Big Questions with Cal Fussman – Tim Ferriss

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Was there something that happened at Tim’s birth that made him who he is?
  • Tim was born premature and had 5 full body blood transfusions to fully oxygenate the blood
  • He was a very small kid
  • Cal – Maybe there’s a theme here, Tim is always trying to get the most out of his body
    • Tim has always been very sensitive to heat, and is more prone to heat exhaustion compared to other people
    • When wrestling, due to his small size and susceptibility to heat exhaustion, he was forced to get really good at cutting weight in order to compete
Growing Up
  • Since high school, Tim has been fascinated with nutrition
    • He guesses this was due to the fact that when he was growing up, people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stalone were big stars
  • Tim’s mom is very friendly/welcoming and is very good at Wheel of Fortune. His dad loves cross word puzzles and has excellent factual recall.
    • Cal has noticed Tim has the ability to make people feel very comfortable around him, like his mom
  • Tim has always been a night owl. His mom thinks this is due to being under incubator lights very often as a baby.
    • Because of this, he’d be up very late at night watching infomercials
    • Tim thinks this is how he got obsessed with selling content and ideas,  and the best way to go about doing so
    • “First get the crowd, then sell the product” – This gives you control, while most artists are seeking out other people to help them. Control as many variables as you possibly can.
  • How did Tim think about money in high school?
    • His first job was when he was 13 or 14 at an ice cream shop. He was fired for completing his work too quickly – He found a more efficient way of cleaning the floor, which made his boss angry he wasn’t doing things his way. This is where his obsession with efficiency was born.
    • At his next job, he was a bus boy at a restaurant in Long Island
  • Tim went to Princeton
  • He had the pleasure of studying under John McPhee – one of the best nonfiction writers. Tim took one of his classes called “The Literature of Fact”
  • Tim worked as a freelance illustrator and a graphics editor for the school newspaper, both of which he did not get paid for
  • He also worked in the library of the East Asian Studies Department for $7 an hour
  • Next, he worked as a bar bouncer for $20 an hour, which he really didn’t enjoy
  • Getting back to infomercials…
    • Tim became obsessed – What happens when you call the line? What happens when you call, then say you can’t afford it? What happens if you return it, what’s the return process? Do they use first class or priority mail?
    • As it turns out, the telephone operators use decision tree scripts
  • At this time, he also became interested in speed reading and accelerated learning
    • It’s all about reducing the number of fixation points you have per line
  • Tim collected good online and magazine advertisements in a 3 ring binder that made him want to buy the thing being advertised. He wanted to find the commonalities between them.
Tim’s First Business Venture
  • Tim put out flyers around Princeton advertising a speed reading class, promising a 300% increase in reading speed or 110% money back guaranteed
  • “How can I cap my down side” – if you cap the down side, the upside takes care of itself
  • He didn’t have money to rent a room on campus for the class, so he found a nearby church where he could use a room for much cheaper
  • People started calling/emailing to get information about the class. Having had so much experience calling infomercial lines, this suited him quit well.
  • His first seminar, he made $1500 in 3 hours
  • This is the day, Tim claims, he realized he could run his own business and not follow a typical 9-5 path.
“The twin sister of efficiency is elegance”
  • In elegance, you also have the art, not just the science. It’s the beauty of it.
  • “The ability to make something more beautiful by removing the things that are adding to drag, is just such a cool concept”
How was The 4-Hour Workweek born?
  • Tim graduated from Princeton with no job
  • He had a contact at True San Data Storage, and persistently kept emailing them to try and obtain a job
    • One week, his contact told him to come in for a meaning. Tim didn’t have much money at the time, and had to stay at a kick boxing gym rather than a hotel.
    • At the meeting, his contact basically said “So let me get this straight, you’re not going to stop bothering me until I give you a job,” and thus hired Tim for a sales position
    • He was eventually let go when his position was no longer needed
  • When Tim was let go, he looked at his credit card statements to see where he spent the most money. Where was he price insensitive? What could he make/sell that he uses himself? The answer was a sports nutrition product.
    • He made his friends commit to buying one bottle of his supplement before he ran his first manufacturing run – Get the crowd before you sell the product
    • He also negotiated his manufacturing costs.
    • The company ended up running Tim, instead of the other way around, and he burned out
  • Due to his company’s success, Tim was invited to give a lecture at Princeton in a High Tech Entrepreneurship class twice a year
  • In 2004, he took a trip to London to rethink his business strategy. His goal was to rethink all the systems in the business so he could remove himself as a bottleneck, or shut it down. His changes ended up working, and this proposed 4 week trip ended up into 18 months around the world.
    • Meanwhile, he was still guest lecturing at Princeton via Skype., teaching what he was learning about with his own company. His focus of his lectures geared toward lifestyle design, rather than how to scale a business. 
    • On a class comment form, a student suggested he write a book
    • While on his travels, Tim kept writing down copious notes about chapter titles/content etc, without committing to anything just yet
    • Before he knew it, Tim met enough people who facilitated the creation of a book proposal and the meetings to get things going
    • It was rejected by 27 publishers before he got a deal – “The reason I knew I was right was because I had data. I taught 20 classes, had feedback forms, and knew it worked, so I persisted”
    • At the end of the 28th pitch, Tim said “If you look at my track record, I’ve never half assed anything. I have an extremly high pain tolerance. If you take this small bet on this book, I will stop at nothing, I will kill myself to make this a bestseller. I will do everything within my power, and find other people to help me with things outside my power to make this succeed” – It worked
  • To test covers for his book, Tim went to a Borders in Paolo Alto and wrapped books the same size as his with different covers, keeping track how many times each cover was picked up
    • He also tested titles via Google Ad Words
Final Thoughts
  • Tim credits his success to the ability of asking better questions
Big Questions with Cal Fussman :
Notes By MMiller

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