Victoria Colligan gained all access to Seth Godin, one of the Top Gurus of Marketing in the world as he shared insight on his new book Linchpin! Seth is the bestselling author of ten books including Tribes and Purple Cow. He has changed the way people think about marketing, change and work and is the founder of Squidoo.com, a fast-growing recommendation website.
What is your work history? Education?
I started my first real business at 16, ran a very large student run business in college, went to Stanford Business School, didn’t learn so much, got a job, my one and only, at Spinnaker Software in 1983 and stayed until 86. Since then, I’ve launched literally hundreds of projects, many of which failed. I founded Yoyodyne around 1991 and it was acquired by Yahoo in 1998. Since then I’ve been writing and blogging.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? (ex. Lemonade stand in second grade?)
Before I knew what the word meant.
Please describe your company culture in three words.
No meetings. Go!
What is your leadership philosophy?
Leadership is a really complex topic (Tribes, a book I published last year, is all about it). My favorite part is developing people to be better than me, smarter than me and more energized than me… I think that if you respect other people, it goes a very long way.
In Linchpin, you define emotional labor as “the task of doing important work, even when it isn’t easy.” What are the qualities that make one person more apt to embrace emotional labor than another? Is it inherent in entrepreneurs?
It’s fascinating because in all my study and research, I haven’t yet figured out why some people make this choice and others don’t. And it is a choice.
If the goals are clear and the stakes are high enough, each of us is capable of choosing to do the hard work of making a connection, being creative and doing work that matters. Some people do this all the time, while others hide until they have no choice.
Ladies Who Launch is all about women starting businesses for lifestyle reasons – creativity, flexibility, personal fulfillment. With modern pressures (wife, motherhood, full-time job, bills, mortgage, etc.) that keep us tied to a job (stability) rather than exploring our genius (artistry) how do you suggest women take the first step toward artistic freedom?
Here’s the biggest takeaway: don’t try to start a business that’s just a job with a familiar boss. As soon as you start licking envelopes or following a manual or doing what’s been done before, you’re not going to get rewarded appropriately. The typical real estate broker sells three houses a year (!). The masses follow instructions and lose every time. The others, the ones who go to the edges, who reach for the remarkable and do work that feels risky–these are the entrepreneurs who thrive.
I guess the short version is that if you’re looking for stability and predictability, go get a real job. Being an entrepreneur is too much work if that’s all you want.
How can we recognize the “lizard brain” mentality when it rears its ugly head? What are some ways we can trounce it?
The most important thing to understand about the resistance and the lizard is that it is an entirely natural function. We evolved to have it.
You need to know what its name is and how it acts before you can work to overcome it. And as Steven Pressfield says, it’s a war. You against the lizard.
Once you see it like that, then call avoidance and writers block and all those millions of excuses you’ve dreamed up (kids, no time, etc.) fall away as mere symptoms of the lizard. Has ANYONE in your shoes ever won with a small business? Of course. So if one person has, you can too.
I know it’s not easy to undo decades of brainwashing, but it’s vitally important that you do that. Whatever the lizard tells you to do, do the opposite.
In Linchpin, you talk about genius; specifically, that “A genius looks at something that others are stuck on and gets unstuck.” Ladies Who Launch offers a workshop called the Incubator Intensive provides women with clarity, direction and momentum for their business idea – it helps get them unstuck. What do you do when you find yourself stuck? How do you move forward toward genius?
Genius is misunderstood as a bolt of lighting. Genius is actually the public recognition of dozens (or hundreds) of failed attempts. Drip, drip, drip. When I get stuck, when I get scared, I just do the work.
If you continue to do the work, the lizard brain will give up.
You mention in Linchpin “Thus, the individual in the organization who collects, connects and nurtures relationships is indispensable.” What are your thoughts on the current technological environment where texting and email are a more impersonal and convenient medium for communication? How do you see Generation Y’s penchant for the impersonal impacting the way we build relationships in the future?
The resistance loves texting because it’s so deniable, so easy to forget about or not count or ignore. Which is why you should ignore it and just show up. The scarier it is, the more you must do it.
Sure, once you have a relationship, email etc. are a great way to exchange data. But data isn’t the point, it’s love and passion and change that make you a living.
Seth, what has been your biggest business challenge and why?
I was on the brink of bankruptcy for more than five years. No cash flow, living week to week, paychecks on the verge of bouncing. Sticking that out, not looking for shortcuts or quick hits or panicking… that was the most difficult challenge I’ve ever overcome in business.
Please expand upon your comments that Linchpin is “about overcoming multi-generational conspiracy designed to sap your creativity and restlessness.” Also, what can we do as female entrepreneurs to overcome this?
Please understand that public school and the private schools that emulate it were designed to train you to be a compliant cog in the factory system of work. Straight rows, inspections, tests, pass and fail, raise your hand to speak… it’s all being built to keep you from making a difference. And they subjected you to this for over a decade.
It’s not natural to work in a command and control workplace, where people tell you what to do. For 50,000 years, people didn’t tell our ancestors what to do. We figured out what to do and we did it.
Please share one bit of essential business advice that has benefitted you.
Well, other than reading the 3,500 pieces of essential business advice on my blog, I’d go with, “Go, hurry, ship.”
Tell me about an unexpected business setback you’ve had and how you overcame it.
Sometimes, just when it’s all figured out, it’s not. We worked with AOL for years, developing a valuable relationship and learning their systems. At the time, AOL charged by the hour, and they were willing to pay a royalty for every minute someone spent using something you built on their site. My company, Yoyodyne, spent about a year developing a series of online games that are a lot like iPhone apps are today. You’d end up spending hours playing with them. We had a contract worth more than a million dollars a month in place.
A week before the launch, AOL changed its entire business model to flat fee pricing. Which meant zero royalties. Which meant the entire project was dead.
What did we do? We mourned for five minutes and started a new project. Drip, drip, drip.
You say, “Art is about intent and communication, not substance.” In your opinion, what is the best way to create and distribute (market) art that is effective?
Change people. Connect with them and deliver something that transforms their day or their week or their life. You do art when you free a housekeeper to get paid fairly, or a mom to have an hour to herself. Not with standardized business practice, but by being honest and human.
What is your ultimate vision for your company?
Squidoo is six people in six states. We have a million volunteer editors who earn money for charity or a bonus for themselves by building web pages on things they are passionate about.
Our goal is to raise a hundred million dollars for charity. Our second goal is to allow 100,000 people to earn a living building these pages. A nickel, a dollar, a dime, it adds up.
How many people are working for you today? How many did you start out with?
Squidoo launched with me and three other people. We’ve never taken investment, and we’re profitable and the 100th ranked site (traffic of all the sites online) in the US.
Please share something that people would be surprised to learn about you.
I cook dinner every night. And sometimes it’s good.
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, sought-after speaker and best-selling author, what would you be doing as a career?
Running a summer camp in Canada.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Ladies Who Launch subscribers that hasn’t been covered by the previous questions?
You already know way too much!
This was great. Thanks.
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