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

Alain Robert is the world’s leading free climber and is known all over the world as the “French Spiderman” for free climbing skyscrapers. He has climbed 163 buildings in 70 different countries. He has a documentary on Amazon Prime titled My Next Challenge and is the author of a book With Bare Hands: The True Story of Alain Robert, the Real-Life Spiderman.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • His insecurity as a child was the early motivation to try something to build confidence and to stand out.
  • He didn’t start climbing because he wasn’t afraid of heights. He climbed in spite of his fear of heights.
  • Alain used to do free solo rock climbing and was considered by many to be the best in the world.
  • As climbing gained in popularity, he lost interest. “Climbing wasn’t about racing or competing but about freedom and self-expression.”
  • Most people aren’t really enjoying their lives. They do what they need to do to make a living but are bored with their work and just live for the weekends.  They are wasting most of their lives away.
  • “It takes a certain amount of energy to climb a building. If you have the energy, you’ll make it to the top.  If you don’t, you’ll die.”
  • “What scares me the most is a boring life.”
  • “Most people are dreaming their life but I was on the other side living my dream.”

David Fajgenbaum is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the associate director for the Orphan Disease Center.  He is also cofounder and executive director of the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network and the cofounder of the National Students of Ailing Mothers and Fathers Support Network. He has received numerous awards including the Forbes “30 Under 30” for healthcare and the RARE Champion of Hope Award for science.  His memoir is titled Chasing My Cure: A Doctor’s Race to Turn Hope into Action.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • David has a hyperfocus variant of ADHD which allows him to focus for hours upon hours on a topic which has enabled much of his success.
  • The way he started living life with no regrets was through his new mantra: “Think it, do it”. If he thinks about doing something and it’s really important, he doesn’t over think it like he used to.  He just does it.
  • He was able to see humor even in the most dire of circumstances. “I came to understand that in no situation other than facing death is a sense of humor more necessary. Humor made me look my suffering in the eye and laugh at it. Facing my horrible moments with laughter was just as fundamentally a rejection of Castleman’s dominion over me as anything else I was doing.”
  • We still have a long way to go. 95% of the 7,000 rare diseases that affect 30 million Americans don’t have a single FDA approved therapy.
  • Either you’re hopeful and you wait for that thing you’re hoping for to become reality or you’re very action oriented and you take matters into your own hands. He has learned to turn hope into action.
  • Don’t just sit back and wait for the silver linings to appear but what can you do to create the silver linings. It’s up to you to make some positive out of something terrible.
  • “I consider myself to be very fortunate. My experience has liberated me to follow my passions and has given me peace, knowing that I’m making the most of every day while my clock is ticking.”
  • “Excellence is doing exactly what you feel driven to do to the absolute best of your ability.”

 

Show Notes:

Book: Chasing My Cure

Castleman Disease Collaborative Network

University of Pennsylvania bio page

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.”

In 2019 Victor became the first person to dive in a submersible to the deepest points in all five of the world’s oceans. In 2017 he became the 12th person to complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam, climbing the highest peak on all seven continents and skiing to the North and South Poles.  He is the managing partner of a private equity firm called Insight Equity and holds degrees from Stanford, MIT, and Harvard Business School.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Doing well in school wasn’t about some unfettered ambition but rather, a desire to explore and just be good at something.
  • It’s nice to have a plan but plans don’t always work out so it’s important to give yourself options. When you’re young, you should build a really good skill set and from there opportunities will surface.
  • “We should try to live as maximally as we can and make precious use of this time that we’re given because it goes quickly.”
  • He never set out to climb all 7 peaks as a goal but rather “just fell into it” by wanting to do things that were interesting.
  • “I don’t think we’re put on this Earth just to be comfortable. I believe there has to be an element of challenge and suffering to have a complete life.”
  • “Humans have this ability to draw this incredible strength to overcome our bodies and our minds to do extraordinary things.”
  • “You can’t let fear control you because fear can lead to panic and panic can lead to disaster.”
  • “Excellence is never stopping to continuing to improve.”

Dan Buettner is an explorer, National Geographic Fellow, award-winning journalist and producer, and a New York Times bestselling author. He discovered the five places in the world—dubbed Blue Zones—where people live the longest, healthiest lives.  He is the founder of Blue Zones , a company that puts the world’s best practices in longevity and well-being to work in people’s lives. He has written a number of NY Times best-selling books with his latest one titled: “The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100”.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Setting world records on a bike was a vehicle to fund his addiction to fascinations. The work needed to set these world records provided the tools needed for future scientific exploration – you have to develop a lot of patience, you have to be strategically prepared, and you have to know how to network with experts across various fields.
  • He has discovered and studied hot spots of longevity around the world where people are statistically the longest lived. He coined these regions Blue Zones.  Blue Zones must meet at least one of three criteria: high middle aged mortality (chances of reaching the age of 90), low chronic disease, or high centenarian rate.
  • Health behaviors are known to be measurably contagious.
  • Going to the gym a few times a week isn’t enough to offset the damage from a sedentary lifestyle. It’s important to move around naturally throughout the day.
  • People who know their sense of purpose live around 8 years longer than people who are rudderless.
  • Other important practices found in Blue Zones include sacred everyday rituals to relieve the stresses of everyday life; a diet composed primarily of plant based whole foods; a couple glasses of wine a day; breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper; putting family first; belonging to a faith; strong social support systems.
  • Loneliness is as harmful for your health as a bad smoking habit.
  • What produces health is not a function of behavioral modification but rather a function of the environment in which we live.
  • “Excellence is having a very clear idea of what your personal passions are, what you’re good at, and having an outlet to do it every day for most of your life.”

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.”