Baiqu: Welcome to the Browser Interviews. I'm super excited to be sitting with none other than Uri Bram, CEO of The Browser, and my friend. Welcome Uri.
Uri: It's such an honour to be here. I'm a huge, huge fan of the show.
How do you know The Browser?
Baiqu: So to dive right in, what's your relationship with The Browser?
Uri: I still think this is the luckiest job I've ever had. I was a huge fan of The Browser before I started working here, I read it every day, I told all my friends about it, and then luckily I got introduced to our wonderful founder Robert and we started working together. And now I get to run this company, doing this thing I love.
Baiqu: And doing an amazing job at it.
How long have you been with The Browser?
Uri: I've been running the company for three years now, and I first started doing marketing, social media, a few little things... five or six years ago, I think? I'm really bad with time – I don't know about you, but when people ask "when did you start doing X?" I just have no idea, the whole of the past feels the same to me.
Baiqu: Well, I think the whole world can relate now, because I feel like when I say 2019, everyone's like, "yeah, last year, right?"
Uri: I have this concept of the half-life of memory – like in physics, the half-life is how long it takes for half the quantity of some particualr radioactive atoms to decay, and I think different people have different half-lives to their memories as well. And I think mine is about six months – after six months go by, half of everything I knew has disappeared.
How to stay motivated?
Baiqu: Okay, so everyone in Uri's life, watch out: in six months he might not remember you.
So I've known you for a while now, since we were 15 actually. You've done so much over the years, and you have this amazing wealth of experience. My first question to our guests is always, can you recommend something if someone wanted to know more about your area of expertise? With you, I didn't know what to ask you: I could ask you to tell us how to write a book about literally any topic under the sun and make it digestible for normal human beings, I could ask you how to run a company... What do you think you're an expert at?
Uri: I think at times in my life I've been somewhat expert at doing random things and not being too embarrassed about making things in public. Unfortunately my thought on this is that there are only three or four things that really motivate people.
One is fear of death, or maybe rather awareness of one's own mortality. There's been a couple of events in my life that just made me really aware of that, and then suddenly I had a burst of energy and un-embarrassability.
Another is trying to impress your parents, or just any form of relationship with a parent figure that makes you really want to achieve things.
Then there's feeling like you're about to run out of money, desperately needing money for something makes you do things you wouldn't have otherwise.
And then trying to impress a romantic partner, some person who you want to think highly of you and that you do a lot of cool stuff in order to impress them.
I think that the more psychologically healthy you become, the harder it is to do almost anything because, well, you don't have any of those motivations anymore. After that, I'm not sure how you get things done. Which I know is not very helpful.
Baiqu: So are you trying to say that your area of expertise is always keeping yourself somewhat psychologically off balance so that you have the motivation to do more?
Uri: I am very good at not being happy and satisfied. So, yeah, I don't know, maybe I should hope to get worse at my area of expertise.
Baiqu: Well, the world might be worse off for it, so stay unhappy.
Uri: Ok fine, I'll keep on it.
Best article to recommend
Baiqu: That was the best answer ever, although I might be biased.
Okay, so, considering that you are the CEO of The Browser: do you have an article or a book that you've just recommended to everybody?
Uri: Yeah, so there's this article by Patrick McKenzie, who also goes by Patio11, which is called salary negotiation for engineers, but you don't have to be an engineer. He basically just talks you through how to negotiate your salary, and I think it's the single most useful piece of writing I've ever read. I recommend it to tons of people, and he's got a running tally of how much money he's made for people, and it's in the millions and millions: if you negotiate your salary well then, for most people, that's going to have one of the biggest possible impacts on your lifetime income and wealth.
So I recommend that widely, and I like that it's psychological and social as well as tactical, it explains the psychology and the social relations that often stop people from negotiating, then it explains how to overcome them, and then just how to see the negotiation from the business's side so that you know how to think like them and therefore what to say and how to persuade.
Baiqu: Yeah. And I can bear witness to this because you've recommended this article to me.
Uri: That's great.
Baiqu: Have Robert or Caroline recommended it ever on The Browser, do you think?
Uri: I think we had it on The Browser maybe four or five years ago – I'll look in our archives and if we haven't, I'll recommend it to our recommenders, I think it definitely deserves to be there.
Best online purchases
Baiqu: Absolutely. And Uri Bram, I have seen various rooms and houses that you have been through over the years, and I know that you're a big fan of buying really interesting things online and offline. And I don't know if you still do this, but you used to just ask people for recommendations on Facebook of what they found useful, and also give them, and I personally bought a couple of things off your Facebook online purchase recommendations. So tell me, over the last year, what's been your best online purchase?
Uri: I would love to know what you got because I love these crowdsourced Facebook lists. I just think they're so valuable, there's so much cool small stuff you can buy that makes your life better.
Baiqu: I got the sleeping mask, you know, I forgot what it's called, but it's really good.
Uri: Hommini, it's weirdly not available any more but there are other 3D sleep masks that are similar – they're so different from those aeroplane masks I was used to before.
Baiqu: Yeah, me too. I wasn't a fan of the aeroplane masks or the normal ones because they press onto my eyes too much. But this one has a little foam thing around the eyes. That's a really good one.
Also, the chilli sauce.
Uri: Akabanga. Oh my goodness. Yes.
Baiqu: Just so good.
Uri: Okay, Akabanga Rwandan chili oil. I truly have thought about starting an import company just for that, but then I discovered it's already on sale, you can get it on Amazon, it just needs more people to know about it. Goodness me, the greatest thing.
Baiqu: Yeah I put it on everything that is slightly bland or boring or whatever, and it's just amazing.
Uri: I have philosophical thoughts based on both of these purchases. So one is, Akabanga comes to this little bottle, and in Rwanda a lot of people just carry it around in their pockets, and wherever they are they just put in on whatever meal they're having. I just think there's something there about how little extras can be this incredible way to turn something very bland and normal into something quite special. I think we probably under-invest in these kinds of, I don't know what to call them... accompanying treats, or extra flourishes. I think that's really great, and I try to do more of that in my life.
And then the sleep mask I think is just incredible because it's this technology which someone designed thinking, "hey, usual sleep masks smoosh into your face, so I'm going to make a sleep mask with little round foam things that go kind of further out and then away from your eye a little bit, and then it's perfectly dark when you sleep and you're comfortable." I just think this is an amazing thing about our world, and I want to meet that person and thank them for it, but I'll never find out who they are.
I often get a little bit sad and fatalistic about how hard it feels to make a difference in the world, yet someone who invented that sleep mask design has just made a ton of people's lives better. I think that's really lovely. I want to invent a physical object someday – wouldn't that be cool, to make a thing that people actualy use?
Baiqu: Absolutely. I was speaking to someone recently for The Browser Interviews, Pamela, who is a philosophical life coach. And she was saying how people complain about us having too much product choice, but little innovations that just slightly improves existing products can make a huge difference sometimes.
I used to want to be an inventor. I feel like when you're a kid it seemed like a profession you can go into – what happened to that? I know people make things all the time, but no one calls themselves an inventor, like Belle's dad from Beauty and the Beast.
Uri: Yes, we should do this: we'll become inventors and we'll start a company called Belle's Dad, and then we'll hire young kids, or teenagers, graduates, I don't know.
Baiqu: Yeah. Not child slavery, just empowerment of young talent.
Uri: Yes thank you for clarifying that.
I think it probably is accessible right, being an inventor? We just don't think of it as inventing. That's a really interesting question, I want to research this further.
How to deal with an existential crisis
Baiqu: Okay. So, next question: seeing as you're someone who's been very successful at being constantly slightly dissatisfied, what is your cure to an existential crisis?
Uri: I have heard very promising things about LSD. My understanding is that the research on LSD is very impressive and that it seems to.... I don't know if "curing trauma" is really a thing, but it seems to help a lot of people with a lot of traumas.
I mean, to me, one of the most difficult things about life is this incredible branching nature of it, it's this wide open field and we could do anything, and it's overwhelming to think, oh, is this the best choice?, I think that can be completely paralysing. And from what I understand, LSD can make people much more comfortable with whatever choice they took, and make it feel more like, yeah, this isn't the only path, but this is my path, and I am satisfied with this path. So that's my thought.
Baiqu: Okay, micro-dosing is a thing, I've not done it, but they are using also MDMA for depression and I think mushrooms as well. I've definitely read pretty promising outcomes from these trials.
I think someone said taking LSD, or going on some kind of a psychedelic trip, is like taking a shortcut to the top of a mountain: you get to have this clarity, and post-trip you can see the destination. You still have to work your way up to it, but at least you have a clearer sense that it exists, this state of mind. And in order to get there the long way round you've got to, I don't know, do mindfulness things, or practice healthy psychological habits.
Uri: Yeah, this was a mutual friend of ours, and he has said that to me as well – a helicopter to the mountain top, I really liked that description.
Baiqu: Cool. So, LSD everyone.
Uri: This is a possibility, I'm not recommending it. What else can I say?
Baiqu: But what about yourself? When you're in a funk or when you're feeling low, what do you do to feel better?
Uri: I mean, since you mentioned Pamela Hobart, philosophical life coach, I feel I have to give a shout-out to Pamela Hobart, philosophical life coach. I use her coaching service and she's been great: I think having someone smart and thoughtful you can email or call when you're in a funk, I think that's very, very helpful.
More generally, I think different people need different things emotionally and psychologically in various situations, and that traditional, establishment therapy can be good for lots of people in lots of situations, but there's just this huge need for different kinds of coaches who appeal to different mindsets and who offer different things. Maybe some people need more of a push, maybe some people want a coach who's going to be quite opinionated and tell them I think this is a bad idea, I think this is a good idea, whereas other people just want to be listened to.
So, Pamela Hobart coaching, check it out, but also the more general concept of hiring a coach who can help you do things that you already wanted to do.
Baiqu: That's really cool. She was wonderful to talk to, so I can imagine that she would be really helpful.
Uri: I want to say, she has an email-based service where you just swap emails with her and then she has phone coaching, and personally I do the email version and I've never seen her or spoken to her in my life. She describes it really nicely on her site where she says something like "for many people email coaching would be a terrible idea, if you feel like the idea of writing your thoughts to someone is horrific then this is not for you. But if you're the sort of person who really likes writing stuff, and likes to figure out your thoughts in writing, email coaching could be good." So yeah, that's what I've been doing, I think that's been a huge improvement in my life.
How to fully relax
Baiqu: That's such a good idea because I think like most millennials, I don't know if this is a stereotype but it's true for me, I'm kind of allergic to unnecessary phone calls. So I'd much rather just email. And it does give you more time to construct your thoughts and put things down. It's like thinking out loud, with your hands.
The last question is kind of related to the previous one. I feel like this is something people have very generic ideas of how to do, but I think it is quite difficult to achieve. What would you recommend as the best way to relax? And I mean really relax, body and mind, not worrying about things, not thinking about stuff, and just unplugging. Can you do that? How do you do it?
Uri: I was going to ask you, you seem better at this than I am. How do you relax?, I don't know.
Baiqu: It's really hard.
Uri: A few years ago I went to massage school in Thailand, and I think that's probably one good example of a class of relaxing activities, but there's a lot of parts to it: I think physically embodied experiences can often be relaxing, and so can things that are rhythmic, and also doing something for someone else – those three properties seem really positive.
But I don't think I'm very good at relaxing, and I think it's interesting how hard it is for me to take time off and to just stop doing things, even though I think I would be much better off for it. I think I always have 20% or 50% or 80% of my mind on my work, and that occasionally putting 0% of my mind on my work would be a big improvement. But if you figure out how to do that, please tell me how.
Baiqu: The closest thing I've come to achieving it is through absolute physical exhaustion and pain, and then a massage to help with the exhaustion and pain.
So after boxing for five hours a day, where you're solely preoccupied with your body and your physicality, you're exhausted, so you just go to bed. Then you get a massage to knead out the pain, and it feels strangely satisfying to be able to pinpoint where the pain is and to have a solution for the pain. There's also this weird psychological aspect to it because I feel like, as kids, we fall over often or we get to fights, and it's really easy to say "oh, it hurts here."
And of course, there are people who have had not-nice childhoods and that's different, and also kids have psychological traumas. But I feel like, as adults, it becomes harder to say, "oh, it hurts here." Because the pain is so much more abstract, or hidden. So for me, the closest thing I've come to really relaxing was just being purely focused on the physical and the skill of doing something, then being able to say, "oh, my calf hurts," or "my wrist hurts," and then someone will just massage it out of you, with half a tub of tiger balm.
Uri: Yes! I've never thought of that, but that makes so much sense. So many of my problems in life seem to be like chasing my own thoughts: I have some problem and the same negative thought just chases its way around my head a hundred times. And the problem is amorphous so I don't know where the pain is exactly.
Baiqu: What a deep end to our interview. I had a lot of fun interviewing you. I think it's the first time I've interviewed you, ever. Well, I mean, why would I have otherwise.
Uri: I'm truly such a big fan of the show!
Baiqu: Thank you for coming on the show. And also at a little shout out, Uri's also doing his own interviews, and they're amazing. You can see them on our YouTube channel and our website. So check it out. Thank you Uri.
Uri: Thank you!
3D sleep mask
Akabanga chilli sauce
Pamela Hobart, Philosophical life coach
Browser Interview series
Browser Interview transcripts
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