For four years, NPR’s Guy Raz has helped weave stories and life advice together on the TED Radio Hour. Now, in addition to that popular series, he’s telling the stories of some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs — and getting world-class business advice along the way. On each episode of How I Built This, which debuts today on NPR, Raz talks with one entrepreneur for 30 minutes, to hear, in Raz’s words, “The journey from that day when they were pounding the pavement by themselves, to when they were at the New York Stock Exchange, ringing the opening bell.”
Upcoming guests include everyone from Ariana Huffington to Rich Branson to Sarah Blakely, the billionaire inventor of Spanx. “Everybody we talked to started somewhere,” Raz said, “and usually it was from a modest place. And so, generosity is worth a lot; most all of them remember a person who gave them a break, or who was generous to them.” For this reason, guests are strikingly forthcoming with their tips for success — and with their shortcomings over the years. “It’s a storytelling show that’s accessible and hopefully interesting to everybody — but there’s sort of a cheeky and subversive thing that we put in there, which is like a master class in how to do this….I’ve learned so many lessons, you can imagine.”
Raz shared with us some of the biggest lessons he’s learned so far, told from the champions of what he dubbed the “new golden age of entrepreneurship.” Read on for a taste of the master class, and be sure to give How I Built This a listen below.
Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia: Principles Trump Growth. “Chouinard is sort of like the anti-entrepreneur. He actively worked to slow down the growth of his company. If it were up to him, Patagonia wouldn’t grow by more than one or two percentage points a year, because he wants the company to last — and he sees a direct correlation between economic growth and environmental degradation.
“So I asked him, during the interview, how many puffy Patagonia jackets do you own? And he said: ‘I own one, and it’s 15 years old. And when I have tears in it, I just get it repaired. And by the way, I encourage anyone listening not to buy a new Patagonia jacket or fleece. If it’s broken, send it back to us; for a small fee, we’ll repair it. We want to do that. We don’t need you to consume more stuff.’
“And it’s not a marketing trick for them; he really believes that. This is a really important core value for him.”
Kathy Hughes, Founder of Radio One: Once the Deal Is Sealed, Stop Selling It. “Kathy Hughes is one of the wealthiest self-made African-American women in America. She was a single mother in Omaha, Nebraska; she had a child at 17. She just was relentless and talented and optimistic, and she managed to rise up the ranks of radio stations in Washington D.C., until she managed to cobble together loans and enough money to buy her own radio station in the late ‘70s. Her company is now worth $250 million.
“When she was looking for a loan to buy her first radio station, she was rejected by thirty-two out of thirty-three banks. The loan officers were all white men; the thirty-third loan officer she met was a Puerto Rican woman who said, ‘You know what, I’m gonna give you a chance. I just believe with you.’ And at that point, once the deal was sealed, Kathy kept saying to her: ‘And we’re gonna do this, and that, and you’re gonna be so impressed with how we do this and that,’ and she kept going on about all the amazing initiatives they were gonna do.
“And this loan officer looked at her and said: ‘Kathy, I’m gonna tell you something that’s really important. Once the deal is sealed, stop selling it.’
“She took that advice and never looked back. I think many of us, when we make a promise to somebody, or somebody agrees to work with us, our instinct is to say, ‘You’re not gonna regret this, it’s a great decision.’ But once the handshake is done, stop talking.”
Sarah Blakely, Founder of Spanx: Sell the Product with the Product. “She was selling fax machines door to door in the ’90s, when she, like many other women at the time, was basically hacking panty hose. If you wear a skirt over underwear, there are lines you can see through the skirt, which is irritating to many women. So for a long time many women would do this, like, hack, where they just buy panty hose, cut off the feet and the legs; you’d wear them over your underwear to smooth it out, so that when you wore a skirt, you couldn’t see the lines!
“Well, she had this lightning-bolt moment: ‘All these women are doing this, including me; why don’t I just make really great undergarments that are designed to do just that?’
“[After making a prototype,] she managed to get a 10-minute meeting with one of the buyers at Neiman Marcus. The meeting was not going well; the buyer was not interested. So Sarah Blakely says to this woman, come with me to the bathroom. They go to the women’s bathroom, and she puts on a pair of spanks for her, over her underwear, walks out of the stall and says: ‘Now look at me.’ And that was it. Neiman Marcus put in 7,000 orders, right then and there.”
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