Jim McKelvey is a serial entrepreneur, inventor, philanthropist, and artist.  He cofounded the mobile payments company Square and sits on the Board.  He also founded Invisibly, a digital content company, LaunchCode, a nonprofit that teaches technology literacy, and a glass art studio. His book is called The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • He has never had a life plan and because of that, he’s become very comfortable with uncertainty.
  • He was a state debate champion and owed much of his success to the ability to read the judges and adjust his strategy accordingly.
  • “If you want to be successful and make some money, copy what works. But if you want to have a phenomenally successful company, you have to do something original.”
  • The big insight was rather than going after an existing market of merchants already using credit cards, Square decided to go after a market that didn’t even exist – the tiny mom and pop merchants without access to the credit card payment networks.
  • They designed a small card reader that looked really cool and got your attention but was flimsy and difficult to use. But the novelty of it turned every Square sale into a Square advertisement. This allowed the product to go viral without needing to spend one dollar on advertising.
  • What allowed Square to survive a competitive attack by Amazon and thrive as a standalone company was their innovation stack. An innovation stack is a series of innovations needed to provide a new product or service and that collectively work together to provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
  • Training as an artist was a big help in mentally preparing to be an entrepreneur.
  • “Excellence is something that’s above and beyond normal good. It’s something that’s surprisingly wonderful.”

 

Show Notes

Book: The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time

Non-profit: LaunchCode

New startup: Invisibly

John Mackey is the co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market and co-founder of the nonprofit Conscious Capitalism. He is a co-author of the book Conscious Capitalism as well as his latest book called Conscious Leadership: Elevating Humanity Through Business.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • He had a food consciousness awakening when he moved into a vegetarian coop in his 20s. He learned that food could affect the way you feel, your health, vitality, and overall intelligence.
  • Early on, the conventional supermarkets didn’t take Whole Foods and the natural foods sector seriously since it was a relatively small industry. By the time they got to scale and supermarkets started to pay attention, Whole Foods was a formidable competitor.
  • John came close to being fired by the Board at Whole Foods. That’s when he turned inward and learned to be a more conscious, more emotionally intelligent, more spiritually awake leader.
  • There’s no better time to learn and grow than during challenging times. “Crisis is a tremendous opportunity to accelerate your own life growth, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually.”
  • The higher purpose of Whole Foods is to nourish people and the planet. As you scale an organization, you can’t take purpose for granted. If you want the purpose to stay alive, you have to put purpose first which means embodying it and teaching it.
  • Leading with integrity entails integrating one’s shadow which is the part of our being which we aren’t conscious of. Generally the things that we don’t like about ourselves are easier to repress from our consciousness and keep in the shadow.
  • “Excellence is doing something with all your attention and all your heart as best that you can do it.”

Show Notes

Whole Foods Market

Books:

Conscious Leadership

Conscious Capitalism

Jimmy Wales is the founder of the online non-profit encyclopedia Wikipedia and co-founder of the privately owned Wikia, Inc. including its entertainment media brand Fandom.  Wales serves on the board of trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit charitable organization he established to operate Wikipedia. In 2019, Jimmy launched WT Social – a news focused social network. In 2006 Jimmy was named in Time magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People in the World’ for his role in creating Wikipedia.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Jimmy was an avid reader as a child and used to devour the World Book Encyclopedia.
  • He took a cautious and conservative approach to entrepreneurship, taking manageable risks, learning to fail fast, and always spending less money than what he took in.
  • “I like to get up and do the most interesting thing I can think of to do and I try to live my life like that every day.”
  • The core value of Wikipedia, which is to present high quality, neutral, factual information, is what allows the organization to maintain its integrity and consistency.
  • He set a very aspirational mission for Wikipedia which is to give every person on the planet free access to the sum of all human knowledge.
  • The success of Wikipedia is staggering. It’s now a top 5 website globally with over 54 million articles in 300 languages and 1.5 billion visitors each month and growing.
  • To be a successful leader, you have to have clear and consistent values that people can buy into.
  • “Excellence is about doing something interesting and having fun. It’s got to be interesting because otherwise what’s the point?”

Jim McCloskey is the founder of Centurion Ministries, an organization devoted to exonerating wrongfully convicted prisoners who are serving life or death sentences.  To date, the organization has freed 64 innocent people. His new book is titled: When Truth Is All You Have: A Memoir of Faith, Justice, and Freedom for The Wrongly Convicted.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Today there are dozens of innocence organizations but Centurion Ministries was the first one. Jim was the father of the entire innocence movement.
  • He learned first-hand early on the unreliability of eyewitness testimony.
  • He was able to leverage his consulting background piecing together market research to figure out how to solve these wrongful convictions.
  • Building a relationship and rapport with key witnesses was just as vital to proving these cases and Jim had a natural ability in that regard.
  • Not every case would work out. He sometimes had false positives – clients he was trying to help who he later learned were actually guilty.  When that happens, it’s important to just admit the mistake and move on.
  • “This is a story of how I learned what a cruel, mindless, mean machine the justice system can be. How, in trying to combat evil in the world, the system can become just as evil – more so, because it is evil done in the name of all of us.”
  • To date, Centurion Ministries has freed 64 innocent men and women who collectively had spent 1,350 years behind bars.
  • “Excellence is doing what you feel is right for you given your personality and makeup.”

Links

Book: When Truth Is All You Have: A Memoir of Faith, Justice, and Freedom for the Wrongly Convicted

Organization: Centurion Ministries

Sarah Frey is the founder and CEO of Frey Farms which she founded at the age of 16.  The farm grows thousands of acres worth of fruits and vegetables.  Dubbed “the Pumpkin Queen of America” by the New York Times, she sells more pumpkins than any other producer in the United States.  She is also the owner of Tsamma, a bottled watermelon juice sold in over 1,500 stores all over the country.  Her new book is titled The Growing Season: How I Built a New Life – and Saved an American Farm.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Because she grew up poor and had to spend most of her free time doing chores around the farm, she learned to use her active imagination to escape.
  • Growing up without means was a strong motivator to find the freedom to live a better life and to have more control over her own destiny.
  • Her lack of scale and sophistication early on (no warehouses, distribution centers, extra drivers) became a competitive advantage, as delivering direct to the stores meant fresher and higher quality produce for the customers.
  • A lot of her success was due to her ability to exude confidence, even when she really wasn’t sure what she was doing.
  • Scrappiness is in her company’s DNA. A core philosophy from the beginning and just as relevant today is how to do more with less.
  • Always make sure that the customer’s needs are met. “Take care of the customer today and they will take care of you in the future.”
  • She doesn’t look for the polished, well educated, perfectly buttoned-up kinds of people but rather, the ones that have some imperfections. “Often the most imperfect people are the sweetest on the inside.”
  • “Excellence is loving what you do.”

 

Links:

Book: The Growing Season: How I Built a New Life – and Saved an American Farm

Frey Farms

Tsamma watermellon juice

Steve Case was the co-founder and CEO of AOL, the largest Internet company at the time, which he took public and eventually merged with Time Warner. Today he is the CEO of Revolution, an investment firm which invests in visionary entrepreneurs focused on building long lasting businesses.  He is also the Chairman of the Case Foundation and an author with a New York Times bestselling book called The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • There were much more heavily capitalized competitors but Steve decided that while the other online services were focusing on content and commerce, he would focus AOL more on community which ended up being the killer app that drove its success.
  • While you’re scaling, vision and strategy are important but the people are the most important thing to get right. You need to get the right people on the bus and in the right seats and going in the right direction.
  • AOL was by no means an overnight success. It took almost a decade to get to the first million subscribers.
  • The $350 billion mega merger of AOL and Time Warner is the biggest merger in history.
  • During the third wave of the Internet, the 3 “P’s” are going to be most critical for success: partnerships, policy and perseverance. The product-led founder archetype who found success with viral apps during the second wave won’t be adequate in the third wave.
  • “Vision without execution is hallucination.” – Thomas Edison
  • “Excellence is striving to do something important and doing it successfully and doing it well.”

Charles Schwab is the founder and chairman of The Charles Schwab Corporation. What began as a small discount brokerage company in the 70’s has evolved to become the nation’s largest publicly traded investment services firm, with close to $4 trillion in client assets. He is also the chairman of The Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, a private foundation focused on education, poverty prevention, human services, and health.  He is the author of several bestselling books with his latest memoir titled Invested.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • He had to work extra hard to build his self-confidence to overcome his dyslexia and to keep up in class.
  • People with dyslexia are conceptual thinkers who tend to not get lost in the weeds. Some people are very literal in learning and need to go from step 1 to 2 to 3 while dyslexics can go from step 1 to step 10.
  • Seeing an inherent conflict of interest between commissioned stock brokers and the customers, he invented a new contrarian business model by paying salaries to people placing trades with a bonus tied to the overall success of the company.
  • After the tech meldtown of the early 2000’s, Charles had to come out of retirement to run the company again. He had to lay off thousands of employees and get the company turned around.  Sometimes founders are the only ones who can make the tough calls and drive huge fundamental changes to the business.
  • He was a consummate innovator who continually pivoted, redefined the business, and opened up new markets. He knew it was important to disrupt yourself before someone else did it for you.
  • When hiring, beyond skills and experience, he looks at their character and ethics and their responsibility to the customer.
  • “Excellence is an ongoing pursuit. You are always striving for it but you never achieve it.”

Safi Bahcall received his BA in physics from Harvard and his PhD from Stanford. He co-founded Synta Pharmaceuticals—a biotechnology company developing new drugs for cancer.  He led its IPO and served as its CEO for 13 years. In 2008, he was named E&Y New England Biotechnology Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2011, he served on the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. Safi is the author of Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries. The book was selected by Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Pink, Susan Cain, and Adam Grant for the Next Big Idea Club.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • “Very often people go on a path that the world expects them to without ever pausing to say ‘why am I doing this?’”
  • For an entrepreneur, the critical ingredient for success in building a company is surrounding yourself with talented executives and then bridging the divide between people who wouldn’t naturally interact with one another.
  • Culture are the patterns of behavior you see on the surface in an organization while structure is what’s underneath that’s driving those patterns of behavior. The activities being rewarded (i.e. incentive structures) will drive the culture.  So it’s the structure that’s ultimately most important in influencing behavior.
  • As companies mature, employees tend to shift from focusing on collective goals toward focusing more on careers and promotions. To reduce that behavioral shift, you want to minimize the growth in compensation that comes with each level in the organization.  In addition, you want to maximize span of control.  With fewer promotions and less of a financial incentive as you move up the organization, employees will focus more on their projects and less on corporate politics.
  • You want some employees focused on activities that reduce risk and another set of employees focused on maximizing intelligent risk taking. Effective leaders create a dynamic equilibrium between these two groups and are able to effectively balance the core with the new.
  • Most innovative products will have at least one or two false fails on their way to achieving significant market traction. The key to success is to get really good at investigating failure and not just accepting it on face value.
  • Companies need to create a new C-suite role called a Chief Incentives Officer whose job is to design customized incentive packages to motivate employees and optimize outcomes.
  • “Excellence is always striving to improve yourself and improve your performance.”