The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 286, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Banu Guler
Episode originally released on January 5, 2021
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: email@example.com
Transcribed by Jayna Moar
Transcription released July 30, 2022
Copyright © 2022 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. Today is? What is it? Friday? Monday? Monday, January 4th, 2021, starting at 1:20PM here in Denver, Colorado. And this is the 286th episode of the show. So in this episode, I’m going to be interviewing Banu Guler who is the founder of the Co-Star Astrology app. So hey, welcome to the show.
BANU GULER: Thanks for having me. I’m so excited to be here. You’re obviously someone we’ve all looked up to for a very long time.
CB: Yeah, I’m really excited to have you on the show. So part of the genesis of this was that last month, about a month ago, I think it was on December 1st, you did an AMA, an ‘ask me anything’ on Reddit, on the astrology subreddit, where you were just answering questions from different random users. And I happened to notice it actually relatively early on that day, and I asked some questions from just generally things I was curious about that I’ve heard in the community and I really liked your responses. And so I offered if you ever want to come on the show that we could do an interview and you accepted. So here we are today. So thanks for doing that.
BG: Yeah, of course. I believe that when I realized that you were Chris Brennan I wrote in all caps, “OH MY GOD! IS THIS CHRIS BRENNAN?”
CB: Yeah, right. I thought that was really funny and endearing. So one of the things we were doing on the AMA was to clear up some misconceptions about the app and to talk a little bit about its development as well as its future plans, and I thought those would be good discussion topics for us today. So we’ll get to just about everything.
Before we get there, though, first, I wanted to introduce this by talking about the rise of popular astrology apps over the course of the past decade and the past few years, as mobile phones and smartphones have become more ubiquitous. It seems like it was only a matter of time before somebody created a popular astrology app that took off. But it almost seems like it could have happened sooner than it did. And for some reason, it’s more recent that some apps have really exploded in popularity, and Co-Star seems to be one of them. It seems like it is, if not the most popular app, it’s one of the most popular apps for astrology at this time, right?
BG: Yeah, I mean, I think just over 20% of young people in the US have downloaded it at this point. We’re consistently ranked in the top two or three-hundred apps overall in the App Store. And I don’t think any of the other astrology apps are in there.
CB: Yeah. Well 20, so 20% – you sort of mentioned that in passing, but that’s like a huge number, 20% of young people in the United States using this app is just astronomical, in terms of astrology. I mean, a lot of public polls, for example, that I’ve read years ago, like let’s say 10 years ago, but they were always relatively consistent. Put the number of people in the US of adults that believe in astrology, quote, unquote, whatever that means to be around, like 25% or something. So the idea that 20% of a specific demographic or 25% are using this app is kind of crazy, just in terms of those numbers.
BG: Yeah, I mean, I’m pretty sure the number that you’re referring to is the National Science Foundation and they’ve been polling people about belief in astrology since the ‘70s. And I think that’s how it’s phrased, “Do you believe that astrology is scientific?” maybe? And roughly consistently since the ‘70s, it’s like half of American young people and a quarter to a third of American adults, overall. And it’s like ebbed and flowed a little bit, but I think it’s roughly that but I think that the proportion is a little bit higher among young people.
CB: Okay, that makes sense. Well, that’s really interesting then, but it just gives you some idea of the reach of Co-Star and its history in just the past few years. So, one of the questions that I wanted to get to was like what was missing in terms of astrology apps versus what did Co-Star offer versus like, how much was that filling a need that was there versus also, maybe coming in at the right time?
So Co-Star was launched in 2017. And there was this huge wave of interest in young people in astrology, starting in 2017, or 2018. And that was something we commented on on The Astrology Podcast around that time. So there was something there about the timing just in terms of being in the right place at the right time, perhaps as well.
BG: Yeah, I mean, so there were already a bunch of astrology apps. There were tons of astrology websites, the same ones that we all use now. But with Co-Star we’ve always started from a different premise, which isn’t like how do we replicate the features of Solar Fire or Astro Gold, which I believe didn’t exist at the time on a mobile device, but how do we use the language of astrology to help people connect in more meaningful ways? You know, like this was much less following the idea of astrology is big among young people, and much more about social media I think is destroying our brains. Can we hack this thing that’s actually really wonderful. I love my phone. I love scrolling. Can we hack those kind of good behaviors or, you know, potentially neutral behaviors to engender something good and real and meaningful?
CB: Right? Yeah, the social component of that is something that you’ve mentioned and talked about consistently and that’s like a major feature that I definitely want to talk about especially for not just what it does now but some of your big plans for the future.
So before we get there for those not familiar with it, maybe we should describe a little bit of Co-Star and what it does just for those not familiar with it. So it’s a popular astrology app for iPhone and Android. It calculates your birth chart, provides some basic Birth Chart interpretations, and also some daily transit notifications and interpretations. Is that a good description or how else would you describe it?
BG: It clusters those things in a few different ways. And there’s an asynchronous messaging feature called chaos mode, where you can send a friend a message and it gets sent when the stars align. But yeah, broadly, you download the app, put in your date, time, and place of birth, and get your personalized horoscope.
CB: Awesome. And let me see. It was started in 2000. I think you said it was launched in October of 2017. Is that right?
BG: That’s right.
CB: Okay. And I think I actually have– Is it okay if we show the birth chart?
BG: For sure.
CB: And what’s the story? So with most businesses, there’s often questions about what birth chart to use, because there’s multiple, significant symbolic moments in time which you could use as the chart that you have a specific one that you like to use for Co-Star?
BG: Yeah, so we use this 10/5 one because it was when we submitted– After we submitted our app to the App Store for public consumption, Apple approved it and then we pushed go live and it felt like the most birthing moment.
CB: Right. So the data is October 5th, 2017, starting at 3:44PM in New York City, New York, and it has, for the audio listeners that are just listening to this, it has seven degrees of Aquarius rising. I’m actually casting this, I made a mistake, I’m doing this Whole Sign houses, but what’s your preferred method of house division?
BG: I like Porphyry but I switch to Whole Signs from time to time. I did get thrown off for a split second when you opened it. I was like, “This looks like the wrong chart.” [Laughs]
CB: Well I’ve been trying to be more intentional about asking guests over the past a year or two what their preferred method of house division is and then casting their chart or whatever chart we’re looking at in that context. So when I recalculated really quickly– So this is using Porphyry houses and here’s the chat. It still will look a little weird because my chart design is not used to listing certain angles, but it has Aquarius rising. There’s a stellium in Libra. So Mercury, the Sun, and Jupiter are up in Libra sort of straddling the eighth and ninth houses. Saturn is at least the traditional ruler of the Ascendant and it’s up in Sagittarius in the 11th house in a day chart. It’s interesting you did this at a full Moon. The Moon’s at 13 Aries in the second house in Porphyry, and it’s just coming off of the opposition with the Sun at 12 degrees of Libra. So it’s a Full Moon baby. Was that intentional or was that accidental?
BG: I think it was a little bit accidental in the sense of we got rejected from the App Store because of something stupid, I can’t even remember what it was. And then it happened like we were trying to launch earlier, but then it was, “Oh cool. It’s the Full Moon.”
CB: How long was the development phase? Or how long have you been working on it by the time this launch happened in October?
BG: So we started really working on it late spring, and we launched a beta on our website, which still exists– it’s pretty janky. We launched with the circle chart that people are clamoring for. And we got boatloads of emails that were just like, “What the f— is this?”
CB: That’s really funny and ironic in retrospect. So you started with circle charts and due to user feedback, you switched to the square chart format that’s now become the classic Co-Star format, which is–
CB: In some circles, you know, appreciated, in some circles much reviled by circle chart users.
BG: Understatement of the year. But even on the website, 80% of people were coming on mobile, like not on a desktop computer. And it’s like I understand how to read a circle chart. It’s not terribly comfortable to read a circle chart on your phone, like I use a computer if I want to look at a circle chart, personally.
CB: So that might be a recurring theme, then, is something I know we’ll come back to again, is sometimes you know, your initial direction you might go as an astrologer with things versus sometimes making changes due to user feedback. And if the majority of your users are not like intermediate or advanced astrologers, they might have certain preferences or some things might make it harder to interface with the app versus if you go another direction.
BG: For sure. I mean, honestly, I don’t think the really, really serious astrology community is looking for a new, cute app that sends them funny push notifications. I think it’s an interesting social experiment, à laTwitter or Instagram, you know, like, what happens if I connect with my friends on here, but it’s not to cast charts and do readings. You’re not just gonna be like, let me just pull up your Co-Star. Let’s look at your, you know, whatever…
CB: So your target audience wasn’t like– You weren’t imagining Rob Hand sitting down for consultation like pulling out Co-Star to calculate the person’s tertiary, secondary progressions or something like that?
BG: For sure, but that said it’s really nice to have just a little list of people and not having to be like, “Can you just find out what time you were born?” and just being like, add me on Co-Star. But when we launched, you know, we definitely had some astrologers early on, but mostly we launched to the fashion world, like I’m pretty sure Michael Kors was one of our first handful of users just because I worked at Michael Kors, like three or four levels underneath him. But somebody told him about it, he’s into astrology. And so somebody like that looks at a circle chart and they’re like, “What is this?”
CB: Right, because one of the big stumbling blocks for people that are new to astrology is they don’t know how to read the glyphs, which are literally like an alphabet in a separate language, that if you haven’t memorized them it doesn’t look like anything. It just looks like squiggly lines.
BG: Yeah, and I mean, that’s also part of the magic. You know, I bounce around a lot on this, on my love or care for the esoteric in astrology. You know, there’s something very attractive about the old books that are like, if you tell anybody about this the gods are going to curse you and locusts will come after you, but it’s 2021. Everyone should have access to tools that make them feel better and give them new ways to think about their lives.
CB: Yeah. That’s a tension in the astrological community that’s been an ongoing one for a very long time in terms of the accessibility of astrology. How accessible should astrology be to the mainstream public versus how much should it be kept as this secret knowledge or secret wisdom? And then also, once you get into it, the issue sometimes that occurs of gatekeeping astrology and gatekeeping the knowledge or the wisdom of it in some sense, and the tension between different groups within the community that want to push in one direction or another.
BG: I mean, I have really, really strong opinions about this. Before Co-Star, I worked as a graphic designer and as a product person. I had no training for either of those things. I came up in a punk scene where you could make music without actually really knowing how to play any instrument or really knowing how to sing. And I think those things are really good and I think that you know the world that I want to live in is one where two dumbass bike shop people invent airplanes, not the American military with millions of dollars behind them.
CB: Well, that’s a good segue then to back up a little bit and talk about your background and what your background in astrology is, and just where you’re coming from prior to Co-Star. So tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your story?
BG: Yeah, so I was born in Texas, to a Pakistani and Turkish family. My family used astrology alongside palmistry and coffee readings for all kinds of things from you know, one of my aunts names is spelled a particular way because of numerology. I remember being like six and being taught how to read palms by an uncle, predicting earthquakes. All of it just kind of being jumbled up with sort of scientific pragmatism of very recent immigrants.
And I went to school for psychology. I worked as a bike messenger for a bunch of years. Then I got into a very bad car accident that ended my burgeoning bike messenger career. I took a bunch of zines and posters and packed them up as a portfolio. Got a random job in the fashion world. Got fired because they found out that I didn’t actually know how to design anything. Realized that I needed to learn about this thing called typography. And then, slowly just built a career in the fashion world working at companies like DVF, Michael Kors, Alex and Ani, V files, Anne Taylor. And then in 2016, Trump got elected. I was going through my Saturn Return and was like, “Cool. I really got to do something else.”
CB: Yeah, so part of this– and I don’t know whatever you’re comfortable mentioning, but you just mentioned a Saturn return. So part of your Saturn return story, it was actually starting Co-Star.
BG: Yeah. I mean, I think that was just such a weird time. It felt like the world was ending in political ways, but also in personal ways and just being like… I didn’t mean to become somebody who’s extremely good at selling clothes on the internet. But now I am a person who’s extremely good at selling clothes on the internet.
CB: Yeah, and I can understand some of the political stuff that was going on at that time period in 2016 had gotten really crazy, especially, I’m sure, for somebody like yourself coming from a background with family from the Middle East and stuff.
BG: Yeah, I mean, I remember the day after Trump getting elected, seeing an old friend, also brown, and like meeting eyes from across the room and just like hugging and both crying, crying, crying and I think that was like, a very, very… [hard] time.
CB: Yeah. I just remember that whole period. That was one of the sort of Saturn in Sagittarius themes that became very strong, but some of the xenophobia from that time period. And it’s interesting now thinking back to some of the people that are going through their Saturn returns at that time in retrospect and how they’re impacted in different ways. So let’s see. So backing up. So you had a background in design, what was your background in terms of astrology or who are some of your influences as an astrologer?
BG: So I had just kind of grown up around the idea of astrology as a concept, and then got really into it when I was in college and was dating someone who was like, “You really have no idea how to talk about your feelings at all,” which is and remains somewhat true.
CB: That’s what they said to you?
BG: Yeah and they were really into astrology and were working at a bookstore where they would get just boatloads of books, all kinds but including astrology books that they started reading to me from. And I was like, “Oh, so this is like, this alt way of talking about your feelings that’s not really talking about your feelings, but somehow you’re happy when I talk about, you know, what’s happening with my Aries Midheaven.” you know, whatever it is, and just started getting deeper and deeper in. I think Steven Forrest was a big flip for me just because he’s really a poet who uses astrology as the lens, sort of.
CB: Right. Yeah, he’s a very good and very evocative writer. That’s something that people often comment. I know my partner, Leisa, one of her favorite books is The Inner Sky by Steven Forrest. I know a lot of people, that’s one of their favorites.
BG: Well, it’s just brutal. Like you can read it from beginning to end and just feel like you’ve been stabbed and punched in the heart over and over and over.
CB: Right, which is sometimes a good feeling, sometimes not so much. That’s one of the double-edged things with astrology. And I wonder actually, like you mentioning that in that way, one of the things that’s interesting, maybe worth remarking on, is just sometimes growing up in tradition where some divination was used around you, sometimes divination is presented in a much more straightforward way and in a way that sometimes I feel like Western astrologers almost see as brutal or kind of insensitive in some ways. And I wonder if that impacted you at all in terms of seeing that delineation style versus reading somebody like Steven Forrest, who sometimes will pull punches like a little bit to a certain extent. If that makes sense?
BG: Yeah. I mean, I think that like, especially in my family, there’s no concern about saying things that I think in Western Astrology… sorry not Western, American-style astrology you just don’t say.
CB: Right? Yeah, that’s a common thing. Like when people go to an astrologer from India and they’ll calculate your length of life or something like that’s just like a common thing that you’re supposed to do. Versus some modern Western American like psychological astrologers, that would be seen as unethical or something like that. And that’s been an interesting debate in the astrological community in the past 20 or 30 years, as there’s been this revival of older forms of astrology.
BG: Yeah, I mean, I feel a lot of intense conflict about this, in general. You know, one of the stories I think about a lot is my uncle saw an astrologer before marrying my aunt and they were from different castes. So they weren’t supposed to get married. And when they got the astrology reading the astrologer said that my uncle would die in three years, so let them get married because he’s going to die in three years.
CB: [Laughs] Okay.
BG: And, you know, three years later, he’s on a flight– I can’t remember from where to where, this was back in the ‘80s. And the flight hit some turbulence and he randomly remembers that this astrologer told him he’d die today, and he was like, “Cool. The plane’s going to crash. I’m going to die.” And he didn’t. Yeah, he’s still alive. But just to him this is why astrology is bad. Because you know, the astrologer predicted he would die on this day and then it gave him this intense anxiety when that day came. When normally I think most of us hit a bit of turbulence on our plane and are like, “Ehh…” not comfortable but probably fine.
Also, for at least half of my family, any kind of future prediction is not fine. Like from a Muslim stance, you can use astrology, numerology, [unintelligable] as long as you’re not predicting the future.
BG: So like predicting the present.
CB: So it has to be only about the present or it has to be only psychologically-based, like character analysis and that’s sort of okay or seen as a gray area?
BG: Yeah, exactly.
CB: Okay, well, yeah, I mean that raises some interesting questions. I mean, we can get into more later when we get into philosophy, just in terms of statements that astrology can make and when astrology is accurate or when it’s not accurate, as well as how to frame things and stuff like that. That’s always a dicey question for astrologers. Okay, so let me back up. Why the name?
BG: [Laughs] So sorry.
CB: That’s alright. These are fun, philosophical digressions I want to get into. I just want to make sure I finish this sort of introduction. Why is it named Co-Star?
BG: My poet friend, Leijia Hanrahan. Google her, she’s a great poet, came up with it. I actually wanted to call the app Horror-scope. And it’s still actually the name of several docs. One of our GitHub repos is still called Horror-scope.
CB: Like the horror movie genre?
BG: Yup. Horror-scope.
CB: So it was almost envisioned from the start as something that would be kind of like, joke-y or kind of edgy in some way?
BG: Yeah, I think more like Goth than edgy but I think that there’s a trend in a lot of the– especially, you know, back in 2017. There was this trend of having this really touchy, feely, fluffy astrology. Like mainstream astrology just took everything complicated about astrology out and was just like, “You’re great, beautiful, fantastic, 10 out of 10! Great day today, don’t worry.” And so from the beginning there was like, we were oriented against that aesthetic.
CB: Okay, that’s really interesting, because that’s been a really stark thing over the past year where, you know, there’s some astrologers that like, as a general point, they say that they will not make negative statements in a forecast about things that are coming up. And in 2020, we ran into finally– because usually the horror stories for astrology are the scenarios where the astrologer predicts something terrible and it doesn’t happen. And the astrologer is taking from that “Well, it wasn’t that bad, then that unnecessarily caused anxiety.” But then in 2020, we learned the opposite scenario, which is what happens if the astrologer predicts, you know, it’ll be a great year and then all of a sudden, like a worldwide pandemic happens and hundreds of thousands of people die and lose their jobs or get sick or what have you. And if you didn’t accurately– because you were worried about causing unnecessary anxiety, what happens if you didn’t, you know, say what you saw coming up?
BG: Yeah, I mean, I think really the question is, what is a reading or horoscope supposed to do? It’s supposed to, like turn your attention towards something. Right? And I think there are ways of delivering what we might call bad news in a way that isn’t like anxiety inducing. “You’re going to die on this day.” But like, turns people’s attentions toward the sort of less fun aspects of life, which are just part of life.
I had this app on my phone very briefly that texted me every morning an invocation of death, like random death-related thoughts. And I think a lot of that like old Buddhist meditation, where you imagine your lover with worms in their eyes sockets, rotting, and I think that’s really good. I think it’s actually really healthy to think about that stuff.
CB: In the sense of what, with the Buddhist imagery? What does that invoke in you?
BG: Just understanding that everything is ultimately on the same terrain–
CB: In terms of impermanence?
BG: – Like everyone is going to die. Yeah, and there’s a difference between the general idea of your lover dying and saying your lover is going to die on July 7th, 2022.
CB: Okay, that makes sense. I’m having a conflict because I’m vibing with this because I have a Scorpio Sun, and I think we share some placements that are very similar. But I can see, like, there’s some placements in your chart that are really good, and I don’t know how much you want to talk about your chart. But I think that’s like part of where that’s coming from in terms of similarities of some of our placements. I wasn’t sure if you felt like sharing that at all, it’s kind of up to you. How do you feel about sharing your chart in general or what’s your stance on that?
BG: I’m fine with it. You know, one thing I do think about sporadically is that there is definitely an anti-Scorpio thing happening on the internet for the past several years. And so it’s not surprising that you know, talking about death too much gets you into trouble.
CB: Do you mind sharing your Sun sign?
BG: I’m a Scorpio.
CB: Okay, so you’re a Scorpio Sun and you’re kind of not too far born after me. So you actually have Pluto there as well. Right?
CB: Okay, so that’s without really revealing too much. That’s just an interesting piece of background information in terms of some of the things you think about, and how you think about them, and some of the things then, that went into the app, and how you’re describing this, and both in terms of some of the Goth aesthetic, which actually makes much more sense now, and I can see that more clearly in terms of the design and the overall, you know, just aesthetic. But also how you’re thinking in terms of saying sometimes a phrase can like, turn your mind, or draw your mind towards certain thoughts. And it seems like that’s one of the underlying motivations with the app as well?
BG: Yeah, totally. I mean, I think the most therapeutic effect of astrology, and I’m curious as to your take on this, is that it shifts your attention. And I think I and most people I know get trapped in these loops where we’re like, “My world is extremely tiny, and I can only pay attention to this, and I can only think one thought about it, and I will only think that one thought about it until I explode.” And having the whole circle… and understanding like the sort of the expansiveness of our emotional worlds is extremely comforting, and like moving between them fluidly, I think is extremely powerful.
CB: Yeah, and maybe that takes it back to that feeling that you had in college of astrology being a way to become introspective, and to like, access one’s emotions and internal worlds and reflect on those things in a way that’s almost intellectual without doing it directly. It’s like a, I don’t want to say crutch, but it’s like a bridge to doing that that might be more accessible for people than just diving into deep introspection on your own without any help.
BG: For sure. And I mean I think for a lot of intellectuals, philosophy and political science functions in the same way. I think it’s just like you pick a poison that’s actually not a poison.
CB: Yeah, I like that. That’s a good thing. Let me see. Some other things I meant to mention in terms of just “introduction stuff,” but I’m not sure it’s like– So there’s one direction we can go with this. One of them is I wanted to do a little segment addressing some misconceptions, as well as some issues surrounding the app. It seems like with great success comes pushback sometimes, and it seems like Co-Star is somewhat unique in being singled out for criticism pretty frequently, it seems like sometimes excessively. Was that one of your motivations last month in terms of doing the AMA on Reddit, or to what extent was clearing up some misconceptions like part of your motivation there?
BG: Yeah, I mean I’ve heard the rumors and you know, some of them are really off the wall. Like I love hearing in a weird sort of self-deprecating way that two white men started Co-Star, and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m like two white men and a trench coat.” That’s funny.
CB: Right. [Laughs]
BG: [Laughs] But I think that we’ve intentionally kind of been opaque in letting people behind the curtain and just kind of intentionally trying to be a little bit more transparent.
CB: Okay. And I think you’ve said in passing at one point when I was preparing for this episode that because you tend to be kind of a private person in terms of your personal life, so that earlier on you were less sort of out there front and center in terms of the face of being the actual founder. And that could have led to some of those ideas or those rumors or misconceptions, maybe early on as well?
BG: I mean, I don’t even think the fact that I’m half Turkish and half Pakistani was on the internet until a few months ago.
CB: Okay, and I meant to ask since I did an episode with Michael Morris– It was in addition to like house divisions and another one was just asking for pronouns and things like that. Do you have preferred pronouns?
CB: She/her. Okay. Good. Good to know. All right. So let’s talk about some of the misconceptions then. So, one of the misconceptions, or at least will ask you if it’s a misconception, but one of the things that’s commonly claimed that I think I asked on Reddit in AMA was something like “Co-Star does not employ any astrologers?” or “There’s no astrologers on the payroll?” or something like that is commonly repeated, and I was curious to ask you like, is that true? Or where did that come from? Or do you have any idea?
BG: I have no idea. I think that part of the rumors stems from this interview I did, where I was talking about how we had to study old astrology texts for months to figure out how to program it, which was true, but that certainly wasn’t our first time doing astrology.
CB: So people inferred from that, that that meant you were brand new to astrology and just decided to start learning it to create an app to make money or something like that. But that was a misunderstanding. You probably needed to like figure out how to calculate things and do timezone conversions to get the Ascendant right, and then do the math for the different houses or, you know, quadrant houses, and things like that.
BG: House systems, pain in the ass.
BG: But, yeah, that said, like earlier on Lor O’Connor, Dr. Jennifer Freed both consulted. Alice Sparkly Kat. Hanna Hur joined us probably eight months in full time. Stone Parkway joined us actually before Hanna and they’re both full time on staff.
CB: So these are all astrologers that you have paid and that have worked for Co-Star in some capacity or consulted over the years?
BG: Okay. Well, Alice Sparkly Kat is really cool and I’ve been following them for a while now on Twitter and I’m looking forward– They have a book that’s coming out that I’m hoping to interview them about in a few months. They actually sent me a review copy last month, but somebody stole it from the mailroom downstairs in my buildings, so there’s like somebody wandering around Denver that has an advanced copy of a book on postcolonial astrology that I hope they’re really, really enjoying. But I’m hoping to read the book before too long to do that interview later this year.
BG: Yeah, I’ll mail you my copy. I already read it. It was phenomenal.
CB: Is it good? Okay
BG: Really, really good. I’m really looking forward to the broad reception because I think they’re rigorous in a way that I think a lot of writers in general, like not even astrology writers are. And I think the way they sort of… The fluidity with which they kind of twist through the ideas and weave through these like varying contexts is just really, really great.
CB: Yeah, definitely. They’re a really amazing writer. They do a good job of blending some ancient and some modern astrology as well. Is that something they brought in terms of the consulting or work that they did for you for Co-Star?
BG: Yeah, I mean, I think that their intellectual sluttiness, for lack of better word, is just phenomenal across the board.
CB: Definitely. Alright. So that, I think, that addresses that pretty well, in addition to just the fact that it turns out that you as the founder, that you’d had some relationship with astrology and gotten into it seriously in college almost a decade before founding Co-star. So you’d had plenty of a history of yourself in addition to having other astrologers on the payroll.
CB: Okay, cool. Let’s see. So, some people will complain about presenting the chart as a table rather than a circle. And I was curious, I guess we’ve touched upon that briefly, you said that in the initial versions of the app, it was a circle, but then a lot of the user feedback was like, “I can’t read this.” And so you ended up changing it for stylistic reasons to be more of like a table?
BG: Yeah, so several things. Just a quick correction. It was never the circle chart on the app. It was the circle chart on our website, which is still available if you go to costarastrology.com. At the bottom of the page, you can put in your natal your date, time, place of birth and it’ll spit out a circle chart. The reason that we don’t have that in the app was first of all, because when people started playing with the website, we had a huge resounding response of “What the hell is this thing?” And I think that makes sense, both from an “I’m not familiar with astrology” perspective, but also from a form perspective. When you’re looking at something on a mobile phone, you know, back in the day and in antiquity, you would have the chart on these huge wooden boards and you would show the planets with these little gems and that’s really aesthetic, and cool, and fun. How are you going to jam that huge thing into a screen this big?
So I think I wrote something to you about how it’s like trying to use a spoon for heart surgery. And a more interesting question is like, what can a spoon do that a scalpel can’t?
CB: Yeah, that makes sense in terms of the just different considerations of form versus function. And also, maybe I should show actually a picture for those watching the video version. So this is from the Android version, but this is just like what my chart looks like in Co-Star just for reference.
BG: For the record, I believe the iOS version looks slightly better.
CB: Does it? Okay. And that’s something we should actually talk about is the difference between iOS and Android and why there are some differences. It shows your big three at the very top, which I really like, with a Sun symbol, and then an up arrow for the rising, and then a Moon symbol for the Moon. And then it shows the signs of the zodiac in a table on the left and then your planets with both the glyph as well as the name of the planet next to it, which is actually really cool because then you’re actually teaching people to read the glyphs. And then it shows what house each of the planets is placed in on the right. So that’s like the basic method and this has become the sort of the unique way that Co-Star presents the information of a person’s birth chart basically.
BG: Yeah, so you know we made the decision to leave out a bunch of stuff. But the trade off is more people can look at this, and even if you don’t really know anything about astrology, you can be like, there’s a lot of planets next to this number. I don’t know what that means, but I feel like this number is important. You know, and it just sort of like logically gives you a sense of what you can extract from looking at it.
CB: Yeah, it gives you a starting point and an entryway into astrology. And the full version of astrology where you actually– This is an accurate accounting of your birth chart and the different placements. So this is cast using Porphyry houses. And that’s the system that Co-Star uses is Porphyry. Right?
BG: That’s right.
CB: Okay. And that was actually one of the questions, let me see where that was. I mean, that’s basically another… not complaint. But one of the questions is why do you use Porphyry houses or what led to that as like a technical decision?
BG: Well, it’s the oldest system. The oldest quadrants style system. Two, I really like that the first house is the Ascendant and the 10th house is the Midheaven, and I think it just makes it really easy to glance at. I’m a fundamentally lazy person. You know, part of this is part of why Co-Star works. Like I’m fundamentally lazy. I’m like, I don’t want to do any work to just get the broad strokes of something. I’ll fire up Astro Gold if I really have to.
But yeah, I mean, we’ve been talking about adding other house systems. There’s a little poll in settings, but such a tiny, tiny percentage of people who use the app have voted on Whole Sign or Placidus. And even the majority of people who even tap into that are like, “I don’t care. I’m just clicking around the app.”
CB: Right. I saw that poll when I opened up the house settings that had a little poll for if you want Whole Sign, or if you want Placidus, or if you just don’t care. And you said on the Reddit AMA that only something like 0.5% of people that use the app had responded.
BG: Responded with any answer other than I don’t care.
CB: Okay, so this is one of those issues in terms of what intermediate or advanced astrologers want, or would want in an app, versus what the majority of your users that are not really super technically motivated want?
BG: Yeah, and I mean, there’s also an underlying technical issue, right? The way that we would have to handle charts is pretty different if we want to support multiple house systems. And so there are a lot of– Sorry, I’m trying to make this really simple. So there are a lot of ways of storing data that if you have unlimited space, and are doing really basic calculations that are just not an issue. Like if you Chris wanted to have a personal spreadsheet of every single person you know, let’s say 500 people, you probably know more people, 5000 people, and you wanted to have like 30 unique pieces of information for each of them, you know, like what hair color, what height, I don’t know why you would store that data in a spreadsheet, but let’s pretend. That’s fine. It’s 5000. When you’re operating on a larger scale, with millions, billions of individual rows, it starts to get really complicated and you have to come up with all these weird little hacks for how to store data. So the most fluid way of doing Whole Sign, for instance, would be that you Chris could change your chart to be Whole Sign. And if my chart were Porphyry, it would remain Porphyry even if you looked at it. That’s obviously a new can of worms. Because obviously, like Whole Signs stans want everyone’s charts to be a Whole Sign. So then do we just duplicate everyone’s chart one to two times? Once for Whole Sign, twice for Whole Sign and Placidus. And it just becomes a nightmare scenario, that’s not actually a nightmare scenario in general, it’s just because we’re dealing with such a huge quantity of information.
CB: Sure, but it’s a non-trivial thing to integrate some of these technical options into the program when you’re dealing with millions of users.
BG: I mean forget technical options, our push notifications fail multiple times per week.
CB: I think that was one of the things you said in the notes that you’ve had to allocate a lot more resources to just keeping things going since the app took off in terms of scaling, in terms of that many people using the app, and like keeping things online, and making sure basic things are functioning before you can even start thinking about expanding it and throwing in different obscure techniques, and house systems, and things like that?
BG: Yeah. And I mean, I have a list a mile long, as does I think everyone who works at Co-Star of things that they want in the app. But, you know, for the past I think four or five months we’ve really not released anything new. We’re just trying to keep the thing up, with a million people banging on it at a time.
CB: You can’t keep up with demand. And that brings up another point which I’ve heard from other app developers before and they’ve explained it to me, maybe you can explain it to me better, but just that you launched on iOS first, because iOS, which is for iPhones, tends to be the main app store and the main phone that most mobile device users are using. And also it’s a more stable platform or something like that. Versus people usually launch their Android app later because there’s so many different versions of Android that it’s harder to keep all of them on the same page or something like that. Am I explaining that right? Or how has that worked for you?
BG: Yeah. Exactly. So there are literally, not literally, there are 1000s, maybe 10s of 1000s of unique Android devices with slightly different versions of– It’s not called Android, what’s the operating system? No, it is Android– With slightly different versions, you know, lollipop or whatever. And so there was this bug on Android. We were talking about it before we went live, where on some devices your Ascendant would go to the 12th house, and we actually didn’t know. On staff I think we have three, maybe four Androids, and the bug didn’t happen on any of those four Androids. But it happened for some subset of people with you know, some I can’t remember which phone it was, and it’s just like the way that it calculates when you say “x” it understands “y” and so it just loops it around in all these like minute differences. Whereas iOS automatically upgrades everyone to the latest iOS, so you have to support the last one for a little while, but there’s basically like the small size, medium size, the large size, right now’s version of iOS and previous one, versus 10s of 1000s of unique variations of Android, and form factor, and blah, blah, blah, and it just becomes a nightmare to maintain.
CB: Okay, that’s really good to know. So that’s one of the reasons, then why for most apps really, but also for your app, that most of the newer features, the more advanced features are available primarily for iOS definitely first and sometimes exclusively. And then later they get rolled out to Android, or in some instances might not be available on Android yet, or at all just because it’s harder to develop for Android.
BG: It’s definitely not forever. It’s definitely just a question of Android lagging behind. We launched Android just over a year ago and it’s still just behind. We’re still catching up.
CB: Okay, cool. Well, that actually leads us to one other question that you’ve kind of just answered, but one of them. There’s rumors or accusations that sometimes Co-Star is inaccurate and it seems like sometimes, you know, there’s some instances where, for example, you mentioned like the Ascendant where somebody had sent me a picture where like the Ascendant was listed as being in the 12th house, which you said was just a bug in one of the Android versions, but it’s something that has been fixed, or you think it’s been fixed recently.
BG: Yeah, I’m 99.99% confident that it’s been fixed, as of September. If anybody has a f—ed up chart, please email us firstname.lastname@example.org.
CB: Okay. So any issues you’re actively working to fix you’d like to know if there’s something that’s off, to like let you know so you guys can get on top of it?
BG: Yeah, this does not include people who think that Placidus is the only house system because we do not support Placidus in the app currently. We are exploring it. As we mentioned before, it’s kind of a pain to build. But make sure you’re talking about Porphyry house system.
CB: Yeah, so that’s another thing which I’ve come across as I was trying to research this and like to what extent people were finding actual bugs in the program versus I did find a number of people that it seemed like their main issue was just that they were expecting the placements to be in Placidus placements, and they had always known their placements based on that being the default in other websites or other apps or programs from Placidus, so that when they calculated their chart on Co-Star, because it’s using Porphyry house cusps, that would shift some of their placements slightly, so they thought that that was like a bug in Co-Star, but it was really just a difference of house division.
BG: Yeah, exactly.
CB: Okay, so that’s an interesting then sort of misconception in terms of people needing to be aware of that and is again just interesting in terms of using Porphyry. I never thought it would be that controversial to use Porphyry houses. And it’s something even a decade ago I noticed there was an uptick in Porphyry becoming much more popular because a lot of the evolutionary astrologers were using it, I think because Jeffrey Wolf Green chose that as his default system or something like that. But I think Steven Forrest uses Placidus, right?
BG: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, I think especially with house systems, but basically across the board, there are a billion, you know, as many astrologies as there are astrologers, and I think some people feel really committed to the one that they came up with. You know, I definitely have Vedic astrology family members who are like, “What the hell are you doing?”
BG: So, you know, it happens.
CB: Yeah, well, and I mean, in terms of quadrant systems, though, I think that’s a valid point that Porphyry is the oldest quadrant house system as far as we can tell, or as far as I know. You know Porphyry describes it in the third century, but then also, Vettius Valens describes it a century before that in the second century. So it was being used very early on and that’s just as valid of a reason to like pick a house system, then you know what other reasons why people have used Placidus, which is just that it’s the default in most programs, and it’s what they’ve started with.
BG: Yeah, exactly. I mean Placidus is what 300, 400 years old?
CB: Yeah, something like that. I did an episode with Anthony Lewis a year or so ago where we talked about the reason why Placidus sort of became the default system. And there’s some interesting history around that over the past four or five-hundred years. But needless to say, it’s not always necessarily that there’s a technical reason why a certain system becomes the default, but sometimes there’s social, and philosophical, and like political reasons why certain systems come to dominate in certain periods for different reasons.
BG: Yeah, I mean, you put this to rest this morning. I also felt really attracted to Porphyry as a person, vegetarian, rabble-rouser, love logic. But Valens did it so…
CB: Yeah. Sorry. I liked that that was some of your motivations in terms of Porphyry and his background, which is very interesting and colorful. He’s like one of the more notable philosophers in the third and fourth century. But yeah, Valens mentioned it a century earlier. So it’s kind of an accident of history that we associated it with Porphyry instead of calling it the Valentinian house system or something like that.
BG: Sounds very romantic.
CB: Yeah, I mean, it does have a ring to it. So we’ll see if we can start that as a trend.
CB: Alright, so let me go back to our things. So, table chart rather than the circle. It’s artistic. One of things I meant to mention about that, why I don’t have as much of a problem with that is just if you look back historically, charts are presented in a lot of different formats and there’s a lot of different styles, even in use today. In North India they have the diamond pattern charts, and in South India they have these like square charts that are sort of circular or like a big square, but within that you have a bunch of like 12 little squares. So in the history of astrology, even though the circle is popular now, it seems like it goes through different phases at different points in history. So as long as you’re presenting the data or the information correctly, I don’t really understand fully why people make too much of a big deal about it not being presented in a circular chart versus something else.
BG: Well look, I’m extremely finicky. You know, I bought an Ikea duvet cover a few weeks ago, and I realized it was not the same one I had before and I got really upset. I think that’s one part of it. I think more specifically with this question, I think a lot of people are frustrated they can’t see aspects, and obviously aspects are important, but I don’t think a circle chart on a mobile device is the correct way to find aspects anyway. So again, going back to “the trying to do heart surgery with a spoon”, like “What can a spoon be good for instead that a scalpel isn’t good for?” becomes the question then.
CB: That makes sense. And you said that you can actually, for iOS users once they create a profile on the app itself, you can actually go to the website and login and it will calculate a circular chart for you?
BG: Yeah, exactly. Sorry. You’re coming through with the useful information that I should be mentioning. If you’re on iOS, you’re on the app, If you go to the settings “Turn on public profile” a little link will pop up below. And that link will be something along the lines of costarastrology.com/your username, and then you can pop that open right there on your desktop computer, see your aspects. It’s also using Porphyry, so if you’re not into Porphyry you’re not going to be happy with it. But that feature doesn’t exist in Android You can also just go to costarastrology.com, scroll to the bottom, put in your natal info and your email address, I think, and get it right there.
CB: Yeah, I just went under the website and did that. So right at the bottom of the homepage, there’s a way to just enter your birth data, and then it’ll pop out like a chart for you, and it calculates your chart accurately. It calculated my Ascendant accurately at 17 degrees Aquarius and then it gives some interpretations, and everything else. So that’s pretty cool.
CB: Okay. Well, that’s good to know. I think that’s helpful for people. Let’s see. So charts being calculated wrong, we addressed that. One of the common complaints is that the delineations that Co-Star gives are sorta designed sometimes to be somewhat provocative, or sarcastic, or edgy, or funny, or sensationalist. Sometimes I’m not sure if that’s the goal, and to what extent some of the delineations– There’s like a tension between that being by design, and there being a sort of almost satire component that’s built into it, versus when sometimes there’s mistakes, or missteps, or something is like gone too far, or something like that. What’s been the process with that over the history of Co-Star?
BG: Well, so when we launched we didn’t have any push notifications. And then we had a summary based on each planet. You had like an emoji pair. Sorry, we clustered the planets together in various ways like Mars and Venus were like the two heart emojis. And it would have a smiley face if you had a lot of trines, and a meh face for conjunctions, opposition’s a sad face, and so on. Sorry, sad face for squares. And then we started playing around with these, what is now known as, Co-Star push notifications.
Our two writers did multiple versions of them, and we just kind of tried to test them to get a sense. I definitely am the reason that they get really edgy because I’m like, “Yeah, I totally want to spend my mornings thinking about worms crawling out of my lover’s eyes. I think it makes me care about my lover more.” And so I’m definitely the source of like, “Yeah, let’s push people.” Like it’s healthy to think about the worst thing that can happen and become comfortable with that sort of fundamental impermanence. We’ve gotten really much softer over time. I think when we were primarily used in New York by people who were friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends, it was okay to be pretty edgy, or to be edgier. But we’ve definitely dialed back, especially starting once the quarantine started I think we all decided it was like not the time to be brutal and push.
BG: Especially in New York.
CB: There has been a process, and it’s been like an evolving thing, and there has been attempts of wanting to get feedback, or in years like this to kind of read the room, and dial it back when necessary?
BG: Yeah, for sure. I mean there have been– Like obviously we’ve made mistake, after mistake, after mistake, like we’re failing and learning in public. But the intent is always to give people something that swerves their attention in some way, and ultimately make people feel better, not to make fun of them.
CB: Okay. And that’s interesting that initially the push notifications were like emojis, and you’re trying to convey the transits based on that. Here’s one of the notifications I got the other day that it said, “Find ways to increase your ability to act and to think.” Which I think that encapsulates pretty well, what you’re saying about getting your attention to swerve towards whatever the transit of the day or the focus of the day is. What are the push notifications based on? Is it based on actual astrological transits or what technically are they based on?
BG: Yeah, so it’s based on a combination of your top transit and your placements. You can find your top transit–. This is not great, obvious design. But on iOS, you tell me Chris whether this is on Android, but if you come down to all updates, and then tap the first link where it says “starts with today.” That’s your top transit.
CB: Okay, so if you go to say “all updates” and then–
BG: And then it should say “Good afternoon, Chris.” You get your push notification “power pressure troubles” and then it says “today”. Does the first sentence link?
CB: Oh, it does.
BG: It does? Yes? Cool. It’s on Android too.
CB: It says “Communications enhancing,” and then what does it say? Oh, “Mercury is currently one sign away from the Moon when you were born. This angle, semi-sextile, is understood as positive.” Okay, so it is telling you if you click the first link, what the underlying transit is that it’s interpreting that it’s giving you a delineation for?
BG: Yeah. So it’s like it’s non-obvious and that’s our bad, right? Like we ship things and we don’t always put everything that we should–
CB: Yeah, well you’re designing it–
BG: But that’s the top transit–
CB: You’re the vast 90, probably, nine or I guess 98% of your users are non-astrologers. So they’re not interested in or don’t have the technical sophistication necessarily to even understand that information, if you were trying to like, push it in their face. So that’s not it seems your primary concern necessarily.
CB: Okay, cool. So that’s good to know. So it’s a mixture of transits, as well as the natal interpretations. It does say some of the natal placements that it gives you delineations for. In terms of the delineations, so you’ve dialed it back a little bit. Sometimes they’re meant to be more funny or edgy in some ways, or satirical it seems. Right?
BG: Yeah, I mean, especially when you’re like good, you got a lot of trines or sextiles, we will troll you a little bit.
CB: Okay, so one of them I saw– I thought it was funny, somebody pointed out as problematic, but I thought it was kind of funny, it said “Start a cult,” was one of the push-notifications.
BG: Yeah. [Laughs]
CB: I laughed at, and maybe that’s just our shared, like, Scorpio humor, but that makes me laugh, so I can appreciate that.
BG: But I mean–
CB: Go ahead–
BG: Just to interrupt, you know, I don’t think it’s solely Scorpios. Like I think there’s a level on which giving people push notifications or whatever that say “Start a cult,” is fine. But there are always situations where literally the day before somebody found out that somebody had been kidnapped by a cult, and you know it’s really hard to be really– And this is something I think about constantly. I’ve personally never had a friend get taken by a cult, I mean certain culty things, but not like a true cult where they’re getting branded by like some sex-offender. And I think that when you’re operating at scale it’s really hard to always have a feeling of like, here’s what’s going too far. And like I don’t think we tell people “Start a cult,” anymore. We have other things of that ilk, but like that specific one is gone.
CB: Okay. So there’s ones that were probably edgier early on that you tried, and then after feedback or after thinking about it more, you’re like maybe that’s not not a good idea in today’s world or something like that?
BG: Yeah, exactly. Like you know, people will email us, and we’re much better, for all listeners, at email than social media. We get, you know, literally 1000s and 1000s of DMs a day and actually deprioritized responding or looking at them quite a long time ago. But email us. We generally respond within a week, probably.
CB: Okay. But that’s good to know that you do take feedback that’s sent that way, directly by email, seriously and do try to incorporate it, and grow, and learn as part of this process. I mean, knowing that you launched it– Because for some reason in my mind when I think about and maybe it’s just how long this year has been, but I assume Co-Star has been around for like a decade now, but knowing that you only launched it like a couple of years ago is pretty wild thinking about how fast you’ve probably had to learn with its success happening that fast. And just what that has probably been like to keep up, on top of having millions of users.
BG: Yeah, and I mean, look, we’ve been profoundly lucky in so many different ways. But also we’re still just like 15 people who mostly live in New York. You know, we have a minority of men on the team. We have a minority of white people on the team. And we’re just like humans, having you know weird bouts of panic on Monday afternoons. And I think that’s not obvious, which is cool, in a sense. Like we seem like this big institution of people wearing suits and at an office with, like, a cafeteria and a ping pong room. But truth is, we’re all sitting by our IKEA coaches you, know?
CB: I love that, and I can actually relate to that just because it seems like when something becomes successful, or it’s been around for a little while, or becomes mainstream, that there can be a perception by just normal people that it’s always been that way or that it’s some sort of unreachable, like ivory tower type situation where, you know, people are just big shots that are calling the shots for certain things. And for me, for example, in the podcast it went from something over the past few years where I was just doing it with friends occasionally, and it was like this blow-off thing, to suddenly some people treating it like it’s a staple or like institution of the astrological community and therefore should have certain standards and certain things I should be doing in that way that was somewhat unexpected to me. And it’s been weird adapting and getting used to that in the process and acting accordingly. I could kind of see how something like that could have happened with you over a much more accelerated time-frame, of just like the past two or three years, basically.
BG: Yeah, I mean like, also, our team is like a bunch of f—ing geniuses and we all work really, really hard. I’m not trying to like, make some like, “Oh, we just, you know, stumbled into this.” But I don’t think that we’re so smart or so capable in a way that like you couldn’t do this or like random listeners can’t just like go make an app. Like, it’s hard and it’s annoying, and it’s really, really exhausting, but it’s also, we live in this really cool time where basically everything’s on the internet. You can find a PDF of your book on the internet. Sorry.
CB: Yeah, I mean, unfortunately–
BG: I also bought a copy.
CB: Okay. Thank you. [Laughs]
BG: But I like having the PDF version too. [Laughs]
BG: But like, you can also Google “How do I make an app?” And they’re just like tutorials that teach you how to program in Swift and like, everything’s really hard but not so hard that it’s impossible. You could build a plane. Two guys, like, the Wright brothers were just two guys who ran a bike shop.
CB: Yeah, well, and sometimes it’s that weird combination that you don’t know until you experience it of, on the one hand, hard work, and dedication, and skill, and knowledge. But then also like being in the right place at the right time, and doing the right thing, and having those two things collide, and then have it take off, but it’s a weird mixture of the two that’s hard to articulate until you experience that.
BG: Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day, you just throw spaghetti at the wall. But it’s like well researched spaghetti.
CB: Right. Like you have to get the noodle diameter as correct as you can before you throw it and then if you’re lucky, it’ll work out.
Okay, so there’s something I want to mention then before we moved on that was just– Oh, yes. So there’s a tension sometimes in the astrological community that I noticed. Because I’ve been seeing this with, for example, some Twitter accounts about the tension between the desire in some parts of the community to take astrology super seriously and to like, improve the respectability of astrology because it’s something that’s like, marginalized in society and therefore astrologers want to make astrology look more professional, and more like a serious thing that it, you know, kind of is to a certain extent. That it’s amazing, that it works at all, and that it can do what it can do, and sort of deserves some reverence to a certain extent from that perspective, which I’m on board with. But then there’s also this other pull in another direction sometimes of like, “Can’t we have some levity to astrology?” Or “Can’t we make room for like, satire or for dark humor?” or other things like that. And sometimes you’ll have accounts like, one of my favorite Twitter accounts, the Sorrows-scopes Twitter account where they do just really satirical like dark, you know, daily horoscopes for each sign. And sometimes it’s just really funny, and sometimes it’s really dark, and sometimes it’s actually kind of profound. But it’s kind of interesting. And I always see things like that, and I feel like there should be room for that on some level, while also understanding and wanting to push for the other thing, which is like increasing the respectability of astrology. And I feel like, to some extent maybe Co-Star gets caught in the middle of that tension in the community as well. Do you feel like that’s the case at all? Or how do you feel about that?
BG: You know, I think the way that astrology has been built over the past several thousand years is through conflict of different schools of astrology. I think that’s still happening, and we’ve definitely put a stake in the ground for something that’s sometimes satirical, sometimes deadly serious. And something I think about a lot is like, the Zapatistas in Mexico have this thing that they’re not trying to build a world, per se, they’re trying to build a world where many worlds are possible. And I feel like there’s probably something in that school that seems the most correct. Like this concept of, I don’t think we have to choose. I think there can be the satirical astrologers, and there can be the super-serious astrologers. It’s like saying, “Can you have satirical cooks who are making like, I don’t know, pickles-on-celery snacks and also gourmet cooks?” Yeah, why not? Like, it’s food. I definitely partake in both. So I don’t think it’s– Maybe I’m revealing that I don’t think it needs to be this like, strict cordoned-off thing, astrology specifically, but I also don’t think that about anything else. Like I don’t think rocket science is so hard that given a couple of months of study we couldn’t muddle our way through the basics.
CB: Yeah, I mean, I think– You know because if you take that other argument that it should only be taken seriously to the utmost extreme, does that really mean that you can never joke about astrology, that there can never be any room for making jokes, or having fun with it, or astrologers sharing on inside jokes amongst each other? And the answer to that is obviously no. That would take it to a weird extreme that’s unnecessary. And so that just gets into something that’s already a core issue, even with comedy, right? I hear comedians talk about amongst themselves, which is like, “What are the boundaries of comedy and what’s acceptable versus what’s not?” and often a resistance to putting firm limits on that. Although I know that that’s a discussion in and of itself. So maybe we’re opening up like way too big of a topic here for getting into fundamental philosophical things about the nature of comedy and what’s acceptable. But it’s interesting questions for people to reflect on and ask themselves, I think, when it comes to things like this is just when trying to delimit the boundaries of what is acceptable and what’s not, you know, thinking about what extreme you’re willing to take it to, if you’re going to rule certain things out, I guess.
BG: Yeah, I mean, for a while in the office, we had a rule that you could only make fun of your own signs. And I think that’s an iteration on the same theme. Like yeah, the nature of comedy is a very hard one, but I feel like there is a palpable difference between the hurtful kind and the self-deprecating kind. And as a Scorpio, I love the latter.
CB: Yeah. Totally. I like that. And that’s a good thing to think about as well. There’s a difference between self-deprecation versus something that’s just intended to be mean, or harmful, or negative, or something like that.
So one thing I did want to touch on before we move out of this area is, there was one area in terms of delineations where sometimes people refer to or cite delineations that refer to mental health that were perceived as harmful. There’s a discussion in the community often I’ve seen come up in Twitter, amongst some of the younger generations of astrologers, over the past few years, about to what extent Astrology can speak to mental health issues or different things like that. And I know that’s something that Co-Star has come under fire for, in referring to mental health in different ways. What’s been the history behind that or to what extent has that come up for you?
BG: Yeah, I mean, I think that this is in reference to one meme that came out a while ago. That was something along the lines of Aries disappeared in a manic episode. Or like the title the meme was “Disappeared…” And then you know, I had all of the signs and it was, you know, Aries disappeared in a manic episode. We weren’t trying to invoke bipolar. We were just using the word manic in a sort of colloquial way. It makes sense that it didn’t come off like that. Nobody knows who we are. We’ve since deleted it and, yeah, I mean…
CB: So there’s been times where maybe you guys have said something that you later regret, or feel like was in poor taste, and have deleted, or changed, or apologized for?
BG: For sure. And like, I’m sorry, just to say it again. Like I think we’re at a point in history, and this is really unfortunate, that half of young people are depressed, half are anxious, a quarter have seriously considered suicide. These are numbers from the CDC this summer. And I think me and everyone, basically, who I’ve ever known has had to support someone through a mental health crisis, had their own mental health crisis. And, in general, we’re always trying to be really direct, and honest, and like, push people towards more difficult emotions, but also trying to be sensitive and… learning in public is hard. Yeah, I’m sorry.
CB: No, that’s great. That’s fine. So I mean, that’s good to know just that it’s an ongoing process, and it’s something that you are continually trying to learn, and improve, and take feedback into account. Yeah, I mean, there’s an ongoing conversation that’s really been really interesting for me to see in the astrological community, especially on Twitter over the past few years amongst especially younger astrologers in their teens and 20s, about this tension between sometimes there’s pop astrology accounts that are a little bit too flippant or a little bit too glib in talking about mental health issues or like ascribing them to certain signs and saying like, I don’t know, Geminis are crazy, or something like that, and people wanting to push back and say “That’s inappropriate, and you can’t just like categorize an entire 12th of the population as crazy or mentally unstable, or use mental health terminology like that.” And sometimes they’ll go so far as to say that astrology doesn’t say whether a person has mental health issues or things like that. And I can understand that tendency in pushing in that direction, how certain things get caught up in it, versus this other direction, in terms of interpreting natal Charts, where astrologers somehow sometimes do talk about mental health as part of like a factor in a person’s life, and the extent to which astrology can be used to address things related to mental health, and the desire to do so carefully, and delicately, and everything else. And it seems like sometimes when certain phrases are used it gets caught up in that debate about whether it’s okay to say those things from an astrological standpoint.
BG: Yeah, I mean, so, again, I’m who I am, for better and for worse, and I feel like there’s a pretty big difference between colloquial and diagnostic use of these words. You know, I went to school for psychology. I was still involved in that world in weird ways. Like, I think I actually presented a paper or co-presented a paper at a Lacan psychoanalysis conference the same month that Co-Star launched. But I just, I personally think the colloquial usage of terms is different from the diagnostic ones. But I think we’re in a position as a company that we can’t take that stand, and I think that’s good. And that’s why we’re not using those words anymore.
CB: Sure. It’s something that you’re taking into account, and as a company, or at least as individuals, even if it’s not always obvious, you are sensitive to current political issues and the political climate, and wanting to be– I mean, is being helpful or healing in some sense at all an underlying motivation for you in some way?
BG: I mean, for sure. I think the entire project of shifting attention is therapeutic. Going back to the ancient Greeks, right? The way that you become an ethical person is through attention, it’s through study, it’s through talking to your friends. Foucault has this line when he’s talking about the ancient Greeks where he’s talking about taking oil baths with your friends and reading aloud to each other. Which is just a great metaphor for the sort of excessive, but also really romantic, imagery of the time. And I think astrology is a really good tool for that and beyond that, having this language to talk about your feelings and talk about things that are hard to talk about.
CB: Alright, so let’s transition. One last thing I want to touch on is, and we’ve already talked about this a little bit, but just the tensions between pop astrology versus advanced astrology that sometimes come up in the astrological community. And it’s especially a phase that I think newer astrologers go through sometimes, where there’s this phase where for most people you’re only aware of Sun signs, and then all of a sudden you find out about full-blown natal astrology, or at least this is how it used to be, you find out about natal astrology and that astrology is more advanced. It’s actually this really complex subject that has like a several thousand-year history, and you get really into it. And then some people go through a phase then of kind of being dismissive and kind of hating on what they perceive as like pop astrology, which back in the day used to mean like Sun sign astrology. But it’s interesting how nowadays what Co-Star is doing, even though it’s showing the full birth chart and it shows your big three, your Sun, Moon, and rising at the top, and it’s giving interpretations based on your natal chart, your transits, like that’s become popular. And it’s being used by like 20% of young people but as a result of that, that’s now perceived as what’s pop astrology, and what’s simplistic, and everything else. So that sometimes there’s just a tendency for people to hate on stuff like that, that’s perceived as pop astrology, just as a result of it being more accessible and perceived as more simplistic than it should be. Yeah, and I guess that’s something you’ve sort of experienced, or your team, or you’ve been aware of, sort of, like I was wondering how much some of the negativity that’s occasionally directed towards Co-Star is something you’re aware of and how you sort of deal with that?
BG: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s cool that we’ve moved the goal posts.
BG: Like, that’s sick. I remember growing up with magazine horoscopes that were pop astrology in a different way. Or pop is simplistic astrology in a different way. But, you know, also historically, gate-keeping is part of astrology. Like, it’s part of the tradition. You know, I think I said earlier about how the old books used to curse you with locusts, etc., if you weren’t completely silent about the book.
CB: Yeah, Valens and Firmicus have like a curse on the book that you’re supposed to keep the knowledge and information secret and hidden because it’s not supposed to be available to everybody, and that you have to swear an oath to only pass it on to the initiated.
BG: Or else. [Laughs]
CB: Or else, yeah, we’re also getting cursed. Which is actually, I mean, you know, been funny because that’s been a legitimate concern that people like Demetra [George] and myself have had now that we’re writing books about Hellenistic astrology. Like what would Valens have thought, you know, from the second century, and the way we often come down, or the way I’ve often come down at least, is that I feel like Valens, if he understood the place of astrology today in history, would have wanted the tradition to persist and to continue to exist and be practiced versus to die out and to cease to exist. Because that’s what happens if something is kept to private is that a lot of the books that he was drawing on from like Nechepso and Petosiris that were cryptic, and were, you know, sort of hidden, don’t exist anymore, and all we have is his text, which drew on some of them. So that’s a real concern, and I think if he had a choice he’d want it to continue to exist, so that’s where I’ve fallen on that. I don’t know if that’s my own rationalization. I may still get cursed.
BG: Maybe you’re cursed. Maybe you’re already cursed.
CB: I may be but, you know, I’ve done what I’ve done, and I hoped that he would be happy with it, and proud, and think I did a decent job, but that’s a good point. So that’s always been a tension in the astrological community versus, you know, the gatekeeping or the, you know, keeping the wisdom secret part versus those who seek to make astrology more accessible for everybody and think that that would be a good thing or would be a helpful thing, if people did know their astrology, and it was more common. And it seems like that’s where you’re coming from more.
BG: Yeah, and I mean, I think this term “pop astrology” really originated with Linda Goodman, right? Like in the past 50 years, the idea that astrology wasn’t practiced, no offense, by men whose primary occupation was like this rigorous study, but instead using it for humans you know. The only astrologies that are referred to as pop astrology are astrologies that are used by or created by young women, for the most part. So I think that sort of, across the board, things that young women are into are seen as trivial in some way, whether it’s like the clothes, or certain kinds of caring friendships, gossip, whatever. I think it has much less to do with the simplicity itself.
CB: So you’re concerned that some of the criticisms and attacks on pop astrology over the past few decades since astrology has had its revival in the West, at least in the 20th century, have been partially because it’s something that’s started to become associated with women more, or with like younger women?
BG: For sure. And I mean, even going back to antiquity, right? I’m pretty sure one of the big astrologers was complaining about how one of the women in court saw so many astrologers that she became an astrologer, and he’s making fun of her. There are these instances from antiquity of the same humor.
CB: Yeah, you’re citing things from my book again, which I’m actually flattered by, but it’s an anecdote from my book. But it’s from the first-century poet, Juvenal, who wrote in Latin, and he wrote a satirical statement about how there were women who were consulting with astrologers so frequently that they started being consulted themselves. And that they wouldn’t leave the house, he said, unless they looked up the ephemeris placements and the electional rules from Thyrasyllus. So, it was kind of like mocking what I sort of inferred was probably a real thing, which is that there were probably some women in the upper class Roman society that were regularly consulting with astrologers, who would tend to be male, but they would gain enough knowledge and wisdom that they would themselves eventually become astrologers.
BG: Yeah, exactly.
CB: Yeah. So one of your points is there’s been a tension there and there’s been a gender component. And it’s been interesting in the 20th century how that has flipped suddenly from something where until the past century we didn’t really even have the names of many women who are astrologers, but now all of a sudden it’s a field where it’s both dominated by women in terms of them being the primary practitioners and also primary consumers of astrological content, in terms of the media and other things like that.
BG: Yeah, exactly.
CB: Do you know, I don’t know how much you can talk about statistics or anything like that, but what the gender breakdown is in terms of the number of men versus women that use Co-Star?
BG: It’s like a four to one.
CB: Four to one? Okay.
CB: That sounds about right in terms of other stats that I’ve seen elsewhere, like my own YouTube channel where I think it’s something like that as well.
BG: Yeah, exactly.
CB: Okay. So alright. So tensions between pop astrology and advanced astrology, huge shift in terms of that over the past century. The last thing, just in order to wrap up, and we’ve already touched on this, but this section about rumors and things, which I hope we’ve addressed the majority of even if there’s some that we haven’t touched on, but just a general question was, and you’ve already touched on this, but just how are you trying to take feedback and trying to improve. And you said you are open to taking feedback through email and stuff, and this is a constant process of trying to improve and learn as you grow.
BG: Yeah, exactly. I mean, we talk about feedback constantly. We’re constantly making changes to the content, less so to the app, honestly, because we’re currently very focused on just keeping it up. And like, you know, we’re trying to grow, trying to make something that gets better and better. And ultimately our goal – and I think this is maybe where a lot of this stuff comes from – our ultimate goal isn’t to become the perfect astrology app. It’s to really build a tech product that brings people closer together and gives them the language to have more meaningful conversations.
CB: That’s really interesting and that’s a much different goal necessarily than a professional astrologer would have. Sort of like we were joking at the beginning of the interview, you know, you’re not trying to design an app that like Rob Hand or Steven Forrest can whip out in order to do a consultation. Like that’s not necessarily the point but you’re designing something that is accessible to the masses and to non-astrologers in order to bring some level of astrological insights into their life and give them something to do with that that’s meaningful and useful.
BG: Yeah, exactly. And I mean, I think it bleeds into a larger philosophical question, which is like, why is astrology important? Or why is astrology cool? And I think there are a bunch of different answers to that question, but my answer, and I think the Co-Star team’s answer is very much that it’s about reflection and connection.
CB: What is the connection part? So that’s something– Because you mentioned that and I know I was going to ask you about where your plans are in the future to take the app, and you’ve mentioned a few times this like social component, and almost like community-building as being an important keyword for you. And that actually reminds me of a placement in the Co-Star birth chart that we were looking at where the traditional ruler of the Ascendant was in the 11th house in both, I think, Whole Sign and Porphyry houses. So what is the community component, or what’s your idea there?
BG: Well, I think the really broad idea that already exists is that astrology fundamentally functions as a language. Right? It’s a lot easier to say, “I was going through my Saturn Return,” than to say, “I was having a really rough time.” And I think there are a lot of ways that those kinds of conversations can bring people closer together and make it much easier to talk about things that are really hard to talk about. And I’ve experienced this in random elevators and also while having a deep conversation with a friend. And I think that’s the most magical part of astrology is that magical feeling you get when you’re talking to somebody and you can break through small-talk into something real.
CB: Right, you’re switching to another language, and then it becomes a shared language that you both speak. But then it’s also something that’s like penetrating to a deeper level of insight about conveying something that you’re actually feeling or going through at the time than might be possible through your other normal language.
BG: Yeah, and I mean, you know, obviously I’m like a self-deprecating Scorpio who word-vomits so that no real conversation can happen. But there’s something magical about how it creates space for that more emotional, intimate communication.
CB: Yeah, that makes sense. And I mean, along those lines, one of the things that’s been just wild for me to see over the course of the past few years is how it went from, you know, the general public, if you asked somebody for their sign they would just say their Sun sign and that’s all they would know, and now all of a sudden people, it’s not uncommon for people to know their big three. And I have to think that apps like Co-Star and their success over the past few years have been partially responsible for that and the extent to which a greater level of astrological understanding has been diffused, or sort of like penetrated the general consciousness or of, you know, not just people in the world in general. If that makes sense?
BG: Yeah, for sure. I mean, yeah. And I think across the board, I think rising tide raises all ships. People who didn’t previously know the Sun sign of the random person they were flirting with, now know the Sun sign of the random person they’re flirting with. People who previously were only really familiar with their Sun sign now know their Moon and their rising. People who knew their Moon and their rising now know their Venus and Mars, and so on.
CB: Yeah, and therein for me, and this has been an ongoing conversation on The Astrology Podcast for years in terms of that tension between advanced astrology versus “pop astrology” and the people that argue against pop astrology. One of the issues with that is that popular astrology, whatever that means, however you define it, is the thing that keeps astrology alive and keeps it in people’s consciousness, and creates some room for astrology in society to some extent. And despite whatever its limitations are, if it’s not giving people the full picture it’s still telling people a lot more about astrology, and it’s keeping the conversation going as a conversation in society, much more than it would otherwise. And that’s actually increased, and I think overall been a good thing over the past few years, rather than a bad thing.
BG: For sure. And again, like, you know, I don’t have this esoteric view underlying my love of astrology. So I feel like it’s equivalent to, you know, math, where it’s like, “Does taking crappy math classes in high-school harm people’s love of math?” I think that’s like maybe a similar question where, in a sense, I think it does because the math you’ve learned in high-school it’s generally taught by somebody who doesn’t really understand the underlying fundamentals of math. And I think it sometimes turns people off, but also it creates routes for people to get deeper and deeper into math if they want to. Maybe that wasn’t the best example.
CB: That was a perfect analogy, just because, you know, there will occasionally be somebody where that presentation rubs them the wrong way, and maybe they do get turned off by it. But for a lot of people that may be their entryway into math, and that’s the gateway for them to learn the more advanced forms, and that’s usually how it is with pop astrology. And that’s usually where I land and the argument of “Is pop astrology okay?” Ultimately, that is people’s gateway for 90% of people that do get serious about astrology and become professional astrologers. That’s how they get into it. And if, you know, that’s what’s necessary in order to keep the astrological tradition going, or knowledge of astrology around and if you’ve actually been raising the standards and the level of pop astrology by, you know, having the full birth chart there, and interpreting those placements, and showing people that there’s more to it than just their Sun sign then it seems like things are improving and progressing in a useful way much more rapidly than I ever expected in my own lifetime. Like I didn’t think five or ten years ago that I would turn around and all of a sudden everybody would know like their Sun, Moon, and rising or that that would just be common knowledge. It’s been really amazing and sort of miraculous to see over the past few years.
BG: Yeah, I mean, and it’s really fun. Like, there’s some level on which I just wanted Co-Star to exist because I just want to ask random people and get their full birth chart, you know? And it’s a little bit awkward to be like, “So, do you know when you exactly were born? You might have to text your mom.” It’s much easier to just be like, “Just add me on this app. No problem. Just download it, and put in your info.” Whatever.
CB: Yeah, well, and because so many people have it, oftentimes people will be like, “Oh my Sun, Moon, and rising of course.” Or they’ll whip out the app, and they’ll show you the placements or what have you. And that’s been really interesting to see over the past few years. So that’s maybe the counter-argument to those that are more down on popular astrology, or the popularization of astrology through things like astrology apps, in addition to other websites or what have you.
BG: Yeah, and I mean the other piece of this is like, we get a boatload of feedback from people who aren’t that into astrology who compared the app to their therapist, their best friend, like a board meeting with the universe. And that’s extremely tender, and you don’t need to know astrology to have that experience. And the question is how to get more people to have that experience. Right?
CB: Right, and I think this came up at one point, but one of the questions that some different people asked was what obligation do you feel like you have, if any, to help teach people astrology more, or to let people know that there’s more to astrology, or help guide them in terms of learning more about astrology, or any obligation to the astrological community itself versus other motivations, or things like that? Is that ever a consideration that goes into that app or any of your future plans with it?
BG: So I feel a responsibility to astrology itself and the system. And I think second to that, I feel a responsibility to the many, many, many young people who use the app. I think the astrology community is interesting, and friends and people we care about, but it’s ultimately not our core goal. It’s like asking an elementary school teacher the degree to which they feel responsible to the university professors. It’s like, obviously, in a sense, we’re pushing people towards, but the point isn’t to create education for the university professors. It’s for the students, for the people using the app.
CG: Right, that makes sense just in terms of who your actual audience is and recognizing that versus, I don’t know, more advanced astrologers misperceiving that they’re supposed to be the audience or something like that?
BG: Yeah. And I mean, like, I think that more advanced astrologers can use the app, but they’re not going to use it to do readings. Again, it’s like using a spoon for heart surgery. And again, I don’t know how super young astrologers are doing this, I’ve never had a reading with a super young astrologer.
CB: Who have you had readings with?
BG: Alice Sparkly Kat, Hanna Hur on our team, Robert Hand, which is extremely cool.
CB: That’s cool. I think you’ve said on the Reddit AMA that that was within the past year or something.
BG: I feel like it was a little longer ago. I’m not sure.
CB: I could have been misremembering that. So don’t take my word for it.
BG: It was when we were in the new office, which was sometime after April two years ago.
BG: Sometime in the past few years, post-Corona, sorry pre-Corona.
CB: Pre-, yeah, before the world fell apart. So you have had readings from different astrologers. You’ve been studying astrology for a long time. You do pay astrologers. That was a weird rumor that sometimes was going around that you don’t pay astrologers, which is not true. Obviously, you have people on staff. What are your plans for the future? Let’s say all of the problems and all of the issues you’ve had with the app are solved tomorrow. What are some of the things you want to implement in the long term or just like, ideally? Maybe I shouldn’t even ask that in the sense that you’ve got to like a lot of stuff to handle and to get things stabilized, but where could you see it going in the future, theoretically?
BG: I would truly die of happiness if all the scaling problems were fixed tomorrow. One of the things we’ve been thinking about a lot is this social interaction stuff and I think that the way that people use, you know, I’ve kind of been talking about this in terms of using astrology as language. So like, how do we build out this platform that uses astrology, in a sort of basic sense, as a springboard for these more intimate conversations? And we have something we’re really excited about that hopefully if we’re not totally distracted with scaling problems, should come out pretty soon. We’re still pretty hush-hush about it, but it was developed sort of in collaboration with astrologers, and group therapists, which is really, really cool. You know, we’re also talking about trillions of other things, but this is the next one that we’re super excited about. Like, how do we use astrology as the springboard for a new kind of social network that’s really about connecting, not screaming at each other?
CB: Nice, that’s exciting. And yeah, it makes me think of that 11th House Saturn in the birth chart of Co-Star, and just you mentioning that, and that community or social component coming up over and over again as one of the things that you think about. It’s just interesting in terms of that placement with the ruler of the Ascendant in the 11th, you know, regardless of which house system you use. So that’s very cool.
House systems, we talked about that. You do have the polls, so it’s like if people want to request Placidus or Whole Sign, they can continue to, they can if they want through that poll. And perhaps if you got a huge amount of feedback, maybe at some point down the line you’ll integrate new technical features or stuff like that. But it’s not a huge priority at the moment.
BG: Yeah, and I mean, so my question is less like, how do we expect– I personally think that what’s the more important missing parts are aspects above all, having more of like, I keep using these math metaphors, showing our work, and I think the part of the app I showed you earlier where you can trace your top transit and then you see the astrological language. Yours was like, Mercury semi-sextile the Moon or something. And really giving people ways to understand what they’re seeing, which I think is really cool from a user perspective, even if you’re not an astrologer, and is also cool if you’re an astrologer. And I think in a lot of ways, the ways that I think about this stuff is like the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act got passed in the early ‘90s due to very extreme hard work of activists in the ‘80s, coming into the ‘90s. And one of the key things they fought for was the cut curbs, like the ramps, to get onto sidewalks. And what’s cool about that kind of accessibility is that it’s good for a small niche of people, but it’s also good for everyone else. Like we’ve all used those cut curbs when we’ve, you know, hurt our leg, or are pushing a suitcase, or pushing a stroller, or whatever. And so my question is always how do we build features for a small subset of people that are super focused on a small subset of people but are actually useful to everyone, and that create a kind of accessibility that makes Co-Star better for everyone?
CB: That makes a lot of sense, in thinking about what changes, like, that you would get the most mileage out of, or which would be the most useful and applicable to the widest range of people.
BG: Yeah, exactly.
CB: Okay. One of the last things was what are some technical issues that came up that you didn’t anticipate or that were interesting? And in the like notes where we were collaborating and putting together an outline for this you just have like, a crying emoji below that question.
BG: If I had to sum up my past, you know, three years at a point in a single phrase, it would be: these are good problems to have. We’re so lucky to be a bunch of people who didn’t, like, previously build Google or something, building something that a lot of people really care about. Also, all of the technical issues are really hard. We’re hiring. If anyone listening to this podcast is an engineer, iOS, Android, Haskell, DevOps, we’re on AWS, please write to us email@example.com or costarastrology.com/jobs. Sorry for advertising this.
CB: No, I’m more worried that you’re actually going to get like a deluge of emails in putting that call out, but that’s fine. If you’re looking for people, I’m sure there’s people listening that would be interested. I know there’s also I saw a page where you’re sometimes hiring astrologers for just astrological knowledge as well?
BG: Yeah, we’re currently hiring a technical astrologer. We’re also hiring a creative writer, and a data analyst, and I think there’s maybe one more role but I’ve forgotten out in the past minute.
CB: But people–
BG: But we are also hiring for it costarastrology.com/jobs.
CB: Jobs. Okay, so people should check that out. Let’s see, other questions… There was one random one that was through Twitter that was good, but I didn’t know how to phrase it. But it was like, you’ve had some outside funding. To what extent has that put any tensions? Has there been any tensions between like, wanting to make something that continues to grow, and flourish, and is profitable, or getting that sort of funding and having to move in the financial world versus what your original intentions were for the app or anything like that? Or how has that been over the years? Because I know most astrologers don’t have a conceptualization of what that is like, having an app or a program on that scale where you’re talking about like venture capital and things like that.
BG: Yeah, so just like a quick sort of background here. The concept of venture capital is that you sell a piece of the company to people called venture capitalists. They’re rarely investing their own money. They’re usually investing the money of very high net-worth individuals, banks, colleges, university endowments, hospitals, etc. And in trade, they mostly have a stake in the company, so if you sell the company or go public they get, minimum, 2x the money they put in, and they have some degree of control. Currently, Co-Star is Co-Star controlled, meaning that I think basically what our board can do is fire me and prevent or encourage a sale of the company… I think that–
CB: No, I was just gonna say, so it’s still something where you’re very much in control and are still leading in terms of your vision for the company. That’s still what’s primary in some ways?
BG: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think a lot of that is, just to be a little cynical here, is in their interests, like nobody is going to work as hard as the person who created the thing. There’s a pretty big concept in venture right now of being really, really pro-founder because you bring in some kind of outside CEO, and they just kind of f— it up and run it into the ground.
CB: Yeah, because it sounds like with that setup, that they’re betting on you in the first place. They think that you have an idea and a good vision for this, and they think that you’re going to be able to pull it off. So they’re investing in you because they think you’re going to be successful. And if you’re successful, then they’ll be successful as well. But that’s really then, like a vote of confidence for you and what your vision is, as you’ve outlined it, or at some point early in the history of the company?
BG: Yeah, and I mean, obviously we’ve again been really lucky. We’ve raised two rounds of venture at this point. Both were led by women of color, like two of the very, very few women of color in the venture world and I really genuinely like both of them. And I think that for other people, other companies, they haven’t been so lucky. So that’s certainly part of it. And you know, one of the, again, really lucky things of Co-Star growing really quickly is that we kind of had pick of the litter, so I think that helps a lot.
CB: Right, because there were other apps that have been started over the past few years that have also been semi-successful, but yours was one of the earliest in terms of that wave of both when astrology was getting suddenly very popular, but also when people started making larger astrology apps that were getting outside investment.
CB: Okay cool, that makes sense. All right. Well, we’ve covered pretty much all of the main questions. You had some different subtopics that you said we could mention, but one of them that might be good and relevant at this point, unless there’s something else we should touch on that I’m totally forgetting if you want to point it out, but you had mentioned something about “What is the future of astrology,” which is really a big question, but it’s kind of a relevant one when talking to you just because you have, not just your pulse on things and have some like leading role in that or the potential it will play a leading role, but it’s an interesting question to talk about, just like where astrology is going togo in the next 10 years or what have you. You said that the social component is very interesting, but what are some other things to think about in terms of that?
BG: Well, so I actually kind of put this because I want to know your take. I have the sort of an optimist taken and pessimist take. My optimist take is that there’s been this sort of breakdown of consensus reality over the past decade or so, largely due to the internet, perhaps astrology will be something that brings us back together. And it’s not like a sort of flattening of every world where everyone practices the same breed of astrology but various iterations of astrology remind us that, you know, ultimately, more things are similar between us than different. We’re all born under the same sky, blah, blah, blah. And then the pessimistic view is that, like, everything is fracturing, why wouldn’t astrology fracture. The fracturing will get deeper, and deeper, and deeper. And people don’t talk to each other, and you know, astrology– Pisces ban Capricorns from living with them, and so on.
CB: Right. And that sometimes the infighting in the astrology community itself is bad enough, or can be bad enough in exhibiting that sort of fracturing in and of itself, which could sometimes make a person despair about, you know, even how much we have it together in our own community, in an extreme pessimistic take.
BG: Yeah, exactly.
CB: Yeah, but I liked that other more optimistic scenario that you presented, where you were talking about, yeah, just how the realities are diverging for people like politically, and in terms of what news and information people are taking in. And people are getting into these bubbles, these like media bubbles, or social media bubbles that they then don’t look outside of. And now even this year a lot of the social media bubbles are becoming even more divergent and extreme, with people flocking to new social media things to get away from more common ones. And that’s an interesting thought whether astrology itself, on some level can not continue to stay neutral, but whether it does play some role of neutrality in people’s lives that might keep them a little bit more grounded, ironically, than they might otherwise.
BG: Yeah, I mean, like, this is an extremely optimistic take. Like there are racist astrologers and sexist astrologers. All of those things certainly exist in the astrology community as much as anywhere else. Ultimately, astrologers are also humans, for better and for worse but I don’t know. Like, I feel like I have to be an optimist on some level, and like, astrology is magical. You can talk to a Trumper about astrology. I’m thinking about talking to a friend’s mom who’s like, super into Trump, and she loves the push notes. And that’s really cool because it makes me feel like she’s more human, and I am not super crazy about her politics, understatement of the year, but it’s really nice to have this other world to talk about.
CB: Yeah, totally. And that it has its own shared language that, while not completely neutral, it has some neutrality about it where you could continue converse on that level or have some dialogue that you might not otherwise when the worlds are becoming so completely separate.
BG: Yeah, and I mean, obviously, I think this, again, like I think this take is super complicated because, you know, this instance I’m talking about, my friend’s mom isn’t trying to do violence to me. It’s not like she’s assaulting me in the street, and I’m like, “Let’s talk about astrology. Stop hitting me!” This is just like a slightly awkward situation where I’m just like, “Have you gotten a push notification today?” You know, and there’s a huge difference between lived violence that so many people experienced, and like what I’m talking about which is like an extraordinarily privileged situation that is non-violent and very minorly awkward. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, you know?
CB: Yeah, and being in New York I think you said that your office and the people at your offices were very, like this year especially, aware of what’s going on politically, and trying to be conscientious of that, and also involved in some ways to whatever extent you can?
BG: Yeah, of course, I mean, like, politically in the sense of we were all marching at the city hall occupation over the summer. But also, I think, hyper-aware of Covid in a way that I don’t think, for instance, people in Texas, where I’m from, are aware. They weren’t surrounded by images of human’s being loaded into refrigerated trucks for two months last spring. And I think there’s a lot of brutalness that’s really apparent in New York that isn’t always readily apparent in other places.
CB: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Really intense in terms of it hitting New York, you know, early and so hard, and the actual like lived experience of that in March and April being much different than a lot of other parts of the country.
BG: Yeah, exactly. I mean I think we all spun out for a week or two at the beginning there. And then you know we decided we would go through all of the content in the app because, you know, we had, past tense, a lot of content about kissing your friends and just being like, “Alright, no more kissing.”
CB: Yeah, that delineation might be problematic. Well, it’s a really interesting and funny thing, just because all astrologers have had to do that in terms of modifying or talking about travel or something like that, which was a common astrology thing with the third and ninth house. And just, you know, maybe needing to dial that back a little bit this year when traveling has been grounded. So it’s interesting, from your perspective, in terms of what push notifications are appropriate or inappropriate in that context when there’s like a worldwide pandemic.
BG: Yeah, exactly. And I mean, on top of that, also we’re a small group of people, 15 people is not enough people to like, no matter how diverse we are, and we’re diverse, racially, and gender, and so on, but like, ultimately we’re all young people who live in New York. We’re not that diverse. And, you know, thinking about how what we say is going to be taken in Turkey, where the government is lying completely about how much COVID there is, and there are just random shutdowns of the roads, and it turns out your city is quarantined and you can’t leave. And trying to figure out how to talk about that complexity to this many people is a kind of psychotic, crazy, overwhelming feeling?
CB: Yeah, that is crazy because the app is not just being used in the US, it’s being used by people around the world at this point.
BG: Yeah. I think it’s like 292, sorry, 192 out of 195 UN-recognized countries. So we’re missing Eritrea, North Korea, and Tuvalu.
CB: Okay, you’ve gotta get into North Korea somehow. One of these days.
BG: The internet thing is a problem, same as Eritria, but I think we could get Tuvalu. So if anybody’s going on vacation, go to Tuvalu, download the app, and then I can 193 out of 195.
CB: Okay, that’s good. It’s good to have goals, and that’s like another future thing to mark off eventually. You’ll get there. I believe in you. Alright, this has been awesome. So we’re at about two hours. So is there anything that we should have mentioned, or talked about, or I should have asked you that would have been an interesting question or discussion topic that I’ve completely spaced out or forgotten to ask at this point?
BG: I don’t think so. This has been extremely fun. And I’m really, really, really happy you asked me to come on, and I hope you collaborate with us on something soon.
CB: Yeah, I would be interested in doing that. I’m always interested in, you know, helping to promote and develop astrology more in terms of the public as well as in the astrological community. So to whatever extent I can help, just let me know, and we’ll talk about it in the future.
I want to thank you for doing both of this as well as the AMA because one of my first reactions to you doing that was like, “Wow, that’s actually tremendously kind of brave and respectable to put yourself out there like that.” And I think in retrospect, even more so now that I know that you’re more of a private person, that I have more respect for you in terms of doing that in order to answer some of the criticisms, and both acknowledge some areas where you made mistakes, and you’re still learning and growing, as well as some areas where there’s just misconceptions. But nonetheless, to do that AMA or to come on here and do this interview, I just respect and appreciate it and wanted to say that, so thanks a lot.
BG: Thanks. Obviously, doing the AMA felt a little bit scary. This is just scary because you’re Chris Brennan.
CB: Okay, thanks a lot. I appreciate it. And good luck in the future. Good job and keep it up and keep doing what you do. And yeah, thanks a lot for joining me today.
BG: Thank you. Bye.
CB: Alright, thanks everyone for listening to this episode of The Astrology Podcast. I guess that’s it for this episode, so thanks for watching, and we’ll see you again next time.
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