S1: I think that building a business or a brand has all the elements of a great drama, there’s triumph, there’s heartbreak, there’s struggle, there’s loss, there’s unbelievable anxiety and also these moments of just incredible, you know, success.
S2: You’re listening to how to. I’m Guy Raz. Only joking. I’m Charles Duhigg. But if you listen to podcasts, you’ve probably heard Guy a lot. I’m Guy Raz.
S3: And on today’s show, how to at one point in the past couple of years, Guy hosted up to five different podcasts at the same time. And if the people who drink this stuff are right, he’s the only person to ever have three shows simultaneously on the top 20 list this.
S2: Is the TED Radio Hour nowadays, he’s probably best known for his show, How I Built This Show about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists and the stories behind the movements they built.
S1: Guy has a new book coming out based on those stories, and he’s here to share what he’s learned and to chat with a listener who wrote in for advice as a storyteller and a journalist, I was always really inspired by the hero’s journey. You know, it’s it’s Star Wars. It’s Harry Potter, it’s the Odyssey. It’s the Bible. Pretty much every story has the same narrative arc. You know, there’s a hero and the hero has this wild idea and it is banished because everyone thinks the hero is is a little nutty and the hero goes on a journey and falls into an abyss and fights a dragon, finds a mentor, has a near-death experience, comes out of it. It’s a simplification of it. But that’s basically the story of most businesses. And about about 12 years ago, I took classes at Harvard Business School and all of a sudden I’m reading these amazing stories about how companies came about and how they dealt with crisis. And I knew that one day I was going to tell these stories in audio.
S4: I’m actually in grad school. And and that was my favorite part about business school. So good, right? Yeah. That you just get to sit there and listen to these these people tell their stories about how they overcame some obstacle or had some big insight. And then and then the trick was to get the rest of the world to recognize that that insight was true.
S1: In so many cases, people are putting everything on the line. And and oftentimes, if you fail, there’s a price to pay. You know, there’s a financial price to pay or a reputational price to pay or just the misery of failing and having to get up off the floor and start again.
S4: And I think, you know, as I look back at my business school classmates who became entrepreneurs from the outside, it sort of seems like not a big deal. Right. I’m going to go start a company, but I think a lot of them it’s the biggest, most scary thing that a person can do in some ways is to start their own company. Yeah.
S5: On today’s show, How to become your own Boss. We’ll talk to a budding entrepreneur who wants to revolutionize his industry, but he has no idea where to begin. So can Guy help him kick start his hero’s journey? Stay with us.
S4: This week’s listener seeking some business advice is Mitchell from Missouri.
S6: Hello, everyone. I’m currently a third year physical therapy student.
S4: So you spent three years now getting ready for this career. And I imagine a lot of your classmates are just thinking to themselves, I’m just going to go get a job and work in someone else’s office.
S6: Yep, that’s pretty much exactly it. Usually thought of as a fairly safe career field with lots of options and lots of large companies that I’ll hire you on and you can work for, you know, your 40 years and retire after that.
S4: But that’s not the kind of career Mitchell wants. He’s aiming higher.
S6: I have kind of always been on the more entrepreneurial side of things. I mean, early on, I started lawn mowing business strictly because I didn’t want to work for other people.
S4: Mitchell’s parents are both engineers, and he says that when he sees something that’s broken, he has this urge to fix it. And as he gets ready to start a career in the physical therapy industry, he sees a lot of things that are broken.
S6: I’m not a big fan of the the idea that we’re working through insurance for most of of what we’re doing just because it becomes a roadblock. A lot of times in our treatment, as far as we’re only allowed to see patients so many times a week, you know, you can’t give them this type of a treatment because insurance won’t reimburse for that at all. And so I’m no longer able to make that same connection. I would love to with individual patients.
S3: Physical therapy, like most health care fields, is dominated by these large private insurance companies, which doesn’t leave much room for innovation or independent operators. And so Mitchell’s goal is to create a new kind of physical therapy business where his clients can get the help they need even after their insurance runs out. But how do you do that? Where do you even start? Mitchell says every time he brings us up with his classmates, they think he’s nuts.
S7: And once when he has a professor, the professor kind of just smiled and nodded and and said, yeah, I think that would be really nice, but we can’t really do that. So I tend to feel as though I kind of the crazy guy in the in the room oftentimes, I don’t know. At my end, it feels as though if no one else is doing it, then it must be a reason that no one’s doing it. And maybe there’s a reason that most people are not taking that route.
S4: So what are you hoping that we might we might help you with today?
S8: I guess in a perfect world, I’d love to know the risk versus reward. Like is it?
S6: You know, I’m worried that I’m going to be kind of stuck in an industry where I just I see all the negatives because I want to go do it on my own. But also, I don’t want to go jump straight into something and put both my myself and and the the livelihood of my wife at risk.
S4: Well, this makes a lot of sense that like these questions that you’re asking about, like, I don’t want to work for someone else. I want to be my own boss. It sounds like you have this entrepreneurial instinct. And so let me ask, like you’ve talked to hundreds of entrepreneurs at this point, as you listen to Mitchell talk about sort of the dilemma that he’s facing and trying to figure out how to make this decision. Does it remind you of any of the the entrepreneurs that you’ve spoken to before?
S1: So many. And the first thing I will say to you is that you have an incredible advantage over many other entrepreneurs because you have a skill, a transferable skill. It reminds me of Jane Worland who started terminological, who she went. Eventually, it was sold to Unilever for a quarter of a billion dollars cosmetics brand. But Jane was trained as a beautician. So she always knew that if her business idea would fail or if it didn’t work, she could always go back and, you know, earn a living. And it’s the same thing with you. If for some reason the plan doesn’t work out, you have an amazing and credible, comfortable, safe backup plan, which is you could always go back and work as a as a physical therapist at a clinic. Now, of course, you don’t want to do that, but knowing that and having that in the back of your mind already puts you ahead of the game because it gives you the peace of mind to kind of push forward and leap into this thing, which I think you should do. And I have lots of ideas for you.
S6: Yeah, well, I appreciate I appreciate you pointing that out because I don’t know if I would have looked at it in that same lens of if I do have a safety net of sorts and this is the first rule to figuring out if you should take the leap to become an entrepreneur.
S9: If you have a skill, then you’ve already got a backup plan in place. And that should give you a sense of confidence that you’re prepared to take this risk. If you have a solid Plan B, it’s easier to think seriously about trying the potentially scarier plan.
S10: A Well, it reminds me, Mitchell, of a story that Jim Cook tells. Jim Cook is a founder of the Boston Beer Company.
S1: I’m sure you’ve had a Sam Adams in your time. It is. It is. You know, that beer really launched the craft beer revolution in the United States. And Jim Cook, before he launched Boston Beer Company, was a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group. He was making a very comfortable salary. But you know what? He was miserable. He wasn’t happy at his job. And he came from a family of brewers, his grandfathers, great grandfathers, father, all brewers. And he started to really think about building a company around a craft beer.
S9: And so as Jim Cook was considering leaving his job to start a brewery, this big, risky decision, he started wondering how should he make this choice?
S1: And he had remembered this concept from his time doing a wilderness program, a concept of things that are dangerous and things that are scary. So, for example, if you were to walk up a gentle hill that was covered in snow, that could be very dangerous because, you know, you might actually trigger an avalanche. But if you’re climbing up a cliff and you’ve got ropes connected to you, that’s scary, but it’s probably not dangerous. And so as he thought about his options in life, he said leaving Boston Consulting Group was scary because he was giving up security, stability and all these things. But if it all failed, if it didn’t work out, he could always go back to being a consultant. He had that skill. So there are times when things are dangerous that we really want to avoid. And there are things that are scary that we have to sometimes push. Ourselves to go and pursue and I think in your case, it might be dangerous for you to stay and work at some clinic for the rest of your life because you’ll be dissatisfied.
S4: This is the next rule when you’re making a decision like this, a big life changing decision. Make sure you’ve figured out the distinction between what is scaring you and what’s actually dangerous. If it’s scary, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad idea. It just means that you might need to push yourself.
S5: On the other hand, if it’s dangerous, then maybe you should stay away. But sometimes the most dangerous choice is doing nothing and staying in a job that you hate.
S7: Yeah, when you say it that way, it definitely it clicks and it makes sense. And I can definitely see myself being dissatisfied over the long run. You know, the Rock-climbing example is something that I think really sticks out to me just because I was terrified of heights as a kid. And then as I tried to do those rock climbing things, I finally it clicked one day that I was hooked into it and there’s no way I’m going to fall.
S6: And all of a sudden I was able to to ride up the wall without a problem. And I never you know, I never had a fear of heights really since then.
S4: Good guy. Let me ask you, because I’m sure you’ve talked to a lot of people who are in similar situations with people who are starting companies where they wanted to do something that was fundamentally different from how the industry already worked. And and whether you’re getting those eye rolls from people or you’re getting people saying like, that would be great, but it’s impossible.
S1: Oh, I mean I mean, a classic example is Airbnb. Right. I mean, in 2008, Joe Gabriel Chesky went to 20 investors. They heard back from five to agree to have coffee with them. Zero invested because the question that they were asked was, who in the hell is going to stay at a stranger’s house? How is that ever going to work? I mean, Airbnb is the single biggest disruption to the hotel industry in modern history. Before the pandemic, when people were still staying in hotels on any given night, more people were staying in an Airbnb than the top five hotel chains combined in the world. But essentially at the beginning, I mean, everybody told them they were not. So every big idea, every disruptive idea is going to have tons and tons of pushback. In fact, Joe Gabey of Airbnb says if if your idea doesn’t make people uncomfortable, then then it’s possible that it’s possible that your idea actually isn’t yet good enough. So when people do push back, when people do say that that’s impossible, you might be on to something.
S4: So let me ask how how you make that transition then what happens between that impossible idea where everyone says you’re an idiot for even thinking that? And the day when you can say, look, I was right, how does the idea change or the entrepreneur change in a way that makes that idea seem more reasonable?
S1: Can we talk about Mitchell’s idea? Yeah. OK, so you’ve got this disruptive idea to change the way physical therapists are compensated, right? I mean, I think that what I think is so interesting about physical therapy in general is it is an industry incredibly ripe for disruption because most people who go to physical therapy, they will have their sessions with a physical therapist one, two, three, four times, and then they are given a series of exercises that they must complete at home on a regular basis to continue the physical therapy. Well, from what I understand, many, if not most people do not follow through. It’s the last mile problem. Yeah. And and soon enough, their elbows back to, you know, aching or their lower back is problematic again. And to me, there is a huge opportunity to try and figure out how to solve that problem.
S9: Here’s our next rule. To create a new company, to bring a new idea into the world, you need to know exactly what problem you’re solving. It’s easy to come up with new ideas. People have business ideas all the time. But what matters is finding an idea that makes someone else’s life better. If you’re solving a real problem, then people will want to figure out how to pay you for it.
S10: Is there a way to solve that last mile problem in tandem with offering this radically new payment structure? Um, so I think that there are all kinds of incredible opportunities to really change this industry in a big way. You know, the people who take the really big swings, they will strike out a lot. But when they connect with the ball, more often than not, it’s a triple or even a home run.
S5: Stick around for more business batting practice after this quick break. If you like this episode, check out another one about a small family business owner who doesn’t know how to deal with a particularly difficult employee. It’s called How to Fire Your Daughter, and it’s full of juicy details. You can find that in all of our episodes by subscribing for free to our podcast feed.
S4: We’re back with Mitchell are aspiring entrepreneur and our expert, Guy Raz. And before we talk about how to succeed in building a startup, we have to talk about what usually comes first. That’s right.
S1: Which is failure. And, you know, most entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed had had had previous failures before they hit and struck on the idea that work.
S4: And so the question becomes, if your first idea doesn’t work out, what do you do? How do you find the next iteration of your idea and then how do you start running with it? The answer is this guy is to start looking at how other industries, sometimes totally unrelated industries, have attacked problems like the one you’re trying to solve.
S10: And Charles and Michelle, let me ask you guys this question, a bit of a personal question. Do you exercise regularly? I know you do, Mitchell Charles. I aspire to. So, so so let me let me talk about my experience, the exercise. I hate exercise so much. I really hate it, but I exercise every day. And do you know how I do that? I do that because somebody holds me accountable. I have a person on video. It’s a very inexpensive because they don’t have to leave their house. And that person every morning tells me what to do. And I have to be there because that person is there and I’m paying them to hold me accountable. And I can imagine a world where you can begin to tackle the last mile problem and physical therapy by having a some kind of process or system where after that patient comes for those three sessions in person, they go home and they’re still paying a subscription and they have regular appointments with somebody for ten minutes a day by video, by phone.
S4: So what you’re saying is that like physical therapy becomes a gym membership or like a peloton subscription. Right. Which is totally different from how it works right now.
S1: Yeah. I mean, I think that this pandemic has opened up a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to virtual medicine, virtual personal training, which, by the way, has really brought brings the price point down.
S6: Yeah, that’s a that’s a great idea.
S4: I really like the subscription idea well, and what I love about this is that what we’re doing right now within psychology and economics is known as being innovation brokers, where people people take ideas from one setting and they sort of drag them into a new a new environment. Mitchell, let me ask you if we were to tell you that over the next month, your assignment is to think about physical therapy, but to go and look at other companies and how they’re structured that your job was to come up with what the uber physical therapy would look like and what the Netflix of physical therapy would look like. Do you think that that would open up some possibilities that you haven’t thought of before?
S6: Yeah, I think I think that would be a really good idea and almost create different models in different cases. And I think that that might be a better route as opposed to what I’ve been doing, which has mostly been kind of piecemealing everything together.
S4: Guy when when you talk to entrepreneurs and they find something that works. Is it because that entrepreneur has one big insight, an AHA moment, or is it because they’re learning a lot of little things over the years? How does that process of discovery work?
S1: I think in a lot of in most cases they have an unshakable belief that this is a problem that needs to be solved. So similar to Mitchell’s case, he believes that there is a problem that needs to be solved. And that is an incredibly powerful motivating factor. I mean, some of the most innovative, you know, leaders like like James Dyson, he knew in his mind it took him eight years to come up with that vacuum cleaner, but he knew that a backless vacuum cleaner would be a better vacuum cleaner, you know, would offer a solution to, you know, to to people doing household chores that, you know, would improve their their lives. And and so even though it took him eight years and even though lots of people told him he was crazy and even though he was, you know, bankrupted at the age of 42, he just was unshakable in his view that this was a problem that needed to be solved and that he really believed he could solve it.
S4: That’s really interesting. And that brings us to sort of the emotional aspect of this. We’ve been talking a lot about about the logistics, but starting a company is going to be emotionally trying. Guy, when you’ve talked to entrepreneurs, how important is it that they’ve had something in their background where they’ve learned how to handle disappointment and setbacks?
S1: I think that. One of the ways that they that many entrepreneurs manage their emotions and I think many of many of all of us do, is by having somebody along with you for the ride. And it’s why oftentimes co-founders are more successful than individual founders, because you may have you’re always going to have a period where things seem insurmountable and one one partner might want to pack it in and give up. But the other one’s feeling really confident and feeling more optimistic. And that is actually one of the most effective ways to kind of deal with with with setbacks and with crises. Would you consider Mitchell going and trying to find a co-founder?
S8: I yeah, I’ve actually tried to recruit some some classmates already. I don’t think I’ve sold them on the idea yet. I think it’s kind of it’s a safe industry to get into. And so it almost in a way, selects for people who who want to have that security. And I’ve talked with a couple a couple of people in particular who have almost explicitly said that they really look forward to the day when they wake up, go to their job, come home with a paycheck and can redo it the next day.
S1: I mean, I would I would start with trying to connect with entrepreneurial groups or clubs or organizations in, you know, where you live. And you might try and connect with, you know, graduates of the business programs at the university.
S4: I think it’s a great idea. You walk over to the business school and you talk to the there’s usually a professor of entrepreneurship and you say say to that professor, hey, you know who’s interested in health care, who’s in your class? And suddenly you’ve got three or four coffee appointments lined up.
S9: This is another consider bringing on a co-founder or a partner, look for mentors. Even if they’re not directly in your field network like crazy, those people might become your support group. When things get tough or even future customers. They’re important because it’s hard to do this alone.
S1: I think there’s a myth about entrepreneurs, Charles, that they are kamikazes, that they leap out of airplanes without parachutes. I have rarely encountered an entrepreneur like that. Of course you’ve got some. But I think by and large, most entrepreneurs are Clark Kent’s right. They are like us. The only difference is that at some point they went into a phone booth and they put the cape on and then they started to fly. Most of the people I’ve interviewed, oftentimes, they they really begin the planning while they have another job. I mean, Topia Owatonna, he started cowardly, this incredible program where you can sign up for a meeting with anybody. You know, he was working for an enterprise software company as a sales rep well into the time after he launched this this product because he still needed a paycheck. You know, there all kinds of things that could go wrong, that could be a pandemic, you know? You know, we just don’t know. So so risk is super important. You know, the greater the risk, the greater the reward. But you’re always, in my view, you always want to figure out how to mitigate that risk as much as you can.
S8: So, guy, with the people you’ve talked with, because I was kind of under the same impression that most entrepreneurs just jump in full force and just go at it with the people you talked to. Did you ever notice a kind of consistent trend on when they made that transition into full fledged into their new new space? Did they do it, you know, once they felt they could financially support themselves? Did they do it? You know, once they realized they couldn’t, you know, time wise commit to doing both?
S1: Yeah. I mean, it really sort of depends on the individual story, but yes. Yes and yes. I mean, in some cases, it was when they could see that this thing was going to work, in some cases when they realized that they couldn’t split their time anymore. But in almost every case, the person knew something inside of them said, hit the go button. Now, now, now it’s time to do this.
S4: And what about age? Because I think there’s this this image out there of of Mark Zuckerberg, right. Dropping out of college and starting Facebook when he was 19 years old and in Mitchell Mitchell’s in his early 20s. Maybe he’s too old to actually start his own company by now. Maybe he should start years ago.
S1: Oh, my God, Mitchell, you’re in your early 20s. You have and you have the luxury of failing and failing and failing and failing multiple times. I mean, most businesses people don’t realize this. Most first time entrepreneurs are thirty nine and a half. That is the average age of a first time entrepreneur. And as I said, Mitchell, in your case, your backup plan is you have this marketable, transferable skill that you can take with you to any part of the country at any time. If this enterprise for some reason didn’t work.
S8: I think I think that’s very invigorating. I mean, I’m still nervous of the failure. I know you said failing multiple times is OK, but it still is. Like you said, it’s scary but not dangerous. So that’s a good thing to think about.
S4: We’ve talked about a lot of successful companies and unexpected successes. But the one thing that’s undergirding all of this is that we’re talking about health care. Right. And the health insurance industry. Is this a behemoth that that has resisted change for decades? OK, from your perspective, what are the chances that Mitchell can go up against this entrenched system and actually make a difference?
S1: I think the chances are pretty good, I mean, especially because physical therapy is a sort of a part of that huge behemoth and it’s not at the center of it. Yeah, and it’s something that every single person will interact with at some point. And and I think that it’s one of these industries that the more I hear about it for Mitchell, what I the limited amount I know about it is really ripe for a huge disruption, for huge change. And I don’t know whether there are that many people really focused on this right now.
S11: And this is the last rule and there’s a lot of data to back this up. Even when you’re taking on a big established industry, there’s still plenty of room to succeed. All you have to do is look at the history of American business and you see these new ideas remaking entire marketplaces all the time. There’s the famous examples like Uber and Airbnb, but there’s also lots of smaller ones, like two guys who decided to start making better ice cream and eventually became Ben and Jerry’s. If you see a problem and you keep plugging away. That’s how new industries get born, especially if you stay focused on who you’re trying to help. Tell me a story about your favorite patient, like, is there one patient who stands out in your mind that you really felt like you helped?
S12: Yeah, I have one in particular that I remember. And he he had come in with a knee problem and he was fairly sedentary in his life. And he hadn’t been doing much recently, but he had been fairly active in his younger years. And so he was kind of middle aged. And when I had started pushing him a little bit more, he started to kind of really thrive from it. And I could just see kind of that fire in his eyes as he was really starting to love it. And sadly, this is one of those scenarios where the insurance kind of ran out. And so we did the best we could. And you talk about the last mile physical therapy. That kind of a patient was one where I just I really enjoyed seeing him every day and seeing his growth.
S4: And he seems like the type of guy that your new model could really help someone who you could continue working with even after the insurance runs out, because it probably means a lot to him. It’s probably something he’s willing to pay for.
S6: Yeah. And seeing that he could move out of his sedentary life and and change so much about his health and his entire entire life by doing this was was really exciting.
S5: Thanks to Mitchell for sharing his story with us and to Guy Raz, for all of his fantastic advice, you should make sure to look for his new book, How I Built This Coming Out Soon, based on what he’s learned on his podcast. And you can find all of his many different podcasts at Guy Raz Dotcom. Do you have a problem that needs solving or a desire to become a mogul that takes over the entire world? If so, send us a note at how to add slate dotcom or leave us a voicemail at six four six four nine five four zero zero one. We might have you on the show. How TOS executive producer is Derek John Ridgell Allen is our production assistant and Mayor Jacov is our engineer. Our theme music is by Hanesbrands. June Thomas is senior managing producer and Elisa Montgomery is executive producer of Slate podcasts. Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director of audio special thanks to Bill Carey, Katie Raeford and Sung Park. I’m Charles Duhigg. Thanks for listening. And back off Guy Raz. Hi, this is Charles Duhigg from how to and so far, the new school year is off to a kind of rocky start in the Duke household. Meet my two sons. Would you say you like school right now? No, it’s boring and it’s hard to socialize with and zoom. Do you like sometimes do other things on your computer besides class? No, I do. Yeah, I like what Minecraft you do. Minecraft is what we do in class. This back to school season, as you undoubtedly know, is unlike any other whether your kids are sitting six feet apart in the classroom wearing masks or permanently logged into Zoom and you’re worried about their minds turning to mush. There’s no lesson plan for this kind of school year.
S13: Yes. And we’re in for the long haul. And now it feels like there’s probably a right way to do it with a capital R, and I don’t know what it is.
S14: You know, when you look at that big, bad Internet, there’s just so much available to you and it’s so easy to find and it’s so easy for for it to find you.
S4: Screentime Virtual sex ed applying to college during a pandemic and a recession. In our special three part series Cheat Sheet, we take on your biggest back to school questions.
S13: You know, you don’t have to be perfect, but just trying and indicating a willingness to have difficult, uncomfortable conversations that you don’t know how to have, what an amazing thing that is to show to your child. So do your homework and look for cheat sheet from how to come in September 1st wherever you listen to podcasts.