#79 Dick Yuengling

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Dick Yuengling joined James to talk about business, beer, and why Yuengling beer hasn’t taken over the beer business.

Yuengling beer has had a bumpy road to become the oldest and largest American owned brewery in the country. Dick says that the brewery was nearly sold in the 1960’s but when his grandfather found out that the guy wanted to scrap it, they decided not to sell. Part of Yuengling survival has been just that, survival. Nassim Taleb writes that sometimes the best thing to do is just not die.

The brewery has been in the Yuengling family for six generations and Dick’s grandfather left Princeton to take over. Besides nearly turning to scrap in the 60’s the Yuengling company had to deal with prohibition from 1920 to 1933. As they couldn’t sell beer, they sold “near beer,” built a dairy to sell ice-cream, purchased real estate, and Dick’s grandfather even became a bank president. In that diversification that even partially owned the Roseland Dance Hall, and James remembers going there.

roseland-madonna

Throughout the interviews James brings up the expressions “shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations.” The expression means that the first generation will create something, the second will build it, and the third will bring it down. HBR reports that only 10% of all privately held companies are in existence after three generations.

Part of this problem is how the conditions change for each entrepreneur. For the founder things are always harrowing, rough, and getting by with just enough. For the second generation things are a bit easier, maybe too easy. For the third generation things are too easy. Paris Hilton, for example, is a 4th generation hotel Hilton.

What might make the Yuengling family different is the stressors they’ve withstood in various generations. Prohibition in the 20’s, slow business in the 60’s, getting lucky in the 90’s. Each stressor served as a reminder about what their core business is.

Malcolm Gladwell calls these things desirable difficulties and says that they matter quite a bit. In David and Goliath he writes that being dyslexic, being unorthodox, and losing a parent can be good because they force us to grow, think, and act in new ways. Nassim Taleb subscribes to the same process, though different terminology. He calls them stressors and writes that they are good for a system to have because it makes the system adapt – like Yuengling did. One final proponent is comedian Carol Leifer who told James, “you should be failing in your career because it’s through these failures you really get better.”

Dick took over the business in 1985 and began to modernize the facility. He tells James that he was a production nut. From his time in high school to now he’s been in the factory, knowing, learning doing. This was the theme in Mark Cuban’s interview too, where he knew the ins, outs, ups, and downs of his business. Samuel Zemurray, the man who popularized and delivered the banana to the United States did much the same thing, riding the boats from New Orleans to Honduras while his competitors stayed in Boston. Zemurray saw things, his competitors read about them. A favorite Zemurray saying was, “they’re there, we’re here.”

James brings up the idea that wheat may have been partially developed to make beer and both were created 8,000-10,000 years ago. For the full beer story, check out the Stuff You Should Know Podcast about beer.

Dick and James have a tennis match like conversation, James lobs a suggestion for the business and Dick sends it back. James tries again, Dick returns. This part of the conversation leads to a slew of great pieces of advice from Dick. He tells James that “they don’t jump into things” and “we don’t have to be the biggest.” I live in Ohio, a state where the arrival of Yuengling beer was a big deal. It used to be that if someone was traveling to or through Pennsylvania, it would warrant a stop, like Cuban cigars only iron city lager. James is talking from a similar east coast perspective about expansion, it seems like Yuengling could take over the world.

Eventually James comes around and says “you found your ideal space to form a monopoly.” He goes on to say, “that’s a hard thing for entrepreneurs to realize, they don’t have to do everything.”

In episode #43 Pete Thiel tells James the same thing, “you don’t want to start the 100th online pet food company or 500th restaurant in San Francisco.” This goes to the point that James makes to Dick (explicitly) and Dick makes to James in the interview (implicitly) that too much competition is going to squeeze you. About Coke and Coors, Dick says, “we don’t want to play in their space.” Thiel says, “extreme competition, extreme undifferentiation is not synonymous with capitalism.”

“Click to Tweet: “Build a monopoly and scale it if you want to take over the world. – James Altucher”

Rather than the ideas for expansion, Dick tells James they can grow in their current markets – Yuengling has only a 3 or 4 share in many of their markets, even capping out around 10 in Pennsylvania.

 In the interview James guesses that Dick might be worth over a billion dollars, to which he says that’s “a figment of someone’s imagination” and it doesn’t sound like he wants to cash out. Dick echoes what Sam Shank says in #78, wondering where he really wants to be. Sam is in a startup, in an area he knows, with good people, and room to grow. That’s what he wants so why sell. Ditto for Dick, who’s happy making beer.

 If you like this post, please share it on Twitter, email to a friend, or thank James for doing it. If I missed something, let me know on Twitter, @MikeDariano.

#81 Astro and Danielle Teller

Astro (@astroteller) and Danielle Teller joined James to talk about marriage, divorce, constructs, rules, and what really matter for raising happy, healthy kids. Rather than an overall summary of the episode, here are 10 lessons.

From Amazon, here is a snippet of summary, “In the same way that Esther Perel’s bestselling Mating in Captivity gave couples a fresh perspective on their married life, so Sacred Cows invites reader to question assumptions and conventional wisdom. It offers a smart, insightful, and sympathetic view for those in a marital crisis, marriage counsellors, or anyone looking to gain a fresh perspective on one of our most cherished and misunderstood institutions.”

Lesson 1: Find out the rules of the game

A big part of their book, Sacred Cows, is that there are rules to the marriage game we don’t fully understand. Danielle tells James, “our society has created a whole set of boogie men to scare people into staying married.” We may promise to love you forever, but when we are young, do we really know what that means?

As the ballad about a boy rounding third, and trying to score goes:
[Girl:]Will you love me forever?
[Boy:] Let me sleep on it.
[Girl:] Will you love me forever?
[Boy:] I couldn’t take it any longer, Lord I was crazed, And when the feeling came upon me, Like a tidal wave, I started swearing to my god, And on my mother’s grave, That I would love you to the end of time, I swore I would love you to the end of time.
So now I’m praying for the end of time, To hurry up and arrive, ‘Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you, I don’t think that I can really survive.

Lesson 2: Expect bumps

Danielle tells James, “much of the pain of divorce is unavoidable.” Marriage has bumps too. Our ceremonies are white and clean and neatly pressed, but our lives won’t be like that and knowing this makes those transitions easier.

In Switch, Chip Heath writes that we should plan for some things not to go well when we try to adapt any change. If you’re dieting, you will be tempted and maybe fail. If you are trying to write everyday, some days that writing will be crap. If we begin our journey with the idea in mind that there will be challenges, we may be better able to face them.

In episode #78, Sam Shank said that in running Hotels Tonight they expect these sorts of things to happen. He tells James that not only do they respond quickly, but systemically for both the customer and hotel. If a hotel turns away enough Hotel Tonight clients, they get dropped from the service.

Lesson 3: Be wary of statistics

Astro and Danielle talk about the types of people who get divorced and it’s really a muddled mess. There’s no good data because there is no good data set. A randomized control about divorce that strides across income, family structure, or other variables doesn’t exist. Divorce statistics suffer the same selection bias that James writes about with some college statistics:

Any college Freshman who takes Statistics 101 (and I know I’ve said this before so I wish these Georgetown people would let me teach their Statistics classes) will have heard of something called “Selection bias” which this report is littered with.

In other words, they did not just select people with many years of education. They inadvertently also selected “the type of upper middle class person who is intelligent, ambitious, aggressive” who chose twenty years ago to go to college. That type of person will certainly make more money than his peers twenty years later.

Lesson 4: Find what is essential

James tells Astro and Danille that he spends more quality time with his kids since getting divorced to which Astro says, “I’ve never heard a divorced person say anything but that.” What the divorcees have found is the essential parts of their relationship. My guess is that because James finds his time with his daughters finite, he fills that time with things that are valuable to them. When we have to, we cut through the clutter in our lives.

Greg McKeown writes about finding what is essential in Essentialism. He says, “it is about pausing constantly to ask, ‘Am I investing in the right activities?” One way to do this is to focus on what is truly essential. Facebook, no. Extra hours at work, no. What you and I need to live on is so small that if we can find that, we can find happiness.

Joshua Becker writes at Becoming Minimalist and he has an good origin story. One day his son was playing in the backyard while Joshua cleaned the garage and his wife cleaned the bathrooms. After a while, his son came to ask if he could play with him, and Joshua said no, he had to finishing cleaning the garage. His son turned away, and a bit later a neighbor who was doing the same thing came over and said, “maybe you don’t need to own all this stuff.” This began Becker’s move toward minimalism and finding what is essential.

Lesson 5: Fast and intense or slow and muted

James tells the Tellers about his divorce, and relays that he set up a corporation to handle the financial part of the divorce so that they didn’t have to deal with that right away. It let him and his ex-wife focus on the emotional and relational hurdles before the financial ones.

This reminded me of Dan Ariely’s interview where he tells James that when he was in the hospital, it was much more comforting to have his burn bandages slowly removed rather than quickly peeled away. Despite this, the nurses did the opposite. This inspired Ariely’s career of looking for other misconceptions we have.

Lesson 6: Separate the people from the problem

Danielle says that it’s a challenge to switch from an intimate relationship to what becomes a business one. James circumvented that by forming a corporation but many people won’t. Instead, they can draw on the strategies from Getting to Yes, the starting place for good negotiations.

This classic book (#1 in business negotiating on Amazon) suggests we start the negotiation by separating the people from the problem. The authors write:

Failing to deal with others sensitively as human beings prone to human reactions can be disastrous for a negotiation. Whatever else you are doing at any point during the negotiation, from preparation to follow-up, it is worth asking yourself, “Am I paying enough attention to the people problem?”

We are always negotiating and can remember that there is always the people and the terms. Don’t take your eye off the prize of the problem to focus on what the people are doing wrong. Even if your ex, boss, or landlord is an absolute jerk, remember that some people are like that, but that’s not what you are at the negotiating table to determine. You want to solve your interests. 

Lesson 7: Wield social pressure wisely

I’ve got a friend who’s starting the new year with a 30 day challenge to read the bible. Each day his update shows up on Facebook and I ‘like’ the post. If he missed a day I can encourage him or ask what’s going on. This is the same social pressure that morning show talking heads encourage with resolutions. Tell people and you’ll be accountable to them. BUT.

Astro and Danielle hint that maybe there is a dark side to this. When we invite people to our wedding we’ve started a social pressure that gets away from us. Like a spark can light dried newspaper, the large wedding begins the social pressure to stay married.

Lesson 8: Remove the worst thing first

James says his biggest fear during the divorce was what might happen with his kids. He was worried about being seen a certain way or not seeing them. The Tellers console him by explaining that most things that happen to our kids don’t push the needle one way or another. If you avoid the biggest two, neglect and abuse that goes a long way. Like our selection bias from divorce statistics and incomes of college graduates, there’s no compelling data about what to do with kids. Just to love them.

Tweet: “Remove the worst things first”

In the Nassim Taleb school of parenting these ideas are known was lessons in via negativa and barbell thinking. Via negativa is the act of removing things that have questionable or not positive effects. The big kids should remove sitting, smoking, and crappy foods and enjoy the fruits of our labor in the pursuit of health. Our kids need the removal of abuse and neglect. Taleb is keen to point out that telling people to remove things is a hard sell. He writes, “I have used all my life a wonderfully simple heuristic: charlatans are recognizable in that they will give you positive advice, and only positive advice.” People who always tell you to do this, in ten steps, and buy my program will fall into this camp. The second lesson is thinking about the barbell strategy, or that less is more. Rather than parenting tips online, find out what the key parts of childhood are and do those. Love is probably the biggest. Make Taleb happy and go ask your grandmother for advice rather than Parenting magazine.

Lesson 9: See things as they truly are

Danielle tells James, “just examining whether there is truth in a lot of these social beliefs make them go away. Just like looking at a monster, you realized it’s not real.” She’s talking about social rules we have for getting, being, and staying married. This idea of seeing things is nearly as old as marriage itself. Two-thousand years ago Marcus Aurelius wrote:

Always define whatever it is we perceive – to trace its outline -so we can see what it really is: its substance. Stripped bare. As a whole. Unmodified. And to call it by its name-the thing itself and its components, to which it will eventually return. Nothing is so conducive to spiritual growth as this capacity for logical and accurate analysis of everything that happens to us.

For more stoicism see the Ryan Holiday post.

In the interview James tells the Louis CK joke about seeing divorce accurately. It comes up at 5:20 in this clip. (NSFW)

Lesson 10: Match expectations to reality

Astro asks James if promising love forever was “a reasonable thing to promise.” Do, we as twenty, thirty, forty, fifty-somethings understand the concept of forever? Can we see the changes that will be coming as people lose or find jobs, begin or stop habits, have and raise kids? Probably not. I’ve only had kids for 6 years and it’s been a major change in almost every area of my life, how could I have guessed that?

Dan Savage has some of the best advice for getting our expectations to match reality.

When you think about it, you meet somebody for the first time, and they’re not presenting their warts-and-all self to you — they’re presenting their idealized self to you, they’re leading with their best. And then, eventually, you’re farting in front of each other. Eventually, you get to see the person who is behind that facade of their best, and they get to see the person your facade, your lie-self — this lie that you presented to them about who you really are. And what’s beautiful about a long-term relationship, and what can be transformative about it, is that I pretend every day that my boyfriend is the lie that I met when I first met him. And he does that same favor to me — he pretends that I’m that better person than I actually am. Even though he knows I’m not.

Those are 10 takeaways from the Tellers.

Let me know what you thought about this post on Twitter, @MikeDariano and use those handy-dandy share buttons below.

*A note about the Taleb section. I’m very new to thinking in this way, if you want to add any clarification please do.

#78 Sam Shank

Sam Shank (@SamShank) and James Altucher talk about startups, pivots, and what might happen if someone offered you $400 million for your business and Sam gives the best answer to that question I’ve ever heard. Sam is on the podcast to talk about Hotel Tonight, one of James’s favorite apps. HotelTonight is “Hand-selected hotels at great prices on your mobile device.” Sam wasn’t always in technology though.

Fullscreen capture 192015 80542 AM.bmpHe tells James that his secret origin story was in the film industry, where he worked with Wes Craven on the first Scream movie. If you’re under 25, you may not appreciate the Scream series in the canon of horror movies, but it was the franchise that bridged the Halloween series to the Saw style movies. One story from the set that Sam shares is when something happened with some footage that had to be reshot. Filming is resource intensive between the time and financial costs and a huge pain in the ass. It would have been easy for Craven to loose his head but he followed the same professional kindness that Carol Leifer talked about with James, saying, “don’t be a jerk.”

Sam could see that his upside in film was limited, only a handful of directors get to work on movies each year and there were people years ahead of Sam still doing the work he was. Sam switched to technology, working at Excite and CNET for about ten years. From the interview with James he sounded very focused when he decided to work there, saying, that he had to meet people and get experience before he could start his own company.

James asks about how he knew he was ready to start a company and Sam says, “You’re ready when it just feels uncomfortable enough that you can bear starting a company.” In a sense, Sam was ready to start failing in little ways to succeed in big ones. In her interview, Carol Leifer said, “you should be failing in your career because everybody fails and if you’re not failing then you’re not doing something right. Because it’s through these failures you really get better.” We need to see failures as opportunities for improvement and expect them to arise on our path. In their book about any kind of Switch, the Heath brothers write that we should expect failure; “The answer may sound strange: You need to create the expectation of failure—not the failure of the mission itself, but failure en route.”  Ryan Holiday might take the idea of failure one more step to say that failure isn’t bad, it’s good. Failure is an obstacles and obstacles show you the way. This is exactly what happened with Sam.

He launched Travel Post with “not a lot of downside.” Sam was applying what Nassim Taleb calls asymmetrical thinking. If nothing happened with TravelPost, Sam could go work for another technology company with almost no change in knowledge or income status. If, on the other hand, TravelPost succeeded wildly, then Sam had the upside of a hot startup. TravelPost was eventually sold to SideStep and after working there for 15 months, Sam started Dealbase.

These iterations – through different companies – led Sam to his current venture, HotelTonight. At this point in the interview I was stunned with what came next. I expected that someone who had a pair of startups in his toolbox, a Kellogg MBA, and two partners would have an efficient and scalable system right from the start. Nope.

Instead, Hotel Tonight started with 15 hotels in 3 cities. Sam and his co-founders called each hotel in the afternoon to see how many vacancies and at what price point the rooms could be listed at. There were no boardroom meetings with a Hilton, no elaborate databases. There were three people with a computer and a telephone.

It took two weeks of listing rooms before anyone booked a room and Sam says this lag time was to be expected. People wanted social proof or to see online reviews but the nature of Sam’s business meant it took time. You hear about a video online, you can watch the video. You hear about a hotel, that’s another matter. This timing, I publish something online I want immediate results is an internet fallacy. Even Ryan Holiday, marketing guru, needs time. His email list (which is wonderful) took years to build up. He writes, “Be ok mailing to very few people for a long time. I was. I knew that I had a long-term strategy. I also knew that recommending some life-changing books even to a small number of people was a beneficial activity in itself. Look at my chart–the size is basically unchanged for over a year.”

Sam tells James that the key to any consumer product is solving this equation:

“It boils down to saving time and saving money. I think all consumer products need to deliver on one, ideally both.”

The end of the interview has James and Sam spitballing ideas about other “tonight” services for food, cars, or other hospitality stuff. I do an idea list each day and it’s nice to hear James brainstorming because some of his ideas are as silly as mine.

At the end of the interview is the real gem of the conversation. James asks Sam if he would sell the company for $400 million dollars and Sam says, probably not.

We’ve got big goals for Hotel Tonight. It’s a wonderful platform, where we’ve got a great team, we’ve got lots of resources, wonderful investors. We’ve got great co-founders and we’ve got a really strong vision for where we want to take it. The other way I look at it, is if this all ended right now, what would I want to do personally? What I’d want to do personally is get back to where I am right now.

 

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#80 Tucker Max

Tucker Max (@TuckerMax) joined James Altucher to talk about his new company, Book in a Box, publishing, and solving problems.

 Tucker is the only guest to have a repeat chance to talk to James and it’s mostly about his new company, Book in a Box. The company’s tagline asks, want to write a book but don’t have the time? “The Book in a Box process is a new way to write a book. We take your ideas and your words, and turn them into a professionally published book, in under 12 hours of your own time.”

 There is a LinkedIn post where Tucker explains the model and process (and is similar to the content of his interview with James), but do be careful wading through the comments.

His idea for Book in a Box came from a LDV Entrepreneur dinner in NYC when Melissa Gonzalez approached Tucker about writing a book. After explaining to her that it’s a long and hard process to write a book, she called him to carpet and said, “in my job I solve problems. Can you solve my problem or not?”

(Eventually he did,The Pop Up Paradigm: How Brands Build Human Connections in a Digital Age)

Tucker has found what past guest Sam Shank says, is one of two things every consumer product should do; save someone time or money. Tucker is angling for saving successful people time, though toward the end of the podcast he shares how that may change.

Tucker explains that this system isn’t what someone like Neil Strauss does. For more about that, check out this interview Strauss had with Tim Ferriss to talk about writing and conversation.

The Book in a Box system begins with an outline that’s been formulated, refined, and distilled to the essence of what is needed. Tucker tells James, “the process has to be set before we can hire freelancers.” Then a freelancer comes in to have an eight hour conversation with the author, some transcription transpires, and an editorial polish cleans things up before a cover and marketing officially launch it. Tucker says that they have a team of freelancers that can turn an interview transcript into a book in a matter of days.

Throughout the interview Tucker repeatedly goes back to the idea of having good systems in place. It’s taken him and co-founder Zach Obront time to figure out what is necessary and what isn’t, but after finding these systems they can remove themselves from the process. James says he has a piece of paper taped to his computer that reminds him to take himself out of the equation.

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Part of the way Tucker has succeed with this is by doing the work. He says that even now he’s applying the Book in a Box process to writing an actual book, this one about Book in a Box. He also introduces the analogy of using a lathe to make a lathe which should replace the eat your own dogfood mantra that exists.

 One specific example from the middle of their interview is what they found with the interview process. Rather than sticking a microphone (or phone) in front of someone, there are specific questions that are asked. Tucker learned how to identify overloaded specificity. He tells James that the interviews are trained to ask for specific examples if the interviewee is being too general, and to generalize if they are giving too many specific examples.

Despite even this refinement (and many others) there are still variations. For the different types of non-fiction books, Tucker says there are different types of outlines.

 “Our process is not for people who enjoy writing or are good at writing or like writing. It’s for people who have ideas that they want to turn into books, but don’t have the time or ability to sit through the writing process or deal with publishing process.”

 When talking about the actual publishing industry, Tucker doesn’t have great answers. He says that 40-70% of all books sales are through Amazon and that number is as high as 90% for certain genres. It turns out that there really aren’t great answers. One Wikipedia page suggests 300,000 for 2013.

 Besides Tucker’s company, there are people doing similar things online. Past guest, Steve Scott has dove, dug, and buried himself in the habit and productivity vein of Amazon. Tucker also says that he knows a guy doing content creation via books. That team will find a trend like paleo and pump out a number of high quality books. Then there is the James Frey, James Patterson stables of writers. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Patterson says that he writes an outline which the co-writer then contributes to. After that, the co-worker sends his work over every few weeks and Patterson decides, “This is terrific, I love the way it’s going,” or “We’ve come off the tracks somehow.”

 Tucker tells James that he can see this Book in a Box idea expanding to other areas like painting, film, and fiction. It reminded me of the Jimmy Whales interview where he hoped the same thing, only for crowd-sourcing. Both Jimmy and Tucker have the same idea, let wisdom chisel this thing into something great. For Jimmy it’s many people with little experience or time, for Tucker it’s few people with much experience and time.

 Both James and Tucker advice that it’s not great to be an employee any more. In Thou Shall Prosper, Rabbi Daniel Lapin put it this way. Always think of yourself as a freelancer, even to your current employer. If you think this way, you can see that you have one client, your employer, but you can always get more. In the realm of coding you see this all the time, people building side projects. Even something as simple as teaching means tutoring options are available too.

 Tucker says he completely forgot about this SNL sketch when naming his company and that if Amazon came along and offered him 80 million dollars he would take it. (Sam Shank probably wouldn’t.)

#73 Adam Grant

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????James Altucher interviewed Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant) about giving, taking, and five minute favors. At first Altucher says he was reluctant to have Grant on because he said ‘yes’ and James was writing a book about ‘no.’ Add in that Grant is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and subtract Altucher’s feelings for academia. Despite his hesitations, Altucher read (and liked) Grant’s Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.

 The premise of Grant’s book is that people who give in the right way succeed more often than those who take, match, or people who give in the wrong way. Wrong giving would be making copies, writing simple computer code, or running an unnecessary meaning. These givers typically go wrong in three ways; being too trusting, being too empathetic, and being too timid. Matchers don’t succeed because they never reach out to extend their network and takers don’t succeed because they want credit for work done rather than improving their work. In his book Grant lays out the spectrum and provides compelling examples for each thing.

The interview begins with Altucher asking Grant about how he’s continued to be a giver since the book came out. Specifically, Grant says he’s had to change his system for dealing with emails, drawing the line when it starts to compromise your own goals and values. This meant  he had to set some boundaries. His post-book schema included a ranking system for the people in his life; family, students, colleagues, everyone else. This is an example of system thinking, where Grant doesn’t have to decide an items importance, rather who it’s coming from.

Scott Adams is a big fan of system thinking and tells a story about, his first plane ride west. He was heading off to being his career when he met a CEO who offered this career advice:

He said that every time he got a new job, he immediately started looking for a better one. For him, job seeking was not something one did when necessary. It was an ongoing process. This makes perfect sense if you do the math. Chances are the best job for you won’t become available at precisely the time you declare yourself ready.

For Adams this built a system of thinking about working, Grant learned a system for prioritizing emails. I would wager that Grant has eschewed a goal like Inbox Zero in favor of the system.

 In the interview Altucher asks what it means to be on the giving spectrum. Grant says;

“We have the takers who are always trying to get things from others, they don’t want to give back unless they have to…on the other end of the spectrum we have giver who are not volunteers or philanthropists, but who just enjoy helping others.” A final group is the matchers who operate “quid pro quo.”

It sounds good to be a taker in the same way it sounds good to make sure you always eat first at the family reunion. The first few times will be fine but soon people will resent you for eating all the potato salad. Professionally Grant says that takers who are competent can be threats to other people and will be treated like one.

Altucher says he tries to not be taken too often, but that’s been happening for 2,000 years. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote:

In the ring, our opponents can gouge us with their nails or butt us with their heads and leave a bruise, but we don’t denounce them for it or get upset with them or regard them from then on as violent types. We just keep an eye on them after that. Not out of hatred or suspicions. Just keeping a friendly distance.

 Grant suggests we oscillate between each place and our trends determine what type we are. Being an exclusive giver isn’t without it’s problems though. Grant says, “that’s dangerous, it’s a great recipe for burnout or just getting burned by takers.” In these cases Grant suggest acting more like a matcher, with a bit of giving sprinkled in. Matching can also act as a filter if there is too much taking going on because it upends the balance of giving and taking.

Past guest Carol Leifer used this matching strategy with Altucher, who reviewed her book and so she came on his podcast. This sort of matching jives with her book where she writes that she’s been burned too many friends of friends. She’ll be asked to vouch for someone who turns out to be a dud and so now she’s more reserved with initial giving. Leifer’s matching strategy is one that Grant suggests in the book, to be a focused and cautious giver.

Grant has found that givers are both the most and least successful. “It comes down to being thoughtful about who you help, how you help, and when you help.” Giving the right way means:

  • Successful givers are cautious with takers.
  • Successful givers help in specialized ways. This means you’re helping in a way that excites you and get the reputations that you have a certain kind of expertise.
  • Successful givers take care of their own work first and have separate windows of time to help other people.

Taking care of your own business should be the first priority of givers. Scott Adams writes that selfish generosity is the best kind. “If you do selfishness right, you automatically become a net benefit to society. Successful people generally don’t burden the world. Corporate raiders, overpaid CEOs, and tyrannical dictators are the exceptions.” Grant uses different language but comes to the same conclusion, first do your own work well, that alone will be helpful.

Take the example of Cate Cole, who Grant brings up as an example of the right kind of giver. Cole started out as a waitress at Hooters and now runs Cinnabon. Another example of the right kind of selfish is Trina Barkouras, a recent Shark Tank entrepreneur. Her pitch is worth watching.

Grant discovered the idea of giving while at a youth diving camp. He tells Altucher that couldn’t help not helping a competitor get better, giving him tips as he watched. That other diver ended up performing better than Grant at a later competition but that didn’t matter because Grant chose his values over his goals. He tells Altucher, “There are lots of ways that we can help others that cost very little.”

One of those small cost areas is the idea of t five minute favors that Grant learned from Adam Rifkin, one of the most connected people on LinkedIn.

Altucher proposes that the beat writers of the 1950’s was a pocket of givers. Grant adds that the same is true of the author community, “when I was starting out I reached out to a number of people that I hardly knew and some people that I didn’t know at all.” Grant felt like a huge taker at first, but found that most successful authors were happy to pay it forward. Not only that, but if you ask a giver to give – they like it. Asking was hard at first for Grant but he tells Altucher, “There is a huge difference between taking and receiving.” The former is something selfish but the latter is in service of something bigger, an idea or others.

One key part of Grant’s book is the idea that our networks are composed of strong and weak ties. He tells Altucher, “strong ties are the people we know well and trust, weak ties are more like acquaintances.” Grant found that weak ties help more, and this was dissonant at first. Peeling back the layers Grant found that strong ties are too incestuous, whereas weak ties are more broad. Your circle is probably homogeneous in skills, connections, and values. If you want to move away from that you need a connection that takes you in that direction. Those people are your weak ties.

Pixar Animation Studios Atrium
Pixar Atrium

Grant’s book includes ideas beyond giving and taking, including how collaborating works best.  In the interview he tells the story of an automotive company that became more innovative when they connected employees with a common goal and got out of the way. This happened at Pixar too, where Steve Jobs wanted bathrooms only in the building’s atrium. Jobs thought was that if people were always walking past each other then they would be able to connect and create more. His plan got toppled when a pregnant employee made the case that she couldn’t make the 15 minute walk. Jobs compromised with a single cafeteria.

The interview with Grant is a nice sampling of his book, but do dive into that if you want more about how to give the right way and the benefits it brings. Grant writes about being vulnerable, how to be better motivated, and how to cultivate givers. He uses a nice blend of stories and research throughout.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Each one of these posts takes 3-5 hours to write and your support is appreciated. Thank you to all those who have already given and if you would like to do so, you can do so here.

BONUS: Mid-December Ask Altucher Summary

This is a test post to see if there is interest in the Ask Altucher posts. If you like this please let me know.

#166 Do You Believe in Intuition?

James is having a great time with his Airbnb rental in Miami when he compares human chess to computer chess and says that intuition is more like a subconscious compiling of our experience. In business James says “what makes or breaks you is the type of people you associate with.” With experience we start to find the good people and the not so good ones, but this isn’t easy. He references his interview with Peter Thiel and notes that the key to success is solving difficult problems.

After a meeting James will consider a worse-case scenario for each person he deals with. See also “pre-mortem.”

James suggests that we can develop our intuition by reading books, Claudia says that journaling has helped her. (Have you tried a decision journal?)

#167 How Long Should You Date Before Having Sex?

This question is from a woman who “needs to know soon.”

“Don’t be afraid to have three months of dating.” James and Claudia both suggest on focusing on the big stuff – one of which is sex but to remember it’s not the only thing.

#168 How Do You Get That Final 1% Finished?

James is moving to Florida and looking to hold meetups. The question about finishing comes from an engineer who gets 99% of a project done, but can’t seem to finish. What can he do?

James says he can “totally relate” and one way he finished a book was to hire an editor to do that last bit. Another tip is to clean up the whole area around you. A tip that happiness author Gretchen Rubin believes in too. Second, list what good your project will do. Third, imagine you’ve already accomplished the project and focus on how good that feels.

In this episode James shares his current reading list:

#169 The Key to Success in Life

Claudia is cooking mashed cauliflower and James wonders what happens if they add avocado. Ugh.

James shares his key to success; “the key to success in life is what you do in the morning.” Forget about staying up late the night before because if you feel crappy the next morning, you’ll feel crappy all day. Altucher sets up his day the night before; limiting his screen time, eating right, and going to sleep early.

James takes a moment to be grateful and visualize what he wants to happen that day. A technique called priming that Tony Robbins said on the Bryan Koppelman podcast. He finds even the smallest things to be grateful for, something Dr. Wayne Dyer says we can all find just in being alive.

Claudia asks James about feeling guilty about eating when so many people don’t and he tells her that no he doesn’t because what would that solve. Scott Adams calls this the right selfishness, that by taking care of yourself first you can take care of others. Flight attendants call this, putting on your own mask first.

James said that everything he does is based on staying healthy, mediation, exercise, and reading.

After two hours, James will spend a few hours of writing (starting with his idea list). “Those moments from 5-10am that sets the day for success.”

For more morning rituals check out Daily Rituals.

#170 What’s The Best Way to Crowdfund?

Claudia shares a few crowdfunding things she’s followed and they call Clay Hebert about crowdfunding.

Clay says he sees a difference between artists and entrepreneurs where the latter feel odd about asking for money. Alex Blumberg said this idea is true for the public radio world too. It may be changing though. The Frontline documentary Generation Like shares that kids don’t know what the word “sell out” means and that the expectation is to sell out. Their idea is to build stuff for free and then get a sponsor or product to promote. They are comfortable with what Amanda Palmer calls The Art of Asking.

For crowdfunding, Clay has a few suggestions:

  • Ask for as little money as you need. The Coolest Cooler failed when they asked for a lot, when they dropped their minimum though they became the biggest Kickstarter in history.
  • The press needs a hook, crushing your goal becomes that hook.
  • But that press needs to be focused and niche or big to act as a testimonial. (See his page above for an example)
  • Nobody wants a digital high five, instead make a valuable first level reward.
  • Tell a good story in a video; “address the problem you are solving in the first ten seconds.”
  • Think about the first ten people that will buy your product. Also, read 1,000 True Fans.
  • Market your product (get a landing page) before running crowdfunding.

#70 Alex Blumberg

James Altucher interviewed Alex Blumberg (@abexlumberg) to talk about his podcast StartUp, his startup Gimlet Media, and media’s changes. If you are interested in the story, as it happens, Blumberg will tell you the story. Histories have biases that weigh in on all things that travel through time. The StartUp is the show with less of them.

The pair start by talking about how Altucher binge watched StartUp and it’s a good demonstration about how media has changed. You can’t actually watch Blumberg’s podcast, but it comes through Altucher’s TV. There is no appointment viewing, things need to be evergreen. It’s a podcast, something that didn’t exist like this a decade ago. Even my daughters who are growing up in a cable free house view commercials as mini-episodes. The times they are a changing.

The reasons for Blumberg as the interviewee rather than interviewer is that he’s started a company, telling Altucher that “podcasting is having a moment.” His experience with podcasting couldn’t be much stronger, and he says, “this skill that I’ve worked and slaved for now has value.” He produced This American Life and co-hosted Planet Money. He’s won awards for his work and tells Altucher that this is a rare opportunity for him. He’s one of the few people in the world with a set of specific skills he can capitalize on.

Shane Snow might suggest that Blumberg is taking a Smartcut, and writes:

“Conventional thinking leads talented and driven people to believe that if they simply work hard , luck will eventually strike. That’s like saying if a surfer treads water in the same spot for long enough, a wave will come; it certainly happens to some people, once in a while, but it’s not the most effective strategy for success. Paradoxically, it’s actually a lazier move.”

Blumberg might have stayed at NPR, won more awards, and gotten a similar job to the one he has now. Maybe.

Instead Blumberg is the podcasting version of Bryan Mills.setofskills

Another line on Blumberg’s resume is his role producing This American Life for TV. About that he tells Altucher, “(it is) such a gigantic pain in the ass to make TV.” Blumberg says that the crew thought because they were good at telling stories on the radio, they would be good at telling stories on TV. Not so, they found out that it was a different form of delivery, radio was about what happened, TV about what was happening. The same idea is shared by comedians that Altucher has interviewed; about writing stand-up and writing for a TV show Carol Leifer said “they are two different animals.”  Ditto for Dave Berg who said Leno’s monologues and stand-up were two different styles of jokes.

In Blumberg’s podcast you hear all the good and bad (that they deem as good for radio) and it shows Blumberg’s awkwardness. This is a testament to how hard starting a business is. He’s one of the most polished, awarded, and successful people on radio that tells stories and in some episodes he comes off sounding juvenile. One of which was episode 3, “How to Divide an Imaginary Pie” where he wonders about finding a partner. It sounds like the last period of junior high where boy likes girl. But maybe it is, Altucher tells him that there are “no rules” in doing this.

Finding a partner and giving up equity in his business seems like a bad idea and Blumberg didn’t want to, but in the end it was easy to divide a company that was only that in name. The value was his idea plus his experience, he was like a cook without a restaurant. While no one could make ratatouille like him, he knew almost nothing about getting a building, hiring staff, and running the books.

In an episode of Shark Tank, Kevin O’Leary gives advice that may have helped:

“You know, when I was in the basement back in the late ’80s starting The Learning Company, after I’d get a $12 million order for “Reader Rabbit,” it would blow up behind me, the logistics. I couldn’t deliver. I met a guy named Mike Perik. I gave him half my equity to solve my problem. We sold the company for $4.2 billion five years later. Best investment I ever made.”

Other sharks from the show and even Altucher have said that giving up equity for someone to be invested in time and money can often be a good thing.

In episode 1 of StartUp, Blumberg is asked about his unfair advantage and says the advantage is him. Mr. O’Leary from Shark Tank wouldn’t like this answer (wondering what would happen to his investment if a bus hit Blumberg tomorrow). Blumberg is talented, but not alone. Later in the episode he mentions that Serial is being run by three of the best and smartest people in radio and Roman Mars has a nice show in 99 Percent Invisible. Even podcast networks aren’t new. He’s closer to someone who climbed Mount Everest, very talented but not the only one.

The pair talk about how podcasts make money and Blumberg says that Mailchimp paid $6,000 to sponsor an episode. Altucher mentions that he knows Freakonomics and Entrepreneur on Fire are profitable podcasts.

Talking about money though sours some of his former colleagues Blumberg says, but explains that in his move from public radio to startup he’s seen the degrees of for profit. “Since I’ve entered the for profit world, every single actor in that world is driven by profit to varying degrees.”

About becoming profitable Altucher says, “Once you start making revenues you have more than one thing to do.”

The pair talk about podcast models and Blumberg says that the best are the most heavily produced. He tells Altucher that he probably has 50 hours of audio for the 3 hours of show they’ve made so far. On Quora a produce of Survivor says they capture 2,000 hours (84 days playing nonstop) of footage for the 15 hours in a season.

Blumberg tells Altucher that everything is exciting and terrifying at the same time. Carol Leifer would probably tell him that this is good. She told James that “you shouldn’t be relaxed” doing stand-up. She also said that if you aren’t failing then you aren’t moving forward enough, and Blumberg got a chance to do that. On episode 9 his podcast company made a mistake of collecting an interview for an advertisement but not making it clear. It’s an example of the awkward, unsteadiness in his journey.

Altucher asks him about getting all his work done and Blumberg says that because of certain boundaries he just can’t. “My kids don’t give a shit about email” Blumberg says and he doesn’t worry about constantly working because he can’t.

We all need more time, But constraints help us focus, On the biggest stuff.

The haiku is one of the pinnacles of poetry because the constraints.

Their interview wraps up for Blumberg telling Altucher that each problem he solves is like building a problem solving muscle and that his muscle has gotten stronger.

If you like these posts let’s connect on Twitter, @MikeDariano. If you are a regular reader and would like to donate you can do that here.