Videos & Webinars

Meta's Journey to Democratizing Email Creation for All Marketers

Oct 26, 2023

Speaker: Don Le, Marketing Automation Lead @ Meta

Video Transcript:

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Thanks again everyone for leaning in here so today my topic is Meta's journey to democratizing email creation for all marketers.

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I have a pretty funny story before I begin the presentation. I had a dinner conversation with my wife earlier this week and for the first time in my five-year career she asked me what are you presenting about.

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I got really excited and I was like “I'm talking about democratizing email creation for all marketers,” and she was like, “What?”

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I said, ”Well I'm making email available to everyone at Meta,” and she was like, “People at Meta don’t know how to email?”

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Then I had this moment

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of “oh no your frame of reference is Gmail,” right? like this is email and then I fail to communicate that this is a lot more Enterprise and more complex

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So I realized that there might be some of you in this room where the frame of reference is Gmail and from the inside looking out, I'm thinking not just subject line, body, and send.

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I’m thinking about subject line preview text, body copy, imagery, CTAs, UTMs, alt text, unsubscribed, GDPR, CASL, Dynamic content, and all of that comes with an email

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And that's what I was like, “That's a bold statement.” but if you're coming from Gmail, it’s like, “huh?” So I just wanted to ground us on the alignment of what my definition is when I say democratization of email creation to all marketers.

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Now that that's off my chest, we can get started with the presentation.

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So my talking points for today are I'm just going to run us through a quick thought exercise just to have some fun and interaction here.

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We’ll go through the complexity landscape here at Meta in terms of how we dealt with a lot of emails and landing pages and campaign creation

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And then, simply, the inflection point to enablement or democratization.

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So three quick hits here.

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Okay, thought exercise for today. Audience participation is encouraged here, but: What are the barriers to productivity? What are the words that come up in your mind when you think this is a barrier to productivity?

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So you can think about your own campaign request process, your own workflows, and then what's inhibiting productivity for yourself or for your users, right?

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And if work is a hard example, the one that I lean on often is cooking. We can all relate to cooking. So when you’re cooking for your guests or your family, what are the inhibitors from producing a good meal?

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And so, audience participation, shout out some words…

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“Too many people in the kitchen” Yes, too many chefs in the kitchen is the phrase there. That’s a good one.

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What else? What is a barrier to productivity?

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Wait wait wait wait, “Perfection.” Yes, right, you’re a perfectionist, you get paralyzed and like “I can’t do it anymore because it’s not perfect.” That’s a good one.

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Someone over here. here Shar

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“Shared understanding,” is that what I had?

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That's right. It's very siloed, there's no shared understanding. Everyone has a different definition of how things work.

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Yes, Warren? “The access.” The access to good ingredients, that is right! That’s a great one. When you don’t have the good ingredients, then you can’t be productive at producing a good meal.

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I'll take one more. Anyone got… I’ll take two more.

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more anyone got I'll take two more

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That's one more, we’ll go ahead… Nope, instructions are unclear. Yes! The recipe isn’t there.

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I'll take one more.

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“The tools!” Oh, yes. Okay, we did not rehearse this, right? We did not rehearse this.

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Okay so, when we're thinking about the barriers to productivity, there’s a lot. The cards are stacked against us when it comes to “how can I be more productive?”

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Tools. Tools was a big one, right? There's a big difference between a 10-inch skillet and a 50-inch 20,000 BTU gas barbecue grill, right?

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The ability to produce more… Or maybe you have the great tools but you don't know how to cook, right?

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And so there's a skills gap, or you don't care to cook. Laziness, right? That unstructured, or just unpleasant, experience. Instructions unclear, right? So we;re grounded on this whole layer of complexity and barriers to productivity.

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My man, Mike, I’m just calling him Mike, fictional character. He’s looking at bureaucracy. Here at Meta, the layers of bureaucracy that you have to manage to send one email, legal, infosec, privacy, brand, all of them have got to say “Hey, is this email okay?”

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The layers are bureaucracy is just incredible here. And so I want to acknowledge that there's a lot there. So how do we get past? How do we get past these barriers?

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First Principles Thinking. Who's heard of this before?

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Oh good, quite a few of you, right?

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Does anyone know who the contemporary is that would lead me to this first principal's thinking? Any name?

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What's that? Elon Musk. I can't believe I’m mentioning this guy's name twice in a day here.

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Elon Musk, okay? He developed… For me anyway, when I google ‘productivity’ apparently his name is littered all over the internet, so it just kind of brought me to this whole notion of First Principles Thinking. He’s not the originator, he just pointed me to it, so it gives me conscience to share this.

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Anyway, so First Principles Thinking is the basis from which a thing is known. And this is by the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle.

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And he started this whole scientific ​​movement of how to think and problem solve. Our contemporaries would say it as such, “it is a way of simplifying complex problems by analyzing the root causes that we mentioned earlier,” right?

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The root causes of the barriers to productivity and it involves open-mindedness to break down a current challenge or preconceived notion or that into its most basic components and then rebuilding a new reality that addresses the problem at hand.

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Okay, so that’s the lens that we're going to look through as we consider the complexities and then rebuilding that new reality, okay? Following? Good, alright.

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Complexity landscape, okay. Speaking of bureaucracy, legal took a look at this slide and was like, “No no no no no no no you our our orc chart here or whatever we're working with so it's a redacted slide here, but the intention of this slide was to be an eye-sore, right?

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There were going to be a lot of acronyms and groups you, frankly, don't even care about. I don’t even care about… Just kidding. Don’t say that… Is this recorded?

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I do care about them. I love my stakeholders. But the point here is at the height of this pandemic, and I think was, I wasn’t sure if it was Michael or Stephanie there's this huge pivot to the digital world. Huge.

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From face to face, all the way to digital virtual events, right? So the height of how we operate, we worked with over 30 different teams and 200 marketers around the world.

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Incredible. Incredible on email and marketing automation, right? And to give you a microcosm, just one microcosm, you know what a microcosm is? It;s a keyhole into a much bigger world.

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So one email, just one email, had 75 different versions of that one email for dynamic content. Is that crazy? Because it depends on your vertical, right? It could be CPG, education, automotive, fin-serve, travel, right. Or it could depend on which country you live in. In Vietnam or Japan or Germany or Brazil. Or if you speak a different language, right, German or portuguese and so on and so forth.

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So again, depending on your persona, this email can take a lot of different forms. And that’s just one email, times 200 marketers for 20 people on my team. Crazy, right?

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So this is a normative production cycle. Everyone should be familiar with this production cycle. I’m just using email as my own medium but everyone has their own.

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But everything starts with an intake, does it not? I don’t care if it's a napkin, or in Outlook, or a spreadsheet, Asana, Workfront. Whatever it is, you intact the requirements, the assets… What’s the deadline for this project?

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So we're aggregating a lot of the intake, right? And then, we hand that over to the subject matter experts, the producers, the builders, to build whatever the specifications are defined in that intake, yes?

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Question. Question… How often do these builders design exactly to specifications? So if we get this email, 75 different versions of it, how often do you think we design exactly to specifications? Never! Never, right?

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And then, let's just live in a fairy tale and pretend that we can design exactly to specifications… How often do those specifications change? Always.

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So now you have this review cycle of building, and reviewing, and changing, building, reviewing, and changing. 75 times and 200 marketers and it’s driving me crazy. I used to have a lot more hair than this.

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And then, when it's time to approve and send, the error rate was just unacceptable. The error rate was just unacceptable.

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I was going to prompt this - I should have. I was going to say, “Hey, guess how our multi-billion dollar company handles its intake form.” By the way, does anyone else use spreadsheets still on intake?

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I need to feel some love here. Anyone else? Good, I’m not alone here. We’re still using spreadsheets. You’d think we have something more sophisticated, right? But this is the experience that we have for our marketers. “Hey, fill out this spreadsheet right here with all of the email attributes, and then just as a visual prompt, this is what it might look like.” I’ve even seen versions of this where someone would text overlay on the image on the big merge cell situation so as you're typing on the left hand side it's kind of “building” the email, right? But, eh, well, right?

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So there's like an In-N-Out menu… There’s email A or B or C and this is what it could look like, which one do you want? And that’s the experience. It’s simple, but it ain’t delightful. Agreed?

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Agreed. And then, there's the production. This is the production cycle, right? And so, earlier in my career, the request in production was, “Hey Don, can you just change this word out for me?” Okay, fine. “Hey Don, can you change out this link for me?” Sure, no problem. “Can you swap this image?” Okay. Right?

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So we're familiar with this little toolbar here. You want to bold something? Great. You want to indent something? No problem.

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And then, my marketers got more sophisticated. They asked, “Can you move this button from here to here?” And I’m like, “Huh…” Or, “Can you make this white background a gray background.” Huh. Or, “Can we get a speaker panel down here.” Okay. Well I’m the email guy, right? Surely, from the outside looking in, it’s a reasonable request: just move a button, that;s easy right? And surely the email guy can do it. I’m responsible for this, right?

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Who's heard of this phrase called fake it till you make it? Ah-ha, faked it! Right?

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So what I would do is I would hit this little button here, it's called HTML. THen is pops up this little thing and I'm like “Huh.” And this real, I use a lot of hyperbole, this is not hyperbolic, this is serious talk here. I would literally control+find “Join Now” on that button here, find that snippet of code, copy it, thumb in the air and say, “It probably is going to fit right here, right?” And hope to God that it goes down there.

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And does it work? No. Then I go back, “Join Us Now” and then copy more code and then put it down there. Does it work? Maybe. It’s like rolling the dice every single time, right?

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So this is my experience. And to my detriment, it sometimes worked. To my detriment because I’m creating and perpetuating this doom cycle of, “Oh, Don can do it now, surely he can do more of this, right?” And I’m spending hours upon hours of Googling and we’re looking at this thing called W3Schools on Google and “what the hell is this?” and my friend, Eric…

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Where are you, Eric? I'm sorry I’m going to embarrass you here. He’s using ChatGPT right, we’re talking about that a few weeks ago so we’re going through all these advices on building an email.

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Then there's the review cycle. More Excel. Green, yellow, red, right? So they’re saying: okay it’s approved. Edit’s required. What’s the edit? I don’t know! I have to look into this task, or that piece of paper, or that Outlook. Right? But there’s no context.

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These are columns… I couldn't even fit it on this slide. When you get to AA on a column thing, by the way, that’s no good. No more AAs, okay? And there’s multiple tabs as well. Again… It’s a lot. You get the sensory overload of green, yellow, and red. Again, 30 teams. 200 marketers. Crazy.

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Oh I love this slide. This slide was not built for this presentation, by the way. This was built four years ago.

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This was a conversation that I had with our partner, Knak. And we had a vision.

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We had a vision of creating an experience that enables all business marketers to build beautiful, brand compliant emails with consistency and ease. You, the stakeholder, own the creation process and not spreadsheet inputs.

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Execute quickly by eliminating the dependencies on expensive, specialized resources. They pay me a lot to move a button from here to here. And untether central and agency resources to allow focus on automation and evolution. That’s the vision statement.

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And I'm here today on stage, it’s like “Oh my gosh.” Do you know how good that feels to have a vision statement come to life, by the way? It’s incredible. It’s incredible.

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And so now, we're going to create a new reality. We're going to create a new reality based on that vision statement. So instead of having this whole intake form back and forth, what if we could have Mike produce and build and review and approve and send all by himself? Or with his cohort? And untether a lot of our centralized resources?

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So instead of this experience, we can just give them the email. “Here it is. I’m going to give you this email right here at the tip of your fingertips…” and this is powered by Knak, our sponsors, okay? But all you have to do is literally double click into any element on this canvas, and then paste whatever content you had in that Excel.

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They're already doing 95% of the work in that Excel, agreed? They're already doing that in Excel. SO if it’s helpful, this is just a big spreadsheet that looks a lot better, right? Because we love our spreadsheets… It’s hard to change people away from their spreadsheets. So now it's just an overlay of what the email can look like and in minutes - in minutes - they can create their own email.

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Again, they're already doing the work, right? And they can build this right away. And instead of this [spreadsheet] experience, what if they can just drop a pin because it provides context. It provides context of “What are you trying to build? What are the corrections that we need to make?” in real time. There’s no backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards. They’re just seeing it in real time.

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I've seen people write in this Excel cell, right, thousands of characters. And then we produce it in an email… “Is that what it looks like?” “Yeah.” But now you can just see it in real time. And then, let’s say we don’t like the In-N-Out menu, we’re going to do an animal style. We don’t want the onions, right, or protein style, right? It’s easy for us to delete out any module here and drag-and-drop another module to create your custom experience. That is the power there. Just create these simple and delightful experiences for the marketer.

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So now, this is the reality, right? It’s self-service. They can just build and translate and review their own emails, and then they can just publish it to Marketo in a program that I've already predefined for them because, “This is your constituency, this is your audience, go email them. I don't care if there's an operational email on the other side of the world talking about some sort of tax form.” I don't need to be involved with that. I don't, right? Manage your own audiences.

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Something that's beautiful about this whole system and what's required in terms of democratization is: democratization requires custom experiences. So remember those little modules that you saw earlier? Marketer A is going to have a very different set of modules than Marketer B, right? So we can control the brand experience. We don't want to cross-pollinate modules from one another.

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So we have Instagram. We have WhatsApp. We have Blueprint. We have Meta. All of them have their very distinct brand tone and brand voice, and we do not want to contaminate that. We want to preserve the integrity of our brand. And so now we can control this experience. It’s, again, very custom, it’s very controllable.

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My other example here, and I just dug deeply into my archive and I couldn't believe what I found… Meta has this identity crisis. It changes the brand every two years. Every two years, right? First we're like “little f” with this family of apps, right? And then we grew up and became “big F” with this family of apps and with this little thing called Oculus. And then two years later, we became Meta. And then I just came into our brand library and I saw this little Figma file like, “oh my gosh, we’re changing it again.” Right?

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So we're changing and you know how many hours… You know how many dollars that it amounts to just on a brand change at a global level?

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You'll notice also the imagery has, on the first one, three rounded corners and one 90 degree. And then the second one has all 90 degree. And then we went back to the rounded corners, right? So more soft and more edgy, more soft and more edgy again. A lot of different changes across the brand. And this is just one brand. Remember: 30 different brands that we have to change… Instagram, WhatsApp, right?

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And so my closing thought here is a pressure test. I went back to my roots and I’m like, “You know what? As an exercise for this presentation, I’m going to see how I’m going to do this whole rounded corner situation, and experience one from the other.” The Tale of Two Cities, so to speak.

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So here I tried to do it in HTML again. I was like, “Okay, fine, I’ll figure it out.” And it took me a lot of time, over an hour of YouTube thinking, “What the hell is this? How do you round a corner?” And then I messed around with this thing called border radius and I’m using 15 and 20 and I finally figured it out. Then I was like, “How do I round only 3 corners instead of 4?” I didn’t know how that worked, so then I had to do more research and I’m like, “Okay, you have to do this little space situation,” and then “Okay, but which number correlates to which corner?” And okay, again, this is a non delightful experience.

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Am I going to expect my stakeholders to figure this out? No!

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So with Knak, I tried it. I just clicked on that image. Just clicked on it and then something popped up called Corner Radius. Ha! That sounds intuitive to me. And then in real time, I’m clicking “up” and it’s rounding the corner as I’m clicking on it, versus having to do it in HTML, publish the thing, look at it, “Nope,” got to do it in HTML again, publish again, look at it, “Nope,” right? In real time you’re seeing the corners round immediately, and you can publish it at a macro to all of the in-flight emails.

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And then I was like, “Huh well how would I round only three corners?” So I experimented. I just clicked on that thing and then…

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Pop quiz: which one's the bottom left corner? The bottom left configuration, right!

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Again, microcosm, this is not going to be a whole demo… There’s a whole demo station over there if you don’t believe me. But that is the power.

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And so my closing thought is this, as I evaluate technologies, I always say, and I said this earlier in a conversation, “You can monkey proof something, but you can't Don proof it.” My superpower is low comprehension, it really is, right? Because if Don can figure it out, then surely everyone at Meta can figure it out.

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And it all starts with this: Productivity is predicated on our ability to deliver simplicity and delight. Right?

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Simplicity, like a cup of coffee. I had stock imagery, that’s all I could come up with. It was coffee at the time, I needed it and that’s what it is. Okay, thank you.

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