In order to successfully grow your business, you must learn how to be curious about everything. Reinvention is the name of the game for a lot of different industries – and if you wish to thrive in this changing business landscape, you have to adapt and scale your business accordingly. Today, Jeff Hoffman reveals the secrets of success and survival. Jeff is the author of Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back. He’s a billionaire. He has gone to Yale. He’s been involved with a lot of well-known companies, including Priceline.com, uBid.com, and ColorJar. Jeff has done everything exciting in life: from being a successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, worldwide motivational speaker, published author, film producer and producer of a Grammy-winning jazz album in 2015 to being the founder of multiple startups. If you desire to succeed like the world’s greatest innovators, then Jeff can show you exactly how: just stay curious!
I’m so glad you joined us because we have Jeff Hoffman. I’m really excited to talk to him. Everybody knows him for his work with Priceline.com. He’s a billionaire. He has gone to Yale. He has done everything exciting in his life and we’re going to talk about so much of things that will help people to grow their business, to learn about curiosity, to reinvent different industries, and just to do more things that make you successful. I’m very excited to have him here on the show.
Listen to the podcast here:
Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business With Jeff Hoffman
I am here with Jeff Hoffman who is a successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, worldwide motivational speaker, published author, film producer and producer of a Grammy-winning jazz album in 2015. He’s been the founder of multiple startups. He’s been the CEO of both public and private companies and has served as a senior executive in many capacities. He’s been part of a lot of well-known companies and especially Priceline.com, uBid.com, ColorJar and more. Jeff is the author of Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back. It’s so nice to have you here, Jeff.
Thank you very much for having me.
I was looking forward to our chat because obviously you are very successful and we can learn a lot from you. I was watching some of your videos. I went back to your TEDx Talk from a long time ago, which really was interesting to me because I’m writing a book on curiosity and you’re talking all about The Power of Wonder. I laughed at your beginning of that, talking about the five-year-old and how children do ask a lot of questions.
It’s where it all starts. Pretty much every great discovery, no matter how old or young you are, started because somebody was curious about something. Somebody was wondering about something and they started probing and thinking and digging in a little farther. The reason that I did that, and I can’t wait to read your book, is because we start that way. When we’re kids, we’re in awe of everything and we wonder about everything. We question everything and as we get older, some people just lose that natural childlike curiosity about the world around them. What I started to notice is the world’s greatest innovators never do. They’re the people that never lose that sense of childlike wonder. That was one of the observations I made about some of the people that I looked up to. They all seem to still have that curiosity.
That brings up an interesting point because first of all, I’m curious who you look up to, and secondly, why do you think they don’t lose it?
I ask people this. People are getting their channel. We get so focused and that’s why I ended doing an experiment one day because I was thinking about the fact that we get so used to our surroundings and the day-to-day grind that we just stopped seeing things. I did this crazy experiment once. I’d given a coworker that lives near me a ride to work in my car and on the way home I said, “I want you to drive.” Even though it’s my car, “Drive me home,” because he lives near me. The route I drive every day of my life to work, I sat in the passenger seat of my own car. This is definitely a metaphor for me. I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my own life. I sat in the passenger seat of my own car and as soon as we started driving, I said, “I’ve been driving across town for dog food. I didn’t know they’d opened a Petco right there.” He said, “Yes. It opened two years ago.” I was like, “What?” I just didn’t see anymore. There was a new Mexican restaurant which was already a year old. I started to realize, I get in my car just like you do in your life and you’re so used to going, you can practically do things with your eyes closed, but the bad part is you stop looking. I just wasn’t seeing so many things around me and I wasn’t curious about them anymore.
The reason people lose it a lot I think is because it doesn’t really affect their day-to-day life. It’s not part of their job. It’s not part of their ride to work or whatever it is. They just don’t wonder. I started this in a reverse way. People that I know that were successful, I was asking this question, “What is it they’re doing that everybody else isn’t? What is common? What are the common traits and behaviors of those people?” When I got a chance to be around people like that whose accomplishments I particularly admire, like I did this trip to the UK for example with Steve Wozniak from Apple. The whole time Woz and I were traveling, I noticed the same trend. These are the people that actually stopped to pick up shiny objects. They will say, “What is that?” You’re thinking, “Who cares? We’re in the middle of this.” They do care. They say, “I wonder what that is and how it works.” Then they want to take it apart and see what’s inside of it. I think it’s a thirst for learning and constantly they want to know more and they want to know why and they want to know how. Those are the people that are just much more likely to be the great innovators because they stumble upon things that nobody else even looked at.
It’s interesting you bring up Wozniak because he was in Phoenix speaking at an event and I got to talk to him for a minute and it made me interested in reading his book I, Woz. In at the beginning of his book, he talks about his father and how much his father impacted his desire to learn about things because he taught him not only how to create something but why things work this way and why you needed to connect this wire to that and what it did and how it brought in all these different aspects of the importance of things. His environment really set him up for success. Our parents have a big impact, our teachers, our peers and all that. When I was looking at the things that hold us back, a lot of it is fear. A lot of it are assumptions that we don’t care about something or we think we know about it. Some of it is technology, and environment is a really huge thing. I’m curious about your environment growing up. Did you have a Wozniak experience that set you up to be this guy that you’ve turned into?
Not quite as much, but for your audience who are parents, I very much agree with that environment. Encouraging your child when they ask a question, say, “Why don’t you open it up and see what’s inside of it? Why don’t you walk over there and look?” Encouraging that curiosity. A lot of my growing up was with a single mom, but it was not as strong as Wozniak’s in terms of pushing and explaining but it was more of the, “Why not?” My mother was the kind that would always say, “Why not? Why not check that out? Why not go see what it is? Why don’t you go over and ask him why he was doing that?” She was very encouraging and that whatever you thought of, she never said, “Why,” she always said, “Why not?” I always had permission, is the way I felt. I have permission to explore and to wonder and to try things. I don’t know if some kids did. I would see other parents that would say, “Who cares what guy’s doing? It doesn’t matter to you. Just do what you’re told or whatever.” My mom would say, “Why not just go ask him?” I think that at the minimum, having permission gives you a lot more freedom and better yet, like in Woz’ case, having encouragement is even better.
It is interesting the impact that your family has. I noticed you went to Yale and my father’s family, they all went to Yale. It was like that was the normal thing, is you had like English majors and certain things. The business sense in my family, you really don’t need to get a business degree. I was the outlier in my group that just never really went the direction that others did. With you, did you go to Yale because of the same reason? You’ve got a degree in computer science.
I did. I’ll tell you the environment I was in. I was out in Arizona, it’s where I grew up. My high school was right there in North Phoenix. I’m just going to be honest, I played football as well. Friday night football was a lot more important in the community than my AP Calculus class. I wasn’t in a private school where they really pushed it. I know a lot of kids that went to high school with that didn’t go to college, just got jobs. Not a lot of them went away to big schools. My environment in that case didn’t really push me. For me, it was that same curiosity and specifically, Yale, it’s ironic now given what’s going on around us, there was this thing called artificial intelligence. Only a few universities in the whole country we’re studying it and researching it. It was Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and Yale. MIT had some. I didn’t really know Carnegie Mellon, which was too bad for me. It’s a great school. Stanford was too big and too close to home for me. MIT was too technical. My main interest in Yale was I wanted to go study artificial intelligence and they had a great program even back then. All my friends went to Arizona State or University of Arizona. For me to say, “I’m going to go as far from home as I can to a school I can’t afford to study something I know nothing about,” was not the norm but it was just really what I wanted to do.
I love that you had that drive to do that. I would have loved to have gone to Stanford. That was probably high on my list, but I stayed at ASU and it was a good education. I think it’s what makes you push yourself out of the nest a little bit more than somebody else to go do this thing and go away from home. That’s a thing I want to instill in people because I’ve taught so many business courses and I’d see so many students that who just don’t really push themselves very much. They do the minimum and they want people to figure things out for them. You have figured things out for yourself. That’s why I was really interested in talking to you now, just what you did with Priceline. They just had their 20th year anniversary, right?
Yeah. Can you believe that was twenty years ago?
How cool is it to work around William Shatner? Have you got to talk to him much?
He just is naturally just that funny. I love dry humor, which not everybody does. I always loved all those British shows back in the day, Monty Python and stuff. The dry humor was definitely a style that I love, but he just delivered those commercials on the first year.
I love dry humor, too. “He’s already got one,” is one of my favorite lines from Monty Python. It’s so interesting to see what you did with that company. What were you thinking when you started that and what did it turn into that you had no idea what happened?
The idea on the intellectual property came from an inventor in Connecticut named Jay Walker. Jay is the guy that had the original idea. He had the IP. He had patented the reverse auction. What Jay did was assemble a group of people to turn these ideas into businesses. Back then it was a gathering of people around Jay’s idea is to say, “How do we create business out of those?” What’s interesting is the original idea was not a travel company at all. The original idea, and I remember Jay’s words the first time we sat down, were to harvest consumer demand and do a reverse auction. The Internet is seller-driven. If you’re a buyer, you want to buy a pair of shoes, it’s all on you. You’ve got to find out who sells the shoes. Then you’ve got to see which people have your size, then you’ve got to see who has your color, then you’ve got to see if you like the price, then you’ve got to see if it’s in stock and then you’ve got to see if the shipping is good. All the work is on you.
The original idea that he had was, “Why don’t we just ask people what they want and how much money they have and let’s see what we can do for them?” Hence the “name your own price.” The original idea to build a buying service where you say, “I’ve got $100, where can I stay in New York for that?” or whatever it is. That was the original idea and not a travel company. Back then, we actually were launching various buying services. We were trying to do groceries. We were trying to do gasoline, a bunch of other things besides travel, but travel was up and running first and then it was only a few years later that the whole Internet bubble crashed. Now it’s a public company by then and people are saying, “The travel’s going great. Let’s not break in any other markets right now.” That was the original genesis of it, was to reverse the way commerce is done and let the buyer be in control of the process, not the seller.
Totally, what’s happened is it reinvented travel and helped people do different things. We’ve seen so much reinvention of different industries and you’ve been one of the pioneers. Elon Musk and a lot of people out there just taking everything and flipping the way we think about it. What do you think is the next industry that’s ripe for that reinvention?
There are two that I’ve been looking at them literally on a global scale. We hosted the Global Entrepreneurship Congress over in Istanbul and we had entrepreneurs from 171 countries join us. We had a great opportunity to talk. In fact, I went and spoke at the United Nations about global problem solving to address the UN 17 goals to make the world a better place. I had a chance to talk and visit with entrepreneurs all over the world looking at this. There are numerous ones but I’ll tell you a few that excite me. First of all, education is one. Everybody pretty much agrees that the educational paradigm, higher ed is an outdated paradigm and it’s not working for the young people. I’m sure you get this but I can’t tell you how many times they say to me, “Why do we even need to go to college? What am I getting out of that? I could start a company for this amount of money I’m spending.”
I hear that one a lot, but what I’m seeing is instead of trying to completely rewrite the educational infrastructure the way it is, a lot of entrepreneurs are just creating new ways to learn. I’m just seeing some great innovation in the education space. Healthcare is the next one. A lot more people are looking at pretty much home health care. I saw one as an example. It was pretty much an EKG on a smart phone. You plug the cables into the phone and plug them into yourself. It does the reading and sends it over a server to a doctor. Instead of you driving to a medical center or a hospital where you lay down and they have to hook you up to a machine, home healthcare. Just rewriting the healthcare in a preventative way digitally was one. I would say the third one, I also just happened to host the Global Agricultural Challenge recently and about 65 countries came and participated and it’s literally a hack hunger. It’s people reinventing the way we feed the world and making it optimal. There are just still wide-open opportunities to rewrite industries that are not efficient like education, healthcare, food, and agriculture.
That is so interesting because you just listed every job I’ve ever had. One of my first jobs was in agricultural chemicals for three or four years. Then I went into pharmaceutical sales for another fifteen years and then I’ve been in education for twelve years. That’s my resume of what I’ve done and I couldn’t agree with you more and a lot of those areas all need some help. It’s interesting to talk about higher education because I still teach a lot and I’ve taught more than a thousand online business courses. I love online education for learning things. I’ve been on some board of advisor meetings and things where we talk about different things of what needs to change and that type of thing.
For me, what I hear a lot from people is they want to get value from their education, but sometimes I hear they want to get more of an a la carte system where they could pick and choose because everybody’s learning in smaller bits and pieces. They want it online. The thing I worry about is any change that they do with education is that they’ll get rid of the soft skills and the humanity type things that are the glue that hold it all together. If you start doing things piece by piece, do you think that we’re going to see problems in that?
Not only do I completely agree with you, but that’s the worst possible trend of all because that’s what we need more of. Part of the problem we’re having in the world is we’re losing those because everyone’s hidden behind the device now. They’re losing their soft skills. I’ve spent my whole life as a CEO and literally have hired thousands of people over the years and most of the skills that were always harder to find it before everybody got hidden on a device and before education started to fracture and soft skills got weaker. I think that’s a problem, we as a society, everywhere globally have to solve. Some soft skills are in high demand and in rare occurrence and they’re just so much more important now. We live in a complicated world. I don’t know what the answer is, but I hope a lot of people here as well are thinking about how do we increase the focus on soft skills in the educational system and not decrease it.
The reason we still have so much a degree programs and things like that is because employers value them. That’s a prerequisite for certain jobs. It was for me as a pharmaceutical rep. They won’t even look at you if you didn’t have a degree. When I was working on the MBA program as the MBA program chair, I was incorporating more soft skills because I really think that emotional intelligence is huge and all the communication issues and all that stuff. We’re not getting it in college and companies aren’t really prepared to teach them. They haven’t really been that I’ve seen and I’ve seen a lot of companies complain at some of the events. I go to a lot of Forbes Summits where you get some of the best of the best on stage and a lot of them are saying, they’re hired over their hard skills, over their knowledge, and they’re fired for their soft skills, or their behaviors. I would like to see companies do more of that.
With my work ethic and curiosity, that was one of my goals with finding out what’s holding people back, because a lot of people are not really being successful because they’re not developing their sense of curiosity, which would lead to improved engagement, improved innovation, improved productivity. All the things that people are complaining about that they’re not seeing out there. That’s a real huge problem. You had some really interesting advice for people in your TED talk that I saw of things that you think are good to do to just help with innovation and just get you outside of your normal way of thinking. We could do it with soft skills and a lot of different things if we just focus on things that we don’t normally focus on. You said you write down everything that interests you. I don’t know if you still do this because this is an older talk, but you would have written down things that interested you and then you wrote down the data points and then you’d look at them later to see how they all connected. Do you still do that and how important is that?
I’ve made up a term for that so I could share it with people which I call that info sponging. The whole idea, like you and I were talking earlier, is that people get so focused, they stay in their lane. “I’m in healthcare.” If somebody says, “I’m in healthcare,” then they don’t really care what the banking industry’s doing or the retail industry or anything. If you asked them, they’d say, “What does that matter? We do healthcare.” What I was trying to do, and part of this was modeling who I think are the greatest thinkers of our time, is to schedule time to literally get out of your lane. What I do is I try to do this ten minutes every day. I tell people, if you can’t do it once a day, do it once a week. For ten minutes a day, even though you work for a healthcare company, you have to spend ten minutes out of healthcare. You don’t work for your company, you don’t work here in the industry, and the challenge, what you’re referring to, what I do is learn one new thing every day. Learn one new thing that you don’t need to know and at the time, you have no idea why you’re learning it.
What I do during the info sponge is I say, “I just follow my curiosity. I’m going to leave my job mentally behind me for a minute, my industry and I’m going to go read about something. A new technology, a trend, a company. Something happened in government or regulations, whatever it is. Learn one new thing every day outside of your life, outside of your industry, and then I write it down in one sentence. A one-sentence summary of what I learned. What happens is some of those things stick in your mind and you can’t stop thinking about it. Those are the that I use the analogy of puzzle pieces. If I gave you a piece of a puzzle and ask you what this was, you’d say, “Jeff, you gave me a blue puzzle piece.” If I gave you two or three pieces, you would say, “I don’t even know what this is,” but if I gave you a new piece every day and if every day you put them on your table and you move them around and move them around, one day with enough pieces, you would call me all excited and you’d say, “I figured it out. This is going to be a castle in Ireland. That’s what it’s making.”
That’s the idea with knowledge, is collect disparate pieces of knowledge from different industries and all over the world around you and constantly put them on the table and push them out. I literally write the ones that really stick in my gut on Post-it notes, sticky notes and stick them on the wall, stare at them, move them around and stare at him again. What you’re trying to do is be the first person to figure out how to combine these things.
Let me give you a really quick example in a way nobody else ever has. I’ve heard Travis explaining one day, researching the sharing economy. There’s one puzzle piece. Then researching micropayments, the way they paid people without anybody having to have cash or anything like that and exchanging money directly. Then researching home-based business trends and the desire for people to see if they could make a few bucks before and after their regular jobs. It was all these trends that he put together. The transportation industry was last. You would have never created Uber by looking at taxis. He created Uber by saying all these disparate ideas could be combined in a way no one’s ever combined them before and he created a sharing economy, home-based work, micropayment-enabled transport service, the world’s biggest taxi company without ever buying a car. If you started it together and staring of the taxi industry, you’d say, “I want to start a company,” you would have immediately gone and bought taxis. That’s the idea of info sponging. Force yourself to learn something new every day or every week from the world around you, and then just constantly move those puzzle pieces around in your mind and see if you can be the first person in your industry to combine new ideas elsewhere in the world into something new and innovative where you are.
I found that it’s a trend. I’ve interviewed many other billionaires who have this same mind that you have that just do that same thing. I’ve had Ken Fisher, Naveen Jain, Keith Krach, Craig Newmark. I’m thinking of the people I’ve interviewed and they’re like you in the fact that of how successful. I’m thinking of a conversation I had with Naveen where he was saying that he just likes to go into industries that he knows nothing about and just reads everything he can to figure it out for himself with new, fresh eyes. How important is that to just go into something you don’t even know to try and reinvent it?
I think that’s a great idea. I know Naveen and I’m a huge fan of his as well. He’s definitely imprinted that on Ankur, on his son, that wide open thinking. That is exactly the right idea. I’ll tell you one really fast one that inspired me many years ago. I was just reading a story of a fast food burger chain that was not innovating, not growing, and it reached its limit. The owner said to his management, “We’re not growing anymore. We’re not winning in our industry. Do something different.” All of them went inside to look at the French fry machine and the diet coke machine and how do we innovate by looking in their industry. One of the guys, and this is a true story, said, “I’m going to go see just what Naveen did. I’m going to go study everything I can about another industry and see if they have any good ideas. He went to look at banks and his colleagues were like, “Banks don’t make French fries or cheeseburgers. Why are you wasting your time?”
I’m going to tell you what happened. He went and looked into banking and he was physically visiting some. He didn’t really learn anything in the first few, but on the fourth bank he went to, he couldn’t park because the parking lot was full of pickup trucks, piles of wood, hammers, nails and carpenters and he’s, “What are you guys doing outside here?” They said, “Our bank came up with a cool new idea. We’re building it.” He said, “What is it?” They said, “When it’s done, we’re going to call it the drive through window.” He shot back to the fast food place and the first drive-thru window on fast food was not created by anybody in the food industry. It was created by a guy who stole it from the banking industry. That company was actually later acquired by McDonald’s for its innovation. Naveen’s right, go see what good ideas the rest of the world has, in other industries and see if you can apply them to yours.
He does have some great ideas and there are a lot of things to be learned from all you guys. The thing that I found interesting about some of the stuff you do is you’ve talked a lot about how to get to create a culture that creates a company where people want to work. I have interviewed Doug Conant from Campbell Soup who’s in every case study, every course I’ve ever taught. We talk about how he helped with engagement and improving that. You have a big focus on culture and building teams and designing for scale. I want to talk about some of the stuff that you do because you talked about the importance of coaching and mentoring and some of the things I’ve seen. How hard is it to create a culture that people want to work for?
It’s not rocket science, it turns out. Here’s where I see go wrong. I now have worked with lots and lots of companies and executives that I mentor and coach. When you’re the boss, especially if you’re the founder or owner of a business, you have this bad habit of thinking it’s about you. “It’s my company. I own it. I run it.” In fact, the most successful businesses are the ones where the leaders figured out that you need to surround yourself with people smarter than you and then pretty much get out of the way. I was always so busy sitting in the office running the company and what I learned was you need to schedule. Maybe it’s every other Friday, every other Friday you’re literally going to schedule yourself out of the office to go hunt for talent. Go somewhere. One time I went to this tech meetup. I had no idea what it was, but people said, “Why are you going to it?” I said, “Because I’m pretty sure that’s where all the tech people are.”
The most talented ones aren’t going to wander into my office and the headhunter might not find them because they’re not looking for jobs. They’re gainfully employed. What if I went out to where they are and found them? I started realizing that I need to get out of my office. I need to hunt for and find talent. Then I need to do things to nurture, grow, and serve them literally. Your job as a leader is to build the place where the best people in your industry who could work anywhere they want, all want to work for you and they never want to leave. At the different job description, then I’m the boss and I have to run the company. What I have to do is build a place that people smarter than me will run the company for me and never leave. I got to spend more time doing things that make them want to stay and less time trying to do all the work myself. When I realized that, I think that our company has really turned the corner because we had people that stay. I’ve had people that worked for me for four companies in a row because we took care of each other.
It’s very challenging to have some of the people you mentioned working from wherever you want and a lot of jobs are going virtual now. How do you find people who work really well virtually? You said, “Go out and find them.” Is there a good way to do that?
I don’t love the virtual worker. When I have a choice, I’d rather have everybody in the same building and my employees always say that as well, because collaboratively, they can look over each other’s shoulder and toss ideas out when they’re there. Clearly, our preference is always to work in the same place, but recognizing in this world, there are people that telecommute and work from home and work virtually. It does make it harder and it can be done. I’m just being honest that I prefer, that’s my second choice not my first choice. The good news is in an online and social media, in an interconnected world, people group themselves. They’re always interest groups. The example I gave you, at the time overheard that word Tech Meetup. I don’t really even know what Meetup was. I said, “What’s a Meetup?” Someone said all these tech people will just randomly pick a pizza parlor and they’ll all show up there at 10:00 at night for pizza and whatever and it’s an open meeting to people that don’t know each other. That’s why it’s a meetup. All these tech people just show up.
When you start to ask in any particular skill that you need, if you need financial people, there are organizations and events and associations and all these people and groups. My point was just go to them. One time there’s a trade show I had never heard of called SHRM, The Society for Human Resource Managers. I’ve never even heard of it, but I needed a good HR person. I said, “Where do those people gather?” Someone said, “They all go to SHRM.” I was like, “What is SHRM? I’ve never heard of it.” Everyone in HR knows what’s SHRM is. I had never even heard of it, but somebody said, “It’s a great place to find a good HR manager. Buy yourself a ticket to SHRM. Go there one day and just meet people.” I actually went to that one. You can find the interest groups for the kind of people you need, but my point is go to them. Don’t wait for them to wander into your office and hope. Go find these really talented people because the really skilled ones probably aren’t looking for a job anyway.
It is a tough thing to find people in the right atmosphere. That’s funny about SHRM because I teach a lot of HR courses and it is a really great organization. These different companies you’ve created, you probably required different types of people based on the different industry. I’m curious about ColorJar. Can you tell me more about what that is and how you got involved in it?
ColorJar, we call that company think plus build. What we’ve got really good at it as a team was launching things. There are other parts of the spectrum. We’re not the long-term operator. We were sitting and talking as a team, my whole team, and we were saying, “What are we really good at?” The part that we’re best at is launching things, taking a new idea, picking the right market for it. Who shall we aim this at? Positioning and messaging it so that market wants it and understands it. Product launches are really what we’ve got good at. The genesis of ColorJar was, “Let’s help people launch things.” The think plus build part comes because the think part is before you launch anything, make sure you’re pointing at the right direction. We do a strategic positioning. We sit down with companies and say, “Who do you think is going to buy this product and why do you think that? What functionality of the product do you think they want?” We make sure that your product and your audience are positioned facing each other properly with the highest chance of success. The build part is because we come out of tech, we have a strong technical team to build all the technology from eCommerce engines to online inventory to mobile apps, all the things you need to support that. That’s what the company does.
I’m thinking about the differences I teach my students about the strategic versus tactical. You are obviously a very creative guy and managers tend to be more tactical leaders, more strategic. Do you think it’s easier to be Steve Jobs or Wozniak in that setup?
That’s funny because Woz and I had that very conversation and this is just my personal opinion, but I think the greatest thing of all was getting both. I got to know Paul Allen. There would be no Bill Gates without Paul Allen, just like you said with Woz and Jobs. My very first company was a company called CTI, Competitive Technologies, and I had one of those. Whether it’s a cofounder or whatever, having an insight and outside person. Somebody in the inside is building product and operations and somebody outside that is finding markets and delivering the product and the messaging to them. I think it’s absolutely great to have both of those people. It’s rare that one person is equally good at both. It’s usually more than one person to do that. You’re right that, that’s why I was saying. They’re not going to wander in your office. You’ve got to schedule a time and go out and hunt for the people that you’re looking for. It’s worth it because when you find teams like that, that’s when the amazing happens.
I’ve known Rich Karlgaard for a while. He’s an editor at Forbes and he’s a very smart guy and he had written a book about that. Just the importance of having the complimentary personality. You can’t know everything like you said. Do you think it’s normal just to have two people that are like that or do you need more or do you have any examples of anybody that can do it all by themselves? I’m trying to think of any examples of that.
I haven’t really found those people that can do it all by themselves. Even when it appears that way to the outside, because one person is the one on stage doing the marketing and doing the selling so you see the one person, what I’ve learned from visiting companies over a lot of years all over the world is even if you don’t know the other person or people, there’s never one person pulling all the strings. It’s always a well-rounded interdisciplinary team. That’s advice that I always give people. Stop trying to do everything yourself because you’re not going to pull it off anyway. You’re not good at fifteen different things. Nobody is. I have yet to hire a known engineer who also does my taxes and writes my marketing company.
You’re good at lot of things though. You’re producing movies and musical event. What are you doing on the side as far as that goes? I see you’re working at charity events with Elton John and Britney Spears.
I’ve actually moved around and done a lot of things and this is important, especially what I tell to young entrepreneurs is it’s always one thing at a time. I believe focus is critical. At the time when you’re involved in something like Priceline and somebody comes up and walks up to you and says, “I want to tell you about this idea.” Your answer needs to be, “If it’s not going to help me get butts in hotel beds, then call me next year.” Then later when we did the music company, your answer is, “If you’re not going to fill the seats at Friday night’s concert, call me next year.” Being able to focus, you can do a lot of things, but as you talked about with Naveen, what it starts with is a deep dive into that industry, researching. When I first got into music, I read everything I could find and I reached out, cold-called first starting with the people I know. Then just cold-calling and emailing people I don’t know. You get a lot of doors slammed on you, but trying every way I could to learn as much as I possibly could about the music industry before we ever set one foot into it. You’ve got a lot of homework to do, a lot of reading to do, a lot of research, and then a lot of meetings before you ever get into it but you stay focused on one thing at a time. What I was to kick out of is people label themselves based on a skill. When you say, “Tell me about yourself.” They say, “I am an accountant.”
What I was thinking is actually, “You’re not an accountant, you’re Maria. You are an amazing woman, mother, wife, whatever. You just happened to have learned accounting.” The reason that I say that is because then they see themselves that way, when I said I was going to start this music company, everybody said, “You can’t Jeff. You’re a software engineer.” I’m not a software engineer. That’s the thing I learned last. Now, I’m going to go learn music. It was funny when we produced a jazz album that won a Grammy a couple of years ago. To that level, I said, “Now, I’m a music person?” That’s important. Don’t consider yourself an accountant, a lawyer or whatever. That is a thing you studied, that is the thing you know but the same skill set and intelligence you used to learn that thing is exactly the reason you could learn something else if you want to. I learned software engineering and later I learned music and then we went and studied filmmaking and made a film. Now, we have a brand-new venture where we’re in the process of buying an NFL football team. I’ve been studying everything about sports and sports ownership.
That’s funny because I talked to Naveen. He owned a baseball team up where he is for a while. He didn’t even like sports. He was interested in the business of it. I’m trying to think of who would slam a door on you though, by the way. When you said you had doors slammed on you because of your position. I’m surprised by that, but we all get no’s. It comes back to what I was saying on the environment thing for curiosity is we’ve talked ourselves into we’re an accountant or a software engineer. People label us that way. I think people get the golden handcuffs. They don’t want to leave an industry because of money or they don’t want to change because it’s hard. I like that you have this open-minded, “I can do anything.” Going back to Naveen, he said it’s easier to run a billion-dollar company than a million-dollar company. There’s a certain level where it takes money to make money and it’s easier to do certain things at a higher level. Do you agree with that?
I think that’s true. Every billion-dollar company was first million-dollar company and it was first before that, a one-dollar company. I don’t want people to lose sight of everything started somewhere because sometimes people look at something big and say, “I could never do that.” I say, “That’s because you’re looking at it now.” It didn’t start that way. Every single a great entity started with that first step and starting somewhere small and made it first dollar. The other thing that bothers me sometimes is the number of times people come up to me and say something to the effect of, “I’m building the next Facebook and I don’t mean necessarily social media.” Everybody thinks that everything they do has to be huge, global. You’ve got to stop thinking that way. Go start somewhere, build something, and the next one will be bigger.
Solve a problem where you live. You don’t have to save the world on day one. I see that too much. People have this idea that if it’s not grand and glorious, it doesn’t count. I was thinking about this on the speech I just gave at the United Nations, thinking about our country. America wasn’t built by the Facebooks and Googles. It was built by millions of small business owners, with dry cleaners, with restaurants, with landscaping companies. We’re built by the concept of entrepreneurship, but it’s not all grand and glorious. It’s people feeding their family, building their own companies, growing them where they can. I just don’t like it when everybody thinks everything they do has to be this global juggernaut or it doesn’t count. It does count. Every single effort counts. Every company counts.
If you’re thinking though about your legacy, I’m thinking about your legacy challenge. I got to ask you, if your funeral was now, how would you summarize you and your life and what do you wish people would say about you the day you finally die? Where did that come from by the way that you asked that?
My best friend in the whole world, Michael, passed away young. He drowned in a freak accident in the North Sea. The odds of that are so low but it happened. At his parent’s, they wanted me to do the eulogy at his funeral when I was walking around, getting ready and just thinking about losing my best friend. People were talking about his life and they were summarizing them. I’m sitting there going, “If Michael was here, he’ll kill himself all over again.” You got him completely wrong. People didn’t understand him. I was thinking, “If this is how you’re summarizing who he was and the life he lived, he’d be very disappointed.” I sat down in a chair there, the funeral, and I thought, “If I died right now,” and I challenge people reading this, take out a pencil and ask yourself a really honest question. “If you died right now and this was your funeral and people were there talking about you, how would they describe you and your life?” I wrote down what I thought they’d say and I was afraid most people would talk about our business exploits and business successes. I was like, “What a disappointment.” Then you’ve got to ask yourself the second question, which I did, which is, “What do you want people to say?” Now, you asked yourself what I think people honestly would say if my funeral? Then ask yourself this, “What do you wish they would say?” I remember thinking then I don’t really want to be judged by number of deals or dollars made. I want to be judged by the number of other people’s lives that I made better. I love people to walk by and say, “I’m so glad I knew him because he positively impacted my life.”
Then I went to the third thing, which is, “Are you actually doing that? Are you leading a life that is going to create that? That’s going to lead to that?” I was thinking, “We spent all our time chasing business deals and trying to make more money or do another deal or whatever and I wasn’t really doing that. That really helped me refocus. The last few years in my life, I’ve spent so many weeks and days and months mentoring business owners and entrepreneurs around the world because that’s what matters. That’s the legacy that I want. Once you know what you want your legacy to be, you’ve got to ask yourself that question, “Am I actually doing anything to make that happen?” For me that really did require a change. I actually was then the CEO of uBid, which we take in public and I resigned from that CEO life and said, “I’m going to spend my time as a mentor actually creating the legacy that matters to me.”
You’ve been doing that for how long now?
It was supposed to be year two and this is year six. Besides all over the US, I think I have met with entrepreneurs in about 60 or 70 different countries on this mentoring world tour that I’ve been doing for five or six years now. They’ve been the most fun and fulfilling years of my life anyway. I’ve been enjoying this way more than I did any business deal I’ve ever done.
How many hours a week do you work?
I didn’t plan to be working the amount that I am, but here’s what happens. Every time I say I’m done for the week, there’s another call or another email and another entrepreneur that says, “I’ve got this amazing idea. I just don’t know how to start. I don’t know how to build. Is there any way you could help me?” Each time I feel like I’m climbing in bed because I’m tired and I need a nap and then I read that and I say, “I’ll just go and I’d put my shoes on and head out again.” The last couple of years I’ve been working a lot of very long weeks and hours, but it’s because it’s motivating to me. I want to do this. It’s not stuff I have to do, it’s stuff that I absolutely love doing.
As much as you turn the news on every day and it’s all bad news, the truth is there are amazing people all over the world doing incredible things. They just don’t make the news the news. A school shooting, we’ll talk about that obviously. Politics is dominating the news or Rosy Ann or something and all of these amazing people out there that are creating a better world through entrepreneurship and through hard work. They just don’t make news but they’re out there. I feed off of their energy and so I wind up putting in way more hours at this point in my life than I ever thought I was going to but I can’t help it.
I think that some of you who are so successful, it is something that you just have the need to work and achieve and to help others. I remember talking to Craig Newmark and some of the others on my show about what you’ve done. Now that you’ve achieved this level of success and you’ve got this billionaire status and what you could do with all your money and do what you do. What’s the wildest thing you’ve done now that you can do it?
I think it’s what we’re doing now. We’re in the process of buying an NFL football team, which is something I never dreamed of being involved in. I’m a huge sports fan and football’s my number one. This has just been a crazy, fun thing to be doing.
It’s amazing what you’ve accomplished. I had so much fun talking to you. We have so much in common. Are you ever going to move back to Arizona?
It’s possible. I always thought about that as a kid growing up there that I might retire there somewhere someday.
It was so nice to have you on this show Jeff and I’m sure a lot of people would like to know how they can find out more about you. Did you have a website you want to share?
Naveen did the same thing. He gives out his email. How many emails do you get a day?
I get a lot but I will tell you this, that gives me something to do on all those long flights. As I fly all over the world, usually what I do is download all my emails. When people email me, that may take me awhile to get back to people but I always do eventually. I catch up on all my emails and I do read them. It just takes me a while because unfortunately I can’t always keep up with the traffic.
I’ve had two people for my show this week. They’re out of office email so they said they would get back to me, but they’re in the Himalayas. I’m thinking, “What are the odds of that? Do you have that as an outgoing message, too?
I usually put the, “Please be patient with me. I’ll get to you when I can.”
This has been so much fun, Jeff. Thank you again.
Thank you very much.
We’re out of time, but I really want to thank Jeff for being my guest. I could have talked to him all day. It’s just so fascinating everything he’s done. I’ve had so many great interviews here on this show from people that have done amazing things like Jeff, other billionaires, Forbes Top 30 under 30s. It’s just a variety of people who’ve just done amazing things. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can go to DrDianeHamiltonRadio.com to listen to them. I wanted to also ask if anybody’s interested in contacting me about curiosity and the work I’m doing with that, I’m always interested in any research or questions that you have about developing curiosity in the workplace. I go to organizations and I speak and I do a lot of things that are wrapped around a lot of the soft skills out there. My book is about curiosity. I’m going to be talking to a lot of groups about that. We’re doing an assessment where we’re going to discover the things that hold people back from developing their sense of curiosity.
We’re in the testing phase of that. That’s going to be a really great instrument that I think is going to help people develop their curiosity, which will lead to improved engagement, better productivity, better innovation. If you have any thoughts or want to chat with me about that, you can always contact me through my site which is DrDianeHamilton.com and I’m always interested to hear more about what you think about the show and my work. If you’re interested in, in having me speak or consult with your business, you can contact me there. This episode was amazing. Thank you, Jeff. You rock and was there a lot of fun. I hope everybody enjoyed it and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.
About Jeff Hoffman
Jeff Hoffman is a successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, worldwide motivational speaker, published author, film producer, and a producer of a Grammy-winning jazz album in 2015. He has been the founder of multiple startups, has been the CEO of both public and private companies, and has served as a senior executive in many capacities. Jeff has been part of a number of well-known companies, including Priceline.com. uBid.com, ColorJar, and more. Jeff is the author of Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back.
- Jeff Hoffman
- Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back
- Jeff Hoffman’s TEDx Talk
- Steve Wozniak
- I, Woz
- Global Entrepreneurship Congress
- Ken Fisher – previous episode
- Naveen Jain – previous episode
- Keith Krach – previous episode
- Craig Newmark – previous episode
- Doug Conant – previous episode
- Rich Karlgaard