Forbes Media is one of the few companies that successfully transformed from old media to new media. In the heart of this transformation is their contributor network and continuous learning from every single member of the organization. COO and President Mike Federle shares his experiences when he joined Forbes Media and the cool things that happen around it, like the 30 Under 30 List. He also explains why Forbes represents success and business, investing and finance, as well as creation of wealth. And within this success is a mindset that Naveen Jain wants everyone to acquire. For him, every step in business is an opportunity that seems difficult but not impossible. He explains that with this success mindset, believing that tomorrow is going to be better than today changes everything.
We’ve got Mike Federle who’s the President and COO of Forbes Media, and Naveen Jain who is a billionaire genius behind so many companies. Between the two of them, it’s going to be a great show. I’m very excited about Forbes’ 100th Anniversary which happens on September19th and we’re going to talk what they’ve got planned for that.
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Continuous Learning Creates A Success Mindset with Mike Federle
I am with Mike Federle who’s the President and Chief Operating Officer of Forbes Media where he oversees the company’s media business as well as its intersection with new business that Forbes launches. Prior to joining Forbes Media in 2011, he was co-Founder, President, and COO of Techonomy Media Incorporated, a multi-media company based in New York in which Forbes acquired an equity interest in July 2011. He’s a 25-year veteran of the media industry where he’s held top positions with the Fortune, Time, the list goes on and on. It’s so nice to have you here.
Thank you, Diane. I’m very happy to be here.
You have quite a prestigious position there and right now, you’ve got a lot going on. You’ve got a big week because you’re celebrating the 100th birthday which is quite a milestone. Forbes is on their centennial year. Can you talk a little bit about that and what you’re going to be doing for that?
It was September of 1970 when Scottish immigrant, BC Forbes, founded the magazine. Through thick and thin, and I’d say through thin during the Depression and everything else, the magazine survived and thrived. A hundred years later, all of us who are part of Forbes are really excited about celebrating the 100th. We did it in a three large buckets. Next week is the big finale which is a gala party we’re having on our 100th Anniversary that coincides with the release of the 100th Anniversary magazine, which is featuring the 100Greatest Business Minds of our time and essays that is written on what to expect in the future and what’s been their success in their career. A great read in the print magazine. A lot of that will be online as well.
I saw quite a lineup on an ad. Did I see Oprah, Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates? Tell me what that picture is all about.
The picture you were specifically referring to is from our philanthropy conference that we do every year. This year, we are putting our philanthropy conference on the same day. The participants at the philanthropy conference will also be joining us for the 100th Anniversary party. We produced the philanthropy conference. This will be our sixth year. We’ve done it in conjunction and in partnership with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett every year as part of the giving pledge. Many of the billionaires who are on our list are also part of the giving pledge, many of those participants will be joining us. Warren Buffett will be leading the group this year and many others like Bill Gates to Richard Branson, to several other well-known names and business executives and a number of people featured in our 100 Greatest Business Minds essays from the magazine. That would be a big event with some bold cased names which is always fun.
I was looking at some of the pictures. I don’t know if it’s from your 100th Anniversary page or that event page, or if it’s a combination. It was some old black and white pictures of some of the famous Forbes events from the past. That was a pretty amazing group of people that Forbes has had in their magazines over the years. Is it just hard to believe that all these people get together and you get to experience that?
You’re getting to the inner soul and the secrets of my position. I’m just a small town kid from Maine and I often pinch myself, “How did I get in the room here?” It’s a lot of fun getting the honor to run the magazine, the media company, the websites, and the event that we do because you do mix it up with all types of interesting people, some well-known and some not as well-known, but people who are doing great and interesting, building businesses, innovators, and entrepreneurs. It always hearkens comes back to this quote that’s attributed to B.C. Forbes when he launched the magazine. He always said, “Business was created to produce happiness, not to pile up millions.” I always thought that was a great spirit and approach to the business magazine and category that Forbes has always been part of. Now, I get my turn to be part of that, which is great.
Every time I’ve seen you, you just seemed so down-to-earth. I can’t imagine what you deal with on a day-to-day basis. It seems awfully sweet and I’ve had him on my show and I’ve known him for a while now with my work at the Forbes School of Business. I’ve had Bruce Rogers on the show. I’ve met so many of you that have these intense jobs that you have. You just seemed to take it in stride like, ”It’s just another day at the office.” This is such a cool thing that you do. I’m curious because you’ve really focused on life-long learning. I saw that it’s important to you, that you love to read and you love all that. I do, too. It’s really important to continue to educate yourself. What have you learned from working there that you just had no idea until you worked there? “I figured this out now that I’ve had this job.” Being a COO is a tough job. What are some of the things or the most interesting lessons you’ve learned?
When I think across my career, I do like to refer to myself as a perpetual student. I have chosen a very advanced degree course in the industry I’ve gotten into. Media, over the last 20,30 years has been one of the most interesting, changing, and always it’s just been, is usually influential and invisible category. Just by definition. It’s always been interesting and kept me engaged. When I got to Forbes, what really captured my attention and spurred this new opportunity to learn a lot, was Forbes was one of the few media companies arguably the most successful in making that transformation from what they call the old media to new media, by crossing that divide. They did it by literally betting the ranch, in the case of the family, and in how dramatic the business model that we adopted and changed to really move ourselves into a full embrace with digital media in the future. When I got here, that was recently underway. It’s been a really cool, exciting, and interesting learning opportunity and a great journey in the six years I’ve been here now. What keeps us engaged and keeps us sane is the crazy day-to-day stuff. It’s just part and parcel of the job. It’s all that cool and fun stuff that keeps us all smiling.
When I spoke to Steve he was saying it was quite a challenge to go digital. You had to combine them and learn so much. You’ve got so many Forbes contributors now that provide great content, so much content that if you try to search and learn something about Forbes, if you put Forbes in, there are so much content. You can’t find out about Forbes because there are so many Forbes articles. Some of the people who I’ve known that are great contributors, I know Rich Karlgaard and Ken Fisher, you’ve got these unbelievable minds. Is there a certain number of contributors that you allow? How do you determine who’s a good contributor for your site?
That’s the heart of the transformation that we’ve created. What was very apparent five, six, seven years ago was that the model of the advertising-supported journalism was not sustainable. The idea of a big editorial floor and bureaus around the world, and the expense that went into creating content that way, was just not sustainable in the digital world where there was a much less expense distribution model of that content. We went to this contributor model which started with a few hundred contributors seven years ago, and we’re now close to 2,000, maybe about 1,800. The way that worked is it created a sustainable and very scalable model for us. The key though was identifying those experts in specific categories so that we maintain the authority of quality journalism and professional journalism. We allowed ourselves to cover such a much greater breadth of content that it opened up new audiences and it’s hard not to look up a subject matter where you’re not going to find a Forbes contributor who’s an expert on a subject writing about it. It really was transformative for us. At the heart of our contributor network was that transformation.
Forbes used to have Investopedia, didn’t they in the past? I used to write for Investopedia and it was Forbes media. I actually worked with you guys a long time ago. I didn’t even realize at the time that I would be back with you at the Forbes School of Business. We’ve done so much work together there. I’ve dealt a lot with Steve Forbes and I’ve met you a few times. I know there’s Mike Perlis as the CEO, correct? As COO, what do you do that’s different than what a CEO would do?
In my role as President and COO, the president’s role is primarily running the day-to-day operation with the media company. That includes content creation, to sales, to brand extensions, and licensing. My COO role is a bit of a misnomer, not a classic COO, but more as global business development. As I was COO before President, I really focused on developing new lines of business, whether through partnerships or licensing arrangements on a global basis. Those are the Yin and the Yang of what I do. With Mike Perlis, our CEO and Executive Chairman, he focused much more on the board and our investor group, and also being the top-brand ambassador around the world. That’s the delineation of the two roles.
You have done a lot of expanding globally. The Forbes name is so known around the world. What is your reach with Forbes? Are you mostly centered in the United States, China? What’s your biggest focus?
We really have expanded across the globe. Over the last seven years, we’ve got 38 licensees around the world now. The majority owner is our investing group, Integrated Royal Media, out of Hong Kong, which the fact that they’re there just opens up other opportunities for continued global approach. The incredible thing when you talked about continuous learning is when I got here I always knew the Forbes brand obviously was a big brand and a resident brand around the world. I had no idea how, throughout the world and in Asia, in particular, the brand has a really gigantic presence and position in people’s lives. It’s very much wherever there are emerging business populations, Forbes represents success and business, investing and finance, as well as creation of wealth. That has served us very well with audiences around the world. There are lots of opportunities for us around the world in terms of leveraging the brand. Mike Perlis, the CEO, when he first got here, our coalescing business concept was “Let’s make the business to be as biggest the brand.” That’s still remained as a mantra for us. There’s a lot of opportunity around the world to do interesting things with the brand.
You’ve done some amazing things with younger people. You haven’t just stayed in certain groups. I’m fascinated by your work with the Forbes 30 Under 30 group. I’ve become friends with Roya Mahboob who I met at one of your Forbes summits. Some of the 30 Under 30s that have made the 30 Under 30 list, Sarah Kunst, Brian Wong, a lot of the people have been on my show. I’m just fascinated because you guys have identified some of these under 30 entrepreneurs who will probably be the leaders in the next 50 years. You’re going really young. In fact, I had a gentleman on my show recently who said you found them in high school, that’s the group prior to the 30 Under 30. You really focused young because you’re looking at the future. That’s really proactive. How did the 30 Under 30 came about?
To tell you the truth, it wasn’t so much, “Let’s go after a younger demographic.” When you talk about our 100th Anniversary, the very first issue of the magazine its subhead was Forbes Magazine: Devoted to Doers and Doings. Those Doers and Doings were the entrepreneurs and innovators of their day. We like to take what we have stayed true to that editorial focus. Under 30 is really an articulation of that. We wanted to identify people who are doing extraordinary things at an early age. So much of our time in our day and age now is about startups, and kids coming out of school are much more interested in jumping into startups than they are in to the traditional businesses that they had done in the past. We really just struck a nerve when we first editorially put this list together. It has led to the creation as we’ve extended it across the globe, to a community of this incredible group of people. Some who are over 30 now, because the list has been going on for five years, but they’re still members of Under 30 with the class of whatever year they’re in. It’s created this global community of as the people who will be running businesses and government for the next 50 years. The byproduct of it is our demographics has gotten younger, but it’s really very much core to what we do around entrepreneurs and innovators and people we feature in the magazine and online and at our events as well.
All the 30 Under 30s, everyone I’ve met, has been so fascinating. Everything they’ve done, it just blows me away what they’re capable of doing at such a young age. It’s great that you guys are recognizing that talent. When I talked to Rich Karlgaard, he was telling me how Steve found him, and he was doing whatever in his company and he thought he should come be part of Forbes. Is that what happened with you and Steve, with your company?
With my company, it’s actually Mike Perlis. When I started Techonomy with David Kirkpatrick, we wrote a business plan and went out to raise money as startups do. We raised some Angel investments and then looked for a strategic partner. We had several companies interested in us. Mike Perlis who was fairly new to Forbes was looking for a great conference in the multimedia platforms and made a minority investment which we were asking for at the time in Techonomy. That allowed me to get a much deeper understanding of what was going on at Forbes. It certainly piqued my interest in terms of some really cool things going on here. It piqued Mike Perlis’s interest, too. It got me over here as well to Forbes, so we could get the best of both worlds. I kept one foot in the Techonomy camp and one foot in the Forbes camp, and eventually moved both feet to Forbes. That’s how I get here. Very much the same entrepreneurial spirit in that Forbes had taken many early investment risks like that in companies, and it served us well. It also put us in the center of those conversations on where the innovation is happening in the economy and in society.
The most amazing thing about the Under 30 as a group is that it’s a diverse group from all over the world. I’m always blown away by how these relatively young folks in their 20s are so absolutely confident and capable of standing up in front of a room of a thousand CEOs or billionaires or wherever we put them. They are so very effective and very poised in telling people, “This is what I’m doing. This is why I’m doing it. This is why we think it’s great.” It always just amazes me. I wish I were half as poised and half as effective as most of the ones that I met.
Anda Gansca was on my show. She was so articulate and she came across so well. I was talking about her, and she said she was scared to death on the show. I’m like, “It didn’t come across,” so maybe they hide it better than we did. You have quite an impressive group of people around you, and to be up there like when I went to the CMO Conference, all of them have been very impressive. I have enjoyed meeting every single one of them, and then they are great. Now that you’re at this point, you’ve got a hundred years of Forbes success, what’s your plan for the next hundred years, Mike?
We’ve actually talked about that a lot here internally that we’re all privileged to be here at the 100th Anniversary. It’s our responsibility to set the media company in a direction that there’ll be a group here in another hundred years to celebrate. When we first launch the 100th celebration which has been going on all year long, it began with how do we want people to see Forbes and see ourselves as employees of Forbes? The very first thing that collectively the group talked about was we want our 100th Anniversary to be about Forbes giving back. We really embraced a number of charitable organizations and causes and they have gift packs for participation in the community and in the various communities in which we do business in. I thought that was so interesting and very gratifying that that was the focus of the employee base have achieve here at Forbes. That to me was a great reflection on the good energy that we have here and people’s perception that Forbes has the power to make a difference and to move people. You can’t ask for more from a media company about what they want to be now and going forward.
I’ve enjoyed all of my time working with you guys. I’m so glad you were able to make it on the show. Happy anniversary to everyone there. Can you just tell people how they could find out more about your anniversary event or Forbes? I’m sure Forbes.com comes to mind, but everything else?
First and foremost, on September 19th, go to your newsstand and pick up the issue which will give you the highlights of the 100 Greatest Business Minds and a lot of our celebrations. There’s also a book that we’ll be publishing which should be available around in bookstores, a nice coffee table book that gives the whole history. Steve wrote and amazing introduction to it which gives a very concise history of his family’s involvement and Forbes’ involvement over the last hundred years. Finally, on the website if you go to 100th Anniversary, the essays will be there, the photo galleries will be there. Throughout the coming months, we’ll be putting up other interact developments. For all those Under 30s out there, come join us in Boston for the next Under 30, October 1st, 2nd and 3rd. You can go to the website there, it’s marked up Under 30 or just Google Forbes Under 30 and you’ll see registration opportunity there. Diane, I’m delighted to be on your show and it’s been great talking with you.
It’s been wonderful and we’ll see you at the next event.
Continuous Learning Creates A Success Mindset with Naveen Jain
I am with Naveen Jain who’s an entrepreneur, philanthropist, billionaire, and driven to solve the world’s biggest challenges through innovation. He is the founder of several successful companies including Moon Express, Viome, BlueDot, TalentWise, Intelius and InfoSpace. Moon Express is the only company to have permission from the US government to leave the Earth orbit and land on the moon. What’s that like to be involved in landing on the moon? You’re born in India, right?
I read you had very little money and now you’re a billionaire. What was the big change that got you to this point?
I don’t really think like anyone else. The biggest hurdle we have when it comes to becoming successful is a mindset. Having a mindset of, “I can’t do it. It’s not possible or this is too difficult. It’s not for me. It’s only for rich people. It’s only the people who have connections, it’s all about who you know.” You come up with every possible reason not to do something. All it takes really is the mindset of “Why can’t I do it?” Every time when you see a problem don’t ask, “Why can’t someone do something about it?” You start saying, “What can I do about it?” That changes everything. The minute you start to see that this is a big problem, don’t think this is a big problem. You say, “This is the big opportunity.” That is the mindset of possibilities and of abundance. A lot of them are thinking that things are in limited quantity and they’re scarce. That’s a reason we assigned value to things because we believe they are scarce.
If somehow we believed that things were in abundance, we will stop assigning value to it and we’ll stop fighting over it. We fight over land, we fight over water, and we fight over energy, but we don’t fight over air. We don’t fight over oxygen. We believe it is abundance. What if energy becomes the next oxygen. Energy becomes the next air. Imagine every 90 minutes on planet Earth, the most solar energy falls on planet Earth than we use in the whole air. It’s just simply a matter of conversion. The technology will come along and will be able to convert all these energy that we’re getting into useful energy, and then we will have abundance of energy. Once you get abundance, it becomes democratic and it becomes demonetized. That means everybody has it and it’s all free. It becomes the next air.
What happens to the people that make money off of the oil industry?
The industries will change. That is one of the things that you’re starting to see. The technology is moving at such pace at exponential rate. The things that companies used to be around today may not be around in ten to fifteen years. I believe that half of Fortune 500 companies will go bankrupt in the next fifteen years. Imagine, more companies are going to be Kodak before they become Uber. Here’s a very interesting part, even companies like Uber who are disrupting the industries, they will get disrupted before they get a chance to even become a public company, that is the kind of pace that is really hard to fathom. Here is a company that is disrupting everything and it’s barely mature enough to go public before someone comes around and the company’s gone. Here’s why I see that. Uber’s biggest advantage is they are able to essentially create a driver network around the world and these drivers become their assets so people can go find these drivers. As soon as you get self-driving cars, the driver is the car manufacturer in a sense that Tesla can become Uber on same day they decided they want to be in this business. Tesla and GM or GM and Ford, they all have the self-driving cars. If they partner together, the Uber is history in a day.
The mindset you’re talking about, what was your first initial thing that was over the top, like you go, “I have to make this happen.” Can you remember your first major thought towards “That this seems unattainable but I’m going to try?”
As you’re growing up in humbled beginnings and have nothing, to you, the everyday life becomes the challenge. I’m going to make tomorrow better than it is today. When you start to believe that tomorrow is going to be better than it is today, it changes everything. The reason people do stupid things is because they become helpless and hopeless. If they believe tomorrow is going to be no better than it is today or yesterday, then they feel there is no hope. The minute that mind changes, just that change that tomorrow will be better than today changes everything.
What year did you come to United States? How long have you been here?
I’ve been here for 35 years now.
You’ve got through several companies. You’ve got several going at the same time, right?
You’re all over the board of what you’re interested. They’re all the things I’m interested in, I’ve noticed. I was a pharmaceutical rep and I have a medical background. I’m fascinated by your company that deals with that. I’m also fascinated that you want to mine the moon and whatever you’re doing up there. Which company you want to start with first?
I don’t want to start with any company because I don’t want this interview to be about me or who I am, petting myself, “Look how wonderful I am.” Everyone listening to this is to start thinking about what can they do? How does it apply to them? What is their moonshot? I’m going to use what I am doing simply as an example of what is possible. For example, think about someone who’s coming from India growing up in poverty, coming here with absolutely nothing and barely speaks the language. Even today, if you look at it, there are a hundred reasons why I have no right to be successful. I don’t look like them, whatever the them is. I don’t talk like them. I have this thick accent that every other word, people have no idea what I am saying. The point is that becomes your asset. Just because you are different doesn’t mean it is bad. It can be the advantage you take off. For example, when someone who speaks fluent English speaks, you can tune out and can still understand what they are saying.
Then you have someone with this thick Indian accent, you’ll give 100% of your attention or you miss everything. When I’m talking, you have to listen to me.
You’ve got a very good American accent, I have to say. You’re like Arnold Schwarzenegger though. You have that little bit of an accent just enough to make it cool. I know you don’t want to talk about you, but I’m interested why you don’t want to know what your life is like though to some extent. I interviewed Ken Fisher who’s the billionaire behind Fisher Investments. I was curious what his day is like. I’m curious what your day is like.
This idea of following the habits of people who are successful is really just for people to write the book 7 Habits of Successful People. To me that is a wrong thing to do. What you want is to follow how they think, not what they do. For example, Tony Robbins takes an ice bath every morning. You can take ice bath three times a day and you’ll never become Tony Robbins. You become Tony Robbins by thinking like Tony Robbins, not acting like Tony Robbins. When people say, “I want to know what you do so if I somehow do that, it’s going to make me like you.” No. What you really want to do is the way I do things, how I think about the problem, and that’s where I want to focus. For example, what are the biggest problem facing humanity? People have this idea that the bigger problems can only be solved by people with a lot of resources. What I find is the smaller problems are harder to solve than the big problems. When you set out a goal that is so audacious that it’s something that people can say, “I want that to be my legacy. I want to be part of making that happen.” For example, when we decided we want to go to the moon, we didn’t say, “No private company has ever done that. How can we think that a small group of people can do that? Don’t we need permission to go to the moon? How are we going to get that permission? That will never happen. Even if we’re able to do all that and bring back all the material, there is no law that says we can own it.”
You can come up with every possible reason why it makes no sense to do it. I, as an entrepreneur, look at it very differently and say, “We don’t know how we’ll be able to get there, but we know technology is moving so fast that it’s going to get cheaper and cheaper. The things we need to do are the things that people are using in mass production devices.” Everything that’s making our cell phones cheaper, faster, and thinner are exactly the things we will need to get the spacecraft landing on the moon. Things that are making the self-driving cars possible are the same things that are going to make our self-driving spacecraft possible. If these things are being sold in millions and billions of quantities, somehow the price will keep coming down. We realize that even though everyone heard the price of landing on the moon is going to be billion dollars, I’m convinced that we could bring it down to $100 million or under.
As we start to get closer, we are now six months away from launching the mission to the moon, our cost is going to be $7 million. Think about that, under $10 million. That is a big change. We are the only company that has permission to leave the Earth orbit and land on the moon. Former President Obama signed into the law that everything we bring back, we get to own it. What’s the lesson here? As an entrepreneur, the best thing you can do is to take action. Go do it and always say, “I will cross the bridge when I get there.” Here’s a second part, when you cross the bridge, you burn the bridge behind you. There is no going back. The minute you know you have a plan B, you don’t do plan A.
When you’re thinking that you want to go to the moon, that’s so different than thinking about a company where you’re curing diseases at the cellular level. How do you split your mind? You said we need to think like you. How can we think like you? How do we think like that, so different?
Always start in saying, “Why would you want to go to the moon and why would you want to do something else?” The way I look it, if you want to be a billionaire and you want to create a billion-dollar company, actually it’s really easy. All you have to do is solve a $10 billion-problem. That’s it. What are those $10-billion or $100-billion problems that need solving? If you can solve them then you can do tremendous good in the world and you can do tremendously well. That is the point I’m trying to make in today’s society, it used to be that either you did good as a non-profit or you did well as for profit. What is happening in the world is coming together. Doing good and doing well are actually one and the same thing. If you want to do a small good in the world, you do a non-profit. If you want to do a large good in the world, then you do for profit, because profit is the engine that allows you to scale to help billions of people. Even if you are the richest man in the world, you’re going to run out of money by helping a million people.
You are like a John Mackey. You believe in conscious capitalism.
It’s not just conscious capitalism. It is the only capitalism in the long term which is the reason people buy your product is because you constantly are serving them with the needs they have. You can help billion people by creating a $10-billion company.
All you have to do is cure cancer then. You make it sound simple.
Actually, not only just cure cancer. It’s too small. The point is curing cancer is too small a thinking and here’s why. Why would you say, “Just cure cancer?” Start to think about why does someone develop cancer? Why does someone develop Alzheimer, Parkinson’s, depression, obesity, anxiety, diabetes, or pick a name you want, autoimmune diseases? The fundamental reasoning behind these diseases is the same. Our pharmaceutical models have really created these silos where we basically take a certain set of symptoms and we name a disease after it. The reason they do that is so they can have one drug, one disease. Underlying is the same symptom, the symptom that a chronic inflammation causes chronic diseases. Cancer is an inflammatory disease. Alzheimer is an inflammatory disease. Depression is an inflammatory disease and so is Parkinson’s, obesity, and diabetes. Every one of them comes because our immune system is really going haywire which is being trained by our gut microbiome, and we say, “Okay.” The first realization has to come and say, “We are not alone.” When we are in this human body, somehow we have this feeling of it is our genes, our DNA. If we can somehow keep this pure human DNA in our body, people will be healthy. Our human DNA only produces about 19,000 genes. The earthworm produces 20,000 genes.
What makes us so different and so complex really is a microbial ecosystem that’s inside our gut on top of us, that’s producing five to ten million genes. From the nature’s perspective, we are basically a beautiful canteen for this microbial ecosystem. A little bit of human DNA is sprinkled into it. That’s the beauty of the thing. Our food industry and our pharmaceutical industry don’t care about that ecosystem. When you are sick, they give you antibiotics. It’s like throwing a nuclear bomb because you saw a bad person, as opposed to nurturing the ecosystem. With the GMO food, when we are eating processed food, when we are only eating a certain diet and we just don’t have enough fiber in the diet. What’s happening is we are not feeding the whole ecosystem so the diversity is dying. When you only have certain things being fed and other ones are not fed, your body doesn’t know what’s going on, but the other microbes start to eat the mucus inside the gut lining and the food starts to go in the blood. The microbes that are supposed to be inside the gut, now the leaky gut is causing them to go in the blood. The immune system is now responding with an inflammation. Suddenly, in one person that inflammation may cause cancer, in someone else it maybe Alzheimer’s. In one person it may show up as obesity, in someone else it may show up as diabetes.
Our gut, to some extent, I believe is our primary brain. It is not only our primary brain, it is the puppet master. If you look at the research that’s coming out in the last one year, it clearly shows that our emotions, our anxiety, and our behavior are actually controlled by the microbes in our gut, including our sleep cycle. It pulls the string and our brain just simply reacts to it. When we say we are hungry, it’s not we. It’s them who are hungry.
It’s so fascinating because you obviously know the problem, I agree with you. From all of my training, everything starts from the gut. How do you fix it? That’s the problem, right?
It’s a problem or it’s a massive opportunity. Once you realize the medical system is not dealing with it, it is a massive opportunity for an entrepreneur to come and do something. As an entrepreneur, once you realize the problem was understanding what is going on inside the gut, you start to see what technologies are at your disposal. At the Los Alamos National Lab, they are talking about the work they are doing for the bio defense work. How would we know what is going on inside the body? They developed an amazing technology that can look inside the body and tell you who’s there, how active they are, and what they are doing.
Is that like the little camera things that you swallow, is that what you’re talking about?
No, this is a simple RNA sequencing. You basically take a swab of your fecal matter and you’re able to look at every single organism, whether it is a bacteria, a virus, fungi, yeast or mold. Every one of this organism, who they are, how active they are, because you’re looking at RNA that means they’re only alive when they’re replicating, and the most important part is what are they doing? Are they producing short-chain fatty acids? Are they producing the vitamins? Are they producing the nutrients the body needs? All of those things, you’re able to do through this technology. As soon I saw this, we got the exclusive license and I created this company. I’m not a scientist. I don’t have a computer degree. I have no medicine degree. I have nothing else, but I decided this problem was worth solving because there are billions of people who could be helped by this.
What degrees do you have by the way? Do you have education?
I do have an education but my education is completely irrelevant to every company I have done. Another point I was going to make was that having done now seven companies, I’ve never studied two companies in the same industry. Once you become good at something, you only improve it incrementally by 10% or 15%. If you want to change something ten times or a hundred times, you have to challenge the foundation of what experts have taken for granted. I did space exploration and I don’t have a rocket science or aeronautical engineering degree. I am doing healthcare and I don’t have a degree in medicine. I’m not even a scientist. I did my first company that actually became one of the largest Top 100 companies in the country doing smartphones before there were any smartphones.
In the late 90s, seven years before Steve Jobs announced the iPhone, there is an interview that I did in year 2000 that you can Google in Washington Post with a reporter named Leslie Walker. I said, “One day, people are going to have a phone that is going to get their email, contact, and calendar. They will be able to use their phone to make a payment, and when they drive by Starbucks, they’ll be able to get Starbucks coupons. Everyone thought, “That’s crazy. It’s never going to happen in our lifetime because we have this PalmPilots and pagers and flip phones. ” People’s idea was how would this flip phone have all these features? I was thinking, “How would PalmPilot become the phone?”That’s exactly what happened. Steve Jobs made that PalmPilot a phone.
Did you think of trying to do that?
No. What I did is actually better than that. We built this nemesis as if somebody’s going to build those phones. I took it public. At its buying, the company was worth $35 billion.
You say you’re not a doctor, you don’t have that medical degree. You can read the studies and you can look at technology, but how do you know how to fix these things?
I basically went to Singularity University just to learn the foundation of all the different technologies. This takes 78 days. It’s the one-week program where you learn just enough vocabulary for nano technology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, genetics, epigenetics, and all these things. Every day I spend two to three hours reading on my Twitter feed only the science articles in every industry. Before I started Viome, I started to see that everyone was talking about this microbiome causing multiple sclerosis, microbiome is involved in Parkinson’s, microbiome is involved in diabetes, Type 1 Diabetes, Type2 Diabetes. I started to see the pattern that microbiome seems to be the one that’s a crux. I now have all these dots that I have collected. The missing dot was how do you find out who these microbes are? When I heard about Los Alamos, my light bulb went up and connected the dots.
Now that you have that, how long until you fix the problem?
Now that I have the technology and I know what the problem is, I still don’t know what to do. Setting this audacious goal next is what if we can create a world where disease is optional? That moonshot allowed the people around the world to come and say, “I want to do it.” I always tell people, “You inspire great people.” My job is to inspire them to show the possibilities. People are hesitating and I always remind them, “You and I have the chance to watch history being made every single day. It’s only once in a lifetime and we get the chance to make the history. Are you going to let go of that time today?”
This would be an obviously unbelievable thing if you can do this. I’m curious what timeframe do you see for this?
We actually launched the company three months ago. We have thousands of people who are already using the service and benefiting from it, people who essentially found that medical system has failed them. Basically our healthcare system, to a large extent, is a symptom-suppression system. They don’t even cure the symptoms. They suppress the symptom, and every time they suppress one symptom, they can sell you more drugs. Our pharmaceutical companies have become the parasite on humanity. That is the truth. Our healthcare system believes the only stakeholders in the systems are the insurance companies, hospitals, doctors, unions, and pharmaceutical companies. When you remind them about the patient, they say, “Patient is not a stakeholder because patient does not pay.” Patient is the nuisance that we have to deal with to get the money from insurance. If we can empower the patient with the information and recommendation they need to take care of themselves, they become the CEO of their own health.
There are so much information about health now because of the internet. There’s information overload for people. How do they know what information is going to help?
We don’t give them the health information. We give them their information, what is happening inside them and how they can control simply using diet.
What advice do you give based on what you’ve learned?
If you go to Viome.com, you can see what we’re doing is looking at your gut intelligence, looking at your metabolic intelligence, and then based on the microbes in your gut and how you digest carbohydrates, fat, and protein, and what type of metabolites you have, we are able to see what you really need to eat, the foods that are really good to balance your microbe, and your immune system will be calm with that. Wean out the foods you must avoid right now. There is no such thing as universal healthy diet. When someone says, “Paleo diet is good for you or Atkins diet is good for you or ketogenic diet is good for you,” there’s no diet that is good for you and I. Between you and I, our DNA is 99% the same, our microbes are less than 5% the same. A diet that’s good for you is not good for me necessarily, and a diet that’s good for me today may not be good for me three months or six months from now.
What happens is as you start to eat a food, your microbes are changing. Your body is adapting. Your immune system is changing. The microbes that you’re feeding now are growing and others are coming down. Now you start to keep the balance, so the way you keep eating, they become imbalanced.
I could already hear my foodie friends asking a certain question. They’re going to go, “That’s no fun. I want to be a chef. I want to cook these fancy meals and eat here and eat there.” What do you tell them?
That is exactly what they should be doing, cooking fancy diverse meals within the set of things that are not causing grief.
What if chocolate’s on that list though?
When you’re denying, you get a lot. For me, I was denying myself all the pleasures. I was trying to lose ten pounds and I’m pre-diabetic. Everyone told me I need to cut down all the bread, that didn’t work. Cut down all the starch. I’m a vegetarian so I’m eating now only lentil, legumes, tofu and veggies because no bread and those yuck. I was miserable for a year. Guess what happened? I didn’t lose the weight. My blood glucose didn’t go down. I launched Viome. I am the first guy to do the test and I’m thinking they’re going to put a picture of me as a healthy person. Not so. It turns out what I needed to be eating is more carbohydrate. More than 50% of my diet needs to be carbs.
Aren’t carbs inflammatory though?
Carbs are not inflammatory. It is the grains and the way we produce grains that are inflammatory. You can get carbs from vegetables.
How about sugar though? Sugar’s inflammatory isn’t it?
It is inflammatory. My point is carbs are veggies. Broccoli is carbs.
Certain carbs are worse than others, right?
That’s right. As soon as I started eating more carbs, suddenly not only had I lost ten pounds but my blood glucose came down. Every girl wants my microbiome now. Every girl wants to kiss me because they’re hoping they’ll get my microbiome.
I always thought that though. Everybody’s so different, but then you get people that go with the blood type diets, you got this type of diet. How do you know if a diet’s for real?
At the end of the day, the food is being digested by our microbes. Our microbes are the ones that are feeding the nutrition to us. In a sense your small intestine is only taking the easy stuff out, the glucose and all the stuff out. The hardest of all the nutrients is the short-chain fatty acids. You may not realize, 70% of serotonin is produced in your gut, not in your brain.
I did know that and that’s huge for people. How can you increase your serotonin? Which foods?
These rules vary from person to person. We have to look at what microbes are in your gut and how you feed them, how you grow them, the prebiotic, and how do they give you additional microbes that will allow you to eat chocolates, so prebiotic, probiotic, food, nutrition.
So you still think you should take X supplement of some sort?
Only until a point where you start to get your microbes to start producing the things that are lacking in your body.
How long did it take you to feel better and notice a difference?
Three months. There are thousands of people who use our service. They call and say, “I’m off my drugs. I feel so much better now.” We are changing the lives of billions of people and creating an amazing company at the same time.
It’s a really great thing if it works. I believe you from what you’re saying, because I know so many people that suffer from so many things and they all are tied to the gut.
If you go to our website, Viome.com, and look at our science, there are science papers that show you about depression to diabetes, to every single disease. There were two papers produced on multiple sclerosis and how microbes are actually causing and influencing multiple sclerosis development and the re-ignition.
I read your moonshot thing and that’s the thing that made me want to talk to you about this. This is really fascinating. I agree with you. I think the pharmaceutical companies sell a lot the things that we don’t need. They really have a lot of things they do that they shouldn’t be doing People are trying to solve the problem and they’re doing the best they can with what they know, but now you know something new. Now that you know this something new, you can do something. Is it just food and supplements based on what your specific flora is and all that, or is it something else that they have to do as well?
Basically the foods and supplements and probiotics, but it’s not just the gut flora. Gut flora is the major part of it but we also look at the host side. The host side, we are going to be adding things like urine metabolites, all the organic acids, the amino acids, and what cycles functionally are not complete. What co-factors you need? Do you need CoQ10, magnesium, zinc? What’s missing in your body that we can give so that you have full energy? We’re looking at the mitochondrial gene expression, looking at blood gene expressions, and looking at the blood microbiome that nobody has looked at, that all microbiomes are coming in our blood that people thought is sterile. Imagine when you give in your blood on based on just a blood type, you’re also transferring those microbes that may have been commensal or normal or benign in one person, but may cause a low grade inflammation to someone else. That’s a research by the Stanford, just published about the blood microbiome. We are the starting edge, and technology is now allowing us to bring the cost down to a consumer point, that means to do an RNA analysis today this technology we received from Los Alamos would cost $2,000 to $3,000. The technology we receive from them has allowed us to do that for under a couple of $100.For a couple of $100,we’re able to look at everything that’s happening inside your body and apply the artificial intelligence to this massive amount of data.
You can figure out what you need to eat. Can you figure out what diseases you might get from this?
We are not FDA because the minute you’ll talk about a disease, then you have to get through the FDA, so we’re in the land of wellness. In the land of wellness, we can’t say we cure obesity but we can say we help you lose weight. I can’t say we cure depression but we can say we help you improve your mood.
I do remember the differences in the commercials and all the things of what they allow you to say. That’s why you get that list of horrible side effects because if you say you could fix something, you have to also say you do other things.
The good thing is we are only talking about food. I remind our people, “If you tell someone you’re going to eat broccoli and maybe they should really eating more spinach, you’ going to kill them.”
When you got your list, was there something that you look at and you go, “I don’t want that. Does that really what I have to eat?” Were they things that you could live with?
The things that I’m supposed to be not eating are the things I just absolutely love. The things I was eating were all wrong. I was eating lentil, legumes, tofu, avocados, spinach, and they are on my list of things to avoid.
Do you think that is because we eat so much of one thing, our body starts to attack that thing? I tend to eat five things.
That is the big problem. I was eating such a restricted diet. The microbes that we’re feeding on those diets were really now all grown and everything else that I was not feeding died, because I didn’t have a diversity of diets. For the next three to four months I need to minimize this diet and increase this other diet which is carbohydrates and fat, so I can grow the other ones, and then we need to start balancing again.
Did you get sick at all though because you’re not used to eating these other things, when you put something in that you’re not used to?
Our microbes, as you may probably appreciate, comes from our mom. A microbial ecosystem doesn’t come from dad, so even with our children, every time they misbehave, I always tell my wife, “It’s your microbiome, not mine.” Genetically in our last ten, twenty, thirty generations living in the northern India, what do we eat? We eat really the wheat and carbs. Our bodies were very well suited for that. When I went to America, I developed this western diet. My original diet was good for me.
This is all fascinating. I really want to check out your site to do all that because I am going to do it. I want to try it. Also, I want to know when are you going to land on the moon, in six months?
When you get there, are you going to mine it for what?
It’s not just mining it. Our moonshot there is to really create a multi planetary society because we’re all in a single spacecraft right now called Planet Earth. If our spacecraft gets hit by a large asteroid, we’ll all become dinosaurs. That’s not going to be a good thing for us. Our job is to a large extent create this multi planetary society. In the short term, we bring back the platinum grade material. We bring the moon rocks and we use the water on the moon to create the fuel depots. We make honeymoon about taking your honey to the moon, not taking your honey to Hawaii. The moon rock’s back and making those moon rocks really replace these blood diamonds. Everyone gives someone a diamond. If you love her enough you’ll give her the moon. Don’t promise her the moon, give her the moon.
You have quite a collection. I was watching a video of you. Where did you get what you have?
It’s basically all those craters that you see with the naked eye on the moon, that means some large asteroid hits the moon and we see the moon fly off. The moon stuff gets captured into Earth gravity and falls on places in North and West Africa or someplace where you can easily see it. Since the invention of money, it’s really easy to tell someone how much you love them.
Are you ever in a bad mood or are you always like this? You seem like you’re a happy guy always. Is that serotonin that you’ve been fixing your gut?
I’m more than that. I have this feeling of life is amazing. If you believe life is amazing, you make life amazing.
Your mindset is so important. I’m so excited to see you at the Genius Network event. It’s going to be a great event. Joe really knows how to put together an interesting group of people, doesn’t he?
Yes, he does. He is driving some really good people and he’s going to have some really serious people and some of them are secret.
I just like how everybody shares what they do and I’m really going to love hearing what people’s moonshots are, because he sent out a note to everybody to have them come up with these ideas. In Matrix, how they put the information directly into your brain, can you just create that since you got these great ideas?
It’s already happening to some extent. Right now it’s the output and input using your cell phone, so our memories are being actually outsourced to a Cloud because you won’t remember phone numbers anymore. Our decision-making is now outsourced to the Cloud when you use Google maps. People don’t have to remember.
I meant coming in, not going out.
Elon is working on the brain computer interface and there are a lot of other ways of putting the information. The best way to put information is to take a lot information out first. The things that are immaterial like facts. Do we really need to remember that Abraham Lincoln was born?
It’s going to be very fascinating and see what your beautiful mind and all the beautiful minds out there come up with because it’s really impressive what you do, Naveen. I am honored to get this chance to even have this chat with you. Thank you so much for doing this. I love having you on the show.
Thank you so much to Mike and to Naveen. It’s so fun to have this radio show and the podcast and everything that we do because I just get to learn so much. I find the relationships I build are just wonderful. I hope if you haven’t listened to some of the pod shows, you get a chance to listen to them. Just go to DrDianeHamilton.com/Episodes and catch up on what you’ve missed. Please come back for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.
About Mike Federle
Mike Federle is the CEO of Forbes Media, where he oversees the company’s media business as well as its intersection with new businesses that Forbes launches. Prior to joining Forbes Media in 2011, he was a cofounder, President and COO of Techonomy Media Inc, a multimedia company based in New York, in which Forbes acquired an equity interest in July, 2011. He is a 25-year veteran of the media industry, where he held top positions as Publisher of Fortune magazine, Group Publisher of the Time Inc. Business & Finance Network and Group Publisher of the Bonnier Mountain Group in Boulder, Colorado.
About Naveen Jain
Naveen Jain is an entrepreneur and philanthropist driven to solve the world’s biggest challenges through innovation. He is the founder of several successful companies including Moon Express, Viome, Bluedot, TalentWise, Intelius and InfoSpace. Moon Express is the only company to have permission from the US government to leave earth orbit and land on the moon. They are developing technologies to harvest planetary resources on the moon and developing infrastructure to make humanity a multi-planetary society. Viome is focused on disrupting healthcare with the goal of “making illness elective”. They have developed technologies to analyze the biochemistry and ecosystem of our body that consists of millions of metabolites and trillions of micro-organisms. Our plan is to identify biomarkers that are predictive of chronic diseases and prevent them through personalized diet & nutrition.
- Forbes Media
- Techonomy Media Incorporated
- 100Greatest Business Minds
- Forbes School of Business
- Rich Karlgaard
- Ken Fisher
- Mike Perlis
- Integrated Royal Media
- 30 Under 30
- Roya Mahboob
- Sarah Kunst
- Brian Wong
- Anda Gansca
- Naveen Jain
- Moon Express
- Fisher Investments
- 7 Habits of Successful People
- Tony Robbins
- John Mackey
- Los Alamos National Lab
- interview – Naveen Jain’s interview with Washington Post
- Singularity University
- Genius Network