Morning Routines and Strategies


“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.”
– W. H. Auden

This is a special episode of the podcast. After more than 200 conversations with the world’s top performers, you start to spot certain patterns. These are the shared habits, hacks, philosophies, and tools that are the common threads of success, happiness, health, and wealth.

These commonalities were the premise of my most recent book, The New York Times #1 bestseller Tools of Titans — a compilation of my favorite lessons, routines, and tips of many of my guests.

In this episode, I’ve gathered some of the best advice about morning routines from:



Want to hear another episode of featuring multiple guests and their best tips? In this episode, we explore meditation and mindfulness with Chase Jarvis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Harris, and Rainn Wilson (stream below or right-click here to download):

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I used them to rapid prototype the cover for The Tao of Seneca, and I’ve also had them help with display advertising and illustrations. If you want a more personalized approach, I recommend their 1-on-1 service. You get original designs from designers around the world. The best part? You provide your feedback, and then you end up with a product that you’re happy with or your money back. Click this link and get a free $99 upgrade. Give it a test run…

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

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How to Create a Perennial Bestseller


Note from the editor: The following is a guest post by Ryan Holiday. Ryan (FB/IG/TW: @RyanHoliday) is the bestselling author of six books, including The Obstacle Is the Way, Ego Is the Enemy and The Daily Stoic. His books are used by many NFL teams, including the Seahawks and Patriots, and was read by members of the Warriors on their way to NBA championship in 2017. His work has been translated into twenty-eight languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as multiplatinum musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world.

His latest book, Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts is a meditation on the ingredients required to create classic books, businesses, and art that does more than just disappear.  

Nobody sits down to make something they hope will be immediately or quickly forgotten. Elon Musk compares starting a business to “eating glass and staring into the abyss of death,” and no one would willingly do all that if they thought their efforts were going to disappear with the wind.

The vast majority of creative work, sadly, is not only forgotten, it never had a chance to be anything but forgettable. In the United States alone some 300,000 books are published on average per year. Roughly 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Since it launched in 1985, some 6,000 films have appeared at Sundance. How many of these products endured for years or decades? Not many.

But some people do figure it out. The publishing industry, the music industry, the movie industry, despite what you read in the newspapers, are successful not because of the hits that come out each week, but because of their library of content—what insiders call “perennial sellers.”

Perennial sellers are movies like the Shawshank Redemption, artists like Iron Maiden, startups like Craigslist, books like the 48 Laws of Power, (and The 4-Hour Workweek, which is 10 years old and still sells more than 100,000 copies per year in the U.S. alone). Look at Craigslist, now 20 years old, which makes annual profits of over half a billion by monetizing just 2-3 categories of listings. These are the kind of products that customers return to more than once, and recommend to others, even if they’re no longer trendy or brand new. In this way, they are often timeless and unsung moneymakers, paying like annuities to their owners. Like gold or land, they increase in value over time because they are always of value to someone, somewhere.

All my life (and career) I have been studying these kinds of perennial sellers. Not just because it’s what I do for a living as an advisor to writers, musicians and entrepreneurs, but to incorporate them in my own writing. What follows in this post are some of the lessons we can learn from the creators who have made things that last—not for months but for years. I’ve split them into two distinct buckets, how to make something that lasts and the kind of marketing required to develop a loyal audience that lasts.


The Work Is What Matters

It was the great Cyril Connolly who would tell writers that, “the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of any consequence.” This is true of anyone setting out to produce a perennial seller in any space in any era. Phil Libin, the founder of Evernote, has a quote I like to share: “People [who are] thinking about things other than making the best product never make the best product.” The legendary investor and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham explains why, “The best way to increase a startup’s growth rate is to make the product so good people recommend it to their friends.”

The point is: The first and most essential step of a perennial seller is creating something truly great. As my mentor Robert Greene put it, “It starts by wanting to create a classic.” If you’re sitting down to make something and thinking about how famous it’s going to make you, how rich you’re going to get, how fun it’s going to be, or all the people you’re going to prove wrong, you are thinking about the wrong thing.

Frank Darabont, the director and writer of The Shawshank Redemption, was offered $2.5 million to sell the rights so that Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise could be cast as the stars. He turned it down because he felt this was his “chance to do something really great” with his screenplay and the actors of his choosing. Turning down that kind of money couldn’t have been easy, but that’s the difference between what might have been a forgettable mid-level blockbuster to one of the most enduring and popular movies of all time.

Think Long Term, Don’t Chase Trends — What Doesn’t Change?

Darabont’s decision probably seemed crazy at the time. Hollywood says “We want to give you a bunch of money to put these two movie stars in your film,” and he rejects it? Why? He didn’t want to make a movie dependent on big names. He wanted to make a movie that captured the essences of Stephen King’s book, a movie that wasn’t about flash and marketing but rooted in something deeper.

Consider Amazon, now arguably the most valuable company in the world. Jeff Bezos’ dictum to his employees is not to focus on what will make the most money right now, he’s not rushing to capture every fad or opportunity. Instead, he has this surprising command: “Focus on the things that don’t change.”  

Bezos isn’t rushed, and he is thinking long term. He knows that customers will, always prefer cheap prices, fast shipping and reliable service. That’s what he is optimizing for, not what’s trendy right now. The great writer Stefan Zweig once recounted a youthful conversation with an older and wiser friend. The friend was encouraging him to travel, believing that the experience would broaden and deepen Zweig’s writing. Zweig believed he had to write right now and he needed to finish his book as quickly as possible. “Literature is a wonderful profession,” the friend explained patiently, “because haste is no part of it. Whether a really good book is finished a year earlier or a year later makes no difference.”

It doesn’t make a difference because really good stuff is timeless. It doesn’t need to be rushed.  

Who was rushed? All the people who started “businesses” right before the first dot-com bust, or apps for Myspace pages. Or Groupon clones. Or QR codes. Or gourmet cupcakes. Or published adult coloring books. Or people selling fidget spinners.

Take the Star Wars franchise. In one sense, the films were undoubtedly futuristic and took advantage of then cutting-edge special effects. But George Lucas borrowed far and wide…and new and old. He acknowledged that his initial conception of the movie was for a modern take on the Flash Gordon franchise, going as far as trying to buy the rights in order to do so. He also borrowed heavily from the 1958 Japanese movie The Hidden Fortress for the bickering relationship between R2‑D2 and C‑3PO. Yet for all these contemporary influences, Lucas’s most profound source material was the work of a then relatively obscure mythologist named Joseph Campbell and his concept of a “hero’s journey.” Despite the special effects, the story of Luke Skywalker is rooted in the same epic principles of Gilgamesh, of Homer, even the story of Jesus Christ. Lucas has referred to Campbell as “my Yoda” for the way he helped him tell “an old myth in a new way.” When you think about it, it’s those epic themes of humanity that are left when the newness of the special effects fall away. Why else would ten-year-olds—who weren’t even born when the second set of three movies were made, let alone the original trilogy—still be captivated by these films?

As Rick Rubin said on Tim’s podcast, he urges his bands not to listen to the radio while producing an album. He doesn’t want them thinking about what’s popular right now. “If you listen to the greatest music ever made, that would be a better way,” he says, “to find your own voice to matter today than listening to what’s on the radio and thinking: ‘I want to compete with this.’ It’s stepping back and looking at a bigger picture than what’s going on at the moment.” He also urges them not to constrain themselves simply to their medium for inspiration—you might be better off drawing inspiration from the world’s greatest museums than, say, finding it in the current Billboard charts.

As you are deciding what to make, it’s essential that you root it in what is timeless. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how great it is in the moment—it won’t last.

Seek Out A Blue Ocean

Creators gravitate towards competition because it seems safe. If pop punk is popular, they re-tool their band because they think that’s what labels and fans are looking for. If venture capitalists are funding VR or drones, that’s the company they start. Unfortunately, this makes it harder to break through the noise.

As famed investor Peter Thiel has said, “competition is for losers.”

An essential part of making perennial, lasting work is making sure that you’re pursuing the best of your ideas and that they are ideas that only you can have (otherwise, you’re dealing with a commodity and not a classic). Not only will this process be more creatively satisfying, it will be better for business. In 2005, business professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne described a new concept that they called Blue Ocean Strategy. Instead of battling numerous competitors in a contested “red ocean,” their studies revealed that it was far better to seek fresh, uncontested “blue” water. Can you redefine or create a category, rather than compete in one?

To tell another Rick Rubin story: In 1986, he was signed on to produce the first major label album for Slayer, then a notoriously heavy but obscure metal band. The natural impulse for many would be to help the band make something more mainstream, more accessible. But Rubin knew that would be a bad choice both artistically and commercially. Instead, he helped them create their heaviest album ever—maybe one of the heaviest albums of all time: Reign in Blood.

As he recounted later, “I didn’t want to water down. The idea of watering things down for a mainstream audience, I don’t think it applies. People want things that are really passionate. Often the best version is not for everybody. The best art divides the audience. If you put out a record and half the people who hear it absolutely love it and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it, you’ve done well. Because it is pushing that boundary.”

In the short term, this choice almost certainly cost them some radio play. But when Rubin says that the best art divides the audience, he means that it divides the audience between people who don’t like it and people who really like it. Ultimately, it was the polarizing approach that turned Reign in Blood into a metal classic—an underground album that spent eighteen weeks on the charts and has sold well over two million copies to date.

When I decided to write a modern book that relied heavily on Stoic philosophy, I knew I didn’t want it to be like other books on the subject. First off, the originals like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius are so good that they are essentially impossible to beat. It would have been suicide to compete with them. Many of the subsequent books about stoicism seemed to be content to retread what these great thinkers had said and thus only reached a small niche of hardcore philosophy fans. I decided to take a different route entirely—I would illustrate Stoic principles through historical and business stories. This has angered many fundamentalists in the academic Stoic community—but that’s OK. They weren’t who I was trying to reach anyway. By creating something fresh and new I was able to find an audience that had never considered philosophy.

In the last three years, The Obstacle is the Way has sold more than 300,000 copies and is translated in more than a dozen languages. It sold more copies in 2017 than it did in 2016, and more in 2016 than it did in 2015 and 2014. That’s what can happen when you sidestep competition and create something new—while still basing it on timeless principles and ideas.

Know Your Audience

It’s important to “scratch your own itch” as the saying does, but are you actually sure people share your itch? I know you’re not going to be satisfied selling just one copy. Whatever you’re making is not for “everyone” either—not even the Bible is for everyone.

Paul Graham of startup incubator Y Combinator, which has funded over a thousand startups including Dropbox, Airbnb, and Reddit, says that “having no specific user in mind” is one of the eighteen major mistakes that kills startups: “A surprising number of founders seem willing to assume that someone—they’re not sure exactly who—will want what they’re building. Do the founders want it? No, they’re not the target market. Who is? Teenagers. People interested in local events (that one is a perennial tar pit). Or ‘business’ users. What business users? Gas stations? Movie studios? Defense contractors?”

It pays to be specific.

Think of Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, who has an incredibly clear mission statement illustrated via one question: Will this help us be the lowest-cost airline? As he put it, “I can teach you the secret to running this airline in thirty seconds. This is it: We are THE low-cost airline. Once you understand that fact, you can make any decision about this company`s future as well as I can.” Because of this, his employees knew who their customers were and what those customers needed.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting is for soon-to-be parents. The person who sat down to write the song Happy Birthday was creating something for people at birthday parties (and created an incredibly valuable copyright in the process). When Susan Cain published her book about introversion, she had a very specific audience in mind: introverts. (Which has since sold over a million copies and launched a massive TED talk.) The Left Behind series is obviously for Christians. Its films, novels, graphic novels, video games, and albums are preaching with a very specific choir in mind.

The famous music promoter and later movie producer Jerry Weintraub (The Karate Kid and the Ocean’s series) has a good story in his memoir When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead. He once proposed renting out Yankee Stadium for a celebrity softball game with Elvis. On a day the stadium wasn’t in use, the owner of the Yankees took Weintraub out onto the field and forced him to look at all the empty seats—each one symbolizing someone who would have to be marketed to, sold, and serviced. It was a formative lesson, he said. “Whenever I am considering an idea, I picture the seats rising from second base at Yankee Stadium. Can I sell that many tickets? Half that many? Twice that many?”

What if you can identify a perennial problem and solve it? If you can create something for an audience that renews itself each year (like college grads or people turning 50)? Then you’ll have something that can last and sell by word of mouth.

The more important and perennial a problem (or, in the case of art, the more clearly it expresses some essential part of the human experience), the better chance the products that address it will be important and perennial. As Albert Brooks put it, “The subject of dying and getting old never gets old.” The filmmaker Jon Favreau, who created Swingers and Elf and directed Iron Man, has said that he aims to touch upon timeless problems and myths for specific groups of people in his work, and that all great filmmakers do as well. “The ones who get the closest to it,” he said, “last the longest.”

If You Don’t Care Enough To Market Your Work, Why Should An Audience Buy It?

Let’s stipulate that you have made something amazing. In some ways, now you have an even harder job ahead of you—because now you have to make people care. Art is a kind of a marathon where, when you cross the finish line, instead of a getting a medal placed around your neck, the volunteers roughly grab you by the shoulders and walk you over to the starting line of another marathon: marketing.

In a recent interview, the novelist Ian McEwan complained lightheartedly about what it was like to go out and market a book after spending all that time creating it: “I feel like the wretched employee of my former self. My former self, being the happily engaged novelist who now sends me, a kind of brush salesman or double glazing salesman, out on the road to hawk this book. He got all the fun writing it. I’m the poor bastard who has to go sell it.”

Fortunately, this is a learnable skill, and there is a process that greatly increases your likelihood of success. I’ve used this process with dozens of New York Times bestsellers, musicians whose work has been downloaded millions of times, and products and brands that have grossed hundreds of millions in sales.

Now, the bad news: no one “trick” will do the job. Marketing isn’t about hacks.

As renowned venture capitalist Ben Horowitz says: “There is no silver bullet. We’re going to have to use a whole lot of lead ones.”

What Do We Have To Work With?

The first thing you should do at the launch of any product is to sit down and look at your assets, and ask: What are we working with here? The first thing anyone planning a launch has to do is sit down and take inventory of everything they have at their disposal that might be used to get this product in people’s hands.

This asset assessment can also be used to make great products, and the process is similar, so let’s begin with an example. This was director Robert Rodriguez’s approach—now famous as the “Rodriguez List” approach—to making his award-winning movie El Mariachi. As he told Tim on their podcast together, “I just took stock of what I had. My friend Carlos, he’s got a ranch in Mexico. Okay, that’ll be where the bad guy is. His cousin owns a bar. The bar is where there’s going to be the first, initial shootout. It’s where all the bad guys hang out. His other cousin owns a bus line. Okay, there will be an action scene with the bus at some point, just a big action scene in the middle of the movie with a bus. He’s got a pitbull. Okay, he’s in the movie. His other friend had a turtle he found. Okay, the turtle’s in the movie because people will think we had an animal wrangler, and that will suddenly raise production value. I wrote everything around what we had, so you never had to go search, and you never had to spend anything on the movie. The movie cost, really, nothing.”

The point is: Not every launch is the same and every launch should be tailored around your specific needs. For instance, when we launched The 4-Hour Chef, Tim was looking at a tough retail situation because the book was published with Amazon. We put our heads together and thought about who we knew who could help. Matt Mason, then the CMO of Bittorrent was an old friend of mine. I connected him with Tim and bam—the first Bittorrent author bundle was born and was downloaded more than 2 million times. (Also see the “free” section below for more on this kind of approach.)

Without that brainstorming, one of the single best marketing strategies of that campaign never would have come together. So kick things off by doing a deep dive into:

  • Relationships (personal, professional, familial, or otherwise)
  • Media contacts
  • Research or information from past launches of similar products (what worked, what didn’t, what to do, what not to do.) (Ramit Sethi’s Growth Lab had an excellent post recommending that you pick a competitive product to yours and track all the places they got press, all the things they did to move units and use that to form the basis of your campaign. No need to learn by trial and error if someone has already done some of it for you.)
  • Favors you’re owed (if nobody owes you favors then you should pause your launch and go help other people. Build up debt you can call in to help promote your stuff. Adam Grant’s book Give and Take describes this well.)
  • Potential advertising budget
  • Resources or allies (“This blogger is really passionate about [insert some theme or connection related to what you’re launching].” And if you don’t know who the influencers and gatekeepers in your space are? That’s a bad sign! Don’t leap into a pool you haven’t familiarized yourself with first. Study the terrain.)

It is essential to take the time to sit down and make a list of everything you have and are willing to bring to bear on the marketing of a project.

Aside from racking your own brain, one of my favorite strategies to kick off this process is simply: ask your world. I call this the “Call to Arms”—a summons to your fans and friends to prepare for action (see Platform, later in this post). I create a quick online form and I post it on my blog as well as on my personal Facebook page and other social media accounts. In a previous era, different tools would have been used (a physical Rolodex?), just as there will doubtlessly be newer, different tools in the future. Regardless of the tools used, though, what you’re saying is the same:

“Hey, as many of you know I have been working on ______ for a long time. It’s a ______ that does ______ for ______. I could really use your help. If you’re in the media or have an audience or you have any ideas or connections or assets that might be valuable when I launch this thing, I would be eternally grateful. Just tell me who you are, what you’re willing to offer, what it might be good for, and how to be in touch.”

Eric Barker, author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree, sent a similar note to his 300,000 person email list prior to his launch. He replied to each offer to help—but there was so many he actually got temporarily blocked from his his own gmail account! Yet this process unearthed a number of podcasts, book clubs, speaking opportunities and interviews that helped the book debut on the national bestseller list. Depending on the size of your platform, the number of messages you get might range from a few dozen to a few thousand, but there will almost always be something of use in there.

Free Is One Of The Best Ways To Get Fans

How much does the thing you’re selling cost? Twenty dollars? Fifty dollars? A thousand dollars? Whatever the price, that is not the full price. In addition to the actual dollar cost, there’s also the cost of buyers’ time to consume the product—there are all the things they’re missing out on by choosing to consume your product (what economists call opportunity costs). I can’t ever get two hours of my life back if the movie isn’t good. Life is short, and we can read only so many books—by choosing one, I’m choosing explicitly to not read another. That weighs heavy on consumers.

There’s another cost that creators tend to miss too: How much does it cost for people to find your work? To read the reviews or read an article about it? How much time does it cost to download, wait for it to arrive, or set up? These costs—discovery and transaction costs—exist even when your work is free! Think of the free concerts you haven’t attended, the samples you didn’t bother to walk over and try, the products you didn’t buy even though they were 100 percent risk-free, love it or get your money back, no money down. When you think about it this way, it’s really amazing that people buy or try anything at all!

Tim has posed an interesting related question: “If TED charged for their videos from the beginning, where would they be now?” The answer is probably closer to “obscurity” than ubiquity—they’ve racked up billions and billions of views since the first videos went up. Why should our work be any different?

When we say, “Hey, check this out,” we’re really asking for a lot from people (time, attention, opportunity costs,etc.). Especially when we are first-time creators. Hugh Howey, author of the wildly popular Wool series and one of the first big creators in the self-publishing era, has said that it’s essential for debut authors to give away at least some of their material, even if only temporarily. “They’ve gotta do something to get an audience,” he’s said. “Free and cheap helps.” So does making the entire process as easy and seamless as possible. The more you reduce the cost of consumption, the more people will be likely to try your product. Which means price, distribution, and other variables are essential marketing decisions.

Why do you think Steven Pressfield gave away nearly 20,000 copies of a special edition of his book The Warrior Ethos to soldiers? Because he knew they were his target audience and he knew that if a small percentage of the millions of vets and soldiers in the US Army read his book, it would spread by word of mouth from there (first month it sold 37 copies, five months in it was selling 500 copies per month and now it sells 1,000-1,500 copies per month five years post launch.)

Sure, free is an easier strategy for some products than others. The indie musician Derek Vincent Smith aka Pretty Lights did this so often and so prolifically, it not only built him a huge audience for live shows, but also earned him a Grammy nomination. Starting with his first album in 2006, Pretty Lights has given all eight of his albums and EPs away for free on his website. “I knew I’d probably have to support myself and my music through live performance, so I wanted to get it through as many speakers as possible,” he told Fast Company.

Starting in 2008, his music was available for paid download on iTunes and Amazon, while still being free for anyone to download from his website. This gave his fans a choice of supporting him financially while still growing his audience through free downloads. By 2014, Smith was averaging, per month, 3,000 paid album downloads, 21,500 single downloads, and three million paid streams on platforms like Spotify. His album A Color Map of the Sun was nominated for a Grammy in 2014, after being downloaded free more than a hundred thousand times in its first week of release.

Of course, you don’t have to do “free” to succeed, but it’s worth considering how you would if you had to.

Find Your Champions

When the New York Times profiled me and my book The Daily Stoic, it took the book to about #1,500 on Amazon. When Tim posted a picture of the first page of The Daily Stoic on January 1st on his Instagram, it took the book to #44. Below is a chart of The Daily Stoic’s weekly book sales:

When he shared a photo of the “memento mori” coin that produced, we were seeing orders come in practically every minute for most of the day. When a real person, a real human being that many others trust says, “This is good,” it has an effect that no brand, no ad, no faceless institution can match.

Marc Ecko built his clothing brand Ecko Unltd into a billion-dollar company and a staple of streetwear and music by perfecting what he called the “swag bomb”—a perfectly tailored and targeted package to the person he was trying to impress. His first influencer was a popular New York City DJ named Kool DJ Red Alert. Marc was addicted to his weekly show, which often featured the latest and coolest trends in hip-hop. To get attention for his company, Marc would camp out in Kinko’s and fax in special drawings he made to Red Alert’s station fax machine. Then he started sending airbrushed hats and jackets and T‑shirts. He never asked for anything—he just made great work and sent it to select influencers he knew might appreciate it. Eventually, he got his first shout-out on the air, and the brand was officially born.

Marc wasn’t just sending out random stuff to random people—he knew who mattered and he knew what they liked. When Spike Lee directed the movie Malcolm X, Marc “sent him a sweatshirt with a meticulously painted portrait of Malcolm X on it.” The sweatshirt took two days of work to make—even though there was no guarantee Spike would even see it. It turned out that Spike loved the gift and sent Marc back a signed letter. Two decades later, Spike Lee and Marc Ecko are still working together.

The story of John Fante, one of my favorite writers, is a heartbreaking one. A great novelist’s career was partly ruined by Hitler—and the world was deprived of many great books. Yet there is another wrinkle in that story that gives it a somewhat happy ending. After fifty years of languishing in obscurity, Ask the Dust was discovered in the Los Angeles Public Library by the writer Charles Bukowski. Bukowski was blown away and began to rave about Fante to everyone he knew—including his editor. What ensued was a resurgence of Fante’s work. He spent his dying days finishing one last novel, and today there is a public square in downtown Los Angeles named after him—a man who was nearly forgotten by history.

I heard about Fante from another one of his champions, the writer Neil Strauss, who had called Ask the Dust his favorite novel in an interview. I picked it up because of that recommendation. In turn, I have become a champion of Fante and helped sell thousands of copies of his work to my own fans. I tell this story to illustrate the power of champions—it can bring art back from the dead.

Some networking strategies from I’ve learned from Tim that I think help with influencer relationships:

Never dismiss anyone — You never know who might help you one day with your work. Tim’s rule was to treat everyone like they could put you on the front page of The New York Times . . . because someday you might meet that person.

Play the long gameIt’s not about finding someone who can help you right this second. It’s about establishing a relationship that can one day benefit both of you.

Focus on “pre-VIPs” The people who aren’t well known but should be and will be. It’s not about who has the biggest megaphone. A great example for me was meeting Tim in early 2007 before The 4-Hour Workweek was published. He hadn’t sold millions of books then and didn’t have a huge platform. Now he does and I am writing this post.

In my experience, one of the most effective use of influencer attention is not simply in driving people to check you out, but instead as a display of social proof. A blurb on the back of a book isn’t bringing new fans to the book; it’s there to convince an interested reader, “Hey, this thing is legit.” Katz’s Deli has photos of the owner with all the celebrities who’ve eaten there—but they’re hanging inside the restaurant. It’s to reaffirm to the customers: You’re in a special place. Special people eat here. In the middle of the restaurant there’s also a sign hanging from the ceiling that reads, Where Harry Met Sally . . . Hope You Have What She Had!

Social proof sells. The perennial seller acquires it by being legit, and then comes up with interesting ways to use it to their advantage.

Fun Ways To Get Media Attention

One of my previous guest posts on Tim’s site dealt with the process of getting media so I won’t repeat it all here, but I do want to give some some high level thoughts on the subject:

  • Media is a seller’s market — It might not seem that way, but trust me, no reporter has ever complained that there are too many good stories out there. They want to write about you…if you’re interesting and cool and nice.
  • One size does not fit all — If you’re sending press releases or standardized pitches, you’ve already lost. You’re just contributing to the noise. Really study the work of the people you want to write about you. Don’t pitch people who don’t cover what you do. Build a relationship (before you ask for anything). Be a human being.
  • Focus on what’s unique and special — Remember, competition is for losers. Whatever is most special about you, lean into it with your pitch.
  • Don’t be afraid of controversy — As Elizabeth Wurtzel put it, “Either you’re controversial, or nothing at all is happening.” Not all press is good press, but most of it is.
  • Take advantage of the cycle — Almost every day Google gets press for its Google Doodles—because they celebrate a theme, or a historical event, a famous person’s birthday. If there is a big story about cybersecurity in the news and that’s what your product does, jump into the fray. My third biggest week ever for my first book Trust Me I’m Lying came 4+ years after release because I wrote an article about the violent protests in Berkeley (see: David Meerman Scott’s newsjacking.)
  • Start small — In 2015, I appeared on a small podcast to discuss The Obstacle is the Way’s impact in professional sports. That led to this piece on which led to a Sports Illustrated piece headlined: “How a book on stoicism became wildly popular at every level of the NFL.” It sold so many books the publisher ran out of stock—but that wouldn’t have happened had I pitched SI. The story had to be traded up the chain.

Now, I’ll now touch on two other things: paid media (advertising) and publicity stunts.

The most important thing to remember if you have a budget for your work: Advertising can add fuel to a fire, but rarely is it sufficient to start one. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s editor Maxwell Perkins once wrote to one of his authors the following, comparing advertising a product to a man attempting to move a car,

“If he can get it to move, the more he pushes the faster it will move and the more easily. But if he cannot get it to move, he can push till he drops dead and it will stand still.”

That’s how you should think about advertising. It’s not how you launch your product—it’s how you keep it going once it has already broken through. Ian Fleming, the commercially minded creator of the James Bond franchise, advised his publisher to advertise for his books after they’d begun to sell well, not only offering to share the costs (£60 for every £140 the publisher put in), but even submitting some of his own ad copy:

Ian Fleming has written 4 books in 4 years. They have sold over one million copies in the English language. They have been translated into a dozen languages, including Chinese and URDU. No. 5 is called FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

As for getting media attention, my strategy is this: If you want to be in the news, make news. Reporters sit around all day hoping to find good stuff, anxious to beat their (many) competitors in getting to it. In this way, the modern media is really a seller’s market. Reporters want stuff, but you have to catch their attention.

A fun example: I was working with a band called Zeds Dead and I saw an article about a woman who had worn a Fitbit while having sex. The article blew up online. So we had Zeds Dead put heart rate monitors on their fans during a show. The subsequent piece from BoingBoing, the biggest blog in the world, did great. One of the things we did when James Altucher launched Choose Yourself! was to announce that James was accepting Bitcoin payments for the book. He was one of the first authors to do it, and even though James only had about ten readers actually take him up on offer, the stunt got him on CNBC to talk about that and the book itself. This certainly moved a lot more units. But again, neither of these stunts would have mattered without a great product to back them up.

There are lots of cool stunts you can do with advertising even. Look at Tim’s decisions to buy actual billboards featuring answers to his famous podcast question: “What would you put on a billboard?” It resulted in a video that did close to 80,000 views and all sorts of social media impact. Neil Strauss bought a billboard on the Sunset Strip for his book The Truth that said, “ON BEHALF OF ALL MEN, I APOLOGIZE.” American Apparel’s controversial advertising got it all sorts of publicity, and that publicity, in turn, introduced lots of people to the brand.

If you’re interesting and provocative enough, the pitch is easy: just email reporters and tell them what you’re doing.

Keep Your Platform in Mind

After the comedian Kevin Hart experienced several disappointing career failures in a row, he was at a crossroads. The movies he’d expected to make him a star hadn’t hit; his television deal hadn’t panned out. So he did what comedians do best—he hit the road. But unlike many successful comedians, he didn’t just go to the cities where he could sell the most seats. Instead, he went everywhere—often deliberately performing in small clubs in cities where he did not have a large fan base. At each and every show, an assistant would put a business card on each seat at every table that said, “Kevin Hart needs to know who you are,” and asked for their e‑mail address. After the show, his team would collect the cards and enter the names into a spreadsheet organized by location. For four years he toured the country this way, building an enormous database of loyal fans and drawing more and more people to every subsequent show.

As his name grew, Hart began to take television gigs that he thought would allow him to grow his platform. In 2011, he hosted the MTV Music Awards and snagged, by his count, more than 250,000 Twitter followers in one swoop. Across social media and e‑mail, Hart’s fan-by-fan ground game—in his words, “years of me building and building and building and reaching out to my fans on the personal level”—built up a platform of more than fifty million people, people he can launch each of his products too.

The problem is people want to have a platform, they don’t want to build one. How many bestselling books came out in 2007? Many, but few took the time to build a blog around their book, featuring other writers no less, but it was Tim’s decision to do that that was instrumental in the book continuing to sell over time.

You’re probably familiar with Kevin Kelly’s theory of 1,000 True Fans: “A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author—in other words, anyone producing works of art—needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.”

Look at a band like Iron Maiden—they haven’t been on the radio in decades, but they built a platform of loyal fans. As Bruce Dickinson, their lead singer, would say, “we have our field and we’ve got to plough it and that’s it. What’s going on in the next field is of no interest to us; we can only plough one field at a time. We are unashamedly a niche band. Admittedly our niche is quite big.”

With one thousand true fans—people “who will purchase anything and everything you produce”—you’re more or less guaranteed a livable income provided that you continue to produce consistently great work. It’s a small empire and one that must be kept up, but an empire nonetheless.

And if I could give a prospective creative only one piece of advice, it would be this: Build a list.

Specifically, an e-mail list. It’s the most durable of platforms and it’s the most direct. Sure, that could change, but I think email (over four decades old) is a safer bet than Facebook or Twitter (just one decade old). With my book The Daily Stoic, we built a 40,000 person email list by sending out one additional free meditation every single morning. This is an incredible amount of work—basically, one additional book written per year—and I do it totally free. BUT—it helped the book spend 5 weeks on the Wall Street Journal list and without really any other marketing, the book now sells 1,000-1,200 copies per week.

Launches Matter But Keep Going Past Them

History shows that good work eventually finds its audience, but, as John Maynard Keynes so accurately expressed it, the market “can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.” If an artist starves to death before the world comes around to appreciating her genius, it doesn’t help the artist much. Launches are about getting attention sooner rather than later. Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power took a decade to start to hit bestseller lists, but with some slight shifts in his approach, we were able to get Mastery to debut at #1 on New York Times (and 4 years later it is regularly ranked sub-1000 on Amazon.)

Record labels know that the more times you hear a song, the more likely it is to be a hit. That’s why they hold tracks back until they get a threshold number of stations committed to playing it. It’s the same thing with the marketing of any product. You’re doing the work in advance so that to the public it feels like you’re suddenly everywhere.

At the same time, it’s worth remembering that Star Wars was beaten at the box office by Smokey and the Bandit. A launch is important, but we must bear in mind what Kafka’s publisher wrote to his author after poor sales: “You and we know that it is generally just the best and most valuable things that do not find their echo immediately.” In other words, it is far better to measure your campaign over a period of years, not months. If you don’t have the patience for that, at least months over weeks or days. I’ve seen this play out with my own launches. Looking at my 5 previous books, all have sold more than 90% of their total sales in the weeks AFTER launch week. For my most successful book, The Obstacle Is The Way, over 98% of sales have happened since launch week.

I remember early on I asked my agent Stephen Hanselman what separated his bestselling clients from his smaller ones. He said, “Ryan, success almost always requires an unstoppable author.” Throughout my career, I’ve seen this played out not just in books but in all products.

As I see it, not everyone who publishes a book is an author. They’re just someone who has published a book. The best way to become an author is to write more books, just as a true entrepreneur starts more than one business. The best way to become a true comedian, filmmaker, designer, or entrepreneur is to never stop, to keep going. They hustle, they keep creating. Very few of us can afford to abandoning our gift after our first attempt, convinced that our legacy is secured. Nor should we. We should prove to the world and to ourselves that we do it again…and again.

I’ll leave you with one last thought related to that and it’s from Craig Newmark. I asked him what it felt like to know that he had created something used by millions of people, something that’s still going strong after twenty years, his answer was the perfect note to end this post on: “It feels nice for a moment, then surreal, then back to work.”

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Inside the World of SuperTraining – Mark Bell


“Multiply your muscle and multiply your hustle.”
– Mark Bell

Mark Bell (@MarkSmellyBell) is the founder of Super Training Gym in Sacramento, which is often referred to as “the strongest gym in the West.” Prior to opening his own gym, he spent time studying training under the legendary Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell.

Mark is no stranger to the iron. His best “geared lifts” in competition include a 1,025-pound squat (465 kg), an 832-pound bench press (377 kg), and a 738-pound deadlift (335 kg). Mark is also the inventor of the patented Slingshot, a device used to assist in maintaining proper bench press form while also helping use more weight or perform more reps.

Mark now has an entire line of products and is spectacularly successful. In this episode, we cover a lot, including:

  • Mark’s most important lessons for building strength.
  • How to avoid injury and breakdown.
  • Lesser-known training techniques that nearly everyone overlooks.
  • How Mark became a millionaire by offering his gym memberships for free.
  • And much, much more.

We recorded this interview while touring his facility in Sacramento, looking at some crazy equipment that you can see by visiting

Please enjoy!


Want to hear another episode about fitness and strength training? Listen to this interview with Jerzy Gregorek. In this episode, we discuss flexibility, strength, muscle gain, and fat loss at any age (stream below or right-click here to download):

This podcast is brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. I have used them for years to create some amazing designs. When your business needs a logo, website design, business card, or anything you can imagine, check out 99Designs.

I used them to rapid prototype the cover for The Tao of Seneca, and I’ve also had them help with display advertising and illustrations. If you want a more personalized approach, I recommend their 1-on-1 service. You get original designs from designers around the world. The best part? You provide your feedback, and then you end up with a product that you’re happy with or your money back. Click this link and get a free $99 upgrade. Give it a test run…

This episode is also brought to you by LegalZoom. I’ve used this service for many of my businesses, as have quite a few of the icons on this podcast — such as Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg of WordPress fame.

LegalZoom is a reliable resource that more than a million people have already trusted for everything from setting up wills, proper trademark searches, forming LLCs, setting up non-profits, or finding simple cease-and-desist letter templates.

LegalZoom is not a law firm, but it does have a network of independent attorneys available in most states who can give you advice on the best way to get started, provide contract reviews, and otherwise help you run your business with complete transparency and up-front pricing. Check out and enter promo code TIM at checkout today to save 15% and see how the fine folks there can make life easier for you and your business.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

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How to Live Without Limits – Kyle Maynard


“Dreams don’t have to manifest as you imagined. They just have to set you on a path because there is always a way.”
– Kyle Maynard

Kyle Maynard (@kylemaynard) is a motivational speaker, bestselling author, entrepreneur, and ESPY award-winning mixed martial arts athlete, known for becoming the first quadruple amputee to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Aconcagua without the aid of prosthetics.

Oprah Winfrey called Kyle “one of the most inspiring young men you will ever hear about.” Arnold Schwarzenegger described him as “the real deal,” “a champion human,” and “one of the most inspiring people” he’s ever met. Even the great Wayne Gretzky has spoken of Kyle’s “greatness.”

Despite being born with a rare condition that left him with arms that end at the elbows and legs that end near his knees, he learned early on with the support of his family to live life independently and without prosthetics. Kyle thrives on physical challenges and, following a few rough middle school football seasons, he went on to become a champion wrestler, CrossFit Certified Instructor and gym owner, competitive MMA/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter, world record-setting weightlifter, and skilled mountaineer.

This episode comes from my new television show Fear{less}, where I interview world-class performers on stage about how they’ve overcome doubt, conquered fear, and made their toughest decisions. You can watch the entire first episode with illusionist David Blaine for free at (To watch all episodes, please visit DIRECTV NOW.)

We recorded three hours of material and only one hour was used for the TV show. This podcast episode is almost entirely new content that didn’t appear on TV.



Want to hear another podcast with an incredibly inspirational person? — Listen to my conversation with Nicholas McCarthy. In this episode, we discuss how to overcome limitations, proving doubters wrong, how to manage ego, and much more. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

This podcast is brought to you by WordPress, my go-to platform for 24/7-supported, zero downtime blogging, writing online, creating websites — everything! I love it to bits, and the lead developer, Matt Mullenweg, has appeared on this podcast many times.

Whether for personal use or business, you’re in good company with WordPress — used by The New Yorker, Jay-Z, FiveThirtyEight, TechCrunch, TED, CNN, and Time, just to name a few. A source at Google told me that WordPress offers “the best out-of-the-box SEO imaginable,” which is probably why it runs nearly 30% of the Internet. Go to to get 15% off your website today!

This podcast is also brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. I have used them for years to create some amazing designs. When your business needs a logo, website design, business card, or anything you can imagine, check out 99Designs.

I used them to rapid prototype the cover for The Tao of Seneca, and I’ve also had them help with display advertising and illustrations. If you want a more personalized approach, I recommend their 1-on-1 service. You get original designs from designers around the world. The best part? You provide your feedback, and then you end up with a product that you’re happy with or your money back. Click this link and get a free $99 upgrade. Give it a test run…

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

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Myers-Briggs, Diet Mistakes, and Immortality


In this episode, I’m answering your questions. I’m responding to the most upvoted questions from subscribers to 5-Bullet Friday, the newsletter I send out every week. It explores five cool things I’ve found, including apps, books, gadgets, albums, articles, new hacks/tricks, and — of course — all sorts of weird stuff I dig up around the world.

It’s free, it’s always going to be free, and if you want to check it out, you can go here:

If you’re a longtime listener to this podcast, you’ll find at least one or two actionable pieces of information here. Enjoy!


Want to hear another Q&A episode? — Listen to this episode where I answer questions drunk. We discuss tantric sex, how I view and organize my various income streams, marketing yourself in job interviews, and much, much more (stream below or right-click here to download):

This podcast is brought to you by AudibleI have used Audible for years, and I love audiobooks. I have two to recommend:

  1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  2. Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

All you need to do to get your free 30-day Audible trial is visit Choose one of the above books, or choose any of the endless options they offer. That could be a book, a newspaper, a magazine, or even a class. It’s that easy. Go to and get started today. Enjoy.

This podcast is also brought to you by Four SigmaticI reached out to these Finnish entrepreneurs after a very talented acrobat introduced me to one of their products, which blew my mind (in the best way possible). It is mushroom coffee featuring chaga. It tastes like coffee, but there are only 40 milligrams of caffeine, so it has less than half of what you would find in a regular cup of coffee. I do not get any jitters, acid reflux, or any type of stomach burn. It put me on fire for an entire day, and I only had half of the packet.

People are always asking me what I use for cognitive enhancement, and right now this is the answer. You can try it right now by going to and using the code Tim to get 20 percent off your first order. If you are in the experimental mindset, I do not think you’ll be disappointed.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

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How to Make a Difference and Find Your Purpose — Blake Mycoskie


“You can’t lose everything when what you care about are the people and the memories you have.” 
– Blake Mycoskie

This episode of the podcast features Blake Mycoskie (@blakemycoskie).

Blake is the Founder and Chief Shoe Giver of TOMS, and the person behind the One for One® business model, which helps a person in need with every product purchased.

This simple idea has grown into a global movement: TOMS Shoes has provided more than 60 million pairs of shoes to children since 2006, TOMS Eyewear has restored sight to more than 400,000 people since 2011, and TOMS Roasting Company has helped provide over 335,000 weeks of safe water since launching in 2014. In 2015, TOMS Bag Collection was founded with the mission to help provide training for skilled birth attendants and distribute birth kits containing items that help women safely deliver babies. As of 2016, TOMS has supported safe birth services for more than 25,000 mothers.

In this episode we cover:

  • Early entrepreneurial ventures
  • The power of journaling
  • How “the stool analogy” changed Blake’s life
  • Lessons from Ben Franklin
  • And much, much more…

This episode comes from my new television show Fear(less), where I interview world-class performers on stage about how they’ve overcome doubt, conquered fear, and made their toughest decisions.  You can watch the entire first episode with illusionist David Blaine for free at (To watch all episodes, please visit DIRECTV NOW).

We recorded three hours of material and only one hour was used for the TV show. This podcast episode is almost entirely new content that didn’t appear on TV.



Want to hear another podcast with a guest from Fearless? — Listen to this episode with David Blaine where we discuss illusion, taking risks, and the art of positive mindset (stream below or right-click here to download):

This episode is brought to you by InktelEver since I wrote The 4-Hour Workweek, I’ve been frequently asked about how I choose to delegate tasks. At the root of many of my decisions is a simple question: “How can I invest money to improve my quality of life?” Or, “how can I spend moderate money to save significant time?”

Inktel is one of those investments. It is a turnkey solution for all of your customer care needs. Its team answers more than one million customer service requests each year. It can also interact with your customers across all platforms, including email, phone, social media, text, and chat.

Inktel removes the logistics and headache of customer communication, allowing you to grow your business by focusing on your strengths. And as a listener of this podcast, you can get up to $10,000 off your start-up fees and costs waived by visiting That’s

This podcast is also brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. I have used them for years to create some amazing designs. When your business needs a logo, website design, business card, or anything you can imagine, check out 99Designs.

I used them to rapid prototype the cover for The Tao of Seneca, and I’ve also had them help with display advertising and illustrations. If you want a more personalized approach, I recommend their 1-on-1 service. You get original designs from designers around the world. The best part? You provide your feedback, and then you end up with a product that you’re happy with or your money back. Click this link and get a free $99 upgrade. Give it a test run…

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

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Transcript: The 10 Commandments of Startup Success with Reid Hoffman


When Reid Hoffman — who is rightly called “the Oracle of Silicon Valley” by many tech giants — returned to the podcast, I figured it would be popular, but it exploded.

Many of you have asked for the transcript of our conversation, so you can find it below. More accurately, it’s a draft script, so all words from Reid and other CEOs are accurate, but mine were modified substantially in the audio version. I added a lot of stories on the spot (maybe 20 minutes) that are likewise omitted.

The new 6-10 questions from me to Reid (e.g. “What book have you have reread the most?”) are not included below, but you can find them here.

Enjoy the notes and links!

Commandment 1

TIM FERRISS: Expect rejection. But learn from every “No.” As a founder you have to be resilient, you have to learn to weather rejection. It is a universal experience.  And this clip, from the Masters of Scale episode “Beauty of A Bad Idea” brings that to life. It also gives you a taste for the show’s sense of humor.

KATHRYN MINSHEW: I had been turned down 148 times.

REID HOFFMAN: That’s Kathryn Minshew, co-founder and CEO of The Muse, a career development website that she pitched to investors 148 times—not that she was counting.

MINSHEW: There were literally days where I had a “no” over breakfast, and “no” over a 10:30 AM coffee, a “no” over lunch. Disinterest at 2:00 pm, somebody who left a meeting early at 4:00. And then I would go to drinks and feel like I was being laughed out of the room.

And when we finally raised our seed round, I went back and counted. It was both painful and gratifying at the same time, looking at all those names, and thinking, “I remember that ‘no,’ I remember that ‘no,’ I remember that ‘no’”—and they sting; every one stings.

HOFFMAN: Today, the Muse serves users in the millions. Kathryn raised $16 million last year—and her tale is the origin story of most great startups. So if you’re hearing a chorus of “no”s, you should look for other signs that you’re onto something. I believe the best ideas often appear laughable at first glance.

FERRISS: Most entrepreneurs hear a chorus of “Nos” as they get started.  You have to expect it. And Reid says it’s actually a good thing. You don’t WANT everyone to say yes. Here’s why:

HOFFMAN: The first truth of entrepreneurship and investing is that the very big ideas are contrarian because the contrarian is part of the reason why a bunch of large companies and competitors haven’t already done it, why a bunch of other entrepreneurs haven’t already succeeded at it. And so that leaves the space for the creation of something—and to create something big, you have to have that initial space.  For example, in the early stages of Google, search was a terrible way of making money in advertising, because advertising is time-on-site. And what does search do? It shuffles you off the site as fast as you can go. That’s not a good business model. So at Airbnb it’s like, “Someone’s going to rent a couch or a room from someone else? Who are the freaks on both sides of that transaction?” So all of these things have this kind of similar quality—very smart people will tell you, there’s no there, there.

FERRISS: So it’s actually a good thing to hear a lot of “Nos.” But how do you interpret them? Reid has a great way of describing the kind of “no” you want. Apparently, you want a “squirmy” no. He explains this with help from Tristan Walker. Tristan’s company produces the Bevel razor, which is designed for men with coarse and curly hair.

HOFFMAN: So how can you tell a truly bad idea from a bad-sounding idea? How can you be sure your ugly duckling could become a swan? This is the key: You have to pay attention to the quality, not the quantity of rejections. You want to see at least a teeny minority of investors squirm. You don’t have to get them to a “yes,” but you should detect some friction, as they reason their way to a “no.”

Tristan has a keen ear for this quality in his conversations. He can pinpoint, down to the PowerPoint slide number, the moment his audience stops paying attention.

WALKER: I had a slide in there—I think it was like slide 14—where I talked about Proactiv—the acne system—as a good analogy to what we’re trying to do. It’s the difference between Gillette and Bevel, as Neutrogena and ProActiv—it’s a system that solves a very important issue. And this VC looked at me—and I’ll never forget this—he said, “Tristan, I’m not sure issues related to razor bumps, shaving or irritation are as profound and big an issue for people as acne.”

At which point, I said, “I kind of understand what you’re saying, but all you had to do was get on the phone with 10 black men, and eight of them would have said, ‘This is a permanent thing I have to deal with.’ All you had to do is get on the phone with 10 white men, four of them would have said the same thing. Could have done it for women too, and you would get the same ratios.” So it wasn’t that it was a bad idea, or not as important—it’s just that that person was unwilling to acquire the context necessary to understand what we’re working on. That’s just laziness—and at that point, I can’t fix that. So I just move on until I find somebody who understood it.

HOFFMAN: Notice how quickly Tristan’s mind moves on to the next investor. When the quality of the questions drops, he knows, mid-pitch, that the conversation is over—the rest is noise. Those half-hearted questions are like the elevator music of the pitch process. It’s meant to pacify entrepreneurs. In fact, it grates at them. It also wastes their time. Tristan will tell you he prefers a hard “no” to a comforting “maybe.”

WALKER: Silicon Valley investors will tell you all the time, “We want to invest in people who can execute with some semblance of pedigree, chasing a significant white space and a big opportunity.” For us, it was like “Check, check, check, check”—and we heard 99 percent “no”s. How much is bullshit, right? And you’re just trying to say something that I want to hear, as opposed to telling the truth. And I wish that Silicon Valley would tell the truth a little bit more.

HOFFMAN: Tristan raises a really interesting question here. How much of this investor hemming and hawing is, well, bullshit? What’s really going through their heads?

As a partner at Greylock, I want to share what happens after an entrepreneur leaves the room, and an investor is left to mull over a crazy idea. It begins with the debrief of the investor’s partners.

If I’m presenting an idea to my partners at Greylock, and they all go, “That’s great! We should do that.” I’m like, “Shit. Here’s a bunch of hyper-smart people and no one’s saying, ‘Oh, watch out for this, or watch out for that.’” It’s too easy. The idea is so obviously good, I can already hear the stampede of competitors trampling over our hopeful little startup. On the other hand, you don’t want every person in the room to say, “Reid, you’re out of your fucking mind,” because then you’re wondering, “Hmmm, am I drinking the Kool-Aid in a very bad way?”

What you want is some people going, “You guys are out of your minds,” and some people going, “I see it.” You want a polarized reaction.

So take my decision to invest in Airbnb as an example. David Sze told me during the Airbnb de-brief:

Narrator: David Sze is a partner at Greylock Investment.

HOFFMAN: “Well, every venture capitalist has to have a deal that doesn’t work that they learn from. Airbnb can be yours.” And David Sze is a super smart VC; he invested in LinkedIn. He invested in Facebook. He invested in Pandora. He personally returned two-and-a-half billion dollars to Greylock’s funds. He’s as smart as smart money gets—and believe me, I weigh his objections carefully. If someone as smart as David disagrees with me, I worry.

But I also get excited—it’s an emotional roller coaster. And as this sort of emotional turmoil plays out in the background discussion, it’s hard to give an entrepreneur a hard “no.” The best ideas make you want to say “yes” and “no” in the same breath.

FERRISS: So you want to hear a “squirmy no.” Those are the kinds of “nos” that mean you’re on to something. But let’s be real: It’s never easy to hear “no”. In fact, it sucks. So Reid also asked a few entrepreneurs to talk about how they deal with rejection, and how they learn from rejection. This is from the Masters of Scale episode “Beauty of A Bad Idea.”

HOFFMAN: So you have to gird yourself for a string of rejections. Some entrepreneurs simply develop a thick skin. Others treat it like a normal part of their workday. You know, wake up, brush your teeth, listen to people crush your dreams. It’s a living.

But there’s another, more hopeful approach. Our producer, Dan Kedmey, talked with a number of entrepreneurs who pitched seemingly laughable ideas in all kinds of industries. Like Abby Falik, founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year. Her not-for-profit sends students abroad for a year of international service between high school and college. Back in 2008, she was struggling to get funding, and she turned to a leadership coach for advice. We asked her to share that advice.

ABBY FALIK: The “no”s are actually a gift.

HOFFMAN: You heard that right, a gift.   

FALIK: And he said between now and when we talk two weeks from now, I want you to go out into the world and gather as many “no”s as you possibly can. It is your homework to be rejected over and over and over and over, and come back and report on it. And it ended up being the most important thing I could have ever done, and the most important advice I could have been given at that point.

HOFFMAN: The most successful entrepreneurs listen closely to the “no”s. They mine their rejections for clues. Kathryn Minshew, the founder of The Muse, got her share of rejections over the course of 148 “no”s she shared at the top of this episode. We asked her for the reasons that investors turned her down.

MINSHEW: “It’s a bit too early for us, but keep in touch.” “Once you hit 100,000 monthly active users, give me a call.”  “This is a fool’s errand. It’s expensive. It doesn’t scale.” “That’s not very tech, that’s not a scalable platform.” “Aren’t you worried that you’re going to lose all your users once they turn 30 and have babies?” Or, “I get that women in New York and San Francisco love this product, but I think you’re going to really have a hard time finding women who care about their careers once you go outside of the coasts.” And I just remember looking at these people and thinking, “Do you know a lot of women?”

HOFFMAN: Kathryn is right to ask this question. She knows more about women than most investors, and she also knows more about her business. Entrepreneurs have to learn how to hold on to what they know through the arduous pitch process.

Commandment 2

FERRISS: Hire like your life depends on it. It does. Hiring the right people can make or break a company. And this is a theme that comes up again and again with the founders on Masters of Scale.

FERRISS: Airbnb’s Brian Chesky personally interviewed the company’s first 500 employees. It was time-consuming, painstaking work, but Brian wouldn’t have had it any other way. Patience, he says, pays dividends.

CHESKY: And one of the most important decisions a startup can make is who they hire. Because who they hire becomes them. And so we interviewed people for core values. What this ended up, and that meant we spent like four or five months to hire our first engineer. Back then a lot of people thought we were crazy because time is of the essence when you’re a startup. You’ve said it’s like jumping off a cliff and assembling the airplane on the way down. Imagine jumping off the cliff, trying to assemble the airplane on the way down, and someone’s there to help you with the airplane, and you spend five months debating whether they’ll fit the culture.

Meanwhile, the ground is coming. That takes like real patience and some courage. The reason we did that though was because we thought in the high-class event we are successful, do I want to work with 100 more people like this? Because if I hire someone, they are going to interview the new people. And so we thought of hiring as this mechanism where, do I want to, if I could hire anyone in the world, would I hire the person sitting across me, and do I want 10 or 100 more people like them?

FERRISS: But if you launch a truly successful company, eventually, the hiring process has to scale. Eric Schmidt had a lot to say about hiring quickly, but not hastily. When he was CEO of Google, the company quadrupled in size each year, while maintaining super-high standards. He told Reid how he did it:

SCHMIDT: So the company was getting very large, very quickly. And I had suggested to Larry and Sergey that there was a problem with what I called “glue people.” And glue people are very nice people who sit between functions, and help either side, but don’t themselves add a lot of value. And I thought, “These are nice people, but we don’t really need them. We can have these groups talking directly.” And Larry looked at me and says, “We could solve this problem, if you would just review all the hiring.” And I said, “Larry, we can’t look at all the hiring.” He said, “Sure we can.”

So the company, of course, invented a number of hiring algorithms, which are used throughout the industry today. Many of them include pretty aggressive hiring interviews from peers, asking people to do work, and so forth. Ultimately, the judgment has a lot to do with whether the person is interesting or not. And so we would, for example, take a position that we want to hire rocket scientists because rocket scientists are inherently interesting. And in sales, we love to hire Olympians. Or Super Bowl winners, or football players—because of the discipline that they had in their lives as young people—men and women—to get to that point indicated that an extra set of discipline.

HOFFMAN: I want to acknowledge that most companies don’t have the option of hiring rocket scientists, Olympic athletes, and Super Bowl winners. But Eric does have more pragmatic advice for companies that can’t set the bar at Himalayan heights.

SCHMIDT: So today I would suggest that—and this has since been confirmed by many studies—that persistence is the single biggest predictor of future success. And so we would look for persistence. And the second thing was curiosity. What do you care about? The combination of persistence and curiosity is a very good predictor of employee success in a knowledge economy.

FERRISS: So persistence plus curiosity is one formula for hiring success. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook has another. Here’s what he told Reid:

ZUCKERBERG: So the single most important thing is to get the best people you can around you. When I look at my friends who were running other good companies, the single biggest difference that I see in whether the companies end up becoming really great and reaching their potential, or just pretty good, is whether they’re comfortable and really self-confident enough to have people who are stronger than them around them. I’ve adopted this hiring rule, which is that you should never hire someone to work for you, unless you would work for them in an alternate universe.

Which doesn’t mean that you should give them your job, but just if the tables were turned and you were looking for a job, would you be comfortable working for this person? I basically think that if the answer to that is “no,” then you’re doing something expedient by hiring them, but you’re not doing as well as you can on that.

There are all these things that Sheryl, for example, is just much stronger than me and that makes me better and makes Facebook better. And I am not afraid or threatened by that—I value that. That’s what makes Facebook good.

FERRISS: Of course Mark is talking about Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. And she has her own take on this rule …

SANDBERG: The lesson everyone talks about, but I really mean, is you really do want to hire people who are better than you are, and who are different than you are. This is where we talk about diversity. I don’t just mean racial, national, age, gender. All of that diversity is super important. In addition to that cognitive diversity, which you get from all those backgrounds, but also just personality diversity.

If you are a white male who likes to code and sci-fi movies, you probably don’t want your whole team to be that. I think about David Fischer. David Fischer and I have worked together at Treasury, at Google, and at Facebook. Personality types were just very different. I’m much more up and down. I will get nervous something’s not moving fast enough. I will be exuberant, and I will be down. Not David. David is absolutely calm. Over decades of working together, that balance has really been important, because sometimes I’ll look at David and say, “This is an emergency.” He’ll say, “No it’s not Sheryl, calm down.”

And sometimes I’ll say, “David, you’re not moving fast enough,” and he’ll say, “You’re right.” I think Mark and I have that too. We are very different. We are separated by—obviously, gender, 15 years, he’s my boss, he’s 15 years younger. Completely different personalities, completely different working styles—and I think’s that served Facebook well.

Commandment 3

FERRISS: In order to scale, you have to do things that don’t scale. It may sound counter-intuitive. But in order to scale, you have to get your hands dirty. Hand-craft the core experience. Serve your customers one-by-one. And don’t stop until you know exactly what they want. That’s what Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky did.

On the first episode of Masters of Scale, Brian took Reid back to his lean years — when he went door-to-door, meeting Airbnb hosts in person. This clip we’re going to hear starts with Brian recalling a conversation he had in 2009 with Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, who gave him some perplexing advice….

CHESKY: And he asked us, “Where’s your business?” And I go, “What do you mean?” “Where’s your traction?” And I go “We don’t have a lot of traction.” He goes, “People must be using it.” I said, “There are a few people in New York using it.” And he said something I’ll never forget.  He said, “So your users are in New York and you’re still in Mountain View.” I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “What are you still doing here?” And I go, “What do you mean?” He said, “Go to your users. Get to know them. Get your customers one by one.” And I said, “But that won’t scale. If we’re huge and we have millions of customers we can’t meet every customer.” And he said, “That’s exactly why you should do it now because this is the only time you’ll ever be small enough that you can meet all your customers, get to know them, and make something directly for them.”  

HOFFMAN: Brian and his co-founders followed his advice to the letter.

CHESKY: We literally commuted to New York from Mountain View. So we would be in Y Combinator for Tuesday night dinners and then Wednesday Joe and I would go to New York. We literally would knock on the doors of all of our hosts. We had their addresses and we say, “Knock knock. Hello. Hey, this is Brian, Joe, we’re founders and we just want to meet you.”

HOFFMAN: Now, it’s a little creepy to just knock on the door unannounced.

CHESKY: We needed an excuse to get into their home.

HOFFMAN: So they come up with an offer that hosts couldn’t refuse.

CHESKY: We’d send a professional photographer to your home and photograph your home. Of course, we didn’t have any money and we couldn’t employ photographers. So Joe and I, we’d show up at their door and they’re like “Wow. This company is pretty small.”

HOFFMAN: These home visits became Airbnb’s secret weapon. It’s how they learned what people loved.

CHESKY: It’s really hard to get even 10 people to love anything but it’s not hard if you spend a ton of time with them. If I want to make something amazing, I just spend time with you. And I’m like, “Well what if I did this, what if I did this, what if I did this?”

HOFFMAN: From those questions, a handcrafted experience is born.

CHESKY: We’d find out “Hey, I don’t feel comfortable with the guest. I don’t know who they are.” “Well what if we had profiles?” “Great!” “Well what do you want in your profile?” “Well I want a photo.”  “Great. What else?”  “I want to know where they work, where they went to school.” “OK.” So you add that stuff. And then you literally start designing touchpoint by touchpoint. The creation of the peer review system, customer support, all these things came from us literally—we didn’t just meet our users, we lived with them. And I used to joke that when you bought an iPhone Steve Jobs didn’t come sleep on your couch, but I did.

HOFFMAN: [laughs] Yes. Was there a particular experience that really stuck in your mind?

CHESKY: I remember we met with a couple hosts. It’s winter. It’s snowing outside and we’re in snow boots. We walk up to the apartment and we went there to photograph the home. And we’re like, “I’ll upload your photos to the website. Do you have any other feedback?” He comes back with a book, it’s a binder and he’s got dozens of pages of notes. He ends up creating a product roadmap for us, we should have this, this, this, this and this, and we’re like, “Oh my god this is our roadmap because he’s the customer.” I think that always stuck in our mind as, the roadmap often exists in the minds of the users you’re designing things for.

FERRISS: As Airbnb grew, Brian never stopped hand-crafting the user experience. At one point, to envision what Airbnb could become, he and his team imagined what he calls an “11-star check-in experience.” Only part of what follows was heard on Masters of Scale. For this show they gave us the complete, un-cut version of Brian’s thought experiment. 

CHESKY: The core thesis is if you want to build a massively successful company, you need to build something that people love so much they tell each other. Which means that you must build something worth talking about. If you want to build something we’re talking about, you have to go back to things that don’t scale, and imagine like what a five-star experience would be. And presumably if somebody likes it, they’ll leave five stars out of five stars in the app. They’re satisfied to tell other people. The problem is that today if you leave five stars in the app like for your food or something you might not tell everyone you know.

If you want to build something that’s truly viral you have to create a total mindfuck experience that you tell everyone about. We basically took one part of our product and we extrapolated what would a five star experience be. Then we went crazy. So a one, two, or three star experience is you get to your Airbnb and no one’s there. You knock on the door. They don’t open. That’s a one star. Maybe it’s a three star if they don’t open, you have to wait 20 minutes. If they never show up and you’re pissed and you need to get your money back, that’s a one-star experience. You’re never using us again.

So a five-star experience is you knock on the door, they open the door, they let you in. Great. That’s not a big deal. You’re not going tell every friend about it. You might say, “I used Airbnb. It worked.” So we thought, “What would a six-star experience be?” A six-star experience: You knock on the door, the host opens. “Hey, I’m Reid. Welcome to my house.” You’re the host in this case. You would show them around. On the table would be a welcome gift. It would be a bottle of wine, maybe some candy. You’d open the fridge. There’s water. You go to the bathroom, there are toiletries. The whole thing is great. That’s a six-star experience. You’d say, “Wow I love this more than a hotel. I’m definitely going to use Airbnb again. It worked. Better than I expected.”

What’s a seven-star experience? You knock on the door. Reid Hoffman opens. Get in. “Welcome. Here’s my full kitchen. I know you like surfing. There’s a surfboard waiting for you. I’ve booked lessons for you. It’s going to be an amazing experience. By the way here’s my car. You can use my car. And I also want to surprise you. There’s this best restaurant in the city of San Francisco. I got you a table there.” And you’re like, “Whoa. This is way beyond.”

So what would an eight-star start check in be? An eight-star check-in, I would land at the airport. I would show up and there would be a limousine waiting for me. The limousine would be like, know all my preferences. It would take me to the house and it would be like a total surprise. So would a nine-star check-in be? A nine star check in, I would show up to the airport and there’d be a parade in my honor. And I would probably have an elephant you know waiting for me as the traditional Indian ceremony. I would ride on the elephant and there’d be this parade taking me to the to the house.  

So what would a ten-star check in be? A ten-star check in would be The Beatles check in. In 1964. I’d get off the plane and there’d be 5,000 high school kids cheering my name with cars welcoming me to the country. I’d get to the front yard of your house and there’d be a press conference for me, and it would be just a mindfuck experience. So what would an 11 star experience be? I would show up at the airport and you’d be there with Elon Musk and you’re saying, “You’re going to space.”

The point of the process is that maybe 9, 10, 11 are not feasible. But if you go through the crazy exercise of keep going, there’s some sweet spot between they showed up and they opened the door and I went to space. That’s the sweet spot. You have to almost design the extreme to come backwards. Suddenly, doesn’t knowing my preferences and having a surfboard in the house seem not crazy and reasonable? It’s actually kind of crazy logistically, but this is the kind of stuff that creates great experience.

FERRISS: Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, considers this so-called 11-star experience as a prerequisite to scale. Suppose you try to scale a sub-par experience — the sort of product that gets only lukewarm approval from users? He offers a cautionary tale in this never-before-heard clip .

SAM ALTMAN: The first thing you have to do is build a product that is so good, people spontaneously want to use it and tell their friends about it. And if you can do that you still have to blitz scale but it’s the easy kind it’s you have too much demand. The hard kind of blitz scaling is where you try to start scaling up before the product is really great. And then most of your effort in scaling is to generate demand. So I think the number one most important insight about how to Blitz scale is that the good kind of blitz scale is when you are not having to generate demand as you go but that you first got the product right.

And in many of these cases — Stripe, Dropbox, AirBnB — it took a long time to get the product right but they were obsessed with that. And then when they did all their effort is okay we have so much demand that without much more effort. We know this is going to keep growing 20, 30 percent a month for years. That’s a real problem. It’s a high-cost problem, but it’s still a real problem. How do we build that? So that is the kind of scaling that works and it has generated Facebook Google I mean a lot of it. It’s the same playbook. I think the kind of blitz scaling that we have seen go badly is.

We have a mediocre product. We have raised hundreds of millions of dollars and our VC is beating down our throats to hire more sales people to grow faster.

HOFFMAN: Any particular examples?

ALTMAN: I don’t want to name names. There’s so many to pick from. Thankfully most them are not YC. one thing that is pretty good. And again a few exceptions to this. We try to beat that idea out of people at YC and thus most of the mistakes in Silicon Valley of that sort in the last decade have not been ours. 

Commandment 4

FERRISS: Raise more money than you think you need — potentially a LOT more. Reid argues that entrepreneurs should always, always raise more money than they think they need because as an entrepreneur, you’ll run into a minefield of unexpected expenses. He explains this particular point with a story. One that involves Mariam Naficy, CEO of Minted and then the CEO of …

[Phone rings]

YOUNG GIRL: Hello? Who is this?

NAFICY: It is a five-year-old girl, Eve Rogers.

YOUNG GIRL: This is Eve.

NAFICY: …who gets on the phone. And so I think, “What on earth am I going to say to this 5-year-old?” So I said, “Hello.”


NAFICY: “Could I buy your domain name?” And she was just saying to me, “What? I don’t really understand.”

YOUNG GIRL: Um, what?

NAFICY: And I’m sure Eve’s mom, on the other line, was laughing her head off. I mean, “This is a great joke to play on this silly entrepreneur from California who’s calling. I’m just going to watch her be tortured by my five-year-old for a while.”

HOFFMAN: Mariam then turns this risky negotiation over to her lead investor, the legendary start-up whisperer, Bill Gross.

NAFICY: So he gets on the phone with her mom, and he negotiated the purchase. And it was equity in the company, a board seat for her daughter—an observer board seat—trips to Idealab to see Bill several times a year.

HOFFMAN: You had a five-year-old observer on your board? [Laughing]

NAFICY: Yes. She didn’t actually show up for the board meetings, but she did occasionally come by and visit. Disneyland, software, educational software—it was a very large package that was negotiated.

HOFFMAN: If you were going to call your younger self, how would you have handled this negotiation differently?

NAFICY: I would probably throw in the Disneyland almost immediately, because now I know what a five-year-old girl wants. I have a daughter. And I would have said, “How many times a year do you want to go to Disneyland?”

HOFFMAN: Once a year? Twice a year?

YOUNG GIRL: Maybe about 100 times a year.

NAFICY: Exactly.

HOFFMAN: [Amused] $50,000 plus Disneyland trips may seem like crazy expenses. But in my experience? Every successful founder has a story like that.

FERRISS: Reid is right. So you need enough capital to cover unexpected expenses, sure. But you also need to be ready for unexpected opportunities. We’ll fast forward here to Mariam Naficy’s new company, Minted, which she originally thought would be an online stationery store with cards from brand-name companies. But she also side experiment where unknown artists could submit designs to an online competition. She told Reid what happened next:

NAFICY: I open the doors. There’s not a sale for an entire month. Nobody wants the branded stationery products that we’d spent most of our two-and-a-half million launching—because again, being conservative, I’d said, “I know, I’ll do an, I’ll put all these brands online, sign them up exclusively.” We had exclusive distribution rights. Nobody wanted to buy them at all.

Instead, the teeny-weeny assortment that I had sourced through this one competition I had run, one transaction a week. Then the next week, there were two. We had sourced 60 designs through our competition, and I’d saved a tiny bit of money to build what I really wanted to build.

Out of the two-and-a-half million, I probably spent like $100,000 on what really became Minted. It was like this little side thing, and there was a programmer up in Oregon, and he and I were working at night on building the first competition. And that is the only place where we saw any sales movement.

HOFFMAN: Mariam stumbled onto the power of crowdsourcing—the idea that ordinary people, when they come together in large numbers, can do work once reserved only for experts. Etsy is an example of this. Kickstarter as well. But at this point, in 2008, it wasn’t understood very well. It was something Silicon Valley was just getting its head around.

NAFICY: I realized that this crowdsourcing thing was way different, and I’d uncovered something that was more of a massive social, cultural change going on in the US—and maybe in the world—versus some small-business idea. Because what was happening, that I didn’t realize, was that who’s considered a creative out there is actually changing a lot right now, due to technology and exposure. And so people are emerging as creatives who haven’t gone to school. They haven’t gone to design school, they haven’t gone to art school, and they’re massively disrupting art and design right now. And there is a true meritocracy that you can actually build and unleash.

HOFFMAN: Here, Mariam runs into another reason you need to raise more money than you think you need: unexpected opportunities. Mariam’s plan to start a lifestyle business just didn’t pan out. She didn’t have enough funding to cover her Plan B—or her “Plans B” as I like to say. Opportunities may arise later than you hoped, and you want the capital to carry you in new directions. So she reluctantly pitched her idea and secured another round of funding. And if that weren’t risky enough, she’s about to encounter one more familiar source of uncertainty…a stock market crash.

NAFICY: And we raised our venture around two weeks before Lehman failed, because this investor of mine had said to me, “I feel something really bad is going to happen, you should go raise.” So we just went out in August—”Who’s in town? Anybody? Is anyone in town in August?” So we went and raised money, and closed it literally right before Lehman [Brothers] failed.

[Sounds of various news reports, chronicling the stock market crash]

HOFFMAN: Believe it or not, Mariam launched her wildly risky, experimental business idea into the heart of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression: the collapse of the U.S. housing market in 2008. Suppose she had waited until, say, September to raise that money. Lehman collapses, panic grips investors and no one in their right mind gives cash to a bold little experiment in crowdsourcing. Like that, Minted closes for business. Which is another reason you should always take money whenever and wherever you can get it. You know never know when it will dry up. As it is, Mariam did raise the money.

Commandment 5

FERRISS: Release your products early enough that they can still embarrass you. Imperfect is perfect. The fifth commandment is actually one of Reid’s more famous recommendations. He believes that if you’re not embarrassed by your first product release, you’ve released too late. Imperfect IS perfect.

This is the classic Silicon Valley approach of pushing imperfect things out, testing them and improving them with user feedback — instead of waiting until you think you have something perfect. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook is probably the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who most embodies this commandment. And Reid talked to him about it. They started way back in Mark’s college days. 

HOFFMAN: My friend Mark Zuckerberg is the perfect person to talk to about this. He has no qualms about rushing out an imperfect product. In fact, his famous mantra is “Move fast and break things”—and I’d argue that it’s the foundation of Facebook’s success. If Mark cares about anything, it’s making sure his team moves with the swiftness of a teen hacker, releasing products that are anything but perfect, so their audience can improve them.

ZUCKERBERG: I think the strategy of Facebook is to learn as quickly as possible what our community wants us to do—and that requires a culture that encourages people to try things and test things and fail.

HOFFMAN: But how did he get Facebook’s 17,000-plus employees to shed their perfectionist streaks? You’re about to find out. We’ll start Mark’s story when he was an undergraduate at Harvard. By this time, he was in the habit of slapping together programs on the fly. He couldn’t help himself.

ZUCKERBERG: I took this class, “Rome of Augustus.” And the final exam—they were going to show some piece of art from the Augustan period in Rome, and you had to write an essay on the historical significance. And I was actually coding the first version of Facebook when I should have been studying for that, so a couple of days before the exam, I was like, “Alright, I’m kind of screwed.” This isn’t something like math, where you could just show up, and figure out how to do the problem on the exam. You actually need to know the context of this, or else you can’t write these essays.

HOFFMAN: Wait a second, rewind.

ZUCKERBERG: This isn’t something like math, where you could just show up, and figure out how to do the problem on the exam.

HOFFMAN: Who does that? In any case, with the exam fast approaching, you might expect Mark to cut back on the coding. Instead, he doubled down on it.

ZUCKERBERG: I built this service where basically anyone in the class could go to it, and it showed you a random piece of art, and you could type in whatever context you thought was important. And then after that, it would show you everything that everyone else in the class had put in. So it was a study tool, but it kind of crowd-sourced exactly what people needed to know for each piece of art. And the professor ended up telling me after that, that the grades on the final were higher than they’d ever been before. And I ended up passing that class.

HOFFMAN: Imagine, for a moment, what would have happened if Mark was a little less hacker and a little more perfectionist. What if he took his time to get the “Random Piece of Art” program just-so? It might have looked nicer. It might have had more features. But he would have missed the opportunity to put it in front of his classmates when they needed it, and more importantly, would have missed the learning about how they used it.

But many of us—and I’m guessing most of Mark’s Harvard classmates—have a tough time rushing things out. High-achieving people have a tendency to be perfectionists. And the same instincts that make us good students, can make us lousy entrepreneurs.

FERRISS: So you have to un-learn how to be a perfectionist. And you also have to un-learn the habit of listening to everything your users tell you. Reid will tell you: You have to be selective in the user feedback you take…

HOFFMAN: Success has a funny way of sneaking up on the best entrepreneurs. They devote themselves to understanding and serving a teeny cohort of users. They don’t always recognize that this intimate link is precisely what enables their product to evolve for the mass market. That’s one reason I encourage entrepreneurs to release a product earlier than they’d like. Release, observe, react—over and over again.

It isn’t just about speed, and it certainly isn’t about sloppiness, but rather a precise dance between Facebook’s tiny team and its growing user base. The users normally take the lead—but not always. Sometimes Mark had to break the choreography and give the users a twirl.

That’s because you have to discern what users actually want. And Mark received an early education in the gap between what users say and what they do—particularly as he expanded the social network to new campuses.

ZUCKERBERG: We’d seen this funny dynamic where—we talked about how we started it at Harvard, and then we’d launch at Yale, and then all the people at Harvard would be like, “Oh, come on. Them?” And then it’s at every step along the way. You go from Yale, and you launch at Columbia, and the people at Yale are like, “Aw really? Those guys?” We’re at Indiana University, and Indiana State launches, and the people at Indiana University are like, “Come on.” So we were used to this dynamic of people assuming that a change is like, “Why are you doing this?” but then coming around pretty quickly.

HOFFMAN: Notice the lesson Mark is learning here—he’s learning how to listen. Each college said they didn’t want another college to join—and then, as each new college joined, the network got stronger, and people liked it more. This is a great example of how entrepreneurs need to both listen to what users say, and selectively ignore them. People can’t always accurately predict their own tastes or even their own interests.

For example, a baseline for Facebook is: other people are going to upload pictures about you, other people are going to tag them, and when those other people tag them, your friends are going to see them, possibly before you. Do you want that product, yes or no? Most people, described that way, would say “I don’t want that product! No, no, no! I don’t want that product.” And yet everyone’s super happy with that product. People systemically are very poor at predicting their own reactions to new things.  

FERRISS: The core idea here is that you have to experiment if you’re going to effectively innovate. And this gets harder and harder as you grow. Mark shared some details on Masters of Scale about exactly how Facebook succeeds in innovating on a massive scale, and how they’ve had to change their mantra a bit over time. Reid Explains:

HOFFMAN: For Mark and his growing team at Facebook, the mantra of “move fast and break things” served as a rallying cry, and the philosophy made a lot of sense when they were a fledgling startup. But when you have thousands of employees moving fast and breaking things, someone has to clean up their messes. As Facebook grew, Mark became aware of a growing tension between his hacker ethos—to move fast—and his responsibility as CEO to avoid breaking things on such a massive scale. Thus a new mantra was born: “Move fast…with stable infrastructure”

ZUCKERBERG: Well, it’s less catchy.

HOFFMAN: But the best mantras do more than just sound good. They give you the resolve to make tough decisions.

ZUCKERBERG: So “move fast,” I think, is interesting, because you actually have to be willing to give something up to get it. And the question is, “What are you willing to give up?” And early on, the trade was, “Move fast and break things.” The idea was, we will tolerate some amount of bugs and flaws in the service of moving faster and learning what our community wants faster. But we got to a point where it was taking us more time to go back and fix the bugs and issues that we were creating than the speed that we were gaining by going faster.

So we’re like, “OK, we need a new strategy to enable us to move fast.” And what we came up with was: we’re going to do this by building the best infrastructure. So an engineer who comes from any company is going to be able to ship their product faster here—and test it better, and move faster, and all these things—at Facebook, than anywhere else in the world. So that’s what we mean by “Move fast with stable infrastructure.” But again, we don’t get it for free—we invest a huge amount in building infrastructure. So I think these values always come down to, what are you willing to give up to get something? Because they’re not free—nothing is.

HOFFMAN: Mark concedes that “Move fast with stable infrastructure” is a clunky mantra. It doesn’t have the snappy appeal of “Move fast and break things,” but it adds guardrails to protect the company in its new phase. You can still release something bold and half-baked. You can still break things. Just don’t break the infrastructure. Because the infrastructure is too slow to repair, and if you break the infrastructure, it will ultimately slow you down.

And with that new rule in mind, Mark laid the groundwork for mass experimentation on Facebook. How does it work exactly? One thing you should know about Facebook: It has many faces.

ZUCKERBERG: At any given point in time, there isn’t just one version of Facebook running, there are probably 10,000. Any engineer at the company can basically decide that they want to test something. There are some rules on sensitive things, but in general, an engineer can test something, and they can launch a version of Facebook not to the whole community, but maybe to 10,000 people or 50,000 people—whatever is necessary to get a good test of an experience. And then, they get a readout of how that affected all of the different metrics and things that we care about. How were people connecting? How were people sharing? Do people have more friends in this version? Of course, business metrics, like how does this cost the efficiency of running the service, how much revenue are we making?

It can even kick off qualitative studies and ask people how happy they are with this version. And then at the end of that, the engineer can come to their manager, and say, “Hey, here’s what I built, these are the results. Do we want to explore this further and do this?” And giving people the tools to be able to go get that data without having to argue whether their idea’s good through layers of management before testing something, frees people up to move quicker. If the thing doesn’t work, then we add that to our documentation of all the lessons that we’ve learned over time. If it does work, then we can incorporate those small changes into the base of what Facebook is—that now everyone else who is trying to build an improvement, that’s the new baseline that they need to get against.

FERRISS: There are interesting questions for any CEO. When is it OK to experiment? And when is the cost too high? Mark sets a pretty high bar.

ZUCKERBERG: On a day-to-day basis, a lot of the decisions that I’m making are like, “OK, is this going to destroy the company?” Because if not, then let them test it. If the cost of the test isn’t going to be super high, then, in general, we’re going to learn a lot more by experimenting and by letting the teams go and explore the things that they think are worth exploring than by having a heavy hand in that.

FERRISS: And Reid holds — more or less — to his theory that you should be embarrassed by your first product release.

HOFFMAN: The word “embarrassment” plays a key role here. Over the years, some people have interpreted my theory as permission to cut corners, act recklessly, or proceed without a clear plan.

But notice: I said, “If you’re not embarrassed by your product.” I didn’t say “If you’re not indicted” or “If you’re not deeply ashamed by your product.” Indeed, if you launched so fast that your product generates lawsuits, alienates users, or burns through capital without any apparent gain, you did in fact launch too soon.

Commandment 6

FERRISS: Decide. Decide. Decide. Every founder has to learn how to make decisions. It’s better to make a wrong decision than no decision. And this is something Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, learned when he was taking flying lessons:

SCHMIDT: In aviation, they teach you to make rapid decisions, and they, over and over again: “Decide, decide, decide.” It’s better to make a decision and just accept the consequences. And that discipline helped me in the hard times when I was at Novell in a real hard core turnaround.

FERRISS: It’s also served him well in the free-wheeling, idea-generating climate he cultivated at Google. In fact, he might argue it was the secret to their success. With all those ideas brewing, you must have disciplined decision-making in order to thrive.

SCHMIDT: The most important thing to do is to have quick decisions—and you’ll make some mistakes, but you need decision-making. We ultimately adopted a model of a staff meeting on Monday, a business meeting on Wednesday, and a product meeting on Friday, and this was organized so that people could travel in the right ways. And the agenda was, everybody knew which meeting the decisions were made at—and so as long as you could wait a week, you knew you would get a hearing on your deal.

I cannot tell you how many people have told me that at Google, decisions are made today quickly, in almost every case, even at our current scale. And that’s a legacy of that decision. Most large corporations have too many lawyers, too many decision-makers, unclear owners, and things congeal—they occur very slowly. But some of the greatest things happen very quickly. We made the decision to purchase YouTube in about 10 days—incredibly historic decision—because we were ready, people were focused, we had a board meeting—we wanted to get it done.

HOFFMAN: We have a word for these kinds of evasive maneuvers here in Silicon Valley. We call it an OODA loop. That’s a fighter pilot term. It stands for observe, orient, decide, act. The fighter pilot who has the fastest OODA loop wins. The other one dies. If you’ve ever watched the movie Top Gun, you’ll have a basic understanding of how an OODA loop works.

Tom Cruise’s character, Maverick, has a few bad guys on his tail. In a split second, he orients himself to the enemy’s formation. Then he decides to perform a crazy aerial maneuver—he acts, and he confounds everyone. Score one for the free world. Now I’m not suggesting that tech executives secretly want to blast each other out of the sky. What they do want is to perform slightly crazy, super-fast maneuvers, again and again.         

You’ll often hear founders asking: What is the OODA loop of an organization or an individual? Because speed matters in combat, and also in fast-moving industries.

Commandment 7

FERRISS: Be prepared to both make and break plans. In a fast-growing organization, leaders have to be ready to pivot. Every day, there are new competitors, new threats, new opportunities. Everything has to be subject to change. In the episode Lead, Lead Again, Reid talks about this concept with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg.

HOFFMAN: The path to scale always, unfortunately, includes some broken promises, as Sheryl would soon find out. Everything—from interviews to office space—changes as you grow.  And even a small take-back can matter to a team.

SANDBERG: I’ll give you another silly example that I don’t think is silly—birthdays. We celebrated everyone’s birthday that day. Then it became that week. Eventually, we had a huge sheet cake with quarterly birthdays. My team was 4,000 when I left, and everyone’s name is on it. Now it sounds like that wouldn’t matter, but it did—because if you started out and we celebrated everyone’s birthday, and we took that away, that was a problem. Now I’m not saying, “Be mean and don’t celebrate birthdays.” I’m saying, “Figure out what your systems are going to look like later, and do it now.”

FERRISS: Sandberg’s ability to recognize when a once-functional system has stopped serving the team’s culture and productivity keeps Facebook on track. Founders have to be able to cut their losses when programs or projects no longer make sense. Zynga’s Founder Mark Pincus can also be a ruthless self-editor:

HOFFMAN: By the time Mark launched Zynga, he was acutely aware of the dangers of stubbornly sticking to his ideas. He started to draw the distinction between his usually-great instincts and his not-always-great ideas.

PINCUS: I’ll try anything, and I’ll kill anything, and I’ll kill it quickly. And I’m not going to let killing an idea kill a winning instinct. And so that was a really core idea that I’m still thinking about, and learning as an entrepreneur. And I can see it playing out so often in people’s companies.

HOFFMAN: Mark separates specific ideas—which must be killed when they don’t work—from underlying instincts. And this willingness to kill ideas is essential to making innovation work.

FERRISS: So you have to be willing to pivot, and you have to make firm decisions. But there’s one more thing: You have to keep your team together, through the twists and turns. Margaret Heffernan, former CEO of 5 tech companies, shared a story with Reid about a company that got this right.

HEFFERNAN: What I think is important is that when the decision is made, everybody gets behind it. And I think the most sensational example of this I’ve ever come across—I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with and writing about Ocean Spray, the cranberry company. They’re one of the biggest cooperatives in the United States, an extraordinary business.

At one point, Pepsi tried very hard to buy them. And of course, the company is owned by the cranberry farmers. So this was a really passionate, passionate debate, you could never have resolved it by who cared most, because everybody cared totally. It ended up the vote was 49.9% in favor of selling, 50.1% in favor of staying an independent cooperative.

What made the company what it is today, which is very successful, global, multi-billion dollar business, is that after the vote, everybody got behind it. There was no question. That’s the vote. That’s the outcome. Now we all work together to make it successful.

Commandment 8

FERRISS: Don’t tell your employees how to innovate. Manage the chaos. Many creative people find that leading an innovative company actually means a lot less of producing your own great ideas, and a lot more of shepherding your employees’ great ideas to fruition. Eric Schmidt thought a lot about this when he was the CEO of Google.

SCHMIDT: I think a fair statement is that the founders built the company in the image of what they saw at Stanford graduate school. So the offices for example, if you had them, would have four people in them—which is the number of graduate students that are in an office. And of course, everyone’s very crowded, and it’s very casual. And of course there’s free food, and everyone is sort of hanging out all day. And that graduate student culture—that sense that somehow we’re about to discover something new—permeated the decision making. So the culture of food and benefits and being quirky came from the founders trying to recreate that feeling.

HOFFMAN: Amid this creative ferment, his job was simple. He just had to give employees a slight nudge to deliver on their promising ideas.

SCHMIDT: The first thing I did was I went to the staff meeting. And the staff meetings were long, and they were like being in graduate school. “What do you think of this? What do you think of that?” But a real lack of business procedures, and that kind of thing, which were easily remedied.

HOFFMAN: When you’re surrounded by bright young minds, you don’t have to push too hard for interesting ideas. They tend to tumble out of conversations or shared challenges, and take you in unpredictable directions. But not every manager is comfortable with this type of chaos. It requires a particular kind of leader who can embrace both humility—the uncomfortable notion that you don’t have all of the best ideas yourself—and uncertainty—because you can’t always schedule innovation on a predictable timeline.

FERRISS: Google’s certainly not the first organization to embrace the chaos, but they do lean into it in a way that’s rare – even for Silicon Valley.

HOFFMAN: Eric took some radical steps to keep ideas flowing in the organization. This meant empowering engineers, and keeping management in check. For instance, product leaders can draw in as many engineers as they’d like on any given project, so long as they can convince engineers to join their team.

SCHMIDT: I’ve talked to other managers at Google who are frustrated with this because they argue: “We agree that my project is strategic. Why don’t you just assign some engineers to me?” And the answer is “No, no you have to persuade the engineers that your project’s a good one to work on. And then, by the way, you can have all of the engineers that you can persuade to work on that project.” And that’s central to Google’s culture for making progress.

HOFFMAN: Eric took this idea one step further. He granted employees the freedom not only to choose their projects, but openly defy their managers along the way. Google famously instituted a rule that any employee could devote 20% of their work week to any project they’d like. The 20 percent time was in some ways a logical extension of Google’s graduate school culture. Managers, like research advisors, can set timetables and budgets for experimentation. But the staff, like the “students,” pick the research agenda.

SCHMIDT: Many, many initiatives in the company have come out of 20 percent time ideas. Much of the mapping work, many of the search ideas, many of the advertising, many of now the AI work, have come from people working and practicing in new areas.

HOFFMAN: As Eric says, many of the products people know best — Gmail, Google Earth, Google Maps — grew out of ideas generated by employees, during this 20% time. But WHY exactly, does it work?

SCHMIDT: And while the rule says you can do anything you want to with your 20 percent time, these people are computer scientists and engineers, they’re not going to veer too far away from their core business and that is the genius of 20 percent time.

HOFFMAN: The tendency of high-performing employees to use their 20% time productively is the well-documented genius of the program. But there’s also a hidden genius of 20 percent time. It allows reasonable employees to defy unreasonable managers. And this institutionalized defiance can help balance the power and keep high-performing employees engaged during challenging times.

SCHMIDT: So the interesting thing about 20 percent time is although it’s reported as you get to spend one day doing whatever you want, what it really served was a check and balance on the power of the engineering management over the subject. So if an employee is under pressure, the manager says you’ve got to work harder you’ve got to give me everything you have. That employee can legitimately look that boss in the eye and say I’ll give you 100 percent of my 80 percent time. And that simple principle, which never really happens in practice but it’s understood, empowers the employee with both dignity but also some choices.

Commandment 9

FERRISS: To create a winning company culture, make sure every employee owns it. This commandment is very often overlooked, especially at the startup stage. Many founders, especially inexperienced ones, downplay the role of culture in their success, or simply don’t know where to start.  

Reed Hastings, the founder & CEO of Netflix has strong feelings about company culture. His first startup, Pure Software, sold for $750 Million, so it was successful from an objective standpoint. But he shared with Reed Hoffman that it failed when it came to company culture.  And when he started NetFlix he wanted to correct that mistake. Here’s how Reed Hoffman would sum it up:

HOFFMAN: So Reed made a very typical mistake in his first company. He thought he could solve his company’s problems just by working harder. But hard work isn’t enough; and more work is never the real answer. To succeed as you scale, you have to leverage every person in the organization. And to do that, you have to be very intentional about how you craft the culture. This was exactly the lesson Reed took from Pure Software. Their management decisions had created a culture that rewarded the wrong behavior and retained the wrong employees.

HASTINGS: Well the mistakes in Pure was that every time we had a significant error, sales call didn’t go well, a bug in the code. We tried to think about in terms of what process could we put in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen again and thereby improving the company. And what we failed to understand is by dummy proofing all the systems that we would have a system where only dummies wanted to work there, which was exactly what happened. And so the average intellectual level fell and then the market changed as it inevitably does, in that case, it was C++ to Java but it could be anything. And we were unable to adapt to it because we had a bunch of people who valued following the process rather than the first principle thinking.

HOFFMAN: Notice Reed’s double insight here. Pure software couldn’t adapt because they had the wrong employees. And they had the wrong employees because of management decisions that explicitly selected for those employees. It was an insight that catapulted him.

FERRISS: What Reed Hastings learned from his first company was that culture directly impacted both who worked in a company, and how well they performed. At NetFlix, he knew he’d need people who could adapt with the times as technology changed, and they went from a company that mailed DVDs to a company with streaming video and original content. The whole story is worth hearing on an upcoming episode of Masters of Scale, but here we’ll stay focused on how this realization affected NetFlix culture and hiring practices. When Reed Hastings thought about growing the Netflix team, he already had a very clear idea of who he needed. Here’s Reid Hoffman to explain what Reed Hastings did next:

HOFFMAN: Reed’s knowledge of history, the changing nature of technology and the historical moment he was in, led to the understanding that he would need people to change with the times. People who can rip up a process and return to the first principles of delivering entertainment by any means necessary, whether it’s horseback, mail, fiberoptic cable — or maybe in the future Elon Musk’s neural lace. Regardless, you need people who can change the business model, fast.

So how did Reed identify those candidates? It started with a now legendary document at Netflix: a collection of more than 100 slides known as the “culture deck.” These slides defined exactly what the Netflix culture stands for, and who they’re trying to hire, and what they can expect.

HASTINGS : The culture deck started about 10 years ago. So first couple of years we were just focused on survival and then we got public in 2002. Cash flow positive and it was clear we were going to survive. So we then started really thinking about the culture, what we wanted to be, how we wanted to operate. And so over successive years, I improved this deck which I would go through with new employees. And sometimes those new employees would love it sometimes they were like oh my god why didn’t you tell me this before I started. That doesn’t make sense to me. And so we realized we should give it to every candidate. And so then about 2007, 2008 we did that by posting it on SlideShare    And that provided a great vehicle for sharing that but again it was really just to be able to send a link to the candidates and then you know and it’s not very pretty, it’s not very highly designed, doesn’t look like it’s a external marketing piece but that authenticity really people liked in the outside world and now it’s you know over you know 10 million views on SlideShare and continues to be studied around the world.

HOFFMAN: And what were the unexpected benefits of having published it?

HASTINGS: Well let’s see the core benefit which we did expect was that candidates were very aware of the culture. The unexpected benefit was many people became candidates for us because they loved that what we described in terms of freedom and responsibility that might not have otherwise thought about us.

FERRISS: Now when you read Netflix culture deck, which many people have, you’ll see they have a very specific way of describing themselves — as a “sports team”, not a “family.” They use internal collaboration to drive external competitiveness.

HASTINGS: Well in team sports that really succeed there often is a lot of warmth between the players. And so it’s emphasizing those aspects and demonstrating that when people come in everyone tries to help them but ultimately it is about performance. Unlike a family which is really about unconditional love you know even if your brother you know does something awful and goes to jail your love doesn’t stop ok and that’s it just a different and important part of society. But that’s not what we’re about. What we’re about is you know collectively changing the world in the areas of Internet television and that takes incredible performance at every level. We’re also about really honest feedback all the time. So you can learn and be the best that you can be.

FERRISS: Most CEOs would agree that a  successful company culture is one that that lets team members be the best that they can be.  And as you consider the best way to do that for your company and your team, you’ll want to pay particular attention to how people compete. This is where a lot of company cultures go wrong. Margaret Heffernan, former CEO of five tech companies, says this:

HEFFERNAN: There is often a belief among very successful, very competitive, people that the thing you want to do in a company is get everybody to compete with each other that if it’s everybody is racing against everybody you’ll have this kind of a white heat of brilliance and creativity. And I think pretty much everything about that’s wrong. And that’s not to say that I’m not competitive, I’m deeply competitive with myself in the sense that I really want to do a better job today than I did yesterday. But I don’t want you to fail.

And I have seen more companies and organizations go wrong. Because of what I think of as negative competitiveness. I do want you to fail or I want your department to fail or I want your product to fail because that will make me shine. I’ve seen more damage and destruction and waste from that mentality than probably from any other misunderstanding. If you can build an environment in which people really want to help each other, full of people who are generous you will do infinitely better than creating something kind of Olympic sport within the company.

But I see it especially I have to say among young men and this belief that at one level you know if everybody’s is competing everybody will get faster. I think it’s a catastrophe. And I see it bring down really tremendous companies that get so lost in the fight they forgot why they were there in the first place.

HOFFMAN: I totally agree and I actually think one of the key things that companies do at scale in order to try to set against this because there’s always that kind of the how do I win this kind of a culture is to say that part of the dialogue in performance reviews and culture and compensation is: How did you help other people and in particular how did you help other people outside of the specific team you’re in, right. And I think that’s actually I’m really glad to I asked you that question because I think that what you just said is really critical.

HEFFERNAN: Well it’s really interesting. I remember speaking at a conference and on this subject in the Q&A someone said well you know how would you find people like that when you’re interviewing them for jobs. And I said, well I’d ask them who helped them in their career because you know if they can’t remember anybody. That’s a pretty bad sign you know. Anyway, the next person speaking at this conference was the chief technology officer from somewhere. And in his Q&A somebody asked him who helped you in the course of your career. And he couldn’t think of anybody. And there was this sort of stunned horrified silence. You know and the truth is that all of us I’m sure this is true of you too,  all of us got help from so many people.  And you can’t remember one of them? And of course singing the praises of people who’ve helped you is absolutely joyous task.


FERRISS: Stick with the hero’s journey. So the first nine commandments from Masters of Scale cover just about everything you need to succeed as a startup founder.  Hiring and funding, managing and innovating, making decisions fast and testing products early. The final commandment makes all the rest possible. To succeed, entrepreneurs need a good idea, sufficient resources, good timing, a certain amount of luck. But they also need to follow Commandment 10: have grit and stay on your hero’s journey.

REID: Some people mistake grit for sheer persistence. Charging up the same hill, again and again. But that’s not quite what I mean by the word “grit.” The sort of grit you need to scale a business is less reliant on brute force. It’s actually one part determination, one part ingenuity, and one part laziness. Yes, laziness.

You want to conserve your energy. You want to minimize friction and find the most effective, most efficient way forward. You might actually have more grit if you treat your energy as a precious commodity. So forget the tired cliche of running a marathon. You want to be more like Indiana Jones, somersaulting under blades, racing a few steps ahead of a rolling boulder and swinging your whip until you reach your holy grail.

FERRISS: Of course, the hardest time to show grit is when you need it the most. When the situation seems dire, when the odds are against you. Reid sees these life-and-death moments a lot in the companies he’s built and advised. Here’s how he thinks you should do when you find yourself in one.

HOFFMAN: These are the critical junctures that determine whether you fold or scale your business. You might win big, and you might lose big. And grit is the stick-to-it-ness that kicks in when you actually understand the risks — and know you might die — but move ahead anyway. In fact, I have a prepared speech for these pivotal moments.

I have a given a version of this speech at some point on every single board that I’ve been on, which is the heroic possibility. Which is that the road in front of you is super fucking hard, that is not a given that you’re going to win it. But if you win it you’re going to be a hero. And so the question for you is: Are you a hero? Right. And most people then they kind of hear that speech they go, “Yeah,” because that’s what they want to be. That’s why they’re doing this. They want to be a hero. So you’re giving them a frame to do it. And you might lose, right?. You might be dead on the battlefield. This is why it’s a hero’s journey. This is why you will be heroes if you do this, right. And by the way the people who don’t resonate with that?  You want them off the boat.

Bonus Commandment

FERRISS: Pay it Forward. The first nine commandments from Masters of Scale covered just about everything you need to succeed as a startup founder.  The final commandment kicks in after you succeed. Because Reid will tell you, the long-term success of any company, anywhere in the world — depends on the ecosystem around it. And to create an ecosystem like Silicon Valley — where startups thrive and scale-ups are possible — successful entrepreneurs have to follow Commandment 10 and pay it forward. They have to invest in the other companies around them.

In this next clip, Linda Rottenberg explains how she sees this. She’s the CEO of Endeavor and her passion is in supporting entrepreneurs around the world. She says the willingness of successful entrepreneurs to pay it forward is THE determining factor of whether a startup scene thrives or not.

ROTTENBERG: many cultures have one or two or three successful business people that create companies. But if they don’t pay it forward and if they don’t reinvest in the ecosystem becoming mentors becoming angel investors inspiring their employees to start companies then it stops. Right. And so what, what Endeavor tries to do is create that that ecosystem foundation where the successful entrepreneurs go on and pay it forward. And then that’s when you see a multiplier effect.  

FERRISS: Linda has a great story about this …

ROTTENBERG: But then it was really in 2000 when I got called into a room by Pedro Asprey the former finance minister of Mexico who was then leading the largest private equity firm. And he had gathered a group of about 12 individuals. And before I walked in the room someone said to me Linda, do you know what percentage of Mexico’s GDP is in this room? And I said no and I don’t think I want to. So I was asked by it was Lorenzo Zambrano of the Cemex, Carlos Slim of you know all the telecom, Emilio Azcarraga of the media, etc.

And one of the people in the room said well why are all these entrepreneurs coming out of Chile and Argentina and Brazil even Uruguay, like what’s wrong with Mexico. So in my oh politically astute way, Chica Loca says to this group of men, “well here in Mexico you’re the big fish. And think of entrepreneurs as the little fish. And here the big fish tend to eat the little fish. So if you want something like Endeavor. Think of us like an aquarium where you learn to feed the little fish.

And the fact that they actually didn’t throw me out of the room. My life is about not being thrown out of rooms I guess. And they all signed up. And in fact a decade later Emilio Azarraga’s, one of his magazines had a study on, survey on entrepreneurship in the country and the headline was big fish feeding the little fish.

FERRISS: If you follow these commandments you’ll be on your way to startup success, as well as your hero’s journey. But there’s always more to learn. If you liked the advice, you might want to subscribe to Masters of Scale.  And if you liked this remix, let me know and we’ll do another one next season.

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