Is pandemic pandemonium making you consider professional changes in order to live a more remarkable life? This week’s episode can help–and coincides with the launch of Peter’s new book, Shtick to Business: What the Masters of Comedy Can Teach you About Breaking Rules, Being Fearless and Building a Serious Career. You can find it as a book, eBook, or an Audible on Amazon.
Listen to Episode #18 here
Tips For The Solo Entrepreneur
Thank you to those of you who have rated the podcast on iTunes and have been telling your single friends and family members. If you haven’t, please help get the word out. This episode coincides with the launch of my new book Shtick to Business: What the Masters of Comedy Can Teach You About Breaking Rules, Being Fearless and Building a Serious Career. You can find it as a book, eBook and Audible on Amazon. Keeping with that theme, I speak to two friends and entrepreneurs about tips for those of you who want to start a business or want to get more out of your career. Each of us presents three tips for the entrepreneurial-minded reader and we discussed special considerations for the solo entrepreneur. If you stick around until the end for the bonus material, I cover a lesson from my book where I talk about taking a bigger stage. I hope you enjoy it. Let’s get started.
My first guest is Julie Nirvelli. Julie is an old friend who has been a guest cohost on two previous episodes. She joins us as a contributor. Julie was born and raised in San Jose, California and earned her college degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She lives in Colorado. Entrepreneurship is in Julie’s blood. She grew up with parents who own multiple successful businesses. She’s worked at most of them starting at age six. Julie has founded and sold two companies of her own. Welcome back, Julie.
My second guest, Darwyn Metzger is another friend and business partner from Los Angeles whom I met while researching my first book, The Humor Code. A former star of America Now and an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist, Darwyn is the Founder and CEO of Phantom, a digital marketing and social media strategy firm. Darwyn works with brands, political campaigns, TV shows, films and celebrities, including Nike, Trident, DirecTV, AT&T, Fox and BBC America. You can get to know him more from the I’m Not Joking episode titled The Unemployable Darwyn Metzger. Welcome, Darwyn.
Thanks for having me.
It’s good to have you here. Before we get started, what we’re going to be doing is we’re presenting nine tips for entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs, solo entrepreneurs. We can do three per person. First, I want to spend a little time getting to know our guests. Let’s start with Julie. The regular reader knows you a little bit, knows you from episode one and then knows you from the What Makes a Remarkable Life episode with Jill Cohen. Julie, you are a single mom. You’re very active, social and embracing your solo life. You have started a Carpe Diem solo group. What do you call it?
Carpe Diem on Facebook.
That’s in Denver. What prompted that?
I was feeling I needed a bigger network of people to do social activities with. If my other single parent friends had their kids or my coupled-up friends were spending time with their significant other, then I needed a bigger network of people. I decided to start this Carpe Diem group. I invited a bunch of singles, asked those people to invite others and then you can post, “I want to catch some live music tomorrow night. Anybody want to join?” We’ve had some fun. It’s still building momentum because it was just launched. We’ve had some great connections and done some fun things. I’m going to have a party in the spring at my house and have everyone who’s in the group come over and have a good time. For me personally, my intention was not to meet people to date. It’s to meet people to have fun with, mountain bike with and see live music with. Other people in the group may have a different intention, but my personal intention was to have a bigger network.
No group sex?
That’s correct. It’s not my intention. I don’t know about others.
I’d be more concerned about group texts. I’d rather avoid those if I could.
I have put Darwyn on group text reluctantly because I know how much he dislikes them.
If I have the opportunity, I will remove myself in these texts immediately.
That’s how you practice safe group text.
Abstinence, it’s the only 100% safe method.
Group texts are useful for somebody. We do this Vegas basketball weekend and it’s helpful to have the 4 or 5 people on. That’s a short period of time.
If it’s to generate an in the real-life moment. By the way, I love your event because that’s what you’re doing. If we had a text message to shoot the crap and share memes, this is such a waste of time. If it’s for us to cultivate a small group experience as what you’re doing, and a lot of my advice runs parallel to this. As an example, most conventions and conferences are a huge waste of time. Having a group of 500 people listening to one person talk accomplishes nothing, but getting like-minded people together into small groups, whether it’s to have fun or Peter often leads groups where they workshop ideas and dilemmas, this is where a lot of magic happens. I’m a big fan of what you’re doing.
I love what you’re saying too. It makes a lot of sense.
When we wrap this up, Julie and I are headed to a Dilemma Dinner, which I’m hosting. It’s exactly this business venture that Darwyn and I are developing. Julie, you sold a business, White Girl Salsa. Now you’re working with an entrepreneur in the meat industry.
We’re an eCommerce marketing platform basically for small American ranchers. All the beef is sourced in the US, which is not the case when you’re buying beef from the grocery store usually. Quite a lot of it is not from the US. From the rancher’s perspective, they have a larger outlet and a bigger platform to sell their amazing craft beef that is raised in great ways and it’s better for the animal. There’s better nutritional value in the beef when it’s raised in this way. It’s also better for the environment not to use feed lots and so forth.
As somebody who has a beef-heavy diet, this is an exciting idea. You guys can’t tell, but I’m leaning in a lot because my chair is about to tip over.
One of the fun things about Julie’s new venture, you’re doing basically marketing, branding and business development work for this guy.
I do some operations and partnership relations.
It’s fun to hear the stories of them bootstrapping the business model and trying stuff out and A/B testing and working out. They have the product, but they’re like, “We had this great value proposition, but how do we deliver?” It’s a distribution challenge.
[bctt tweet=”Most conventions and conferences are huge wastes of time. ” username=””]
Distribution is expensive. That’s a lot of the margin challenges, how to get that distribution network minimalized.
Do you mean distribution on the marketing center or distribution on the actual logistics?
It’s on the logistics of shipping the product.
I like having Darwyn come in and speak to my MBAs. He’s done this a couple of times now because Darwyn dropped out of his MBA program.
That’s usually the first piece of advice or tip that he will give them is, “Please drop out as soon as possible.”
There’s this thing that’s happened nowadays with the rise of entrepreneurship, aside from on the dating apps, is this great thing. On the dating apps, it means you don’t have a job.
When you say you’re an entrepreneur, that means you don’t have a job.
When the guys say they’re an entrepreneur on the apps, it means they’re in between jobs. In the real world, being an entrepreneur is this sexy thing. What’s better than getting an MBA from Stanford is dropping out of Stanford’s MBA program to start your own business. There are two profiles of the person who drops out of an MBA program. There’s the one who can’t hack it. To be honest, that’s rather rare. Almost everybody who gets admitted to an MBA program has the horsepower to get through it if you get that far. The programs aren’t designed to weed people out. They’re designed to get you through. There’s the Darwyn profile, the Metzger profile, which is you look around and you go, “This isn’t what I was expecting. What am I getting for my money?” He’s already working on business ideas and having this thing going. Darwyn dropped from this program. You got a job and then you eventually moved to LA shortly thereafter.
January, 2008. That’s when I came.
You got one of your big-time jobs in an offbeat entrepreneurial fashion.
I want to hold onto this story only because I realized it ties all three of the tips that I’m going to give here.
Why don’t I ask you this instead? What does Phantom do?
This is not supposed to be a long interview. The issue is usually I should have a tight pitch and we worked with a lot of clients to make sure they have a tight pitch, but because we do many different things now that are completely custom one-off campaigns for completely unrelated clients, it doesn’t make sense. We’re generally brought in as an outsider with the idea of we know you’re an outsider. We want you to think about this from a completely different framework. I like it a lot of what we did. There’s a famous Soviet hockey coach named Tarasov. If you watch the ESPN 30 for 30 called Of Miracles and Men that follows that Lake Placid Soviet team that loses to Team USA in the Miracle on Ice and the aftermath of that loss, you learn essentially that the Soviet Union had no hockey program. They didn’t know what they should do. They hired this guy who they were like, “He’s smart. He’s great at decoding things. Let’s send them to Canada.” He goes to Canada and realizes, “We’ll never beat the Canadians playing hockey the way they play it. They’ve been doing this for decades. They’re bred for this.”
Instead he goes then to New York and he goes to Broadway and he watches the ballet. He starts noting all these different angles of choreography and all these different ways of grouping movements on a surface and then he completely applied these outside ideas to the sport of hockey. It took it over by storm. This is the most dominant team of all time and he was an undefeated coach as part of the Soviet program until they required him to throw a game against the then Czechoslovakia team because they were trying to lobby that country. Essentially he said, “I’m not going to lose and I’m not going to tie, so if you want me to throw a game here, you have to fire me,” which they did.
We basically get brought in typically to TV networks, consumer good companies or startups. We figure out what’s a strategic roadmap we can build for them, thinking from their business, from a complete outsider point of view. Often it touches every department. Sometimes we focus on digital marketing, social media, which is what we’re best known for. We have definitely cracked the code on almost every digital platform. We invented Twitter brigading, which is this concept of these fake accounts trying to goose conversation and direct a body of people towards one viewpoint or another. We were not doing it for political reasons.
They were doing it before it became distasteful.
We were doing it in the way you would imagine Stephen Colbert doing it. Fun and delightful and putting smiles on people’s faces. We have a famous parody of Jesus called Jesus_M_Christ that Obama and Bieber follow and a lot of great comedians like Gervais follow. We also then crack the code on an app called Vine where we ended up helping build 18 of the top 25 Viners and then reinventing them as YouTubers and Instagrammers.
Julie, Darwyn told me this story where he does this on occasion where he says something at the spur of the moment. It’s not planned and it’s a home run. He’s with a client and they’re talking about social media and these social media platforms and so on. He says, “We know the platform better than the platform.”
There’s a company that I’d like Pete to be involved in. I’m not going to say their name, but I’ll talk to you Pete offline about it because I don’t want to blow them up. Essentially, they’re trying to understand like, “We know we like you, guys. We know you’re onto something, but why would we work with you versus this other group?” The quote that I said was, “Because that group knows the platform better than you know it. We know the platform better than the platform knows it.”
The problem is that it’s a little narrow. That’s more of a case study than it is what their strategy is because fandom doesn’t just do social media work. They do product work and they do a bunch of other things.
I describe it as there are coders and there are decoders. We have a team of creative directors/decoders and you could put us in front of any problem and we’ll figure out a way to reverse engineer it in a more convergent way that’s more traditional. We also can come up with these divergent methods that nobody’s thought of and completely tackle it from a new angle.
The only company that of the people know and that Phantom reminds me of is IDEO. IDEO is a product design firm, but they don’t specialize in any product. You bring them a toothbrush, a shopping cart, an automobile, a theme park and they have a process by which they’re going to make that thing better and more novel. That’s my best.
The other layer on top is we operate in stealth. We build a lot of things behind the scenes. We don’t acknowledge our work.
It’s called Phantom. That’s why I’m asking what you do. For years, they didn’t even have a website. There was no social media presence. They now have a website.
It’s the least amount of website you could possibly have for this business.
We should jump into the tips because that’s related to one of my tips.
This reminds me of something. My dad is one of my biggest role models and for entrepreneur, he’s owned 15, 16 different successful businesses. Ever since I was a kid, he would say, “Don’t be a sheep. Don’t follow the crowd. Don’t do what everybody else is doing.” This is reminding me of Phantom. You’re doing it differently and not doing what everyone else does and I love that.
Let’s get going. That’s why people are reading. They want their nine tips for the solo entrepreneur or the aspiring entrepreneur. We’re going to go counter-clockwise and we’ll start with Julie.
Can I ask something first? Is there a distinct difference between the solo entrepreneur and the coupled up entrepreneur with regards to how they act like an entrepreneur? I think there are. I don’t know if that’s relevant to this conversation.
That’s our question for the week. Let’s do the question before we get into the tips because that matters. This question doesn’t have a name associated with it because it’s been asked to me in a variety of ways by a variety of people. The question has two elements to it. The first part is, “Do I quit my job to go all-in on my entrepreneurial venture? Do I keep my job and work on it on the side?” What’s interesting is that question is asked to me by someone who might be married with or without children or might be solo. The answer to that question depends a little bit on the circumstance and also a variety of things. What’s your reaction to that question in those conditions?
The first question was, should I quit my job to go all in? That’s why this is the difference between solo or coupled up is that it depends on what your resources are to quit your job and start a business. If you’re coupled up, does that person make enough money to support you jointly while you’re working on this venture? If you’re solo, do you have access to money you can borrow to quit your job sooner and go all in? It depends on your situation.
As I like to say, your burn rate.
Can you tighten up the spending and save money that way and things like that to look at the options? Another point would be is it time to market of the essence? Do you need to get your idea to market quickly? Is it a big idea before somebody else does? If it is that type of idea, then this is a big conversation. You can give access to investment money and things like that.
This is such a complicated question because, for starters, if you have children and you need to pay for your children to have food and healthcare, whatever, I can’t imagine. I would give you the advice to quit your job until you have enough burn rate. Usually, my recommendation is you need to have six months of burn rate saved up in cash anyways for emergencies. What if you get in a car accident? What if you get fired from your job? Who knows what can happen? If you’re trying to create a new company and you’re going to lose all of your revenue from whatever businesses that you’ve quit the job that you’ve quit, you probably have to have more eighteen months cash. That’s a lot of cash and most people aren’t going to have that.
In most circumstances, I’m still going to recommend to people they keep their job while they launched this business and I’m abundant-minded. You can do both. There is no such thing as too busy. You can always squeak more hours in and find more efficient ways to do the job you’re doing and squeeze that time. I know people to point out most great companies are started by a founder who that was all they had on their plate. I also want to point out examples like Uber. Travis Kalanick was absolutely doing multiple other jobs at the same time. It’s totally doable. I love your advice about how sensitive the timing is to market. If someone’s going to beat you to the punch, you better be all in. The opposite end of this advice is the Peter Dinklage model. I don’t know if you heard that story that he told his first agent, “I’m not doing anything else for work. If you want me to eat this month, I hope you booked me something because I’m not buying anything with the dollar I do from anything other than acting.”
That’s the no plan B set up. I’m most interested in advice for solo entrepreneurs because that’s for the most part, we do have married and partnered readers. To me, the premise is that when you are on your own, especially without children, you can lever up the risk in many ways. Not totally because in some ways, the ideal situation is you’re partnered and you have a hedge. One goes all in and one has the government job that’s totally safe. There is an element of especially removing the children that allow you to have more of an opportunity that if you do want to go all in. What’s interesting is the base rates for failure are high. There’s a book called The 10% Entrepreneur that’s built on this self-hedge. You keep the day job, you curtail it. Maybe you’re a little less ambitious. You even use some of the resources, your office, the fluorescent lights, the printer, etc. You spend nights and weekends, mornings and time to do this secondary activity.
I believe you need $0 to start almost every business on Earth. I’ve yet to see an example where you couldn’t start the business with an email account and a phone and a piece of paper and a pen. I don’t see anyone who needs to raise money for any idea. If it’s a good enough idea and you spend your own blood, sweat and tears building it out, you will get somebody to invest and cover the cost of it. What I cannot figure out though is what you do in the meantime to pay rent and those other bills, unless you either have that passive income stream or you have that burn rate or you have enough runway to live off of.
You’re right that now more than ever, there are opportunities to develop ideas and test those ideas with little overhead. When you think about most entrepreneurial ventures, most don’t go anywhere. You work on the idea and then you go, “Pass.” At some point you are so compelled. The market speaks and you say, “I’ve got to start spending more money in order to make more money.” Julie, you look like you want to say something.
I was thinking about my second company. My daughter was eleven months old when I started. I was a stay-at-home mom starting my second company. I did have the safety net of being married at that time. If I didn’t have a child and I had a full-time job, it was where I was easing my way into the business. I didn’t work on it full-time. I was exploring it, starting to build it and research it, and things like that. I started it with no money because I was doing research and figuring out how to produce it and how to get ingredients and all of those types of things.
I love the idea parents from home raising a child and launching companies, I’m surprised we don’t prescribe that more, whether it be a stay-at-home dad or a stay-at-home mom for those periods of time. It’s valuable. You need that level of flexibility anyways and you have to pay attention to your child, but you can do both. You’ve proven that you can do both.
I needed an outlet. I couldn’t be a stay-at-home mom. I needed to be doing something productive. You’re productive as a mother. I needed to use my brain in different ways and challenge myself in different ways besides me. I needed to be creative.
Julie and I previously laid out my create more than you consume idea. Since then, I keep pointing out all the ways that Julie has been creating things her entire life and being drawn to that. Let me try to sum up what I hear here. There’s this idea that most of the time you don’t need to go all in. You probably shouldn’t be going all-in because you have to make sure that the idea is worth going all in.
To me, the moment where it’s time to go all-in is when the market is pulling this idea that you’ve spent time cultivating and they want it more than you even think they want it. That’s your red flag. That could be because all of a sudden the growth rate on users spikes, all of a sudden you get a big sales contract. You weren’t expecting the market will give you signs that this business is starting to work. If you realize nobody cares and you have to push. The second you have to sell $1 bills for $0.25, this business is DOA. Most people don’t have the ego to admit that. That’s why I don’t think they also then have the quietness to accept or to see when they are finally being pulled into the market that this is the right idea. People are bad curators in general. They don’t prioritize their time well and they don’t know how to curate their best ideas and go all-in with those.
This is going to be reflected in the tips. It’s about developing ideas and giving yourself a chance to see how strong it is before you put yourself into a no plan B situation.
It’s like the first date. It’s an asymmetrical bet. If you’re building an idea that takes no money to start building, it’s your time and thought and you say, “At some point, this isn’t working out,” it’s like a first date. If you’re quitting your job to do it, that’s getting engaged to somebody before you even know them. It’s a similar misstep, but this is how we prescribe it typically.
The answer is don’t have children, work on the idea, and pay attention to the market.
She’s proven though. It’s proven. If you have children, you can still do this.
Although it does help to have a partner. That’s the argument for marriage. The best argument for marriage is children.
It’s expensive. Is it in your Money Amy episode?
It was the Money Amy episode where I went to town on these financial benefits of marriage idea.
[bctt tweet=”Tell people exactly what you envisioned for yourself, and ask for their help in achieving it. ” username=””]
The cost to raise a child was?
It’s a minimum of $250,000 to age eighteen.
Imagine investing that in a business.
Imagine investing that in the S&P 500, which makes approximately 10% a year, which means every seven years, that would double. Seven years after, that’d be worth $500,000. Fourteen years after, that’d be $1 million right there.
When you’re wealthy, it doesn’t stay $250,000. It goes up because you spend more on your children. They would like to spend more on their children. People would spend all their money on their kids if they could because of the nature of children.
People spend all their money on their dogs if they could.
To the young Solo readers, you can think about that in a cerebral way of having children versus not having children.
This is about people walking on different paths. The story, and I’ve told it before, I’ll tell it again. I was doing a Master’s degree at Rutgers right after my undergrad. It was mostly to get some additional training and to set myself up for a PhD program. It was a theoretical program and very academic program. I had a bunch of friends who were in this human resource program, which was business-focused. They have all gone on to work at major companies and they are incredibly affluent as a result of it. They also are all married, all have children and all also have luxurious tastes now, which tends to happen. They used to talk about starting their own business while going into partnerships with each other. That has never happened and I don’t think it ever will because now they’re at a point where they can’t turn to speak it off and take on that risk. There is something about while you’re young, wild and free to think about these moments. With that in mind, let’s put Julie on the clock for your first tip.
I’ll start with this one because it relates to what we have been talking about and then it won’t take a ton of time. If you’re a solo entrepreneur, it’s important to stay balanced and to have fun. If you’re coupled up, that inherently forces you to take time to spend time with your coupled-up person. You could work all the time. When you’re in business for yourself, you can work all the time. Balance is important in making sure you’re having fun and a release.
I haven’t mentioned this yet, but the timing of this episode coincides with the launch of my new book. I’m going to shamelessly self-promote. The book is called Shtick to Business: What the Masters of Comedy Can Teach You About Breaking Rules, Being Fearless and Building a Serious Career. I wrote the book for two types of people. For the person in a normal, traditional organizational structure who wants to get more out of their career or for someone who’s entrepreneurial-minded. One of the lessons is called work hard or hardly work. It’s this idea about thinking about your approach, almost like a barbell. On one side is the intense focus necessary to solve major problems into developing things and to be focused and working on a consistent basis.
The idea that you release yourself. I talked about you protect time, you grind and then you release. That release is not scrolling through Instagram while you’re at your desk. That release is you get some sunshine, you go to the pool, you see friends. There are few Elon Musks in the world who can seemingly work all the time and will say, “My girlfriend had to come and sleep on the couch in the office if she wanted to see me.” There’s still a moment of like, “We will break down if we don’t have human contact, if we don’t get sunlight, if we don’t get exercise and so on.” I liked the fact that you’re like, “There’s a limit to it.”
There is a lot of stress involved. You had sleepless nights and wondering how you’re going to pay the bills and things like that. It’s important to have a release for that.
What’s your go-to release?
Mine is mountain biking. I forget about everything that’s happening and I’m focusing on what I’m doing. It puts me instantly in a good mood. No matter what is going on, I can go for a mountain bike ride and I feel great afterward.
There is something to be said about a release that doesn’t allow you at times to let your unconscious mind think of work and do work but not your conscious mind. When you’re going down a hill on a mountain, you have to focus on that. It’s why a lot of middle-aged men like golf much because it has these moments of time where you’re staring at that ball and all you want to do is hit it straight. I am not a golfer, but I know enough about it to know that you want to hit the ball and how incredibly difficult it is to hit the ball straight. How you’ll never hit the ball straight if you’re thinking about your meeting on Thursday? It gets you outside. It’s social and it’s green. You have these meditative moments. I’m not advocating golf. What is your go-to release, Darwyn?
This is hard for me to say. I was going to ask you, if you are mountain biking once a week, is that something you let yourself do sporadically through the week? I don’t know, other than food for sure. I love to eat and I consider food release for me and I eat well every day, virtually every meal. I do work out 5 to 6 times a week, typically lifting heavy or doing yoga as an augment to lifting heavy. I try to turn off work as best I can on Friday night and I will generally try to not pick it up in an intense way until Sunday night when I engage in what Pete knows as Smonday, which is more or less a full workday. That begins about 6:00 in the evening on Sundays and can often go until 3:00 in the morning on Monday to make sure that everybody on my team is ahead of schedule the next day.
My version of Smonday starts at 3:00, 4:00 or 5:00 and is somewhere between 3 and 6 hours. That’s what a gift that a solo person has is that they can say, “Sunday night is designed to get through my inbox, to plan my week, to do the admin, so that Monday morning I can be creative and I can make stuff.”
Nothing fights the Sunday scaries battling against all the things you’re afraid of on Monday and getting it done right here and now and waking up on Monday looking forward to Monday. That’s a gift. That’s what Smonday accomplishes for me.
Is that one of your tips?
That should be.
Bonus tip, Smonday. Time is up. Darwyn?
When I came up with my tips, I first started by referencing a tweet from a few years ago where I had ranked every job I’ve ever had. The first thing I wanted to contemplate was what was the difference between the job that I ranked as being my favorite job, which is being a founder and what was the job that I’d ranked as being my worst job? It in this case was being a hockey referee. I’ve done many things and quickly rattle them off and it’s going to start from the best to the worst. It’s founder, app builder, Twitch streamer, TV personality journalist, TV producer, actor, ghostwriter, eBay store seller, camp counselor, poker player, cookie delivery driver, hockey scorekeeper, courier, HVAC filter salesman, broker’s assistant, shoe salesman, Santa’s helper, bed salesman, ice cream scooper. I used to clean black widows out of semi-truck trailers, TV and film audience recruiter, and then last hockey referee. To me, the commonalities with the jobs at the top that are amazing are that I did not wait for permission for these jobs. I created these opportunities. Whereas the jobs I hate the most were the ones where I was within a system and this is the best that system had to offer me, which means you’re treated the worst, you’re paid the least and essentially valued the least.
This is why the I’m Not Joking episode with Darwyn is called The Unemployable Darwyn Metzger. He doesn’t play well in those organizations.
I’m particularly unemployable, but I believe everybody’s unemployable to some degree and other people are more tolerant with the pain at being employed means for them. I have no tolerance for it. My first tip is to stop waiting for permission from your boss or company to get the job you want and create it or demand it. That action will take you much further. There is no dream job out there. I promise you, there is no dream COO, CEO job waiting for you. You cultivate and create that job for yourself. If you think you are overqualified for the job you have within a company, you should start doing the work of whatever you think is above your pay grade and then bring that body of work to the board or to your boss and say, “I’m doing the job. Start paying me for it or I’m going to go elsewhere and do it.” You definitely have not to be risk-averse. That’s going to be true for all the tips that I’m going to give.
One thing we should agree on is that you have to have a risk-seeking personality to some degree. It helps to be what I call promotion-focused. Focus on achievement if you’re going to get into an entrepreneurial venture.
I’d love to comment on that. I was doing some consulting for this gentleman. He was an investor into a business and his background was financial planning. The founder of the business had a mental breakdown and was no longer involved in the business. This investor took over the business. Normally, financial planning people are not risk-takers. I saw the struggle that the business had because he wouldn’t take risks. I felt with someone who was more willing to take risks, the business could have been hugely successful and he was so conservative. I don’t want to say failure because it’s still in business, but you have to be able to take risks.
There are two types of founders. There is that operational founder that’s great at dotting I’s, crossing the T’s, and keeping the trains on track. That’s wonderful, but those people do not create new ventures unless they’re paired with the other type of founder, which is that swashbuckling pirate who’s willing to jump in and do something without permission. I don’t know why I keep going back to Travis Kalanick from Uber. Uber, whose current CEO Dara came from Travelocity or Expedia or whatever. He’s a brilliant man. He would have never created that company. They needed a founder who is willing to piss off a bunch of people and crack a bunch of eggs to make that omelet. In the example of the founder that you’re talking about, Julie, that founder should be seeking out. By the way, these are great pairs. If you find yourself to be more of a visionary who is not afraid of risk and who does have bold ideas, but you’re not great at operations, find that operational partner to let them take over that role and vice-versa. If you know you love to see how things are organized and you’re more thoughtful but you’re afraid of risk, bring somebody in who’s going to push you to your edges.
In Shtick to Business, I talk about this idea of job crafting. There’s the job description that HR gives and then there’s the job you do. There’s the job you’re rewarded for. There’s a whole literature in organizational behavior about people crafting their own jobs in terms of focusing on different things. What you’re saying is even if you’re working within an organizational structure, it’s making a case for you to be doing different things and thus more rewarding things that are both beneficial to the business and to you. That’s the key.
If you’re a swashbuckling founder, few organizations are set to reward those people and acknowledge their contributions. That’s for sure is your sign to get out of there.
My reaction to what you said, Julie, is with failure rates as high as they are for business, people want to play things safe. The actual reaction is you have to play things riskier because chances are you’re going to fail anyway. The way that you can maximize success is to go bigger, different and so on. Time is up. Mine is drawn from the book and I’m going to go with a different one as a different flavor, but you alluded to it, Darwyn. This comes from chapter four, which is titled Write It or Regret It. In the chapter, I make a case for people in business to have a writing practice. One of my friends and Julie’s friends and Darwyn, you met her too at Dilemma Day.
Rachel Beisel, she read an advanced copy of the book. She says, “I’ve read 100 business books at least, maybe 200. I’ve never read a business book that puts forth a case for writing.” What I want to say is if you have an idea, before you do anything, write it down. I’m in love with the one-pager. Every idea, I have, every business idea, every academic paper, I write a one-pager. In it I set up the problems, set up the targets, set up the idea and see, “Can I write something that can persuade me that this is a big idea and worth doing?” Most of the time, I set it aside.
Once you’ve written it and that helps you solidify the thought process about the idea.
We write things down to record our ideas. Comics do this all the time. They carry around a notebook, they’re constantly recording ideas. Most of those things don’t do anything, but occasionally it’s useful and now you have it. It’s on paper. It doesn’t get lost. You don’t forget it. You write things to clarify ideas. It’s easy to be loose with your talking, it’s hard to be loose with your writing.
This is why Donald Trump doesn’t publish a lot of papers.
He’s a good talker. The writing is what matters when you want to develop an idea. What the cool thing about the one-sheet or the one-pager is once you’re okay with it, once you go, “I’m going to do this now,” I wrote a one-pager for Solo for example, then it becomes a communication document. Now you can share it with people. What I did was once I had written it, I started sharing it with people to get their feedback. The copy in the one-pager became copy for this and so on and so forth. I say, “Write it or regret it.”
I also like that it forces you to confront your idea because maybe that idea isn’t that good until I’m able to reread my own thoughts and see it. It’s easy for your memory to trick you into thinking, “I think that sounded good.” When I get to reread the actual idea and I have to now come to terms with, is this worth taking a step forward with or not? I like that because it takes you out of the purgatory, which I think is what happens to a lot of would-be entrepreneurs. They have it half idea. It’s not that great, but it’s not bad enough for them to acknowledge to move on and try a new thing. I love that writing it down forces you into the right action.
It’s one page. It’s not 30 pages. You don’t need long business plans, you don’t need deep marketing plans. It’s tight. What’s interesting is Bezos and Amazon, when someone comes up with a new product idea, what they’re charged with doing is to write the press release. Is it newsworthy? Can they identify the target? Is there a value proposition? If you can’t write a press release for this new product that pops, why would you ever do it? Time is up. Julie, onto your second tip.
As we’re having this conversation, my brain is being flooded with more and more tips. What I have down is create a support network. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely, it can be scary. That support network, I was mainly thinking of other entrepreneurs where you can bounce ideas off of. Even in the ideation phase, you might join a trade association where other people are in this industry. That helps you not only learn about the industry but connect with people and hear their challenges and know how I am going to address those challenges in a different way. That’s a great form of education and then also navigating that industry, as you meet other founders and other entrepreneurs, what do you do about this? How do you handle this? I thought about this, I ran into this problem. Being able to have someone who gets what you’re doing to be able to bounce ideas off of and work through issues is important with having a support network.
One of my favorite business books is The E-Myth. The challenges entrepreneurs have. Mary is good at making pies, everybody tells Mary you should go into the pie business. Mary doesn’t know crap about finance, accounting or anything else. Either Mary needs to read a bunch of books or lean on other people or hire other people. You need help to execute ideas.
That’s hiring your team. If you’re not good at accounting, hire somebody to do the accounting. If your best use is sales and marketing, that’s how you should spend your time. This tip that I’m talking about is definitely more in the support. Not for hire, more to bounce ideas off of or to spend time working through ideas. Less for hire, but more supportive.
Your point, Julie and Peter, the point you made is ultimately the tip I’m about to give next, that you all serve to me synergize together and essentially what we’re saying is take advantage of human-powered opportunities. When people want to start a new business, the first thing they’re thinking of and this goes back to what I was already saying. “I need to raise money now, I’m going to need money for this.” You will always need more humans than anything. I love the idea of workshopping ideas in small groups. In a sense, that’s part of what you’re talking about. No great idea was cultivated by one person and one person alone. If it’s a group of people that are identical and have nothing that they fill in the gaps for one another, that business is going to fail as well.
Also, adding the twinge of you need to find people that think a little bit differently than you, but that you still share common grounds, whether that’s ethically or on your vision. My tip, which maybe I should segue into, is to tell people exactly what you envisioned for yourself and ask for their help in achieving that vision. What I’ve come to learn over time is that in my mind, somebody should like me more if I offer them advice. What is true is if I ask them for advice, they’re way more likely to like me and way more likely to help me. You and I and Julie are talking about the same thing, which is how do we get support from other people to help move our visions forward? I love starting off by saying, “Here’s what I’m going to do.” If I have ideas for that person as to how they fit in so that they don’t have to do all the mental math on their own, and better yet, if I have a way that getting what I want also dovetails with them getting what they want and brings them value, then you’ll start to see momentum builds. That’s my second tip.
I swear Darwyn hasn’t registered to business. I have this element within the book about the myth of the lone genius. What often looks like lone genius is group genius. Even if an individual comes up with a creative idea, you need people to execute the idea. This idea is so old it’s become a proverb which is, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”
It gets hidden because oftentimes a CEO is often the singer of a band. They’re much more front and center. You notice them. You don’t realize how great the guitar complemented that vocal or whatever. I can’t think of Steve Jobs without thinking about Wozniak. I can’t think about Mark Zuckerberg without thinking about Sheryl Sandberg. That’s why they’ve created such behemoth companies. Typically, if you do have a company that does have one swashbuckling X-factor founder and nobody else is a true cofounder, that company is done the second that founder is gone. The companies that tend to survive over time tend to have a band behind them.
There’s this great article from TechCrunch where the author did an analysis of successful companies. This was built from a VC perspective. What are the kinds of firms you should put your money into? There’s a bit of myth-busting in it. First of all, it’s not the twenty-something founder who’s often successful. It’s the 30-something founder who’s often already had a business venture or two. What’s interesting is cofounders usually fare better than single founders. It’s for the reasons that we talk about this idea of complementing each other.
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If you have opposing perspectives where those cofounders find agreement, it tends to be the strongest idea. Whereas if you don’t have somebody else to push back and say, “I don’t know if that’s the best angle,” you go with what you think works the best. Oftentimes, that gives you a worse result.
In comedy, there’s the classic Double Act. It’s Martin and Lewis, Laverne and Shirley, Abbott and Costello. You have the straight and the clown and those two together make better comedy than two clowns or two straights. An improv group does well with, as Billy Merritt would say, pirates and robots. The idea that you have both these swashbucklers and more analytical people. This notion of complementation is quite nice.
This is the situation I’m in now with this Ranchr. The founder is in the Bay Area and he has worked for eBay and Levi Strauss and huge companies. When he brought me on board, I bring this different perspective than he does. It’s been interesting. We’d complement each other very well. He’s like, “We have to get stuff printed.” I’m like, “I got it. I’ve done everything. I know how to get this done.”
They’re both important because to me I’m much more you. I’m much more grassroots, guerrilla and scrappy. Those are the mindsets that generally have new bold ideas or help build new bold ideas. However, I also need to have people that know how to work inside of these large bureaucratic organizations to get things done. I do not have the patience or skillset. It sounds like a great partnership between the two of you.
It works wonderfully. It’s great.
That idea is you have enough in common and share enough of a shared perspective that you get along and you can move things forward, but you see things differently enough that you have better and more creative execution. Mine is I have many I could choose from. I’m going to go with the first idea that I had when I started to work on Shtick to Business. It came out of my observation of watching comics, especially watching stand-up in terms of the punchline for jokes, but also can be the premise for a comedy sketch or even a movie. That’s called the reversal or I say to people, reverse it. To produce an opposing perspective in comedy is a great way to make people laugh.
Anthony Jeselnik has this joke. He says, “My parents were strict. They caught me smoking a cigarette. They made me smoke an entire pack of cigarettes in one sitting to demonstrate the value of brand loyalty,” or thereabouts. I can’t do the joke complete justice. I said that in a Jeselniky fashion. Everybody’s thinking why they would have their kid smoke an entire pack and yet this reversal. When you start thinking about some great businesses, successful businesses, they often have this. People don’t typically think in reverse. Comics think in reverse naturally or they learn it in Comedy 101. For example, this is pre-CrossFit, pre-Orangetheory, all this stuff. The fitness industry, it’s never been easy to get into shape. Eight-minute abs, seven-minute abs, six-minute abs, five-minute abs or this thing. All of us know there’s no such thing as an easy way to get into shape.
Along comes Tony Horton who had been working on getting fit an actor, comedian and started training musicians. He got Tom Petty into shape before a concert, then worked with Annie Lennox, Bruce Springsteen and so on. These were hard workouts. Riding the bike, hitting the heavy bag, calisthenics and all this stuff. He got hired by Beach Body and he created P90X, which is not easy. It’s not difficult. It’s insanely difficult. P90X sold four million DVD copies. It was the most pirated DVD of the day because it offered something that no one else was offering, which was real results. It headed in the opposite direction.
I paid for my P90X DVD.
Tony is appreciative of that.
P90X then wanted to even up that. They came out with Insanity.
My other favorite example of this in the book is how do you outsmart Apple and Samsung in the smartphone market?
You go opposite on privacy and you come up with a phone where everything you do is broadcast to everyone all the time, including the CIA?
Not exactly. You create the dumb phone, which these two Brooklyn-based entrepreneurs did. They bootstrapped it, put it on Indiegogo and exceeded five times their funding goal on Indiegogo. They created a phone for people who don’t want to be more connected, but for people who want to be less connected. I always ask, “Can you ask questions in reverse? How do we cut costs?” Try to answer that question but you say, “How can we increase costs? How do we acquire new customers?” For example, oftentimes people think in reverse and they don’t even know they’re thinking in reverse. I met Darwyn at an improv class. He has this background in comedy. Everybody’s coming up with these big bold websites, deep tons of information, content marketing and all this stuff. What Phantom does is go, “Everybody has a big bold, everybody’s broadcasting with it. We’re heading in the opposite direction.” Reverse it is my tip. It won’t always yield a good idea but it certainly can. Built on reverse it, I’ve come up with something I call shitstorming, which is a reverse brainstorm.
The worst ideas you come up with.
You’ll be able to go to the website and download the workbook to get access to how to do a shitstorming task.
The workbook for Shtick to Business?
Julie, your third and final tip.
I’m sure many people will disagree with me on this tip. I was at a trade show and natural food industry was the business I sold. I see a brand founder I know and he comes running up to me. He said, “You gave me the best advice I’ve ever gotten.” I said, “Really? What was it?” I don’t even know what I said. It was, “Take the money when people want to give it to you.” This is my experience in my industry, but it could apply to others. The phenomenon is when you’re on fire and you’re the talk of the town, that’s when people want to get involved. When you misforecast how much money you need and you’re thinking you’re going to be okay and you’re trying to stretch it, and then you’re desperate, and you need money.
It’s like dating. When you’re desperate, no one wants to give it to you. When you don’t want it, that’s when people want to go out with you.
Talking about this other founder who was not wanting to take risks, he weighed too much on equity. “I want 100% equity.” You’re going to have 100% of a small business, and if you bring on investors and take the money and grow this thing, you could have a smaller piece of a huge business. That’s my advice. Maybe not always take the money, but think about taking the money when people want to give it to you.
Having 100% of the dead company is worse than having 10% of an enormous company.
Ego kills a lot of businesses. The ego is damaging and anybody who wants to have 100% of anything, they’re being shortsighted because they should also want that company to live on beyond them. That’s impossible if you own 100%. I also think this reminds me of another mindset that I either want in a single founder, I want a founder team to have. I want them to simultaneously be ambitious and optimistic that they’re going to become a $1 billion company and that’s guaranteed. At the same time, I want them paranoid that they’re going to run out of money now. I want them to have both of those completely contradictory mindsets at the same time. If you can get a team that can hold both of those at the same time, they’ll usually make progress.
This is built a little bit on the reverse. Everybody thinks about how you’re trying to reduce your burn rate. You two know this and probably the readers are starting to pick this up with me. I have this day job as a professor. I have all these side hustles. I have the great luxury of they don’t have to make money because I have got this regular thing, but I’m starting to think like, “They should make money. Why not? Why work for free?” What I’m starting to think about is like, “Maybe I’m not investing enough into these things.” If I pick an arbitrary number that might be even a little painful to write the checks for, what I might be able to do with it?
What we were talking about is that the tipping point of when the market is pulling it from you. The thing I thought of was this Solo show, the comments you’ve been getting and the momentum and the growth and word of mouth. The market is pulling that and it’s beyond what you expected.
I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s unlike anything I’ve done before. I get a call, I get an email, I get someone saying, “I want to volunteer.” The other one is the word of mouth. If you’re reading and you like this, I encourage you to tell it to people, especially the people who you think it might help. I have a friend who went on three dates in one day. This is someone who is an appealing individual and told each of his dates about Solo. First of all, that’s bold. That’s neat that someone feels compelled to talk about it. That’s a question. I need to think a little bit about it. I’m already spending money to produce this and so on. I should be like, “With the market speaking, what’s a reasonable thing to spend money?”
Reverse it and charge people to be there. You can charge people to officiate their weddings when they inevitably stop being solo. That’s reversal right there, monetization strategy.
I like that idea. I’m starting to hear these themes that are coming up here. One is this idea of teamwork. The other one is risk.
Teamwork with the teams you choose. You curate and cultivate that team, not walking into a random corporation hoping they have 500 people that are going to make sense with you. Being intentional with who you surround yourself with is what I would add to that teamwork.
The other one is money or capital. There’s human capital and then there’s the capital. Both are on the side of being able to pay the bills. I know people are going to fail and that’s okay, but you have to accept the fact that there might be a failure in order to succeed. What I don’t want are failures that ruin people. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with failing and trying again. The best predictor of a good idea is the number of ideas you come up with. I don’t want people to destroy their lives as a result of this. This issue of money is one that you need a plan for.
It would be a clever tack to suggest entrepreneurship to more people. That way, they break up with their significant others because it is the stress of it and now you’ve got more readers to Solo at the same time. We figured you out, McGraw.
The nice thing is that there’s a never-ending supply of single people. The thing that makes Solo work is it’s not that there are plenty of single people, it’s that there are not enough resources for single people.
No one’s talking about what you’re talking about.
People want somebody to give them permission to live the life they know they already want and to say, “It’s okay to want this.”
It is to be unapologetic. What is wrong? If you’re going to live a nontraditional life, if you’re going not to see being single as a liminal space, what are you going to do with that time and energy and those resources? Darwyn, third tip.
In a world designed for parody, it pays to take unconventional approaches across the board. You could apply this advice to the dating world as well. When it comes to entrepreneurship and frankly building these businesses, everybody is trying to tackle the same problems from the same angles. Everybody’s figured out that their customer acquisition strategy is trying to optimize Facebook ads towards new customers and Google and SEO towards people who’ve already shared intent for your product. Maybe I’ll manage another social channel that seems applicable to my industry. Every one of your competitors is doing the exact same thing. I don’t want to compete in that race. I want to figure out the blue ocean where the other sharks haven’t figured out it’s a great hunting ground yet.
We had a big change in Phantom where we were working with predominantly Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to build audiences and to monetize for our clients. We realized that if we went further downstream, it took us about 300 apps before we discovered Vine and broke Vine before anyone. That’s where the biggest change in our business occurred. We did the same thing with a platform called Twitch. In general, you can’t keep tackling these ideas from the same approaches you’re seeing everybody else take. I like the idea of reversal and trying to do. What’s the dumbest way to tackle this business? At least it might be novel and there might be an opportunity that’s not cultivated that’s yours for the taking. If I were to try to synergize all three of my advice into one story, I’m going to come back to how I got my start in the industry.
Tip number one was to stop waiting for permission and create a demand for the job you want. Number two was to tell people exactly what you envisioned for yourself and ask for their help in achieving that vision. Number three, in a world designed for parody, how do you take an unconventional approach? I graduated from a school called the University of Denver that is not famous in any way because we don’t have a football team. In all the ways unrelated to football, it’s an incredible school that often punches above its weight class. One of the things that are responsible for is an alumni named Bill Daniels, who more or less created and cultivated the cable TV industry. It is why the school of business at DU is called the Daniels School of Business. I knew graduating that I want to move into digital TV and I wanted to create all of the opportunities that had happened within the cable TV space digitally.
My senior thesis was a paper that predicted everything YouTube did for the first eight years of its existence. I could not get the one company I had on my radar to hire me, which was called ManiaTV. They coincidentally happened to be based out of Denver. A lot of early eBay investors had invested. Essentially they had a Myspace platform and a YouTube platform and a 24/7 livestream in 2005. They were way ahead of everyone on many levels. They hired my favorite comedian, a Canadian named Tom Green, who used to have a show on MTV called The Tom Green Show. He had been radio silent for years because he had been pissed with the media. They came to him and said, “We’ll set up a studio for you in your house. No rules, no censorship. You do whatever show you want.” I remember watching this go down and being like, “I can’t believe I’m not a part of this.” On episode three, he had a few drinks and he decided to give out his home phone number. Immediately I was like, “This is the moment.” I called the phone number, a producer picks up, asked me a few questions and it’s like, “I’m going to let you talk to Tom during the show.” I was like, “Yes, you are.” He puts me on with Tom, who has a guest named Bobby Badfingers. This is the first season of America’s Got Talent. Bobby Badfingers was a finalist. We have a conversation that covers an array of topics. I remember tequila being discussed.
Finally, I asked Bobby and Tom for help in getting a job for ManiaTV. Tom goes, “Do you live in Denver?” I was like, “Yes.” He was like, “We’re getting you a job.” The next day, the head of productions, Richard Ayoub, who’s still a great friend and mentor, called me up and was like, “I guess you’re coming in for an interview.” This approach to me takes all three of those tips and wraps it into one. Number one, I did not wait for ManiaTV to give me permission because clearly, they weren’t even responding to my resumes, they weren’t returning my calls. I found a way that forced them to have to bring me into the fold. Number two is very clear with what I wanted. I asked Tom for this help. He gave it to me. The same thing was true when Richard brought me into ManiaTV.
He said, “Do you want to show? What are you trying to do?” I said, “I want to help you build the empire.” He put me in a position to help them build from a much more behind the curtain sense, which was transformative for me. In a world where every other person is competing for this job that didn’t exist from the person who didn’t know that they should give you help, how do I stand out from the people who are sending resumes and are making phone calls and doing interviews? I found this unconventional way that nobody could forget, that nobody could deny. It worked out. With that show, with that opportunity that I built at ManiaTV, I parlayed that into my first job in TV with the Dr. Phil Show. I then parlayed into my first job in TV news where I built a report called Kurt the CyberGuy, which became the most-watched tech broadcast of all time. I parlayed that into the agency I’ve had now for many years.
That’s an amazing story.
This reminds me of two quick anecdotes. One is there’s this guy named Naval. He’s known as The Angel Philosopher. He’s the CEO of AngelList. Darwyn and I are fans of this guy. He has this thing where he’s like, “If you want to build a company or you want to start an entrepreneurial venture, tell people. Tell them what you want to do.”
People get precious. They think that their ideas are so special and unique that the second someone else hears them, that person is instantly a billionaire.
Ideas are cheap. What he says about this is if you tell your coworkers, “I’m going to start a new business,” after three months they’re going to be like, “I thought you were going to start a business. What are you still doing here?” There’s even that level of accountability.
It’s this idea of asking what you want and putting it out there. I sit on the board for an organization called Naturally Boulder and it’s for the natural products industry. We’re trying to revamp our networking events. I said, “When you go to a networking event, how are you doing? How’s business?” “Everything’s great. We got into Kroger, we got into Target.” What’s happening? You’re shitting your pants for some reason or another and you’re putting on this air of everything is awesome because that’s what you think people want to hear. We had another networking event. What we did is write on the nametag, “I have to offer,” and on another name tag, “I need.” It was this idea of everyone in the room has something to offer and everyone in the room needs something. How can we put these people together and be the power of vulnerability? Talk about the struggles and how you need help and not just, “I got my products into Target.”
Every business, whether it’s a trillion-dollar company like Microsoft or a startup that’s being built in someone’s garage, everybody needs something. There is no business on earth that does not need a lot of help with something.
The other anecdote is from Julie’s bonus mom, Sheila Paxton, who has been serving as a mentor for me generously. She told me this story. I have a lot of MBA students and undergraduate business students who want to get jobs and asked me to look at their resume and so on. I always push them to be bolder in their resume, not in terms of embellishing, but in terms of at least visually making this thing stand out. This is a good segue into my tip. Before that, I want to say thank you for sharing that story, Darwyn. That’s a great “show, don’t tell” moment. Sheila wanted this job. I can’t remember the exact details for it and maybe it was met with Mattel or some toy company or whatnot. Rather than sending her resume in, she sent this enormous package. In the package was the car, the toy that they were selling. In this driver’s seat was the doll with Sheila’s face on it. In the passenger seat was her resume. It was impossible to ignore and I was like, “You got the job, didn’t you?” She goes, “Of course, I got the job.”
We teach students to mail it in. We teach students from grade one to whenever they graduate, “Play by the rules. Here’s what I’ve set for you to do and as long as you’ve done that, that’s enough.”
That doesn’t translate into the world of business. It works in the world of government where you’re a bureaucrat, but it doesn’t work in the world of business.
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It would work in business when people were hiring. We have 100 candidates and if they randomly selected one, that approach would be fine, but they’re not. They’re going to take either the most impressive or the most novel or ideally both. That’s the person that’s going to get hired and going to get the opportunity. It’s never the person that looks equally good as the other 75.
I’ll tell you a failed story about this. I was trying to sell Shtick to Business to a traditional publisher. My previous lit agent is no longer a lit agent. My previous publisher told me in no uncertain terms that this was a small idea. I was hustling to get a lit agent and I found someone who was interested but didn’t see this as a big advanced book. It’s a niche book and I can agree with that. I was like, “I’m going to go a traditional route and see how it goes.” I was having a hard time getting his attention. He wasn’t responding to emails and stuff that. I bought ribbon-cutting scissors that were three feet long, enormous with red handles, and I had engraved on it. I said, “Let’s publish a book that will cut through the clutter.” I mailed it to his office. I immediately got an email from him. He did take the next step and approached some publishers. They passed, they’re dead to me. I immediately pivoted to create the book on my own terms and I spent the money out of my own pocket.
By the way, I love that no matter what happens with the bold approach, either I do get the result I want or at least I get the quick no. It forces them into a position. “You cannot deny this. You’re going to have to deal with me. I’m cool either way. I want a quick yes or a quick no, but I don’t want to wait for another five months on the return email that’s never ever going to come.”
I had wasted enough time with the traditional and I immediately pivoted, then everything took off from there. I’ve assumed the risk rather than a publisher. I have everything that a normal publisher gives, which is a great design, a great editorial work, a great audiobook, it’s going to be on Amazon, the whole gig. My tip is called create a chasm. This is close to your unconventional approach, Darwyn. Every other week, some comedians are in trouble for a joke that he or she told on Twitter or in a comedy club. My response is you shouldn’t bother complaining because they’re not going to stop. As long as the audience in front of them is laughing, they don’t care what the rest of the world thinks. A joke is valuable to one group of people and not valuable to another group of people. If you try to make a joke that’s valuable to both, you make a joke that’s not valuable to both. That is in a world of people who want hot tea and a world that people who want iced tea. If you give them warm tea, you make no one happy.
Imagine if Gillian Rancher were trying to target vegans and vegetarians and make sure that they liked the sentiment of their marketing or the branding. It would make zero sense. That’s never going to be your customer. Of course, they don’t like your product. It’s good they don’t like your product.
When people hate you, someone loves you. Here’s the thing, if someone loves you, then certainly someone hates you. You may be universally hated, but to get people to love you, you also have to risk having people hate you. I like this idea of dividing an audience and being very clear about who you are. Solo was based on that principle, which was that some people aren’t going to be happy about this, but you want the people who are happy about it. Not to be kind of happy but to be so happy that they will tell all three of their dates in one day.
You could have an entire podcast and an entire conversation around helping people get comfortable being a polarizing figure, whether that’s polarizing on a personal level or on a business level. The truth is if there is no polarization, there are no sparks almost across the board. People want to be beloved by everyone. We formed this tofu, generic, warm tea, and then nobody likes your tea. It’s the equivalent of the founder that you mentioned, Julie, that’s too risk-averse where you become this warm tea that’s guaranteed not to be used because you are afraid of making the perfect product that everybody likes.
I’m going to give you my favorite to create a chasm company and it’s a fitness one again, so forgive me. It’s called Barry’s Bootcamp. If you’re from New York or Los Angeles, you probably know Barry’s. There’s one right down the street from me and I went once on a date. Barry’s is a lot Orangetheory. It has treadmill runs and then floor exercises. It’s an hour-long workout and it’s a good workout. It is intense, but Barry’s is different than others. First of all, it’s like working out in a club. They play music and they play it loud. In fact, I went to the front desk and asked for earplugs and they had them. Celebs go there like Jake Gyllenhaal and Kim Kardashian goes there. Beautiful and young people go there. You turn down the volume to make me happy and then you make the customer unhappy. They’re there because they are energized by the music. The next thing, Barry’s is lit in red light. It’s dark, but it’s red light. All four walls are floor to ceiling mirrors so you can see yourself work out. All of us look fabulous in red light. Your skin looks great. It hides blemishes and so on. Now you’re in this gym that gets you results. Your body looks good. You’re then bathed in this red light that makes you look even better. People barely wear clothing. Men take their shirts off. As a guy working out in that gym, you can take your shirt off in there. It’s not for everyone.
There’s a reason why they don’t offer that in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I’m not sure you want to see those men with their shirt off. It makes more sense for them.
Why don’t we do that on our list of things to do while I was here?
We’ve worn shirts throughout this entire conversation. It doesn’t make any sense.
We’re also under fluorescent lighting. You think about it. You have this lighting and you let people barely wear any clothing. You have this loud music. It’s like you’re at a rave or a dance club or something like that. It’s not for everyone. For the people that Barry’s is for, they can’t imagine going anyways. A drop-in session at Barry’s is $30. That’s no joke. I like this idea of, can you polarize? Can you be divisive? Can you make people pick a side? Comedians do that all the time. Are you with me or are you against me? Some of the best businesses, especially the young grassroots scrappy ones, they don’t have to be like Coca-Cola and have something for everyone. They don’t have to be Capital One where they have something for everyone. They need one thing for one group of people in that sense. That’s my last one.
That full circle brings up the idea of creativity. Those people at Barry’s are creative, thinking outside the box. Don’t be a sheep. It’s encapsulating a lot of these ideas that we talked about into one. When people are thinking about, “Should I start a business? Should I be an entrepreneur?” A lot of it is how much out of the box thinking can you do and this creative way that Darwyn got this job, and Sheila sent the doll in the vehicle. I have an example of doing that very same thing. When you sell products to Whole Foods, there are ten different regions. Now it’s different that Amazon has taken over. At that time, each region made their own decision of what products they would carry. My products were in 3 or 4 Whole Foods regions and of course, I wanted to get into the rest. The buyers wouldn’t return my emails. I wasn’t getting any traction or any response. Do you remember those flip recorders? It was a little video recorder.
I famously lost a flip recorder that I had pranked Bill Cosby into thinking Dr. Phil was calling him and I had to bury it because it was a big no-no, but I wish I had it now.
What I did is I went and bought a bunch of second-hand flips and recorded myself. “My name is Julie. This is my company. This is why I would like you to consider carrying my products.” I put it in a FedEx envelope and mailed it. If you get a FedEx cardboard envelope, you’re going to open it. I sent those and I heard back from all the buyers except for one. One told me he got nervous and he thought somebody was sending the flip to show him that they were going to blackmail him. He watched it to see what it was.
These ideas are dumb, but it still works.
It’s being creative, thinking outside the box and taking risks.
One of the things to add to this is you don’t need an entrepreneurial mindset to create a new business. An entrepreneurial mindset can help you get ahead within the organization you have. You just have to be a little slippery and smart about how you execute these things. We’re not going to do any bonus material here. We’re going to wrap up. I’m going to thank my guests, but if you do want to stick around, I’ve made a decision. In order to celebrate and help promote Shtick to Business, I’m going to do a little bonus material separately and I’m going to take you through some of the ideas in the final chapter of Shtick to Business. If you want to stick around for a little bonus material on Take a Bigger Stage. With that, I want to say, Darwyn Metzger, thank you.
Julie Nirvelli, thank you. To all the readers out there, we wish you the best. Send us your questions, especially I’m sure we’ll come back to this notion of entrepreneurship and what you want us to answer. Thank you. Cheers.
Welcome back for the bonus material, Julie and Darwyn had moved on but I wanted to chat with you about one of the lessons from my new book Shtick to Business. The book is not about being funny like a comedian. It’s about thinking funny, that is thinking differently. I present serious business lessons based on my observations of the practices and perspectives of the world’s funniest people. Many of those observations have informed this show and its development. I’m going to give you a brief personal story that shows up in chapter seven. The title of the chapter is Take a Bigger Stage where I talk about moving to a bigger place, pursuing a bigger platform and taking a bigger perspective. I want to talk to you about taking a bigger perspective.
Comedians ask why when writing their jokes, but they why not when living their lives. Inspired by that observation, here’s a personal story. As a professor, I go to academic conferences and in order to make these trips a lot less boring, I host a dinner typically on the last night of the conference. I invite a group of professional friends who have become personal friends and the dinner is filled with an impressive group of people. These are professors at elite business schools. They’ve gotten their PhDs from elite private universities. They’re accomplished researchers and teachers. Some I suspect will go on to become deans or even university presidents. I limit the seating to eight people because you can’t get any larger than that and maintain one conversation and I’m a tyrant. There are all these rules in order to make the dinner run smoothly. The group, they like to complain about the rules, but deep down, they appreciate them. They have affectionately dubbed it the McGraw Dinner. I do a lot of talking at this dinner. You probably won’t be surprised having followed this show. Based on what I had been observing in the world of comedy, I decided to be quiet and listen. I listened to the way the table talked about their professional challenges.
If you’re a professor at one of these top schools, there are a lot of challenges. Acceptance rates of academic journals are below 10%, the students are demanding, the workload is withering. There’s a saying in academia about how flexible the job is. You can work whatever 80 hours you want. I noticed something that was striking about how the group talked about their professional challenges. The group spoke about these things as they were irritants. Things were getting in the way of the great things that they were accomplishing. These were mosquitoes to be smashed, squashed, waved away. What I realized was that this accomplished group of people had something called a promotion focus. They were focused on achieving success. Psychologists have another term and the reverse of this. That is prevention-focused.
I grew up prevention-focused. I was in a family with a single mom. She didn’t go to college. No one in my family ever got a graduate degree, let alone become a professor. It wasn’t terrible. I like to say we were food stamps-poor but not welfare-poor. I was a public school kid. I went to state universities. In a prevention-focused world though, you want to avoid failure. In a promotion-focused world, you want to achieve success. Prevention-focused people don’t want a big house. They want to keep their tiny townhouse, the one that I grew up in. You don’t want fame and success, you want to hold onto your modest job. Both groups can be successful but for different reasons and their feelings are quite different.
Promotion-focused people study hard for an exam because they want to get an A and prevention-focused people study hard for an exam because they want to avoid an F. As I was sitting at that table with all these promotion-focused people, I started to feel like an outsider and I’m hosting the thing. At that point in time, I remember thinking, “Why not me?” A life-changing moment. Sure, they went to better schools, but here I am sitting with them. They see me as a peer, as a friend, as a professional colleague. I thought, “Maybe I can learn to think as they do. I can learn to think bigger. I can take a bigger perspective.” Ever since that moment, I’ve worked hard to build my awareness and how I think. If I catch myself trying to avoid failure, I try to focus on achieving success.
That’s one of the fascinating things about comics. They think, “Why not me? Why can’t I go on and become great at this incredibly challenging task? Why not me? Why can’t I be the person who sells out big theaters and has Netflix specials?” Their behavior then follows that up. They take risks and live in a fearless way. They live unapologetically. They end up pursuing a creative and innovative path in life. Many of the themes talked about the tips that my guests gave forth have that flavor. With that in mind, I invite you to look at other lessons that might be in the book. Most importantly, I invite you to ask the question, “Why not me?” Hopefully it will spur you to think about focusing on more achievement rather than avoiding failure. It leads you to be more creative and more innovative, whether it be in your professional life or your personal life. Thanks for reading. It’s been a pleasure. I’m having a great time doing this and I appreciate you. Cheers.
- iTunes – Solo Podcast
- Shtick to Business: What the Masters of Comedy Can Teach You About Breaking Rules, Being Fearless and Building a Serious Career
- Amazon – Shtick to Business: What the Masters of Comedy Can Teach You About Breaking Rules, Being Fearless and Building a Serious Career
- Julie Nirvelli
- The Humor Code
- The Unemployable Darwyn Metzger – I’m Not Joking past episode
- Episode one – past episode
- What Makes a Remarkable Life – past episode
- Of Miracles and Men
- The 10% Entrepreneur
- Money Amy – past episode
- The E-Myth
About Julie Nirvelli
Julie Nirvelli was born and raised in San Jose, CA and earned her college degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She has lived in Colorado for 16 years. Entrepreneurship is in Julie’s blood. She grew up with parents who owned multiple successful business and worked in almost all of them starting when she was 6 years old. Julie has founded and sold two companies of her own.
About Darwyn Metzger
A former star of America Now and an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist, Darwyn Metzger is the founder and CEO of Phantom, a digital marketing and social media strategy firm. Darwyn works with Brands, Political campaigns, TV shows, Films & Celebrities including Nike, Trident, DirecTV, AT&T, Fox, and BBC America. You can get to know him more from the I’M NOT JOKING episode titled, The Unemployable Darwyn Metzger.
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