#104 Nicholas Megalis

Nicholas Megalis joined James Altucher to talk about Vines, the creative process, and what’s the next big thing. Before you dive into 1,2000 words on my notes, consider that these really don’t capture the interview all that well. Listening was like high speed museum walkthrough and these notes are the equivalent of the museum map. With that in mind, let’s get started.
Megalis is on the show to talk about his new book, Mega Weird. He might be best known for his Vines and tells James, “I make stuff, it’s what I do. I create stuff so I don’t go insane.”

And he started young. Being fourteen and not “good at math or sports” he had to find something to do so he got into music. Here’s a 2010 interview with The Cleveland Plain Dealer. From music he went into social media and tells James he had “a few good years” making money, but that it’s never been about the money. “Money to me is like gasoline” Megalis says, “the priority was to make art.” He’s not the only guest to say this. Tim Ferriss (episode #22) said something similar, “money is an intermediate, it is wampum. It is something that you trade for possession, experiences, access to interesting people, resources. You don’t need to have money as that intermediary necessarily.”

They aren’t the only one. Sam Shank (episode #78) said he would turn down a $4M offer for his company. Marcus Lemonis (episode #51)said the money always follows good work, never the other way around. Tom Shadyac (episode #15)said that money doesn’t bring contentment. Jairek Robinson (episode #96)quoted Jim Carrey who said, “I wish everyone could be rich and famous to realize it ain’t it.”

Take an example from James, and think about what you want in the end and see if there is a way to get that without money. Altucher specifically mentioned this when he interview Maria Popova, (episode #89) which he said was a “totally selfish interview.”

“I feel like I’m on this planet not necessarily to make money but to make people happy.” – Nicholas Megalis

Megalis was inspired as a kid when he wrote to Shepard Fairey and got a handwritten reply with stencils and stickers in it. This is what communicating with fans really meant. Now, he tells James, “I probably spend five to six hours a day communicating with thousands of people. I know their pictures, I know their names, I recognize their hashtags.”  Amanda Palmer (episode #82) writes about the same thing in her book. If you haven’t read it, it’s a you can do it from your big sister who’s done it herself telling you that you can do it. Palmer writes about a time one of her Ninja Gigs fell flat, “Seven people came. I played on the beach and then we all went for ice cream” and “I chatted constantly online, and listened to the input and feedback from the fans. If they wanted high-end lithograph posters, I made high-end lithograph posters.”

Gary Vaynerchuk (episode #2) – who Megalis works with – has been preaching from this pulpit for years now. Vaynerchuk wants you to hustle, to listen, to talk shop where you need to talk shop and entertain where you should be doing that.

As the interview goes on Megalis notes that it was uncommon in his experience, for the interviewer to mention the book like James did and he mentions this exchange that Bob Dylan had with Time magazine.

Which is foreshadowing in number of ways.

Beyond promoting his book – with less than prepared interviewers – Megalis is still helping brands come up with cool content. These companies started coming to him right away and he tells James that a Vine they did for Trident might have been the first ever televised Vine. Whatever he takes on though, “has to make sense in my universe” he tells James.

Even though the Vines are only a few seconds, they aren’t easy to come up with. “A Vine takes about twelve hours” Megalis tells James, and there are thousands thrown away for every hundred that make it out. He might spend a day shooting with a friend and all that he has at the end of the day is the time spent with a friend, which isn’t that bad.

Recently – it sounds like this interview was recorded in March 2015 – Megalis was at a dinner with Gary Vaynerchuk who told him to “get on Meerkat tonight.”  His ear is “always to the soil” on what the next app is going to be and look like.

James wants to know what it takes to be creative and Megalis – in a very roundabout way – suggests two key ideas.

Get in a group.

“Find a group of people who are like minded who can help you achieve certain goals like production, composition, press. Everything is a team effort” Megalis tells James. Austin Kleon (episode #19) asked James much the same thing, “what is the internet but one giant scenius waiting to happen?” Megalis echoes this particular part, “it makes it so much easier now to reach out because of the internet.”

Be inspired to make things.

Step one is to make things. Step two, make things. Step three, make things. Make, make, make, Megalis says, and “fail a billion times.” And don’t expect the things you make to be great at first. Kleon says “there’s a big gap when you’re starting out between what you love and what you’re producing.”

Even when you make it or get big you still have to deal with stepping in the mud. “If I’m having a bad day, of course something will hurt me.” Meglis tells James when asked if the negative comments hurt. Amanda Palmer told James that one negative review can “overpower your psyche for a day.”

Meglis deals with creativity blocks too, though he’s found a neat trick to get around them, switch the medium. “Sure,” he tells James, he’ll be blocked for “days, and weeks on end.” When that happens he switches to working on a film project, a record, or book. David Levien (episode #85) told James “when you’re doing something creative, you have to find different ways to stay fresh.” And Megalis doesn’t feel the constant pressure to produce. “I’d rather do one every week and a half that’s awesome” than a Vine everyday he tells James.

In some ways Megalis was lucky. That he had a skateboarding accident that left him in bed for weeks and to study Vine was serendipitous. Add in that he was an “editor’s pick” on the site and that bolsters the claim to luck. But he had to have some modicum of talent at the very least (and it appears he has much more than that). His advice?  “If you make something really really good, it’ll stand out. You don’t need to be selected. There’s no committee to make you a star.” Simon Rich told James much the same, “Make something great don’t worry about whether it fits in any economic landscape”. (Tweet This)

Thanks for reading. If I used something wrong, understood something incorrect, or underemphasized a key point, let me know @mikedariano.

A penultimate note, if you missed the reference, go back and see who Shepard Fairey is. This is a developing Big Idea, that kind people succeed more than unkind ones do.

A final note, the Vietnamese restaurant James and Nicholas like is here.

*A previous version of this post misspelled Jim Carrey’s name. 

Some of Fairey’s art can be seen here: https://www.artsy.net/artist/shepard-fairey

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