One of our PandoCasts: The Autodesk PandoCast

In this monthly sponsored podcast, Pando's Sarah Lacy and Autodesk CEO Carl Bass discuss developments in 3D printing, design... and anything else they feel like.

Autodesk helps people imagine, design and create a better world. Everyone--from design professionals, engineers and architects to digital artists, students and hobbyists--uses Autodesk software to unlock their creativity and solve important challenges. For more information visit autodesk.com or follow @autodesk

Episode 1

In episode one, Sarah and Carl discuss the Maker Faire and Carl came to be the CEO of Autodesk.

Listen to all the episodes.

Transcript

Carl Bass: Are you going to edit this at the end?
Man: Yes.
Sarah Lacy: Yes.
Carl: If we goof around or fuck it up.
Sarah: That will be probably the best part.
Carl: It's definitely the best part.
Man: I'm actually cutting out all the professional parts.
Sarah: Right, just going to be fucking up, in fact we started five seconds ago...
Carl: We are just going to [inaudible 00:14] all day long.
Sarah: No. Hello Pando audience, welcome to our first ever Pandocast. I think actually Paul hates that name and we're going to come up with something new. This is going to be a monthly series with Carl Bass, the CEO of Autodesk. Welcome, Carl.
Carl: Thank you, Sarah. It's fun to be here.
Sarah: Actually, before we get to how ridiculous this setting is for what we are doing...
Carl: Totally.
Sarah: I should say upfront that Autodesk has absolutely sponsored this. You paid us shit loads of money for which we're very grateful. You've paid Chris's salary. He's sitting here running the board. He is in particular very grateful...
Carl: Will you be nice to me in return for all that money. Damn!
Sarah: No, I will not be but I should also say...
Carl: I guess we didn't get a big enough shit load. We need to do more.
Sarah: I know. We always have to leave you wanting more. We always have to leave you wanting to pay us more.

I should say that even though you did absolutely sponsor this, you're the only person I have ever offered a monthly podcast to. Every time I talk to you, you say something outrageous and fascinating, and you're square in the middle of the maker movement, 3D manufacturing.

Autodesk is an interesting story about how much it's changed in the last 10 years. I'm always like, "Why don't I get enough of Carl Bass?" Now I get that, and you pay me. It's fantastic!

Carl: Perfect.
Sarah: There's my disclaimer. We are doing this at Pier 9, which is like your fun part of Autodesk. This is like your toy shop.
Carl: Yeah, it is. We're right next to the Exploratorium. We're out on the pier. It's totally cool. It's this mixture of lots of fun stuff going on here, plus this huge digital fabrication workshop filled with 3D printers, water jets, and laser cutters. There's a lot of interesting stuff going on down here.
Sarah: We should say that we, with all the money that you paid us, went out and bought some really fancy audio equipment. Long time Pando fans will know we have a problem with audio no matter what we do. You and I are sitting behind these bizarre screens that are like something...
Carl: When I went to your first Pando monthly -- I shouldn't bring it up, but since I paid you again -- the audio was awful. You couldn't hear a word.
Sarah: It was horrible!
Carl: That's why I wrote you a note afterwards saying, "I have some space you can use, because this is pathetic."
Sarah: You poor, poor girl. Where is your 1.2 million in venture capital going?
Carl: You have hundreds of people, you have cold pizza, warm beer, and nobody can hear a word. But it was a great party.
Sarah: It was a disaster. We've gotten slightly better at those. Slightly, only slightly. But, our solution for this has been us sitting behind huge shields, as if we are storming some sort of castle gate and went to cover ourselves from fire.

Every once in awhile Carl and I are peaking up and making eye contact, rendering the whole point of doing the first one of these in person completely invalid.

Carl: It's giving me a little bit of the feeling of wearing a burka.

[laughter]

Sarah: You would make an attractive woman. It would be a shame if you were a woman, to cover you up.
Carl: There's nothing like this big Jewish guy in a burka.
Sarah: [laughs] We should talk about hardware. I know the last time that I was here and you were showing me around, you have this secret hutch in Pier 9. You throw back a wall, and there's this go-cart.

The official story is that you and your son have been making this on weekends. It's this gorgeous story of modern father-son tinkering and building that would make Steve Jobs and his dad weep. Actually, you've just been doing it all and your kid hasn't been doing much of it. Is that right?

Carl: I don't even have a kid.
Sarah: [laughs]
Carl: I've been making those pictures. I just download them off the Internet and pretend they're my children so I can do all those fun things.
Sarah: [laughs] That's maker, too, making up a life.
Carl: No, this is totally seriously. My younger son, Willy, had this idea. Last summer he said, "Let's just go and make an electric go-cart." He had seen one online or something. We had all the equipment here and so we built a go-cart from scratch.

Last week we started racing it up and down Pier 9. On Saturday we brought it to Maker Fair and we raced all around there. Then for its grand opening to come out during my talk, it failed miserably.

Sarah: Oh, God, what did you do?
Carl: One of the things you find out, you work hard on this. You bolt everything together, lock tight on nylon locks and everything and when you start running it, everything jiggles loose.
Sarah: Oh, God.
Carl: Everything jiggled loose, including this one switch. We put it back together. We spent Sunday, which was my birthday, everyone said, "I hope you had a fun quite birthday," we went racing the go-cart.
Sarah: Oh, my God.
Carl: We found this parking lot in the middle of nowhere with new black top. We went racing until we burned out the tires and drained the batteries.
Sarah: Oh, my God, how fast does this thing go? Is it a death trap?
Carl: I hope not.
Sarah: [laughs] Your wife hopes not.
Carl: My wife made me promise we'd put a roll bar on it. He had a motorcycle helmet. We got a four point harness. It probably goes somewhere between 50 and 60 miles an hour. It's really fast. It's got this crazy electric motor on it. It's been used by a couple people who've been racing electric motorcycles, trying to break the land speed record for electric motorcycles

We got it from them. We put it on there. It's got these two huge set of lithium ion batteries.

Sarah: Oh, my God. How long can you race before the battery goes out?
Carl: Probably about two hours.
Sarah: What gives out first, the tires or the battery?
Carl: Battery. You can do about two hours of adrenaline rushing fun or you can do make your fair try to make your way through the crowd for about two months. It depends on the speed you race at. It's really cool, and we're tuning it a little bit, changing the gear ratio. We're about to strip it down, powder coat it, finish it up, write an instructable about it. That was the deal I made with them.

It's OK we make this, but we got to write an instructable.

Sarah: Right, so you are not just widely abusing your company assets.
Carl: Exactly.
Sarah: Do you have a name for it? Most people name their cars.
Carl: Yeah. It doesn't have a name yet. Two big predicaments Will has is one is been choosing a color. Because everybody comes by has an opinion.
Sarah: Red, duh.
Carl: Exactly. It's red or blue. It's a go-kart I keep telling him. He's been trying to go for that really subtle dark look, where it looks unassuming. It's the coolest fastest go-kart around, so he was maybe like...
Sarah: Like Batman.
Carl: Yeah. Gray, dark gray, black, something, and just have it be really hot. The other one is he's been putting number plates on it. He figured out a way to do this metal and acrylic thing that makes these number plates that are stained glass number plates. He's working on that. The number's chosen. Now, we're down to the color. Then, we'll work on the name.
Sarah: It has to be the name of a woman. That's how these things always go.
Carl: I thought that's why you put number plates on it, just to attract them.

[laughter]

Sarah: This is your son we're talking about, Carl.
Carl: Yeah. I forgot.
Sarah: You were at Maker Faire with this thing. You're generally a kid in a candy store in your office with all the things you can do around here. Maker Faire must be really amazing for you or are they JV? Do you look at them and you're oh my God you don't even have a go-kart?

[crosstalk]

Carl: First of all, the coolest thing about Maker Faire. The best and the worst at Maker Faire is the mob of people it attracts. I don't know what they got this year, 150,000 people in two days.
Sarah: That sounds horrible.
Carl: Yes. It was this crazy thing, but it's incredibly exciting that there were so many people, and it's mostly families. It's parents and kids who are out there, who have this interest in making stuff. That's the awesome part. The bad news is you can't go to the bathroom. You can't buy a drink or food. You can't get from here to there because it's so outgrown the fairgrounds. I was there early on Saturday morning.

We got in early, and we were driving around with the go-kart, it was great, and we got to talk to lots of people. There's awesome stuff there. For me, it's not so much JV, or maybe it is JV in the sense of at every level of sports you watch there something pure about watching middle school kids playing basketball. It's not like watching the NBA. This has a mix of the equivalent of NBA players there. There are folks from Tesla who were there, who were building electric vehicles.

All the way down to people...

Sarah: They make you look JV.
Carl: Yes. Exactly. You get this real diversity of people who are there. I gave a little talk there. One of the things I say to everybody, the most important thing in making stuff is just to do it and do it over and over again. You make mistakes. You learn from it. You do it better the next time. I've never made a single thing in my life when I was done I was oh this is perfect. If I got to do it again, I wouldn't do something differently.

Just on the go-kart I know a million things. Since the big flaw in our go-kart was one go-kart you can't race. We could only race against the clock. We may have to do something this summer to prove that.

Sarah: Can you even enjoy something after you've made it or is the whole thing the experience of making it? I have a feeling you're going to get bored of this go-kart now.
Carl: I'll tell you an interesting story. A while ago, when my older kid was little he wanted to make a rocket ship. The first thing we did was we went down to the shop, and we made a little turned rocket ship, and he looked at it. We spent all day and then we painted and he looked. He said Dad this isn't the kind of rocket ship I want. I want one I can climb into.
Sarah: [laughs] Slightly more ambitious.
Carl: He told me. We went and spent probably two months, Saturdays and Sundays, and we built this rocket ship that you can climb into. It could get two people in it. We made a bunch of control panels. We went and got LEDs and counters, lights, bells, and whistles out of these used aviation surplus store.

We put it all in, and wired it all up. The kids must have played with it for like a week before they were totally bored with it.

Sarah: What did you do with it? I feel like my two-year-old would like that rocket.
Carl: We gave it to the Chabot Space Center. It was sitting in my garage, and I was like, what a waste, we done this and the guy said, "Oh, we do have to have it at the Space..."

I brought it over there, and now it's totally cool. Kids go in it all the time. Matter of fact, someone who works here, they came to me and said, "Are you the Carl, Willie and Jake that built the Spaceship at Chabot?

There is just a little signature down at the bottom that said, "Built by Carl, Willie and Jake." If the same thing happens with the go-cart, it's OK. I think it was great. We modeled out the whole car. There was lots of skills, like learning how to weld and how to bend metal.

I had this funny experience with Willie. The first day we were here, we're bending the frame and welding stuff together. We're going out, and I'm teaching him about welding. We're banging it with a hammer to break it.

We finish up for the day, and we start walking across the street, he looks at me and says, "Dad, you've wasted your life as a maker."

I'm like, "That's pretty profound Will, what's come over you?" He said, "I would never do anything in wood, metal is awesome."

He became totally hooked on learning how to bend metal and do sheet metal. We machined a whole bunch of parts. We modeled everything out in cad, it was great, we learned how to do that.

There was a lot of Math, figuring out the gears and everything. You know what? If we use it for a while, we'll figure a school to give it to, or the equivalent to Chabot, will be totally fine.

Sarah: Not my kids school, because that sounds like a death trap.
Carl: OK, deal. You're on.
Sarah: In general, how do you think Maker Faire has changed? It was this more hobbyist fringe thing for a long time. Something with families.

It's not becoming much more of an industry, or is it? Is it still that grass roots thing? Is it a burning man thing, where people are like, "I was here year one. Get out of here Tesla."

Carl: It doesn't have as much of the anti-corporate feel. I don't sense that. You could see it this year, there were big boost. There was a big Oracle booth there.

Which of these kids needs a relational data base? Which one need some enterprise middle ware? I was like, "What the fuck?" I don't know. We'll leave that alone.

Sarah: What was their spin on it?
Carl: I couldn't even get myself to walk in the booth. This just seems so silly.
Sarah: I just love to like, Joey's 3D printing stand runs Oracle.
Carl: Exactly. All of the top makers in the world run Oracle. You saw Intel, which made a little bit more sense. They're starting to make chips that are a little bit better suited for this kind of stuff. That made a little bit of sense. You're seeing a little bit of the bigger Companies, but it's still grass roots. It's still funky.
Sarah: Do you guys have authenticity there?
Carl: I think we're on the fringe. I think the thing that's really celebrated there, are the people who make. Until you go and you see, I think that's really what it's about.

I think the way we've worked our way into our community is one is, there is two big things we did as a company. One is we made this huge line of software for the Maker community, and everyone there knows it. This whole 1, 2, 3D line of products.

There's Tinkercad, and lots of people know. The last few years I've given a talk on Cad for kids. Because one of the questions you get all the time...

Sarah: Hook them young. You're just like a tobacco company.
Carl: Exactly. Tinkercad is like our gateway drug. The thing about it is, many of the parents go there and say, "My kids really interested. They saw something at school. They saw something online. They want to know how to do this. I don't know how to do it. How do you get started?"

"We've heard about 3D printing. What do I do if my kid does it? Or, school is interested, but we don't know how to start."

The two things we did is, we made this whole line of software. It's completely free, and it's really suited for people there. The second thing we did is we've made all our software free for student and teachers and institutions.

Worldwide, any school in the world who wants any piece of our software can have it for free. Certainly, amongst the educators, they're in love with this idea. They get to use the best tools, instead of fishing at the fringes. There is an open source thing over here that's OK, but doesn't really work. There is another one over here.

This one, there's stuff, there is documentations, they can go to YouTube and find four million people to tell you how to do it. There's a whole lead up from the stuff that's really designed for kids.

I think we have a place there. But, I think, anytime you're a company, you try to go into a community, you have to be sensitive, and you have to be there to help the community.

I think too many companies go into these things with, "What's in it for me?" If you do that, you're starting off on the wrong foot, and it's going to go downhill from there.

Sarah: It also helps that you're really into this. You're [inaudible 15:55] . When I first met you, was when actually you were becoming the CEO of Autodesk and Carol was leaving. I was at Business Week at the time. I was actually the one who broke that story, and Autodesk was a very different company then.

It was a Wall Street darling. It had, had a huge run. Carol was very, very respected as a result, and you were this weird dude who always fought with her, who didn't wear shoes, and it was like you guys were saying nice things about each other through gritted teeth.

You were the Maker guy, she was...

Carl: It was much better than that. We liked each other. We worked together for a long time and liked each other.
Sarah: She had fired you before.
Carl: She didn't like me on that day.
Sarah: You guys were frenemies, correct? You were very different. To her credit, you were not the obvious, well maybe you were the obvious guy to hand the company over to. But the company was going to change when you took it over.
Carl: Let me set the record straight here, Sarah. We paid for this...
Sarah: This interview has taken a nasty turn.
Carl: Carol and I were truly friends, and we were very different people. Like incredibly different.
Sarah: You are also both very feisty people. [inaudible 17:02] and I are best friends, and we fight every single day.
Carl: We were both feisty, but we were definitely friends. I don't think I was the obvious choice to take over. I never thought I wanted to be CEO of a public company, like in a million years, least likely to become CEO of a public company.

I didn't really have much aspiration to do it. Actually there is a funny story that I never told. At one point I was causing a bunch of trouble and the guy who was the Vice-President had quit, and I knew Carol wanted me to become the Vice-President, and I so didn't want to, that I spent an entire weekend hiding from her.

She called 42 million times, because I knew what she was going to ask me to do, and I didn't really want to say no, but I really didn't want to do it even more.

Sarah: How have you changed since being a CEO? You were this kind of renegade badass who didn't want the job, and didn't wear shoes, et cetera. Do you look in the mirror sometimes and think, "Man, you got corporate Carl Bass?"
Carl: The first thing that happened when I became CEO was I got much funnier and smarter. Just like when you started your own thing. Once you're one of them and then all of a sudden, everything you say is a lot funnier and everyone thinks the things you say are smart.

That's the first thing. I would say there's a part of it that you can resist and resist and resist, but there is a part of it where there's a whole organization or a world around you that looks out for you in a weird way.

My favorite thing is actually getting on the BART in the evening because then nobody knows who I am, and they push me and they shove me and they get in my way. It's much better than when I'm at work, and everyone wants to hold the door open. I never let them hold the door open for me.

Someone would tie my shoe and you're, "Stop, I tie my own shoes." I love getting on the BART because then I'm done with that.

Sarah: It's interesting. Michael Arrington and I used to always argue about this because there's one or two sort of...
Carl: That's because he's wrong. Let's not start on Michael.
Sarah: That's because he's wrong.
Carl: Exactly.
Sarah: We can have many podcasts to get at that topic, but we used to talk about this because there's one or two sort of big players in the valley who didn't like Mike, but liked me. Mike would always try to kiss their ass to make them like him more.

I would always be really rude to them. He would always be, "Why does he like you? Why does he return your calls? You're so mean to him." I'm, "Exactly." Everyone kisses his ass. This is the secret to navigating Silicon Valley. If anyone's listening and wants to impress Carl Bass, just treat him like shit.

Carl: I think people who have these jobs are different. Some people really like and expect to be treated a certain way. They like the red carpet rolled out on the tarmac. Like everything, you need to know who your audience is. I just find it a little bit annoying.

You know, I've even had funny things like when I go to a city somewhere, I like wandering around and figuring out what's going on and I walk to here and I walk to there. There are a lot of people who work for Autodesk who feel like if I go to the city they've got to take care of me. That I can't stay at this hotel.

In China, they go nuts because I love riding the subway. I like walking the streets. I like riding the subway and they're, "We'll send a car." I'm like, "OK, so you're going to send a car and then I'm going to sit in traffic for six hours, whereas if I just got on the subway I'll be there in 12 minutes."

Sarah: You're such a New Yorker. New Yorker goes to China.
Carl: I know, but it's just imminently practical. It's just easy. Same thing in New York, they'll send a car to just sit there all day to drive you from one media place to the other. It's, "Look, if we just get on the train, we'll be downtown in four minutes. I promise you."
Sarah: Here's the real question. Do you still fly commercial?
Carl: I do.
Sarah: Do you fly coach?
Carl: No, I don't.
Sarah: You are a big tall guy.
Carl: Exactly. I feel like, for most people, everything else is first-class for me. I'm six foot five so it's totally uncomfortable. I sometimes do. My wife kind of hates flying first class.
Sarah: Why?
Carl: She's kind of an economy plus kind of person. She loves the idea of, you buy the cheap tickets and then you get upgraded, so you get the best of both worlds. You get a little bit more legroom, but you don't pay for it.
Sarah: When you fly with her, you have to slum it?
Carl: Yeah.
Sarah: That's nice of you. You're a nice husband. You would ignore her security warnings on your child's life in a go-cart, but you do let her fly economy plus.
Carl: I do let her fly economy plus. I do think there's this interesting thing about how people change. I think the most important thing about being a CEO from the personal side as opposed to the people who are trying to get access them is realizing which people in your life are there because they want to talk to you versus which people want to talk to the position.
Sarah: How do you know?
Carl: It's a little bit of instinct. It's a bullshit meter. Some people who were friends before and will be friends afterwards, and you can tell and there are others who you know they were just there because they want a job or they want business or they want something else.

I think the real trick, personally, is not to confuse the two. I think too many people think, I was joking, that you're smarter or funnier or you're more interesting. Just realize you have access to stuff that people want. When you don't, they will forget you just as quickly as they figured out who you were.

Sarah: As soon as you stop paying me, I will stop showing up with these microphones. I'm going to be very clear about that.
Carl: Perfect. It's not like this has been such a great half-hour. It's kind of like sitting behind a piece of Styrofoam peering over the top. It's an interesting story, but...
Sarah: Yeah, just weird. Anyway, we're going to wrap up. We will be back next month, and we will also have a mix of talking about your family, and your deep struggles as a CEO, and what's going on in hardware. Thank you so much for joining us.
Carl: OK, thanks.