Becoming a Successful Disruptor, with Jay Samit
A highly respected agent of change, Jay Samit is globally renowned for his expert advice on launching products, building successful businesses, and transforming careers and entire industries. From negotiating with Steve Jobs over iTunes to spearheading the first million-member social media platform, animalhouse.com, Samit has pioneered numerous technologies and multi-million dollar collaborations in the entertainment industry, social media, and eCommerce space. He is the author of the international bestseller Disrupt You!, which he wrote to help individuals and businesses break the patterns which limit personal and professional success.
SPEAKING.COM: From 3D printing to self-driving cars, new technologies will eliminate hundreds of millions of jobs over the next decade. However, you believe these technologies are also creating “massive opportunities”. What are some of these opportunities, and how can people take advantage of them?
SAMIT: When we look at a 100-year view of what’s going on, a century ago it took half the population of the US to feed the other half. Today 1.6% of the population not only feeds the other 98%, but the rest of the globe as well thanks to technologies, irrigation, and the tractor, so we can see that technology radically changes opportunities.
True, office automation and 3D printing wipes out 300 million manufacturing jobs. Self-driving vehicles affect truck drivers. Many will lose, but each new technology opens the opportunity to create new businesses that weren’t envisioned before.
When you look at the world’s largest hotel chain, Airbnb, it has no hotels. The world’s largest transportation company, Uber, has no cars. The world’s largest retailer is now Alibaba, and they have no inventory. What these businesses have in common is their ability to leverage big data, social media and mobile. They understand that each of us is connected to six billion consumers who are just one click away. You only have to be right for a nano second to become a billionaire or change the world.
We have an unprecedented amount of opportunities and equal access to those opportunities. Every month we have a new self-made billionaire in their 20s. They have the same 24 hours in a day that you and I do, but they are doing something different. I want to show people how to tap into that so that they can get the most out of their time on this planet, take any obstacle, and turn it into an opportunity.
SPEAKING.COM: What is a zombie startup idea?
SAMIT: The Zombie idea is one of my terms in Disrupt You! Too many people believe that ideas are these fully formed perfect things, like when Doc Brown in “Back to the Future” comes up with the flux capacitor. In reality though most ideas, startup ideas, and business pivot ideas initially suck. They’re not completely formed – and this is coming from an optimist.
When you look at some of the most successful businesses formed in the past 10 years, they do not resemble the ideas the entrepreneurs started with. Twitter was a music company, YouTube was a dating app.
The purpose of an idea in a startup isn’t to nurture it like a flower; it’s to kill it. You want to go to every potential customer and every user before you build it, write code, or spend millions, so that you can find out why it sucks, and keep on chipping away, iterating as quickly as you can and as agile as you can until you come up with what I call a zombie idea – an idea that can’t be killed. Literally, it’s a walking dead of all ideas. In each case, you really have to look at what’s wrong and keep on going until you find that one zombie idea that can transform not only your company, but an entire industry.
SPEAKING.COM: What advice do you have for someone who has a great idea, but feels unsure how to go about implementing that idea?
SAMIT: First, you need to get past your lack of confidence. The first third of Disrupt You deals with the idea that everybody wants to change the world but no one wants to change themselves. When you master self-disruption, you learn to overcome your fear of failure, and there’s a huge difference between failing and failure; failing is trying something that you learn doesn’t work, which is an important part of the process. We’d all be sitting in the dark if Edison had given up after 500 tries of the light bulb.
Failure, on the other hand, is throwing in the towel and giving up for the rest of your life. At the end of your life, I can guarantee you will have more regrets for things that you didn’t try than the things that you failed at. You need to realize there is no shame in failing.
Secondly, now that you want to go out there and do it, there are so many ways to increase your likelihood of success. You can use social media and LinkedIn to find mentors that have subject matter expertise. You can find other businesses that already deal with the audience that you’re trying to reach and would love to introduce you to that audience, because it makes them look good. Also, there’s no shortage of funding to help you, from crowdfunding, to Venture Capital.
Finally, as you start putting this virtual team together, you’ll get closer to your idea. In Disrupt You!, I explain to people how to write a “disruptor’s map”. You don’t need to know all the steps to get to your goal. Rather, you start from the goal and work backwards. For example, if you know you want be a doctor, you know you need to go to medical school. If you want to go to medical school, you probably have to go get into a good university. You can use the same approach in trying to build a billion-dollar business.
SPEAKING.COM: When it comes to funding startups, you stated “The money is available, all you have to do is learn how to ask for it.” What should people keep in mind when it comes to asking others to fund their ventures, whether through crowdfunding or creating partnerships?
SAMIT: It differs depending on who we’re approaching for money. Private equity, VCs, and angel investors’ sole purpose is that they want to invest money. Their job is to actually give you money. You’re the only one stopping them from giving it, if you’re saying something that doesn’t make sense to them.
Learning how to communicate, learning what they’re looking for, and how to describe the market, are very easy things to do. Equally, you can follow what’s going on in the industry, see what trends people are looking to invest in, and then take your idea and make it on-point, because investors are looking to catch a wave. If you are part of that wave, that’s how you get funding.
Crowdfunding is slightly different. Crowdfunding for the most part is about providing a solution to a specific user. If you can figure out who benefits from your product, you can target them exactly and get pre-orders of customers.
The greatest example of crowdfunding on a massive scale is Tesla. They have tens of billions of dollars of pre-orders for their low-cost Tesla. It’s no different though if you invent something that just works for backpackers or something which just works for magicians. Figure out your market and get those advanced orders.
If you have your fully thought out business and you go out to that audience, and they’re not willing to pre-order it, you might want to stop and think, why are you making this product? Is it a business if there’s no customer base clamoring for the product?
SPEAKING.COM: You talk about being one click away from six billion people, but what are some ways you can make your brand stand out when those six billion people are bombarded with so much information every time they’re online?
SAMIT: The real key in standing out today is summarized in the term “solomo” – social, local, and mobile. Fifty years ago, whoever had the biggest marketing budget won, because you could capture all your big mass media, and no one could compete with that, but brands today aren’t a megaphone. They’re about transparency, and being able to connect with your specific user base or potential user base in a way that is authentic and meaningful.
True, you have a lot of noise out there, but most people are doing it wrong. No one wants to hear all day long on Instagram or in Snapchat that you have a new product. What they do want to hear is stories about how people’s lives were made better or how something was solved. Social gives you a way to connect to people’s feelings, and through that, move your product.
You’ve seen people in their bedrooms start cosmetic lines that have become $100 million sellers, because people met the person, saw their life, and wanted to be like them and became aspirational. The product was a way for them to connect with that individual. Integrated cause marketing like The TOMS buy-one get-one shoes model and the Warby Parker model focus on how my purchase decision can make the world better, and in turn I feel better about having that product.
Additionally, celebrities want to feel like they’re making a difference too, and they’ll be attracted to wanting to work with you and your brand. I’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the world, and there wasn’t one instance where they were attracted to what we were doing because of a check. It was about the mission, whether you’re talking to an Elton John, Stevie Wonder, or Justin Timberlake. Everybody’s attracted to what are you able to achieve, and then they want to climb onboard.
SPEAKING.COM: Early on in your presentations, you often ask the audience the question, “Are you living life or just paying bills until you die?” What tips do you have for ordinary people who want to dedicate the time disrupting themselves or developing that business, but still need to work that day job to support a family, pay bills, etcetera?
SAMIT: It comes down to your belief system. I believe the purpose of life is to live a life of purpose. Once you identify and commit to your purpose, everything becomes a means to making that happen. Yes, you’ve got to feed your family and put a roof on your head, but for what purpose? Where are you going? Five years from now, you will be no closer to your goal if you don’t have one. Many people are going fast, but they’re going nowhere fast.
Changing your attitude towards the world is key to bringing you success. In Disrupt You!, I lay out the scientific research, but ultimately everything comes down to this: A person in a negative state of mind is not open to new ideas and change. Therefore, they are inflating themselves into a life of negativity, depression, and failure.
Whereas if you start each day with just two affirmations – “today can be better than yesterday” and “I have the power to make it so” – suddenly, you’re actually changing your physiology. You’re releasing dopamine from your brain which lights up the synaptic nerves like lights on a Christmas tree. You will find yourself having more energy, being more social, closing more sales, and even having a higher IQ. You’ll be in a state of mind where you’re open to ideas, change, and connections.
One of my favorite examples involves two guys sitting in traffic. If you’re in a negative state of mind, you’re complaining about how bad the traffic is. If you’re in a positive state of mind, you’re saying, “Wait a second. The phone company knows I’m in this car. Imagine if they tell me to go left, then right, and there’s no more traffic.” Two kids in Tel Aviv had that thought and it led to the Waze app. Less than a year in business, they’re billionaires without $1 in revenue.
I’m working with a company right now that has me very excited. They took the number one global problem that everybody complains about – the weather – and actually solved a big part of the weather.
At the end of the day, it really comes down to empowering yourself, and once you realize how easy it is to change yourself, changing business is even easier, and changing the world is no different.
SPEAKING.COM: In your book Disrupt You, you write, “Insight and drive are all the skills you need. Everything else can be hired.” What are some of the criteria you’ve used throughout your career to hire the right people?
SAMIT: Hiring a team really starts again with that self-disruptive process of admitting your strengths and your weaknesses. Many people end up hiring people with the same skills and personalities as themselves as opposed to finding the complementary alternate. In hiring the right people, it’s really about finding complementary skills and empowering those people.
My two classic rules in hiring people are this:
1) I tell the new employees, “You don’t work for me, I work for you. My job is to give you what you need to succeed. I’m not a mind reader, so unless you tell me what you need, I have no way of making you successful.”
2) If you work for a year and you do not make a mistake, I fire you, because you have to be empowered and willing to try new things. If you’re afraid of making a mistake on the job, you’re dooming the company to failure, because trying new things is crucial to discovering what new opportunities exist for growth.
SPEAKING.COM: In your book and presentations, you emphasize that creating disruptive products in businesses is a process. Part of that process includes failing, maintaining a positive mind set and being able to evolve your idea. What are some challenges you faced within your career, and how did you manage to stay positive?
SAMIT: I’ve failed more than most people try. When you swing for the fences, you’re not going to hit it every time. I start off the book with probably, one of the most painful moments that I could remember.
I was in my 20s and we were still in the early days of computers, when they were just a green screen with blinking white numbers or letters on them. California was going to get their first lottery machine that people could use to buy tickets. My competition had a monochromatic screen with blinking numbers that you could type your numbers into while I had created a kiosk in full color, with video that spoke six languages and a motion detector that said, “What would you do with a million dollars?” It was heads and shoulders above the rest. I was going to be an instant multi-millionaire. I invested every penny, maxed out the credit cards, went to Sacramento, and lost the bid.
Later, I would find out that the competition gave a $50,000 cash briefcase to a state senator who eventually served time for taking the bribe; even so, they never invalidated the contract. That day though, I flew back to LA, feeling dejected. I was so broke that I couldn’t afford a taxi to get from LAX to my house. Back then, they used to have women working these information booths to tell you how to use public transportation in LA, but there was nobody at the booth at that moment.
It dawned on me then, “That woman, if she were there, only speaks one language. She’s only working so many hours a day and can’t be at every terminal. Why don’t we put kiosks at an airport? We can solve the visitor dilemma. We can show the whole database, every van service, and every hotel. We can turn this lousy experience into a great experience.” Fast-forward to today: when you go to airports, generally you go to a kiosk for information rather than a person.
You can always look at a situation from a different point of view. Analyze what you learned from your failure, and apply what you learned to the next opportunity. I’ve repeated that process again and again across the music industry, running multi-national corporations, being a public CEO, buying companies, selling companies, working in transportation, working with McDonald’s and the Cokes of the worlds, foreign governments, and even with our own White House.
SPEAKING.COM: Is there anything else that we did not cover in this interview that you’d like to share with the audience?
SAMIT: If anybody wants to get started immediately today in disrupting their life, I have a free 40-page workbook that they can find on jaysamit.com. I hope it aids fueling your journey to success in life.
To bring Jay Samit to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com
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