Transcribe your podcast

I'm Jack, Sam's brother, and we are here in our backyard where we also live with our other brother and Sam to get some advice about how to have an impact on the world. And since he can interview himself, here I am. So, Sam. Thank you.


Thank you for taking the time. Yeah. My pleasure. So to get started, I think one of the things that people talk a lot about is how to get things done when you're working on. But I know you spend a lot of time thinking about sort of what to work on. So could you talk a little bit about how to pick what's important to work on? Yeah, I think you want to look for the intersection of what you're good at, what you enjoy and what where you can create value for the world.


And in my experience, if you don't find me the intersection of those three, it's hard to really have an impact. I think most people kind of just fall into what they work on. They don't give it much thought. And there is benefit to that. Sometimes you actually have to just try stuff to figure out what you like. But I really do think it is worth upfront thought about what you're going to spend most of your waking time doing.


So I think it's really good when people think about what they're good at, what they like and and kind of how they can create value for the world and sort of in addition to what people are working on, I know at Y Combinator, do you talk a lot about who people are working on things with? How do you advise people to select sort of who they're working on things with?


This is this is really hard. Finding your tribe, finding the sort of people that you end up working with on and off for the rest of your career is really hard. I think I'll tell you some things I've learned and I will admit that I don't have a perfect answer to this yet.


But I think one thing is you should be willing to move for whatever you were doing. There tend to be pockets of it around the world where there are similar people that are doing great work in whatever field you care about. And it's really worth trying to go be be near them. And so, you know, we get criticized sometimes at Y C for having people moved to the Bay Area. But bringing people together that are interested in this similar thing of startups, I think has been really valuable for for a lot of people.


I think another thing that I have learned is that whenever I've helped people for for no immediate benefit and with no intention of ever getting a benefit at all time and again in my career, it has really later benefited me a lot. So I think you at some point often get to a point your career where you are limited by how many good people you know and and how many of those you can work with or get to do things that together and so forth.


And just helping a lot of people and spending a lot of time with a lot of people has benefited me. You know, years after I've really helped someone for no reason. I get to invest in their startup and it goes on to be a huge success or were able to like work on opening together any number of things. I think just trying to help a lot of people and out of that scene who is really impressive and who gets things done is helpful.


And in terms of how to actually get things done to you've selected what to work on, who to work on it with, you think maybe you found your tribe and then kind of now what what are what are sort of the best ways to actually accomplish big things?


Well, there's a Charlie Rose quote on this that I've always loved and I've since added one more element to it. But the quote is that the way things get done in the world are through a combination of focus and personal connection. And the additional point I would make after having thought about it for a while is that the third factor is self-belief. It's you really have to have a deep seated personal conviction that this thing you're going to do, that a lot of people say is really stupid, is going to work and going to be important.


But I think those three things focus personal connections and self-belief. In my experience are how things get done in the world. So since you were you know, as long as, you know, you've you've grown up and certainly through your twenties and now you've worked incredibly hard, and I know that a lot of the people around you have worked very hard.


What's sort of the advice for the way that you think about your work life balance in your 20s? And what do you recommend to people who want to do these things and also want to experience their twenties?


Well, I don't think I work as hard as a lot of people. I think I do work pretty hard. But I'd say it's really I think it's compound interest is a good metaphor here. If you work really hard at the beginning of your career and you get a little bit better, what you do everyday, every week, every year, and you learn more and you meet more people and you just get more done. There's a compound effect and it's far better to put that time in at the beginning of your career than at the end, because if you do at the beginning, you get to benefit from it, know for the rest the time you work.


So, you know, one thing I always try to do is like meet every person I have time for, go to every, you know, go to everything I could and just like spend a little bit more time trying to learn and get better what I did, what I do. And I think that is really valuable. The you know, the beginning of your career, I think, in terms of studying the trajectory of the rest of your career follows is the most valuable time.


And so obviously, you don't want to work all the time because your 20s, your 20s. But I do think you want to work harder than most people think you should. And I think that if you do that, you tend to benefit from it later. Life is super unfair. Sometimes you also just get unlucky. And so all you can do is kind of maximize chances there. But I do think that working hard early in your career to get the leverage in the company effects is underrated.


And one of the most valuable piece of advice that I never got.


And so going into that idea of these early years being particularly valuable and working very hard on things, how do you decide when you've worked on something long enough and it's time to call it quits or when you've worked on it for four years and you're just about to have that breakthrough? How do you make that distinction? Yeah, this this is really hard. Knowing when to quit and knowing when to give up on something is there's no perfect answer to that, but it's really challenging to even get that approximately correct.


I think most people give up on things way too early. So the mistake that most people make is they try something. It does not immediately work. You see this particularly in young entrepreneurs. It does not immediately work after seven weeks. They say, you know what, I tried this thing. It's just not meant to be. And I have too many other projects. And so they immediately give up. And you kind of you know, the satirical version of this is people that are twenty three and have started 14 startups because they give up on everyone before I could ever possibly be successful.


These things are really hard. They take a very long time. There are a lot of critics there, a lot of people who say this thing sucks. It's gonna fail. It's really stupid. And then also there's like what Y C we call the trough of sorrow, where no one even bothers to say it sucks because no one cares at all.


And that is at least as demotivating. Most of the founders that I have spent a lot of time with, they've gone on to be super successful, spent a very long time on their idea when a lot of other people would have given up. And either people said it sucks or people said nothing at all. And. A framework that I have for when to go up and want to keep working. Is it should be an internal and external decision. If people aren't using it or people are saying it's bad.


That alone is not a reason to give up. You want to pay some attention to that. They might be right. But. I think the best entrepreneurs I know, they make an internal decision about when to give up or when to keep working on something. It's basically when you have run out of ideas and something is not working, then it's a good time to stop. And so into this idea that you need a long time to do anything important.


What's the source of motivation for people like what should people be looking to find, to be inspired or to keep going on these ideas for a long period of time? I think if you don't actually believe what you're doing is really important, and if you don't derive satisfaction from what you're doing, then you will not be able to sustain all of the bad things that happen and the incredibly long period of time that the bad things happened over. And so the the only motivation that I have seen work for people over a long period of time is enjoyment and what they're doing and an intense belief that it matters.


And ideally liking the people that they go to work with every day. But the I think the reasons that a lot of people. And by the way, it's totally cool when people start off saying, well, I want to make money or I want to be famous. I think a lot of people start that way. And I don't like to admit it.


But pretty quickly, or at least in the first few years, I think a lot of people find a deeper mission for why they do what they do and that drives them then for the rest of the time they work. Have you noticed a change in what motivates you over the last, say, ten or twelve years?


Yeah, I mean, I think I. At this point, I am sort of only interested in things that I find sort of interesting and important and early on. Like a lot of other people, I think I was like, well, I want make money. I want it, you know, like being the press or whatever else. And I wouldn't say that doesn't motivate me at all. But it's honestly not a big factor at this point. I just sort of like there's a set of things that I think are.


Important. And I to work on this. I think another point about motivation that is that people don't talk about enough is really to burnout. So I was told and I thought for a long time that you get burned out from working toward and at least in my own experience, what I found is that burnout actually comes from feeling and things not working. Momentum is really energizing. The lack of momentum is super draining. And I find that I have infinite energy to work on things that I find interesting and that are working and almost none to work on things that I either don't find interesting or aren't working.


And so I think you see a lot of founders try something and fail and assume that they just can't work hard enough or not enough energy or passion or whatever. And that's actually not true. It's just that that didn't didn't work. And what you should do is shut that company down. Go on vacation and try again. And many people then find that, oh, actually, when I'm doing this thing that I like and that is working. I have a huge amount of energy and I can get a lot of stuff done.


And so when you look at really successful people and say, how do they get all these things done? It's they have the benefit of momentum. And momentum is energizing and the lack of momentum is really not energizing. Working on a lot of these problems that, you know, kind of inspire this type of motivation are sort of inherently riskier. And I know, you know, this is something that we've talked about a lot about sort of the concept of taking risk in a career, being a repeated game.


But how do you how do you think about the idea of taking risks in your career and how should people think about it maybe differently than they currently do?


Well, yeah, I think people have terrible risk calculus in general. Even people who try to be really good about this are bad at it. The answer, I think, is almost always a.


You're wrong about what is risky, but it's not risky. And B, most people don't take enough risk, especially early in your career, being on young and unknown and poor. That is actually a great gift in terms of the amount of risk you can take. And I think people don't capitalize on that enough. I think what risk actually looks like is not doing something that you will then spend the rest of your life regretting. And there's a quote, you know, people regret way more the things they didn't do than things that they did do.


So if you really believe in something, there's an idea that you're super passionate about. You know, and you take a calculated risk to start a company realizing you may forego a couple of years of steady income in another job and whatever else. And, you know, maybe people call you a failure, whatever. That's a great risk to take. And if you don't take that risk, I think you have very high chance that you end up regretting that.


I think the wrong kind of risk takers where people don't actually do things or don't commit something because they don't want to fail and they overrate the risk of failure and the reputation damage or embarrassment or whatever. I think. One really important thing to strive for in your career is to be a doer, not a talker. And the reason that people don't do stuff one is it's hard. And two is it's risky. And so you have these people that, you know, want to dabble in a bunch of different projects but never be all in on one.


And I think it's this combination of work and risk. And it's you know, I think that's really bad. I think history belongs to the doers. And I think you should take a risk, actually do something. Don't just sit around and talk and organize and bring together groups and go to thought leadership conferences or whatever it is these people spend their time on other than actually building something and just take the risk of committing to what you have conviction on.


Yeah. And I think people also seem to have sort of the fear of being told no a lot and not asking for what they want. I'm sure that's something that you've encountered with people.


Yeah. This was one of the other things I learned that I wish I had gotten advice on early in my career is ask for what you want. You will get told no a lot. But sometimes it will work. And I think you see a lot of entrepreneurs shoot themselves in the foot because they don't ask that person to quit their job and come join them. They don't ask this big company to do a deal with them. And they're just not aggressive enough.


And I think you. Being willing to ask what you want and be somewhat aggressive are really important characteristics of being an entrepreneur. People don't want to fail. They don't want to be told no. They don't want to end up in some crisis.


Another thing that I learned and I wanted to say, I wish someone told me this one, because I don't think it's a lesson anyone can teach you.


You have to just live through it is that each crisis gets less scary than the one before it. You're running a company now. I'm sure you've. I hope you've noticed this by now. You there are a lot of things that really go wrong and they feel like company human events and they feel like there's no way you're going to survive because the crises are really bad. Anything you learn is that you generally do survive these and that the world doesn't usually end.


And even if in the moment something happens, you have no idea how you're going to get around it. You eventually figure out a way, and because of that, you know, on the 19th major crisis, you're like, well, I survived the first 18. I'll probably get through this one. And you kind of just do the phone that rings true. So switching into a big topic of sort of money and or the long term view of it and how people can think about it most clearly, machine to start with a quick story I think illustrates a bit of your views.


This is from when we were very young and our grandma gave us each some stock. Oh, this is a good story in a company. You can tell this one. Okay. So she gave us each some stock in a company that she thought we would like. And so, as you like to point out, I was heavier as a child. And one of the things I liked was Applebee's. And you are hacking away on computers and things like Apple.


And so we each got an equal amount of Apple and Applebee's.


It's like 20 years, 20 years, you know. And I think neither of us has sold it. In fact, you nicely brought me my Applebee's stock back from St Lewis recently. Your stock certificates so long ago, it was still paper certificates and I think inflation adjusted. I've probably lost half my value there, whereas I think your apple has gone up something like I don't even want to think about it. Hundreds and hundreds. Yes. Spell out, how do you think about sort of the long term willingness to hold on to things?


What are the advantages somebody has early in their career? How should people think about money when they're young?


Yeah. You know, I still have those Apple shares marked in my brokerage account as grandmas birthday Apple shares. You know, I'm good. I'm going to keep them. I should benchmark them against Applebee's.


So I think that one of the few arbitrage opportunities left in the market is time.


I think we have gotten really good at high frequency trading. We've gotten really good at the price of things and we've gotten worse in the long term value and.


I don't think you can go beat the market in a lot of ways. But the one way I do is, is by making a long term commitment to something. I think that. I my new belief on how long I should hold stock in the best companies I invest in is forever. And I think, you know, in a world where people are increasingly focused on the tech and the quarterly earnings cycle, you should try and go in the other direction and.


This is a great way to generate value and wealth. And so I think that when you were thinking about a startup, it's really worthwhile to think about something you're willing to make a very long term commitment to, because that is where the current void in the market is. I think, you know, you get paid as a founder for the wealth you create for other people. So there is this view of the world that business is all about, like trying to steal money.


And sometimes that's true. But but the best companies just create mass amounts of value for the world and then they capture some of that for themselves, but they capture far less than they create and they do it over a very long period of time. So if you're going to be one of those companies, I think you want to make a super long term commitment to yourself and others that are going to work on it with you, that this is going to take a long time.


But it is worth waiting because you will make far more money over the long horizon by doing this company really well than a bunch of short term things along the way.


So how much do you think people should have strong opinions about things versus putting something into the world iterating and sort of finding out whatever works and going with that? I think you want a combination of those two things. You want to have a strong opinion and then be flexible about the details. So the thing I don't think works that often are the startups on their love and the pivot that are totally unrelated. But I put a big difference between refinement and pivoting.


So when you start with a strong belief, you know, we should have a social graph in an online directory. That is, Facebook has stayed pretty similar to that, although the product itself has changed a lot along the way, and I think that's really good, that is a strong idea with flexibility in the implementation. I think that's much better than the we're just going to keep trying random ideas because we want to have a startup. I think strong with strong opinions about the future are really important.


And I think one of the things that I have noticed among the most interesting, the most successful people that I spend time with is that they have strong opinions strongly held about the future. They are willing to be convinced with new data that they are wrong, but the bar for that is fairly high and this idea that the future is fundamentally unknowable.


I've never liked actually I remember pretty clearly this time where I. Was sort of like spouting advice someone else had given me in high school or college about how, you know, you need to diversify and invest in because the world is unknown, unknowable. And so all you can do is have the most balanced possible portfolio. And I remember that I was saying that out loud, someone else said it to me, probably grandma and. And I realized I really didn't agree with that at all because I had strong opinions and then I knew that there were some companies whose stock I'd rather owned than others, and I knew that I would rather like on stock than bonds because I thought technology was going to be worth a lot more.


I have different ideas today about the next 10 or 20 years.


But I think it's good suddenly, OK. It's good to have strong ideas about the future and it is OK to not be super diversified in your investment portfolio or your career or your life.


And then the final question is if you could leave young people who want to have a big impact with one or two pieces of advice, what would you tell them? Well, I don't want to give people a specific field to go work on, because I think the whole idea is that people need to figure out themselves what they believe in and what they think and what they believe is high impact to work on for the future. So what I will say instead is it is really important to actually think hard about where you think you can make the biggest contribution that you're good at and the world needs and that you enjoy and then go meet people to work with goal, learn as much about that field as you can, and then have the courage of your convictions to actually take a risk and focus on it and go do something there and that it's OK if you fail.


And if you do fail, you'll not been much different place than you are today and you can go try the next thing. But it, I think, really important to be willing to go. Take a risk and make some sort of sacrifice to be able to try to impact the world in some way that you really care about. And I think the sooner you get to work on that, the better you'll you'll be awesome. All right. Well, Sam, thanks very much.


Thank you, Jack.