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Here we are with full disclosure, a very good friend that I've known for almost 20 years, Ariah Burkhoff.
First of all, you've been from all over the place, starting in Palo Alto, Baltimore. You went to school in UC San Diego with a degree in economics and you've been such an inspiration. I've seen your growth from UBS to now being the CEO of Lion Tree. Tell us a little bit about, you know, your background, your parents and what what got you to this place where you showed them grit and good. Well, thank you. Thank you for having me.
It's a pleasure. I feel like I've been watching you grow and and I remember a story before I get to me. I remember a story that you told me probably like 15 years ago. They said, yeah, for an athlete, you know, I have a maturity date on my contacts. Like, what does that mean? He goes, well, for you in business, you're going to develop contacts for the rest of your life, if cumulative.
Every year you're going to know more people and your contact, your Rolodex is going to grow and grow and grow. But he goes for an athlete by the time I'm thirty five to forty, people are not going to want to be meeting me as much. So I have to start to transition the way I build myself in my career and my business into other forms besides being an athlete so I can uncap that potential of my Rolodex. And I was like, wow, that was pression.
And I told that story a few years ago.
And you said I said that you're doing it. You're you're doing it. I mean, right. We're at conferences and and you're with Africa and you're building businesses and we're having a blast. You've uncap you're outside of your network and people that respect to know you and want to build with you so close to you. Thank you. My story is probably similar to a lot of people. I was I'm a first generation American. I was born in California, but my parents were from different countries and came to study in the US.
My dad went to MIT and Boston. My mom went to Simmons. They met there. They got married. They moved to Berkeley, California, for my father got his Ph.D. and I was born there. And after about nine years, they went to Baltimore because my father went to work for Johns Hopkins. He's an electrical engineering and physics, so a full academic family. And and I moved. To New York, right out of school about twenty two years ago or so, and I came out of school like a lot of people, probably listening to your podcast thinking, what do I want to do?
What's my vocation, what's my expertise? And I realized I had none. Maybe I could talk to people or just outhustle them and have a good work ethic. But I really didn't have any any real expertise in economics. History is a classic liberal arts education. So I moved to the center of the world of finance, which was New York. I said, if I can do something, I'll put myself in the middle of the action and then I'll try to do what I have to do.
And I remember finding myself an interview with Oppenheimer, and I had this interview with a research analyst in the oil and gas industry. And he interviewed me and I thought I nailed the interview like I was in New York. I thought my first interview, I nailed it. Like, who does? This is crazy. And afterwards he goes, OK, do you know the programming, language, visual, basic? I said, when he goes, do you know how to do visual, basic?
I need help with this programming language and know really tough words for for an undergraduate to hear. I said no, but I'll learn it in two weeks and I'll come back to you. He goes, Great. Call me when you figure it out. So I bought myself a laptop, I got myself an apartment to rent and I learned visual, basic and I have for two weeks I called them. I said, you know, sir, I got it.
I'm ready. Ready? Never return my phone call. I said, I got it. Come on. Never turn my phone call. And then I was dejected, said, what do I do? And I was sitting in this big city. Why do you finance and you want to learn. Yeah, I knew. I knew right away. And you start to figure out like, OK, do you want to stay here and be uncomfortable for a while or do I want to go back home and give up?
And I said, you know, I'm just going to stay. And then I became a professional job seeker, took about four months. I did everything but put resumes under the windshield wipers like I was really trying to figure it out. So are in New York today. Got that entrepreneur. So you're good. Yeah. Yeah. But you know what? When when I was in the generation before ours, there was no word entrepreneur. Right. That's a made up term for our generation.
I just did things. Yeah. And so and so then fast forward. I was at UBS running a research before I even went to banking and I found out that we hired this oil and gas analyst. And I went to look at the guy's name and it was the same guy that never return my phone call. And I went to the corner office. I knocked on the door and said, Hey, how are you? I don't even want to mention how are you?
Because. Good, good. You know, you look familiar. And I said, I just want you know, I master that visual basic language and I'm out of here. I never get out again. That so Game of Thrones, I don't want to give out but the like the lesson there is the toe you step on today. Yeah. To be connected to the Astrachan tomorrow. I'm getting a little you're like Ariah with a list so watch out for Ariat.
So tell a little bit ariat. I mean I hear the word merchant bank and I just can't help thinking like Pirates of the Caribbean and there's like loot in boxes flying around like explain. One of the things I think that's very understated about you is you are one of, if not the biggest, most sought after, highly, most highly respected power brokers in the media technology. I would say culture, media and technology sectors. Everyone knows you. Everyone speaks of you.
Explain what you're what Lantry does like, explain the business. And then also, how do you think about that responsibility and opportunity of connecting media companies, little ones with big ones and influencers with technology like tell tell us how you think about those pieces coming together. Yeah. So, you know, I appreciate everything you said and I like to be on your list.
Exactly. I got some comments, so. Yeah, I mean, like, like everything like you guys, you have to work hard at anything you do. But the line tree business is what we call a merchant bank. Merchant bank means at its core is we advise companies on fulfilling their their goals, whether they want to merge with other companies or they want to raise capital. And sometimes we also will invest in those companies, not just advise them.
So what does that really mean? Effectively, we're helping people, in my mind achieve their hopes and dreams. So every company has complicated numbers and fundamentals, but every single one is run by an individual person with flesh and blood and psychology and everything else at the tip of the spear. So you have to know what they're thinking and what he has or her desires are for life goals for the company married with what the company should be doing. So, for example, we merge companies like Comcast with NBC Universal are so lucky to be involved in deals like that or stars merging with Lionsgate.
But these are big transactions that affect the landscape of the media industry. But in reality, it starts with what a company needs based on the individual's objectives and really listen to those things.
You're like a super power guidance. Slur for CEOs and business, and then you put these big things together. Yes, I'm a guidance counselor with the help of a team that can crunch the numbers and leave nothing brokering landscape shifting deals.
Yeah. And in a fully artistic way. Yeah. You're trying to look at the landscape as it exists today and imagine what it could be like in the future. And the entire world of business can be summed up in one thing. You're trying to predict the future. Whoever predicts the future first wins. If I told you it was going to be on CNBC tomorrow at six p.m.. Exactly. And you believe me, you can make a billion dollars by investing in that dynamic.
So predicting the future is all about what, you know, pattern recognition, you know, having the ability to change on the fly and listening to people and figuring out what they really want to achieve and then delivering that leave nothing to chance. You know, you talk about your father having a Ph.D. from MIT, but I don't look at you as an academic and I mean that in the most complimentary way, because what you are, while you're very academic in your way, you're one of the most brilliant people when it comes to people touch high touch.
And the reason why everyone feels like they're your best friend is because you're very trustworthy and because you spend a lot of time and it's hard for young entrepreneurs to understand is really invested into others. And I really believe you spend 90 percent of your time doing fathers and the 10 percent, then you have an enormous business. What is it about you? You can tell our young listeners that you can build your network. How do you do that? Because it is scary sometimes to reach out to America or an area.
Well, I think building the network is all about how you treat people. And a lot of people when they speak, focus on what they're saying. But very few people focus on how is landing the other person, which is all that matters. What you're saying is irrelevant versus how it lands. So really, it's like thinking about a like NFL sports play. If you walking into the play and you're going to throw a post pattern into the quarterback and you throw the post down because that's what you prepare for.
But you're on the field and the person went down, down towards like a slant. You better throw the flag if you throw the post player and the ball is going to land on the floor and there's no one there. Right. So you have to focus on like where people are going to be, where people are going and anticipate them, which is really about empathy, you know, identifying with others versus just thinking about how you see the world.
And I think that that that ability to put yourself in the shoes of the other person is a really, really important dynamic and then try to come through for people. The only people you want to exclude from that work are people that lack integrity. They could they could be harmful. But otherwise, people are just teaching you about themselves all the time. So catalogue that, be responsive to them and then keep growing. I believe in a cumulative life where you're growing your network all the time and you don't flush the past for the future.
Try to keep it all together as much as you can, as long as people treat you well and then you can give back to them. So I think delivering what you say is also an important thing.
I also like that the way you think about markets and business are is also very practical personal advice, have integrity, do what you say, look to the future, be creative. I think that those you know, as I'm listening to you, I'm thinking about cash. Those are things that I could do a better job of are those are things that I could incorporate into not just our business, but my life. Like, I think that that's also, I think, understanding the dynamics of the listener and the doer is really important.
So I love that. One thing I think that you do better than almost anyone is give a sense of what do you think the future is, what is actually happening. There's so much transition. There's so much change. What do you see?
Well, I think linking your last question with this next question is this concept of being curious. Curiosity is important. A curiosity just means looking for things that you don't yet know. Right. And so there's tremendous comfort in being part of a herd mentality. A conventional thought feels good because everyone is around you and it feels like comfortable, like a blanket. But you're not going to make a difference thinking like everybody else. You could be wrong if you think differently, but you're not going to make an impact if you're thinking like everybody else.
So I always look at things and try to go a bit against the grain. Yeah. So if everyone saying, oh, my goodness, like the sky is falling, you know, because the markets are changing, etc., you know, I said, well, maybe, maybe there's a more optimistic view of that or everyone is too bullish and buying stocks at huge multiples. They're falling in love with the stocks or companies say, well, maybe there are some holes they want to look at.
So I very much believe in this reversion to the mean. When you wake up in the morning and things feel really, really down to probably going to get better. And when things feel really, really great and euphoric, they're probably going to get a little worse. Just get comfortable the fact that there is a normal magnetism towards the equilibrium and understand, and so you don't play to extremes, so you don't believe your own bullshit, those like, you know, and I think it's really important because the world is a very good equalizer.
There's so many variables, you know, in baseball, we call it, you're not as good as you feel that day when you're hitting home runs and you're not as bad as a day when you struck out four times or me somewhere in the middle. I think the same is true for business and investing.
But unless you strike out four times, like for two weeks straight.
So you've done some of the biggest, most commercial deals out there. I mean, just to give our audience a little bit of a taste, you did the Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable merger. You did a snappy to help Snapchat go public, the Verizon deal, AOL and Yahoo! But I want to hone in a little bit on the Comcast deal, because Brian Roberts runs the big conglomerate of Comcast. He now goes out and buys NBC, but then puts Steve Burke, one of the best CEOs around to run the company.
A few questions there. No one has ever been a good or bad investment for Comcast. And does it work without the leader, that person like Steve Burke?
It's been probably one of the best transactions in media history. Why? Because NBC Universal was not a particularly well managed asset when Comcast bought it and Comcast was an entrepreneurial company. Still, as an entrepreneur company, it's not run by General Electric, which was owning NBC at the time. This kind of a really big conglomerate. Comcast was an entrepreneurial bootstrap company that was grown out of a family business that Brian's father, Ralph Roberts, started. So they put this entrepreneurial fervor and energy into NBC and basically looked around the corner for new ideas for growth.
And it really grew. And so, for example, when NBC Universal, they were first looking at it, they said, you know, the theme park business may not be our core business. Comcast, these NBC has the theme parks. Comcast never had a theme park business. So maybe we should sell a theme park business. And Steve Burke looked at and said, you know what? This is a great model. There's no technology issue that disenfranchises theme parks.
People come here with great experience with their families. They had a Harry Potter relationship at the beginning of Harry Potter's fanfare, and the theme parks took off as a core part of the business. So they just really knew how to grow the business. And it all goes back to people in management and a way of thinking about things different from the green.
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OK, back to the interview.
So last question on that, because I'm fascinated by the Comcast NBC transaction. Again, for for our listeners. When you think about Steve Burke, Harvard Business School sits on the board of Berkshire Hathaway, what are some of the things I heard? One of the things he's done well, what were some of the things that the company was doing poorly or not maximizing their potential?
Well, I think when you're a media company, you're not only dealing with zeros and ones, the numbers you're dealing with people, which in a lot of cases in the form of talent. And so when you're NBC, you have late night talk show host, you have news anchors, you have all the different talent. And if you say the wrong thing on air, it could cause a huge fanfare. So I think a cable company, which is what Brian Roberts was running with, Steve works out, getting to the content business, had to start looking at how the content affects people all the way to MSNBC and the news platform.
You literally have a huge platform for news, one of the most powerful news platforms in the world now owned by Comcast. So Steve Burke really have to think about how you interact with people and talent and make them feel comfortable while you have this huge profile responsibility in global news, that kind of. Act elections and a lot of other popular opinion, political. Yeah, how do you think about or what happens when it goes wrong? I don't know if you need to cite something that a partnership went wrong.
Yeah, but what typically makes things break apart? Well, I think most things that go wrong are due to hubris or ego, meaning self-awareness, I think is a real baseline for me. And your listeners really care to think about that as a concept? It's really understanding the truth of authenticity of who you are as a person. Right. And ego is just a inflation above that self aware truth to compensate for something that you want to project to somebody that's a person doing it and that could be powerful, makes you feel great, but also could be risky if you fall flat copies of the same thing.
If companies which really have the form of the complex emotions of a person, a lot of cases want to buy the best and shiniest toy out there of a company. Like if I want to buy Netflix today, you know, that could be a great thing for a company to do because they're all of a sudden in the direct streaming business around the globe. It's incredible, but it may not be the best move that may be expensive, may not be the right move for that company.
You have to make sure that you don't overcompensate for things that you don't aren't trying to do. And these companies are very sophisticated. Yeah, we help them think through these dynamics. But the other thing is you want to stay true to your core. A company that buys another company just to diversify away from what they already know is usually not a great concept because you don't want to ever lose your base as you grow in life. You want to lock your base and then grow.
Think about a trampoline. If you're on a trampoline and you're really not trustworthy of the foundation of the trampoline, you're going to jump on it in a very tentative way because you may fall through it. So therefore you don't jump so high to the sky. But if you trust that foundation and that base like you like you want to lock it, you will jump and go as high as you can go. No ceiling. So I think as you get older, you want to lock the base.
The foundation, a company wants to make sure they protect their base. Then you can take a risk as you grow. I think it's a very important concept and you're always coming landing right back into your love that. So you're talking about a trampoline and faith, right. And you jumped off a cliff essentially when you were the top banker, UBS, you had incredible book and you said, you know what good is the enemy of great. And I'm going to start Langtry.
And I remember in the first three days you were in your new office, you had about six, about 14 people there. They were just starting out. You have no no business. And I looked at you square in the eye in 2012, which the world was still very scary. And I said, why? You said, I'm just going to make a big bet of myself and my family. And it was so inspiring to hear that. What gave you the courage?
Because there's a lot of people out there that want to make the jump, but just need a little nudge. What was that for you?
I really I mean, I appreciate that. I remember those moments that people talk about it now with a lot more wonder, like, I can't believe we did that at the time. I just felt like it was the right thing to do. If I was that scared back then, I probably would have been I'll do it. So you have to just kind of look forward. But I believe I had enough training at that point. I was thirty eight years old, running investment banking in the Americas at UBS, and I said, do I want to spend the next ten years really building up and managing at a big bank, or do I want to do something more entrepreneurial?
And I thought to myself that when you work at a big institution, fundamentally a ceiling, because the goal of the institutions, the bigger they are, is to become stable, as powerful as their their goal is stability. I said I want my floor to be stable and my ceiling to be stable. So I said, what if we could create something uncapped the upside and thinks about a bank that can only focus on the creative industries and the digital economy just to focus on the industries that we already knew and attract people that were otherwise going to Silicon Valley and the shiny new technology company and big deal making in these industry fun because you have to come through for people.
But we started with people that know how to crunch the numbers, do all the work come through, will leave nothing to chance. But it really is a function of the passion of the industry, the relationship that you create, everything feeds off of one another. So I felt comfortable betting on myself and the team. But then right away, you shift the responsibility of your employees because you own not only your family but their family and their risk. And it's on your shoulders.
And so it's all about like how you want to create the company. Like in football. I think the hardest thing to do football is returning a kickoff because when you're sitting there, you must feel and if you catch that ball, if you just dodge three hundred pound people running a hundred miles an hour at you in your face and you just dodge them, that's victory. But you also have to run down the field. I be like, well, I just dodgeball isn't that great.
Yeah, you're dodgem and you're running. So you have to basically be able to run down the field with a lot of risk in your face and be comfortable getting further and further down the field. And I felt like, why not? Why not me watching? Because that should be somebody else. I love that I feel like that every day, like, first of all, we're like trying to run the ball 300 gorillas, trying to kill us, trying to make the play like I love graduation's Abasto and your partnership, because Bastable is not a media company that any of us grew up with.
Right. But it's a new media company. It's more than a media company. And why is it a media company? Because it engages your listeners and your audience all the time with great content in every format. And you don't rely on any gatekeepers or middlemen to tell you what to do. There's a relationship directly from your listeners to the content you're producing and you cut out the middleman that is the new age of media because you can effectively reach the audience much more directly and powerfully than we ever could before media and give us the responsibility to the content creator to come up with new, exciting content all the time, which is what you do so well and what you guys are doing together.
But it's a direct relationship that never have before media. So it's a Media 2.0 business, which is really authenticity. And the genre that you're focusing on is so exciting and fun to listen to and to watch things I love. What do you think happens with Media 2.0?
Well, whatever you want to be sold, let me know if I got sold this morning, I get a podcast and Cheder gets an acquisition.
I actually think being sold is always a good plan B.. Yeah, China is building as long as it can. So I think you're still building. But Erica Erica, I have to say, is not just a CEO, but she is a vibrant, energizing figure in my life overall. And I learn a lot from her and she's a lot of fun to break my arm on.
So I know what happened about your first episode of the court without a cast, which is credit to tell me about that one who runs a good dance floor. It's kind of like his business philosophy with a lot of people on the dance floor. Lets it go a little bit.
I took full advantage. Yeah, I'm a I'm a chorea choreograph the dance floor put together, but it takes the dancers and this woman over here a little bit of tequila, an incredible dancer. Like, I couldn't believe it.
I'm saying I was a good dancer. You know, America is a great dancer.
She's a great she closed the dance floor at about that time. I was already gone. And we had a bit of an after party from this event in my in a suite. And and Erika rolls in and she is like holding her hand and while holding her hand on one hand and holding a drink on our hands are multicasting and and and but she we were talking have a conversation and I said, what's going on? She goes, I fell on the dance floor, but I think I'll be fine.
I said, swelling up. And she said, yes. Well, I said, well, you know, advisee you may want to take your rings off because if you sleep with us tonight, you can wake up in the morning and have a swell about all these rings. And she goes, she took her rings off and she goes, here, take them and give them to me. And I'm like, OK, so this is very late at night.
I'm must have I must have, like, put them like on my ear, like I know what to do. I know to do it, to do so. I put them, I said, you can, I'll take the responsibility, put the rings on my desk and I put it in my wallet, which was smart. Right. So I wouldn't forget it a b but I came home to my family.
They had an extra check to make sure and I woke up next morning and I and I and I would go to the store. I see these rings in the wallet and I'm trying to figure out what exactly happened. And I go, aha, it's er these are Erika's rings. And so I met her at the breakfast but we had a group breakfast and I said come over here and I said put your hand up. I turn over my little while and I pour the rings onto her hand and, and I said Here you go.
She's like thank you. And she's like, you know, it just talks about the trust that we have that we could share this experience.
But I also think it's like that's exactly it. Like you, I had a broken arm, a lot to drink. We're hanging up. It was just that's the connection. You can you know, I valued it as a person. I value you as a CEO. We value you as a partner. Like it's that rapport that makes doing business fun. Alex always says that, you know, it's not fun to win alone. Yeah, I love it.
I think that that's true. And I think the friendships and the opportunity that you can create in unexpected moments is incredible. You know, people forget that this life arc that we live has an endgame and maturity date. It will end, unfortunately. So you don't want to sequence things too much of your life or I'll do that later. You know, I'll do that after I do the following things. I'll build a career. You want to try to do as much as you can all at once.
So I like to integrate the business and the friendship and life. And you can do everything at the same time as much as you can because you get the most out of the depth of the well. And we're here and I really value our relationship. I value our friendship and our relationship. And I'm really proud that you guys are building an asset base together. And I look forward to many more years to come, you know. All right. Thanks so much.
So much. Thank you. Go founder of Lantry and CEO continued success. And we will be reading about you in the near future of. A lot of good things.