Transcripts > The Tim Ferriss Show > Episode 8: Chase Jarvis, Master Photographer
So, Mr. Jarvis?
The tables have been turned.
They have been. I’ll cross my legs like you have crossed yours.
Yeah, I’m not sure what to do. This is a new scenario. For you people that can’t actually see what we’re doing, this is an experiment with the Tim Ferriss podcast, also brought to you in moving pictures.
Yes. Normally you don’t videotape it, right?
I normally, meaning the first two episodes, did not videotape it. I’m trying to sit somewhat like the host from Masterpiece Theater. I feel like that’s appropriate giving the professional setting.
Why don’t you tell us where we are?
We are in a studio called CreativeLive, which is a start-up based here in San Francisco and in Seattle. I’m the co-founder with my good friend Craig Swanson, who’s not here. It is an education platform that connects the world’s top experts in creative fields with a global audience, all over the world. That’s what global means.
I was always wondering what that meant. We first met how? Actually, I was trying to think of it today, and I couldn’t piece it together.
I don’t know.
It had to be a good number of years ago.
We’ve had a lot of adventures.
We have had some good adventures.
Spent a lot of time OTK, lots of travel, always bumping into each other at airports. What I’d love you to, perhaps, do first is just give people the Chase overview. What’s Chase? Who is Chase Jarvis? Give us a little bit of background. I can obviously pontificate, but I want to give people an intro.
Please, I’ll give you an opportunity to pontificate later. No, I was born… I’m just kidding. I have spent my whole life as an artist. The career as a photographer is really the only career I’ve ever had until co-founding CreativeLive with Craig about three years ago now, three years and change, in a little grimy warehouse in south Seattle.
We launched in April to rapid growth and success. About a year later, we nailed some venture funding, and we just closed out Series B. Now there are about 100 people here at CreativeLive. There’s this transition for myself from photographer, artist, traveling all over the world shooting for the top brands. I sort of scratched my own itch because I bailed on medical school and dropped out of a PhD in Philosophy to pursue my dream of becoming a photographer.
There was nowhere to get any damn good education. I didn’t want to go back to school-school. It was a very closed world ten years ago. There wasn’t a lot of access to information. I said, “Man, if I’m ever in a position to change this, this sucks. I’m going to change it.” By collaborating with my friend Craig some ten years later, we did exactly that. It’s working.
I’m glad you started with the artist bit because I wanted to delve into that. The first few guests we’ve had have ranged from investors to chess competitors.
Wow, people are going to be so disappointed with this third podcast.
We can really lower their expectations by having you on this time. The fact that you went from being an artist… Getting to that point I want to delve into a little bit. Obviously, getting to the point where you’re doing shoots with huge brands and flying octocoptors before that was a thing, and so on and so forth. You don’t just jump into that as your first gig I have to assume. Moving from that to ending up in a more management position; I want to talk about how that’s felt.
Did you just call me manager?
You’re a middle manager. Really, when it comes down to it… You’ve seen Dilbert, right?
Perfect, yes, I love Dilbert.
I had that little part in Office Space. That was cool.
Given how professional I want to keep this, I also want you to start gestating on a question, which is related to a concept I’m going to borrow. It’s from Aisha Tyler, and it’s called self-inflicted wounds. At the end of out talk, I want you to think of some ridiculous story. It could be laughable, catastrophic, often times, it could be involving alcohol. Something where you’ve just made a complete ass of yourself. I know you have a pretty good selection to go through.
I’ve got a long list. I just went [makes noise]. I’ve got a whole memory bank full of that. My ram is full.
Photography, how did you first get into photography and how did you get to your…what was your first paying gig?
My first paying gig was-
How’d I get into photography? I’m going to try and relate the artist mentality to whatever audience is watching. I feel like the artist mentality is actually, if we take one step back, it’s a creative mentality. I also believe that creativity is the new literacy.
Creativity, a lot of the investments you do are highly creative, your approach to them and what the founders of making of those companies. Whether you’re taking pictures, building a business, managing a hedge fund, there’s a ton of creativity involved. Art is but of a subset of creativity. I think that it’s a theme that’s going to continue. I’m forecasting the future of our conversation today. That’s a theme that I’m going to continue.
You’re already time traveling.
I’m going to continue to bring us back to that because I think that’s a really important core. My personal experience, growing up I was a very creative kid and yet, being an artist as a kid was always like, “That kid’s really creative.”
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Seattle. I’m an only child because I was a little bastard. I’m not sure if I can say bastard.
Scared them off. Coming from Long Island, I was hoping to drop F-bombs, but I’m feeling self-conscious here with all these professional cameras.
My childhood was a very creative childhood. My parents would give me a block of wood and I’d go play in the back yard for hours. I sat at the adult table because there was no kid’s table.
What did your parents do?
My dad was cop and my mom was an executive assistant at a big biotech company called… Actually they did Cialis. They founded Cialis. I came from a very middle class background. There was a good work ethic, but the whole creative artist thing… I felt very creative, but I was also sort of in a jock’s body, so I was good at sports. I could never reconcile those two things.
What did you play?
Soccer and football.
Which one were you better at?
I had opportunities to play either in college… I ended up playing soccer at San Diego State, which was a Top 10 D-1 school. It was a good way to go to college. I had a hard time reconciling artist and jock. It didn’t go together, at least in my high school. You had to be one or the other. I took the jock half because it could lead to school. At least at that time, it was safer. It was really, sort of the punk, skate punk, surf scene in Southern California where I moved to go to college that I was able to understand that those two things could coexist. Actually, it was a powerful combination.
That’s interesting. I never really thought… I mean the surf culture is so pervasive there.
Surf, skate, and there was sort of a DIY ethic, hacker mentality. That was something that I definitely took away from Southern California after going to school down there. Photography was something that I had grown up being on the other side of the camera. At my college, I was guy who would get interviewed at the soccer games because I was reasonably well associated with cameras.
You were going to say handsome, weren’t you?
I’m dashing. If you could only smell…
It smells really good.
Photography was a really low barrier way. I had grown up around pictures. I remember a particular picture, a muddy soccer game, that made me realize, “Oh my god, that’s a moment. It’s never going to go away. Now that I have it sort of locked in the picture maybe I can do that over and over again.” Then that reality voice kicked in… Part of the reason that CreativeLive exists is because culturally there’s this bias against, “I don’t want my kid to grow up to be an artist because he’s going to be homeless or a drug addict or he’s going to play music.”
Staving artist. Those two go together.
They do, they do.
I’m not saying in reality, but in mass perception.
Yeah, culturally. I, again, recoiled from that thought.
Your first act of photography was in college?
Immediately after college. My grandfather died two days before my college graduation, which was a terrible, terrible thing. He dropped dead of a heart attack. The silver lining in that was I got his cameras. I was gifted his cameras. It was this permission to go explore the world. I threw them in a backpack and walked the Earth for seven months with my then girlfriend, now wife, Kate, who you know.
Yeah, and we just took, literally… My grandfather passed away, I got his cameras and said, “Look, let’s just go explore the world and I want to learn to take pictures because I want to get in touch with this side that I’ve sort of been repressing.” I taught myself how to use a camera and came back with a ski bum in Steamboat, CO, started taking pictures there. That was my very first sold picture.
Taking pictures of what I was passionate about, which was hiking, climbing, fly-fishing, extreme sports, skate, surf—that whole world that I’d grown up in. I was very passionate about it so it was easy to make connections in that community. I had good pictures of fancy people that started being sold for lots of money.
Wait, hold on. I find it… Part of the fun for me, and the reason I wanted to start the podcast, is because we’ve spent years hanging out… I don’t know this stuff and I want to dig into it because it’s fun, but if I sit down and like, “Let me ask you 70 questions for two hours,” it’s just weird. It’s like a CIA interrogation.
There was that one time.
There was that one time. Sorry about the sodium pentothal. Do you remember the first sale?
I remember when I had my first real business anything in college, teaching this accelerated learning seminar. I felt richer than I’d ever felt in my life because I was making $8.00 an hour in the college library. Tell me about your first sale or few sales. How did those come about?
The first sale came about because I grew up skiing and snowboarding and I was very familiar with the subject. I got in with a good crowd and had photographs of people on next year’s equipment because I knew the manufacturers and reps. If you have the right pictures of the right people on the right equipment, then the manufacturers come knocking for next year’s stuff. The manufacturers saw my work, got in touch, and said, “We like this picture, this picture, and this picture. I ended up licensing, not selling outright, but licensing an image for $500 and a pair of skis.
Nice. That’s a big first sale.
I think I was probably, literally making $10.00 an hour at the time. I was like, “Wait a minute. I just sold that for $500 from going skiing for a couple of days with my buddies. I’d like to replicate that, so what did I do, what worked, what didn’t?” Then I sat out on a Tim Ferriss learning experiment about how I can replicate this. Just started doing that over and over, and upping the ante every time.
What were you doing for $10.00 an hour?
I was tuning skis at the local ski shop. Right at the base of the mountain in Steamboat, Colorado. When Kate and I got back from Europe we were totally broke, so we threw everything in a car and drove to Colorado. We were just deferring education and life a little bit and ended up having the time of our lives. Ironically, you know very well, better than most, about adventure and how that propels one’s life.
You have some… If people want to get a taste… What are your favorite videos? Obviously, the stuff with octocopter did really well, which you can look for on YouTube or anywhere else. People want to get a taste of the international man of mystery who is Chase Jarvis.
I have a pretty good YouTube channel. It’s just Youtube.com/ChaseJarvis. I think there are a couple hundred videos, several of them with more than a million views. Mostly, they’re adventures all over the world on pretty much every continent except for Antarctica.
You got to do something with your life, man. When are you going to vacation in Antarctica?
I know. My dad just stuck a stake in the ground and said, “I’m going to beat you to Antarctica.” I’ve got to find a way to get there in the next 12 months. There’s a lot of adventure, and you can go to my YouTube channel or my website and see it.
I think a lot people listening or watching hear this and they go, “My god, that’s a dream scenario. He got to travel the world. Probably had brands or clients pay for most or all of it.”
I get paid very well on top of all that stuff.
You get paid very well on top of it.
Helicopters and yachts, it’s really ridiculous. It didn’t start that way, I promise.
Of course not. A lot of people enter the creative funnel, right. I would like to try to be a photographer, or I want to be a photographer, or fill in the blank. Painter, dancer…
…writer. Then you have all these…
You’re blocking my shot there with your hand.
Oh no, I’m doing that on purpose. I don’t want the awesomeness of your face to overwhelm people. I know what I’m doing.
I know. You’re a professional. It’s like…
See if I can get my big, Danish head right in the way. Where was I? How did you end up… What were the milestones, or inflection points, or chance encounters that lead you to the point where you’re flying around in helicopters with top athletes, paid by the top brands. I can point to a handful of things, right, with a four-hour work week, like, 2007 South by Southwest was one of the tipping points. I can identify these points. What were some of those points for you?
A couple of the key ones. Actually, taking the camera that my grandfather passed to me when he died and actually teaching myself the art in a very unencumbered sort of way. There was a lot of freedom for you to make mistakes, freedom for you to learn, and a reliance on yourself. To me, that’s a great way to learn. To learn from others, not dissimilar to CreativeLive, how the world’s best… I would meet up with people all over the world and connect with them around photography.
The learning phase, there was a lot of opportunity for exploration and making mistakes. There wasn’t a lot of stakes early on, but as soon as I decided that I wanted to do that, I threw myself into a lot of stakes. I know I want to do this professionally, how can I do it? Move to Steamboat, meet the right people, and there was instantly stakes. I know that’s a big thing for you with increasing the stakes. It can accelerate learning.
The camera, and having a little freedom to explore and play, basically. Get familiar where there’s not pressure. Then I put myself in a little bit of a pressure cooker by saying, and I didn’t really declare it, I declared it to myself, but not overtly, “I’m going to try and do this.” Being in a community, putting yourself at the heart of where that stuff is happening. If you want to do a start-up, it’s much easier in Silicon Valley than it is in Detroit, for example. I did the equivalent of move… I wanted to shoot skiing and snowboarding so I went to a hardcore ski town. That was a big catapult.
Another inflection point was when I was setting my prices. Not so much for the very first sale or the second sale, but when I realized that, wait a minute, once you are good at your craft, everything else is vision and the ability to execute. Let’s put execute and craft in the same bucket. Everything else is vision.
I think whether we’re talking about how to hack the system from within a big company or how to hack the system from an entrepreneurial standpoint or an artist standpoint, the way that I hacked the system was my first hired, day-rate gig was at several thousand dollars a day. I pushed myself to a level that was incredibly uncomfortable and required myself to deliver at the highest level. I charged accordingly because I had done the work, done the research, and knew what the top guys and gals were getting. I put myself in that caliber right away.
Did they accept it right off the bat, or did you have to negotiate? Did you have some guy who was like, “Wait a second, kid? I know that so-and-so, the Michael Jordan of ski photography is charging X, but with all due respect, this your first big gig or second big gig.” How did you…or did you just ask and you were surprised they said yes?
I had a body of work that I hadn’t actually done a lot with commercially, so I felt like the quality… I was comparing my work to the work that I saw in the marketplace honestly. I was getting peer-reviews and whatnot. I knew that I had talent, but it really came to the boldness of where do I want to put myself in the marketplace? I’d rather have my first sale be here and not have anything down there, because if you’re the $400 dude…
You have to claw your way.
That whole idea that when, “When we get some more budget, we’ll call you if you just do it for 400 bucks.” No, they don’t call a $400 dude, they call a $4,000 dude when they have a $4,000 budget. I wasn’t bluffing. I knew that I could do the work, but I set it at $2,000 to $2,500 bucks a day.
They said, “Okay, well it’s a six-day shoot.” In my head, I’m shitting myself. Doing the math, and it’s more than I made last year but I’m going to make it next week. They said, “Okay, that sounds fine. We may need to add an extra day.”
Let me check my schedule.
“I’ll get back to you on that.” I’m going to go throw up in the bathroom. There were some stakes there. I knew that I could do the job, but I also feel like I had an understanding of the marketplace. It was an indicator of where I wanted to go. I knew I wanted to be a top price point, wanted to do less work, and do high-end stuff. I don’t want to pretend I didn’t do a shit load. This is like a ten-year, overnight success program. I was working in the trenches day in and day out. I was eating, breathing, sleeping photography. When I was able to start to monetize my craft, I did so at a very high price point. Little note, if someone ever says yes that quickly, you didn’t ask for enough.
Of course, that’s why the good negotiators, even if they want to say yes quickly, they’ll push a little bit so that you feel better about the deal when it’s done.
I did some iteration of that, and I took a day to get back to them. I knew that because she said yes so quickly that the next time, if I was dealing with someone who was at a commensurate level of experience across the table from me that… If I can do a great job on this job that I could ask for more.
You talking about your wife or photography?
You just leave Kate out of this. I will flip you like a cheese omelet. You’re lifting. I can see you’ve been working on the biceps there. Tim Ferriss experiment has got you working on them.
Two ostriches a day. That’s my quota, at least. You know I love Kate. She’s an amazing woman. You’re a very lucky guy.
I think there’s a way to extrapolate that to every profession. We’ve talked to Ramit about this. He’s the man for negotiating. He actually came on my podcast, Chase Jarvis Live, and talked a lot about this. You’re prizing yourself. That is a learned thing.
It’s totally learned. I think it’s such a huge misconception. I always see so much resistance to negotiation. You memorize a couple of lines and try them out. You’re going to want to puke in the bathroom, like you said. Then you get through it, and then you’re like, “Okay, I’m kind of smelly now, but that was pretty awesome. Didn’t get an extra 50%; got an extra 20%,” and it’s just role playing and rehearsal.
It is practicing and showing up and be sweaty. I don’t have to tell you or your listeners. They are familiar with your work. Put yourself in some low or not too serious stakes and negotiate against…
Go to the state fair or something. Go to the Alameda Fair that they have every couple of weeks and negotiate stuff that you don’t actually, really want or a hell of a lot. Don’t be a jerk about it, but buy some low stakes stuff.
It also helps with some confidence. You repeat that thing, you get a little more confidence. In a weird way, it also helped me understand the seriousness of the work. Not in that the photography of skiers and snowboarders or skateboarders or surfers was serious, but in that the people at the other end of this transaction, they are betting their ass on you. If this doesn’t turn out, they are fired.
It started off small, but then as the budgets got to be $50,000, $100,000, half million, it’s big productions. People that are betting…
If it goes sideways, they’re done.
Yeah, yeah, in photo and video, you don’t get too many. You can’t be a dick because if word gets around too quickly that you’re not pleasant to work with… You can’t blow it because people are making big bets.
I would imagine at that level, too, there are probably only a half-dozen to a dozen people they’re considering. It’s a small community.
What are the most consistent mistakes that you see? We can stick with, because you know photography community so well, you’ve interacted with so many photographers. This can, I sure, be extrapolated to creatives in general, which is pretty much everyone.
Right, and that’s the point I was trying to make.
What are the most common mistakes that you see, just like the repetitive problems that you see?
There’s a handful and I think it does apply, like you just prefaced, across every discipline. Being great at your craft is a requirement. I wouldn’t suggest that you don’t try and get work or hustle or do all those other things while you’re coming up. That’s a part of the game. You know Gary V. is a big advocate for hustling. You’ve got to hustle your whole way.
Being great at your craft actually matters. The camera is like an extension of my arm. You think about it, I’ve used the pro golf analogy. I don’t know why, I’m not crazy about golf, but those guys and women have to stand up on the tee and hit the ball down the middle because that’s what they’re paid to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s rainy, sunny, windy, if there’s ten people watching or 10 million, they’re paid to hit the ball down the middle. As an artist, you’re paid to make. As an entrepreneur, you’re paid to deliver the ROI to the shareholders. As a wrestler, you’re paid to win. Whatever your thing is, you have to be great at your craft in order to achieve.
There’s this is 10,000 hours, hardcore, the folks that I think are great. Whether they’re hacking the system and doing it in ten hours or 10,000, that is, I think, people want to skip that step.
For every email that I get about the craft of writing, I get a 1,000 about how to market books. I’m just like, “Hold on, the ratio’s all wrong.” I would agree with that.
That gets overlooked. “I just want to be this awesome fashion photographer and hand out with awesome, beautiful people, and crazy locations.” It’s like, dude, you got to actually pick up a camera and be good at that shit first, and then you might be able to do the second part. I think that’s a common mistake.
The second one is that the… I think there’s a belief that people who are successful, either they can sell themselves really well and they’re natural at it. I was a natural hard worker but not a gifted positioner and seller. That was all learned in the same way that some of the stuff that we talked about earlier was learned, the art of negotiation, the art of positioning yourself in the marketplace, of telling your story. That is not…at least it wasn’t innate for me. I had to learn that.
There’s another belief that if you have talent then you just are successful, which is a total sack of horseshit. It’s total bullshit. Ryan Holiday talks a lot about this.
It’s someone else’s quote, but it’s, “There’s nothing more common the unsuccessful man with talent.”
They’re tired, for sure, because there are so many of them. That idea of once you make something, that if it’s great it will just be discovered, is totally fiction. The people that I know that are successful say it’s the making part, then it’s about packaging. Frankly, the narrative, being a good storyteller, is mission critical to having your idea, project, plan, work, vision, company, whatever, spread. Being able to tell a good story is another thing that people overlook.
Being great at your craft, actually working hard to sell and position, the art of story telling as a mechanism to get your stuff out there, those are huge things. Both of which people want to skip or people think that, “I don’t have that gift; therefore, I can’t do it,” or, “That guys a jackass because he’s not a real talent, he’s actually just great at selling himself.” What actually matters is that person over there is doing the shit that you’re not doing. They’re a New York Times best selling author. Tim got up, sat down at his computer, wrote every day until he had an 8,000-page book, and then narrowed it down to 400 pages. Then sold the million copies.
I’ve got to stop that 8,000-page stuff. My God.
You had a backpack full of… Are those actual pages in there.
On those two points, then, aside from, obviously, this tool that you’ve helped create, which is CreativeLive. You guys just, particularly in photography and lot of those areas…
We’re killing it in audio right now.
It’s been fun to watch as, obviously an adviser and investor with the company, just from the nascent stages to see this thing explode, it’s been really fun. Aside from that tool, obviously which exists now, what books, resources, helped you become you better at photography and then also helped you get better at positioning, storytelling?
Don’t have to be books, but just tools that people might be able to use.
Tools… This is going to be a date. Date myself idea here.
It’s already a date.
It’s a two-hour man date. A mandate, not as in something you have to do, but…
Just two men getting together.
At first it was the library literally it was books like how to negotiate photography. Even the idea of licensing an image to maintain intellectual property instead of selling it. There was some early stuff way back in the ’90s. As soon as I realized that I was good at the craft, and that was developed primarily through repetition and feedback loops that I cultivated and created on my own, it was learning about the business side of it. I think there’s a weird… You have to know your industry for sure; that’s very, very beneficial.
All the big hacks, the leaps, leap frog things that I did in my career came from outside my industry. Instead of learning from other photographers… Well, I have a huge respect for the masters that have paved the way before me, but I took a lot of cues from Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Robert Rauschenberg, the artists in New York in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s because they were hackers. They where finding out how to hack the system. They were making art about making art. They where sort of reinventing the game while they were playing it.
I was always motivated to try and apply that to my work. Not so literally in the way of taking a picture of a picture, which would be to literal—the meta thing was fine—I’m talking about how do you differentiate yourself from the marketplace. If I look across and everyone else is doing this, how do you zig when everyone else is zagging.
As opposed to trying to get better at zigging.
Yeah, be different, not better. Again, we’ve already agreed the work has to be good. You have to be a good writer before you sell a million books; that’s just fact. At least a decent writer. The same is true in the way that I approach it, and I learned that basically from the artists in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s in New York. I’ve read a lot of artist biographies of people who have actually lead amazing lives, done amazing things.
Andy Warhol, what where the names again?
Jean-Michel Basquiat. He took graffiti off the street and brought it into the gallery. Robert Rauschenberg, large-scale guy, crazy mixed media. They where just people that where hacking art scene in that era in New York. They applied non-traditional techniques, to getting noticed, to making art, to they where zigging when everyone else was zagging, basically. The way that I zigged when everyone else was zagging in photography was I chronicled my exploits of learning my craft.
It ten years before it was cool to be transparent, and I was actually vilified for sharing trade secrets. I would go out and try something. It was before YouTube…
Traitor to the guild.
Literally. I sort of saw the future that information was going to be free. You couldn’t keep secrets. The art industry in general—photography specifically—was very closed. So the way I approached it was, “Here’s how I’m going to be different. I’m going to share everything.” In doing so, made a couple haters, but slowly, there was a rather large audience that would show up, not literally to the shoots, but to the behind the… There’s no such thing as behind the scenes videos. Before YouTube was Google Video or Yahoo Video, these terrible, terrible things.
I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew that if there was more people looking at my work, and if I could come across as someone that did good work and had a passion for life and whatever it is their doing, that’s a contagious, infectious thing
That was generally the life I was living, so I figured, “Well, I’ll just point a camera at me.” Ultimately that was responsible for an increased trajectory in my career, because then your like, “Have your heard this guy who’s sharing…” Fancy Nike shoots, stupid little logo shoots, the full gamut. In doing so, you’ve already referenced a couple videos on my YouTube channel. In doing so, created a large following. It was in a large part that following which helped unlock so many other things for me.
As we seen even in the last five years, people are now…as artists, we are no longer require permission from anyone to share our work at scale. There are no more gatekeepers, gallerists, magazine, and my personal social following and the blog that I write at Chase Jarvis is larger than a lot of the media outlets that hire me. When that transformed, that became an added value and key differentiator.
What started off by sharing my experiences ultimately hacked the system. Hacking the system gave me a lot of opportunity. To go back to your question, what books, what tools, was literally analyzing pop culture. Business books, like 4-Hour Work Week was very inspirational a long time ago because you’re about 110 years old now, right?
Yeah, I’ve been taking all of the 275 pills a day. Keeps my skin very supple.
Yes, you look great. Again, taking inspiration, ideas from other genres. Instead of reading, How To Be a Better Photographer, it was digital new media books. It was business books from guys like Guy Kawasaki and Tim Ferriss. Literally, hacker books and avant-garde artists books that talked about not getting attention for the sake of attention, but how to create transformative art. What do you do, where you do go, what do you think about, what kind of permissions do you get for yourself?
I think that looking outside of the usual suspects in one’s own industry is so undervalued. It’s so easy. It’s incredible how many things I’ve been able to personally pull from, say…I’d read a biography or business history of Absolut, the brand. I also read about Skyy. I don’t really drink either, but I was so fascinated by how, in a crowded market, these two mega successes had been produced. Similarly, a single SKU company is really fascinating to me. There are more than one now, but Red Bull, how do you license something from a company in Thailand and turn it into a multi-billion dollar company that now is becoming a media production behemoth.
As an example, I was the first photographer within the USA to license images to Red Bull.
There was a couple of Austrians that had very thick accents.
How far back was this?
This was ’90s.
It’s not that long ago, you know, all things considered.
Yeah, to have a multi-billion dollar brand now. It was the ’90s. It was at Squaw Valley. There was a guy who had this Red Bull jersey on. I happened to have great photographs of him. It was a qualifier for one of the early, early X-Games. These guys approached me like, “We see you taking pictures of this guy. Here’s my card.”
That was pretty good. Very Arnie.
[Imitates Arnold Schwarzenegger] California.
He gave me his card and I had great pictures. I started licensing stuff. I was like, “There’s this brand.” It wasn’t available any where in the US. Lo and behold, I ended up doing a lot of work for those guys through their cultural stuff, with hip-hop. I shot large swaths of the top break-dancers in the world for them, some of the best graffiti artists.
Really? I didn’t know that. I became obsessed with their BC One break dancing competition, back in the day.
Lords of the Floor was the first one they did. That was a gathering of the group of break-dancers that were never together before then and will never be together since. I’ve got some pretty amazing photographs. That’s an example of no one was actually interested in licensing images to a company that no one had ever heard of, but going outside your industry, I’m not just looking for “Outside” magazine and REI. I’m looking for, “Wow, here’s this Austrian beverage company that has this crazy history.” Then I start to see it in the US. So grabbing those coat tails and grabbing at threads that no one else was sensing, that was helpful, for sure.
Do you know we just leaned together and did that at the same time? Should we do it one more time?
We were going to Lady and the Tramp for a moment. That was very romantic. I got a little palpitation. Neither of us has shaved; it’s too much.
The two books that really helped me, or continue to help me, to think of being different, good and different, right… Necessary, but not sufficient. There are two that are on the older side, one that’s relatively new—The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, really short read…
Super short, that books like that big.
Super short and just gives fantastic examples of how, say, Amstel Light becomes the only light imported beer. Boom, it defines and category, and owns it. The second, Blue Ocean Strategy, really interesting book. Third, which is a little tech-centric, but I still think a lot is to be gained from it, is Business Model Generation. It’s a compilation of different business and revenue models.
Just a list?
There’s like 100 different profiles of companies with different models, rather it’s distribution, manufacturing, customer segmentation. There are two or three pages in that book that are checklists that allow you to go through and identify opportunities that you might not have seen or even thought of up to that point. You can take the same product and sell it at higher market. You can take the same product and sell it at lower market. You can take the same product and distribute it differently. Direct versus retail versus distributors, whatever. Those three I found really, really helpful for brainstorming.
I want to talk more about books. I haven’t really dropped any real books.
I know. It’s like bleeding a stone here.
I’m having this weird… Let’s talk a little more current instead of way historic. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing is a classic. That’s way back. I feel heavily influenced by, and we have a similar circle of friends, books that you have written, books that Gary V. has written, Ryan Holiday with Trust Me I’m Lying: How to Understand the Media. Gary’s been pounding his chest for a long time about all this stuff he pounds his chest on, besides the Jets.
For those of you who don’t know Gary V., that’s Vaynerchuk.
Vaynerchuk. I have his most recent book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. Guys like Austin Kleon wrote books like, Steal Like An Artist. His most recent one that just came out, Share Your Work.
I haven’t seen that one. Steal Like An Artist is a fast read, good book.
Super small, fast read, and the premise on that book is basically, if you steal from one person, that’s stealing. If I take your idea, the four-hour bike ride, or whatever, it’s not really that original.
Get in line. That’s 100 Facebook ads.
I’ve seen your Facebook.
The day of reckoning will come, I assure you.
Drawing something from all of the people that you respect, appreciate, and admire, that’s called research. Picasso’s, “Good artist borrow, great artists steal.” There are a million quotes out there. It’s just a book about inspiration. It gives you some courage to hack the system, to remix and reuse. Everything out there’s been done, and it’s just how can we undone or redo what’s already out there. Chunk it up into new pieces.
Those are some more contemporary ones. Again, very much outside photography. I feel like I’ve nailed my craft. Reading books in photography, I do for pleasure. I respect and admire Leibovitz, Mapplethorpe, and a dozen other greats, but my inspiration comes from outside. A lot of artists biographies, too.
How about Charlie’s new book? Can we talk about that for a second? I just hijacked that…
I’m curious to know, what was your favorite day last week, and why?
Favorite day last week? I was in Miami photographing Serena Williams for the upcoming Wilson campaign. I got to shoot Serena, Roger Federer, Vika Azarenka…
Vika could kick my ass, right? She looks like she could totally decapitate me.
You’re done. I don’t have a bad thing to say about any of those. Five or ten of the people I shot are the top 20 tennis players, not just now, but ever in the history of tennis. Federer is just legendary. The guy speaks five languages, looks like a GQ model, never been injured, never opted out of a match before due to injury. He has 300 matches more than these super athletes, basically. To get to spend legitimate, real time with these people on the court and make great pictures of them like they’ve never had made before. That was a great day last week.
That’s sounds like a good day.
It was a good day. I will say, to change it to CreativeLive for a second, I am more enamored and more fired up on the power of creativity to change the world more than ever before. I’m spending a huge and completely inordinate amount of time learning from the people that are in the start-up world. I’ve learned a lot from you. I’m doing some angel investing, but focusing very specifically on the creative space. It’s a really interesting… Do you know Mark Ecko? Ecko Clothing? Mark’s a friend.
Yeah, he did a guest post on my blog. He’s a good guy.
He left his book, right? What Mark thinks about start-ups is something I have just hopped on his coat tails. These companies, they’re called founders, but the companies aren’t found; they’re made, they’re created. This idea of creators and artists discovering, unlocking, or creating the next product—whatever it is, whether it’s the next Facebook, Instagram, or give us any number of companies—that to me, this vision of creator artists making things and these things being businesses and non-profits. That’s a beautiful picture of the future, I think. That’s one of the reasons I’m out there advocating for creativity.
My shoot with Serena, Roger Federer, and Azarenka is actually very related to having an authentic understanding to what it takes to make, be, do, build businesses, and shoot ad campaigns. They’re not all that dissimilar.
No, I don’t think they are at all. In a way, I think it’s really exciting to see the return of the polymath. Back in the day, you had people like Benjamin Franklin or fill-in-the-blank… It would be amateur scientists, politicians, and printers, and they would have these five or six different buckets of activities. They could become world-class in each of them. Then we moved into this period, which was pretty extended, of this hyper specialists. You’re not going to make the radio, you’re going to screw this one screw.
That’s the factory mentality, which is sadly the same mechanism that our education system is based on. What is a factory good at? It’s making a bunch of things that are the same. You’re good at one thing. You’re good at screwing this screw in, and that’s what you do. Out pops the radio at the end. It started with a bunch of raw material, then you got the radio, but schools shouldn’t be like that. People aren’t like that. The goal is not to turn out a bunch of people that… People don’t learn at the same rate, the same stuff. Sorry. Soapbox. It’s a bullshit system.
It’s also just a societal norm, right? I think they’re intertwined. You have Isaac Asimov, the science fiction writer, who said, “Specialization is for insects.” Any man should be able to captain a ship, gut a pig, and there’s a long list. It’s pretty awesome. It’s great to see with Kickstarter, Indiegogo, YouTube, and blogs, much of which is free. You can certainly use WordPress.
It’s incredible how it’s now permissible to become the equivalent of what Ben Franklin…
I was told my whole career, you have to specialize, specialize. I specialized in pursuing the things that interest me. I talked a lot about action sports, but then I also talked about fashion, break dancing, and all kinds of different cultural stuff. I’ve made TV shows, shot commercials, done ad campaigns, created start-ups, and did the first iPhone app that shared images to social networks. I historically would have been called a dilettante, but to be able to touch all of these things and to find out that they ultimately inform one another. They made at least my contribution to CreativeLive possible.
I think the disconnect, it seems is that back in the day, let’s the call it the ’80s…
Back in the ‘80s, back when we all had mullets and were happy about it. I was more of a rattail man myself. I was handsome. It was a dashing look.
Braided? Did you braid it?
No, no, no. I didn’t braid it. I just went ruffian. Rough neck.
Townie. I was a townie, man.
You’ve got to work with what you’ve got.
What I was going to say is historically, people have thought of specialization as a necessary evil because if you spread yourself too thin and do six different things, each of those requires four years of internship, however many years of schooling because the information wasn’t freely available. All these were closed silos, like photography was not too long ago.
Just a decade ago.
You were able to become very well known very quickly by being open with your knowledge. I think what’s underestimated is how quickly you can actually delve into a subject. If you have some modicum of intelligence and diligence, you can become, if you have any predisposition towards it, if you choose your sources good, you can become pretty damn good very quickly. If you want to learn how to run a non-profit, if it were 30 years ago, where you going to go? How you going to figure it out? Now, you can do a live Facebook Q&A with Scott Harrison, the CEO of Donors Choose.
I think that it’s possible that the dilettante or jack-of-all-trades…
…is an outdated notion if people take advantage of the tools at their disposal.
You have been instrumental in unlocking that for a lot of people. I think that is one of my passions and gifts, is to be able to learn quickly. It wasn’t necessarily a gift that I was born with, but just threw myself into something and not being afraid to make mistakes. I think those two things help. You’re doing a great job. Nice job, man.
Literally unlocking it.
It is a sentiment that I am continually bombarded with people asking questions about how to… I end up being more of a career counselor. I think you probably do too.
It happens a lot.
It’s following your passions. Steve Jobs said it, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.” Knowing my career as an artist and being involved with the iPhone app allowed me to see scale-able technology. Millions of users really quickly. I’m like, “Oh my god, it took me five years to build an audience of a million people, and then I did it in five weeks.” All of that feeds into CreativeLive. Those are very disparate things.
How did you navigate the transition from, for lack of a better term, solo printer. You’re a die-hard, talented creator who’s hustled, made it happen, figured out a niche, making pretty good money, to building out a company and delegating. Not getting into all the micro-bits yourself, because I think it seems to me that one of the biggest challenges that people face—and I face, quite frankly, in a lot of ways—is working on the business, not in the business.
Obviously, you still have the time to do your creative work, which is very unique. A lot of people are like, “Ah, I used to be in the trenches. It was fun to code, but now I’m a management guy. Ah, well, that’s just the way it goes.” You’ve managed to do both. How did you navigate that? What kind of decisions did you make? What kind of epiphanies did you have? Maybe you could talk about that a bit.
Sure. I think intention plays a really big role in all of the scenarios you carved out. That ad hoc thing you were about, “Just do this and this and this.”
I was just waving my hands.
Yeah, it was good.
Just fucking word vomiting on you.
Yeah, you made some good noises. You grunted a little bit; it was good. I hear what you’re saying.
Intention—I feel like it’s a little bit of a fantasy life. What do you want to do? It doesn’t matter what you’ve heard. “This is not possible. You can’t be both this and this. You can’t work four hours and get to travel the world and live like the new rich [in Tim Ferriss province]” My version of that was I want to be able to make my living making things. I realized that artists as individuals were not that scalable. Dr. Dre made more from Beats, selling his headphone company, than he did from his music, in a year. Just boom.
When I was thinking of an artist and making things, you want to always continue making things, but you start to look at making and creating as not just the thing of pushing the shutter, saying action, directing the commercial, or whatever. Making something that’s maybe more scalable and following your passion.
That was, again, something I was told was not possible. It’s really looking to inspiration. Aspiring to the work that other people have done before you and thinking, “Oh my god, I thought it was not possible, and now I see this is possible.” Go back to Bo Jackson playing football and baseball. No one had ever done that before. That’s mind blowing, but why not? These are the best athletes in the world. Of course they’re probably good at a lot of things.
You talk about the rebirth of the polymath. That was inspirational to me, and it helped me unlock a lot of that stuff. I did so very intentionally. What does a life look like where I get to do this and this and this? If you just walk in the woods, you’re likely to just bump into some trees. If you have a plan…
Sophisticated podcast you’ve got here, Tim.
Best and the brightest.
“Third and final guest is Chase Jarvis, and the podcast is pulled. Go figure.” The life that has some sort of intention, without being a militant planner. That’s not my… I think I have a nice balance… I know where I want to go… I want to set some goals. I have plenty of failure built in there. I think intention is a really overlooked thing. You have to decide where you want to go if you want to get there.
How did that affect what you said no to, like the before and after? You decide this is what I want. What did you start saying no to?
Things that didn’t ladder up to the things that I wanted to do. There’s not always a direct… If I want to be a rock-climbing photographer, then I should say no to climbing trees. Well, there’s still climbing involved so that might help my climbing skills. That was a terrible analogy, but you get… There’s a connection there, right? It’s not always like, “Oh, I only take rock climbing gigs.”
Do you remember any gigs or clients that you said no to or fired that were milestones? Not necessarily by name, but…
I won’t name them, but two things or maybe three takeaways if I can remember them. Sometimes when I say three things, I can only remember two. Later.
You can sub it in later.
One is saying no has a strong effect on the person who’s trying to buy something from me. I absolutely frown on being a dick. There’s no reason to be a dick. Almost ever in the world, there’s no reason to be a dick. If I’m turning down work it’s like, “Thank you so much for thinking of me. It’s just not in line with the work I’m doing right now,” or “The budgets aren’t quite in line,” or “My schedule’s…” Make a relationship be cordial, but there’s this beautiful thing of if you are able to say no—usually for a budgetary reasons-when they get more money, if you’ve turned them down before, they remember that you were that prize that they couldn’t get. When they do have more money, they are more likely to call you back if they liked your work.
Being able to say no, mean it. It’s a little bit of a luxury, so this is not day one of photography start saying no to everybody. You’ve got to hustle. Once you are able to be choosy and think on principle, “Is this going to move my goals forward,” saying no will often make them come back. I already forgot thing two and thing three.
Wow, we didn’t even get to two.
Let me try it, let me try it.
Any particular clients you’ve fired. Maybe you had to…
Plenty of those. Trying to be cordial. If the scope changes, if the…
“Dear John, your role in my life has been made redundant.”
To steal Pareto’s law, at the end of every year, I think can be said for a lot of customer or client relationships, you make 80% of your money from 20% of your clients. Start looking at what does that 20% look like, and how can you find more people or customers or more X like that.
When someone is a pain in the ass… When they call and they’re a pain in the ass or the last job they were a pain in the ass, you basically fire them. Not in the middle of that job, because you wouldn’t want to harm your reputation. You do a kick ass job, you finish all the way through, then the next time they call you are miraculously busy forever.
Indefinitely busy. You can control it with price. My prices have gotten out of hand because there’s a high demand. There like, “What are they?” Then you drop, and they’ll say, “Well, okay, we can…” If you put a price tag out there that was totally absurd, then you might be willing to take a couple of gut punches to make that.
Understanding where your bread is buttered and what clients are ones you enjoy working for. Again, keeping in mind that all of these things should ladder up to the big goals that we were talking about earlier. What do you want to be, do? Where do you want to go, or do you just want to walk in the woods? That’s two or three.
I don’t want to walk in the woods because, as you said, I’d just walk into trees.
Bump into trees.
What are some of your goals currently?
I have huge aspirations.
Personal, or otherwise.
I’ll go straight to CreativeLive. I have huge aspirations to CreativeLive. We’ve already educated millions of people in every country around the world. The hope is that by creating free education, we can make the world a more creative and a better place. It just so happens that there’s a great business model behind it, which is a freemium one that anyone in the world can watch for free while the content is being created live.
I’m smirking just because I have to cut in because I remember, I was so curious at one point. Obviously, I’ve been along for the ride for a while.
You launched The Four Hour Chef on CreativeLive.
I did, indeed. I think the quality, just the back-end you have on production and the people you have hired bring a level of professionalism to the production that is broadcast quality, with multiple cameras. You’ve got dollies, stuff on lines.
You were going to record this with an iPhone.
I was going to record this with an 8-track. I’m glad you vetoed me. I think there’s always a market for quality. I was just talking to some entrepreneurs today. I’m digressing for a second. I was talking to some entrepreneurs today and their like, “All right, we’re going to compete on price against company X.” I’m like, “If company X has a lot of money or simply doesn’t know how to do math properly, and they want to bleed you, they can compete on price, and they can hurt you for a long time. But there’s always a market for highest quality.”
Huge kudos to the team that produces this podcast, for one, but all the work. There’s a passion for quality here for sure, and a passion for education. I have big goals there.
What I was smirking about, if I could just tell you a part of the story.
Please keep smirking. Keep telling your story.
I remember when you were first telling me about CreativeLive, then I heard you telling somebody else. Generally you’d be like, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a techie in San Francisco or if you’re that 12-year-old boy in Malaysia.” I heard that a couple of times and I’m like, “I want to meet this 12 year old in Malaysia. He is a go-getter. That man is on it.”
A couple of times here more recently, “Whether you’re in Nebraska or Nairobi.” I don’t know where that came from.
I like the alliteration. It’s true. Just explain the model, briefly. A lot of people haven’t had exposure to it.
Sure, we bring world-class people in photography, filmmaking, design, any of the arts, audio engineering, music, the maker movement, crafting, and entrepreneurship.
Yeah. Start-up week. Guy Kawasaki, Reed Hoffman, yourself, Louis Howell, Ramit Sethi—there are all kinds of really great courses. We bring those people on and film in super high quality HD, usually between four and eight cameras, and broadcast live while we’re making this workshop. Instead of a TED Talk that’s like 15 or 18 minutes, this is one, two, or three days with that same quality person. You go really deep on something. If you tune in while it’s live, it’s completely free. Anyone can watch it. If you do decide that you want to own the thing and watch it over and over obsessively, live people do with your Tim Ferriss show, then you have to buy it.
For the people that don’t have the ability—they don’t have money—they can get all of the same benefits. If you do have money and you prefer convenience, you just press “buy.” It’s a beautiful business model that cultivates creativity, access, and community, some of our key values. It’s working, too.
It is working. On the personal side, what are some of your goals, priorities, and resolutions?
Charlie’s book, let’s get back to that. Play Away Your Anxiety.
Play It Away.
I don’t necessarily suffer from anxiety of the classic, like I’m going to seize up when I get on camera. I keep a lot of balls in the air. I’ve got a brain that’s whizzing at three in the morning. The idea of taking care of yourself and finding a way to play. Charlie’s example is the home run derby.
This is Charlie Hoehn, H-O-E-H-N.
This is a refill? Do you get this on the random show.
I’m going to have to switch to Ginger and Jack. It looks pretty good.
How about it? That’s a big Ginger and Jack, with no rocks. The idea of introducing play, because we work very, very hard at CreativeLive. As a creative professional, long hours, lot of stuff, lot of balls in the air. We’ve got investors. Your ass is on the line, so to speak. Just taking 30 minutes or an hour to try and find some way to play, to be active in a day is just incredibly helpful for me. Kudos to Charlie, wherever you are out there.
What have you been doing? What have you built in?
Horseshoes. There’s a horseshoe park by my house in the Green Lake area of Seattle. It’s lit, so you can have a really intense work session and then after work or at midnight, you can go play horseshoes.
When you go, do the meth heads come and congregate and try to catch the horseshoes? What happens?
No, no. It’s a totally random thing. I’m not like a big horseshoe guy.
I was thinking, “That guy looks like he throws a mean horseshoe.”
You know Kelly Starrett? Good friend of ours, I’ll say. He recommended Dave Warner, who’s an athletic trainer, former Navy SEAL, in Seattle. I’ve got terrible shoulders from a couple of blowouts with football and soccer. I’ve had reconstructive surgery and they’ve never really quite been the same. Kelly, from his knowledge base, and Dave Warner up in Seattle, they have an amazing approach to physical therapy. They’re bad-asses. They’re mobility experts. I’m working from the ground up on rebuilding the small muscles in my shoulders, instead of just doing the big stuff, so that I can surf again.
Surfing is a big passion of mine for a long time, and I can’t really paddle out. The swimming video you sent to me, “Total Immersion.” My shoulders have been so bad, so I’m being really physically active, going to see those guys, Dave, at least twice a week, sometimes three times a week, so that I can enable some of these passions of mine, like surfing.
Cool. You should get some Cissus quadrangularis for your shoulders. We can talk about that.
Really helpful for knees and shoulders.
Isn’t that the guy who rolled the boulder up the hill?
(laughs) That’s Sisyphus.
It’s all laughs, all the time on the Tim Ferriss Podcast.
I could have line of supplements that’s all named after Greek tragedies. Wow. If people didn’t think I was pompous already, that would really do it.
It’s that Princeton in you, my friend.
I know. It comes out.
You can take the kid out of Princeton.
Wait. Can’t take the mullet off the Long Islander. Sorry. Mixing up my metaphors. Cool, man. At this point, obviously, you’ve done a lot.
[Whispers] We’ve done a lot today.
I won’t keep you too much longer.
Dude, I’m happy.
Speaking of happy, I wanted to ask you.
Speaking of happy.
What do you feel have become your top priorities in feeling happy or fulfilled? What are the things, as you become wiser, that you have learned to prize more or prize less?
Health. Having a Jim Morrison type career where you explode at 28 in a fiery ball is not cool. The Kurt Cobains, the artist that… We all know the magic, what it is, 28 or 29, whatever that evil year is that’s taken so many amazing artists from us. That’s not cool. Health and longevity, being able to enjoy it, is fundamental. Until it’s taken away, until you’ve had a couple of surgeries, you break yourself a little bit. It’s not to say I’m encouraging people to push themselves athletically. I’m not saying go get hurt. One’s health and being active is incredibly valuable.
I feel like an old person saying this next one, which is sleep. I have lived on four to six hours of sleep for the last ten years. I go really hard, and then I will nosedive for 18 hours.
This is why you can only remember one thing on your list of three.
I know. There you go. I’ve found a new passion for sleep. I can’t ever—not never—but I rarely get the eight, nine, ten, but if I get seven, eight, I have a complete different experience of life.
What have you shifted? Has it simply been a matter of scheduling? How are you making…
It’s an intention. Should I go out and have one more cocktail with my buddies? I’m going to be more fresh if I go to sleep.
Eat some Yoplait, watch some Golden Girls, and call it a night.
That’s right. Boom. High-five, I’m out. Just prioritizing sleep.
The third one is meditation. Meditation has been…
We haven’t talked about this in a while.
You were on it for a good bit, then you said you fell off the wire.
I was. I fell off the wagon. You were one of the few people that I credit with kicking me in the ass to take it seriously. Specifically TM, transcendental meditation, for those who don’t know. Or trademark. I have my issues with almost every form of meditation. They have pros and cons. We’ve talked about them before. Tell me about your meditation practice.
My meditation practice is not perfect, and none are. I just sit down between 15 and 20 minutes, twice a day. Sometimes I only get one time a day. Sometimes those are a little compressed. Shit happens or you’re on an airplane and the captain comes on and pulls you out of it. Whatever. I make a conscious effort to just observe my thoughts and practice TM in the morning and in the evening, before dinner. The analogy that I can most simply put here on your show, it’s when you’re in the zone, say playing sports or music, and things just seem effortless. It’s called a flow state, Steven Cutler’s new book, which is a good book, The Rise of Superman, check that out, a little plug for his book about creativity and flow states.
That sense of flow is when things sort of happen in slow motion. You’re not literally talking in slow motion, but you have the same clarity as if you’re going through life and everything’s going in slow motion. Instead of that, “I’m hyper-caffeinated. My boss…”
Reactive, dodging bullets.
Instead your just like, “I’m driving the bus and we’re going to go here, and then I’m going to do this.” There’s a certain clarity that… It’s like magic. It’s really weird.
Another thing, I don’t know if you felt this, Tim, but it aggregates. You get good benefit from one, two, three, four. Then when you’re on a good roll, there’s this exponential overdrive. I feel like I’m going just floating.
I can’t explain it either, but for me, and just for those people that might be thinking like I did for my entire life…
Like, “Bullshit. Bullshit.”
I don’t want people ohm-ing me. And the chakras. I’m not into it. Especially living in San Francisco, I’ve developed an allergy to sanctimonious burner types who want to lecture me about chakras. I’m like, “Honestly, please, I can’t handle another minute of this.” I’ve had this aversion to meditation, but when it’s very non-dogmatic. When you’re not trying to control anything, just think of a candle flame, just observe your thoughts and be okay with them. Sit with good posture for this period of time, that’s it.
Even if you think it’s a shitty job and you’re running through your to-do list or things on the stock market, that’s okay. Just make it part of your routine. What I’ve found was…and some well-known people who do TM, like Paul McCartney, Arianna Huffington, David Lynch, I’m blanking on his name for some reason, but Bridgewater Capital, largest hedge-fund if not the world, the United States, $100 million…
One hundred billion plus. Ray Dalio, that’s it. Russell Simmons. Howard Stern. Seinfeld. The physiological or psychological effects are so fascinating, like you said, because you’ll do it for a couple of days and you’re like, whatever. Then you hit this sort of inflection point where you just drop from 200 RPMs to 150. You’re like, “Whoa. Okay. This is different.” The whole week, you’re kind of zenned out. After a four-week period, and I did my first retreat a few months ago before I volunteered for the masochism that is television production.
I could just hit you with a stick for a couple of weeks.
If you could put a nail through it first, that’d be great. It really had this tremendous effect on me that, oddly enough, and maybe this is getting too out there for some people, but very similar to my experiences post-relatively-high-dose-hallucinogens. It’s like this extended period of calm and ease in decision-making. Uncluttered, like you closed every browser on your computer and shut off the anti-virus, and rebooted the whole thing. That type of feeling. I did fall off the train. Question for you, because I find the morning session, I usually find pretty easy. Afternoon…
Afternoon is hard. Right now I’m thinking, “Okay, I’ve got to go from here to the thing to the thing, when will I get my thing in.” Like, “Oh, shit.”
Sometimes I’ll try to do it in the car, like Uber or whatever. But when do you typically do it in the afternoon? I’m curious.
I try and do it before dinner sometime, between work and dinner. We’re entrepreneurs, we work crazy long hours. I’ll take it whenever I can get it. It’s usually a little bit less gracious than my morning. Like you said, morning is your time, you carve out 20 minutes. My afternoon one is often a little more piecemeal, but it’s the act. I try not to judge the practice. The practice is the practice.
When you meditate, are you sitting cross-legged? Are you sitting with your feet on the floor?
I try and sit in a comfortable chair, flat on the floor, hands on my lap. There’s a mantra that if you learn TM, you’re given a mantra. Say that word over and over, and if some thoughts come in, “Oh, there’s those thoughts, bye.” They go away and you just keep doing it over again. Sometimes I’m like, “Oh my god, that was 25 minutes.” Sometimes it’s like, “Oh my god, that was one minute, and it felt like a week. Like a week.” Not judging that. Let’s not continue to talk about it because it’s getting weird, because we’re talking about it so much. It’s a powerful tool that is so simple.
I’m just mind melding while you’re talking.
For the listening people, Tim is staring into space. He’s not listening to us.
That is, I think, a huge takeaway. It doesn’t have to be TM. It could be just about anything. Building in a pause, which is like a warm bath for your brain. Even if it’s for ten minutes a day so that your not in a reactive mode. It’s really a game changer. Physiologically, it had a lot of effects for me as well. When my cortisol level dropped, I was able to lose body fat more easily in my abdomen, for instance.
I became very sensitive to alcohol and caffeine. I dropped them both significantly. Not because I was getting judgmental about it. I was over-sensitized to it. I’d grown immune to the effects, so I could have six cups of coffee a day and be like, “Eh.” Then, I did TM for four or five weeks, and I had one cup and was like, “Wow.” I didn’t realize what my baseline was.
It makes you a cheap date too, by the way.
I’ve always been a cheap date. For those people that might be wondering, “Well, Chase, you started back in this period when YouTube wasn’t even YouTube and you had this opportunity to be the first to be transparent. I could never do that because now it’s too crowded and now the world is different.” If you were starting now, starting over, knowing what you know now, as a photographer—we’ll use that as an example—how would you think about going about it? What would your process be?
I would go straight to… Again, assuming you get good at your craft. You get good at your craft through imitation, practice, hacking the system, and taking it from 10,000 hours down to four. Or whatever the system is. Let’s just take it for granted you’re good at your craft. In the process of developing skills at the craft, I feel that the answers are actually in here.
What it is that we’re all trying to do as entrepreneurs and artists, I think, not all of us, I don’t want to speak for everyone…one of the differentiating characteristics—the zig instead of the zag. How do you stand out in the loud, noisy world? The answers are in here, and trying to take pictures that no one else in the world can take. Trying to make things that no one else in the world can make. You are the product of a unique sort of life and trajectory.
I said it earlier in the podcast that everything is a remix, but what is your version of the remix? Say I have a relationship with a bunch of celebrities so I might be able to get a photograph of them in a way that no one else could because they were on my couch playing PlayStation, or something in a way that you’re not going to see that person.
That’s a terrible example. You get a lot of terrible examples with us here, but the point is thinking about, “What is the unique mojo that I bring, and how can I try and amplify that?” Amplify your strengths rather than fix your weaknesses.
Just something that came to mind. If you’re not, perhaps, the best person at capturing something visually, but you’re a good storyteller, you have your visual art then you have an incredible narrative to go with it. When you go into art galleries—and I don’t have the budget for it, but I’m a classical type guy—you’ll see stuff on the wall, $10 million, you can’t figure out what it is. You read the plaque next to it and you’re like, “That’s a damn good story. I see how they’re selling these things.”
That there is a narrative, and that’s is a compelling one. Both of those things are true for anything that you’re positioning, selling, or creating. I want to know the backstory. I feel that it’s an underappreciated art to be able to tell a good story. That’s another weird background thing on me, is I was in a PhD program in Philosophy of Art. I learned to talk really critically about art. Then you think of the learned skill of being able to talk about why I shot it like this. That is a part of people’s experience when they have hired be as an artist in the past. There’s a value add there that being able to tell a story and talk about what it is that you’re making is valuable.
Rewind a little bit to go back, what would you do? I would focus on doing things that I know that I’m passionate about, that I can do differently, better, or more uniquely based on what’s in here, not necessarily on what’s out there. You’ve got to learn from out here, imitate, hack, and steal and all those things that we do. As soon as you can, start applying it to very personal vulnerabilities.
Brené Brown is going to be on my show on April 9th. Daring Greatly, we’re dropping a lot of good books now. I remembered Mark Ecko’s book is How to Sell You Without Selling Out. These are other good titles. Vulnerability, what is a place that you can come from that when you’re vulnerable you’re actually showing strength?
I remember, I think it was Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite writers, or maybe it was someone else. When you’re writing and you start to feel really uncomfortable, that’s when you know you’re starting to get it right. I’d imagine that applies to photography. It applies to everything.
I feel it with CreativeLive. The stakes start getting high. Like, “Wow. This is going to be a big deal.” Now you’re poking some hot spots. I think that’s an important takeaway. There are probably others.
Solid, man. We’ll have everything in the show notes for people to check out. Obviously, CreativeLive.com. Maybe we could just close on one of my favorite quotes. Actually it’s off a commencement speech that everybody should check out by Neil Gaiman.
I was going to reference it earlier.
“Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Got divorced? Wife ran away with the pool boy? Make good art. Make good art. That is the bedrock.”
You don’t want to end the podcast quite yet because you said you were going to come back to a horrifying story that I had experienced.
Oh my god. You’re totally right. I’m glad you saved me from that embarrassing call-out.
You asked me to save you in your text message to me. I said, “What do I need to do for prep?” You said, “Nothing, just save me if I need saving.”
I said, “Be your charming and unshaven self and, secondly, if I fuck up the conversation, you need to save it,” so thank you.
No problem. Professional saver.
Catastrophic, self-inflicted injury. Let’s hear it.
I’m sort of young. I don’t remember quite the exact age. I’m at a wedding. I’m an only child, so I’m just cruising, looking from some other—let’s say I’m ten—ten-year-old girl to dance with or something. Just cruising the wedding in my little tuxedo. There’s this commotion over on the dance floor. I’m probably eyeing the cake or something. There’s a commotion on the dance floor and I’m like, “What’s going on over there?” I see there’s this group of women and then there’s the bride at the front.
She has these flowers and she’s doing this thing. It’s a gigantic wedding, and I’m in the wings. See if you can follow me in here. I’m like, “Oh, she’s going to throw that flower.” Then I’m just banking around the corner, full speed sprint. Sure enough, she throws the flowers end over end. You have to see this in slow motion. Full, laid-out swan dive, grabbed the flowers in front of 50 outstretched arms. Pull it in and come sliding to a stop on dance floor, hand in the air with the bouquet. Silence, 250 people. And she had to do it again. It was so terrible.
Retake. That is so amazing. I think that’s the essence of Chase right there.
Record scratch. There are so many. I’ve got lots of embarrassing moments. I like being ten; maybe I was eight. I don’t know if that’s too old to know. Like I should have known what was going on. I don’t know what age I was.
You were just overflowing with amazing Pele-like soccer abilities and didn’t know what to do with it at a wedding. We’ll have a round two. We’ll have more stories.
Thank you for coming on the show.
My pleasure. I will pimp it. I will share it far and wide, as much I can. Who’ve you had so far, and who’s next? I feel like I might have jinxed who is next because you don’t know who is next.
No, I do.
Oh, this is good.
We’ve had a couple of friends. Actually, everybody’s been a friend of mine up to this point. We had Kevin Rose. Then we had incredible investor, product guy, entrepreneur Josh Waitzkin, who is the author of The Art of Learning. He was the basis for Searching for Bobby Fisher, an amazing, amazing world-class chess player. He’s also taken that framework that he uses for learning chess and mastering chess to master jiu-jitsu, tai chi push hands, world champion in the last black-belt in BJJ under Marcelo Garcia. We had a conversation about learning yourself, talking about the arts, business, making the transition, common mistakes, all of that.
There are a couple of folks up in the air, but I think that Kelly, in fact, is going to be our next… The supple leopard himself.
He’s been super helpful. I love his book.
A special guest along with Kelly. I’m going to try a little threesome action.
How about that?
It’s San Francisco. It’s in the air here.
Sweet. Good luck, man. I will be paying attention. Thanks so much.
I’ll see you soon. Ciao.
Bye everybody. Thanks for staying late.