Is it worth uprooting your entire life for a career shift in a different continent? Dan Rutstein proves that it is because he has done it himself. Dan started out as a sports journalist in Bermuda and then transitioned to becoming a diplomat. As Regional Director West and Central USA for the department of international trade, where he assisted the British economy by increasing exports and encouraging American companies to invest in the UK, he came eventually to the decision to leave the civil service position. Dan looked into being part of a company that inspires leadership and creates innovative products. Now, he is the President of Laduma, an international VR company. Dan takes us across his career journey and gives insights into trade, technology, and more.
Listen to the podcast here:
Dan Rutstein on Making the Shift From Government to VR and Enjoying All That LA Has to Offer
Our guest is a fellow Brit who I met a few years ago in Berlin at an event at the German embassy. We discovered that we were both moving to LA the following week and even more coincidentally, we were moving to the same street and there blossomed a firm friendship. From Regional Director for West Coast USA for the Department of International Trade to now being President of Laduma, an international VR company. Without further ado, we’d love to introduce fellow podcaster and raconteur extraordinaire, Dan Rutstein. How are you?
I don’t think I’ve ever been called a raconteur extraordinaire before, but I’m very well. Thank you.
That is quite an intro, Dan. I’m expecting quite a lot now.
If we tweet this out, my job title alone will take up all of the characters, I think.
Talking of your job description, for layman terms, what exactly is that job?
The short version of that was I was lucky enough to be a diplomat with the British government. I was posted to Los Angeles, California to work on a US-UK trade relationship and encouraging American companies to invest in the UK and encouraging British companies to export to America. I was in charge of the West Coast of the USA.
I’m glad this has come up right at the beginning of the conversation. I cannot get my chocolate McVitie’s biscuits anymore or Weetabix. Dan, are you solely responsible for this?
You’re not the first person, Dani, to argue that. One of the things we used to do in government is to try and reduce trade barriers. In theory, this sounds like the things which we should have helped with, but this was rather sadly a commercial agreement that was made. When the American company bought the British company, they agree they wouldn’t sell the much better British chocolate in America. Quite rightly because the Americans were worried that no one would want their own chocolate. This was an internal company decision. It has nothing to do with the British government.
I have been to events. I think it was a BritWeek event where you were, where there were baked beans everywhere. Although I couldn’t find the chocolate McVitie’s, I was relieved that at least we still had baked beans in this country. Although whenever I go to Ralphs, they’re always sold out. Dan, is this your fault again?
To elaborate on Tara’s question, are the baked beans and the British items in the world market the real ones or are all the local ones? I just need to verify this.
I think we’re getting to a level of detail, which is not quite the job of the British government. We did make sure Americans were allowed to get as much whisky, gin, shortbread and all those amazing British products we could. Although, I don’t think we ever sent a representative to world markets to check on the exact origin of the baked beans.
Dan, you did host some amazing events at the consulate that both Dani and I were fortunate enough to attend. The reason I called you raconteur extraordinaire is because you’re such an amazing public speaker. Tell us more about that.
This is the bit where you say I’m an amazing public speaker and yet on this episode, people were thinking, “He’s not that good at telling stories.” A big part of our work as diplomats was to sell the message of the UK. A big part of our work was to stand up in front of large crowds and tell them things. What you may not have come to are the events where I got into great detail explaining exactly how Brexit worked or some of the intricacies of world trade. You came to the ones where I was in a very good mood because it was a simple message which is, “We’re at a party. There are loads of whisky and gin. There’s an Aston Martin popped out the front, let’s all have a good time and cheer about Britain.” I was good at the speeches that were very easy and very fun to listen to like those. If you are unlucky enough to hear me doing a 90-minute expose on the intricacies of the US-UK trade deals, it may not have been so much fun.
How do you get to be a diplomat? That’s something always talked about and mentioned and in the vocabulary. The average person, including myself, has never stopped one time to go, “How do I get to be a diplomat and what does that entail?” If you can break it down for us and the readers. Is that a job available to anybody?
In other countries, someone like Germany, you have to study international relations at university and then you go into the profession in a very deep and serious way. Perhaps in the old version of the British Foreign Office, that’s how it was done, but it’s a very modern office for recruiting people who come from a variety of backgrounds. At the point that I applied, I was Deputy Sports Editor of Bermuda’s only daily national paper. I had studied politics at university and did want to be a diplomat, but I took a career as a journalist, which I did for ten years. I was a sports journalist in Bermuda and I applied to the system along with 16,000 applicants. The year that I went in for is around 30 places and there are multiple levels of testing. There are interviews, online testing and group scenarios. It’s a very intricate, detailed and thorough process as it should be. Once you get through that, you joined the civil service and then I did some jobs in the home civil service. I worked in the Transport Department and the Trade Department before I was lucky enough to be posted abroad to Germany, where I met Tara.
You clearly have something very special about you then. What was that?
They were quite interested in my background. Being a journalist is an old career because you’re going around getting your stories but you’re actually building up this ability to work with people, network with people, tell stories, understand things and explain things. To use civil servants parlance, my transferable skills were of a required level that I was able to join the service and do my bits of for the country for twelve years.
You mentioned you were a sports journalist in Bermuda. How did you end up in Bermuda and what was that like to live there. Is there such a thing as the Bermuda Triangle?
I started off as a news reporter and then I became a sports reporter and I was covering the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. There’s a bus stop on the way to a couple some diving when I was working for a paper in Bradford. I met this chap from Bermuda. There was a diver from near Bradford and there’s a diver from Bermuda and we swapped stories about how are we going to write stories about diving, a sport that neither of us understood. By the end of that rainy day in Manchester, he said, “I’m leaving soon. Do you want to replace me?” I applied and got the job and went out to Bermuda for three years. It was the most extraordinary experience. It’s an incredible place. It’s this subtropical island, genuinely in the middle of nowhere with fewer inhabitants than your average village. The last sporting event I covered as a journalist in Britain was a rugby league grand final and there were more people in the Millennium Stadium than are living in the whole of this island that I know. It was amazing. Everyone knew everyone. It was a great place to live, a fantastic quality of life and a very low income tax. We spent all our time working and then playing beach volleyball.
Let’s not forget, that’s where you met your wonderful wife.
It is indeed.
Is she Bermudian?
No, she was a boring accountant from Croydon. We met out in Bermuda.
What was she doing in Bermuda?
She was working for an accountancy firm out there. For me, it was famous for various things. One of them is the triangle, but the other one is insurance and reinsurance and hedge funds. She’s in the hedge fund world. She was out there. We met and we had three or so years there before I said to her, “Do you want to follow me around the world?” She came back to London with me and then Germany and now Los Angeles.
Heading us all back to LA then, where we’re all are. How did you find LA when you first got here?
I had been to LA. When we were in Bermuda, we did this West Coast holiday where we did San Diego, San Francisco, Vegas and all of that stuff. We disliked Los Angeles as visitors. We came here for two or three days. We couldn’t work out where the center was, lots of traffic and driving around. We went to Hollywood thinking it would be beautiful and it’s where the Hollywood stars are and so on. It’s not actually the nicest parts of town. We came away thinking, “This place is a little bit disappointing,” but we loved Vegas, we loved San Diego and San Francisco. We went back to our lives and then a few years later I got offered this role in the consulate in Los Angeles. We were against it at first because we didn’t like the place to visit, but we spoke to people and they said living here is very different from visiting here. We took that up. We’ve moved here and on the third or fourth day, we were sitting at Duke’s in Malibu overlooking the sea and we had a conversation, which was, “Maybe this should be my last diplomatic posting. Let’s try and stay here forever.”
Was it sunny and 75?
It’s probably a little bit over 75 because we arrived for the summer and my wife was pregnant. We made a decision very early that we love it here.
It’s one of those places, hence La La Landed because it’s not only for the people that were born and bred third-generation Los Angelian but for newcomers like all of us. It is a very special place and people love to bag in LA. They love to criticize it. They love to go on about the traffic and all the negative aspects of it. As a whole and as like all of us who lived in many cities, I’ve lived in four continents, it’s probably the best place on earth to live. It’s not just because it’s sunny and 75 and we talk about this a lot. There’s so much to do at any given time. Everything is very accessible and
like you said, “You’re not hanging out on Hollywood Boulevard every day of the week. That’s not the regular life in LA. Those are the little tourist spots. It’s like living in London, are you at Buckingham Palace looking through the gates every day and night?
Once we worked out how to live here and it’s not one city, it’s a series of different neighborhoods that you lived in. We’re incredibly happy here. We took the decision to change my career. We left the government, we got our green cards and we built our life and now we’re here. We have zero regrets. It’s an extraordinary place. For me, it’s the whole opportunity, American dream thing. If you’re living somewhere else like England, then you hear about this amazing life in LA and you see it on TV during the Oscars and all that stuff. When you’re here, the opportunities are incredible. As a former diplomat, normally when we leave the government, we go and work in government affairs, jobs for big companies. That’s probably what I would have done if I was in London, but out here you get different opportunities. I transitioned from a civil service career to now I’m President of an immersive tech company. I host two podcasts. I’ve written a screenplay which will never go anywhere, but I’ve still written one.
I thought it was good.
That’s very kind of you, Tara. You’re also the person who called me a raconteur extraordinaire.
Dan, just take it and run with it. No one else needs to know otherwise.Part of Laduma’s company values is that they don't work on any product or content that they wouldn't be happy telling their families about. Click To Tweet
You are right because Dani and I often have the conversation about whatever you want to do, whoever you want to be, anything is possible here. I think that’s what draws people into Los Angeles. Particularly when you have a slight entrepreneurial approach to life, it’s the perfect place to live.
You get a feel of it. You hear people talking about it a lot, but it was not until you get here and you live where you go, “This is real.” I could wake up tomorrow and start fresh. Everybody’s accepting of it and it’s okay. People are happy to help and open doors. The reality is even greater than this opportunistic fantasy that people have of LA.
One of the big downsides is when my old friends from my old life come out here and start judging me. The length of my hair, the fact that I eat Impossible Burger sometimes and drink green smoothies. I don’t think they remember that version of me.
I don’t think that’s just as bad as Tara with this cat psychic, the doggy daycare and all of that. The only response you can give people is, “When in LA.”
I do get that. “You’re so LA now.” I’m like, “I’m not really.”
The key is don’t defend it. Just be like, “I am, because I live here. That’s me.”
You have a couple of podcasts. Tell us a little about your podcasts. Are we going to be guests or not?
The first one I imagine you won’t be. It’s called The Reality Show and it’s linked to my work with Laduma where the whole podcast is talking to people in the immersive tech industry. People who run companies and people who use this tech. The second one is called the United States of Dramerica, which is our whisky podcast which is not about whisky. We sit down with interesting guests, have a glass of whisky and interview them. That one, if you drink whisky, you could well be guest on. I’m not saying you can’t listen to my podcasts, you just can’t be on them.
I have listened to one with Nigel Lythgoe and I loved it. I thought it was fascinating. It was good.
It’s all about the quality of the guests.
I did see your interview with will.i.am once and you were brilliant. I know you love public speaking and you’re so good at it.
I did interview will.i.am. It was the BritWeek Innovation Awards and my favorite part of that was I was working for the government at the time. I was on the stage with will.i.am asking him questions. Even though there’s nothing wrong with profanity, when you work for the government, you’re not used to people swearing as much. I asked him questions about what are your encouraging words that you could give the next generation of entrepreneurs. They all began with F. I found that slightly difficult to manage but he was very good.
Now, that you’re in VR and you’re running this very successful company, tell us how that transition has been going from a diplomat to Laduma. Tell us what goes on at Laduma.
It was an interesting change. When we left government, I wanted to try the real world and the real world is fascinating and I’m a year into it. I’m enjoying it. It is very different when you go from four-year postings where your main job is to represent the government in a very broad selection of ways to helping to build a company with a bottom line that matters and looking for revenue, looking for growth, and trying to disrupt an industry that’s very modern and forward-thinking. It’s been an incredible learning experience and a lot of fun. When I left the government, I wanted three things. I wanted a leadership position in a company with links to Britain doing something interesting. I turned down a couple of jobs working with accountancy firms. I wanted to do something cutting edge. The whole world of virtual and augmented reality can be used in so many different ways.
Every time we go and see a client, I come away excited and enthused because our tech can be used for anyone and can be used in incredible ways. It is so clever. The people who are thinking of using have got such great pieces of great ideas and great creativity. We’re not saying we’re changing the world, but we’re changing how people experience the world around them. It’s an industry that’s fascinating being now. As technology moves forward, it can only get more interesting and make people’s lives more interesting and more diverse and more experiences to go out there and find.
With technology and obviously, you’re ahead of the curve than the average person because you’re deep into it. In layman terms for us non-techies, what’s next that is exciting that we can get excited about coming in the future or the near future?
I think the medium to long-term future, somebody is going to solve the problem of the Google Glass that didn’t quite work. Some form of wearable tech where you put on a pair of glasses as fashionable as yours, Dani, and you can see things that aren’t there. You look around and your directions are put directly onto the lens in front of you and not by wearing some hugely expensive or complicating piece of kit. You can look around and get layers of additional information transmitted to you in a fast, sensible and user-friendly way. We are years away from it being adopted but some of the technologies are nearly there. If people can get that information without some complicated device, without even having to look at your phone, you can see this stuff. That’s the game-changer.
I have a cousin that was working with this company that has been trying to develop this for the last fifteen years. He was telling me how they’re working mainly with the police departments and the military. They’ve created these glasses as you’re talking about. Police can be in the car and don’t have to program anything anymore. In their glasses, they can look at the license plate of the car and all the information about the car comes up and the passenger and everything.
There are lots of bits of this wearable tech augmented reality that already exists. Quite a few cars now have their heads-up display. Rather than looking at the SATNAV, it’s projected onto the screen. It’s a version of that, but it’s a version that stays with you when you leave the vehicle. That’s the bit that was missing. Google Glass was the right principle, but it wasn’t executed in the way it works. All you have to do is watch Black Mirror, that amazing British TV show. It will tell you all the technologies that are coming because it’s so brilliant and so prescient.
It’s moving so fast. It’s crazy. The robot thing we keep hearing about. It’s unbelievable with the robots and with all the AI stuff and how robots are going to be replacing humans one day. I don’t believe that. What’s your take on the whole robot trend?
All this AI is going to ruin the world, take over everything and take away people’s jobs. The jobs will undoubtedly be different, but they won’t necessarily all be taken away. There are parts of the world now where people have mini robot butlers and people have robot pets to a certain extent. It’s another layer of technology that you can choose to adopt to help you. I don’t think it’s going to ruin human existence having better robots.
What do you feel about robots, Tara? I feel they freaked me out a little bit especially people that use it in a sexual manner. We hear that the robots are taking over and they’re making them very family-oriented, which scares me more. You can have sex with your robot when the kids go to bed, but you can now also have your sex robots sitting on the couch.
Do you remember the name of this? I do because I love the name of it. We were talking to Julia Alperovich who is my sister-in-law and she is a licensed sex therapist. She was talking to us about augmented reality VR. The big problem that people are going to see is something called teledildonics. It’s what Dani was saying where people buy robots that look human and they sit at the family table whilst you’re having dinner. You change the robot into some sexy get up and they become a sex doll. It’s also relating to online sexual gratification through this setup called teledildonics, which is now apparently $1 billion business. That’s clearly not the technology that Laduma is creating.
I know that they are already these robo brothels that you can visit. I know that VR porn is enormous and growing. Laduma does not do any of this stuff. We have a policy in the company that’s part of our values that we don’t work on any product or content that we wouldn’t be happy telling our families about. We wouldn’t go down that road. It’s a huge industry and on a serious note, a lot of technology is driven by porn. A lot of why the internet works the way it does is driven by people’s desire for porn. Pornography is a real driver of technological growth. Some of the VR porn stuff is actually from a VR point of view, incredibly clever and it’s pushing the industry forward. Certain companies don’t want to be involved in that, but there is plenty of money to be made in that world.
Can I say to the readers that if I’ve given in any way the wrong description of teledildonics, I’m not an expert, I’m just saying what I thought I remembered.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but does all of your interviews start off with how did you get to LA and end up with robot prostitutes?
No, you were the first. Let’s go back to LA versus the UK. What do you miss?As technology moves forward, people's lives become more interesting, more diverse, and have more experiences to go out there and find. Click To Tweet
I’m lucky enough that I go back a few times a year. The first thing I always do when I go back is I’ll go for a curry. When I’ve lived in five, six different countries, the curries are not as good. I was lucky because I lived in Bradford. The Londoners don’t know what a real curry is.
It’s so funny you said that because everywhere I’ve interviewed, whether it’s on La La Landed or my individual Behr Essentials. The first thing they say when I ask what do they miss most, it’s always the curry. I don’t know about you, Tara.
It’s always the curry. I also have to say Chinese as well. The Chinese here are not the same. When I go home, the first place I go is for a Chinese followed by an Indian.
The second is probably real beer. Although I’m from London, I lived in Yorkshire for most of the time I was in the UK above the drinking age. I was a beer correspondent when I was in my newspaper. I have a pint of Northern real ale. You just can’t get that anywhere else, including the South of England. I’ve missed that. When I’m in the North, I go straight for that.
I’m missing the North when I spend a lot of time in Newcastle, the girls throwing up on the side of the streets at 3:00 in the morning from drinking too much ale. There’s nothing like a Northern lass at 3:00 AM on a Sunday.
You’ve had your parents here as well. That must have been nice for you?
It was because although I go back regularly, the parents not seeing the grandchildren is probably the biggest minus. My parents have six grandchildren and five of them live at least eleven hours’ flight away. It’s tricky. The older the kids get, the better they get on with my parents. It is a shame because they’re not going to see their grandma once a week like I did growing up. It’s not enough reason for me to move back to England, nor do I want my parents staying here.
We don’t want to move back either. We still love you, Great Britain. We miss you all our nearest and dearest, but we’re staying put, aren’t we, Dani?
We’re in it now to win it. There’s no going back. For me, I have kids and I can’t leave. The State of California restricts me from leaving even if I wanted to for custody reasons. Dan, you’ve been so interesting to talk to. It’s been fun talking about everything from diplomacy to McVitie’s biscuits, VR and teledildonics. We’d love to have you back on again soon. Do you want to give everyone a big plug with your podcast again?
Thank you so much to our fabulous guest, Dan Rutstein. Be sure to check out LaLaLanded.com for all info. Check out our Instagram @LaLaLandedPodcast and you can feel free to give any comments and any suggestions and on Facebook at La La Landed. We’ll be back here very soon.
- The Reality Show
- United States of Dramerica
- Nigel Lythgoe – previous episode on United States of Dramerica
- Behr Essentials
- @LaLaLandedPodcast – Instagram
- La La Landed Facebook
About Dan Rutstei
Dan Rutstein is a former British Diplomat who is now President of Laduma, an immersive tech consultancy and content creator. He’s also the host of whiskey podcast United States of Dramerica.
In his first career, he was a sports journalist, working in the north of England and Bermuda. He then served the British Government in three different countries, working for five different Departments, ending with a posting in Los Angeles