Transcript of Kevin Systrom Tactics Books and the Path to a Billion Users The Tim Ferriss Show
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Kevin, welcome to the Team Fair Show. Thank you. I'm excited to be here. And for people who don't know Kevin, allow me to introduce Kevin Systrom at Kevin on Instagram is an entrepreneur and co-founder of Instagram wollett Instagram. Kevin served as the CEO, where he oversaw the company's vision and strategy and daily operations. That is a whole lot which we will talk about.

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Under his leadership, Instagram grew to over 1 billion users. That's with a B and launched dozens of products, including video, live direct messaging, creative tools, stories and HGTV. The company also grew to more than 800 employees with a campus in Menlo Park, new offices in New York City and a new headquarters in San Francisco. Prior to founding Instagram, Kevin graduated from Stanford University with a B.S. in management, science and engineering. He currently lives in San Francisco with his wife and daughter.

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Where to begin? We've spent a little bit of time together.

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We have a little bit of time, fortunately, not three minutes on morning television to explore all sorts of things. And I thought we could start with one, since you seem to read not just what a widely but intelligently and we'll hopefully get into that.

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Are there any particular books that you have gifted often to other people?

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Yeah, totally. Of course, now all my friends are having kids. I give kids books. But the one I give people that are are trying to learn actively as principals by Ray Dalio.

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It's interesting.

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Actually, someone gave me the p_d_f_. It was a p_d_f_ before his book gave me the p_d_f_ and I like skimmed over. I was like, guy's pretty good. And they're like, No, I seriously think you're gonna love this. And for some reason, I didn't get around to it for maybe a year and a half.

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And then I read the actual book and I was blown away.

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It's both a guide to life, a guide to business. And also, I think an insight into Ray and someone who's built an amazing business. If you guys listening don't know what he does. He runs a hedge fund called Bridgewater. And he's he's so much more than, you know, just a a finance thinker. He's also just a brilliant philosopher. So I give that a lot because I think it's a great guide to life. Yeah, he's right.

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I have I have actually. And Raisman on the show. Oh, really? And for those people were wondering just just how many commas are involved in Bridgewater Capital? I think they have 160 billion dollars under management. Something along those lines a little bit. And he has a lot of very, in some respects, controversial and unusual practices within Bridgewater, like recording meetings and so on, and allowing all employees to have access to he the minutes and so on of such meetings.

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Are there any other books that helped you in the early days from an entrepreneurial standpoint or that you found inspiring totally early on?

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We read Mike and I both read The Lean Startup I think is calling Startup Method or Lean Startup can remember Eric by Eric Reese. And I remember very early on I was I went to like one of his, like, book talks.

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And I was like one of like 13 people sitting in this little room in Palo Alto. And I was like a super fan. Still am, actually. And so I don't know that I read the entire thing, but the principles from Lean Startup I still apply today, one of which is like do the simple thing first. And that was our number one value add. Well, actually, community first was no more in value at Instagrammed. Number two was do the simple thing first.

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And still to this day I come back to that.

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So if I were reading two books, I'd probably read those two books.

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And if we if we if we look at do the simple thing first, from a practical standpoint, could you give us an example and I love that you brought up Eric, because I remember also we also have been on the show.

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He has not. But I remember is going to start naming. He's a great guy. He's a great guy. I would have him on.

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I remember going also to, I think, some hotel conference room probably in Palo Alto when he was initially testing out the material that later became the book in these workshops.

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Yeah, yeah, it was like that. Yeah. Talking about avatars and all sorts of different things. Doing the simple thing first.

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The scope of your responsibilities at Instagram, at least reading even just your bio kind of makes my head spin to imagine what is involved and how easily distracted you could become.

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What what are some examples or any examples of doing the simple thing first putting that into practice? Yeah.

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The first thing the first thing I'll say about doing the simple thing first is that people love to make their lives more difficult than it needs to be. It's like, you know, you talk to people who are saving for retirement and.

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You know, you don't have to go figure out a hedging strategy. Right. Like for currencies to save for retirement. Turns out, just like generally putting in a mutual fund is like not a bad idea.

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And the returns you get for ever more complex strategies, either in life or finance, they're like it's harder to eke out the incremental value. And I think what I found in a startup is when you're small and you're two people, it's me and Mike were coding late into the night like you don't have time to make things complex, you have time to make things work.

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And what ends up happening is you over optimize. So you might think, you know how it's going to break. So you end up trying to build a bunch of things before it breaks and then it breaks in a different way.

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And you're like, why do I spend all that time on, you know, that fix when actually I need to be doing something else?

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I feel like that's true in life. I think it's turned business, turned finance. But so some examples early on, maybe the best example at Instagram was we were.

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Here's the layman's term version. We were on one computer, basically one server, and we had enough space to store the data on that one server. And Instagram became popular. Right. And it turns out all the data couldn't fit on the server anymore. And we're like, this is a novel problem.

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Let's figure out how to split it among two servers or three servers or four. And instead of just like writing a single file that said like, hey, listen, if you're user I.D. is, you know, even you're on this server and if it's odd, you're on that server, which would have charted the data across two servers very well. And Deterministically one ended up happening was we threw everything out. We were like, you know, let's adopt this crazy new technology that does auto sharding.

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It was fancy and had all these bells and whistles.

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I won't name it because I don't want to throw them under the bus. But we spent four months trying to rewrite our system to be on this new database.

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And eventually, after a crashing a bunch of times and us having issues with it, we were about to run out. His mike was like, screw it. And he literally spent maybe two hours in the afternoon writing that file that we should have written to begin with. And it all just worked. So I'm oversimplifying things a little bit for a fact, but like, that's basically what happened.

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And I still think about that story to this day in terms of an executive making a decision with his co-founder about what to do. Always do the simple thing first. And it's amazing to me how many people think the quality of their management, they think is judged based on the complexity of their decisions or the outcomes.

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And it turns out actually the right thing to do is sometimes the simplest and it's the most effective.

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So I live that as a value both of life finance and at work as well. So I'm going to rewind the clock a little bit, please, because I think this segment, if you could do that in editing. But yes. And we can slice and dice. But this will be like watching the movie Memento. OK, got it.

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It's basically usually what it's like when I do an interview.

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Yeah, exactly. So it's pretty pretty standard protocol. I would love to talk about and we won't spend a ton of time on this because as we chatted before recording, I think you've talked about the origin story of Instagram a lot. But for people who don't have any context, I think it's worth diving into a little bit.

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Doing the simple thing first makes me think of a common problem that I see in startups and in software development of any type really, which is feature creep. And these products that start off with a focus lose focus. And it seems to me that you effectively did the opposite in some ways for the creation of Instagram.

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Could you give people a little bit of background on how Instagram came to be? And you can tackle the short version, medium sized, however you like.

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Well, first of all, I'm happy to talk about where Instagram came from. I just. It's such an interesting story. In my life and that I've talked about it a bunch of times, but I forget that it's actually super interesting to hear for people who might have signed up for Instagram a couple years ago think it's been around forever.

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Right. But also, I think it has some interesting lessons.

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So I'll combine both talking about the origin story, but also how he kept it simple. Instagram came out of one wanting to be my own boss. I was like, you know what? I want to work for myself. I want to work on ideas. I really hope I'm going to make money. And I remember telling at the time my mom, I was like, hey, I'm gonna go do this thing. And she was like, what about health insurance?

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I was like, a what about health insurance? Like, I totally forgot.

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So my point is I was a little naive, but I wanted to do my own thing. And I had a bunch of different ideas, one of which was a terrible idea for a checking app. Actually, it wasn't terrible. But like at the time, there were a bunch of Chaykin apps and we're sitting in Austin right now, south by Southwest. You know, zoom back 6. She's 7, 8 years ago. It was all about Gola and Foursquare, right?

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Everyone is all about Usher. So I had to have my version and it wasn't bad, but, you know, it wasn't good either. And so catching him. Yeah. It was called Bourbon and Bew RVN. I still think I own the domain name somewhere. But anyway, we. What happened? I was working on that. I left my job and I happened to be able to raise money for it. And I'm not sure how or why.

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But checking out saw all the rage. So we raised some money. It was, you know, a couple well-known firms in the valley. And I had just enough money to work on it. And I met my co-founder Mike at the time.

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And I know I needed a bunch of help because I'm like, I'm technical, but not like, you know, I'm not a true engineer in the sense I didn't study it formally. So I met Mike and he was one of the power users of bourbon. And he was like, yeah, this will be super fun. So we decided to join up.

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We worked on Bourbon for maybe three months and it was clear it wasn't working OK.

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It was very clear the startup was going nowhere and we decided to pivot. And this is we're keeping it simple comes in. We actually got the idea for Instagram by taking away features from bourbon. Not by changing at all.

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So a bunch of the features of bourbon, one you could check in at a place, but two, you could add a photo of what you were doing at that place. So you and I were out to drink somewhere.

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I check in at the bar. I could post a photo of the beer I'm having on the cocktail or whatever. Right.

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And it turns out people kind of liked the check-ins. The thought was pretty lame because it was a me-too thing. But they loved showing people what they were doing. They loved taking a picture of the bar, the restaurant, the whatever. And and we realized to keep it simple, we were going to have to cut every other feature of bourbon, which we did. And we just kept the photo part.

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How did you decide on that feature?

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Because we made a list and we asked ourselves what exists in the world. What sucks? Meaning you look out in the world and you say. What opportunity is there to fill if stuff doesn't exist and it's a problem that can be solved? AK Like the experience sucks, then that's what you should do. There were a lot of chicken apps, there were a lot of planners and meetup things and group chat things, but there was no solution for posting great photos too, like lots of friends all at once.

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So we made the list. We crossed off the things we thought were pretty boring or just there was no opportunity in them. And we circled the photos thing because we saw the confluence of both mobile phones being pervasive. Like again, go back in the day, not everyone had an iPhone.

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Like maybe the iPhone had been out for a couple of years at that point. 2007/8, right.

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So we knew that cameras were going to be pervasive in people's pockets, that people were going to be carrying these camera phones, you know, wherever they went. But we didn't know if it would be successful or not. To capitalize on that.

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But it was the only thing that looked like a greenfield opportunity. Everything else felt crowded. That's a different way of saying so. We got to the idea by cutting everything away from bourbon. Circling the one thing that we felt like was the biggest opportunity because it didn't exist yet and it was a big need. And we built the first version of Instagram note, by the way, the first version of Instagram did not have filters. And people forget the only reason Instagram worked early on was because of the filters.

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And filters came about because I was on this walk with my wife. We were taking a small vacation. I had been working on bourbon for a while. I was exhausted and we were taking this walk along the beach and I was like, Oh, so you're excited about this new app or building? We haven't called it Instagram yet.

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She's like, yeah, but I don't think I may use it because my photos aren't that good.

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It's like, OK, well, why don't you think your photos are good? And she's like, well, all your friends, you know, you post these amazing photos and they're all like filtered and stuff. And I was like, oh, that's because they use filters. And she goes, Oh, well, you should probably add filters.

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And we came back from that walk.

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I went straight to the room and I just like got on my laptop and I made the first filter, which was ex-pro, too. This is a long way of saying we cut features. We focused on what we thought the world needed. And then we got to the heart of the issue of why people wouldn't use it, because people didn't feel comfortable sharing their photos by solving those things right in a row and keeping it uber simple.

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I mean, even that first filter could have been written in open G.L. and could've been a lot faster. You tap on that filter. It took like three seconds to show you the filter.

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No one cared. It was fine. Yeah, keep it simple. Keep it super simple.

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Now, you mentioned you mentioned Eric Reece.

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His book is as perhaps one of the influences Blake to look at Digg for lessons learned, best practices observed, anything at all that you took away or very difficult times, anything from a few previous experiences. So we'll go back to the Mayfield Fellows program.

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Was there anything in that program that you found particularly useful?

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And then the next then I'll hit so we could certainly do them in order or not would be odio. Yeah. I mean, where do I start? OK. So. And what is it like to feel salsburg? Yeah. Mayfield Fellows program. It's a program at Stanford where they take I think they still take 12 a year, 12.

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Typically graduate students.

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Although I snuck in and I'll explain that in a second who are interested in entrepreneurship? And they they focus on what is called an entrepreneurship education. So they do three months of case studies, kind of like going to Harvard Business School. But case study is on just entrepreneurship. Then three months you spend at a real startup getting real experience and then you come back. And the last three months. So it's a year long program, meaning three quarters of the school year.

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You come back and you debrief on your own experience and you actually write basically a case on your experience over the summer. So I did that my junior year. I snuck in by like, I don't know, I basically I was like, hey, but like, I founded the startup, not really a startup. It was a Web site at the time that was like a competitor to Craigslist. But for Stanford students only.

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And I prayed that they would take me because I was so excited about entrepreneurship. And they let me in years later, by the way. One of the people who ran the program and still runs the program actually pulled me aside. And it was like, just so you know, we were barely about to let you in. And I was like, thank God you did.

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And she was like, but the thing that made the difference was that you were out there actually trying to start something. And I guess lesson number one is like, never expect you're gonna get a no. Like always put your name in. Right.

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Number two is actually do the thing, like actually start the startup.

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Don't just go to conferences about it. Don't just like write articles about started do something.

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And that carries a lot of weight. But that was the Mayfield Fellows program. And maybe the last lesson on the Mayfield Fellows program that I I got from it was real.

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There's nothing in the world that can substitute for real experience. Doesn't matter what we're talking about. If you want to be a chef, working in a kitchen is the only way you're gonna learn. Going to culinary school or whatever, I'm sure is great, but working in a kitchen is the way to do it if you want to be. Gosh. Like a like a tech founder.

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Right. You got to start a startup. You got to know what it feels like to put it all on the line, lose everything and then come back. Right. You can't learn about investing unless you invest. I mean, name whatever profession. It's like real experience is so much better than what's in a book.

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That doesn't mean the books aren't helpful, but you got to do it. But then adjunct. Yeah. Yeah. Very hard to become a professional soccer player by reading books on the physics of soccer. Although I got to tell you, I took this personality test and the results came back. But one of the main takeaways was like prefers learning by reading. And I was reading my results to my family because I thought it would be entertaining. And my mom was like, oh, my God.

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Like, I remember when you were a kid, you just read everything. And my dad was like, yeah, like you said you were gonna be interested in playing baseball. So I was like, I bought a mitt for you and we were gonna go play catch and you like, Dad, I got to go to the library. And my dad was like, What? And he's like, I got to read about it.

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So I literally went to the library, read about how to pitch and then played. And I think that's my M.O. It's just I'm wired that way.

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Do you remember the. It was no pitch. The name of the personality test or the assessment they did.

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Yes, it was the golden personality test. Golden personnel. Yeah, I think it was golden. Yeah.

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Why did you take that test? It's a it's a variant on the Myers-Briggs test, but it actually gives you very specific breakdowns of every dimension. So for those of you listening that don't know the Myers-Briggs tests, there are basically four main dimensions of the personality test and tells you, for instance, whether you're more casual or if you're like very calculated and punctual, that kind of stuff. I wanted to know more about what I was like. I had talked about Ray Dalio before.

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I spoke with him.

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He was saying, yeah, everyone who joins Bridgewater, we give this personality test seems like kind of ticket like I want to know what I am like. And my co-founder took it. A bunch of our senior exacts took it. And it was illuminating to learn.

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See, on paper, which, you know, in the back of your mind. And then, of course, it helps you work with others. But a big part of it was reading on paper what you're actually like and realizing, for instance, I do learn by reading. So I'm not someone who likes to sit in a lecture hall. I want to have the book. So if I'm going to learn something new, like the way to learn is not for me to go to like a conference.

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It's to like sit down with the best book possible. And that might not apply to you. Right. Like if you took it, maybe you like learning some other way.

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But I wanted to know what my API was. So that was helpful here.

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API Yeah. Legate. That's true. We all learned. Programming interface. Houston Nissim Acronyms on reading. There are different ways to read books, and I had found in some of the research for this conversation a mention of Mortimer Adler's how to read a book.

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Yeah. Could you talk about how you read?

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How weird is it that I'm like so into reading that I have to find a book that's how to read? Like, where does it stop and how to read? How to read a book? Have you read the book? I haven't. Okay. It's fine. I can save you some time. Yeah. Basically the idea behind this book is.

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It's how to read a book most effectively. Most people open the first page and they start with the first word and then they go, until you do that, they get bored or they push through or whatever.

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And the claim in the book is basically that that is not correct. That instead what you should do is familiarize yourself with the structure of the book first. So the most important I would say his thesis is that the most important part of reading a book is to actually read the table of contents and familiarize yourself with like the major structure of the book and then familiarize yourself by skimming the book and figure out what the main arguments are. In fact, one of the secrets that I love and I could still do to this day is most authors in the last paragraph of every chapter, especially the last paragraph of the book, will not only summarize their main arguments, but make the point they actually have been waiting to make the entire chapter.

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And by reading just those paragraphs, you get a pretty good idea of what the book's about. Then you go back and you read like you normally read. But with the context of knowing the overall arc of the story rather than guessing where it's going to go, I don't recommend doing this with a thriller because you'll ruin your experience. But with nonfiction, I think it's fantastic.

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But that's that's how to read a book.

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And by the way, for those of you Mortimer fans out there, I probably didn't do it justice.

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But go by the book. Yeah, go by the book.

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Which will encourage you to buy yet more books. I have this.

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Seriously, if I could show you my room right now on my bedside table is just stacked with books. I've got a book called Mathematics Politics because I'm interested in both politics and also the math behind elections and that stuff. I think how to read the books probably there. What other books do I have? I've got books on on flying because I'm learning to be a pilot. It like it ranges. Oh, I've got a quantitative finance books. I've got.

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But like, it's the most fun I've ever had.

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Just like plowing through books. I guess it's good. I don't have a job right now. I don't know. It does create a little space.

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Will it create crystalised how quickly it gets filled? It does.

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Well, I mean, you know, I don't think does it. Yeah. Contests, especially the long ones.

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It's like a odio. Mm hmm. What was odio? And what did you learn there?

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What did you observe? Yeah. Odio is the precursor to Twitter. So we were talking about Mayfield Fellows program. My internship was Odio so that three months over the summer I spent at ODIO.

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I remember I showed up the first day I brought my own computer because I thought when you worked at a company, you bring your own computer because it was like computers are expensive, right? Like you bring your own. And they're like, oh, good, you brought your own computer. I think they were thrilled.

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And it was Evan Williams and and Noah Glass were the co-founders of Odeo. And they're like, oh, I forgot you started today. And I was like, yep, here I am.

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And actually, it was one of the best experiences learning from EV. Brilliant. And Noah, who's also brilliant and like just seeing that startup tried to take off. It was a podcast directory. Believe it or not, maybe a little early. Yeah. It was the right way. They just paddle a little early. Yeah. Which, by the way, another lesson in this whole thing. Timing is everything. Like the number of amazing ideas and teams that either came too early or too late.

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It's like you got to have that essential element of timing. And it's the hardest to predict. But it was a podcast directory. And, you know, honestly, a lot of the famous podcast folks got started on Odeo and there are a bunch that are still around. But it turns out back then there wasn't exactly a business around podcasts and it didn't go so well.

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And they ended up pivoting to an idea started by an engineer there, Jack Dorsey, who, by the way, also started, I think like maybe my first or second day. And I remember him walking in and I'm like on the intern. He's like, I'm Jack. And I learned actually he gave me a couple of coding assignments over the summer. I remember learning some JavaScript from him. So it's a small world, it turns out. Yeah, super small.

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But that's what Odeo was. And that was my experience. It was awesome. And I'm very thankful to all those guys.

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What do you view as some of say, just as an example, as superpowers? He's very impressive guy, very understated in a lot of ways.

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What did you what did you observe in the secret sources of. Because he he's also a repeat player. I mean, this. Yeah, he's not a one hit wonder. Yeah.

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So what? What have you observed in him?

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Turns out blogging and communication is a thing and doesn't go away.

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And there are lots of companies that can be started around it. What did I observe?

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Was. Really long time ago. But what superpowers do you think? Yes, you could talk. Present tense, too.

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So I think he's super determined and super calm under fire. There are a lot of.

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There are a lot of CEOs that are very like emotionally volatile and have, at least in my experience, is not one of those people. In fact, he's determined and hard working and I can remember his background story, but he's like, yeah, you know, I went to this college.

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It wasn't that great. And I just worked my ass off to get here and to build this thing and then eventually sell it to Google. That was blogger and then to be able to start this thing. And I remember his work ethic because at one point I'm pretty sure he was convinced we all weren't working hard enough.

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So he sent us. He didn't send us. He he offered for us to go to this seminar by David Allen getting things done.

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Thanks to him. So I remember sitting in the audience.

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It's like the Odio crew.

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They're like, I don't know, six or seven of us at the time at the David Allen getting things done. You know, not conference, but seminar. I still try to use that stuff today. By the way. But the signal was like, we work hard here and we get stuff done. And he was there, you know, he was the first one in last one out. And as a CEO, I understood what that model meant, one that I could learn from the CEO that if they had ways of getting things done, you could you could learn that as an employee.

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And I tried very hard at Instagram to learn stuff and then pass it on. But also just the work ethic that is required to get startups off the ground. It's incredible. Plus, willing to call it like he was willing to call Odeo and pivot to this thing called Twitter. And trust me, when we were calling it on bourbon and pivoting to Instagram, I was thinking about that moment. I wasn't there in the room when they did it.

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But I can imagine, you know, the the bravery that it takes to switch like that.

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It's hard, but. But paying attention to people like AvX and entrepreneurs like that and entrepreneurs like Jack, I think you begin to learn that there are patterns and you have a little faith in their ways. And you you end up trying to mirror it in many ways.

[00:28:51.09]
I completely agree on the edge of having a this as a competitive advantage.

[00:29:00.02]
He's very good at pausing and not jumping to respond. So he's better able to choose his response, I suppose, instead of being reactive. I think you're very good at that as well. Thanks. And I want to talk about since it's come up a few times, pivoting or ending projects. Yeah, because there's a in some aspects a fetishizing of perseverance in a lot of places, including Silicon Valley and the world of tech.

[00:29:30.09]
And yet if you if you look at a lot of the largest public successes, many of them had some type of pivot or shutting down of something. It wasn't working.

[00:29:43.02]
How do you know it's the right time to stop? And when how does one go about making that difficult decision? Are there telltale signs that this is just it's not that another 50 percent of effort is required, another X number of hours per day. This is fundamentally flawed in some way that is going to prevent it from working.

[00:30:04.01]
I think let's take this question in two parts. First is let's just talk about the premise that most successful things are pivot's, which I believe is true. One of the really fun things to do is actually, you know, the Wayback Machine to write. I think it's still exist. I haven't tried it a long time, but you can go and type in it way web address.

[00:30:23.03]
And then I think it allows you to like select the date of that Web site so you can basically see the history of the Web.

[00:30:30.07]
Super interesting.

[00:30:32.03]
Go to YouTube and figure out when YouTube was founded. I can't remember. But you can look it up on Wikipedia. Right. And go to that date like around the beginning, you will see YouTube was a dating site before it became YouTube. What we know as YouTube. Right. Do that for most major things that you get excited about or like look up the history of Facebook when it was you know, it was face mash before and it was something before that.

[00:31:01.03]
The only one that I don't think was a pivot was Google.

[00:31:03.08]
And they've done pretty well. That's the one counterexample like that literally was their project. And they made it a company and it worked really well.

[00:31:11.02]
So I don't know. But most other projects are are pivots from an original idea.

[00:31:18.03]
And I think that's because, one, it's really hard to tell what works a priority, like doing it before anything before you actually, you know, put it into into people's hands. It's really difficult.

[00:31:30.02]
Like you don't know if it's going to work. The key to entrepreneurship is failing really quickly.

[00:31:36.08]
So putting it out there, seeing if it works, if it doesn't, than diagnosing why and then like focusing on how to improve it from there. So, one, I agree with the premise that most things are, in fact. Like second runs and then to the importance of Hibbert, I think is that most the time you get it wrong. So the question is knowing you're gonna get it wrong. How equipped are you to deal with that failure really quickly before you run out of money?

[00:32:06.03]
And the entrepreneurs that I've seen do very well are the ones that are equipped and engaged on the change from something that's not working to something that is far too many people because of ego or whatever. Stick with ideas far too long. And I think, you know, it ends up really poor. Yeah. Or look at something. It isn't working. That might have a different application. Right? If you look at Post-it notes, you're actually a failed adhesive.

[00:32:32.00]
Right. Yeah.

[00:32:32.04]
And then you look at, say, five agora, which was failed. It was a failure from the perspective of whatever it was initially tested for or intended for, which I think was lowering blood pressure and normalizing broke blood pressure and then the like.

[00:32:50.02]
Excuse me, can you check off all the side effects of this blood pressure pill? The like how there's a pattern here?

[00:32:56.01]
Well, the the recipients were asked to send back their samples and all the women sent their samples back. Almost none of the mendon. And they're like, wait a second. What's going on here?

[00:33:05.02]
I can't tell if this is a family friendly show and we should dive into this or how we we get weakened. It is family friendly, but Modern Family will be the director, Scott. This will be the director's cut. This is like anyway, these are unimportant.

[00:33:18.05]
Pivot's are important. And how do you train? If you do the ability to recognize, say, confirmation bias or. This is something certainly. Ray. Thanks a lot about identifying from the perspective of an investor where you might have these coming to some cost fallacy or any of these other things that could steer you to make bad decisions or or not stop things.

[00:33:47.03]
Is that something that you've you've trained in yourself or is that innate from birth or upbringing?

[00:33:53.09]
I think I was talking with my wife. I was like Nicole. I think one of my failures is that, like, I always think things are not going to work out or I'm wrong in some way.

[00:34:07.09]
And and we were going back and forth as she was like, oh, well, maybe that's actually a strength because like you're so hard on an idea that you're like trying to prove yourself wrong, to test the integrity of your idea or test the integrity of your thesis or and like.

[00:34:25.09]
So you mentioned, Ray. I think a big part of.

[00:34:30.03]
Knowing that your right is working as hard as you can to prove that you're wrong and if you can't.

[00:34:37.00]
Well, there's only one option left, which is you're probably right. But a lot of people, I think, are afraid to gather feedback.

[00:34:45.02]
I think Mike and I at Instagram very early on tried our best to be open to feedback. I think as a young executive, I was like, no, on the boss. Like, all ideas are great. All my ideas are great. Right. And after a couple of failures, I think you learn really quickly that like, hey, listen, I know there's this myth that like the best founders just have like the Midas touch and every idea they have is perfect, you know, like Steve Jobs.

[00:35:12.02]
He touches everything and it just becomes gold and it's all right.

[00:35:15.02]
But it turns out there are a lot of failures in these people's lives. They just usually get written out of history. And then what you see is a as a trail of amazing ideas. I mean, someone should write a book on all the bad ideas amazing people have had right.

[00:35:30.08]
Over the years. And because just 10 volumes set. Totally, but like.

[00:35:36.07]
I think people get the wrong idea. There is no Midas touch like the one of the things I hated most working in tech was the idea that there's like a product guy or a product girl, right?

[00:35:47.01]
Like that. You're like somehow someone who just knows what's going to work. Most successful people I know have tons of bad ideas and it's about editing them out and figuring out which one is actually right. Because honestly, what is the Mendoza line? It's like if you bought 200 like above 200, you're like a pretty good batter, right? Like in a world where your average is going to be 1 percent, you've got to generate a ton of ideas before you get one roughly 100.

[00:36:16.05]
Right.

[00:36:17.03]
So 1 percent would be like way higher than the average. So how do you figure out which is the one? It's I think it's by being super not mean to yourself a critical on the idea and in a constructive way and pressure testing it with other people. But I just I like I always have I don't I'm just wired in a way that assumes every whether as idea or thesis or whatever I have is wrong. And I'm more worried about being wrong than I am looking bad.

[00:36:49.08]
You know, I mean, no, I get it.

[00:36:51.07]
Do you have any particular questions that you ask yourself or other people when your stress testing an idea or alternatively, how you solicit feedback? And I give an example, since I write I have all these books. I want people to act as proofreaders, but I don't want them since they're my friends, to be un necessarily nice because what they highlight. Yeah. And so I will. One of the questions awesome is in a given chapter I'll say you had to cut 10 to 20 percent.

[00:37:27.01]
Yeah. Gun to the head. Which 10 to 20 would go nice. Right. And it forces their hand and in a setting that's smart.

[00:37:32.09]
So are there other approaches that you like to use or like others to use on your ideas for stress testing? Well, first off, I think it's important to realize how people are just wired, not to be honest, not that they lie.

[00:37:52.01]
I mean, I guess technically it's a lie, but I don't think it like comes from a bad place. They're wired to avoid conflict. So like you go in in a restaurant and the server comes by. You know, maybe you didn't like it. The server comes by. When's the last time you actually literally told them, like everything was great? But that thing was too salty. That was you know, I like to you. By the way, that thing was too salty.

[00:38:15.07]
That was undercooked. Like next time you go out to eat and they're like, how is everything? And you're like, you instinctively just respond.

[00:38:22.07]
Great. Thanks. If it is that actually what you thought? Like most people have one or two things they wish could be better.

[00:38:31.08]
And what's crazy is I think of myself in that situation every time I was sitting down there, I'm like, man, if I were on the other side of this, I'd really want to know the truth, because without the truth, you can't improve.

[00:38:44.02]
Right.

[00:38:45.04]
And you have to be careful because sometimes people have opinions and they're not always right. But if you don't know, you can't act on it.

[00:38:52.01]
And I've been surprised how many people I've met, at least in the food industry, right where at least if you do it in a nice way. You're like, listen, I just if I were on the receiving end of this, I'd want to know. So I'm giving this to you. Do whatever you want with it. And it's always interesting to see the people that are like grateful for that feedback.

[00:39:13.03]
And you're like, that person is gonna go kick some ass. Totally.

[00:39:16.05]
And the people who are like, what's supposed to be that way, you know, and you're like, well, OK, like.

[00:39:23.00]
But like, what if it isn't? And I think it's really important as you mature as an executive.

[00:39:31.02]
I definitely start in the place where I just like to listen to feedback. I was, you know, headstrong.

[00:39:37.00]
And then as you have more and more failures that, by the way, everyone has.

[00:39:40.09]
You begin to realize it's really important to collect that data and that information from people. No one would tell me, like when I was presenting on stage, everyone would be like, great talk.

[00:39:51.02]
Great. Awesome job. Great. You killed it. There's like, that's not possible. Like like a few talks in a row that happened. And then we hired someone. And I'm not going to pick on them and tell you who they are. But we hired someone who came up to me after and gave me three pieces of feedback. They were like, you need to smile more. You need to do that. Like, I know you're a happy person, but you're not smiling when you're talking about this really happy subject, like smiling.

[00:40:14.03]
I was like, oh, my God, that person's right. They literally watched every single interview I had done for like the last two years and just had a list of things. And I was so grateful for that because it was feedback that no one else would give me. Do you remember any of the other points? It was. Slow down. Pause. Right. It was smile more. Not because you're trying to give off a vibe that.

[00:40:39.05]
But just. What's funny is you can't overdo smiling. It turns out like it's it's hard. And I'm just like I'm a serious person. So I don't think smile as much. What were the other things I'd have to go back to my notes. But those are the two things that stood out.

[00:40:52.08]
Yeah, it's. People don't give you feedback. It's crazy. And by the way, the thing is, the more important your company gets, the higher up you go, the less people are willing to do it. Yeah. So you actually have to like dig for it. And that's one of the weirdest feelings ever is. Please tell me something negative, but use a specific question, which is like what are the tools to do it? I don't know that there are any like specific tools so much as like when's the last time you the listener did that?

[00:41:18.03]
When's the last time you went out of your way and you said, hey, like, I really want honest feedback on this. And when someone gives you feedback, you don't respond in a defensive way.

[00:41:26.08]
You say thank you and you encourage the behavior. If you could do that, man, like the self-improvement that comes with that, you know, in the honesty that comes with it. If depending on the format can be really remarkable. I. You may have done this before, but I had not done a 360 interview.

[00:41:47.03]
Oh, yeah. I avoided doing the first one they wanted me to do ever. It's like, oh, this is just like a a management thing. And then the second one I did, I literally tried like hard to do it.

[00:41:58.02]
Like, I asked people to participate. I said, please be as honest as possible.

[00:42:01.07]
Yeah. And I was chatting with Joe cebr here about his first 360 interview.

[00:42:07.06]
And for people who do not know what that is. There are different ways to approach and affect your superiors. Peers, slash colleagues and subordinates are all interviewed. So the people you interact with most are all interviewed about your strengths and weaknesses and so on. And very frequently, at least in my case, with my employees and so on. It was anonymized to ratchet up the allowable honesty, and it was a great example of how valuable honesty can be and also how difficult it can be to digest if it's really full frontal.

[00:42:46.08]
And I think Joe's that he went to his car in the parking lot, cried afterwards.

[00:42:51.02]
I had a tough time. I had a really tough time with it. But it ended up being very helpful. And I was able to look at it with a cooler head because I was angry. But I was really sort of like cut down at the knees by some of the comments. And it was really important. I mean, if you spinach stuck in your teeth, you need somebody to tell you.

[00:43:09.06]
I think the hardest part is how to tell when you've got spinach stuck in your teeth or someone just doesn't like you and is.

[00:43:18.08]
But you have to be willing to get both. Yeah. And then ask yourself which of these have merit and not to write things off. But you have to be able to go through it and just ask yourself. But yeah, that was hard.

[00:43:30.01]
Yeah, I remember my first one and I just. But now I think about it. And like, no matter what I do, whether it's another company, whether I'm doing a writing project or a podcast, whatever. Like so I just walked off the stage at South by Southwest and I could see the screen that was displayed after we left. And they asked people to rate the rate, everything like rate the speakers or at the hose.

[00:43:55.04]
Like as. I really want that data. I'm an ask him for it because I want to know like was it interesting to people what topics didn't they like?

[00:44:04.01]
Like, did we come off as authentic, inauthentic? Like, where were we?

[00:44:08.09]
But it's funny because no one ever told you anything. Ms.

[00:44:12.09]
It's unless you dig for it, you won't find it. But honestly, I think letting people know that it's safe to give feedback, asking for it proactively, etc, etc. is important. I just. The amount people go out of their way to avoid conflict is pretty wild.

[00:44:29.08]
Yeah.

[00:44:30.02]
Which which often works in the short term can really be caustic and erode relationships in the long term. And if you're avoiding that and you you're coming on the rating on screen made me think of Kyle Maynard, who is an incredible, incredible guy who's who's also been on the bad guys.

[00:44:52.07]
But he had learned at one point or was given a piece of advice from very successful CEO of a large company that if you ever ask somebody to rate something from one to ten to disallow 7 because 7 is like semi-public, Lyell's is all three and a half stars, you're like, yeah, no, exactly.

[00:45:09.09]
So you minging restaurant restaurants. So it all very often ask people in restaurants if they're giving me the everything is good response, which is gives me no information to act on, as I'll say. All right. On any I'll give them two options and I'll say 1 to 10. But no. How do you rank. And it's sort of bare. Then they're forced if they're struggling that to do a barely passed, which is a 6, I'm not going to order that or an 8, which is strong.

[00:45:35.02]
That's a that's a confident endorsement. And so that can be applied to all manner of things. That's really cool. Let's do that from now on, sevens.

[00:45:47.02]
Let's let's talk about tough times.

[00:45:51.03]
You mentioned there are none. The life of an entrepreneur is golden. True. It's it's it. It has been. It has been said that your life is all highlights. No, I'm kidding. That hasn't been said.

[00:46:04.00]
No company made that. But I want to. I want to talk about.

[00:46:08.04]
I want to talk about some of the maybe tougher times that you're willing to share, if any. Some of the maybe course darker periods. Tough decisions were any time you had a self-doubt or felt lost.

[00:46:23.00]
Because where I'm going with this, I'm very curious how you then recontextualized it found the silver lining or just got through it because it's some people get knocked down and they have a really tough time getting back up. So when people are able to do that, I like to look look inside and see what actually happened. Yeah. So, yeah. Any any at all that you're willing to talk about.

[00:46:45.08]
First thing I'll say is a lot of people assume that like business people, entrepreneurs like whether they make money.

[00:46:54.00]
Like a lot of money or they saw a company or they go public or whatever and they're CEOs for a long time or world leaders, whatever. A lot of people assume these people don't struggle right.

[00:47:03.07]
That somehow they're inhuman or whatever it like. I feel like I wake up every day with a lot of the same worry as I did before. Instagram was a thing. Am I working on the right thing? Did I do enough today? Is that idea the right idea?

[00:47:17.01]
And I still have just as many failures as I did before Instagram and well inside of Instagram as well. Now, don't get me wrong, there are structures around me now that allow me to, like, come back from those failures.

[00:47:29.06]
But I guess my point is like getting knocked down is like a really common thing no matter where you are in your career.

[00:47:38.08]
No matter where you are in your progress of building something.

[00:47:43.04]
And in fact, it usually happens more.

[00:47:45.07]
The more important thing you're doing right so early on at Instagram. I think there are a bunch of times I remember pitching the idea. And having really smart, intelligent folks look at me like I was a crazy person for working on anything related to find a house.

[00:48:05.09]
I remember trying to hire some of like the most amazing designers early on who just like wouldn't join because they didn't believe in the app. I remember press stories or investors investing in competitors even though they had invested in us. So choosing the other, which is fine.

[00:48:24.07]
Listen, like it's up to like investors should be able to choose who they think the winner is. That's their job. But it's tough, right, to think you're not the winner. All of these things happened along the way and we were knocked down multiple times, whether that was in our heads or actually they're in reality.

[00:48:45.03]
But the thing that kept us going was realizing it wasn't other people we were trying to impress. I mean, of course, we wanted a community for the app. The reason we got back up each and every time was because we loved what we're doing.

[00:48:58.04]
Right. Like if your goal is to gain people's approval, like the startup business is a terrible business to get into.

[00:49:06.04]
Hack like if you're a singer, like it's the worst business to be in the world because everyone's going to tell you your stuff stinks until maybe it doesn't. Right.

[00:49:14.06]
But you have to believe in what you're doing and love what you're doing. That itself has to bring you the most amount of excitement.

[00:49:23.00]
Otherwise, getting knocked down is going to knock you off the horse and you're off forever. And I often think, like, was it determination that got us to where we got or luck or some combination of both of them? Because I don't know if you have a bad idea and you're determined on it. And don't listen anyone slike not great.

[00:49:41.07]
Right. But at the same time, we wouldn't be where we are if I had listened to most people. It's crazy. So. I don't know if there's a secret to getting back up otherwise other than maybe creating no choice but to get back up. Like I didn't have another job. What was I gonna do? Like sign up for business school? I don't know. Like I'd quit my job and raised a bunch of money and I really loved what I was doing.

[00:50:08.07]
So every time one of these failures would occur. What was the other option? Can you think of one desk job?

[00:50:15.07]
A desk job? Can you think of an example of a tough time, a tough decision, a tough rejection from an investor or a designer, anything and what you then said to yourself?

[00:50:32.02]
I'm very curious about self-talk, mindsets. Whether it's like Shaun White on the final run in the Olympics, I asked him what he said before he left the gate to himself and it was who cares?

[00:50:43.01]
And he, like, explained why. It's like, who cares? And I didn't expect that answer. And neither that it really interesting mean in the sense of like he's done all the preparation he could possibly do, he's either ready or he isn't. And there's an entire explanation for it. And what fighters say before they get in the ring, if there is some type of self-talk, I got one.

[00:51:05.08]
Yeah. Yeah. Let's go straight to the interesting topic. Selling our company. Yeah. So we sold our company and it was April of 2012.

[00:51:16.04]
And by all accounts, if you start a company for a lot of entrepreneurs winning, quote unquote, and by the way, I don't agree with this definition, but.

[00:51:26.02]
But winning is quote unquote, either selling your company or are, you know.

[00:51:32.01]
Having a public offering an IPO for a lot of people, that's like the traditional outcome for a startup. And we had sold and we were 13 people and it was a billion dollars was really exciting.

[00:51:45.02]
And. And I remember like right afterwards, everyone being like, so it's over.

[00:51:55.04]
And I feel like that was the most painful thing to hear because I had no intention on not doing Instagram, I like wanted to work on it for the next, you know, whatever years. But everyone I met was like, so you're done now?

[00:52:13.02]
So it's over. I was like, no, no, no, no, no, no.

[00:52:16.03]
And like, we would try to hire people and they'd be like, nah, it's over. And I remember people working at the company telling me it was over and a couple of people ended up leaving pretty soon after that. And I remember one of them saying, yeah, there's like nothing else to learn here.

[00:52:33.09]
I like work. We go from here.

[00:52:36.09]
Mind you, at the time we had, I don't know, 50 million users. We got to a billion, by the way. We had no revenue. We got to a lot more than no revenue.

[00:52:46.09]
We grew to a thousand people on the team. We opened up multiple offices all around the world. I got to do everything from meeting the pope to meeting some idols like I got was crazy. So the idea that in 2012 we sold our company and then everyone just kind of counted us out. That was painful. Well, how did you contend with that? What was your response to that? I think with me, it usually comes with the competitive nature of proving people wrong.

[00:53:15.05]
If you look at the like histogram, sorry to use that word, but of how long founders stay after this other company.

[00:53:22.04]
I'm pretty sure there's like a giant like lump around one month to one year, right.

[00:53:29.01]
We were there for six years. After we sold, which I think goes to show how incredibly determined we were to show people that Instagram wasn't done, that we were at the beginning, not the end, and that it didn't matter if we sold the company, we were going to make something out of this thing. And for me, I think the motivation comes with proving people wrong.

[00:53:53.01]
Because I hate when people discount us. I hate when people, you know, tell us we're not going to be something weren't you know that because we've sold it's all over.

[00:54:03.01]
But looking from the outside, I get their perspective. I just wanted to prove them wrong. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:54:08.03]
It's a powerful motivator. Yeah, I think and part of taking that personality test we talked about is understanding what your motivators are, because if you know what your motivators are, then you know how to get yourself up in the morning, how to work hard, had it right.

[00:54:24.00]
And you know what?

[00:54:24.05]
Things are not motivating. But competition is one. Actually, it's interesting. There are two dimensions of the personality test. There's competition and then there's challenge. And I didn't I was thought I was competitive. Turns out I'm actually not competitive at all. I mean, I'm a little competitive, but not that competitive.

[00:54:42.08]
I have very high scores on challenge, which means setting goals for yourself and trying to meet them. But it's like self-imposed rather than comparative rates.

[00:54:53.04]
Intrinsic. Yeah, motivator. It's an internal motivator of like I want to go get this thing done.

[00:54:58.07]
So. For me, I think at that moment it was more about self challenged to prove to myself that I could do it and that we could build this thing. It worked. How did you learn to manage? That's that's a man.

[00:55:17.07]
And I had to. Yes. How do you how does one learn to manage? Because you and it's not just time within a larger company, right. Because you can you can find plenty of people who make the same mistakes for 20 years in a row. Yes. And somehow managed to limp along and sort of do decently despite their weaknesses.

[00:55:37.03]
But when you sold the company, how many employees did you. Thirteen. 13. Yeah.

[00:55:46.00]
I think I manage like three of them. Right.

[00:55:48.07]
So you then went through. What do you think companies of hierarchy feel like?

[00:55:54.04]
I don't want to manage people who manage them. And before you know it, you got like a three, you know, 90 layers deep. Okay. Well, I'd be idle.

[00:56:00.09]
I mean, there's some truth to that, I think. But how did you learn to manage? Were there any particular lessons? Resources.

[00:56:09.08]
So I have to say anything at all. Well, I was going to say my job is different than most, which obviously is an understatement. But like. I'm going to tell you the philosophy I subscribe to and then I think the listeners can decide if it makes sense for them.

[00:56:25.04]
It might.

[00:56:26.07]
I decided that I had nothing to lose because others don't think I had anything to lose because I had my job. I was excited about it. I was running this thing and. I knew what I didn't know or at least knew that I didn't know a bunch of stuff. My philosophy was hiring the smartest possible people were way better than me to work for me.

[00:56:51.03]
And that feels weird because you're like, I have no experience. I've been doing this for two years. How do I hire someone that has maybe 15 years of experience in engineering or fifteen in, you know, operations or the list goes on.

[00:57:06.03]
But the ironic thing is by hiring people that were way better than me, but like I would see myself working for some day if they started a company that actually you end up creating the best possible team. And I think that works because I felt like I had job security. So a lot of people are worried, well, if I hire great people beneath me, then then maybe one of them will take my job. And I don't know where like the reality is on that spectrum in the real world.

[00:57:40.00]
I don't know.

[00:57:42.03]
But I think that's actually one of the issues I looked for most in the company, which was people hiring down on purpose like people do it reflexively. They hired down. They're like, no, I need someone with less experience than me. They should be younger. They should have let fewer years of experience. Right. Because I should coach them.

[00:58:00.07]
And actually, if everyone hired up, you'd have like the most badass company in the world. So how do you manage that? I guess my point is I found people that were way better than me.

[00:58:11.00]
And the way I managed was by managing the vision and direction of the company and then asking those people how to get there and making sure those two things were connected at all times. But I didn't have the regular job of like, you know, managing a bunch of new grads out of college and like coaching them on their careers, which exist in mass in Silicon Valley.

[00:58:32.05]
So I'm not sure my management's like experience mirrored that of most, but I think there's a lot to learn which is hire really great people that someday you want to have. You know, they should have your job. So you hire these people if you subscribe to this philosophy. And then I imagine there are different strategies and routines and. Rules and so on you put in place to give structure and direction to this team of all stars and so is the one that I can ask about would be meeting structure.

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So in the course of prepping for this nice bounce, if a few places in The New York Times feel free to fact check this, but others read this briefly and then make an.

[00:59:25.00]
I'd love to hear you elaborate on what the meeting actually looks like and and how you how you handle it. So some of the bottlenecks. This is from the air time, some of the bottlenecks the companies addressed and left in the past year are internal. For example, Mr. Systemin is co-founder realize that one of the primary holdups was their own decision making. So in the past three months, they started holding meetings in which they just make a bunch of decisions.

[00:59:45.05]
And then this is quoting Mr. System. We have a dock in which we list out the inventory of decisions on products as if it's stacked up in front of a machine waiting to be processed. Mr. Systrom said And then we have sessions where we sit down and we decide you just work through the decisions.

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So this is something that you might be able to do in an informal, unpatched way when you have three direct reports or 13 employees. But as it grows, it seems like this type of systematizing could be really important.

[01:00:15.03]
Can you describe. How a meeting like this functioned totally and Whiting's. It's really funny for me to think of myself as being referenced as Mr since since very since very formal.

[01:00:31.01]
Mr. Systrom with inventory of decisions. OK, so here's the context. Have you ever read the book? The goal. The goal. The goal. I have not.

[01:00:40.08]
Yeah. It is a book about basically manufacturing and supply chain management. It sounds really boring, but I promise you it's really good. Last name is gold, right?

[01:00:55.06]
I think it's gold, right? Yeah. Who wrote the book?

[01:00:57.06]
And it's kinda. In fact, if you talk to business people, a lot of people will say it's their favorite book. Like I wrote in one of my weekly updates to the team, I wrote that I was reading this book and that I loved it. And a bunch of people were like, I love that book, too. So it's a business book that talks about how to optimize supply chains, basically. But it's written in narrative form, which is kind of cheeky, right?

[01:01:22.00]
That is it's a it's not like a business.

[01:01:25.02]
It's a business book, but it's like written with a narrative, like there are characters. And it's actually pretty fun. So I say go have a read.

[01:01:34.08]
But what I realized in reading this was that any system is most constrained.

[01:01:42.00]
Early's the thesis, the book is most constrained by the slowest process. I think they called it a Hurby Herbie.

[01:01:51.04]
Have you ever heard that? I have, yes. So it's because the beginning of the book's kind of like always lookouts. Yeah, exactly.

[01:01:56.03]
If you want to explain what you have is I know we're getting there. How many times are Boy Scouts going to come up in a broadcast? Right. So the narrative is that they're on some trip and they like have these Boy Scouts lined up. I think it's like, you know, the main character, son or something is in the line of Boy Scouts. And and Herbie might not be P.C. to talk about now, but Urbi is a little overweight and he's a I see at the back.

[01:02:21.03]
I don't know.

[01:02:21.08]
Basically, they figure I think it the way it goes is no matter where they put him in the line, the line can only move as fast as the slowest process.

[01:02:29.07]
That's kind of the take away. OK. Again, people who are super fans of the goal can correct me on this. But the essence of it is your slowest your slowest part in the chain is always going to limit output.

[01:02:42.09]
In this case, the slowest Boy Scout limits the progress the troop makes, which isn't actually all that isn't all that intuitive until you read this book and you go through it. So with decision making.

[01:02:57.09]
What we realize is a lot of things were coming to us. But unless we would decide on an important decision, it was basically like inventory stacking up in front of a machine that wasn't moving. And of course, the machine can output products that people want to go using until those decisions get made.

[01:03:18.05]
So it sounds, again, really intuitive.

[01:03:20.07]
But if you think about a company, as you know, the raw materials go in and raw materials are ideas and they go through machines that transform them into reality. So they go from an idea to a mock to a, you know, a final final draft to a version to out testing with better testers out to the real world, that actually what you need to do is make sure all machines are running at highest capacity, including the one that moves ideas from the idea pile to mocs, from mocs to actual.

[01:03:55.01]
Right. So you worked down the chain.

[01:03:57.04]
And we realized very early on in reading this book that a lot of the lessons that usually apply to manufacturing actually apply to making decisions at a company as well.

[01:04:08.01]
I had actually forgotten about that book until you mentioned it. After pick it up. Yeah. The goal of a long list of books to tackle, how do you choose books that you're going to read?

[01:04:19.09]
I any given a few examples of things that you're interested in. But how do you filter the universe of books to those you end up? Reading and I mean, yeah, maybe just pull up, you could pull a few real examples from from those you've read and it can indicate how you got to those. But is you've a process for selecting books? Well, first or describe. Well first I don't read fiction. Not that there's anything wrong with fiction.

[01:04:47.08]
And I know people that read a lot will be like what.

[01:04:50.08]
You don't read fiction. Come on. There's so many greats. I don't know. It just doesn't get me up in the morning. So there we go.

[01:04:56.03]
There goes, you know, a good portion of books down to non-fiction, non-fiction books. Then I asked myself what topics I care deeply about or what things I really want to learn. So, for instance, learning to fly like, OK. What are the best books to learn to fly? Or if I want to learn about investing or finance? What are the best books? Or if I want to learn about productivity, what are the best books?

[01:05:20.05]
And obviously Amazon's great for that. And you can read the reviews. But honestly, a big part of me reading is just like there's usually some outcome I want, like I want to be able to do X.

[01:05:31.07]
What do I have to read that will teach me as fast as possible because like with a book. Okay. So with a class you get to like wait until a class happens. Go to a class and then went to the next class with a book.

[01:05:44.01]
You can literally just get through it in a week or a day or and then you can reread it and then reread it. And I just I find that like if you want to learn a new skill, there's nothing like sitting down with a non-fiction book on that topic. That's well laid out. And but sometimes, you know, you got to call it. I've I've been a quarter way through a bunch of books on topics I thought I was gonna like and just thrown about some trash.

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So they don't. It doesn't always work that way.

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Do you read? And if you don't. This isn't a value judgment.

[01:06:19.01]
Biographies. You've read biographies. OK. So I have not read. No, but I really want to. OK. So the one area that I want to spend way more time on is history, including biographies, which I consider a form of history.

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Although biographies can be fairly selective in the history they tell. That's true of all history books.

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I feel like there. How do you 41? Pretty sure that's OK.

[01:06:51.02]
We'll fact check and I'll get back to you.

[01:06:53.06]
I'm thirty five. OK.

[01:06:56.03]
Our lives are really short compared to the history recorded history. And it turns out if you look back in history, things patterns emerge. I read this great book called Lessons of History.

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Have you read it? Will an aerial tour? Yeah, it has. Short. It's excellent. It's like a leaflet. Like you could read it in a day.

[01:07:15.09]
It's great. There's some parts that I disagree with. But for actually, I read that because Ridley recommended it.

[01:07:21.05]
It's a great book. Yeah. Yeah. I. The number of people I meet that are like they've read it. And anyway, the takeaway is that things happen over and over again, or least certain patterns emerge.

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And I guess what I'm saying is if you look back at history, you can learn a lot from reading people's history, whether it's a biography or a history of a specific segment of companies.

[01:07:46.02]
So, for instance, I think if you want to study the acquisitions of companies and where those founders have gone and what they've done, and more importantly, what do most founders do next after selling a company and taking some months off, how many take one month off? How many take a year? How many take five years?

[01:08:05.02]
How and how many never emerge again? Right. But how what are the differences between those who decide to do something and those that don't?

[01:08:13.01]
So even in my own exploration of what's next in my life, I find myself not reading necessarily biographies, but I do read accounts of, you know, entrepreneurs that have launched big things and none, you know, new things in the future and those who haven't. And I start asking myself, like, what are the patterns that emerge? So, no, I don't read biographies yet, but I want to. And and history, I think more generally is a super interesting topic.

[01:08:40.06]
There's some excellent biographies out there. I think you might enjoy Dyngus Khan and the making of the modern world. OK. Excellent. Excellent book for a lot of reasons. I'm trying to think of the ones that have been recommended to me. You'll have to get back to you on that. David McCullough has a lot of really good biographies on the Wright Brothers and so on. It's actually given to me by very, very successful consumer packaged goods entrepreneur here in Austin, which turns out to be a sort of ground zero or the epicenter of a lot of CBG stuff.

[01:09:12.02]
Yeah, but isn't it interesting how many people have so many similar patterns in their lives?

[01:09:17.00]
And I think there's this like great equalizer when you realize what you are doing or going through or whatever. Well, it might be super unique to you and your 35 or 41 years. It actually turns out like it happens over and over again to people on their lives. Not everyone, but like it's occurred in the past. And you have a lot to learn from it.

[01:09:36.05]
That's basically my point. And that that, I think is 120 page book Lessons of history is a fantastic place to start. I expected it. I actually downloaded it as a Kindle book and let it sit there for months because I expected it to be very dry. And it's a beautifully written book. Was very impressed. And then if if you like that as a as a taste test, then you can go into there. What is it like 10 or 20 volume and whether he's emery of their volumes, right?

[01:10:06.01]
That's right. Know it's like the CliffNotes the cliff. Yes.

[01:10:09.08]
I'd like to ask you, this is one of the questions that I'd been hoping to ask ever since we book the podcast.

[01:10:18.01]
And that is about advice that you give to entrepreneurs that very few actually take. And I'll explain just by way of example that I'm asked all the time how how various folks should launch books where people come to me asking, how should I launch a book? How should I write a book? How should I get a book published? And I might tell them, for instance, don't try to write for the entire world. If your goal is to hit the narratives bookseller list, write for like 10 to 20000 people per week.

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In other words, you really only need to get the flywheel spinning because people use the bestseller list as a shopping list to to write a book that at least 20000 people will love. But they end up writing something too general.

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They end up writing something too general.

[01:11:09.05]
And I tell them to give themselves a ton of buffer before the book is published and to write it in such a way that, for instance, it can be read module early. And then they don't do that and they wonder why they can't run excerpts.

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And it's it's it's been incredible to me how I put together a blockbuster, just like how to write a bestselling book this year where I lay out the exact playlist or not playlist, rather, but play book.

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And nonetheless, it's like one out of 100 who actually implement even a portion of the steps. Are there any particular bits of advice or recommendations that you give to entrepreneurs that you're surprised aren't taken more seriously or actually followed? Yeah, no one.

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Advice I always give is to solve a problem.

[01:12:02.05]
So many people, when they found a company, found a company just to find a company or they're like, I've got an idea. Ideas are not companies, ideas are not products like you're like. Well, I'm going to mine this thing with this trend and we're gonna do this cool idea.

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And, you know, usually the warning signs are that includes some element of a current fad like A.I. or something.

[01:12:29.04]
Not that A.I. as a fad, but like, you know, it's a wave that's happening right now that I think. It's easy to make your company somewhere interesting if you're just like. And it uses a.

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Or like Krypto or like there are always warning signs that I see with the pitches that I that I hear from people when they include those words. And it's not backed up by a clear problem that you're solving for the person on the other side or the company on the other side.

[01:12:57.00]
The counterparty. Right. So I always say make sure you're actually solving a problem. Now, there are different ways that can be wrong. It could be solved already, really? Well, in which case you're not solving a problem. The idea might be great, but you're not solving a problem.

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It can be a really neat idea with not a lot of people that need that problem to be solved, in which case it's not really a problem for the world. Right.

[01:13:22.00]
Maybe we could broaden this by saying solve a problem for the world or it just misunderstands what people need or it doesn't even take into account what people need. You're just like, it sounds really cool. I'm going to do this, this and it's a hot market, so I'm gonna figure it out. And the number of times I've seen entrepreneurs go that direction because it feels good to be part of the trend.

[01:13:44.06]
It feels good to see you have a cool idea without asking yourself, does this actually solve someone's problem? Like if I go talk to people, does this literally like relieve people that this now exists? At the number of times I've seen people ignore this advice, it's Kalmus and it's crazy to me as I feel like it's our secret sauce at Instagram.

[01:14:04.03]
And I'm like, this is great. Like, we can just keep doing this right. Like, every product we work on hopefully is solving someone's problem. And I feel like I'm giving this advice away for free, but no one's taking it. That's that's it's all also true for non-fiction books, right?

[01:14:18.06]
Yeah. The number of books you pick up and like I bought the book because I have the problem. You don't have to spend 80 percent of the book describing the problem.

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You got it. Yeah.

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What are other common mistakes that you observe among entrepreneurs or creators?

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So you can make it make it broader. It doesn't have to be broader, but people who are trying to do their own thing. Entrepreneurs or otherwise. What are some common mistakes, you see?

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And it could be it could be within the venture backed startup world, but it could also be broader than that.

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I think going it alone is often a mistake. And that doesn't mean you have to have a co-founder. But not having a team is a mistake. I see it bonynge people feeling like I'm just gonna do this by myself. I'm just gonna. There's an incredible power.

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And having people around you, even individuals who are like maybe the face of their company have an incredible team around them.

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And I think trying to do it all yourself is like not only a recipe for getting it wrong, but also a recipe for not being able to get back up. I mean, how do you get up when you get punched down walls?

[01:15:26.02]
Sometimes having someone else in the room with you to be like, yeah, let's get up and get them, you know?

[01:15:30.07]
Yeah, it helps. I think that's a mistake. I see a lot but a.

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You know, the crazy thing is that having gone through it and making mistakes yourself, it's not clear to me that, like those are all mistakes and every other situation.

[01:15:48.01]
So I'm trying to be careful and overprescribing my situation because there are counterexamples as flatterer.

[01:15:57.02]
That's the really important point actually that I think is worth underscoring for folks. And that is for for nearly every rule that someone might prescribe, there's probably a counter example, the say leader of which would prescribe the exact opposite. Yeah. Right. And so it's it's I suppose in part finding. The rules that are compatible also with what you hold to be the core values or philosophies that guide you like being passionate about the product or the service or the company, because that has some real practical implications.

[01:16:38.04]
If you're not passionate, are you in fact going to be able to summon the endurance, like you said, to sort of walk through or around or climb over the various walls or in a pop up? Probably not. Right. So then you can find the examples that sort of suit your personality in the set of values that you've set out for a given company. What this is this is a metaphor question. But if you could and just a few more questions and then we'll.

[01:17:04.05]
Yeah, we'll wrap up.

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If you could put a message, quote, a word, a question, anything non-commercial on a billboard.

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And really what I'm asking is to get a message to billions of people, which it's crazy to think that you can actually do that now. So these platforms like like Instagram, but to get a message simultaneously to billions of people could be an image. What might you put on that billboard?

[01:17:33.03]
I don't know if it sounds cheesy, but the advice that I got that has driven me the entire way is follow your passion like. I cared so deeply about social media and so deeply about photography. And there are so many people that were like. Social media is crowded. Photography is lame. You don't mean that.

[01:17:55.03]
Like the only way to get through those is by loving the thing or the mission that you're on.

[01:18:01.06]
And. Well, it again, it sounds kind of cheesy. Maybe we could wordsmith is follow your passion thing, but like the number of people that don't follow their passion because people talk them out of it.

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And I think that's a crime, right?

[01:18:17.06]
Of course, you can't follow your passion and not expect consequences. Listen, if your passion is to go fly fishing and you want to do that all the time. That's great. But you off to know. OK.

[01:18:28.05]
Like, can I pay my bills? Right. Like, can I? There are there are constraints, but.

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If you've thought through it and you love it, there should be no one standing in your way. Yeah, I like the number of people that tried to stand in our way like they still like, listen, even long into Instagram, there were people, you know, predicting our demise.

[01:18:49.06]
And so I don't know, like at a certain point, it's not like ignore the haters.

[01:18:54.01]
That could be the other billboard, by the way. It's like you've got to follow your passion as long as you've thought through it. You've done the math. You think about it like go for it and don't let people stand in your way.

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You know, like. It's just so sad when people don't do that.

[01:19:11.05]
And life is short. Like you said, I mean, our lives are so short relative to sort of the span of human history. And I think that's another benefit of reading history, is it puts that in perspective, like these lives are sort of the the.

[01:19:25.07]
The flicker of I think in Nevel Raviga. But it isn't like the flicker of a firefly in the scope of history, it's really short leontine and.

[01:19:37.04]
I had this this one coach who said to me, he's like, often people wake up when they have someone close to them that dies or or they come down with some really serious illness and they realize all the little things they were spending all this time worried about don't matter compared to these like grave big things in life. And it's important to keep that perspective.

[01:20:04.06]
So I'm not trying to get all like Ciara's here, but like, I think it's really important to keep things in perspective. And I think that I don't know, like I guess it's another word for maturity. Right. But the faster you can get there, the faster you realize a lot of what you think it matters doesn't matter.

[01:20:25.03]
And the things that you're not thinking about matter a lot more than you're giving them credit for. Yeah.

[01:20:32.07]
Which is why you should follow your passion and love what you do every day. Don't get me wrong, by the way, I want to clarify, a lot of people are like, you should love what you do. I agree.

[01:20:42.08]
But I think it's more you should love what you're shooting for because work is hard. It can be miserable at times. I mean, nothing great in this world ever came easy. Like if you want to be an amazing guitarist. You're not going to get there easily. Train really hard. Get shot down a bunch. Right. Like they're all like it's a universal law in the world that great things come with a lot of work. Yeah.

[01:21:08.08]
And what you have to do is, I think, love the thing you're shooting for rather than the everyday of the thing. But I think a lot of people are like, I should love every day. It's like, no, no, every day can be. There are a lot of hard days ahead. The thing that gets you through those days is loving the outcome you're shooting for. And being excited to get there someday. Well, Kevin, I'm excited to see what you hatch next.

[01:21:37.09]
Thank you. I'll see if after you've done your pattern recognition on this. And now meta analysis of founders who do various things at various points. I'll be curious to see where you end up. But any closing remarks, anything you'd like to ask people to do, any thing at all that you'd like to say before we wrap up?

[01:21:59.05]
No pressure, right? You don't.

[01:22:02.01]
You don't have to tell your friends about this podcast. Perfect. I like that. Reccommend is awesome. Thanks for having me. This was a lot of fun. Yeah.

[01:22:09.06]
Good to see you again. And to everybody listening for links to everything that came up the books and all sorts of other things, the names of people and so on. We will provide links to all of that in the show. Notes, as always. And at teamed up blog for Tage podcast, you can just search Kevin or Systrom and it will pop right up. And until next time, thank you for listening.

Transcript of Kevin Systrom Tactics Books and the Path to a Billion Users The Tim Ferriss Show
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