Tim Ferriss- Author, Entrepreneur, Public Speaker
Hacking Time – How Tim Ferriss turned his quest for productivity into a way of life for a generation of entrepreneurs.
We’ve all been curious about the best way to get better at languages, sports, cooking, fitness, and of course, how to start a business. Using a grand total of four hours per week, Tim Ferriss showed us how. Ferriss needs no introduction. Multiple New York Times best-selling author. Entrepreneur. Self-help guru. Investor. Celebrity. And now star of his own television show.
A recent study from Stanford found that productivity per hour declines sharply when the workweek exceeds 50 hours. What’s more, productivity drops off so much after a 55-hour week, that there’s no point in working any more.
Newsflash: If you’re working a 70-hour week, you’re getting about as much done as someone working 55. Tim Ferriss was one of the first voices decrying long work hours and the need to rethink time priorities, and this study only served to reinforce his work. Of course, like most things Ferriss takes on, he took things to the extreme.
Even if you know nothing of entrepreneurialism, you probably know the work of Tim Ferriss. The 4-hour Workweek ring any bells? Chances are, it’s that book your roommate is always gushing about. A #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller, it has seeped into the zeitgeist and changed more lives than its detractors would like to admit. The 4-Hour Workweek was on the New York Times best-seller list for four-and-a-half years straight and stayed on other lists for seven consecutive years. Released in 2007, this seductive and seminal book was about escaping the workaholic lifestyle to “find your muse.” For the uninitiated, that means a business that takes up little time, yet turns over enough revenue for you to enjoy a sort of freedom from the office bullpen.
It’s a seductive enough idea to nudge your career into a different direction permanently. It might be hard to admit, but it’s true: if it weren’t for Tim Ferriss and The 4-Hour Workweek, a lot of us wouldn’t be where we are today.
The New Yorker once described Ferriss as “this generation’s self-help guru.” Wired called Ferriss “The Superman of Silicon Valley.” Since Workweek, Ferriss went on to write two more bestsellers, tackling fitness and then cooking. He now commands legions of devotees, equal parts inspired and intrigued by the number of impressive—albeit peculiar—accolades he’s amassed. The skills he’s mastered are as disparate as tango dancing, kickboxing, and curling. But for Ferriss, the achievements are never the focus; they’re more like decor, useful when swag points are needed in a hurry.
Speaking with Ferriss, you get the impression that he has a voracious hunger for learning, and an excessive thirst for experimentation and novelty. Couple those traits with endless reserves of energy, and you have something akin to a small, blonde, human hurricane.
With square-jawed, photogenic Scandinavian features, Ferriss speaks with an easy baritone lilt. And despite his unorthodox approach to work, it would be a mistake to think that he’s laid back or lazy. On the contrary, beneath the veneer of boyish recklessness and a devil-may-care thirst for adventure, he’s a man of quite startling intensity. Affable? Yes. But intense.
Tim Ferriss is also a divisive figure. His detractors question his methods, or get hung up on what they see as a focus on obtaining the maximum effect for the minimum effort, or championing shortcuts for their own sake. But to his followers, it’s more about working smarter. Taking apart traditional constructs, analyzing their core components like a curious child with an old clock, and figuring out which parts make it go. In a sense, he is the ultimate pragmatist. Deconstructing the time and energy traditionally required to perform a task, he sifts through the necessary components and delivers a new model that is sleeker, faster, and more effective.
So who is this guy? Ferriss grew up with his parents and younger brother in the town of East Hampton, which he describes as “rural Long Island,” only two-and-a-half hours from New York City. “It’s a seasonal town, meaning it attracts a lot of rich Manhattanites out of the Hamptons who are out for the summer,” he says.
If there’s one thing that usually isn’t helpful to a writer, it’s a happy childhood. But Ferriss recalls the time with fondness. “We were middle class, and my parents probably never made more than 50 or 60 thousand dollars per year combined.” Ferriss maintains that didn’t affect his childhood at all. “If anything, I think it helped,” he says. “If I look at the kids I met who were coming out of wealthy families in the city, they struck me as being unhappy and miserable. I spent a lot of time skateboarding, biking around to see my friends.”
Education was always top priority in the Ferriss household. “Despite not having much money, my parents made it really clear that I couldn’t get the new bike or BB gun, but there was always a budget for books. If I wanted to read, they would find the money.” So, was he the most precocious child in New York State? Possibly. “I had a rat tail at one point,” he confesses with a trademark grin. “I owe my parents a debt of gratitude. They allowed me to find things that excited me. But I’ve always been a weird kid though,” he admits. “I’ve always been an odd fellow who marched to his own drummer. That malfunction or blessing or both has always been with me.”
Even at an early age, the trademark diversity of Ferriss’ ranging interests became evident. “I wanted to be a comic book penciller for about 10 years. And so I did a lot of illustration. My grandfather was an artist, my uncle was an artist. And I continued that all through college where I was a paid illustrator. And that fell by the wayside when I graduated and resigned myself at the time to being a ‘serious’ adult and doing ‘serious’ work.”
Ferriss completed a degree in East Asian studies at Princeton, graduating in 2000, before working in a data storage company. It was there where he toyed seriously with entrepreneurialism. When recalling how he started his first company, Ferriss is quick to note that he had a number of other “ill-fated attempts at entrepreneurship,” before finally selling nutritional supplements online.
BrainQuicken (later renamed Body Quick) was in his view, Ferriss’ first attempt at a “proper” company. “All the documents were in order, accountants, payment processors and so on,” he says. “I launched the company while I was still employed at a full-time job, because I didn’t want to jump and then find the safety net. I wanted to test [the net] and only jump when I knew it could work.”
After making his first sale online, Ferriss describes the moment as “this incredible epiphany and happiness, where I realized I don’t need to be in one location and I don’t need to sell my services by the hour to make money. I had always believed that, but it was always a speculative hope. I knew it was possible, but I hadn’t tasted it.”
Regarding the first 12 months of running a business, he says, “It’s a rollercoaster. If you’re thinking of doing your own thing, it’s an education. You’ll learn more in the first six months than in two years at the best business school in the country, bar none. It’s a real experience. Emotionally. Psychologically. Financially. Physically. It’s a hell of a lot compressed into a really short period of time.”
Yet even good companies can turn ugly. BrainQuicken transformed quickly from a startup labor of love into an all-consuming, 80-hour-per-week slog. It was around this time Ferriss realized all his waking hours were spent on his business, and not chasing any of the dreams that were bubbling through his mind.
Which led to testing out various time hacks and starting the work that would lead to The 4-Hour Workweek. He transformed a business that was becoming a behemoth into a sleek and simple operation that required very little of his time daily.
Ferriss admits that The 4-Hour Workweek was written to scratch his own itch. “It’s the book that I always looked for, but couldn’t find. So I wrote it for myself. I always found these work/life books that told you money wasn’t important, or books by Jack Welch on how to build a Fortune 500 company. But I didn’t want either-or. I wanted something in the middle.”
The Making of a Bestseller
Even traditional marketing methods can be hacked. Once a publisher accepted The 4-Hour Workweek (after it was rejected by no less than 25 publishers), Ferriss took the marketing efforts upon himself. So how did he create the snowball effect? It wasn’t accidental, and did not flare up overnight. Its success was the result of careful planning and highly targeted marketing.
Describing how The 4-Hour Workweek gained such traction, Ferriss explains his first two steps to marketing. First, he recommends people read The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. “Read the old version, not the updated Internet one.” Second, “before you can make intelligent marketing, promotional, and even product decisions, you have to know who your customer is.” In fact, you could comfortably say much of his success could be attributed to Ferriss’ encyclopaedic knowledge of his target market.
“You do not need to appeal to the entire world. If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll get nowhere,” he says. “It’s too expensive and doesn’t work.” His target market is narrowed down to “tech savvy males between 20 and 40, primarily on the coast of the US mainland, either in New York or San Francisco. You can create a bestselling book by just targeting those people if you do it right.”
When marketing your product, “define specific target numbers. Mine were ten to twenty thousand books per week. I knew I could achieve that if I targeted my demographic correctly.”
To his credit, Ferriss didn’t start off with any outlandish advertising gimmickry; rather, he just went where his audience was. “I asked myself who are these people and where are they already going? Who are the thought leaders in that space? What are the five to 10 websites they visit? And I found who the traffic leaders read, the highly regarded thinkers who might not have massive platforms of their own. And I chose the least crowded channel to try to connect with them.” That ruled out email and phone. He contacted his thought leaders at conferences.
“I spent my [book] launch budget flying to conferences and trying to spend time with thought leaders over coffee in the hallway or in bars. I bought a lot of drinks for a lot of people,” he confesses. “It was South by Southwest specifically, in a couple of lounges where they served drinks.” Ferriss describes his process of meeting people, having organic conversations, and only bringing up the topic of his book when asked about what he did. “I never pitched very hard,” he says. “That is what created the snowball that turned into a massive monster: those one-on-one personal interactions that were not cold, hard sells. And ninety-plus percent of those people I am still friends with. I identified exactly who was most interested and who was most receptive.”
His books are now known for his application of both the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule) and Parkinson’s Law (work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion) to business and personal life. Which were obviously both used to great effect in the book’s launch phase.
Ferriss refers to his teachings broadly as “lifestyle design.” The popularization of notable techniques like finding “muses,” virtual assistants, and drop-shipping signaled a paradigm shift for wannabe entrepreneurs globally. The fact that those terms have entered the common parlance?
You’ve got Tim Ferriss to thank for that. But perhaps more importantly, the beneficiaries of The 4-Hour Workweek included regular business people looking for a way to stop business hours gobbling up their private lives. In an endlessly connected society, it granted many the ability to reclaim their time from 24/7 business demands. And therein lies one of the keys the books’—and Ferriss’—success. It was the perfect message for a time of ultra-connectivity, when everyone was getting more than a little weary with the boss emailing at 2 a.m. and expecting a quick reply.
The Tim Ferriss Experiment
In his Commentaries on the Civil War, Julius Caesar wrote that experience is the teacher of all things. It’s a good axiom to remember, but tough when your interests are far-reaching. In the highly specialized 21st century economy, where every industry is broken down into infinite niches, you might think that having diverse professional interests would be a quick road to the land of career stagnation. However, Ferriss’ personal mission seems to prove that anyone is capable of, well, anything. And that competency in any skill isn’t as distant as traditional educational models would have you believe.
Studying under Pulitzer Prize-winning author John McPhee at Princeton must have had something to do with it. Ferriss learned that you could jump to the front of the line if you learned straight from the best, mano a mano. And maybe that’s revealing of Tim Ferriss’ major gifting: the simple ability to talk himself into anything, with an air of genial authority. And by doing so, learn from the best.
That’s more or less what he does in his show, The Tim Ferriss Experiment, which lets the viewer into his process of turning himself into a guinea pig to try out his newest ideas. “It’s Mythbusters meets Jackass,” Ferriss says. “Or how to become Jason Bourne.” Each episode sees him tackling a new skill. With 13 episodes in total, he is both producer and presenter, all in service of demonstrating accelerated learning. “And then I have a crazy test at the end of each episode.” The first episodes debuted in late 2013, but only two ever aired. Now Ferriss has bought the rights himself. “It’s a fascinating exploration of human potential,” he says. “And what seemingly ‘normal’ people can do to appear superhuman. You get to see some horrific accidents and the occasional miracle.”
Finally, as our allotted time draws to a close, we pitch him the question: Out of all the success he’s achieved, what does he value the most? The cars? The houses? The social kudos? He muses for a moment. “The freedom to work on what I want to work on,” he says finally. “It’s not a belonging. It’s the ability to say ‘no.’ And just work on what I want to work on. And I hope it’s a force for good. That’s the intention anyway.”
Tim Ferriss’ Top 5 Productivity Tips
Curious as to which apps Tim Ferriss uses every day without fail? These are his essentials for hacking time and getting things done, in no particular order. Don’t leave home without them.
- Evernote. Full disclosure: Ferriss is an adviser to Evernote, but he says he used it before he became involved. “It’s where I do all my note taking, all my research-gathering. It’s also how I do all of my screenshots with Skitch, which is part of Evernote.”
- Onepassword. Losing track of all your passwords? This sorts it out for you. They can help you generate very difficult-to-crack passwords without it taking up mental real estate.
- Emailgame and Boomerang. “These two tools will increase your email processing speed 50 to 100 percent, I kid you not,” Ferriss says. You can schedule emails to be sent later. It also reminds you automatically if someone hasn’t replied, removing the need to remember to follow up.
- Momentum (Chrome extension). For those who get lost browsing in the forest of the Internet, Momentum brings you back on track. Every time you open a new tab, it reminds you of your main focus for the day. It also shows a beautiful photograph, an inspirational quote and the time.
- Headspace or Calm, both meditation apps. “Use these to start meditating for 10 to 20 minutes at the start of every day. Meditating in the morning before you go into any kind of reactive mode is a complete game changer.”
- Tim’s strategies on how he exploded the 4-hour work week brand (the early days)
- How he builds solid relationships with influencers and doesn’t use the hard sell
- The no.1 marketing strategy he uses for approaching any project and making it explode
- The top 5 productivity tools that are changing the game for Tim right now that allow him to hack the hell out his time and get insane amounts of work done (gamechanger)
- An extremely humbling story of how Tim got his first customers for his first business, and what it’s like for every single person when they first start out on their entrepreneurial journey
- Tim’s new epic TV show and the secret to learning any skill FAST
Full Transcript of Podcast with Tim Ferriss
Nathan: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Foundr podcast. My name is Nathan Chan, and I’m your host. And I am so extremely pumped, and excited for today’s guest that I’m bringing to you, the one and only Tim Ferriss. Now, this guy doesn’t need an introduction and he’s seriously like one of my idols. I know I might sound like a bit of a fanboy, but his book, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” changed the game for me.
So, if it wasn’t for Tim creating “The 4-Hour Workweek,” I wouldn’t be doing the work that I’m doing today. It wouldn’t be…Foundr wouldn’t exist. So, I’m really, really excited to bring this episode to you, guys. And it’s taken a while to get in touch with Tim and track him down and get this interview, but it finally happened and I’m really, really proud of it actually. And you know, Tim is one of my old time idols and favorites entrepreneurs, and he shares so much gold with us.
I was really really taken back by how much value he provided especially around marketing. How to get traction for any product or service that you’re building from scratch and you’re trying to get traction in the early days. Also some great productivity tools, hacks and mindsets and all sort of things that he’s doing to leverage his time because he is the 4-hour man, and so much more. We talk about his family life and a little bit about his background and where he came from which I thought was quite interesting.
Tim also shares with us some really exciting news about a TV show that he’s launching called “The Tim Ferriss Experiment” and what we can expect from there. And the trailer will be in the show notes and also links to how to access it. And yeah, it was a fantastic conversation. I will not bore you anymore with my ramblings, but yeah, look, really, really excited to bring this one to you, guys.
If you do enjoy these interviews, please do take the time to leave us a 5-star review, it helps more than you can imagine. Please do check out the magazine, it’s The Fruits of L.A[SP], but please do, go to the Foundr website. If you need to see the show notes you won’t miss anything there. It’s all there on our website, plenty more content. We’re here to serve and help entrepreneurs just like you however we can. Now, let’s jump into the show.
To start off, with you know, you don’t need an introduction. I’d just like to start off with the humble beginnings like, what was your family life like? What was life like growing up for you?
Tim: Growing up was done on eastern Long Island. So, I grew up on rural Long Island, which is few hours take two and a half hours from New York City. A lot of potato farms and it’s a seasonal town meaning it attracts a lot of people out to the Hamptons who are rich Manhattanites coming out for the summer and so on. I grew up, my mom, my dad, my younger brother there as locals, so townies and I had a rat tail at one point growing up. And you know, I had we were I would say middle-class. My parents combined never made more than $50,000 or $60,000 year combined.
But that didn’t affect my growing up at all. If anything I think it helped. And if I look at the kids I met who were coming outta very very wealthy families from the city they struck me as quite unhappy and kinda miserable. But I spent a lot of time skateboarding, biking around to see my friends because my friends were miles away, I had to bike and illustrating. I wanted to be a comic book penciller for about 10 years and did a lot of illustration. My grandfather was an artist, my uncle was an artist.
And I continued that all the way through college where I was a paid illustrator. And that fell by the wayside when I graduated and resigned myself at the time to being a serious adult and doing serious work. But the upbringing in Long Island was great. I really don’t have any complaints. My parents have always been very, very supportive and obviously we all have our own stuff to deal with inside our families, but my parents despite the fact that they didn’t have very much money made it really clear that I couldn’t get the new bike necessarily, I couldn’t get the new BB gun or whatever.
But there was always a budget for books. If I wanted to read that was a different story, they would find the money. And what they did that I thought was very smart in retrospect, and what I hope to do someday with my kids, is they never said, “You need to learn how to count to 10 in French so we can show you off at a dinner party. You have to learn how to do A, B or C, learn to play the piano.”
They gave me the opportunity, but they exposed me to a lot of different things many of which were just free, going out and exploring the beaches, or you know, hunting for crabs so to speak. They were never capped, but you know getting like the bones from chicken legs after we ate them. We ate a lot of chicken legs growing up. So, you could buy them at a discount, like when you have packets of 30, 40 or whatever. And they were able to allow me to find things that excited me. And so I owe them a huge debt of gratitude for that. I’ve always been a weird kid though I mean, I’ve always been just an odd fellow who’ve kinda marched to his own drummers. So, that malfunction or blessing, or both has always been with me.
Nathan: Interesting. And I really like this moment stuff like I listen to a lot of Alex Bloomberg stuffs. So, I really wanna touch on this moment stuff like can you take us back to when you started your first company, BrainQuicken, you made your first sale online. Now BrainQuicken was your first serious company, right?
Tim: That was my first serious company. I had a number of other ill-fated attempts at entrepreneurship. And I had a few did well, but I didn’t wanna do them long-term. Like teaching accelerated learning classes in college, which did really well but I didn’t want to do it long-term. But BrainQuicken was the first attempt at a proper company. You know, all the documents in order, accountants, and actual payment processors and so on. That was my first real stab.
Nathan: Yeah, okay. So, can you tell us the moment when you made that first sale online? How did it feel? Because I know it was a game changer for me.
Tim: Well, the way I made my first sales is kinda funny and I think that more people should do this, is I launched the company while I was still employed at a full-time job because I didn’t want to jump and then find the safety net. I wanted to test it and then only jump if I knew it could work and had some legs. So, I basically guilted everyone in my office, excuse me, all my coworkers I was like, “Hey, guys like you remember that lunch I bought you? Like dude, do me a favor, I’ll spot you back but just buy me one bottle, come on. Help me get this thing off the ground. I wanna make sure all the systems worked.”
So, the first orders I received to stress test the system were from my friends who were like, “This better fucking work, man?” And it was great, it was great. So, they started using it in the office and then it gave me the confidence even though those were kind of layup sales and I guilted people into it. It gave me the confidence that I could ostensibly make sales online and then when I started getting my very first sales, and this is back in the days you know, they had a heyday of the golden era of Google Adwords.
It was just this incredible epiphany and happiness where I realized I don’t need to be in one location, and I don’t need to sell my services by the hour to make money. And that was just… I had always believed that, but it was a speculative hope, right? I was like I know this is possible but I hadn’t tasted it. I didn’t have any direct firsthand proofs. So, to actually have that first order was amazing.
And I remember… I’ll just tell a funny story. I remember one instance where I went to my bank to deposit a check. I was still you know, taking mail-order checks and depositing them and if my car broke down I had to like pack up the boxes myself, I had packing peanuts all over my apartment and put them in a garbage bag in one hand, and take a motorcycle which is so dangerous. I mean, I was risking my life. But I’m like, this is hundreds of dollars. You know, it was, you know, everyone’s been there I think as an entrepreneur.
And I remember one day I went to deposit some checks and I deposited the checks and, “Do you want a receipt?” “Yes.” And at that point, I probably had I don’t know, $5 grand in the bank, I mean, and that was…I was rolling in the money, that was a big deal. You know, I had $5 grand in the bank and I was like, all right, just enough to maybe cover my ad expenditure. And you know, I had to negotiate with the manufacturer to get a tiny manufacturing ram[SP] because I couldn’t afford anything at all otherwise, so I had to walk in and negotiate with him to prove to him that this was a business worth investing in.
And it worked out actually ultimately for both of us very well but I hit yes I wanna receive it at the ATM. And the receipt came out and it said like $120,000 and I was like, “Oh my God, oh my God.” I just started like jumping around and I was like holding my head in my hands, and kinda like doing a little pony dance outside the ATM. And then I realized that it was someone else’s receipt that it had been jammed in there and got pushed out. And I was like, “Oh you son of a bitch.” And I was like, no, now I’m down to $4 grand. But it’s a roller coaster, man, you know. And if you’re thinking of doing your own thing, it’s an education, you’ll learn more in the first six months than in two years at the best business school in the country burn on. It’s a real experience emotionally, psychologically, financially, physically. It is a hell of a lot compressed into a very short period of time.
Nathan: Yeah. You know, I love that story. Just on that like what is one thing that you wished you knew as an entrepreneur when you started?
Tim: I would say right off the bat the customer isn’t always right. That’s the one that comes to mind. So, people put up a lot when they are a startup and sometimes you have to. If you need capital to make payroll then you need capital to make payroll and there are compromises you might have to make. But I had a handful of small customers and a handful of big customers these are wholesale customers, who were buying cases or pallets of product at the time. And I had also retail customers. People who just bought one or two bottles there are going to be people who make it their full-time job to complain, and be a pain in the ass, that’s just a matter of statistics.
You have enough customers at every hundred you’re probably gonna have one or two who have nothing better to do than to make you their full-time priority. And you have to choose, it’s helpful to choose in advance, what your policies are for contending with that. And in my case, I got to a point where I was having trouble sleeping. I was losing self-respect because I had a number of these wholesalers or retailers who were browbeating me, and insulting me for missing A, B, and C which I didn’t miss, but they’d misread the email and a very abusive behavior from customers.
And I took it for a very long time but it started affecting my like I said my self-worth and my sleep. And I just decided one day enough is enough you know, I am focusing on the wrong people you know. When I spend hours or days trying to fix an imaginary problem for this customer that prevents me from spending that time on trying to replicate my lowest maintenance, highest profit customers.
And so I put together an email which basically said and this went out to a handful people, “Hi, so-and-so or dear so-and-so probably. Thanks so much for your continued patronage, if that’s the word, it was something like this, I just wanted to let you know we have a couple of companywide policy changes happening, and of course we wanna keep you in the loop, you know. Number one we’re only gonna be processing orders in the following fashion so just to cut down on phone, and fax at the time, and so on. It was like this is the process for placing orders number one.
Number two, three, and four whatever it was. And in the last one was all of those policies were intended to prevent the problem customers from being able to complain or make myself miserable. Then the last one was if these policies do not work for you, we completely understand and are happy to recommend a competitor or other provider in our place, and sincerely Tim Ferriss, blah, blah, blah.
And the vast majority of the problem customers immediately, these were going out to bigger customers again, the vast majority of them turned around like, did an about-face and completely corrected their behavior. They went on best behavior from that point on. Because I basically said look, if you can’t do these I gotta let you go. And I made it really clear and all of a sudden the power dynamics switched, and they were like, wait a second like if I don’t have this product I’m losing all this profit margin because the product is selling really well.
And it completely flipped it on its head and then they were on best behavior. One of the guys wrote back and was like, “Let me tell you something you piece of shit, blah blah blah. And I was just like, “All right. You are fucking fired. Goodbye.” And that was it. And as soon as that happened, my quality of life I mean, my income was probably slightly less although it dramatically increased over the subsequent months and quarters, because I had that freed up mental space and time, and energy. But I was immediately sleeping better, I had better relationships with other people outside of work because that psychic drag wasn’t present.
So, I would just say the customer is not always right. That is a myth. And you could talk to Henry Ford who’d tell you the same thing, you could talk to Steve Jobs who’d tell you the same thing. Customers are human, they make mistakes, they misread things, they get things wrong, and sometimes they are just jerks who deserve none of your attention or energy if you can find a way around it. So the customer is not always right. Now, you should still be polite and civil whenever possible, you don’t have to be rude to fire a customer but you don’t have to take abuse from every customer not necessary.
Nathan: You know, that’s a great one. It’s quite contradictory to what you always hear. You know, especially you know, the customer is always right. And you’ve gotta you know, cop whatever they say and just make sure they’re happy.
Tim: Yeah and don’t get me wrong, I believe in customer service but you need to define what customer service means to you, right? And you know, you’ve Zappos on one end of the spectrum, and then you have I’ll say, Amazon on the other hand where it’s like you wanna…like try calling Amazon to find out where your orders is. You can’t. It’s not gonna work, or if you can they are gonna make it very very difficult because they’ve decided for this business at this scale, we’re focusing on the online experience and that product for people. We’re not going to have an 800 number on every box, or on the homepage, or on the order confirmation page because that is not how we define customer service. We define customer service as reinvesting our profits into services like Amazon Web services, and Amazon Prime, and so on. So, that we can deliver the world’s best experience with what we’ve decided is our core competency.
Nathan: Okay. So, let’s fast forward to now, you know. You’re a massive authority in the entrepreneurial space as an investor, you have a massive name, you’re a celebrity. I’d like to hear you know, in the first 12 months of “The 4-Hour Workweek” brand, how did you propel your personal brand so quickly? Like what did your first 12 months look like in the growth of “The 4-Hour Workweek”?
Tim: I would say that’s my approach was to… There are a few steps. So I would recommend everyone read a book called “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.” It’s very short. Read the old version not the for-internet version. Read the old version which has you know, the light beers, and airlines and so on as examples. But before you can make intelligent marketing, promotional and even product decisions you have to know who your customer is, in my opinion. And that customer could just be you, right? I’m making this product to scratch my own itch.
And “The 4-Hour Workweek” was basically the book that I looked for and couldn’t find. So I wrote it for myself. You know, I always found these like work-life books that told you money wasn’t really important, or I would find books by Jack Welch but how to build a Fortune 500 company, and I didn’t want either or, I wanted something in the middle.
Now, when I wrote the book, I wrote it for myself but I also wrote it for two of my friends who were experiencing very similar problems one in his own company, and one in investment banking. And my demographic I decided to start my target and the target is not your entire market, but the target is the domino that you have to tip over first was 20 to 40-year-old tech-savvy males primarily on the coasts in New York and San Francisco. And you can create a best-selling book by just targeting those people if you do it right. You do not need to appeal to the entire world.
So that’s number one. If you try to appeal to everyone, you’re gonna get nowhere. It’s too impossible and it’s too expensive. You can’t buy you know, two-page spreads in People magazine, Wired magazine, Sports Illustrated, and every other mag, it does work, the cost acquisitions is too high. So, you need to define very specifically what are your target numbers, so my numbers were, at the time I think it was 10,000 books per week for each week, or it might have been 20 which is a lot of books. And I knew that I could achieve that if I targeted this 20 to 40-year-old tech-savvy male demographic in San Francisco, primarily in New York.
So then I would ask myself, who are these people and where are they already going? Who are the thought leaders in that space? What are the outlets that they go to on a regular basis? What are the five to ten websites? At this time you know, Twitter was just about to be launched in fact. I remember when I was in the Top 100 people on Twitter, most followed people on Twitter at one point, not any longer. Although I have a little 1.4 people, 1.4 million or something so it’s fine.
And then I’d identify not only the traffic leaders, right? At the time these were the tech crunches and Scobles of the word Scobblizer, who was tremendously influential in the launch of this book, but also who do the traffic leaders read, right? So, who are the highly regarded thinkers who might not have massive platforms of their own if measured by monthly unique visitors?
And then I chose the least crowded channel to try to connect with those people, in other words, I didn’t try to email them, I didn’t try to call them, I went to conferences and I spent almost all of my launch budget on flying to conferences and trying to spend time with thought leaders that I’d identified, or their friends which is fine over coffee, in the hallway, or in bars and so on having drinks. And I bought a lot of drinks for a lot of people.
And I never… How should I put this? I never pitched very hard and I think this is something that requires a little bit of subtlety and explanation, but I would go up to a group of people, let’s say and perhaps there’s a thought leader among them, and I would walk up at a bar and I would say something like, “Hey guys, sorry to interrupt.” Except of course they’re talking and drinking and say, “Cool if I join you guys and kinda eavesdrop. I’m happy to buy a round of drinks I know very little about tech, but I am just here on my own.” And you know, nine times to ten they are gonna be like, “Yeah. Whatever. Sure.”
And then I would ask a lot of questions and I was genuinely interested because I was trying to educate myself about new media and Web 2.0 at the time you know, all these different things. And so they said something like blah blah blah well, we really knew that Ruby On Rails was the obvious choice I might kinda interrupt or raise my hand in a weird, awkward way and say, “So sorry to stop the flow, but what is Ruby on Rails and why was it so obvious? And I you know, deep in my ignorance pool here, but maybe you know, I would love if you could just tell me what that is.” And they would answer it.
And I never tried to kinda come in with a cap and impress people with how much I knew because I was an idiot. I didn’t know anything about half of these technical things. And at some points, they would ask me. “Well, what the hell is your story? Like why are you here? And who are you again?” And I’d say, “Well, you know I’m here because I’ve just finished my first book and I am trying to figure out how to launch it, the publisher is controlling pretty much everything except for digital. And so I’m here to try to educate myself.” And then I would stop. I wouldn’t go into a five-minute pitch.
And then if one of them asked what’s the book about, I would look at that person directly and I’ll give them a teaser I’d be like, “Well the book is about…it’s a collection of case studies and principles that look at how people can take their 40 to 100 hours and press it down to say 4 to 10, you know, how do you 10x your hourly output?
And we have remote control CEOs, we have different billionaires who are in the book, we have single moms who are traveling the world with multiple kids while running businesses and it’s a portfolio of techniques that anybody can use. And then I’d stop. And then if they said…and if they asked questions, I would talk to those people specifically who asked questions. I didn’t try to force it down anyone’s throat.
And then maybe we go back to talking about Ruby on Rails and all that tech stuff. And if it came back to the book at some point, let’s just say it’s a group of five and only one has expressed interest I would say, “You know, I know we are about to split but my publishers sent me a bunch of review copies, I’d be happy to send you one. I don’t expect you to write about it, I don’t expect you to promote it, I don’t expect any of that, I just have a ton of copies, and I think you know, one or two chapters could be of great interest to you just based on what we talked about. And I could put a posted note in those two so it’ll only take you ten minutes to read.”
And if they said, “Yeah, sure no problem.” Then I would send them a book. And like honestly that is what created the snowball that turned into a massive, massive monster. It was those one-on-one in-person interactions that were not cold hard sales. And I would just underscore the fact that 90+% of those people I’m still friends with and that was 2007. So, these are… I had a genuine human connection with someone not just a hard pitched transaction attempts, right? And I’m not saying kumbaya. Like we should all join hands and sing “A ring around the Rosie” forever, it’s not that, I mean, they understood I had something to promote but I wasn’t trying to promote to the wrong audience. Does that make sense? I was identifying exactly who was most interested and receptive because here’s the thing you send a review copy… And publishers do this all the time. They’ll take a letter that’s just a template letter and it’ll close with something outrageous like, “We appreciate your support and promotion.” And it’s like wait a second, I don’t even know what this book is about. And you’ve already…
Nathan: I get this all the time.
Tim: …co-opted me to be your press release services it’s like show us some respect already. I mean, you know, there are magazines like if a blog has almost the number of viewers or more than the Wall Street Journal has subscribers like you should treat them with an equivalent amount of respect and these people have worked very hard to get where they are. So, that’s the general approach I used and it was South by Southwest, specifically, a couple of lounges where they had drinks at CES. And those are the two primary events that really pushed it over the tipping point.
Nathan: Awesome. So, let’s switch gears and talk about your show that’s being re-released “The Tim Ferriss Experiment”. What can people expect, and why did you buy the rights to it?
Tim: Well, yeah I’ll be happy to people. So, “The Tim Ferriss Experiment” is kinda like “MythBusters” meets “Jackass” in a way, or you could think about it as you know, how to become Jason Bourne. The show is a collection of episodes, each one tackling a new skill and I’ll elaborate on that in a second. But it’s technically not being re-released because there were only two episodes that were teased out initially. No one has seen them.
So, there are 13 total and I negotiated back digital rights to release all of them at once House of Cards-style so that people can see this. Since I did, I produce the show, I was an executive producer and the host with the team that has done all the Anthony Bourdain stuff, I mean super gritty, super cinematic, just I’m super proud of it.
So, why did I try to negotiate the rights back and spend a ton of money on legal fees, and also on the rights themselves? Because I’m proud of these episodes? I think they’re just as good hopefully people think as the books and very actionable. So every episode I’m trying to show people in real-time how I learn accelerated learning in different techniques of deconstruction to learn skills super quickly. And then I have some crazy test at the end of each episode. So whether that’s professional poker or parkour like free running which is really dangerous and I had a lot of injuries, or tactical shooting, or escape an evasion, urban escape and evasion, rally car racing the list goes on and on. I mean, surfing with Larry Hamilton is considered the god of the sport. And jujitsu with Marcelo Garcia Brazilian jujitsu with Marcelo Garcia, six-time world champion.
It’s a really fascinating exploration of human potential and what seemingly normal people can do i.e. myself and the viewers to appear superhuman, and get superhuman results. So, that’s the show, I mean it’s 13 episodes 21, 22 minutes each. Will be available on iTunes and people can find all the links at fourworkweek.com/TV all spelled out F-O-U-R. But the intention of the show is to give people a toolkit that they can use but teach them that toolkit through something that is closer to an action movie. And it’s legit, it is nonfiction like what you see is what happened. And you get to see a lot of face plants, you get to see some horrific accidents, but you get to see occasional miracles and then for the miracles I’m showing you how those were engineered and how you can do the same thing.
Nathan: Yeah I know, it looks awesome. Because I did see the first two episodes but I didn’t know whether there were some other ones that I couldn’t get because I’m here in Australia, and you know the stuff with the US sometimes and I saw the trailer and it looks like I’m really really pumped, especially that pick up line. Because you look really nervous.
Tim: Oh, I was extremely nervous and embarrassed. Yeah so, exactly having Neil Strauss who wrote the game forcing me to do cold approaches on women was more hilarious for you guys to watch than it was hilarious for me to do. I was a nervous wreck but yes very very fun experience.
Nathan: Yeah, look, I’m really really pumped for the show so when does it release?
Tim: So, the show is available probably when people are listening to this, but the shows available April 28. It’ll probably go up the April 27 and available on the 28th. And it’ll all be there so it should probably be available at iTunes.com/TimFerriss two Rs, two Ss. But man there’s something for everybody, I mean language learning, swimming, build a business. if you like any aspect of the 4-Hour Workweek 4-Hour body or 4-Hour chef, it’s all in there.
Nathan: Yeah. Now look, I’m super pumped to see all the episodes and I like the fact that you’ve released it all in one go, Netflix style, you don’t have to wait like Game of Thrones, it’s just all there for you.
Tim: Yeah I know how I like to watch stuff and that’s how I like to watch stuff, is binge watching. So, I’m gonna make it available to everyone else. My family hasn’t even seen this show. So, I want everybody to be able to see everything and that’s the goal.
Nathan: Love it. Let’s talk about just we’ll work towards wrapping up, but let’s talk about productivity because you are you know, a genius at, I guess, hacking time, finding the shortcuts like you will show everyone in your show. Like what are your top three tools for productivity because I know everybody loves tools you know, I’d love to hear what tools you love that are really helping you.
Tim: Absolutely. I’ll give you a rundown of a couple of them and I’m looking right at my computer, and my phone so I can give you a couple of quick ones. So, in no particular order, Evernote. I’m an advisor to Evernote, so full disclosure, but I used it before I became involved with those guys. Evernote is where I do all my note taking, all of my research gathering. I share notes from Evernote with people, that’s also how it all my screenshots with Skitch, which is part of Evernote.
So, Evernote is kinda my home base for almost everything. One password I use for all of you know, my password work and they generate they can help you generate very difficult to crack passwords. For email, specifically email ga.me G-A.M-E, and Boomerang are game changers. You can schedule emails to be sent later. You can schedule automatically to be reminded if someone hasn’t replied to an email so it removes the need for follow-up and remembering to follow-up which is a complete game changer. So, those two tools alone will probably increase your email processing speed by 50 to 100%. I kid you not.
And then there’s an extension for Chrome called Momentum. Momentum is very helpful because what happens is, I’m sure everyone has done this, you open a tab to go to Wikipedia or to go to Facebook for quick post update or whatever it might be and you get lost. You get lost in the forest of the internet and then you come back and you’re like, “God, where did that hour go?” What momentum does every time you open a new tab in Chrome, it shows you a beautiful photograph and it says either, what is your main focus for the day? Or if you’ve already done that as I have my case you know she was I’m looking at this right now has the time and it says, “Good evening, Tim today.” And then it has you know, processing bonus footage.
I have to look at all of the bonus interviews, extended scenes, all the crazy stuff that I couldn’t put in the TV shows to decide where I am gonna put that because I have hours and hours and hours of bonus footage which people can find on that, which you can find in the fourhourworkweek.com/TV page it’s where I am gonna put that.
Then there’s an inspirational quote below it. Which is kinda appropriate to this interview actually. This is Galileo Galilei, “We cannot teach people anything we can only help them discover it within themselves.” Very true. And this prevents you from getting lost in the internet. It reminds you of what your most important task is every time you open a new tab. So, that would also be a great tool to keep you on point.
And last but not least I would say meditating for 10 to 20 minutes in the morning. If you’ve never done it before, start with an app like Headspace, or Calm both of which are very helpful. Or you could you use a guided meditation like those available on the site of Sam Harris, samharris.org with H-A-R-R-I-S, or those by Tara Brach, are quite good as well, B-R-A-C-H. But meditating in the morning before you go into any type of reactive mode also is a complete game changer, it has been for me at least. Start with guided meditations it’s a lot easier. I took a transmittal meditation course tm.org there are things that I just like about the method but ultimately it’s been very very effective for me. So, those would be a handful of the things right off the bat that I use every day.
Nathan: Wow, man that was awesome. Thank you. Last question before we wrap up and this is one of my favorite questions I ask everyone is, out of all the success you’ve achieved, what do you value the most?
Tim: The freedom to work on what I wanna work on. That would be it. I mean, it’s not a belonging, it’s not something I bought, it’s not the houses I might have. It’s the ability to say no and work on things that I wanna work on, and I’m very fortunate to have a platform for doing that, where I cannot only create things but get them to people. And you know, I’m hoping it’s a force for good that’s the intention anyway.
Nathan: So, that was the interview with Tim Ferriss, somebody that I’ve been wanting to speak to for a very long time. I really hope you enjoyed that interview, guys and please do remember if you do want to go check out his TV show, which I highly recommend you do, I’ve seen the first couple episodes and they’re so cool, and there’s a lot you can learn and because he just drops so many knowledge bombs go to iTunes.com/timferriss double R double S. And if you are enjoying these podcast episodes or just this episode, please do take the time to leave us a review. I’ve got so many more game-changing episodes coming your way, and I’m just here to provide as much value as I can. Wish you a fantastic day and thank you again.
Key Resources From Our Interview With Tim Ferriss
- Checkout Tim Ferriss’ Books on Amazon
- Checkout the Tim Ferriss Podcast- Tim Ferriss Show
- Follow Tim Ferriss on Twitter