Tickets Podcast: Betaworks’ James Cooper on building products, brands, and communities

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Spend some time around the world of startups and it probably won’t be long until you hear someone mention the term startup studio.

It’s recently become a bit of a buzz term for consultancies, ad agencies and brands, but New York company Betaworks have been working in and around this area for over a decade.

As well as their work building and investing in companies, Betaworks have recently opened Studios, their own membership space in the city’s Meatpacking district.

James Cooper is the company’s head of creative, working across a diverse range of projects from GIF sharing platforms to spatial design, voice recognition to meditation.

We talked about how we can use technology to escape technology, what Betaworks look for when programming live events, the future of the shared experience, and the benefits to looking outside to find inspiration in an always-on digital world.

Episode Overview

04:00 Going from digital to physical products

07:00 Why now for building a brick & mortar space?

10:00 The thought process behind Studios’ live event programming

18:00 The role of a creative director in a startup studio

25:00 Inside Betaworks’ ‘Camp’ accelerator program

33:00 The future of the shared experience; from games, to meditation, live quizzes and beyond

37:00 Where James finds inspiration, and how he stays on track

40:00 Advice for people wanting to build something new

About James

James has been Head of Creative at start-up studio Betaworks since 2013. His role is to explore creative opportunities for betaworks products and tell the betaworks brand story. Some of the betaworks brands include the no.1 game, Dots, which has been downloaded over 150 million times and won many industry awards.

Other betaworks products include GIPHY, the search engine for Gifs recently valued at $600M, Poncho, the most popular bot on Facebook and recent star of Apple’s, ‘Planet of the App’s and Dexter, a bot building platform. James also produced ‘The Intern’, a hit podcast about working in betaworks and the tech world.

Recently James launched betaworks Studios, a club for builders. Studios is a physical space where the new generation of builders can find one another and learn the secrets of sustained innovation betaworks has uncovered over the last ten years.

Before betaworks, James was a creative director in the ad world where he has won many awards including two gold lions at Cannes. He was a Creative Partner at Anomaly and ran Dare – named Digital Agency of the Decade in London and sold for $50m in 2007.  

Knowing what’s more trouble than it’s worth

A friend was recently given a cheesemaking class as a gift. 

The class focused on how to make the soft Italian cheese burrata.

It was a thoughtful gift: he likes cooking, traditional crafts, and learning how things work. He also loves burrata.

The class was thorough, authentic, educational and fun.

But it didn’t really work out.

He realised making burrata was just more trouble than it was worth.

There’s a long setup, it’s messy, and easy to make mistakes. 

The option of paying $7, $10, $12, or even $15 for burrata from a shop or a restaurant was still far more appealing to him.

The class itself was worth it, but building the actual core skill to a useable level (and thus rendering the alternatives at least partially redundant) just wasn’t.

Whether gifts, hobbies, or ventures, we often put ourselves at a disadvantage by taking on things that are more trouble than they’re worth.

It’s worth taking a moment to ask what would really this thing worthwhile for us.

It could be the outcome, the effort, the experience, or even discovering it’s not in fact worth it.

This way, we can choose to step in fully, or just save ourselves the trouble.

Be the person you needed when you were younger

Brad Montague of Montague Workshop.

A couple of months after we moved to New York it was time for our first trip outside the city. For that Thanksgiving weekend we flew out to rural Kentucky.

After a few days of bourbon, turkey, southern hospitality and some insights into American culture beyond the bi-coastal bubble, it was time to head back to NYC.

As the evening drew in on a sleepy flight home and the sky rolled from bright blue to deep pink and then dark grey, I noticed the glow of a laptop a couple of rows in front of me.

On the screen was what looked like a social media post being prepared. You know the type – a beautiful stock photo overlaid with a motivational quote in a mid-weight font.

The image could have been anything – it didn’t stick with me at all.

The text is still completely clear in my mind.

Be the person you needed when you were younger.

Not a bad mantra.

And unlike the social media feeds it ephemerally dissolved into, I’ve kept it pinned on my desktop ever since.

As a new year begins to unfold I’m still aiming to be the person I needed when I, and maybe a few others like me, were younger.

Who was the person you needed when you were younger?

It’s a question worth asking.

Note: The quote originally comes from Ayesha Siddiqui.

Undertaking an Annual Life Review (a Guide & Template)

This Medium post by Steve Schlafman hit my Twitter feed earlier this week.

I’ve tried reviews like this before but the process always felt either overly complicated and heavy, or too ethereal.

Steve’s method strikes a really good balance.

As I was working through it, I realised I was straddling two Google docs (one Sheet and one Doc), so I merged them into one and added some formatting to clean it up a bit and make it easier to navigate.

I was tempted to dive in on adding some more functionality but I think this time less is more.

Steve kindly agreed to share this template in the original post – hopefully it’ll help you undertake your own annual life review.

I’m happy to offer feedback if you’d like to share your own review – just drop me a line.

Original post:


Best of…

Writing a blog at a typewriter.

I started writing here in 2015, and there are now over 150,000 words on these pages, as well as various videos, slide decks, mixtapes, diagrams and other ideas.

The main themes I write about include careers, entrepreneurship, the future of education, culture, and the media & entertainment industry.

I’m particularly interested in the overlaps between these areas, and other themes and trends that are starting to connect and collide with them.

Listed below are a few of my most popular posts…

I really value getting feedback, comments and questions on my writing – please don’t be shy to leave a comment or contact me directly here.

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Diving Deep as a Coach

Moving towards something transformational beneath the surface.

The time between 15 and 17 years old were not my finest.

I got suspended from school 3 times, dyed my hair some terrible colours, got in (minor) trouble with the police, probably aged my parents by 10 years and was generally pretty difficult.

Then something happened. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I suddenly got it together and became a decent, if not spectacular, student. 

Although I kept brushing with the law (this time via organising illegal parties in the woods), at least this time my parents were in the loop. 

My Dad even helped us pull our sound system’s petrol generator up a hill early one Sunday morning.

my brother and I in Barcelona, circa 2000. Thankfully my hair hasn’t been as short since.

A few months after pulling myself out of this teenage trough of my own making, we went on a family holiday to Malta.

I still had an element of that self-centred air of wanting to be somewhere else, but for the most part I opted in.

One day my Dad, my brother and I went down to the bay to try out scuba diving. My Dad has spent his entire career around the ocean – in the merchant navy, working on oil tankers, auditing mega-yachts, and acting as an expert witness in shipping-related court cases. But somehow he’d never found the time to go diving.

We kitted up and headed out a couple of dozen yards into the water with our instructor. 

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What kind of artist are you?

Finding out with three lines, a few dots, and a long-sleeved shirt

Note: I found this post in my drafts today as I was looking for the shirt diagram. This post originates from May 2015. Even though some of my thinking has evolved since then I’ve decided to publish it in its original form.

Storage Solutions

When I moved into my current flat, clothes storage became a hot topic of conversation (I’m of that age now…).

The bedroom’s long and fairly narrow shape meant we needed to utilise height. We didn’t want to default to Ikea, and a lovely hand-crafted wardrobe was a little out of budget.

After much deliberation, a shopfitters’ storage rack was purchased; floor to ceiling on castors, with three shelves and two rails for jackets, trousers and of course shirts.

Once assembly was complete (slightly quicker than an Ikea nightmare build, but only just), I loaded everything on board only to find I had a surplus.

We’d vowed to keep the new place bereft of clutter, so I started working through everything, culling anything that had been on the substitute’s bench for more than 6 months.

When it came to the pile of shirts I’d rapidly thrown into a bag on moving day, I was shocked to discover that nearly half were either too long, some too wide (the ‘tent’ look), or with sleeves too short.

The Shirt Dilemma

Months later, long after the ill-advised purchases had been given to a better home, I saw this going around on Twitter;

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Tickets Podcast: Rob Fitzpatrick on how to create compelling workshops, programs and products

Listen now:
Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Overcast | Spotify | Stitcher | Acast | Google Play

In a world that’s now full of influencers, thought leaders and keynote speakers, how do you know who’s worth paying your attention, or your money, to?

What sets the best education experiences apart from the rest?

And how do you know if your new business idea is worth pursuing?

Today on Tickets we delve into the answers to these questions and much more with Rob Fitzpatrick.

Rob has been working in entrepreneurship and education for over 10 years as a founder, author and educator.

His first book ‘The Mom Test’ has become a staple of the startup world, and next up is ‘The Workshop Survival Guide’ – debunking many of the myths about experiential learning, and giving a helping hand to those wanting to deliver workshops that…work.

In this episode we also talk about Silicon Valley accelerator programs, the importance of design in education, and the hidden reasons behind getting hired.

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2018 List: Podcasts

Like a lot of people, I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts this year.

It’s too distracting for me to listen to them while I’m working, but I’m lucky enough to live in a central area of a very walkable city so there are plenty of excuses for me to listen to the spoken word whilst in the space between. 

Subway commute, walking commute, or scenic route, plus going to the gym, airports or train stations.

Last week someone said to me they’d love to see inside other people’s Netflix history as it would tell them so much about that person.

Perhaps podcasts are even more personal, and telling.

As you can probably deduce from this list, my listening themes this year have revolved around entrepreneurship, dealing with transitions, and understanding the self.

I’ve struggled with fiction podcasts (definitely still prefer books, and the paper kind at that), although I’d like to dive into these more in 2019

In no particular order here are my favourite podcast episodes I’ve listened to this year – and one that I skipped.

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Build, Buy, Borrow, or…

A few weeks ago I was teaching a course at the HQ of one of the biggest and well-storied companies in the US. 

During the lunch break I started chatting to one of their senior HR execs. Within a few minutes we’d got into everything from Chinese innovation to the EU working directive and NYC’s freelance scene.

All these subjects touched on the 3 key components he considered when  building and extending the organization’s talent capabilities:

Build: Level up the existing workforce. 

Buy: Hire more full time employees. Resource reliability, but top talent will keep getting more expensive.

Borrow: Bring in freelancers, consultants, agencies, or other service providers. There’s expertise ready to be put to work, and lower overheads to go with it, but when they’re done a big chunk of knowledge leaves with them.

But while before there were 3, now there are 4. And this fourth element has created a new whole new set of questions, considerations, and conversations, and affects the existing 3 pillars as well.

You probably know what it is.


Automate. Use machine learning. Remove humans. 

The question he is now asked most often about talent development is how machines can be used.

A question asked far less often: Why?

And more specifically, why they should be used at all.

There’s plenty we can do, but far less we should do.

Whenever the conversation shifts to Build, Buy, Borrow or Bot – it’s better to go back and start with Why.