The true test of a person is not that you will help someone who can help you. It’s that you will help someone who cannot help you.
~ Guy Kawasaki
If you have any entrepreneurial leanings whatsoever, you're probably familiar with today's show's guest, Guy Kawasaki. The author of the best-selling The Art of the Start, founder of Garage Technology Ventures, and most recently, founder of the news sites Alltop and Truemors, has become synonymous with no-nonsense entrepreneurship.
On top of all that, Guy is one of the top bloggers in the blogosphere. When I checked this morning, his blog, How to Change the World, was ranked number 60 on Technorati.
Whether you're a budding entrepreneur or not, this podcast has something for you on your M.A.P. Making journey. Listen and discover:
- The importance of making meaning in the work you do.
- Why the true measure of a person is being a mensch, and what that means.
- Why Guy has a bias for action over planning.
- The benefit of showing up authentically in the world.
- How a guy born in Honolulu ended up such rabid fan of playing hockey.
I caught up with Guy in the clubhouse of Ice Oasis, the ice rink in Redwood City, California where he plays hockey five days a week if he's in town.
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Curt Rosengren's M.A.P. Maker Podcast: Guy Kawasaki
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Click below (if you're on the main page) or scroll down (if you're on this post's page) for the transcript of this podcast.
Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM
Hello, and welcome to Curt Rosengren’s M.A.P. Maker Podcast, where you will find insights and inspiration from thought leaders and trailblazers – people who are crafting a life of Meaning, Abundance, and Passion.
I’m Curt Rosengren, and my focus is helping people create careers that energize and inspire them. It’s all about figuring out how to put your passion to work to make a difference that inspires you, in a way that lets you thrive.
Today’s podcast features Guy Kawasaki, a man whose name for many people is synonymous with entrepreneurship. The most recent of his eight books, the best-selling, The Art of the Start, outlines the insights and no-nonsense approach to entrepreneurship he has learned throughout his career.
That career started out in the diamond business, but in 1983 it took a turn into technology when he went to work for Apple as a software evangelist. From there he founded a series of software companies, started sharing his insights as a writer and a speaker, and eventually returned to Apple for a few more years as an Apple Fellow.
Guy describes where his more recent path has taken him.
I started garage.com, which was a boutique investment bank for tech companies. And that has morphed itself into Garage Technology Ventures, which is now a VC firm. And all the way I also continue to write, continue to speak, and now I’m the founder – also, still at Garage as the EIR – but I’m doing Alltop and Truemors, which is a couple of news sites.
Alltop happens to be my current fascination, and I think it’s just good for everybody. I mean, you have a blog that is listed at Alltop, so theoretically we will send you more traffic because we’re trying to attract people who are interested in careers. And so, if a lot of people come to career.alltop.com, some of which knew about you, but many of which did not, so you’ll gain traffic and new users. That’s good for you. It’s also good for them because they find a new source of education and enlightenment and information. So how can you lose? You make the blog and the site owner happy, and you make the reader happy. Life is good! And if it all works we’ll sell advertising. Life gets even better.
For Guy, building Alltop is the most fun he’s had with his work in years.
it’s just so much fun, because people are just delighted to get listed there, and readers are delighted to find one-stop shopping aggregation with no aggravation. So it’s very rewarding. The last time I had so much fun working was probably the Macintosh division. Now, I don’t think Alltop is going to be as big as Macintosh, but it’s a lot of fun.
In his approach to building a business, Guy points to the importance of what he calls making meaning.
I think there are probably three principle ways to make meaning in life. One is to end bad things. Pollution, crime, violence, whatever. So you stop a bad thing, you’re making meaning. You can also perpetuate good things. So perpetuate freedom, perpetuate expression, liberation, empowerment, whatever. That’s also making meaning. I think the third way is to create something that has never been done before. That even translates into the venture capital business, because at the end of the day I think that companies that make meaning, also make money.
From a purely practical perspective, he also thinks that focusing first and foremost on the money attracts the wrong kind of people for a startup.
On the other hand, if you start off a company with the desire to solely make money, you’ll attract only MBA’s and that’s the worst kind of people to attract for a start-up.
Because so much of starting a company has nothing to do with analysis and high-level strategic planning. So much of a start-up is about hard work and luck. Not necessarily in that order either. So the thought that using MBA analytical skills to create a better start-up I think is an oxymoron. I think it’s all about luck and gutting it out. I prefer people who take action. I mean, you can take stupid action, but on the scale of entrepreneurship, most people spend too much time analyzing and trying to find the perfect solution. They should ship, and then test.
From the beginning to end, from the beginning to the time we shipped, or opened up Alltop, was probably about sixty days.
Why is making meaning so important?
That’s why you should start a company. That’s why you should start a job. You could say that it’s easy for me to say because I have the luxury of picking and choosing, but it’s why you exist I think. Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s something to be said for just making a quick buck sometimes if you can. But I think generally speaking probably the older you get and the wiser you get, the more meaning is meaningful than money.
He took it a step further with what he admits might be questionable theology, but is still a fun way to look at the benefit of making meaning.
Well, my theory, however theologically wrong this is…my understanding is, you get into heaven by accepting Christ, right? Not by being a good guy. That’s the way it works. So you can be a bad guy, accept Christ, and get into heaven. But then my theory is, let’s say that’s true, but what happens if you get to heaven and it’s like an airplane. Let’s say it’s a Boeing 747. So now you’re in heaven. It’s a 747. Beats a car, a hell, right? Beats being in a car. So you’re in heaven, it’s a 747, and then you find out, holy smokes, there’s coach, business, and first, depending on what kind of person you were. So my theory is, heaven is a 747, and I want to be in first. And not just any 747. I want to be in Singapore Airlines first. So that’s why I try to make meaning now. So that when I get to heaven, I have a seat that goes all the way back.
As Guy sees it, the ticket to that heavenly Singapore Airlines first class doesn’t come from doing good with strings attached. In Guy’s philosophy, the person who helps someone with the hope that they’ll get something back only ends up in coach. Singapore Airlines first class comes from being a mensch.
Mensch is a Yiddish term that describes someone who’s truly trustworthy, who is a person who would not care about the possible quid pro quo return of helping someone, but just does it for the sheer pleasure of helping people. Fundamentally honest, fundamentally fair kind of person. There’s really not much higher praise than to be called a mensch.
The true test of a person is not that you will help someone who can help you. It’s that you will help someone who cannot help you. And I think you can see this time and time again where people will suck up to a Wall Street Journal reporter. They’ll suck up to the CEO of a powerful company that they want to make a sail to, or they want to have a partnership with, right? But they berate the flight attendant. They berate the reservationist. They berate the person who’s checking you in at the counter. They berate an operator, or secretary, or administrative aide. So that’s the test. It’s not that you are smart enough to suck up to powerful people. It’s that you’re nice enough to be good to anybody. That’s the test.
I asked Guy what kind of meaning he is making with his work.
Hopefully the meaning I’ll make now is with my writing and speaking I’ll help entrepreneurs be successful, make the world a better place. So it may be secondary making meaning. Also with the funds we invest we’ll help these entrepreneurs financially create these companies. And then with my sites, Alltop and Truemors, we’re trying to help bloggers like you as well as anybody trying to find information in this haystack called the internet. So they could amount to some meaning.
The fun about it for me is when people say, they use the site, they read my book, my speech helped them. That’s where I derive value. That whatever my intellectual property is, they derive value from it.
Entrepreneurship is about pursuing a dream. While a fear of failure is an all-too-common obstacle to dream pursuit, Guy sees an especially unique cultural environment in Silicon Valley that goes a long way in reducing that fear.
We’re having this interview in Silicon Valley, and in the valley it’s different. I don’t know why it’s different, but failure’s not that big a deal, and also you’re expected to try a startup. I think in many places, people’s perspective would be, “Why are you leaving this great job?” And in Silicon Valley the perspective is, why haven’t you done something entrepreneurial? It’s very different. So failure here – I can’t say that it’s a positive. You don’t brag that you failed. But it doesn’t matter how many times you failed. It matters if you just succeed once, is what happens here. And that’s unusual. And that may be why Silicon Valley leads in so many entrepreneurial respects.
Guy points out the importance of learning from failure, but also recognizes that sometimes there’s nothing to learn because it was just the result of plain bad luck.
I don’t think you set out and prefer to fail so you can learn something. You’d be better to just be successful and learn nothing. But, I don’t know. Every time you fail you learn a little more. The tricky part is that lots of failure – I don’t know what you can learn from it, because it could just be bad luck. You could just have been too early. So what do you learn from that? Next time I won’t be too early, so then what – not be visionary? It’s not that easy. Certainly if you never try again you’ll never succeed. You’ll also never fail.
Since he mentions hockey so often in his blog and his interviews, and I’m a hockey fan myself, I couldn’t resist asking how someone born in Honolulu ended up being such a rabid fan of playing the game.
My kids took it up about five and a half years ago. When they took it up, I decided to take it up also so I could be a better father. And I like hockey more than they do. I play more hockey than my kids. If I’m in town, I play hockey five times a week.
I asked him what position he plays.
Wherever I hurt the team least. You know, when you take up hockey at 48, that’s like forty years too late. I never skated at all till I was 48. So learning to skate at 48 is a non-trivial task. I truly love hockey because it is the most physically and mentally engrossing sport I’ve ever encountered. Hockey’s just nonstop. The puck’s always in play. It’s a great sport. Everything about it is hard. It’s mentally hard. And you have to learn a skill even to be able to play. Like most people can run and jump. So you’re kind of born with the ability to run and jump. You’re not born with skating ability. It’s something you develop. You have to learn how to skate, and then you have to learn hockey. So it’s 2x what you have to do in most sports.
In his book, The Art of the Start, Guy incorporates FAQ’s into his chapters. One of those questions is, “How can I prevent success from going to my head?” I asked him how he kept from taking himself too seriously and letting his success go to his head.
There are some people who say I take myself very seriously. There are also people who say that I haven’t been that successful. So between the two I’m good as gold. I have a very good time. I don’t give a shit, basically. I’m 54 years old. I just don’t give a shit about what most, or some people think of me. And I just want to do my thing and let the chips fall where they may. I mean really, I don’t have to worry about image or anything like that. It’s not because I have this great image. It’s because I just – I don’t care. I’m not intentionally going to piss people off for the sake of flexing power. On the other hand, if they think I’m doing something stupid, or it’s lousy, or whatever, at this point I don’t care.
Ultimately, it’s all about taking an authentic approach to life.
You know what? I’ve found that if you try to have this public perception and this consistent story and all that that’s made up, it takes too much energy, because you have to remember what lies you told. Whereas if you’re just WYSIWYG, it’s very easy. You don’t have to think about it. So that’s why – there are great theological and ethical reasons why you should always be honest, but there’s also my lazy version which is, if you’re always honest and tell people what you really think, you don’t need to keep track of what lies you told. And that’s just so much easier. My brain is getting full and degrading, and so the easiest path is just tell them the truth and then you don’t have to remember what wicked web you’ve weaved. That’s my theory.
Wrapping up, I shared my perspective with him that a sense of hope is a fundamental element if positive change is going to happen. As a parting thought, Guy offered a glimpse of what gives him hope for the future.
Well certainly entrepreneurship gives me hope. The people still trying these crazy ideas, changing the world. I have four children and they give me hope. I think more than anything else, I just look at them and how they view the world and what they’re trying to do, and the joy they bring me, that’s, I would say, the primary source of hope.
Thank you for listening to Curt Rosengren’s M.A.P. Maker Podcast. If you’d like to know more about Guy Kawasaki, you can visit his web site at www.guykawasaki.com. And if you’d like to learn more about how I can help you create a career that energizes and inspires you, please visit me at www.passioncatalyst.com.