The James Altucher Show Ep. 248 – Noah Kagan: Stop Fighting What You Are Good At

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  • Noah Kagan’s second time on the podcast, in his first, he recommended doing the 10% off challenge
    • All this involves is going to order coffee, and simply asking for 10% off without giving a reason. It’s a lot harder than you’d think, but gets easier over time.
  • Noah was the #30 employee at Facebook where he was a product manager. He worked on Facebook mobile, Facebook ads, and status updates.
  • He was eventually fired (Noah thinks it was the right decision)
  • As the company grows, the people need to grow to. Noah said he became bored as the company got larger
Focus on the Essentials
  • Habit Building – try leaving your floss in the shower, or shaving in the shower. If you have trouble approaching people, start small and make it a goal to say “hi” to just one person.
  • If you haven’t used an app on your phone in over 6 months, delete it, this helps Noah focus only on the essentials
  • James recently threw out almost everything he owned (except 3 outfits of clothes, a laptop, and his kindle). He now lives exclusively in Airbnbs.
    • He learned we really don’t need a lot of the things we have
    • Another odd result – he’s lost a good amount of weight from not snacking on junk food. He only orders delivery.
  • We should apply this “focus on essentials” mentality to the people in our lives. Many people weight us down and we don’t realize it.
  • Diets – we have food diets, maybe we can have a diet when it comes friends? 
  • We really don’t have that much time on earth, we should only spend it with people who matter
Stop Fighting Your Natural Skills
  • “People need to stop fighting their natural skills. Stop adding excuses to their God given talent, their sweet spot. My sweet spot is starting out and getting things going.”
  • Noah’s current company, Sumo ( and, promotes companies and helps them grow
  • Do what you love. If you don’t love it, outsource it or quit.
  • How does the average person know what they’re strong at?
    • What works for Noah – Ask yourself, if you were independently wealthy (worth ~$10 million), what would your day look like tomorrow?
      • James would wake up, read for about 2 hours and write for 2-4 hours. He views the mornings as “maker” hours and the afternoons as “manage” or fun hours (air hockey, chess, ping pong).
      • Working off of your answer, that’s how you should structure your life/work
    • Also ask yourself, in the past 12 months, when were you most in the zone?
      • James – podcasting and writing
  • Noah thinks more people should schedule fun time. Allocate time in your schedule to do nothing.
Get a Mentor
  • James still gets nervous before public talks
  • Noah – “With discomfort, or being nervous, it’s sort of like a compass to a certain extent. That’s what I have to go do.”
    • When you get scared of something, that’s the thing you should be dong
  • Noah thinks coaches help him improve. He has a chess coach, Hebrew coach, and even editors to a certain extent serve as a coach, elevating the quality of his work.
  • Noah enjoys mentoring people and helping them start businesses
    • For one, it’s karma. Help people below you and it comes back around.
    • Teaching also solidifies what he’s leaned
  • One of Noah’s current mentors is Jonathon Coon, the founder of Wikibuy
    • Check out his podcast episode about him
    • From him, Noah learned he needs to reduce friction in his life.
    • For example, if you go out to lunch, make sure the restaurant knows you’re coming, that they have the valet ready, they know the food you’ll order, and know how much you’ll tip. Make it so you don’t even need to receive a bill.
    • He also learned how valuable over tipping is from Jon at the places you go frequently
      • If you’re ever feeling sad, giving a big tip is a good way to feel better about yourself
      • James likes to tip in $2 bills so people remember him
    • Jon started 1 800 Contacts
    • Jon told Noah the secret to success – put in a lot of work, sustainably, for a long period of time
      • People want a shortcut, but there is none
      • We’re in an age of short attention spans.  – “Whoever can pay attention to something they’re working on for a long period of time, will win”
      • James has been doing the podcast since late 2013
      • You learn, you get better, people find out about you…things compound
      • You need to not quit, get feedback, and improve quality. You don’t get word of mouth without quality.
    • Jonathon, James, and Noah recommend Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
    • Noah (and Jon) also recommend The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Working With the Greats
  • Noah thinks almost everyone should have a podcast/be interviewing people as a conduit to connect with amazing people
    • For him, it’s allowed him to meet and interview people like Nick Kokonas, one of the minds behind Alinea
    • Nick says “Whenever you get the chance to meet somehow great, do whatever it takes to work with them”
    • According to James, in order to work with someone, you have to demonstrate a lot of upfront value for free first with no expectation
Be Vulnerable
  • Many people think Noah actually finds joy in publicly humiliating himself. Maybe we should all do this more often?
  • Noah (age 35) started taking Clomid to increase sperm count, it tells your body to produce more
  • Note – this was an uncomfortable thing to share, but in reality, many people are probably dealing with something similar. Think about this next time you don’t want to open up about something.
  • Noah lives by the quote – “The harder you work, the easier life gets”
  • Noah likes to experiment with new things/practices/ideas and see if they improve his life. If they don’t, he stops doing them.
    • Like the 5AM Challenge (James likes getting up at this time too)
      • Noah is not getting up at 5AM currently, but he sees the benefits in it
      • Some mornings, Noah just reads fiction books (like Red Rising). He also enjoys getting some form of exercise in.
    • No caffeine for a week challenge
    • No apologies for 30 days – “Be yourself without apology, completely”
      • Many people feel that have to give an explanation/apologize when you say “no” to people. James tries very hard not to do this.
      • “If everyone could be true to themselves, and not apologize for what they want, the world would be better”
    • “If you put yourself out there, you’re going to get criticized.” People try to push you to be average, and nothing great ever gets built when you’re average.
Self Monitoring
  • It’s important to periodically check in with yourself and make sure you haven’t drifted off track (shifted from your core values/doing what you love)
  • James speaking on how he dealt with an unknown relationship issue
    • He viewed it as a blessing in disguise, as an opportunity to see if the daily practice really works for him
    • It gave him material to write about
    • It also gave him the opportunity to seek professional help
    • This cumulated with him throwing out all his belongings
    • It allowed him to reevaluate his beliefs
  • How does Noah readjust?
    • He has a list on his table – “The elements of a great day”
    • Good conversation, meditation, journaling, biking, playing chess….even masturbating
    • He tries to engineer his day to include those things
Work and Learning
  • How does Noah fit in his business life?
    • Work gives him purpose
    • It comes down to – How do I create a business that I can work on indefinitely? Work on things you want to see in the world.
  • When you start, you’ll be bad, but you learn every step of the way
  • James and Noah try to always be learning something new
    • Noah is currently learning Hebrew and chess
    • Learning allows you to have a beginners mindset
    • The only way to accelerate learning is to hire a coach, they hold you accountable
  • Noah feels change improves life (moving locations, changing jobs, changing relationship). Because of this, he likes to live/work in foreign countries. When he does this, he notices his curiosity and thinking is elevated.
The Sumo Empire
  • Noah has 3 websites: (for email list giveaways), (tools to grow your email list), and (promotions of other peoples’ products that small business people need)
    • James uses kingsumo to give away books from his podcast guests
    • Noah likes to approach companies whose products he likes, and asks them to donate product for a giveaway which he runs through his email list. It’s a win win for everyone, because the company gets attention, and Noah’s email list grows.
Parting Challenges for James
  • The 5% Challenge – Take your salary this month, and give away 5% of it. Where do you give it? Take a look at services you’ve benefited from for free.
  • Text one friend, ask them one thing they like about you and one thing you should improve on
  • Ask someone you don’t know to use their cell phone
  • Bonus from James to Noah: Hug a total stranger for 30 seconds
  • Bonus from Noah: High five a stranger
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