episode 15 – audacity in entrepreneurship and art | Jim McKelvey
In this episode, we speak to Jim McKelvey, a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Square, a financial payments company, together with Jack Dorsey. McKelvey is also a glass artist who always works at the intersection of technology, art, and entrepreneurship. He speaks about innovation management, entrepreneurial skills and mindset, and why entrepreneurs and business people are different, and his new book “The Innovation Stack”.
Resources and links
Artworks and other topics mentioned during the podcast can be seen in the following links:
The transcribe was produced by an AI. Mistakes might appear.
Nir Hindi: [00:00:00] Hey, Jim, welcome to the podcast.
[00:00:02] Jim McKelvey: [00:00:02] Thank you, Nir. This is going to be super cool.
[00:00:04] Nir Hindi: [00:00:04] So I want to start with the story. 2017, you visited Madrid. You are a keynote speaker at South summit, the biggest day summit for startup and entrepreneur. And I happened to curate a vertical on art and technology in the conference.
[00:00:17] One of the, of summit activities was a visit to a private house in the city. A home that hosts a markable collection of artworks. And original documents of Columbus. when we talked, you mentioned that this is where things started get together. And I want to start and ask you how, from Columbus, you got into publishing a book on innovation stack.
[00:00:39] Jim McKelvey: [00:00:39] Yes. Oh my God. I remember that so well, because I was struggling to figure out what, what the heck was happening to my company, a square. So Square’s a company in the United States. We’re almost a hundred billion dollars right now. So it’s a pretty successful company, but it was amazing in the early days because square had survived an attack by Amazon.
[00:01:00] And I couldn’t explain why, because when Amazon attacks a startup and copies their product and undercuts their prize, the startup always dies. And I say always because up until Square, I’d never seen a case of a startup surviving Amazon, but Square survived. And that was in 2015. And so. For the next two years, literally for 2015, 2016 and into 2017, I was trying to as basically a scientist figure out what happened to us.
[00:01:30] And I was trying to fit all these pieces of information together. And then I went to this palace in Madrid with you and the rest of the. Uh, the conference goers, and this was a palace where they had a library with, uh, some of the original, uh, letters from Christopher Columbus. And I realized that what was the, what Columbus had been doing, which was essentially crazy, considered crazy at the time was different than travel. In other words, Columbus was essentially Explorer. And of course I was in Madrid as a tourist, which means any, if you think about traveling, you’ve got those two categories.
[00:02:12] Most people, when they travel are tourists, they have a place to expect to go. You know, they’re going to have a hotel or a friend they stay with, they, you know, they expect to be able to get food and things along the way. There’s not much adventure in travel. Uh, exploration, especially exploring a part of the world that is unknown is totally different. And Columbus, if you believe the legend was essentially sailing off, out to the West in a direction from which no boats ever returned.
[00:02:41] And the thought was that he was going to sail off the end of the earth. And of course we know that’s not true. And we know that, uh, you know, navigators knew that the earth was round at the time, but there was this fear among the people who backed Columbus, that it would never work because it had, it had never been done before.
[00:02:58] And that was the central insight that led me to the book. That was the moment when it all became clear in my head, I was like, Oh my God, Columbus is an example of somebody who was doing what we had done except in a different world. I mean, he was doing essentially travel and we were doing businesses, but I realized then that, because the mistake I was making was I was trying to look around me and. Contemporary businesses for other examples, and that didn’t work. But when I started looking back in time, when I started looking in history, there were hundreds of examples of the phenomenon that we’ve lived through at Square.
[00:03:38] And so I can literally tell you exactly where I was standing. In that palatial mansion in the library, I was, you know, I do the whole tour had moved on. Like they left me behind at the library. Everybody else was, you know, looking at at the beautiful art yeah. The walls and the fancy rugs and stuff. And, and I was just sitting there in the library having this moment where I was like, Oh my God, I know what I have to do.
[00:03:58] I know how I can answer this question, that it was by studying history. So if you read my book, it’s all historical examples. And as a matter of fact, every entrepreneur, except for me is now dead. Like all the people who I’ve, who I’ve studied, but studying history is really valuable because you can get rid of a lot of noise.
[00:04:18] And I think if you study current businesses, look, there’s a lot of noise with, you know, government regulations and trends. And then we’ve got the internet and we’ve got viral growth and we’ve got network effect and we’ve got things that tend to mask other phenomenon. But if you look back in history, you know, there was no viral growth during the steam engine age, there were just great ideas to pick over.
[00:04:40] Nir Hindi: [00:04:40] Yeah. You started to mention the company that you founded, but you are actually pure entrepreneur. I mean, you started immediately after school and since then, I think you launch maybe more than seven different ventures. Most of them are still exists. And the book that you publish the innovation stack, kind of tell the story of Square, the company that I would say revolutionized payment for SMEs entrepreneurs in the U S now probably spreading around the world.
[00:05:07] And before we dive to some of the lessons, I want to ask you about the differentiation you do between entrepreneurs and business people you write. And I quote, “they, the business people were successful and respected, but they were singing the song. not writing the music.” What do you mean?
[00:05:24] Jim McKelvey: [00:05:24] It’s funny Nir because I only speak English and I think it’s very limiting.
[00:05:29] My wife speaks five or six languages depending on whether or not you count German. And she can have thoughts in different languages because they have different words. And in. The English language. We have no word for somebody who is building a business that has never been built before. We have a word for somebody who’s building a business, we call them an entrepreneur, or we call them a business person.
[00:05:53] The terms are synonymous, but it turns out that the original use of the word entrepreneur, the original definition, which was popularized over a century ago by an economist named Joseph Schumpeter, Schumpeter was. Insistent that the word entrepreneur means something different. And it meant somebody who was doing something crazy.
[00:06:13] Some buddy who was trying something that probably would not work. And that’s critical because if you are going to do a business, then you have all sorts of advantages and disadvantages that are different than if you’re an entrepreneur. So a business person has a bunch of competitors. I always take the example of a coffee shop.
[00:06:36] Cause there are coffee shops all over the world. And like, if you want to open up a coffee shop today, you can do so. Um, and if you don’t understand how that works or if you don’t understand part of the business, you can go to another coffee shop and see what they do. Or you can go to the coffee convention or you can hire employees who used to work at other coffee shops and they’ll know what to do.
[00:06:56] You can learn what you need to learn. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t do some original things, but most of those original things are going to be very, very slight changes to the coffee shop model. If you are doing a business that has never been done before you can’t go to a trade show, you can’t hire from your competitors.
[00:07:13] As a matter of fact, you have no competitors and you say, Oh, well, that’s great to have no competitors. Like no, no, no competitors are really helpful, especially when you’re starting out, because you can steal their ideas. You can steal their employees, you know, you can steal their market share. You can get tremendous help from your competitors and entrepreneurs can’t do this.
[00:07:31] So. In order to write my book, I first had to essentially revive the old definition of entrepreneurship. And the reason I did that was not to be sort of pedantic or, you know, make it some sort of academic exercise. It’s the, my English language doesn’t allow me to, to describe the phenomenon that I wanted to describe.
[00:07:54] And this to me, at least partially explains why I couldn’t find anything on the subject that my book was on because I read a ton and I read, you know, I’ve got stacks of books in my house and I digest books and I’d never run across anybody discussing this phenomenon and then I realized, Oh, wait a second.
[00:08:12] They can’t talk about it because we don’t even have a word. So
[00:08:16] Nir Hindi: [00:08:16] for you, it’s the entrepreneurs and you kind of take it one step further. First of all, you speak about the differentiation between singing a song to writing the music, and then you place us into a city, the guarded wall and what’s happening outside the wall.
[00:08:30] Jim McKelvey: [00:08:30] Yes. So I wanted to be able to explain entrepreneurship to somebody. With a visual metaphor. And if you’ve ever been to a medieval city and that they’re all throughout Europe, but, you know, even China had had these, um, they tend to build walls, these great stone walls around the city. And within the city, you are protected by the wall, but you’re also trapped by it.
[00:08:52] And inside these cities, life was pretty horrible. I mean, like compared to our, you know, what we think of today as city life, you know, there was a lot of disease. There was a lot of overcrowding, horrible poverty, and you had no freedom you would do with the King or the ruler told you to do. And there was this massive world outside the wall, but most people were afraid to leave the city.
[00:09:15] And as a matter of fact, one of the punishments, if you got into trouble, if you were bad, they would kick you out of the city. So one of the things they would do to punish people would they say, okay, you know, Nir, you have to leave the city. You know, you didn’t follow our rules, we’re going to banish you and you’d usually die.
[00:09:29] But the question is, well, What happens to the people who are banished or who get thrown over that wall or who leave voluntarily, it doesn’t matter, but then survive. Like what skills would they need outside the city wall? In order to, you know, feed themselves and shelter themselves and eventually thrive.
[00:09:48] And the answer is it’s a totally different set of skills and the skills you need inside the city. Like maybe inside the city, you need to write and read, obey the laws outside the city walls. There are no laws. You can break any law you want, except for the laws of nature. And if you break one of the laws of nature that kill you, you know, nature will nature enforces all its laws.
[00:10:06] Basically with pick capital punishment. So I wanted to draw this metaphor because I thought it’s helpful to visualize somebody who is living in a walled city versus somebody who’s trying to survive out in the wilderness. Entrepreneurship is much more like the wilderness.
[00:10:23] Nir Hindi: [00:10:23] And then you kind of talk about two motivations that people that go to the unknown outside of the garded walls.
[00:10:30] And you mentioned perseverance and audacity. And what I found interesting is not only that you mentioned perseverance and audacity, you also say that audacity is what entrepreneurs and artists have in common. So I want to ask you about that. Why you say that motivation, because as we know, people always like to stay among what they know. The familiar area and then
[00:10:51] Jim McKelvey: [00:10:51] going to the Y I’ll do that. And by the way, I’m not criticizing people for staying among what they know. I do that everybody I know does that to a, a majority of people’s behavior is doing what they know. Even somebody who is considered crazy most of the time conforms to the norms of society, but that small percentage of time that some people violate the norms that’s considered audacious and that’s where entrepreneurship lives.
[00:11:20] But even for those of us who are wild entrepreneurs and crazy risk takers, most of us spend most of our time doing what everybody else does. And perseverance. If we talk about motivation and energy is one of the most prized qualities. If you persevere, we respect you. We respect the people who work really hard.
[00:11:41] There’s a documentary on Netflix right now about Michael Jordan, you know, as this great basketball player. And one of the things they do is they talk about his legendary work ethic, how he would practice and practice and practice and practice and practice. Even when his NBA teammates wouldn’t practice, you know, Jordan would be there shooting shots and perseverance is one of these things that we all respect, but there is another type of energy and it’s rarely discussed and it’s audacity.
[00:12:08] It’s when you have the energy not to keep going, but to do something different. In other words may be your audacity is to stop when everybody is running, maybe it’s to run when everybody else is standing it’s to do the thing that is different than the curd. And that’s very, very difficult because we’re all wired as humans to be in sync with each other.
[00:12:32] So, uh, one of the things that we learned to do as babies is mimik our parents’ behaviors. And if the parents a smile, smiling, the kid will learn to smile. This is wired into our genome and it’s not like we outgrow it. When we get out of diapers, it’s we get better at it. We get better and better to the point where as we become adults, we’re so good at mirroring what everybody else does that if we fail to do so, we become very uncomfortable and in business, If you are doing something that has never been done before, you will feel very uncomfortable for good physiological reasons. And if you don’t recognize the fact that discomfort is going, you may think you’re failing. Whereas in fact, you’re just doing, you know, what is appropriate at that stage in your program.
[00:13:19] Nir Hindi: [00:13:19] And why you say that to audacity is common to entrepreneurs and artists. Why are these.
[00:13:24] Jim McKelvey: [00:13:24] Uh, artists. So I spent years as an artist, as a matter of fact, I’m going into my glass studio this afternoon. That’s why I’m like, I’ve got, I’ve got this nice shirt on cause I didn’t know podcasting. And I had to record a video today and under this is like a grubby, like nasty old t-shirt. I mean, like literally under there I’m rocking dirty old shirt and um, I’m going to strip it off and I’m going to go into my studio and I’m actually, I’ll show you what I’m going to make.
[00:13:49] I’m working on a set of, uh, of drinking glasses, but they’re, um, There are these sort of wavy glasses and I’m, it’s very, very hard to get glass to make this wave. And I don’t know how to do it. And nobody I know in the studio has ever done this. And so we’re all experimenting. And so. The trick in art is to do something original.
[00:14:09] And it’s one of the few fields of endeavor where original thought and expression is truly valued. And I know what you’re saying. Oh, well, every everybody values originality and the answer is no, you don’t really, don’t like none of us do. We really, really want to be conformist. Now we want maybe a little bit of originality like, we want to ride in a cooler car than our friends, or maybe a crummier card that our friends, like in the worlds that I travel in, it’s funny, like I’ve got my Miami friends and they like to be cool in Miami. You drive like a really cool car and then are among my artists friends to be cool. You drive a really crappy car. Yeah.
[00:14:51] Nir Hindi: [00:14:51] So do you have two cards for the Miami friends when you traveled to Miami and when you have hanging around
[00:14:57] Jim McKelvey: [00:14:57] with it wrong.
[00:14:58] So I’ve got like my really crap car is in Miami. Cause I, I, I’m one of these people who I’m not comfortable if I fit in too much, I keep a really crappy car in Miami and I drive a Tesla to the art studio sometimes. So, but the point is, um, in the art world, you are at least encouraged to think originally.
[00:15:16] Yeah. And when you think originally the artists don’t treat you as cruelly as the business people treat you, if you think originally in the business world, and if you bring an original thought to a banker, you will be soundly rebuked. They just don’t want it.
[00:15:33] Nir Hindi: [00:15:33] So actually the whole idea for square came in your art studio. And before we discussed Square, how did you get into glass out to start blowing out a glass?
[00:15:45] Jim McKelvey: [00:15:45] I became a glass artist because I needed money. So I didn’t want to become a glass artist. I was working for a company that was run by a guy who was a crook, and I realized that he was a crook. And I quit and I quit without having found another job.
[00:16:02] So I immediately needed to find a way to make money. And I had studied glassblowing just for fun during college. And so I thought, well, maybe I can go into the studio and make some work. And sell it and it turns out I really couldn’t because my work was terrible, but I got good really fast because I had to, and this is one of the funny things.
[00:16:27] It was matter of fact, I think. Like this piece, this is an old piece of glass. I don’t know if you can see this thing probably can’t even reach it, but this is one of the first things I made. This is back in, uh, 1988. Okay.
[00:16:41] Nir Hindi: [00:16:41] It’s a nice reminder how you started.
[00:16:43] Jim McKelvey: [00:16:43] Yeah, 1988. I made, I made that piece of glass and, um, nothing original about it.
[00:16:48] But I was able to crank out enough work to build a little business, and then it allowed me to have an income. And the funny thing about glass is that at the time that I did it, nobody was doing it because there were very few glass furnaces. So I could sell everything that I made and I actually made a really good living, blowing glass.
[00:17:10] I mean, it’s such a good living that I was actually able to start my first computer company. So I became a glassblower and I made this money and then I took the money and I sort of plowed it into this thing called Mira Digital Publishing and Mira was actually, mirror is actually still around. It’s in this building is 30 years later.
[00:17:25] It’s still making, but that was my first tech startup. And that’s kinda what I got. That’s how I got back into tech was glass blowing.
[00:17:33] Nir Hindi: [00:17:33] Fast forward, not only that you started any work as a glass artist, you even published. I think one of the first books on glass blowing.
[00:17:42] Jim McKelvey: [00:17:42] Yes.
[00:17:43] Nir Hindi: [00:17:43] And you even won the innovation award in 2015 together with your co-founder for the glass gallery and studio, the Glass Factory, Doug Auer.
[00:17:55] Jim McKelvey: [00:17:55] Doug, our, yes, Doug is my partner at the glass studio. He’s a fantastic guy. He and I always wanted to have a studio. And so we built one, this was 20 years ago, but we built it and we decided not to build just a studio. We wanted to build a school. And the reason we built a school was because glass is not a solo activity.
[00:18:16] It’s very hard to make a piece of glass by yourself because glass is always moving. So you can’t set it down and go get another piece of glass and bring it over. So you need another. Pair of hands or several pairs of hands working as a team to make anything significant. And so we didn’t want to just be the only two glassblowers in town.
[00:18:34] So we opened a school and we started training other glassblowers. So then, you know, here we are, 20 years later, we have a whole community here, here in st. Louis are probably 30 glassblowers, maybe more. Maybe 50, uh, who come and use our facility. And so whenever I want to make something, I’ve got this team that I can bring together.
[00:18:52] So at this afternoon, when I go into the studio, I’m going to assemble a team, you know, whoever’s there and a couple of other people. And actually Bob who’s mentioned in the book, my friend, Bob, uh, he’s a glass blower. Uh, Bob’s going to be there today. So, um, we’ll all work as a team. It’s more fun. And it’s also much more creative to work with a bunch of minds than just one.
[00:19:12] Nir Hindi: [00:19:12] book, a glass studio, making a living as an artist. And you talk in the book and one of the important lessons you learned from the art that you became obsessed with the lessons of “when”, ah, tell me about when, because I think you nailed it very well. How we are being taught in school, what we have not been taught and what you learn and how it’s like.
[00:19:34] Jim McKelvey: [00:19:34] Yes. So in school we are taught how. We’re taught how to count, how to do accounting, how history happened. We’re talking how chemistry works. If you study physics or anything, you learn how physical systems work. Even in art school, you’re taught how to draw and how to do certain things. How is easy to teach the thing we never teach, or at least I’ve never seen taught is “when”.
[00:20:02] So the question is, if you know how to do something. And you do it at the wrong time. You will still fail, even though you did the thing correctly, I try to explain this to people who are single and they don’t understand it, but people who are married understand this because very people know full well that you can do the right thing at the wrong time.
[00:20:26] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you can say the right thing, right thing at the wrong time. And, and, and it gets a terrible result. So married people tend to appreciate “when” much better. And I became, I’m obsessed with this because I was trying to learn how to do this thing and the glass studio. And it had been frustrating me for about 15 years.
[00:20:47] I was 15 years into my Glass point career and I still couldn’t do this very basic move. And I it’s not that I couldn’t do it it’s that I could do it sometimes. And then other times I couldn’t, and it was very frustrated because I couldn’t tell myself, I would never know if, if today was going to be the day that I got it right.
[00:21:03] I always got nervous and it was really terrible. And then I took a lesson from this Italian glass master Lino Tagliapietra, who is considered the best glass blower in the world. And I asked him to teach me how to do this particular technique and what he did was amazing because he didn’t show me how to do it.
[00:21:22] He asked me to do it and as I was about to do it, he said, “wait, wait, wait”. And then he said now, and when he said, now I let the glass fall and it went on perfectly, and this just blew my mind Nir because I’d been doing it right for 15 years. Like my tech was, my technique was fine. It was my timing that was off.
[00:21:43] And as soon as I saw that lesson in the glass studio, I all of a sudden realized that this was a lesson that applied throughout my life. You know, that I had been doing the right thing so often at the wrong moment. And then I knew what to do. I just didn’t know when to do it. I’ve become a student of timing.
[00:22:00] Ever since that moment, I’ve been just obsessed with this idea that there is a right time to do the thing in the right way. And I think it’s been partially responsible for the fact that more of the stuff that I’m doing is working now.
[00:22:17] Nir Hindi: [00:22:17] You know, it, the timing it’s kind of very interesting because it leads me to my, the next question about Square.
[00:22:23] You actually launched square just after the crisis or in the middle of the crisis. And you managed to transform it together with your co-founder Jack Dorsey to one of the most successful, I think, payment companies that we see today, how did you get from the idea to start Square and what led you. To start this company.
[00:22:47] Jim McKelvey: [00:22:47] What led me to start? It was two phenomenon. First of all, Jack, who I’d worked together with at Mira, my first company had just been kicked out of Twitter and he was the co-founder of Twitter, but they kicked him out and he came back to st. Louis where we’re both from. And we were actually in my glass studio talking about what we were going to do next.
[00:23:07] And Jack suggested that we start a new company together. And I said, great, what do you want to do? And he’s like, I don’t know, what do you want to do? And so we kicked around ideas, but neither one of us had an idea. We were just eager to work together again, but we did not have an idea. So I moved out to California where Jack lived and we spent a couple of weeks trying to figure out an idea for a business.
[00:23:27] So we were looking for ideas for business, and we came up with a couple of rudimentary ideas, but none of them that were really that appealing. And then I happen to be in my glass studio, packing up to move out to California and I got a call from a lady from Panama and she wanted to buy this piece of glass that I’d had.
[00:23:49] On the shelf for probably three years and it was ugly and I wanted to get rid of it. She wanted to pay me full price for it. I was so happy to get rid of this and she pay me with an American express card. It’s all she had. And I said, I’m sorry, I can’t take American express because American express is way more expensive than MasterCard and visa, or at least it was at the time I lost this sale.
[00:24:09] Because I couldn’t take a payment. And that was ironic because I was talking to her, you know, I’m on my iPhone. And I look at my iPhone as this magical device that becomes whatever I want. You know, it turns into a map. It turns into a TV, it turns into a video game. Like it turns into whatever I want it to turn into.
[00:24:28] And it did not turn into a credit card machine on that critical day. And I thought, I want to be able to turn my iPhone into a credit card machine. And I called up Jack and I said, This is what we should do. You know, I think I have the idea. And at the time nobody was doing anything in payments. There had been no innovation since PayPal, which was, you know, 10 years old at the time.
[00:24:49] So I looked at this market and I just thought, I didn’t know if the market was going to be big. I didn’t know if there were going to be other people like me who wanted my little problem solved. I just knew that I had a problem. And so. That was the beginning. And, um, then it grew into, what’s now a pretty significant company.
[00:25:12] Nir Hindi: [00:25:12] did you manage to launch it in 2009? Just at the mall, everything is like burning and like everyone don’t know even what to do with their money. And I dont when you took this lesson with the Maestro, I remember that you mentioned in the book, uh, but. If it was before or after, but definitely the timing was somehow the right time to launch the
[00:25:33] Jim McKelvey: [00:25:33] timing was right.
[00:25:34] Yes. So we launched in the middle of the last great recession and you know, we’re in a recession now, at least economically, but 2009, 2008 was worse. At least for the people in my world. Now I can’t say that it was worse for everybody because there are a lot of businesses that are shut down. Actually one of my companies is shut down right now.
[00:25:53] The glass studio is basically shut. Uh, the furnaces are open, but we’re not doing any of the events. We’re not making any money. Uh, we’re just letting the artists work. But the, um, the 2009, uh, 2008, uh, recession was pretty bad for a lot of people. And there were a lot of folks unemployed and we thought it was a great time to start.
[00:26:13] Again, this is sort of that go against the herd mentality, but I’ve always felt that starting a business when things are bad. Gives you several advantages. First of all, uh, resources are cheap. So, and, and I don’t just mean, you know, the things you can buy, but the things you can do. So there are people that we could meet with.
[00:26:30] Who would normally be very busy, but they weren’t, they were unemployed or their companies for, you know, half close. So, so we had access to some really great people that we would not have had access to in good times. And we were able to, yeah, for instance, we got free rent in New York city. So New York city in New York give us free office space.
[00:26:50] And we did actually, we didn’t end up taking that. We decided that san Francisco was a better place, but I began, we could get, you know, get all the resources we needed, but more than that, psychologically recessions and times of suffering good for entrepreneurs because they tend to open up people’s minds. And what I mean by this Nir is that.
[00:27:14] If things are going well, you’re probably going to do the same thing that you’ve always done. If it’s working, why change it? Like if everything in your life is going fine, you’re not going to move to a different city. You’re not going to shave off that beard and dye your hair blonde. And you know, I don’t know, like, look, whatever you’re going to do to change.
[00:27:32] You’re not going to do if things are going well, if things are going badly, if things are. Chaotic. If what you have always done is no longer working, then all of a sudden your mind becomes more receptive to new ideas. This doesn’t mean you’re going to do them. It just means that you’re going to notice them.
[00:27:49] And you’re going to think, Oh, what I, what if I did it this way? And this happens on a societal level during crises. And so square was a new idea, but one of our big problems was getting people to notice what we were doing. I think that the fact that we launched in a recession was very helpful because it was much easier to get people to notice something new.
[00:28:09] Nir Hindi: [00:28:09] So what I kind of ask you about something that I find very appealing, at least to me in the book, is that in many ways you are humanizing entrepreneurship, you are not making it like the great superhero story that we normally read or see. But you actually talk about the emotions and the last chapter of your book, talk about the feeling and you speak about entrepreneurship as a battle, not as a book and you kind of not glorified, but give it as is and how hard it is.
[00:28:43] And I want to ask you about one of the concepts you mentioned over there is that get comfortable with discomfort. What do you mean by get comfortable with discomfort?
[00:28:54] Jim McKelvey: [00:28:54] Getting comfortable with discomfort. Is this idea that I believe you need to have when. You become an entrepreneur. And the reason I wrote the book is I want more entrepreneurs.
[00:29:08] The only reason. So writing this book was excruciating. It took me three years. I rewrote the thing eight times it went through full seven, full drafts, including an entire format change. Like it started off as a graphic novel. It started off as cartoons. Right. And then halfway through, I changed it. It was excruciating to write this thing.
[00:29:25] And this is all I did for. Like basically all of 2018, 2019 was right. And then rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite this book to the point where I thought I had something that people could read and relate to. And the only reason I did that was because I want there to be more entrepreneurs. I see so many problems in the world and I think, well, if we only have a few weirdos trying to solve these problems, we’re not going to get it done.
[00:29:51] But if we have all of these millions of people or billions of people who have this problem solving potential within them and if they’re all able to occasionally, and I don’t say all the time, but just occasionally like once or twice in your life. Do something that hasn’t been done before, then we’ll have this massive improvement in human conditions.
[00:30:12] And so I want more entrepreneurs. I desperately want that. And that’s why I wrote the damn book. And as a matter of fact, even if you don’t want to read the book, I would say, find somebody who, you know, who is sitting on the sidelines because when I was writing the book I had this person in mind. I knew this person.
[00:30:29] She’s very smart. She’s brilliant. She’s got a master’s degree from one of the world’s great institutions, an institution that you instantly recognize. I mean, she’s, she’s extremely capable and yet every time I see her encounter a problem that she’s not solved before she stops and she says, well, I have to stop now because I’m not qualified to go any further.
[00:30:52] And my point to her, and this is to all the readers and hopefully to all your listeners, just, you don’t have to buy the book, just understand this one point. If you reach the edge of what humankind has solved. If you reach that border where mankind no longer knows what to do, you can step across that border.
[00:31:09] Now, things are going to look a lot different. You’ve stopped being a tourist. You’ve now become an Explorer. Okay. You are entering the world of entrepreneurship, which you can do, but it’s going to feel really, really uncomfortable. And by definition, you will not be qualified. Nobody is qualified to do something the first time it’s done.
[00:31:31] Okay. The very first time, anything in this world is accomplished by a human that human is unqualified to do it. And, and if you realize this, it helps prep your mind. Because if you’re like me, you’ve been taught by the parents who love you and friends who want to protect you and a society. That’s trying to keep you from walking into the street and getting run over by a truck.
[00:31:55] You have been taught to stop. When you reached the edge of your qualification and go get more training, go near, and you’re not ready for this. You’re not ready. You’re not qualified here. Why don’t we go send you to school or let’s go do that. You know, Hey man, you want to fly a plane? Guess what, buddy, you’re going to have to train for about a year.
[00:32:14] You want to fly a plane? I got to give you a drug test to begin with. Then I got to give you a physical test that I get to give you an eye test. Then I got to give you a written. A test that we have to go up and practice with an instructor and you got to practice all these things today. Have you like, if you want to fly a plane and do so today, there’s a long list of training.
[00:32:36] At the end of that training, you will be qualified to fly a plane Oroville, right? Wilbur Wright who literally flipped a coin to decide who would be the first person to try their new right flyer. Neither one of them were qualified. They couldn’t be nobody, no human had ever flown before. So how could anyone be qualified?
[00:32:54] They weren’t qualified. I know 10 times as much about aviation as they did, because I’ve been through all the classes, but they didn’t have classes. They could go do. There weren’t any classes. They had to figure it out, literally in the air. They had to jump into the air with this machine and get up there and try to figure out how to steer and then figured out how to land and how to figure, how to slow down.
[00:33:12] And God knows what you do when it stalls and all that stuff. But that’s my point. And that is in your life. This is why, if you read the book, I only want you, I really want you to get this one concept in your life. You’re going to spend most of your time comfortably copying everything. And that’s good.
[00:33:31] That’s why the world works. That’s why your immune system works. You know, that’s why you can brush your teeth in the morning. Like, everything that you’re doing is a copy and you can live your whole life like that. And you’ll have a great life. You can be a copy. You can copy your whole life and have fun and be respected and loved and all of that works, but you might find yourself.
[00:33:52] With a problem that you want to solve or something that you want to change. And you look at that change and you say, wow, how do I change this? And you Google the solution and there’s no solution to Google, or you look for the product that you want. The product doesn’t exist, or people to think a different way, but nobody’s thinking that way you come up against the edge.
[00:34:11] And now you have a decision to make, and I want you to make a decision. I don’t want you to just automatically because of your conditioning and your education and your society say I’m unqualified. Like my friend does. And I wrote the book for her because if she reads it one day, show’s going to get to this point where she sees something wrong in the world that she’s capable of solving, not guaranteed that she’s going to be able to solve, but she could probably do it.
[00:34:37] Maybe she won’t quit. Maybe she won’t say, Oh, I’m not qualified. Therefore I can’t, she’ll say, Oh, I’m not qualified, but that’s how everybody in this position would be. I E I’m going to have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
[00:34:52] Nir Hindi: [00:34:52] I wrote it beautifully. “Innovation has no expert in qualification method, only in the world of coping, not in the world of entrepreneurship”.
[00:35:01] And I want to ask you a Jim, why you found it important to write a whole chapter about feelings and emotions?
[00:35:09] Jim McKelvey: [00:35:09] Ah, uh, because nobody talks about it. I, and it was also partially to get rid of the hero myth. So one of the things that I do in the book is I study other entrepreneurs. As a matter of fact, I don’t really, it’s not really much about.
[00:35:23] What happened with us at Square. I use Square as one example out of four, but they’re actually hundreds of examples for my research that I could have pointed to. But in all of those cases, in every one of those cases at the core of the company was a very ordinary person, was somebody who was not. A hero.
[00:35:42] They weren’t bold. They weren’t smarter or stronger or better than you. Maybe one guy was okay. AP Genini as far as I can tell from my research on this guy, like he was a total bad-ass and doesn’t matter of fact, like he’s, he’s the guy, like if you read the comic book, like he’s the guy in the comic book and he was my, you know, sort of superhero prototype, but like the rest of the people are just ordinary people, but they’re ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. I mean, there are circumstances. What I mean by that is that these are people who’ve been kicked out of the city. They’ve been thrown over the wall sometimes they didn’t want to be okay. So I talk about the guy who built the biggest furniture empire in the world, multi multi-billionaire, super successful, but you know, he talked about how he was crying himself to sleep at night.
[00:36:28] He was so worried. Um, and that was Ingvar Kamprad was the founder of Ikea, but he was not this bold adventurer. Um, he was not some crazy guy who said, I’m going to do this and hell be, you know, like he just, he, he was at least from his diaries, which I’ve read some of them scared and humble and unsure of himself, but he refused to give up and eventually he built Ikea. And I think talking about feelings, which like nobody ever does, right. Is difficult because. First of all, it has to be first person. Like I can’t write about Kamprad feelings. I can tell you what he wrote in his journals. I could tell you what he said about himself. I got to meet Herb Keller her, and, but, you know, like I got to meet herb Keller her for an afternoon.
[00:37:18] Right. It wasn’t like we were best friends and he would tell me his deepest feelings, you know, uh, herb shared some stuff with me, but basically the only feelings that I could talk about where my own and I thought, well, I might as well be honest and say how scared I was. Doing all this stuff that I’ve done, because I don’t want to perpetuate this hero myth because the hero myth is the thing that stops you.
[00:37:44] Right? So let’s say you run up against that edge and you peer over and you say, wow, there’s this problem. That humankind has not solved yet, but I think I can do it. I’m going to try this. Okay. But then in the back of your mind, it says, wait a second, Nir. Uh, you’re not 22. You’re not. Super good looking.
[00:38:03] You’re not super smart. You’re not super disciplined. You’re not, you know, where’s your PhD from Stanford or Cornell. Like what, like what, what, what makes you think you could do this for Christ’s sake? Like why? Like, if you think entrepreneurs are heroes, if you think that the people who, who make billions of dollars or build these massive enterprises are somehow gifted in ways that you are not.
[00:38:28] You’re going to disqualify yourself and, and let me tell you having studied the evidence. They’re not that gifted. They’re not that special. They’re not, as a matter of fact, a lot of these are pretty defective human beings. I’m friends with a lot of them. I mean, I hang out with these guys and I’ll put myself at this too.
[00:38:45] Like we’re all flawed. Okay. And we’re no more flawed or less flawed than the normal people as matter of fact. We’re just normal people that found ourselves in sort of abnormal. Circumstances. And if you think about it, a lot of it is these people were put into positions where, because for one reason or other, they were prevented from copying.
[00:39:09] They ended up having to become entrepreneurs. And I think I say this in the book, but if not all. Tell your audience. Like, I don’t think entrepreneurship is voluntary. I don’t think innovation is voluntary. Like, I don’t think you get up one morning or read some book or go to some seminar and go, wow. That was really good.
[00:39:27] I’m now going to go home and be innovative. I’m going to do this new thing. No, you’re not. You become an innovative when you’re down to your last nickel, like you become innovative when it’s about to all blow up in your face. So you become innovative as a last resort. Like you copy. If you’re a smart, rational human, you copy up until the very point where there is no copying left to do.
[00:39:51] And at that moment, you either quit. Which is unfortunately what most people do or you continue. And if you continue, then you’re innovative. That’s when you’re, and that’s the way to do it. Copy. Copy. Copy. Copy. Copy. Wouldn’t have fails to work then as a last resort innovation.
[00:40:07] Nir Hindi: [00:40:07] Yeah, I think it kind of goes together with the timing lessons that you mentioned, Jim, we’re getting to the end of the podcast and there is one quote that you wrote in the book.
[00:40:18] I want to hear your thoughts about it. You wrote “the world of entrepreneurship is still poorly understood. But that should not stop us from harnessing some of its unique powers”. And in many ways I feel it often the same toward art is that art is poorly understood. We still think about art as just an object and we can harness some of the unique power of art.
[00:40:41] Just like you offer to harness the unique power of entrepreneurship. What do you think?
[00:40:47] Jim McKelvey: [00:40:47] I love the art entrepreneurship analogy. I mean, it, it, it applies so much in my life because I’ve spent so many years making art and I think it’s helped. And I, I wish people had more access to art. I really, I think, you know, cause schools cut art programs.
[00:41:04] That’s one of the first things they cut. Um, I think it’s really tragic, but look, if you’re going to understand something, sometimes it’s easier to understand it analogy and that’s why my book is mostly stories. And. And analogies and, and that’s why it started as a comic book, because I think people relate to comic books in a different way than they really, to, you know, just words on a page.
[00:41:28] For me, art is one of those things that when I put myself in that world, I’m able to think differently and, um, Oh, God, I’m sorry. I’ve got to get an analogy in my head and I I’d like to use it, but unfortunately I can’t . Okay. I’m going to really, I’m going to assume all your listeners have had advanced math training and knows what look for why transformation is.
[00:41:52] Okay. No differential equations are okay. So everybody knows what differential equations that. Right. So differential equations. So you got a differential equation and differential equations are really difficult to solve. In sort of normal space, but what you can do with differential equations is use something called a Laplas transform, and you basically take the equation, which is hard to solve in this one space.
[00:42:15] And you map it into this other different mathematical space where you can just use common algebra to solve it. And then you map the solution. Once you’ve solved it in this space back. And I find the same thing happening in my art world. Like I will go into the studio and. Think differently, like the environment, the people I’m around and a lot of the solutions that I come up with for areas of my other life, art based.
[00:42:38] And I just, I’m so grateful that I’ve got that in my life and I wish more people did. So literally I’m going to say goodbye to you and I’m going to run down and strip off the shirt and go blow some classes after that. That’s that’s how I’m going to spend my
[00:42:51] Nir Hindi: [00:42:51] birthday.
[00:42:52] Today’s your birthday.
[00:42:53] Jim McKelvey: [00:42:53] It is my birthday. Wow.
[00:42:55] Nir Hindi: [00:42:55] Congratulations
[00:42:56] Jim McKelvey: [00:42:56] my birthday.
[00:42:58] Nir Hindi: [00:42:58] And thank you for taking the time to do it on your birthday.
[00:43:01] Jim McKelvey: [00:43:01] Thanks so much, man. Shout out to everybody, uh, overseas. I can’t wait for this pandemic to end and get to see everybody.
[00:43:08] Nir Hindi: [00:43:08] We will wait for you over here, Jim. Thank you very, very much.
[00:43:12] Jim McKelvey: [00:43:12] Thanks man. Bye-bye.