The Rags to Riches Philosopher: Bryan Johnson's Path to $800 Million (#81)

The Tim Ferriss Show with Bryan Johsnon

Bryan Johnson is an entrepreneur and investor. He is the founder of OS Fund and Braintree, the latter of which was bought by eBay in 2013 for $800 million in cash.

Bryan launched OS Fund in 2014 with $100 million of his personal capital to support inventors and scientists who aim to benefit humanity by rewriting the operating systems of life. In other words: he fuels real-world mad scientists.

His investments include endeavors to cure age-related diseases and radically extend healthy human life to 100+ (Human Longevity), replicate the human visual cortex using artificial intelligence (Vicarious), mine an asteroid (Planetary Resources), reinvent transportation using autonomous vehicles (Matternet), and reimagine food using biology (Hampton Creek), among others.

Our conversation includes his rags to riches story, his philosophical hardwiring, negotiating/sales tactics, and even parenting. We cover a ton of ground with a fascinating and deep mind.


You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#81: The Rags to Riches Philosopher: Bryan Johnson's Path to $800 Million

Do you enjoy listening to world-class entrepreneurs?  If so, you might enjoy my conversations with Peter Thiel. He co-founded PayPal in 1998, which was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion. He was also the first outside investor in Facebook (!) and has since created another billion-dollar+ startup called Palantir. Stream our conversation below or right-click here to download:

Ep 28: Peter Thiel, Billionaire Investor and Company Creator on Investing, Business, and Life

This episode is sponsored by Athletic Greens. I get asked all the time, “If you could only use one supplement, what would it be?” My answer is, inevitably, Athletic Greens. It is your all-in-one nutritional insurance. I recommended it in the The 4-Hour Body and did not get paid to do so.  Get 50% off your order at Athletic

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: Do you have a story of an untested assumption that held you back? How did you identify it and change your behavior? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

Human Longevity | Ginkgo Bioworks

Show Notes

  • Gasoline bombs, baseball cards, and deconstructing high school power structure [2:00]
  • How Ecuador and cell phones helped Bryan as an entrepreneur [8:20]
  • From broke and unemployable to a record-setting sales person [12:35]
  • The critical failure point for Bryan’s real estate company [16:50]
  • What to look for when hiring sales people [18:30]
  • How long until a computer can identify trustworthy people? [21:00]
  • The transition from sales person to founding Braintree [22:35]
  • How to build a technical team without being a technical founder [25:30]
  • The three main goals Bryan had in mind when founding Braintree [27:05]
  • On deciding to pivot the direction of the first profitable company [30:40]
  • Appreciating Ernest Shackleton and the “Shackleton sniff test” [33:40]
  • Are you glad that you got an MBA? [35:15]
  • On firing the rocket ship that was Braintree and market targeting for re-broadcasting [38:45]
  • Breakaway moments, primary competitors, and convincing big companies to use Braintree [42:20]
  • What it means to code to the Application Programming Interface (API) and the growth potential if done well [45:00]
  • Keys to building a workplace loved by employees [47:45]
  • Why storytelling was critical for cultivating a great company culture [52:15]
  • On becoming a pilot, the process, and estimated costs  [58:30]
  • How Bryan Johnson defines “success” [1:00:45]
  • The OS Fund, why it exists, and how to think on the “operating system level” [1:02:10]
  • On the moral questions of advanced technology at scale [1:07:20]
  • Challenging assumptions and the story of five monkeys sprayed with cold water [1:14:30]
  • How Bryan Johnson unpacks feelings of overwhelm [1:18:35]
  • The historical figure Bryan Johnson most identifies with [1:22:10]
  • Entrepreneurs who Bryan Johnson admires for their aggression [1:26:30]
  • What is an entrepreneur? How does one develop entrepreneurial characteristics? [1:28:30]
  • Rapid Fire Questions: Most gifted books, billboards, and advice to his 30-year-old self [1:32:00]
  • Non-obvious traditions to hold with your kids and common problem points when parenting [1:35:55]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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53 Replies to “The Rags to Riches Philosopher: Bryan Johnson's Path to $800 Million (#81)”

  1. Great podcast Tim and Bryan!

    Untested assumptions were the driving force in my K-12 existence. I was a classic example of the fixed learning mentality (in regard to fixed vs growth mindset in learning). I was good at sports, literature, and generally being a snarky, smart-ass to my teachers and not much else. I assumed that was all I would ever be good at.

    I got into meditation in my late teens and about mid-way through college, after a meditation session, it dawned on me that I had failed to actually test my assumptions on my limitations. I decided to take the chemistry course that science and engineering track students take and skipped several math courses and took the highest level math course the university would allow for someone with my dismal math background (I got a “D” in a developmental, 0 credit course freshman year). I scored in the top 3 in both courses. I took an accelerated calculus and analytical geometry course for engineering and science students the following summer and got the 3rd highest grade in a class in which over a 1/3 of the people who initially signed up dropped out because it was too challenging.

    As embarrassing and ridiculous as it sounds now, I had never thought to try actually studying something I didn’t already have a handle on. Perhaps I also had a major fear of failure, who knows. I do know I could have saved myself nearly two decades of self-doubt by just picking up a f%&*ing book and seeing what the whole studying thing was about!

  2. I used to assume I look bad in glasses so I wore contacts. Then I got an eye infection and decided I had enough of contacts, it’s too risky. The dr. said there was a chance I could’ve gone blind if I didn’t come in to see her. So I spent like 3 hours digging through frame after frame at different stores. I realized that as long as I spend 3 hours rapidly trying on tons and tons of glasses looking for the perfect-looking frame regardless of price, I always find it and now I love the way I look in glasses. Tons of people compliment my glasses now. Before I got glasses? No one commented on my appearance, so it feels good. All cuz of an eye infection.

  3. There was a question discussed about AI: how to program a driverless car to best solve an ethical question when there is a choice between killing 4 80-year olds or 4 kids. I do not believe there ever will be an answer to that and similar questions, that’s why we might be too young to create AI in the first place – we haven’t figured out that question or similar ourselves. Even the intelligence behind creation of intelligence and humans haven’t figured that out that’s why we are here to play different scenarios maybe in a hope to find the answer though practice, through living our life. I don’t know why that question in particular got into my head after that podcast but it did.

    Great episode Tim and Bryan! Thank you!

    Gave me a lot of things to think about when it comes to life and business.

  4. This is a very interesting Podcast. I love how Bryan believes the goal of conquering death is something that isn’t getting much attention. I have thought this for years and have often wondered if this issue will be solved in the future (knowing my luck, two days after I go to the great beyond). His comment about acceptance and denial being two passive positions was brilliant and I immediately started thinking about where I am on that spectrum.

    “Failure is highly overrated” Now that was an interesting position, given that ALL the gurus tout failure as the God of innovation.

  5. Tim – My question is about a post from 7 years ago, and since I’m not sure If you get notifications for all comments posted, I will post it here. Hope you see it!

    In regards to your post from 2008 about the 3-minute breakfast, do you still agree with that video today and is that still how you eat breakfast? If your habits have changed – which I assume they have – could you post a quick update?

    Thanks Tim. Love the blog/podcast.

  6. Are there links to the study referenced in this podcast about electrocuting animals when they moved. And then changing their environment and they would still stay still? Tried finding it on google and was unsuccessful. Thanks and great podcast!

  7. Following directions and contacting you through the comments section. I’m a college club sport coach and want to buy your book for a bunch of my graduating players but admittedly don’t want to pay list price for multiple copies. Any way I can get a deal on multiple copies of 4HWW? Thanks in advance.

  8. Tim – in this episode, you mentioned that you weren’t familiar with Jon Huntsman. Just wanted to remind you that Glen Beck had shared a Jon Huntsman story with you about selling his styrofoam/chemical business and had recommended Huntsmen’s book “Winner’s Never Cheat”.

  9. Another outstanding interview, thank you Tim (and Bryan). I’ve listened to 90% of your podcasts, and by far, for me, this one gave me the best “advice” for my startup.



  10. This was an excellent interview! As a philosophy major in college and business guy today, I really related to this podcast. I’ve been recently grappling with where we are going as a society and changes we need to make in order to be environmentally, socially and financially sustainable in the near future. Tim – I was wondering what your views are on this and if you are working on any projects in theses areas.

    Guest suggestions: John Perkins, Naomi Klein, Russell Brand

    Keep the amazing interviews coming!

  11. This podcast had so much valueble information that I hopped in the wrong metro 2 times in a row for a lack of attention.

    Thanks for doing this!!

  12. Hey Tim, 

    Hope you’re doing well. First, I want to thank you immensely for your podcast. I truly enjoy your guests and the approach you take in breaking down how these highly influential folks’ think. 

    I’m writing this email to make a quick observation. It’s one related to the opportunity of creating true and ethical change for humanity’s sake. Most of the people who are in a place of power and have the financial means to make societal changes like your last guest Bryan Johnson seem to be primarily focused on technologically based solutions. Four instance, when you asked him about GMO foods, he pretty much went into politics mode and dodged the question- I was a little bit disappointed to be honest. I know that that specific subject is not a black-and-white issue, but guys like me who are as passionate and driven to positively influence the lives of those who are not as fortunate, rarely have the opportunity to make the difference I would love to make. I’m barely keeping afloat and trying any which way to break through the next economical tier. Guys like Peter Diamandis and Bryan- and most of the other innovators that do have the means to make a profound change are for the most part, talking about 3D printed food, GMOs, etc as the solutions we need. 

    I admit that I am a nature biased individual but also believe that there comes a point where technology needs to meet the natural planetary order of things. With all the incredible amount of financial “wealth” that is available, why do we still have such a huge gap with issues of sustainability? I would like to see a lot of these high power influencers talk more openly about these issues and look toward other options – a la Jacque Fresco and Venus Project for example- to see if we come to that responsible and non explosive sole technologically driven approach.

    I think your show and you specifically have such a cool ability to reach all these people and perhaps gain a little bit more insight on these issues.

    Thanks so much and again appreciate everything you do. The Glen Beck interview has been one of the best podcast listening experiences I’ve had. 



  13. Hi! I’m so impressed of your book “The Four Hour Work Week”. It has really inspired me. So, right now I’m doing a series of interviews under the theme ‘Motivation of life’ on youtube, tangling with various topics such as death, love, occupations, personal interests and every day things. Can I please interview you and use it in one of my videos in the series? Could you do that for me? /Johanna P.S. I’m doing my interviews of Skype.

  14. Most people are going to have to make some serious changes to go from rags to riches. The principles in this podcast are going to seriously help.

    Here are a few more that will help change as well:

    Deep, psychological, lasting change. First time this has ever been done.

    Having loved self-improvement most of my life I set out to find an exact method to producing change. Little did I know when I started what a development it would be for myself. Over twenty-five years later I can finally describe how change actually takes place within us.

    Gutap – the system to achieving core level change of any limiting belief.

    Any programming can now be reprogrammed.

    The steps of Gutap:

    1. Feel the feeling of your false belief to know it.

    You have to feel your feelings in order to change them.

    2. Find what the false or limiting belief truly wants you to know to be better.

    What does the false belief actually want you to know that is positive?

    3. Connect that feeling of the positive answer (not necessarily the concept or picture) to the negative feeling of the false belief to let it flow into negative feeling to change it.

    The positive feelings change it – you don’t.

    The example I use for proof of Gutap is anger. Forgive. Forgiving cures your anger almost instantly. When you are angry and you forgive them your anger is gone. It takes one feeling to heal another. Every “negative” feeling has its own positive healing feeling.

  15. This was an excellent interview! Its worth putting our attention to where we are headed to and the changes we need to make in our lives for a sustainable future.

  16. Great story, very inspiring and it’s challenging us all to radicalize our thinking, quit believing in established limiting patterns which discourage flexibility and creativity and see doing things differently as the only way that can bring the much desired positive changes. Thanks Tim.

  17. Idea for someone to be on the podcast: my favourite person in the world, Jane McGonigal (game designer).

  18. The show notes seem to be offset by about 5 minutes compared to the online streaming version. Not sure if this is common to all versions. But it makes it much harder to follow along if you get a little distracted.

  19. Tim,

    Just want to thank you for allowing us to share in your conversations with some of the most fascinating people on earth.

    I don’t know if people understand the unique opportunity to look into the minds and lives of these people.

    You’ve really given a gift of great value to anyone who will simply pick it up.

    Thank you.

  20. I am consistently amazed at how much I enjoy your podcast Tim, even when (especially?) I haven’t heard of the guest previously; spent 2 hours listening to this one in a dark hotel room while the rest of my family slept the morning away.

    Just reserved Predictably Irrational and Man’s Search for Meaning from the library (and purchased The Obstacle is the Way that you have recommended) for some vacation reading this summer. Thanks for all you do!

  21. Wow- Bryan’s energy is undeniably cool and what a prime example of a great leader. By far, the most intriguing conversation between Tim and a guest.

    Takeaway points:

    • Challenge all assumptions

    • Be relevant to our kids

    • Encourage kids to be explorers

    Bryan, it was a pleasure getting to know you, I feel the same way about aviation. I’m in the process of a private pilot license. But literally – I just want to get out of my head sometimes and aviation does that for me, or at least, it triggers enough endorphin to offset stress.

    On a side note: Bryan, I went ahead and purchased (so, you don’t lose traffic) and redirected the plural domain to your main site. I’ll transfer the domain over to you anytime.

    Tim, show notes are off. For example –

    • On becoming a pilot, the process, and estimated costs [58:30] actually 1:02:36

    • How Bryan Johnson defines “success” [1:00:45] actually 1:04:40

    • The OS Fund, why it exists, and how to think on the “operating system level” [1:02:10] actually 1:06:10

  22. Great interview. I found myself throughout, identifying with Bryan’s story. Very inspiring and refreshing. Exactly what I need to hear today.

  23. Loved the podcast this week. My favorite part this week was about Bryan’s Mom. I think that you should add parental influence questions to you’re rapid fire questions segment. A little parenting advice from a genius couldn’t hurt!?!

  24. “Everyone has a pebble in their shoe” Another awesome guest, another example of Tim re-setting podcasting standards.

    Fantastic service, thank you.

  25. Truly inspiring and engaging discussion, Tim and Bryan. Tim, your ability to “segway” into related or unrelated topics makes listening easy. I will reflect on this podcast for days. The effect you have on your listeners is profound. Keep ’em coming!!!

  26. I’m sitting outside discussing your podcast with a a friend and we keep coming back to an idea that I wish you would introduce with your guest…ther personality types. I’d love to hear each person talk more about their psychological dissonance and how that has affected their journey and current situation.

  27. Great work guys. I wasn’t familiar with Bryan’s work until now & plan to follow him & the OS Fund moving forward. Literally world-changing advancements…

    Bryan – I especially appreciated your brutal honesty and “I don’t know” answers. My belief is we need more of that instead of posing. Your comments on our children (I have 2 young boys) being able to author their own future is a great mental mindset to work from and I’m stealing a couple of your family rituals.

    Thank you both.

    1. Very interesting! Thank you Bryan for sharing your story. Started implementing Braintree for a marketplace project and it is amazingly easy and well built! Good to hear about its founder!

      Decision are definitely made based on all the experiences and social guidelines we have received in our life – being aware of it when asking others to make decisions is of an incredible help to identify what might biaise their judgment.

  28. I’m an Uber software engineer and the guy that selected Braintree as our payment processor. Just chiming in here to corroborate that we were never contacted by anyone from Braintree’s sales team, that once we were a customer, their devs would pro-actively reach out to me when they suspected problems, and that everything Bryan said about their developer-centric approach to word of mouth acquisition and support is entirely true and why I moved us off on to Braintree. Great interview. Bryan definitely practices what he preaches.

  29. Tim your questioning and probing is getting better and better. Not sure if it’s because you know Bryan well or just because you know where you nudge, but very authentic responses and questions on both ends. Great piece!

  30. Really enjoyed this one (I listen to 90%). Bought Shackleton for my step-dad for Father’s Day. Hoping he’ll pay it fwd to me after he’s finished with it :). So glad you keep doing this Tim.

  31. Great interview Tim. I enjoyed listening to your conversation with Bryan and all the topics. I especially enjoyed hearing Bryan’s viewpoint of how he talks to his kids. I hope to have some myself one day and it’s great to hear how others who are like minded work and raise their own kids. Keep up the great work!

  32. Give your quickfire questions to your guests BEFORE they come on. That way, they can give you a proper reflective answer. Edit out blank space to sound more professional.

  33. Thanks, I really enjoyed the podcast. My question is not related to this article, but I didn’t know where was more appropriate to post. I am a huge fan of your writing in general, but I have really benefited from your articles dealing with practical philosophy. I was wondering if you have ever read any of Nietzsche’s work. I believe that Nietzsche’s writing is a gold mine for practical philosophy. I think your readers would benefit from learning about Nietzsche’s philosophy and his practical lessons for living.

  34. I know it’s personal, but I would love to see the picture that was mentioned Bryan had done by a graffiti artist. Creating your own world via text is a theme that fascinates me.

  35. sorry it took me so long to listen to this one. Bryan is the absolute man!! His authenticity is so inspiring. I love how he answered the questions such an awesome dude!

    He probably doesn’t get this a whole lot so I want to make sure I say it because I truly believe this dude is an intellectual badass!

  36. love that he didnt answer every question and thought deeply about each one. Such a different inspiration in this episode, I want to go be a good guy. I will read a good man today 🙂

    side note: Sacca described David Ulevitch as a “good guy” (founder of OpenDNS which sold for $600+M this week). Any thoughts on continuing the good guy founder theme with him?

    Thank for taking the time to do these Tim and let me know if you need someone else to experiment on!

  37. Tim and Bryan – Thank you both for this amazing discussion. You hit on topics I have been pondering for a while, truly epic interview, guys!

  38. Hi Tim,

    Huge fan of your work! I read your book years ago and I felt that it was time to say thank you.

    I’ve employed learnings from the “4 Hour Work Week” in what some may consider to be unorthodox. I’ve since been able to optimize my time to the point where I am able to work 3 full-time lead software engineering positions concurrently.

    This has catapulted my earnings to well over a half million dollars per year, and has put me on the fast track to financial freedom. Thank you for your insight. I couldn’t have done it without you!!

  39. I connected very deeply with Bryan’s life and insights on a personal level. Thank you, Tim, for a great podcast.

    I got my start selling educational books too– I think I might know/know of your friend. I looked through all the names in the credits of 4HWW and I don’t think it’s any of them. It’s worth finding out if we have a connection! Off to LinkedIn…

  40. Why do all tech folks insist on beginning every answer with the word “So”? Please stop! It’s very distracting. Otherwise, loved the interview.

  41. As a parent to a 7-year old trying to teach her powerful ways of thinking and learning, I LOVED your line of questioning in this talk with Bryan Johnson on how he engages his kids! Please do this again with other high achievers who are parenting young ones!

  42. Fantastic episode. I am astound of how much you’ve accomplished Bryan while bringing up your kids. Some of the lessons you told from your youth and your “why” as an entrepreneur really resonated with me.