Hey, everybody, how's it going? I'm Chase Jarvis. Welcome to another episode of Chase Jarvis LIVE, specifically on CreativeLive and the 30 Days of Genius series. Super happy to have you here. Man, we got something in store. If you're new to the 30 Days of Genius series, it's where I talk to the top creatives, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders in the industry and create actionable insights from these folks to help you live your dreams in career, hobby, and life. If you're new to this series, go to CreativeLive.com/30DaysOfGenius. Just click that blue button, and you'll get one of these bad-ass interviews in your inbox every morning. My guest today is, he's gonna blow your mind. He's started 20 companies. He's written 18 books. He's got his own podcast. Don't look over there yet. How many episodes you got in your podcast?
160 episodes in his podcast. You'll know him as the one, the only, Mr. James Altucher. James!
Thanks, Chase. (upbeat, energetic music) (cheering and a...
Whoo! They love you!
Good to be out here.
Super good, thank you for coming on the show.
Are you in the 30 Days of Genius?
I'm not. I'm riding shotgun to all you geniuses.
No, so let me, I have to ask you a basic question.
I'm totally naive at this.
What do you look for when you make a good photo, when you want to take a good photo? I would like to be a better photographer, so what should I do?
I look for sheer stopping power. What's gonna make you stop if you see it, without any context, just stop and look at the picture?
So I walk out of here, and I'm in the street, and I really want to take a good photograph within the next five minutes. Is that, like, a doable goal?
Absolutely a doable goal. The first thing you need to do is look inside of here and say, "What do I care about?" And then you need to put your own lens on the thing that you see in the world. I care about people, I care about buildings, I care about nature, I care about something. That's gonna be your context, and then you can go try and make a picture that nobody else in the world can make by applying your lens.
Thank you. But I'm not done questioning you about photographs.
Okay, bring it, bring it.
'Cause I really want to, like, leave here and take a photograph.
Okay, I can help you.
So, you said "have your filter" in, like, your photos. My filter might be sad people.
So I go outside, there's people leaving work, some of them are sad, some of them are happy.
I don't know really what to look for. You're a natural at it. I don't take photographs. Like, what should I look for to create, like, for me, the best photograph I've ever taken?
Well, first of all, I would recommend that you not try and snipe somebody from far away because it's very hard to get an intimate picture.
You have to do it with, like, an iPhone or whatever.
Yeah, sure. I would stop this person and say, like, I would approach them and share your story with them. Like, "I'm on a mission, "I'm processing some grief right now. "You know, I just looked at you, "I feel like I had a connection. "Do you care if I take your picture real quick?"
That's great. I never would have thought of that.
So you build, like, almost a relationship, a mini relationship with them.
And if you can build that relationship around some sort of mutual connection and trust in, you know, 10 to 15 seconds, you'll get a much better picture.
But aren't they gonna just pose then, like as opposed to you taking it without them knowing?
I would actually instruct them on what you want them to do, like, "My goal here, I'm just trying to connect "with other strangers who sort of look like "they're carrying around the same emotions that I am, "so I'm looking not for you to smile or anything, "just be you." (clicking)
Alright, I'm gonna take a picture, and I'll send it to you.
I would love it.
So, we'll see.
Alright, make sure he has my cell phone number 'cause I want to see it on my phone within the hour of you leaving, how about that?
Okay, we got to get a little background on you because, I mean, the list of stuff you do. What I left out is you're also a hedge fund manager. You've said 13 of those 20 have failed, or something like that?
17 of the 20, yeah.
17 of the 20 have failed.
Not a pleasant experience. You know, there's sort of like this failure porn that happens, particularly in Silicon Valley, like, "Oh, I failed at my first three startups, "so now you should put money with me "'cause I'm definitely gonna succeed now." I've been through it. Like, failure just sucks. I don't know if it's ever happened to you. I'm sure it has. It happens to everyone.
Oh sure, yeah, of course.
But there's nothing good about it.
It's painful. Certainly, you learn from it, but I feel like there's also this weird thing. I forget what Brené Brown calls it. I think it's--
Gold-plated grit, which you say, "Oh yeah, my first startup is a fail. "But now, I'm a huge success." It's like how you're acknowledging this failure. But you don't say, "I failed, "and I lost all of my investors' money, "I lost my best friend in the process, my wife left me." I mean--
Wait, did you read my book?
You just named exactly everything that happened to me.
But those people don't, when they talk about failure, especially in Silicon Valley, it's like, "Oh yeah, I failed my startup, but boy, "look at my new startup now. "It's a billion-dollar blah, blah, blah." Brené calls that gold-plated grit. So, presumably, like, let's start off with, well, you know that the audience, people who are paying attention, it's an audience--
Wait, we're videotaping this?
It's an audience of people who are hungry to lean into creativity and entrepreneurship. Even if they're working for someone else, they aspire to be more creative or maybe itching to do something. Maybe they want to get a gig on the side. They're creatively curious, and so, ideas of failure, I think that's something that petrifies a lot of the people who are paying attention to show. A lot of folks are like, "Oh yeah, man. "I've struggled at this, this, this, and this." But I think if we start off just talking about it really, really openly, and clearly, it's something you're open about. You've, you know, failed 17 startups out of 20, so give me the backstory. That's a lot of failure, but clearly there's some shit that's working in there.
Do you want me to start from yesterday backwards,
At the beginning.
Or beginning forwards, 'cause there's failures in both directions.
Why don't you, is it possible to have highlights of failures? Why don't you just give me, you know, give me the Cliff Notes of 17 failed startups. First of all, 17, I don't anyone who has 17 startups, let alone 20.
Well, okay. Let's deal with things one sentence at a time.
So, you can have a lot of startups if you're really, I am a big believer in experimenting. So you can have a lot of startups if you experiment and then give up fast. So I tend to give up as soon as I'm disappointed, which may or may not be a good quality. It's probably not such a good quality. I give up probably too easily. I remember one company I started, I raised money. So I raised kind of a friends-and-family round of about half a million dollars. It was gonna be this dating service, roughly based on, roughly on top of Twitter, and I remember I raised the money the day before. Then the next day, I woke up shaking. Like, I was thinking to myself, "You know what? "This is actually a bad idea." Like, just everything about it seemed like a bad idea to me, and I could have been right, I could have been wrong. This is the fastest I've ever given up on something. So I wired all the money back that day and shut that down. It took me, you know, I had been developing it for about four or five months. Had developers, had people working for me.
Prototype or something--
No, the site was functional and working, and I just raised, you know, half a million. I could have kept going. But I thought to myself, "You know what? "I'm not feeling it." I didn't want to have to talk to my investors a year later and disappoint them, and so I just wired all the money back, no harm no foul. One person I paid their lawyer fees 'cause they had hired a lawyer, and I swallowed what little money I spent on the developers, and that was it. That was the end of that company. So that was my fastest failure. It wasn't really a failure. I can't really call it that. There's worse failures, but that's how you start 17 or 20 companies. Now, some lasted a lot longer and succeeded or failed that way, and that was more painful, but that was the fastest.
Let's go to the painful one in the spectrum, if that's the lightest, fastest failure. Fail fast is obviously a descriptor that, or I don't know if it's a moniker, but a phrase that you hear often. What about the opposite end of the spectrum?
The most painful, shitty failure.
I'll talk about the first and the most recent.
Was the most recent the most painful?
No, because the first was the most painful.
So, the most recent actually was not painful at all, even though it was actually a much greater loss in some ways. So, it's because I figured out, well, I'll start with the first. So I had this company, and it was the '90s, you know, Internet 1.0, and we were building Web sites for entertainment companies. So I built the Web sites for HBO, Miramax, New Line Cinema, Fine Line Cinema, a lot of record labels. As you can tell by how I look, it was all gangsta rap labels, so Death Row Records, Bad Boy Records, Loud Records, some Jive, Interscope, so a lot of record labels. And, of course, the biggest entertainment company of all, ConEdison.com, based here in New York, the electric company. So it was a great company. The Internet was just kind of moving out commercials, so nobody had Web sites. So part of the sales process was convincing people that you actually need a Web site, and sold that company. Made for myself, and you'll see why this is not bragging in a second, made for myself $10 million cash. Never had a dime of money before. And, you know, I paid for all my education, I paid for everything when I moved to New York City, I was living on the floor of someone's apartment, and the whole thing, so then started this company. And, with that $10 million cash, I was like, the worst drunken rock star on every drug possible. I bought the biggest apartment you could buy. I invested in all the stupidest companies, like you know, a social network for left-handed baseball players, like everything that. I had one company, seriously, one company I invested in was, like, mobile devices for deaf people, and that company totally failed. I literally, I'm an idiot. I put $2 million into that one, went to zero. The house was, I remember, it was right on Church Street all the way down near Reade, and which--
I don't know if you know New York very well, but I remember, this was in 1999, I asked the real estate agent, "Well, what's gonna happen "to this place if someone bombs the World Trade Center?"
And she said,
Oh my God.
"You can't live your life thinking like that." And so, after 2001, which was obviously much worse for everybody else than for me, but of course, the value of this place went to zero exactly when I was also going broke because I had decided to put all this cash into Internet companies and stocks, and all those were going to zero. So, I just lost everything, went into debt. I remember I had $47 in my bank account the day before, and this is after $10 million. $47, two kids screaming, didn't know if the house was gonna close the next day, my parents refused to lend me money for all sorts of reasons. I'm not blaming them; it was my fault. And it just sucked. So, I thought to myself, "Oh, I got lucky. "I won this Internet lottery that's never gonna exist again, "and I don't know how to do anything else, "and that's it. "I'm over. "I'm gonna die."
So I even looked at my life insurance policy. What's the suicide clause? And I was thinking to myself, "My kids aren't old enough to know me yet, "and they have a $4 million life insurance policy "they could benefit from if I sort of do it right now," and, but I didn't do that.
Sold the house. Lost money on that, but enough to move, like, 100 miles north and try to restart again. It took years and years to restart, but--
That was sort of the first, you know, it took years to realize this, you know, I don't have to make this the last word. You know, you get depressed, and it's--
Were you depressed?
You know, not depressed in a sense of, like, clinically depressed. I was depressed because I lost all my money, and--
Yeah, understandable. I'm just, you know, like, it's a real, sort of--
I was sad.
Yeah, of course.
And I was anxious. Like, I didn't know how am I gonna make another dollar for the rest of my life, particularly after I had that, you know, immense rush of, like, making this money, you know, where it's hard to, like, say then, "Okay, now I'm gonna start from scratch again," 'cause that's what I was doing. And it took two or three years before I could say, "Look, maybe there's another, you know, "maybe I can wake up out of bed now and start doing things." And so I had to have a bunch of failures like that to start to realize, you know what? Something really bad is happening to me. Whenever I'm succeeding, I self-sabotage in some way, and I crash again. And this happened, like, many times, where I'd crash back to zero after doing well. So I got over the feeling that I couldn't make money. I realized, "Oh, I think I know how to do this," but I also automatically do this almost immediately. And I had to ask, "What am I doing when it's coming down, "and what am I doing when it's going back up?" And it turned out, the exact same thing was always working for me when I was going back up, almost like clockwork. So, usually I would wait, like, a year. I'd get depressed for a year, thinking, "Oh my gosh. "I can't believe this happened again." And then I would start doing what I needed to do to get back up. So, about a year ago, about a year and a couple months ago, friend of mine invited me to the set of, he was launching this TV show for Showtime, great show, and I was watching the first episode get filmed. It's before he even got, like, that he'd gotten green-lit, before it got really picked up. And it was such an exciting experience to be on the set of a TV show. I'm sure you've been on the many sets.
Lived it, yeah, lived on them.
But for me, I haven't been. And in the middle of being on the set of this TV show, I got this phone call, emergency board meeting of a public company that I was on the board of. So, I hear, what could be happening? Maybe something great's happening. The company's getting sold, and I'm gonna make a lot of money. I had three million shares of this company, and it was moving up. Turns out, one of the largest shareholders screwed the company out of $90 million, and the bank was gonna shut the whole company down.
So, I had this board meeting within an hour, right in the middle of the day, and everybody was looking for me. "Oh, we want to show James this, "we want to show James that." Everyone was looking for me, and I'm kinda hiding in the bathroom on this board call, and Wells Fargo's got a representative, or some bank's got a representative. It's okay if we keep it there. And they basically shut the company down. It's a public company, billion in revenues.
And they sold off everything instantly. Stock went from about three to zero within days, and you know, I had millions of shares. So within a day, basically, I had lost, like, millions of dollars.
Another $9 million.
And again, saw something that I really had put a lot of work into go to zero. And... I said, "Okay, I'm just gonna follow my own advice "this time," immediately. And the advice is, you know, and it's gonna sound corny and stupid and overly simple, like, everybody sells their $5,000 self-help guru packages or whatever, but this just simple approach worked for me. So everyday, just simply check the box on, "Am I doing something for my physical health? "Am I doing something for my personal relationships "with people? "Am I doing something creative, "and am I practicing some gratitude," which is kind of a hypey sort of phrase, but just those four things. I have to do it every day, and then I check the box. And... it worked. So, like, I never got depressed over this. It wasn't like this was meaningless to me. It was actually incredibly meaningful.
Yeah, impactful, sure, I get it.
And, you know, a lot of people's lives got affected, and I was disappointed in myself for not being more on top of things, but at least for me personally, I was able to snap back, find other opportunities. In fact, later on I told the writers of the show what had happened in the middle of the day when they were trying to find me, and they said, "What the heck? "You were back to the set, "asking everybody questions, enjoying yourself. "Looked like you were having the best day of your life," which it was. And it was even better knowing that this simple practice that had worked for me so much before, but only after a delay, worked for me instantly.
Alright, let's talk about that practice for a second because I have almost the same practice. I do 10--
I hope so because it totally, at least it works for me.
I do 10 things every day, and four of them are basically what you talked about. I meditate every day, I also have a gratitude practice, I move my body every day, and I do something to facilitate relationship, like, literally, all of those things. And when I'm in that space, regardless of what's happening, I feel alive, I feel present, I feel like I can process and deal, sit in emotion, positive emotion and negative emotion, and... invincible is the wrong word, but I feel happy, I feel alive, I feel... like a powerful human.
Yeah, and you know, I like the word present, even though I think that's also kind of,
Yeah, slangy, yeah, yeah.
a little bit of a catchphrase, but one thing I learned, the faster I would start or restart doing this practice, 'cause I've now kind of kick-started it a bunch of times for myself after different, you know. No matter who you are or where you are, bad things happen. Bad things happen every year.
To good people, yes.
Yeah, to good people, to bad people, doesn't matter. But once I realize, oh, the faster I start this practice, the quicker I snap out of it, and you have to do it every day. Like, I have to do it today, I had to do it yesterday, I have to do it tomorrow. But what I realized, right, the kind of byproduct of this is you can't ask why. So I couldn't, like, spend any part of the day saying,
"Why did that happen," yeah.
Yeah, why did, I didn't try to contact the guy. "Why did you do this? "You already had, like, a billion dollars' worth "of this stock. "Why did you do this?" or "Why does this always happen to me?" or "Why didn't I pay more attention?" or blah, blah, blah. You can't ask why. You just have to say, "Okay. "Did I," you know, "walk today, run today, "sleep well, eat well. "Did I call up my friends or family? "Did I write creatively," for me. For you, it's taking photographs,
Yes, for sure.
or doing this. For me, it's writing or whatever. And then, with gratitude, I don't like, it's too easy for me to say, "Oh, I'm grateful for," you know, "my kids," or "I'm grateful to be alive." So that's all fine. I like to do what I call difficult gratitude problems. So, what can I be grateful for, because yesterday I lost all this money. Or what can I be grateful for, I'm stuck in traffic and an hour late to meet Chase. I can say, "Well, it's so exciting that I'm," you know, "Chase Jarvis asked me to be on his show, "and I'm trying to drive into the most popular city "in the world, and it's very exciting. "Life is exciting." So, I call those difficult gratitude problems.
That's cool, I like it.
So I always try to make the gratitude difficult.
Almost like a muscle that you're exercising.
It really is, it is a muscle, and you mentioned creativity, like, exercise. There's so many things that we should compare lists at some point. I keep my lists up.
Yeah, why don't you tell me all the things, other than the--
I track my stuff. Actually, can you hand me my phone, 'cause I'd like to show James that little app that I track. Where is that, my phone is somewhere over there. I drink water every day, at least 64 ounces of water.
That's better than me. I don't do that. I'm gonna drink water now.
Yeah, you should, right there.
These are my eight.
I drink 64 ounces of water. I'll give you the actual list from top to bottom here. I use an app called Habit List, which I find to be super easy to track. Eight hours of sleep, actually, straight.
Eight hours of sleep, very good.
Eight hours in bed. I don't even have to be asleep. I try not to be on devices during that eight hours, but eight hours in bed. I meditate in the morning, I meditate in the evening. I try and eat clean, and my definition of eating clean, sometimes it's paleo. I'm pretty clear with myself, just eat clean. And usually that means no fake shit, no, like, processed foods or whatever. Often, it's paleo. I strength train twice a week. Visualization and gratitude. I play, actively play or make something with intention.
I like play.
Play or make, as I put that in one category. That's the creative part. Move my body, 64 ounces of water, and zero to one glasses of red wine.
And zero to one is actually interesting 'cause a lot of it's zero. And I would say for 10 years, photography and there's sort of the touching in entertainment and all that, the world where I lived for a very, very long period of my life, and still do, but I would say I probably had two to five drinks probably five days a week. This is a very social, you know, I'm eating 95% of my meals out in that time period, et cetera, and so zero to one glasses of wine, like I'm not against drinking at all, but boy, I sleep much better when I have zero to one glasses of wine. I wake up and have a little bit more energy. I'm an energetic person. But this list of habits is something that I have refined over the course of the last couple years, and if I do these things, it's almost like I can't have a bad experience at life.
Yeah, I agree with that.
Bad things happen, bad things happen. I'm not saying I'm impervious to them, but my ability to sort of process them, live in it, be with them, and move on is just, it's orders of magnitude greater than if I wasn't doing those things.
Yeah, I agree, and not only that, it compounds. So, if you sleep well, sleeping is critical for rejuvenating the brain, the body, reducing disease, inflammation, and so on. Do this every day, it's compounding the health of your body. That's just sleep.
So if you also then do a little bit of exercise, do a little bit of something creative, suddenly, you build up this, you know, healthy life and a healthy body of work and healthy relationships, and so on.
Yeah, I love it.
And that works.
I love that you, like, I don't really, I talk about having daily habits, but I haven't really gone into depth, and I haven't found anyone else who has this, like, I just need to check the box because I know what I need, not just to survive, but thrive. This is literally a thrive list for me.
That's cool to know.
You know, it's interesting because a lot of people, everything's related to this. So, a lot of people, and I'm like this too, I'll wake up at three in the morning and have anxious thoughts, like, "Oh my gosh, "this business I started's gonna fail," or "I just insulted this person, I didn't mean to," or blah, blah, blah, or this thing is preventing me from sleeping. So, it's all related. Like, you can't, again, you can't let anxiety drain you at three in morning or take away energy from tomorrow or whatever. So I always, so it's again, applying all these things to this practice, I say to myself, 'cause I know I'm gonna do this practice the next day, I say to myself, "Okay, I'm anxious right now. "I know I usually get anxious at three in the morning. "I'm gonna schedule to talk to myself about this exact issue "at three in the afternoon instead," and by the time three in the afternoon comes around, I've already done everything that I need to do for the day, you know, all this practice, and I'm no longer anxious about the things I was anxious about, or if I am, so what? I just wrote 1,000 pages, I exercised, I ate well, hanging out with my friends. What's there to be anxious about?
I call those, well actually, I got this from Brené Brown, she calls them gremlins. And Arianna Huffington, obviously, Arianna calls them her obnoxious roommate, just these voices. And I think--
So let's think about who you just said.
Two amazingly successful women who always seem like, you know, positive, like I love both of them, and--
Always got their shit together.
Yeah, and yet they've got those gremlins probably every day, and I think it's so hard to admit that it's just part of life. That's what it means to be human because if we didn't have those things, we wouldn't run from, you know, in the jungle. If the bush just rustles, you know, there might be something behind there. You have to run as fast as possible. If you wait to see what's behind there, it's too late. The lion's eating you. So, you had to develop that. But now we live in this modern society where there's no, you know, we're not around lions or tigers or whatever. But we still have those gremlins because it's only been, you know, 50,000 years of four million years of evolution.
We're literally hard-wired for those things.
Yes, so it's a good thing to have those, but now we have to deal with them in a modern sense.
Yeah, and I still, I think it's fascinating that our lists are so similar. I think it's quite cool. So, I'm gonna get back to your startups. You had, that sounds pretty catastrophic, a couple of $10 million hits, some lightweight ones. Let's talk about the flip side of that. What's something that you feel like you had a reasonable amount of success, and you enjoy doing, of your 20 startups?
I'll tell you, when I really, it's not necessarily that I enjoy it, but where I've had better success is not doing startups. Like, I really hate startups.
It's so glamorized, and it's so much hard fucking work.
It's hard work, it's not that much fun. It's usually stress until the day you sell the company. I always tell people the sooner they start a company to sell the company. (laughing) Like, there's no, don't tell me, like, you're gonna be selling shoes online for 80 years because you have this life mission to sell shoes online. Like, even Tony Hsieh sold to Amazon, ultimately, so what I found was, again, I kind of have my motto, which is that I'm an idiot. So, for whatever I want to do, there's always other people smarter than me at it. So, for instance, when I do a startup now, so I have a startup that I'm involved in, I hired a CEO for my startup because he was a better CEO than me. I'm a really poor manager of people, and I'm not good. You know, to run a good startup, maybe you need to have 60% of your decisions work out okay and 40% not so okay. I'm more the other way around. I'm like a 40/60. So I'll hire someone to run the company who's a 60/40. Where I've had better success is at investing. So I always try to find a CEO, I don't even care about the company. If I try to find a CEO who's done a similar company before and had success with it 'cause he know what he's doing, I'll try to find other investors going alongside of me that are smarter than me 'cause they're gonna do all the due diligence, and they're gonna be responsible for being on the board and being smarter than me. And what sounds like a cheap valuation, 'cause if these smart investors and this smart CEO is allowing a cheap valuation, then I feel like I'm in the family. And just those three things. I could care less what the company does. I'm in companies all across the universe, and that's where I've had, ultimately, more success than starting up companies. And I make, you know, I've done well with books. My current startup, where I hired a CEO, is doing well, and, you know--
Well, let's talk about the books part 'cause I think, you know, bear with me on this for a second. So, again, the people who are listening and watching right now, they're primarily creative and entrepreneurial type or want to have more of that in their life. They're leaning in. The future of freelancing is very, very ripe. Something like 40% of people in the working age are gonna have a side gig--
Well, and let me expand on that a second. I'm sorry I'm always interrupting.
No, no, it's alright.
But people don't realize this is almost by definition, you have to have a side gig. So think about what has happened in the past 20 or 30 years. Suddenly, I mean, this has been happening for 50 years, really, but there's been this software explosion. But it's really mostly happened since the Internet hit every single company. And every line of code ever written, and so I'm a programmer by background, that's my actual training, and my first jobs were as a computer programmer. So, every line of code ever, and I've started software companies, I've invested in software companies, every line of code ever written is to make sure someone can be fired. Like, that's just the definition of software is you're automating something. So if you automate something, yeah, a little bit of it is making, you know, doing something that has never been done before, but at the same time, you're probably eliminating someone who used to do it. So, what's going to be the classic example is, you know, autonomous driving cars. Software is replacing a driver. Like, that's incredible. But even, like, basic accounting software removed the accountants. Amazon has destroyed the bookstores. You know, people used to be worried, oh, Barnes & Noble's gonna destroy all the indie booksellers. Well, Amazon totally destroyed these big, monolithic bookstores and might even destroy Walmart. So, and that's software. So, and now there's robots stacking, you know, the shelves at Amazon and Walmart. So that's replacing workers. So every software, and many other things too, which aren't just software, but like, all AI, robotics, but this is all software. 3D printing is eliminating a lot of construction. So, all of these massive and great and positive innovations for society has a downside too, and I'm not saying this in a political way, it's just a reality, is that jobs get eliminated. So think of yourself as, or the listener could think of themselves, as a business. And a business usually has many lines of product, SKUs, or whatever you want to call them, and one, if you have a full-time job, that's your one line, but you probably need five, six lines.
Yeah, the way I talk about it is if our parents had one job, we have five, and the next generation will have five at the same time, and I'm realizing that I am a hyphen. I have, like, at least five things that I'm, I'm all, you know, obviously, the founder and CEO of CreativeLive, longtime professional creative. I still shoot campaigns for some of the world's top brands, although I'm doing more of the former than the latter right now because of deciding to focus, but I'm also an angel investor. I am, like, blah, blah, blah, and what I'm finding is that the world is full of hyphens. We don't have a way to talk about, "What do you do?" "Oh, I'm a this, and a this, and a this,"
Yeah, it's weird, right?
And, like, it's getting weird and shitty, how to describe yourself.
Well, it's interesting you use the number five, because in the past, let's say, two or three weeks, I've read two completely different studies that had nothing to do with each other. One was a study, how many projects should a creative be working on simultaneously? If it's too little, the idea is they might, you know, kind of create themselves into a hole and not have a way to back up and, you know,
Re-juice the edge.
rejuvenate the juices. And if it's too many, they might not be able to focus on the projects they love the most. And then the other study was how many projects at work should an employee be working on if they want to stay motivated? So completely different, done by completely different people, different scientists or whatever, and both studies came up with the number five. So five turns out to be this ideal number of, like, if you're creative, work on a book, work on a podcast, work on a show, work on, you know, whatever, and if you're an employee, work on this program, that program, work on something for the workplace, and so on.
I'm dying for this research. Will you share it with me?
One of them, I will tell you where I heard of them.
So one of them was told to me by Stephen Dubner, who wrote Freakonomics, and we do a podcast together called Question of the Day, so he brought this up. And another is in Charles Duhigg's new book, Better, Faster, Smarter, which is about motivation. So I heard them from completely different sources.
And I've been using that line for some time now, and I used to talk about it like it was at some point in the future, but it's clearly moving even faster than I had projected, and I describe myself as a hyphen, like, what do you do? And I literally shape my, when someone says, "Oh," you know, this is a crass version, but "What do you do?" I shape it based on, like, the audience because, oh man, I'm not gonna tell these people all the blah, blah, blah if I'm in, you know, one thing, I'll say, "Oh yeah, I'm a photographer and director. "It's really the primary career I've had, "and then I started a little startup," but that's, you know, because it's easy. But every time, I'm thinking, "And I'm this, and I'm this, and I'm this," and it used to be, or I think it still is, it's weird and painful, and for the listener or the watcher who's paying attention right now, I want you to know that's okay. That's literally one of the reasons we started CreativeLive is to provide you with the opportunity to acquire those skills, build community around the things that you love doing. And I know one thing for sure, and I'd like to get your take on this, that the sort of, the classic education system is completely incapable of providing structure and opportunity to learn things at that speed. The system doesn't work like that. It's designed around the factory, and you push things through very, very slowly, so--
Well, a great example is, again, we talked a little bit about experimenting, like, the key, like you've experimented with a lot of different formats, with all these video shows that you're doing, I've seen them and watched the arcs in the past few years. And you look at all these great companies like, even Google, they experimented with different ways to make money, they experimented with different types of algorithms. A lot of success is about knowing how to make these tiny experiments, and that's something that's never taught in school. You're not supposed to experiment.
Because if you might fail and get a bad grade.
Right, and you might fail, and you won't be standardized, so my kids have to take a standardized test every year to make sure they're fitting in with all the other people in the state or the country or whatever.
Don't get me started. Don't get me started.
Right, and where did this model come from? So the history of this is it came, Prussia was really disappointed that they lost to Napoleon, so they created this, and it was like everybody was marching out of order, nobody knew how to use the same weapons, and so they created a standardized school system so that everybody would learn the same things, and they actually made a better army out of it. So England looked at this and said, "You know, "we basically own countries all around the world, "but we need to kind of make it like," they almost computerized it in the 1800's, where "We need to take a clerk from India and put him in, "you know, Barbados, and have him do the same skill." So they took the standardized system. And then Horace Mann in the U.S. said, "Okay, this looks great. "We're gonna make a standardized school system as well. "So we're gonna teach physics, math, English, "Latin, whatever in 40-minute increments," and that's what we have today. And why not just a school where people experiment, which is really the way people learn and fail and come back and learn more and succeed? Like, people kind of throw out the standardized stuff when they enter the real world and start experimenting, if they can do it.
Experimentation is clearly a paradigm for you, for the people that I know that are successful, and not just sort of at the entrepreneurial, company-starting level, but as you talked about, as a independent creative, as a freelancer, you're working on five projects. Not all five projects go exactly the way you want. Some are wildly successful, some like eh, this one is sort of mediocre, this one's kinda crappy, and there's this process that I love about realizing that it hasn't killed you, that these small failures, failing fast is a classic line, that it makes you stronger, and, you know, I was talking to the crew here earlier. I've probably been on 1,000 sets, 1,000 photo sets, and you start to know what great ones look like, feel like, run like, and there certainly is a pattern recognition, and you can have wildly successful ones. And you can still even have, "Ah, man, that shoot didn't go like I wanted it to today," and yet, the act of repeating something over and over, like, it is the best form that I know. Repetition and stamina are so overlooked in our culture as valuable.
Huge, huge, that's why I'm here.
Well, you must know the classic, and I just love this quote, the classic Bruce Lee quote. Do you know this quote about repetition?
Yes, "Repetition breeds skill." Wait, "Repetition breeds skill, repetition breeds skill, "repetition breeds skill," isn't it?
I want to know who did say that 'cause that sounds even better, but Bruce Lee said, "I don't fear the man who knows 10,000 kicks. "I fear the man who learned one kick 10,000 times."
'Cause that guy will kill you.
I think I literally think I'm quoting myself. (laughing)
And I like your quote. I'm gonna steal that.
"Repetition breeds skill," and then I put it up there three times and posted it on Facebook, and I think it went crazy. That's a good one. I'm gonna take your Bruce Lee one, you can have my "repetition breeds skill."
So, let's go back to you now. I love our discussion, by the way. Let's talk, you've had 20 startups, you've got some successful ones, some failed. You've realized that you don't love startup life because X, Y, Z. It does have a really sexy veneer on it. I personally love the environment because it puts me in the company of very, very smart people who are there. You don't necessarily go to a startup because you want to just chill out. I'm looking for other people who want to work really hard, who will put themselves out there because it requires a lot of vulnerability, I think, to be successful in these environments. And there's generally, for me, in the startup world, I am excited about things that have social good and in the CreativeLive case, for example, trying to make the world a more creative place, help people live their dreams. I love that environment, but I could absolutely see how there's a lot of bull shit around there, and for you, for example, you've decided that investing and building companies, but building them at a distance, is the healthy, great thing for you. What about, is there a future where we all should lean into the freelance life? I think that that's an important part of our future, but I don't believe that you can paint everybody with a big, fat brush. How do you think about it?
I don't know, because again, just looking at the data, income, and income's usually kind of mostly measured from income from big corporations 'cause that's where most employees, I mean, most Americans work at a big corporation, income has gone down versus inflation for about 23 years in a row now. So, I mean, incomes go up, but you know, I think the average 18- to 35-year-old made something like $36,000 a year in 1993, and now they make $33,000, you know, adjusted for inflation. So incomes in general are going down, and the reason is what's happened since 1993, this massive explosion of efficiency because of a great innovation called the Internet. So that's gonna just continue. There's no reason it's not gonna continue. We had the Internet, then we had mobile, now we're gonna have things like virtual reality. That's gonna take, you know, millions more jobs away, so I don't know. I think you're gonna have to, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Most people don't really like their jobs that much. Some people do. I actually loved my first job in the city, but eventually, you feel stagnant at it, in part because of this phenomenon that's happening, and in part because, just in general, people don't want to do the same thing for 50 years anymore. So I think there are many types of freelance jobs you could do and learn in a relatively short period of time.
Yes, I love, to me that is so exciting, and again, I'm fortunate that CreativeLive plugs into that. I wish it was this perfect foresight. It was a little bit more opportunist, like, "Oh my gosh! "This is what I love, having an opportunity to create this "and add value to other people's lives, boom." The freelance economy, all these things dovetailing, I wasn't really tuned in hard-core to those macroeconomic issues, but I'm proud of what it is that what we're building. So I'm glad that you're leaning into that as well. I think that--
And I think being creative, I think people used to think, "Oh, you're gonna be an artist?" You know, "Where are you gonna be a waiter "or a waitress as well?" So like, I think now though, because of these innovations, you can make a living doing what you love to do. And I'm not saying go out there and find your passion first. Many people have many passions. There's no one passion. But let's say you like writing. It used to be you had to sit around and wait for a publisher to also like your writing. Like, you had to write something that some kid straight out of college picked up off the pile and said, "Wow, this guy's amazing," and you get lucky. And there's only four or five major publishers now 'cause they all sort of merged. There's no indie publishers anymore, but now you can just self-publish on Amazon, and look at all the amazing books that have just exploded out of self-publishing on Amazon. Like, I don't if you saw The Martian with Matt Damon.
Yeah, indie, yeah, indie book.
That book was originally self-published on Amazon, and then I think Random House picked it up, like, self-publishing became sort of the minor leagues for Random House, and they picked it up. And whether or not you like this book, Fifty Shades of Grey was self-published, then, I forgot who picked it up, but it sold 20 million copies.
And how many millions did the movie make? Yeah, yeah.
Yeah, yeah, so now not everyone's gonna be one of those two books, but I also know people who literally write, like, a romance novel a month or write a science fiction book a month or write a self-help book a month, and they start to, it starts to build up. You start to make many streams of income, and you build up your e-mail list. You can announce your e-mail list, "Oh, a new book's out," and now you can make a living as a writer, so I mean, if I had self-publishing back when I was 18 years old, I definitely would never have gone to, I would not have made it to college. I would have just been too busy, like, uploading stuff to Amazon all day long, and that's just what I would have done the rest of my life, you know, with some variation on it.
Alright, let's talk a little bit more tactically for a second 'cause I love all of those things, self-publishing, the opportunity, there's no gatekeepers, it's the first time in the history of the world where you don't require permission to share your work at scale. I've been singing that tune for a while. I love to hear other people sing it too. Tactically, what do you feel like, what... As an investor, as someone who is really spent some time in the startup scene, part of your job is to see around the corner. You mentioned AI, you've mentioned driving cars, but you've mentioned it all in passing. Just in a very, like, in this context, what's around the corner?
You know, it's a great question because a lot of people have lost their minds and hearts and reputation trying to predict the future, so no one could really predict the future.
But, so I'll just talk about what I see in the present, and then people can decide. So, what we saw in the past was this amazing, maybe for the first time ever, a single trillion-dollar opportunity in the '90s, which was the Internet, which we're all using every day now all day long. Then, in the 2009, 2010, suddenly this amazing thing called the App Store opened up, you know, for both Apple and Google and so on, so mobile and smart phones, combined with the App Store, became the next trillion-dollar opportunity. Now we're all using, like, my kids don't even use their computers anymore. They just use mobile. And so is there another trillion-dollar opportunity happening? And what I'm seeing is, quietly, all these companies, not even so quietly, actually, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, they're pouring billions of dollars into virtual reality. So Oculus Rift was bought by Facebook for $2 billion even before they had a product. Now they have a product that's coming out. I've used it. It's unbelievable.
Yeah, I used it last week.
It blew me away.
It blew you away?
I was running around these worlds of disintegrating castles, jumping from thing to thing, I fell one time, I mean--
And you're actually doing it.
Like your brain, all the neurochemicals are firing, as opposed to a video game.
You're falling. I got the sensation of falling.
Yeah, oh my God.
With these fucking goggles on.
Like, if you're afraid of hearts--
If you're afraid of heights, not afraid of hearts, if you're afraid of heights, I'm afraid of hearts, but if you're afraid of heights, and you, like, have to look down in a VR world, you'll get scared, as opposed to a video game where, okay, like I'm looking down, you know. One neurochemical's firing, but it's not enough. Like, everything is firing in your brain with a virtual reality. So what happens now? Okay, obviously, video gaming is gonna be dominated by virtual reality. That's, you know, multi--
You know, $20 billion industry, $10 billion industry. Then, real estate totally is gonna get disrupted. I'm gonna, instead of going around with some lying real estate agent, no offense, you're gonna just be able to put on the headset. And I know the people making these environments are ready. I've already visited them and checked it out, like, you're gonna be able to visit every real estate space in a VR environment. Then you can make a decision. "Okay, now I'll see this one" instead of having to go to each one.
Which is a painful process.
You go to the mall and shop in a virtual reality. You can, you know, go to an event. Pay-per-view is, again, another $50 billion industry. Pay-per-view's gonna switch completely to virtual reality. So I think this is easily the next, it's already, let's say, a $50 billion opportunity, and I think it's on its way to becoming a trillion-dollar opportunity. So virtual reality is where I would place my bets, not even as an investor, but as a creative too. Like, how do you go about designing or thinking about virtual reality environments, or you know, what are other opportunities that I didn't just spout off that maybe nobody's thinking of? So these are sort of things in terms of another creative prompt, like I would start thinking in this direction. I'm not personally doing it because I like to write.
Because everybody else is in it.
So, I'm not writing virtual reality. I'm just writing.
So I was at South By, which is where I was playing with Oculus Rift, and... I feel like the media really sold the shit out of virtual reality, and it was everywhere. I mean, I went to the virtual reality space. There was a whole space dedicated. All the manufacturers had their stuff. A friend of mine, Robert Scoble, was there, just like, he just left a job at Rackspace, now he's at UploadVR.
I didn't know that. I only know, I know Robert from Rackspace.
Yeah, for sure. So, yeah, he just left and joined Upload. The point is that more than virtual reality, what people are talking about in my experience, could be my friend circle, could be, you know, what I was doing. We have a lot of same friends. Snapchat (laughing). I'm telling you, it was more popular. I 100% agree with you that virtual reality is the around-the-corner, that's the next, you know, trillion-dollar idea, et cetera, et cetera, but I found it fascinating that the real story for me at South By was Snapchat.
You know, I see everybody using Snapchat. I don't, I hate when people say this, I don't disagree with you,
as opposed to saying I agree with you. Snapchat's clearly big. That's all my kids use. My 17-year-old was just snapchatting me yesterday, and blah, whatever. And I just got a Snapchat account probably thanks to our mutual friend Gary Vaynerchuk, I don't know.
So he just convinced me to get Snapchat.
Gary, we're there now, we're on it, thank you. I love you, brother.
But I feel like, I don't know, I feel like I'm a little old for Snapchat. Like, most of my friends don't really use Snapchat, whereas 10 years from now, all of my friends will be using virtual reality. So, but--
Doing stuff for Snapchat sounds great.
As a creative, here's why I like it, 'cause it's so low weight. There's no anxiety around just doing something very, very simple. (claps) Boom! And it's the engagement. Almost 100% of the people who pay attention to me look at every single thing, every single five-second thing that I send out there, which is crazy engagement, right, versus a tweet, which if you have, you know, 350,000 followers, gets seen by 3,500 people or something like that. So the scale, I think, is interesting. The engagement's really interesting. The low-weight, high-creative, the fact of a story that's just always sort of evolving. Anyway, I don't not love the other things, but I am admittedly intrigued about it, so I just--
Well, I think everything is related to, like, what you said, story, so storytelling, if you could find more media for storytelling. I don't think virtual reality signals the end of writing on a page, for instance. More books are read every year than the year before, despite all these amazing things that are happening. So, I still believe, you know, I was actually, I feel like we're constantly, like, name dropping, but I was talking to someone from Amazon this morning 'cause I talk a lot with the self-publishing group 'cause I self-publish now. I didn't always do this, but I self-publish almost all of my books now. So I'm always, whether they like it or not, I'm always giving feedback, and you know, one of the amazing things about self-publishing is you can throw out the standard definition of a book 'cause that was defined by publishers and bookstores. Bookstores and publishers wanted you to write a 60,000-word, 200- to 250-page book. Now you can write a 10-page book or a 5,000-page book. It doesn't matter. So, it can be sold in, most are sold in digital form now. I think they've just switched. The majority is digital. And so I encourage everybody I know to write your story down because now you can finally tell your story to your children, your grandchildren, your friends. Just write it. Doesn't take that long, and it's good practice for communicating, and it's better than a business card for telling people who you are. And I encourage people to self-publish. There's no friction to self-publishing. Just upload to Amazon a Microsoft Word document, and you're done.
It's that simple.
Yeah. I wrote, in a weekend, I gave myself a challenge about maybe two years ago. I forgot when it happened, maybe three years ago, two-and-a-half. I wanted to write and self-publish in a weekend a novel. So I did, like, a 30-page novel, and it was great. And it sold. I did it under a pen name, totally anonymous, and it sold, like, a few thousand copies 'cause I promoted it. You can promote something for free for a little bit on Amazon, then it gets high ranked, and people see it. And I did it, I did what's called newsjacking, so I newsjacked what was a trending topic in the news that weekend and wrote a fiction about it, and sold a few thousand copies, got a check, and then, you know, it never really sold again after that, but was fun.
You could just do it
in a weekend.
That could be quite lucrative.
Yeah, I know people who make good money doing that.
Newsjack fiction, wow, newsjack fiction.
Huh, interesting. So what's got you excited outside of VR and outside, actually, let me put a different guardrail. What's got you excited outside of technology full-stop?
You know, I mean I'm always excited about writing, which I don't view as technology. I think that's an art form unto its own, just like the discussion we had about photography. When you told me to go up to a person and establish a relationship with them, and tell your story to evoke a connection with them, again, that's storytelling, it's relationships, it's how to build a picture, it's not necessarily about technology. It doesn't matter the tech.
You didn't say, "Get this fancy camera."
Evoke a response, yeah, and connect with another human being. So it had nothing to do with the equipment or the technology. So I think that's the important part of all of these things, even virtual reality. You were saying you were jumping through castles, and you were afraid. Like, that had nothing, we, yeah, thankfully, there's technology behind that. You're not actually jumping around castles that are falling apart, but the technology's just a side effect of this thing that's having fun for you. So that's what's got me excited is storytelling having precedence over,
just working for the master, you know, the big corporation, or you know, having one thing to do all your life. Like, technology actually doesn't excite me that much. It's the fact that now we have more choices of what we want to do. That is what excites me.
Yeah, the fact that I would say the number-one question I get with a young photography crowd, and I mean young not in age but in exposure to photography as a vocation, a hobby, a however you want to call it, just in photography, is "What kind of camera do you use?" And... I don't judge that, but what I'm aware of is that it's very much a, it should be a conversation about what's a great picture, how are great pictures made, what is a story, how do you capture that in one moment. And the way that people access that, you know, in the earliest experience of it is through the device that makes it possible.
So it's like, I never get angry at people who ask me about "What kind of camera should I buy?" And they really just want an answer. I could say, "The one that takes pictures "of the fucking moon. "It's $10 million. "That's what you should buy," 'cause they would give me this crazy look, or "Here, you should get this Lego camera. "It's a great starting camera." At both ends of the spectrum, it doesn't really matter. The fact that they're interested in photography, and I know this is a great access point, it literally doesn't matter. I just have a couple of standard answers because it's easy, and my answer doesn't matter because if they grab a camera, almost any camera, and they take enough pictures, they will engage with photography on the next level. So in the same way you're talking about writing, it's not really about the technology. Storytelling is still the core thing. That's ultimately what I'm getting at. Sure, it doesn't, any camera, any piece of technology that's gonna help you take pictures is better than not having something. So, I don't know, run with that for a second. How do you think about that?
Yeah, so two things. One is storytelling, whether it's with words, or really even more primal, with pictures, like you're saying, this has been around in our civilization, in our culture, for let's say, 70,000 years. Not our culture, but our species for 70,000 years. They find, you know, etchings on a wall, picture on a wall from 100,000 years ago, 70,000 years ago, and it's because this is how our successful ancestors, as opposed to the unsuccessful ones who didn't ancestor anything, our successful ancestors passed down information from generation to generation, and they did it by developing storytelling. And it started with pictures, then with words, and later on. So, again, what was important there was story, as opposed to the technology, 'cause there was no technology.
It was the club or the fire or the stick to scratch on the cave wall.
Yeah, or some sort of oral tradition or whatever. So I was once having lunch with a friend of mine, and he was saying he wanted to start creating, you know, viral YouTube videos and putting ads on them, and I'm, like, "Well what's stopping you? "Why didn't you start yet?" And he said, "Well, I don't have "the video camera equipment yet." And I'm like, you know, "You have, like, the latest iPhone. "So the video camera on that is," I don't even know, I just made it up, so maybe I was lying to him, I said, "That's 1,000 times better than, like, "let's say, the best video camera from 20 years earlier."
Oh, for sure. It's 4K, I mean, it's like, it's incredible.
Right, so it's better than the video camera, you know, George Lucas shot Star Wars on, or you know, The Godfather was shot on. You've got this video camera in your pocket. So, just go out there and make videos. You know, you look at, like, successful YouTubers, I'll pick one randomly, Michelle Phan, who's all over the place now. You know, she does these makeup videos. She did, like, 60 videos with just her iPhone or whatever until she got a big hit, and then she had some money to buy better equipment. So that's what you gotta do. It's just storytelling.
The power of story is, yeah, it's, there's... story narrative. I feel like that is a thing that is so useful in so many applications. If you're raising money, you tell a story. If you're telling your parents you're getting out of (laughing), you want to get out of school one day, you need to make up a good story. If you're trying to share an idea, if you're a grandfather trying to share an idea with a grandson, you tell a story, because stories are sticky. They are!
Yeah, people remember them.
Yeah, we're genetically wired to remember stories. Is that the same, are we in the same sort of crocodile brain that we were in 70,000 years ago, you think?
Definitely. Because look, you know, our, I don't know if you call it species or genus or whatever, it's been around four, six million years, who knows how long? Humans have only been, let's say modern civilization's only been around for 10,000 years when we started harvesting wheat. Other than that, we were just, like, the same thing for millions of years, you know, just with gradual change. So, it's not like our brain suddenly said, "Oh, okay, James is living in a city now "with big buildings, and everything's pretty safe. "We're gonna cut him a pass "on every evolutionary restriction "we had on him for four million years. "He's free." That's why we're, that's why, as a society, we eat a lot is because it used to be if our ancestors found something with sugar that was sweet,
You ate it.
You would just keep consuming it 'cause you don't know the next time you would run into something sweet. Now, we have, you know, sweet food all over the grocery store, so we just eat and consume 'cause that's like our brain is telling us, "Oh my God, you just found, you're kidding me. "You just found, like,"--
You never know when you're not gonna be around food.
Yeah, you just found a cookie. You gotta keep eating them. Don't waste this opportunity. You have a Twinkie? So that's amazing.
What do people know about, I'm sorry. What do people not know about you that, if they found out, would be surprised?
Well, I'm pretty open in my writing with everything. Like, I write about all my failures. I write about horrible things that I've done, and good things and bad things, mostly bad things, 'cause nobody really cares about good things that much. So, there's not much I haven't actually written about, to be honest.
I don't know.
Yeah, I've written about every--
I mean, I write every day for years and years.
I think that's motivation for you guys to check out James's work. Actually, let's do that. Like, what's a great place to find you? You mentioned jamesaltucher.com. Is that where you park your stuff?
Yeah, that's kinda like
the top of the pyramid, yeah, and then, of my books, maybe Choose Yourself is my favorite, or The Choose Yourself Stories, which is kind of more storytelling.
That's where I was gonna go next. So, you've written 17 books, 18 books?
I got about 18.
So, favorite? Choose Yourself?
Choose Yourself, yeah, or The Choose Yourself Stories, which I think of as more fun for me to write, and Choose Yourself was a little bit more analytical, but still story-driven.
What's the basis? Tell the people at home. What's the book about?
It's basically about what we've been talking about, which is that you no longer need permission from, let's say, a publisher, or a photography magazine, or a fashion house, or your boss, or, you know, a TV network to put on a show. You're making a show here without a TV network choosing you.
Actively not, actively walking away from the TV networks.
Right, you could choose yourself now in almost any field you think about. So, and that's kind of on the almost economic side, but it's also what we talked about with this practice of, in order to prepare yourself for that, you kind of have to be physically, emotionally, mentally, you know, almost spiritually, in good shape every day. So that prepares yourself to kind of become this Choose Yourself warrior almost, although I don't use that word in the book. But that's how I think about it now.
You've heard the question, I think. We've also talked about something being trendy, all kinds of trends that we've referenced in this conversation. The basis of this question is a little bit trendy, which is if, you know, what would you tell your 20-year-old self or whatever? So I'm not interested in your 20-year-old self. I mean, I am, I'm interested in your 20-year-old self, but I'm interested in your yesterday self. What would you tell, not your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yesterday, knowing what you know right now, and if you could go back and have a conv. Actually, I'm mandating that you go back and have a conversation with yourself and give yourself a piece of advice. What would it be?
I would never advise my previous self. You only can learn from experience, so... go fuck yourself, do whatever you want.
Go stick your hand in the tiger's mouth, try it one more, I mean, you--
I got both my hands, so it worked out. So, whatever, I'm here today, and so my prior self didn't screw up that badly. I mean, made me look like this, but--
Do you have that practice of what's the worst that can happen? I think that's an interesting way of coping with risk, with putting yourself out there.
Yes and no. I think if you're always focused on what the worst can happen, like if you're totally stoic about, you know, situations--
You become what you think about.
Yeah, you get a little pessimistic. I think you always have to say, "Okay, but what's the reverse side of that?" Like, what's the worst that can happen, and get me to a point where it really isn't that bad. Worst that can happen, let's say, is, I don't know, there's a lot of bad things that can happen. Let's say I lose all my money, or I lose a family member. This is a horrible thing. But, you know, I've now seen both situations, and I've come through, and you know, you just, again, get back to this practice. It turns out people have sort of a base level of happiness, no matter what happens to them. Maybe they get sad for a while, but then they go back to their base. Now, my base I think is pretty low, so I try to ebb, you know, kind of simmer a little higher than my base.
That's fascinating. When you were talking about startups earlier, what you were really talking about is tolerance for risk. Right?
Yeah. Yes and no. I think it's tolerance for risk and ability to mitigate risk, so I don't think entrepreneurs take risks, actually. Look at Google. Larry Page and Sergey Brin did not want to start a multi-hundred-billion-dollar company. They tried to sell it for a million dollars to Yahoo, and they wanted to stay in graduate school. Yahoo said no to them. So they were trying to say, "Look, we're grad students. "This is a great way to mitigate risk "so we can be entrepreneurs later. "Let's make a million dollars right now as grad students, "finish our PhD's so we learn more, "and then we'll start our big company. But everybody rejected them. Yahoo rejected them, and Excite rejected them, so finally they said, "Okay, we'll just do this company Google." And, you know, so they tried to take risk off the table. I think the best entrepreneurs out there try to take risk off as quickly as possible.
That's fascinating. So how do you, when you're a, let's try and get to the person who's on the other end of this recording, audio or video, and you want to leave your day job. You work at, you're a coder at Amazon, and you want to become a designer.
We can do a couple personas, but let's just use this. Your name is Stephanie. You're a coder at Amazon, and you want to leave to become a designer. You design in your free time. How do you mitigate risk, or A, do you, or B, how do you? Just pretend you're Stephanie for a second.
Okay, so first off, Stephanie shouldn't quit her job so fast. I think a lot of people feel like, "Oh, I've got a great idea. "Now I'll raise venture capital money and quit my job." That's not how it works, so for instance, my very first company, I started it. I stayed at my full-time job for 18 months before I left full-time for my own company. I had a dozen employees at my own company, and I stayed at my full-time job for 18 months 'cause I was so afraid of risk, actually. And I had baby. It wasn't like I had a lot of free time. I made sure on the job I just would squeeze in all the free time. Wouldn't go to lunch, I wouldn't watch TV at night, I was just very focused on using all my, or most of my free time, not all of it, but most of my free time to have the escape plan from the job. I think also important to have Plan B, Plan C, Plan D. So Plan A is the full-time job, but Plan B might be, okay, I'm gonna design some Web sites, or maybe I'll go to some local stores and design some logos for them. I might do stuff for free so I get testimonials. I might, I'm gonna read every book in the bookstore on design so I learn more and kind of learn how to recognize the styles of all the different designers. You know, this is very critical. It takes a long time to learn, you know, enough that you become an expert. But you can make money before you become an expert, but you probably shouldn't jump until you're, you know, close to expert.
And how unsexy is that, but how critical? I'm saying the same thing to people all the time, like, "You know, I want to try my hand at being a designer. "I guess I gotta go all in." I'm like, definitely do not do that. You need to figure out, A, like you need to be doing this stuff on the side. It needs to be your side gig, your side hustle for a long time because--
And second of all, you need to be doing something you love. If you're just trying to make money, you're chasing a market opportunity, there are people who'd love that same opportunity that if you're, you know, you're... Whatever it is, you want to take pictures, and you want to do it like, "Ah," it's not something that's personally burning inside of you to do it, just so you know, you're gonna be competing with people who will kill to become a photographer. That's who your competition is.
In every area, in every area of life.
Yeah, in literally any area, and you, if you're not doing something that would scratch your own itch, then I actively dissuade people. So what's your side hustle? What are you doing from your 5:00 to 9:00? Do you love it such that in five years, when you've been working 80 hours a week, are you still loving it? Because that's really what it's gonna take to get something off the ground and--
Also, don't forget that they can also combine things. They can combine the past and the future, for instance. So if you love design, be the first designer of beautiful virtual reality environments, or if you love writing, okay, now you could write and make money off of fan fiction more easily, or you can write and make money writing 10-page nonfiction books. And there's lots of ways now to, you could write a popular blog and make some money.
Most of those things could also be done while you're maintaining your job, and if you, here's my question, the question that I ask people who ask that to me is are you, if you have to ask if it's the right time to jump, it's probably not.
Right. There's maybe never the right time to jump, you know, also. You just stay, and then at some point you figure, "Okay, now I've got enough income coming." By the way, what you do for a living might not be what you do for your life, so you might not make money at what you love doing, but you can make enough that it makes you happy, and then you quit the job.
I end up being a career counselor, and something that I really love, again, obviously, really simple, direct tie to CreativeLive, what is the thing that people that pay attention to your work, your writing, what do they come to advice for you about? What's the most common question that you get asked?
I think the most common question is, "I'm feeling so depressed I want to kill myself. "What should I do to get off the floor?"
Is that the law of attraction?
It used to be the case, if you type in, I mean, I dare anybody right now to type it in, if you type in in quotes, "I want to die" on Google, my site used to be number one. Now it's number two for most people because so many people were complaining that they put the, Google changed manually the results and put the National Suicide Hotline as the number-one result.
So it used to be my Web site was the number-one result.
Not bragging about that, but...
No, no, wow.
So that is a common question. Another common question is, "How fast can I quit my job?" Like, people just don't like their jobs, and so they want to quit. There's not really an answer, so people, because it's such a complicated question involving everything from your passion, to how much you've pursued it, to economics.
Finances, and yeah.
Yeah, finances. So there's complicated answers, depending on the situation. But that's the direction people should move, but it's not necessarily the thing they should do. That's it.
What else? Give me one more example of very popular line of questioning that you get. I'm fascinated by this.
I think it's how to be more creative. So I encourage people to write down 10 bad ideas a day. So I usually carry around a waiter's pad with me. I don't have any app on my phone for it. A waiter's pad, and I write down 10 ideas every morning, just to start the day. It's, again, like, you know, like a muscle. They shouldn't be good ideas 'cause you should plan on having mostly bad ideas. Just exercise that idea muscle. Don't store them anywhere. Throw it out afterwards. If something sticks with you, you can write more ideas the next day. And then people say, "Oh, ideas are nothing. "Execution's everything." They forget that execution's just a subset of ideas. Execution ideas are a subset of ideas. Well, now that you have this great idea, what are all your ideas to make this idea?
Yeah, what are some execution ideas?
Yeah, okay, now I'm gonna outsource software to India. I'm gonna outsource design to 99designs. I'm gonna find products on Alibaba I could sell on Amazon, and, bam, I've got WordPress and this and Amazon, and now you start to have a business. So it's execution, you still have to have ideas.
I love that. I love that daily creative practice. You know, we went over my app earlier. Making something every day, a picture. I do consider this one of my creative outlets today, for example. The daily practice, go ahead, sorry.
You know, a lot of people also ask me what writing software to use, and people have all these fancy, like Scrivener, they have all these fancy softwares. I do almost all my writing in a Facebook status update. The danger is my computer can go down, and I'll lose what I wrote, but so sometimes I cut and paste to the clipboard, but it forces me to make my writing very spare, so I'm not, 'cause it's just a status update. Even if I'm writing 1,000 words, I'm trying not to use any extra words or else people will stop scrolling in that update window. So, I just use the bare minimum possible. And that goes for, like, everything in my life. So just, I don't really want anything. And people say, "Well, how can you do that if you have kids, "if you have this or that?" I just structure my whole life so that I can have as little, everything as bare and minimum as possible.
Would you say is that lean living, and do you do so to maximize personal freedom?
I just want to keep, maybe this, yes, it's the personal freedom, and it also allows me to explore my competencies a little bit more. So if I'm not kind of weighed down by, you know, this and this and this, I can focus on what I really like doing. I think, have you ever had Nassim Taleb on here?
I have not.
Okay, so he told me the best job you could possibly get is night watchman because there's nothing to do, and nobody's looking at you, like you're not being supervised as a night watchman, so you could just pursue what you want to do in the night, and I kind of agree with that approach. So, for me, I just, I think if you have your expectations as low as possible, it's very easy to exceed them, which might be a depressing way to look at things, but that's just how I look at things.
(laughing) I love it. Alright, I gotta try and wrap a bow on this thing, and I do have another question to finish with, though, and it is, what am I not asking that you either wished I would have or think I should have?
I don't know, I mean--
There is something. I'm not letting you out of this. This is the last question.
Okay, let me think about it.
"Alright, let me think about it." It's so hard.
No, honestly, honestly, like, I'm pretty happy with my life, and I don't care if I die tomorrow either, so it's not, and not that I'm such,
like, a great person that I'm like, okay fine with everything. It's just that I don't really think of, I'm really dumb, and I don't think about a lot of things. So I don't know what you should be asking me.
Think, I mean, you have an audience of your own that you create for. You create for yourself, you share with them, you are a podcaster. You ask a lot of questions of other people, and have you asked yourself a question and shared it, that you have an open floor here to do it?
Well, here's the question I ask myself, which is how do I continue reinventing? So I think if you write something every day, you might get in the danger of writing the same thing every day. And you see what, the very big problem on the Internet is that feedback is instantaneous. So you see right away, oh, people like this, they don't like this. But you can't just do what people like, because you're the writer or the photographer or whatever. They're not, so you kind of just can't appease them or else you lose your own value as a creative. And I think that's really important to understand the process of reinvention. And for myself right now, I'm having a hard time reinventing to the next phase, if there is one for me. So that's what I struggle with. I don't know if that's a question I should be asking that.
No, that's great, but I think, just so you know, you said for the next phase "if there is one." I promise you, man, there is one.
I hope so.
I'm looking forward to that.
I look every day for it.
I'm super excited to see what you create. This, sitting down and--
Porn, I'm just gonna write porn novels.
(laughing) Sitting down and talking to you has been a long time coming, and we've been in the same circle for a long time. I appreciate you spending an hour and 20 minutes or whatever it has been. Thank you very much, man. I appreciate it (clapping).
Yeah, thank you.
(grunting) Alright, everybody. That was a lot of information. Your brain must be quite full. You know, actually, what's the best way to track you down? Just jamesaltucher.com? We talked about that.
or @jaltucher on Twitter, or just call me up, 203-512-2161. I probably won't pick up the phone, but I usually, when I'm in a cab, I'll respond to whatever text just came in.
That's awesome. Thanks for the access, brother. You all keep your seatbelt on. We got another interview coming at you tomorrow. Thanks a lot for tuning in. Have a great one. (mellow music)