Light letters from Karma.wiki
Slobodanka: Hi Planepack listeners. Welcome to another episode. I'm sitting here, once more, in the delightful Muse Café, and I'm joined this morning by Clyde Rathbone. Welcome Clyde!
Clyde Rathbone: Thanks for having me!
Slobodanka: So you started an organisation called Karma.wiki. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Clyde Rathbone: Sure, yeah. It's a project my brother and I have been working on for a couple of years, and the Karma really is an online platform that built on meaningful human connection. What that actually means is that it's a place to write about other people, about the people that have made a positive impact on your life. We've seen long-form letters on Karma to mentors, teachers, even communal letter events where friends and family come together and write a stack of letters, and then publish on a major life event, like retirement or a birthday or a birth or wedding. The feedback we've got from recipients of these letters is just phenomenal. People constantly reach out and tell us that's the best gift they've ever received, so that's the underpinnings of Karma. We wanted to create a place that was different from other social networks in that it wasn't all about you. It wasn't all about the individual. It was about others. It's been an interesting journey.
Slobodanka: When I looked at Karma, I saw that gratitude is the sort of cornerstone of the Karma.Wiki, so what do you, personally, have to be grateful for?
Clyde Rathbone: Oh jeez, so much. I think the fundamental things are almost cliché, but they're known as true for being cliché and that's friends, family, my health, living in a beautiful part of the world, just having work that's in perfect alignment with my values. Every day I wake up, and I'm excited to go and work with my team on something that I think we all feel is bigger than any one of us, and just being able to build something. There's no definitive answers to how you make a success out of a start-up, and that's what makes it exciting and a worthwhile pursuit, so all those things, but, fundamentally, it's the relations with the people that I'm most grateful for.
Slobodanka: It's almost like you're blessed.
Clyde Rathbone: Extremely, extremely.
Slobodanka: Clyde, you were a formidable and dynamic rugby player. What did you learn during that career that informed your decision to start Karma.Wiki?
Clyde Rathbone: Yeah, it doesn't seem like an obvious transition from sports to the tech world, but I think the thing I learned most about life from rugby was what matters. When you start out in a sport as a young person, you're very focused on some of the quantitative stuff - how many games you play, how many tries you scored, how much your contract's worth - all that sort of stuff, but if you stay in it long enough, I think, by the end of your career, if you've paid attention, you realise what actually matters are the people and the relationships you form and the shared experiences and memories that you take with you long after you've hung up the boots, so going into Karma, I was weighing up what to do with the next phase of my life. It was important for me to do work that really aligned with what I think's important [inaudible 00:03:36]
Slobodanka: As you mentioned earlier, it's about the people, and it's interesting to hear that that's kind of the main ingredient that you got out of this long and illustrious career. I'm interested in packing, of course, and staying with rugby, I'd love to know what is it like to travel and pack as a rugby player, and who carried all that gear?
Clyde Rathbone: Yeah, it's crazy when I think about it now because you take an enormous amount of stuff with you all around the world, and most teams have what's known as a "baggage master" because of what a big job that is, and his role is to coordinate with the airports. We have, obviously, a huge amount of oversized stuff. Individually, you've got a lot to take because you're taking training gear that you're often changing out of three or four times a day because you've got different training sessions. You're taking a whole array of different rugby boots. You have all your formal stuff for post-match functions. It's kind of an obscene amount of gear when I think about it now and a huge undertaking for any one person to manage, so it's nice not having to worry about it.
Slobodanka: I know you travel a bit for Karma. Are you now a light traveller?
Clyde Rathbone: Oh, much more so. I think it's just easier to kind of be able to throw everything into one bag and know you're set for the whole trip. I almost view it a bit like minimalism on the run. One of the best things I've done in the last few years is really simplify my life and get rid of clutter and owning less things, but things that I really love. I think travelling now, trying to have a similar mindset. You don't actually need half the stuff you think you need. It's just a kind of a different conditioning. I travel much lighter now.
Slobodanka: When I heard you speak about Karma.Wiki, and before I even read the letters, I got a sense that you and the organisation are all about travelling lightly through life, and you kind of touched upon that in the earlier response about minimalism. Can you comment about that?
Clyde Rathbone: Yeah, I think that's a really good insight. I think it's about being more mindful about what matters. A Karma letter is really an opportunity to clear your mind of clutter and just meditate on someone who's made a profound impact on you, and that practise, I think, it flows into a lot of other things. All of a sudden, you start to become mindful of things. Do I need all this extra stuff? Is it just getting in the way? It's one of those cliches that you start to be owned by your things, and I think that's true, and I think Karma as an organisation really is about less but more quality. You could think of it sort of juxtapose Karma with a Tweet. A Tweet is 140 characters. It's very odd for that to contain much value. It's particularly hard for it to contain value that's persistent. A letter is long-form, really considered thoughtful content that is going to be value deep into the future. Many generations from now, people will be able to read those letters and get value out of them.
Slobodanka: Yes. What's been the reaction of your friends, family, and colleagues to your making this move to Karma.Wiki?
Clyde Rathbone: It's been great. I think it's obvious when someone's doing work that's the right fit for them, and I'm lucky that a lot of the early adopters of Karma are friends and family. My background - I come from a writing family. My grandmother was an author- Is an author, I should say! She's in her late 80s now, but she's still writing. My mother was an English teacher. A lot of my friends read, so I think the idea of Karma appeals to that inner circle, and these were our early adopters. From there, it's expanded out, so the reaction's been great. The support of friends and family has been ... It's a big part of how you make your start-up succeed, it takes a village.
Slobodanka: That's very true. You've lived and travelled through a few interesting decades in your life. You retired in your late 20s first, and now in your mid-30s you're in charge of a start-up. How will you travel into your next decade? What do you see for yourself?
Clyde Rathbone: That's an interesting question. I think there is so much left to do with Karma. We're a couple years in, but we're really only starting now to scale and go to the next phase, and that's going to demand a lot of time and effort and concentration, so I think the next period is going to be very much focused on building this company, but also, I'm looking at starting a family next year, so that's going to add [inaudible 00:08:40] It's an exciting time.
Slobodanka: Adventures, lots of adventures ahead of you.
Clyde Rathbone: Adventures. Yeah.
Slobodanka: What advice do you have for listeners to travel lightly, both literally or figuratively?
Clyde Rathbone: The thing, literally, is actually to plan the trip, so look at what you're going to be doing, and when in doubt, take less because you don't want to be in a situation where I've been on, where you've got three pairs of shoe, and you only wear one over the two weeks you're away. You're winding up bringing these ... I think it's a little bit of forethought.
Figuratively, I think it's just to take the time on a daily basis to mediate on what's important and why it's important. I think, when we do that, most of us arrive at similar conclusions. What's important are people and the journey that we're all on and understanding that we're all in it together.
Slobodanka: It's been wonderful talking to you Clyde. Thank you very, very much.
Clyde Rathbone: Thank you. It's been great.
A note about the image
I originally drew this in response to the recent terrible loss of lives in Las Vegas. I wanted to provide the victims with some dignity in their horrific departure from this earth. In talking to Clyde about Karma.wiki, I thought I'd use the image as a form of hope, a shining tribute to people who are still alive - and a reminder to all of us to enjoy and value a life worth living.