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

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?”

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.”

Colin Follenweider is one of the top professional stuntmen in Hollywood. He has performed stunts in Spider-Man, Transformers, Iron Man, X-Men, Captain America, Avatar, and Die Hard and has 86 total stunt credits to his name.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • He is one of Hollywood’s top stuntmen and has performed stunts in dozens of blockbuster films.
  • It’s good to know the direction you’re heading, even if you’re not sure of the ultimate destination.
  • His motto was “Action, Inspiration”. If you always wait for inspiration to hit, you’re going to keep waiting.  But if you start doing something, you’re going to get inspired how to do it.
  • He wasn’t necessarily the best at every kind of stunt but he could do most stunts well enough and unlike many stunt people, he was really easy going. People enjoyed hanging around him which made them want to work with him again and again.
  • Stunt work is a highly collaborative effort. “Spiralling in” is when you start with lots of ideas around the outside and slowly tweak them on the way toward reaching a compromise that works for everyone.
  • Even if you’re very confident in something, when you lose your nervousness about it and you take it for granted, that’s when accidents are most likely to happen.
  • “The pursuit of excellence is more important than the accomplishment of saying ‘I’m excellent’. Being mildly disappointed helps the pursuit of excellence, as you’re always striving to get better.”

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.”

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.”

Steve Schwarzman is the co-founder and CEO of Blackstone, one of the world’s largest and most successful investment funds with over a half trillion dollars under management. Steve is an active philanthropist with a history of supporting education, culture, and the arts.  He holds a BA from Yale and an MBA from Harvard Business School.  His new book is called What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • He has always been very competitive. When he graduated from Yale, he insisted upon an extra $500 a year in his offer from a prestigious investment bank so he could be the highest paid graduate from his class.
  • “What I lacked in basic economics, I made up for with my ability to see patterns and develop new solutions and paradigms, and with the sheer will to turn my ideas into reality.”
  • He single-handedly advised Tropicana on getting acquired, which was the second largest transaction in the world that year, even though he had absolutely no M&A experience up until that point.
  • “To be successful you have to put yourself in situations and places you have no right being in. You shake your head and learn from your own stupidity. But through sheer will, you wear the world down, and it gives you what you want.”
  • They closed on their first fund of $1 billion the morning of October 19th, 1987, aka Black Monday, the largest one day drop in stock market history. Just one day later and Blackstone might not have ever gotten off the ground.
  • After losing some money on a deal, he re-architected the entire investment decision making process to be much more rigorous with the goal of engineering out the risk so as to never lose money again
  • He has a philosophy to only hire “10’s”. Those people tend to be intelligent, articulate, calm, energetic, curious, and can envision the future.
  • “Excellence is being the best that you can be at whatever you choose to do.”