A Q&A session with the founder of Max Gladwell
Max Gladwell was founded by writer and entrepreneur Rob Reed. So as a primer for the interviews we’ll be doing with people who are at the nexus of social media and green living, this Q&A seemed like a good place to start.
Max Gladwell: How did you come up with the name for the blog?
Rob Reed: It actually just came to me. With past projects or companies, I’ve had to bang my head against the wall for weeks trying to come up with a catchy and meaningful brand name or a made-up word that could also be registered. It can be a mind-numbing process. This time, I just went on a bike ride and Maxwell Gladwell came out of it. The domains were available and that was that. It took all of a day.
MG: Why did you go with a person’s name? Is this a pseudonym?
RR: No, it’s not a pen name. At least not in the traditional sense. It’s a brand that happens to take the form of a person’s name. Some names are brands; this brand is a name. It’s also got to do with the nature of social media. It’s about the individual, and I wanted a brand that could participate in the social web on that level. Plus, Max Power wasn’t available.
MG: Since the social web is about transparency, do you think this approach is secretive or disingenuous in any way?
RR: No, not at all. I don’t represent myself as Max Gladwell. My email is rob at maxgladwell.com, and I am who I am. The MG social media profiles are built around the brand, but plenty of other companies do that. If there’s ever any confusion, all one has to do is look at the About page. I hate to use this analogy, and it’s not entirely accurate, but the gossip blog Perez Hilton is written by Mario Lavandeira. So there’s a precedent of sorts. More importantly, Max Gladwell has a perspective and mindset that aren’t entirely aligned with mine.
MG: So where do you and Max Gladwell part ways?
RR: It’s not so much that our opinions differ, but the Max Gladwell world view is, quite frankly, more optimistic and idealistic than mine. Max Gladwell is a true believer. Like John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, MG represents an ideal. In this case, it’s the belief that most of humanity’s problems are solvable, that social media can play a huge role in those solutions, and that entrepreneurs are the ones who will drive it. I’m a big supporter of this doctrine, if you will, but I’m not as thoroughly convinced. I’m more pragmatic, cynical, and prone to playing devil’s advocate. Which I also think is good for the sake of debate. I’m sure this seems odd to some. After all, I’m the sole author of the blog at the moment, and I’m conducting this interview with myself.
MG: Is that odd?
RR: Actually, one of the virtues of social media is that you create your own content and tell your own story. All of a sudden every company is also a media company–its own publisher or broadcaster–no matter what their core business happens to be. It’s too important and easy not to. I remember back in Web 1.0, a friend of mine was working for this cell phone site that was spending huge amounts of VC money on advertising. He and I had been magazine editors, and he said, “We could start a magazine about cell phones as a marketing vehicle and make it a profitable business instead of throwing all this money away.” He was so right, and now it takes hardly any money at all to start a blog that serves the same purpose. My point is that I look at this interview as a way to tell the Max Gladwell story. It’s like an FAQ but much more engaging…I hope. So to answer your question, it’s not that strange. Not like Stephen Colbert’s “Formidable Opponent” bit.
MG: But the blog is written in the first person plural of “we” and “our”.
RR: Yeah, that’s my point about the distinction between the blog and me. Like any organization, MG has a mission that can be carried out by anyone. No one can be me, but anyone can blog on behalf of MG and further the mission through its various channels. They can be Max Gladwell for that purpose and represent the brand. Hopefully, there will be an actual “we” sometime soon.
MG: What did you do before starting Max Gladwell?
RR: I’m still working on a tech startup called EthoSquare. We’re in the seed round, and the plan is being revised to include some new developments. In a nutshell, we’re building “The Quality of Life Network”, a web resource where people can utilize information, networking, and other new-media technologies to help them lead healthier, more sustainable lives. It’s a system-based solution for health, fitness, nutrition, green living, education, and doing good. In other words, for improving your quality of life as a whole.
MG: What brought you to “the nexus of social media and green living”?
RR: I’ve been eco-aware and tech-obsessed since college. I used a bike for transportation (and recreation), did some environmental coursework, and was the only kid who used a laptop (Mac) in lectures. Many years later, my work as a writer and entrepreneur lead me to write a business plan for a biodiesel company. This was in 2005, which is when, in my opinion, the current energy crisis really began. It was a point where supply could no longer keep up with demand; as a result, the price of oil and the pace at which we’re heading toward peak output are rapidly increasing. Energy feeds into so many of our problems from food to climate, politics, and our health. That’s my central issue. Solve the energy problem and many others can be more easily worked out.
MG: What turned you onto to social media?
RR: I was a journalist and magazine editor for several years, and I had blogs about mountain biking and skiing back in 2000. They were on the PHP Nuke platform, which was an early type of blog. Social media, especially as a marketing medium, is about content and communication. In many ways it’s about telling a story, and that’s been a big part of my career. Everything else–social networking, lifestreaming, photo sharing, video sharing, crowdsourcing, wikis, user reviews–revolves around content and storytelling. When all of these tools are applied to a specific purpose, such as social good, it becomes something even greater. It becomes part of the solution. I also think social media improves our quality of life in and of itself. I’ve made some great connections and–dare I say–friends as a result of the MG experience. It’s amazing how the social web brings people together. That’s fulfilling and quite valuable.
MG: What’s next for the blog?
RR: We’ve been talking the talk about the virtues of live webstreaming or webcasting on Ustream.tv and Seesmic but have yet to take the leap. We will. We’re also doing some consulting work for companies in this space, which will be properly disclosed. Otherwise, just trying to provide value for those who read the blog and participate in the larger network.