An interview with Judson L. Moore
  • July 12th, 2019

Judson L. Moore, Author of Exponential Happiness: How to identify and pursue life goals starting at a young age

1 H 48 MIN
In this Episode

Judson L. Moore is the author of the Leanpub book Exponential Happiness: How to identify and pursue life goals starting at a young age. In this interview, Leanpub co-founder Len Epp talks with Judson ( about his background, his parents' activism in his youth regarding the rights of people with disabilities and their families, his years working for the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan and helping to set up a network of journalists, his time working in Hyderabad, his eventual return to Germany, his book, and at the end, they talk a little bit about his experience as a self-published author.

This interview was recorded on June 11, 2019.

The full audio for the interview is here: You can subscribe to the Frontmatter podcast in iTunes here or add the podcast URL directly here:

This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.


Exponential Happiness: How to identify and pursue life goals starting at a young age by Judson L. Moore

Len: Hi, I'm Len Epp from Leanpub, and in this Frontmatter podcast, I'll be interviewing Judson Moore.

Based in Berlin, it seems like a shame to try to describe his career in just one sentence, but amongst the many things he has done, Judson is a travel writer, product management professional and social entrepreneur, who currently works with eBay.

You can follow him on Twitter @judsonlmoore, and check out his website at

Judson is the author of the Leanpub book, *Exponential Happiness: How to identify and pursue life goals starting at a young age. In the book, Judson shares his own experience and philosophy, in his own voice, on some of the most important decisions we make in our lives, particularly with a view to talking to people starting out on their journey, but also for people who want to start a new one - and anyone who finds themselves in a situation where they're getting asked for life advice.

In this interview, we're going to talk about Judson's varied background, career and professional interests, his new book, and at the end, we'll talk a little bit about his experience being a self-published writer and author.

So, thank you Judson, for being on the Frontmatter Podcast.

Judson: Thank you so much for having me, it's a pleasure to be here.

Len: I always like to start these interviews by asking people for their origin story. You have a particularly interesting one, so I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about where you grew up, and how you first became interested in travel?

Judson: It's funny, I often refer to how we live in the modern age of superhero tales. With Marvel Comics and everything else, everyone seems to have to have an origin story.

I often talk about my origin story being about a youth camp that I participated in, in Louisiana, when I was 15 years old. But to start there, I think I'd be doing a disservice to really what led me up to that point, and what a lot of the book is the result of, I think.

I was born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, to two parents that are both ordained ministers and academics. I have a brother who's two years older than me, his name is Lew. He was born with cerebral palsy, and he actually died when I was 14 years old. He was two years older than me. Of course, this had a huge impact on my life growing up, throughout my childhood, having a handicapped brother who wasn't able to care for himself. Having to have the extra care from my parents, also meant that one of the best ways that I could contribute to his care, was to take care of myself when I was able-bodied and old enough to do things for myself. And then of course later, also helping my parents with his care as well.

But this gave me, from a very young age, a very independent streak. It really taught me how to live in this world, take care of myself, make my own decisions, move through the daily struggles that we all face - mine being my own. We all have a different story.

But for me, this thing that I also refer to - it's the very worst thing that can ever happen to a parent. Not just the loss of a child, but the prolonged loss of a child. Living with that for so many years, and having that be the definition of your day-to-day life. It's a very difficult thing. But for me as a child, of course, it was the only thing I ever knew. It was just life as usual.

I always had very supportive parents. They were always there for me when I did need them. I don't want to give any impression like I was neglected, that's certainly not the case. But I was able to be independent at a very young age, I think. And that made a big impact on me later on in life.

When I was still, by most measures, quite young - I was fairly independently-minded. And so when I was starting to be faced with opportunities as a teenager to participate in various types of programs, or just different experiences that maybe others would have thought of, or would have a little bit of hesitation about whether or not they could have participated in - I felt a little bit more empowered or able to raise my hand and say, "Yes."

So the origin story that I often tell, was - when I was 15 years old I was at this Rotary camp. It's like a youth camp hosted by the local Rotary club in Louisiana where I lived. I moved there when I was 14 years old, so this was one year later.

It's kind of a typical summer camp. It's got some leadership components, some team building components. Just learning good social skills and all this stuff. And there are also some pieces where we had some community leaders coming in and speaking about various topics and sharing their stories with us.

There was one presenter in particular, who came and spoke with us. As this was a Rotary camp, of course they didn't miss the opportunity to promote some of the other Rotary youth programs that they support. And one presenter came to talk about the Rotary youth exchange program. She said all these magnificent things about how you as a teenager can live somewhere else in the world for up to a year. "And we'll pay for it. And you'll get to live with a local family and go to a local school, and learn the local language. And you're going to have this adventurous and exciting experience, and you should do it now. You can do it as a teenager, you can do it as a student - and it's not going to cost you or your family any money, and we're going to sponsor this, and we're going to make sure that you're in a safe place, with a good family that will take care of you." They're recognized as a symbol of trust around the world. It sounded just like a marvelous opportunity.

The call to action, at the end of her presentation, was for any interested student just to go up and talk to her. Just say, "Hello," let her know your name, and just say that you're interested. I thought to myself, "Oh wow, that is a line that I am going to have to get through - elbows out, jump my way through and like stage dive to the front of the crowd to get up there and try to get my name known." And of the 50 or 60 campers in the room, I was the only person who spoke to her. As a result, a year later I was in Germany for the first time. I did live one year, my 17th year, in Germany as a Rotary youth exchange student.

This is the experience that changed my life forever. For many, many years my peers, some of them who actually were in that camp with me, who were in that same room and had the same offer that I had - they asked me for a long time how it is that I was getting these opportunities, why I was getting to travel? It all went back to that moment.

It took me a long time to figure out, "Why me?" How was I special? What was different about me to them? In my own opinion, I would've thought that any of them probably could have jumped the line in front of me. Just family status or more established in the community. If they had expressed interest, they probably almost surely would have been chosen to participate in this program before I would have been.

And yet, it was me, because I had the tenacity to express interest. To raise my hand, to say, "I'd like to be considered." And the difference between me and them was probably somewhere in lines that I was somehow conditioned to think that there was a chance for that. That I could raise my hand, that I was allowed to put my name in the running for that sort of opportunity.

Len: That reminds me of a really interesting anecdote that your mother told on the Expat Sandwich podcast interview, where you were a little toddler, and at one point you and your family were in the living room or something like that. And you went into the kitchen - on your own, without explaining - to get a hand towel. And you came back, and you helped out your brother in some very specific way. And your mother tells this great story, where she's like, "Oh, like he walked away from all of us with this plan to go do something, to come and to help his brother. And that just sort of came to him naturally."

This idea of - without thinking about it, just taking for granted the fact that you can make these decisions and go do these things - seems to be something that was there very early on for you.

Before we go on - and thank you for being so forthcoming and sharing all these details - your family came to some political attention as a result of the challenge that you faced. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Judson: Yes, sure. So, it was funny for me growing up, one of the tales I like to tell is that as a child, a family vacation for me was a trip to Washington DC to lobby Congress. My parents were involved in a coalition of parents of children with disabilities in Kentucky, so they were active in supporting children with disabilities, but also supporting the families of children with disabilities. A lot of that revolved around health, various types of healthcare reform, also education reform and access to physical therapy and other resources such as this. And for one reason or another, my family was frequently invited to share our story both at the local, state and national level to various political leaders and other groups who were also working in these topics.

My aunt was living at that time in Alexandria, Virginia, just across the way from Washington DC. And so that really gave us access to go to DC. We had a place to stay. We didn't have a lot of money coming up. A lot of the money we had were put into the health care costs to support my brother. But we could afford the gas and drive over the Smoky Mountains and get to DC once a year and participate, and have that voice there.

There was one very special occasion when we were invited to offer congressional testimony, and Hilary Clinton was in the audience, or she came to bear witness to the stories that we had. There were a number of families. We were kind of like lined up in procession order, and she came down the row and met everybody.

And yeah, there's press and there's media and there's hundreds of people around. There's all this chatter, and everybody's vying for somebody's attention. Everybody's got something to say. And I was a child, so it was hard for me to probably grasp all this. But my parents tell the story all the time that this was the most positive political moment that they'd ever encountered.

Because amongst all that chaos, when Hillary got to us, it was like everything melted away. She was in a room with my mom, my dad, me, and herself - and that's it. There was nobody else. She was just laser focused on what we had to say. And that was a very moving moment. I mean I knew who she was, she was First Lady at the time. And I was old enough - I was probably seven or eight - to kind of grasp the gravity of all that. But it definitely left a mark, seeing my parents being being activists for something that they cared about, working on a topic of social good - having their voice not only being projected, but also being heard by people of influence. It made an impression on me as a child, and one that probably did take a long time to sink in on me as being somehow rare or an odd opportunity.

Because, again, it was the only life I ever knew. And my parents weren't highly connected political folks. But they had this topic, and they worked hard to promote issues around this topic. And occasionally that led to opportunities to get our story across the table and into the minds of people who really could make an impact.

Len: And after you spent your very adventurous year in Germany, you chose to study politics in university.

Judson: That's correct.

Len: What led you to that?

Judson: Well, I can't talk about politics without talking about Germany, but there's a whole other thing that happened in the middle. And of course all this goes back to those familial routes in politics as well.

After my year abroad in Germany, I came back to the United States, and I still had to graduate, had to finish high school. My scheduling was such that I was able to graduate in the middle of the year. So the ending of my high school was actually in January. And rather than taking off or starting university right away, I decided I wanted to have a little bit more of a "normal college experience." Because I'd actually gone to five high schools. I moved from Kentucky to Louisiana in the middle of that, and I'd shifted schools a couple of times - plus the year abroad.

And I loved it. I love meeting new people, and it was during those formative years of trying to discover yourself. It was also cool to be able to hit the reset button every year with a new audience of people, and be a new you if you wanted to be. And it was a really exciting time to get to make those shifts.

But I think I'd had enough. And when I went to university, I wanted to be a little bit stable. So that meant I wanted to enter into the fall, when most people start university. And that meant that I now had six months of unoccupied time.

I saw that coming in advance. So I stripped out all my extra-curricular activities from school, and I got an after-school job, and I saved money selling car radios at a Sears. If that doesn't date me, I don't know what does. But I performed very well in that job. Because all the other salespeople wanted to sell big screen TVs. But you had all these kids coming in wanting to buy car stereos for their car - and I was their age, so I was able to sell car stereos like crazy. I did that for half a year, and made decent money, especially for that age. Then, I applied that to a six month backpacking trip across Brazil, after I finished high school.

This kicked off my real understanding of what programs like the Rotary youth exchange program was going to do for me in my future. Because when I went to Brazil, my routing was to visit all of these Brazilian students who had been in Germany as well, and who were now also home. I would go visit them at home and visit their families. Most of their families were also members of their local Rotary Club. So I got to go as a guest to the Rotary Clubs. Oftentimes I would present, since I was a foreign visitor. I'd get to present my story there as well. If there was a service project going on, I got to participate in those as well.

It was this experience, especially some of those local service projects with the Rotary Clubs, when I got to go to some of the favelas in Brazil. The very, very poor neighborhoods. And this was me now as an 18-year-old, being face-to-face with real poverty for the very first time.

The experience in Germany was fantastic. It played a huge role in who I've become. But it wasn't so different from being in the United States. It's a developed nation, it's beautiful. It's culture's in some ways very similar.

But Brazil's a very different country, and it is beautiful. People ask me now, they say, "Judson, of all the places you've been, what's your favorite place?" And I never have to hesitate. The answer's always Brazil. There's just something about it, it's magic in the air. The people are just beautiful on the inside and out - it exuberates through the culture and the music, and the air has just a different vibrancy there.

But on the other side of that, you see real suffering and real poverty and real issues. I got to see all that face-to-face and experience some of that, and walk away and come back to America, as I needed to make decisions about what I was going to do in university.

Though I didn't really know what it meant at the time, and maybe in some degrees I'm still trying to figure out what this means - but the mission statement of my life that I wrote down at that time, was that I wanted to work in the international arena, and I wanted to do something that would make the world a better place. And to me - with my childhood upbringing, seeing how politics shapes the world, and my time abroad - it made a lot of sense to me that I would follow a political path. And so I chose to study foreign policy.

Len: And then at the end, you decided you didn't want to pursue at that time, that career. You tell this story, that you had a kind of negative epiphany, as it were, in class?

Judson: Yes. So, because fate always, always has a twisted sense of humor, I was in a class in my final semester of university. The class was called, "Foreign Policy." So it was exactly what I thought I'd wanted to do. I was in this class. There was a bit of role-playing simulation component to this class. It was actually a very cool class. But I realized one day, "I don't want to do this. I don't want anything to do with this."

There just so, so much in that political space, where you're playing chess against people's lives and livelihoods. What village is going to stop getting fresh water, so that we can get oil? These types of things. Anyway, that was the impression that that class and some of my other classes, left on me at the time.

And I said, "No, I understand that politics definitely can be used for good. And I also do believe that American foreign policy also leads to a lot of good in the world. But I can also see where there's some conflicts, and that there are some times when the humanitarian mission does not win the day."

I just didn't think I had what it was going to take to really be part of that at that time. There was something about the political education - a lot of it is political history, it's really a history degree with a concentration in politics, right? I mean, this is what you get. It's not really about the mechanics of politics. And of course you learn the Constitution and things like this.

But it's not really about, what is a career politician, or what is it like to be a career civil servant? I learned some of those lessons later - but at that moment, it just seemed to me like, "This is not going to be the move for me." What I felt at the time was, I said, "Okay - there's also probably three things that I can do with a political science degree. I can go to law school," which I wasn't particularly interested in doing. "I could get some low level job or internship in some political office," which - actually, as I turned around and looked at all my peers studying politics, they had already been interning in political offices for years, and I'd never considered that as something I really wanted to do. So that was an indicator that maybe I wasn't going in the place where my heart really was.

The third thing I said I can do with a political science degree, is, "Have a career change." And so I chose the career change.

Len: We've got a lot to talk about, when it comes to what you did next. But you're reminding me - George Packer recently had an article in Foreign Affairs about Richard Holbrooke. And there's this really interesting anecdote he tells, where Richard Holbrooke is in Vietnam, that's where he was sent first with the foreign service. He was sent to some rural place, and there was some other American man there - young men, they're in their early 20s. The other guy was there to serve some kind of charity. And Holbrooke goes, like, "I'm the man from the State Department, and this is the boy from the charity." And I just thought, "Fuck you, that's not interesting or tough."

Rhere was actually a quite - it's sort of understated, but a very scathing article about Packer's book about Holbrooke, in the New York Review of Books. The article's very polite in - let's put it this way, it's respectful of a man, who earned a good reputation. But it all got me - when you were talking about this, it got me thinking about how, if you enter into the foreign service as a career early on, then it seems okay to have dreams about your career and what you're aiming for. But it always struck me that there must be - for people who are of genuine intent, some kind of conflict, between this being about the issues that you're facing, and yourself. Are you really in Bosnia to advance your career?

Judson: Right, right.

Len: And the answer for some, for a lot of people who succeed in those roles is, "Yes." It's about them.

Judson: Yeah. They call these "hardship posts," right? When you're not in Paris or Berlin or London, you've got a place like Bosnia, Afghanistan - places that are war zones, or previously war zones that don't have - quote - "Western standards of living." They consider these places to be a hardship post. And you get kind of accelerated in your career if you volunteer for those posts early on. Because if you do that for one or two rounds of duty, so two or four years, then you can kind of get a little bit of preferential choice in the next rounds. Or, a lot of people will look at you and say, "Well, you served your time." I always thought that serving in those environments would just be most rewarding, because maybe those are the places that you can make the biggest impact?

I mean, as a diplomat in one of the fancier cities of the world, I'm sure life would be grand - but how boring. You know what I mean? What are you really doing to make the world a better place, if you're a diplomat in London? I envy the lifestyle. I'm sure it's a fantastic place to experience being a diplomat and to get to go to all those types of events and activities and meet those people. And if you have a family, to raise your family there - it is wonderful. But yeah, for me, for somebody, especially being younger, and wanting to make more of a splash in the world, trying to impact people's lives more directly - I don't think I'd be able to accomplish that or to feel that I was contributing sufficiently if I was in those types of places. So yes, for me - bring on the hardship post. That sounds a lot more interesting.

Len: And so you joined the Peace Corps?

Judson: Right. I went full-on hardship post.

Len: You went to the Kyrgyz Republic.

Judson: Yes, that's right - the Kyrgyz Republic, Kyrgyzstan. It's one of the "stans" in Central Asia. It's on the north-west side of China, south of Kazakhstan. I believe it's the smallest of the "stans," but we'd have to fact check me on that. But for me it was actually pretty small.

I was there from 2011 to 2013, and they had suffered a political revolt in 2010, just a year or so before I arrived. Everything was fine, it wasn't war or something like that. But there was a little bit of unease, mostly in the south of the country.

And so actually for my term of service, Peace Corp volunteers were only allowed to travel and serve in the northern half of the country, and weren't even allowed to travel to the south for any purpose. It's already a smaller country, and then for me it just got cut in half. But it was more than enough to give me opportunities to make an impact.

Len: Speaking of that impact - as I understand it, one job you had was helping to set up radio transmitters in this - I'll get it a little bit wrong, but obviously you'll get a chance to correct it - but you were setting up radio stations and radio transmitters in this mountainous country, and radio's hard in the mountains. But everybody had phones. And there was also something about setting up computer labs in schools. You took some knowledge that you gained from this experience. to help set up a network that was used by journalists, I believe? So now that I've mangled it - you have got a chance to get it right, I guess?

Judson: Actually, you did pretty well. So I'll fill in some details for you.

Yes, my initial assignment was working with the community radio station in the western province of Kyrgyzstan, called Talas. It's kind of like the wild, wild west, and they embrace that wild, wild west as a badge of honor. They often compared themselves to Texas in the United States. And the way - with the accent, they'd be like, "Talas is Dallas." They were really proud of this, and in a way that you'd find in Texas as well.

But yes, I was there, assigned to work with this community radio station. And on my arrival, they were celebrating their fourth anniversary since their initial broadcast.

Honestly, they were doing great things. As a community station, it's mostly volunteer-based. They would train people in the community with the technical skills and the journalistic skills for how to do radio journalism, how to put together a show. Some of it was journalistic in nature, some of it was more entertainment in nature, like doing like radio dramas and plays and that sort of thing.

It was really open. Anybody in the community who wanted to participate, could come and get the crash course and participate, on an all-volunteer basis. There was a strong emphasis on engaging students from the local schools as well. And so this was great, like an after-school activity for a lot of them. There were a couple of professional journalists that were involved in this as well.

The supporters of the radio station, the funders and the institutes that were backing them outside of Kyrgyzstan, because of course they had local support as well, but there was a lot of support coming from entities like the European Union Commission, Deutsche Welle Akademie - which is the academic arm of the Deutsche Welle, which is sort of like the public broadcaster here in Germany. There were othres, like USAID and other multinational aid agencies. UNESCO was another big one. They were all trying to model this community radio plan around central Asia as a reflection of the successes that they had seen with community media in Sub-Saharan Africa in previous decades.

The difference between Sub-Saharan Africa and Kyrgyzstan is - as you pointed out, the mountains. When you can go to the plains of Africa and erect a radio tower that runs on solar panels and you can broadcast a 500-mile radius, that is a very different story than when you go much further north where you're getting much less sun and you need to erect a radio tower that in flat terrain have a long range, but you're in high mountains. Europeans who visit there, they call Kyrgyzstan the Switzerland of Central Asia. And they really do have very, very high mountains there. And so radio in that environment, it just doesn't work very well.

There were a lot of Peace Corp volunteers - there were 100 volunteers in the country at my time. It's a 27-month term of service. And so every year you're getting a new group in, roughly 45 or 50 new volunteers. And many of those volunteers were either teaching English, or teaching teachers how to teach English. There were also some that were working in health services as well. I was what was called an "economic development volunteer." What that really meant is, "Make the best out of it that you can, kid." So I had a lot of flexibility, and I was able to think creatively about the problems presented to me, and make my own schedule about them.

What I saw with the radios, I said, "This radio station doesn't really need my help, or I feel very limited in my capacity to help them. Because they've been doing this for years, they have a really good thing going here. They already have a lot of community involvement. They're broadcasting over 12 hours a day of original content, good quality content. They have a lot of international backers. So funding isn't a problem. And their professional development, the training is also world-class. So I'm not going to compete on any of this."

But part of their sustainability plan was that as they were developing these skills - they should then be the ones who go out and train other would be radio stations around the country, in those skills. So they should do that knowledge transfer. And this is the sustainability. You're training all up in one location, but then that location spreads it out to the other parts.

And so a lot of what I did, was, I would sit there in the village at this radio station, and I would help them make training materials for about a month. And then at the end of the month, we'd all travel to the capital city of Bishkek. And in Bishkek - all these journalists would come from all over the country, and they would receive the training, and it would be wonderful and full of enthusiasm and lots of participation. They'd get really good results during the training.

We'd have some testing radio shows or whatever, but then they'd all go home, and the vast majority of them were going home to places that had not yet received the technical equipment and the investment necessary to have a radio station.

It's very expensive. Of course you have all the licensing and the governmental agreements and all that. But it's also the importing of the towers, the transmission equipment. You need to have a physical space to secure all these things. You need to have power and electricity, and so on and so forth; there's just a lot of stuff you've got to do.

I did this for, going on a year, and I was contemplating what I was seeing. I was feeling like, "I don't know if what I'm doing here is really useful. I don't feel like I'm contributing that much value. I mean, everybody seems to be glad I'm here, and I'm glad I'm here - but what impact am I really making?"

And one day, I went home - I was living with a local Kyrgyz family - and I came home and my host mother, who's one of the village elders. was sitting at the dining room table having tea with some of the other village elders. They called me over. I had just walked in the door, and I had an iPad in my hand for whatever reason. They snatched the iPad from me, and start passing it around the table. And instantly one of them takes it, and they hit the home button. It lights up, and she swipes on the swipey thing and unlocks it. And she starts going around apps and opening an app and closing - she just like took off, like she knew exactly what she was doing.

And I had this Epiphany moment, where I said, "Oh my Lord, these people, they know technology. Every single person in this country has a smartphone, or some degree of personal phone that they can use for WhatsApp or texting or email. Stuff like this. This is how people communicate. WhatsApp was how people stayed in touch with their families. People didn't make phone calls or text, they WhatsApped everywhere.

What I also saw in some of those other volunteers that were working in schools - one of the flagship projects that we would launch in schools, were computer labs. But the computer labs had a whole mess of problems. I mean, of course, they're expensive. And you get this equipment. But they get viruses on there, because information gets passed around on thumb drives. They don't really have access to the internet, in order to download these hundreds of megabytes of updates every month for your anti-virus. Electricity can be a problem.

And so a lot of times, these computers - you have an opening celebration of the computer lab, but within a few weeks all the computers are packed up in boxes and locked away in a closet. Because they're seen as these valuable things, we have to take care of them. And what we know is - if we leave them outside, they break - so we have to put them in the closet so they don't break. But then they're not being used.

Len: That's just such a wonderful anecdote - because when you first hear the story of, a school gets all this really expensive equipment, and then it ends up being - you go to the lab where it was all set up, and it's all gone, and then find where it is, and it's like locked in the administrator's closet. The first thing you think is naturally, "Oh, there's some kind of corruption going on here." But actually it was a reflection of a deep respect for the equipment, to protect it from being harmed.

Judson: Yes. It's really true.. And it's heartbreaking to see that.

Part of it's a little bit funny sometimes. And then you try to explain to people like, "Well, break it, and then we'll figure out how to fix it." But then the sustainability of those computer labs are also quite low. Because a lot of times that training - that continual education and training and updates and maintenance and stuff, it's not there. And it just becomes a whole lot of money spent - for a good cause, with best of intentions - but it doesn't get very far.

This gave me the idea, that if we shifted the journalist’s medium if we took them from radio and put them on the internet via mobile device, that this could enable them to start telling their story right now.

Because a phone - a mobile phone, you can do everything on it you need for journalism. You can take pictures, you can take video, you can edit, you can take audio, you can type, you can upload, you can download, you have a connection to the internet whenever you need it. If the electricity goes out - no problem, your battery's going to go another eight hours or whatever. You can plug an adaptor into it and then show, from your phone, a presentation that you downloaded off some online library. And you can show it on a big screen TV in the community center. There's just all sorts of things that you can do from a phone. And even if some really remote village doesn't have internet access, well, you can still do all the things on the phone - and then once a week, go down the mountainside and upload it all and capture the new stories.

I wrote a proposal for this. And with my software and blogging background, I had a little bit of a technical idea of how I could put this together. And I found a journalism school in the capital city, Bishkek, called Kloop. A just marvelous institute. And in the end, I was able to secure three years of funding from a lot of those entities I mentioned before - but primarily from UNESCO, based out of the Kazakhstan Almaty office and from the European Union Commission. They fully funded the project for three years via the local partner of the Kloop journalism school, that was teaching journalism skills to youth in the capital city.

They've gone on to do all sorts of marvelous things. They even now have a space program for girls, where they're putting together a satellite, like a toaster-sized satellite that they're going to send into space. And it's all girls - ages like 14 to 20 or something like this, who are building it with a cosmonaut or a space scientist from the Russian Space Program.

They're just doing incredible things. One of their founders is actually now one of the senior TED fellows, like from TED Talks. The whole story is just wonderful and fantastic - and this was one of the greatest pleasures for me, I also get to work with that school and get to know those students and to work with those leaders.

We put together this website. We distributed phones to all these journalists around the country, and built a website at That was in 2012 - and now we're sitting in 2019, and that is one of the powerhouses of online media of Central Asia.

Len: I'm looking at it right now. Congratulations on their and your success with setting that up. And seeing the legacy of these projects persist, is such a reward.

Judson: It really is. And what a rare opportunity that is, because for so many of the things that we will do in our life, we will not see the impact. Many of the impacts that that website makes today - I cannot see the impact of that either. But I can go into Google Analytics, and I can tell you how many people have read what stories today. I am completely hands off. I'm still in communication with those folks, and occasionally if they need me to help - it's really what the local school there is there for. But sometimes they reach out to me, and I'm glad to be in touch with them still. But it is my proudest achievement.

I am very, very proud to have been able to succeed in getting that project started. To have had the idea from its inception, and to convince others to support it, and to get it to take off. That is very, very meaningful to me. But the credit, it's on those who have continued it forward. Because I left the project as the phones were going out the door and being distributed. That was the end of my involvement. So I really got the setup there. It wouldn't have happened without me, but it definitely wouldn't have continued without them. And what they've gone on to do with it in these subsequent years, it's just beyond anything I coul have ever, ever dreamed of.

Len: I believe you then went back to the States for a bit, but then you found yourself in Hyderabad in South India. Can you talk a little bit about that experience - I know there's just a ton of growth going on there. And you were working for a mobile telephony company?

Judson: Yeah. I was working for a company called Mutual Mobile that was headquartered in Austin, Texas. They are a mobile apps company. They're an agency that builds apps for other large companies. And especially during that time, a lot of the big global companies around the world hadn't developed their own in-house mobile app resource teams yet. And so this company got a lot of that type of work, for a lot of really big globally-recognized brands. I was their operations manager, so I wasn't working on the software side of that just yet. I had a background working freelance in software, and I was interested in technology. But that's not what I did for them.

One of the things they had me do in Austin - we had two floors of a downtown high rise, and while I was there we did an in-place renovation. I oversaw the whole renovation, and worked with architects and designers, and bought all the furniture and selected carpets and paints - I had to move people around and shift desks and all that type of stuff, handle all the logistics. That whole project took the better part of the year. And as that was completing, we decided that it was high time that we make a similar investment in our satellite office, which was in Hyderabad.

This was actually one of the success stories for Mutual Mobile. Our CEO, one of our founders, is from Hyderabad. And the founders of the company all met at the University of Texas at Austin when they were studying there together. Since the CEO had connections in India, and in a city that has a lot of technology support and a lot of people working in tech, he was able to figure out how to get a satellite office started in India, even when Mutual Mobile was at a very early state as a startup. And that really changed things for them.

The impact was, as our engineers in Austin were calling it a day, the engineers in India were arriving to work, and to do the peer review of the code, and then continue working throughout their day. And as they were about to call it a day, then our engineers in Austin would pick up and keep going.

What that meant, is that we really got almost a 24 hour development cycle - and we can just push software out that much faster than anybody else. Our engineers in Hyderabad were absolutely world class, a fantastic team. But the office that they were working out of had been acquired in our early scrappy startup days, and it really wasn't a very pleasant place.

There were some great successes at Mutual Mobile was enjoying, and they had put some of that success into an investment of their headquarters' office. But then they said, "Okay, we should do the same thing for our team in India as well." And as a result, I got to go to India and spend six months there, and oversee this build out of a new office space, in what's called the "High Tech City." It's this whole side of Hyderabad, where all the tech giants are set up - it really is a city within a city.

That was a marvelous experience for all sorts of reasons. Professionally, it was very rewarding.

Personally it was interesting. I lived in a five star hotel with a city park view that was taught me a lot about life, if I have to be honest. But I also used the opportunity to spend my weekends traveling the country quite a lot, and also getting involved in the Hyderabad community also, reaching out to Rotary Clubs and such.

But there was one really meaningful story that I still reflect on. I don't know what I'm supposed to do with this experience, but I'll share it here.

I was staying at this magnificent, modern, five star hotel. I had this room that - I'll never be in a room as glamorous as this for the rest of my life, I don't think. It had this wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling glass end of the room that overlooked this huge beautiful city park view. I would wake up every morning, and I would sit in the chair by that glass wall, and I'd order a cappuccino and toast to my room. Because - I know that sounds great, but without a kitchen - you have to order room service all the time. And that does get old pretty quick.

But this was my morning routine. I had my cappuccino and my toast. And I sit there in this chair, and I'd prop my feet up on the glass and I watched the sunrise. But at my feet, 14 floors or so down, at the start of that city park, there was this concrete bunker - like a tool shed or utility shed, or something like this. And as I'd be sitting up here enjoying my breakfast, on many days - almost every day - right there in my view would be this man who lived in the park, who lived, I always assumed, in this shed. And he'd be outside under a trickle of water trying to bathe himself, and his laundry would be strewn up there on the side.

The dichotomy of that situation always really troubled me. Because I didn't care about being in a five star hotel. I'd rather cut the hotel budget in half, and let's do something better with this money than putting me where I am. He was kind of the symbol of that, for me. But it also was - what am I supposed to do with this? Should I go down there and talk to him? Well, I think that just highlights the fact that he's got this hotel full of people that can watch him every day, and that doesn't serve him in any real way.

Every day I thought about this - like what can I do to, how can I be witness to this situation where I'm here, and he's there? And this is not okay. This goes against everything that I kind of aim for in life. It goes against everything I want to be part of. But what action can I take that is more serving to him or to the world, than it would be self-serving to me? Because everything I could come up with, was - any action I take is going to make other people less comfortable, and make me somehow feel better. And that also wasn't okay. And so in the end - I spent a lot of time thinking about this, but no action ever came of it. And perhaps that's exactly the right thing - that I shouldn't have done anything at all in this situation, but it's always bothered me.

Len: Thank you for sharing that. It reminds me, I had a college friend from Patna, in northeastern India, and one summer we went there. I visited his family home, spent six weeks in Patna. Which, in the mid-90s, was not a place that tourists typically went to. But we spent some time in Delhi, and my friend's family was rather affluent, and so when we were traveling around, we always had a driver. We had the AC car in the train - and I never had to stand in line, or anything like that - because they would send servants to do that.

I remember we were in Delhi one time, in this car being driven by a driver. And my friend was pointing out, "That's the Harvard of India over there." And just as he drew my attention to that side of the car, this guy with bloody stump of a hand, started tapping on the window - because he'd seen me, and wanted to beg.

It was quite a shocking moment. I mean, I was like a Mennonite guy from like southern Saskatchewan in Canada - not a fancy guy myself, and here I am with a driver, servants and stuff. And there was "the Harvard of India," and then this happens.

Similar kinds of things happened numerous times. There'd be a woman by the side of the road with a baby, with mutilation. And my friends would tell me, "JJust like that guy who was tapping on the car, that woman mutilated that baby so that she would be a more sympathetic figure in her job of begging." I had similar thoughts to the ones that you were just expressing, and they've never - I mean, I'm not romanticizing my own experience - they just, they've never left me, and I never did anything about it.

Judson: Right.

Len: And I don't - I mean - I think the response of, "It's none of my business," is sometimes right.

Judson: Sometimes you see these things and it's - we are but one person, and what really can we do? We're not all the trustees of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, right? So we have to find other means to make an impact. This is very trying. And of course, when you come face to face with things - it can teach you a lot about what's out there in the world, and it can inspire you to try to effect some sort of change somehow - whatever your gift may be.

But this is also one of the reasons that I really support - well, the impacts an individual can make should not be underrated, for sure. But there is something about the power of institutions to really effect change at a global scale. And some problems that you come face to face with. There's the poverty that I saw in Brazil, or this situation that you and I have described from our time in India. Yes, there could be something we could do to alleviate some short-term anxiety in somebody's life there. But of course, sometimes there's issues with that even, because the corruption and the mafias and things that are running these - and so you also want to know that when you're contributing, that it's also actually making the impact that you intend to make.

This is where I think the institutionalization of organizations like Rotary International or the Red Cross or the UN or the Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders - the list is vast, right? There's so many places. We don't live in a world where we have to make that individual effort. Because if we have the heart and the care and the compassion, there's always somewhere out there where we can join forces with something that's bigger than us, and make a big impact in that way.

Len: I think that that's very well said. I remember feeling very angry about it on a number of levels. How can this exist? And then when you realize what a role corruption plays in that, and how deep the problems are when the experiences where we're describing, might sound particular to people who are listening. But it's like 100 times a day.

Judson: It's constant.

Len: Everywhere. I think it is common to feel a kind of guilt, and at the same time there's just something - there's something sort of unsatisfying about the solution that you know is the only one, which is just everybody banding together. There's got to be big institutions. It's not going to be one-on-one, that problems like that get resolved. And it's not going to happen in your lifetime, and whether any of this is particularly true or not, these are the feelings that you have when you encounter things like that.

Judson: Absolutely.

Len: It feels like you just need to keep paddling all the time. Just always keep striving - and understand the profound role that long term, institutional engagement has in effecting change for people's lives.

And so, after your experience in India working for Mutual Mobile, which is based in Austin - you then went to work for Trivago in Germany.

Judson: Yes. This was another one of these stories where, it goes back to the origin story. It always goes back to the origin story, when I was in Austin for a couple of years, and it's marvelous. Austin is really just such a great city. But it was clear that my time at Mutual Mobile was coming to an end. I'd just completed these two massive projects - the renovation in their headquarters in Austin, and also the six months in India. It was two really grand projects I felt very good about. Things went really well with all of that. But the fact of the matter was - the company just wasn't going to be able to sustain my continued professional development after those things. Everything else was going to feel, I think, a little bit mundane or day-to-day.

In the end we decided that the best course of action for everybody involved was for me to make an exit. And to their credit, it was the best exit from a company I've ever dreamed of. It was like six months' notice. They wanted to make sure that I got to the end of the year, just so I had health insurance to the end of the year, and stuff like this, and they supported me.

During that time I also participated in a fellowship program to Egypt, and they were totally cool with it. I said, "It doesn't make sense for me to look for a new job, and then I go to Egypt on this fellowship project, can I stay at least until that's over?" And they said, "Yeah, no problem." So they were super cool.

I also had a lot of time to look around Austin for other opportunities, and, given my interest in software and my background - and Mutual Mobile being the first place where I was face to face with real live professional, world class software developers and the process by which real world class software is produced - I got to know about the product management role. And this role to me sounded really intriguing, like something that, for me, would finally be the career path that I'd been looking for. A career where I could put my interests and my skills and my experience all into one role, and really do something with it.

But Mutual Mobile wasn't going to be the place where I was going to get that opportunity. And as I looked around Austin, I also wasn't finding a place to get my foot in the door, so to speak. So I said, "Okay, if I have to look outside of Austin, then for me it's kind of like hitting the reset button - I'm starting over with a new community. And I'd done a lot of that up until that point. So I said, "If I have to hit the big red restart button on my life again and move and make all new friends and community connections - then it's got to be for another international adventure. I've got to get out."

Over the years, through all these other experiences and all these places I'd been - every time I'd land in a new place, and I'd say, "This is so exciting, look, I get to have this amazing adventure in this amazing new place," it was also always in the back of my head, "Well, I really should try to get back to Germany one day." Because all this began in Germany when I was 17. I hadn't really formed a world view yet, but it made such a big impact on who I've become - and it would be really great if I could go and experience Germany again as an adult, and to work there for some years.

I was still in touch with some of my schoolmates from my German school, thanks to Facebook and the power of the internet - being able to stay connected with people.

And even though it had been a decade and a half, one individual in particular was working at Trivago. At that time, Trivago was doubling in size every year, and they were bringing people from all over the world to work out of their headquarters in Düsseldorf, Germany. So instead of building offices all around the world, they have the one main office in Düsseldorf. They were sponsoring visas, and that was the key - because it's very difficult to find visas. Anyone who's tried to work abroad, it's not so hard to get a visa for studying purposes - but for work, it's really difficult, unless you are a leader in your field, or you do something very specific in engineering or the sciences. And I was a guy just trying to get a new career started. So I wasn't going to be a candidate for a visa.

But I was able to get a visa with them, because I had American market knowledge - because I was American, and a native English speaker. I got a role with their B2B product marketing team, and that was my foot in the door. That got me a little bit closer to the product topic, and it gave me access to the German market.

It was at Trivago that, after doing the product marketing for a little while, I found the opportunity to shift into product management - and then go work on the core product of Trivago, the hotel search product. That's what travelers, you - anybody else, when you see the commercials - that's what's being advertised, is their hotel search product.

So I got to work that. That's where I got my initial product management experience. And Trivago, it's a marvelous company to work for. Because it's just one of the most multinational, multicultural, multilingual companies you can imagine - because of their decision to bring people from around the world to one centralized location, rather than to develop satellite offices.

It was super cool getting to work with like 1,500 people from all around the world, and getting to work on this software that helps people save money on travel - and of course, I'm passionate about travel. And hey, who doesn't benefit from saving some money? So this was really cool, and it was really great to learn about product management there.

Of course, I'd read a lot of books, and I'd learned to kind of pick things up from my previous work. But I hadn't actually gotten to do the job before. And so this was now - I get to put some theoretical knowledge to the test, and actually gain some experience.

But all that happened, again, because one of my schoolmates from my youth exchange year - and I had stayed in touch for years and years, and he was there and we were in touch. I said, "I want to come back." And he was able to put Trivago on the radar for me. I wouldn't have even known Trivago was a German company, if it wasn't for him. But it all goes back to that early youth experience. And helping, being part of that network that made such a big impact on my professional life.

Len: You're now working for eBay, as I said in the introduction, and you've been in Germany for, I'm looking at LinkedIn here, I think about three and a half years or something like that?

Judson: Yeah, that's about right.

Len: I wanted to ask you - one of the fun aspects of this podcast is, we get to talk to authors from all around the world. And one of the things I like to say is, we get to ask them questions about things they may have experienced personally, that the rest of us have only read about in the headlines. And rather famously, Germany has let in nearly a million refugees from Syria. And what one reads in the headlines is often the negative reaction that some people have had in Germany, to having so many migrants in the country, let in in a short period of time. You don't, of course - because it's not interesting to people who read headlines usually - hear about the experience of all these people integrating and the vast majority living there peacefully.

I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what your experience has been being in Germany at this time? I mean, just to be specific about it - have you noticed more hate groups marching, things like that? Or has anything like that changed in the sort of day to day experience that you would have, walking around Berlin?

Judson: That's a really great question. No, I haven't experienced anything that appears to me to be like hate speech or those types of rallies. It's much more common at rallies - Germans, especially in Berlin, are quite the activist folk. They do not mind one bit to take to the streets and let their opinions be known on certain issues. But a lot of this has to do more with kind of the gentrification of Berlin and the rapid changes of Berlin, and the supporting of East Germany since reunification. More economic issues, things of this nature. But I've never seen in a protest, anything related to - something against people of a certain creed, national origin, gender identify, sexuality or political status.

What you really see pretty universally across a lot of the participants at these other events, are signs or symbols on their clothing that are against fascism, against the Nazis, against bigotry. Pro-acceptance of all from everywhere. You see a lot of language around that, even if that's not what is being demonstrated about on that particular day. Because a lot of people do embody this very openness of others here.

That said, my relationship with refugees here has been not completely limited. There is an organization that started in Berlin - I actually got to know them in Düsseldorf, called Devugees. And they teach refugees in Germany web development skills.

So it's like an engineering boot camp, it's a one year program. It's supported by the government. So there's funding available for job training programs for refugees. They're an officially recognized program of the federal government here. But they work with that population of people who have all sorts of backgrounds. I've met people there from - I don't know? 20 or 30 countries. Countries where you don't think refugees particularly come from. South American countries and places that are really peaceful, but maybe still something can happen politically? So it's not just all Syrian or Middle Eastern refugees either. There is a lot of diversity within that. That's one thing to know that probably the headlines don't always make clear.

A lot of their backgrounds - they're academics, or they were in the middle of studies when they had to leave their home of origin - they were working professionals, they were librarians. So many different walks of life and backgrounds. And then they come to Germany, and they're trying to figure out how to make the best of what is truly a terrible situation. They're away from their home, and sometimes they're not speaking the language, but they're working on that. I just see a huge amount of effort from those individuals to make the best of the situation they possibly can. Because usually also, they're not here alone. Oftentimes they're here with their family. And so they're also struggling to give their family the best opportunities possible.

And this organization, Devugees, does a really wonderful job working with them to integrate them into German society. Both the soft skills and lingual training side, but also do the hard skills of computer engineering. They do a lot of job placement after that as well. They have a really strong alumni program.

When I was at Trivago - Trivago actually had a small but unused office elsewhere in Düsseldorf, and they actually gave that office free of charge to the Devugees to use for their courses in Düsseldorf. I didn't actually know that. When I first found out about them, I learned about them from a Facebook ad. I just saw they were in Berlin, and I wrote them and said, "I don't know if I'll ever get to meet you guys, but your mission sounds awesome - and if you ever come to Düsseldorf, please let me know."

And they said, "We have an info session in Düsseldorf next week, you should come by." I did, and I walked in this office I'd never been to before, and saw all this Trivago stuff everywhere - and that's how I even learned we had another office. So, it was just a small-world type of thing.

But that was another way that I was able to engage my daytime job - I became the official point of contact between Trivago and Devugees, and helped set up kind of like buddy-shadowing programs between people who wanted to learn engineering, and then people who were engineers, so they'd have a direct line of contact with each other. And doing campus tours, just to show - this is how our work is done, and this is what the lifestyle looks like, things like this.

That was really, really cool. But this is a large population of need for sure, here in Europe and in Germany. Now that I've only been in Berlin for about half a year - and now that I've started to feel a little bit more settled here, it's going to become - well, it's important for me to start defining how I can increase my engagement in this new community. And reengaging with the refugee population, I think is going to be a part of that. But I still have to figure out where the best way is to do that.

Len: Thanks for that really great answer, and for bringing all of our attention to this wonderful, wonderful program. It sounds like a really good idea.

Len: The last thing I wanted to ask you about this, was - so, I mentioned before we started taping, that I lived in Europe for a few years myself. And as a Canadian having this accent, that means I get to experience what it's like being an American abroad too. Because people often naturally assume you're American when they hear you. I wanted to ask you - this has come up before on this podcast, but have things changed in the way people relate to you since the election in 2016?

Judson: This whole topic is something I think quite a lot about. I'd like to give a shout out here to a friend of mine, a fellow travel writer and tech professional named Joe Baur. He has a podcast and a blog called "Off the Beaten Path." And he talked about this topic once, and his perspective got me thinking about where I stand. That's why I want to credit him with this a little bit, because he really changed my perspective.

I used to feel very strongly that when I travel, from a security perspective, I do not share in open format that I am American. Because either a) you could come across somebody who has a very strong negative opinion of America, and now they have their opportunity to unload on you about it, and that isn't either pleasant - and depending on where you are here, dealing with that could be dangerous. Or b), you find somebody who actually loves America, and now you're in a conversation you'll never get out of. Even if it's a pleasant one.

I've long said that there's only two types of people who think America is the greatest place on earth, and that's people who have never left, and people who have never been. Because - look, there is no greatest place on earth. I mean, now enter all the clichés, "Home is where the heart is," and all that stuff. There might be a place on earth that is your favorite place, where it's the place that holds the most dear memories or the people - or whatever, which is the best for you.

But the fact of the matter is, we all have our issues and every place in the world has something that makes them wonderful. So it's all a matter of perspective. But when it comes to then kind of - this admission of guilt - that I'm an American while travelling. I oftentimes really try to avoid this. There's a trope Americans will say that they're Canadian when they travel. They even put a Canadian flag on their backpack to be like, "I'm Canadian, not American." I've never done the flag thing, but I am guilty for claiming, I say,”I'm from Canada," or something like this. Because, well it just seems safer. So that's to your credit, so that's good.

But on the other side - and this is where Joe comes in, and he has a very persuasive argument. He says, when you come across somebody who's got an issue with the politics or foreign policy or the social injustices and other things that they see in the headlines about what happens in America, then they're also not getting the full story. They're also just getting the headline. And that's going to be the thing that's most sensational, and draws the most number of clicks or eyeballs, or whatever. And if you think that you, yourself are a half decent person and a half decent American - then by not disclosing that you are American, you are passing up the opportunity to show to this person in front of you, that not all Americans are whatever they may think they are, right? And you now are uniquely given this opportunity to share and be an American diplomat in that moment. And you should embrace the opportunity, not run away from it.

He gives all sorts of just wonderful examples, so I can't do the instant recall on all of them. But it really changed my perspective on this. And so now when I am asked this - yeah, I don't hide behind the Canadian flag anymore. But it does then sometimes lead to conversations around the politics of what’s happening.

To more directly answer your question how things have changed - I moved here just three months before Donald Trump was elected president. Obviously, his being President has put quite the impression of America and Americans onto the world. A lot of Germans do not support the politics or rhetoric or the showmanship of the American president these days. It's a little difficult, because now the really short way to have a conversation with people here - they also don't want to talk about American politics.

If you just basically let it be known that - if you're like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, Trump - oh he's awful, it's terrible. Oh America, there's so many terrible - why do you think I'm in Germany? I wanted to escape all that." Then everybody's like, "Okay good, yeah alright, fine. So you're okay and we don't have to talk about this ever again."

But again, this doesn't really do justice to the full situation of what's going on or people's beliefs. And politics in America, it's not - it's a reflection of other things that are happening. It's not the root cause of whatever you may see. So broader conversations, or trying to have broader conversations about America, I think it is important.

One that comes up a lot here is about gun control. There's so much violence in the schools and shootings in the streets - and all these just terrible, tragic events that happen in America in a way they just don't happen in other places. One of the reasons is because there's so many guns on the street, and America doesn't want to let go of the guns.

A lot of people from other parts of the world, Germany included, have a real hard time understanding what this obsession with firearms is all about. I tend to agree. I say, "Well look, I'm not really interested in guns either - even though I'm actually a really strong marksman. But I always got to practice with my friends' guns, I never felt like it was worth my own money to spend on that stuff. But I have shot quite a lot in my life, targets." I don't really understand the rationale behind what the obsession with guns, the whole gun situation is. But I do know what the history of that is. I have a lot of friends who have very large firearms collections. I listen to them, I know what their perspectives are. I don't always agree with them.

But what I think is important is that I try to understand where they're coming from, an whether they're just hobbyist shooters, or they're game hunters, or they really believe they have to be able to rise up and defend their freedom from an oppressive government - whatever the case may be. I've got friends in all of those circles, and they're very dear people to me. And on this point, I might not ever be able to align with them perfectly, but I do try to convey what I've come to know about this topic to my friends here. Because - well, it's just a different culture and way of looking at things. And this can't be conveyed in a headline.

Len: Thanks again for such a great answer. You were reminding me - one of the experiences of being a foreigner is being mistaken - it's sort of complicated, but like, being mistaken for being something that you're not, and not always disabusing people of it, just because you're tired or you're mad or whatever.

You've just reminded me of my friend who I went on the trip to India with, who was from there. He was living in southern Saskatchewan in the mid-90s in Canada. People often had no idea what to make of him, and so they would project onto him whatever stereotype or prejudice that they had.

He would talk about how he was working at a Greek restaurant, and people would say, "Oh look, they're hiring good Greek boys now - instead of the locals." I just bring up that particular example, because when you say sometimes you might be confused for being a Canadian, and you don't always say, "No, I'm American," it's just so complicated in the ordinariness of it. And so I remember myself - I would often not disabuse people if they sort of said something in passing, like I was an American. Like, I don't want to make them think I think there's some kind of issue here, I don't care.

I don't dislike America. But it would sound like I did if I corrected them in this circumstance. It's so ordinary, but it's also so complicated sometimes, when you're dealing with sort of someone else's gaze.

Just on that note, to contribute my own personal thing to it. I remember always resenting the Canadians who wore the flag on the backpack. I did it myself naively, and regretted it. Because one of the reasons you do it is to signal that you're not American. And that's just really weak, I think. It's just really weak.

Like I said, I did it myself when I was young. People have all kinds of reasons for doing it.

Judson: It's true.

Len: So, moving on to your book. You've had this idea for this book, Exponential Happiness: How to identify and pursue life goals starting at a young age, for a few years now. And you've gotten around, finally, to writing a few chapters. I wanted to ask if you could take a couple of minutes to explain the inspiration for the book, and what it's about?

Judson: Sure. Thankfully, I can probably give this as a short answer - because the long answer, I already gave in my origin story. But it goes back to this moment in that Rotary youth camp, when I went and expressed interest in the exchange program. And from that moment forward, my life had changed - even if I didn't recognize it at the time. This moment to me was the moment that my life changed. It took me a very long time to understand the significance of that moment, and to understand why that moment, and why me. Like I said, I think a lot of people in that camp really could have taken my seat if they had just expressed interest.

The conclusion that I've drawn, is that at that time, in addition to being pretty independent from the way I was raised and my childhood and all that, I also had a lot of people in my life - older people, wiser people - who were telling me things like, "Do it while you're young." And, "Youth is the most valuable resource you can ever have." Stuff like this. Empowering phrases like, "Don't think that just because you're a teenager that you are unable to make an impact or to do something or to be somebody." That, "You're never too young to get started." And all that was just embedded underneath somewhere.

I think what that really did was, it gave me a sense of permission. That when this opportunity arose, I was allowed to express my interest. I could've just as easily been that after expressing my interest, my parents said, "Uh uh, no way. We're not letting you go, you're too young," whatever. Could have been, right? I bet there's a bunch of other examples of stuff where maybe I tried something and it didn't work out. But this was the one that did, and it matters quite a lot.

I think that what made me different in some degree, was that I had the encouragement of those older, wiser people in my life - giving me that empowering advice, that made me feel like I had the permission to go.

And so what I really wanted to write the book about, was the impact - that starting particularly at a young age, the positive impact that that can really have on your life. Because just in the same way, exponential happiness is a nod of the hat or tip of the hat to compounding interest and investment. If you know about the miracle of compounding interest, this is, as you invest over time, interest invests upon itself over and over and over again - and that, the best way to make compounding interest pay off for you in the end - is by starting early, by giving it more years to compound over.

And so in the same way, starting to invest financially early will pay out higher dividends later in life - I believe that giving a start in understanding what your life goals are, what it is that you want to do with your life, and putting together a sensible plan that helps you start to achieve those goals - if you can do that at an early age, then that really has the opportunity to pay out dividends on exponential growth on happiness over life. Because don't be confused - there will be 90 degree turns in the road, and there will be fails, and there will be all sorts of mistakes made. But that's all learning opportunity, and that's all just life happening. But if you can get some of that stuff out of the way early on, and you can get those experiences over in your 20s - instead of in your 30s - there's just a huge advantage to that, I believe.

Now that I'm a little bit older, and maybe I'm a little bit wiser - I hope I'm wiser than my 17 year old self at least - I just felt that this was my opportunity to try to share my perspective on all of that, as well as share some of the lessons that I've learned through my travels. Being in so many different corners of the world, and living with families and getting to know people at the local level, and all these different cultures - I've been exposed to a lot of different ways of thinking and life, and philosophies. I've had a couple of years to contemplate that now. And I'm still on my adventure, for sure - and I hope I always will be, I hope I never get off the adventure. But I felt like I was at a point now where I've put some of these philosophies and experiences and the reflection into terms that I think can be shared, and hopefully will make an impact in the lives of those who read it.

Len: It's interesting you bring up some of the advice you heard when you were young was, "Do it young." But you also mention in the book that not all the life advice you get, is going to be good. In particular, you single out the sentiment, "I had to suffer when I was your age, so you do too."

Judson: Oh, I hate that so much.

Len: You're saying, "I adamantly disagree with this statement." I could tell like you meant it. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Judson: I just believe that the suffering of the previous generation does not need to be repeated by this one, right? This is what we call progress. If in our lives, we can solve problems so that our children, and the generation that comes after us, can not worry about the same problems, but instead focus on other problems to solve - because there will be other problems to solve.

The idea that problems need to be repeated for character building - walking uphill both ways through a blizzard to get to school, that type of thing - I believe that just because it used to be a certain way, or that our parents, or that we, had to suffer through a certain way of life - this shouldn't apply to the future generation, right? We've solved a lot of problems. And if we want to really advance the human race forward, we should try to minimise the number of pains that the next generation have to suffer which we already did.

Len: That's very well said. It's interesting. I think there are very few things that are recurring in every generation in human society, but one of them is the view that the kids these days are weaker than we were.

It's actually that aspect of that sentiment that really gets me angry. It's like, "Just reflect on this for a moment please. You're being stupid. Have some self-respect." Anyway, yeah - I very much agree with you about that.

Judson: It doesn't mean we have to understand everything that the younger generation does, right? There's a great trope around music. It's like, "When I was your age, we had real music," I think every generation has this. It just goes to show - and there's nothing wrong with it, but it just goes to show that when musical taste changes between generations or technology changes or expressionism changes - or whatever, these are all signals of that progress.

Those of us who are in the slightly older category now, because we're not 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 - and we're seeing how kids are engaging with technology or the music they're listening to, or the YouTube channels they're watching, or whatever the case may be, we will look at that stuff, and we just can't get on board with it at all. As hard as it is to imagine, it's probably actually somehow a sign of progress. And it doesn't require our approval, to be honest.

Len: Yyou're reminding me, a friend of mine had this hard-ass, slightly tongue-in-cheek joke about how, when you get older and you see kids complaining about something that would've been a wild luxury when you were young, and then complain about it not being good enough, what you're actually seeing is someone with higher standards than you had.

Judson: Right.

Len: And actually, what you're seeing is someone who's fighting over stuff that you didn't fight over.

Judson: That's right.

Len: To take that and misrepresent it as an expression of weakness - it's like, nuh-uh - this is something else that you're witnessing someone do, when they, for example, point out an injustice that you would have just accepted as a trivial, everyday matter. They're not being weak by doing that. You might want to reflect on who is being weak.

Anyway - well, we're reaching feature-length here, and I always enjoy it when that happens in an interview, but it does mean we should probably move on.

So, you've decided to self-publish your book. I was wondering - at least in this iteration of it - if you could talk a little bit about why you chose Leanpub as the platform for writing and publishing the book?

Judson: Yes, I decided to self-publish. And that's a whole other story. But I was talking with some colleagues of mine, and I had mentioned that I was writing a book. I mentioned this to somebody who's on my current team right now, working at eBay. He's brilliant, he's one of the engineers I rely on most heavily, day over day. I happened to mention to him I working on this book, and he said, "Oh, I've written a book." I was so surprised. He's actually written four books, and he had published them on Leanpub.

This was a month ago, I guess? So I'm still quite new to Leanpub. But he gave me his testimonial on his experience publishing his four books on Leanpub. And he showed me his author dashboard and the backend, and how it all worked. He talked about how you can do version control with Git. I was already writing everything in Google Docs, but you also - I had this integration with Google Docs. And there's just so many great options there.

I just looked at it and said, "This is everything I was looking for and more." Because I don't even know what I was looking for. But as I discovered Leanpub, I said, "This has got to be the answer." I really liked the background, in that it was very - my initial impression of Leanpub was that it was a kind of tech author’s paradise, right? So if I got your history correct, a lot of the early authors - it was a solution to write technical manuals, and being able to have proper code, and everything else in published form. And just the philosophy, that, you're very open, you offer this platform.

But it is the author's book, and the author is free to take the results and do what they want with it - it doesn't feel like you're going into a place where you're going into a really advanced open source environment, and taking something that is near and dear to yourself, but being able to take it into a place where it's also going to be welcomed, and we're going to have the resources necessary to do something that, quite honestly, is, I think, pretty daunting. I mean, it's hard enough to write a book. This is my first book, so I'm learning a lot of things as I go. And one of the things that most concerned me, was - once I get the text on the page, what am I supposed to do with it?

And so when he showed me Leanpub, it was such a weight taken off my shoulders. As I explored Leanpub on my own, and I said, "Oh, they've really thought of everything here. They have Mailchimp integration, you have the marketing landing pages, you have the Google Analytics, you've got integration to Git and Google, and Markua is there. So many great resources for authors to really be able to do whatever it is that they want to get done, they can do there. I just hadn't seen that type of flexibility, or that type of open-box environment anywhere else. To me, without even knowing precisely what it is I was looking for, when I was shown Leanpub, it was just apparent to me that this was the resource to use.

Len: Thanks for that explanation. It's interesting, you're relatively new to Leanpub, but you've already managed to do something new to Leanpub. Which is - as I was researching for this interview, I signed up at - you can give your email address and your first name, and then you could download the three chapters. We always like to see how self-published authors are sort of managing this process. And if someone signs up to download the first three chapters, you have them in PDF, EPUB and MOBI format, but you've also done something that I don't think any Leanpub author has done before, which is view the Google Doc. And so you've actually set up - I don't know if it's-- I imagine it's probably not the same as the manuscript for your book. But you've set up a Google Doc that people can comment on - and made this public, and just a part of the process of getting onboarded.

Judson: Yes.

Len: I don't think anyone has done that. Writing in Google Docs mode is actually our newest writing mode. We're still learning about it ourselves, and how authors are choosing to use it - and that's a really interesting use.

One of the reasons we leave this section of the interview for the last part of the interview, is so that the people who stick around, at this point, are people who are interested in learning techniques and tips and strategies for self-publishing.

Are you going to expand? Do you have any intention of letting people comment on the book manuscript itself, as it progresses? Or will it remain on the sample, that you're encouraging people to do this?

Judson: That's a great question. I've gotten a lot of really good feedback that way. Actually my preference - if everybody would read the sample however I wanted them to, I would say everybody use Google Docs, so that you can comment and give me feedback. And I would be happy to really open the entire book up and have people comment as we go. I guess the reason that I thought not to do that, is because I just am not sure that that - I think that's asking a lot. It's already a lot to say, "Hey would you -?"

On one side - it's a carrot-stick, right? The carrot is, "You get to read the first three chapters." And then it's like, "Hey by the way, can you give me some feedback?" Yes, I'm asking you to work. It's one thing to maybe ask people to work and give some feedback on a sample, it's another thing on an entire book.

At that point - I feel like maybe I need to engage the services of a professional editor, or somebody who's done this before. But that's not because I'm opposed to opening up the book for comment, actually I would love to do that. I just don't know if I have the confidence that I'd be able to get people to stick around and contribute. But maybe I should try and find out?

Len: Well, one thing I would say is our experience has been that people love giving feedback, and they love helping. They don't even feel like it's work.

One of the reasons this has worked so well with us, is that like if there's a typo and someone - like literally, people are like, "Hey, there's a typo on page nine, here's what it is." The thing about the way Leanpub works, is that an author can take that feedback and just like make the change and click "publish," to publish a new version in like a minute.

And so, when a reader sees a change that they suggested, like a correction that they've made - actually updated in the book itself, for many readers, that's a magical experience.

In particular, as you pointed out, most Leanpub books historically have been technical books. That's partly because it was invented - partly because of the experience that the co-founders had of publishing a technical book, and then having it be obsolete the next day - actually realizing that the traditional book publishing process actually isn't necessarily right, particularly for technical books, because it takes so long. And then when you couple that to the idea that hey maybe you should, particularly with technical subjects - if someone really needs to learn it, they don't care. They would like the book to be 100% finished, but if there's only three chapters - the three chapters is three chapters better than none on this technology.

For books like that, for example if you've got code samples, and someone tries running it, and there's a mistake - it won't run. Then they need to tell you, "Hey, your book is broken." And then they're like, "I'm not sure that I'm right that this is the problem, but, blah, blah, blah." It's more than just their desire to help. They need it to work.

But I was thinking, when I was reading your book, when it comes to typos and stuff like that, sure - but your book is so personal, and it's so much about people's lives, that if you opened it up to comment - you might end up in this kind of, I don't know? Whirlpool of getting sucked into other people's life stories. Because they'll hear yours, and they'll want to share their own. And then you could end up with this Google Doc that takes on a life of its own. I'm not saying that's necessarily bad, but I honestly don't know.

Judson: I'll tell you - the initial writing of the book start to finish, I'm going to talk about - I've got the whole structure and outline of everything I want to cover. And as I provide examples, the intent is that they will be examples from my own life, because I don't have to fact-check those. I can just write it down and it's finished. But what I'd really like to do is, when I get done, I want to go back to the beginning and figure out where can I replace the example from my own life, with a story or an example from someone else.

Because of course I want to share my story, and it is very personal. I don't want to remove that element. But I also don't want it to be only about me. Or at least I don't - the intent is that it doesn't have to be only about me. In fact I make this point very strongly in the book. I'm not trying to convince anybody to do the things I did, to go travel the world, or to be an exchange student, or to join the Peace Corps. The book does not serve any of those interests at all. It is about - everyone should be able to take some universal tools and perspectives, and reflect on their own lives, about what they're interested in accomplishing with their lives - whatever that may be. And setting forth some goals and a plan for how to start achieving those goals.

It is important to me that at some point I'm able to go back and interject some stories from other walks of life, and from other things that have been accomplished. I think that'll make the book more interesting. I mean, I think I do have a pretty interesting story - I hope. But it's a little bit too monolithic, even for my own taste - if the only thing I'm talking about is me, me, me, the whole time.

So by only telling my story in this first version, that kind of helps me just get progress done - so I can just get finished. Because of course, published is better than not. It's better than perfect. But in the end, I really do want to have some people reach out to me. And by subscribing, or by signing up to download the book on my website, I also trigger a couple of emails.

I'm also asking people, "Hey, I'm writing chapter five, it's about decision-making. Does anybody have an interesting story to share about a time you had to make a decision in your life, and how that worked out?" I'm hoping I'll be able to collect some stories like this. And maybe even some of those stories turn into interviews that I can use for a new podcast. So, I think you're absolutely correct that it could turn into a big wormhole of everybody kind of telling a wide variety of stories. But I don't perceive that as a bad thing at all. I think that just sets the stage for writing book number two, four, twenty, forty, fifty.

Len: It'll be really exciting to see what happens. And best of luck with the project.

Judson: Thank you.

Len: The last question I always like to ask people on this podcast is - if there was one thing we could build for you, or one thing we could fix for you that you found is broken - can you think of anything you would ask us to do?

Judson: Sure. I will say, now that you've done a good job of calling me out on using your service and using my own website to kind of route people through the marketing and stuff - I only joined up about a month ago. And in the last two weeks, I've been traveling. So I was really on a tight deadline to try to just get something produced before I started traveling. Because I had this initial marketing release. It was pretty soon after I had learned about Leanpub. And so I'd spent some hours trying to figure out the Google integration, and should I use Git? And I said, "Okay, no, it's too complicated, I'm already in Google." I actually already had all the chapters sorted out by individual chapters, the way that it needs to be done to publish on Leanpub.

So all that worked out really well, but I did find sometimes in Google Docs, when I'd hit the publish or preview - that I couldn't really tell if the results were going through. And there were a couple of times when titles were not being properly displayed as titles. I couldn't figure out if I was doing something wrong, or if there was a bug in the system. But I marched forward and I tried to get the landing page set up, and the Mailchimp integration through Leanpub all done. And actually, from what I could tell - almost everything seemed to work. But I think I was just so new to this tool. It was sophisticated, but easy. But as I was just up against this deadline, I said, "I need a little bit more experience here to feel the confident that as I go off traveling and don't have access to my computer for two weeks, that the system is going." And so that's why I did the landing page on my own blog - and through Mailchimp, with my own Mailchimp setup. But none of that was particularly because I was unsatisfied or couldn't figure anything out, as much as I was just kind of new to using Leanpub. But there did seem to be an issue where the titles of chapters were not being displayed properly as titles within the Leanpub version, when I was using Google Docs.

Len: Okay. Thanks very much for that feedback. For us, the more detail, the better - and that's really great. It is our newest writing mode, and there are still some things that are happening. We have noticed sometimes that people do have issues with titles, and we're not exactly sure yet, precisely what's going on there. But if you start with the default documents that we give you when you create a book in Google Docs, and you just replace the title with your own - if you know what I mean?

Judson: Yeah.

Len: Then it works. Because Google Docs has all these wonderful features, but we don't support them all. So, people naturally play around and they're creative. I mean they're authors, right?

Judson: Right.

Len: And so sometimes people are trying to do things that we don't support. What we show you in our example documents is exactly what we support, and it's enough to write most books. But people often do go do other things.

Judson: Having a folder on Google Drive that has 10 chapters - and everything else lined out already with some Lorem Ipsum or something, with the proper formatting. And something that you can link to. And then authors who want to use Google Drive, can just make a copy of that folder, and already be like ready to go. That could be a benefit that could be helpful.

Len: That's interesting. Because when you create a new book in Leanpub and you choose the Google Docs mode, in Google Drive, we actually give you three documents. But if you switch from another mode, you don't get that.

Judson: Oh, that's why.

Len: I bet you that's what happened. We actually probably should have just a public document, for people who are thinking, "Do I want to write in this mode?" Just have something public, so you don't have to actually create a book to actually see what those default documents are. So, thanks for that.

The other thing you mentioned is that - the way it works, when you're writing in Google Drive using Google Docs to write a Leanpub book, is there's this Add-on called the Leanpub Add-on, that you add in Google. And then you've got a little panel on the right hand side of your document, and you can click this button to preview. And then, we show a message that says, "Working..." And if you've done something in your document that breaks our book generators, it'll just get hang.

That's something that we definitely need to improve. Because if you do it in a normal Leanpub mode, then we do show you, "Hey, it broke. We'll look into it if you ask us to, but you've probably done something that breaks our book generators." And showing that message that, "Hey it broke. Maybe the problem is this, Maybe the problem is that?" is like 100% something that we know that we need to do in our Google Docs writing mode. Because it's very confusing to people to just like see it hang. And then they don't know.

Judson: Because you don't know how long it's supposed to take, so -

Len: Exactly. And also what you can do in the Add-on, is you can just go back. And then you can actually start a new preview. But you don't even know that you can do that, so -

Judson: Yeah.

Len: Well, thank you very much Judson. Oh, do you have anything else to -?

Judson: I was just going to say, there's one more thing that I'm trying to figure out now, and I'd just be so happy if you told me I can already do with Leanpub - but I haven't noticed it. And that's that - of course I'm very happy to be able to get the published documents ready for all the digital distribution, as well as to get the file that's a print-ready file - and all that. But at some point, I - and I imagine a lot of people, would like to actually get a physical copy of the book printed. I haven't noticed that you offer any type of connection to a print house. But that's kind of for me, the last step in all of this is where I might want to go, to actually get 1,000 copies of the book in my hand or in my garage?

Len: We've had a couple of authors write about this [here and here - eds.] - we've had this question before, as you intuited correctly. And, so we have a print-ready PDF output option, as you mentioned. You can just click a button to create a downloadable file that you can then use to upload to services that make print-on-demand books, like Lulu or KDP and others.

There is this version of an ideal world where you click a button and Leanpub just sends you a printed copy to test and it's magic. The reason we haven't done that, is because that is a very different business. As you know, when you're dealing in everything - I think as part of your job, you deal with the advertisement and sale of cars?

Judson: Right.

Len: Once you move into the material space, you're dealing with a totally different business than one that's entirely digital.

Judson: Sure.

Len: And that's the main reason. So what we do is we try to give people exactly what you need to go to other services that do physical stuff. But we're just not in that business. And I suspect, we probably never will be. Because it's just totally different. There are people out there, like Amazon and others, who have actually solved the problem. And what we do focus on is really listening. Because the requirements that these companies have can change over time, and stuff like that. If you've got a print-on-demand service that's asking you for something that Leanpub doesn't give you - because the physical books are all based on digital files, we can give you those digital files, and if you come across a requirement that we don't satisfy, then please let us know - to anyone who's listening, and to you personally of course.

So, thank you very much, Judson, for taking the time out of an evening you could've spent doing something probably more interesting in Berlin.

Judson: Oh no, Len - this has been such a pleasure.

Len: Thanks very much. And thank you for being a guest on the podcast, and for being a Leanpub author.

Judson: Thank you so very much. I look forward to being on this journey with you for years to come. This is only the beginning.

Len: And thanks as always to all of you for listening to this episode of the Frontmatter Podcast. If you like what you heard, please rate and review it wherever you found it. And if you'd like to be a Leanpub author yourself, please go to our website at Thanks.

Podcast info & credits
  • Published on July 12th, 2019
  • Interview by Len Epp on June 11th, 2019
  • Transcribed by Alys McDonough