What Matters to Joseph Cohen

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Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.

Joseph Cohen is the founder & CEO of Univer.se, the world’s first website builder designed for mobile phones. He designs tools to augment creativity and exploration.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

Creating something important, novel, and beautiful with a talented group of people. The process of making clarity in ambiguity, of learning and sharpening my thinking with others, and of seeing a project come together over time exhilarates me. And the knowledge that “this wouldn’t have existed without me spending time on it” validates the work that went into it.

I’m also equally happy wandering a new city, traveling by motorcycle, hiking in awe-inspiring nature, and experiencing an epic piece of art. These things make me feel most alive.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

Early painting and drawing classes. I remember (mistakenly) feeling that the creative arts were “unserious” and not something that men did… but I always enjoyed getting into that flow state.

I think that led me to gravitate towards business, and in that, I realized a broader sense of what creativity can be. Creativity is not limited to any specific kind of media. In fact, in many ways, business and technology and world-building are a hugely expansive canvas that has very few rules. And that interacts with reality in a way that connects to the human experience in a real and direct way.

What is your biggest regret?

I don’t like to spend time in the past. But if I were to tell something to my earlier self, it would be: time feels dramatically slower when you’re young. The ‘rush’ trap can actually make things take longer. Focus on compounding skills, creations, and resources. The instinct to go your own way: nurture it and lean into it, but also be open to the world and to deep connections with the people around you.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?


What makes you cry?

I get emotional about underdog stories. When people from tough circumstances accomplish big, unlikely things.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

Short and long.

Short in that the immediate hit fades after about a week. Then my mind goes to the next thing. I struggle with ‘perpetual discontent,’ but I think that’s two sides of the same creative coin: dissatisfaction with what exists inspires new creation.

Long in that I think about accomplishment in a layer cake, compounded way. Accomplishments ladder on each other, making new things possible.

In finance, there is an idea of compounding growth. If I grow a pool of $100,000 by just 20% every year, after five years, it will be worth about $250,000. After 15 years, it’ll be worth over $1.5 million, which is 15 times the original investment. The point is that small gains that compound on themselves lead to exponential growth. I believe the same principle applies to one’s capabilities. If someone can grow themselves by 20% a year, their skills and reach compound exponentially over time.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I think there’s more to life and the universe than we can possibly know, but I don’t believe in the conventional sense of the afterlife. I think that the world of living beings and ideas and energy exist in perpetual dialog with the cosmos. Things cycle in and out of “life.”

My feeling of spirituality is mostly one of not knowing. And that ignorance brings me comfort: it’s all possible.

What do you hate most about yourself?

Hate is a strong word. I do wish I were more patient sometimes.

What do you love most about yourself?

Curiosity. I’m grateful that my mind naturally wanders to what is new and unseen— it’s fun to be a passenger in that process.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

The perfect steak. A fresh, simple salad. An ice cream sundae for dessert. Simple ingredients, exceptionally well-executed. I will be very happy.