Guy Kawasaki on Understanding the Math of Success

My guest today popularized secular evangelism in 1983 when he worked with the Macintosh Division of Apple. He is currently the chief evangelist of Canva, an online (and easy-to-use) graphic design platform.

He is also the author of thirteen books including Art of the Start 2.0 and Enchantment.

His books are used by some of the finest academic institutions and have been New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers.

My guest gives over fifty keynote speeches a year on topics such as innovation, enchantment, social media, evangelism and entrepreneurship. His clients include Apple, Nike, Audi, Google and Microsoft.

Now, let’s hack …

Guy Kawasaki.

In this 27-minute episode Guy Kawasaki and Jon discuss:

  • The benefits of working harder than everybody else
  • Never sticking with just one company
  • Being young and underpaid, old and overpaid
  • How and why to adopt a growth mindset

The Show Notes


Guy Kawasaki on Understanding the Math of Success

Voiceover: Welcome to Hack the Entrepreneur, the show which reveals the fears, habits, and inner battles behind big name entrepreneurs and those on their way to joining them. Now, here is your host, Jon Nastor.

Jonny Nastor: Hey, hey. Welcome to Hack the Entrepreneur. I am your host, Jon Nastor, but you can call me Jonny.

My guest today popularized secular evangelism in 1983 when he worked with the Macintosh Division of Apple. He’s currently the chief evangelist of Canva, an online and easy-to-use graphic design platform.

He’s also the author of 13 books, including Art of the Start 2.0 and Enchantment. His books are used by some of the finest academic institutions and have been New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers.

My guest gives over 50 keynote speeches a year on topics such as innovation, enchantment, social media, evangelism, and entrepreneurship. His clients include Apple, Nike, Audi, Google, and Microsoft.

Now, let’s hack Guy Kawasaki.

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We are back with another episode of Hack the Entrepreneur. This episode is extra, extra special because of the guest today. Guy, thank you so much for joining me today.

Guy Kawasaki: Sure. What else would I do on a Friday afternoon?

Jonny Nastor: Excellent. All right. Let’s do this. Guy, as an entrepreneur, can you tell me what is the one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your successes so far?’

The Benefits of Working Harder Than Everybody Else

Guy Kawasaki: I work my ass off by far. Nothing even comes close. I just work hard.

Jonny Nastor: I was at a conference last week, and I realized that was my answer for almost everybody’s question they had for me — be human and work harder than everyone else. It’s a guaranteed recipe.

Guy Kawasaki: Yeah. Too bad we can’t charge for that advice, huh?

Jonny Nastor: But you do. Have you always had this work ethic, Guy, or is this something you realized was necessary?

Guy Kawasaki: I think it’s Asian DNA. I was born that way. I don’t know why. I am a big fan of a woman named Carol Dweck. She’s a Stanford professor. Her book is called Mindset. There are fundamentally two kinds of mindsets. One mindset is that you’re limited. You cannot do it, whatever. The other mindset is, “I can do it. I can try.” There are some limits. No matter how hard I try, I’m not going to be playing in the NHL.

If you believe that somehow you’re set to a certain capability, to a certain level of accomplishment, and you believe that, then you’ll never achieve anything more. But if you have a growth mindset where you can get better and you can do other things, then that is a much better mindset that will enable you to accomplish more. I definitely have the growth mindset, to a limit.

Jonny Nastor: Exactly. I like how you say, obviously, there’s certain skills that each of us will never be an expert at or the best at, but do you even think you have to be the best in the world at something to succeed or can you just be pretty good at a bunch of stuff and just work your ass off?

Guy Kawasaki: I kind of subscribe to your theory. If you compare two very different things, let’s say you aspire to be a professional athlete. I don’t even know how many baseball teams there are.

Jonny Nastor: Neither do I.

Guy Kawasaki: Okay. Let’s say there’s 25 baseball teams, 25 NBA teams, 25 NHL teams, or NFL teams. Let’s say 25, and there are 20 on the roster. That’s 500. Then let’s say that we’re off by a factor of two, so it’s 1,000. So there are 1,000 in each sport. Let’s say there are five major sports. That’s 5,000 professional athletes represent probably 5 million kids who try to get there. It’s some ratio like that.

On the other hand, if you go to Apple or Google, they each have 25,000 people making a $150,000 dollars each. Now, there are some superstars in those circumstances also. Apple has 50,000 employees making a really great living, and all professional sports has 5,000. What should you go for? Let’s see. At some level, it’s just math.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah. That’s true. That’s true. Okay. If I get my story correct, you went to school and got an MBA.

Guy Kawasaki: Yes.

Jonny Nastor: You worked for one company that led into another small company called Apple, I believe?

Guy Kawasaki: That’s one way of remembering it.

Jonny Nastor: You spent some time there, but then there was this time that seems to happen in every entrepreneur’s life when they realize that they either need to make something really big themselves in the world or they simply can’t work for somebody else. I believe it was about five years after you joined Apple that you founded your own software company, right?

Guy Kawasaki: Yes.

Jonny Nastor: How did this happen for you? How did you make this realization that, “Maybe I need to go do this myself”?

Never Sticking with Just One Company

Guy Kawasaki: In one sense, I was at Apple for three or four years, and I started believing that there’s great opportunity in the Macintosh software market. Did I want to be like a Mitch Kapor, a Bill Gates, or a Fred Gibbons? — I hope people recognize these names, these are software entrepreneurs — or I could just stay as a highly paid, but wage slave of Apple. I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Although with hindsight, if I had just shut up and stayed at Apple from 1983 till today, we would not be having this recording.

Jonny Nastor: That would have been unfortunate.

Guy Kawasaki: You would be talking to my people’s people about scheduling me. It all works out in a bizarre way I guess.

Jonny Nastor: This wasn’t supposed to go this way, but I’m interested. How does that feel? There’s this company, Apple, that is changing and has transformed the way people communicate and do a lot of things. It’s becoming one of the wealthiest companies in the world. You were in it near the beginning, if not the beginning. Then you’ve gone on and done all this other stuff. Apple itself did some crazy stuff. From the outside, it seemed like it almost disappeared, and then it made this big resurgence.

How does it feel to be like there was this path that could have happened for you? You’re right, and you would have been an ultra-billionaire probably at this point from it.

Guy Kawasaki: I understand what you’re saying. To make it even worse, I quit Apple twice. If I had stayed either time … Then, to tell you the truth, about 15 years ago or so, I was called by the venture capitalists who funded Yahoo. They asked me if I wanted to interview for the CEO position of Yahoo. This was way back when. This was the first adult CEO of Yahoo position.

In a sense, I don’t know why you’re bothering even interviewing me. Why would you interview somebody who’s so stupid as to turn down the opportunity to interview for the CEO of Yahoo and quit Apple twice? This is not good interview material. You should go interview someone smart, not me.

Jonny Nastor: Before you even said that part, I was going to say the world wouldn’t have a lot of the stuff you’ve created, like Art of the Start 2.0, but Art of the Start and Enchantment — two amazing books that every entrepreneur, or even person who just wants to use the web, should read.

Guy Kawasaki: Hallelujah.

Jonny Nastor: We wouldn’t have those things without that. I was joking, like I’m laughing as you were saying it. You’re the person in it, so it must be hard to deal with it. But also, at the same time, it’s what makes us entrepreneurs. We don’t take the one path where we just stick with a company that we start with and just go for our whole career. It’s just not in our DNA.

Guy Kawasaki: That’s one explanation of it.

Jonny Nastor: You’ve done some amazing things since then, truly. With the writing and the work you’ve done with your speaking and stuff, you’ve probably created a ripple effect of other people who have gone on and done amazing things with that, which to me is super powerful and everlasting.

How and Why to Adopt a Growth Mindset

Guy Kawasaki: Well, thank you. You’re delving deep into my psyche now. It’s an interesting question. You could make the case that Jon Ive and Tim Cook have done orders of magnitude more than I have. They changed expectations of design and user interface and what a product could do. Who am I? I wrote a few books.

Jonny Nastor: Of course. But who are any of us? I have a podcast, so obviously, I can look up to you and be like, “Oh, my goodness.” You know what I mean? There’s always somebody ahead of us.

Guy Kawasaki: That’s true. No matter what anybody else does, in a sense, you have to measure up to Steve Jobs, and nobody is going to measure up to that.

Jonny Nastor: Immeasurable. Exactly.

Guy Kawasaki: I think maybe we’re thinking too much. If you go through your entire life saying, “Boy, if I’d only stayed at Apple, I’d be happy,” you fundamentally probably wouldn’t be happy anyway. Certainly, I have rationalized that you cannot look at life that way.

Jonny Nastor: No, you can’t. I fully agree. I fully agree that you can’t. In accomplishment, you’re ahead of me, and in years, with age, you’re ahead of me. But, still, to this day, I would like to think that, if I was anywhere even remotely close to your position that were at my time, I would make the same sort of choices that you did. It seems more adventurous. It seems more entrepreneurial.

Guy Kawasaki: Wouldn’t you just rather be a filthy rich jerk?

Jonny Nastor: I don’t know. It sounds great. It’s probably boring after the first week or two. Then what do you do?

Guy Kawasaki: If I ever get there, I’ll let you know. On the other hand, there’s another way of looking at this. The other way is, who’s better off today? You and me, or Steve Jobs? For all the billions, the fame, and the power, he’s off the scale, but he’s not alive.

Jonny Nastor: Exactly. All the money and power doesn’t buy you extra life.

Guy Kawasaki: It doesn’t buy you immortality.

Jonny Nastor: No, it doesn’t. From the little bit that I know of his story, obviously all from other sources, he made a lot of sacrifices to do business-wise what he did in his life and with people around him, so I don’t know if it’s worth it. We’ll never know.

Guy Kawasaki: I don’t know what sacrifices he truly made, but I could tell you, if you want to be an entrepreneur, at some level, you start by answering simple questions like, “What if … ?,” or, “Isn’t there a better way?,” or “Isn’t this interesting?” Things sort of snowball, simple questions, so you build the prototype, and it becomes a product. The product sells. Then there’s another product line extension. One day you wake up, and you’re Apple.

That’s the way it goes, but when you look back, the companies that truly matter … truly matter. They changed the world, and Apple changed the world. If you had told that to Steve and Woz in 1976, they probably would have laughed at you. It’s all about entrepreneurship. You answer these simple questions, things snowball, and then, when all the dust settles, you say, “Huh, I really did make a dent in the universe. I changed the world.” What’s wrong with that? Nothing.

Jonny Nastor: There’s nothing at all wrong with that, no. All right, Guy, let’s go back right straight to you now. You are working your ass off now and you have been for your whole career. Do you have, right now, a set morning routine to set yourself up for the day and work your ass off?

Guy Kawasaki: I get up at about 7:10. At 7:30, I take my son to school. I stop at a coffee shop, eat breakfast, answer email for a few hours, and then I go play hockey for two hours. Then I answer email, and then I go pick up my son. Then I come home, and I answer email. Are you seeing a trend here?

Jonny Nastor: I may be seeing a trend here.

Guy Kawasaki: Yeah. Okay.

Jonny Nastor: Hockey. Hockey is the trend, right?

Guy Kawasaki: No, email is the trend.

Jonny Nastor: I didn’t think that you played hockey, though. That’s pretty cool.

Guy Kawasaki: I played hockey this morning, and I might go play now.

Jonny Nastor: Really? That’s really cool. And then email.

Guy Kawasaki: Depends on how long this interview goes.

Jonny Nastor: Okay. There’s this thing that everybody’s into. The experts talk about the 80/20 rule. Do 20 percent. Get 80 percent of the results. Do what you’re good at, but then delegate the rest. Guy, I would love you to tell me something that you are absolutely not good at.

Being Young and Underpaid, Old and Overpaid

Guy Kawasaki: It’s not that I’m struggling because I’m perfect. I’m just trying to figure out the best answer for you. I don’t think I’m particularly good at managing people. I don’t have the right demeanor, manner, and bandwidth to help people formalize their goals, actualize their goals, all that kind of stuff. I have very poor bedside manner. I have zero patience. I can be harsh.

Part of it is, I’m 61 now. When you reach 61, the clock is definitely ticking. It was always ticking, but now I’m two-thirds dead. You start realizing you don’t have to put up with BS. I’ve turned down a lot of stuff.

I have this new rule for myself that I won’t get on an airplane for free. The typical pitch is, “Come to Singapore … come to Croatia … come to South America … come to whatever, and we’re going to have a thousand people in the audience. They’re entrepreneurs. They’re going to learn a lot from you. This is a great opportunity to get connected to the entrepreneurship in our country. We’ll set up a time where you can meet with the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for our country. Maybe you can meet the president of our country.”

I tell them, “Honestly, I don’t care. I don’t want to meet your Assistant Secretary of Commerce. I don’t care about meeting your president.” I don’t do things for strategic reasons anymore. Either I’m with my family, or you’re paying me money. Those are the only two conditions. A lot of people, they don’t know how to react to that. They think that people should be honored to meet the Assistant Minister of Commerce of some country. I could care less.

I’ve been in many of those conversations, and all they say is, “Yeah, we really want to support entrepreneurship. We’re going to study it. What laws can we change?” The next time you look, the guy got un-elected, and there’s a different Assistant Secretary of Commerce. Don’t get me started.

Jonny Nastor: I think that there’s so much to be learned from that attitude, though. You say it’s because you’re 61 now, that you now have this, “You have to pay me to get on the plane. I don’t just want to meet people and stuff.” There’s probably so much to be learned for all of us from that attitude. We only have so much bandwidth and so much time no matter what stage we are at in our life. We still have a finite amount of time.

Guy Kawasaki: That’s true, but when you’re young, you have to pay your dues. When I was young, I got on a plane for free a lot. I divide my career where when I was young, I was underpaid, and now I’m old, I’m overpaid.

Jonny Nastor: Really?

Guy Kawasaki: I’m serious. If you knew what I charged for a speech, you would be shocked. It shocks me. Now, I have this attitude that I don’t do things for ‘strategic’ reasons. I don’t do things for building future relationships. I’m doing things for now. This is the time I’m reaping. I’m not sowing anymore.

Jonny Nastor: Okay, so you’re doing things for now. This is a great segue into what I loosely call ‘projects.’ Projects can be anything you want it to be, whether it’s a new book or a new venture. At this stage, you want to reap the rewards right now, but how do you, Guy, determine what is the right project, a new book, or something you want to do right now?

Going with Your Gut, Doing What You Love

Guy Kawasaki: It’s not very scientific or analytic. Basically, I either fall in love or I don’t. I fell in love with Canva. I think Canva’s a fantastic tool that’s going to democratize design. To my utter surprise, I became the chief evangelist of their company. When I decide to write a book, it’s because I fall in love with the idea. I don’t really do any market research or anything. I don’t do any forecasting.

In the case of The Art of Social Media, Peg Fitzpatrick, my co-author, forced me to do that book, so that was an unusual case. Right now, I’m thinking of writing a book called How to Design Your Life. I can’t prove there’s a market for that, but I think it’s a great topic. That’s how I do things. If people think I have this master plan and a strategy and all that, I hate to disappoint you, but I don’t, not at all, not even close.

Jonny Nastor: I love it. Is it just like a gut feeling you get about these things?

Guy Kawasaki: Yeah. I just fall in love with stuff, and I do it. That’s it. It’s that simple.

Jonny Nastor: That’s pretty cool. I like it. All right, Guy, let’s just wrap up on your career, your success that you’ve had, and what you have accomplished. You’ve done more things than most people can imagine to do. You’ve touched companies that have gone on to do amazing things. You’re working with ones now, like Canva, that have done amazing things and are going to, even after you, probably.

The same with your books and the writing. Enchantment is an amazing book that everybody has to read. How does it feel when you stop right now and look back at where you’ve come from, what you’ve done, and what you’ve accomplished till now? How does it make you feel?

Guy Kawasaki: At the end of my life, I want people to say that I empowered people. I helped them change the world. That’s my goal. I must admit I don’t sit around considering myself a huge success. This is kind of bizarre for me to say, but it’s because, in Silicone Valley, huge success is Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, whatever. I live in a very, very warped bubble of a place.

Jonny Nastor: You do.

Guy Kawasaki: On the one hand, negatively stated, you could say, “Guy, your hallucinating. Why are you not satisfied?” On the other hand, it’s still what drives me. I’m not sitting fat, dumb, and happy. I don’t know. It’s just the way it is.

Jonny Nastor: I think it does definitely have to do with where you live right now.

Guy Kawasaki: I live in a bizarre place. One of the outcomes of bizarre places like this is people try to do more. Could I live Bhutan? I don’t know honestly. I don’t know if I could.

Jonny Nastor: Excellent. Guy, I just want to just personally thank you for the work you have done, the work you’re continuing to do, and the work you’re going to do. I know, personally, it has helped me a lot, and I know that there are lots of people out there.

Guy Kawasaki: That’s very satisfying to hear. I believe, at the end of one’s life, it’s not how much money you made and how big your house is or how fast your car is. It really is, have you made the world a better place? The way I have chosen to make the world a better place is through writing, speaking, advising, and hopefully, inspiring some people. I want to empower people. That’s my scorecard.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah. I think you’ve scored ridiculously high on that.

Guy Kawasaki: Thank you.

Jonny Nastor: Thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for what you do. Please keep doing it because it is awesome and inspiring to watch.

Guy Kawasaki: Take care. All right, thanks.

Jonny Nastor: My pleasure.

Guy Kawasaki: Okay.

Jonny Nastor: Wow, that was an exciting and fun conversation. It went a few weird places near the end. I think we resolved, Guy and I, so it’s good. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I enjoyed partaking in that conversation. Guy is somebody I’ve wanted to speak to for a long time. We had played with our schedules a bit, and we finally got to sit down together. It was really, really a lot of fun.

Obviously, Guy’s written a ton of books. He’s advised some amazing companies. He’s been an evangelist for some amazing companies. He’s had a huge, long, brilliant career. During this conversation, he said a lot of things. I’ve got this list of things that he said, but I think I need to take it right back to the beginning.

Right at the beginning, he said something that was very, very, very key. Did you get it? Did you hear it? Let’s do it. Let’s find the hack.

Guy Kawasaki: If you believe that somehow you’re set to a certain capability, to a certain level of accomplishment, and you believe that, then you’ll never achieve anything more. But if you have a growth mindset where you can get better and you can do other things, then that is a much better mindset that will enable you to accomplish more.

Jonny Nastor: And that’s the hack.

Guy, Guy, Guy. Thank you. This really needs to be clarified. This is so essential to your success and to you becoming the entrepreneur that you want to be and doing the things that you want to do. If you believe that you are somehow limited to a certain level of accomplishment or a certain capability, then you will absolutely be limited to that. You need to have what Guy calls the growth mindset, which is the mindset that you can teach yourself or push yourself to do anything if you push yourself hard enough and try enough things.

What’s the best way to create a successful business? Go out and start 10 of them. One of them will probably succeed. Start them all in a row, but have the mentality that you’re going to start 10 of them and that the 10th one is going to be successful. Don’t be like, “Okay, I’m finally going to start a business,” put everything into it, do it, then it fails, and then, “I guess I’m not an entrepreneur.” You are.

You absolutely are an entrepreneur. You have to have this growth mindset. You have to know that, if you put in the effort, you will become this. Entrepreneurs are not born. They are not at all. They are actually created just through mindset, determination, and a willingness to really work hard.

Guy has proven that time and time again. I’m so glad that he brought this up. I’m so glad that we got to bring the conversation right back to the beginning. It’s so, so essential. Have a growth mindset. Know that you can teach yourself. Know that your capabilities are only limited by your willingness to work hard at them. Thank you so much, Guy. That was awesome.

All right, that wraps up another episode of Hack the Entrepreneur. You know how much this means to me that you’re listening. I really, really just want you to know that. Email me if you would like, If you have any questions, tell me how I can help you. I would love to help.

I hope you had as much fun as I did. Please, until next time, keep hacking the entrepreneur.