Photo credit: Garrett Cornelison
TC: In my mind, your company Social Money (specifically its goal saving product SmartyPig.com) and Turtleneck Club have some overlapping values. We believe, as we often say, that life was never meant to be cheap. We believe in true value and in things that are earned through effort, and a bit of strategy, surely never hurt. What do you think about the state of consumer behavior these days? And how do you craft your business to positively change those trends?
JG: Our approach, be it consumer facing or business-to-business, is one of unadulterated aspiration. We help people set short-term financial goals, reach those goals and reward them for doing so. Effort and sound strategy can lead to the things you want, but it requires a great deal of discipline, too. Consumer behavior, sadly, is changing because it has to, not because it’s best to treat money responsibly. Our sins catch up to us.
TC: Let’s talk a bit about a subject that is near and dear to both of our hearts – travel, and particularly airline travel. It’s the comedian’s favorite subject, or at least the easiest target. As a product innovator, what do you think the airline industry could do to make flying less of a horrific experience? Do you see one carrier as better than the rest in the US market?
JG: Simple. Be nicer. I understand that there are two people vying for every one seat, but customer service shouldn’t end with demand. That said, I think that if travelers made an effort to dress better, flying would be more civilized, as well. Really, I remember a time when getting on an airplane was something special, and you dressed the part – at least my parents made me, and it stuck. You get more respect if you make the effort. I’m not saying wear a smoking jacket, but don’t dress like you’re going to the Y. As for the best carrier, I fly United. We’ve had our moments.
TC: At your root, you are very creative. What can you share with other “creatives” that might just now be starting their careers on a path that is murky at best?
JG: The murkier the path, the more creative one has to be to get from here to there. And when you find yourself asking, “Why am I doing this?” you should answer the question honestly. You could very well surprise yourself, which, when it happens, is one of life’s treasures.
TC: The Turtleneck Club is unabashedly sentimental and nostalgic. Do you ever get caught up in thinking about the way things used to be? What is your favorite memory as a child?
JG: God do I. I hate regret, but I have it. I hate the expression “if I only knew then what I know now,” but I use it. If those feelings, however, create a yearning for something better, then it could lead to a more fulfilling life. Sorry to go deep on you here.
My favorite memory as a child? Not sure if it is my favorite, but raking leaves in the fall and then burning the piles after spending hours jumping in them is something I think about this time of year, something I wish my children could experience, especially that scent. When I am in the country (rural areas, where burning leaves is allowed) and happen upon it, it is instant reverie.
TC: Before you were involved with SmartyPig, you were a journalist and author. Do you still write? Who are you reading at the moment?
JG: Writing is something that I wish I did more of. It is part of that regret I have, you know, setting it aside – although I did so to try something new. I hope, at some point, I will go back to it.
I always have a few books going – one classic from the shelf that I have read before (real books) and then a few I have not (primarily iPad). I am re-reading “In Cold Blood.” I am listening to “The Alchemist” in my car, and reading the biography of Howard Hughes on my iPad when I travel. Mr. Hughes was a big risk taker. No regret. But wasted a lot of Kleenex.
TC: As we’re in Europe, many of our club members have a hard time getting their heads around the two-party system. What’s your take on it? Good, bad, ugly?
JG: People, for the most part, like to have choices. But here we are pigeonholed into choosing one group or the other for everything. There is no real menu, no real options. Your economy automatically comes with a side of abortion. I’ll leave it at that.
TC: My last question is one I need you to concentrate on. Really think before you give the answer. Tell us about your favorite dark bar, and where it’s located. Feel free to include all delicious detail.
JG: I have two in my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. Jesse’s Embers, a small steak place with a little TV, waitresses who have been there since I was a little boy, and cold beer in frosted mugs. My dad used to take me there when I was young, back when it was OK to have your kids tag along for a few belts. The second is the lounge at Noah’s Ark, the booth next to the fireplace. It is dim inside Noah’s no matter the time of day and attracts a much older crowd. It is a perfect elephant graveyard for well-oiled seniors, reflecting on days gone by, which leads me back to regret versus nostalgia. I hope they are all happy. But a cocktail can mean a lot of things, no?