Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Ed Zschau, the Interim President of Sierra Nevada College. Ed founded System Industries in Palo Alto, California in 1969, and as its CEO led it to a successful IPO in 1980. In the 1990s, he was the General Manager of the IBM Storage Systems Division headquartered in San Jose, California. He has a total of 10 years of teaching experience as a professor in the graduate business schools at Stanford University and Harvard University, and he has taught high tech entrepreneurship courses for a total of 22 years in the engineering schools at Princeton University, Caltech, and University of Nevada, Reno.
In the 1980s, Ed represented the Silicon Valley area of California for two terms in the US House of Representatives. Also during the 1980s, he was a General Partner of Brentwood Associates, a venture capital firm, and he was the Founding Chairman of The Tech Interactive, (formerly The Tech Museum of Innovation), a non-profit educational institution in San Jose, California.
Ed holds an A.B. degree (cum laude) in Philosophy (bridging with Physics) from Princeton University, as well as M.B.A., M.S. (Statistics), and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University and a Doctor of Laws degree (Honoris Causa) from the University of San Francisco. Currently, he is a Senior Fellow of the California Council on Science and Technology.
Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.
DUE TO SOME HEADACHES IN THE PAST, PLEASE NOTE LEGAL CONDITIONS:
Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.
WHAT YOU’RE WELCOME TO DO:
You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Tim Ferriss Show” and link back to the tim.blog/podcast URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.
WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED:
No one is authorized to copy any portion of the podcast content or use Tim Ferriss’ name, image or likeness for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books, book summaries or synopses, or on a commercial website or social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that offers or promotes your or another’s products or services. For the sake of clarity, media outlets are permitted to use photos of Tim Ferriss from the media room on tim.blog or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.
Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss, and welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. I’m very, very excited for this episode and my guest because he’s had such a tremendous impact in my life, and I haven’t seen him in quite a long time. Let’s just jump right into the bio, which does not quite do you justice. We’re going to dig into some things that have been artfully omitted here. Ed Zschau, Zschau spelled Z-S-C-H-A-U, who is currently, among many other things, interim president of Sierra Nevada College, which is a pro bono assignment he’s accepted. Much, much earlier he founded System Industries in Palo Alto, California in 1969 and, as its CEO, led it to a successful IPO in 1980. In the 1990s, he was the general manager of the IBM Storage Systems Division headquartered in San Jose, California.
I believe that was, what, a $6 billion business? Something along those lines? I’ll come back to that. Ed has a total of 10 years of teaching experience as a professor in the Graduate Business School at Stanford University and Harvard University, and he has taught High Tech Entrepreneurship courses for a total of 22 years in the engineering schools at Princeton University, Caltech, and the University of Nevada at Reno. In addition to serving on the boards of major public companies, such as Reader’s Digest and Star Tech, Ed has helped to start and build several technology companies during the past 20 years, some of which were founded and led by his former students, and I’ve met many, many of Ed’s former students who have started and built tremendous companies.
In the 1980s, Ed represented the Silicon Valley area of California for two terms in the US House of Representatives, serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Also, during the 1980s he was a general partner of Brentwood Associates, a venture capital firm, and he was the founding chairman of the Tech Interactive, which I lived very close to back when I was in California, formerly known as the Tech Museum of Innovation and Nonprofit Educational Institution in San Jose, California.
Ed holds an AB degree, Cum Laude in Philosophy, bridging with Physics, from Princeton University, as well as an MBA, MS Statistics and PhD degrees from Stanford University, and a Doctor of Laws degree, Honoris Causa, hope I’m getting my Latin correctly, from the University of San Francisco. Currently, he is a Senior Fellow of the California Council on Science and Technology. You have three children, nine grandchildren, and I’m going to leave out your exact residence specificity just because of the size of the audience. Ed, welcome to the show.
Ed Zschau: It’s great to be here with you, Tim. I think back to the spring semester of 2000 when you contacted me, after all the other students had registered for my course, and made such an impressive plea to be able to enroll in the course, committing, if you were enrolled, that you would clean the blackboards, clean the erasers, do whatever it took to make my life easier. I almost cried when I heard those words, and you took the course. I’m so proud of what you’ve done over the past 19 years. I don’t blame the course for your success, but I do blame your enrolling in the course for our friendship.
Tim Ferriss: You’ve taught me so much from the very beginning. I wanted to take the course for many, many reasons. This was ELE 491, High Tech Entrepreneurship, which was in the Electrical Engineering Department and the ORF Department, which I can never remember the actual full name for; Operations and Research Finals –?
Ed Zschau: Operations, Research, and Financial Engineering.
Tim Ferriss: There we go. Now I have no business whatsoever being in any engineering school, but at the time, the Princeton courses, undergraduate courses, were only very recently being voted on by students. This was a very new thing. This was before Yelp and so on. One of the standouts was this new course, High Tech Entrepreneurship, taught by Professor Zschau. I really wanted, like many people, to be part of this course and when I finally was accepted to the course, and began learning, I remember at one point, I was cleaning the blackboard and cleaning the erasers. You said to me, I don’t know if you remember this, you said, “Tim, don’t get too good at cleaning the erasers.”
There was a lot of direct teaching and a lot of indirect teaching, just observing you as you interacted with your students and the world. There are certain things that, when I describe you to my friends, and I do that very, very often, and a lot of your students, I mean, you were just telling me before we began recording, stay in touch with you. These are people from 40, 50 years ago. It’s remarkable. One of the things I throw in that was not in the bio I read was figure skating. Could you please tell us about your background with figure skating?
Ed Zschau: I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. We were fortunate to have an indoor skating rink, where a professional ice hockey team played: the Omaha Knights. They were probably a farm team for one of the NHL hockey teams. My mother took me to that ice rink when I was about seven years old. I really enjoyed the challenge. I remember coming back from one session when I was just beginning to skate and I said, “Mom, I really had a good day today.” She said, “Well, what was so special about it?” and I said, “I only fell 40 times this time!” From what you might call small beginnings, I began to get more proficient and more interested. In those days, figure skating was really figure skating, where there were precise patterns on clean ice with turns and loops that you had to perform in order to pass certain tests.
I passed the pretest and then I passed the first test, and the second test. At that point, I was on my way, but ice was only available during the winter, so when I was 13, I began spending summers away from Omaha, where there were ice rinks and continued to train and continued to pass tests. When I was 16 years old, I had passed the sixth test and I qualified for the national championships in men singles in a lower group, not the world-class group, but a lower group. I was also ice dancing with a partner, and in 1956, we won the silver dance championship in the Midwestern sections; there were three sections in the country. Went to the national championships. Then my senior year in high school, 1957, again, I skated in the national championships in Berkeley, California.
I never was a winner, but it was a special experience to meet a lot of people throughout the country going to these championships, and I still stay in touch with my dance partner, and a gentleman who I competed against in the singles championships. It was a big part of my life, Tim, and as I think about it, the hours that I spent training, getting up at 6:00 a.m., or actually 5:30 a.m., being on the ice in Omaha at 6:00 a.m. in a cold winter, Nebraska winter, and then skating in the evening, too, fitting in homework, school, to prepare for one competition, where if you did well enough, you could go to the national championships, it taught me the power, the value of practice, of dedication, of persistence and determination.
Those are valuable life lessons and character-building lessons. When people ask me, “Well, how do I prepare to be a leader or to change the world?” It’s through learning those values. You don’t get a quick return creating value for the world. You get a quick return doing something that doesn’t matter. If you’re going to make a difference in this society, changing the world for the better, you’d better be prepared for a long journey.
Tim Ferriss: You, to me, as one of your standout characteristics, have preparation. You have very meticulous preparation. I remember this because, keep in mind people listening, as we said, I was showing up to potentially do my chalkboard duty and my eraser duty and so on so I would arrive to ELE 491 early and you would be arranging the name cards. You had placards for the students, which is not common at Princeton. You’d have the name cards. You’d be arranging chairs and reviewing, potentially, the case study materials. I don’t remember any TAs, any teaching assistants, for that class. Could you talk about how you think — how you’ve thought about preparation outside of, say, figure skating?
Did that come from your parents? Where did that attention to detail, before the competition? Whether that’s a competition in business, sports or otherwise, or just getting up in front of a class of students. Can you talk to where that comes from and how you think about preparation?
Ed Zschau: Well, I was a strong believer in Murphy’s Law — whatever can go wrong will go wrong.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Ed Zschau: I would come to the classroom typically 45 minutes early, make sure that the projector was working. And sometimes it wasn’t.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Ed Zschau: I had time, then, to the call the audiovisual people, and they’d come over and get it fixed, rather than showing up right at the time the class starts and then finding that there are problems that disrupted the flow of the class. I think it was Benjamin Franklin who wrote, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” It’s very important to me not to be surprised by things that go wrong, and the way that you prevent that is through preparation, and making sure everything is the way that it needs to be for success. As far as the class is concerned, even though I had taught the lessons — the sessions — many, many times, I usually spent two to three hours prior to each class preparing again. I viewed my classes, which were taught by the case method of teaching and learning, where students would read about an actual company situation and put themselves in the position of the CEO or the founder, the technical person, and describe what to do. I would ask questions, and they would give the answers.
I felt that that approach to teaching and learning, putting someone in the position of the founder, the person who had to achieve the results, rather than just listening and learning, and reading from a book would not only help to learn, but also build the confidence that they could do that kind of job. Well, in order to make that experience, that classroom experience work the best, it was like a performance.
I would come in and I didn’t know exactly how the discussion would evolve, but I knew the lessons that would come out of it. I’d find a way, regardless of what the students would say, to convey those lessons through their words.
Tim Ferriss: The case method is something I’d love to talk a little bit more about, because my first exposure to the case method was in your class. It’s a method that, as I understand it, is used at Harvard Business School, also at Stanford Graduate School of Business. What I also found so appealing about the case method is you’d, as a student, have these short modules, these case studies, and they would often be a part one with a cliffhanger right? The module one would end with some type of dilemma or disaster, or big decision, and you didn’t have the conclusion. You didn’t have the answer, meaning what actually happened in that particular case. It allowed you to think for yourself, but it also gave you an opportunity to speak to the class, to speak to you, and to be assertive, also, right, because you would have, I remember, at least in my class, many differing opinions, some of which were polar opposites. It really struck me as a pragmatic way to allow people to be active in the way that they’re going to have to be active if they’re ultimately going to be entrepreneurs.
Ed Zschau: When you’re teaching and learning about starting enterprises or creating something new, you learn by doing. The case method helps in that; projects that are real help do that. One of the Princeton graduates, three — it’s now four — years ago, wrote her senior thesis on ‘Can entrepreneurship be taught, or is it something you’re born with?’ There are articles that have been written that college courses and entrepreneurship are a waste of time. They don’t matter. In 2015, when she was working on this, I created an online survey instrument, which I sent out to all 1,600 Princeton students that I had had in my classes over 31 semesters. We had to cut off the responses in order for her to meet her thesis deadline after 400 responses of the 1,600, but of those first 1,600 responses, 160 had been founders of companies.
Among the survey questions was the question, ‘What Princeton experiences have helped you in choosing your life path and succeeding in what you pursued?’ Of the 160 founders, 95 percent said it was the course that made the difference. I think what it was — it’s not so much what they learned in detail, but rather pointing out to the students that this is a possible life pass: that you can create something from scratch and create value. What great satisfaction you get from that. It also, and I attribute this to the case method, gave students the confidence they could do it.
They’d read the case and say, “I’m as smart as that person. I know I could do that, too.” I tried to choose the cases with youthful founders rather than old people like me. Then there were some tools, the techniques that they learned from it, but I believe that everyone is born with the desire to do something beyond themselves. As an entrepreneur — starting something from scratch, making a real impact in the world in that way — it fulfills that desire to do something meaningful beyond themselves.
Tim Ferriss: Is that what an entrepreneur is to you? I mean, if you were to define entrepreneurs, that’s someone who built something from scratch, whatever that might be. How do you think about the term entrepreneur?
Ed Zschau: Well, you probably remember this, Tim, from the course. I assert that entrepreneurship isn’t about starting companies; entrepreneurship is an approach to life. You can be an entrepreneur in anything. It’s about starting something from scratch. It’s about making good things happen that hadn’t been done before. It’s a combination of innovation — a lot of people get ideas — and implementation. That second part, implementation, is the most important. A lot of people say, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we could do this?” and that’s as far as it goes, but entrepreneurs say, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we could do this?” and then they do it.
Tim Ferriss: I want to say a few things and underscore a couple of things. The first is that there are only two courses I still have all the notes from, meaning courses, classes I took as an undergrad, that I still have three-ring binders which contain all the notes from. One was the Literature of Fact with John McPhee and the other was ELE 491. I still have all of those notes and it strikes me that, first, just from a tool perspective, if people want to find case studies that are used at places like Harvard Business School or Stanford Business School, you can actually find quite a few online and order them. I would encourage people to look into that.
The reason that I have notes from those two classes is, I think, in large part because I had, and we were talking about this a little bit earlier, a very, very difficult and dark period in my life junior year, and took some time off of school. It was very, very hard time for me. And what I found in the Literature of Fact and also, particularly in High Tech Entrepreneurship, was a teaching and reinforcing of optimism, right, which is very different from giving all of your students rose-colored glasses. You were showing that, and I found this to be really personally very helpful, in these case studies, a lot of things go wrong, but you were able to show how people figured it out, and how they learned to navigate around those things. How do you think about, if you do, the role of optimism in any of this?
Ed Zschau: Well, I’m a chronic optimist. I believe that that is important to doing things that haven’t been done before. You can imagine all of the things that can go wrong. I guess there’s some value in being a realist, but I don’t think you do things that haven’t been done before and succeed in that by being negative, and focusing on all of the things that need to be done. Rather, it’s having a vision and then committing to making it real. I was blessed that way. I just look at the world — I don’t think through rose-colored glasses —
Tim Ferriss: No, I don’t think so.
Ed Zschau: — but when people say “That’s going to be hard,” I say that “It’s going to be more fun then, because doing something that’s hard is a lot more fun than doing something that’s easy.”
Tim Ferriss: How did you — well, I’ll ask two questions. I’ll start with the one that I should probably ask first, which is: When you were, say, 20 years old, 15 or 20, somewhere in that range, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up? What were you —
Ed Zschau: I knew exactly what I was going to be.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Ed Zschau: I was going to be a physicist. I came to Princeton in 1957 with a plan to major in physics. Then in my sophomore year, I discovered philosophy. I thought, “This is way cool stuff,” I decided that I would major in philosophy with, in those days, what was called a bridge program with physics. I took all of the required courses in physics, but my department was the philosophy department. My independent work, both as a junior and senior, were on subjects that combined philosophy and physics. My senior thesis was describing what the German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s theory of space and time would have been had he been born 50 years later, and had known Einstein’s general theory of relativity. I described in my thesis: “This is what Kant’s theory of space and time would have been. Unfortunately, he didn’t know general relativity; he based it on Newtonian physics.”
As a presumptuous 21-year-old, I figured I knew what was inside Kant’s head, and if he’d just known about Einstein and his theories, he would have had a different philosophy of space and time. That and $2.40 will get you a cup of coffee at your favorite coffee shop.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned Einstein. Princeton certainly has a storied history, in some respects, with physics. Einstein spent time not too far away from where we’re sitting right now, and Richard Feynman and others, certainly. Is that how you ended up focusing on Princeton and physics? Was the history — I guess at that point, I’m not sure what specifically would have drawn you here, but is that what drew you to Princeton?
Ed Zschau: Starting from the time that I was about 12, I was an Einstein lover, I guess you’d say. I began reading about his theories and biographies, and so forth. I applied to various colleges in the physics department, engineering physics in one case, and physics in all the others, and I was accepted to all of those schools. All of them provided me with a rather attractive scholarship, except Princeton. Princeton wrote to me and said, “You can work in the dining hall as a busboy,” and I think I could make, with 12 to 15 hours a week, $400 a semester. I chose Princeton because I concluded: “That must be the toughest school. They’re not making a big deal out of me. I want to go where it’s most challenging.” I’ve never looked back.
Tim Ferriss: Did you find it challenging? Did you end up finding Princeton challenging?
Ed Zschau: Way too challenging, and that ended my figure skating career. I did not have the time to continue to practice. I tried to compete in my freshman year in the Eastern Championships and didn’t do that well, and I began to realize that I wasn’t going to make it. Looking back, I don’t know whether I would have ever made the world team, but in 1961, many of the skaters that I had either competed with, trained with, my skating coach, all perished in a plane crash, the world team, on their way to the World Championships in Brussels, Belgium in 1961. We lost a whole generation of world-class figure skaters. I don’t know whether I would have ever gotten to that point, but I’m glad I made the choice that I did to go to Princeton, to give up figure skating, and to focus on what’s led me to be here talking to you.
Tim Ferriss: When did teaching enter the picture? What happened after, if you could just paint a picture for us, after your undergraduate experience?
Ed Zschau: Well, I knew what I was going to do after I graduated from Princeton. I had applied for and was accepted to the US Navy Officers Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island to begin my training in September of 1961. I went back home to Omaha, Nebraska, worked in manual labor on the night shift in a can factory, and in late August, was called to Fort Omaha to be inducted into the US Navy. During that pre-induction interview, I was asked if anything had happened to me health-wise since I’d applied in February and had a physical then. I said, “Well, I broke my leg in a rugby game at Princeton in April, but it’s fine now.” They didn’t take my word for it. They ordered an X-ray and concluded it wasn’t up to Navy standards. I was unable to enter OCS in September of 1961.
Very disappointed. I did have an alternative; I had applied to Stanford Business School for the MBA program. I only applied to Stanford because it only had one essay in the application and all the others had three. I focused on Stanford for that reason. I had been accepted and I never sent in the postcard that indicated that I was not coming. I retrieved the postcard, sent it in, and within, I’d say, six days, my whole life changed from going into the Navy to going to California and entering the MBA program. I did not know, in that split second in April when I heard a crack when I fell in the rugby game, that that would change my life so dramatically. That’s why I tell people who asked me about career planning, that career planning is overrated.
You asked me the question, though, “How did you get into teaching?” Well, I was in the MBA program at Stanford University. There, just like philosophy at Princeton, I discovered operations research, supplying mathematics to real operating business problems, but operating problems in general, and I said, “This is way cool.” Rather than looking for a job, as I was approaching my MBA degree, I applied for the PhD program to pursue operations research. After my first year in the PhD program, the professor who had taught the most popular second-year MBA course, Electronic Data Processing — it was the only course at Stanford Business School at that time that had anything to do with computers — he left unexpectedly. I went to the dean of the business school, and I said, “Mr. Dean, you have a problem. You’ve got 100 second-year MBA students signed up to take Business 366, Electronic Data Processing, this September, and you don’t have anybody to teach it. I am the solution to your problem. I can teach that course.”
They said something like, “Don’t call us. We’ll call you,” and in late August, about three weeks before the course was to begin, I get a call. “Ed, can you teach that course?” I said, “You bet.” That’s how I began my teaching career. Again, there’s a life lesson here. Opportunities unexpectedly happen. Many people say, “Gee, that’s an interesting opportunity.” It only matters in life if you seize the moment, if you take advantage of that opportunity and commit yourself to do something that you’ve never done before. I find that I learn the most the fastest when I don’t know what I’m doing. I’d never taught a university course and all of a sudden, I’m in front of 100 second-year MBA students, 24 years old, teaching a course, but I did okay. Then Stanford Graduate School of Business said, “Would you teach another course?” I taught different courses and that’s how my teaching career began.
Tim Ferriss: How did you become good at teaching or study teaching, refine your teaching? How did you work on that? Because you’re an excellent teacher. There are plenty of bad teachers out there; plenty of passable teachers, even at incredible institutions, but I would consider you a very, very adept teacher. How did you learn to teach?
Ed Zschau: I think I became a better teacher by not being smart. Here’s what I mean by it. [For] people who are really super smart, learning comes too easy. I believe you can be a better teacher when it’s more difficult for you to learn so that you can explain to somebody else how to master some lesson. I also had the chance, as a high school senior, to take a course in debate. It was a full year course in debating and that helped me with public speaking, but more importantly, the high school teacher who taught debate also taught the various individual events like oratory and extemporaneous speaking, and I wanted to compete in extemporaneous speaking.
Tim Ferriss: Could you just define what that means in this context?
Ed Zschau: Yeah. Well, so this is the way it was when I was in high school. An extemporaneous speaking contest, each participant, individually, would be given a topic on which to speak for 10 minutes and each contestant would have one hour to prepare the 10-minute speech. My high school teacher said, “Well, come in after school’s over every afternoon and I’ll give you a topic. I’ll give you an hour and then you come back and give your 10-minute speech on that topic.” The first time I did that, he gave me a topic. I spent the hour preparing. I gave my talk and when I ran out of words, I said, “Is the 10 minutes up yet?” He says, “It’s only been three minutes.” But every afternoon, he would do that. By the end of the public speaking events that year, the contest that year, I’d become a state champion in extemporaneous speaking. You asked earlier, Tim, about preparation. This is just another example. I wasn’t born to be a speaker; I wasn’t born to be a teacher — but I learned to do both.
Tim Ferriss: There are tools, also, as you mentioned, in your own teaching, there are tools that you can give people, and strategies, which is certainly part… was part of ELE 491 in my case, and in the cases of your students. With the extemporaneous speaking, what were some of the keys to getting better? Were there any techniques or strategies, or ways of thinking about the topics you were given that were particularly helpful?
Ed Zschau: In that final event, I remember the topic. It was ‘What was the significance of the conflict between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton?’ I had an hour to prepare that one.
Tim Ferriss: Before Google.
Ed Zschau: The style of presentation, it wasn’t a matter of fact. It was to prepare what might be called a 10-minute oration, with drama, with stories, with life lessons, and end on a crescendo. Let’s go back to teaching. I view teaching more about nurturing, about personal values, about inspiration, about recognizing that you can have fun doing great things. It’s not so much the lessons or the facts, but rather, it’s building a, maybe even contagion, this optimistic attitude and understanding that if you can change the world for the better, that’s as good as it gets.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I do think in retrospect, it’s maybe easier, well, of course, it’s easier to see in retrospect, but how these various chance opportunities and encounters with philosophy, with the teaching, with the extemporaneous speaking — not necessarily in that order — how they’ve combined into this alchemy that has enabled you to transmit and infuse these beliefs to your students in a way that is very, very memorable, right? It’s not just the text in the book. You remember the topic — Aaron Burr and so on. Do you remember any of the choices that you made in how you competed with that competition?
Ed Zschau: In speaking?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Ed Zschau: Now I remember my debate partner in high school and then at Princeton. He was one year behind me; we had started kindergarten together and then I skipped first grade, so I was one year ahead of him. When he was a junior and I was a senior, we were debate partners in a debate team. There were two on each side and one, you were assigned whether you were the affirmative speakers behind and supporting the resolution, or the negative speakers against the resolution. I remember he was the first affirmative speaker and I was sitting near while he was standing. He got confused and he gave the negative case, and I’m making hand signals to him as he’s giving the negative case against the resolution he’s supposed to be speaking for. I was going to have to follow up on this. He finally realized what was happening. He was so smooth; he said, “And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what our opponents would lead you to believe, however…” Then he quickly switched to the affirmative case.
Tim Ferriss: That’s incredible.
Ed Zschau: There’s also a lesson in this: that things sometimes don’t work out exactly the way you plan. You’ve got to adapt and figure out how to segue into what will work.
Tim Ferriss: See, you strike me is very, very adaptable in so many ways. I mean, you’ve spent time in so many different worlds, and you’re very good at seizing opportunities. You’ve also done certain things for periods of time. You’ve run companies for extended periods of time. You were in politics for an extended period of time.This is actually some phrasing that I heard from Rabbi Jonathan Sachs in the UK. He said, “How do you differentiate between opportunities to be seized and temptations to be resisted?” You’ve focused for extended periods of time on single things, when no doubt there were other opportunities being thrown at you. How do you think about focusing for extended periods or opening yourself to opportunities?
Ed Zschau: This is really a simple question, and it’s answered with one word: commitment. I had situations where I had opportunities to leave companies that I was running. I would not leave until it was appropriate to leave or there was a successor, there was success. When you’re an entrepreneur and people are investing in you, when you’re an entrepreneur and a CEO, and employees, and customers and suppliers are counting on you, you’ve got to have a commitment to do the job until you’re no longer necessary. When I took the company public, my first company public, and it was about a 10-year period, and there were times during that 10 years where we almost went under, but when we had gone public and then did a secondary financing so there was sufficient capital, and then did a search for a successor, I felt that then I could leave to run for the Congress.
Tim Ferriss: Perfect segue. Why did you decide to run for Congress?
Ed Zschau: I thought I could be good at it, and here’s why. It wasn’t just, “Gee, that’s way cool,” like philosophy and operations research. In 1977, I was on the Board of Directors of the American Electronics Association, and electronics companies during the ’70s were unable to raise sufficient amounts of risk capital. The amount of capital committed to professionally managed venture capital funds during the 1970s, funds that would be investing in tech companies, was only $50 million a year.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Ed Zschau: $50 million a year. I was asked to chair a taskforce for the American Electronics Association on capital formation to figure out what to do. I assembled a group of entrepreneurs and investors, and we concluded the single inhibitor to sufficient quantities of risk capital investment was the high rate of the capital gains tax at the federal level at that time, which was 50 percent. Looking at it, if an investor invested and lost money, they lost all the money. If they invested and made money, they gave half of it to the federal government, forgetting about what they’d have to give to the state government. We felt that lowering the tax on capital gains was essential to stimulating the environment for risk capital investment, not just for electronics companies, but all kinds of job-creating ventures. The taskforce put together a white paper and usually that’s the end of the story.
Well, we proposed the lowering the capital gains tax, but keep in mind, Tim, that this was a group of entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs don’t just talk about it. They make stuff happen. The first thing we did is we did a survey of the electronics industry and documented the importance of more risk capital investment for job creation, and for the ability of these companies to get started and grow. Then I went to Washington and testified before Congress, and there was a young congressman from Wisconsin, Bill Steiger, who was on the House Ways and Means Committee.
He became intrigued with this idea of lowering the tax on capital gains and so he introduced a bill to do so. I worked with him and the whole Electronics Association worked and lobbying the Ways and Means Committee, worked with the Senate, and by November of 1978, about a year after we’d started this process with our survey, the federal tax on capital gains was lowered from 50 percent to 28 percent. Within about 18 months, $1 billion of capital flowed into professionally managed venture capital funds compared to the $50 million a year that had been happening during the ’70s.
Anybody who studies the 1980s, that number, on an annual basis, four or five billion a year flowing into funds that were supporting new enterprises and job-creating enterprises. That experience, particularly because Bill Steiger died of a heart attack within a month after this bill was passed — he passed away in early December of 1978; the bill was passed in November of ’78 — his example inspired me for public service. He had changed the nature of the debate in Washington on tax policy from “Who pays and who doesn’t?” to “What will be the economic impact?” I felt, gosh, somebody who has built a company, somebody who’s had the experience that I had with working with Bill Steiger to get the tax rate on capital gains reduced, perhaps I had a contribution to make in public service.
Tim Ferriss: It also strikes me, and I think you may have even said this in an interview that I read in preparing for this conversation, that in a very real sense, you had an advantage in the sense that you could always go back to building companies, right, which means you weren’t necessarily dedicated to being a politician as a career indefinitely from that point forward. You had some attractive plan Bs or plan Cs if it didn’t work out. Did that enable you to think more aggressively or differently?
Ed Zschau: Well, I had a personal principle, that I was only going to stay in the House of Representatives at most three terms — six years. That gave me two advantages: one, a sense of urgency. I couldn’t just wait around and learn the ropes; I had to start making a difference as quickly as I was able. Secondly, it gave me the freedom to do what I thought was right. The worst that could happen is I get retired — or maybe it’s the best that could happen — I get retired after one term or two terms. Certainly I wasn’t going to serve more than three. As it turned out, I only served two terms in the House because as a congressman from California, I think there were at that time, 48 or 50 California members of the House of Representatives.
We were a dime a dozen. And it was very difficult for a single California congressman or congresswoman to get the message out. I felt that if I have ideas, I not only need a message, I need a megaphone. I decided that I could get a megaphone if I became a US senator from California. I ran for the US Senate; I started in ’85 for the 1986 campaign. I won the Republican nomination but I was defeated in a very close election, about a percentage point, percentage point and a half, by the three-term incumbent Alan Cranston.
Looking back, I was disappointed at the time because I felt I wasn’t as good enough candidate. I had lots of support and I’d let people down. But looking back, I dodged a bullet with that very close loss because since then I feel, through leading companies and through, at least my view, changing lives for the better, my students, over many, many years, that I may have, through not just their lives, but how they’ve changed in a positive way the lives of others, that I may have made more of a contribution to a better future than I would have as a US senator.
Tim Ferriss: I believe that. I definitely believe that. And — or I shouldn’t say ‘and’ — but at the time, you were disappointed and I would be very interested to hear, because we’ve been talking about a lot of your successes — and you’ve had a lot of successes — but at that time, when you got the news that you had lost, what did the next few days or weeks look like for you? What do you say to yourself when you experience a loss like that?
Ed Zschau: “What do I do next to make a difference?” I’d never been out of a job. When you think about it, it was from teaching to starting a company to running for Congress and now, I didn’t have a next “What am I going to do next?” I had the opportunity to join the venture capital firm that was the lead investor in my first company. I accepted that assignment as a general partner of the firm. It was Brentwood Associates [which], at that time, was a Los Angeles based venture capital firm and I established the Silicon Valley office of that firm. I think they, my partners, would agree that I wasn’t really very good at being a venture capital investor. I’m too much of an optimist. Every deal I looked at, “Gee, that’s really interesting. I can see how to make that happen.”
As a venture capitalist, you really have to be more realistic and maybe even supercritical. But also, at that time in my life, I viewed being an investor as kind of like a football coach. You walk the sidelines, you send in plays, you make substitutions, you rant and rave at halftime, but you never put any points on the board. I was still in, at that time in my life, wanting to put points on the board, meaning running a company. Not being the better in the stands, but the jockey on the horse. When I had an opportunity to become CEO of one of the companies Brentwood had helped to start, I took that opportunity in a company in the magnetic recording components business called Censtor.
Tim Ferriss: What is your decision process like for something like that? Because you mentioned, with the venture capital general partner position, perhaps you are too optimistic; everything sounded interesting. But when you make a decision to, say, become the CEO of a startup in the portfolio, you’re saying no to other things, presumably. What was the decision process like in evaluating that and saying yes to it?
Ed Zschau: Well, it’s again, commitment. I mean, I was part of a firm, general partner of a firm that had made a significant investment in this company. They felt that there was a need for a new CEO. When they talked to me about it, it started out as, “Well, can you go in there and help out?” beyond the board and it evolved into, “Can you go in there and run it?” I wasn’t going to say no to my partners.
Tim Ferriss: Did you, in your mind, or explicitly with them, set expectations in the way that you did for yourself with the three-term limit as a congressman? Did you go in to it saying, “I’m committing to this for x period of time and then we’ll reevaluate, or was it left totally open-ended?
Ed Zschau: It was left open-ended. The goal was success rather than how long.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Ed Zschau: I think you’re getting to an issue where I may not be like a lot of other people. I don’t do things for me. I do things for others. If you want to get down to ‘What motivates you?’ Finding something that I think is meaningful, that needs to be done, and recognizing I can help do it. It’s not about the money. That’s why I do things pro bono. My wife is not particularly thrilled with that approach, but on the other hand, I focus on ‘Where can I make a difference for the benefit of others?’ rather than ‘What’s in it for me?’
I don’t know whether that’s unusual, but it’s served me well.
Tim Ferriss: How do you differentiate between the things that will have the greatest impact for others and feeling peer pressured to commit to something, if that question makes any sense? Because it seems like people pleasing and committing to things that will help the greatest number of other people or deeply help other people are two different things. I guess I’m just wondering if there are times when you commit to say, doing certain things because the general partners to whom you’ve made a commitment ask you to do it, may not always be the same thing that will have the greatest impact. Maybe it’s not a good question.
I’m just wondering if you’ve ever run into a position where people want you to do one thing, and you could be very good at it, but you feel like your abilities are better put in a different place?
Ed Zschau: Yeah, usually the decisions that I make, about how I’m going to spend my time and my life are made by me, rather than responding to requests. When I came to offer my course here at Princeton, I hadn’t gotten a phone call saying, “Hey, Ed, would you please come and teach a High Tech Entrepreneurship course at Princeton?” Rather, in June of 1997, I asked for a meeting with the then-dean of the engineering school, James Wei. In that meeting, I proposed that the engineering school would benefit from having a rather comprehensive program in entrepreneurship. It just made perfect sense to me that engineers innovate, but in order to make a difference in the world, that innovation has to then become real and commercialized, and often in a startup venture.
Exposing engineering students to that process and that opportunity seemed to make sense. That was the origin of the first offering of ELE 491 in the fall semester of 1997. Again, an instance where I decided that there might be some value that I could create and now entrepreneurship the Princeton way is pervasive across this campus, with many courses within a co-curricular and extracurricular programs for the benefit of student entrepreneurs. The survey that I mentioned before, out of 400 of the students that took my course — not including the many other courses that are now offered to have 160 founders of companies from that cadre — it would suggest to me that out of the total of 1,600, that there may be 3–400, founders. And still I’m touched when I get emails from students I may have had a dozen years ago, saying, “Ed, you planted the seed 12 years ago, and it’s finally sprouting. I’ve just founded my first company. It took me this long, but you gave me the confidence to do it.
Tim Ferriss: How have you thought about parenting, and your own kids? Because you’re so deliberate in how you teach, and you’ve prepared so extensively, not just for the courses but for each individual class. How have you thought about parenting? Or how would you describe your parenting style?
Ed Zschau: It’s almost the same. That it’s just that the students start a lot younger. I believe that the best way to help people find their way — nurture them — is through encouragement rather than direction. When our children were young, and we have three children, I coached 13 soccer teams. All three of them played soccer at one time or another. I was a Cub Scout leader and a Boy Scout leader. We’re really proud of the way our kids turned up. We were lucky. They were growing up in a good place at a good time. Probably not a lot of the challenges that all parents face today, with the world more complicated, with communications technology more advanced. But loving them, caring, and letting them know that you love them and you care is kind of the secret of parenting.
Tim Ferriss: Could you speak to the encouragement rather than direction a bit more? Does that mean that you’re exposing them to a lot and whatever they gravitate towards naturally is what you then try to foster? What does that mean when you say encouragement instead of direction?
Ed Zschau: Well, they’ve got to live their lives. You can’t live their lives. I think I benefited a lot from my own parents. They were proud of me whether I did well or not. I learned when I was maybe five, six, seven years old how to build radios and build motors in a basement workshop from my father who had a degree in electrical engineering. Sadly, during the Depression, he lost his engineering job and got into an assignment that really didn’t have anything to do with engineering, but he stayed in it in order to provide for his family.
One thing that I remember from my parents. I was, as we talked about earlier, a competitive figure skater, and sometimes I didn’t do well in a competition. I may have fallen, I may have not done a school figure very well, not up to my ability. They never criticized me in those situations. They never put pressure on me. They were always supportive and proud regardless of how well I did relative to what I could have done.
Tim Ferriss: What might they say, let’s just say on the car ride back after you’ve had — for you — a disappointing performance? What are the types of things they might say to you?
Ed Zschau: Great job. Great job. Having been a soccer coach, I know that not all parents act that way.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Ed Zschau: Sometimes parents are the problem, the players are just fine. Parents are a problem. Both of my parents weren’t raised by their parents. My mother was raised by her grandmother. My father was raised by his mother’s sister. His mother died when he was about 12 years old. His father was in the German newspaper business in Montana. He and his sister grew up in Omaha raised by his deceased mother’s sister. I think as a result of their not having parents, they wanted to be the best parents. We never had a whole lot of money, but my sister had ballet lessons and she was an exquisite ballerina. I had piano lessons and figure skating lessons.
They just wanted to be the best parents ever. I think they felt blessed to have two children who wanted to succeed. We both studied hard, we were both good students, we went to college, we did other things besides that, and we both wanted our parents to be proud.
Tim Ferriss: Where do you think that desire came from? Was it watching their example and the, perhaps the diligence with which your father showed you how to disassemble and reassemble these radios? Where did the desire to please them come from if what you most received was continuous positive feedback?
Ed Zschau: I’m not sure the focus of my life was to please them.
Tim Ferriss: Right, or for them to be proud.
Ed Zschau: But I’ve had from the time I was in grade school, maybe even in kindergarten, or first grade, an overarching goal. And that is to live a life that matters. To make a lasting, positive difference in the world — I call it leaving footprints. That’s what drives me. Some people might say, “Well, my overarching goal is to be the richest person around,” or “My overarching goal is to have a whole lot of adulation and be a celebrity.” My goal, maybe even in a quiet way, is to leave footprints on the world.
Tim Ferriss: Have there ever been times in your life where you felt like you’ve wandered, or been pushed away from that, and then have corrected the course?
Ed Zschau: I don’t recall. I don’t recall. I’ve always marched to my own drum.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Ed Zschau: That’s another thing. Maybe this is important for your audience. I always wanted to be different. There are people, particularly with social media these days, that want to be accepted, that want to be like others. If someone has a new kind of shoe or shirt, others want to have the same thing. I’ve always had a desire to be different from others, and maybe that enables me not only to venture where others may not venture, but also to be satisfied doing something that nobody else is doing.
Tim Ferriss: Are there any books that have had a particularly large impact on your life, or that you’ve given the most to other people or recommended?
Ed Zschau: Well, The 4-Hour Workweek! Or The 4-Hour Body!
Tim Ferriss: I’ve heard they’re fine books, I’ve heard they’re…
Ed Zschau: Those are very fine books, and everyone should read them.
Tim Ferriss: Besides those, of course, on the top shelf, are there any books that come to mind that have impacted you strongly or that you’ve recommended to students or other people?
Ed Zschau: When I was little — talking about little, like, six, eight, 10 years old — there was a whole series of biographies written for children my age, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, and I would read those books over and over, because their lives and what they accomplished were what I hope to do. It was that set of experiences. There was a book on the Wright brothers. These were written for somebody my age now. You can read Walter Isaacson’s book on Benjamin Franklin or on Steve Jobs, or Walter Isaacson’s book on Einstein. But it’s the same thing.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Or David McCullough’s on the Wright brothers.
Ed Zschau: Yes. A fabulous book.
Tim Ferriss: Do you still read biographies?
Ed Zschau: That’s kind of all I care about. It’s their stories, the stories that are inspirational. It gets back to what we were talking about before with the case method. Where, when I’m reading a biography, just like I’m hoping the students when they read a case that they think of themselves in that situation, and “What would I do?” And reading biographies, well, there is the wonderful McCollough book on the Wright brothers. Amazing lessons of they didn’t just go out, build a plane, and fly it. A lot of setbacks and disappointments and struggles in order to do what they did. The same with all of those. It gets to what we were talking about before: the preparation, the commitment to excellence. It doesn’t happen overnight.
People who achieve great things, even though it may look like it happened quickly and easily and everybody can do it, most of those stories have a lot of sacrifice, and difficulty, and disappointments, and setbacks in them.
Tim Ferriss: For entrepreneurs, whether students in your classes or people listening, are there any particular biographies or books that you would recommend in particular? Any standouts or just particular figures?
Ed Zschau: Well, again, don’t buy the books because they have lessons in them; buy the books because they have stories in them. There are a bunch of them. My colleague at Princeton, Derek Lidow, has written a couple of books, and his most recent is [Building] on Bedrock. A lot of the book is about Walmart, and Sam Walton, and how it started. And he went to the Walmart archives, and based his stories about Walmart on those facts, but it’s filled with stories about companies that were built by people on solid foundations built on bedrock.
Tim Ferriss: The stories are so important, I think for many reasons of course, but also because it’s really the glue that we as humans are programmed to use to remember any of the lessons that might come out of those stories. That’s something that struck me when a few months ago, I was invited to go to Bentonville, Arkansas, and interview Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart, for this podcast. But it’s my first time in Northwest Arkansas, my first time in Bentonville, and I went to the — I was able to see Sam Walton’s pickup truck and the keys and the stories are what stick. It was a fascinating, fascinating experience. What are you most excited about these days? I mean, you seem to be moving as quickly, doing as many things as ever. You certainly don’t strike me as someone who’s ever idle. What are you personally most excited about these days?
Ed Zschau: Well, I’m focusing now on education. My years of teaching are just part of it. You look at higher education today, very expensive. Lot of students with debt may not be prepared for first jobs, may not be prepared for a lifetime of contributions. Just in the last couple of weeks, I volunteered to be the interim president of a wonderful small college, Sierra Nevada College, located in Incline Village, Nevada, right on the shores of Lake Tahoe in the midst of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is a college that has a dedicated faculty with real-life experience in the areas they teach. They’re not just teachers; they’ve done what they teach.
It is a college in which entrepreneurship is pervasive. It has some real, focused capabilities in environmental science right there on the shores of Lake Tahoe. “Keep Tahoe Blue.” Environmental science is critical in that area. What a wonderful place to learn about that. It has a strong entrepreneurial-based business program at the undergraduate level. Then it has a marvelous fine arts and creative writing program. You don’t go there to major in neuroscience, you don’t go there to major in philosophy. If you want to go to a small college with small classes with dedicated teachers, to be an entrepreneurial leader, both in your first job and for a lifetime of contributions and establishing and building enterprises, or being a leading environmental scientist with entrepreneurial approaches to that scientific work. Or you if you want to be a writer.
You know, Tim, better than anybody, writers aren’t just writers, they’re entrepreneurs, creating content but then getting their content read. Podcasting, that’s a way of communicating with people. I have friends who are photographers. They became photographers; they [weren’t] born photographers, but they became photographers. But they’re entrepreneurs. Here’s a small college that I’ve volunteered to lead until a successor with entrepreneurial leadership capabilities is identified and takes office and continue to promote this higher education approach. One of the challenges these days, as I just mentioned, was: how do we do this less expensively?
I believe that there are ways in which education can use technology to reduce the costs. I’m not advocating — well, there will never be any more classrooms. But a combination of that classroom experience with online learning can reduce the costs of providing a top-rated educational institution. I’m also attracted to income-sharing agreements, perhaps your audience is not familiar with them. Rather than taking out student loans, there are sources of financing where the student signs an agreement to repay based on their income, and above certain levels. If they never make that much, they don’t repay, but if they make more than that threshold level, then they pay and may pay more than the amount of the debt.
But having students graduating with huge amounts of debt reduces their choices. You asked me earlier, “Well, how do you choose what you want to do?” Well, I want to change the world, I want to do things that will benefit others. Well, if you have a lot of debt, you may not be able to make those choices that are in that direction, you have to focus first on, “Well, how do I make enough money to pay off my debt?” And I don’t know whether any of the people who are listening to this podcast are thinking about enrolling in a unique educational institution, but we do have a few openings left for entering freshmen even this fall and late August. If there are people who are interested in coming to get a uniquely valuable educational experience in a beautiful setting, look up sierranevada.edu.
Tim Ferriss: I’ll link to that in the show notes for everyone as well. You’ll be able to find those links really easily. The income sharing is very, very interesting to me. I don’t have much exposure to it, but there are some programming schools, for instance, I believe one is called Lambda School, which has this exact model and has proven very, very successful. It also puts a very productive onus on the educators to really think through the practicalities of what they’re teaching and how effective they are. How effectively they’re imparting these skills to their students. Ed, do you have any particular quotes or mantras anything that you live your life by or remind yourself of often? Are there any particular… I mean you mentioned, say one earlier, if you’re failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail? Do you have any other quotes that have really stuck with you?
Ed Zschau: Do what you enjoy doing, do it the best you know how, good things will happen.
Tim Ferriss: I love it.
Ed Zschau: But I may be unusual. Well, I don’t know whether I’m this unusual. I like to get out of my comfort zone. Do things I haven’t done before. I believe that doing so enables me to learn, but the more I learn, the more I’m able to contribute to others. Doing the same thing and being able to be the best at that, that’s laudable, but my mother had a problem with me when she was alive. I started out with this teaching, I mentioned how I got into it at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. After I’d done that for a while, I said, “Mom, I’m going to start a company.” She said, “Buzzy,” that was my nickname; my sister still calls me Buzzy and my high school friends call me Buzzy. “Buzzy, you are just getting good at teaching and now you’re going to start a company. You don’t know anything about that.”
Then the company did okay. We took it public. I said, “Mother, I’m going to run for Congress.” “Buzzy, you are just getting good at running a company. You don’t know anything about politics.” She lived long enough so that she saw me sworn in to the US House of Representatives in January of 1983, and then she passed away that April.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. How did she respond to seeing you sworn in?
Ed Zschau: Well she didn’t express her emotions and her feelings a lot. But I believe she was proud.
Tim Ferriss: I’m sure she was. How could she not be? Yeah. You have an incredible tradition that I think is so suiting to you, and it’s so memorable for so many of your students, and it has to do with singing. It seems like there have been a few different versions of this. Where did the singing enter the picture with your teaching?
Ed Zschau: Well, it started way before that.
Tim Ferriss: It started way before that?
Ed Zschau: Oh, yeah. When I was probably in grade school, I would write poems about things like, “The busy bee is lively; all he does is buzz. But yesterday he stung me, and now he is a was.”
Tim Ferriss: Is that something you wrote?
Ed Zschau: Hell, yeah, going way back. And then I started composing, or using music that already existed. Then, when I was first teaching at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, there was a tradition there where in the spring or in May, they held a joint faculty-student event called the Spring Fling. The faculty would prepare a skit. It had perhaps acting, it had perhaps some songs. I became the writer for the faculty skits. Then there were student skits as well. My most famous song, I wrote many for those skits about various courses well, primarily about courses. But then I’d also write the words, and we had a take-off on Batman and Robin, we had a Mission Impossible skit, where I’d write the songs and the music. And even after I left the faculty as a teacher and I’d started my company, they kept me on the Stanford Business School faculty from the time I left, which was 1970 to 1981, so I could continue to be the writer of the faculty skit.
Well the most famous song I wrote was about the linear programming algorithm. It was called the simplex method, where poor students in 1966, when I was teaching the quantitative methods course, had to learn how to do this. Linear programming was abbreviated LP — linear programming. I wrote a song about the algorithm that was mathematically correct, that if you listened to the words, you could do the simplex algorithm to achieve an optimal solution to a linear programming problem — but I wrote it in the form of a dance. It went something like this: “Come on gang, now gather round, see what your math prof’s putting down, get in close and listen to me, I’m going to show you how to do the LP. It’s a new dance, but it’s easily done. In fact, you learned it in 261. Just to make sure that you can do it, listen close, while I review it. Do the LP, come on baby, do the LP with me. We’re going to pivot, step, day and night, and optimize it out of sight.”
Then it went through a series of verses with details of the simplex algorithm, “First of all, form a big strong line. Ah, that’s it! You’re looking fine. Find behind that line, form one more, come on everybody get out on the floor. Keep forming lines one after one, when you’re out of cats, then you’re done. Now you see how I get my kicks. I’ve got y’all in a big matrix. Do the LP, come on baby, do the LP with me. We’re going to pivot, step, day and night, and optimize it out of sight!”
Tim Ferriss: Incredible. So you use stories; you use music. I feel like these are communication skills that transcend the era in which you were born. I mean, you could have gone back 1,000 years and use these. You could probably go forward 1,000 years and use these. Your students remember these things; they really remember these things. I’d love for you to talk about another song that I certainly was exposed to and that is “My Way” and why you chose that song.
Ed Zschau: Well, again, I was teaching at Harvard Business School in 1996, a course called Entrepreneurial Finance. For the last class of the course, I wanted to end with a number of stories, and share with students my philosophies, and it was a captive audience; attendance was mandatory. I thought, “What would be an appropriate message to convey?” That message, we’ve talked about it earlier, parenting, teaching. The message is: Just do it your way. Then I thought of the song “My Way” and I put some words to that song. “This course’s end is here. But I have in this final session a thought for your career, it is a most important lesson. As you go down life’s path, whether slow or in a hurry, recall the Nike ad: Just do it your way.”
Tim Ferriss: It brings back the memories! And it not only brings back the memories, but it just refreshes the mark that you had on me and continue to have. I really just want to thank you, Ed, for doing things your way. It’s really had such an incredible impact on so many people. I’m not going to mention him by name, but he’s a mutual friend of ours; you introduced us because we were both students of yours. He’s a very, very, very successful entrepreneur. We were going back and forth, emailing in preparation for this interview with you, and he, in closing, says, “Please give my best to Ed. Any success I’ve had in business was due to him.” That is an incredible sentence. It’s incredible also because he is not the only student who would write that.
I’ve met students of yours from China, I’ve met students of yours from countries around the world who have some version of that sentiment, and it’s so incredible, and it’s been such a privilege and such a great stroke of luck that I ended up in your class. I just want to say that to you. Because it’s had such a significant impact on the trajectory of my life. Certainly for me, that’s a big deal. That’s a really, really big deal, so I just wanted to thank you.
Ed Zschau: Thank you, Tim. And now why I do what I do. I concluded a long time ago: I’m not going to be able to change the world alone. I said, “My goal in life is to live a life that matters.” I call it leaving footprints, but I can better achieve my goal leaving footprints with your feet, so that’s why I do what I do.
Tim Ferriss: Well Ed, I hope this is certainly — I mean, I can’t wait to have dinner. We’re going to have dinner after this and continue to catch up. I can’t wait to see what you do next. I’m so happy to have a chance to spend time together today. This has been a real pleasure for me to do this.
Ed Zschau: Well, I’m proud of you, Tim, and I’m proud of so many people who you refer to, who have taken my course, they’ve taken many other courses, they’ve had other experiences, but they go out and do great stuff. Deep down, I say to myself, “Well, I’m really glad I lost that Senate race.”
Tim Ferriss: Me too.
Ed Zschau: Because otherwise, I may not have been able to do what I’ve been doing.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, this sounds strange to say but I’m also glad, I’m really glad for my sake and for the sake of many people that you lost that Senate race, and you’ve just done so much good, and you’re going to continue to do so much good. It’s really inspiring. I think this is a great place to wrap up. Is there anything else you would like to say or close with? Anything you’d like to recommend to people? Anything at all that you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Ed Zschau: Well I’ve told you my story, and with some detail based on Tim’s questions, but the most important thing for you to do — you, speaking to the audience — is to do it your way. Don’t just follow what is recommended, don’t just pursue what others are pursuing, but do what you enjoy doing. Do it the best you know how. Good things will happen. If you’re thinking more about doing something different than you’re currently doing, it’s time for a change.
Tim Ferriss: I could not imagine a better place to close. Ed, to be continued. We’re going to go grab some food and continue the conversation, but thank you so much for taking the time to do this.
Ed Zschau: Oh, this is a real treat, Tim. I noticed that there’s a blackboard that’s dirty and erasers that need cleaning.
Tim Ferriss: There is —
Ed Zschau: So get to it!
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, there’s literally a whiteboard right behind me, so I’m going to get back to my other task of cleaning up for Ed, and to be continued. To everybody listening, I will include everything we’ve talked about in the show notes, which you can find, as always, at tim.blog/podcast, and I hope you enjoyed this even half as much as I did, and thank you so much for tuning in.
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.
Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)