The Tim Ferriss Show #258: From Long-Shot to $50 Billion Empire – Bill Rasumessen

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  • What was Bill’s grandfather like?
    • His grandfather was a die-hard White Sox fan who would always take him to games
    • He credits this to becoming a White Sox fan
  • On playing war games as a kid:
    • 1941 – Bill was in the fourth grade, would often play war games with his friends
    • He remembers distinctly after Pearl Harbor, sitting on the living room floor listening to the news reports on the radio
  • What sports did he play in high school?
    • Bill played baseball and then football after his father encouraged him to try it
    • He claims he was very fast and played as a defensive back, but soon quit to just pursue baseball
  • On high school:
    • Bill was a junior in high school in 1949 and the Chicago Sun Times had an essay contest in which the six winners would get to attend President Harry Truman’s inauguration
    • He wrote an essay on why he wanted to become a lawyer and was one of the winners
  • Any particular teachers that had a large impact?
    • One professor, who was the head of the economics department and taught Financial Organization & Investment
    • This professor would always throw erasers at students when they gave a wrong answer
    • Another professor, Dr. Andrew Crandall, was a notorious Civil War expert who commonly performed reenactments during lectures
  • On part time gigs/jobs:
    • Bill lived in Amherst, Mass. in 1964. There were two news stations, NBC and ABC. Only the NBC station had a sports segment. Bill approached the manager at the ABC station and told him he needed a sports show. He was convincing, and ended up being offered $10 a broadcast. The station was 40 miles away from where Bill lived, basically making it a net loss. On his first day, Bill was told he would instead be a weatherman, although he didn’t know the first thing about meteorology.
    • He ended up enjoying it and began, without asking, throwing in sports scores into his weather forecasts. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
    • Bill then ended up being transfered to the NBC station as a sports reporter, leading him to meet Cassius Clay
  • Reflecting on the weatherman experience, Bill believes things happen for a reason
  • If Bill had to teach a class to help students develop confidence, how would he approach it?
    • Bill doesn’t feel he’s qualified, but would likely approach it in a way of always encouraging a positive attitude towards things and teaching students to easily be able to brush off negative outcomes. When someone says “no,” remember that they made the mistake.
  • What were some of the most costly missteps with ESPN early on?
    • Trying to “over reach.” Example: running CFL games
    • Bill recalls being interviewed on ESPN radio by someone who used to work for ABC. The interviewer claimed ABC ran by the motto of “Don’t rock the boat.” ESPN rather, ran by the motto of “Try everything that pops into your mind. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, forget it and move on.” This worked well for them.
  • ESPN growth:
    • From 1.3 million subscribers to more than 90 million
    • 80 employees to more than 8,000
    • Radio: None to 20 million listeners
  • Fun fact: infielders always used to leave their gloves on the field in between innings in the first half of the 1900s
  • If Bill was to give advice to himself on the day before ESPN launched, what would it be?
    • To be further along before going on the air, but things ended up working out anyway
  • Any pitches that come to mind that were complete failures?
    • None too specific, but general advice towards failures: You can’t stop living, “keep eating,” it’s not the end of the world
  • How does Bill think about evaluating investment opportunities?
    • He thinks about the company’s mission statement, once they get beyond 12 words, they lose focus
    • ESPN’s mission statement is only 6 words:  To serve sports fans anytime anywhere
  • How does Bill cap the downside of investments?
    • He tries to always have a positive attitude, and views losses as learning experiences
  • “Don’t be afraid to try crazy things”
    • Bill used to have one of his employees cold call large cable systems in different areas to request meetings, which worked surprisingly often
    • If your intentions are honorable, always go for it
  • What was Bill’s favorite esoteric sport shown on ESPN?
    • An amateur boxing series they ran a while back
  • Books
    • Bill owns 100-150 books on war
    • Bill recommends Coldest Winter by David Halberstam
    • Tim has recently began reading more books on war, he finds wars are interesting because they push human nature to its extreme, and thinks war books are a useful tool for studying the subject
  • Best or most worthwhile investment Bill has ever made?
    • A $9,000 credit card cash advance used to start ESPN

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