No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”

Dr Carol Dweck

Nick Shaw is the co-founder of Renaissance Periodization (RP), a multi-million-dollar health and fitness company that has improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of clients around the world. Through its leading programs, technologies, and team of PhDs on staff, RP gives its subscribers an easy to follow nutrition plan that fits neatly into your schedule so you can achieve your health / fitness goals. 

Over the years, the RP team has sold hundreds of thousands of books to help people with their nutrition, training, and recovery, and to help create healthy habits. Nick has also personally coached numerous world-class athletes including CrossFit Games champions, international weightlifters, UFC fighters, Navy SEALs, and Olympians.

Last year, Forbes published a feature story that documented Nick’s journey and RP’s meteoric rise from a small business into an influential tech company with an industry-leading mobile app available on both Apple and Google. 

However, tragedy struck in January 2020 when Nick’s wife, Lori Shaw, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Lori is not just the mother to their two children, but also an instrumental part of the RP business.

Shortly after the diagnosis, the COVID pandemic swept the world, forcing the Shaw family to juggle homeschooling, chemotherapy treatments, and navigating the business landscape in the most uncertain time our generation has faced.

In November 2020, Nick published Fit for Success, a book that outlines the seven foundational habits for achievement to help anyone, irrespective of background, chart their path to success. It also delves into some of his favorite books, most valuable takeaways, and key lessons from his rollercoaster journey, to complement the insights gained from working closely with the most accomplished individuals on the planet.

Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Nick Shaw does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more🚀

In this episode, we’ll go through:

Before we begin, remember that the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one who needs to hear this episode, share it with them right now. 

Let’s WIN THE DAY with Nick Shaw!

James Whittaker:
What was 'success' to you when you were a teenager? And when did the possibility of owning your own business first come on your radar?

Nick Shaw:
I was really into sports and anything fitness-centric. Although, I will say the one thing that I realized pretty early on that has always stuck with me — which is really important in fitness — there's never a place that you arrive at. You're always just doing it because you like it, there's always a little bit more you can strive for, and you can work really hard.

Typically, if you work really hard (like with fitness), results come. So I guess those were two really good things to be drilled in my brain early on. And they've always stuck with me because there are so many similarities between business and fitness, and I love seeing how those they're alike.

You're right, people get way too focused on a quick destination, rather than the journey. If they carry that attitude to multiple areas, their life can quickly become a mess.

Totally. It will. I can give you a great fitness example. A lot of people, they get so stuck on a set number, "Hey, I want to lose 20 pounds." And then they get those 20 pounds off, but then what? Or they don't develop those good habits because they are so focused on the outcome. What they need to focus is on is setting good habits.

They don't develop those good habits because they are so focused on the outcome.

If you focus on setting good habits, you're eventually going to get to a good outcome, but maybe that good outcome is you lose 15 pounds, but you don't have to do anything super crazy at the end. And, for most people, that's probably a better trade-off.

You need to love the process, rather than being so focused on the outcome.

What was the gap in the market that you saw for Renaissance Periodization (RP) and how were you able to assemble this amazing team of 20+ PhDs and eight registered dietitians to help make your vision a reality?

My buddy who started RP with me was always really smart guy. I met him in college. And he went on to get his masters and later he got his PhD in sport physiology, essentially studying how do you make athletes as best as they can be. That research requires you to take a look at a lot of finer details.

And so, we started out working with a lot of athletes. You would see some folks that could just skate by with genetics, but maybe the stuff that they were doing wasn't really the best. But if you have really good genetics, you can do that; you can skate by. But if you take someone with really good genetics, and then on top of that, you combine an evidence-based program that has the best methodology behind it, you get some really crazy outcomes.

Think of someone people like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, who are very genetically gifted, of course, but they are also just tenacious hard workers — probably some of the hardest workers of all time. If you combine genetic gifts with a tenacious work ethic, you get the best athletes of all time. So, that's really what we were just trying to combine. If you have just one or the other, that's okay. But if you combine both of them together, then you really have something. So, that's really what the gap was in the market about a decade ago.

What is an 'evidence-based approach' to nutrition and training for people who don't know?

You can find one study out there that can say pretty much anything, right? And so, if you only go by one study, you could be really led astray if you only go by that. But an evidence-based approach looks at all the combined evidence out there. You take a look at a meta analysis. You take a look at literature reviews, which can combine hundreds and hundreds of studies.

So, when you have hundreds of studies and it starts pointing you in one direction, you know that you're probably on the right track. Yet, if you only rely on one study, you may be heading in the wrong direction. And so, when you pool everything together, it just helps point you in the right direction. That's really what evidence-based is about.

In 2015, your wife Lori quit her successful corporate job to support you at RP. I'm married, you're married, so we know that marriages can be tough without the added complexity of working together at the same time! What did you focus on as a collective to make both your business and your marriage a success?

We were just really struggling in terms of the help we needed. You know how it is as a one-person business early on, where you have to do everything. I didn't know what it looked like, but I knew I needed help. Over time what we did, because as you said it can be tricky working with a spouse, right!? We focused on how we could compartmentalize things where Lori could do the things she wanted to do and is great at.

Because she left a fantastic corporate job and is a super, super smart, incredibly accomplished woman. We said, "You specialize in what you want to specialize because you're fantastic at doing that." And that's what led her into doing all of our cookbooks and recipes, and all that stuff, because she's a phenomenal cook, top-notch, and I'm very thankful for that, of course. Our approach was to give her a couple of areas that were all hers.

Yeah, the importance of having that discipline around each other's lane, so you can each focus on having the impact you want to have without feeling like you're stepping on each other's toes.

That's a real good summary. Because I mean, it is just another normal work setting, where sometimes you have to tell people what to do a little bit here and there. And if you mix that in with a spouse, you can carry over when the "work day" ends. So, it can be a little bit of a slippery slope, and that's why we wanted to segment things as best we could.

Well, it's a testament to both of your characters that you're still able to create such a successful business and have a great family at the same time. So, well done on keeping all of that together.

2020 was a year of enormous transition for the whole world, but in January 2020 your family was facing a lot more than the pandemic. Can you take us into that difficult time for your family, and perhaps what your mindset was like when you first received the news about Lori?

First of all, I'll say she's doing great now, a year and a half later, which is phenomenal news. In January 2020 she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, just five days before my son's eighth birthday. And then she had surgery in February. In March, she started chemo.

And then what happens in March 2020? COVID, the pandemic, and everything hit. And we had to take it incredibly serious because she's gone through chemo and was immune compromised to basically the highest level you can be. So we had to be really, really careful.

We're just not the type of people who are going to sit around and let life dictate what we're going to do. We don't want to sit around and be victims or whatever. So, we were just like, "Well, how do we make the most of this?" And we focused on things that we could control.

We're just not the type of people who are going to sit around and let life dictate what we're going to do.

We looked at the handful of things that you can do each and every single day that you have control and impact over. And that's what we did. That's what we focused on. And ultimately, that's what led to me writing the book Fit for Success because I was like, "I'm not going anywhere for the next three or four months. Literally, I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to take this time, I think I have some know talking points to put in the book."

I created the Success Pyramid. And everything just came together from there.

There's a mental health pandemic happening behind the scenes right now, and a lot of people are really struggling. On this show, we like to try and keep it as raw as possible from that mental health perspective to give people those insights. And totally feel free not to answer this question, if you don't feel comfortable doing so. Is there a particularly dark day or dark moment that stands out in the last year or two that you can think of?

I think just the day that my wife found out, because really it's one of these things where you just... I mean, my wife is a healthier person than I am — and I run fitness company. So, that just gives you some perspective as to just how luck, genetics, or whatever it is can play a role there. But instantly overnight, it literally just changes everything.

What I like to tell people is, it's entirely different when you're just thinking about these things. And then when you're truly thrust into having to put them into action every single day for months, if not a year on end. That was a big turning point where I was like, "It is really time to put all of these things in the practice more than I've ever done before."

That was even before COVID hit. Then you throw in COVID on top of that, and now it was like this just complete windfall of things.

Perhaps the second day was March 12th, and funny enough where we live here in North Carolina, my kids didn't go to school that day, because there was some weird water boil thing. I was driving my buddy to the airport because he was in town to visit, and that's when everything unraveled that day, and I'm just like, "Holy crap." We have all this stuff going on, of course going through chemo and all of that, that's enough.

Now, you throw in all of this!? It was a recognition that there was no time to mess around and feel sorry for yourself. It was about getting back to, "What can we control? Our kids are going to be homeschooled now, what can we do? What are the things that we can do each and every single day that are going to turn this around, so it's not just this really rough year?" And I think, knock on wood, we were able to make the most of it.

What one or two books have contributed most to the mindset that you've got today?

So, the first one that jumps out at me is called The Slight Edge. And ironically, it did not make it in the book, because I had my draft and everything completed. But this is one of the books that, when I read it, it was life-changing. Nothing in there is new or crazy, but you see that these little incremental things each and every single day — if you are consistent and disciplined with them — add up over time and you just get this snowball effect eventually.

That was when I started writing down a handful of things that I would do every single day, no matter what's going on.

And I love reading. I don't know about you, but I actually get really physically excited. Sometimes I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I got a new book here! I can't wait to read it." I know that's a total nerd thing to say, but do you get that at all?

I do. And literally every single book that I've read has changed my life in some capacity — every single one. If you just get one ideas, insight, or solution, as a result of reading that book, it can change everything for you.

Do you do audio books or hardcover?

I'm a little bit of both. So, actually I have to make a road trip tomorrow, which is a five hour drive. I was actually really excited because I have 10 hours of audio books. I know that that's probably going to cover me all the way there and probably back too, so I'm really excited for that. So, I do audiobooks if I have road trips.

When I'm done with a book, any book, I write down what I believe is the primary concept from the book. It doesn't have to be pages and pages of notes. I ask myself, "What would the author think is probably one of the most important points here in this book?" And I try to just make a list of those. Every now and again, I'll just flip back through it. And so, this is a really long-winded answer, if we circle back to you had mentioned two books.

The other book that has made a big difference for me in terms of my mindset is Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. When you think about it, anything that happens is on you. And when you think about it that way, it doesn't matter if someone is five levels below you in an organization, if they mess up, it's on you because you should have taught them better. At the end of the day, all roads lead back to you, the choices you make, and how accountable you are.

At the end of the day, all roads lead back to you, the choices you make, and how accountable you are.

So, if mistakes are made, don't blame other people. This is something that my kids tried doing and I'm like, "No, no, no, no, no. We're not going to blame other people." They're nine and seven years old, so, maybe it'll sink in eventually! Or maybe I repeat it enough that they do get it. Hopefully one day they'll catch themselves and think, "Oh, I'm not going to complain. I'm not going to blame other people. What can I do to fix the issue?"

You touched on the victim mindset, which greatly undermines any ability people have to be able to create whatever circumstances that they want. What do you do from a practical perspective to help get people out of that victim mindset and into more of a success or growth mindset?

This goes back to the second principle in my book, which is the 'internal locus of control.' So, if you have an external locus of control, you tend to be more of that victim mentality where things are happening to you and there's nothing that you can do. I just, I don't agree with that. I mean, I don't care what your circumstances are — and I definitely understand and have lots of empathy for people who are in bad situations — but if you take that external locus of control, it does not lead to good outcomes in terms of your mental health, physical health, and all this stuff. It just doesn't. And this has been proven time and time again in all sorts of studies.

So, you have to look inside and be like, "Okay, whatever's happening, it might be objectively bad, but what can I do about it? There has to be something that I can do." And maybe it's really small, but even those really small things starts to put you back on the right track. If you can do those little things, probably gain a little bit of momentum, probably start to feel a little bit better about yourself, probably become a bit more hopeful, because now you know that what you do really matters, and now you're on the better track. So, that's really, I think just the biggest key, if I had to give one that would be it, hands down.

You've worked with UFC fighters, Navy SEALs, Olympic athletes, a whole bunch of different people. What is the common trait that the top 1% of people have and how coachable is that trait?

They are tenacious hard workers. And I like to think that I'm a hard worker, but being around some of these folks is another level.

Tomorrow my road trip is to visit Rich Froning, who's like the Michael Jordan of CrossFit. The amount of work he puts in puts me to shame. So, we mentioned earlier, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, and it's like that with Rich Froning because he trains literally 4-5 hours a day, pretty much every single day.

They know what it takes to be the best, so they just always put in that work.

And if you really stop and think about it, if you work out an hour a day, you're doing well, multiply that by three or four, and it just, I mean, it's crazy, not to mention just how disciplined they are.

They know what it takes to be the best, so they just always put in that work. And it really doesn't matter how they're feeling, they just do it anyways.

You talk a lot about the importance of self-belief in your book. What role does environment, like where you live, where you work, and the people you hang around, play in that self-belief?

Yeah, it definitely plays a role. And if you're in a bad environment, it's going to be tougher. The odds are stacked against you. Now, we can acknowledge that. But at the same time, there are things that you can do. Again, this goes back to the internal locus of control. I guarantee there's little things that you can do to start to fix that. It may be that the odds feel overwhelming against you, but then it goes back to The Slight Edge principle — just start doing the little things.

It's going to seem like you're probably not getting anywhere, but if you have a long-term time horizon — and you're prepared to just do these little things each and every single day — you're going to be better off. And I'm not guaranteeing success of course, because we can't do that. But if you approach it the right way, your odds of beating those circumstances are going to go up exponentially.

What about your own process for setting goals personally or for your business? Is there a certain system or structure that you use to set those goals?

With your business, we have a roadmap of what we need to get done and the North Star we're aiming towards. We then break that up into chunks of what needs to be done in a given month and quarter to get there. We also implement feedback we can see in real time on the app store for our mobile app based on what our users are telling us.

On the personal side, it's a mix of short and long goals. Usually on the physical side, I'll need something to train for. On Memorial Day, there's a workout called "Murph". That's my couple month thing that I've been training for, just so I have something. After that, it's like, "Hey, how fast can I run a mile?" Just something to guide me on that right track. Because if you don't have any specific goals, it's easy to get lost — a day goes by, a week goes by, a month goes by. So I really think goals are helpful on the business and personal side.

For entrepreneurs, the ability to duplicate themselves seems to be the difference between average entrepreneurs (who are always on the brink of burnout) versus those super high achieving entrepreneurs. What was the biggest step that you took to be able to duplicate your own expertise so the company could grow without hitting a ceiling?

Well, I was definitely guilty of what you said, of not knowing what to do early on, and that's where we got to the point about burning out, because we thought that we had to do everything ourselves. One of the biggest things was realizing that we know a little bit about a couple of things, but there's so much we don't know, so let's bring in some other people — other experts — because that's what they specialize in, that's what they're good at, and that was really the biggest change.

The other thing would be some automation stuff that opened up our world to being able to focus on other things. And it just became this snowball effect that once we had more time, we're able to better focus our efforts elsewhere. And that's a great thing to do all around.

Yeah, to help make you redundant, so you can take some time off if need be.

Absolutely. I would agree with that a hundred percent.

Fitness often talks about a 'recovery phase' but many people people — especially entrepreneurs — very rarely do a good job of incorporating a phase of recharge and recovery in their regular routine. What does recovery look like in a business sense? Have you ever implemented something like a de-load or recharge phase for you as an entrepreneur?

If we go back to 2015 and 2016, our kids were pretty young. And if you have kids, you understand that's a full-time job, having small kids. They take up a lot of time and energy. So, if you factor in that with trying to train and trying to grow your business, and we were teetering definitely on the point of burnout. We needed constant help because it just seemed like we were always so busy. And by 'busy' I don't necessarily mean in a great way, but just busy. Whether it was customer service, or little things here and there, and we had to really fix that.

Once we were able to fix that, I looked back and I thought about where I'd been the last couple of years. And it's like, "I have this." And I think this is the end goal for a lot of entrepreneurs. Not that this is an end goal for me, of course, there's always more to achieve and strive for, but at the same time, I just have a lot more flexibility and freedom over my own time.

Before this podcast, I was picking up my kids from school at 2:00PM. I was sitting in the carpool line for literally 30 minutes. Before that, I was reading. It's like you have that freedom. That's my downtime, I make sure I have that time every day where I can read and do these things. I make sure I workout every single day.

For entrepreneurs, and I understand, it's a really delicate balance — because in the beginning you have to go, go, go, go, go, if you want to be successful. You have to put in that work to create that initial momentum and success. I get it. Been there, done that.

But at the same time, you eventually realize that if you don't take some of that time off and step back a little bit, your output goes down. You're not putting out very high quality work. And if you, instead of just cramming the night before and skipping on sleep and all that stuff, if you maybe just got the sleep and relaxed a little bit, you wake up in the morning and the amount and quality of work that you can now do is better. And it's a hard thing to learn. I did it wrong a million times and probably still do, of course. But once I started to realize that a little bit, I was like, "Wow, this is where I'd probably need to try to trend towards."

Let's now switch gears and focus on the health and the nutrition side. What are the biggest myths about health and nutrition that need to be busted in 2021?

Do you have six hours!? No, it's alright. So, we want to talk about, I guess a couple of main ones. One would be the idea that carbs are bad. They're not really inherently bad. In fact, there are very few foods out there that you could classify as "bad". Trans fats are an example of something that is probably very, very bad for you. Other than that, it's this balance and moderation thing. And if you understand that, everything else is so much simpler.

Because the nutrition industry is crazy. I'm telling you, it's crazy. People love this dogma, and they just get in these camps and they're not willing to change their mind or anything. And it's like, "No, I'm keto. And if you're not keto, you are a bad person." It's like, "Oh, okay."

So, if people ask me, "Hey, what do you think of keto?" we start by talking about the good. We might mention how, because it's low carb, it's probably helpful in that it will make you feel more full, because you're eating more proteins and more fats, and you'd probably be still eating a good amount of veggies. So, these are great things.

It's not that carbs are inherently bad, but guess what? Most things that taste really good have a lot of carbs, have a lot of sugar and salt, and usually have a lot of fat. Think about donuts and pizza, and ice cream. It's not that carbs are necessarily the fault behind them, it's just that they are very calorically dense, which means they're very easy to overeat because they taste delicious. Our brains are wired that way and we want to keep doing it.

The best way to be healthy — and have a normal, healthy body weight — is to eat high quality foods.

And so, that's probably the biggest one, because people like to say that, "Oh, calories don't matter." I mean, calories do matter. At the end of the day, it's probably the biggest chunk of the puzzle. But the best way to be healthy — and have a normal, healthy body weight — is to eat high quality foods. And if you do that, you don't have to get crazy restrictive. You can follow the 80 / 20 rule. And again, if you do that, you eat mostly higher quality foods. I always do air quotes around "good foods" — lean proteins, fruits and veggies, healthy fats, things like nuts, avocados and healthy carbs, rice and sweet potatoes. If you eat mostly those things, it is almost impossible to over eat.

Some of those fad diets that seem to pop up every year, would they be an example of something that would not be as evidenced-based as what you just mentioned there?

Typically, here's how something like that works. You can find some studies on some of these things, or maybe there's some evidence that points towards that they might do something, but people love to extrapolate these things to the nth degree. And they're like, "Oh, well, if it showed this tiny promise of evidence approved then, well, obviously that is the main thing that you must be doing, and you must fast for 24 hours. That is the magic key to everything in the world." And I go, "Okay, maybe."

Here's the good thing about fasting. When do most people tend to overeat? Usually it's later on at night. You're out with friends, family, or you're sitting down and watching Netflix or whatever. And all of a sudden, a bag of chips has gone before you even realize it because you just watched two hours of TV.

Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Nick Shaw does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more🚀

Again, there's nothing really magical about fasting. It's just, does it help you stay on track? Does it help you stay more compliant? And if the answer is yes, then great, it's an awesome strategy for you.

But again, it goes back to these diet camps that people love to get in and someone's like, "Oh, well, I did fasting and had these awesome results. You must do this now." You're like, "Well, what if I really like eating breakfast?" They're like, "No, no, that's stupid. It doesn't matter." And you're like, "Well, don't we have some wiggle room in there to meet people where they're at?"

The health and fitness space is just crazy at times, man. It's crazy.

In your book you mentioned how beneficial it can be to find a healthy activity that you love. For me, I love nothing more than going surfing or having a hit of tennis. We can burn through a whole ton of cals, and it's actually really fun. You're not forcing me to go and do something that I hate. So, as a result, you can stay fairly fit by doing some of those endeavors.

So, what type of exercise should people be doing when it comes to health goals?

Yeah, you nailed it. This book is more intended for people who are not your hardcore fitness folks. So, if I were to have written in this book, you must lift weights and you must do these things, people are going to say, "Look at that advice from Nick, that's stupid." I don't even like doing that. I don't like being in the gym.

If someone liked doing tennis and surfing, I would say, "Hey, that's awesome." Because you can do those things, and you can be in really good physical shape because they're very active, and that's a fantastic thing. So again, really, it's finding what you like to do. Because if you said, "Hey, Nick, do you want to go play tennis? And then go surfing." I'm going to be like, "I've played tennis one time in my entire life and I've never surfed." So for me, that's going to be a terrible day! "But hey, I'll meet you in the gym and we can go pump some iron." That's my idea of fun. So, we are two different things, right? You like different things. So, it'd be silly for me to say, you must do this.

Now, on the flip side of that, I would say, if you wanted to give some bare bones advice, try to lift weights at least twice a week. It doesn't have to be crazy heavy or anything like that. And then, just try to find some activities that you like, whether it's sports, hiking; all that stuff is great. There's no kind of one thing for every person.

I would suggest the lifting because I just think there's so many benefits around it, but again, you also have to realize not everyone likes it. For example, my sister doesn't really like lifting weights. She prefers to go run. I'm like, "Okay, cool." I have no issues with that. I'm not going to tell someone that it's mandatory to lift weights, but I think there's a lot of benefits that come from lifting weights.

Is there any technology or research that's come out in the last year or two that really excites you in terms of human performance?

There's just, there's a lot of that stuff coming out now. It seems like everyone's focusing on that. There's this rise of home gym stuff, and you have things like the Mirror or the Tonal.

I've been getting hammered by Facebook ads for the Tonal!

You and me both. I don't think I'm their target market, but I'm getting those every single day. Listen, I think something like that would be great for people. And here's the thing, a lot of people are scared to go back to the gym. I have a home gym, so it's totally different. I might be maybe a little skeptical of going back into the gym. I understand that. So, I think that's a really cool trend that Peloton and companies like that have done. You connect and you join these online classes, and it gives you that sense of community.

We work with a lot of CrossFitters. And the cool thing about CrossFit is they just have this really tight knit community behind them. My mom had never worked out for her first 60 years of her life. And I said to her, "Mom, why don't you go try CrossFit? I'll buy you a membership at the gym." It's 20 minutes away. And she loved it, because she could go and she could socialize a little bit. Of course, this was before COVID. It's been a little tricky to get her back in there. But it's one of these things where you're going to get some lifting, and you're going to get a lot of cardio. If you're moderately interested in those things, it might be worth checking out.

What are you focused on as a parent to ensure your kids grow up motivated, happy, healthy, and adaptable?

So, I consider myself extremely, extremely fortunate, because my kids love to read. And I don't know if they got that from me. My son could read at age four. I mean, it was phenomenal. I can't take much credit for that. I wish that I could!

My wife was out of town and I took my kids to Target. I told them, "You can pick out whatever book you want." And I knew they would be excited by that, but also they can have a book, and they'll sit and read it for like an hour or maybe even longer. And I think that's probably the coolest thing that I could possibly hope for. My son almost has never really played video games and he's like nine. So, I'm just super fortunate about some of that stuff that they love to read.

Other than that, I try to just make sure that they're active a little bit.

So, the one thing that actually, so this goes back to the whole control thing, when COVID hit, I had them trained in jujutsu, just because I think it's such a good skill to learn, self-defense for life and it just builds confidence. It helps develop that discipline of just being a good person. If you're going to train jujutsu, chances are, you're probably a pretty good person, because if you're not, you're going to get choked out a lot at your gym or whatever. So, we made it a thing. We tried to train... No, I'm not going to say every single day, but we kept training. And I just want him to be active. And if they read beyond that, I think that's pretty good start.

Final question: what's one thing you do to Win the Day?

Read, every single day.

Resources / links mentioned:

🌱 Want more Nick Shaw? Check out the YouTube or podcast version for the full interview, including the Win the Day Rocket Round.

📙 Fit for Success by Nick Shaw.

📝 Renaissance Periodization on Facebook.

📷 Renaissance Periodization on Instagram.

🧭 Nick Shaw on Instagram.

⚡ Renaissance Periodization website.

📚 The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.

🎖️ Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

🎙️ Have a podcast of your own and want to learn how to monetize it? Learn more about We Are Members, the world's #1 community for podcasters who want to generate attention, engagement, and sales for their podcast.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

Steve Jobs

Our guest today changed the world by bringing together fun, family, and friendship, in a product that has become a true household name. 

In 1985, Rob Angel was in his mid-twenties and working in Seattle as a waiter, earning $2/hour plus tips. With no business experience, plan, or money, Rob created the phenomenally successful and iconic board game Pictionary®. 

Remember, this was pre-internet, so Rob had to harness his intuition, resourcefulness, and work ethic, because he didn’t even know what steps to take, let alone how to take them. After assembling the first 1,000 games by hand in his tiny apartment, Rob met the existing gaming conglomerates head-on and turned Pictionary into a global powerhouse. 

Within four years, and with only two employees, Pictionary became the biggest selling board game in the world

For the next 15 years, Rob shepherded Pictionary to worldwide sales of more than 38 million games in over 60 countries and 45 languages. It had also appeared in blockbuster films like When Harry Met Sally and TV shows like Friends, not to mention the countless licensing deals with brands such as The Simpsons and Austin Powers

In 2001, Rob said goodbye to his baby, selling the phenomenally successful Pictionary to toy giant Mattel. 

Since then, in addition to spending time with his family, Rob has kept busy as an investor, philanthropist, and mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Recently, Rob released Game Changer, which is a Wall Street Journal bestselling book that reveals the dizzying highs and crushing lows of his Pictionary adventure. And if you want a roadmap to success on your own terms, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Rob Angel does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀

In this interview, we’ll go through:

Let’s WIN THE DAY with Rob Angel.

James Whittaker:
Rob, great to see you my friend. For the one person out there who doesn't know what Pictionary is, can you give a quick overview of the game and take us into the aha moment when you first created it?

Rob Angel:
Thanks for having me. Pictionary is a super simple game. It's drawing pictures to your teammates and having them guess the word. That's it. If you do enough words, guess enough words, you win the game. So it's super easy concept to understand, which I think is one of the main benefits and reason it was successful. And it started just as a hobby, just as an idea.

I graduated from college, Western Washington University in Bellingham, and I moved in with three buddies. I was a typical 22 year old, with no real prospects. I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and certainly didn't have a plan. But I always knew I was going to be an entrepreneur or do my own thing. And, as a result, I was going to be open, present, and aware. Basically, that just means when the opportunity came to me, I'd be ready for it.

One night my roommate says, "Hey, you want to play this new game I learned in college? It's like Charades on paper." .

Now I didn't know my life was about to change. It was like, okay, let's play. It was a typical night. And we got a dictionary and just started sketching words out of the dictionary. And then we did it the next night, and the next night, and the next night. It was like, "Holy crap." And this is 1982, so there were no distractions. There was no YouTube or video games. And I just thought, "This would make a great board game. I've got to do something with this."

This would make a great board game. I've got to do something with this.

It wasn't an aha moment, but it was an "I've got to share this with the world" moment. And that was just my original intention. It wasn't, "I'm going to make a business and make a million dollars." It wasn't, "I'm going to be rich." It was, how do I share this fun with the world? And that's what kind of got me started thinking about it.

You've had so many amazing memories from playing board games with friends, family, and even with complete strangers, which you detail in your incredible book, Game Changer. What is the inherent power of a board game?

Escape. It's like going to a movie, playing a game, or watching TV. It's escapism. So, for those moments you're playing the game and you're playing Pictionary, really nothing else exists. You're in the moment, you're in the present. When you're watching a movie, it's the same thing. And I think that's one of the super powers of games is that, and I've discovered with Pictionary in the long run is that people just were in that second and were able to communicate and have fun in collaboration.

And I kind of look at like a rock concert, like you're in that moment. You may not remember the words, but you remember the emotion.

What I love about your journey is that you were always so open to whatever the universe was going to throw at you.

So you had this thing that you were passionate about, but people get passionate about a whole bunch of different things. How do you take something from passion to business? And when do you know that it's a good fit?

Generally, you don't. I think following your passion doesn't always work. I think it's misnomer, follow your passion, and whoever they are that tell you to follow your passion, they don't tell you how to find that passion. They just assume you'll stumble into it. But I think you have to ask yourself three questions:

1) Are you in love with this idea? So I loved Pictionary. I wasn't thinking in the future, "Is it going to be a great business? Am I going to make money?" It was like, "I love this idea!" So do you love the idea?

2) Two, do a little research. Nowadays you can see if somebody else has done it. It doesn't mean you can't, but I play-tested the game, and people liked it, so I knew I wasn't the only potential customer for it.

3) Finally, are you willing to do the work? People sometimes forget that there's actual jobs to do and partners to find. So you have to be willing to do the work and make the sacrifices. And if you're willing to do those things and verbalize them, you have something at least to get started.

Yeah, a big part of it is motivating yourself to do the grunt work and doing those reps that others don't want to do.

They don't tell you that in entrepreneurial school. And it's kind of boring sometimes on your own. I didn't have a lot of people saying, "Rob, you can't do it" so there wasn't this motivation for people to show them wrong, but it was like I had to do it. I had to be there by myself many, many days. And that was enough motivation to see it through. But you got to motivate yourself somehow.

Within four years, Pictionary, your creation, had become the biggest selling board game in the world, which probably feels a little bit surreal for you to even hear today! Once you recognized that this fun game of yours had significant commercial appeal, how did you know what to do next?

I had no idea! But I think when I came up with it and I saw the idea, the opportunity, I think I did what a lot of people do. I procrastinated, I did nothing, because I wasn't ready and had all this self-doubt of how I could even get started. Because it was such a freaking mystery on what to do. I was a waiter — I knew nothing about business plans, marketing plans, or anything like that.

So I just bummed around for three years, basically. But I couldn't stop thinking about the idea. It never left my consciousness, and I kind of liken it to when you're in the shower and you have this amazing ideas when you're washing your hair, but by the time you're out of the shower, drying your hair, you forgot. But that wasn't me. I couldn't get rid of it. My brain was just overtaken. So I was waiting for the opportunity or the lightning bolt.

I was a waiter — I knew nothing about business plans, marketing plans, or anything like that.

And I was looking at Trivial Pursuit and I knew that the words, by the way, were the things that people would buy. You have to sell something. So I was selling convenience in a package, but the words, that was the linchpin. And so I see Trivial Pursuit and I look at the card and then I turn it over for the answer and I go, "Holy shit." I put the words on cards. It was literally that the problem I'm solving was how to put words into the game. I literally said F it, then I went in the backyard, opened up a dictionary, and started the word list.

And I wrote down the first word: "Aardvark." That was it. I got started. And that was the beginning of Pictionary.

There's a quote I want to mention to you from your book, where you said: "Working with limited resources fostered our creativity and innovation."

And that stood out to me because I heard Steve Wozniak, the Apple co-founder, say something similar about what made Apple so successful early on when they were trying to compete with all the big dogs.

I think it's really important for people to understand that that scarcity of resources can foster imagination and innovation and actually be a really good thing. Can you share more about that and what that looked like in a practical sense in your journey?

When you have too much information, you're not creative, so I looked at the not knowing and the unknown as a positive. I love not knowing what was going to happen next! I love not knowing how to market. So I had to figure it out as I went along. Just manufacturing the board game. There's no manufacturers that we knew of that could manufacture the game. So limited resources. We couldn't find somebody or more importantly, we couldn't pay anybody.

So we had to manufacturer the first 1,000 games by hand, nine different companies, in my apartment by hand. When it came to marketing, our marketing budget was zero. Zero. We had no money, so we had to be creative. At some point, you have to trust your instinct. You just got to go for it. And that's what we did day after day. It was a blast.

You had to use some guerrilla marketing strategies to get the word out there when you have a marketing budget of literally zero!

They say, break the rules. Well, I forgot to ask what the rules were! So I just kind of made my own. Every day was an adventure for my partners and I. Literally I was like Prairie dog. Every day, wake up and I go, "Okay, what are we going to do today? What are we going to sell? How are we going to market? I don't know. Let's just try something." I absolutely love those early days when the not knowing. That was the best part.

One big theme I felt from your book Game Changer was that you never left the key to your happiness in someone else's pocket. You hit the pavement, you closed the deals yourself, you ensured quality control, you kept the team tight and committed. How important was doing the reps yourself and the quality control attitude that you maintained for the scale of what Pictionary became?

Without it, we wouldn't have scaled. So, the scaling part is a whole different ball of wax. But in the beginning, having only two partners, the three of us, we had to control everything. The last thing we needed was one of those 1,000 games to go somewhere that we didn't know what was going to happen. Maybe it would go in somebody's warehouse and never see the light of day. We needed those games out in public — it was sampling.

All we were doing was test marketing those games to see how the public would react. My philosophy was, if I couldn't drive the games and deliver them myself, we didn't take the order. That way, we could demonstrate, promote, and market the books. We had to make noise in a small geographic area, because the technology that exists today didn't exist back then.

Today, influencers can blast things out and see what lands. But I literally had to control, physically control, where those went and that's why we made noise. That's why people paid attention. It was easier to go to the Seattle newspaper (which is the city where we launched) and say, "Hey, I'm a local guy. Do you want to do an article?" It wasn't going to happen in Chicago. So keeping it local and keeping tight control over everything was key to our success.

In the digital age, people want a magic bullet to success. They think all of these sales are going to happen automatically, and in doing so they really underestimate that the key is to get out there and do that legwork yourself to put the product in the hands of as many people as possible.

And I think that's one of the big problems, if you will, with Kickstarter, is exactly that reason. People have an idea. And I love the fact that people get their products made. But people don't realize there's work to be done in just making and getting your friends to buy in. And now you've got 1,000 games and you need to market those.

And the other thing that people kind of forget is that it needs to be a good product. This is that passion thing. I play-tested Pictionary because I thought it was fun, but what if it was just because of the beer we were drinking? We drank a lot of beer back there, let's be honest! And so maybe it was just the beer.

You've got to remember there's a business there. And that's that sacrifice part. I hear stories all the time that the manufacturing on Kickstarter took too long or cost too much, then the people couldn't even afford to ship the game. So you got to make sure you're paying attention.

I always ask people, what's your motivation? What's your intention?

For me, my intention of Pictionary was to share it with the world. That was my intention. What is your intention? If it's to make money at a game without knowing your product, I wouldn't do it because there's not a lot of money. If it's to create a job for yourself, which is also fine, maybe, but you got to make sure you market. And if it's just to say you did it, just check to see if it's worth your time. Is your energy really served by doing that?

And it's a hard call, man. This is not like, "Well, Rob, I really like this product." Well, then do it. Really understand why you're doing it and say it out loud. I think this is the one thing that people neglect. Say "This is a good idea!" out loud and see how you feel. See how it resonates. And if it does, go for it.

There's a mantra you repeated along your journey: "We take care of Pictionary and Pictionary will take care of us." Can you take us into what that means specifically and how it aided your decision-making along the way?

It goes back to, again, the same thing is the intention. As long as we are true to that game, our baby, we treated it like a baby. It wasn't a game. The first time I looked at it, it was like, "Oh, you're so sweet." I'm holding it in my arms. And I'm like, seriously, that first game that came off the production line. I'm going to do my best not to get choked up now after 35 years, it was a huge deal, with a huge emotional attachment.

But our mission was to keep the game the way it was because we knew what people enjoyed. We thought of what was best for our consumer. Not what's best for us, not the money. We thought about what was best for our consumer. That game was perfect the way it was. So when people wanted to change the packaging, which becomes a big issue later we can talk about, we said no.

We thought of what was best for our consumer. Not what's best for us, not the money.

But when somebody wanted to change out some of the graphics, somebody wanted to maybe do something else, we've always said no. Or it was a marketing idea that didn't meet the family values of Pictionary. So we never went for the money, so it kept Pictionary or your product or whatever you're trying to sell to what really its core was. And if it's going to be successful, then it will be successful, but don't fuck with it. And that's what we did.

We turned down so many deals and so much money over the years because it didn't serve the product, which in turn served us. It was selfish. Let's be honest — we wanted to make it successful so we'd be successful.

Yeah, you had that long-term success that would be impossible to understand for someone who doesn't know the DNA of the brand or product. You certainly wouldn't want someone to make decisions on the future of the product without properly understanding it.

Yeah, what you just said, long-term versus short-term, that was huge. If we were in it for the money short-term, I wouldn't be sitting here. Pictionary would have died out years ago, but I saw the golden goose. I saw what it could do and I wasn't going to give that up.

People have exits now and they're serial entrepreneurs. I love that by the way, but that's not me. Man, I was selling millions. I've got a golden goose. Why would I give that up?

With Pictionary, I was making money and I was having fun, so for literally 20 years of my life, I nurtured that thing.

Sharon Lechter [5x NY Times bestselling author and co-founder of Rich Dad Poor Dad brand / series] mentioned to me once that her favorite money was royalty / licensing money because it arrives while you sleep. There was a point in your life where some of the biggest companies in the world were knocking down your door and throwing money at you to basically license their products. After earning licensing money for many years, you ended up selling Pictionary for a substantial sum.

So what I wanted to ask you was what's better money — licensing money or selling the company money!?

I've never been asked that question! The answer is, we made a lot more money on the licensing than we did selling. And it was a big number when we sold, it's in the public record. So the money was great and it's mailbox money. However, we worked our asses off for those extra 17 years.

We were at a point where we had done all these things in Seattle, became very successful, sold 8,600 games, which doesn't seem like a lot, but it was huge for an independent company and we couldn't scale. So we had to figure out how to get on a national audience, and we just didn't have the financing. Typical start up. So licensing became our option, which is where basically somebody would do the manufacturing and distribution for us and give us a royalty. It sounded perfect to us!

So we had a meeting with a high profile brand and the deal didn't work out. But I learned a huge lesson. One of the most valuable lessons I ever learned was: it's not what you make, it's what you keep. And that was the beauty of licensing. When I started, when we got into it, I was going to have employees. I was going to have offices, be Rob Angel, Mr. Pictionary. No. We decided to license so we could keep more money. We had two employees, Mile and Brat.

Then the biggest game company in the world comes to us with a deal and we're talking it all through. And they promised us all these things, and packaging as we talked about earlier and whatnot. The deal comes, contract comes. I'm 26 years old. I'm making $500 a month and have a 10 year old beat-up car. Contract comes. First thing in the contract was a royalty rate.

One of the most valuable lessons I ever learned was: it's not what you make, it's what you keep.

Now again, money, that was the biggest royalty rate they'd ever given an independent game company ever. Ever. It was about $5 million to me over time. And I'm like, as I go to Costco, I was thinking of buying things I never even knew I needed, as you're going through the isles. I'm buying cars. I've got a second home. I'm in the Bahamas. I'm on a beach. This is awesome. This is going to work out great.

Then the marketing spend was there, but the last thing they didn't put in because we couldn't find it was that they wouldn't touch the surface packaging without our approval. Now on the surface, it's more than just packaging. They weren't men of their word. They told us they would put it in the contract because it was very important to us. So here I am, pen in hand and I'm thinking, "Sign the contract. You're ready."

But integrity is more important to me than the money. It really is. So I knew that if I couldn't trust them, I couldn't do business with them. So we said, "No" and we didn't have a Plan B. I was willing to go back to waiting tables rather than give up my principles. It sounds romantic, but I was dead serious. It was that important to do business with people we trust.

However, because of that everybody now knew we were in play. And a joint venture formed with all the guys who manufactured Trivial Pursuit and they gave us more money as well as all the guarantees we wanted, and we never looked back. It was a much better deal for us and they had integrity. The Universe was speaking and doing its magic.

With your business partners specifically, what did you do to maintain the integrity of that relationship to keep it together over the long term?

Well, I knew they had integrity, but it was never put to the test. In the beginning, we had some manufacturing problems and we were supposed to sort the first 500, assuming 1,000 games had 500 cards each, that's half a million game cards. Long story short, the printer couldn't sort them for us, and we'd already sent out the invitations for the launch. We're under the gun, we've got eight days. And so I threw a tantrum.

Okay. I admit this. It's the only time where I took it personally. I learned in business, don't take things personally. It wasn't like the printer was sitting in his office going, "How can I screw with Rob today? How can I make his day miserable?" No. It just happened. The facts don't change. But this terrible thing happens, so my partners and I did it by hand, and it was a terrible job, but it bonded us.

We got to communicate, we knew we could count on each other, and that set us up for those challenges. If things never go bad, you probably goofed up somewhere because something's going to go wrong. And because it did, it cemented our relationship, our friendship, and our business. So it turned into a very big positive.

Yeah, it's like how you respond to adversity when it inevitably strikes is what separates the real achievers.

And it's going to strike, so it's how you respond to it. I hate to be cliché. Every book you read and every social media post says, "It's how you respond." Well, it's true!

On the road to success, don't take things personal. Instead, think "How do we fix this?"

The mental health aspect of entrepreneurship is something that you and I are both passionate about spreading awareness of. You experienced self-doubt, negative self-talk, imposter syndrome, depression, all of those things and more along the journey. Is there a particularly dark day that stands out on the entrepreneurial journey for you? And if so, what did you do to get back on track mentally?

Yes. I'm glad you brought it up because it's a little secret they don't tell you in entrepreneurial school. They say you've got to push hard and make sure you're working 24/7, and you've got to push, push, push. Well, that's what I wound up doing. And about 5-6 years in, I changed my mission from giving Pictionary to the world and people having fun, to how do I make more money and push this game.

It wasn't burnout. It was complete and total anxiety. I wasn't comfortable with myself. My authentic self had left and I was so off balanced. I was so out of alignment. And back then, we're talking early '90s before. Now we all know I was moody. But I didn't know how to deal with it. So for a couple of years, I was getting in fights with my partners over nothing.

And I wouldn't show up for work periodically and it just became untenable. So I took a leave of absence. That's all I could do. I had to remove myself and recalibrate and took about six months. And I came back to the business and the partners accepted me and took up the slack. But you don't have to do that. You can pre-warn.

Make sure you take an hour for yourself every day.

Make sure you take an hour for yourself every day. Whether it's meditation, watching television, working out, or whatever it might be, but don't think about your business, because guess what? If you're not there for 20 minutes, it's going to be there when you get back. It's not like it'll fail if you take time for yourself.

I do believe in meditation. But if that just sounds so woo-hoo and off the wall, take a walk, anything, but you've got to take care of yourself mentally, spiritually, and physically to be more productive and make more money and be more successful. You have to.

People almost drive themselves crazy trying to figure out what their passion is. Even I get asked that question constantly, almost every week, about "How do I find my passion?" Yet, no one talks about how do you find passion and inner peace at the same time.

When people are starting out, what is the role of passion and how can they harness inner peace so they can have that at the same time? Or is there just no real balance in the short-term if you're doing something like launching a product that could potentially change the world?

That's a long question to answer. I think you'll know. It's following your intuition. If you're off balance, you'll know, try to figure out how to get to center. If an idea that you have for a business, if it's not resonating, don't push it through, just pay attention to your gut, pay attention to what your brain and your heart. More importantly, I take that back, pay attention what your heart is saying, because your brain is going to override.

Human nature, physicality says, "Let me analyze this. Let me figure this out." But if this isn't working and it's not, "Am I in love" and all these things, you have to pay attention to your emotions and your feelings. And it's never going to end by the way, this whole conversation I've been doing it my whole life. With the spiritual journey, you're never done.

With the spiritual journey, you're never done.

You just can make accommodations as you go along, and do whatever works for you. That makes it all worthwhile. One of the things I say is nibble at the edges. For Pictionary, I waited for three years. Unless you try a lot of things, you're not going to know.

So nibble at the edges; you don't have to go all in right away. I play-tested a few times. I still really wasn't sure if I wanted to go all in with Pictionary, but the more I started doing it, the more confident I became. But I was doing other things as well. So nibble at the edges of a lot of different projects and ideas. When one comes to the forefront, then you go all in.

How did you reach the decision to sell Pictionary?

It was time. After 20 years with the product, our international license was becoming available and I'd had a family by then and I was just ready for a new adventure. I was ready to start something new and we'd made a lot of money, but we'd had a lot of fun doing it. It was just time.

How do you feel about digital games? Is that the type of thing that you would have gone down if you were launching Pictionary in 2021?

My guess is because now the culture is video games, I probably would have looked at that. I still am too, by the way, I'm not done creating. I love creating. So I'm not done, but it's a medium of the day. And the board game is what people played in 1985. And that's why it was the top of mind. That's why I went that direction.

There's an Albert Einstein quote I heard recently, I'd love to get your perspective on it: "A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness." How do you feel about that quote in terms of the whole mental health journey?

Yeah. It resonates. Completely. It's the being in lack, the restless of "I need more, I need to compete, I need to do what they're doing." Man, that's just human nature. But the awareness of it, of your triggers, of the problem, of the situation, that's the start. If you just keep going without stopping and reflecting, that's where the trouble starts. At least it did for me.

I just kept going and going and pushing and pushing. The restlessness comes from lack. The restless comes from outside influences and outside sources. For the last seven or eight years, I've gone on a spiritual journey. I hate the term, by the way. I hate the term "spiritual journey." It just conjures up all this, "I'm going to go find myself." No, but for me, it's a journey to self. I needed to be more heart-centered. And so this quote totally resonates because when I am heart-centered and it's a constant battle, if you will, it's a constant pursuit.

If you just keep going without stopping and reflecting, that's where the trouble starts.

I'm never quite there and that's okay. I like the journey. I like the trying. But once you're more happy, confident, secure in even small amounts, you'll be less restless, you'll be more confident, and you'll be more successful. That's the nature of what we're trying to get here to. And whatever success looks like, it doesn't have to be money. It doesn't have to be a game. The success could be joy. It could be a non-profit, giving back. It doesn't matter. It's not my job to tell you, but just articulate success, go inward, and you'll get there faster.

What I love so much about the things you've shared today is that it's looking after yourself first should be the number one priority. It's almost like before you focus on anything else, you need to make sure you're right internally, and have that intent for everything that you want to do, supported by daily practices to look after yourself. With that, you'll be in a lot more alignment for everything else you do.

And I got to say one other thing about that. When you don't do your daily practices, give yourself permission to say it's okay. Because I beat myself up all the time over what I'm not doing. "Oh crap. I missed my meditation today. Oh crap. I missed it for two days. Now, I'm going out." I'm all angst-driven. No, not anymore. It's like, "Okay. I missed it. I'll do it tomorrow."

Give yourself permission to not be perfect. Give yourself permission to say it's okay. And you'll get it tomorrow.

Stop beating yourself up, and that's a lesson I tell myself every day. That's not conjecture, that's not out of a book. That's something I constantly, constantly preach to myself.

Yeah. It's easy for us to be compassionate to other people but it's often very hard for us to have self-compassion.

Yeah. Be compassionate.

This spiritual journey that you've been on for the last seven or eight years, what are some highlights or lessons? I know you've been to Burning Man. Is there any stuff that you want to reveal for the first time today or what things come to mind!?

Wow. Yeah, no. I'm enjoying the journey. I've done some Ayahuasca. That was an interesting experience.

Where did you do it?

I did it in Peru. That was amazing. That was one of those skeptical things, because I'd heard about it but wasn't sure. Finally, I was called, if you will — again with that woo-hoo stuff. I got to tell you, in the eight years before II started this spiritual journey, I had a friend who kept telling me "You've got to surrender, be present, and hold space." And I was like, "Come on. This is ridiculous!" Well, finally I bought it. So, I'm doing that. So yeah, I'm trying to go on all the rides. I'm trying all new things just to see what works and what doesn't. Ayahuasca worked pretty well for me.

For entrepreneurs in particular, it's certainly becoming more and more popular. A lot of people I know are even doing Ayahuasca here in the US without having to go to South America or Central America. For those who don't know anything about it, what does it involve and how was your experience specifically?

Well, first thing I'll say, it's NOT for everybody. Don't try this at home. I am not the expert. I'm looking right into camera when I say this! This is not my job and I'm not promoting anything. That enough disclaimers!?

Oh my goodness.

No, it was a way for me to find out more of my triggers, to find out what made me tick, even though I'm doing all this spiritual work — here we go again with that term — which includes coaches and therapists, all these. So it just was a way to get more clear, if you will. And it's not for everybody, so if you're not called, it's a no-no. I'm going to keep qualifying that. But it was just another tool that I found really resourceful for me.

What about people who are in a negative mindset or brain fog — are there any tools you can share with people to help them shift their energy?

Yeah, so I'm a big fan of touchstones. And for me, that's something physical to remind me of something I'm doing or want to remember. What I do is if I've had a great conversation or I've had a great idea or something magical has happened, I'll pick up a stone or something small and to remember to hold it, and this is what you should do, or this is what I recommend.

If there's something you want to remember, and it could be as simple as something I've said today that's resonated or you've had an idea and you want to remember it, or there's some emotions, usually an emotion, I pick something up, I put it in my hand. So if you're sitting at home right now, do this. Pick something up. I put it in my hand, I hold it. And this is kind of a Joe Dispenza thing that I've kind of alliterated on.

And I hold my hand and I close my eyes. I think about what's in my hand, and I think what it represents, and then I attach this emotion to it. I just don't remember what it is. I remember how I feel. It's how you feel. That's the important thing. And so when I let go, it's right there in the palm of my hand and I put it on my desk and I've got these stones all over my house. I've got hundreds of these things.

I just don't remember what it is. I remember how I feel.

So next time, whatever you just held in your hand and you look at it, remember the emotion you felt with it. And that's the memory, that's the touchstone and do it time and time again if it resonates with you. It's just a remembrance of an emotion. And for me personally, I've found it super, super powerful because I forget visions. I forget things that I see. I forget the specific conversation. But when I've had this amazing heartfelt conversation with somebody, I know how it felt. I know the emotion, I remember the words and these touchstones remind me. And it's something I practice, I preach. I really think if you give it a try, it will work for you too.

So they bring you back into that feeling when you were there experiencing it?

That's exactly what it is. It's all about the feeling. So it's like Pictionary, going back to that. You don't remember the words of Pictionary. You may remember one or two of the sketches, but you remember how you felt, you remember the emotion, you remember who you were playing with. You remember the joy. That's what these touchstones are to me.

I'll just quickly say, it started when my father passed and his favorite color was yellow and I'm going through, and I'm sad, and I'm walking past a junk shop. And there were all these yellow stones, I'm crying. Dad was speaking to me, hello dad. He was there and I bought a bunch of these things and I gave one to everybody at the funeral. Everyone at the funeral. And to this day, I carry them with me in my travel bag. He's always with me. So they're powerful.

I love that. Thank you for sharing. It's really interesting. And I know there's a lot of people struggling right now, particularly with what's happened with COVID the last year and a half. Using something like touchstones seems to be a great way to help shift that energy and focus on the bigger picture when you don't feel like it.


In Game Changer, you mentioned that your intent with Pictionary was to create a game that was so entertaining, so fun, and so engaging. What experiences in your life today give you those same feelings?

Exploring. Yeah. I'm totally in exploration mode again. Well, the book for a while, writing a book was an interesting process. Oh my gosh. Just remembering everything was crazy to go through it and the stories and calling the people who were involved. They remembered things differently than me. That was interesting as well, but it's my book! So whatever's in there is how I remember it.

So right now, I'm exploring and I'm looking at turning the book into a docu-series, that's kind of keeping my attention these days and just trying new things. I still love travel, meeting new people, new experiences that way. That's really one of my joy is that new experience, new people, new events.

How do you balance the hunger for future achievements with all the amazing things you've done with retaining happiness in the present?

It's hard. It's hard. I'd love to say I'm perfect. And, "Oh my gosh, look at me, my life's perfect." No. I was going to say it's a daily struggle, but it's not a daily struggle. Struggle is not the right word. It's a daily pursuit. It's my daily pursuit. My girlfriend calls it the daily pursuit of not stressing. So the more stressed I am, the less creative I am. So that's my daily pursuit.

If things stress me, I try desperately to not be there, to not go in that direction. And it's a hard balance, but I really like the trying now. This journey that I'm on, the tools I've learned have really given me almost a hope for the future. My future is not so bad. My present is not so bad, but it's a daily pursuit.

It's hard, isn't it? You can feel parts of your brain want you to push, push, push, but if you succumbed to that all the time you'd be massively out of sync with your daily practices. Before you know it, something has happened, and you're saying to yourself, "Wow, how did I get here again?" So being true to those daily practices seems to be incredibly important, I've found.

100%. And for the record, I don't have a lot of daily practices. I know you're supposed to meditate every day and you're supposed to wake up at the same time. I do my best. And when I do it, I feel great. When I don't, it's okay.

A big part of what you're doing now is helping aspiring entrepreneurs find their aardvark and get their business off the ground. Is there a specific blueprint that you'd like to take them through or are there certain questions that you like to ask them to make sure that they're clear on their idea or to help figure out if their idea actually has legs? What do you mainly focus on when you're working with aspiring entrepreneurs?

It goes back to what I said earlier: what is your intention? And it doesn't have to be just a game or anything else. Why do you want to do this? Because to be honest, just because you want to be an entrepreneur doesn't mean you should be an entrepreneur. Some people are just always meant to be working for somebody else and they work well in that environment. And that's okay. I'm not saying one's better than the other. It doesn't matter.

I talked to a CEO of a large corporation recently. I don't want to mention his name, but it was someone whose name you would recognize. And I said, "Are you an entrepreneur or worker bee?" And he goes, without hesitation, "I'm a worker bee. I don't have a creative bone in my body, but I can make things happen. I can hire the right talent."

Just because you want to be an entrepreneur doesn't mean you should be an entrepreneur.

So it's not an either or.

And I ask them, why do you want to be an entrepreneur? Check in with yourself, articulate that. And as I said earlier, are you willing to do the work? And most of the time, the answer is yes. And great. And then we just start diving into it, fleshing out the idea, coming up with different ways to look at their idea and helping them that way.

Yeah, for those who want to be entrepreneurs for the first time, not properly recognizing the complexity that can bring into your life, especially if you're not in a position financially, to be able to have that. It's like imagine having something occupying your mind seven days a week that's taking you away from your kids and your friends, all of those different things. It's tough.

You and I had such a great conversation at dinner the other night, particularly about parenting. What do you do specifically on the parenting side to make sure that you maintain a good relationship with your kids and support them in their journeys?

I make sure they're heard and I make sure they feel loved. And what I was doing without knowing is I was making them a part of the journey because I didn't know what I was doing. They don't give you a manual!

It sounds very much like when you started Pictionary!

Exactly. But parenting is a tough job. And so just keep the lines of communication open. This is another one of those do as I say, not as I do. You've got to be the parent, not their friend. A lot of times I was their friend, and it backfired. But I've an amazing relationship with my kids. And it's really my legacy. Pictionary, the book for me, great. But everything is my relationship with my children.

And when they call and we talk all the time, that's what brings me joy. I just had a conversation with let's say one of my children about something that's been bothering them for years. But I wasn't hearing what was bothering them, and I kept answering the same way. So finally, with my own found knowledge, I thought "What am I missing?" So I went at it a different way and it just opened up the flood gates in a really positive way of conversation.

So just don't be afraid to have a conversation at any age with your kids. And it just pays dividends, I'll tell you.

Really powerful stuff. Was there anything specifically that you learned on your business journey with Pictionary that helped shaped the way that you parent? Obviously you had the freedom to spend with them, which I think is great.

I'm thinking that one through. The first thing that came to mind was being adaptable. So for Pictionary, considering we didn't know what we're doing half the time, which was fun, we had to be profoundly flexible in everything we did. Now they call it adapting and pivoting. You just have to be flexible because we didn't know what we're doing.

And if something didn't work, we'd have to immediately change directions. And that's just true in business all the time. That's not a new concept, but we were willing to make the change. And so with my kids, now that I'm being asked the question, thank you, you had to be profoundly flexible because they're changing every fricking day, hormones kick in and then they get a girlfriend or a boyfriend. All these things are going crazy. So I don't know what I'm doing half the time.

You just have to be flexible with how they're growing and hopefully you're growing at the same time.

Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Rob Angel does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀

Final question: what's one thing you do to win the day?

I give myself grace to not be perfect. When I start going crazy with my inner dialogue, I give myself grace, I take a breath, I chill, and then I can move forward.

Resources / links mentioned:

📙 Game Changer by Rob Angel:

📝 Rob Angel on Facebook.

📷 Rob Angel on Instagram.

⚡ Rob Angel website.

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“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Oscar Wilde

Today, we sit down with one of the world’s leading entrepreneurs and all-round legends, Mike Michalowicz. If you feel like you’re treading water in your career (or simply have lofty goals), or you’re thinking of going down the entrepreneurial route, this is the episode for you.

By his 35th birthday Mike had founded and sold two multi-million-dollar companies. Confident that he had the formula to success, he became a small business angel investor – but then proceeded to lose his entire fortune. Then he started all over again, driven to find better ways to grow healthy, strong companies.

Mike has devoted his life to the research and delivery of innovative, impactful strategies to help business owners succeed. He is the creator of Profit First, which is used by hundreds of thousands of companies across the globe to drive profit. He is the creator of Clockwork, a powerful method to make any business run automatically. And his latest, arguably most impactful discovery, is Fix This Next, where he details the strategy businesses can use to determine what to do – and in what order – to ensure healthy, fast, permanent growth (and avoid debilitating distractions).

Mike is a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal, a business makeover specialist on MSNBC, and author of #1 bestselling books such as Clockwork, Profit First, Surge, The Pumpkin Plan, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, and his new book Fix This Next.

In this interview, we go through:

You’re going to love this one. Let’s Win the Day, with Mike Michalowicz!

James Whittaker:
Mike, thanks for being here. First, I want to start by letting you know that The Pumpkin Plan is the best audiobook I’ve ever heard! Energy and content are both on point, so well done, sir. It must be comforting to know that if all else fails, you at least have a profitable career as a narrator ahead of you!

Mike Michalowicz:
Perhaps, right!? It's funny, when I go to the recording studio, I always stand — and I’m the only person who stands. So, when I arrive, these studios are like, "Here's your seat," and I'm like, "No, I'm sorry," because I get so jacked up.

Well, I went to this one studio, and the narrator before me for his book was a guy named Michael J. Fox, you know that name. I remember coming in, he had just left, and I talked with the producer. I said, "What's it like having Michael J. Fox present?" She goes, "He's a thoroughbred. He wants to be whipped and he'll run faster." I'd read for a while, then I said, "What do you think I am?" She's like, "You're kind of a Clydesdale. You clump along and you get the job done, but we have to do a lot of retakes." So, that's my reading skill.

You work with entrepreneurs, but it seems your work overlaps spousal relationships, professional services, and so many other different areas. Have you found some unexpected results outside of that entrepreneurial audience who you primarily serve?

Yeah. You know, it's funny, I have. It's married couples. I am not a couples counselor by any stretch of the imagination. I have had multiple occasions where couples who are also business partners have reached out and said, "We've reconciled our marriage. We feel stronger." It's interesting how our personal lives and our business lives are locked, and when it's our marital life and our business partner life, it can get to be a real nightmare.

I think it's the systems I teach that simplify the process, but it also simplifies the communication. Partners start speaking eye to eye, and they're not cross-talking. Perhaps that serves marriages. I never expected that, but I do hear that frequently.

Even planting the right seeds and making sure we’re focused each day on the end goal, whether it is a successful marriage or a successful business partnership. Those who go into business with their spouse are usually in for a bumpy ride… I mean, there's maybe two or three times I've seen that actually work successfully. Everyone else just ends up burnt out, on all counts, and the relationship is one of the big sacrifices.

Listen, I can barely be with myself 24 hours a day. That's actually really hard. Being with someone else 24 hours a day? Forget it!

In your books, you challenge the modern-day definition of ‘entrepreneurship’ and state that real entrepreneurs shouldn't be doing most of the work. Instead, it's their job to identify the problems, discover the opportunities, and then build the processes that allows other people and other things to do the work for them. But how do these entrepreneurs recognize that they are on that hamster wheel, and what can they do about it?

If you start seeing yourself doing repetitive tasks, that's the number one indicator. So, if you do something again and again and again, that's an indication that there's, first of all, demand for that task to be replicated, but you, the entrepreneur, need to find a way to outsource it, systematize it, and assign it out – because if you're doing the repetition, that means you are now within the business. An entrepreneur, at least in the early stages, we are that icebreaker. We're going to break into the new space and leave space behind for other people to do the work. But if we keep on turning around, we can't break forward.

Ultimately, too, we need to transition from doing any kind of work, including the icebreaking, and moving our way to designing outcomes. What I mean by this is clear vision, and then considering, almost like a chess board, putting the right people in the right places, the right system in the right places to choreograph them collectively to achieve that outcome. That's the ultimate definition of entrepreneurship: we are not doing the job; we are creating the jobs.

What separates the top entrepreneurs and professionals – the ones who are always onto bigger and better things, making a bigger impact, and appear free in their day to day life – versus your run of the mill entrepreneur / professional who's constantly on the brink of burnout and never seems free?

You know, it seems to be purpose. Purpose in the business. A greater purpose of why we're doing what we're doing. I believe the entrepreneurs who struggle are going after money and thinking, “This is a way to make an income and support my life.” Well, that's a very volatile thing. If this doesn't make enough money, we move on to something else, we get frustrated.

That's the ultimate definition of entrepreneurship: we are not doing the job; we are creating the jobs.

But entrepreneurs who lean into purpose, meaning “This is why I'm on this planet and my business is an amplification or expression of serving that reason,” those people become relentless. I'm not saying relentless in that they're working ridiculous hours necessarily. They may. That's not healthy, in my opinion, but they have a ridiculous commitment to achieving that purpose. They become very thoughtful about it. They look at ways of amplifying it. They look at ways to leverage. That is the drive of purpose.

People with purpose also don’t give up. You know this – overnight successes take 10 or 20 years. A lot of these successes when they come to our purview, when we see it as a consumer, well, they've already been around for 15 years working relentlessly on this purpose. But it's purpose that begets drive and drive begets success.

Yeah, which incorporates mastery and enables you to be resilient and resourceful to acquire everything you need to achieve that mission.

What about passion – where does that come into it? A lot of people hear about ‘passion’ and ‘purpose’, but how are they aligned and how do people go and find these things if they don't already know what their purpose on the world is?

I would say purpose is the beacon and passion is the fuel. So, there is a difference. Purpose is asking ourselves what we’re moving toward. Business owners who don't have purpose are running away, thinking, “I can't handle these struggles” or “I don't want this problem.” They’re running away from that problem. Purpose is we're getting pulled towards something, and you move so much quicker when the magnetic force is pulling you in the same direction. That's what purpose is.

But passion is the fuel. It's the day-in, day-out fuel. If you have a great purpose, but you're not passionate about what you're doing, it becomes a real slog to stick with it.

The key is to find out what gives us joy in the activity.

The key is to find out what gives us joy in the activity. Not all entrepreneurs are cut out to manage people and to choreograph resources and stuff like that. Some entrepreneurs create an amazing idea, but they really should stay as doers. They're really talented at something. Those entrepreneurs, if they're smart, are going to bring in someone who has the talent to do the management of people and so forth. But we have to make sure that we're in a field of passion that gives us excitement on a day-to-day basis. As an entrepreneur, find that for yourself, drive toward that purpose, and you got the one-two punch.

A lot of your work encourages business owners to have a business that runs itself, and I think everyone aspires to that goal. But it might seem impossible for some people who are too deep in the trenches. Where do they start, especially the ones who are concerned about quality control?

Yeah. It's called the ‘I Can Syndrome.’ It's dangerous. I suffered from that from years. I said as an entrepreneur, "I can do this. I can do that." It's true, I can do it, I just do a real shitty job at it. That's the part I didn't add in. So, we can do lots of things, but ‘can do’ and ‘competence’ are two totally different things. First of all, we have to acknowledge that about ourselves, that we're not superheroes. We may have super talents in certain areas, but we can't do everything.

The next thing is to get the muscle of delegation in place. Delegation is where we assign outcomes to people and then hold them accountable to the outcomes. We have to start with the low hanging fruit, stuff that we are repeatedly doing and that there's low risk of assigning someone else. If they really flub it up, how much damage can that really do to your business?

For example, invoicing. That is easy to outsource, and the risk, if they really flub it up, that's recoverable. That can be caught pretty easily. It's actually a low risk. If someone instead of charging $1 charges $10 million by accident, the client will probably figure it out and bring you some awareness there. It is recoverable, but there's certain things that are irrevocable – for example, if they mess something up and it kills the relationship. Those are the things that we have to get a little more sophisticated in our delegation before we start doing it. So, start slow with delegation and then let it grow.

In the last few years, we've heard so much about the importance of starting with your why, but in your new book Fix This Next you talk about the power of what and understanding your what. How do people discover what their ‘what’ is in their business?

In Fix This Next, I did this thing called the business hierarchy of needs. It's a translation of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which is a human needs system as a business needs system. The great distinction is the Maslovian hierarchy of needs, we know what we need instinctually because we have inputs like eyesight, hearing, smell, touch, we get gut instincts. Our gut doesn't work so well in business. We need empirical data. We need the information from our business.

So, I created five levels just like Maslow, but within them, there's five needs at each level. Collectively, I call them the 25 core needs. I found this to be consistent in businesses of any type and industry. What we do is we go through a sequence and we make sure that the base level needs of our business are satisfied, and only when they're adequately satisfied can we elevate high-level needs within our business, just like human needs.

You and I both need to breathe, eat food, drink water. If we're not breathing right now, this interview is done. Even though we're serving a higher-level need right now, if the base is compromised, we go to it. Well, in business, the base is the generation of cash, which comes through sales. If you're not generating cash, your business is suffocating. We got to breathe. We revert to that. But once we have sales in and it's adequate, then the focus is profitability, the retention of cash, because that brings about stability, longevity. You can see in the 2020 crisis, the pandemic, how many businesses were focusing on sales but not profit. They're off the planet now. They're done. So, profit is the next level of needs.

You can see in the 2020 crisis, the pandemic, how many businesses were focusing on sales but not profit. They're off the planet now. They're done.

Once that's satisfied adequately, we move to orchestration of efficiency, which is no dependency on any individual – particularly the owner – like we spoke about earlier. There's impact, that's the creation of transformation. This is where businesses systemically don't do transactions, but transformation. What I mean by systemic transformation, it's not one client saying, "This was an amazing experience." That's when every client says, "This was an amazing experience."

Then the highest-level need in a business is the formation of legacy or permanence. This is where a business is designed to live on beyond the owner. This is where business owners find out that they were really never business owners in the first place. We've been business stewards. We had a responsibility to bring this entity to life, but it's about the entity continuing on for generations, to serve generations regardless of the owner's input.

I'm really happy you brought up retention of cash because I actually read your book Profit First earlier in the year. It's a concept that I feel like is so rare. Why is it that that profit first mentality such a rare thing for businesses when they're starting out?

I think because it's not logical. But the ironic thing is we don't need logic. We need behavior. We humans, we feel that we're very logical, but we're behaviorally based. Traditional accounting tells us a very logical formula. Your sales minus expenses you incur results in profit. So, sales minus expense equals profit.

But I saw a study that just opened my eyes to that formula not working. It was conducted by a US bank which identified that 83% of small businesses globally – small businesses is a company with up to $25 million in revenue – are surviving check by check. They’re in a constant panic, and are not profitable. I'm like, "How come the 250 million people who start a business to achieve wealth, to be financially free, can't figure out the number one reason we started a business?"

That's why I looked at the formula. I'm like, "Oh my gosh, it's right there in the formula." It says profit comes last. In fact, it's in our vernacular. We call it the bottom line or the year end. All these terms say last. It's the behavior of people, humans, when something comes last, it means it's insignificant. So, we're saying profit is insignificant. We delay the consideration. At the end of the year, they have profit, “No, dammit, maybe next year.”

When something comes last, it gets delayed and delayed. So, in Profit First, fundamentally we flipped a formula. It's sales minus profit equals expenses. In practice, what I'm saying is every time revenue comes into your firm, take a predetermined percentage of that money, allocate it toward a profit account, hide the money away, and run your business off the remainder. It's the ‘pay yourself first’ principle applied to business.

What about with early-stage entrepreneurs who feel like they've got their purpose, but they're not comfortable charging what they believe they're worth, or they're not comfortable having the conversation that gets them remunerated for the expertise that they have? What advice do you have for those people who struggle to charge for something that they're inherently good at or something that they want to make a business out of?

First of all, I get it. Secondly, I want to shake them and say, "Are you kidding me!? You have to charge more," because the number one argument you'll get not to increase prices is always from yourself. It's our own head, "I'll lose my customers. What if no one likes me anymore?" Here's the deal. If you raise your prices and you lose customers, it means all they cared was that you were the cheap guy. They want cheap, and who wants someone that wants you because you're cheap? So, they're cheapening you. I'll tell you something else, and this is the big secret. The vast majority of your clients, I guarantee, want you to be profitable.

Now, here's the deal. They don't say, "Hey, can you charge me more?" And they won't say, "Could you rip me off a little bit? I really would like that." But what they will say is, "I want your full attention. When I buy your product or service, I want you delivering the best of yourself. I want your undivided attention. I don't want you worrying about where you're making money and panicking, because then you'll half ass me. So, care for me."

This is the big secret. The vast majority of your clients, I guarantee, want you to be profitable.

The only way you can care for a client, the only way you can give them focus, is if you're not worrying about money. The only way you can do that is if you're sustainably profitable, and the only way you can do that is by increasing your prices. Your clients want you to increase your prices because they want your full undivided attention.

So true. It's interesting, a lot of the concepts you talk about really are flipping that script on the traditional way of thinking.

It really is. A lot of it’s framing, right? It's the old, “Whether you think you can or can't, you're right.” I think Henry Ford said that. If I say I suck at math, I won't do the math practice and I'll suck at it. What if I said I like to find shortcuts in math? I will start repositioning myself. The internal dialogue we have is very important on how we position our business.

You’ve stated previously the importance of being irresistibly magnetic in business to succeed. But what if you're in a fairly traditional job, like an accountant or a lawyer or a financial advisor, what do those professionals do to be different and irresistibly magnetic?

Well, start by breaking the label. As you were saying, accountant, lawyer, oh my God, I start falling asleep myself! The thing is, if I said to you, "Hey, James, I'm a lawyer," the conversation is done. You know what a lawyer is, you know I'm going to sue somebody. The question is, since all lawyers are the same from the customer's perception, it's like, are you cheaper? So, if your label is the same as your competition, the consumer sees you the same, and then you enter the downward price pressure game, which is a dangerous game to be in. It's a race to the bottom. The first step is break the label. Don't be an ‘accountant’, be a ‘profit advisor.’

Now, it's got to speak to your skill set. You better know how to increase people's profit. Don't be a ‘lawyer’, be ‘integrated counsel’, someone that integrates into the culture to write better legal documents. You have to break the label and it has to speak to your service differentiator. If you don't change the label, I don't care how different you are, clients aren't going to see it, because the second you say, you're a lawyer, they're going to say, "I know what you do. Don't tell anything else. Are you cheap?"

In business, no one seems to care as much as the owner. What can business owners do to empower their team to care as much about the day-to-day operations and the results as they do?

It's funny, I'm working on a book, I mean, this won't come out for five or six more years, so we're in deep analytics right now doing this and running tests. I own multiple companies. We're testing on our own companies, but we're testing other companies. Here's the number one discovery we've had: no one cares about the business goals except for the owner.

In my own business years back, I was in the forensics industry doing computer crime investigation. It was very clear… I calculated if we did the right moves, we could have a $10 million year. For me at that point, that had been the biggest business I’d ever had. I came out, I called all my employees together and said, "This is the year," I had the drumroll going, "We're going to do $10 million. Ta-da!" It was crickets.

I'm like, "Why aren't you guys excited!? $10 million!" My trusted confidant, her name was Patty, came up to me and said, "Mike, if we make $10 million, you get a new car, a new house, but why do we care?" That's when I had the realization that the number one concern for every single person is their own concerns. Judy cares about being home on time to be with her family for dinner. Mark cares about saving money to buy his motorcycle. Dave wants to go back to school. And it goes on, and on, and on. Everyone has their own concerns. So, the job of a business owner is to understand the vision and desires that our colleagues have, then organize the path of the business to satisfy their needs as we achieve the journey of our own personal goal. It's called individual goal alignment.

The job of a business owner is to understand the vision and desires that our colleagues have, then organize the path of the business to satisfy their needs as we achieve the journey of our own personal goal.

In our own wall here, we call it the path to intentions. There's a whole wall in our building with everyone's individual dreams. They're little micro dreams, leaving early on Fridays so I can go to baseball games that my son's playing in and stuff like that. We have them pinned up, and we say, "Are we achieving these individual dreams?" Now, the company is not going to buy a house for someone, but it's going to free up the time for them to see a real estate agent. It's going to bring the dream up over and over again and say, "What are you doing to get there?" Because people feel empowered when they achieve their own dreams. We just need to support them and recognize them.

So, the people who aren't even going out of their comfort zone to inquire as to what it is about their team's dreams, they have no one else to blame for their inferior results if they're not getting there?

Correct. When we're like, "We're all fired up. You're making a salary!" we need to recognize that a salary is a means to a living, but it's living that we need to address. The vast majority of businesses, including myself for years, ignore that. Now I'm attuned with that.

I've got a super little company. I have multiple, but this is the hub company where I'm broadcasting from, there's six people. Of the six people, three of us are full-time and the other three are part-time, yet our numbers are consistent with a company of about 20 employees. I'm getting consistently asked and curious about how can we be performing at such a level? But we are so attuned to what every individual wants. We also figured out another thing is match people's talents not to titles. We used to be very title oriented. If you're reception, you've got to answer the phones, do this and light data entry.

We now match talent to the tasks. We have a web like structure. Jenna, one of our colleagues, is extraordinary at writing. She used to be our email manager. Well, she's not our email manager anymore. She writes the emails. We have someone else who’s good at the number crunching and the data set up, but she's also writing articles and blogs now, which is Jenna's passion. Jenna has elevated extraordinarily and represents us better than ever before. Her work output is three times what it was before because she's not in any area of frustration. She's doing what she loves. We try and do it for every employee. The result is we don't have that pyramid structure of an organization. We have a web like structure.

I had Keith Ferrazzi, author of books like Never Eat Alone, on the show a few months ago, and he's been a huge influence on me.

Oh, yeah. I've seen him speak before. He's excellent.

His new book, Leading Without Authority, talks about that concept of co-elevation, where instead of your mission, you actually bring a lot of people into that to make it a shared mission. So, the way that they care about the company and its results is by you interlocking their desires and their dreams with their role at the company. Is that correct?

That's exactly it. You know, I was looking at popular mechanics, I get a little geeky, and they were looking at these things called Doric and Corinthian columns, columns that would support heavy structures made out of marble. They plugged into a supercomputer and said, "How do we make a column of the same material, but with less density and retain the strength? The system went through and it made... it almost describes a web like structure. There was no symmetry to it, it was just this web like structure. The column I think was one-third of the material, but retained the exact strength. That's what we need to do in our business, these web-like structures.

You mentioned before you've got a new book coming out a little bit down the track. You've already got at least six books out that we know about that have been translated into 20+ languages. They're all seriously kick-ass books. I’m curious, what's your process of being able to come up with a concept and figuring out whether there's actually demand for that particular solution that you're providing, as well as being able to get books published at a fairly frequent basis?

I'll do reverse order. I'm writing constantly. I wrote for three hours today already. But I write in parallel, so right now I'm about to submit my manuscript actually in two days for my most current book. I'm also working on a manuscript for my next book, and I'm working on the outline for the book after it. So, I do parallel processing. I think that's a big component. I'm already working on the 2025 to 2028 books right now.

The testing is real simple: I reach out to my readership. The beginning was kind of tough because I didn't have a readership. Now I'm very blessed. I have a readership that's engaged and will respond, and I say, "Hey, where are you struggling now?" And it's the feedback I use from them to pinpoint what subjects are important in the sequence.

Then, going back to the inception of books, I've been an entrepreneur my entire life, and I've had some wonderful successes. I've had some really, really big struggles. It was during the struggling periods I wrote down what I didn't understand about entrepreneurship. I wrote probably about 100 different elements I didn't know. I've distilled it to 25-30 things that I think are important, and so I think ultimately I'll be producing 25-30 books as long as it's in alignment with what people want. That's how I do it.

You're brilliant at taking these seemingly complex tasks and projects and making that something easy where people can essentially put one foot in front of the other. So, thank you very much for all you do and sharing everything here.

Systems are a big part of what you do now. I want to ignore the business side for a moment and focus on you personally in your role as a husband, as a father, or even as a role in your own health. What systems do you have in place? Is there anything that comes to mind that helps you be effective in any of those roles?

Yeah, I think so. I'm very process-oriented, so I wake up at 5:30am every morning, and go through a meditative practice. I write from 6:00am to 7:00am. I call it writing sprints, which I do with other authors. From 7:00am til 8:00am, I hit the gym for either cardio or weights. Then, I’ll eat, take a shower, hang out with my wife for a little bit, and I'm off to work.

I'm walking into my office at 9:00am. It's very ritualized, right? I'll prepare my cup of coffee. What I do is I put these elements of anticipation in, so I'm always looking forward to the next moment because there's a little ritual there of the coffee or sitting down with my wife or working out.

I put these elements of anticipation in, so I'm always looking forward to the next moment.

I workout regularly. I don't like to workout. I just don't miss it. So, at the end, the ritual is a text to an accountability group saying, "Workout done," and a show of my Fitbit results so I can't fake it. I look forward to those moments, and therefore push harder through the activity. That's served me in my personal life, my health and stuff like that.

My wife is also a great guard of time. It's very easy for me to not stop working because I have such a passion for it. She'll say, "All right, you said you're done by 5:00pm. I expect you home at 5:15pm and I have a bottle of wine waiting for you." She also is a great accountability partner, and wine doesn't hurt.

It sounds like so much of this stuff that you've got is around just having an awareness of what helps you perform at your peak, and then being able to create the systems that help facilitate that, even if it's a task you don't particularly enjoy.

I think so. For me, it works very well. I think it's a little bit manic for some people that I'm so process-oriented, but it works for me. I will say this. I've cooled down a little bit as the years have gone on, and have been more present in more moments, and I appreciate that.

My daughter, for example, this is about two months ago, she said, "Hey, I want to go to cross country, my friend can't do it because of the COVID situation. Do you want to go on a 14-day trip with me cross country?" My schedule is booked up so my instinct is “No,” but my knowledge is like, "If your daughter wants to spend a second with you, you better say yes and figure it out." So, I said, "Yes, I'm in. I'm the third wheel guy, I'm in." I had to change everything accordingly. It was the best move of my life, I think, to be with my daughter like that. I am a work in progress, but I'm learning the importance of presence.

Yeah, you can't get that time back with your daughter. You realize that the most important thing is making sure that you're not just spending time with them, but having that presence and that quality time with them.

That's exactly right.

Final question, what's one thing you do to win the day?

It's so obvious. It's exercise and health. There's a big difference. As the day goes on, my energy is building, and people are like, "How do you have so much energy?" I'm like, "I really work at maintaining energy." My output at the end of the day often feels just as strong, if not stronger than it was throughout the rest of the day. I attribute that to religious exercise and rest and recovery, exercise and recovery.

Yeah, absolutely love it. Mike, thanks so much for being on the show!

James, thank you, brother.

Resources / Links Mentioned:

⚡ Mike Michalowicz website.

💰 Profit First by Mike Michalowicz.

📙 Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr Robert Cialdini

🧭 Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang

🎙️ We Are Members: create a thriving business from your podcast

🗝️ Apply for The Day Won Mastermind

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Oscar Wilde

Today, we sit down with one of the world’s leading entrepreneurs and all-round legends, Mike Michalowicz. If you feel like you’re treading water in your career (or simply have lofty goals), or you’re thinking of going down the entrepreneurial route, this is the episode for you.

By his 35th birthday Mike had founded and sold two multi-million-dollar companies. Confident that he had the formula to success, he became a small business angel investor – but then proceeded to lose his entire fortune. Then he started all over again, driven to find better ways to grow healthy, strong companies.

Mike has devoted his life to the research and delivery of innovative, impactful strategies to help business owners succeed. He is the creator of Profit First, which is used by hundreds of thousands of companies across the globe to drive profit.

Mike is also a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, a business makeover specialist on MSNBC, and author of #1 bestselling books such as Profit First, The Pumpkin Plan, and new book Fix This Next.

In this interview, we go through:

You’re going to love this one. Let’s Win the Day, with Mike Michalowicz!

🎞️ For the video interview, click here.

Resources / Links Mentioned:

⚡ Mike Michalowicz website.

💰 Profit First by Mike Michalowicz.

📙 Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr Robert Cialdini

🧭 Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang

🎙️ We Are Members: create a thriving business from your podcast

🗝️ Apply for The Day Won Mastermind

“I’m in a battle every single day. A war. People who succeed have the burning desire to win, and the persistence to get up and fight every day.”

Brandon T. Adams

Welcome back to Win the Day! If you’re watching this on YouTube, you might notice some changes. We’re not in my regular home studio setup. In fact, we’re in a professional recording studio for the first time ever.

Our guest today has fit a LOT into his 30 years and has a truly eclectic background. Brandon T. Adams grew up in rural Iowa helping out with his father’s packaged ice business. That job taught him the value of hard work and an honest buck, but he didn’t share similar enthusiasm for his academic work. On the brink of flunking out of college, Brandon was given a book that completely changed his trajectory and became the foundation to everything he’s achieved today.

Since that defining moment, Brandon has become a podcaster, speaker, inventor, and business adviser. His work as a crowdfunding expert has raised more than $35 million and led to him working with high profile clients such as Kevin Harrington (from hit TV show Shark Tank), Jeff Hoffman (billionaire founder of Priceline), John Lee Dumas (from award-winning Entrepreneurs on Fire), and the renowned non-profit XPRIZE.

As a serial entrepreneur, Brandon owns a stake in more than a dozen businesses. He’s been featured on the cover of Investors Digest magazine, led one of the largest campaigns for a book in crowdfunding history, and was featured as the youngest cast member in Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy, which was the project where we first met.

Most recently, Brandon became the Emmy® Award-winning producer and host of TV show Success in Your City, which you can check out now on Amazon. I am extremely grateful to be featured in a few of those episodes.

Brandon and I immediately got along like a house on fire and he’s now one of my closest friends. And, fun fact, I was actually the officiant at Brandon’s wedding in Nashville where he married his wonderful wife Sam two years ago today!

In this interview, we talk about Brandon's darkest days where he faced depression, loneliness, and bankruptcy. We'll also go through:

Brandon holds nothing back in this interview. If you want both the motivation to succeed and the blueprint on how to do it, this is the episode for you.

For the video interview, click here.

Resources / links mentioned:

📝 Brandon T. Adams on Facebook

📷 Brandon T. Adams on Instagram

⚡ Brandon T. Adams website

🎙️ We Are Podcast: learn how to make money from your podcast

📙 Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

🌎 Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy by James Whittaker

💚 The Road to Success by Brandon T. Adams and Samantha Rossin

🗝️ Success In Your City (TV show)

🔥 BRAND NEW! Andrew Carnegie’s Mental Dynamite by Napoleon Hill and James Whittaker

“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don't have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.”

– Steve Jobs

I believe we can learn from everyone, and in my line of work, I’m so grateful to have interviewed hundreds of people to learn more about their amazing journeys. If you’ve read my last book Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy, you’ll remember that the inspiration in the book came from REAL stories – so you can get a real blueprint to apply in your own life.

That's why I'm so excited about the first official guest we’ve ever had on the show, Michael Fox. I've known Michael for years. He’s a super-successful, extremely well-connected dude, but what I love most about him is how down to earth and humble he is.

Eleven years ago, Michael and his two partners (one being his wife at the time) recognized that the future of retail was in personalization and customization – where shoppers could create the products they wanted rather than buying the generic ones that everybody else bought.

The niche they found was women who wanted to customize their own shoes. I’ve got a wife, a mum, and a sister, and they all love shoes, so this certainly looked like a phenomenal concept from day one.

In 2009, Michael and his two partners launched Shoes of Prey. For the first time, women around the world were able to order shoes online that they had designed themselves. They were manufactured to their specifications, delivered to them quickly, and at a very competitive price.

In the years after, Shoes of Prey raised more than USD $25 million and had partnered with companies including retail giant Nordstrom. Michael was on top of the world.

Then it all came crashing down.

In this interview, we talk about Michael’s rollercoaster entrepreneurial journey that’s taken him from his home country Australia to Asia, America, and Europe, and what lessons he's learned along the way. We’ll also talk about the impact on his personal relationships and what happened that made 2019 – literally the next year after his business collapsed – the best year of his life.

We then get an exclusive insight into Michael’s new business, Fable Food Co, that’s attracting huge attention around the world with its high-quality meat alternative, including from one of the world's most acclaimed chefs, Heston Blumenthal.

There’s so much in this interview: How to start a business; How to raise money; How to be happy; How to respond to criticism; How to dust yourself off from failure; How to partner with the most accomplished people on the planet, and more!

Enjoy 🙂

James Whittaker:
How are you doing in the COVID-19 world!?

Michael Fox:
We’re based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. It's probably one of the best spots in the world if you're going to be isolated somewhere. We live right near the beach, and beaches here have stayed open. So, on the personal and family front, we’re fine.

On the business front, it's disrupted some parts, but it opened up opportunities too. Actually, overall, we've been growing nicely through this whole period. So yeah, I think we're sort of counting our lucky stars—we have been fortunate.

A lot of aspiring entrepreneurs want to know the best way to come up with a new business idea. Do you have a set formula that you follow? Or is it more of an intuition honed after many years in the entrepreneurial world?

The big learning for me – and I didn't do this early on, but I've done it with my current business – is to find what you’re personally deeply, truly passionate about and pursue that. As an example, my last business Shoes of Prey was custom women's shoes. I loved lots of parts of that business, but I was never deeply passionate about women's shoes. Not at all. I loved building a brand, I loved the manufacturing, I loved the supply chain, I loved establishing partnerships and the sales and the retail. All of that I loved. But the actual product, I just wasn't into.

Whereas with my new business, Fable, I'm deeply passionate about the product, the mission, and what we're working on. It makes such a difference. For example, I wake up on a Saturday morning, when I could be doing something else, and the only thing I want to do is read about what's going on in the industry or listen to podcasts relating to food and relating that to what we're doing.

Contrast that to Shoes of Prey – I didn't read fashion magazines in my spare time. And that difference, I can see it playing out in so many ways, such as my deep understanding of the customer (i.e. the value proposition that they're looking for). So I highly recommend starting something in an area that you're deeply passionate about.

Once you've got a new business idea, how important is research to test that concept? And, how early should you do that research?

Early on, I think the most critical thing to do is customer research and determine your business model. You need to understand the value proposition of who you’re targeting and what they want, coupled with an understanding of what business model is most applicable.

With Fable, we've got a meat alternative to slow-cooked meat. It’s like pulled pork and braised beef, but it's made predominately from mushrooms and other plant-based ingredients. Before kicking off this business, I'd been vegetarian for four and a half years, eating all the Beyond burgers and Impossible burgers, and other products on the market, so I had a good personal understanding of the category. I've also talked to everyone around me trying to encourage them to turn vegetarian and hear the feedback that they're giving on why they find it hard, what they miss about meat, and other feedback around the alternatives.

"Find what you’re personally deeply, truly passionate about and pursue that."

Then, I just spend a lot of time exploring and understanding the market, particularly watching people as they shop the meat alternatives. After they selected or not selected something, I go up and talk to them about their decision. All of that research is hugely valuable to the path that we're going down now.

I see that you've been very proactive about seeking that feedback. Contrast that to a lot of entrepreneurs who simply work on an idea themselves because they’re worried someone is going to steal it … and they're certainly not proactive about obtaining feedback.

If you think you've got certain insights and a really big potential idea, it can be a natural concern that you might want to protect that. But, in my experience anyway, when it comes to building businesses, it’s 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, as Thomas Edison said.

Check out the podcast or YouTube version where Michael does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, his favorite book, and a whole lot more 🚀

If you've got an idea, there’s probably 1,000 other people who've had the idea. Your success with that idea will come down to how well you execute on it. Therefore, the pros of getting feedback from people early on far outweigh the risk of someone else stealing your idea. Because even if someone steals your idea, are they going to be good at executing? The reality is that most people aren't going to do that – they're not going to leave their existing job to start a new idea. And even if they do, the reality is that it’s tough to start a business, and most businesses don't succeed.

So yeah, I think the benefits of getting the feedback from people early on far outweighs them taking your idea and beating you at it. And if they beat you at it, you’re probably not the best executor in the first place.

True, and that's the world of business, I guess. What about the Shoes of Prey concept – when did you have a feeling that you were onto a winner?

A lot of interesting learnings came out of that journey, which was also 10 years of my life. Pretty early on, we had an idea that this was a concept with really good potential. And I think that was a function of us talking to everyone around us about the idea and asking them, “Would you want to design your own shoes?”

And the overwhelming feedback was, “Yes, that would be amazing!”

Everyone's got this dream of being creative and having some kind of unique fashion item that they've designed and created for themselves to wear. So the response was kind of overwhelming from people that we spoke to.

"If you've got an idea, there’s probably 1,000 other people who've had the idea. Your success with that idea will come down to how well you execute on it."

And so then we ran a test. We setup a basic supply chain and worked with a manufacturing partner in China (just outside Hong Kong) who could produce shoes. And before we built a website or anything, we just used photographs of the different elements of the shoes. We presented that to our friends and said, “Hey, these are normally going to retail for $250. If we sell for half price and you can design using these images, would you want to do it?”

We emailed that out to 100 of our friends, and about 25 of them paid the money to design the shoes with us. We thought that was a pretty good response rate and an indication to us that it had potential.

What about things like minimum order quantities, if you're ordering through Asia – was that a challenge when you were trying to test whether this was a good idea? I can imagine some of them saying, “Yes, we’ll do it – if you produce 50 million units with us!”

Yeah, we had lots of funny, Lost in Translation conversations on that! We would explain the concept and they’d say, “Oh, yes, we can supply shoes. Minimum order quantity: 10,000.”

And we’re like, “No, we need to order one!

“Oh, you mean 1,000?”

“No, we mean literally one.”

We managed to find some little shoe stores in Hong Kong that did design your own shoes, so our initial manufacturing partner was one of them. It was a small operation, so we were never going to be able to scale with them. But they were happy to partner with us initially and would do one pair at a time. So that's how we started.

The Shoes of Prey journey had a bit of a public ending that was obviously not the outcome that you and your co-founders and the whole team wanted. What were the circumstances when you went from having an amazing business concept to, 10 years later, coming undone?

Basically, we initially did really well in this niche of women who were passionate about designing their own shoes. These were creative women who had a good sense of their own style and design, and they loved the concept. For the first time, they had the ability to design their own shoes. We also did well in some niches like wedding shoes, which is obviously a good market for personalization, as well as small / large and wide / narrow sizes, because we could produce efficiently one at a time; we could service those people who couldn’t normally buy shoes in their size.

"Early on, I think the most critical thing to do is customer research and determine your business model."

So we were doing well in these little niches, and getting really high net promoter scores because in those niches, the customers really, really loved the product. But we were never going to be able to scale in those niches. Then, we went out and did our market research to understand whether the mass market consumer would buy Shoes of Prey shoes.

We could see all these customers coming to our website – we literally had 10,000 customers coming to our website every day, but we had really low conversion rates. And so we started talking to all these customers who were coming and not buying.

What we realized is most of the women coming to our website weren't those niche customers: they were mass market fashion customers. When we talked to them, they said, “Yeah, look, I love the idea of designing my own shoes. That's why I'm coming your website to have a look and spending time on here.”

They told us there were three things that stopped them from buying:

1. “We want a simplified shoe design experience.”

Our initial shoe design experience was targeted to that really creative customer, so it was very freeform. The mass market consumer wanted to be guided through the process and have a simpler process.

2. “We want a shorter turnaround time.”

We had a five-week turnaround time on our shoes, which if you're organizing your wedding shoes, you're doing that more than five weeks in advance. If you’re small / large and wide / narrow sizes, you'll take anything – you don't mind if it's five weeks or more. But if you're a mass market fashion consumer, you're often thinking about a purchase and need delivery within two weeks.

3. “We want cheaper pricing.”

We were charging a 30% premium over the same quality shoes, and the mass market fashion consumer said, “I'm keen to do it, but I don't pay a premium.”

So we looked at those three things and we realized, well, we can execute on those three things – we're just going to need to go out and raise venture capital to do it because we’ll need to build our own shoe factory to get the lead times down and get more efficient to get the unit costs down. At the time we were just working with that little supplier outside of Hong Kong who had two shoe stores, so they weren't scaled up. This was about three years into the journey. And we'd done really well in that time just in those niches. We hadn't raised any venture capital – it was all self-funded, growing out of our own cashflow.

In addition to needing to build our own factory, we also needed to hire more software engineers to simplify the shoe design experience. From all the research we'd done, it revealed this big mass market fashion opportunity, and we needed to cross the chasm from these niche customers over to the mass market.

We spent the next five years executing on building our own shoe factory in China. Manufacturing shoes one at a time is a massive undertaking. So that took us a good five years to open, scale, run efficiently, and we brought the delivery time down from five weeks to, we averaged, 11 days in the last couple of years. And we brought the unit cost down so we could bring our retail prices down. And we built our software engineering team out to about 10 people and simplified the shoe design experience. That whole process took about five years.

The problem for us was we basically built the whole value proposition that the mass market fashion customer had asked for. And we realized it just wasn't resonating. Like, we grew sort of 3-4x over those five years. We grew to maybe $12 million/year in revenue, but we really needed to be at about $30 million/year revenue to breakeven because now we had all the fixed costs associated with the shoe factory and software engineers. So our breakeven point was about $30 million / year.

Based on our customer research, if the mass market customer had responded the way that our research said she would, we should have been at $100 million / year revenue. We were in Nordstrom stores in the US where you could design your own shoes right there, and we were in all the right places for the mass market customer.

Now that we’d built this value proposition, we could watch how our customer behaved on our website and in the Nordstrom stores. What we realized was … we got our research wrong. The mass market customer thinks she wants to customize. So if you ask her, consciously, she thinks she wants to customize shoes. I mean, who wouldn't love the idea of being creative and designing your own shoes? So you ask her, she'll tell you that's what she wants to do, because she thinks she does.

But deep down subconsciously, she doesn't want to do that – she doesn't really have the confidence to do it and she doesn't know if the shoes are going to look any good. Also, she doesn't really have the time to sit there and design the shoes. And so deep down subconsciously, she really just wants a fashion designer brand to tell her what's on trend and what to wear. She wants to see what's popular on Instagram and buy those exact shoes and that brand, which is kind of the antithesis of designing your own shoes.

What she consciously thought she wanted is the opposite to what she actually really wanted. And we had built our whole value proposition and business around the opposite of what she actually really wanted. That's what brought us down.

Was this research that you conducted every few months, or every year? Or was it something that you did comprehensively early on as a one-off and just ran with that assumption?

No, it was constant research. We were running surveys with all these people who were coming to our website and weren't buying. Nordstrom are the biggest retailer of women's shoes in the US, and they invested in the business because their research told them the same thing. We ran focus groups … we did everything. We watched how consumers behaved in different environments.

"What she consciously thought she wanted is the opposite to what she actually really wanted. And we had built our whole value proposition and business around the opposite of what she actually really wanted. That's what brought us down."

We did everything that I think we could have done, except the one thing we didn't do, because we couldn't, was actually watching how female fashion shoppers behave when designing their own shoes. And the reason we couldn't do that is no one had built this before – it didn't exist.

Only once we built the value proposition – and you could go to our website, use the simple design process, order at a good price point, and receive your shoes in 11 days – it was only once we built all of that, we could watch how the customer behaved on the site. And then she wasn't buying. Then we talked to her and delved into why she didn’t buy. That helped us to uncover that the research we’d done and what customers are telling us is actually different to what they really want.

Can you take us into the moment when you realized for the first time that Shoes of Prey and 10 years of your life was irrecoverable – that, no matter what you did, the dream for this particular business was all over?

That's a good, good question. It was probably more like ripping a band-aid off slowly, rather than a single moment, so it's kind of even more painful because of that. Yeah, I mean, it was gradual. As we gradually simplified our shoe design experience, our sales would rise, so the research wasn't completely wrong. But the sales weren't going up anywhere near as much as we'd expected. So we could see that we were making progress, but it just wasn’t the progress we wanted.

We sort of convinced ourselves that it needed all the pieces of the value proposition to work. And I still think that logic made sense – it was just the research was wrong. So even if we simplified the shoe design experience, if our delivery time was still four weeks, yeah, okay, we might get a bit of growth, but we wouldn't get the sort of scaled growth that we were looking for.

Over a few years, we weren’t growing as much as we needed to, but we were growing enough to keep pursuing it and to raise more through venture capital firms. Nordstrom was still on board with us through that.

It was only really when we delivered the whole value proposition and the revenue was less than half of where it needed to be. We were running out of cash in the bank, and we knew it was going to be hard to raise more. So we spoke with our investors and, yeah, it was clear we weren't going to be able to raise more money easily, or even at all in the end. So it wasn't a single moment or conversation, but more like ripping a band-aid off slowly.

Source: Smart Company

I feel like one of the most unsung elements of being an entrepreneur is the mental health battle, the daily roller-coaster that you and I have both seen with various businesses and projects that we've been involved in. How was your mental state at the time when it all started to unravel? Were you feeling down on yourself or on the brink of burnout?

It was definitely tough. I was living in LA. I had some friends over there that I'd made, obviously, but not the kind of friendship groups that you grew up with or family around. I was married, so I had my wife and did have some good friends there, but those kinds of things made it harder.

It was tough. This vision that we'd had … we'd had all this success early on, we'd raised AUD $35 million [USD $25 million] from investors, partnered with Nordstrom. All these exciting things had built up over time and then sort of gradually coming to the realization that this wasn't going to work out. It was hard, you know. There's not even really adjectives to describe it.

What helped me to get through it was reflecting on the fact that we were dealing with women’s shoes and investors’ money. These are important things, but it's not like we're dealing with life and death, you know? It's not like we were a medical company and people were dying because we were failing.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on having my health and my family. My first son was born during this challenging period, which was kind of a revelation that, “Okay, well, Shoes of Prey is going poorly at the moment and my career is in a bit of a shambles, but I've got a healthy son and this is a wonderful life experience.”

Puts it all into perspective?

Yes, exactly. I think that was kind of the big thing that helped me get through. Also, with the benefit of hindsight, I learned that as tough as things can be in the moment, you can get through those things and enjoy yourself on the other side.

Absolutely. And I think a lot of people, myself included, have really enjoyed the posts that you've written, just the reflections on the journey. It's so real. It's so raw. And I think it's really inspiring to people. So, I wanted to quickly bring up a quote that you wrote a year ago [March 2019] when you were reflecting on that Shoes of Prey journey:

“If I ever find myself in a position where I'm attempting to change consumer behavior, I will ensure I've peeled back the layers to truly understand the psychology of my target customer.”

Do you still stand by that? And how can aspiring entrepreneurs’ action that in a practical sense?

Yeah, I definitely still stand by that. And I mean, that just speaks to how we were trying to get consumers to change their behavior by designing shoes rather than ordering preexisting shoes. Our market research failed because we listened to what the customer consciously thought she wanted – and we didn't peel back the layers to understand the deep psychology of what she was thinking and what was driving her to buy shoes. Maybe if we had done that, we might have uncovered that while she said she wanted to design shoes, she didn't really want to. So yeah, I definitely still stand by that learning.

And I think there are two practical ways to deal with that. One is to actually do that deep psychological research if you are trying to change consumer behavior. I would definitely go deeper than we did with Shoes of Prey, if I was doing that again.

The other way to get around that is to not change consumer behavior, and that's the lesson that I've taken with Fable. For example, I've been vegetarian for four and a half years. I've tried to convert everyone around me to being vegetarian. I think I've convinced two people! I caught up with one of them the other day, and they're not vegetarian anymore. So I'm trying to change people to become vegetarian. Either I'm not good at it or it's hard to do. It's probably a bit of both.

I've realized that trying to convince people to eat hemp seed patties, falafel balls, and salad, most people don't want to do that because they still love the taste and texture of meat. The learning for me there is don't try to change their behavior and make them eat hemp seed patties and falafel balls, but give them ‘meat’ – something that has the taste and texture of meat, but just don't make it from animals.

"Our market research failed because we listened to what the customer consciously thought she wanted."

We’re not the only ones doing meat alternatives, and that's the kind of approach that the whole alternative protein industry is taking: don't try to convince people to change their behavior and not eat meat, but to give them meat, and just make it from something different. It means that in all of our product development, our big focus is on making sure that the product has the taste and texture of meat – that's the number one part of the value proposition. And once that's achieved, it means you don't have to change consumer behavior. They can eat the same way, cook the same way; all the dishes they've done before, but just doing it without animals.

With Shoes of Prey, you were out on a limb so much trying to do this yourselves. Do you feel more comfortable being in a massively growing industry? I mean, you’ve got as much research as you could possibly want to help underpin some of the decisions that you're making to remove some of the guesswork. Although it seems like experience has taught you that even when you have the research, there can be a lot more to the picture?

Definitely, I'm finding the experience much, much easier because of that. There's pros and cons, right? So it means there's other people doing meat alternatives, which I love from a mission perspective because I want to end industrial animal agriculture. If it’s Fable, great but if it’s other people, that’s amazing too.

But from a purely business perspective, putting aside the mission, it means we've got competitors in the space and consumers have a choice of different products. So that's the con of operating in a category that other people are operating in, but the pro is just like you described – there's other people doing it too, so we can learn from each other. I can actually go into the supermarket and watch how consumers shop the alternative protein section. Whereas with Shoes of Prey, there was no other website or nowhere else that you could design your own shoes, so I couldn't watch how consumers did it.

On the Shoes of Prey side, just to round off on that incredible chapter in your life, what was the biggest personal cost to you after 10 years – was it time, money, something else?

There was the financial side. I'd worked for 10 years at well below market salary, and put quite a bit of my own money into the business beforehand. So, I sort of ended that 10 years in my late 30s with not much money to my name, whereas if I'd stayed down the corporate path, I’d been in a different place financially, so that was a cost. Not a cost I would directly attribute to Shoes of Prey, but it was definitely a catalyst.

I was married to one of my co-founders, Jodie, in Shoes of Prey when we first started the business. We divorced partway through the Shoes of Prey journey. We stayed really good friends, stayed good business partners, and still to this day we chat nearly weekly. It wasn't because of Shoes of Prey – we just grew apart in our 20s. But Shoes of Prey was definitely a catalyst. Working and living with the person that you're starting a business with puts all sorts of strains and pressures on a relationship, so that was another big personal cost through it all.

I'd say those are probably the big two.

I feel like marriage has enough strain itself. I can't imagine throwing in the added complexities of raising tens of millions of dollars, moving countries, trying to figure out manufacturing, building an international team, second-guessing your market research, and signing deals with some of the biggest department stores in the world – it's a lot for your relationship.

But I guess it says a lot about the character of each of you when you still are able to maintain a very cordial relationship and both respect and support each other, even as your journeys forked.

Thank you. It was definitely a tough period. It was a mutual decision to separate which I think made it easier, because when it’s one-sided it’s so much harder for couples to stay on good terms. We both wanted to stay friends and actively wanted to keep working together because we were both wanting to make Shoes of Prey a success, so we really kind of did a lot of work to make sure that was okay. We said if we're going to separate, let's make sure the friendship remains and the business partnership remains, so I guess we just focused on that and we were able to achieve it.

After that, you went to Denmark for almost half a year of soul searching, and now you're living on the Sunshine Coast in Australia. After the grind that you had living in LA trying to get all this stuff done, ‘lifestyle’ became such a huge focus for you, as well as general health and well-being.

A few months ago, you wrote that 2019 was the best year of your life, which I bet you would not have expected if you had a crystal ball looking forward. What contributed to 2019 being the best year of your life?

Yeah, I totally wouldn't have expected it! I finished up with Shoes of Prey in the middle of 2018, so that first half of 2018 was pretty horrible – laying off 200 people, shutting down a factory, that kind of 10-year dream ending, telling investors that we can't get them their money back, let alone a return. So yeah, I would not have expected that to play out.

As you touched on, my wife's Danish so went over to Denmark for six months. We kind of had to do that because our second child was born. When I left Shoes of Prey, the visa was attached to Shoes of Prey, so I had 60 days to leave the country [the US]. My wife Katrine was about six months pregnant, nearing the point where you can’t fly anymore. Katrine was not Australian so we wouldn't have had health coverage in Australia to have the baby, so Denmark was the only place we could go to actually have the baby without having to fork out all the costs.

A whole new basket of stresses to add to the mix!

And with a one-and-a-half-year-old, as well! We went to Denmark, but it turned out really well. It was really nice to spend some time with Katrine’s family. For me, it was just a great period to have a reset – I didn't have any pressure to find a job or figure out what I was going to do next. I just knew, okay, there's six months, I can focus on being a dad and just do whatever I feel like doing.

I just ended up reading a lot of books. And because I've been vegetarian for four and a half years, I just ended up reading more about industrial animal agriculture. There were other areas that I was really passionate about and started exploring too like community living and some different areas like that. But I just ended up reading all these different areas that I was passionate about.

Then towards the end of the six months, I started thinking, “Well, there's two or three areas I'm deeply passionate about, is there a business model or something that I could do?” Well, actually, I didn't even want to start a new business. I was thinking that maybe I could work for someone else in in the meat alternative space because it’s a space that's been growing really quickly.

That six months allowed me to explore whatever I wanted to, wherever my intellectual curiosity took me. And I think that helped me to narrow in back to your very first question around finding what my passion was and where I might want to do something. As you touched on, we made the kind of lifestyle decisions. We came back to Australia to live on the Sunshine Coast. I grew up in Brisbane, which is where I know you and the rest of your family. And my extended family is all Brisbane / Sunshine Coast-based. So, with two young kids in tow, we wanted to be back near all of them: grandparents and aunties and uncles.

"That six months allowed me to explore whatever I wanted to, wherever my intellectual curiosity took me."

And it's a much cheaper cost of living on the Sunshine Coast than down in Sydney. We initially planned to go back to Sydney. But to rent a house in Sydney, it's like AUD $1,500 - $2,000 / week [or USD $960 - $1,300 / week] to rent a nice three-bedroom house. We sort of took that budget and looked at what we could get on the Sunshine Coast and we've ended up renting a house literally right on the beach. The beach is 100 meters to my left as I sit here – a little private walk track through the bush and we're on the beach. We’ve got a pool and a giant barbecue perfect for cooking plant-based meat.

Just the lifestyle here is amazing. It’s great being back around family, reconnecting with friends that we grew up with. It's a combination of now doing what I'm really deeply passionate about, the living environment, and then also just the family side – I'm just loving being a dad, and you're having the dad experience too. All that for me has just added up to 2019 being genuinely amazing, just deep personal satisfaction.

Yes, parenting is a wonderful journey. I've always wanted to have kids, but I just never understood the amount of meaning that it creates in your life. You just learn so much about the world from your kids.

In the media, you’re getting a lot of wonderful coverage with Fable, but how do you feel when the largest media outlets in the country still describe you as a ‘failed entrepreneur’ and part of a ‘collapsed company.’ Do you just try and ignore that, or does it motivate you to succeed?

Yeah, it's good, good question. I mean, it's a whole combination of feelings. Like it's definitely a hit to your ego and self-belief. And I think that also contributed to my initial thoughts when I came back to Australia to go work for another company because, literally, the thought of starting another business made me feel ill. My self-confidence was down.

I had a good understanding of why Shoes of Prey failed, but still felt like I'd messed some things up. In your head, we'd messed up that market research and didn't get those insights right, and I was like, “Well, okay, I cannot succeed in business so maybe I'm not made up to being an entrepreneur.” So, it's a mix of those feelings.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

On the flip side, spending the time to deeply reflect on the Shoes of Prey experience helped build my confidence again. We had done a lot of things really well, and if our market research had been right, it would be an amazing business today. I think we got close – we made lots of other mistakes too – but I think we got all the other pieces of the business mostly right. It was just that one insight that we didn't get right. So that sort of brought a bit of confidence back.

"Literally, the thought of starting another business made me feel ill."

Kicking off with Fable, I came back to Australia and wanted to work in the alternative protein space, but there were just no jobs. Everyone in the category was a startup, and there were no jobs in the category. So my decision was either going back to the corporate world or, since there are no jobs in what I’m really passionate about, having to start my own business again.

That's what kind of drove me back to starting a business. Initially, yeah, I really genuinely didn't want to do it. But then once I started, it felt good again being in those early stages. I went back and talked to all of the old Shoes of Prey investors. I had been talking to them all the time anyway, but to talk to them about the idea and they were excited about it. Their feedback was, “Michael, we’ll back you again. If you get this to a place where you're raising money and it could work, we'd love to look at it and back you again.”

When we raised funding in November, it was deeply satisfying to have both Blackbird Ventures and Grock Ventures [personal investment fund of Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes] because they were two large investors in Shoes of Prey and had lost all their money in Shoes of Prey. So that helped on the confidence side and I just found myself loving doing it again.

The media has now been supportive too. Media headlines are designed to drive clicks and advertising revenue. So a headline about Shoes of Prey’s collapse, that's a great sounding headline. That's the almost business industry gossip that people want to read, and I find myself drawn to those kinds of articles too. It's just an innate human psychology. That's the reason journalists want to write those kinds of headlines, and it doesn't change the emotional feeling from it, but at least you can have a logical reflection on it.

But you know, that's life, that's what the media is always going to do. There might be some truth to it, but it doesn't mean you have to buy into it. And it doesn't factor in the future as well.

Source: Business Insider

They’re only taking into consideration one aspect of the past and not factoring in all the assets like the investors you mentioned, and other people you know, and all the learnings you bring to the table.  

But at the same time, you've got that carrot of going back to the corporate world. I feel like a thing for people who have a professional Monday to Friday job, they don't realize how lucky they have it when they can just work five days a week, they can switch their phone off on weekends, they can have a six-figure salary without the stress that an entrepreneur faces when there is no off switch. And, like you said, from the moment you activate that new business idea, it is potentially seven days a week for an indeterminable amount of time.

One hundred percent.

Well, you've got Fable now which is just such an incredible story, obviously still very young in the journey. Can you let us know a bit about Fable: the product, the market, and what you're trying to achieve?

Once I had that realization that like, “Okay, if I want to go into this category, I’ve got to start something myself,” I started thinking through how I would want to do it – what kind of product I'd want to develop and how I'd want to enter the category. And I didn't want to compete head to head with the existing players in the market, like Beyond and Impossible who between them have raised nearly a billion US dollars. There’s plenty of good companies in Europe and some good ones in Australia, too. So I wanted to differentiate and find another gap in the market.

Most of those businesses are doing ground beef and burger patties. So, my first thought was, “Okay, there's plenty of other types of meat out there, or I should try to replicate something else?” And then secondly, “I'm a pretty healthy eater. I shop at my local farmers markets, do a lot of my own cooking, and try to eat a healthy, minimally-processed diet. Would it be possible to create a meat alternative that has really natural, healthy, whole food ingredients?”

It was those two insights that sort of led me to researching more in the space. I obviously don't have a food background so I just started talking to anyone in the food industry who would be willing to listen to me and answer my questions. And that kind of led to the thought of using mushrooms as a base ingredient for a meat alternative. So most meat alternatives are made from textured vegetable protein. It's a protein that is stripped out of a soybean or pea and then it's this high heat, high pressure process to turn it into a texture that's like a minced beef. And then you add different flavors and ingredients. And so most meat alternatives are made from textured vegetable protein.

So I was exploring whether you could make a meat alternative out of mushrooms. Mushrooms are really natural, healthy food that we should be eating more of. And they've kind of got a lot of the umami flavors of meat in them. It's just that the textures are not really meat-like for most mushrooms. So that's what led me to researching mushrooms.

I ended up meeting the two guys who are now my co-founders. Jim Fuller grew up in Texas and started his career as a chef. He grew up on all the slow-cooked meats like pork and braised beef. He worked as a chef for 10 years in Texas and wanted to understand the science behind what he was cooking. so he went and studied agricultural science and chemical engineering. And he majored in mycology in his agricultural science degree, which is mushroom science. Then, he's worked as a mushroom scientist in Australia for the last 12 years.

Talk about a niche!

Yeah, he's got this weird skillset of chef and mushroom scientist in one human being! I've never met anyone else with that combo. And then Chris McLoghlin, he's been in farming most of his career. He co-founded Australia's largest organic mushroom farm, and was also Young Farmer of the Year and Organic Farmer of the Year in Australia in 2018. So, Chris and Jim have got this deep technical expertise in mushrooms, whereas I sort of come at it from the business side of things.

Together, we've developed our first product that replicates those slow-cooked meats that Jim grew up on: pulled pork and braised beef. The value proposition that we focused on in developing a product was:

1. Taste and texture:
It's got to have the taste and texture of meat. It's got to cook like meat.

2. Price:
People are willing to pay a bit of a premium for meat alternatives at the moment, but not too much. And ultimately, if we want to end industrial animal agriculture, we want to produce products that taste as good as meat and are cheaper than meat. If you can do that, you can get even the most avid meat-eater buying meat alternatives rather than meat.

3. Plant-based and healthy:
Our product is two-thirds mushrooms, and the other ingredients are all natural, plant-based ingredients – nothing artificial. It's clean, minimally-processed, and has all the health benefits of shiitake mushrooms – which have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years as a really healthy ingredient reinforced with a whole bunch of Western science speaking to its health benefits.

That’s the product we created. We launched in December last year in partnership with British chef Heston Blumenthal. We launched at Heston’s restaurant in Melbourne, and Heston is also using the product in The Fat Duck [named world’s best restaurant in 2005 and current three-star Michelin] in London and Perfectionists’ Cafe in London.

Wow. Incredible. Obviously, you've got a phenomenal team with your co-founders, but how did you establish your relationship with one of the most renowned chefs in the history of the world to help you launch this whole new business?

It kind of came from two angles. One, we designed the product for chefs to use. I mean, we designed it to be like a slow-cooked meat. Meat doesn't have a lot of base flavor; it’s what you do with it, the spices and sauces that you add, which turn it into a dish. It's like what makes meat go great with barbecue sauce and curries and Italian pastas, bolognese, ragu, lasagna … things like that. So we designed the product to be a good base ingredient for chefs to use.

We're fortunate that co-founder Jim had gotten to know Heston a couple of years ago in the mushroom world. Heston has been getting into the brain-gut connection and getting into all the health benefits of mushrooms. He and Jim had met through a Thai mushroom professor, at this Thai mushroom professor's son's wedding in Thailand. So they met at this wedding, got on like a house on fire because they both live and breathe food.

It was a real thrill for Jim actually, because Heston was the reason that Jim went and studied chemical engineering and agricultural science. Jim had been working as a chef for 10 years. He’d never met Heston, but was just inspired by him and his scientific understanding of cooking. That's what prompted him to go and study chemical engineering and agricultural science to understand the science behind what he was cooking.

And I think it was even that same trip where Heston and Jim went and visited some mushroom farms for a couple of days. Jim sort of took him around the places that he was working with in Thailand at the time. They established this deep personal connection and then once we developed the Fable products, we took it and showed Heston and he absolutely loved it. He couldn't believe it was made from mushrooms and was super keen to work with it. So that was a real thrill for us. And it's been an amazing reference for when we go and talk to other chefs.

You’ve obviously done a fantastic job raising money with Shoes of Prey and now with Fable. When entrepreneurs reach a point where they feel like they need external funding, how should they go about it, and should they be looking beyond just the money?

There's lots of other capital sources, but I can only really speak to raising money from venture capital firms. The thing that those firms are looking for, particularly in the early stages of a startup is that there is a billion-dollar market opportunity with your business. Market size is very important to them. If you're successful and build a big business, is the market big enough for you to reach a billion dollar plus valuation?

Product market fit with a broad segment of consumers is a big one, as well as the founding team and their background skillsets and drive to make this a success. Are there proof points that they're not going to quit so that you know they’re fully committed to this? Are they deeply passionate about it?

That's where the whole, doing something that you're personally deeply passionate about helps through the fundraising process as well. Those are the main things that they're looking for. And if you can present something to them that meets all of those criteria, they're going to be interested enough to invest.

What about these companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat that are attracting massive amounts of attention? How do you feel about them and the other players that are in the industry?

It's actually great for us. Going back to where we've differentiated, we're replicating a different type of meat to them, with our slow-cooked meat. We're complementary rather than directly competitive with those brands. We've just recently launched into Singapore, pre-COVID. We were starting to get into some restaurants in Singapore, and our distributor over there – who also sells Impossible Foods – was very optimistic. I think Singapore is the best market per capita for Impossible, so it represents a good opportunity for us, too.

Our distributor pitches restaurants by saying, “If Impossible is working well for you with the burgers, clearly you've got demand from consumers for a meat alternative. What about your slow-cooked meat dishes? You might want a meat alternative in there, and that is Fable.” So the sell is we're not competing head to head, and the fact that Impossible will already be in a restaurant makes the sell easier for us.

A second point difference is the customers who are looking for minimally processed foods and want a meat alternative, and we fit that bill nicely.

So it's great for us that those companies are succeeding on a business level. It's also great on a mission level, because they're helping the same customer as us to reduce their meat consumption. They've got all this money behind them to help educate those consumers about great meat alternatives and why they should try them.

And going back to that market research piece, they give me the ability to go into a supermarket or a restaurant and watch how consumers are behaving and shopping these products. I can see and learn firsthand and understand more about where Fable can fit in the market.

Every year it seems that there's more and more awareness around what healthy food is and educating consumers on how to read an ingredient list. For example, in the US, there are companies like LaCroix that make sparkling water. Everyone thinks, “Wow, this is amazing, it only contains natural flavors and no other ingredients!” And then you realize that not all-natural flavors are natural.

And I feel like Fables is in a strong position as time progresses and consumers naturally seek cleaner products and don’t want a whole laundry list of ingredients for something that's supposed to be an alternative to ‘100% beef.’

Exactly. We feel like we sit at hopefully what will be the apex of two really big trends. There’s the meat alternative trend, which is clearly very big. And then there's this whole, as you touched on, this health food trend, and mushrooms are an emerging trend because they’re this crazily healthy food.

In Western countries, we eat 2.3 kilograms, about five pounds, of mushrooms per person per year. In Asia, they eat 13.5 kilograms, about 30 pounds, of mushrooms per person per year. We should be eating a lot more mushrooms, so we see Fable as a way to help people reduce their meat consumption and replace that with mushrooms, which overall are much, much better for you.

Fable taco recipe | Source: Fable Food Co

What an incredible business. Well, what happens if heaven forbid, the stars don't align – could you ever go back to the corporate world after the taste of freedom and excitement?

As you touched on before, there are a lot of attractive benefits to working in the corporate world and only work nine to five with a consistent salary. I would never write it off completely.

When I was coming to the end of my time in Denmark, where I realized there were no jobs in Australia, I did a couple of interviews with recruiters who were looking at corporate jobs. And it was kind of a horrible time because I had this sick feeling no matter what I did – I had a sick feeling about starting another business, and a sick feeling talking to these recruiters about going into the corporate world. But the sick feeling was a little bit less on the entrepreneurial side, so that's where I kind of ended up.

I don't know … if this failed again, maybe it would be too much to try and start a third time. And maybe I would go back to the corporate world, but I don't think I'm particularly built for it. I hope if I ever go back into the corporate world, no one ever listens to this!

We’ll wipe all the data online before you start handing your resume out!

Check out the podcast or YouTube version where Michael does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, his favorite book, and a whole lot more 🚀

Final question. What's one thing you do to Win the Day?

Connecting with talented, interesting people who have good perspectives on the world. These are the people who are motivated, who have big visions, and are doing exciting things. Surrounding myself with people like that is just massive from an inspirational perspective and it helps in all sorts of different ways.


I hope you found that interview as powerful as I did! There’s so many actionable steps that Michael spoke about and good lessons for all of us, especially in these uncertain times.

Connect with Michael fox on Twitter, Medium, and LinkedIn, and you can also learn more about Fable Food Co via their website and Instagram.

Remember to get out there and win the day!

Onwards and upwards always,
James Whittaker

“Everything you seek to achieve, build a believable plan."

Rob Dyrdek

In episode two of Win the Day, we spoke about how the right plan is far better than the right promise. After all, you can promise yourself anything you like, but you’ll continue to bounce from failure to failure until you’ve got a detailed plan for success. Purposeful action always trumps talk.

Importantly, the right plan encapsulates remedies for just about every adversity and obstacle you’ll face along the way, keeping you resilient, focused, and giving you the best overall chance of success.

As author of Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy, I was tasked with interviewing an incredible mix of people from all over the world to tell their stories from hopelessness to success. If you’ve read the book, you’ll notice that a bulletproof plan was a common thread. It got:

A bulletproof plan creates relentless action, bringing superhuman levels of resourcefulness and resilience.

One of the most interesting people I’ve interviewed is Rob Dyrdek. Admittedly, I hadn’t really heard of him before the Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy project, but he’s amassed more than 12 million followers on Facebook and Instagram and appears on major television networks around the world every day. As I researched his extraordinary career, I was amazed at his eclectic cache of achievements and wondered what could possibly be left on his bucket list.

Two years ago, I drove to his penthouse office in Beverly Hills for our interview and could immediately feel the energy of the place. The elevator walls were adorned with his ’99 truths of business’ and the windows offered 360-degree views of one of the most glamorous cities on Earth.

Dyrdek greeted me like an old friend. He walked me into his office and, for the next two-and-a-half hours, shared his remarkable philosophy for life, success and business.

I was blown away, not just by how generous he was with his time and how candidly he shared his story with me, but how intelligent and insightful he was—a contrast to how many would perceive him, I’m sure.

It’s safe to say that I’m a fan.

Growing up in Ohio as an ordinary kid, it was a chance encounter that changed Dyrdek’s life forever. It happened at a skateboard tournament, where the 11-year-old followed around one of the pro skaters, Neil Blender, who was walking to his limousine. As Neil opened the door to hop in, Rob blurted out, “Hey, I don’t think there’s enough room for you and that board.”

“You know what? You’re right!” the pro skater replied, handing his board to the young fan.

At the time, Dyrdek had never even been on a skateboard, but this extraordinary course of events taught him one of the universe’s most valuable lessons: Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.

He became completely enamored with his new craft, practicing for hours on end while harboring dreams of turning pro. Dyrdek eventually moved to California and began shaping the culture of the burgeoning sport, both on the board and as a clothing designer.

But he wasn’t satisfied.

Fearless, he tried his hand at all he could, raking in millions of dollars, but the lofty highs were tempered by deep lows. To restore balance and stay focused on the bigger picture, Dyrdek began reading books like Think and Grow Rich and resumed asking for what he wanted, as he had done as a kid.

“What’s grounded me is the relentless pursuit of growth and having a bigger picture for what I’m meant to accomplish,” Dyrdek told me during our interview. “It’s knowing that these stages are just part of the process, and not a final destination.”

A lot of the unhappiness and frustration in our own lives stems from the contradiction between where we are now and where we think we should be, but Dyrdek reminds us that there’s lessons to be learnt in every situation and that your current circumstances never have to be your final destination. Trust the process.

Being crystal clear on what he wanted gave Dyrdek the fuel and inspiration to keep moving forward, even after his athletic shelf life was expiring. “As I’ve continued to level-up, I stop and decide what the answer is, and then build my life backwards from there,” Dyrdek noted.

That level-up came in the form of an unlikely career in entertainment, where he controls the full gamut: producing and hosting television shows, planning their distribution, and showcasing brands. To turbocharge promotion, he took the reins (quite literally in this case)—putting his body on the line and setting 21 Guinness World Records.

However, for all his success, Dyrdek’s crowning glory is the Dyrdek Machine, a venture capital company that invests in exciting startups with high growth potential. Aside from fulfilling the 99 truths that adorn the elevator well of his penthouse office in Beverly Hills, the people who most catch his attention are those who embody two simple attributes: zest for life and a bulletproof plan.

Many would argue that Rob Dyrdek has no right to be a major player in the entertainment world. After all, how many former skateboarders—or professional athletes in general—can you name who forged careers at that level of success after calling time on their sporting pursuits?

Despite what the haters say, being dedicated to a detailed growth plan has been the foundation of Dyrdek’s long-term success and why it would be unwise to bet against anything he does. Today, he owns companies in seemingly every industry, from virtual reality and luxury goods to clothing and plant-based foods.

To maintain harmony in his life, the 44-year-old focuses on three things: working on ventures he believes in, committing to mastery of the business world, and creating a platform of love for his young family. It’s this life plan—what he calls his ‘rhythm of existence playbook’—that maintains Dyrdek’s infinite well of energy and is what he regards as his greatest accomplishment:

“It’s creating your entire universe about you being at your best, living with energy each day, and just being happy. That’s the ultimate freedom. I have a clear vision for literally everything in my life and I think about it every day.”

Interestingly, Rob Dyrdek reads Think and Grow Rich every year because he recognizes that each time you read it, and have more life experience to bring, you don’t notice something new in the book—you notice something new in yourself:

“The foundational principles of achievement, you can only digest based off experience. When you begin to manifest based off applying these principles, and you begin to hone that, you read it [Think and Grow Rich] again and it’s like, “Wow, this really is what I’m doing!” I think self-help books should be read every year just to remind yourself. There’s no way to fully apply something that complex until you’ve had achievements to help you believe it.”

To conclude, let’s revisit his quote at the top of this newsletter: “Everything you seek to achieve, build a believable plan.” Think about the most important goals in your life and make sure you’ve prepared detailed plans to make them a reality. (Unsure of how to do that? Watch this issue’s video episode.)

Onwards and upwards always,
James W.

PS – You can learn more about Rob Dyrdek’s story, and many others, in Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy, available now on audiobook, ebook and hardcover.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

None of us are immune to change—it is one of the great constants of life, alongside death and taxes. As people age, they often become set in their ways and increasingly resist challenge. Some start to feel old at 18, others at 80—there is no consensus. Regardless, if allowed to fester, this mindset erodes even the brightest and most enthusiastic among us.

For those worried about the future, I have some good news: age is the one number that doesn’t matter.

Fear of old age can be seen when people begin to renounce their abilities as age increases. You have probably heard someone, whether a parent, grandparent or even yourself, blame their age for not participating in an activity. Knowing what we know about the power of the mind, perhaps welcoming a new milestone—such as retiring from a career, selling a business, or celebrating a birthday—would be better viewed as an opportunity to seek new challenges or grander goals.

Those who feel increasingly despondent as their age ticks over use it to justify staying within their ever-shrinking comfort zone, but countless studies have proven that keeping the mind and body active considerably increases not only longevity but quality of life, too.

For example, Johanna Quaas is a regular competitor on the amateur gymnastics circuit in Germany. The 92-year-old continues to dazzle spectators with her strength, dexterity and mobility, performing somersaults, headstands and cartwheels at will. On the connection between body and mind, Quaas believes, “If you are fit, it is easier to master life.”

Similarly, after the sudden death of his wife, Englishman Thomas Lackey (below) decided to walk along the wing of an airplane to raise money for cancer charities. Full of vigor after his first effort, Lackey continued his wing-walking career well into his nineties, breaking numerous world records—including standing atop a prop plane for 40 minutes, despite being 94 and wheelchair-bound—and raising $2 million dollars for charity.

French woman Jeanne Louise Calment, the longest living human on record, continued to enjoy cycling beyond her 100th birthday. She eventually passed away aged 122. And just last month, 91-year-old John Carter made the news for his love of doing backflips off the high diving board.

Quaas, Lackey, Calment and Carter did not listen when people told them they couldn’t do something. Instead, they viewed their age, wisdom and experience as a blessing, warding off fear with prompt and decisive action.

In the immortal words of Mark Twain: “Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.” Those who repeatedly tell themselves they’re too old are the ones who actually are.

Onwards and upwards always,
James W.

PS – Join my VIP community AND get a free bonus from Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy (instant download).

Examples of people who enjoyed success later in life and against the odds

Mobile phone salesman Paul Potts was 36 when he auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent. His unorthodox music choice and everyman image struck an instant chord with the public, paving the way for his debut album to reach #1 in 13 countries. His first audition has since accumulated more than 177 million views on YouTube.

I just wandered on and did my thing, treated it like it was the last performance I’d ever do—which, had it gone badly, could have been the case.” – Paul Potts

Fashion designer Vera Wang only became an independent bridal wear designer at 40. Today, she is regarded as one of the world’s leading fashion designers, having made gowns for Michelle Obama, Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton and amassing a personal fortune of $630 million.

Don’t be afraid to take time to learn. It’s good to work for other people. I worked for others for 20 years. They paid me to learn.” – Vera Wang 

American businesswoman Robin Chase was 40 when, on a break from work to be with her children, she decided to launch a car-sharing company. In 2013, Zipcar was bought by Avis for USD $500 million in cash. Chase was even listed among the 100 Most Influential People by Time magazine.

You have to recognize failure whenever it happens and look it straight on. When the evidence says that you’re wrong, you have to be willing to relinquish even your most deeply held beliefs.” – Robin Chase

American comic book writer Stan Lee was 41 when he published Spider-Man for the first time, which is now regarded as the gold standard in the modern superhero genre; today, Spider-Man films boast more than $5 billion in box office receipts. Lee recently passed away aged 95, but continued to be heavily involved in the publishing and film industries until his last days, even appearing in 2018 film Venom.

With great power comes great responsibility.” – Stan Lee

Hollywood actor Samuel L. Jackson didn’t get his big break until 43, when he appeared in the Spike Lee film Jungle Fever. Today, Jackson has appeared in more than 100 films and is ranked as the highest all-time box office star, averaging more than $70 million per film and totaling more than $12 billion at the box office.

The best advice that was given to me was that I had to be 10 times smarter, braver and more polite to be equal. So I did.” – Samuel L. Jackson

American innovator ­Henry Ford was 45 when he created the Model T, changing the automotive world forever. He successfully sued The Chicago Tribune for $1 million after they printed a story labeling him “ignorant” despite his enormous success and willingness to improve the conditions and wages of his workers.

My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.” – Henry Ford

Clothing manufacturer Jack Weil was 45 when he launched classic western brand Rockmount Ranch Wear. He maintained the CEO position until he passed away aged 107 as the oldest working CEO in the United States.

The west is not a place. It’s a state of mind.” – Jack Weil

Stand-up comedian and voice artist Rodney Dangerfield was 46 when caught his big break on The Ed Sullivan Show, more than three decades after he first started performing stand-up. That one performance, as a last-minute replacement for another act, became a surprise hit and catapulted the aspiring entertainer to industry legend.

My wife and I were happy for 20 years. Then we met.” – Rodney Dangerfield

Susan Boyle was 47 when she appeared on Britain’s Got Talent as a tribute to her mother. A rousing performance led to enormous popularity, and her album became the UK’s bestselling debut of all time, catapulting her to superstardom.

There are enough people in the world who are going to write you off. You don’t need to do that to yourself.” – Susan Boyle

Taiwanese-Japanese inventor Momofuku Ando was 48 when he invented instant noodles. His most famous product, Cup Noodles, sparked global demand. Ando passed away in 2007 at the age of 96, while his products have surpassed more than 100 billion servings.

Peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat.” – Momofuku Ando

Charles Darwin wasn’t always regarded for his views on evolution. In fact, his first career path was physician, but he switched when he realized he couldn’t stomach the sight of blood. At 50, he published On the Origin of Species, which—despite its contradictory views with the scientific community at the time—is now considered the foundation of evolutionary biology.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin 

Chef Julia Child was 50 before writing her first cookbook, which brought French cuisine to the American public. Until passing away in 2004 aged 91, Child was regarded as a culinary pioneer with an acclaimed career as a celebrity chef, author and television personality. She was also a recipient of both the French Legion of Honor and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” – Julia Child

NASA researcher Jack Cover was 50 when he invented the Taser stun gun. As a non-lethal weapon for law enforcement, the device is credited with saving more than 100,000 lives and is in use with more than 15,000 law enforcement and military agencies around the world.

Let me figure out something better than shooting people.” – Jack Cover

Practicing attorneys Tim and Nina Zagat were both 51 when they published their first collection of restaurant reviews. Starting out as a guide to New York restaurants based on opinions of friends, the Zagat brand quickly became a full-time business rather than a hobby. In 2011, the company was bought by Google for $151 million.

People are looking for different things at different times, and we empowered them to make their own decisions—to make choices that were the right ones for them.” – Nina Zagat

Milkshake salesman Ray Kroc was 53 when he partnered with the owners of McDonald’s, buying the company from them six years later. Kroc revolutionized the restaurant industry and passed away with a net worth of $600 million.

It’s better to be green and growing than ripe and rotting.” – Ray Kroc

Economics professor Taikichiro Mori was 55 when he quit to become a real estate investor. In 1992, the Japanese businessman was listed as the wealthiest person on the planet, with a net worth of USD $13 billion (double that of Microsoft founder Bill Gates).

I guess I am called the world’s richest man, but that doesn’t necessarily do anything for me.” – Taikichiro Mori

American restaurateur Harland Sanders was 62 when he franchised the first Kentucky Fried Chicken, modelled after the food served at his popular Kentucky service station. The company rapidly expanded and in 1964, aged 73, Sanders sold it for $2 million ($16 million in today’s dollars), becoming a salaried brand ambassador.

There’s no reason to be the richest man in the cemetery.” – Harland Sanders

After losing everything in the 1929 stock market crash, former teacher Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when her first Little House book was published, inspired by her childhood adventures. They soon became literary classics, and the basis for TV show Little House on the Prairie, selling more than 60 million copies in more than 100 countries.

Home is the nicest word there is.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder 

After arthritis made embroidering difficult, former housekeeper Anna Robertson was 78 when she first began painting. In 1949, President Harry S. Truman presented “Grandma Moses” with an award for outstanding accomplishment to art. She died in 1961, aged 101, and was memorialized by President John F. Kennedy.

Life is what we make it. Always has been, always will be.” – Grandma Moses

In 2013, Yuichiro Miura, at 80 years old, became the oldest person to climb Mt Everest. Incredibly, the Japanese alpinist has also skied down the highest mountain on all seven continents and was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary The Man Who Skied Down Everest.

It’s important to have a dream, no matter how old you are.” – Yuichiro Miura

Former pilot Gladys Burrill was 86 when she ran a marathon for the first time. Nicknamed the “Gladyator”, Burrill was recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest female marathon finisher after completing the Honolulu Marathon in 9:53, aged 92.

Just get out there and walk or run. I like walking because you can stop and smell the roses, but it’s a rarity that I stop.” – Gladys Burrill

“The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

Thomas Edison

Welcome to 2019!

I hope you enjoyed the holiday season, and congratulations to all those who were also able to craft a detailed plan to attack the next 12 months. In case you missed it, I posted a short video about finishing the year strong.

Coming into the new year, let’s think about the three different types of people:

Dominant performers in every industry, whether CEOs or athletes, are experts at making a habit of appearing in that first category.

A US News & World Report revealed that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. Just six weeks after they were set! You can probably tell that those people are the ones who make it into the second of the above categories, which is better than third because at least they’ve enjoyed some progress.

But, clearly, there’s huge room for growth.

Regardless of where you’re at now, the GOOD news is that even if you didn’t get around to creating a detailed plan for 2019, you can still do it! Here is the best way to get started.

Iconic media announcer Earl Nightingale once said: “Most people tiptoe through life waiting to make it safely to death.”

Read that again.

Now, close your eyes and imagine what the perfect destination in ALL areas of your life looks like—a broad definition of success. Then, through your actions, show what comforts you’re willing to sacrifice—such as partying with friends, watching television and pressing the ‘snooze’ button—to make that perfect destination a reality.

Napoleon Hill, the most renowned personal development author in history, had a knack for converting lessons from the world’s most accomplished people into something that could be understood and applied by anyone. Here is one of my favorite Hill quotes—think about it in the context of what you want to achieve in 2019:

“Having a definite plan for your life greatly simplifies the process of making the hundreds of daily decisions that affect ultimate success.”

With your unique and comprehensive definition of success imprinted on your mind, you just need to ask yourself a simple question whenever you’re faced with a decision: Will this help me achieve my goals? If the answer is “No”, opt for a more productive task or set a timer so you can properly manage your time and energy flow.

Once you’re crystal clear on where you want to go, you’re able to intuitively make the right decisions. Better yet, as each day progress, they become a habit.

The best performers in any field know this and advance to greater success. Accordingly, those who fail either have no plan or a weak plan to obtain what they want, and therefore make poor decisions. When you understand that drifting is the primary cause of failure, you’ll be able to recognize it in the fortunes of almost everyone in your life.

In fact, I recommend you create an actual calendar note for ‘Monday, 11th February’ so when it pops up you’re reminded of the day when most others have quit. That’s your motivation to go extra hard.

Sometimes, life throws challenges our way that require us to revise our plans or create new ones entirely. But we must never lose sight of our dreams, nor accept temporary failure as permanent defeat. Jim Rohn, one of my biggest influences, famously said: “Let others lead small lives, but not you. Let others argue over small things, but not you. Let others cry over small hurts, but not you. Let others leave their future in someone else’s hands, but not you.”

Dare to dream as big as you can, then turn those dreams into vivid goals, then detailed plans—and, finally, daily actions. Through that simple process, the same dream that is retained as fantasy for others is delivered as reality to you.

Wishing you every success and happiness in 2019. Together, let’s make this the best year yet.

Onwards and upwards always,
James Whittaker

In case you missed it:
‘The Greatest Lessons and Best Quotes from Napoleon Hill'

“There are no bargains at the counter of success. You must pay the price—in advance and in full.”

Dr Dennis Kimbro

Eyes on the Prize

In a world of instant gratification, the most important lesson for younger generations is understanding that there is no such thing as something for nothing. Unfortunately, the swelling digital parade often distracts us from our own goals by providing short-term comfort and mindless entertainment.

Those growing up today have access to everything their parents had, and thanks to the internet also have unlimited access to any information they could possibly desire—mostly for free and instantly available with the click of a finger.

Clearly, we have far more power than we could ever imagine to make our lives as happy and successful as we want, but these advancements have created the “I want it now” mentality, which promotes:

In today’s digital landscape, companies have become experts at providing an illusion that their audience is participating in life. Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, revealed an insight into the company’s initial objective when he recently stated: “The thought process was: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’” As like, share and comment buttons appear on everything we see, our attention is increasingly trapped, and we become chemically dependent on the pleasurable feelings it arouses.

The human brain is a supercomputer that creates a reality from our repeated thoughts and actions. If we procrastinate, the brain will make it easier for us to procrastinate in the future. Just as readily, if we have vivid goals that we affirm and work on daily, the brain will make it easier for those goals to be achieved.

At the end of each day, you probably feel busy … but busy doing what? A busy day, extrapolated over time, should help inch us closer to our goals.

Back on Track

To get yourself back on track, take a few minutes each night to audit your effectiveness by writing down:

  1. Your three biggest achievements from that day
  2. What you could’ve done to make the day better
  3. Three things you will accomplish the next day

After a few days, this will give you a very clear indicator of whether you’re trending in the right direction.

Then, restore turbo-productivity by making sure you:

Put Yourself First

Today’s generations have the brightest opportunity in history to live with purpose and positively impact the world. Prepare a wishlist for the universe, and relentlessly pursue your potential as your highest priority.

All good things take time, and everything worth doing is worthy of your best effort. Once you have paid the price—in advance and in full—success will be yours.

Onwards and upwards always,
James W.

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