Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Guy Raz (@guyraz), the Michael Phelps of podcasting. Guy is the creator and host of the popular podcasts How I Built This, Wisdom from the Top, and The Rewind and the co-creator of the acclaimed podcasts TED Radio Hour and Wow in the World, a children’s program. He’s received the Edward R. Murrow Award, the Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize, the National Headliner Award, the NABJ Award… basically, all the awards.
His brand-new book is titled How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs. Past podcast guest Adam Grant has this to say about it: “[This book is] the mother of all entrepreneurship memoirs. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to start a business, grow a business, or be inspired by those who do.”
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Guy, Welcome to the show.
Guy Raz: Thanks so much for having me.
Tim Ferriss: I have so many questions, so many questions for you. I’ve been really looking forward to this. I thought I would start with a very important question, and that is, are you willing to come to this interview and surrender?
Guy Raz: A hundred percent, yes. I’m surrendered. Yes.
Tim Ferriss: That might seem to my long-term listeners an odd place for me to start, but as I understand it, you frequently asked your guests that question. It seems like you are a master of creating safe spaces. I’ve read you describe How I Built This as not a show about business, but in a sense a show about vulnerability. So what are some of the things that you’ve found helpful, the things that you do to help put interviewees at ease?
Guy Raz: I think the first thing I do, Tim, is I have a conversation with everybody before they come on the show, months before they come on the show. The reason why I do that is because my show is not Meet the Press. We’re not interrogating politicians about public policy. It’s a show about someone’s journey. They don’t have to come on the show. It’s voluntary. We don’t want anybody to feel forced that they’re coming on the show, but I want everybody to understand how we operate.
So the first thing I do, when we reach out to somebody, is we set up a time for us to talk. I basically say to them, “Look, this is going to be really different from most of the interviews you do because, A, it’s going to be long, and, B, there’s no preconditions. I’m going to know as much about you as I can possibly know, because we will have done a really deep dive research profile on you. You have to be willing to talk about everything.” Unless it’s something that was very personal, like a divorce or something like that, that’s not really relevant. But in general, what I say is that everything’s on the table because a human story is a 360 degree story. If we’re just talking about the Facebook highlight reel of your life, it’s not going to be an honest conversation, and our audience is not going to connect to you. You will be doing yourself a disservice.
That’s really kind of how I start the process. Then when we have the conversation, several weeks later, they’ve already had that. We’ve already had that kind of interaction and encounter. So that’s kind of the first thing that I do, before I sit down with somebody.
Tim Ferriss: If we double-click on the research profile and more broadly speaking, just prep for a given episode, if you reflect back. Maybe it’s somewhat standardized. I would imagine you have some processes that have been refined to best practices over time. But what does the prep look like? How do you build a research profile? There’s so many different ways to approach this. I’d be very curious to hear you expand on that.
Guy Raz: I mean, I have been in journalism my whole life. I started out as a reporter when I was 22. Basically the job of a reporter is to become an instant expert. Reporters really are dilettantes, right? We don’t have a PhD in a very narrow subject, but good reporters learn a lot about a subject very quickly. You have to be able to do that.
When I was a reporter, I would be sent to Macedonia because there was a flare-up in a conflict, and I would have 24 hours to get there. I would rush to a bookstore and buy everything I could about Macedonia and the Balkans and start to read. It’s similar with interviewing the people who come on the show. Obviously I have a team that helps me gather all that information, but depending on who the person is, if they’ve written a book, I will have read the book. If they have been around a long time, there’s usually a lot of material. We do a really extensive background search and check on the person, for both public information and even non-public information.
It’s really designed to make sure that we can contextualize someone’s story. We want to know everything about them and everything about their business and in their lives because lives are complex. So sometimes we come across things that are not public, that maybe might be a little bit embarrassing. We’ll talk about it on the phone first and, and kind of talk through how we’re going to tackle that thing.
Tim Ferriss: Could you give an example of what non-public might be and how you find it. I assume it’s not a Dick Tracy, trenchcoat-wearing character following somebody around. Can you give an example of non-public?
Guy Raz: There was an entrepreneur who I really wanted to interview. It was a wonderful story. I had that phone call with this entrepreneur, a really interesting category brand. It was we had this call, and it was a good conversation. Then once we started to do some research, we discovered that this entrepreneur actually had spent some time in jail for securities fraud in the 1980s. Okay, this was not in any of the public profiles or articles that we read about this person.
So we called this person back up, and I’m being obviously deliberately vague. We called this person back up, and I said, “Look, we came across this story that clearly, when you were a younger person, you committed securities fraud, or were convicted of it, and spent some time in jail. You know, we were going to have to talk about this. Hopefully you can kind of address it and say I was stupid and young and greedy, or whatever it might be, but in context, I think it’ll be really interesting for people to hear about it, about your life, and about the decisions you made and what you learned from that.”
And this person said, “I will not talk about that. I refuse to discuss that.” And that’s fine. I said, “I completely respect that. When you’re ready to talk about it, let me know, and we’ll do the episode with you.” So we did not, in the end, have that person on the show.
But then you’ve got people like Steve Madden, who went to jail, the shoemaker who went to jail for two years, also for security fraud, and was really open to talk about it, what he learned about it, and how that changed his life and shaped who he is. Because, as he told me on the show, he was greedy. He got really greedy at a certain point in his life. He was in a bad place. He was high on coke. He committed fraud, went to jail for two years, but really kind of turned his life around and actually has become a prison reform activist.
So I think that I’m not looking for angels or Mother Teresas; no one is like that. I’m not like that. But I’m looking for people to put their life stories in context. So that happens sometimes, because we really do spend a lot of time diving into the stories of the people who come on the show.
By the way, I sometimes joke with people who come on the show, Tim. Which is, I say, “When I interview you, there’s a good chance I will know more about your life than you even know at that moment, because it’s so fresh in my mind.” Because people will talk about their stories, and in the process of being interviewed, they’ll sometimes say, “Well, it was 1996. It was the first time I made a sale.” I know that it happened in 1995, and I will stop them. I’ll say, “Hey, just to interrupt you, it actually happened in ’95. Can you say that?” They’ll say, “Really?”
Because we want the show — it is a single person’s narrative, and a single narrative oral history is always going to be problematic. We don’t have multiple voices. It’s not a documentary. There aren’t multiple voices who can weigh in. So we try to play the role, me and my team, we try to play the role of making sure that it is factually correct and fair to all the people whose voices are not represented in the episode.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you. That makes sense. I want to ask a question, and I’m sure there will be more, about How I Built This. I’m going to frame this maybe in an unusual way. In the reading that I’ve done, you seem to be a very self-effacing guy. So I’m going to come at this obliquely. How would your wife explain why or how How I Built This became as popular as it has become, do you think?
Guy Raz: Yeah. I mean, I’ll take a crack at it on her behalf. Probably my perspective will come into it. Here’s what I would say. I had a show called The TED Radio Hour, which is still around, it’s a terrific show. You were on it, actually. I had you on it. That was really just an amazing experience, to be able to develop that show.
I got very lucky, Tim. I rode the podcast wave very early. TED Radio Hour was launched in 2013, and podcasting really started to take off with Serial, that show Serial. Your podcast probably even saw a rise, right? All podcasts that were around saw a rise. All of a sudden, TED Radio Hour, with the combination of the TED brand, the NPR brand, and then just podcasting rising — look, I think we made a really high quality show. It’s still a terrific show. We got a big audience. We all of a sudden had millions of people listening to the show every month.
Sort of on the strength of that, How I Built This was a side project. It was never intended to be what it became, really. It was, let me put this out into the world and see if there’s interest. I should add in the caveat that — I am an entrepreneur, I’ve started businesses, but I’m not Richard Branson. I’m not Tim Ferriss —
Tim Ferriss: Thank God. The world doesn’t need two of those.
Guy Raz: No, but you are kind of a model for a lot of entrepreneurs, and I spent most of my career as a journalist. There’s entrepreneurial things you have to be and do to be a journalist, but that was what I did for most of my career.
For me, How I Built This was really an extension of what I was doing, which was telling stories. To me, the idea of a great story, like a great film, has just a clear arc, right? You probably read Joseph Campbell’s work when you were in college and know about the hero’s journey, right?
Tim Ferriss: I was just listening to the Power of Myth interview series —
Guy Raz: Oh, yes.
Tim Ferriss: With Bill Moyers over the last few weeks.
Guy Raz: Right, and how George Lucas used this to make Star Wars. And it’s an amazing concept that every story has roughly the same narrative arc, whether it’s Gilgamesh or The Odyssey or Harry Potter, and Joseph Campbell kind of codifies this.
I felt like in, with business, in brands, and in the building of something big, you can kind of trace elements of that journey. You know, there’s the abyss, the trough of sorrow, or whatever people call it, you slay the dragon, you almost die, you find a mentor, you return to the village. Bits of those archetypes are found in stories about business. So I really wanted to figure out a way to tell the hero’s journey stories.
By the way, I think you could do that with athletes. You could do that in other categories, but I just thought business would be interesting. But, like when you started your show, probably, we didn’t test market it. We didn’t do a bunch of advanced research. We just put it out there and kind of just said, “Let’s see what happens.”
I think like a lot of things that become successful, our great success was word of mouth. I mean, obviously there’s some built-in advantages, which is the show is distributed by NPR, which is a huge podcast company and platform. I think it was a combination of hearing really deep, dramatic stories and hearing them told in a cinematic way. We designed the show to be very visual, that it’s a journey. I think people just started to connect with those stories, even people who are not into business, people who just kind of needed a shot in the arm that day or that week. That’s really how it started to get popular, and here we are today. I mean, I’m not trying to sound falsely modest here, but I really was very surprised at how successful and popular it became. I really was.
Tim Ferriss: I want to add a few observations that may or may not be true, but they’re, I guess, speculation. I think the show also benefits from, in a sense, a singular focus that is well conveyed in a tightly curated format with a prescriptive title, right? It has focus in an ocean of flotsam and jetsam, in the sense that there are many podcasts, one might even say my podcast included, that can really meander all over the place.
I think that with How I Built This, people are able to ascertain immediately whether or not they are interested just by looking at the thumbnail, and that is, I think, a rarity in the world of podcasting. So I do think that there’s the — it’s not just the face of the podcast, that is the book cover, but the way that you, as you described, take a story and create something that is emotionally compelling with the touch points, the archetypes, the stages in the hero’s journey, that are immediately subconsciously recognizable and strike a chord with people who are listening. It’s so reliable.
Guy Raz: Yeah. I think people hear those stories and they think, “That’s me. I’m just like that person.”
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Guy Raz: Like Jamie Siminoff, who founded Ring. You know, he was the kid who used to take apart radios and televisions and build his own radio-controlled cars and had a Frog. Do you remember the Frog, that radio controlled car, when you were a kid?
Tim Ferriss: I do.
Guy Raz: Yeah. He was that kid who was going to the hobby shop and building his own kits. People hear these stories, or they hear Stacy Brown of Chicken Salad Chick, who started a restaurant empire of chicken salad, selling chicken salad door to door. They hear these stories, and they think, “They’re not superheroes. They’re not any different.” At a certain point in their life, nobody would take their call. Everyone will take take Stewart Butterfield’s call today, but not at the beginning. Even Howard Schultz, not at the beginning.
That’s what I’m trying to convey, and I think that’s also how people connect with this idea. By the way, the name How I Built This, originally — I actually have never talked about this. Not to keep it a secret, but no one’s asked me about it. You just reminded me of it. Originally I was going to call the show The Hustle, okay? Because I thought, in 2015, when I started working on this, that that was more propulsive. I wanted How I Built This to be kind of like the anti-NPR. You know, NPR has this reputation, this almost ASMR kind of way of sounding, right? People say, “Oh, the dulcet tones of NPR.” You know, like, “This is NPR.” There is some of that, but the reality is there’s a lot of NPR that doesn’t sound like that.
Tim Ferriss: I have to just pause for a second. If people don’t know the acronym that you referred to, Google it. We’re going to move on, but please continue.
Guy Raz: You know, it’s like, “This is NPR.” But the thing is that a lot of NPR programs don’t sound like that. You might not hear them because it might just be podcasts, like Code Switch or Planet Money, or the shows that I do. I wanted this to be almost the counter to what NPR sounds like. I wanted the theme song of the show — in fact, Ramtin Arablouei, who wrote the theme song and was my first producer, now has his own show on NPR, a wonderful show called Throughline. He was a DJ. I had met him, and I was looking for a freelance producer to help me launch this show. He knew nothing about radio, and I just loved him. He was just the nicest person I’d ever met. So anyway, he came in and did a temp gig with me, and that’s how we launched the show. Then he became my first producer.
He’s also a composer, so I said, “I want the theme song to sound like the song by Beck, called — ” I’m blanking now. I have to look it up, but it’s a song by Beck. I said, “I want this propulsive sound to inspire what you write.” So he wrote this song, and it’s like — it was really very different than the morning edition theme, right? Very kind of propulsive and almost in your face. So I thought The Hustle. You know, it’s The Hustle. I just thought it was a great title. I thought it was going to be so — I wanted that title so bad. Then we did some legal check and determined that it was not a good idea, that we would run into some challenges with other shows, this Hustle, that Hustle.
So I went back to the drawing board. I said, “All right, How I Built This.” Which actually was one of the names I thought of, but I thought it was kind of a boring name. But it turned out to be the right name because imagine if me, who is like — had this show called The Hustle. It just is so not me and so not what the show is. How I Built This was really kind of like the boring sort of, okay, we’ll do that one, but it turned out to be the right decision.
Sometimes things happen for a reason. How I Built This, simple, you know what the show is about. Although in the beginning, some people did wonder whether it was a show about like a Home Depot show, like building things. We’ve managed to overcome that.
Tim Ferriss: Literalism and the Internet are frequent bedfellows, yeah. It’s hard to avoid a little bit of that. I have an embarrassing confession to make, which is, my initial title for The 4-Hour Workweek, which one could very compellingly argue still sounds like an infomercial product you’d see at two in the morning. But the title of the book, in the book proposal that was shopped around was Lifestyle Hustling.
Guy Raz: Huh.
Tim Ferriss: Also vetoed. Also vetoed, for non-trademark reasons.
Guy Raz: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: You and we have been talking about How I Built This. You often cover pivots of different types, critical decisions that are made to change direction, in the context of an entrepreneur’s life or a company. I want to ask you about what seems to be a pivot in your own life. It seems like this happened around 2012. This is a leading question, so please feel free to rewrite the question.
I’ll read a little bit here, and this is on a site that I did not expect to have as a source, ylai.state.gov, which has a full interview with Guy Raz. It begins with this little excerpt. “News reporters by training and tradition, I think, identify problems without talking about solutions, and in general the profession frowns on solutions-based reporting.” It goes on, and then it talks about, or I should say quotes you as saying, “I think for me the real turning point was in 2012, it was an election year; there was a lot of division in the US. I was hosting a news magazine on NPR and then the year culminated with the Newtown shootings, and for me, that was it. I was done with the news at that point.” My understanding is then that’s when you really shifted into focusing on TED Radio Hour. This seems, at least based on the research, to potentially be really important, this period. Could you speak to that?
Guy Raz: I’ll talk about Newtown first, because it’s the hardest thing for me to talk about, and then I’ll come back to the other part. I’m a parent. I’ve got an 11-year-old and a nine-year-old. The day that shooting happened, I was asked to host our national live coverage. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. Now I’ve covered five wars. I’ve seen human beings dead. I saw humans die before my eyes. I never got near Newtown. I never went there. I never saw it, but it was so difficult for me. It was this intense feeling of sadness and despair. I remember reading an interview with President Obama, after he left office. He said that was actually the hardest day of his presidency. I still think about that day, and it’s hard. It’s just hard because I’ve got kids, and I just think about those parents.
That was sort of the end for me, but it was really building up for a while. I was getting tired of how news organizations do news. I’m still tired of it. I think most news organizations forever and ever thought that there was something called objectivity, and that they determined what that was. It was usually an older white man, nothing wrong with older white men, I’m just saying, that determined what objectivity was. Basically we needed to think of ourselves as robots, as automatons, who had no feelings or views or thoughts about the world. We were just there to deliver the news. If you asked most reporters, even to this day, if you ask a lot of reporters in Washington, they will say, “Look, all I do is call balls and strikes. That’s my job.”
But I never thought that that was my job. That’s not why I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to be a journalist because I, probably naively believed, and still believe, that the more knowledge people have about other people, the more people know about other people’s stories, it’s more likely that that will make that person more empathetic. I always thought if I went overseas and I lived overseas, and I was a reporter for many years, if I went overseas and told those stories about people who were living in war zones, or conflict zones, or who had no control over the process or the conflict happening around them. If I could tell those stories, then I could make a contribution to better human understanding. I was not going to do that on my own, obviously. I was not personally going to change the world, but I think many people want to do something that will have an impact on the world in a small way. For me, my small way was to be a reporter and to tell stories.
When I was the host of All Things Considered, by the time I became the host of that show in 2009, I had a hard time delivering the news in a way that needed to be delivered. Because there were just so many stories that, on the face of it, just seemed totally absurd and wrong and false. I mean, even the way news organizations covered the rise of the Tea Party, for example, as if it was this grassroots, populist, anti-government movement of people who wanted no deficits and no debt. I mean, that was nonsense. We know that today. We know that so much of that was propped up and influenced by huge multi-billionaire mega donors, to these organizations with names like Freedom Works and whatever, and they very methodically kind of organized this so-called movement, that eventually resulted in the election that we had in 2016. It’s just a small example of how we, me and my colleagues in the news media, really just bent over backwards to be so objective that you don’t call things out when they need to be called out. And I think that there are long-term consequences for doing that. So in my view, I felt like if I was going to make a difference, if I really got into this profession to make a difference in the world, it wasn’t going to be through telling the news. I had spent at that point, by the time I left in 2012, 15 years as a reporter and I didn’t feel like the world was getting any better, I felt like, especially in our country is getting more polarized. I felt like people were angry and angrier; it’s even worse today.
That was 2012 and so it was kind of a culmination of things in my mind where I thought, “I need to figure out how to do what I originally wanted to do with my life and my career but in a different way.” And that’s really what kind of led me to leap at the chance to collaborate with TED, to produce the TED Radio Hour and create that show, which is how I kind of left the news world.
Tim Ferriss: I’d love to explore some of your influences. What are the factors that have perhaps helped shape you in a way or what are the things that might indicate the — some of the convictions and principles that guide you? And I’m probably going to butcher the pronunciation of this also, but a book that popped up as one, you have read repeatedly is Homage to Catalonia. Am I getting that pronunciation right?
Guy Raz: Yes. Homage to Catalonia. Yeah. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Homage, there we go. I’m putting a faux French spin on it.
Guy Raz: Yeah, no worries!
Tim Ferriss: Homage? Am I getting this right? Well, I’m really —
Guy Raz: Yeah. There’s different pronunciations. I always say Homage to Catalonia. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Very forgiving. By George Orwell. Could you describe for people who don’t know this book, what it is and why it has made an impact on you?
Guy Raz: I mean, George Orwell is a really complicated figure. I should say. At the outset, there are writings of his that are certainly racist and antisemitic and are problematic. But by the time he died, he was sort of seen as a champion against imperialism and anti-racism and so on and so forth. Putting that to one side for a moment, George Orwell, who I think in some ways is some things about him are overrated. And I think sometimes he tends to be over-venerated in part because Chris, the late great, incredible Christopher Hitchens, wrote so much about George Orwell. And Hitchens was such an important public intellectual in the United States and really around the world. And people had so much respect and admiration for him that he really elevated George Orwell.
But George Orwell was a leftist. He was a committed leftist who went to fight in Spain with the Republicans to fight against the fascists. And the rough outline of the story is that the Republicans were basically socialists, right? Like social democrats who wanted a — who had this utopian vision for Spain that was free and fair and equitable and progressive, a light unto the world, right? But they were facing this very powerful foe in the fascists led by Franco, backed by the Nazis in the mid ’30s. And the Republicans were backed by the Communists, by the Soviet Communists.
And what happened very rapidly was a split between the Communists and the Republicans. Split is not exactly the way to describe it, but essentially Orwell got there and he discovered that there was an internecine war between these two left-wing movements which was that one left-wing movement wasn’t pure and left enough for the extreme left movement, the Communist movement. And he came there with this idealism to fight against Fascism and to unite all of these groups on the left to defeat this incredibly evil force and became so disillusioned at the cynicism that he saw on his own side. Not to make him — not to turn him into a right-winger, he was a leftist his whole life. But it was — it’s just a story about — it’s a story I think about purity and the false promises of purity and that the world is full of nuance and it’s full of contradictions.
And to me, that is what it means to be human. I mean, I admire people and respect people who have strong held views. Like do you remember George Bush used to talk about his certitude and I have a respect for George Bush as a human being, not super supportive of his politics, but I don’t believe in certitude. I actually really believe that, at least for me, that I’m open to having my views changed. I welcome that. I’m constantly interrogating how I feel about the world and the things I think about the world.
I was recently reading about Bayesian analysis, that this idea that the last thing you think that you’ve read or you know about becomes sort of in your mind it actually becomes the thing that you believe or it was the most present. Bayesian analysts are constantly interrogating what they believe to come to a fuller understanding of a subject. Epidemiologists talk about this a lot. And I love that idea. I love the idea that I can talk to somebody who may know a lot about a topic or subject or an issue and can really convince me that the way I think about it is wrong or that maybe I should rethink it. And that to me is what that book speaks to.
There’s another version of that book which I’ve recently re-read and really recommend that people read called Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler also written around that time or in 1941, I believe. And it was about the Soviet trials, the Stalinist trials of the 1930s. And you read that book and you realize that the Soviet Union really wasn’t ever very for just a very brief period of time, was it truly a socialist country in the ideals of what socialism were meant to be. It was a dictatorship. It was — I mean, there were very few differences between Stalinism, the fascism of Stalinism, and the fascism of any other fascist state. I mean, it was a police state, it was filled with terror. It was filled with paranoia. So unfortunately it gets kind of conflated with socialism, but it — you read that book and you realize that when humans pursue purity, when they pursue these ideals of purity, it can really lead to disaster.
And that’s why I love those books because as a reporter, as an interviewer, as a person, I’m always looking to have my views change. I’m always open to it. I want to learn from people. That’s why I do — it’s why you do what you do. We do this because for free we get to learn from other people and what a gift that is to know that on any given day my whole world can be blown apart and how exciting is that?
Tim Ferriss: Well let’s talk about a specific — it is exciting and I agree that the — in some way I’m not going to call it a fool’s errand, but maybe Faustian bargain is a better way to look at it. The search for pristine truth is not just sometimes, but usually leads to disaster in one form or another, right? Because it creates these incredible blind spots and freedom fighters can become tyrants very quickly when they begin to look at things in a binary sense with no flexibility.
Guy Raz: Yeah. I mean look at Cambodia.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Guy Raz: Pol Pot, right?
Tim Ferriss: Excellent, excellent example.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk about how your views have changed as it relates to your own experience of depression. You’ve been quite public about this. It seems like you related to it differently when you were younger, at least compared to perhaps how you speak about it now. Could you tell us more about your experience with depression and relating to depression?
Guy Raz: Well, first thing I would say about it, Tim, is that I know you’ve talked about it too, is that it is — it’s not for me, it doesn’t feel courageous to talk it now. Because I have — I’m in a privileged position. I have these shows and I have a platform. So I don’t think that talking about depression from my perspective is courageous. I talk about it because I want younger people and even people who aren’t younger to understand that it is not strange. It’s not — you are not broken. You’re not — there are all these things that I think people who are under experiencing depression think about and go through. And I remember feeling selfish, like, “How could you feel this way? How could you be so self absorbed?” I would say things to myself that I remembered just feeling horrible about feeling horrible and —
Tim Ferriss: Totally.
Guy Raz: And I remember when I was in my early 20s, I was sort of — I think like a lot of young people, wasn’t quite sure how to navigate my life. I think it’s much, much more acute today, even. I mean, I’m 45, I think it’s much more acute today among young people than even when we were in our 20s. When I think about it now, what I realize is that throughout our lives, most of us have a safety net, if we’re lucky enough to have that.
We have school, elementary school, and middle school, and high school, and if — and then we go on to college and there are people cheering us on and there’s always a safety net. You always know what’s going to happen the next year. You’re going to go to grade 11 or become a sophomore or junior and people are cheering you on and you’re in college and you’re doing some interesting things. You might be on the student newspaper or you might organize a club or you might have belonged to an activist group and you have an identity. People know you, “Oh, there’s Tim. He’s the social justice activist.” Or, “There’s Guy, he’s the newspaper writer.”
And then you finish and you’re expected to be an adult. You’re 22 in a lot of cases and your whole life has already, has kind of been mapped out. But then that safety net is gone. And I think when you combine that with all of the changes that are probably happening, not probably that are happening in our brains between the ages of 18 and 29, it’s a recipe for depression, anxiety. When we were in our 20s, we didn’t know as much about how the human brain develops as we do now. We now know that the human brain, the executive functions of the human brain continue to develop until our late 20s, early 30s. That the brain is not fully formed. There’s a lot sloshing around in there. And you combine that with these circumstances of entering life without a net all of a sudden, and it’s not surprising that a lot of young people experience anxiety and depression.
And in my case, it hit me like a train. I was outwardly things seemed okay. I was starting my career at NPR and just pounding the pavement and writing for the Washington City Paper and trying to get my articles published and — but inside I was a mess and I couldn’t explain it to myself, I couldn’t understand what was happening. And I couldn’t talk about it with anybody because I grew up in a house where that was — mental health was not seen as a real thing, that it was lunacy, that didn’t — there was no such thing as mental illness. I think a lot of people can relate to that. Now —
Tim Ferriss: [crosstalk].
Guy Raz: Of course we talk about it a bit more, but back then when I was growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, people who had mental health issues were seen as crazy and you just didn’t talk about it. And for me it really began to culminate in just not showing — not getting out of bed and not coming to work and calling in sick and making excuses for not going in. And my around age 24, I was in really, really bad, desperate shape. I didn’t know what to do. I felt trapped in my body and also immobilized. And I didn’t — I couldn’t talk to anybody about it because I was embarrassed also. I was really embarrassed and ashamed and just really wanted to just die. I really — I remember feeling that so acutely that it would just be so great if I didn’t wake up.
And I was very fortunate at that time to have a very important mentor who to this day is my closest friend. And she had experienced her own mental health issues. And so she came to check in on me and in my apartment in Washington DC and she knew something was wrong. And she made an appointment for me with a doctor, to go see a doctor, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, forgive me. And I began to talk to him for several sessions and spend about five years on antidepressants.
So — and now I will say this. I don’t know if the antidepressants were effective. It’s the — I hope I don’t sound like Tom Cruise, but the jury is out on whether SSRIs are actually effective. And right, this is a real legitimate debate in psychiatry. But I will say that knowing that I was actually — I think the knowledge that I was trying to regain control over myself helped a lot. And the five years that I used antidepressants helped me immensely because — whether they had — it was a prophylactic effect or not it helped. And it enabled me to kind of live a relatively normal life. And what I think has really been remarkable is for me, is that it doesn’t leave. If you’ve —
Tim Ferriss: You mean depression.
Guy Raz: It doesn’t leave.
Tim Ferriss: The dark dog. The black dog.
Guy Raz: It’s going to come back, but I find that as I’ve gotten older, it becomes immensely more manageable. And that’s the difference is that you learn to accept that it will happen, it will pop up. And as I have gotten older and have been able to reflect on it more, I’ve also learned how to manage and cope and kind of self heal. And that’s been, I think that’s really an important thing that I try and talk to younger people because I’m — I try to make myself available to interns at NPR or younger people that I come across, who are scared to talk about it or embarrassed. And I’m just like, “I’ve been there and — but I want you to know that as you get older, it will become more manageable and you will get it. It will happen again, but it’s not going to be quite as intense or quite as difficult if you start to work through it now.”
Tim Ferriss: Thank you so much for sharing. As you know, this is a subject that’s near and dear to me in a sense. And I’d love to ask you a few follow up —
Guy Raz: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: Questions. The first I suppose, actually just a comment first, which is to add to your point of management becoming easier as you get older. I’ve been reading a fair amount of the writing of Anthony de Mello, who was a — he’s since passed, but he was a Jesuit priest and also a psychotherapist. And he has a number of books, Awareness. Another is Rediscovering Life. So, fairly generic titles, but the content, some of the content I find to be very, very helpful. And one of the anecdotes that stuck with me from the latter, which is a very fast read, the beginning of Rediscovering Life is quite lukewarm, but the anecdote was a description of this enlightened being, let’s call it a monk. And the monk says, “Before enlightenment, I was depressed; after enlightenment, I’m still depressed. But the way that I relate to the depression is different. And that makes all the difference.”
And for me that really touches on the crux of things. But I want to just, because I’ve had a lot of experience with this, and you mentioned TED, I mean, that was my TED Talk was on management of this, but you said that you got off of antidepressants or you were on them for five years. How did you make the decision to come off of them and why?
Guy Raz: It wasn’t really a momentous decision. It wasn’t like a moment where I smashed a champagne bottle against the side of a ship. It was very, it was just sort of like, “I think I’m going to try this.” And I wasn’t seeing a therapist. I mean, at the time this five year period when I was on, when I was taking antidepressants, I mean, this was when I covered the Iraq war, I covered the war in Afghanistan. I became the CNN correspondent covering Palestine and Israel. I was in and out of Iraq and embedding with the military.
Tim Ferriss: Goat slaughtered in your honor. A lot happened.
Guy Raz: Yes. Right? I mean, I was constantly on the move, which I think also probably had a huge impact on my ability to cope because I was racing and racing and racing around a lot. And it was really just kind of, “Let me try this out.” And it was fine. I will say that when that ended, when I left — when I stopped being a foreign correspondent, I came back to the United States and I came back to NPR. Because I left NPR, went to CNN, and then I went back to NPR. I went right back into depression. Very quickly. I mean, it was and it was a — Sometimes more intense, sometimes less intense. And part of that was because I think I wasn’t racing around, I wasn’t hopping on planes all the time.
I was back in Washington, DC, kind of trying to figure out what I was going to do at NPR. And then I started to cover the Pentagon for a while. And it was really hard and dull and challenging for me personally. And there was a moment in that time period where it was about 2007 where I really thought, “Okay, I’m kind of done with this profession. That this is really not — I don’t really have a future here.” In part, because I really wanted to transition from being a reporter, which I wasn’t happy doing. And they didn’t think I was very good at it. I was fine. I was perfectly fine. I just, I wasn’t —
Tim Ferriss: You won a hell of a lot of awards for somebody who wasn’t very good at it.
Guy Raz: Yeah, yeah. But you know, this thing about awards, awards are nonsense. I mean, I’m being totally — I mean awards are — people who get awards are people who submit their work, right? So that’s the first thing: you’ve got to submit your work.
Tim Ferriss: That’s true.
Guy Raz: The second thing is very few awards are really awarded in a — I mean the Pulitzers have committees and some of these bigger awards have lots of committees where the people really do carefully read — most awards are kind of handed out. So yes, I have those awards and I’m — thank you for the people giving them to me, but I’m taking them with a grain of salt. So that being said, I really wanted to — I felt like I wanted to have bigger conversations like this one. I want it to be able to talk to a wide range of people and I really want it to host programs. And at the time, I was told that I was not — I did not have the right personality to be a radio host.
Tim Ferriss: How was that presented to you? What does that mean? I mean and I’m not questioning the statement. I’m just wondering how that was expressed to you. What was lacking or wrong with your personality for radio?
Guy Raz: I was too much of a military war correspondent. If you can believe that nobody who hears How I Built This today would even know that I did that. But that was how I was perceived. And I think this is very common in a lot of — for a lot of people that they work somewhere and there’s a perception that’s developed around them or about them. And it’s hard to shake that. Sometimes the only way to shake that is to leave. And in my case —
Tim Ferriss: True. Very true.
Guy Raz: That was my reputation. And I was seen as like a very serious, and an NPR host had to be like a Vaudevillian actor and I didn’t have — whatever it was, whatever the —
Tim Ferriss: Speaking in dulcet tones. You didn’t have the dulcet tones!
Guy Raz: Yeah. But I was told that I just didn’t have the right personality for that. And I don’t think that was an unfair assessment at the time. I think that — I wish that the person who told me that who was pretty important at the time would have given me a shot to prove myself. But I don’t think it was an unfair assessment based on the work I was doing. So really at that time, I began to think about what else could I do with my life? I was married, still I’m, we did not yet have a child, but we knew we wanted one. And I started to just kind of flail and look around. And that was also a very tough period.
What kind of saved me was, and what has saved me throughout my career was always trying to figure out how to regain control of the situation. And in that case, it was applying for the Nieman Fellowship. I applied for a bunch of different fellowships and I got the Nieman Fellowship. It’s a journalism fellowship at Harvard where they bring in — you go there for a year and they give you free tuition and get a stipend for housing and you can do whatever you want. And that was a transformational year. That’s really — that’s when I first was exposed to the case study method, which inspired How I Built This.
Tim Ferriss: No kidding. Yeah. I didn’t know that. How that makes perfect sense.
Guy Raz: That’s when I first, that — so I took a class at the business school and we got the case studies and I was just fascinated. “So this is how they teach business school? Through stories? This is incredible.” I mean, that planted the seed in my mind for How I Built This. I started to host shows on WBUR in Boston that year. And that really was a transformational year. So then when I finished that year, I came out of the Nieman Fellowship with a child, we had a child, he was born. My oldest son now, Henry.
Tim Ferriss: Definitely a transformational year.
Guy Raz: And I became the host of All Things Considered on the weekend. And so that really — that was a real turning point for me. But in the time before that, I really did kind of return to that dark place, trying to kind of figure out my life and trying to wrestle with the demons in my head and eventually it passed again.
Tim Ferriss: You seem to also have a very, well, a combination of prolific output and a solid, seemingly from the outside, sort of identity as the sort of heir apparent podcast king in many respects, at least in the minds of a lot of people. And I’d love to, somewhat along those lines, ask just a little bit more about the Fellowship. So the Nieman Journalism Fellowship at Harvard. Transformational year. How much of that was seeing the case studies and so on, which are fantastic, and people can, for those people listening who are interested, find I believe Harvard Business School, HBS, case studies, as well as Stanford Business School case studies online. You can, actually access some of these —
Guy Raz: Yeah, a lot of them. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Which are outstanding. How much of it was the content versus the break versus the ability to breathe with a concrete answer to what are you or what do you do? Like, “I’m a Neiman Journalism Fellow at Harvard,” versus something else? I’d love to hear you speak a little bit more about why that was so transformational.
Guy Raz: It was transformational because I had been in the news world my whole professional life. And anyone who has been in one industry or one place knows what it’s like to develop tunnel vision. You are around people who think like you in general and who have similar interests. Now, journalists are fascinating, wonderful people. I love journalists. They are some of the most interesting, funniest, smartest people around. But the news business and news organizations, especially NPR, are extremely conservative culturally, and very slow to change. Things that are radical at news organizations, in the business world, people would be like, “Why is that radical? What do you mean? That’s what we do every day. You’re telling me that’s a big deal?” Because news organizations operate with their own set of standards and guidelines and values that sometimes make a lot of sense and sometimes don’t.
And that year just tore those blinders off. All of a sudden I’m out of my environment. And I recommend this to so many people. I say, when you’re stuck in life, figure out a way to just get out for a month, or a year, or six months.
And just as a digression, I did an episode on La Colombe Coffee, right? Have you had La Colombe Coffee before?
Tim Ferriss: I have. I have.
Guy Raz: I didn’t have sort of How I Built This on these guys, and one of the co-founders, he basically was going through a depression when they were trying to form the company, Todd Carmichael, and he wanted to just drop out and leave. And his co-founder said, “Just take some time, just go.” And Todd flew to a remote island in the South Pacific with no electricity.
Tim Ferriss: In for a penny, in for a pound.
Guy Raz: Yeah. And lived there for three months. He basically did what you do what you used to do for your books, but to actually experiment on yourself, but he did this because he had to to survive. And he went out there and he lived there for three months. He fished, and he had no communication with the outside world. But it completely transformed his mind. And for me, that was kind of a much more comfortable version of that, going to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and getting to take classes at the Harvard Business School and the Law School and the College.
But it just reawakened me. And it was that plus becoming a father for the first time. And I think what that really helped me also to become, strangely enough, was less cynical. There is a natural skepticism that you develop as a journalist, which I think is important. But oftentimes that develops into cynicism.
Tim Ferriss: Definitely.
Guy Raz: Many journalists are just cynical. And I had some of that. And I needed to get away to lose that. I would never have — if I was a journalist and I heard about the Harvard Business School case studies, I would have been like, “Oh, yeah, a bunch of business people making more money,” or something. I don’t know if that’s what I would have said, but it would have been something closer to that. But getting away from that world 12, 13 years ago, and seeing it a completely different world for a year, kind of just reawakened me. It was like I was just able to chip away and then really start to push away that cynicism, just really push it away, and start to kind of — it was like I was able to relax, to dance. I mean, I say dance, but I was one of those kids in high school who would sit on the sidelines and the walls during the dances, because I thought the people who were dancing weren’t cool. Even though I wasn’t cool, I just didn’t — you know what I mean?
But that year really kind of made me see the world in a different way because I was outside of my own environment. And that was so important for me. And that’s really how I was able to see things through completely different lenses.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk about the patterns that you’ve spotted. I really am dying to ask first, though, about — I’m still envisioning this island in the middle of the ocean with no outside communication, which could be the greatest blessing of your life, or, I mean, I’m getting sort of pangs of anxiety just thinking about it. What effect did that have on this entrepreneur?
Guy Raz: On Todd? Yeah, I mean, he spent three months fishing —
Tim Ferriss: Three months is a long time.
Guy Raz: A long time, yeah, yeah. In a remote place with no electricity, no cell service. This is in the 1990s. He wrote a book, a novel, which has never been published. He says it was cathartic. He says a terrible novel, but he wrote it. He got a lot out. He wrote a lot of his head out onto paper.
Tim Ferriss: I like that.
Guy Raz: And I know you do this a lot.
Tim Ferriss: I do.
Guy Raz: I know you’re into journaling. And writing things down can be incredibly, incredibly important, especially when you’re experiencing anxiety.
And just as an aside, about six months ago — no, it was maybe nine months ago, I was going through just a lot of anxiety. I was working on this book and I had all these deadlines and live shows and I’ve got my kids show, Wowing the World and How I Built This, and I was leaving TED Radio Hour, and that transition was happening, and I just had a lot of anxiety. And I couldn’t sleep, and it was like one in the morning and my wife was up and she was like, “Look.” She grabs a journal from the side of the bed. She says, “Just start telling me what’s on your mind.” And she wrote everything down. She just bullet pointed everything. Every single thing. She did it for me.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, you dictated?
Guy Raz: I just dictated.
Tim Ferriss: Amazing. That’s a good wife you’ve got.
Guy Raz: And she said, “I’m going to close this up, okay? Now go to sleep.” And we looked at that three months later, and not a single thing on that list mattered. Not a single thing. Nothing on that list mattered. Things that just seemed insurmountable. None of them mattered. They were all irrelevant by that point.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a great intervention on her part. Did you look at it afterwards, or was it just enough catharsis to simply get it out of your head and into some recorded format?
Guy Raz: Well, at that moment in time, it was enough to get me back to sleep. But when we looked at it three months later, it was shocking. It was incredible. I was like, how is it that in our minds, we amplify things? We think that these things that are these challenges in front of our eyes, these anxieties that we have are so big. And so often they’re not. So often they pass with time or they are resolved or they’re less important than you think they are.
Tim Ferriss: This is a good point to ask you about, I think, optimism. Because as I understand it, this is a trait — maybe trait isn’t the right label, but it is a characteristic that you’ve identified as one of the meta characteristics of many successful entrepreneurs. And please feel free to fact check this and correct what I’m saying. Could you expand on that? I’m just so curious because you’ve interviewed so many mega successful entrepreneurs. How consistent is this? What type of optimism is it, if that makes any sense? And how much of it is do you think is nature versus nurture/training?
Guy Raz: Yeah, first of all, I’m a big believer in training. This is why I’m a fan of the work you do. Because you have yourself to develop expertise in a variety of things to prove that anybody can do this. Now, I do think that there are some people who are just born with more charisma. That’s a fact. Some people just have it. But I wouldn’t say most of the entrepreneurs on the show are born with that kind of charisma. And I wouldn’t even say that they are any different than the rest of us. But I do think that they were able to convince themselves that their idea was going to work.
I’ll give you an example, Tristen Walker, he founded this company called Bevel. It’s now owned by Procter and Gamble. They make razors and other products for men and women of color. And the reason why is because, particularly African American men, when they shave, oftentimes they develop razor bumps, which are painful and scarring, and really, it’s very, very challenging. And there were almost no products that served black men. And Tristen wanted to create something that was beautifully packaged, that was high quality, that was designed for men who have curly hair, so when their hair grows back out of their beards, it wouldn’t curl back into their skin. He wanted to create a razor that would solve that problem.
He could not find funding for this. He eventually found some funding, but he really couldn’t find the kind of funding that Dollar Shave Club got, or some of these other brands, Harry’s. And I asked him, I said, “Why did you, when this wasn’t working, when you weren’t able to market this properly or get the sales you wanted, how did you know to keep going? How did you have the optimism? He said, “Because I knew with my heart and soul, every single man that I have known my whole life, every Black and Brown man that I’ve known who has this problem needs it to be solved. And if I can’t do it, nobody’s going to do it. If this isn’t going to work with me, it’s not going to work with anyone, and this problem’s never going to be solved.”
He said, “So what kept me going was I knew this was a problem that had to be solved, and I was convinced of it.” And that’s what kept him going. Today the brand is owned by Procter and Gamble. It’s incredibly successful. It’s Target and Walmart and everywhere around the country, and Tristen Walker is just a phenomenal, inspiring guy.
And that’s the thing. I think that it’s not this blind optimism, but it is an unshakeable belief that the idea they have has to be put out, it has to be out in the world in some form or fashion. It has to. I mean, Jamie Siminoff with Ring, with his doorbell company, I mean, he was close to bankrupt eight years ago. His wife, they almost took out a line of credit on their house to save this business. What eventually saved him was going on Shark Tank. He got really lucky and went on Shark Tank and got this exposure. But he really believed that people would want a video doorbell. He just, in his heart and his gut, he knew it.
And so I think that it is a learned behavior. I think really believing in something is a learned behavior. I think most of the skill, most of the traits, what we call traits of entrepreneurs, are not actually traits. I think they are skills that are learned. I think some people are naturally more inclined to assimilate these ideas faster, but I think for the most part, most of us have the capacity to learn these behaviors and skills that enable us all to behave entrepreneurially.
Tim Ferriss: So I want to ask you about any of these traits that — I do these types of previews of upcoming questions quite a lot. I hope it’s not overly irritating.
Guy Raz: No, no.
Tim Ferriss: But it’s a way for me to bookmark for myself. I’m going to ask you about what traits or behaviors you have developed maybe through osmosis by doing these interviews, or that you’ve actually copy and pasted into practice for yourself from these many interviews that you’ve done with How I Built This.
I just have to say, I’ve never shared this before, but since you’ve mentioned his name twice. So Jamie and I met randomly the first time, and I ended up becoming sort of an indirect investor in Ring because we met, I want to say around 2007, early days. Because he was staying at a hotel in Palo Alto. I went to the same hotel restaurant to have a lunch meeting, and I screwed up the day. I was there on the wrong day. And we’re the only two guys sitting in this restaurant, and he’s like, “Hey, what are you doing here?” Somehow struck up a conversation. You know Jamie, he’s very proactive with introducing himself, super charming guy, really great guy. And I said, “Well, I showed up, and I showed up on the wrong day. My date isn’t here.” And he’s like, “Well, do you want to have breakfast?” And so we ended up having breakfast.
Guy Raz: Wow. Wow.
Tim Ferriss: And it just goes to show the little tiny bits of initiative add up over time, right? In the case of Jamie, he’s increasing the likelihood, I don’t remember the attribution, but what someone referred to as the surface area of luck. Just the open area upon which some serendipity can stick.
Guy Raz: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: And so we became friends and ended up doing all this stuff. At the time he had a company called Simulscribe. And he is, to your point, certainly he’s born with certain predispositions, but he has practiced, he has learned and practiced a lot of these things. So yes.
Guy Raz: Can I add a story to that?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, please. Yeah.
Guy Raz: Because he is a perfect example of this idea that you just put out there, right? Which is to increase the surface area of luck. He was at sort of the low point for his business, DoorBot, it was called DoorBot before it was Ring. A friend of his called them up and said, “Hey, I know this guy, he wants to start a social media network, he doesn’t really know a bunch about entrepreneurship, and he asked me if I know any entrepreneurs, and I know you, you’ve started a bunch of businesses. Because at that point, Jamie had started a bunch of businesses and hadn’t really started a successful business yet.
And so he calls up Jamie and says, “Hey, will you meet my friend and have lunch with him?” And Jamie’s like, “All right, fine, I’ll do it.” So the day of the lunch comes, and it’s just a horrible day for Jamie. His business is tanking, he’s feeling really low, he’s not feeling confident. He really doesn’t want to go to this lunch. He knows that this guy he’s having lunch with actually comes from a family with a lot of money, and he’s like, “Oh, why am I going and getting his advice? What advice can I give this guy?” And it’s all the way in Hollywood, and he’s got to drive from the other side of L.A.
And he gets to this lunch and he’s hearing the guy’s idea, and it’s not a great idea. It’s a sort of like social media network for Hollywood agents. And he asks Jamie for his feedback and Jamie gives him earnest, honest feedback. And the guy was like, “Oh, I really appreciate that.” And he’s like, “Oh, by the way, what are you working on?” And Jamie’s like, “Oh, it’s nothing. It’s just this — ” He’s like, “Oh, tell me.” He’s like, “Oh, well, it’s these doorbells called DoorBot. It’s like a video doorbell. And we’re trying to see if it’ll work.” And he’s like, “No way.” He’s like, “Dude, you should go on Shark Tank.”
And Jamie’s like, “Well, I’d love to go on Shark Tank, but so would 30,000 other people.” He’s like, “No, no.” He’s like, “I have a friend who’s a producer on Shark Tank.”
Tim Ferriss: Oh, man.
Guy Raz: He’s like, “Let me get you in touch with him.” That one lunch transformed Jamie’s life. It’s this idea of taking opportunities when they come, and understanding that luck really does pass all of us by, sometimes multiple times, and it’s really what we end up doing with it.
Tim Ferriss: Definitely. I love that those stories are so similar. I mean, yeah, it’s a practice. So to come back to the question I promised, are there any particular habits, practices, characteristics that you have developed or tried to develop as a result of all of these interviews that you’ve done?
Guy Raz: Yeah. I mean a lot of them. I think about change a lot. I think about pivoting a lot. And I think about interrogating what we do all of the time. I mean, this is something that Howard Schultz would do with Starbucks. Constantly interrogate what they’re doing, and really never allowing the company to become comfortable. To always kind of stay off balance a little bit. Starbucks is a good example because it’s just such a behemoth. I remember Herb Kelleher, the late Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines who, he didn’t live in Austin, but he lived not too far from you in Texas. I guess far, Texas is pretty big. But Herb Kelleher, just a wonderful man, started Southwest Airlines. And his motto was, think small, act small, and that’s how you get big.
And I wrote a chapter about this in the book, because what he was saying was essentially, don’t get comfortable. He saw the collapse of the big airlines, TWA and Aloha and a bunch of other big airlines, Pan-Am. And he said they collapsed because they got too comfortable and cocky. They were on top of the world, and so they stopped paying attention to the things that mattered, like efficiencies and innovation. And so his arguments, let’s think small, let’s act small. Well today Southwest Airlines is, what, the third biggest airline in the world, right?
And so that to me is a really inspiring way to think about what we do too. I do try to think small and act small. I don’t ever take for granted the success of our show and our listeners. In fact, after the pandemic hit, we had a moment where our audience really just briefly collapsed. Not collapsed, it dramatically dropped. And I was really concerned about that. And I —
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I think that’s true for a lot of people in podcasting.
Guy Raz: We had this really —
Tim Ferriss: True for me as well.
Guy Raz: Just a dramatic decline and it was scary. And so I started to interrogate what we were doing and whether we could do it better. And we tripled down. I mean, we launched a new offshoot show called the How I Built This resilience series, which I now do twice a week in addition to the main episode on Mondays. So I do a main episode Monday, and then Wednesday and Friday I do a live conversation with a founder talking about resilience. And miraculously, we doubled our audience. But we really worked and continue to work really hard on it.
The other thing that I’ve been really influenced around is the idea of rejection. I think that this to me is the most important skill that an entrepreneur has to develop, the ability to withstand rejection. Rejection’s really hard. It really sucks. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, Tim, when you were younger, but asking somebody out on a date was a very hard for me to do when I was younger. I would never have done it, because I was always scared of somebody saying no. I wasn’t like some of these people that I remember, they would say, “Well, you ask a hundred people out and maybe one will go out with you.” I wasn’t like that. I’ve never been good with rejection. I’ve learned to get much better with it.
And why this is important is because, when you are building anything, any idea, whether it’s in your company, if you’re intrapreneurial, or you’re trying to create something disruptive out in the world, you will always find people who will push back against it, right? There are always going to be people who will reject your idea. And it’s why I think a lot of successful entrepreneurs started out as salespeople, like Mark Cuban or Sarah Blakely. She was selling fax machines door to door. Mark Cuban was selling computer software for CompuServe. And he eventually sold to CompuServe, but he was going door to door selling software.
And over time, you get used to people saying, “No soliciting, no thank you, please leave my premises,” or hanging up the phone. And becoming resilient to that, and just knowing that you’ve got to keep grinding away. Because that is essentially what a business is about. And if you can learn that, if you can kind of expose yourself to rejection again and again and develop a thicker skin and an ability to withstand that, in my experience interviewing now deep dive interviews with more than 300 of these very influential entrepreneurs, I’ve discovered that that is really something that almost all of them have in common.
Tim Ferriss: I could not agree more. I think that the fact that that is not just a learnable, but a conditionable skill, if that makes sense, is really, really important. It’s like developing a tan or developing strength in the gym.
Guy Raz: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: There’s a progressive resistance to it. And as you get stronger, the weights will feel lighter, you can add resistance, you can go for bigger targets. And what if done really infrequently might have a large impact on you, gets to the point where it has no impact or negligible impact on your momentum, if that makes sense. It’s really, really important.
What do you think the podcast landscape or world will look like in two or three years? What do you think will change? If you had to put on your forecasting/prediction hat, what do you think is going to change? What do you think it’s going to look like?
Guy Raz: I think it’s going to be much closer to the premium television model. I think that we are going to see more and more large networks like Spotify, Amazon, Apple, et cetera platforms, I should say, creating walled gardens. They may be free walled gardens, but walled gardens where you can only hear Joe Rogan on Spotify, or you can only hear Guy Raz on Spotify, or Tim Ferriss on Amazon, whatever it might be.
I think that is inevitable. If I’d be perfectly honest, I don’t know if that’s going to be great for consumers, and I don’t know if it’s going to be great for the podcast ecosystem. Podcasting right now is a little bit like community radio in the ’70s. It’s wide open. Anybody can start one. There are a million podcasts in the English language, only a tiny top of a pinhead number of those podcasts have over 50,000 listeners a week. It’s just a teeny tiny number. And even a smaller, atomic, molecule fraction of that have a million or more listeners a week.
It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to gain that audience. I mean, the beauty of podcasting is the barrier to entry is very low. Anybody can start recording themselves and upload it to these platforms. But I think that the reality is that it is also an advertising platform, and where there’s money to be made, there are going to be all kinds of folks looking for opportunities. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
My hope is that it’s not only market-driven, because I think if podcasting is entirely market-driven, you’re going to see a lot of content that is polarizing. You’re going to see a lot of politically polarizing content and also a lot of true crime content. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I enjoy some of that stuff, but I don’t want that to be the only thing that is rising to the top.
I think that there needs to be a world in podcasting where you’ve got shows that are just magical and brilliant, but also expensive. Radiolab is an expensive show to make. Invisibilia, NPR’s program, is an expensive show to make. But they’re so beautiful and so brilliant, and so important. And so, my hope is that there will still be a world where that content can be created without the necessity to profit, necessarily.
But I do think that the industry is moving in that direction. I think what’s going to look more like HBO and Hulu and Netflix and Disney Plus and et cetera, et cetera, where you’re going to probably have to subscribe or pay to these different channels to hear your favorite programs.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. You mentioned Invisibilia and some of these incredible shows that are expensive to produce, and to second your observation or hope that it’s not just things that are projected to have market appeal that get produced in three years’ time. It’s also notoriously difficult to predict what there is or is not a market for, unless you’re just going with the lazy lay up, the copycat stuff in a given genre.
Because if we take an example like Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, it’s an amazing show, but if one were to go in prior to the success of that show and say, “You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to do super infrequent podcasts that are extremely long, in some cases multi-part, so it’ll take 12, 15 hours, about, for instance, Genghis Khan, and we think that’s going to have tremendous appeal.” It wouldn’t get bought.
Guy Raz: Nope. It would not get bought, which is unbelievable, right? You think about it, because that show’s so incredible, but if you try to pitch that today as an unknown person, it wouldn’t get bought.
Tim Ferriss: And it’s so good. I mean, it’s so good. So certainly, I really hope it doesn’t end up in a place, like you said, where the stranger, out of the box stuff doesn’t have at least a chance, a chance to prove them wrong. And so, fingers crossed, certainly, on my side, as well.
What surprised you? So you have this new book, How I Built This, easy to remember, of course. The Unexpected Paths to Success From The World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs. A few years from now, what from the book, any particular stories or lessons that we haven’t talked about, that you think are really going to still stick with you?
Guy Raz: There are a lot of them, but one that I think about a lot. I live in the Bay area, and I used to live in the Bay area, and it’s a very complex place. Because on the one hand, you have incredible weather and just beautiful nature. On the other hand, the city of San Francisco is one of the most troubling cities in the world. You’ve got just immense wealth, the highest number of billionaires in the world. And you’ve got parts of the city that look like Gotham City, where human beings are living in the most deprived conditions, unimaginable conditions.
And so, with that backdrop, I think a lot about San Francisco, and I think a lot about what the tech world has wrought. Some incredible things, right? Amazing, transformational things, but things have also been so disruptive that we haven’t fully realized how disruptive they are, in a negative way.
One of the things that struck me when I first moved here, because I moved to the Bay area two years ago from Washington, DC, was I took the ferry from Jack London Square in Oakland to San Francisco, to the ferry terminal. You get out and there’s the Salesforce Tower, I think on Market Street, you’ve got Twitter and Zynga, and all these huge tech companies. And then you’re looking down Market Street and there’s the world headquarters of Wells Fargo. And then to the right, there’s Levi Strauss Square, and then further down, there’s a Ghirardelli Square.
I remember coming to San Francisco as a kid and that was the city. It was Levi’s and Ghirardelli and Wells Fargo and the Transamerica Tower. And what’s amazing is, if you think about San Francisco and you think about those enduring names, Levi’s, Wells Fargo, Henry Wells, William Fargo, Ghirardelli, Domingo Ghirardelli. I started to look into those stories.
All of those people made their money from servicing the Gold Rush. They didn’t make their money from the Gold Rush. They all ended up in California because in one summer in 1849 or 1850, 30,000 people came to California from across the country and the world. It was an invasion of human beings searching for gold.
And as we know, almost nobody made anything. Even Sutter, I believe he ended up impoverished when he died. It was Sutter’s Mill where the gold was discovered. But the people who actually made the money were the people like Levi Strauss, who sold tents, canvas tents, and then jeans, Henry Wells and William Fargo who went to Stockton and some of these cities in central California to help deliver packages and boxes, and that was what Wells Fargo was. It was a courier service. They originally had started American Express and they came out to California.
Ghirardelli, he comes out to be a gold prospector, too, but that doesn’t work out, so he starts making chocolates and pastries, and there you go. So I’m really interested in this idea of servicing big industries. One of the people I interviewed on How I Built This, and I talk about it in the book, is Chet Pipkin. Chad Pipkin started a company called Belkin. I will bet you any amount of money that you have one of his products in your house and people listening do, they’ve got a peripheral or a cable or some Belkin thing in their house.
Okay. Some wire to plug in your iPhone. And Chet Pipkin really wanted to start a PC company in the early ’80s, but he couldn’t compete with Compaq and Texas Instruments and IBM and then all these PC clones that were coming out. He didn’t have the capital to do it. All he had was a soldering iron. And he knew because he was a young guy and he used to hang out at Radio Shack that if you bought an IBM PC and an Epson printer, you could not connect them because there were no peripherals that were sold to connect them. People initially had to have Radio Shack sell them the different plugs, and then they would have to solder them themselves.
I mean, it’s nuts. And he literally started building, creating peripherals. You buy cables and solder them and then sell them to — first, he got his first order. He sold it to Carnegie Mellon and it enabled them to connect their IBM PCs to Epson printers. Well, that became a billion dollar business today. I mean, Belkin makes all kinds of peripherals and accessories for devices and computers. So he wasn’t going for the gold mine. He was selling canvas tents and jeans to the gold rushers and today that company is still here. And you can’t say the same thing about most of those PC clones. So I’m really fascinated in looking at a big industry. Where I say that, especially when I talk to younger entrepreneurs, don’t try to replicate what Uber is doing. Try and figure out how you can service Uber. Don’t try to build the next Airbnb. Build a company that actually services things around Airbnb. That where the opportunities are.
Tim Ferriss: That is a fascinating lens to use when you think about, say Amazon and AWS, Amazon Web Services, right upon which so many businesses depend, or the invisible customer service chat companies that white label their services to these gigantic tech companies everyone would recognize.
Guy Raz: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Right? And it’s the plumbing and the infrastructure and the foundation upon which these name brand companies rely, but their names themselves, like Belkin, are not nearly as recognizable. So they’re invisible to most. That is a really great way to look at it. Do you have any plans or any fantasies of starting businesses outside of the podcast realm? Maybe you already have that I don’t know about.
Guy Raz: Yeah. I mean, obviously I’ve got a production company. I’ve got two, so one that does How I Built This and my program Wisdom from the Top and other projects around media and I’ve got another production company that makes children’s content, it’s called Tinkercast and we make Wow in the World and we’ve got a live event series when there are live events and other projects that we do. So that’s really been my main focus when it comes to businesses. They’re both small businesses, but I always say to people, a small business can be much more successful than a big business. A corner grocery store that’s profitable is doing better than Uber, which is not yet profitable. But for me, I mean, I often think about, I mean, I think like anybody listening to How I Built This, I have a million ideas of things that I would love to do.
And maybe, I mean, I love food. I’ve learned a lot about cosmetics and skincare products from How I Built This and hair care products. I’ve always made things. I’ve never, especially in the kitchen. I’ve never, I don’t buy mayonnaise. I haven’t bought yogurt in 20 years. I always make it. I make all my own nut milks, kombucha. It’s just things I love doing it. It sounds very NPR. Like, Oh, my God, this guy is an NPR person. He makes his own kombucha and almond milk.
But I love doing it. It’s like, my kids want ice cream. I make it. My mom used to be like that. She’s like, “I can make it.” Because I love doing it. And I started to get, with my wife, I started to get into making skin creams and just even during the pandemic. Because a lot of people get an eczema, a little bit of eczema will come up and my skin will be dry and we just start experimenting. And I swear to you, we have made this awesome skin cream that I’m using all the time. Are we ever going to sell it? Unlikely, but who knows? Who knows? Maybe.
Tim Ferriss: The Hustle. Skincare for every man and woman. If you were to give, and I know we’re probably at a point where we want to close this round of conversation sometime soon. So I won’t chew up much more of your time, but if you were to give, since you know TED so well, if you were to give a TED talk on something unrelated, or let me rephrase that, a TED talk on something you were not already known for, what would it be? You mentioned cooking, cast iron pots. What is the subject matter that you would pick for your TED talk if it had to be something that would surprise most people to hear you deliver?
Guy Raz: I know a lot about the Washington Nationals Baseball team. I don’t know if I’d give my TED talk about that. People would probably would be surprised to find out that I’m really interested in baseball. I love baseball. I’m a big baseball fan. So it could be about that. I could probably give a TED talk about — I mean, usually TED talks are about a big idea. Right? So I guess my big idea, I think I tend to talk about them on the show, kindness and things like that, that I always aspire to as well. That I’m giving myself advice and looking to others for advice too. Because in some ways my show and what I do is a form of therapy. It’s being able to talk to people and hear their challenges and dilemmas is very therapeutic when you talk through it with somebody.
I guess my talk would be about for me, I mean, I think it’s a hard one because I know that it doesn’t apply to everyone and I think it can be — maybe traumatic isn’t the right word, but challenging for a lot of people to hear. But it’s the one that I know a lot about and means a lot to me and it’s fatherhood. I mean, that’s the single most important part of my life. I’ve got two boys, 11 and 9. That is my identity first and foremost to me. I’m a dad. I love everything about it. I live for my time with my kids and getting to take a hike with them and getting to swim with them or jump on the trampoline or, I mean, I even sit and watch their video games and I hate video games because I just love being around them.
And they’re so interesting. And sometimes they drive me crazy too, but like my 11-year-old, this album from Juice Wrld just came out and he’s just obsessively listening to it. Because he was so sad when Juice Wrld died and he’s deconstructing the lyrics and he’s like, “Dad, it’s like he almost predicted his own death.” And I just love developing those connections. So for me, it’s been the most fulfilling part of my life. And I think that anybody who’s lucky enough to experience having a child in their life will really rediscover themselves as well. And I think that’s what my talk would be about.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve got to get started on this procreation thing. I’ve lost my hair.
Guy Raz: You’re fine.
Tim Ferriss: I mean, some things don’t age. I’ve got to get moving.
Guy Raz: I think you’re going to have plenty of opportunities. I think there’ll be lots of people who will be interested. I mean, imagine all the things you could teach a child, Tim, how to tango dance and swim across oceans and so there you go.
Tim Ferriss: And I promise people, I will not put my child in a Skinner box any more than is absolutely necessary. And Guy, I appreciate you. You’re exceptionally good at what you do, take your craft very seriously, and you keep yourself off balance in the sense of continual refinement and asking good questions, not just of your guests, but of what you’re doing. And I certainly found that to be very clear in doing the homework for this conversation.
And I’m thrilled that you have taken many of these lessons and learnings and stories from How I Built This into How I Built This, the book itself. I mean, I really find there’s a power to text, a power to storytelling through text and lest people forget, I mean, you have a lot of history and practice with storytelling through text. So I’m thrilled that you took the time to concentrate on the new book. How I Built This set totally unexpected paths to success from the world’s most inspiring entrepreneurs. I imagine that it can be found wherever books are sold during these pandemic times. And where are the best places for people to find you otherwise, you’re preferred outlets.
Guy Raz: The best way to find a book is you can go to guyraz.com and all the information is there. But to find me I’m on Instagram, I like Instagram. I’m @GuyRaz. I’m on Twitter @GuyRaz. I’m on Facebook too, but don’t love that one as much. So even though Instagram is Facebook. But yeah, I have fun on Instagram. I put personal stuff on there, my kids, but also stuff from the show and it’s a mixture so that I try to just put myself out there and yeah. So you can find me there.
Tim Ferriss: You’re doing a good job of it. I don’t know how with two kids and everything you have going on that you manage to produce as much as you do at the quality that you do. It’s mind-boggling to me. So at some point would love to have a meal or a drink and try to stare into your soul and absorb some of that stamina and focus. It’s really remarkable.
Guy Raz: You read The 4-Hour Workweek. That’s what I did. I figured it out. No, I mean, it is a little bit rich for you to be saying that because you’re insanely productive and produce insanely good stuff. So I mean, this book again, it’s like Tribe of Mentors, it’s designed to be a reference. It’s designed to be a guide. It’s designed to be the person that whispers in your ear, “You’re going to be okay. It’s going to be okay. Keep going.”
Tim Ferriss: I love that. I encourage people to check it out. We’ll have links to everything we’ve discussed in the show notes. Let me ask one more question and sometimes it’s a bad question, but I’m going to risk it. And that is if you could put anything on a billboard, metaphorically speaking, could be an image, a word, quote, something from one of the interviews you’ve done anything non-commercial an image doesn’t matter to convey something to billions of people, what might you put on that billboard?
Guy Raz: I mean, it’s the most simple thing. It’s become one of the most cliched things too, but it is so important. It’s what President Obama talked about in his outgoing address, the last address he gave before his presidency ended. And it’s two words. It’s “Be kind.” It’s “Be kind.” I mean, we are all going to be unkind multiple times in our lives in a day, but if you can make that your North star and just try and sear that into your memory or tattoo it on your arm or put it on a billboard, it’s “Be kind.” It’s going to make our world just a little bit better.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Hear, hear. Be kind. Great answer. Be kinder than you have to be. And it not only makes the world better, it makes you better and it will make you feel better. And certainly in these polarizing times where I think it’s become very fashionable and is incentivized in some way to be unkind, that is a real differentiator and a fantastic answer. So let’s close up there. Anything that you would like to add? Any closing comments, anything you’d like to say before we bring this round one to an end.
Guy Raz: I guess I really just want to say that I don’t believe entrepreneurs are any different than us. I think that we are all Clark Kents and the only difference is that they went into the phone booth and put on the cape. And I’m a big believer in entrepreneurship. I think it’s exciting. I think it gives people control over their lives. I think it is good for the economy. I think it spurs innovation. I think it allows people to live more independent lives. And we actually are not living at a time when entrepreneurship is at its height. There were more entrepreneurs in the ’70s and ’80s in America than there are today. Even though we talk about it more today, there are fewer today than there were then. And I want to see a resurgence. And you don’t have to build the next earth-shattering app or huge tech company.
It can be an HVAC company. It can be a small business. But to me, the idea of creating something that allows you to employ other people and give them work and meaning, and a good life that allows them to support other people and send people to college. That means a lot. I’m a really big believer in small businesses and entrepreneurs. And I really think that people who want to do it, the only obstacle is often the inability to think of oneself as an entrepreneur. And what I’m saying is that that shouldn’t be an obstacle because everybody has the capacity to do it.
Tim Ferriss: Indeed. And I want a second that entrepreneur, if you think about the root or even the Spanish equivalent or the related word emprender, to undertake. One who undertakes and How I Built This, I mean, it really speaks to what it seems like you provide through a lot of the work that you do in that is you’re offering the tools of self determinism. You’re the tools and the stories of those who have self authored. And I think in times of uncertainty, and certainly we are, as you mentioned baseball, I think in the first or second inning of lots of uncertainty and lots of turbulence to come in the next year or two. This is the type of collection of stories and tools and reassurances that can help people to self author. So I’m thrilled that you took the time to focus and get this out to the world. So thank you, Guy, for taking the time to have this conversation today.
Guy Raz: Thank you so much for having me, really appreciate it.
Tim Ferriss: And to everybody listening, we will have show notes for everything that was discussed. You can find links to everything at tim.blog forward slash podcast. And until next time, thanks 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.
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