Making Things Better, Marketing and Music

Jonathan Irons

In this interview you will learn who to combine commercial activity and volunteering and social entrepreneurship, why it’s a mistake to fail fast and the most important ingredient in marketing. (It might not be what you think).  

In this episode you will discover:

  • How to combine commercial activity, with volunteering?
  • Why advertising and marketing are completely different?
  • Why you should not listen to people who tell you: Fail fast and make mistakes (and what to do instead)
  • The most important ingredient in Marketing
  • Tools and services you DON’T need to succeed
  • Why you MUST not compare yourself to Apple
  • Why Jonathan left Facebook & Twitter (with one exception)
  • Why Jonathan genuinely thinks that’s it’s NOT healthy to keep reading what people like me think (+real life proof)
  • Why most companies are measuring the wrong things
  • Why Jonathan started United Heartbeat and Vienna Greeters?
  • Jonathan’s answer to the question “When do you stop being a refugee? (Referring to the Refugee Crisis in Europe”)

About Jonathan Irons

Jonathan helps people market music products online. He has been working in classical music publishing and promotion, online and offline, for 20 years now. He is working for Naxos running the Naxos Works Database ( and looking after some pretty nifty projects they are developing.

When he is not doing that he is running Vienna Greeters, and volunteering at a wonderful charity for Integration called Station Wien in Vienna.

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The Interview

Jonathan Irons Website

This Is The Headline From Jonathan’s Website.

What do these words mean for you?

That’s a very good question. I made the website when I became self-employed. I knew I wanted to make a website which just very, very briefly told people what I actually do. And I’d seen so many websites and LinkedIn profiles where people say they’re passionate about marketing or they’re experienced professional with years of experience as a dedicated blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I always thought, “Yeah, but who are you and what do you actually do?” So I just took a piece of paper and whenever I work on a website, I take a big piece of paper and I just say, “Right, what do I want to tell the reader?” And I came up with a few things. One of the things I say on my website is I help music companies sell things and communicate online. Because everything else is just marketing buzzwords. What I do is help people communicate and sell things.

It’s very difficult to concentrate on one thing that you do.

The heroes thing on my website, I think I stole that from Seth Godin, and just about everything I do is stolen from Seth Godin.

Whenever I thought about heroes I always stumbled across teachers. A teacher isn’t just somebody who you encounter in school, but a teacher is somebody you learn from.01:56 I’ve learned from many people over the years in work situations, and outside work situations. I wanted to write it down.

How to combine commercial activity, with volunteering?

There’s lots of music in there. I studied music and I’m a musician. I combine commercial activity, with volunteering.

In German you say, “soziales Engagement,” which is a lovely way of saying a social engagement. In English you say volunteering but I don’t really like this word.

Germans have other words like “Freiwilligenarbeit,” which means literally voluntary work, meaning you’re not forced to do it. I liked the term social engagement.

I remember speaking to someone a few years ago working in a charity and someone asked me, “Well, what’s the goal, what do you want to get out of this?” And I said, “Isn’t the goal always to change the world?”03:00 Jonathan Irons: And she laughed, and I said, “Well, if your goal isn’t to change the world even just a tiny bit then why are you doing it?”

People seemed to think it was too bold or arrogant to say that they want to change the world. I am here to say:

You can, you’re allowed to. And so I try to combine my work and my social activities on the website, and it’s been very, very good because the two things live off each other. They cross-pollinate each other.

I’ve learned a lot from running two charities, but my two charities have also profited from the things I do for my job.

How did you transition from being a musician into a marketer?

03:54 That’s quite easy to answer. I’m a lazy musician, which means I wanted a salary and a warm dry office. Then I stumbled across the idea of working for a music publisher 24 years ago. I really found something that I liked, so I’ve always worked with music, but I don’t earn my living from playing music. I studied music. When you start working for a small publisher, where there were just five people, you have to do everything.04:32 In Germany at the time, the word marketing was used as a synonym for advertising. This is not true.

It’s always misunderstood that marketing is advertising. In that company, we developed this idea that marketing was how you orient yourself within a market.

How do you place yourself?

What is your position in the market?

Everything you do with that is marketing. The people who write the music are just as much in marketing as the people who do the bookkeeping. They’re all members of this chain of quality or production or productivity which brings in any company who wants to bring an improvement to the lives of the people they’re selling their product or service to.

And so I ended up getting a business card that said, “Marketing On Air,” and I thought, “Oh, oh, yeah. Oh, I’m in marketing.” So I don’t have any classical training in marketing but I’ve done marketing my whole life.

How did you get your marketing education?

By trying to sell classical music. [chuckle]By selling contemporary music, in fact. When I started working, it was in ’94 most people didn’t have the internet. In ’97 we set up our first website and we started changing some of the things we were doing, like digitalization.

We started scanning music, we started putting everything on hard drives using scanners, digital printers and things. There was this different way of working with data.

One thing I noticed early on, was that most of the databases that companies used in the last 10-15 years were replacements for paper versions.

In the old days they’d have a card system and then they’d have ring binders and then they’d have lists and sheets and things, and they said, “Well, we have this data which is already organized, we’ll put that into a database.”

Now, 15-20 years later, when companies start creating products and services, they don’t have this old data, so they start with a fresh field to work in. The advantage for me taking that music and digitalizing it is that it was very easy to make a website once you had the database.

That’s where this whole marketing idea came around. My marketing is self-taught. Lots and lots of books,… there weren’t many blogs and websites around back then.

Lots of books and learning by doing. Of course I made lots of mistakes.07:34 Martin Boeddeker: Everybody I talk to says they are usually self-taught and they made a lot of mistakes. I remember a friend of mine who built a really successful company in the Netherlands called StudyPortals, and when I asked him this question, he said, “Yeah, we made a ton of mistakes but nothing that completely screwed up the company, so we are fortunate.”07:58 Jonathan Irons: Well, somebody said to me once that I was a good photographer. The truth is I’m a very bad photographer. What I’m very good at is deleting bad pictures.

I do not agree with this kind of bullshit marketing speech that says, “Go and make mistakes, you’ll become wiser from them.”

That’s an analogy to learning from mistakes. Just one thing, though, I do not agree with this kind of bullshit marketing speech that says, “Go and make mistakes, you’ll become wiser from them.”

No, no, no, nobody should try to make a mistake. The thing is that if you do make a mistake, and you will make a mistake, just get up and dust yourself down and keep working from it.

One of my interests was computers and technology, and the other one was ergonomics. I wrote a recent blog post about ergonomics and empathy, and I think it’s an old-fashioned concept, but maybe you can tell me if you agree. I think that in all forms of marketing and usability and UX and communication, there has to be a very strong element of empathy.

If you can’t imagine what your customer is doing with this product, stop it. If you can genuinely put yourself in the position of the reader or the customer or the user of your services, then you’ve done half the marketing already, if you can actually succeed at that.09:57 Jonathan Irons: The number of websites I’ve gone to where you spend 30 seconds on the website and you still don’t know what they do, and these are big companies, serious companies. I looked at one yesterday, and I said, “I really don’t know what they do.”

And it seems, I don’t know, some people have a problem with it because they think that the marketing tools that we’ve been sold over the last decades are the main thing, and they’re not.

The Most Ingredient In Marketing

The whole thing with Google, Google AdWords, search engine optimization, Facebook, all of them, everything everyone’s ever talked about on the internet, they’re just the tools.

If you don’t have the empathy, you don’t create a service which solves a problem for your user, then none of those tools are gonna help you, or you’re just gonna be another cheap app, which I don’t know, makes smileys or emojis or something like that.10:48 Martin Boeddeker: If you understand your customer and have empathy, you’re better at explaining what your product actually does for him and the true value of your product.11:11 Jonathan Irons: Yeah. What the internet has also done and the cheapness of creating code, basically, you only need a laptop or any PC, any computer, you can create code.

This has brought around many solutions for problems that don’t exist. So there’s lots of wonderful software out there, especially in the music business.

I’ll give you a simple example, which I have done myself, and it’s page turning software for sheet music, for music.

The problem here is that the page turning technology built by various companies around the world is excellent, is wonderful, is perfect. It does what it says it does.

The problem here is that the pain threshold for people using paper music isn’t high enough for them to change to digital music, and that’s something which is really curious, because the supply is too good for the demand.

Why You Must Not Compare Yourself To Apple

12:15 Jonathan Irons: And Apple said, “Well, we didn’t ask our customers if they wanted an iPhone or an iPod.” But they also had millions of dollars of advertising money. They’re not you and me, right?

Technology has brought lots of, if you like, marketing shortcuts, which look very attractive, the whole ads etcetera, you get bombarded every day saying, “Boost this ad,” “Pay for this,” and if it doesn’t work spend more money. That’s not marketing, or in a sense, it is marketing, but that’s Facebook marketing. That is not your marketing.

Why Jonathan left Twitter

I found you via Twitter and I saw your last post there, so you actually left the service. Can you tell us a little bit about that?13:09 Jonathan Irons: I’ve been off Twitter since July, beginning of July or end of June or something, whenever that tweet was, I’ve been, I’m dry, I’ve been off there. I actually missed a very important message on Twitter because I was off it.

I switched off the notifications and I missed a very important message. It’s very easy to say Twitter’s a waste of time, blah, blah, blah. You’ve heard of all that. You’ve heard all of that before.

I had a difficulty with was cross-channel communication. It genuinely irritates me to get Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, Twitter, Facebook, email, etcetera, messages from people.

I’d really love everyone just to use the same thing. And so there’s that side of it. The other side with it is the technological thing, which I think is a challenge for everybody who wants to sell a message, which is the the endlessness of Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve been off Facebook for a couple of years now, except for propaganda purposes and yeah, so if I post something I’ll share it on Facebook. But I’m afraid I don’t read other people’s posts. I’m very rude about that.14:29 Jonathan Irons: The Twitter thing is quite important, because it ties in with my views about news and all of these things tie in with my views of work and, yeah, work life, if you like. Twitter rolling news, newspapers, online news and all the other things, Instagram, Facebook, etcetera, they’re all time sinks.

They’re all things where you can always spend time. And what they do is they need you to come back. They don’t profit from you reading one message. They profit from you coming back every hour or every day or every week, whatever it is. That’s the same for every newspaper, for every TV show, for every online website.

They Want You To Come Back

What this means is they produce content which makes you want to come back, and they sort the content, like Twitter and Facebook, according to algorithms that make you come back.

And to be brutally honest, I was just not very good at resisting that. I would just get sucked in and I’d find myself going to the Guardian website for a few minutes, then I’d go to Twitter for a few minutes, then I’d check my emails and then I’d see if there’s anything new on Twitter.

And then I’d end up in this vortex of time-wasting. I stopped in June. I’ve read more books than ever before. I’ve stopped reading newspapers. I read one newspaper a week, one weekly newspaper, the Economist.

I don’t read anything else. I don’t listen to radio news or TV news, and it’s absolute bliss, I tell you. [chuckle]16:13 Martin Boeddeker: I was struggling with that, but I just re-read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. He has the same low information diet. It’s  about the opportunity cost, what you could actually do and achieve in the time that you’re just wasting in an endless feed that does not even provide real value or real information.16:42 Jonathan Irons: I fully agree. There are two aspects there for me. The first one is, I’m not saying that Twitter is a bad thing, and I’m not saying that other people should be like me, because other people may have better discipline than me. Other people may enjoy it more than me. They may really enjoy doing it and reading it so, great. There’s no moral prerogative here that Twitter is a bad thing.

I genuinely don’t think it’s healthy to keep reading what people like me think

But the other point is the bubble, if you like. That’s a cliche as well. The echo chamber, the bubble. I genuinely don’t think it’s healthy to keep reading what people like me think. I’ll give you an example.

In Austria they have the national newspaper called Der Standard, and they had a, what was their project called, I think it was City Speaking, I don’t know.

There’s an international project about people getting in touch with other people who have a different opinion from them. So they ask you a few questions on the website, and then they ask you if you would like to sign up and meet someone in your city who has a different opinion to you.17:53 Jonathan Irons: I thought, “Oh, yeah, this is a bit crazy, but okay, I’m game.” I signed up, and it said things like, “Do you agree with President Trump’s policies? Do you agree with the work of the Austrian government?” Then they said something which made me really angry. “Do you believe that Islam is compatible with the European values?” And then something about vegetarianism, and right at the bottom, oh, yeah, something about women.

I answered my questions and I submitted my answers. And a couple of weeks ago, I got a reply back from Der Standard and they said, “Unfortunately, we have not been able to find anybody in your area who has differing views to you.”

That was a real eye-opener for me because, in fact, this is a real declaration of bankruptcy for Der Standard, because what Der Standard is saying is, “Our readers agree with our readers.” You could say, “Well, that’s obvious.” But I wonder what they were trying to achieve?18:56 Jonathan Irons: And the reason I say this is that Twitter amplifies that, Facebook amplifies that, all the online media amplifies the views that you already have. And other people have spoken more eloquently than me about how your own views get amplified by online media, and how you become less and less and less open to contrasting views. But I found that a very good punchline that the newspaper should then say, “We are sorry. We couldn’t find anyone with differing views to you.” Well, obviously, because we’re all reading the same newspaper, or we were back then.19:34 Martin Boeddeker: I remember one book from Sherry Turkle and I think the whole social media is just making communications worse and yeah, it’s disappearing and we do not even notice it, but everyone who has just a cell phone, like if I have, for example, have a look at the YouTube channel or the Instagram of my wife, she gets completely different… She’s living in a completely different world than I do and we do not notice it but it’s happening, this kind of bubble and it’s getting worse, I think.20:12 Jonathan Irons: The cross over or the connection here to the way we work is, it’s a little bit difficult to see, but I think there’s a connection here between this, what we do in our spare time and what we do at work, and it’s basically, it’s what you do with your app as well. It’s literally finding focus, because when you’re trying to focus at work, you’re trying to concentrate on something important. You’re trying to be creative and productive and produce something.

Why Companies Are Measuring The Wrong Things

20:44 Jonathan Irons: Unfortunately, the companies we work for measure us at all their wrong things. They measure us on things like revenue and attendance, and I remember working for a company that spent a colossal amount of time talking about working time directives, and arguing and discussing and negotiating, and they were very positive about it and they were a good company, but they spent this huge amount of time talking about, “Well, if you take one hour off there and then you have minus hours and then you have to… ”

And I’m thinking, “Okay, well, talk about that if you want.” But if they’d spent the same time talking about productivity and creativity and training and what would you like to do, then maybe the revenue would have gone up [chuckle], instead of just spending all this time talking about administration.21:38 Martin Boeddeker: Yeah. I’ve been studying this whole thing a lot. And in the end, especially, for example, if I read Seneca or something, really old, I just have the view that, yeah, that’s just like humankind is wired. Some people get it. They are reading philosophy and things that… And actually try to improve our world, and some people are just mindless and going for status things, buying the most expensive car, getting the latest mobile phones, stuff like that. And other people are caring more about relationships, friendships and yeah, truth, beauty, and goodness.22:26 Jonathan Irons: Yeah, that’s curious, though, because there’s never been any proof that the big car makes you happy. There’s no correlation between salary and happiness. There’s relative happiness and relative salary, with someone else. If you have the feeling that everyone else in the office earns more than you, then you’re unhappy, but that’s a fairness thing. That’s not a monetary question.

I don’t know if I disagree. I know exactly what you mean. I don’t think it’s a case of some people don’t get it. I think it’s some people are just busy, because if you get in the tram in Vienna in the morning, you see messages on the screen all the time and they’re going really fast. They’re very quick. And you’re being told worry about America. You know what I mean, half a year go, everyone was worrying about being killed by North Korea. Oh, that’s gone now. That’s over. It’s just half a year ago, we were facing nuclear Armagedon from North Korea. Apparently, that’s not a thing anymore. We have to worry about something else now.23:29 Jonathan Irons: So it’s not that other people don’t get or don’t have the intellectual capacity to understand what’s around them, it’s that they don’t have the chance to have those thoughts, because they’re being saturated with not even negative things, they’re being saturated with commercial and exciting things.

So negative stories are more exciting than positive stories, blah, blah, blah. We’re getting onto my favorite subject here, which is the news thing. Like I said earlier, the newspapers and blogs and Twitterers and everybody on Facebook, they want you to come back, so they create their content so that it’s sticky, so that you do come back. And I was in England the other week and there was a newspaper article in the I, a British newspaper, about a shortage of allergy medicines for children, and it was a front page.

Then there were two pages, one page inside and then there was a two-page spread further in, so there were three pages inside and half a page on the cover. It was the main headline, about this shortage of allergy medicines for children. That’s a dramatic story and obviously lots of information to be had there and solutions. They were saying how can we sort this?

Why Are Newspaper Stories Are Always Negative?

24:56 Jonathan Irons: But next to one of those articles about a quarter of a page on the left-hand side of the newspaper, and everyone knows the right-hand side is more important than the left-hand side, was a piece of news saying that the number of strokes in the UK had declined by something like 40% since the year 2000.

And these are people who didn’t die. [chuckle] Strokes one of the, I think the leading, heart attack and strokes is the leading cause of death in the UK. I’m guessing here, I’d have to look up the numbers, but it’s one of the most important killers in society, and there was a dramatic, absolutely heroic decrease in the number of deaths over the last 20 years, less than 20 years, but the kids with allergy were more important, because of course the kids with allergies, were more interesting, right?

But in terms of actually dead people, and I always say things like dead people, dead children. Whenever I talk about vaccines, I talk about dead children, because people don’t like when you say dead people, dead children, but when they talk about, “I’m not gonna vaccinate my child because of blah blah, blah,” what they’re talking about there is increasing the number of dead children in the world.

26:12 Martin Boeddeker: One story I just reminded me is like more negative news and good news in the newspapers. And I remember the last time I’ve been to London in the Tube there was some kind of 40-page newspaper and I just scanned through it and then the first 20 pages literally were only bad news, like car accident here, some other scandal, somebody, some celebrity betrayed his husband or wife or whatever, like literally on the 20th page there was one really good article where a famous soccer player did something for charity and the rest was just completely negative and I was like, “Well… “27:02 Jonathan Irons: You see, the interesting thing there is the soccer player doing something for charity, which is great. But you don’t need a soccer player to do something for charity for humanity to be wonderful. The fact that we can walk around and do things and then we can make music and make pictures and build bridges and build ships and all of these things are wonderful and magical.

But we don’t have the vocabulary to celebrate those. If you or I donate money to charity, that’s fine. If a millionaire donates money to charity, he or she is a philanthropist. We don’t have a word, there is no… Philanthropy that only begins above a certain price tag. And charity only hits the newspaper if a footballer does it, and it’s this kind of… I know why the newspapers do that.27:52 Jonathan Irons: I don’t have a problem with newspapers writing scary stories. The only problem I have, and this is the core to my thinking about communication, is it’s been proven, it’s been proven, there’s an important study by the British research company Ipsos that when you ask people what they think about the world, they are generally wrong and they’re generally more pessimistic than the reality, and those two things go hand in hand.

If you’re given bad news all the time, then you, we have a kind of allergic reaction, we overestimate the amount of danger there. So we hear about a terrorist attack. There was a very good terrorist, there was a very good terrorist. That’s a Freudian slip. There was a very good journalist and podcaster, who shall remain nameless, who wrote a piece in a German newspaper, I think last December or something, and he said,

“Austria has been rocked by many crises in the last months, unemployment, this economy and terrorism.” And I wrote to him, I said, “What terrorism? What was the terrorism in Austria?”29:07 Jonathan Irons: And he genuinely answered me. “Even terrorist attacks in other countries affect Austria.” But that’s not what he wrote; what he wrote was, “Austria has been rocked,” I think he said “rocked,” I don’t know what the German was, but he said, “rocked by these crises,” and then he included terrorism in that. And what you’re doing here is you’re internalizing external conflicts.

And I understand why he did that, because he wanted his piece in the newspaper to be exciting. It was a good piece, it was a quality piece, and it was an Austrian perspective on the world, but he felt he couldn’t write this piece about Austria without banging the terrorism drum. And the thing there is that the people reading that will be just subjectively more scared of terrorism, and the last terrorism thing that happened in Austria, was an Austrian killing Austrians, so, you know.

An antidote to negative information. Why Jonathan started United Heartbeat and Vienna Greeters?

30:19 Jonathan Irons: I think one of the things that you talk about in your blog as well is time, and time is quite crucial to everything I’ve done. When I left my last company, which was a good job, a very interesting and creative company, one of the motivating factors for me leaving was I didn’t want to spend 40 hours in a week working on one thing. I know I had lots of different tasks within that job, but out of sheer curiosity I wanted to spend my time doing different things, and I genuinely wanted to spend some more time investigating social activities. I don’t mean partying and playing football, but getting involved.

And what I found there was that as soon as I stopped going to the office at 9 o’clock and leaving at 6 o’clock or whatever it was, I found that I started getting much more work done. I know it was a honeymoon period, and I was “self-employed” and I was a hipster, middle-aged hipster, if there is such a thing, working in coffee shops on my laptop. Sure, it’s a privileged existence and I know that I totally understand that.31:38 Jonathan Irons: But I found that I was working on the thing. I was working on the subject, and not spending an hour in the office. And suddenly I found that I was getting so much more done, and the other thing, this is probably just a personal thing, but I suffer from chronic curiosity, so I like to change the subject every now and then. So I enjoy working for two hours on one subject and then doing something very contrasting and then coming back to the first thing.32:10 Jonathan Irons: Both of the charities that I was involved with, or I am involved with, that I helped start, sort of came about; one was a discussion in a cafe with a friend where we just wrote down six pages of ideas and stuff that we thought we could do and he just pointed at the page and said, “We’ll do this.” And I thought. “Oh, bloody hell.”

It was Vienna Greeters and three and a half years later we’ve organized 1,400 free walks for 4,500 people with about 100 volunteers in the city.

We do it all online, it’s all, whoops, hit my microphone. We do it all online. It’s all organized with online tools. The interesting thing there was that I realized how much I could profit from working with other people, asking people to help me. There’s an old, I don’t know who said it, but there’s an old motivation thing. If you ask someone…

I think it was Benjamin Franklin, he said that when you ask someone to do you a favor their opinion of you goes up, because you’ve trusted them with helping. You’ve given them this… What do they say in German, they say to… It’s “Vertrauensvorschuss,” so this trust advance. So they give you this trust in advance. They say, “Can you help me?”33:35 Jonathan Irons: And Benjamin Franklin wrote about borrowing a book from another senator or somebody or whatever it was, and after that, the opinion of this other man, of Benjamin Franklin, went up and they broke the ice, and things moved on there. So Vienna Greeters was a thing just waiting to happen.

Vienna’s a beautiful city. There are many, many people in Vienna who want to share their city with other people, and I’m good at communicating, setting up websites and running a project, all online, and getting people together to do stuff.

And then a friend turned up and three years ago, when what the politicians like to call the refugee crisis, but what I’d like to call the refugees when many refugees were coming to Austria, we did rack our brains. We felt very frustrated with the fact that we were being asked to take bottles of water to the railway station, and thinking, “Why? Don’t they have water at the railway station?”34:36 Jonathan Irons: And there were lots of refugees coming through Austria and we said to ourselves, “Well, we’re frustrated. We’d like to do something. What are we good at?” Well, we said, “We’re good at organizing stuff. We’re good at setting things up. We’re good at running projects and we’re musicians.”

So we decided to help musicians who had left their countries for whatever reason, and that was very, very, very, very successful.

We Raised €22,000 And Spent It All On Musical Instruments.

The key there, and this is where I learned something, or I learned a lot, was we set up a charity with a very, very, very specific goal. We didn’t wanna teach people how to play the guitar. We didn’t wanna start running courses for this. We didn’t organize concerts. We didn’t teach German or anything like that. We said we’d buy instruments. We’d raise money and buy instruments for musicians who have left their countries.35:39 Jonathan Irons: So, as a musician, it’s very easy to see when you’re sitting in front of a musician. There are people who are musicians and there are people who would like to be musicians. And the people who we met and spoke to you could tell after 30 seconds that they were a musician and their instrument was back in Afghanistan or Iran or Syria or Africa or somewhere. And that was a tremendously enriching experience.

I met lots and lots, I still keep meeting lots and lots of people. We learned lots of very, very tragic stories; very emotional things. But we had a feeling that we were playing a tiny, tiny, tiny role in making the lives of these people a little bit better, and as one of the people said to us in the early days who had been in Austria for quite a few years, he said, “When do you stop being a refugee?”36:30 Jonathan Irons: And that was quite central to our message, because if you play a musical instrument, you’re a musician, or you sing. You’re a musician.

You don’t have this stamp, you’re not pigeonholed as a refugee, because the word refugee has been brutally misused by politicians in all countries to further their local agendas. The discussion in Germany and in the UK and the States that politicians have about refugees have very, very little to do with the actual situation for refugees on the ground.

I talk to someone at Doctors Without Borders or at the UN or Caritas here in Austria and they’ll tell you about the real situation for refugees. The reality is that the people in Austria made phenomenal efforts, took phenomenal efforts to help refugees in the country. The discussion of politicians has very, very little to do with the reality.37:32 Jonathan Irons: You must remember whenever you hear the word, you have to have a kind of a warning or a flag or a button or an alarm or something, whenever a politician uses the word “refugee,” they are electioneering, nothing else. The people who really care about refugees are out there helping them, the people who talk about it on the radio. And the radio will always put you on… They will put Horst Seehofer on the radio and the Brexit people and etcetera, etcetera, ’cause they’re entertaining.38:03 Martin Boeddeker: Yeah, lots of different things come to mind, but I think I would like to talk about what we can do, on a personal level, or if you’re just like an entrepreneur getting started. I worked with a lot of people who are in this social entrepreneurship, Google call it social entrepreneurship, what we can do, and I think what you’re doing is great because you’re taking these abstract concepts of refugees and taking it to a really personal level and getting back to the… Getting back to a personal level, and this is nothing we can get from the news or something or from social media, it’s always coming back and getting as personal as possible, and that’s also what’s creating happiness.

Why It’s All Marketing

38:55 Jonathan Irons: I fully agree. And to come back to the beginning of the discussion, it’s all marketing. Because when we say… When United Heartbeat and Eva, who founded the charity, said, “We buy musical instruments for people who’ve left their homes.”

In three years since we’ve done this, yeah, almost three years now, we have never, ever been criticized.

We’ve never received any hate mail or any kind of racist comment or anything like that, because you can’t. Because the goal, the vision and the task we set ourselves is so specific, the propaganda out there is that refugees get free cars and flats and the houses and money and phones and all this kind of stuff, that’s misinformation.39:48 Jonathan Irons: The only way to combat misinformation is with information, is with facts. Hans Rosling. Factfulness. The only way to, and by doing this very, very specifically, that’s marketing. Anyone who goes to the United Heartbeat website can see exactly what we do in 10 seconds.

And I think we’ve been quite successful with Vienna Greeters that we spent a long time working on the five points about Vienna Greeters. What you need to know. One, two, three, four, five, that’s it. And if it’s not for you, go away. And every now and then we get emails from people saying, “Yeah, I’d like to book you. How much does this cost?” Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, when it says at the top of the front page that it’s free.

Why everything has a profit

40:33 Jonathan Irons: And then they send us an email saying, “What does it cost?” Then, okay, but that’s like, one in a thousand. We get many more requests from people who do get it. And really, all of the things I’m doing here have this common denominator of communication and marketing. You’re still, you’re still… You know, people say in English, non-profit. Everything has a profit.

If it doesn’t have a profit, why are you doing it? If you’re doing it to get to heaven ’cause you’re a Christian and you believe if you do good stuff, that’s a profit, right? If that’s your belief. If you’re doing it because you want to feel good, that’s a profit, there’s always a profit there. So when… The American term “non-profit” is a tax, it’s a tax thing. It’s got to do with the financial reports. But this idea that you do something because it’s good,

I think that’s colossal bullshit. The only reason to do something is because you get something out of it. Everything I’ve done which you would call a charity has been completely egotistical. I’ve done it for myself. Everything I ever did I did for me.41:44 Martin Boeddeker: Okay. Is there anything I haven’t asked you about making things better? Heroes, good causes, volunteering, marketing or music, that you’d like to share?41:55 Jonathan Irons: The newest thing. I think my hobby at the moment, is what Hans Rosling called Factfulness. Well, the book is here. You can’t see this on the page, but it’s this book by Hans Rosling. Have you heard of it?42:09 Martin Boeddeker: I’ve read about it on your blog.42:12 Jonathan Irons: Have you heard about it? Yeah. The book shows people that we have a wrong perception of the world around us, and it explains how things have got better in the last 100 years and in the last 20 years and 10 years and last year.

The point here is not that people are wrong. The point here is how can we develop a way of being right? How can we develop a positive way of being right? I spoke to the people at Gapminder who published the book. You can’t sit down at a dinner party or in a pub or in a club somewhere and say to someone, “You’re wrong.” That’s not a very good way to start the discussion, and I’ve done it many times.So I speak from experience. One of the things that I think will… Is a big hobby of mine at the moment, and it ties into the work I do as well, is actually, you are allowed to sit down and say, “Look at this, this is wonderful.”

And companies don’t do that. Companies have people who’ve worked for them for 15-20 years, they don’t celebrate them, and they should. These are people who spend all their daily working hours in their company. Yeah, someone said to me once, “Well, I’m not happy in my job, but at least I’m grateful to have a job.” I thought, “No, no, no.” I have this very, probably stupid cliche I say, “If you live in a rich country and you’re healthy and you have an education and you have paid employment and you’re not happy, it’s your fault.”

Because there are so many people in the world who don’t have one of those things. They don’t have the health, they don’t have the education, and they don’t have the opportunity. That if you have all of those things and you’re still not happy, do something, change something. Go and find out what it is that would make you happy.

Through advertising, and through just the way we are, I mean, this all sounds very propagandistic. But TV, radio, newspapers, they tell us that the things that will make us happy are consumerism. Now, I’m not against buying stuff, I’m a true, red-blooded capitalist, I love stuff. [chuckle]44:34 Jonathan Irons: Capitalism has solved lots of problems, especially regarding poverty. But if people who work in a company say they’re not happy but they’ll stay there anyway, then something has to change. So that’s something which you do with your blog, with your website, and with your product, and I think people need to learn more and more, because otherwise, people get in this downward spiral of thinking that the world outside is bad, and the world outside here is good.

And then you get these, what do you call it? You get these solutions, like, “If only I had that house, I would be happy. If only I had more money, I would be happy. If only I had blah, blah, blah, I would be happy.” And that’s never, ever the case. If you’re not happy, you do need to change something, but it probably isn’t buying something. Sure, I like buying stuff, but that’s very short-term.

If You’re Not Happy, Do Something

That makes you happy for a short period of time. Because you’ve proved that you have the financial ability to buy something even if you don’t. So you come home with bag or a box or you open an Amazon box and that’s great. But that’s very, very short-lived. So my final word is, “If you’re not happy, do something.”45:53 Martin Boeddeker: Yeah, keep it simple. Even if it’s just inviting over a friend for a real dinner and even if you just order a pizza and have it together, it’s still better.46:04 Jonathan Irons: Yeah.46:05 Martin Boeddeker: And having a real conversation than just messaging each other through Skype or Facebook or something.46:13 Jonathan Irons: Yeah. Because we don’t really have a vocabulary for that. It’s very easy to be branded as an esoteric or as a hippie or something if you start talking about happiness. And you’re thinking, “Bloody hell, if we can’t talk about happiness then… ” What companies ask their staff if they’re happy on a regular basis? Large companies. Okay, I’ll give you one book to finish, and it’s from Basecamp, the project management people. Have you seen it?46:51 Martin Boeddeker: Oh, yeah, It’s… I read it three weeks ago or something.46:55 Jonathan Irons: Their Calm book?46:57 Martin Boeddeker: No, their Rework.47:00 Jonathan Irons: Oh, okay, there’s a new book, it’s called, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work.47:03 Martin Boeddeker: Okay. [chuckle]47:04 Jonathan Irons: And it’s very, very good. They do speak as successful millionaires. It’s very easy for successful millionaires to write about how well their company is doing, because that’s survivor-bias. They’re the people who made it. People who didn’t make it with their companies don’t write books. So, sure, you have that. However, they’re still right.

Is there one particular story or case study that you’d like to share that really sums up what we’ve been talking about in the interview?

47:41 Jonathan Irons: I think, to go back to the beginning, is what you mentioned about marketing and content marketing and empathy. Empathy is my favorite word these days, and I think it’s that… That’s the line that goes through everything we’ve discussed, is empathy. If you can’t, as a musician, think about what it must be like for a musician to leave Syria and not have their trumpet with them. They play crazy brass band music in Syria. Did you know? They have… It’s like the scouts.

They have these huge youth brass bands and it’s wonderful. It’s the most crazy thing I’ve ever seen. It’s beautiful. If you can’t imagine what it must be like for a 12-year-old child to not have their trumpet that they had last year, then you can’t help them fix that situation or you won’t be able to do it as well. And if you can’t put yourself in the position of someone who wants to buy your product, you won’t be able to sell it to them. So that’s, I think, yeah. That’s my new favorite word, empathy, now. So…

48:42 Martin Boeddeker: Okay, yeah. Thank you, Jonathan, for the interview. And how can people find out more about you and what you do?

48:48 Jonathan Irons: And you’ll link it somewhere?

48:54 Martin Boeddeker: Yeah, for sure. I will.

48:55 Jonathan Irons: That’s my website. Yeah. My blog posts and my website is very vague. I just… I write blog posts about stuff that interests me.

49:08 Martin Boeddeker: Cool.

49:08 Jonathan Irons: And I try to do to make sure I write stuff down every now and then. It keeps me fit.

49:13 Martin Boeddeker: Okay, yeah. Thank you for the interview.

49:17 Jonathan Irons: Thanks, Martin.

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