Can you tell me in your own words what Diagonal View do and what your role is there?
We make videos for the internet. Primarily we post those videos on Facebook and YouTube. My role is that I’m the founder of the business and so I help think around ways we can improve what we do today and what we can do tomorrow.
What’s your working day look like?
I get to work around 9:30am, talk to some people about what I’ve been thinking about overnight, about what we can make and how we can make it, and also think about what we can do to make life better for ourselves, like watering a plant or cleaning up coffee stains on tables. Literally. In fact, I did that just today. Then I have lunch with a couple of people from work or a couple of clients, and it’s from both of those potential lunches that I like to learn a little bit about the marketplace. What did we learn internally about what we do, and why did we do it better than last time? Or if it’s an external piece, what are they learning about the market, what are they worried about, and what works for them and why?
What drives you?
At my core – I think everyone needs a belief, every thinking thing needs a belief, and one layer down from that is what’s important. Not important as in terms of leaving a legacy but what’s important if you’re going to spend your time being – being isn’t easy – what makes it worthwhile? What makes that wind in your face a gentle warm wind rather than a cold acerbic wind? Whether it’s self-deception or something that you believed in first that pushed the rock at the top of the hill and now you’re just following it to the bottom is your internal motivation. Storytelling is at the centre of humanity and you can look at something and think “that’s terrible”, or look at the exact same thing and think “oh my god that’s wonderful” and it comes down to storytelling to differentiate the two. And that’s what we do.
Who do you think is the greatest YouTuber?
So I think there are two guys who naturally do what they do and they happen to do it on YouTube. They’re called F2, I’ve known them a long time, and I actually believe they’re born to do tricks, football tricks, on the internet. And they satisfy a need – everyone is waiting for the next football trick to happen.
There’s a philosophy for life.
Yeah, exactly. What has society come to? They’re a metaphor for today. They’re perfect for their medium.
What did your parents do? Did they have similar careers?
In a literal sense, no. But in a metaphorical sense, possibly. My mum’s a teacher and then transitioned to running a program for gifted and talented kids. My dad was a teacher who then became a commodity trader. Both of them were in education and both of them transitioned, but I think most importantly they invested in people. And 90-95% of my job is investing in people. I hate to think that some people aren’t good at all – and it’s about finding that part of them that’s good and improving it.
What did you train in?
I wish I’d trained in something but I don’t think education and training are synonymous. My degree was in English and also Economics. It would be great to do a Creative Writing course in the future. It’s a completely different practice to think about the medium and then the message.
What was school like for you? Has education or experience been most important?
I think there are people who tick boxes and people who internally believe. For me school was extremely important, I wasn’t necessarily naturally a structured learner but what’s great about school is that it taught me how to learn in a structure, which I could then use for the rest of my life. One of my best friends at school is still one of my best friends today and he says to me, “Jeez, you still read a lot”. One of my other friends, Mary Beard, is a critic, with a double-first from Cambridge and I said to her that I’d read her book SPQR, a history of Rome, and she said: “I don’t think anyone else has read it yet”. Obviously, it had been reviewed, but it’s 600 pages and I have a two-year-old. So I guess it wasn’t about school, exactly, but about learning to learn that was the most important.
Who are you inspired by?
Continually I’d say I’m inspired by people who give a shit and there’s so few of them, but maybe that’s a London thing. I’m not sure there are many people who actually care anymore.
Who do you respect?
I respect Buzzfeed. I think that data-based production process is undervalued in the market, and understanding how to parse an audience into specific interests and then satisfy those interests is modern-day alchemy.
Whose content do you love?
I think if I look at people who are really doing a good job with content, I’d say Participant Films, the ex-eBay guy who is funding socially formatted films. So he’s a give-a-shit person. The studio’s LA-based and that idea that film media can make a difference is a pretty amazing thing in this era.
What’s the most stressful part of your job?
Probably the money part. I think the people who I work with are incredibly talented and I’d love to pay them more. It’s not about the business making money it’s about wanting them to be paid what they’re worth.