A Lesson in Self Promotion with Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferriss, Entrepreneur & Investor
This past soapbox event was by far the biggest one yet! We had well over 100 people here at ZURB HQ, gathered to hear Tim Ferriss share some of his tips and tricks. No, we didn't get into the 15-minute orgasm discussion, but we did cover some awesome stuff.
Tim sat down with us for a Q&A about his tactics for self promotion, building community, and productivity. He was nice enough to stay for an extra 30 minutes to answers questions from the audience.
Feel free to watch the video cast of the Q&A below, listen to the soapbox podcast above, or skim through some of the highlights of the session below.
At one point you were just a vitamin dude writing a book. How the heck did you get so popular?
Tim lives and breathes the following three steps when it comes to marketing:
- Start with Marketing and Messaging - identify 1000 true fans that can evangelize your product. Figure out the demographic of your market. Tim’s demographic was 18-35 year old tech savvy males.
- Next focus on Conversion - focus on nailing down conversion and triggers for people to sign up and be willing to part with their money. Before you bring the traffic on, make sure conversions are solid.
- Last but not least focus on PR - bring the traffic on. Tim cautioned folks against hitting large PR outlets until their messaging and conversions are solid. Large publications such as The New York Times will not cover you twice unless you’re an outlier like Facebook.
Straight up, tell us what did you do to make 4 Hour Work Week so popular?
- Identified demographic: 18-35 tech savvy males.
- Identified 10-15 prominent blogs (TechCrunch, Mashable, etc) that he wanted to be covered on. These blogs had a huge readership of people who were in Tim’s target demographic.
- Got drunk with all these bloggers at conferences, and asked them a lot of questions about technology. During the conversations, the bloggers would eventually ask Tim about what he was doing at the time. The conversations would then continue about the book Tim was working on. He never asked them directly to cover the book, instead he would send them the book in the mail afterwords.
How did you get a spot on national media?
There are two problems with getting a spot on Oprah, for example, or an article in Wall Street Journal:
- It’s a chicken and egg problem. If you haven’t been on any brand name media such as NBC or ABC before, nobody wants to invite you to be on one.
- It’s exceptionally difficult for any journalist or blogger to write about your company or product. Journalists do not want to be perceived as hired guns.
Journalists and reporters want to report on something “newsworthy,” which means:
- something that is timely
- somethings that is new
- something that is a trend
Tim wrote a great blog post on how he found a very timely subject, formed a controversial opinion, and started pitching local televisions stations here in San Jose. NBC 11 responded, and Tim got his first spot on brand name media. He has appeared on TV countless times since then, most recently in a 15 minute segment on Dr. Oz.
Tim left us with three final tips when pitching large media outlets:
- Whatever your opinion of the issue is, it should be backed up by an example. One example is an exception, two examples is interesting, three examples is a trend.
- It’s also important to make sure the audience of this event is your target market from the steps above.
- It’s important to remember that brand name media is not always effective. It’s the strength of the endorsement and the duration of the segment which is important. A 3 minute segment on NBC will do less for you then a TechCrunch article held on homepage for 15 minutes.
You've built an amazingly vibrant and large online community? How did you do it?
There is always a new tool to build a community with, the next shiny object to fixate on. You need a primary tool to build your community. For Ashton Kutcher, it’s Twitter. For Tim, it’s his blog. Tim mentioned that once you have a tool all your other activities are directed into that tool. Tim uses Twitter and Facebook to poll and interact with his audience, and to eventually pull them back to his blog.
Tim shared the following tips for building a community:
- Tim views his blog as his living room. He has a zero tolerance policy for any type of abusive behavior. Tim’s friend Matt Mullenweg, the lead developer of Wordpress, brought up a principle of Broken Window Theory from the book Tipping Point, where if broken windows in a neighborhood are not fixed up in a certain time the rest of the neighborhood starts to get vandalized. Same goes for Tim’s blog. If one person attacks his blog and lets it go, he’ll have tons more attacks coming very soon. Having a very strong and consistent policy on abusive behavior encourages people to share. If somebody says something to Tim on his blog that they won’t say to his face, they’ll be deleted from the community.
- Building your community is not your job. It’s the community’s job. You job is to encourage people to be leaders and to foster the community. Tim encourages people to build communities of their own. He held a competition where he gave people three basic steps to build a community and offered a prize for the person who created the most vibrant community. If you currently search for “4 Hour Body” you’ll find dozens of forums, wikis, and groups about the book. That is because Tim told people to start their own communities.
We asked a few more questions about handling email and prioritizing tasks after which we opened up the discussion to the audience. Tim spent another 30 minutes answering questions for the audience. It was such an energizing event that folks were ‘buzzing’ days after by sending in “thank you” emails to us. Thank you to Tim for such an amazing discussion! We wish him all the luck in Jordan over this month!
Tim: I identified that there were, let's just say 10 to 15 blogs and if I hit 50% of those in any given week I would create the perception, and to some extent the reality, that I was ubiquitous. The New York Times isn't going to write a feature piece on me twice. Very few things give me greater pleasure than if somebody writes this atrociously long 5-hour mini-novella of hate and I'm just like delete, oh delete.
Moderator: All right everyone. Thanks for coming to ZURBsoapbox.
If you guys have not signed in, there's a sheet of paper with your email and your name, put that on, we'll send you an email reminder. Super excited to have Tim Ferriss here. The one, the only, 4-Hour Workweek.
The guy that started a company, turned it from 80 hours to 4 hours, lived to tell us about it, an adviser, actually an angel investor for tons of companies, such as Twitter and Posterous and Evernote and, of course, the Chinese kickboxing champion, the guy that broke the Guinness Book of Records for the number of tango spins, Trial by Fire on the History Channel, just a super-human version of everybody here. So with that let's welcome Tim to ZURBsoapbox.
So Tim, we're all innovative product people and you're a "4- Hour Workweek" guy, you're a "4-Hour Body "guy, but you're also a consultant for many start-ups and what I want to get into more is some of the advice you give these start-ups. So let's start with promotion. Let's talk about the Tim Ferriss before the "4-Hour Workweek," the Tim Ferriss that just known as the vitamin guy. You were selling vitamins and you had an idea for this book, the book was coming out, what was your plan? How did you promote your book? I know you landed a spot at South By to speak. You published an awesome blog post recently about how to get media attention. Talk about your promotional past.Tim: I'm going to address that somewhat obliquely just because if we're talking about start-ups and start-up advising in particular, it comes down to a few different things, but it starts with product. I'm not going to spend a ton of time on that, but I actually have them start with marketing and messaging, then go to product design, then conversion, then PR and I'll just explain that very, very briefly.
So if you start with marketing, the way that I define marketing is understanding, much like Kevin Kelly, co- founder and editor of Wired, who wrote an article called "1000 True Fans" identifying the 1000 true fans, i.e. customers who would be most likely and capable to evangelize and broadcast your message or product. Once you identify that you can design a product for them, then once you have a product, a minimally viable product, you can do the conversion testing.
That's actually where I start with my start-ups. I say, look it doesn't do you any good to stick a net into the stream if the holes are this big and the fish are this big. You need to be able to actually convert what lands on your web service, if we're talking about a web service. So work on conversion, homepage signup usually and then the signup flow and completion of signup flow, then we focus on PR and marketing.
Without those precursors it's very difficult to do the PR and marketing. What I would say also is I would caution against PR with major outlets until your product is reasonably refined and you can actually utilize that. I've seen a lot of start-ups who come straight out of, let's say, a very capable process like Y Combinator and they have the seed of something very, very good and then they go and they hit The New York Times.
That is a waste of effort. It's worse than a waste of effort, it's harmful because The New York Times isn't going to write a feature piece on you twice, it's exceptionally difficult unless you're an outlier like a Facebook. In terms of, do you want to talk about pitching or just autobiographically? I'll talk about autobiographically just real briefly. So with the sports nutrition it's exceptionally important in whichever niche you want to address that you are the best in your category.
So it's not just enough to be better, you have to be different and what I mean by that, and this is borrowed largely from a book called "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing," which I recommend every start-up founder or employer read, means that I started off initially looking at Alzheimer's and Parkinson's research. It's a long story, but I was a neuroscience major at one point and I have both of those on both sides of my family. It ended up being too long of a sales cycle, moved to cognitive enhancement, so over the counter, looking at what could be done for cognitive enhancement short term memory.
Apparently, American's don't want to be smarter. It's just not a very high priority. So, it didn't sell at all. It was an abysmal failure in our initial campaigns, despite the efficacy of the product. But a number of NCAA athletes, who were also students, who were taking this for grades, came back and gave us feedback related to faster sprint times, better lifts, etc. in their sports and training, took that, completely repositioned it as a pre-workout product for neural acceleration was the term we used, and we became the dominant player, the only player at the time. Now it's an entire category, but pretty much the only player in that space and that's when it took off and it ended up in 15 different countries or so.
So it started with listening to the customers, the positioning, the messaging, and then the PR later took care of itself. And I think in a digital world, putting the money into product is usually where you're best served, especially on the web. That's certainly what Evernote does. With every dollar they have, they say all right, is this, if we put this into bucket X, is it going to do more than us putting into the product, and the answer is almost always no.
In the case of "The 4-Hour Workweek," I addressed the least crowded channels. Once I knew that my 1,000 true fans, most likely true fans, were 18-35 year old tech-savvy males, partially because I'm in that demographic. It's … people in the same tribe will listen to each other with less resistance than if you're trying to, if I'm trying to sell something to new mothers. They're going to be like, really? Like, single 30-something year old dude? No, I'm not buying it and I don't blame them.
I identified the primary channels through which I could achieve a surround sound effect. This is really important. So with traditional book launches, usually they'll spec it out over four to eight weeks, they'll go on tour, spend a lot of money with very unpredictable, untrackable results. Instead of doing that, I identified that there were, let's just say, 10 to 15 blogs and if I hit 50% of those on any given week, I would create the perception, and to some extent, the reality that I was ubiquitous, inescapable. Tim Ferriss is everywhere. No, actually he's just on TechCrunch, Gizmodo, and Mashable, but that's okay.
But I'm hitting the same people and, in order, to develop relationships with the people responsible for those channels, I met them in person. So for my entire 4-Hour Workweek book launch, I probably spent, if you exclude the money I wasted on a PR firm, which was ridiculously expensive. It was something like $18,000, $6,000 a month, and they were going to be laying the ground work or whatever the hell they were doing. It was a disaster.
But the remaining $8,000 I spent on going to conferences, getting drunk with bloggers, admitting my ignorance about everything tech, and just kind of being like the monkey in the middle and then, if it very legitimately seemed that they had a lot of interest, because I would ask a lot of questions. They were like "blah, blah, blah, we're doing rails." And I'm like, sorry, I'm completely in my ignorance pool here. What's "we're doing rails"? And they'd be like oh, okay. Let me explain it. And I'd be like oh, cool.
And I never played the I know what's perfect for your audience card, ever. And then eventually they'd be like well what the hell do you do? After like 10 minutes of me buying them rounds and peppering them with questions, and I'd go oh, I'm working on my first book for Random House and I just kind of leave it and then they say, okay, what's it about?
If it ended up seeming it could be of interest, I'd say, "Look, I don't expect you to write about it. I don't expect you to do anything with it, but I have a bunch of review copies from my publisher and I'd be happy to send you a copy. I think this ten page chapter would be of interest possibly. The other stuff, who knows?" Then I spent my money mailing these things out, and that was it. That was the business plan.
Moderator: How about getting on a big, on TV channels? How did that work out?
Tim: Yep. So, whether it's "Dr. Oz" or "The View" or "Good Morning America," to try to go right out of the gate and pitch those outlets it was exceptionally difficult because they look for social proof that you can perform in the media.
Moderator: Right. You have to be in there.
Tim: Right. So it's the chicken and the egg problem.
Tim: The way that you get around that is creating so much noise online. This is my approach and I did this with "The 4-Hour Body." I did this with both launches of "The 4-Hour Workweek." You create so much noise online that the next set of media needs to pay attention. So usually that's going to be print. So you go online, you make so much noise that print picks it up. Then you can use the print and the online to pick up the radio. Then once you demonstrate that you can actually speak without completely seizing up in the moment, which is bad, then you can use that to pitch to TV, or you can at least get let's say a local station. My approach would be to find an affiliate of a large network so you could just do NBC 11 in San Jose, let's say.
Tim: Go down there. Okay, I've been on ABC now. Fantastic. You take that clip and then use that and that's how you pitch your way up to larger segments. I don't know if anyone here's seen it but my most recent segment was about 15 minutes on Dr. Oz. Which was TV generally does not do much, 15 minutes on "Dr. Oz" does a lot.
It's been number one on Amazon for five days straight. "The 4-Hour Workweek" also has been more or less last time I checked it was number 12, but that also went to, top 10 on Amazon for the last 5 days.
I think that underscores a point which is, being in brand name media is not necessarily effective. It's the strength of the endorsement and the duration of the time they've spent with you. So would I rather have, let's say a feature, a big feature on TechCrunch that stays there for half a day, or 60 seconds of sound bites on "Good Morning America," I'll go with TechCrunch. But would I rather have a post on TechCrunch that gets pushed down to 15 minutes or 15 minutes on "Dr. Oz," absolutely "Dr. Oz." But it depends on the strength of the endorsement, and the duration.
Moderator: And also people, well that would be training. Also the people . . . The people in the audience of that channel have to think about who will have to think about who will be watching it and what kind of response you want from them, right?
Tim: Right, so to go after a demographic that's not your particular demographic in the beginning I view as a waste of resources. I mean"The 4-Hour Body" launch seems like miraculous and like, oh my, god, how many hundreds of thousands of dollars did you spend on this?
I had one assistant, primary assistant Charlie, Charlie Hun [SP] Outstanding, at social media and other aspects of the game. But it was just the two of us, and I spent less time on this launch than I did on "The 4-Hour Workweek." Because I just new where to pick my shots.
And part of picking your shots is not saying I want to be as mainstream as possible, let me go on "Dr. Oz" when I'm not ready. I want to have my army of let's say 10,000 to 20,000, 18 to 35 year olds tech savvy males first and then I don't have to be the only one shouting into the megaphone.
If I can get those people recruited first let's say ideally with a few hundred of them, who will test the concepts before the book comes out, fantastic. Now it's not me shouting against the wind. And it's not because I think that demographic is 18 to 35 tech savvy males is necessarily the best demographic, because I belong to that demographic, it's an easier conversation.
Moderator: Also had a big tip about creating having an opinion about a controversial issue in the news currently, and kind of not pitching yourself, when you're starting to pitch to reporters or bloggers, but talking about this controversial issue.
Tim: Yes, it's exceptional difficult to get a journalist or a blogger, depends on the traffic, to write a piece about your company or your product, because the journalist does not want to be perceived as a hired gun or as extremely biased and I don't blame them, and I'd feel the same way.
So the way that you provide them with something news worthy is generally something that's timely, something that's new, and something that's a trend. In the media that could be the New York Times, it could be just about anywhere else.
One example is an exception, two is interesting, and three is a trend. If you're going to get three, this is how it works. So if you have one in New York, one in California awesome, you do need one in the middle, or it's not going to happen. If you can provide that, and in some cases that means helping your direct competition.
You need to get over it. You need to view it as the rising tide raises all ships. So let's just say hypothetically that your daily burn, I was an adviser to Daily Burn, our majority stake was bought by IAC, not too long ago and I would very frequently, if I were part of a trend piece I would encourage them to include Spark People, or Daily Plate, Livestrong or one of these.
To view it as them establishing a strong relationship as a source with a journalist while in some respects helping their competitors. And I view that as a very smart political and strategic move.
Moderator: Let's move to building community. You have a very vibrant community with an awesome following. How do you use Facebook, versus Twitter, versus Meetup, versus video to, kind of, foster the community and some to the tips, lessons learned about that?
Tim: A few things, there will always be new social media tools. The next shiny object to fixate on. I personally find it very helpful to choose your home base. You need a primary tool. For Ashton Kutcher, that might be Twitter. For me, it is absolutely without question my blog. Once you have your primary tool, everything else is subservient to that tool. Facebook and Twitter, I use to bring people into my living room, which is the blog. I also use Twitter and Facebook for interacting with my fans, for polling, and gauging response, interest, et cetera. The Facebook fan page in particular, I will use for that. I don't use a third-party app for Twitter, and Facebook fan page allows me to see not threaded comments, but they're centralized under the relevant comment so I don't have to filter out all my retweets and so forth.
The blog itself, in terms of building community, I would say there are at least two principles, but the two that come to mind are first and foremost having a close to zero-tolerance or zero-tolerance policy for any type of abusive behavior. Matt Mullenweg, who's a friend of mine, usually called the lead developer of WordPress. Smart guy, he brought up a principle that's discussed in, I think it is "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell, which is the broken window theory."If broken windows go un-repaired in a given neighborhood, the next thing that follows is graffiti, then it's petty theft, and then it's violent crime. So if somebody pops up and they're like, "You know what, that's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard," in response to somebody. In some cases, I'll let it go. I'll put them on probation basically and I'll be like, "Play nice or I will delete your shit," but really taking a hard line with that stuff.
I'm fine with people attacking me, particularly if they have something remotely valuable or insightful to share. I have pretty high tolerance, but if they attack other people in the community, that's not allowed. I view the blog as my living room. There's plenty of negativity out there in the world. I have no responsibility to invite that into my life. Very few things give me greater pleasure than if somebody writes this atrociously long, like five hour mini-novella of hate and I'm just like "Ah-ha-ha, delete. Oh-ho- ho, delete. You just wasted five hours of your finite life. Thank you very much."
The other thing is, if people are going to hate you, which they will if you have any clear stance on anything. If they're going to hate you, you might as well benefit from that by having them talk about you somewhere else. Don't have them do it in your community. That doesn't do anyone any good. I do think that having a very strong, consistent policy encourages people to share who wouldn't otherwise share. It encourages smart people to share who would feel otherwise if they did it on YouTube, that there would just be like, "Yeah, this fucker's stupid," you know like text-speak.
They're like, "Why would I want to spend an hour putting out something that I've actually put thought into only to have it responded to by a bunch of knuckle-draggers?" You have to foster that type of environment. If somebody says something to me on my blog that they wouldn't say to my face, they're gone. It's that simple. It seems very simplistic, and I'll tell you what, it is. It's not that hard to build a really strong community, but you have to be diligent and you have to be strict.
The second thing is recognizing that building a community is not your job. It is the community's job. What you need to do is, I feel, encourage people to build their own communities. Encourage people to act as leaders, to start whether it's a Ning page, a Facebook group. I'm very clear about this. I do not want to be guru. I've no desire. My goal is to create people who are independent critical thinkers, who can approach things like startups, like career, like health and gather the data and make smart decisions. The last thing I want is them to rely on me for answers. I reiterate that constantly.
If someone's like, "Hey are you every going to create this for the single mother Christian convict's soul?" I'm like, "No. I'm not because that's not my world. I can't help you." For that reason I say, "All right, here are the steps." I've done this actively a few times if you want to create your own community. I'll use Ning as an example because I did this a few years ago. There are many different options now. I'd say, "All right, here are the three steps. Let's have a competition. We have one week. Who can build the most vibrant community in the next x period of time? You get this following prize and recognition." I've done that.
Once you do that a few times, it's just understood. That's part of the culture. If you look at, let's say, search "4- Hour Body," there are dozens if not hundreds of forums, websites, wikis, everywhere. And, it's because I asked people to do it.
Moderator: Let's move to productivity. Let's focus on email for a second. There's a quote by Chris Sacca — "email is a task list that's created for you by someone else."
Tim: Smart guy.
Moderator: What's your philosophy about email? How does Tim Ferriss do email? How do you adjust the use of it?
Tim: I agree with Sacca. It depends to some degree on the resources you have at your disposal. Let me tell you how I do email, and then I'll provide some basic suggestions. I would say the first thing is to recognize that email is exactly what Sacca described. It is a reactive workspace. So, if you want to have any sense of free will in your life, you need to have "to do's" that are established outside of the inbox, that you act upon before you go into email.
If I can make one recommendation, it would be, decide on one task on your list of "to do" items to which you can answer "yes" to the following question: If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my output for the day. Usually, it's the most uncomfortable item. It's usually the one that you don't want to do, almost always. And, it's usually the one you should do. And do that. Take care of that in the first hour of your day, before you get into email. As much as you might want to check email, because it's easier. It's easier to just react. That would be my first recommendation.
In my particular case, I do that, first and foremost. I define those "to do's" the day before. Secondly, for me personally, I have 80%+ of my email handled by Amy, an assistant of mine in Canada. She has a Word document which has processing rules. This actually reasonably easy to do. I'm not saying that everyone should get a virtual assistant, but it does work. It can work. Finding a good virtual assistant is just like finding a good employee, so don't expect all of them to be awesome. You have to use your brain about it. She has a working document, and what it reflects is what I wrote down after identifying the questions that I ask myself while I'm checking my own email.
As I go through each email, what are the questions I ask before I click on it? What are the questions I ask when I open it? What is the range of options for action, reply, archive, schedule, delete, forward? What are the criteria? I put those in a Word doc, and let her handle that for me. What I would say is, if you're operating on your own, and this is going to sound basic, but it's helpful, if you receive an inordinate amount of email . . . I would say there are days that Amy and I cumulatively get an email a minute. That's a lot of email, and no one is perfect. It's very easy to get backlogged. I took a screenshot of my inbox yesterday, because it was 666 unread messages, which I thought was very appropriate.
Moderator: What are you going to do with the latest ones?
Tim: I will probably just delete all of them or forward them to Amy and say, just send them an email and say, "Hey, I'm really sorry." They've already received auto responders, so they've been given fair warning. Tim's been ignoring email for three months or whatever, and if it's still relevant, he's really sorry, but please resend beginning of March, because I'm taking all of next month off.
Moderator: I had a friend who put an away message saying, "Don't bother emailing me while I'm away. I'll delete everything when I come back. Make sure to email me after I come back."
Tim: If you're going to do that, because very few people have the self control, myself included, to actually come back and look at an inbox of 1,500 emails and just delete the whole thing without looking. "Let me just see if there's anything important. Just a quick scan! Oh, my god!" And have a complete meltdown. Forward that email somewhere else. Create a fake account or something. Get that email the hell away from you. That's the only way it will work.
Also, don't give your email out. Treat your email like your cell phone. I'm not talking Google Voice. I'm talking about your real cell phone, the one you can't change. Treat it like your cell phone, would you really give it to anybody? Oh, sorry, no business cards, just give me yours, and I'll reach out to you. I never carry business cards. "Hey, can I see . . ." "Uh, no." There are ways to tactfully do that. Don't hand it out like candy.
Moderator: So in terms of prioritizing tasks, do you have a quote that says just because you do something really well, it doesn't mean that it should have been important? What's important for you? How do you prioritize your day going forward everyday? How do you prioritize tasks to do? I mean, everything is important, right?
Tim: I would say a few things. For me personally, and this might differ and would differ for many people, but for me, first of all, I don't have five, ten year business goals. I just don't. For those to be reliable, they would have to be so far within my realm of capability that I'm selling myself short. I wouldn't be pushing myself. If it's that predictable, I'm not pushing hard enough, if that makes sense. So I tend to have very short range goals.
Right now, there are a few things that I keep in mind as I'm looking at my tasks. Number one, I don't want to repeat myself. The best executives that I've come across actually make very few decisions. This sounds really crazy. You think about rapid fire like 100 decisions a day. The best executives see something pop up and think it's going to pop up again categorically as a problem, they make a policy and then they assign it to somebody else.
Or they make a policy just for themselves so they don't have to think about it. Speaking engagements would be a good example. It's very straightforward. It goes to Amy, she has eight questions. I don't see anything until they answer those eight questions. If they don't answer it, I don't care who they are, they're out. It just doesn't matter. Categorically, that's it. Absolute. The first is don't repeat yourself. Make policies for yourself and for other people.
Second, don't make simple decisions for other people. Don't do it. Somebody tries to offload just say, "Hey man, I'm at the breaking point. You take care of it," if somebody's trying to hot potato shit in your lap.
Secondly, if you have employees or assistants, let them make independent decisions up to a certain threshold. For me with the sports nutrition company I went from, I might get the numbers slightly off, but I went from 60 hours a week on customer service related issues to two hours a week or less in one week by simply sending an email out to everyone saying, "If you can fix it for less than $100, don't call me. I don't want to hear about it. Fix it. Log it into an Excel and I'll look at it on a weekly basis." No problems. Amazing. Let's up that to $400. Again, no problem. Fifty-eight hours removed from my week just by allowing them to make those decisions. Don't make simple decisions for other people.
I would say prioritizing for me also relates to, more so than income. And income's important. I'm not going to give you some pie in the sky, new age lecture on income not being important because that's ridiculous. Of course, it's important. But past a certain point, and if you look at Martin Seligman or researchers who look at self-reported well being, which is happiness as they define it, I get it a link to happiness is kind of a problematic term. But past 75k, it's probably a little outdated so let's add 5k a year to that, but past 80k or so it's more about access to people and resources as opposed to money.
What I realized with the blog especially, this doesn't mean everyone has to go out and build a blog because it's a pain in the ass quite frankly, there's a lot of good but it's a lot of effort. I realized that ... as an example. I was in Houston airport, I was on my way to Nicaragua and I was still working on the book. I had that sensor in my side for any of you who read that, I had the implant in my side and I realized I didn't have my MacBook charger. This is a big problem as a writer. And I was pretty sure there weren't going to be Mac stores littered around Nicaragua in between shantytowns.
I was like, oh, dammit, I had an hour to board my flight so I sent a tweet saying, "If anybody happens to be in Houston airport I need a MacBook charger. I'll pay you twice retail for it." Within 20 minutes, I had two people find me.
Moderator: In the airport.
Tim: In the airport. That's not something you can just buy. The point I'm making is that income is an intermediary chip, like casino chips that you trade in for possessions or experiences for the most part. In a relationship- and trust-based economy, which I think is evermore going to be the case, you don't actually need income to get these things. You can bypass it completely. That's what I've realized. It's just so amazing to me is that even if you don't have a huge ball, you can get around these things. Where I'm going with all that is, for me, it's not which of these will make the most money? I do have a lower threshold. I don't know if we want to get in to the exact numbers, but it's kind of like if it wont make me this much, at least per year, I'm not interested. Okay, number one. If it's headache in any respect, and isn't outweighed by some amazing experience, I'm not interested, because I recognize if I were to double my income, it would have no material impact on my life.
I have a very low bearing lifestyle and for those curious, easily the most impactful book that I've read, and I've read it about 20 or 30 times in the last few years, that I've had in the last 5 years, is "Letters From a Stoic" by Seneca. It's about 2,000 years old and if you did a search replace of the names and just threw in like Robert and Jane or something, it would be just as relevant to people in this room as it was to people two thousand years ago, pretty astonishing.
Audience Member: What's the name of the book?
Tim: It's called "Letters From a Stoic," by Seneca, and it's a series of letters from Seneca. I'm just going to digress very briefly. The letter, because of the way that Seneca prioritizes is more or less, I try to emulate a lot of his behavior. Seneca was not only a philosopher, because quite frankly, people in togas use to sit out on porches and don't do a hell of a lot other than just ramble on, aren't that interesting to me.
It's people who can actually employ and deploy those philosophies under high stress situations, those people are of interest to me. It's like Shackleton, not Shackleton, it wasn't Shackleton. Seneca and stoicism, Marcus Aurelius would be another example, are very popular among high level military commanders and Seneca was the most successful equivalent of an investment banker in Rome at the time, advisor to the emperor and one of the most famous playwrights.
The guy got shit done, and he also subscribed to the stoic philosophy, and the general basis of stoic philosophy, which relates to my prioritizing everything else, is that you learn not to overreact to things that are outside of your control, and you learn to only value those things that cannot be taken away from you by other people, and you train yourself to have those two characteristics. It's hugely valuable.
Moderator: Let's open it up to you guys. I'm sure all of you have a question for Tim so we have about 10 minutes or so to do Q & A so go ahead.
Audience Member: [inaudible @32:28] I've heard a lot of things that said even negative publicity is good publicity.
Audience Member: [inaudible 32:37]
Tim: I have plenty of criticism on my book. If you go to, my favorite would be, if you go to Geek to Freak, if you go to my Mussolini post, the conspiracy theories are awesome. They're just like amazing. Like, look at his eyes. They're deeper in this photograph, they're different people. They're so awesome. Like they're really pretty like X Files. It's really kind of fun. I don't think that all good publicity is good publicity. I think that anyone who says that, I think it was P.T. Barnum probably who said that.
P.T. Barnum was really smart about getting quoted, so I don't even think he would necessarily believe that, especially, maybe that was true prior to Google and Indexing. I don't think it's true now. I mean your reputation is your reputation on Google, so I think that there's plenty of negative. I don't feel the need to respond to 99% of it, but if somebody makes up something slanderous that's completely fictional, yeah, you need to deal with it and in some cases, I haven't gotten to that point yet, but you need to take stronger action. I think that it's the Wild West out there and I do think that you need to . . . I don't think that all publicity is good publicity.
Audience Member: [inaudible @34:02]
Audience Member: So Tim, since I met you a couple of years ago at Super Nova.
Tim: Yeah, yeah, sure.
Audience Member: [inaudible @34:11] this is when you were kind of going off and doing your blog show, "The 4-Hour Workweek."
Tim: Yeah. I remember.
Audience Member: And I definitely see a lot more clarity and vision right now, really good experience between now and then. What are maybe the biggest lessons you've learned since then, started that ride, and now what do you now different …
Tim: Good question.
Audience Member: [inaudible @34:29] about that?
Tim: Yeah that was early days. Oops, hold on a second guys, Tech Support. A little "Vanilla Sky" reference there. So I'll say a few things. The first is that I would wish, before I say this, I don't consider myself famous or celebrity, but I was saying this earlier, I continually remind myself that I think I'm 14 minutes into my 15 minutes of fame. But even in it's own way, my gross celebrity that I have through the blog and so forth, I would not wish that type of exposure upon anyone who's not prepared for it. And you should think very long and hard. And talk to people who have had mass exposure before making that your objective. Because I have . . . and I don't even think that I talk about things that are particularly threatening to identities. You know, I don't think what I talk about is that threatening, in general.
But, I mean, I've had pretty regular death threats. I've had people show up at my mailing address. I've had people try to blackmail me, extort me. And I would just caution you and say, "I'm not an outlier." When I talk to my friends who are similarly exposed, they're like, "What are you kidding? Like, I should sue you right now just for, like, being a nice guy. How naive are you? Like grow some balls." And it's like, "Wow" and this happens to all of them. Across the board, it's what you sign up for.
So I would say, that's number one. Right now that's why I don't have a TV show. I've turn down dozens of approaches for that because quite frankly I'm like, "You know what? I'm not sure I want that in my life. I'm not sure I want that level of exposure." And I don't think you need it to have the experiences and possessions and so forth that you want. Bill Murray is pretty famous for saying, "If you think you want to be famous, try being rich and not famous first."
I was actually told long ago by the executive producer of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie, which was by film standards an amazing success. The money in and the money out was just ludicrous. And he said, "I want everyone to know my name and no one to know my face." I think that's a pretty good policy. If you want to become famous, make your name famous, not your face. Certainly not your addresses.
So, yeah. I'd say that's the first thing that comes to mind. Sorry, guys. The second thing, I'll spend more than ten minutes. If you have more time, I'll spend some more time. The second thing I would say is that it's exceptionally easy to become addicted to things that are valued in your peer group. So if you have friends who are constantly upgrading the size of their house, the location of their house, new car, etc., you are going to feel compelled to follow the same behavior. And for that reason this comes back to Seneca.
So Seneca had an expression, I'm going to butcher it a bit but, paraphrasing it he said, "Take time occasionally to subsist on the scantest affair in both in food and clothing and ask yourself all the while is this the condition I so feared." So I actually make an effort to continually do a few things: give away a fair amount of money, and I'd like to say that's 100% altruistic, but there is some self- interest there. So I don't become attached to this number that's constantly increasing. If I'm constantly hacking it down, it's hard to become attached to it. Giving away possessions, exposing myself to real suffering, not me personally, necessarily, but like spending time, go spend time with a doctor in the ER room in the ICU. Go spend time in a hospice where you see people who are actually dying and you'll figure it out pretty quickly. Like, "Oh, my God, I have to do overtime for two hours," like suck it up.
Or exposing yourself, or like going to a country like Nicaragua where it's the poorest country in the western hemisphere, second only to Haiti. And expose yourself to that stuff so you actually appreciate what you have at the same time. Anyway, hopefully that's, that helps. Yeah.
Moderator: And there is a gentleman there.
Audience Member: Hi, Tim.
Audience Member: So about four months ago, I had an idea and [inaudible @39:05] got together a team of four and we started working on it and [inaudible @39:09] some stuff. But sometimes I'm really having a hard time to motivate people towards working [inaudible @39:14] because we all have our own day jobs. But even though like however many times I talk about the vision, how important this is and how much money this can make for us, sometimes I cannot really eliminate lingering doubt [inaudible @39:28]. So should I just go ahead and do, and follow up with the leads and stop working with them or . . . ?
Tim: Yeah. Is it a problem? What is your level of enthusiasm and passion for the project at the moment? Like on a scale of zero to ten?
Audience Member: Mine's probably twelve.
Tim: Okay. So you're all in.
Audience Member: I'm all over it. Yeah.
Tim: Okay. So your issue is the team and how committed they are to the vision. Why do you think they're not committed, or excited, or motivated at the moment?
Audience Member: That's a good question. So, [inaudible @40:00] they are so talented, they definitely believe. [inaudible @40:03] one or two of them maybe just lost interest because things are moving slowly [inaudible @40:14] but I can definitely say that [inaudible @40:19] and whenever I try to push them, [inaudible @40:22]
Tim: Okay. So, I can't speak to your exact situation, but this is a fairly typical problem in start-ups. I would say there are a few different approaches to solving or thinking of the problem.
The first would be getting customer validation and feedback. Operating in a vacuum with just coding and having a screen of code in front of you, it does not convey the feeling of progress that you get by just having a few people come in as prospective users and going, "Holy shit, this is awesome." Would you use this if I do ABT? "Fuck, yeah, I would use it". That gets teams excited.
So, trying to get some type of MVP. Do you know what I mean by Minimally Viable Products? Look up Eric Ries, R-I-E-S, "Lean StartUp," good guy. Getting something in front of customers is, I think, the easiest way to resurrect a lot of that interest and motivation to see that, oh my, god, outside of this insular group, the world is actually interested in what we're doing. I think that's important.
Secondly, and I don't want to speak for him, but I think Paul Graham, for example, and others might say as long as you have a part-time job, of course, you don't have the life threatening survival factor that compels you to focus on it. It's a big red flag for me. If someone has a part-time or full-time job that they're reasonably comfortable with and they're a key piece of a team that always makes me very nervous if I'm coming in an investor and an advisor.
I'm like, okay, when are you going to quit your job? If they're like, "ah … it's like okay," I can't help you syndicate this deal. They need to be willing to go on. I'm not saying you need to be willing, if you've got kids, Ramen profitable and work like a 19-year-old. You don't have to do that, but people need pressure. People respond to incentives. All or nothing is a pretty strong incentive.
But I do think the customer validation is an important one.
Moderator: Well, we're out of time right now. Can you stick around for a little bit?
Tim: Yeah. I'll take a couple more questions.
Moderator: Let's thank him for an awesome talk. Thanks, man.
Tim: That was fun.