My guest today is Eric Jorgenson, a Product Strategist at Zaarly and the author of the Almanack of Naval Ravikant: a guide to wealth and happiness. The book collects and curates Naval’s wisdom from Twitter, podcasts, and essays over the past decade. Naval is the founder of Angel List, an angel investor who has invested in companies like Twitter and Uber, and the man behind one of the most popular Twitter accounts in the world. He’s known for his thoughts on startups, investing, crypto, wealth, and happiness.
This is a conversation about that book. We began the conversation talking about Multiply by Zero Effects, which comes from a short e-book Eric wrote called Career Advice for Uniquely Ambitious People. Then, we moved onto the Almanac. We talked about the differences between Charlie Munger and Naval Ravikant, building specific knowledge, and how operating companies influenced Naval’s philosophy of life. At the end, we also jammed on what Naval would say to the owners of Joe’s Bar-B-Que, Eric’s favorite restaurant in Kansas City.
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2:28 – Why Eric wrote his new book, and what he regrets not putting in it.
6:15 – What Eric thinks Charlie Munger and Naval Ravikant would disagree on most.
9:34 – Why people like Naval and Munger often give advice as the “Iron Prescription” to solve a problem or learn in a field.
12:13 – Why so many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs were on track to be an academic but then split off.
13:20 – What entrepreneurs can learn from how comedians develop their voice and leverage their following.
15:57 – What knowledge Naval has that is unique only to him in his field.
19:36 – How to maximize leverage and value as an entrepreneur and in your career.
23:26 – What defines a startup, and what Eric has learned from Nivi through his writings on VentureHacks.
25:37 – How Naval uses Twitter as a repository for his ideas and findings and as a forge to test them out.
31:22 – Naval’s view of hard work and how it has changed over time.
34:40 – Why it took multiple rereadings of his book and years of observation and experience for Eric to start fully understanding Naval’s idea of “productize yourself”.
36:11 – What about Eric’s own book did he start to resent by the end of creating it.
40:01 – How the message of the book changed as Eric was compressing and cutting the source material down.
43:10 – Why Eric could not have done this book without loving Naval’s work as much as he does.
46:19 – What advice Naval would give to Eric’s favorite restaurant, Joe’s Barbecue.
48:45 – Why David has never forgotten Eric’s comment on how “owning a home is a never-ending battle against water” and what he means when he says that.
50:20 – How writing this book gave Eric “more clarity, confidence, and peace through all aspects of life.”
David: So Eric, you have published an ebook and now a full book with The Naval Almanack. And in that first ebook, which is where we’re going to begin, it’s called Career Advice for Uniquely Ambitious People. And while talking about the importance of working for a good boss, you introduce the concept of multiplying by zero effects. Talk about that.
Eric: Yeah. The multiplied by zero effect is … I got this from Peter Kaufman. If you think of any kind of math formula, if you drop a zero anywhere in there, the whole thing goes to zero. And it’s a practical kind of mental model, as an extreme example, like if you just look at a restaurant and the food is amazing and the atmosphere is amazing and the bathrooms are overflowing with sewage, you’re never going to go to that restaurant. The bathroom’s a zero, the whole experience isn’t worth it. It could be a little gross and be like a 0.2 bathroom, doesn’t even have to be amazing. But, if it’s God awful, then you’re just not going anywhere near it. So as far as looking for career advice, your manager is one of your biggest multiplied by zero.
If you have a terrible manager who doesn’t like you, you could have your dream job at a dream firm and your life is still going to be miserable. You’re still going to have a hard time getting from that step to where you want to go next, and every day is going to feel like a slog. So looking for those zeros and identifying dead ends as early as you can in your career, is a helpful exercise I think.
That book in air quotes is really the product of a few dozen phone calls from people who had DMed me, or like, “Can I have some advice? I’m graduating, or I’m taking my first job, or I’m trying to get into the startup world. What should I be thinking about? How should I be looking?” And once you do the same hour-long phone call a few times, you’re like, “Hang on, let me just write this down and put this somewhere that you can go read it.” And if you have followup questions, holler. So it’s been helpful for people. And I hear that it is an insight dense one hour read, basically. So, that’s nice to hear.
David: What is something that now that you’ve written The Naval Almanack you would go and change about the things that you originally thought were true about building a lucrative career?
Eric: I did not focus at all on leverage in that first book, which I think is… Naval focuses a lot more on wealth, and I think I would maybe even change the premise from, “Are you sure you want a career, or do you just want money?” Because those are very different things. And if you’re trying to get to the corner office, here are some things that you want to think about. But now, I start that conversation with… I draw out a triangle, and I’m like, “In one corner, you’re completely self-employed.” You work 10 hours a week, maybe you work a hundred hours a week, but you’re completely independent. You might not have a super strong income, but you make up yourself.
On the other hand, you are in the corner office. You’re well-paid, which you work your ass off. And on the other, you’re a bureaucrat who basically can’t get fired. And all you need to do is your minimum job, but the rest of your life is rich.
You have plenty of time to focus on your family. You go on vacation. All you need to do is find a place where it’s really, really easy to tread water. In that triangle, where do you want to live? Which attracts you most? Which repels you the most? And that gets you somewhere closer to something that might be a better fit for you. Not everyone is going to want to optimize for career. Not everyone is going to want to optimize for freedom. And certainly not everyone is going to optimize for, “How can I get the easiest B minus that I can get in my working life?” But knowing what you’re going for is like a triaging step that I would take.
With that book, as the title suggests, is designed for uniquely ambitious people. And if you’re going around DMing people to get on a phone to figure out how you can climb the ladder faster, you’re probably uniquely ambitious already. And so, that is where that set of information, or that set of suggestions comes from.
David: Cool. Moving into your interests with Charlie Munger. What do you think Charlie Munger and Naval would disagree on?
Eric: Oh man, a lot of stuff. You know, Charlie avoids tech like the plague. He’s a 92-year-old man now who doesn’t believe that Bitcoin is real. And Naval is like a partner in a crypto fund. I think Naval has taken a lot of leadership from Munger around like mental models, and some of the rules for thought. But, taking a completely different direction as far as building wealth. Investment, his investment … Charlie Munger’s rule number one is don’t lose money, and Naval’s rule number one is don’t miss an opportunity.
The seed investing thing is kind of like spray and pray. The more widespread you can get, you want high upside with one X downside. And Charlie’s like, “I don’t even want to lose that one X.” Just get into great companies at a fair price and never sell. You know, Costco and Glenair and just put the money in, let it compound.
But they’re very different men born in very different arrows. Munger was a lawyer and made his first million in real estate years ago, and served in the military. So it’s not surprising, but I think that there’s a natural bridge between our generation who appreciates Munger, but doesn’t know necessarily how to apply some of what he talks about in our world now. It’s really difficult to be a Graham style value investor in the tech world. You just would never put any money in play.
But looking at some of the mental models and the tools for thought that … and sort of being like self- taught polymath that Munger is, leads you into Naval as a next person to study. To say like, “How do I bridge these worlds between applying mental models to tech?” And learning what these software products and the fact that media is now infinitely scalable at very, very minimal costs. How does that change the world? And those are the things that Naval has pushed farther on. He’s closer to the technological edge with some of these things that we’re applying.
David: Yeah. One of the ideas that Naval has that I have been grappling with and probably disagree with at this point, is that you should really focus on the foundations. I think it’s rationally true, behaviorally false. And what I mean by that is, he says that you should just study the basics in every field, learn those, learn those, learn those. And then only later begin to work up to the other stuff. But the fact of the matter is, I just don’t think that there’s a lot of people who can actually follow through on that. And I’m not even sure that Naval is following through on that as much as he implies with that quote.
He brings up a good line that you mentioned in the book where he talks about all the people who have read biology books, but they’ve never read Darwin, all the people who are familiar with the latest economics papers, but they’ve never read Adam Smith. That is a good point about the foundational texts, but there’s something about Naval’s insistence of focusing on these foundational books, which I just don’t think are practical ways to learn that somebody is actually going to implement and maybe even himself.
Eric: Yeah. Interesting. I have no way of knowing what’s on Naval’s Kindle, or where he reads and spends his time. I know that Naval, like Munger, is a fan of the Iron Prescription. He will tell you the most rigorous thing that you can and should do. And if you can do it, good for you, you’ll be a cut above. You don’t have to do it. Not everybody does not. Everybody will, no problem, but if you’re up for it, that’s what you should be doing or that is the best thing that he can think of to recommend.
Eric: You are very right in that some people, it’s harder to read Darwin than it is to read an article written about Darwin, it just is, and sometimes you don’t have the willpower or the motivation to get through that foundational text. It’s hard to start at Socrates and work your way all the way up. Some translations are garbage, but if you look at some of the people who are the most successful, you’ll see that as a pattern that they have a deep command of the fundamentals. You see Talib going back to learning languages, to read the originals because he doesn’t trust the translations or, Elon Musk starting over with rocket science, from first principles and formulas to see whether or not, you can actually just use a missile to get into space.
But tactically, I think it is important to understand it’ll take me a year to get through the Intelligent Investor, I just don’t want to read the foundational things, but I want to learn about investing. And then your choices are you either choose something easier that you’ll actually get through and risk not having that fundamental knowledge and being outplayed by somebody who does, or you decide that this really is the most important thing for you to study and I’m going to make it through this thing and it’s going to be hard but once I do, I’ll be much more capable of whatever comes next.
And you can’t do it in every category for every topic. And so it forces you to focus and choose where to apply your willpower. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
David: Yeah. One of the things that you bring out in the book recommendation section at the end of The Naval Almanack, is how even Naval focused on the summary book of Gerard because he couldn’t get through the actual first handbooks. And I think that that speaks to what you’re talking about. There’s a line in the book that I really like, that the internet is massively broad in the possible space of careers. Most people haven’t figured this out yet and couldn’t agree more.
Naval went to Dartmouth where he studied economics and computer science. And at the time he thought he was going to go get his PhD in economics. And what I find interesting about Naval, Paul Graham, Peter Thiel, Balaji Srinivasin, a lot of the big names in Silicon Valley is how many of them would have been academics in another life, but then decided to come into the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial culture, and a nontrivial amount of the intellect of Silicon Valley is downstream of these academic types.
Eric: Yeah. I wonder how much of that is just that they are smart people who got pulled into smart systems, and they’re type A enough to be like, “Whatever this room is, I’m going to win at this room. Who are the winners of this room? PhDs? Great, I’ll be that. Oh, there’s other rooms? All right, I’m going to go. I like that one better.” I mean, clearly all of those people are just brilliant raw horsepower machines. And I know that, Thiel’s story of, “I thought I was going to be on the path to become a Supreme Court judge and then I saw that there were other roads and so I wanted to take them.”
And there’s I think always that period of time between when you’re 17 and 25 where you’re like, “Holy shit, there’s a lot of roads out there. I don’t have to stay on this one. I know I want to go fast, but now I get to pick the road I want to go fast on too? Cool.” So, I think that is a helpful life stage. But always just looking at the options available to you and not being afraid to change roads, especially early in your life.
David: You love comedy. And what advice would Naval have for your favorite comedian from a business perspective? Let’s go with that one.
Eric: Oh, interesting. So, one of my favorite comedians right now is Bert Kreischer. He’s been in the game for a long time, but known only to comedians and is just now having big sets and Netflix specials and stuff like that. And he’s best friends with Tom Segura and Joe Rogan, but just now is becoming a big name on his own. He is constantly on Instagram, and he is getting much, much better at… I think he’s got three or four podcasts all at once, which I think he’s just trying to maximize surface area. But I think that, as far as leverage goes, I don’t know that he is particularly leveraged, and I don’t know that he is as focused as he could be on creating evergreen content that lives beyond. As a comedian, your podcast is pretty engaging and you get a cult following out of it, but especially when you have three or four. Comedy podcasts are often pretty low quality compared to comedy sets.
And it takes a long time and a lot of hours to get a set done, and a full special. That is a year and a half of writing and touring and small rooms and drafting. But I think, and I could be… I don’t know the economics of the comedy business particularly well, but I would guess that most of the returns come from those big tent pole specials. And that really focusing on getting one of those out every year would probably be a much higher return than doing three or four podcasts at once. But almost all comedians are operating under their own name, so they have accountability, they have specific knowledge. I think it took Bert Kreischer a little while to find his way into the dad-who-parties specific knowledge niche.
And he just… I’ve listened to some of his earlier stuff and it just wasn’t quite as crisp as to who he was and who he was speaking to. But even though he was around, it just took him a little while to find his voice. And those years were largely… He honed his craft, he’s an amazing storyteller. His timing is amazing. He’s unique in that he laughs at his own jokes onstage, which I find funny. Purists are like, “That’s not how you’re supposed to do it,” but he’s got this adorable little giggle and he comes out with his shirt off. And it’s just like memorable little things that make it a more fun experience, even though they break some of the rules of comedy.
David: What do you think that Naval’s specific knowledge is?
Eric: That’s a good question. He is, and this has been probably clear since he was writing Venture Hacks 10 years ago with Nivi. Maybe the most deeply studied in the deal structure between early stage companies and venture capitalists, and that came from a challenging chapter in his life where there was a lawsuit between him and some of his co-founders and their venture capitalists around Epinions. This is back in 2000, and it was eventually settled out of court, but it forced Naval to get really, really deep understanding of every little term of these agreements, and all of the controls that venture capital has had, and what the backstops were. And so, that Venture Hacks really came from trying to educate entrepreneurs about this huge asymmetry about, venture capitalists are running 10 deals sheets a year, and entrepreneurs maybe raise two or three rounds of funding in their whole lives, for even the average.
And so, there’s this huge asymmetry of information, and so Naval was trying to educate entrepreneurs about like, “Hey, here’s what this means, and here’s what this doesn’t mean.” And so it was conversations that became blog posts, became a mailing list, became AngelList, just as he put the pieces together of like, “I know all these people I vouch for these investors. I know all these startups, I vouch for these startups. Let’s just try to match-make.” And in doing, got himself this amazing seat over all of this valuable information that was getting exchanged about what deals are getting done, what startups are hot, which was oversubscribed, which aren’t.
And now, of course, he’s pushing Spearhead and getting pretty deep. I mean, AngelList is now a few organizations all under that parent company, it’s CoinList, it’s Republic, he’s really pushing on democratizing the returns of technology innovation, and how many people can get involved in them as investments. Rolling funds are a piece of that, ICOs are a piece of that, all of which are now legal thanks to the work that he did to get the Jobs Act passed, back when Obama was in office.
David: Talk about that. How did that go?
Eric: This was a few years into AngelList and it was still technically illegal to publicly solicit for investment. So, if you tweeted like, “Hey, I’m starting a company and I’m open for investment,” that’s illegal. The SCC can shut you down and prevent you from fundraising for enough of a period of time that would significantly harm or kill your company. And the Jobs Act did a lot of things. I’m far from an expert on it, but one of the things was to make it legal to publicly solicit for investment.
So, now when YC founders get on stage and say, “I’m raising X out of Y,” that’s now legal instead of illegal. And so now non-accredited investors can even be in that room. I think it did some work to broaden who the accredited investors are. We still see more of that going on now, which is good because that widens the accessibility to more and more normal people who can get returns from some of these technology investments. So, it’s a really interesting thing to see happen.
And as more money comes in, the investments get more competitive and so terms get more entrepreneur friendly and so we see more and more founders going the distance with their companies and staying on for longer, which is very different from the early days of venture capital.
David: So what Naval says is that you want to arm specific knowledge with leverage, and Naval says that he’s gotten really good at finding the point of maximum leverage with the intersection of both value creation and value capture. What do you think he has done to become so good at that?
Eric: I mean, it’s clear he’s been studying it for a very long time. I think in the technology business, and especially as an investor, things change so quickly, that you get a lot of reps at seeing, is this business going to work? Why or why not? Where in the value chain is the value going accrue? You read more and more Ben Thompson and you start to see the value chains in different industries. So you’re like, is this a piece of this particular value chain that’s going to be completely commoditized and you’re going to be competing against each other and there’s going to be no profit? Or is this going to be somewhere where everything is going to aggregate in, you’re going to be able to control the price of your five forces,
David: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Eric: … and actually accrue profit. Peter Thiel talks about this in a little bit of a different way than Ben Thompson talks about it, than Nathan Baschez talks about it, but everyone is trying to get to this understanding of there’s all of these companies supporting each other and all these companies competing against each other and who actually has the defensible position? And for what period of time do they have a defensible position? Because all of these things are changing constantly. So it is a very tricky problem.
Naval, I think, has figured out a lot of things around identifying early stage and it’s maybe even less about identifying important early-stage companies than it is about being the preferred partner for early-stage companies. So a lot of people want to work with Naval, a lot of people trust him to support the entrepreneur, a lot of people believe that they will be more successful with him on their team as an advisor. He’ll be low maintenance money, he’s just, “Here’s my investment, you go run.”
So, unlike the stock market, entrepreneurs decide who to sell stock to, and if a deal is oversubscribed, all of a sudden your credential counts for a lot as an investor. The more the entrepreneur trusts you or wants to work with you, the more allocation you get. So your reputation matters a lot and your ability to help future fundraise matters a lot. And Naval has built quite a reputation in Silicon Valley that benefits him for all of these things, let alone that he’s been in Twitter, been in Uber, been in Postmates and has quite a successful track record already.
David: Why do you think Naval likes Rick and Morty so much?
Rick and Morty, this is wild speculation. I don’t know, it’s a very philosophical, break the fourth wall cartoon. I don’t know. It shakes you out of the normal, first-person mode that we all go through life in and does a pretty good job of reminding you how small of a speck we are in the multiverse and how short our lives are and how fragile our existence is. That’s a theme that you see through the philosophers that he studies and the habits that he uses, the mental habits to train himself into happiness. Rick and Morty is a strange support beam for that architecture but I think it is in some way. It reminds you how small and weak we are at the same time.
It’s constantly reinforcing the power of science and technology and really it venerates intelligence and it mocks people who don’t have high agency. So if you see yourself as that kind of person, it’s a very rewarding thing to watch, I think. I don’t know. I enjoy it too, but it’s an acquired taste. I would say not everyone’s going to love Rick and Morty, but it definitely makes you think.
David: That’s a great answer. When at the end of the book, you said that you’re grateful to Babak Nivi who works with Naval for the most succinct and precise writing advice you’ve ever received. What do you mean by that? What is it about Nivi that makes him so good?
Eric: Yeah. I mean, the man does not waste words. If you read Venture Hacks, if you read anything Nivi has written, he was just so meticulous about like, “How can I get a novel idea communicated clearly, quickly and just be done?” I don’t know if there’s a post on Venture Hacks that’s more than 500 words and for the value that is in those words, it is a very incredible resource. I think they started updating it a little bit more recently, it is still absolutely get-able, but go check out some of those posts.
There’s a few that come to mind that are … Startups Are Here To Save the World is one that Nivi wrote. I believe Nivi wrote most of the stuff on Venture Hacks. There’s another one, What Defines Startups, is a thing that a lot of people bat around, like what’s a tech company, what’s a startup, what’s just a small business? Nivi says that startups are where quality and scale meet.
So it has to be massively high scale and massively high quality. If you have massive scale without high quality, you have McDonald’s. If you have massive quality without scale, you have Ritz Carlton, or I don’t know, pick your premium brand. But when you have a company that is completely determined to deliver higher quality at higher scale than anyone has ever done anything before, now all of a sudden you have Amazon, now you have Netflix, now you have Google. These are companies that were doing … this is something better than it was ever done before at higher scale than it has ever been done before and that almost can’t be done without an improvement in technology.
So it is not necessarily that startups have to be technology startups, but that you can’t deliver massive quality at massive scale, without having a fundamental technological innovation.
David: If you were to summarize Naval’s Twitter strategy, what would it be? Because the reason why I think that question is so important is because Naval’s big financial import is what you’re talking about with investing but his big intellectual export is through Twitter.
Eric: Yeah. And his podcast, I would say. I think he would say his Twitter strategy is making notes to himself. He’s reading, he’s observing, he’s studying. And as something new clicks into place or gets codified, he just tweets it out and shares it. when you have an audience like he has, that’s throwing an idea into the forge and seeing… And it comes out hardened on the other side.
You see people disagree with it, you see people rail against it and you decide whether or not you agree with them. If anybody points out helpful dissenting opinions, that’s an interesting thing. A lot of people add on specific things that help you develop the idea.
Eric: And so, I think that that is probably what he would say the strategy is. I think, what he reads ends up in Twitter, the format forces you to distill and distill and distill. And if he’s reading philosophy, it comes out. Like when you distill philosophy as deeply as you can, you come out Fortune cookie, and when you distill startups, and technology, and investing and crypto, or politics, it comes out… It’s almost impossible not to feel extreme in a tweet. Like, nuanced. Nuance in one tweet is very difficult. And so of course, there’s a million exceptions to point out with any particular tweet, but only few actually are helpful and generous interpretations of the original idea, or build upon it.
But I think that’s an interesting way to think about it. And it’s the only way I can think of… The only reason that I can think of for why he continues to do it. If you think about who he is and why he’s tweeting, you’re like, “What are you getting out of this?” It doesn’t look like that much fun to me. This isn’t your business. The podcast isn’t your business. You don’t need to build a bigger reputation. Everyone in Silicon Valley already knows you. You’re already the CEO and founder of AngelList. Anybody who you probably want to work with, already knows how to find you.
Although, now that Silicon Valley is moving to the cloud, as you would say, that is less true. And so, I think he has a tweet that’s actually like, “Twitter is a great way to broadcast a signal all over the world”, and in doing so you find the 50 or 100 people that you most want to talk to, by seeing how they react and play with your ideas, and who builds upon them and who points out helpful exceptions, instead of obvious exceptions, who nitpicks and who suggests… That’s kind of the game. Are you here to prove that you’re smarter? Are you here to leverage my reputation to build your own? Or are you here to contribute to the ideas in service of building this public comments, that we can all take something from, at the end of the day?
David: And what must have been a Herculean effort, you got Tim Ferriss to write the foreword. And I opened it up, it was a total surprise to me. I was one of the first people to read the finished product of the book, and I opened it up and he basically says, “I don’t write forewords, but I’m going to write this one.” And he says that Naval is a world-class operator, instead of an armchair philosopher. And so, why don’t we start with that idea? That the fact that he is an operator, I think, leads into the philosophy that he’s able to get to. It’s very different kind of philosophy.
When I was studying with a PhD, at Colombia, in philosophy earlier this year, we pursued a very different, more academic philosophy of people who, they can do that kind of philosophy, because they are divorced from society. Naval can do his kind of philosophy because he’s in the trenches. He is getting punched in the face, and he is going out and throwing the punches himself. What about Naval’s action oriented mindset? How do you think that informs his view of the world?
Eric: Yeah, I think it’s hard for operators to take seriously, the philosophizing of people who aren’t operators. It’s easy to have a plan. It’s easy to have ideals, but if they’re not tested, how do you know how real they are? How do you know how they hold up? I think it’s not a coincidence that all these people who are incredibly stressed and high performing, turn to stoicism as their default philosophy. There’s a lot of philosophies out there.
There’s a lot of people with much rosier philosophies than stoicism, that may be happier on a daily basis. I don’t imagine that the Dalai Lama is super stoic, in the sense that Marcus Aurelius is stoic. And so I think it appeals to those of us who are also operators, and also working, and also trying to accomplish something and do something new. You get a little bit allergic to the armchair version, or to the untested version, and you just find yourself attracted to people who clearly also have some scars and some experience to stand on when they say they’ve been through some things or tested some ideas.
David: On the topic of being an operator, what if you learned about Naval’s philosophy of hard work? When you were growing up, you were a really passionate rower and there was one time where an Olympian said to you, “Christmas day is my favorite workout of the year because I know none of my competitors are working out.” What do you think Naval would say to that?
Eric: Yeah, Naval, I don’t know if he’s working out on Christmas day, and I think probably 26-year-old Naval would have said, “Fuck yeah, I get back to work.” And I think, probably, current-day Naval would say, “My money’s working on Christmas day. My software’s working on Christmas day. My Twitter is going on Christmas day, but I’m not doing anything.” He worked hard for 20 or 30 years and now the snowball runs itself. There’s a lot of nuance around the hard work topic, and it would probably be an interesting exercise to pull out all of the pieces. It pops up in different spots of the book and it would probably be an interesting exercise to pull it all out, and layout, just the hard work pieces.
Things that seem conflicting, and I encountered this a few different times on different topics, things that seem conflicting on first read, of like, “Hey, hard work doesn’t matter, only your direction matters.” Hard work matters and you can’t skimp on it. Those are two, off the top of my head, but probably pretty close to direct quotes, that seem conflicting at first view, but if you are interpreting generously and you actually earnestly look for the nuance in between those things, you start to see that hard work isn’t necessarily the most important thing.
There’s a lot of people who are very, very hardworking, who aren’t building leverage, aren’t taking accountability, they’re working very hard at digging a trench and they’re going to be working just as hard to accomplish the same thing in 10 hours or in a 1000 hours. But if you are building leverage and taking accountability, and applying some of, if you have a more carefully chosen direction, you and your clone, one of whom is working 10% harder or 50% harder, hard work is going to take you farther, faster. So it is not that hard work doesn’t matter. This is the wrong place to start. It’s maybe item eight on the to-do list, right, almost after be patient and understand that it’s going to take a long time.
Hard work can change some things. Urgency can change some things. One of my favorite tweets is, “Impatience with action, patience with results.” It is one of those things that I tell myself all the time, because I get impatient with results and it feels so different than being impatient with action. So hard work is being patient with your inputs. Like, don’t skip your workout today. Like, publish the tweet, publish the blog post. Like, do the thing that you need to do. But you don’t have to score all the runs in the first inning. You don’t have to get everything in the world done today. You just have to do today’s work today and do tomorrow’s work tomorrow, and be patient and let the results compound.
So there’s a lot of nuance around it, and hard work matters, but it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is to understand and build your direction and be sure you have an intelligent plan, or you’re just working hard to go in circles.
David: What’s another idea that you saw differently as you wrote the book, where, when you first looked at something Naval was saying, you didn’t see a nuance, you didn’t see how different ideas hinged together at the belt?
Eric: I think the thing that keeps unfolding for me is the summary of the How to Get Rich tweetstorm, which is just two words. It’s just productize yourself. That’s one that, the first five times I read it, I was like, I don’t see the leap. Like I can’t quite fold all of these concepts into these two words.
I’m getting closer to it, and it’s actually not … I must’ve read this book 20 times in the course of creating it, and so it is not so much reading more of the material that’s helping me to unfold that concept, but seeing more and more of the patterns in real life, and seeing how people are productizing themselves, and seeing more and more of those examples. Then I can apply the specific knowledge, and the accountability, and the leverage, and understand how those people are productizing themselves, and how those wealth creation principles are applied. That’s helping me connect the dots on that side of things.
David: I’m going to ask you a really tough question, but it’s deep in the right way. So you said that you read it 20 times. I know what it’s like to read writing over, and over, and over again, and at times you begin to resent the project that you’re working on. My question for you is, in what ways did you hate this project by the time you got to the end?
I had some real creative doldrums along the way, and this is almost three years in progress. So there were some crossroads that I was just really unsure of which road to take. There was probably two or three of them. One was just the format. I knew I wanted a compilation of Naval’s material, but I didn’t know if that should live on a website only, so that it could be live updated. I didn’t know if we should be trying to build a new medium that’s kind of like, okay, how do you organize this information? How do you synthesize it? How do you categorize it? But how do you keep it live updated in such a way that, as he continues to put out new material, it continues to improve and continues to grow?
I struggled with that. I had to shelve the project for a little bit, and I was just like … It was one of those questions that, until I answered it, I wasn’t sure how to keep making progress. Finally, Trevor McKendrick, actually, has an amazing newsletter and is a brilliant guy, just kind of verbally slapped me in the face, and was like, “It’s a book. Stop over-thinking it. Just, it’s a book, keep going.” I was like, “Oh, okay.” I slept on that, and that sounded right, and it helped me make progress again, and so that’s the direction that I kept going.
The next one was whether I should editorialize anything, whether I should bridge gaps, which is what you see in most books like this. You know, Peter Bevelin, and Tren Griffin, and so many of these, are kind of, the book is built of excerpts, but it’s the author interpreting the excerpts and trying to explain them. I really didn’t think I had that much to add.
There were some sections that seemed to really beg for it, but not enough to make me feel like the whole book needed it. So once I added the constraint that I only wanted to use original words from Naval that were publicly available, that was another one that, I was just at this intersection and I wasn’t sure where to go, and once I chose that direction and added that constraint, all of a sudden I was able to start moving again.
So I didn’t have a vision for the final product when I started. I just wanted to solve the problem, and so I ran into some of those really kind of confusing intersections along the way, but I’m really, really happy with where we ended up. I think this almost resembles kind of a new type of medium, and a new kind of book. Most books are one idea expanded into 50,000 words, and the source material for this book was well over a million words. It just, I kept distilling it, and kept distilling it, and even the first draft was like 600 pages and over 100,000 words.
I think that’s the first time I sent you a copy, and everyone’s overwhelmed by it, and you’re like, “Dude, I don’t know what to do with this.” It was kind of a Poor Charlie’s Almanack take, that was like, “Here’s everything interesting that Naval has ever said,” and that was the wrong approach. So I kept distilling it, and kept pulling it down, and got great feedback from a lot of people.
It got to this really tight, normal book size, 50,000 words, that is as insight-dense as I can possibly make it from all of the most pertinent, widely applicable, life-changing lessons that Naval has distilled over the last 10 or 20 years.
David: Yeah. I think that you did the very Naval-y thing in order to distill it into its essence. You’re talking about Nivi, you’re talking about Naval on Twitter. That distillation is very Navalesque and it’s a very Write of Passage-y idea, too. One of the things we talk about is how it takes 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and that you’re always trying to distill that sap to create this really sugary syrup. What did you learn about how a message changes as you begin to compress an idea down to its essence?
Eric: Yeah, I think there’s a tough trade-off you make as you keep distilling where you start to lose people, the more precise you get. So, one of the decisions is like, there’s a lot of terms in here and a lot of words that if you aren’t familiar with mental models or if you don’t have some of the Silicon Valley jargon, or if you haven’t read any Talib or even heard a talk by him, it goes over your head. And I had some editors really press me to define things and be like, “You need to add a paragraph, a definition of Antifragile.” And I’m like, “I don’t know. That’s really going to slow people down who already do know about it. And I don’t mind forcing people to go look that up or get curious about it if they see it again.”
And so the more you distill a lot of times, if you distill all the way down to productize yourself and you say, “Only productize yourself,” nobody knows what you’re talking about. If you have this Tweetstorm, some people are going to understand some of those Tweets, but if you don’t have an intuitive understanding of what accountability means and how it relates to risk or how the power of compounding actually derives incredible returns over time. Like if you can’t unfold the word compounding into two pages of how important this idea is and what it is, when you distill it, all of a sudden you’re losing millions of people who don’t understand that and who can’t open up that subfolder in their head and appreciate the importance of that concept.
And so I’m hoping with this book that I don’t think Naval has the patience to go write out the two pages of compounding and like define every little thing. And so I’m hoping that this book kind of takes a step a little bit above the Tweetstorm that if you can’t quite read the Tweetstorm and expand all of that in your head to be like, “Oh my God, I know how to fulfill my life now,” that this blows out some of those concepts and defines them better, but not so much that a first grader could understand them.
Certainly there are people for who this book will still go over their head. They’ll still need to Google things. That’s perfectly fine. I want it to be a reference, a high density, high-value reference for people who want to keep unfolding it and keep distilling it and see a few more examples and see a few more applications that really bridge that gap between, “Hey, I read the Tweetstorm,” and “I can apply this to my own business and my own life today.”
And that’s the difference between distilling too far and expanding too far. I hope we thread that needle appropriately.
David: Besides going out with a Tweet that you just sort of threw off the cuff and said, “Hey, would anyone be interested?” And one of the answers was, “Take my money.” That was the one I clicked. And I still remember hitting that button. I was like, “That’s a great idea.” But at a deep spiritual level, what compelled you to write this book and to give it your heart and your soul and hours of going through more than a million words of transcripts and Tweets and articles?
Eric: Yeah. You can’t get through something like this unless you are personally loving it and getting something out of it. So I think, in the course of this work, I kind of built a little mental Naval that sits on my shoulder and I feel like he’s on my mental board of directors now. And I can ask his Hogwarts portrait what he would think about something and get an answer back, which is a high bar.
If I was listening to podcasts and taking notes, I might remember some things, but when you read the book 20 times and when you do this giant conceptual jigsaw puzzle, where you have to pick up an idea and completely grok it and figure out where in the categorization hierarchy it goes, and you’re moving things around and you’re re contextualizing things constantly, you really get a good mental representation of all of the different rules and all the different thoughts.
So the other thing I would say about that is the pressure to deliver. It started with a Tweet. It was a public project from the minute it was conceived and 5,000 people said they wanted it and the Naval was like, “Here’s the resources, go for it.” I’m like, “Well, I’m definitely not going to let down Naval and I definitely don’t want to let down 5,000 internet strangers.” That wouldn’t be the first time. So it really kind of pushed me to keep going. And I had the same intuition that this was going to be a widely appreciated project. And I had people who popped into my DMs every month basically, and were like, “When’s it going to be done? When’s it going to be done? Really excited for it. Hurry up, please.” I’m like, “I’m going, I’m going. I appreciate it. Thank you very much.”
But one of the things I learned in this that I would not have known going in, and I’m curious how, I’m sure you have some similar model for Write of Passage, but you don’t decide to write a book once. You decide to write a book a hundred times. You continuously re-decide to stay committed to this project and to get it through. And I would have thought that, “Oh, once you decide, you decide to finish it,” but that’s not how anything in life works, and articulating it that way is really helpful. If you decide you’re going to go do a hundred pull-ups, you don’t decide that once, you have to decide every day to keep training and keep training and keep learning. And you have to decide to keep working on that book and struggle through that kind of creative crossroads that you reach, keep editing that essay, keep investing in this project.
This is time and money for years to bring this to fruition. And it took a lot of confidence that this was going to be beneficial for a lot of people. It’s really, really exciting to finally share this and see some of that potential energy coming back around.
David: So what is it? Joe’s Barbecue in Kansas City that you really like? So, Joe’s Barbecue. Talk about it. Talk about the long line at Joe’s. They’re famous for their burnt ends. What advice do you think Naval would give as a consultant to Joe’s Barbecue?
Eric: I remember taking you to Joe’s and feeding you burnt ends.
David: It’s so good.
Eric: It’s so good. Joe’s KC. It started with a guy with a smoker out back of a gas station and I think back in the eighties or nineties, he won the American Royal in Kansas City, which is the world’s biggest barbecue competition. And it just started getting a longer and longer line. And he started taking over more and more of this gas station. And now this barbecue restaurant is basically engulfed this gas station, but there are still pumps out front. But it’s like one rack of drinks.
It’s one of the top 10 grossing restaurants in the country. It is absolutely huge. Joe’s is an institution. Bourdain picked it as like one of the 10 places to eat before you die. I mean it’s delicious like ribs and Z- man. And everybody who comes to town, I pick up a box of Joe’s and we feast. The advice that Naval would give them is an interesting question.
I don’t know what game Joe’s is trying to play. They have like three or four restaurants, but they are all local to Kansas City. There is a 100-person line at every one of them at every mealtime. I don’t know of a more obvious franchise candidate. Maybe every city has their restaurant that like, “Oh man, if they franchise they would absolutely kill everywhere.” And I think Joe’s could certainly get more scale and more leverage out of growing.
They do have an incredible mail-order business that they’re on the Goldbelly, I think. And you can order from them directly. And so that is an area where they’re getting more sales and more reach out of not particularly changing much. But they are thriving in their niche. Like they are the king of barbecue even in a city that has the best barbecue in the world. It’s a very interesting kind of thing. And their reputation is just always… Like to serve high-quality barbecue to 1000s of people every single day at a blistering pace, you see people in that … They speak their own special language. Their hands, they never stop moving. It is absolutely incredible what those places accomplish.
David: I’m going to ask you one question about Zaarly. You once said to me that owning a home is a constant battle against water. I’ve never forgotten that point. What do you mean by that?
Eric: Oh. Owning a home is a struggle, and water is the source of many of your struggles. So water always wins, is a general rule. It just finds a way into everywhere. It erodes things away. It causes mold, it causes frost damage. It’s what overflows your gutters. It’s what pools on your roof. It’s where mosquitoes breed. It gives life even in places that you don’t want it to. It floods your basement, it warps your boards, it causes wood rot.
So almost every problem that you have is caused in some way by water getting where you don’t want it. And so when you talk to a bunch of different service providers, they’re like, “All right, you want to have your roof graded at least to here. You want to have your gutters guarded and cleaned. You want to have your siding sealed so that water can’t get in here. You want to have your lawn graded so that water doesn’t pool near your foundation. You want to have the sump pump always working so the water doesn’t stay in the basement.”
And so it is just all these kind of tricks almost for luring nature away from the things that you were trying to prevent water from doing permanent damage to. And yeah, you’re never going to win. It’s just how quickly do you move backwards, and where can you invest to protect the expensive bits and keep everything running smoothly?
David: Last question, you have a line that says, “Creating this book has changed me. I feel more clarity, confidence, and peace through all aspects of life.” Why don’t you end the conversation with unpacking that sentence?
Eric: Yeah. You can’t really spend this much time with these ideas and not kind of take them in, for better or worse. So you have to … I’m glad I somewhat carefully chose who to study and which book to write. And it’s funny, I can spend too much time thinking about the wealth building section and stress myself out, or I can spend too much time focused on the aspects of happiness and get really chill and stop accomplishing things. And actually, when I finished editing the happiness section for I think the first or second time, I just shelved the book for a month or two just because I like didn’t feel any pressure to work on it or change anything about my situation anymore, which was like I earned myself a mental vacation. Was like deeply peaceful.
And then I got a little like antsy again and started working on it and picked it back up. And so you finally kind of internalize all these things that are habits of peace, and you develop this contentedness. And it changes a little bit how much you try to change the things that are going on around you, which is perfectly fine. Like one of Naval’s tweets is like, “We see ourselves as fixed, and the world as malleable, but it’s mostly that the world is fixed and we are malleable.”
Eric: So if you learn to adjust your expectations to meet reality, nothing bothers you, and that’s fine. And you’re happy and you’re at peace. If you choose to try to change the world, you are all of a sudden… what you wish to be true isn’t true until you accomplish this thing. And that is a tumultuous place to be. It’s uncomfortable to hold that desire and to work on that all the time and to decide that you are not going to be happy until what you see as this way that the world needs to be malleable is resolved.
And I think the struggle and the core tension of this book is like, how do you do both at the same time? How do you choose your desires very, very carefully. How do you choose as few as possible? How do you assume responsibility for yourself? How do you accept yourself and grow yourself at the same time? That is a tremendous challenge that all of us face every day.
And to fall on either side of that infinitely thin line is psychologically difficult and emotionally difficult, but you can’t stay on it perfectly all the time. And so just learning to understand that that’s the vicissitudes of life and that’s the scale that we exist on, and that we all exist on. Everybody around us is going through the same thing of trying to stay on this line.
Some people understanding it and seeing it for what it is more than others. Some people being far from the line in one way or another at any given time and just accepting all of those things about each other and understanding all those things about each other.
David: That’s a beautiful place to close Eric Jorgensen. Thank you very much.
Eric: Thank you.
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