen. Whereas if I go, and I'm a, you know, I'm a small business and I want to set up a website, and if I go hire someone to build my website, what's happening there is I'm expressing myself to that builder, that builder is building the thing and delivering it to me. There's no loop. It's, you know, a batch process where I think of a thing I hand it over. And so you're just not allowing for creativity to evolve over time, because you're limiting the the creative process to everything before the execution. But the best kinds of things, the things that really become like art become native to the environment are ones where you allow that feedback loop to happen.

14:43

Yeah, I think that can be applied to

Ben Tossell  14:47

every part of business as well right? Where people spend three months building a product feature with no testers then go out and do that batch testing with 30 people 50 people and then feedback, go back and build and then go back. Whereas what I've seen or been able to do with megapath is, oh, build this feature will take me like, an hour, a couple of hours. And I'll know within a week, but I'll see people using it that day, whether it's gonna work or not it like is a continuous loop and the fact that, yeah, I can't code and having, again, that process of me writing a bunch of lines of code, and then waiting to spit it out. Like it happens on a weekly, daily monthly level, as well as like, tiny increments of your day where you're trying to build something or like, put it out there. And the ways in you in what you do that is it depends on the type of brain that you have and how that works for you. And like, like you, I don't work in that way. I need to see something I need to have the feedback straightaway and it needs to be there and I can touch it, and I can change it and I can alter it in seconds.

15:55

So one thing that's interesting is that when people use universe and there they use editor. They are not coming in with the design, they are designing it in our tool. But they're also building it in our tool. So it's, we think of building things in the tech world, we often think of design and development as discrete steps, you design something, and then you develop it. With our app, people are designing and developing at the same time, and they don't even know that they're doing either of those things. Yeah, they're just building. And what that means is that you're actually making new kinds of things because you have an idea, you, you, you, you, you execute it, but you're still in the editor. And then you could play around with it. You can move things around, you can test it out in in the editor, right? So it leads to a new kind of creation that you wouldn't have if you had to design the whole thing in one step and then hand it over to a developer to build it. And so that's where everything is going to go I mean, they say this bifurcation between design and development or rather Like, I like to call it more of the idea and the execution, it shouldn't be bifurcated, you should be able to just work at the speed of thought in that way. It's like, you know, if you're putting pen to paper in the physical world, you put you make a mark, you don't hand your you don't have an idea, and then hand a pen to someone to, to write that idea down there, you know, you just make the gesture. And then you're like, oh, that works. The other thing you asked was about mobile, and why mobile? And that's a big thing. Because so you say, Okay, well, you're interested in building interfaces for people who don't think in code like why mobile? And the reason is that mobile is a misnomer, in my opinion. Mobile is not about mobile. I mean, that's a part of it. It's part of partly that you have it with you all over that you can get your mobile. But the real story with mobile to me is it has been that computing has gone mainstream. computing is now something that everyone on earth interacts with. for lots of time every day, it is not this foreign, esoteric nerdy thing that you do at a desk. It is part of the fabric of life. And it is universal. And with mobile computing became universal for the first time ever. And that is such a breakthrough. It's such a watershed moment, I think, you know, for folks. For us folks in the tech world. We have long understood the promise of computing. We are in some ways utopian because we understand what's possible in the realm of computing. It's unmoored from the realities of like physical things, you can produce an infinite number of copies of something, you can give an individual the power of a larger institution with just the screen pewter, and with mobile, all of that becomes available to every person on earth. But what I realized was that while mobile had become the dominant interface for interacting with the web, there was basically no way to build the web on that device. And so to me, the reason why mobile is so exciting is because when computing becomes mainstream becomes universal, it becomes culture. And if that culture is fundamentally a one way street, where you have producers, and then consumers, but most people are consumers, it's interesting because you have this global scale this global distribution, but it's not nearly as interesting, as if you could actually change the nature of that community such that these billions of people that are now using the internet can actually build the internet, which means that billions of people can actually create culture. They can actually change culture that can put a dent in it, that can put, you know, the reason why it's called universe is because like, you know, we we aspire to put our own dent in the universe. And that's what our tool allows. And it's, it's about the universal scale. And that's a big part of it. Like I wouldn't be satisfied with building a tool that, you know, 100 people or 1000 people could use, even if it was empowering them to express their unique vision. I want to build something that can really change how millions, billions of people think about computing and the internet as a creative experience as opposed to just a consumptive one.

Ben Tossell  20:42

Yeah, I think is interesting, as you were saying, like, about everyone being alone and computing sort of being mainstream. It's coming through the mobile phone and I'm like, iPhones change that for forever. And the thing is, Then was thinking about as you're talking was, it's more of the, of the translation of what I see on the web, on my laptop. And then what I see on my mobile is very different. Like you said, it's, if I'm reading one website on my laptop is a very different experience. There's a lot more real estate when you're on your, on your Mac, or whatever to compare to what is available on mobile. And maybe it's like, they're just not that many good experiences to translate the to like back and forth. There's, there's ways you can design stuff on a computer for a mobile device. But like you said, there's no like there's no way to do that the other way around. There's no like, easy way at the moment. Well, there wasn't until you guys came around, but like that's sort of some space that i've i've not thought about because everyone whenever you were building something previously, everyone will say I'll make sure you build make sure you test this responsive and all this sort of stuff. But you're doing that on a laptop, usually you do not on a computer, rather than the reverse, where, like, I want to be on the go, I'm just looking for something simple. I'm trying to get something up really quickly. I don't know what it's going to become. I don't want to sit down on my computer and have this big sketch of what I'm going to build and try and do all that it's more of a incremental thing that I'm just almost like a game like experience on my mobile that then becomes this experience that I've managed to create from a mobile to your laptop.

22:32

Yeah. And to that point, like the way I look at it, is it the interface that mobile devices use of touch of being you know, able to be in your pocket, that is a much more human interface. So it lends itself to new, more human tools, right like ar, ar, if you think about it, like when the Mac first came out in 1984, and introduced a GUI and that is graphical interface was far more human than the command line that you needed to use to interact with computers before. on the desktop, everything has flowed from that graphical user interface. Everything is flowed from the mouse and the keyboard, that the the Mac introduce. We're still in that paradigm, right? Every no code tool that exists for the desktop, is working in the wake of the desktop paradigm that is about you know, almost 40 years old. with mobile with multi touch, you're touching the thing itself. And a lot of the interface patterns are still to be designed. They don't exist in the same way that they do for desktop, which is sort of solidified over 40 year history. And so what that means is you can design interfaces that are a lot more natural and human because you're touching the thing directly, which is also why I've been very interested in mobile. It's it's a much more direct interface.

24:00

Do you think that

Ben Tossell  24:02

that like, obviously things with the iPad Pro and all these other tablets and things, you think it's going to become more of a thing on like laptops and computers where you end up touching the screen and moving everything around. And we'll sort of have a cross experience on both that is similar because you see, like, the iPad has this touch in the face, but then they have things like the pencil or they have the keyboard that attaches it. So it's like, we trying to just do mobile stuff on a computer where it shouldn't maybe do like be separate things or they should be separate things rather and like not try and merge them so much. And you really do think that at some point, I mean, it obviously on a long enough time scale, but like in the next 1020 years, you think that like a trackpad or a mouse and keyboards are here to stay or do you think fundamentally that they'll be gone and it'll be More of a touch touch like interface.

25:03

Yeah, a few things there. I think that

25:08

I think that

25:11

when people think about iOS as a to my earlier point, mobile isn't just about mobile, it's about, you're taking all of the lessons of the past 30 years in computing, and applying them to a new paradigm. So that new paradigm means that it can fit in your pocket that you don't need to plug it in all day. Last battery's wireless. It has a persistent internet connection. It has a camera in it and all these things. And it's touch based and it has an accelerometer, and it has all of these sensors that allow you to use it more naturally. Now we say okay, so we built it as a tiny screen. Can you apply the same principles to other screens, that makes sense because you don't want to use the tiny screen for everything. Sometimes you want a bigger surface. Now. Apple introduced that vision have larger screen with the iPad, it was sort of a dormant evolution for a while, until a couple years ago, they really picked it back up, and they'd been involving it. And so we talked about this with Ryan, our CTO a lot. He believes that I'm inclined to as well that you know, the iPad and the touch and don't think about is the iPad, just think about it as iOS, iOS and the iOS paradigm will extend to every form factor and every screen size. So you could imagine having a 30 inch sort of slate on your screen. Now there's a question of like ergonomics and there are different tools and input methods that make sense depending on what you're trying to do. Like for example, you know, again, take it back to the physical world we still have pens even though the the form factor of a pen is old it like I don't like it is more economically beneficial to look straight ahead of the thing and then control it with you know, your capital. Rather with your fingers like this, rather than having to hold your hand up for hours at a time. So I don't think we're going to be in a world where we're interacting with a desktop computer, the way that we interact with our phones. With that said, I do think that evolving from the phone to build a new tool set of interfaces makes a lot of sense. So for example, now Apple just introduced trackpad support on the iPad. And it's really cool. And it's going to empower and open up a lot of new interfaces. So I think we're on a trajectory of a lot of experimentation actually, in computing interfaces, and that we're just getting started. And I don't, I don't think anything will disappear, especially things that are so entrenched, like a keyboard and a mouse. There's a reason why they work. And I think there's a lot of wisdom in that. And so I wouldn't dismiss that I actually think I actually think this connects in an interesting way to a point you made earlier about the web and and you know, the sort of the The staying power of the web. And in this idea, everyone thought the web was going to die. And I think there was a moment where I was persuaded by that argument as well. Because I was using these native apps. And there's so much better in a lot of ways. From a UX perspective, what I realized was that the web is great because it's universal, because it's everywhere. And most things,

28:24

care more about distribution than anything else. So for example, if you are building a presence for your business on the internet, you want it to be available in as many places as possible. You want to be searchable on Google. You want to be available on phones on computers, you want to be available on through SMS, you want it to be available on Facebook, what you care about is that your business your shingle is visible everywhere. And that's the web's killer feature. the web's killer feature is that it's everywhere and no question. proprietary platform has that feature. So yeah, is it in perfect? Absolutely Is there a lot of these are 20 years of cruft built on top of it, absolutely. But it's got the killer feature that it's available everywhere. And because it's been available everywhere, that is a virtuous cycle. It's more important every day that goes by because it's, it continues to ingratiate itself in more and more things. So the network of the web, it's just it is it is so important and so vital to society that everyday becomes more important because of that thing and more enduring. So I don't think the web, I think it will change and it will evolve, but it won't, it will not go anywhere. I think, in fact, it's going to become more important. I think one of the things that we can help do over the long run is really improve the user experience of the internet and really improve improve the user experience of the web. Because there are rough areas, and we're starting with improving the UX of creating the web, but you can imagine that we can you know Improve the UX of experiencing the web of, you know, interacting with the web. That's all in the cards for us. The thing I'd say is like, to me, the web is, it is such an inspiring thing. Because if you think about it, the web does not have a single author. The web is built by billions of people. It's, I think, the greatest things thing that humans have ever built. Because it's the sort of collection of our knowledge and our learnings and it's evolving, and it's built by everybody. And it's, it's just so it is it is so in many ways like it. It sounds like a theoretical utopian idea, but it's actually real, like we interact with this thing, that no one company, no one individual controls, and it's so vital. And so, to me, when I think about it's like what the universe is, how do we, you know, how do we push that forward, and how do we broaden that of who can be a part of that, and improve the experience that should that that that is something that we love to do, and that we're pushing forward on a daily basis. So, yeah, that's that's a little bit of my thinking there.

Ben Tossell  31:14

Yeah. Well, I mean, we've geeked out a bit about like interfaces and went down. Like that a bit. But I wonder then, you talk about it. Universe being for everyone, and for probably the least, the less technically minded folks. So how, how are you translating the power of all this stuff? And like, all these deep thoughts that you've had, how have you put that into, like the mom and pop shops that you can say, yeah, how do you look here? You can use this or you can do this. So

31:48

yeah, it's a great question. So and that I think mirrors our journey as a company. When I started, the company had all these highfalutin ideas and the first product that we built Wasn't a website builder, it was a sort of open ended creation tool that was not on the web. And it was a really cool vision and expressed all these ideas, but no one understood what it was for. And we certainly didn't have, you know, Mom and Pop small businesses using it. They didn't he never understand what the what it was what the point was. And so about three years ago, he pivoted into this direction, to make it more concrete and practical as a website builder. And when you say the word website, people understand what you're talking about, because we had the website is a part of the fabric of everyday life. And so if I say, hey, Ben, do you want to create this new kind of interactive artifact that exists on the web in this app that you download? Or do you want to create a website it's just much clearer and if you don't have any the context of the tech world, you know, you still understand what a website is, and you still know that you need one. If you're a business, you want to have a presence on the internet. So that was a big evolution. And then you say, Okay, how do you make the user experience of this simple enough that anybody can use it in, my mom could use it, whatever. And what that involves doing is taking the stack of tools that are normally involved in setting up shop and streamlining it into an experience that is abstracted from the technical underpinnings. So what do I mean by that? Like when you sign up for universe, we include a domain, we don't even call it a domain. It's just the name of your site. And so a lot of people don't know what a domain is. There's no mention of DNS configuration or anything like that. We just set it all up. But then, you know, one thing that we realized is that people now they get a domain, their site automatically hosted with us, they don't have to think about that. They don't have to think about the HTML or the JavaScript, it's all done. But then they say, Okay, well, now I have this great domain. I want people to be able to contact me through that domain. Like I want people I want An email address with that domain. So then people start asking us for an email address. And I never thought building a UI, you know, a design tool. We're never I never thought I was going to be in the email business. Well, it turns out, you know, now that you have your place online, people want to reach out to you with that address. And so we now have a service that allows you to accept email with the domain that you've purchased through us. And then, you know, people say, Okay, well, I want analytics on my site. And so we show you how much traffic you're getting. And then people say, Well, I want to collect the information of the people who visit my site so that I can keep them in the loop. So we give you a mailing list couple of your site, and then people say, Well, I want to sell things on my site. So we now have our own payments tool. So what we're doing is we're taking this stack of tools that normally would require that you go to seven different companies and services, and we're putting it all under one roof in one streamlined interface that requires that you know, none of that those particulars and so that's really the value add that we Provide, it's like how do you take that stack of things that requires esoteric knowledge and presented it in one unified interface? So that's super, super easy.

Ben Tossell  35:09

Yeah. And just like selling that, and the job to be done on that end solution, saying I want to take emails, like saying that sentence or whatever it is that someone says, rather than, okay, so I typed in Google, here's 250, email marketing companies, I've gotten my juice from, where do I start? So with those tools, if you if you build, like, the simplest versions of these tools yourself, or is it something you're like integrating with other tools to handle,

35:36

our usual approach is that we try and start with the minimum thing, which often involves using another service. So let's talk about commerce. We started with adding basically a PayPal and square cash block in our system, so that you could take payment through those services. And people started using that for things that PayPal itself We're cash we're not designed to do like selling products and selling services and selling content. And so then we said, okay, well, how can we do a more robust integration? Well, we then built an integration with Shopify. So you can pull in your Shopify inventory, we make the process super simple. The problem with that is you got to sign up for Shopify and Shopify, while an amazing company and product, it's not a mobile first product. And so it requires that you do a lot of upfront work, it's expensive. The implication with Shopify is that you're starting a store, whereas a lot of the people who use universe aren't at that level, they're they're just selling a product, we're getting started, they're expressing an idea. And so, you know, the demand has always been there for a native payment solution that we do. But for us, you know, that's a huge task, right? Like, you know, it's stepping into very sort of sensitive areas. So we say, okay, what's the minimum thing we can do here? It's also very versatile allows us to learn how it's being used, we realized is that we could basically make a Buy button. And that Buy button wouldn't be tied to inventory. And wouldn't have tax computation. It wouldn't have shipping information. But it would allow you to take money through your site through universe without having to sign up for anything else. And in our first version of it, it didn't even collect shipping information. So it just let you take money from someone online. And then you could contact them and get whatever information you needed. And we built that internally. And it was really cool. And it felt really right, because you can use that block. You can use that button for taking money for a service, a donation, but you can also sell a product with it. It's just very, very versatile. Then we rolled it out to some of our creators in a beta and what we realized was that, you know, table stakes and VP you actually need to collect shipping information because that's used so often. That like it is so unwieldy to not do it so easily. have that. And then finally we released it, but it still doesn't have inventory management still doesn't have tax still doesn't have like shipping mailing lists, you know, mailing labels, things like that. So but from here will now iterate, it will now continue to grow it and evolve it. And maybe, you know, we'll actually divide out the different functions of what you do with payments. So maybe we'll have a shopping block, and maybe we'll have a donation block, like maybe these things start to splinter as the use cases evolve. So for us, it's about what we were talking about earlier, which is we put something out there, we see how it's used, we learn and then we take our next foot forward, and we are iterating our product on a weekly basis. So if you download universe today and subscribe, it's actually gonna get better every week.

Ben Tossell  38:45

for free. Yeah,

38:47

well, is that

Ben Tossell  38:50

is that like a huge? I mean, I think I know it is a huge undertaking, but I was gonna say is that like a huge undertaking thinking okay, well, we're going to build this way. Website Builder on mobile for the web. And also then build payments from scratch, which include all the complexities of that and then build email subscriptions from scratch and build all these things like, does this then require this company to have to have tons of teams and tons of people like managing? Okay, we're on the payments team on the donation button. We're on the email marketing team for this type of stuff.

39:30

Yeah, it's a great question. I think there's two ways of looking at on the one hand, to your point, it's like, wow, that seems like an impossible challenge. On the other hand, is there anything more exciting there we have a mandate to build this suite of tools that allows people to build and grow on the internet. And that is an infinite problem, and an infinitely open possibility space. Like is there anything more exciting than that, you know? The question then is okay, if I'm bought into this idea that we can sort of redesign the stack of tools for creating on the internet and making that far more user friendly and far more universally, who can access it? were bought into that vision, we're talking about a company that can be humongous. The question is, what is the sequence? What is the order of operations to get there? And how do you start like, because you can't, we're a tiny team, we're 12 people, you can't do it all today. Right? We started as a landing page builder, a single page site with four blocks that you could add to your site, photos, text, videos, links, I was it. And now you know, we have this infinite sort of array of things that you can do with your say, as many pages as you want. You can sell things you can email address your analytics. And so for us, it's about saying, Okay, what is that it's a growing pie and what we do about over time, we like to do thing. Something does have to give. However, when you when you're working on an infinite possibility space, like, with limited resources, something has to give there. And so the way that we look at it is you just start small, right? So you start small, and you don't put anything out that you're not excited about or proud of. But what gives is scope. So you say, okay, you want to do something in payments? Well, we're not going to go build a one to one Shopify replacement, but we'll build something small. That gives you a taste of it. Yeah, it's not gonna work for every use case, but that's okay. And then we evolve it and we evolve it. And so I think though, the challenge for us as we grow you're right is how do we prioritize the different parts of our stack? And, you know, how do we decide where we throw resources, but this is What we're hired to do, this is our job like that's, that's the challenge. And that's the opportunity. But if we play our cards right, to your point, we have this mandate to basically redesign the UX of creating on the internet. And that is just an awesome problem and design space to work it.

Ben Tossell  42:22

Yeah, exactly. That's certainly a big creative space for you to plan. And what are some what are some of the most interesting things you've seen people use universe to build?

42:36

I like we've, we just had some incredible stories. So there's one story where a guy named Marcel, he was homeless, he's living in his car. And he reached out to us and he said, Hey, you guys, this app changed my life. I was living in my car, and I had an idea for a hoodie and I mock it up to my phone and I found your app and I put it on the web and they are flying off the shelves. And I'm in business. And my app is my life has changed. So we actually told Apple about this. And Apple was like, Oh my gosh, and they sent a reporter to South Carolina, the profile. This guy isn't the photographer from New York, and they wrote a profile on him and his, his store. And hundreds of millions of people in the App Store I've seen it. So it's one incredible thing, but every day, it's like, you know, you've got someone like that who's really an artist and expressing their vision. And then you have someone in

43:41

Kentucky who is selling

43:44

fish, you know, live fish that he breeds. You've got a jewelry designer in Saudi Arabia, you've got poets who are creating new kind of new kinds of writing and prose So like, every single day, we actually, so we rolled out this payment tool the other day and already like, it's so cool to see what people are doing it like, here's like the range of things. So, with COVID going on in the world sort of in flux, people are getting entrepreneurial. Yeah. On universe instantly, we already had people making their own face masks with their own art on them, and have people making their own hand sanitizer, like with their own recipes. So cool, right, like you build this thing. And then like, the next day, there's some creative person is like, I can make my own hand sanitizer with my own packaging. And someone else you've never met that person can now buy it anywhere they are. It's really, really cool. Right? And, you know, but on the other hand, so that's timely, but you know, I was looking, there's someone who

44:57

they have a service where they will clean Your comic books.

45:03

So like, the most random thing, I didn't know that was a thing. But it is. And now someone is in business doing that on the web. And they have this beautiful site that showcases their work. You know, there's someone in Tennessee, who said, I love and he makes trailers that you can tow, but they're tear shaped trailers. So they sort of look like this a bit. And he custom makes them and they're, you know, you go camping with it, or whatever. And they're beautiful. And this person's never built a website before. But now he has this amazing, you know, gallery and showcase of his work online. So it's just our tool is a vessel that helps people who have a unique vision to express that for the world. And so every day we get to see another glimpse of the world and it's just incredibly inspiring. We actually have a gap It's explore.on universe calm. And you can see some of the sites that people are making. We're constantly updating that gallery to showcase the most creative use cases of our tool.

Ben Tossell  46:12

Awesome. Well, yeah, check that out. Awesome. Well, I'm just I know we were almost a time. I just wanted to sort of see you. You did this. The announcement for your raise was out. Was it yesterday, day before yesterday?

46:25

Yes. Today's

Ben Tossell  46:26

Tuesday. It does go and yeah, I mean, it's big news. And yeah, excited to see what, what's next for you guys.

46:37

Yeah, I mean, it's really it is really, really exciting. We're very fortunate to be in the place that we're in. We have we couldn't be more excited about what we're working on. And I can speak for myself. This is something I've been dreaming about for a long time, and we now have the space and The time and the people and the sort of the mandate to go and do it. And so we have a lot of work ahead of us, it will not be easy. And there's a lot of things we're gonna have to figure out. But it's, it's on us in a lot of ways. And that is an incredibly exciting and privileged and fortunate place to be. And so looking ahead, we are going to double down, we're going to be more ambitious, we're going to raise the bar, we're going to invent more. And we don't see any limit there. So we're looking for the best people in the world who are passionate about this to join us. And the next year, two years are going to be an incredibly exciting period for us. And so, you know, just gonna take all the learnings that we've got to date and double down and raise the bar and build something incredible. You know, I think that my hope can make things a little bit more timely is that I think, you know, one of the things that this question Prices the corona crisis has sort of, I think shown clearly is the importance of the internet. And I, you know, I think leading up to this point, there was a lot of backlash against technology and the Internet, and all these bad things, and that, but like the internet is incredible technology has in measurably improved our lives, and, you know, it is technology is our hope we need to, it's not perfect. But that is where progress comes from. And I hope that attitudes change in this area, and I hope that, uh, you know, my aspiration at universe is to really show a future that is optimistic, and that is wonderful, and that everyone can be a part of, and that's what we're about here. And, you know, so we welcome people to join the cause in any way if there are users who want to build for the first time if they're engineer You want to make tools that empower people, if they are designers who are obsessed with new kinds of interfaces that we've never seen before? If they're marketers and storytellers that will help you get this message to the world and break into the culture. That's what we're looking for. So,

Ben Tossell  49:20

yeah, awesome. Well, the passion and excitement definitely comes through. So yeah, it's been awesome to sort of see see universe grow. And yeah, we're proud to be a partner with with you guys. So where can people find you? And we'll, we'll wrap it up there.

49:39

Yeah, for sure. So

49:43

people can find universe in the App Store, just type in universe and women the top results. You can find me firstly on the web, my site is Coen dot space. And you can learn all about me there and follow my blog and everything else. I'm also on Twitter and at Joseph Cohen and

50:04

at JMC on Instagram.

Ben Tossell  50:06

Awesome. Well, yeah, thanks so much for coming on. It's been. It's been awesome. I really, really appreciated it. So

50:13

yeah, I mean, I am a huge fan of what you're doing, man, I, you know, I reached out when I saw what you're up to, I think we are. You know, like, there's no code locally, it's obvious, it's obviously going to happen. And it's so cool to see it coming together and putting a label on it and making it a movement in that way. And you're very much a leader in that movement, and so super excited to be here and be a partner with maker pad.

50:41

I really appreciate that. Thanks so much.

Ben Tossell  50:44

Thanks so much for listening. You can find us online at maker pad.co or on Twitter at make that we'd love to hear if you enjoyed this episode, and what we should do next.

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