Seth Godin joins Art of the Kickstart today for an enlightening and inspiring break from our typical crowdfunded creation saga. In today’s interview with author, entrepreneur, icon and all-around great guy, Seth and I breakdown his views on success, sustainable business and building a legacy to be remember and loved by. I was personally shocked by some of Seth’s views but in retrospect agree with most all of what he shares and think entrepreneur and Kickstarters are in need a massive wake up call.
Ps. Sorry about the slight echo, recent move to Vietnam but will solve for future episodes.
Startup Gold From Mr. Seth Godin:
- Why hustling’s the wrong way to get ahead in business and why hustlers never win.
- The delusion of Kickstarter and why successful campaigns fail
- What it means to really think bigger
- Why “winners never quit” is a BS mindset
- How to have an overnight success and the Raman woes behind the scenes
- Why most products on Kickstarter are pointless
- How to build a business and following the right way
- Why Seth’s Kickstarter raised over $250k and fully funded in just 3 hours
- The concept of the Dip and planning for pain before starting your startup
Seth Blogs Daily, Worth Checking Out:
Find Seth on Twitter
A Few Great Books by Seth
- Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers
- Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable–Includes new bonus chapter
- The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)
- All Marketers Are Liars: The Underground Classic That Explains How Marketing Really Works–and Why Authenticity Is the Best Marketing of All
- What to Do When its Your Turn (and its Always Your Turn)
Matt Ward: Art of the Kickstart, Episode 102. Welcome to theartofthekickstart.com, where entrepreneurs are constantly pushing the envelope to build businesses of greatness. Inventors are innovating, creating the products of the future, and backers stand strong for what they believe. These are some of the great thinkers, investors, and leaders of our time. Here are their stories.
Welcome to Art of the Kickstart guys. Today I am absolutely thrilled. We have an incredible guy on the line. We’ve got Seth Godin, someone who needs no introduction. We’ll give him a little one anyways. He’s an author, businessman; I’m pretty sure you know what he’s done. Thanks for coming today Seth.
Seth Godin: It’s a pleasure. I will be as helpful as I can. Thanks for doing this.
Matt Ward: I imagine you’re going to be pretty helpful. I’ve read a couple of your books. They’ve been very impactful, and that’s why we’re reaching. First with Art of the Kickstart, we like to start with a life quote, a success quote, but they a get a bit bland, and I think that you can go a little bit deeper than that. What’s the worst piece of advice that you hear pushed around the business circles that founders fall for?
Seth Godin: Twenty-five sure fire ways that you can guarantee succeed tomorrow by deceiving people, finding shortcuts, hustling, putting yourself out there, and generally being selfish.
Matt Ward: Hustling, I think that’s absolutely true. We talked about this before. I think you take a long ball approach to this, that a lot of founders, I mean it’s tough. Let’s face it, you’re in a situation where you’re financially set. How does someone coming up in the ranks take an approach like this and become successful?
Seth Godin: I’m sure that was a deliberately provocative…
Matt Ward: Oh absolutely.
Seth Godin: Thought which I truly appreciate, here’s the deal. If you don’t have time to do it right, when exactly are you going to find the time to do it over? I was on the edge of bankruptcy for almost eight years. I, at one point my company had to send somebody by car to pick up a check, because if we had waited for Federal Express we would have missed payroll, and 60 people would have lost their jobs. I know firsthand what it is to eat macaroni and cheese for dinner, because the only alternative is to go get a job as a bank teller.
I am not just blowing smoke when I talk to people about how dangerous it is to look for shortcuts, to take shortcuts. How dangerous it is to try to find the short path, the hustle, the con. The way that you will get to the front of the line, by doing things that in the moment feel a little desperate. All of us have been thought that. What we see again-and-again is that you don’t hear from people who come out on the other side. Who say, I did all the shortcut stuff, I’m really glad I did, you should too.
What you hear from, are the people who have been building a community, who have taken 20 years to become an overnight success. I really am disappointed when I see all the blog posts, and all the Reddit links, and all the hustle stuff, that gets the clicks and gets the attention. That everyone wants to be Si, because Si got 250,000,000 views for his YouTube, and it went viral, and isn’t that wonderful. In fact, it’s better to be Amanda Palmer. It’s better to be the person, drip-by-drip, day-by-day, who’s on a path, does the work, brings generosity to the table, and over time earns, not finds, but earns real success.
Matt Ward: Yeah, would you rather win the lottery, or build a business. I think most people listening to this, they want to create something. That’s the main reason I wanted to get you on here though, because the mindset when you start on this, so this show’s Art of the Kickstart. We’re all about crowdfunding, and when you’re crowdfunding something you’ve got an idea. You want to make that product, that business happen. How do focus more on the long term business, the long term success of what you’re trying to build, versus creating something, because you want to get it to market ASAP?
Seth Godin: I think you’ve framed the question completely backwards. If someone says, I have an idea, I want to Kickstart it, how do I do it? They have already failed, because Kickstart is not good at that. That yes, once a week some Kickstarter goes viral. Once a week someone comes up with a Pebble watch, or a cooler that does some magical thing, and Kickstarter enables it, but it’s only once a week. Even if it’s once a day, do the math; it’s not going to be you. That’s a silly way to spend your time. The right way to frame the question is, what community am I here to serve? Does this community trust me? Have I earned the right to whisper to a community of people who would miss me if I am gone.
Then you say, what does that community need me to make, and you make a thing for them. My book project, which to this day is the most successful book project ever done on Kickstarter, hit it’s goal in three hours. However, it didn’t take three hours, it took 15 years. It took 15 years of me earning the trust of a community of people. When I went to them and said I have some books for you, they all said, “Okay we’re in.” The fundamental error that so many people are making is they think I need to do this to make my product work, and then everything will take care of itself.
I have heard from many Kickstarter successes and quotes who made just enough money to now get themselves into this grind of having to make a product that they’re not going to make enough profit on to live off of. Then they can’t Kickstart it again, because they already Kickstarted it once. Now what are they going to do? They’re stuck, and the alternative is the Amanda Palmer alternative, which is to say I’ve got 20,000 true fans, how do I serve 20,000 people again-and-again, so I can make the work I’m proud of.
Matt Ward: I like that, and I like that you dealt into the true [Fantis 00:06:32] model. What if, let’s play devil’s advocate again, since we like to play that. If you have a real mission, some kind of burning passion, you’re trying to focus on changing the world, fighting, we’ve got some eco issues. Let’s say you’ve gotten something along those lines; it takes awhile to develop a following. I’d don’t disagree that adding value is the most effective way to build a business that’s essentially defensible. How do you go about building that value in the beginning, while at the same time building a business? Is there a way that you see that you can do that?
Seth Godin: We see several ways that people have done it. The best, most reliable way, is to have a day job, so that you don’t take shortcuts with your community building. Another way to do it, which it applies only to a tiny fraction of people, is you persuade someone in silicon valley to put up money, so that you can do it. I would say, for example, that Airbnb is an example of a company that has not wavered in what they’re trying to do. They have not said, “Oh now we’re going to sell to business travelers.” They have said, “We are on this mission to do this drip-by-drip, day-by-day.
The companies that people ostensibly respect don’t act the way that the hustlers you’re talking about act. There’s this huge disconnect. Do they rationalize, I really care, I have a passion about this, or I have to make money or I won’t be able to keep doing it, but Kickstarter’s not the answer. Kickstarter is not some magical way to pass the hat, because your project is so amazing, just like infomercials weren’t.
The infomercial revolution of a bunch of years ago brought very, very few products to the world that we really truly needed that couldn’t have gotten to the world any other way. Kickstarter isn’t really about how do we get a product that world that couldn’t possibly exist without Kickstarter. Kickstarter is about how do I put the last touches on something I have been building for a long time? How do I activate my tribe so I can make my arch.
Matt Ward: I think that is absolutely true. It plays to the whole 10% versus different mindset field. I was listening to an interview recently with Peter Diamandis, the guy behind X-PRIZE, and a lot of us are familiar, some of us aren’t. Peter’s concept is why play in the game of incremental improvement when you can change the game entirely. I think what you’re definitely talking about is changing the game entirely. How do people up level that kind of thinking to really make impacts in the world?
Seth Godin: I think again, there’s a potential trap here, which is to say that changing the world is for other people. These are giant projects; I can’t do a giant project. I have a friend who did a project for a toy for girls, and Kickstarter seems like a tempting way to do that. She had enough of a network that she could hit her minimum, but the network wasn’t the natural audience for her product in the long run. She takes a Kickstarter shortcut, gets enough money to get the tooling and stuff, make the thing, and then is surprised when the next batch is hard to sell. The people who sponsored the first batch didn’t sponsor it because they wanted her toy; they sponsored it because they like her.
The right way to do this is the way that it’s been done for the last 200 years, which is go to one toy store, and ask if you can demo your toy to people who are walking in. Go to one conference of educators, and for free give a speech about what you’re trying to do. Then do it again, then do it again, then do it again. If you can’t figure out how to sell to 10 people who are face-to-face with you, why do you think you’re going to be able to sell to a 1,000 people who are strangers online?
You can’t, and that’s why everybody who I know, who makes a living as a professional speaker, first made a living as a free speaker. They made a living as a free speaker first, and they made an impact as a free speaker giving speeches to two people, and then four people, and then twelve people. Only after getting standing ovations from 400 people, do you get to go charge for what you do.
The same thing is true here. You can definitely seduce and trick lots of people, who are your friends, or friends of friends, to support your first Kickstarter, because it’s novel. That’s what they’re supporting is novelty. That doesn’t mean you’re going to build a business out of it, because you haven’t sold them on the habit of supporting you and your mission.
Matt Ward: You don’t really want to sell to your family the whole time; otherwise, you’re bankrupting them to fund your own lifestyle.
Seth Godin: In a very inefficient way, because when you think about it, Kickstarter, while the fees aren’t unreasonable, is significantly inefficient at building and serving a market. The backend user interface isn’t particularly easy to work with. The fulfillment thing is a big hassle. Getting people to address this is a pain in the neck. You can’t change the rules in the middle, even if you find out something after the thing has been funded. I supported on of those remote control locks years ago. I would pay them money just to stop bothering me, and admit it didn’t work, because I keep hearing from them. We have to do this, now we have to do this, we have to do this.
If you have a group of people, who are in it for the right reason, you can build a network and keep going. That doesn’t mean Kickstarter’s a bad idea. It just means it’s being misused by a lot of people who have their heads turned by the occasional viral hit.
Matt Ward: Amazon versus something bigger, essentially. Simple products versus game changers where you actually have the community to support them. I think that’s really cool.
Seth Godin: When you think about what is it that changes a game, well we’ve got to think what’s the game. You can change the game of Hacky Sack, by coming up with a new kind of Hacky Sack ball, for sure. The question is how do you bring a Hack Sack ball to the world. If you’re the Commissioner of the World Hacky Sack League, and you’ve been volunteering as a referee, and organizing, and blah, blah, blah, and all 10,000 Hack Sack players know you and trust you, Kickstarter’s a great way to launch your Hacky Sack ball.
On the other hand, if know one in the Hack Sack world knows you, then Kickstarting your Hacky Sack ball, to a bunch of people who just know you but they don’t play Hack Sack, may get it funded. You can’t change the game, because the people who play the game don’t even know who you are.
Matt Ward: This is the biggest that Kickstarter’s that fail have as well. They’ll create an incredible product, hands down, they’ll launch it. If you come without a community that’s actually behind it, it falls flat and doesn’t rank, then know one’s going to find you. Even the short term Kickstarter success isn’t going to happen, unless you can bring a crowd that’s actually interested.
Seth Godin: Bingo.
Matt Ward: One thing I really wanted to get into, the entire concept behind the book, so Winners Never Quit, right?
Seth Godin: I don’t agree with that.
Matt Ward: Oh no, that’s the devil’s advocate employed to get you going.
Seth Godin: Everyone who’s listening to this, either took karate lessons, or wore a tutu, or played the clarinet or the flute, or did some other kid-like activity when they were seven. They don’t do it anymore. That we quit stuff all the time, but along the way we got sold on this mythology that what we have to do is if we want to make into doing anything, is stick with it all, everything for ever. That’s, of course, a trap for a bunch of reasons.
One, we’re less likely to start an important new thing, and two, we have to understand that almost everybody who does something important fails along the way. That means that they quit. If you wanted to lose weight after Christmas you will join all of those people who join the gym at the same time. What you will see, is that the gym’s make their living, cause almost everyone quits in February; February’s the tough part. If you can make it to April, you’re going to be fine. Six weeks into it most people quit, and we deny that. We pretend we don’t quit, but we do.
My argument in the book, The Dip, is this. The worst time to quit is February. The worst time to quit is mile twenty of the Boston Marathon. The worst time to quit is right when it’s really hard, because when it’s really hard is when everyone quits, and that’s when all the value is created. I’m arguing don’t start something unless you know where the dip is. Don’t start something unless you know where that hard moment is. Go in knowing that the hard moment is there, because then when it shows up you won’t be surprised, and you will have adequate resources to get through it.
If you look around the world and say, “Oh this is great. I’m going to do a Kickstarter. We’ll raise a million dollars.” Yada, yada, yada, you dive into it. Then you discover the hard part, and the hard part is getting people to trust you enough to fund it for the right reason. If you don’t have those resources, don’t start. If you do have those resources, if you understand that that’s the hard part, then you will go in knowing that’s that’s the hard part, and you will focus all of your energy on that part, not the stuff that doesn’t make any sense.
Matt Ward: One question I have based off of that is one theory that’s put out a lot in the startup world recently is the concept of the lean startup, of getting something out there just to test the market. It seems like, I might be wrong on this, but it seems like a lot of what we’ve talked about you would advocate against something like this? Can you go a little bit deeper into the concept?
Seth Godin: Sure, there’s this idea of minimal viable product, and it has been completely misunderstood. Minimal has a very distinct meaning, as does viable. They don’t mean the first thing you dashed off, they don’t mean what the hell, they don’t mean let’s let the market figure it out. What they mean is this is good enough to delight people, that they will talk about it. This is good enough that people will be proud to own it, and I will be proud that I made it. That what we’re trying to get rid of when we accurately talk about MVP, is all of the fear that comes from the committee meetings, and the polishing, and the pushing it back, and the pushing it back. The doing it over, and the the doing it over, because we’re afraid of being criticized.
That stuff we’ve got to get rid of, but we don’t get rid of it by replacing it with a different kind of hiding, which is the hiding of well it was a piece of junk anyway. That is missed by a lot of people. I am arguing that minimum viable product also means amazing. If it’s not amazing enough to get my attention, and amazing enough for me to talk about, then it is not viable.
Matt Ward: Where the border come? How can you tell once it’s ready for customers? That’s something people struggle with.
Seth Godin: That’s why I love the fact that your projects called, The Art of Kickstarter, not the Rules of Thumb of Kickstarter, or the Mechanical Checklist of Kickstarter. The Art is learning how to see. The Art is having the good taste to tell junk from good stuff. That’s it’s the good taste that let’s Diane Von Furstenberg, know that this dress belongs in the window, and this dress should have been sent to Target. We need to be able to see. If you can, here’s a great exercise. Go look at the new Kickstarter’s being launched each day. In writing, preferably on a blog, predict which ones are going to work, and which one’s aren’t, before the market speaks.
If you get good at predicting, based on what you know about the person who’s launching it, what you know about their tribe, and what you know about the product, if you get at predicting it, then you know you have good taste. You will be probably good at predicting your own. If you have no clue, if you’re wrong over-and-over again, then I would strongly suggest you don’t spend your own money, and your own time, launching at Kickstarter, because you have no clue.
Matt Ward: You’ve got to be accurate and precise. I think that you have a clue, especially when it comes to entrepreneurs. You’ve worked with a ton of businessmen. You’ve written quite a few books on the subjects, launched your own incredibly successful businesses. What would you say are some of the attributes? How do you go through a spot check to say, “This guys going to make it, this guy’s not?”
Seth Godin: First of all I have failed more than anyone’s who’s listening to this. I think it’s important to understand that I am not correct that often, I’m just correct and persistent a little bit more than some people. I don’t have a formula. I was in the book business for ten years before I figured out how to see the difference between a book that was going to work, and a book that wasn’t going to work. I’ve been on the internet since 1976, and done it, I was only 16, and done it professionally since 1989. It has taken me a really long time.
I looked at the web, and I said the web isn’t going to work, it’s just like Prodigy, but with ads. I said that E-bay, E-bay might work. I was running a company that could have become Pinterest, and I didn’t figure it out and become Pinterest, so I’m wrong all the time. What I do get the sense when I see certain things is that if someone behind something has a following that would miss it if they were gone. I was at an event where the CEO of American Express was taking questions. When you listen to people ask questions to the CEO of American Express, they ask totally different questions, than when they’re talking to someone from VISA, or Chase, or a bank.
That people would miss American Express if they changed their rules, or if they disappeared. No one would miss Chase Bank, they would just switch to a different bank. It’s that idea that this product would be missed, this service would be missed, that is at the core of what makes something certain to work. Number two, a giant one, is when you look at something do you say to yourself, people like me like things like this. That simple question helps you understand what taste is like and how it works.
Matt Ward: I think that brings up a really good point on the second one. I think I know your answer, but I’ve got to ask the question anyways. The passion versus profit, we’ve covered it a little bit. There’s two avenues to build a business. You scratch your own itch, or you find something that the market demands. Are you a scratcher on itch all the way guy?
Seth Godin: No, not at all. I think most people find their passion in doing something that works. You find very, very few people who are passionate about making giant sculptures out of mud and manure, because they get no positive feedback along the way. Having something work doesn’t mean you get paid money, but it probably means you get paid attention, it probably means you get paid respect. Not by necessarily everyone, not by enough people, but by some. Then we then decide once we’ve got some of that going for us that that’s what we love, that that’s our passion. We’re backing into it, hardly anyone is born with passion for anything.
I don’t think Van Gogh was passionate about painting from his genes up. If he was living today, he probably would be in the computer business. If Steve Jobs had lived 300 years ago, he wouldn’t have sat around for 300 years waiting for Moore and the guys at Fairchild to invent the computer chip. He would have done something else. That we are culturally passionate about things, not genetically passionate about things. You can become passionate about a different thing, if it relates to something else you care about.
For me, my itch is what does my community need from me? What work needs to be done that I will be proud of when I’m don’t, and I won’t be proud of it if I’m the only person who thought it was good work.
Matt Ward: When you’re done, what scares you Seth? What are you afraid of?
Seth Godin: My biggest fear for the last few years has been wasting the opportunity, wasting the privilege. It has taken me a long time to have the trust that I have. I’m frequently thrilled and amazed that it has come my way, and I don’t want to waste it.
Matt Ward: I personally don’t think you’re wasting it at this point, Seth. You’re changing a lot of lives. What are some examples of people that you’ve worked with, or experiences that you’ve had as a direct result of your books, of your speaking, that has blown you away?
Seth Godin: First, just to be clear, I don’t do any coaching or consulting, and I do that on purpose. I think I can’t possibly change somebody more than they can change themselves. I don’t want to be responsible for that. That said, what I’ve been amazed by is how often people take words that I wrote that mean one thing, and decide they mean something else. Not only that, but turn it into something bigger, and better, and more beautiful, than I ever could have hoped for. People who run non-profits that have raised 100’s of millions of dollars, and saved millions and millions of lives. People who make oil paintings that blow folks away.
People, I got a beautiful note from a Hospice worker who deals with people in the last stages of cancer, and she’s finding things in my work that I never even knew were there. In some ways I’m a clock that’s right twice a day, and people can see in my work what they need to see. I’m thrilled when they see in that the confidence to go do something even more important.
Matt Ward: If I’ve seen further, it’s because I’ve stood on the shoulder of giants. Seth, you’re a giant. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I want to respect your time, and I know that we scheduled this for half an hour. I have one last question for you, and that is what should I have asked you that I didn’t? What do you want to go into for the last bit to leave our listeners with?
Seth Godin: Matt, I think that what I would highlight for the people who are listening to this is the case study of Matt Ward. A guy who lives 1,000’s or 10’s of 1,000’s of miles away from just about everyone who’s listening to this. Somebody who isn’t taking an obvious short path, but is instead feeding a group of people, for not a lot of obvious remunerations, but merely because he can. When we find more and more people in our world that gets ever more connected, who do this, we understand that we live in a connection economy now, not a stuff economy.
The fact is if 97% of the stuff on Kickstarter disappeared, almost nobody would miss it. We could find something one click away that’s almost as good. That’s not our scarce resource, our scarce resource is who do we trust? Who are we connected to? Who is speaking up on our behalf? We need more people to make that kind of work, so I’m glad you’re doing it.
Matt Ward: I’m glad you’re doing it as well, Seth. You’re laying that brick every single day with the blog, and I’m sure it’s helping people a ton. If people want to connect with you, and they’re not quite sure where to go, where’s the best place?
Seth Godin: My new book is called, What to Do When It’s Your Turn. You can find at YourTurn.link, and if you want to read my blog just type Seth into your favorite search engine, and it’ll be on the front page.
Matt Ward: Seth, thank you so much for coming on. It’s been great talking to you. It’s been enlightening and interesting. I’m sure people have benefited, thanks.
Seth Godin: Thank you, keep making a ruckus.
Matt Ward: I’ll keep making a ruckus, you too, keep up the chaos.
Seth Godin: Okay.
Matt Ward: Good-bye.
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