Fakegrimlock, or excuse me: FAKEGRIMLOCK, is technology’s resident dinosaur. He can be found commenting in all caps on Fred Wilson’s blog, tweeting about bacon, and even conducting interviews with technology heavyweights (including our own CBM, pictured above).
But no one knows who he is (except maybe the eight members of the “Bacon Council”). What scant clues he’s left behind include that he lives in DC, used to be from the Midwest, and is involved in startups.
A new era of tech events has begun
We’re back in New York this November for the 4th edition of our growth-focused technology event.
While he’s never done interviews out-of-character before, he agreed to meet in person, out-of-character and help me understand the meaning behind FAKEGRIMLOCK with only one rule: they must serve bacon.
I quickly Googled for the nearest bacon-serving restaurant and made a reservation… Our interview is copied below for your reading pleasure.
Allen Gannett: So how should I address you?
Sorry, let me switch to human mode. It’s hard to turn that off.
AG: I’d imagine. What’s the purpose of what you’re doing?
It’s a proof of concept, it’s to prove a theory. And it’s to prove that who you are doesn’t matter. In fact, truth requires that you aren’t anyone, because if you’re someone, whatever you say is always biased. It’s influenced by what you know about that person.
If you’re Eric Ries, I’m going to assume what you say is true. Because, oh my God! You’re Eric Ries. But if some nobody said what Eric Ries said, most people would say “Oh well it must be false because he’s nobody.” They’re the same words. Words should be true no matter who says them.
So the reason I have to be just a character is that there is no anything else. The words are just the words. And the words are funny and they are ridiculous, but they’re true. And the ridiculousness is to disarm you, so you forget even further. Forget what’s wrapped around it, forget your preconceived notions, forget what you think is going on, just listen to the words. Because I very, very purposefully craft those words to be hard to understand because I want you to stop and think about them. And by stopping and thinking about them, they get past all these filters. I’m completely hacking the social channel that we all rely on.
AG: When you first started, was this the idea?
Oh hell no. I do lean startups. This is a lean startup.
Waiter comes with a plate of bacon, eggs, and a side of butter.
AG: And you ordered bacon.
Yes….I’m going to put the bacon in the butter. Buttered Bacon!
AG: OR Bacon Butter?
Oh… Free product idea!: Bacon Butter.
So it’s a lean startup. I started it as a joke to myself. I was frustrated with the way my last startup was going. I needed a place to vent. So why not? I’ll get on Twitter, make a ridiculous character, and bitch about. And it was funny, and people liked it. And so I said, ok, I can iterate on it. Let’s use the lean startup method. So I just started throwing things out there, trying different kinds of jokes, tried pinging different people. I saw that people in the tech community responded. And I thought, oh, well this is great.
AG: So this started on Twitter?
Totally started on Twitter. Nobody knew who I was. I used none of my connections. I didn’t leverage my friends. Absolutely started from scratch, just randomly on Twitter. Followed a few people, and a few people followed me. And that’s another important part of the thesis: All of the growth in followers is organic. None of it is gimmicked, none of its tricked, none of it’s using some sort of paid service. It is all natural. I realized there is an audience in the tech world that I can reach. And that’s when my thesis of proving that it’s the words not the person that matters emerged.
This is an opportunity that nobody else has to prove: That I can come from nowhere, hack the social channel, and become an authority in tech, with nothing. Purely just because what I say is true.
AG: And this was in 2010?
Yeah, this started in Fall/Winter 2010.
AG: What is the daily schedule? You tweet a lot. Are the content tweets pre-written? Can you walk me through how this all fits in your day?
I wake up.
AG: You do that too?
I do! It’s amazing. I wake up. I drink coffee. Have my bacon. Tweet. In the morning, I’ll do a couple of tweets. And then if I’m doing something really boring during the day, like having a meeting that’s completely unnecessary, I might tweet out then. Or if I’m eating lunch, going to Starbucks to get another coffee, I tweet on the way.
The key here is that the people I work with have no idea…at all. No one I work with has any idea. As far as they know, I’m just some dude. They think I’m just checking my calendar or something.
AG: This is going to be weird, but I can take a picture of what you’re eating?
AG: It’ll be some good color for the intro.
We should get some red sauce and spread it all over the plate…. “The waiter didn’t survive.”
AG: So people have no idea what you’re doing?
No idea. Then at night I come home. I do most of my tweeting late at night.
AG: So how many hours of your evening are taken up by Fakegrimlock related stuff?
Not a lot. Usually 1, maybe 2.
AG: Really? So between the minutes here and there during the day, and at night. Maybe 2-4 hours depending on the day?
Probably not. I would bet it’s less then 2 hours per day because I’m extremely efficient. What I’ve learned from the lean UX process is that I measure everything. I measure what things are successful, what things get retweeted, which things get engagement, what kind of people will get engaged, and I iterate on it. Things that don’t work, I stop doing. Things that do work, I do more. I’ve gotten to the point where I can be effective in very little time every day.
AG: So what’s the most effective communication for you? Is it Twitter? It is commenting on Fred Wilson’s blog?
Let me tell you how Fred Wilson’s blog came about. Actually let me sketch out the history of how FAKEGRIMLOCK started. It started out as nerd humor. I’ve honestly lost most of that base now because I don’t make jokes about nerd humor as much. And that’s something you have to do. When you’re a lean startup you can never be afraid of losing what you have if it means you can gain more. For my purpose, focusing more on startups was way more important.
AG: How do you interact with your followers?
So I have this gamifcation thing called NOEATFRIDAY that came out of a gag I did on Follow Friday.
You see I won’t tell you to follow other people, but I will tell you who I won’t devour. Who deserves to live.
AG: I’m glad I deserve to live by the way.
That became a thing. And I used to say, oh “No Eat Friday” these people. But no, no, no that’s boring. Let’s give a reason each week. So I made up these ludicrous awards each time and that became very effective.
However, I noticed the chicks dig Grimlock. He is number one with the ladies. So because of that, I invented another list, which was the girl-locks to keep track of my groupies. And so I thought that was unfair to the men, so I made a separate list which was the grimlocknots and it confused people for a while. Why were there two separate lists? And I was like, well because….
Then that became a whole thing. You had to earn a certain number of no-eat Fridays, before you get upgraded to the next level. Then I created a third level.
AG: So you’re gamifying your audience?
I’m gamifying my audience. The third level is bacon ninjas and beer-gineers, which have additional rules. There are certain things you must do to reach those ranks.
AG: Do they know what those are?
No they don’t know what the rules are. So some people who’ve achieved it have no idea how they’ve achieved it. It goes all the way up to the 6th level, which requires, and you may be on this list now, you meet me in person, and we collaborate together on something.
AG: Is that in-character or out of character?
Well in-character, more-or-less.
AG: So how many people know who you are?
Very, very, very few.
AG: Under 10?
AG: Under 5?
Probably not. It’s probably over 5.
AG: Are those people you’ve told or figured it out?
People I’ve told. I was a little less careful early on which came back to haunt me a few times. There were several times this came really close to blowing up. Someone ignorantly thought, “I’m going to tell all my friends on Facebook.”
AG: Anyways, so you have gamified your audience?
Yes, gamified the audience.
And hmm, the Fred Wilson thing. So, I used to comment on TechCrunch. There were a whole bunch of people on TechCrunch. And they got sick of the “trolls,” which I’m sure I was counted among one of them, and so TechCrunch chickened out and switched to Facebook comments to get rid of them.
AG: Couldn’t you just do a fake account?
You can, but it’s traceable back to you. And of course I couldn’t do that. So, I dropped TechCrunch. It’s another thing you always have to be willing to do. This is something I learned from Steve Jobs, not personally, but from understanding how he does things: if people will not meet your terms, it doesn’t matter how much damage it does to you, fuck them. You walk away and you don’t work with them.
Because you don’t follow my rules!
AG: What are the rules?
So after I dropped TechCrunch, I was looking around and I discovered Disqus. Disqus is, as far as I’m concerned, the best comment system on the Internet.
I pause to glance at questions on iPad
If you are checking your email while I’m talking, I will murder you.
AG: These are the questions!
Alright so, I found Disqus and I found out it allows you to tweet out everything you’re doing. That’s two birds with one stone. Again, I have to be ultra-efficient.
AG: You can use LiveFyre on our site!
I hate LiveFyre. I’ve used it, it’s terrible. However, with Disqus I can not only tweet everything I comment, which drives traffic back to that blog and back to me but it also can track what I’m doing, allow me to respond to other people, and I can follow other people who are interesting.
AG: There is a community aspect to it.
It has a very strong community aspect to it. You see then, I can follow people who “get it,” who are fans, back to other blogs. See where they are commenting on other blogs, and surreptitiously comment on the same things, creating artificial serendipity.
AG: Interesting. So your rule is that they have to use Disqus?
Disqus or nothing.
AG: But isn’t Fred Wilson’s blog the only example of Disqus’ vision of a community really working?
It’s the best example.
AG: I’ve never seen Disqus used effectively elsewhere.
You can see it on other startup blogs. Chris Dixon’s blog is pretty good for Disqus. But Fred is unique because he very strongly curates his audience and that’s what drives the community.
Anyways, I found Fred’s blog as well as a lot of other ones… Again, lean startup. Shot off comments to a bunch of different places. The place where it took root was Fred’s blog, AVC.com. So I went with it. AVC.com is the reason I do the guest posts. And Disqus is the only reason it happened.
They had a thread where Fred made a comment, “Oh we should totally have FG write a guest post.” I didn’t see it, but I checked Disqus later and someone responded to something else I said. I followed that link back to Disqus, the next comment above that comment, was Fred saying that. If I hadn’t checked back on Disqus to reply to someone, totally would’ve missed it, never would’ve happened.
AG: How many guest posts have you done so far?
I don’t know, like 5? There’s more in the works.
Does Fred know who you are?
No. No idea. And doesn’t want to know.
AG: Do you have any compelling need to reveal yourself?
AG: Not in that way!
[Laughs] What do you mean? I’m naked all the time, they don’t make clothes my size.
AG: So no compelling need to tell Fred Wilson who you are, because maybe you’d be best friends?
No. Because I don’t need to. The point of this is that anyone can do this.
AG: You have a lot of self control.
Yes. And that’s another key to success: Everything is about what you’re doing. Everything else has to go away. Forget everything else, forget the other things, all the wants, the needs, the petty things you have going on in your life. Screw that. Do your goal, and stick to your goal and then everything is possible.
AG: So you started with doing the guest posts, and is that when the illustrations started?
So there is a story behind the illustrations. I started writing the guest posts and I thought this was boring. I had been doing little doodles and putting them on Twitter. So I thought I should put these on the guest post. I took a cheap, crappy Bamboo tablet, doodled them out, put them in. Almost didn’t do the chicken. Every guest post goes through at least 6-7 iterations before I post it. I write it over and over and over again until it’s completely perfect. The chicken was cut out of the third iteration and I put it back in at the last second, at 2AM in the morning, hit send.
Another key, is you follow your gut and you take risk.
AG: And the chicken was a risk?
It was a huge risk.
It was also a huge hit. All of my successes have also been giant risks.
That’s all Erika Napoletano‘s fault.
AG: I don’t know who that is.
She just wrote “The Power of Unpopular,” which has the first Fred guest post in it. Everything I do is creative commons. Another point I want to prove is that you can be successful and not lock everything down.
AG: So the anti-Steve Jobs?
Yes, in a lot of ways. I like to think I take the good part of Steve jobs [laughs]. Not the evil part. I have my own unique evil [laughs].
AG: It’s called a dinosaur.
Anyway, she contacted me and wanted to use the article in her book. I said, “Sure” but she said, alright I’m going to need high-res illustrations. I was like, “No problem! I’m a little busy so it’ll take a day or two.”
I printed out the low-res, slapped them on a white board, redid them all in high-res ink. Scanned them back in, send them to her.
AG: So now you had these nice, high-res, hand drawn illustrations…
Yes, so I had these nice hand drawn illustrations. I sent versions of that chicken to Fred. So then I started doing it that way. I realized there’s value to having these things hand-drawn, and done nice.
I write on the fly, there is a plan. There is a body of work that needs to be written. That body of work is the second point of Fakegrimlock. My goal is to change the way startups are done.
AG: So you want to write the next Lean Startup?
In a way. It’s not new. All of these things have been written, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, The Lean Startup, a zillion jillion books on how to do it right.
I love Rework, but again it’s been written and still nobody gets it. Nobody is really doing it because they’re not concise enough. They’re not true enough. They’re not inspiring enough. FG is and so I’m going to take all this truth that is lying around and, as one of my catchphrases says, “I’m going to make it into a fist of truth and punch people in the fucking face with it.”
AG: So the book will have Rework-esque illustrations and pithy text?
AG: And so where are you in writing the book?
I’d say 40%.
AG: Are you trying to get a traditional publisher?
No. I’ve learned a lot from the Kickstarter campaign. I’ve learned a lot of things not to do.
AG: You sold a lot of freaking posters
It’s a lot of posters. I’m still packing those bastards into tubes.
AG: How many orders did you get total?
280 something. Each one takes 15-20 minutes to put together.
AG: Because they’re prints and you have to sign them…
Just packing them takes 15 minutes. Each drawing takes up to 15 minutes, the ones I sign. So if you have a signed set of posters, 45 minutes for the drawings, another 15 minutes to pack it all together. So there are 66 $100 donors, that’s 66 hours worth of putting posters together in my free time. And then I have all the $20 and $50 donors.
AG: You sold like thirty grand worth of posters?
AG: That’s pretty good!
Yeah, it’s pretty good! I’m hoping the book will break six figures.
AG: With the book, you’re going to do Kindle?
There will be a print version that you can only get through the Kickstarter.
AG: Oh you’re going to do another Kickstarter!
Yeah, we’re going to do a new Kickstarter for the book in the Fall. The only way to get the print edition is to buy it there. Then it’s going to go digital because thank god I won’t have to pack anything.
It makes me insane that no one has picked up on this. Right now, this second, you can get the iBooks app for your Mac, author your book on it, make it interactive, make it awesome, and put it on the app store for free. Right now. Right this second.
AG: Can’t you do the same thing with the Kindle?
Not an interactive book like this. Not a book a child will read. We could get a group of the smartest fucking people in America, rewrite all the textbooks, and put them up on iBooks for free and in ten years they’d be in every classroom.
I think they absolutely have. People just haven’t figured it out.
AG: I’m supposed to ask you if you have split personality disorder.
I’m all me all the time. [laughs]
AG: Fakegrimlock is just an extension of you?
Sometimes I’m just more me. [Laughs]
AG: Do you have a dog?
There is a grim-dog, yes.
AG: What breed is grim-dog?
Awesome. [laughs] That’s what breed he is.
AG: Who made the Fakegrimlock mask?
Me. With my own two tiny foreclaws.
AG: Do you have a family?
AG: What do your no-comment family think of Fakegrimlock?
AG: Will this go on forever?
AG: What is the mental time horizon you have?
I haven’t decided yet. But there will be an end.
AG: That’s very macabre…
It will end when I’ve done what I set out to do.
AG: Which is to disseminate truth.
Right. When the world gets it, I’ll be done.
AG: Recently it seems that there has been an inflection point. General people I know in tech now seem to be aware of you….
That is a very purposeful thing I’ve been doing. The stuff I do is intended to reach beyond the Twitter followers. They are just the ground troops.
Part of the reason for Fakegrimlock is that people don’t do social media right. There are all these companies you can pay millions of dollars to do your social media for you and they don’t have any freaking clue what they’re doing. They don’t get it. They don’t get any of it.
It’s not like old advertising where you can hit people over the head with a message. All social media is a conversation, it’s a gift. If I’m not giving you something that you want, you won’t take it. And the best gift I can give you is something that makes you better. Something that you can take and then give to other people and in the act of doing so make a better you.
AG: So you mix conversation with all this…Fakegrimlock is very conversational.
You bring them in. You make them a part of you. That’s why I detest people who use social media as a broadcast platform.
AG: Celebrities are guilty of this.
They think it’s the radio. Screw that, it’s not the radio.
AG: Do you have a compulsive obsession with responding to every person who tweets at you?
I do my best. I don’t respond to things that are boring or spam or obviously somebody phishing for something.
AG: So you don’t want people to troll the troll.
Doesn’t work [laughs]. I’m sorry, if I don’t respond to you, you’re not interesting enough to be responded to.
You just have to be very efficient. People watch my feed and even read my replies, so if my reply to you isn’t interesting for everyone else, I won’t do it, because it’s not worth it because everything you do adds value or you don’t do it.
AG: So the thing about the audience gamification is a really interesting social media strategy that I don’t think people generally do.
This stuff isn’t hard, you just have to think about it. Even the Kickstarter was gamified, if I reach these levels there will be certain bonuses. That should be a feature of Kickstarter. Right now, Kickstarter should be able to do that out of the box, it shouldn’t be something I have to duct tape to the side of it.
AG: How was doing startups in the Midwest?
If you want to do a startup and you are in the Midwest, get the fuck out now.
They can’t do startups. Not real startups. Not coast startups.
AG: Another why.
Midwest people think too slow, they think too small. They don’t have the infrastructure, they don’t have the talent. Because everyone who can make it in startups leaves, so that means that there is no one left who can actually make it in startups.
AG: Except for that payment one in Iowa…
Yeah, I forget their name. Dwolla! Yeah, an anomaly. Now I have to give credit, Big Omaha, those guys are doing it right. Kansas City is trying really hard. Iowa City is trying really hard. But it’s a matter of density. There is a fraction of the people there than in Boston, or Silicon Valley, or DC, or even Chicago. You just have less to pick from, so you’re not going to get the best possible group.
AG: What do you think of the DC Tech scene since you moved?
AG: And you can feel it?
Yes, stuff is about to happen. And let me tell you, if you do UX, UI, or know anything decent about interactive design, instead of idiot print design, they will hire you. This place is packed to the gills with brilliant developers.
But there are not enough UX people here. UX people can walk down the street and get offered six figures. You should get a t-shirt that says UX on it and hang around in public and people will just throw money at you.
AG: So you’re obviously really smart.
AG: How much bacon do you actually eat? Because you just had bacon! I was very impressed…
All the time!
I love bacon! Helps me keep my slim, girlish figure.
AG: I was praying you were a vegetarian… That would be the best intro ever!
Nope. Again, I’m always me. Drink coffee. And beer. Eat bacon.
AG: I’m on the No Eat list!
The list is editable. And sometimes I forget.
AG: If you eat me, what was the point of the interview?
[considers] Ok. You sold me. You live.
AG: Great! One more question?
AG: That’s it?
[dino voice] THAT IT.
As he left, with bacon remains strewn about his plate, I found myself in the awkward situation of contemplating a dinosaur.
Ultimately, what we take away from FAKEGRIMLOCK is up to us to decide. Is he mere comedic relief in a world of over-serious tech writers? Is he a purveyor of truth who is transcending the typical social channels? Or is he just simply a happy bacon-eating dinosaur?
Wherever you fall, what’s clear from my time with FAKEGRIMLOCK is that he is dedicated to bettering technology, and perhaps bettering ourselves. He may be a Twitter Dinosaur, but hey he’s “our” Twitter dinosaur.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.