Steven Hoffman teaches us what it takes to not only start a business but overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of success. Being a successful entrepreneur isn't all about the big sales and the fancy cars. It's also about the dead-ends,...
Steven Hoffman teaches us what it takes to not only start a business but overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of success. Being a successful entrepreneur isn't all about the big sales and the fancy cars. It's also about the dead-ends, losing money and all the headaches. Discover the essential traits needed to believe in your ideas, rise after failure and come out on top.
Visit Steven's website to get in touch with him and learn more about what he's doing | https://www.foundersspace.com
Steven Hoffman is the author of Surviving a Startup, available now | https://www.survivingastartup.com
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Srini Rao: Welcome to the Unmistakable creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join.
Steve Hoffman: It is great to be here.
Srini Rao: It is my absolute pleasure to have you here.
So I found out about your work because somebody in the, on your team wrote in they told me about your book surviving a startup, which I basically tore through and, and found just filled with so many invaluable nuggets, that it was almost difficult to take book notes on it because there was so much in it.
But before we get into your work, I want to start by asking what did your parents do for work and how did that end up shaping and influencing the choices that you've made throughout your life and your
Steve Hoffman: career? Well, my parents had a huge influence on my life. So my father was literally a rocket scientist from MIT.
He trained the early astronauts. He was totally into technology. And as a young child, he told me, he said, son, Computers are going to rule the world study computers. That was his only advice. And my mom on the other hand was the complete opposite. So she was a creative, she was an artist and she was a painter and she did these amazing sculptural paintings and brought me to art shows, you know, all over the world, you know, trying to expose me to as as many new artists and ideas as possible.
So I was at the intersection of this hardcore engineering and this total creative force of pushing me in each direction. So as a child, I actually wanted to do both. Like, I'm a, I'm a curious person. That's one of my defining traits and I was interested in absolutely everything. So I was programming computers, you know, as soon as I could get my hands on them, I started to figure out and program them.
But when I programmed them, I was more interested in making games because like all young people, like I was a game, a total gamer before gamers were hot. Like, this is when, when, if you were a gamer, you were a total geek and not in a good sense. So I was into Dungeons and dragons. I literally made hundreds of board games that I played with my friends and I got my hands on a computer.
Just started coding away, making games at the same time, I wanted to be a filmmaker. And an artist. So I was making like 50 different movies throughout my childhood where I organize all my friends and get that all together. And so I, these two parts of my personality, but when it came time to enter college, you know, I listened to my father because he was really.
Smart that way. He's a very smart guy. And my mother also says, you know, I couldn't even support myself being an artist. So you better study something that, that actually can help you in life. And please don't go to film school. Nobody ever gets a job, never be Steven Spielberg, just forget it. So I listened to them.
I studied electrical computer engineering, and that was a mistake. It was, it wasn't in my soul. Like I didn't care about, I liked coding because I liked making games. I didn't like coding, you know, just for the sake of coding and electrical, computer engineering was really the hardware. Like, you know, everything from, you know, designing, transistors, circuits, all the stuff.
I just wasn't that interested. So I actually went through college. I did extremely well because I'm a driven person, like that's core to my personality and I. I studied and studied and I, you know, got almost a four point, oh, I got out of college. I had, you know, credible job offers, but at the same time, my heart wasn't in it.
So I also applied to grad school. So I applied to, I just went out there. I applied to two different types of grad school. One, I applied to Princeton university in philosophy. I thought, well, wouldn't it be cool to be a philosopher? Like it's totally impractical, but I've done this engineering stuff. I'll if I get accepted, I'll just do that.
And then I also applied to the two top film schools, NYU and UFC. And I sat back and waited and I actually got accepted to one of those. I got accepted to USC film school and I just jumped on it. I took that opportunity. I didn't take go down the engineering path and you know, that leads to a whole separate set of stuff.
Srini Rao: So there's so many questions that come from just that alone. So you have a dad who's like literally an MIT, rocket scientist. Did you ever feel that that was such an impossible standard to live up to? Because you know, I come from an Indian family and I'm guessing as a person who invests in startups and works with engineers, you probably know lots of Indian people.
So you're familiar with the culture and yeah, we have exceptional standards like you, every one of my mom's uncles was a professor. My dad is a professor of my sister, is this brilliant doctor. And I'm like, okay, I'm the weirdo who hosts a podcast and writes books.
Steve Hoffman: So I grew up in the same family. So, you know, my dad's a professor, you know, my, my mom was really committed to our art and I am the weirdo.
Who's gone off on my own track. So I like to say, when people ask me, like, what, what do you do? I like to say, I've had more careers in my life than cats have had lives. I have done so many different things like going to film school was just like one of many different things. You know, I was, I rewrote manga in English.
I was a voice actor. I, you know, I've done just, you know, now I'm a venture capitalist, but I was also a startup founder and entrepreneur. I was an animator. I did just so many different things in my lifetime game designer. What I, the commonality is I think for me you know, my parents had high standards, but they were pretty nice.
So when I made that choice to actually take the leap and just go my own. They supported me. They did not, you know, they gave me advice, but by the time I graduated college and I'd done the engineering thing, I knew that's what I didn't want to do. And then I had to figure out what I did want to do. And that's when I just started trying all sorts of different.
Srini Rao: Yeah, well, it's funny. Cause my dad talked me out of going to the USC school of music, even though I got in as an undergrad. And I'm really glad he did since, you know, I played the tuba and you have to wait for somebody to die for a job to open up. But one of the things I wonder, you know, I, I just, when you explain that sort of not being in love with engineering story, it makes me reflect on my own experience at Berkeley, where I felt like so often, and I see this over and over with young people, every decision they make, and this was for me is true for me as well is based on what they think will get them a job.
I remember going to this career fair at Berkeley, which tells you, you know, three weeks into school, I'm thinking about four years later, which was in and of itself a mistake. And this recruiter tells me, he's like, yeah, we don't really hire English majors. And that was it. I never took an English class again.
And the irony is that I've never once interviewed for a job at Accenture. Why do you think young people are so hell bent on, you know, going down one path before they have collected enough data points to figure out what they want and how would you encourage them to avoid ending up in a situation like the one you do?
Steve Hoffman: I think it's very hard not to be influenced by your parents, by your peers, by society. Like let's face it. Human beings do not live in a bubble. Like as much as we like to think of ourselves as independent souls, we are all interconnected. Our independence is actually an illusion. So we think we make all these decisions based on.
Are, you know, independent individualistic nature, but that nature actually is a fabrication of our imagination. Like it's, it's, it's a construct. It doesn't actually exist in reality. So we human beings, we have all these forces on us coming from all different directions, you know, from everybody we interact with, from all the experiences we've had from, and then we have our genetic makeup, like you know who we are, what our inclinations are, and they're constantly pushing us in different directions now to be practical.
I tell young people, look, if you are not passionate about. Then what is your wife like? You know, I like to say life is an adventure. Like I want to live my life. Like it were a storybook. And I feel like if I am not pushing myself into new, exciting spaces while I have the choice and the ability to do so, what's the point in life?
Like, what am I doing? I'm just spending time. I'm going to earn some money and then I'm going to die. Like, and I'm not going to have those amazing experiences go down those paths that I wouldn't have taken. So. I say, it's a shame. Like it's a shame. Look at your life. What story do you want to tell yourself?
What story do you want to live? Well, you are the author of your life. You can make the choices to make that an amazing, exciting story. And yes, there might be challenges. Yes, you might make mistakes, but you will get to, you will get to see what happens and if you don't do it well, then you are choosing a very boring book for your life.
If you're right. And I I'm, I, I encourage you not to.
Srini Rao: Yeah. Well, so when you bring up the idea of passion I can't help, but think of Cal Newport's book be so good. They can't ignore you in which he starts to really dissect this whole idea of passion and actually discourages following your passion.
But I don't think he's actually discouraging people to follow their passion. I think that that message is misunderstood. So because, you know, I had this mentor would always say, he said, you know, you have to both look at the probability and possibility of your success at something. And he said, so often people only consider the possibility, but not the probability.
And when you hear this sort of follow your passion advice that comes in graduation speeches and self-help books, it's like, okay, well, that's easy for Oprah to say she's a billionaire. So what do people misunderstand about this and, and you know, where do they ignore context when it comes to that
Steve Hoffman: advice?
So I actually write about this in my book, surviving a startup because I coach entrepreneurs now and entrepreneurs will come up to me and they were like, I am so passionate. You know, they literally exude passion about their projects. They believe in it, they are in love with their projects, but there's a difference between passion for a direction in life and passion to actually achieve something in a certain field.
So we have to separate those. Let me explain. It's very, it's it's, it's kind of fuzzy for most people. They kind of, they intermingle the two passions. So there's one passion, which is your overall life direction. Like I think you should be passionate about your life direction. Like if you aren't passionate about your life direction, shame on you.
You are, you are, you are you know, your nephew, we're going to reach your full potential. The people who actually achieve amazing things do it because they are driven to do it and they go above and beyond. So they need that type of passion. However, In the real world, there's a place where that passion meets the real world.
And that is where you actually go to make something. And if you are making something for other people, I'll product, you know you know, artwork that th that they are going to appreciate whatever it is that you are making to put out into that world, writing a book, you know, creating a movie. It doesn't matter, whatever that is that you are creating has to actually also resonate with them.
If it only resonates with you, you know, you are literally it's not going to take off at least not in your lifetime. So if you really want to be a starving artist and just follow it, your own passion and ignore, like whatever happens in the world, you can
Steve Hoffman: that, right. And you will create whatever you create.
And if it doesn't resonate with other people, well, that was your choice. You literally, you know, you will die in obscurity, but you may become famous after you die. Right, but what good does that, do you, I don't know what good it does to be famous after your, your, your, your longs off. It helped to, you know, might help society in the world.
And maybe if you can believe that that will happen, maybe that will make you feel good. However, most people, I know want some, some rewards during their lifetime, you know, they don't want it after they cease to exist. So. What I tell people is that for entrepreneurs, especially, but it's true for artists.
It's true for every profession. Like if you are creating something, it doesn't matter how much you love it, how passionate you are, what matters is how much other people love it. So don't be blinded by your own passion. Like don't fall in love with your product or your project with what matters. Isn't, you know, don't matter how much you love it.
It doesn't mean anything right in the real world. All that matters is how much the people you're making it for your audience, how much they respond to it, how do they respond to it? And this is a process you know, of iteration, right? Great artists like take off because they try lots of things and they see what resonates in the society.
They see what goes. And then when they, when they get that feedback and naturally they're putting themselves in it too, it they're putting their passion into it, but it's more than just their passion. It's their passion connecting with creating something that elicits a, a strong response, a strong passion and need in other people.
That's what I tell creatives.
Srini Rao: So how do you make sure that that doesn't lead to constant validation seeking from your audience? Because I think that that's something I see with a lot of creatives too, is that everything they do often is driven by the need for validation, which often paradoxically leads to the opposite.
Steve Hoffman: Now you're really going deep because this is, this is the dilemma we all face, right? So where do we draw that line? Like if we're always seeking validation, won't will never produce something new because most people just respond to what they already know. It's fun to a little better version of what they already know.
And if you're really taking a leap forward, like Picasso or any of these great artists, you know, you're going to be pushing the boundaries, which mean most people when they first see it, they're gonna, you know, they're going to say, what is this? Like, this is, you know, what are you doing? It's it's, it's, it's no good at all.
I would never buy that. So there are, there's a smart way to do it. So usually the people. Actually ended up breaking through and we have to separate something where you just making a commercial product, which a lot of the entrepreneurs I coach do too. You're making something that is really going to you know, grab this EIT Geist and influence the culture and, and Che and push everything forward.
Now, if you're taking that bigger leap, kind of that bigger, innovative leap into something that is going to either transform the art world, or it's going to come out as a movie or a book and just like blow people away, like I've never seen anything like this. Well, that's a much bigger leap and it's going to be much riskier.
Like every time you're, you're asking people to take a leap with what they're doing, it's going to, you know, you're going to be taking a bigger chance because there's no validation in the past. You can't get people to tell you you're necessarily on the right track. So what I tell people. Number one, you have to have a clear vision of what you want to say.
You have to have a real feeling that this is meaningful to you and you have to realize at the same time, are there a lot of other people like me? Like if you're one of, kind of, you're so bizarre and strange that, you know, you know, stacking up ladybugs in a jar is like fascinating to you, but it's not fascinating to anybody else.
You know, that's, you know, it's not going to take off, but if, you know that there are a lot of other people who have your sensibility and even though you know, might not be everybody, but that will eventually resonate with them when they get it. So what you need to do to be successful is actually.
Do you know, most people are successful, not alone. We like to, we have this myth of the independent artists, the independent creative, who goes off and does something all on their own, but it never works that way. They're influenced by all the people around them. And they're usually plugged into a network of other people, people who actually can move the levers, right?
Who, who are tastemakers. We call them influencers today, but it's been around forever. Like it doesn't matter. You know, how far back you go to ancient Athens, there were influencers out there. And really getting those influencers on board with what you're doing early on, getting not necessarily their feedback, but their input.
Like, you know, you're not their approval. You don't need their approval, but you do want to see what they think and, and putting all that together and then going out with, and cultivating those relationships so that when you go out with it, who's influencers, at least some of them can get behind you and start pushing it.
That can make all the ducks. Yeah.
Srini Rao: Well, it's funny you say that because, you know, we started a podcast 10 years ago when people said podcasts were dead. And I think that, you know, you mentioned the idea of it being meaningful to you. And that was really the only reason I did it. We had no idea that it would turn into a business and we seem to have basically capitalized on a 10 year headstart on something that's become a huge cultural trend.
Steve Hoffman: That's exactly right. So a lot of times following your, your own north star, wherever it takes you is really important because that allows you to do things differently than other people and ahead of other people. And we've all know that if you're kind of leading the way down that path, number one, kind of the leaders, the ones who are forging the way.
They get they kind of name it and claim it, right. Their name becomes associated with whatever happens and they get the lion's share of the attention for doing that. And it doesn't matter if you're Elon Musk, you know, or some artists out there like Banksy doing his own thing. And then boom, he takes off in a big way.
These these people who actually forged their own path are really. But you also have to remember that they're not doing it in a vacuum, right. They're doing it within the society. Society has trends. A lot of the things that take off that we say, oh, they were doing it. Because but let, let me put it this way.
You started a podcast, right? But let's say you had started a poetry. Journal right where you're writing poetry, poetry just isn't big now. Like it is, I guarantee you, you could have been 10, you know, you could have tried that for the past 10 years, writing poetry and you probably still, nobody would have heard of you.
So you have to catch sort of the zeitgeists of where society is going. You saw this new thing podcast, you were intrigued by it. You really, it felt right for you. And you felt like, you know, it was a medium you could do on. And fortunately, you know, podcast turned out to be an enormous thing. You know, you ended up catching a tidal wave when it was just, you know, a little ripple in the water when you saw it, but there are other, there are other ripples out there and they will only remain ripples.
They will never go away.
Srini Rao: Totally. Well, I know, I mean, the reason I started a podcast is because one of my first guests you know, was a blog reader and he said, dude, he's like, you're an average writer, but you're a much better interviewer. And so he told me, he said, I think you should spin it out into a separate site and focus on that.
And, you know, he basically became a co-founder. I literally replied back to him an hour later and mocked up a site and said, is this what you had in mind? When do you want to start
Steve Hoffman: that? Really important thing you just hit on, right? Is that when you when you started the podcast, you got feedback from somebody who's pretty smart apparently, and pretty you know, perceptive about your abilities.
And he said, you're not a good writer as you are an interviewer, right? So he recognized a talent in you. And this is the other thing, you know, you're never going to be an NBA star if you're simply aren't at the athletic level, no matter how you could be as passionate as you want, like about being an NBA star.
But if you are four foot nine, I'm sorry, not going to be an MBA, starting with a, how hard do you drive? Like four foot nine. Just doesn't cut it. So These are, there is a reality of life, right? In, you know, the people are really successful. They are, they are, tend to be a combination of prep. I call them pragmatic dreamers, right?
So there's this pragmatic side to them. You know, they actually can assess, you know, we, you know, what their odds are, what their abilities are, where the opportunities lie in the future. There they do it in some of them. Some let's face it. Some people are just. Like they go off into left field, like with no, you know, and they just happened to be lucky and they hit it and overnight, you know, they become the next big thing.
But you don't want to have to count on being lucky because that is like one in a zillion chance. Actually make it, you, you know, your chance is really small. So really the smart people don't count on luck. They actually analyze very closely. And again, it doesn't matter if you're doing a business or you're doing a creative project, whatever it is, you have to look at all the different variables, right?
All the different things from your own innate skill sets, your own personality, what you can handle, how much stress you can handle all these things to what the what's happening in the world around you. What are the trends? What is going to be the next big thing? And the more you can talk to other really smart people like you did other bloggers people out there who are in the, in the zeitgeists right.
Looking at what's going on and looking at what they're doing and what they're trying. And is it working or not? And identify that at an early stage before it gets huge and then put yourself in the right place at the right time doing just the right thing. Boom. That's when magic. Yeah.
Srini Rao: Well, it's funny you say that because one of the things that really struck me and it seems like your career has been truly an expression of what you say here is that the further you venture outside mainstream culture, the more original and unexpected ideas you'll encounter.
And this is something that I've noticed in just about every amazing writer. So if you look at Ryan holiday's monthly reading list, one of the things you'll notice is that the variety of books that he reads from multiple disciplines is indicative to me of the fact that he can write such incredible books.
You know, he uses examples from every setting, everything from politics to military history. And I, you know, that's one thing I saw was that his inputs are so diverse and I, Robert Green once told me that the analogy is like biodiversity. He said, the more species that you have in an ecosystem, the richer that ecosystem is, and that's always informed by podcast yes.
Choices as well. So how do you balance that with, you know, You know, sort of staying attuned to what's going on in the zeitgeists. And, and, you know, I mean, like I said, your career seems to really be an embodiment of what you've said there, cause you've done all these different things.
Steve Hoffman: I have seen in my lifetime and in my personal experience, just as well as in the world, you know, I work and I coach and mentor hundreds of entrepreneurs, like in some of them are very creative and, and, but they're all trying to do totally new things.
They're all trying to break through. They really want to catch, they want to be the next Steve jobs. They want to combine all these different things and breakthrough in a way that nobody has before. And in my own life, you know, I've struggled at that, you know, trying all these different things and let's face it.
Most of the things I tried didn't work. I tried a lot of stuff. That's complete failure, but I will tell you that it's really important as a creator, as a creative person, person who wants to do something new to understand how new ideas are generated and new ideas. Are generated through crosscurrents.
I call them cross currents. They come together a big, you know, if you look at innovation, I wrote a whole book on innovation called make elephants fly. And one of the key ideas behind my book is that innovation doesn't happen necessarily within a discipline. The most innovative spaces are interdisciplinary.
So the overlap of multiple spaces. So when you great, innovative, They don't get their ideas out of thin air. They don't, you know, make, you know, Thomas Edison didn't invent the light bulb. He literally made it better. Like he saw it out there. He's a, wow, this is amazing. But it wasn't, you know, light bulbs were burning out really quickly and he figured out how to make a filament that would last when you are innovating on whatever you're doing you have to look beyond what other people are, are, what other people in your space, in your field, in your, whatever profession are actually looking at.
Because if you just look at what they look at, you're going to come up with the same ideas. They do like the chance of you coming up with something totally new is really small. So you have to look at other disciplines. In the world today, if you see the most innovative spaces, they are at the convergence of these different disciplines coming together.
So let's take biology and computer science, you know, AI with gene editing. That's where we're seeing an explosion of new ideas, new creations, things that will fundamentally change humanity. If you look at any of the PR you know, great consumer products that come out there, whether it's a web app or a new you know, new type of device, whatever it is, it usually combines, you know, influences from the culture, from the arts, from design, with new technologies that are just being born, that enable people to do new things, but it's not one or the other.
It's putting them together and bringing together people on the team who actually have a domain expertise in different areas. So great hardware designers with great creative people and user interface designers. You know, I like to say the. The amazing thing about iPhone wasn't the hardware like? Yes, the hardware was pushing the limits because hardware is always advancing.
But the great thing was Steve jobs, his vision for a user experience and a user interface that was like nothing else. But even that didn't come from nowhere, like he borrowed from a lot of different people, but then he put it together in a new way, a really compelling way that took it to the next level.
So, yeah. I, I just wanna say one more thing. And one more thing is that, you know, I do believe in getting if you want to be creative, you need to get as many sources as possible. So like I read books on everything from cultural anthropology to poetry, to great novels, historical novels, to new, you know, pop literature, to what, you know, history, whatever it is and science books.
I'm always like every week, at least I go through at least one audio book, like, because I'm an audio book fanatic, I do it at double speed or faster. And I just like constantly sucking in information because I, all of these people have amazing ideas and I try to interact with different people in my daily life that have new ideas, because that's where the ideas come from.
They don't come from inside. You they're processed inside you, but they come from external sources. And then as Einstein said, it's Combinator, Loreal play. You get, you have all these things floating around in your, your chunk, you know, your three pound hunk of meat, your brain, and you start to naturally fit them together in different ways.
And then you see the positive.
Srini Rao: Yeah, it's funny you say that because yeah. And you brought up iPhone in particular because, you know, I remember when we had Julian Smith here back in 2014, he told me three things that I never forgot. One, despite having one of the most popular blogs in the internet, he said, I don't read blogs.
He said, and I read books that other people don't read. But the iPhone story in particular struck me, and this is something I always keep in mind. He said, one of the questions he always asks when you see paradigm shifts in technology is what does this make possible that wasn't before? And he said, do you know when the iPhone came out, you suddenly had the intersection of location tracking the phone and the ability to unlock doors electronically.
And that led to the formation of a startup breather. And when I started to look at all the startups that basically were born things we just take for granted today, like Uber door dash. Airbnb. I was like, wait a minute. Those are all the result of the very intersections Julian was talking about. And then even in the early nineties or late nineties, when I was in college you know, you saw the intersection of the commercial web browser and e-commerce which funny enough the porn industry was what made it possible for us to process credit card transactions.
If you've never seen the movie middlemen, you wouldn't know that necessarily, but yeah, I, I see that over and over again.
Steve Hoffman: It's absolutely true. So we are. It's, it's very interesting how things are happening and you can, you could, for example, look at the porn industry in the early e-commerce days and then see the potential.
So if, you know, will all these people putting in their credit cards, you know the companies that enable credit card processing actually taking off because they had it, they had customers. But then you could extrapolate from that, oh, this, if people are willing to do this report, they should be able to do this for other products, right.
Jeff Bezos of the early internet, but it's a lot, a lot, a really good thing. If you want to innovate is look at what's taking off in one sphere and then translate that into. Like, if something is working in one area, how could I make it work in my own area? And a lot of businesses start this way.
Srini Rao: Yeah. It's funny you say that because last night I was swiping through Bumble or some dating site and I was like, wait a minute, they should do this for podcasts.
You should just have an app where you could swipe left or right. To figure out what shows you're interested in or not.
Steve Hoffman: That is absolutely right. Because a basic that's exactly what I'm talking about is you know, you're looking at the interface for dating and how simple it is, right. And quickly you can expose yourself to a lot of new things.
And you could take that mechanism and then apply it to podcasts. Would you it's, you know, browsing podcasts on most of the apps, it's a pain. Like it gets really, there's a big problem with discovery right now. How could we make, because there's a gazillion podcasts out there and there's some great gems buried in there, but you wouldn't even know.
Yeah. Yeah. I
Srini Rao: knew it literally. I was like, okay, I don't know how to code, but I got to start prototyping. So as soon as possible,
Steve Hoffman: you're sure.
Srini Rao: Let's well, let's talk about your time in Hollywood at, because I think the, the sort of journey from, you know, working in Hollywood to doing work with entrepreneurs you seems like a rather odd trajectory.
But there are two things I wonder, you know, I think that anybody who signs up for a career in the arts, you know, pretty much knows they're signing up for a life in which nothing is guaranteed and anything is possible. But I was bitching to one of my friends once about how bad things were, he said, this is what you signed up for, dude, stop complaining.
So one, how do you persist through that period? Particularly in something as competitive as you know, the, the entertainment industry you know, and what lessons did you learn from that experience that you applied later on to, you know, building companies?
Steve Hoffman: That was my first time. Where I really had to challenge myself because I told my parents I'm going to grad school in film and television.
I got my master's degrees, my master of fine arts three years later. And then I was unemployed. Like every one to be filmmaker. I was unemployed and I literally didn't want a job being a production assistant on some shoot. You know, I'd spent all this money and all this time studying filmmaking, but I, you know, the film school doesn't guarantee you anything.
It just gives you a piece of paper. And at the end of the day, you're you're, you might have some skills, but they aren't, they aren't recognized necessarily by the industry. They still view you as just a recent grad, a student, you know, you're not a professional. So what do you do? Well, I'll tell you what.
Like I was determined. I got a hold of the Hollywood directory, which had a list of literally all the top producers and production companies in Hollywood. And I went through that directory and I wrote letters to 150 of the top executives in Hollywood. So I just wrote letters. I wrote a very short kind of funny little letter sent it out and then I waited.
And do you know how many responses I got? Zero.no, I was lucky out of 150 responses three. Wow. So the first person who responded called me up and it just turned out to be the producer of star wars, empire strikes back and said, I got your letter. I don't have a job for you, but I just wanted to say hello.
I was like, oh great. So we talked, but you know, he didn't have a job for me. He just wanted to be nice and encourage me. And we had a nice conversation and then he hung up and I, that was over number two. I got a response from of all companies. And so Disney calls me in and I get to meet with their head of production.
And she is like you know, she's the one that can make my career. So I go to that interview. I'm very nervous because I was a very shy guy at the time. I wasn't as outgoing as I am now. I've trained myself to be that, but I was very shy. So I was talking to her and at a certain, the interview is going really well.
But then she asks a trick question. She asks me what films do you like? So I have a choice, like I can say I can lie. And I can say, I am just, you know, a huge Disney fan, but I was a Disney fan when I was a kid, because in those days, Disney, mostly produced content for kids like or I could say I just been to film school, all the great movies that I, I loved in film school, these artistic films, you know, Stanley, Kubrick, you know, Fellini, all these amazing films.
So I chose to just be true to my heart and tell her the films. And I saw her expression just go, just collapsed. Like interview was over. I was done. Literally. She wrapped up the interview after that and ushered me out of the office. I had blown it completely because I didn't mention Disney films. So I get one more chance.
My third strike and I'm going to be out. I get called in by this big producer. His name is Chuck freeze. He has this huge building on Hollywood Boulevard right across from the Mann Chinese theater and with his name on it, frees entertainment. And he has, you know, invites me into this giant office on the top floor with all these Emmy's along the wall.
He's a big television TV movie producer made the Martian Chronicles, tons of other things. And he's this big, heavy guy with gray hair. And he, and, you know, from the east coast and he looks at me again and he goes, Hoffman, I got your letter. You want a job? And I'm like, yeah, I want a job. I want to be a writer.
I want to be a director. Please hire me. Okay, I'll see what I can do. So that was my interview. And then I get a call back a couple of weeks Slater, and I got a drop off, but it wasn't a writer or director. I got offered a job. As of all things in the world as a reader. Now, if you don't know what readers are, they are actually paid a pittance.
Like you can't even live off of it. Just a tiny bit of money to read the scripts for the development executives in companies and the producers so that they don't have to read all the batch scripts. So basically you screen the bad scripts. You read the scripts, you write a synopsis and you let them know if this is worth their time.
So it was a job in Hollywood. So I took it like I had no other choice. Like I couldn't pay the bills with it, but I was going to be working in Hollywood. I took this job, started reading scripts, do my best that I could I'm dyslexic. So it was really tough. You have to read really fast. I just plowed through it.
You know, a couple of weeks later I had been doing this and I CA I, I thought I can't do this forever. Like, these scripts are really bad. It's kind of torturous job, especially for a person who wants to write. So I contacted Chuck. I sent a message to Chuck and I said Chuck, I could do more. I want to talk to you.
So I wait a week later, he calls me into his office and he looks at me and he goes, Offman, what is it? You want to do more? You're not happy with your job. I was like, Chuck, I CA you know, I, you saw I can do a good job on the reading stuff, but I want to write, I want to do a writing job. He goes, ah, Hoffman, you aren't you ever status?
And then that was the end of that. I went back to reading, but a week after that I got called in to his son's office. Now his son was a very bitter man. He was, he was he was a lawyer and he was working for his dad and he's basically failed to make it in Hollywood because, so he had to rely on nepotism.
So his father gave him a job as kind of the head of, of one of the groups in his company. And he had a project, a big project that he was doing a TV movie, all about the wild west. And he wanted me to research this. It was about a guy called Francis Parkman and right up, I actually got to write up the entire ministry.
That myself as a synopsis from, from the, all the books I read. So this is a great project. He was, he was a grumpy man. He didn't even smile at me. He just handed to me and I was actually terrified of him, but I went off and I worked insanely hard. So I was doing two jobs. Now, the reader job and this kind of research writer job.
And I did it and I turned it in. I went back to the guy he's called Butch freeze. And I went into his office and he looked at me, you know, well, you just, he's a very intimidating guy. And he said, this is great. Like, this is, you did a great job. So I knew that I had a chance then. So instantly I messaged Chuck the head of the company, Chuck freeze.
And I said, I got to talk to you. I could do more. So Chuck I wait. And another week later, Chuck invites me back into the office and he looks at me and he. Often, I just gave you a promotion. What do you want? And I was like, I could do more. I don't have to just research projects. I could actually write my
Steve Hoffman: Can you, can you give me a break? He goes, Hoffman, go away. I went away. I went back to my reader job and I'm reading and literally, you know, a week and a half later, I walk back into the job and I didn't report to Chuck. He was too high up. He was the head of the whole company. I reported to the development director.
I went into the development director's office to pick up my scripts like I did every week. And she looked at me and she, her face was red. Her teeth were clenched and she was angry and she said, You got me fired. Yeah. She stood up and bolted out of the office. Like literally leaving me there. I was like, what are you talking about?
And then Chuck's assistant came in and got me and said, Chuck wants to see you right now. So I go into Chuck's office, I sit down and I'm like, what is going on here? And Chuck looks at me and Chuck says, Hoffman, you're our new head of development. So that is Hollywood. Like I was literally, I was, I was like, I didn't know what that meant.
So go, go Hoffman. So I have to go. So I go back to the office where my boss used to sit. And apparently that's my desk now. I didn't know what to do. And I went to the window and I looked out the window at the Mann Chinese theater. And I'm like, this is bizarre. This is like a movie it's like Barton think or swimming with sharks.
It's like some strange movie that I'm living because this isn't what I asked for. I didn't, I wanted to be a writer, director, not a development executive. In fact, I don't know what a development executive does, but hand scripts out to me, the phone starts ringing her phone and I'm looking at it like, should I pick that up?
It gets really strange. So eventually it kept ringing. So I picked it up. It's an agent from one of the big agencies ICM. And he's like, you know, where is so-and-so? And I'm like, well, she's not here right now. Oh, well, can I send him this script? He starts rambling off and I'm like, I guess so. Yes, send it in.
Then I go and sit at my desk and all the other readers who'd been working as readers. Some of them for years and years come in and I'm behind the desk. What are you doing there? Why are you sitting in her desk? I'm like, well, I'm your new head of development and they're go, oh really? And I go, yeah, that's what Chuck said.
And they're go, oh, well, are you going to give me my script? I didn't even know where the scripts were. So they had to show me how to do my job and to give them then things get really strange because. I know how to give out scripts. I know how to answer the phone, but I really know nothing else about this job.
And I was, you know, in film school, studying art films for the past three years. And before that I was engineering and I really didn't know anything about the business of Hollywood yet. I was in a top executive business role in Hollywood, but I didn't under stand it. I didn't read variety. I didn't read Hollywood reporter.
I thought they were wasting my time. I'm a creative guy. I don't need to know this stuff. I go into chucks. Literally the next day and him and his other son, he hires all his sons because they can't get jobs is sitting there. And the son is terrified of like the younger son, like just terrified. And I like am terrified because I don't know what the hell I'm doing in this job.
And I'm going to be exposed and fired any second. So we're sitting there, but he's even scared, more afraid than I am of his own father, because he's an intimidating guy. And Chuck looks at us and Chuck just starts around that. We're going to do this TV show and we need this person this morning. And then he turns to me, Hoffman, who do you think we should have star in the female role for this show?
And I look at Chuck and I am just like, I don't even know what the possibility, I don't know the actresses in Hollywood. I like maybe know the few, most famous ones, but everybody else I have no clue. And I'm about to like blow it. So I say, Chuck. Let me think about this. I'll get back to you tomorrow.
That's all I could think to say. And he goes, okay. And then, so I sit through the rest of the meeting silent. We can say, knew nothing, go back to my office. Fortunately, my brother's best friend is a struggling filmmaker in Hollywood at the time. And he is the guy who has a photographic memory and knows literally every, a list actor B list, actor C list actor, you know, D-list actor that ever was like every one of them.
So I get on the phone and I start describing the part in, in the TV show that we need to fill. And he's like, oh, this person would be perfect for it. And if she can't do it, then get the second choice is this. And the third choice is that. So that next day go back into Chuck's office and sure enough, he looks at me and goes, Hoffman, have you thought about it?
Who are we going to cast in that. And I say, well, actually I thought about it and this would be my first choice. This would be my second choice. And if she can't do it, this would be my third choice. He looks at me and he goes, Hoffman, that's brilliant. So I literally faked my way through that job thinking I was going to get exposed and fired for the, you know, for the next year.
And at the end of the year, like he loved me. Like he, I had actually figured out the job. So I learned, I like read the Hollywood report. I read for it. I did everything I could possibly do, but I wasn't doing what I wanted to do, which is be a writer, creative person. I wasn't doing that. I was just like this middle person in this big machine.
And. Yeah. At the end of the year, I decided I was just going to quit. I was going to, you know, if I can't break into Hollywood in the way I want, I'm going to make, I saw games taking off at that time games were really small, but I, as like games are going to be huge. And I had met the founder of Sega and he, the founder of Seiko he's an American, even though it's a Japanese company, they had just, this was the early nineties.
They had just taken off and beaten Nintendo. The Sega Genesis was one in the world. It was, he invited me into one of the producers in our company. It was his cousin. So I said, you know, I'd love to go to Japan. I'd love to make games. I've always wanted to make games. I've made games as a kid. I programmed them.
Can you send me? And he goes, oh, I'll introduce you to my cousin. So I go into his cousin, start talking to, I tell him all my ideas about games, like all the games I want to create. You know what I did in high school and creating games and all this stuff, he goes here. We've been wanting to hire a Hollywood person for a Japanese headquarters to go there and generate ideas.
I'm going to put you there because he's the chairman of the company. I'm going to send you to Japan. So I go back to freeze entertainment, go to Chuck freeze. And I say, Chuck I'm weaving. He looks at me, Hoffman, what are you talking about? Yeah. Been here a year. This is a great start in the business. No. Hi Chuck.
I'm going to go to Japan and make games. Games are going to be bigger than hall film. I don't know about you half a minute, but what are we going to do? We need another Hoffman. And I thought, and I turned to him. My light bulb went off in my head. My brother. What's in Hollywood at the time struggling, he's working for, you know, one of
Steve Hoffman: record stores it's called Sam goody that it doesn't exist anymore.
All those stores went out of business, but he was working in a dead end job. He also knew nothing about Hollywood, but I figured I didn't either. And he wanted to be a music producer, but he had no job. So I said, you know, my brother is available. You could hire my brother. That's another Hoffman. And he looked at me and he goes, does your brother have any experience?
I like, no, but neither die. That's right. Okay. We're hiring him. Literally. They put my brother my job and I took off to Japan. And that is what I learned. I'm breaking into though.
Srini Rao: Wow. So the, the couple of things that come from this one, I am really curious. You got good grades in school you know, obviously to do engineering, you'd have to do that.
You know, you went to USC, if you did a reading job, but you mentioned you're dyslexic. How did you overcome that?
Steve Hoffman: You never totally overcome dyslexia. It's like, it's, it's, it's built into who you are. It's a biological condition, but you can compensate for it and you compensate for it. Like you do anything, you just read a lot, but honestly, you know, reading like novels is painful to me reading like big thick books painful to me.
So I could write but it would be full of mistakes, but I would just have to have other people proofread what I wrote. Even if I read it like a dozen times, w you know, I couldn't get all the mistakes. I never see my mistakes, my eyes just skip over it. So like all things in life, you just hunker down.
And do your best to make up for your deficiencies. And w you know, the irony is I'm a writer today, like, right. And I'm dyslexic. So it wouldn't be the profession that you think it would wind up in. But you know, I'd always dreamed of being a writer, but I couldn't, I just never read books as a child. So I was actually really horrible writer, but you put enough work into anything and you gradually get better.
So I say, you know, hard work like you just, you don't let your limitations hold you back, but you understand that they you're going to have to work double or triple as hard to just get to where somebody is.
Srini Rao: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that, you know, Hollywood is a perfect jump off point. We're talking about, you know, some of the things that really struck me that you said about startups you know, one of them, you know, sort of being this idea of, you know, rich and famous and the section about why not to, you know, the reasons not to start out startup, you say to become famous or rich quick.
Yes. We all read about becoming Zuckerberg overnight and reaping the glory, but it's seldom happens. You're far more likely to wake up broke or worse hopelessly in debt. If you want to lose what little money you have, there's no shorter way than doing a startup. And I think that struck me because you earlier in our conversation mentioned, you know, you have all these people who come to you who want to be the next Steve jobs.
And I've asked a lot of people about this, this conversation. You know, we had Justine Musk here a while back, Ilana ex-wife and she had written this article which you may have read because it went crazy viral about what she called extreme success. Some kid on Quora had asked, you know, how can they become great, like Steve jobs, Richard Branson, or Elon Musk.
And of course, Justine was one of the people who replied and you know, her, no answer was better than anybody else's. But one of the things that really struck me about my conversation with her was that she said, you know, not to be all deterministic, she said, but I don't think that this is something that can be learned.
Like you're not going to learn how to be Elon Musk. Look, I don't think Elon Musk is sitting around reading self-help books to become better at what he does. And so I'm curious, like, what is your view on
Steve Hoffman: that? So I get asked, is it nature or nurture all the time? Like, you know, can you learn to become a great entrepreneur or you know, does it have to be innately part of who you are?
And my answer to it is it's not that simple. It's neither one nor the other. So can you be Elon Musk? Well, probably not, but can you be a much better entrepreneur than you would have been if you apply yourself and are always open to learning and experimenting and trying new things? Absolutely. And let me give you an example.
The people like Elon Musk that really Excel in the world, they were given some natural beauty. But they also worked extremely hard. They like, it Musk, like he doesn't sleep. He's like sacrifices family, only life. He is always on top of everything he does now. He has a lot, he's a very creative person, like extremely creative.
And he is also really always pushing the limits, taking huge risks. He, he has a high risk tolerance, right. So he has like the fundamental traits that make up successful entrepreneurs. And he's a master at PR PR stuff. Yeah. No, every other day he has something new. I mean, it's, his brain is working, you know, he, he's always on the cultural zeitgeist and leading the way, but you don't have to be all of those things to be successful.
You may not be Elan, but you can be a successful and actually really successful. If you understand a few things first. Really important to understand what your strengths are, what are you really exceptional at? And this is where the nature and nurture things comes. Like I said, like if you're a four foot nine, you know, it doesn't matter.
You're not going to be a great NBA star. Like they're just not, if there are certain things about you that you cannot change that are fundamentally not going to help you progress in your field then you need to recognize it. And you need to figure out a way around them. The people who are successful, figure out ways around their own let's call them disabilities or their own weaknesses.
Their own limitations is probably the best word. So if you are limited in certain areas and areas that, you know, you can change marginally, but you can't change that. Well, I like to say when the really smart people, whether you're being creative person, a business person, a scientist, whatever it is, you will hone in on the areas that you are naturally exceptional at.
And you will put an oversized amount of time of your time and your resources into developing those parts of you. And then you will figure out how those traits of those that you have inner can actually have an impact on the outside. Like, so it's not that you don't study like Elon Musk, like he's reading books on rocket science.
He, you know, read the whole encyclopedia Britannica. When he was a kid, he was sucking up knowledge from a very young age, always pushing himself. Those are our traits of an entrepreneur. If you're not going to even do that, forget it. Like if you're not going to make an effort, you are, you
Steve Hoffman: almost you are not, if you are lazy, you probably shouldn't go into being an entrepreneur.
I will tell you, but if you are driven and you can recognize the areas that you really Excel and then compliment yourself with people surrounding yourself, with people who can actually fill in your gaps. So certain people. Are really good, like at sales and promotion, but they aren't so good at the details.
Like they can paint a big picture, they can do all these things, but if they're also really good at getting people on board, on their team who are really good at executing on their big, crazy ideas, like, are you on does then they can actually build an an organization that is much bigger, more powerful and sustainable than them alone.
So you taking on Musk alone, if he was all by himself, he, you know, he wouldn't be running any of these companies. You don't build Tesla or space X or any big organization, you know, as a solo person, you build it by assembling the people like a machine around you that can get it done. So he has those skills.
But I tell entrepreneurs right away, like look, being an entrepreneur is not for everybody. Like some people just won't be happy because there is a huge amount of stress in it. There is a heat, certain people don't deal with uncertainty. Well, so if you can't find a way to actually enable yourself to to embrace change, embrace uncertainty, have a high risk tolerance, have the ability to push yourself further than you probably shouldn't be an entrepreneur.
No, you should not. However, if you have those abilities, even if you are. Mediocre like in the beginning you can make yourself much better. And as soon as you can identify what I call that superpower in yourself, that latent superpower that you might not even know, and really use that as kind of your spearhead, your entry point into the world.
That is when you have a chance to make things take off. And even then it is not certain. There's also a lot of variables in the world. And a lot of luck requires a lot of luck.
Srini Rao: No, I, I appreciate the fact that you brought up the role that luck plays because even, you know, Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in outliers, he said, you know, we try to tell these stories by reverse engineering and trying to follow their path.
He's like, you just can't do that. But I do want to talk about one thing you brought up the whole, you know, idea of the stress of being an entrepreneur and you actually described it as the biggest emotional roller coaster of your life that you're not going to be able to get off of. So we had Suneel Gupta here who wrote the book backable, and he talked to me about this idea of what he called an emotional runway which is your ability to maintain your sanity effectively during the process of building a startup.
And what I wonder is how do you keep your self-worth from, you know, being intertwined with the results of your business as an entrepreneur? Because I think that I see that so often it happened to me with, you know, writing books. It was like, oh, my value as a person is determined based, you know, based on the number of people who listened to this show and the number of books I've sold.
And I realize that was a recipe for missing.
Steve Hoffman: It is so true. It is really hard to divorce yourself. Perception your S your identity from what you do in the world and the reaction and how the world reacts. And it can be crushing. Now, some people are naturally more immune to this. Let's face it. That is one of the allows some people to Excel in the world, because literally they're genetically programmed, where they don't care what other people think.
They just gonna do whatever they do. And they have this, you know, over outsized belief in their own abilities, and they've done studies and they have shown that entrepreneurs tend to be overly and unrealistically optimistic. They tend to believe in themselves when, you know, when they shouldn't, when there's really no evidence for that, that they have anything special, but they believe they're special.
And the, you know, belief plays a huge part in determining your destiny, but it isn't everything. So it's, it's like all things in life. Like there are it. Life is. Is never clear cut. Like it's never just one thing just believing in yourself is enough. No, but I would say believing in yourself being overly optimistic, those will increase your odds.
Will they make it happen? No. There it, you, you know, you have to be able to accept rejection. And so fundamentally, if you are going to do something new, if you are going to break new ground, be innovative create something that, you know, nobody else has created in the way you've created it. Then you are fundamentally by the, by the nature of what you're doing, doing something that is prone to failure, because it hasn't been tried.
Things that have been tried over and over, you can be pretty sure it's going to happen similarly the next time. But those things tend not to break out. So this means. W you're going to take risks and, and often more often than not, you're going to get slapped in the face or knocked down or knocked even unconscious because you see, you know, you literally, it's, you're going to take a big punch, right?
And you're going to have to pick yourself off the ground and go again. So there are ways where you can make those blows that you're going to get in life less painful, and that allows you to continue. So if you're super sensitive and you just can't handle the pain of emotional rejection and self doubt, then it's going to be really hard for you.
Again, maybe you're choosing the wrong path for you. And there are different paths for everybody. Some people are much better in supportive roles. Some people are better in leadership roles. Some people want to do something that they're never going to be good at other people naturally love to do what they're good at people.
You know, there's all, there's so many different types of people and, and combinations of people and abilities that what I tell you, my fundamental rule is this. Go out there don't care. What happens because you're going to get knocked flat. And if you feel the pain, you have to take that pain as a challenge.
You can't take it as, oh my God. I can't go through this again. You can say hit me harder. Like hit me harder because I get him back up. You have to hit, like every time I started a company, boom, I was on the floor at some point thinking we will never get funded. We will never do. I can't go through another round of pitching investors like, and having them doubt me, but I would just get back up and do it, but I wouldn't do the same exact thing over again.
Like in the exact same way, that is a recipe for failure. So if you get knocked down, boom uh, you know, you didn't, you, you wrote a novel, it was crappy. You get back up, you write another novel, it's crappy, you get back up, you write another, maybe at a certain point, you have to recognize you're not a good novel writer.
There are other skills that you may have that you can really Excel at. Or, or, but if you see yourself improving each time and, and actually you're trying different things when you write each novel and getting different reactions and you, and you strategically look at the market and look at what you're good at writing, what, how you're good at writing, then there is a.
That you could become that novelist, but you, you and you will have a lot of pain on the way, but there is a chance you can be successful. The thing that separates successful people from not successful people is that they try over and over and over, but they change the parameters of what they try. They don't try exactly.
They try it in a different way. They try to use different skillsets. They try different topics. They, the experience. They look at the whole world as a giant Petri dish. And they are out there experimenting to see what takes off. And I will tell you, it's not just you, it's not just how hard you try. I mean, you can work forever on something and if you're heading the wrong direction, it doesn't matter.
You're still going in the wrong direction. What you need to do is figure you need to catch what I call waves. Like you need to catch their waves and society always coursing through society, waves of change, you know, and you cannot fight these. You can not go against these, but you can definitely be one of the people to catch one of those waves and the really most amazing creators and entrepreneurs.
They're also, they're all also opportunists. They will actually be out in the world, looking for these waves and saying, wow, do what can I contribute to this? Can I get in on that? Like, can I make that happen? All it takes is one big one. And you've made your career like you've literally made your career.
So the, the fundamental role I'll reiterate it one more time is always keep trying, but never try the same exact thing twice. Always look at the feedback you're getting just course correct change how you're doing it. What am I doing wrong? What could I do? I will tell you a story right now. When I went out raising capital for my companies, you know, venture funded companies, I had no connections.
I had no venture capital connections. I had no you know, in those early days there were no incubators or accelerators. I was on my own, but what I did and what I learned really fast is I would go present my view. To investors. And then I would sit back with a lot of entrepreneurs don't do, and actually listen to what these really smart people were telling me, these people who I couldn't even afford to pay for their time yet, because I'd gotten into a meeting to pitch them.
Instead of just talking at them, I wanted them to tell me what they thought of my ideas. And they came up with a lot of good ideas and I started to see what things that the investor community was looking for. In startups. And I would always review in my mind every detail of every pitch I ever gave. And then I would edit it.
I'd go back to my presentation, my PowerPoint and my pitch. And I totally redo it. After every pitch, like tweaking it, making it better, taking the best ideas they had putting them in there, taking places, things that I'd said that didn't resonate with them or where I'd stumbled in tweaking those or entirely removing them.
And sure enough, I got really good at pitching. Really good at closing deals. This same talent. It doesn't matter if you're an artist and a creative or business person, you need to put this process into play.
Srini Rao: Hmm. So you know, I know we've known for more than an hour here, so I, I want to talk you know, we'll ask you about one thing you mentioned when it comes to pitching.
And this really struck me because I I've seen this pattern in myself. I've seen it in people that I've worked with. You say just because you lack capital doesn't necessarily mean you're at a disadvantage, having less capital instills discipline in a startup, you can't just spend your way forward. You have to be incredibly creative and resourceful to break through.
We have entrepreneurs who believe that success equates to getting funding. Nothing could be further from the truth. And I think that the reason that struck me so much of Scott Belsky wrote about this as well in the messy middle. And he talks about the sort of difference between resourcefulness and resources.
And my sort of conclusion was that your resourcefulness is infinite your resources, no matter how much you have are finite. So how do you maintain your resourcefulness? When you have an abundance of resources,
Steve Hoffman: I like to say that early stage entrepreneurs are often better off not getting funding too much money too early, because if you get too much money, what it does is it locks you into a path. Like as soon as you get a lot of money, you start hiring people. As soon as you hire people, you have to have a direction, a plan, you have to fix a plan and you have to point everybody in that direction and start going.
In the early stage of any venture, any company or business or project. A lot of times you are trying to figure out what the world really needs, what the world will respond to. And you don't know this when you begin and you have ideas in your head, but they're only ideas in your head and they're are they're dreams.
They are visions. You have, but they have, have to connect with reality somewhere to make this thing take off. So in the early stages, what you want to do is have just enough money so that you can go out into the world with something in show and put it out in there and start to see what happens. And this could be a prototype.
This could be, you know, an alpha version. This could be even just a PowerPoint or, you know, you going out and talking to potential customers. You need to start to get that feedback from the real world about what's in your head so that you can start to form that and pick. And if you get a lot of money, like some entrepreneurs, do they get a big check too early?
They can use that check to start put the pedal to the metal, start growing their business, taking off in a direction, but more often than not, if they haven't really found what we call a product market fit, if they haven't found that there is a huge pent up demand for what they have and that they are the ones to provide it to customers in a unique way, then they just end up going in a wrong direction.
And they spend a lot of time and a lot of money building something that nobody wants. And basically they run off a cliff, right. It ends up killing them. And I've seen this happen to so many startups. There's so many companies out there that actually there's companies out there that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars on an idea that.
Worked and it never worked, you know, like buddha.com. You don't know these companies anymore because they don't exist. But they literally used that massive amount of capital to mask the problem. They were acquiring customers because they had so much money, but they're feeding in customers. And then they're showing investors growth, but all that growth was spending more money to acquire those customers.
And those customers would ever spend on their product because the customers didn't care that much and we leave and then they ended up just tanking. You don't want to go down this path. You want to really use rely primarily on your resourcefulness in the beginning. And just enough capital to really just get, get in into the, in front of the people, with something tangible that they can respond to and then gather data.
And based on that data, when you see, wow, I've really hit the mother load like this, this isn't, you know, this is there. There's a huge demand for this. That's the time to go out and get along. Only at that point. Wow.
Srini Rao: So let's, let's finish by talking about one last thing. You know, you talked about the fact that we're sort of youth obsessed and you say, you know, we seldom see stories of 50 year old entrepreneurs hitting it big, but if a teenager launches a mildly successful startup it's news, part of the reason for that is that this it's impressive.
When a young person actually does something extraordinary while it's not so interesting when an experienced business person accomplishes the same thing, exceptional things make better stories, which leads to misconceptions. You know, I couldn't help, but think of a rich Karlgaard book, late bloomers, where he talked about the number of people who actually become successful later in life and the advantages to that.
So what are these misconceptions and what do you want people listening to this to know?
Steve Hoffman: So our culture is youth obsessed and people think, oh, there are so many young entrepreneurs out there who dropped out of college, like mark Zuckerberg and founded these huge world changing companies. And, you know, in, in Silicon valley, especially like the investors, they want young people, young people get it, but they aren't actually the, they are going off the media and not off of actual data.
If you look at the actual data, older, more experienced entrepreneurs have a much higher success rate than younger entrepreneurs. Now you're like that can't be true because there are so many successful young entrepreneurs. Well, it is true, but the fact is that there are exponentially more young people, starting companies than there are older people.
When people get into their forties and fifties and beyond, you know, usually they're set and they, they ha they have families. They're have a comfortable life. They have a home, a mortgage to pay for. They aren't going to be taking the big chances that young people are. So when you look at it, there might be 10 or 20 times more young people for every older entrepreneur out there trying.
So yes, maybe three of those or two of those out of the 10 or 20 wind up being successful. Well, only one out of the, you know, the older pool of entrepreneurs. So it seems like young people are two or three times more successful than young people. It's just a numbers game. It's not really.
Srini Rao: Hmm. Wow. You really are a wealth of interesting stories and knowledge and insights.
I feel like the, this could easily turn into a three and a half hour conversation.
Steve Hoffman: Yes, we could do it, but I don't know if your audience wants it. Yeah. I've eaten
Srini Rao: my bite up. Like, oh, we could easily, well, we may have to just do a follow-up episode. Well, first off I want to finish with one final question which is how we close a lot of our interviews at the end of the stackable creative.
What do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable?
Steve Hoffman: The one thing that makes something unmistakable is when you do something in a way that nobody else has done before all of us, you know, humans respond to novel. We crave a new, you know, when, when we see something, if we see the same thing over and over and over we begin we just don't process it in the same way, but when we see something for the first time that gets our neurons firing in our brain power, that's it.
And it has to be an expression of what's going on right now. What matters to people, what people are already attuned to, but opens up a door for them to see either themselves or the world through a different lens. That is unmastered.
Srini Rao: Amazing. Well, I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share your stories and your insight and wisdom with our listeners.
Where can people find out more about you, your work and everything else that you're up to?
Steve Hoffman: If people want to reach out to me, just go to founders, space.com hit the contact form. You can put my name in there. You can contact me. I am easily contactable also on every major social network, just search for founder space, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, you name it.
I'm there at founders space. And if they want my book surviving a startup, just type in surviving a startup.com and they'll go there.
Srini Rao: Amazing. And for everybody listening, we will wrap the show with that.
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