Surviving The 2008 Financial Crisis in NYC To Creating Saigoneer
Episode 1 - Brian Letwin
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[00:00:00] Niall Mackay: Welcome to season seven, the first episode back from 7 million bakes, a Vietnam podcast. I’m your host Niall McKay today. My guest is a new Yorker. He’s been in Saigon since 2010. And he’s the co-founder and CEO of the urbanist network, which includes the well-known website Sagan here, urbanist, Vietnam, and urbanist annoying.
[00:00:30] My guest today is Brian Letwin. Thank you
[00:00:33] Brian Letwin: for joining us. Yeah, thanks for having me.
[00:00:37] Niall Mackay: All right, so, Brian, how’s it going?
[00:00:41] Brian Letwin: It’s as good as it could be no complaints you know, just pushing through, she was here in the apartment, the mini prison but you know, full fridge got my three-year-old daughter as my play partner all the time and you know, get to catch up on, on Netflix series that I’ve been neglecting for the last year or two.
[00:01:01] Niall Mackay: So we’re both, obviously at the moment in Saigon, in a lockdown situation, hints high while I’m continuing interviews on zoom. How’s it going at the moment? We’re not going to talk about it too much, but how’s things with the current law.
[00:01:17] Brian Letwin: I mean, I guess there’s the professional, the personal buckets professionally, you know, we’re the websites we run are not subject to.
[00:01:24] I mean, like the, they produce what they produce and its content. And so there are departments within the company that are slower. Now let’s say business development is probably one of those you’d imagine because a lot of our clients, restaurants, hotels, travel related, things are just very few businesses aren’t effected by this, especially this current wave.
[00:01:43] There are a few buccally, so there is still work being done in a client work being done, but it’s not what it was before which is probably not surprising. But yeah, otherwise one nice thing about running a business like this is, you know, it does afford kind of a level of continuity and normalcy.
[00:02:01] Whereas when the work is the same, so we might all be doing it remotely. But everybody’s busy. I mean, we’re working full days. I mean, there’s no difference in effort. Like I go to bed every night and I feel like tired. Like, I feel like there was a full day of stuff and again, having a three-year-old helps because there’s never a dull moment except for nap time, which is great.
[00:02:19] But no, it’s, it’s, it’s nice for that. So I’m thankful that, you know, our business is in a position financially where we’re not having to make cuts and able to operate pretty normally. And then just also use it as a distraction and create some structure in the day, which I, as my experience of, you know, over a decade ago in New York being unemployed for a few months after the 2008, 2009 financial crisis Being, even being able to go outside at the time it was extremely difficult to find structure and occupied myself.
[00:02:51] I don’t know what that, I mean, man, to, to kind of go through a period of solitude with, with no work at all. And by myself, I don’t know how it mentally, I would have dealt with how other people who are in that situation deal with that. Honestly, I really don’t know, but respect to them.
[00:03:08] Niall Mackay: Yeah. I feel for so many people right now on so many different levels, but the people that feel for the most of those with three-year-old child,
[00:03:17] Brian Letwin: Well, I would, I feel, I would feel a little bit worse with people who have kids a bit older because at three years old, they’re just old enough to like, be fun and like have a buddy and, you know, like have conversations with maybe not super deep ones.
[00:03:30] We’re not talking about like crypto, but you couldn’t talk to me about
[00:03:35] too, so they’re fair enough. But she doesn’t understand what’s going on. Like in her mind she thinks she’s on an extended play date and she’ll ask questions like well, she’ll take us at our word for some things. So she doesn’t ask like, why am I not going to school?
[00:03:49] She was going to school for like five months before this lockdown. And she just says like, school’s closed. We told her that. And she accepts that as true. And she doesn’t really question it. She just thinks everything is clear. But she really hasn’t quite yet. And I think we’re right around the corner though.
[00:04:04] Started asking why, why are things closed? And that of course gets to be more difficult conversation. Then the, the really nice thing though, is she isn’t complete, she’s completely oblivious to like the stresses and the negativity and the, just the, you know, the scariness of, of COVID the whole situation.
[00:04:22] And it’s nice to be with somebody who just is like, wants to hang out and smile and play and listen to music and dance and jump around and watch dumb Disney movies and stuff. So I’m very happy to be locked in a room with her for some months.
[00:04:37] Niall Mackay: That’s awesome. That sounds really good. One of the thing I have seen repeatedly mentioned is people appreciate being able to spend so much time with their kids at home.
[00:04:46] And especially at that age where you get to really like, see the diff like massive development,
[00:04:52] Brian Letwin: right. Yeah. Yeah. Everything is, you just have to kind of right. View your life as a, like, there’s usually more positive than negative, hopefully. I think most people it’s, a lot of it is how you decide to look at things and stresses there, and stress is more now than it is normally.
[00:05:08] Again, I’m very aware that I’m in a very fortuitous situation of having a stock refrigerator. Everybody’s healthy, happy it got my first shot last week. No objectively, I really have nothing to complain about. And there are moments that are tough and you kind of maybe have a flashback to like, oh, I remember when I used to go outside or ride a bike or you know, to go to a movie theater and you kind of slip into like a momentary depression.
[00:05:33] But if you reflect on any kind of like on a macro level and you see where you are, you’re like, all right, really though. Like it’s fine to have those moments. That’s, that’s an acceptable human condition. But you know, it’s, it’s nice to have a support system. And be in a place mentally where those are fleeting moments, as opposed to like pervade, you know, they’re not all pervading in my life.
[00:05:55] So that’s something to be thankful for. Yeah, no, I
[00:05:58] Niall Mackay: feel very, very similar position describing pretty similar for me as well. Feel very lucky, very fortunate. Have those fleeting moments from times on, on a daily basis, almost, almost exactly like you just described. And you miss things, but then you’re like, you know, yeah.
[00:06:14] It could be worse towards student it’s doing okay. I always, I’ve been thinking about, I wonder, you’re talking about, you know, your daughter’s at the stage where she can’t ask why. And I wonder how those parents cope when they do have kids that are a bit older and you have to try and explain in a way that doesn’t cause panic and fear and all of those emotions, but you still have to explain something as to why you’re stuck at home all day.
[00:06:38] Is that anything you’ve done? Any like research into yet? I mean, I have a bottle,
[00:06:44] Brian Letwin: not really. I think when the time comes, we’ll do it. I mean, like it’s funny. We, we, we live along the highway in district two, so ambulances. So we moved in this apartment in the end of may like June or maybe June 1st or something like that.
[00:06:58] And so the sound of ambulance has been all the time because they’re going up and down the highway frequently. And yeah. And, and Luna my daughter like she just loves the ambulances. Her birthday happened like a couple of weeks ago when we bought her an ambulance, it was like one of her presence.
[00:07:14] She has no sinister you know, like association with them, for her. It’s just like a, you know, a fire engine or a police car or something like that, but it makes a cool noise and has lights. So there’s just been weird, more like more psychological. Effects of COVID on kids that are like, not necessarily negative, but just very much like you grew up in, you know, in 20 years, hopefully, you know, we talk about these things.
[00:07:35] They’ll be like, oh, like you’re a COVID kid, you know, like you grew up with ambulances because you used to hear them going up and down the highway. I, I, yeah. My wife by accident once mentioned about like, COVID as a thing, I think there’s something outside and it’s a, this is why we can’t go outside.
[00:07:50] And my daughter associated with like a monster. And so she’s like, oh, like where’s the monster? Like, and not like scared. And then we’re like, all right, let’s just stop talking about it. There’s no point where I actually going outside. So that’s what
[00:08:04] Niall Mackay: we imagined. It would be the kind of cabins, right?
[00:08:06] Because you don’t want to create that fear of this monster. Alana, what did you do back in New York then back in 2009, 2010, before you came to be in there?
[00:08:16] Brian Letwin: I graduated from university, what, 2006, and immediately got my first job in digital marketing doing like SCM campaigns and stuff like that. And then after a year, You have this I moved to work for large agencies like Mediacom and things like that, doing digital strategy and media buying for brands like Volkswagen for the U S models and stuff like that, which is very interesting in a lot of ways like a 20, what was I like 26?
[00:08:46] I had like $7 million budget to spend a year, which is just hilarious, like don’t ever do that. And I, I mean, I know why they did, but it was it was interesting. I learned a lot things that, especially, it would be helpful when starting a website. Cause at that point I was kind of learning how agencies, like people who buy media, like how they approach publishers.
[00:09:06] So kind of insider information of, of how that industry works and what people look for. And then after doing agency stuff for awhile I, I just got burned out. It was like very valuable from a learning experience, but especially as when the stock market crashed went to subprime stuff in 2008, 2009 they fired like half the team to cut costs, but they didn’t change the workload.
[00:09:29] So we were working 70 hours, 80 hours a week or something, which especially for a job you don’t particularly like have a huge amount of passion for in the first place. It’s not very sustainable. So I quit the agency stuff popped around to a couple other like freelance jobs that paid well, but like were just, just to pay rent kind of things.
[00:09:47] And then found a couple of other marketing jobs that I actually did, like one was working as the marketing director for style wars, which was this documentary from the eighties about graffiti art. And it was kind of like, it’s kind of known as the Bible for graffiti artists. It’s like the first major film about it.
[00:10:02] And they were looking to restore the entire film, all the negatives and stuff. So there was a big push. We did all of these screenings around New York to raise money, to restore the negatives and things like that. So that was cool. And then moved here. So
[00:10:16] Niall Mackay: what was it like then being in New York at the financial crisis?
[00:10:22] I mean, I remember that’s one of the defining moments of my life when that happened. I was in Australia at the time. You would have to be in the, basically the epi center of it. Must’ve been very, very interesting and challenging.
[00:10:35] Brian Letwin: Yeah. It wasn’t like the September 11th level thing where you’re like, I remember where I was and it didn’t deeply affect every single person.
[00:10:42] I do remember though, There being, like I mentioned, like there was this layoff push and I remember people getting called to HR that there was this kind of thing. Cause it was all cubicles. Right. So you’d have a floor, there’d be maybe five or six different teams on the floor managing different accounts.
[00:10:59] And if maybe some accounts were less threatened by others by the crisis. But I remember, yeah, there was this people would see people walking to HR and it was kind of this death walk. So I remember, yeah, like the people would get the call. Like the whole floor would kind of know what was like, something was up and everybody, anybody, anybody got called in for anything people just assumed it was going to be the worst.
[00:11:21] And I guess sometimes it was sometimes it wasn’t, but yeah, I definitely remember like the feeling of dread and also not knowing how far it was going to go. I mean I remember thinking like, oh, this was the right one Obama had also, I think just become president right around that time. And I was like, finally, like maybe, maybe the president will like, hold accountable.
[00:11:40] Like the banks, like the people who created this, like maybe there’ll be this huge reform of the American banking system and like how like bail outs work and and you know, people will get punished. And I think in the end, what, I mean, you can watch, I think the big short or something like these, one of my favorite movies yet it is excellent.
[00:11:57] But then at the end, right, they go through like, what happened to everybody? Like this guy, just like one guy ha they do like the fake thing. They’re like, oh, like, you know, these guys all went to jail and like, all this got shut down. All this legislation was passed and it’s like, actually not none of that happened.
[00:12:09] Like one person went to jail like nothing happened. So I remember there being some hopefulness, but that was squashed pretty, pretty quickly.
[00:12:19] Niall Mackay: Yeah. Cause there was, I mean, so that was, then we kind of both of the whole occupy movement and occupy wall street. And then that spread across the world. On the fringe of the occupy Melbourne movement, which was, which spread out to Australia as well.
[00:12:33] And I remember being so hopeful at that time. I thought this is it. The financial system is changing. The world’s going to get back on a bit more of an even keel. It seemed like people becoming more aware of money work, where money came from, how an equally system was Ani the system was. And then and then just nothing happened really.
[00:12:51] And that actually has had a massive impact on my life since then. And, you know, I would have been two 20 in 2008. I was 26. So put much more idealistic. We can change the world and then it definitely since then, I’ve become much more like, yeah. I mean, if it, if it didn’t change after 2008, I cannot see how the current system is going to change at all.
[00:13:15] Brian Letwin: Yeah. So become equally jaded about these kinds of topics. Yeah.
[00:13:21] Niall Mackay: I become much more. Yeah. I mean, I can see when I’m younger, he would talk about students being such a force for change and not understand why, because when I was a student, you have much less to lose. You have much more idealistic, passionate, energetic, you’ve got more time on your hands.
[00:13:35] There’s tens of thousands of students who you are, this powerful block. And then as you become older, you become more jaded. You’ve seen things come and go. That don’t change. You’ve got less time on your hands. You’ve got more to lose. You’ve got money invested in the stock market. All of a sudden then you’re like, yeah, I don’t know if I need this change, which I feel whole as a whole, I feel a horrible human being for not being that healthy.
[00:14:01] Brian Letwin: Yeah. I mean, you’ve got at a certain point realize you have to live in the world and make enough money to feed yourself and to put your kid or whoever your financial dependents are in a, in a not terrible financial position. I mean, one of the great things my parents did was we were never rich, but my parents saved enough money and didn’t spend money on nice cars and stuff growing up because I, me and my brother graduated from liberal arts schools with no student debt.
[00:14:23] That is something that I’d like to be able to give if nothing else to my daughter, assuming that you know, that the university education system in 18 years, or whatever 15 years from now is similar to the one that we grew up with. I hope not. Cause it’s kinda dumb in a lot of ways. And the, the financial.
[00:14:41] In lays are not worth the product that you’re paying for often. don’t know. One thing was like, I can do over the years, I’ve done so many interviews like hiring people and you can put whatever, like university on your CV, like nobody checks these things. So if you actually think of the value, of course, there’s like going to a liberal arts school, you get grift critical thinking and things like this.
[00:15:02] Like there are definitely valuable skill sets that you learned from going to a good university. But at the same time, like, is it worth, I mean, by the time my daughter, like, is it worth $300,000 at the end? Probably not, probably it’s worth like $30,000 or something. Which is still a lot of money. So I don’t know.
[00:15:20] I’m also very jaded about education industry and the fact that maybe I have to call an industry is already a problem.
[00:15:27] Niall Mackay: Well, so I’m very fortunate. I I’m on the cusp in Scotland anyway. Well, my education was free, so I have a four year bachelor’s degree and I didn’t pay any fees for that at all. I think it was means tested at the time and I don’t come from a, my family are pretty poor growing up, so I don’t pay anything for that.
[00:15:47] I did have some student loans, but that was more just for like spending money, which are pissed up against the wall and didn’t do anything productive with my, in terms of my fees. But even if I had to have paid fees, it would have been like thousand pounds a year or something like that at the time, which is again yet 20 years ago when I was doing, I don’t know what that would be with inflation, but no, I mean, so I was on that cusp.
[00:16:10] It was a few years after I graduated. They started to bring in that you had to pay for fees and things like that. So I don’t even, yeah, I can’t forget about that. Cause I don’t have kids yet about the potential for that. Now in the future of being saddled with these.
[00:16:26] Brian Letwin: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, I have friends in their thirties now who’ve done fine in their lives.
[00:16:31] And I’m sure I wouldn’t say that they regret going to universities or spending the money that they did, but like, yeah, like they they’re just every month, you know, having to throw cash into this. And it’s, again, I think it comes down to equal value, right? So if things are priced so much higher than the value of the product itself, so I don’t think there’s an issue of paying for university.
[00:16:56] But the, the prices are just so out of whack. I mean, there’s so many charts of like the, the increase in the price of, especially in the U S tuition, American tuition and the increase of wages of an income of, of workers. And they don’t, they’re not even close to each other. I mean, the gap is just so, so large.
[00:17:13] So Yeah, and it’s gotten a lot more predatory and it’s just bad and not regulated properly. The U S government, there’s all been all this talk of Biden doing like an executive order to forgive student debt which would be really wonderful. And he should do that. But he hasn’t. So, you know, let’s, let’s see what happens, but yeah, long-term yeah, I don’t know.
[00:17:33] I hope that education turns into something more applicable and something that has more practical use cases in a lot of cases. I mean, I was a Latin American history major, so a lot of my degree, like context helped writing, you know, there’s skill sets within that. So like learning how to write a research and do things like that are all good.
[00:17:53] But that also means like probably 70% of my college experience or something. It hasn’t really. No particularly I I’d rather have just picked for the 30%.
[00:18:05] Niall Mackay: That’s the thing as well, that I think has gotten lost obviously in this hyper capitalized society, is that there used to just be that you got a degree for the sake of learning degree, showed that you have a certain level of intellect, a certain level of dedication to something you weren’t necessarily specialized in anything, but you learn something.
[00:18:25] So I studied science and I love my degree. Like I loved sports science. We did psychology, biomechanics, chemistry, physiology, all of that. And I loved it and I’ve never really used it. I’ve probably forgotten everything. But without that degree, I wouldn’t be, have gotten any of the jobs that I’ve gotten that are completely unrelated to sports.
[00:18:45] And so I wouldn’t be in Vietnam without that degree. So it’s literally been one of the most important things that I’ve ever done still to this day, but it’s completely unrelated to the subject matter. And that that’s like what you’re saying, you studied history of Latin America, right? That’s obviously not your profession, but you learn something super interesting.
[00:19:05] And I feel like that’s another problem because with such a monetary value on your degree now, which is you’re seeing can be 300,000, no, one’s going to go and get a degree in Latin history because they’re not going to make, I mean, even if you’d get a job in a degree in engineering or doctor or lawyer or whatnot, the money is still not enough to pay back.
[00:19:26] So it’s a shame that we’re no, maybe going to lose it. The, the passion for
[00:19:31] Brian Letwin: lounging. Yeah. There’s a lot of that beyond like skill sets of critical thinking or research. I mean, something like Latin American history, like if you study Latin American history, you learn a lot about humanity and you can also start to notice trends.
[00:19:44] So like you could say, there’s, there’s a lot in common with the history of Southeast Asia as the reverse was south America. And I mean, there, part of that is the U S you know what they’ve done and like global international policy over the last hundred years or 200 years. But also just like, yeah, like humanity and if left to its own devices and like, you know, just how far.
[00:20:05] How it’s not been that far away in time of, of like high levels of brutality and stuff. I mean, it’s just you kind of understand the world and you lose some of your, and I have a tape probably from, from doing it. But even though it has no direct application to what I do you certainly kind of get a crash course on, on human nature, if nothing else, which is no matter what you do in life is valuable
[00:20:31] Niall Mackay: to go back to your point there about Biden, forgiving the debt. What we’re about to see over the next kind of, I don’t know, 10, 20, 30, 40 years is the biggest transfer of wealth ever in human history, right. From the boomer, boomer generation to their children and whatnot. And that it would be a real shame then how much of that day?
[00:20:52] Oh, sorry. That transfer of wealth is just going to go to pay towards student debt. You know, it won’t be used to anything productive or helpful in life. It’s like, oh yeah, thank you. I’ve got all this money from mom and dad. Here you go. Pay off my student.
[00:21:07] Brian Letwin: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:21:10] Niall Mackay: Well, let’s move on. So what then spurred you on, how did you end up in Vietnam? I had a close friend from university who had been here for about a year or a year and a half teaching English. And he came to New York on the way back, just for the summer in the U S and stopped in New York on the way back to the west coast where he’s from.
[00:21:29] Brian Letwin: And it was right in that period where I quit my agency job and was kind of doing some freelance stuff. And he said, if you ever wanted to do something completely different then this would be a pretty cool option. And he really loved being here. And I had, no, I had never been to Asia before. Or I think the farthest this direction I’d gotten was well one direction, California.
[00:21:54] And on the other, like Kenya and Tanzania, it was the farthest east I’d gone from, from that side. So Vietnam of course, as an American, just through the lens of the American more experience for the most part maybe I did a quick Wikipedia. Search for some stuff, but I came in pretty blind in terms of understanding where I was going which is fine.
[00:22:15] I don’t regret that at all. And got here and with the intention to teach English. I remember signing up for the ILA training course and started that after a couple of weeks of being here and like doing some motorbike trips with my friend, Jake, who I just mentioned and just kind of getting the lay of the land of things.
[00:22:31] And then I don’t know, halfway through the, I think it’s a one month course. I think it’s a one month certification. I was just. Well, I should caveat that with I got my parents paid for the airfare. My graduation present from university was airfare and language, school tuition, either learning a language or teaching a language that tuition could go towards.
[00:22:51] And that was like the way that my parents would pay for the plane ticket to come. So I was like, all right, that’s obviously what I’ll do. And then halfway through the course and ILA was like, yeah, I don’t, I don’t want to teach English. Like I, I just came to me and I didn’t tell my mom or my parents until I think two years later that I never finished the course and just stopped and was like, all right, I have this experience and agency work and marketing.
[00:23:17] Clearly there’s something I could be doing. That’s more in that realm than, than teaching English. Not that I look down on English teaching, it just was, I’m not equipped for it. Like it was, I remember we were doing like the phonetic stuff where like there’s the backwards ease. And like, I was just like, it became like math to me.
[00:23:34] Like, and I’m not like math is not a good thing for me. I’ve gotten good at like arithmetic and multiplication, mostly because of business development or running a business, you need to do some like quick shorthand stuff. So I’ve gotten good at like percentages and basic arithmetic and multiplication, but outside of that algebra and anything above that level up kind of lost.
[00:23:55] And that’s where the, that kind of got to. So yeah, that’s how I ended up here. And kind of started down that journey.
[00:24:02] Niall Mackay: Would you support yourself then working if you were, if you weren’t teaching English? Cause at that point I imagine there’s too many opportunities.
[00:24:11] Brian Letwin: Well, I had saved some money from my work in the states.
[00:24:15] And I remember going to the ATM for the first time here and looking at my balance and being like, oh, like I’ll never run out of money. If I have this many hundreds of millions of dollars in my account and fuck costs 20,000 dong for a bowl, like clearly I’m good. Right? Yeah. So then fast forward, like two months and I had no more money basically.
[00:24:38] So I, I had met my, who would be my eventually be my wife. Couple of months after I got here. And she was like, my stay, like, she was my motivation factor of like, not wanting to go home. And also there was some elements of a failure of, of going back to the states after a few months as well. And I’m sure.
[00:25:00] Yeah, like my parents loaned me some, some hundreds of dollars and, but I remember they came to visit as well. Cause they had never been to Vietnam before and they were very active in the anti-war movement in the seventies. And so they wanted to, you know, it was interesting experience for them to come here for a place that they knew so intimately through their activism.
[00:25:19] And I had, I remember when they were here, I was applying for a job at the worst, your magazine as the online editor. And that was the job. Like if I got the job, I would be able to stay in Vietnam and if I didn’t get the job yeah. In all likelihood, I would probably would’ve had to go back to the states and luckily I got the job.
[00:25:38] And that was what enabled me to stay and kind of started my path towards where we are today in, in kind of directly and indirectly at the same time.
[00:25:48] Niall Mackay: Awesome. It’s interesting. So we still 20,000, the bowl of her back back then 2010. It’s not going up to my, I mean, it depends where you go. I guess my guest on the last season micro resolve ski who’s up in Hanoi.
[00:26:01] He first came here. I think it was 20 years ago and he remembers getting far for $5,000 a bowl. It’s a, it’s one of these things as well that people, it is obviously quite very inexpensive to live here, but people do. I saw a meme come up this week and be like, I’m going to go to Vietnam and live on a dollar a day.
[00:26:22] You have a dollar a day, get you like a bowl of water and if you’re lucky. So I think you can think it’s super cheap here, but like you still spend money. Like money still goes, like, if it’s not coming in as well, then it’s going to go go, gonna go pretty quickly. So the world magazine, I remember that I first got here just over five years ago that that’s not in existence anymore, right?
[00:26:45] Brian Letwin: No. When we, when I first got here and I guess when this is universal to when you arrived as well, there were a number of, I guess, generally successful because they lasted so long. Ex-pat mag ex-pat focused magazines, print magazines, especially. So there was the word, there was Asia life way magazine had just started when you got here, I guess.
[00:27:06] And Asia life of the word had come from the same magazine called like Saigon, Saigon inside out or something like that. I don’t remember. And there was like a paradigm shift and one person went one way and three days of life, the other one, the other end of the word. And they all, none of them exist any longer.
[00:27:27] In fact I think all of them, but boy cease to exist before COVID even started. Oh, it was a casualty of COVID to some degree, it seems. But the others just never made the digital, the printed digital lead or tried, but did it too late. And to go from a digital, to go from a print team to a digital team is not something you can kind of snap your fingers and do particularly easily.
[00:27:50] It’s such a different.
[00:27:52] Niall Mackay: Because I remember, yeah. When we arrived finding those magazines in either bars or, or wherever seeing them about and being quite interesting. But I do remember, so when we got here, PSIGEN here was basically what people would talk about was you gotta check out Sagan here so that it’s definitely, obviously, probably the most well-known ex-pat English language.
[00:28:14] And I know it’s expanded more now, but English language website in Saigon and in Vietnam. So tell us more about then. So what was, how did you go then from the world to create insight again?
[00:28:24] Brian Letwin: Hmm. Well, so the word there, it’s one of those just as a person that you need to do is you kind of see what take the good and leave the bad.
[00:28:32] So there were a lot of, from HR management to product stuff, to just getting the lay of the land of what it is to be publishing something in Vietnam. There’s a lot of nuance to that across all of those things. Especially as somebody who had never done any of those things before or run a business anywhere before what happened?
[00:28:49] We got the word he came. I mean, I left for basically, I got a much better job offer to do marketing for another company. And. Over time. The real psych in here started because in New York and in the west, most cities have very hyper-local content websites and the word wild hyper-local and all these ex-pat magazines.
[00:29:12] They were very much ex-pat magazines that were like, you know, how to drive a motorbike and how to order different kinds of suits and things like that, which were really. Valuable for your first month or two here. But after that they didn’t hold a ton of value, maybe an article here or there was interesting.
[00:29:28] And you’d read it, but other than that, you kind of didn’t want to be, so you’ve kind of felt like you were a tourist and that’s not, as a long as you get to be a bit longer term of a, of an urban resident of a city, you want to feel a bit more of an insider than being spoken to is like, okay, I know how to drive a motorbike.
[00:29:43] Now I don’t need to read about that. And what we, what I noticed was I was finding just through research of just being an interested person. And I’m someone who likes to, I find value in learning as much as I can about the city in which I live. So in New York, I read lots of books. I’m a nerd of kind of like, I like to walk down the street and imagine what buildings used to be there a hundred years ago.
[00:30:03] And you know, how things got from there to here? Yeah. Sorry to interrupt you. The fact that just seeing yeah. Literally it’s just agony of the meter. Like that’s that is literally what the content, when I say. When I look on the website, it is exactly that. So, anyway, sorry. That’s really cool to hear that it comes from that, that place.
[00:30:22] Niall Mackay: So sorry
[00:30:23] Brian Letwin: on you go. All right. And then I sort of finding things I thought were really, I mean, Vietnam and Saigon have tons of layers. If you want to start going to paleontology analogies but a lot of them, because of the brief, for the reasons that there’s so many interesting. A lot of them haven’t been excavated because of those layers themselves.
[00:30:42] That there’s a lot of personal and political and you know, just, there’s a lot of drama and negativity and positive. I mean, just a lot. There’s a lot to unpack there. And because of that, a lot of the Narcan. Been left to lie in a lot of, or the knowledge is dispersed in ways that are not very accessible.
[00:31:00] So I would just start to like, you know, do deep dives on certain topics and I’d ask my foreign friends, like, do you know about this thing that I just found out? No, never heard of that. Then I’d ask my Vietnamese friends, you know, Hey, have you heard of this? And like, we have no idea what you’re talking about.
[00:31:13] And so then it kind of became clear that whether it was store things or up and coming cultural things, or even like a new building being built or an old building on the corner, like there was just a complete lack of, of information or documentation about all of that stuff. And I was like, okay, well, like I kind of know how to write some stuff.
[00:31:36] Website things. And I’ll just kind of start a blog about this. And I typed, I wanted, I think the domain I wanted was like psych honest or science. I don’t remember something like that. And, and go, daddy was like, nah, like somebody has that. What about this? And this and this and this and this and this.
[00:31:53] Like, that’s stupid. That’s stupid psych in ear. ER, that’s like pioneer. I can make that work. So completely pulled out of the ass of GoDaddy the brand to some extent and That’s where it’ll kind of all all started. And then my wife who’s Vietnamese had lived in Spain for a while and kind of pertain her interest in Spanish culture, through speaking Spanish and through Latin dance and things like this.
[00:32:18] And also through staying in touch with the Latin community here in the Spanish community here in Saigon. And so one of her close friends named Alberto is an, it was an it guy and was getting his master’s degree here. And we just, one day had some drinks and mentioned, it’s like, how are you doing? I told him what I was doing.
[00:32:37] And we had lived together briefly for a period earlier. And so I’m doing this thing. He’s like, I’m also like very interested in that. So he became the it guy and I did all the front end stuff and the writing and the social media. And then it just met the coffee shop at a decibel, which no longer exists.
[00:32:53] This is called this kind of bar and cultural space on fund K bins street in district one every day after work, we both had full-time jobs. For like maybe eight months and then in 2000, April, 2013 a month after I got married, we launched it. And that’s the very long roundabout way of answering your question.
[00:33:14] I think
[00:33:15] Niall Mackay: that’s awesome. That’s not accurate. That’s not long at all. I could listen to more. I, I thought so. Did you invent the word PSIGEN year? Because I assumed that that was already a town for someone
[00:33:27] Brian Letwin: who lived here. We got really lucky with that. So, no, it was an invented term. This term is far as everything we know, like didn’t exist.
[00:33:35] Like I said, like literally go, daddy told me to do it and Yeah, it’s, it’s kind of, it just works naturally. I mean, there’s been points now where like some New York times articles when they interview people and bounce, like they use the word psych in here instead of psych Annis, which is the correct term to be using.
[00:33:53] That’s what I was going to say.
[00:33:54] Niall Mackay: I’ve used the term Saigon a year on, I’m pretty sure on my podcast description on the blog posts, or even just in general chat. To describe someone from Saigon. And I didn’t realize it was a that you guys had come up with it. I thought you’d taken that term and then use that for the website.
[00:34:10] And I love the combination with pioneer as well.
[00:34:12] Brian Letwin: That’s awesome. Yeah, it worked out, it worked out the one negative though is what we started. Second year. There was no expectation for it to become a business, let alone something that would be expanded upon in terms of entering different markets in different languages as it has.
[00:34:27] And so a couple of years ago when we started urbanist Hanoi was when we, we realized we had to have like a universal brand that was still hyper-local. So you in spurt, so urbanist, Vietnam, urbanist annoy, even that got a little bit, cause we also didn’t plan on doing urban as Vietnam or anything in Vietnamese until COVID the plan was to do international expansion and to Taipei and Singapore and Seoul and all these other places, which is still the plan when COVID eventually ends.
[00:34:54] But we decided that urbanist was a good constant brand where you could fill in the blood. As well with the geography is the sub-brand and describe properly the kind of content that we publish. So that’s great. The problem is that in here in reality, should it can’t really conform now to that branding style, which is fine because it has the power.
[00:35:17] We wouldn’t want it to be, but it does make it a bit more complicated to explain some times the branding exercise and stuff. That makes
[00:35:24] Niall Mackay: sense. So it’s, so saignee definitely wouldn’t work in Hanoi then you’ve, you’ve tried that.
[00:35:31] Brian Letwin: I think the reason that you laugh explains, I think you’ve answered your question.
[00:35:38] Niall Mackay: It’s really funny though. If you be like, wait, what? Yeah. That, that I can see that challenge because I’ve obviously noticed the expansion to our business then and whatnot. And it does kind of just sit separate doesn’t it? The Saigon year, but you can’t, you can’t give that up obviously a toll. No. So, so how’s that expansion been then?
[00:35:58] So give us more about that. How did this come from the, you know, starting off a small blog to then becoming what you are in Saigon and expanding
[00:36:08] Brian Letwin: so started. And we hope that people would like it. And we, after a couple of years, it started to take off in terms of brand recognition and traffic and things like that.
[00:36:17] And then we kind of got over confident about it and we quit our jobs thinking like, if you just worked full-time on this, like we’ll make money in no time. That didn’t happen. So that took another basically like two years of just hustling, a lot to just barely kind of make ends meet and do a lot of other projects to make up the difference as well.
[00:36:40] So that got us to like 2016, 17 ish, no, I guess 2016. And we just started to make enough money at that point where, when I went to the U S for a summer I hired this woman named Dana who had been the editor in chief of Asia life before. And she had quit already at that point. And so I hired her just to fill in for me while I was in the states.
[00:37:04] And I remember her starting, she’s like, okay, where’s your style guide? And like, where’s your editorial schedule? I’m like, I don’t know what either of those things are. And she was like, oh my God. All right. So when I got back from the states luckily again, we were had just enough money to borrow. We were able to hire her because we realized like there neither where we had no standards for anything.
[00:37:26] I mean, like we do got just far enough with me writing everything with some freelancers and some, you know, some other resources here and there, but that if we’re ever going to kind of take things to the next level somebody who was professional editorial writer and editor to come on board and standardize things and make it professional shop, at least on that level.
[00:37:46] So we’ve, luckily we’re able to work with Anna, I guess for two or three years, she was the editor in chief. And she was perfect because she was young, even though she was Canadian and white like us, she was fluent in Vietnamese. So she was able to kind of have that extra level of access that, that I do not have.
[00:38:06] So that was a really good hire for us. And then she brought on some people who exist, who our current deputy editor, coy. He was an intern at Asia life. So then she brought him over to Sydney, I guess now for four years ago. And he’s made his way up and is pretty much running the show with Mike and the other editorial staff.
[00:38:24] But I just fast forwarded a bit. So then it hired Dana, Dana freed me up to do more business development and make more money a bit and work more on marketing. And that just kind of took off over time, got to get more brand recognition. Also digital marketing was still kind of in its infancy here. I remember my first meetings with like the Sheraton and these kinds of marketing people and them being like, all right, like what’s digital marketing and having to not just sell the website, but also sell peop you know, people who had been doing print for 15 years or whatever they’ve been doing.
[00:38:56] Luckily that has changed drastically over the years. Then we just started hiring more people more writers, more copy editors, more video people, photographers hiring an accountants and, you know, executives and things like this. And then in 2017, We raised I guess you’d say, yeah, pre-seed round from 500 startups, Vietnam, which is a major VC entity here, especially now.
[00:39:25] They’ve gotten very big over the last few years. So we were one of their early investments, which gave us enough money to expand to Hanoi and also launch a Korean language version of Saigon year, which we currently still operate to, to market towards the Korean readers in Saigon. And of course there are tons of Korean families and business people here.
[00:39:45] So that’s why we did it for them. What is
[00:39:47] Niall Mackay: the number? Do you know the number of, I would guess I have no, there’s a 10 to 20,000 or is that too much or, oh
[00:39:54] Brian Letwin: no, it’s higher. It’s something in the realm of like 80,000 or something. Oh, well I
[00:39:58] Niall Mackay: thought it was only like 80,000. Ex-pats
[00:40:01] Brian Letwin: total. It’s it’s all over the place.
[00:40:03] I, I should caveat that with saying like the numbers are very,
[00:40:06] Niall Mackay: yeah, I’ve looked up before and
[00:40:08] Brian Letwin: time to Enzo. Yeah, there, there was no good answer. Based on a bunch of other numbers that I’ve seen kind of taking the highs and lows and average them out a bit. Because it’s easy to, you know, from our obviously Western centric viewpoint, but over the years you realize, well, yeah, there’s massive amount of Koreans, Japanese Indians, and, and you see, I think often even in the Vietnamese media, they talk about ex-pats, I don’t think they’re entirely, including all those kind of people they’re talking about Americans and Australians and British people and things like that.
[00:40:40] Niall Mackay: So I’ve tried to kinda look at, to see how many ex-pats are there actually here, because it’s a massive Cacho term when these are all definitely different subcultures, not subcultures, subcultures, subsections of the ex-pat community, you know,
[00:40:57] Brian Letwin: Indeed. Yeah, they’re completely different. The content we do on the Korean website is similar.
[00:41:00] There is overlapping with the English stuff, but it’s not the same. There there’s stuff we pick and choose. Like we don’t read about street food very often on the Korean website because Korean ex-pats generally would prefer to eat in restaurants. Things like this I guess that pretty much. So that’s where those other websites come from.
[00:41:15] It’s also around this time that, you know, we, even though we write in English most of our readers are Vietnamese. So it became this kind of thing, which again is from the day we started it, like, it was like, we are not going to make an ex-pat website. We, every piece of content tested will be, well, somebody who grew up in Saigon find this interesting or where they feel like it’s just a bunch of white people writing about Vietnamese culture on a very basic level.
[00:41:40] So to that end, you know, we try to work with Vietnamese writers as much as possible, or the ex-pat writers that we do work with have been here for an extremely long amount of time and go in depth. There’s not a lot. And that’s in general. What we kind of try to say as our product is that we’re a premium publisher in a, in a market where there’s not a lot of time or money spent on creating high quality content.
[00:42:02] This is a market of like one and done quick, you know, make as much content as possible. Place. So that’s kind of the space we occupy. And then when we couldn’t do our expansion international expansion plans, that was the philosophy was in Vietnam. Now you have this large young gen Z or early or young millennial kind of class coming up with, with higher spending power and do more sophisticated, educated you can see their demands and in terms of like consumer products and things like that.
[00:42:31] And we thought, okay, well then there should certainly be a space for a media entity that is also focused on premium equality and writing about things that are not able to find other publications and that it takes a bit more of an academic kind of perspective. And, you know, we’d, we’d definitely deal with pop culture and things like that on the Vietnamese website on urbanist, Vietnam as well and on Saigon year.
[00:42:54] But, you know, we really try to make sure that it has some level of value and in the best case scenario, some level of social value as well. I mean, if nothing else then. Creating a space or for, for people or for ideas or for history or, or something that wouldn’t otherwise exist or have a voice. And that can only just help to enrich kind of the cultural landscape of the place.
[00:43:18] And if, if that’s the best we do, then that’s fine. But you know, we don’t think we’re changing the world necessarily, but we’re certainly trying not to detract from it. We’re trying to add something. Even if it’s not maybe curing cancer COVID or something like that.
[00:43:32] Niall Mackay: Yeah. I mean, we can all cure cancer.
[00:43:34] Can we, I know it’s difficult. Sometimes you have to have that perspective of what you’re doing. You’re like, but you just, whatever you’re doing in the world are creating, you’re making a difference. Somehow we can all be, you know, Changing the world in terms of curing cancer? Well, no, but that’s amazing.
[00:43:49] And it’s really interesting to hear that background because as someone who has been here for since 2016 and even visited before, then you can see exactly the philosophy coming to fruition and it’s fulfilling a good space and, and providing that good information. So it’s really interesting to hear you describe it because that is exactly what I see on the website.
[00:44:11] It’s not like what you’re saying. They’re like, oh, okay. Yeah. Yeah. It’s like, oh yeah, no, that’s definitely, that’s amazing. And it’s exciting to see as well, you know, for, for 7 million bikes is just started off as a little hobby podcast and now it’s becoming into something bigger and it’s exciting to see that there is a.
[00:44:28] There is a path to doing that. I’ve not really thought much further ahead of next week at the moment, but as, as the times kind of dictate, but yeah, it’s exciting to see that what you guys have done and created and to, and then you always guys obviously have a podcast. You are the old GE podcast in Saigon.
[00:44:44] You guys have been going the longest and you would have been the, I imagined I’ve always put you down as the first English language podcast in, in Saigon,
[00:44:52] Brian Letwin: but I think that’s right. I can’t, I, we, at the time that was kind of part of the impetus to begin. It was. Of course like Mike, our editor in chief was like, let’s make a podcast.
[00:45:02] And I think he pitched it and it took, I think it kinda got swept under the rug for six months or something. And then sometime later is like, yeah, like let’s just like, let’s do it. And we’re like, it’s fine. It didn’t come from a place of like, oh God, like let’s, let’s do it. It’s turned into something that we’re really happy with.
[00:45:19] But I think it’s exceeded our expectations and there was this something that people like and a space for us to kind of chat and have some fun and just kinda be ridiculous. So we have a really kind of happy, but yeah, I think we started in 2017. So at that point, I don’t think was. Maybe there was really one.
[00:45:39] I don’t, I honestly, I couldn’t tell you if there was another or not. I don’t remember. I don’t think we did much competitive research at the time that we weren’t thinking about it as a product, as much as just something to compliment everything else.
[00:45:50] Niall Mackay: Well, I started 2019 and again, it was just a hobby and I was just looked to see what else was out there just out of interest, not like competition or anything like that.
[00:46:00] And the only thing I could find at the time with psych in here, and then it’s one of these things like you no, like parallel thinking because suddenly. Within the space of like a few months of my podcast starting, there was like 2, 3, 4 more started up. Like it was the bureau podcast creators in Saigon falling jackfruit came next, which I think is not as not producing episodes anymore, but they’re still available.
[00:46:23] Then there was the sexy meet talks one, which is they’ve kind of snowed. No that one. And
[00:46:29] there was a couple, a couple of those, I think, but yeah, so I, I’m just doing some research right now on putting out some, some articles about podcasting. I don’t know if you saw, I just included a post, including the sagging near podcast.
[00:46:40] And I’ll be in touch with you and the team shoot shortly. Cause I I’ll write up a little bit of a, maybe a week and a history of the podcast or whatnot. I’ve just read one right now, but. So let’s move on. We’ll move on to the final questions. I always love one of my favorite things about a podcast is I literally, we could talk all day, but I don’t think I’m not Joe Rogan.
[00:47:00] I don’t want to do see our podcast episodes. So thank you so much for your time before I ask the final questions, tell us what’s next for PSIGEN ear and tell us all about the urbanist. Where can they find you? Where can they look up?
[00:47:13] Brian Letwin: Sure. So they’re all the websites of the names of the things society near.com.
[00:47:18] You can also find us at all major social media channels. Urbanist, vietnam.com is the name of the Vietnamese language version of our website. And it has a different set of content a bit. And then K a skinnier on any of our websites. There’s a toggle, a little globe icon at the top of the website, and you can navigate to all the other websites through that urbanist, hanaway.com for the Hanaway site.
[00:47:40] What’s next? Well On a business perspective, you know, I’m really trying to find ways to come out of the lockdown in in a really good situations to where like, things are kind of done enough in the background that when the lockdowns are complete and things get opened up again, we can really rock and roll that the restart period is very short, as opposed to like starting only when things are open up.
[00:48:04] So I’m trying to get all my ducks in a row now. So like I mentioned, like we’re currently as busy as we are normally when there is no COVID happening.
[00:48:12] Niall Mackay: Awesome. Well, I’m excited to see how it goes. I’ll obviously be keeping an eye on it and thank you very much as well. Cause you’ve supported 7 million vape with our events this year and you’ve been featuring them on, on the calendar, which is awesome.
[00:48:25] It’s good. It’s, it’s really exciting just to see our own little part being featured on such a big, big platform. Like Saigon is something that I’ve known about since I got here. So that meant a lot to me. So it’s been really cool. Thank you so much. And I met dizzy as well. So I first met you when I popped into Eddie’s one time to see bad.
[00:48:45] And I’ve been cussing Brad since then, because he’s probably called you this. He coached you. He called you Brian Lee twin. And now I can’t bloody get that out of my head. I’ve always known your name was Brian Letwin, but he said it to me. I’d already been talking to you about coming on the show and he said, oh, you should have brought Brian Litwin.
[00:49:04] How’s sorry, I don’t know. Who’s that? He’s like, you know, Brian Lee’s twin. And I was like, I have no idea who Brian Litwin is. And he’s like, you know, I was like, oh, Brian, let wind. And he’s like, ah, hi. Yeah. I call them Brian Litwin and I was like, oh geez. So now I can’t get that out of my head. Anytime I see your name written down,
[00:49:19] Brian Letwin: it’s amazing how often that happens, that it only happens with one demographic, which is typically like American men over 50.
[00:49:28] I don’t know what it is about it. I really have, I couldn’t even start to explain it. Luckily Brad is a gentleman and he can, he can call me whatever he wants. I don’t really care. That’s fine.
[00:49:40] Niall Mackay: So we’ll finish onto these final questions, still the different for, for more seasons who have changed them up from the last season.
[00:49:46] And then we try not to talk too much about COVID other, but they’re a little bit locked down related to number one. Obviously we are in lockdown. We can’t go anywhere at the moment. We’re stuck at home. This is 7 million bait you could get on your bike or any bike. Where would you go right now? And why?
[00:50:03] Brian Letwin: So I thought about this probably more than any of the other questions on this list.
[00:50:06] Like I’m, I’m getting older and so long road trips don’t really appeal to me. So my answer is kind of based on comfort and an underrated place I still think is underrated, which is . I really like the can tell a lot, it’s not the best in the country by any stretch of the imagination, but. As a whole it has a lot going forward.
[00:50:30] It’s quiet generally. It does have a nice coastline. There are like some cool historical vestiges to explore. The FNB scene is not particularly robust, but has some, some good stuff going for it. The seafood is incredible, which is a big deal. And it’s close. It’s just a couple hours drive. So I would, I think like, yeah, once locked out, it’s just like, let’s just go somewhere.
[00:50:53] Like let’s just get there as quickly as possible. I, I don’t think I’d want to go to a resort for anything because that’s just another, you know, like Walden, I don’t want to exchange my small prison for a bigger prison with better food. Well maybe not even better food. I think I’ve been cooking a lot and I’ve gotten a lot better at cooking, but Yeah.
[00:51:15] That’s my answer. Little bow
[00:51:16] Niall Mackay: for the wind. Yeah, I agree. It is the ragey then I’d have just nothing but really negative things about it when we first arrived. And then when we went and I think, and I’ve heard stories that Lou’s negative opinions come from a long time ago, maybe plus five, 10 years ago, I had, there was a bit of the wild west down there, but it’s a, it’s a nice place.
[00:51:36] It’s not like you see at the beach. Isn’t great. It’s fine. But I like it and it’s close as well. It’s not, it’s definitely not as bad as I think its reputation precedes it. So we’ve been in this lockdown now on different levels for nearly three months. I would see. So June, July, you know, nearly all of August what’s been the best thing about lockdown.
[00:51:54] Brian Letwin: Yeah. Two very obvious things time with family on a couple levels, one the daughter, like you mentioned before, it’s just great to be. That’s probably the biggest singular silver lining of this all. Is that in general before COVID so busy all the time that I’d see my daughter for 30 minutes in the morning before she went to school.
[00:52:13] And then in the best case scenario for maybe two hours after getting home from work and being tired after work too, and things like this, and then, you know, usually. Say three nights a week. I’d have some after work, work thing some client thing or some event to go to. So even then I wouldn’t see her very often.
[00:52:33] And now for better or for worse, definitely for better. I, I mean, we, she wakes up at between five 30 and I hate her for that and seven best case. And that rarely happens. My print best case is more like six 30. And the deal with my wife is she takes care of her if she wakes up in the middle of the night, cause I’m a fussier sleeper.
[00:52:56] My wife can pass out again pretty quickly. And then I am the one who puts her to bed at night. And when she wakes up in the morning, I’m the one who hangs out with her. So, and then, so yeah, wake up with her at like six or whatever. Go, maybe take her outside for a walk for a little bit or play with her. Watch some baseball because 6:00 AM coincides with east coast baseball start times.
[00:53:17] And yeah, make breakfast and then do some exercise in the morning. And then with her, you know, just fill her nap time. My wife and I switch off like office hours in this room where the other person works in the living room, kind of half working, half babysitting. And then she takes a nap for like an hour.
[00:53:32] And then that takes us like eight o’clock, 8 30, 9 o’clock at night. And then I have like an hour. We’re an hour and a half to watch some bullshit, like before, and then I go to bed. I’m too tired to like, stay up to like, like when it gets to 11, I’m like, I’m really pushing it. So but it’s great. It’s, it’s wonderful.
[00:53:49] She’s hilarious. She’s an easy kid. All things being equal, especially for someone who’s not able to like go out and expend their energy not to make a comparison, but as a dog owner, you know, that like, if they don’t. Aren’t able to release some of this stuff. Like it manifests in other ways. And yeah, so we put her on the balcony and she does this thing called gymnastics where she goes up on the drying rack, which is like the metal drying rack of clothes.
[00:54:14] And she just like, like a little monkey, he just climbs up and down and like, does these like really what she thinks is like Olympic level, these one handed kind of like this and like, you know, have her legs out of the perfect posture for about an hour. And then she comes in drenched in sweat at like five o’clock and it’s pretty, pretty great.
[00:54:31] And then spending time with my wife is also wonderful. I think we’ve to our, both of our credits done a good job. Respecting each other’s space and realizing that this is a difficult time for any couple and that we have to be a little bit more lenient than we probably otherwise would with each other in each other’s habits and things.
[00:54:50] So yeah, it’s been overwhelming, positive and spending also more time with my parents on video chats as well. We’ve been doing more of that. So, whereas we used to talk to them like once a week now we talk to them, like at least once a day.
[00:55:05] Niall Mackay: Yeah. So what, on the flip side, then what’s been the biggest challenge for you during,
[00:55:13] Brian Letwin: on the personal level?
[00:55:14] Just like watching my kid, not being able to like go to gymnastics class or interact with other children or go have play dates or go to school or, you know, to spend time outside and be, yeah. But that’s, that’s hard. I think it’s harder for me and my wife, because we know what the potential could be compared to Luna who was, again, just like kind of unaware of things.
[00:55:32] She’s just happy to hang out with us and, you know, pretty occupied, just playing with crayons and things generally. The other artists it’s just work like we’re, our company has done a really good job and our staff of. You know, being professional and maintaining their output and being like, we don’t micromanage at all.
[00:55:50] Like we have weekly check-ins for editorial and social media and like different things like this. But everybody, despite the mental challenge that everybody has throughout the company, living with their parents or their significant others have done a good job of plowing through, but at the same time we’re a very family oriented company.
[00:56:10] It that we see each other, like I have a feeling, I don’t know if they’d admit it or not that a lot of our staff the company overlaps is like their more immediate friendship circle as well. I am, I feel like that way as much as a boss, Ken, like I, I try not to, you know, to be aware of that kind of. No, you have to, if you have to make tough decisions, you can’t be friends with everybody.
[00:56:33] Luckily, our staff are so good and senior and the way that they think, and my self managing themselves, that I’ve been able to kind of become more friendly with them because the times where you’d have to be like, sit down and have a serious conversation, like don’t really exist very often. So the need to like, have to like, oh, well, if I have to be a Dick about something I need to like, not be as friendly with them to their credit.
[00:56:57] Like they they’ve made it so that. That kind of situation never really occurs. So thanks to them, I guess, for letting us kind of be friends and a family together and have that mutual respect for one another. So not being in the office of hanging out, having beers after work and just having these conversations and, you know, trolling each other.
[00:57:16] In person we do it online, but it’s more fun to troll in person than individually. That’s been, that’s been difficult. And I, I just, I miss that. I miss those guys so much. Talking on slack does not replace the inner, the human interactions. Shit. I mean, I even miss my clients. Wait,
[00:57:37] Niall Mackay: so you’ve been here now, obviously a long time, 2010 over a decade, or has shocked you the most about VR.
[00:57:45] Brian Letwin: Yeah, I think your next question is what surprises. So right. As shock and surprise. And my answer is kind of the same to both of them, which is at this point I spent like 30% of my life here. This is normalcy to me, so nothing really shocks or surprises me anymore.
[00:57:58] I tried to think of this when I saw the question, you, when you wrote it down, it was like, if I was from Cleveland or something and I moved to Detroit and you know, like, would anybody ask that question? Like, it’s like, no, I mean, like, it’s just, it is the new normal of life and oh man, I got very interested.
[00:58:15] My lexicon, luckily I’m not applying that to a COVID related thing. But yeah, I, I’m not really. I’m not really shocked or surprised than anything anymore. And maybe that’s, what’s shocking and surprising is that this is normal. Like that’s somewhere, this far away from where everything started is now my home.
[00:58:32] Way more than what I associate New York with. Yeah.
[00:58:39] Niall Mackay: Well, I’ll ask you a follow-up question, but in 10 years, life has changed. So immensely here, because I know how much it’s changed in five years. And my wife and I were talking about this just this week, when we first moved here, I remember she asked her sister who lived here.
[00:58:54] W w what are we going to miss? What do we need to like eat before we get here? And she was like wine and cheese. You need to eat wine and cheese before you come here. And this was five years ago because it wasn’t really that common. Now, though, I can buy some nice cheese at Vinmar the Wayne Wayne, depending how much you want to spend.
[00:59:12] You can get decent wine anywhere as long as it’s not that wine. So I guess that’s that’s interesting your answer though, that nothing shocks you anymore because I’m sure when you first arrived 10 years ago, what shocked you the most then? 10 years ago? 11 years ago when you
[00:59:26] Brian Letwin: arrived. Oh, man. Maybe the driving situation.
[00:59:32] Not, not like The busy-ness of like, oh, crossing the street. I mean, it’s certainly that had its own the first couple of weeks, I was like, holy shit. Like how don’t people die? I think everybody goes through that. I think people coming from the Mekong Delta also feel that way maybe when they come to Saigon for the first time.
[00:59:49] So I don’t get a Western thing necessarily. Probably how does the lack of structure coming from America where everything is pretty. There’s not a lot of opaque, social stuff. Like everything is kind of set. Like you walk on this part of the sidewalk and you drive this way down the street, or you’re allowed to do this or that.
[01:00:10] Or if you don’t, you get ticketed really quickly. Everything was just a bit more casual here and still this, I think overall things, some things have been formalized more than others. I remember the food thing that there was, it was hard to get a hamburger or burrito, you know, there was like very specific places to get these things Parmesan, cheese, things like this now.
[01:00:31] Now I don’t think there’s any products like, cause I, I measure it based on what I would bring home from the states. When I visited, I’d go to the shopping and I’d bring cheese and canned artichokes, you know, arts or things like this to cook. Now I’m thinking, because we’re thinking of going to the states for a few months and then in the near future.
[01:00:46] And I’m thinking. Food perspective, what we would bring back, probably a few things that are still available here, but the price is triple or quadruple than they are in the states. So it’s more of a monetary thing that happened.
[01:01:02] Niall Mackay: Oh yeah. Cause we’ve got like a cheese puffs right now, which are just so delicious.
[01:01:06] It’s like a lot don’t treat, but like just yesterday, I think there are about a hundred thousand, 110,000. Then I was saying to Adrian, you know, we’re not spending money on anything else. I’ll buy as many bags of cheese puffs as I want, because that’s like the price of one beer, but she made the caveat.
[01:01:20] She’s like, yeah, but you’re still paying like two or three times as much as what you would ever pay in the us for it. So if you do go, please bring back a box of
[01:01:27] Brian Letwin: cheese. Yeah. Yeah. Unfortunately like wine has been more, one of those she’s picked off equivalent. We have a friend who runs a Spanish wine importation company and because all of his customers used to be restaurants.
[01:01:43] Now he’s just doing, nobody’s buying that anymore on wholesale. So he’s been selling all his wine at like 50% off that just like distributor prices, I guess. And yeah, I mean, we’re still paying double or triple for the wine that you would get otherwise. But, you know, I, I hear the kind of like, you just settled, like I’m not, we’re not spending money on other stuff.
[01:02:02] What else do I kind of have to live for in this kind of like instant reward kind of way? Of course my dog know objectively, my daughter I’d live it. Right. But I’m like at the end of the day when you’re like finished work and you’re like, oh man, I just want something. And food and food is also that food is great.
[01:02:19] But not quite as much as something. You know, mind altering and a bit farther down in my life where I don’t really partake in any of the other mind altering things. So the is my, my current vice and I’ve even tried to, I was at like a bottle of wine a day, but at the beginning of lockdown, cause I was like, fuck it, it’s a party.
[01:02:38] Like let’s do this. And after like a month it was like, that’s getting really expensive and I’m definitely an alcoholic now. So I’ve I’ve, I’ve gotten down to two or three days of bottle, which I find to be successful.
[01:02:54] Niall Mackay: No, you’re you’re 100% not alone on that because as our equivalent has been cocktails, so we’re, we don’t like drink a lot of cocktails.
[01:03:04] I’d probably like to have the happier people we like to go out for happy hour and we’ll go to 86 proof or whatnot, and we’ll have a, you know, an espresso martini or a Negroni or a monk genie margarita. Sorry. And so we, we missed all of that in the beginning. So at the beginning of this lockdown, we, we bought in a whole bunch of liquor, which we normally don’t really have liquor in at all.
[01:03:24] Maybe one bottle of whiskey, don’t sit in the capita for a few months, but we stopped a cabinet full of like, you know, nothing, nothing really expensive, just all the basics, but like gin, vodka, tequila, whiskey, everything rum, which is still there because we don’t drink rum. But so our thing was making like Negroni’s and espresso martinis and things like this at home and similar to you.
[01:03:46] Yeah. We were like, afternoon. It was like, well, might as well just have a drink. It was like, you said a big part. It’s like, it didn’t think it was going to go on from us longer than that. And then yeah, it got to that like month stage and it’s like, okay, I’m drinking way too much. Now, like, this is, this is not like, it was fun in the beginning, but now I, I
[01:04:04] need to cut back on that so we could just see, I mean, no, we’ve just back to almost like normal levels, like have a little drink at night or whatnot.
[01:04:11] Maybe once a week, have a little bit more, but no, not the levels in the beginning where it’s like, yeah, we’re home. Let’s just have a party.
[01:04:18] Brian Letwin: Yeah. Yeah. I think I realized like, it was really potentially getting bad when I got my first COVID job and I was feeling pretty shitty the first three days after getting it because I stopped drinking also during that period as well.
[01:04:30] Yeah. And you know, like in day two, I was like, like really feeling pretty bad. I was like, you know what, like, man, this is getting to me and I thought, well, maybe. You’re just going through alcohol withdrawal because there’s a show called always sunny in Philadelphia, which is if I was going to have like a Bible kind of texts in my life, that would be it.
[01:04:49] And there’s an episode where they all go through like they stopped drinking and they’re all alcoholics and they all get like really sick. And then one day they just like, you know, one of the characters, like those they’re like locked in the bathroom, quarantine in this episode, I’m not going to go further into the plot line, but one of them was like, oh, I hide like alcohol under the sink and the bleach container.
[01:05:08] And they’re like, you’re an alcoholic, like whatever. And they all start drinking and they go from like all being on the edge of death to like the next scene is all of them just like hanging out there. Like, I feel like really good. And it’s like, we haven’t been sticking at all. We just have, we’re just alcoholics.
[01:05:22] Niall Mackay: And as I said, it’s not just you, because I’ve had this conversation with several people, even when I took the dog out, you know, and it just briefly had a conversation with another dog. And he said the exact same thing as I was like, yeah, I realize the same as you he’s. Like, I went through like a bottle of wine a night and, and we were getting into Aperol spritzes and we were making like afternoon Aperol, spritz, and then same thing about the same timeline after about a month was like, okay, we need to, we need to come down.
[01:05:48] So I think anyone I’ve spoken to, I think we’ve all kind of gone through the same, the same process. So thank you so so much, Brian has been awesome. This has been a long time coming. It’s been great to catch up. Yeah, really, really good to hear about sagging. You’re really inspiring as well. And for me as someone who’s pushing forward, the 7 million Bates, it’s great to have you all.
[01:06:07] It’s good to have a chat and I hope that you and the family are doing well. It truly, it sounds like you guys are doing well. And you kind get a good attitude. Same as me. It’s tough, but you know, we’ve, we’ve, it’s not, it’s not the end of the world too tough. So hopefully we’ll get through this. We’ll come out sooner on the other end and we can catch up for a proper drink.
[01:06:24] In-person at Eddie’s with Brad and he can put you
[01:06:27] Brian Letwin: your name. Fantastic. Looking forward to it. And thanks for having me. You’re very welcome. Cheers. Yep.
[01:06:44] oh God.