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?”

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.”

Jon Dorenbos is a former professional football player and magician.  He played for 14 seasons in the NFL as a long snapper with the Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles.  He had a parallel career as a magician and was a finalist on America’s Got Talent, placing third overall amongst tens of thousands of competitors. He is a regular guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and his new book is called “Life is Magic: My Inspiring Journey from Tragedy to Self-Discovery.”

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Don’t listen to that negative inner voice which is constantly doubting yourself. Rather, you should talk to yourself out loud and say where you plan to go in life. The narrative you tell yourself is going to ultimately become your own reality.
  • Magic was more that tricks. It was a form of meditation that helped him heal his emotional wounds.  Magic allowed him to quiet all the negativity and just be lost in the moment.
  • On his path to becoming an NFL star, he had to first get picked up by a division I school and to do so, he doctored up some long snapping footage of other players to look like it was his own. He knew in his heart he was really good enough and was willing to do whatever it took to give himself a chance.
  • Being a long snapper requires extreme mental toughness. You might only play 10 plays the entire game so you have to be able to have closure quickly, you have to be able to forgive, and you have to be able to move on.
  • Things are easy or difficult based on how we perceive them in our mind. If you think it’s easy, it is, and vice versa.
  • The key ingredients to success for both magic and football are discipline, hard work, passion, and a drive to want to be great and change the world.
  • You need to decide which story you choose to hold onto. Focusing on the negative or positive stories in your life will dictate the kind of life you’re going to live.
  • “Excellence is about showing up. Showing up every day, showing up on time, and showing up ready to work.”

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.”