AMA 110 – Learn Visually with Jeff Desjardins from Visual Capitalist

 

Jason Hartman invites Jeff Desjardins on to the American Monetary Association podcast today to talk about the neat infographics Jeff’s company produces. Jeff is the president of Visual Capitalist and many of his infographics have been featured on Ink Magazine, Business Insider, Wall Street Journal, and other news outlets. Jason and Jeff talk about Visual Capitalist, Bitcoin, and more on today’s episode.

 

Key Takeaways:
2:15 – Jeff explains what Visual Capitalist is.
5:45 – The infographics that Jeff’s company produces are usually based on complex topics people have a hard time grasping.
8:30 – Advertising with Visual Capitalist is more cost effective than on more main stream media websites.
10:40 – Jeff talks about his favorite infographic that he and his team worked on.
14:50 – Jason and Jeff talk about Bitcoin in this segment.
15:45 – Jeff explains the hype cycle in technologies.
19:55 – Jason would love to be wrong about Bitcoin, but you simply can’t invest in it just yet.
21:00 – A lot of people learn best visually, so Jeff would like to produce more content for them in the future.

 

Tweetables:
“When you provide someone with an ah-ha moment, they’ll love you forever.”

“People get really excited about new technology as it comes out and there’s that whole sort of hype phase to it.”

“You know what the dollar is backed by? Aircraft carriers, fighter jets.”

 

Mentioned In This Episode:
http://www.visualcapitalist.com/

 

Transcript

Jason Hartman:
Hey, it’s my pleasure to welcome Jeff Desjardins to the show. He is the president of a really cool company that I discovered maybe a month/month and a half ago. It’s called Visual Capitalist and you know there’s an old saying that a picture says a thousand words and that’s probably never more true than on this website, because they have some great visual content to illustrate issues, alternative investments, and so forth. Jeff, welcome, how are you?

Jeff Desjardins:
I’m great, thanks.

Jason:
So, you’re located in Vancouver, Canada. I will be there in just about 10 days, skiing in Whistler, so I’m looking forward to it.

Jeff:
Perfect, so is everybody else here. We’ll also be up the hills as well.

Jason:
Yeah, it’s a beautiful place. I’ve been to Vancouver and Whistler many times. Good stuff. Well, how old is Visual Capitalist?

Jeff:
We launched about three years ago and when we first launched it was more the idea than the current distribution mechanism. We thought we could work with different companies and explain complex issues around them using these visual and eventually it morphed into what it is now, which is a media website featuring content each day.

Jason:
Are you a graphic designer? I mean, what’s your background that you would start a company like this? How did you happen to do it?

Jeff:
I wish I was a graphic designer. Sometimes our team does such great things that I have no idea how exactly it is done. My background is in advertising and media. I’m really good with putting together the message and understanding the background of how to really tell a story and how to communicate complex issues in that sense, so I work with our team along with other members of our staff to really get that message out, but really the expertise lies with our designers who are amazing and we’re so lucky to have.

Jason:
Good, good stuff, but I mean, what did you see out there? Were you reading and studying, I mean, you do a lot of coverage of things like federal reserve and central banking and you’ve got visual elements to make that rather complex issue of monetary policy pretty understandable for people. Were you just interested in the topic and you decided, hey, this is so hard to learn this stuff, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a visual component to it?

Jeff:
Yeah, I had actually seen infographics and data visualizations and they had caught my attention quite a long time ago, even in the mid 2000s this stuff was kind of coming out and I was always enthralled by it and I always found it was super easy to learn using it and I guess what happened was I consulting for some different investment industries and found the type of company a lot of people were producing was very difficult to understand and one big problem is a lot of the people that are retail investors and even institutional investors, they’re looking to absorb all these different chunks of news throughout the day and they’re overwhelmed with emails and information and it’s just a big overload.

We wanted to create something that people really enjoy looking at and they are able to retail the information that they remember and when you can provide someone with an ah-ha moment when they’re trying to read something about something that normally confuses them, you know, they’ll love you forever, so that’s really what we’re trying to do with our content.

Jason:
It’s definitely got that good viral component, no question about it. Tell us about some of the stuff you cover on Visual Capitalist. I mean, you’re a news organization in a sense, aren’t you?

Jeff:
Definitely, definitely.

Jason:
But, like, you don’t cover current events? Well, yeah you do. Ebola, what’s ahead for 2015, so I guess it’s not maybe as pressing as the news, but you cover current issues, for sure.

Jeff:
So, our work is generally designed to cover issues that are relevant at a time and there’s a bit of a lead time when you’re putting together the graphics, so when we..

Jason:
But, harder than a story, right? Text or a podcast, for example, or a news report on the news, yeah.

Jeff:
Exactly and today, you know, everyone is so good at that on the financial blogging side, so when something happens, so for example, central bank cuts its rates today like the Canadian bank did today, you know, we don’t have time to really respond to that as fast as the regular blogger that can just update something in WordPress and then boom it’s good to go in 5 minutes. S

o, from our perspective, we want to tackle issues that are sort of lingering things that people have trouble understanding and really wanna learn more about and stuff that is always constant, so when you’re talking about something like the history of gold or the history of currencies, these are things that are relevant and have a shell life for years and when we tackle things that are more news related, you know, that’s generally topics that are, they’re going to be in the news for awhile.

So, things like Ebola, obviously, were in the news for a month or two or if you’re talking about events with central banks with the deflation and inflation argument and things like that, people are going to be looking at the stuff for years and it’s going to be relevant for a long time. So, even though it’s created today, it’s still stuff that can be looked at in the future.

Jason:
Yeah, no question about it. So, what is the business model behind it? Is it typical like any news organization, you know, you sell advertising or what?

Jeff:
Yeah, that’s definitely a part of it. We’ve recently moved to where it’s creating more of an editorial calender where we’re covering topics that we think are going to be important and relevant at a certain time. So, as an example of this, at the end of November in 2014, the Swiss central bank was, sorry, Switzerland had a referendum on using gold. Yeah, exactly. So, we knew that date was coming, so in our editorial calender we set it up so, before that, we had sort of a gigantic piece that explained everything that you needed to know about that event, so in that case, it ends up being relevant, timely with this news event, and what we did is we sought out a sponsor that would be interested with coinciding with that message, which is going to get a lot of viral spread, a lot of social media spread, and I think we were able to find I think in that case a bullion dealer that wanted to coincide with that message and it did really well over 500 or 600 shares and it got posted in a lot of places like Zero Hedge and all of these different website that feature this kind of information. So, it’s a win-win for us and for our sponsors to be able to have that sort of viral thread.

Jason:
Yeah, yeah, but I mean how do you support your business and pay your staff off the viral thread. I mean, the advertising component is one, but what else has to happen for it to work? I mean, you can’t really monitor that pass around rate, can you? To be able to tell advertisers, look, how much exposure you got with this, you know, particular piece or can you?

Jeff;
Yeah, these are good questions. The way that I would describe it to someone that we’re talking to as a potential sponsor or a client is that, look, if you’re trying to reach quality investor audience and if you want to advertise in certain places, so let’s say you wanna have an advertisement on maybe Business Insider or on Wall Street Journal all these other areas, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny to do that. What we offer is by putting together this sort of really shareable and possibly viral visual image that explains something that people want to understand that you associate yourself with, we can get your branding and logo in a bunch of different places that would normally cost a lot of money to be advertising on and get tens of thousands or maybe even hundreds of thousands of views in the process. So, we’re able to get that exposure by having our content picked up on dozen and dozen of websites that get a lot of exposure themselves.

Jason:
That’s great. So, you’ve got that ride on the coat tails and pass around type phenomenon going for you, for sure. You know, when you talked earlier about how it takes longer to produce these pieces, because they are graphical and they require, certainly, some creativity and imagination to them as well as the actual design work, how long does it take you to produce one of these?

Jeff:
Yeah, for sure, we typically tell people it’s about three weeks, but realistically we can do it in a day or two if we have nothing else going on and we have our whole team working on it. So, it really depends on the situation. We’ve even done it in the past where there was..in Canada, there was an election that happened and over night we had someone in the office, overnight, compelling all the results for the election and creating a graphic to be ready to go the next morning. So, it is possible to do it on very short timelines, but it definitely takes some planning and commitment from the team to do it. So, when we’re trying to figure out deadlines and that kind of thing, it usually just depends on how pressing it is and what other work we have going on.

Jason:
Take us in to some of your favorite pieces that you’ve done and let’s talk about those and maybe learn some good stuff.

Jeff:
Yeah, for sure. One of my favorite pieces that I’ve helped put together the content for was one that we put together, I believe at the end of the summer of 2014 when there was a lot of buzz about the Tesla gigafactory that was being built in Nevada or that is being built in Nevada.

Jason:
The battery factory, yep.

Jeff:
So, we found that a lot of people sort of understood the concept, you know, they wanted to build more batteries so that they’re able to bring down the cost of building each battery and that’s going to allow them to sell the different models of Tesla, so what we did was we wanted to basically show that in a more useful and intuitive way as well as going against into some of the business aspect and as well as going into the supply chain and where they’d be able to procure the different commodities that they need to build that, so we put that together and we were able to bring on a sponsor of a cobalt company and also a graphite company and both of those materials are used in lithium ion batteries and both of them have supply issues around them based on where they come from, so we wanted to involve them in there and to show how the raw materials affect the overall battery construction as well.

So, we put that together and released that at the end of July in that particular one, because it was a story that not many people had dove into those aspects of sort of the commodities and the procuring of raw materials and things like that. We were able to get some really nice spread through Ink Magazine used it and so did Cnet and a really big German newspaper I noticed was quoting my name the next morning as well. You know, by covering those kinds of issues, it’s really a sweat spot for us, because it’s educational, it’s timely, it’s relevant. It tells people something that they didn’t know and it sort of helps break a story in an area that we have lots of expertise about and then it also does really well for our sponsors as well.

Jason:
It’s interesting when you talk about the Tesla too. Wall Street Journal did an interesting piece and it seems like it would be a good one for you guys about how the electric car is the higher polluted than good old internal combustion engine with gas, right. You know, it’s because certainly coal, you know, 40-50% maybe of the nation’s energy comes from coal, so that’s an issue and then also the construction and the batteries and so forth. That was an interesting comparison that the Wall Street Journal did. I thought it could be illustrated visually very well.

Jeff:
Yeah, no, it’s interesting and a lot of people forget this as well, because when they think about these things they don’t think about where their electricity comes from, so it really depends where you are in the world, locally, and that makes a difference. So, for example, up here in Vancouver the vast majority of our power is from hydro, so if you were to use an electric car here, it’s going to be a different story than if you’re going to be doing it from an area where, oh, this guy just used a bunch of electric, okay, add more coal on to the stack into the plant, right? So, that’s a much different thing, but yeah, people need to realize that if you’re using a battery-powered car, recharging that battery takes power and you need to get that power from somewhere.

Jason:
Yeah, it sure does. I mean, it’s funny how people get so self-righteous about that and they think they’re doing such a great thing, but it’s really not good at all. That’s fascinating. I think you could illustrate that visually very well and there’s so many things you can illustrate visually very well. I love some of your stuff on monetary policy, but you know, Bitcoin is an interesting one. I actually predicted several months ago at a bunch of my friends that are just die-hard Bitcoin freaks, I call them, they’re like cult members and I would love nothing more than to be wrong about Bitcoin, but I don’t think I’m going to be wrong.

So, I predicted when it was like it, I don’t know, about $420-$430, I predicted it would go to $250 and it went right down past that, below $250. What are your thoughts on Bitcoin in general? I mean, I love the idea, I’ve done many, many shows on it, but I just don’t think that anything that does not have the blessing of the most powerful forces on earth, governments and central banks, will ever stand a chance of surviving, you know?

Jeff:
Yeah, it’s a great question. I love talking about Bitcoin, but I think, I guess I have a couple of points on it, one point is that I think it’s going to be interesting, because if you look at something like technology hype cycles, which applies to all kinds of different technology, it sort of shows that, and we have a little graphic on this somewhere on the site as well, but it shows that, you know, people get really excited about new technology as it comes out and there’s that whole sort of hype phase to it and then it takes some time for people to be able to implement that technology and for its uses to grow and, as a result, all that initial hype sort of dies down and what’s called the trough of disillusionment and then it slowly works its way back up as all the engineers and all the inventors and all the people in our society that make things work as they work with this new technology to actually make it into something. A good example of that is something like 3d printing, right, where everybody got really excited about it and then it sort of fell off the map for a little bit and no one was talking about it, but now there’s starting to be some really interesting uses for it.

Jason:
Oh, 3d printing is going to change the world. I love it, yeah.

Jeff:
Exactly and Bitcoin is right up there as well, but the problem is there’s a lot of talk about it and obviously with the price of Bitcoin that created a lot of interest as well, especially in 2013 and with the events with Silk Road and all of these different things. So, it’s in the news, everyone’s talking about it, but right now and if you talk to VCs and you talk to, you know, tech people, they’re so many people that are working on it right now in terms of finding away to make it a solution for everyday consumers and they’re working at creating all of these different apps and adding new layers of technology onto the block chain and doing all of these really interesting things, so I would not be surprised if it pops up a little bit later on sort of when you least expect it when someone comes out with one of these apps, you know, the Uber of Bitcoin apps or something like that that’s really going to make it accessible to people and change things. In the short term, I think you’re right with regards to central banks and governments being the not giving their blessing, but in the long term, especially block chain technology is fantastic and..

Jason:
But that’s not unique, you know, like anybody can do block chain. It’s not unique to Bitcoin and Bitcoin is not private so all of the privacy advocates and, you know, Libertarian people who don’t want the governments intruding on their life, which I can’t say I blame them, I’m one of them, but you know, cash is far more private than Bitcoin.

Jeff:
In a way, in a way, but I mean Bitcoin..

Jason:
That’s how they busted Silk Road is they followed the block chain, right?

Jeff:
Right, but you can also, taking proper measures, you can keep Bitcoin complete private and anonymous, but it does take a certain amount of effort. Definitely random people that are buying drugs off Silk Road might not have been able to take all the security measures.

Jason:
Or hiring hit men.

Jeff:
Exactly.

Jason:
Scary stuff.

Jeff:
I wouldn’t recommend it.

Jason:
Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend it either, but it’s interesting as a concept to talk about it and to think about, but yeah, I just think we’re talking about the most powerful entities on the planet – the central banking and the governments cartel. The gold bugs love to say the dollar is not backed by anything, but I think they’re so wrong. You know what the dollar is backed by? Aircraft carries, fighter jets.

Jeff:
The use of force.

Jason:
Yeah, it’s unfortunate, but it’s just reality. I’m not saying it’s right. I don’t like it any better than anybody else, but it’s the reality of the world. I don’t know, am I wrong?

Jeff:
No, but the interesting thing about Bitcoin is there are some people that are bearish on Bitcoin itself, but bullish on block chain technology, creating a revolution in currency in some way that we can’t see yet or creating a revolution in other areas of well. So, that’s why it’s so interesting about it is it’s very rare you have some sort of new technology emerge sort of out of nothing, right.

Jason:
Yeah, it became big pretty darn quickly. It’s pretty amazing, yeah.

Jeff:
Yeah, those are really the two points for me is A) that it’s separating Bitcoin from block chain is sort of important just because, as I say, there are people that are bullish on one and bearish on the other, but also two, I think with regards to, from the technology stand point, a lot of times there is this through of disillusionment that people go through with any new technology like look at virtual reality, right. That died down and now everybody all of a sudden again is excited about the oculus rift and that is something that was 10 years in the making, so…

Jason:
Right, right. Well, we shall see, we shall see. Again, I’d love to be wrong about this. You know, again, you can’t invest that way or even save that way if you don’t call Bitcoin an investment, but you call it just a savings mechanism, store of wealth…

Jeff:
Or a speculation.

Jason:
It’s just so speculative. I mean, you just can’t rely on anything like that, so anyway. So, the website, I mean, I guess I don’t have to ask you to give out the website it’s just VisualCapitalist.com, right?

Jeff:
You’re correct.

Jason:
Good stuff. What’s next for you guys?

Jeff:
What’s next for us and it’s something that you sort of alluded to at the beginning that you’re asking me about whether it’s a news site or not and that’s where I really wanna take it is I wanna be putting out 5-10 things a day and I know that it seems ambitious from the visual standpoint and also keeping up with today’s news standpoint, but I really want to have daily repeat visitors. People that are checking out the site multiple times a day to see what ‘s new and to keep up on their news and information, because people learn the best in different ways and a lot of those people learn visually and so taking everyday concepts that are important in the news and with what’s happening the world and distilling it down into charts and infographics and data visualizations that people can understand, you know, eventually more interactive. That’s really where we want to go and we want to build that daily audience that is on our site all the time and when I think of something like other websites that I visit, I mean, I’m visiting them 3-4 times a day to get updated on my news. I’m checking it when I’m in transit or when I’m at home or when I wake up in the morning and that’s what I want people to have with our site.

Jason:
Yeah, good, good stuff. Well, I wish you well with it. It’s a really cool site and it’s a really great way to learn things. Check it out folks, VisualCapitalist.com and Jeff, thanks for joining us.

Jeff:
Yeah, thanks so much.

 

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