Tim Ferriss & Gary Vaynerchuk – Snake Oil or Gold?

So I’m in Hong Kong, as you probably know, continuing on the job search – and getting damned frustrated with it, if I’m to be completely honest. By day I’m working, by night I’m going through job listings on job boards and web sites, reaching out to my network, trying to get something to happen. I have not had any late nights in bars. Every night after dinner I’m back in our flat, either still working at my “day job” or working on my job search.

In a job interview I had earlier this week, a global CEO said to me, “You’ve been looking for two months and you don’t have something yet? I don’t understand why someone with your background didn’t get snatched up in 10 seconds!”

Well, first, there’s my age, something which he presumably doesn’t know, but should be able to guess at close enough. And my lack of language ability – so far my search has been primarily focused on Hong Kong, where 80 to 90% of job listings require you to be tri-lingual.  I think there may be one or two other factors at play here, but I won’t go into that now.

Also this week I have been working as a volunteer at the RISE Conference in Hong Kong. Most of the other volunteers seem to be fresh out of university. I’m sure I haven’t seen any over 30 years old, let alone close to my age. One of the volunteers today – a very friendly kid from Guangzhou – told me that I’m an inspiration to him and he hopes that when he’s 50, 60, 70 years old he’ll still have the energy and desire for knowledge that I have. (I’ll come back to the conference in a minute or so.)

But first, Tim Ferriss. You all know who he is, right? He became a superstar after he wrote The 4-Hour Work Week, which has sold over 100 million copies. You know, have a web site, source some products to sell, use sites like Fiverr to find people to do all the work for you at third world wage scales, get rich quick. It wasn’t for me.

Then he had books like the 4-Hour Chef and the 4-Hour Body and I was wondering, okay, what the fuck is next, the 4-Hour Elevator Repair? The 4-Hour Prostitute? But instead what was next was Tools of Titans. The book is, essentially, 700 pages of distilled wisdom based on his podcast interviews with people including Marc Andreessen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Seth Godin, Chase Jarvis, Ed Catmull, Rick Rubin,  Seth Rogen, Richard Betts – and also a lot of people I really don’t like, people like Scott Adams, Peter Thiel, Glenn Beck.

Let me tell you something about Tools of Titans. I downloaded a pirate copy. I saw that it was divided into three main sections – Healthy, Wealthy and Wise. At first I thought I’d skip the Healthy Section because I’m not about to work out, take megadoses of chemicals or take up extreme sports. But I read that section anyway. And there was really useful information about mindfulness, dealing with stress, things like that.

By the time I got into the Wealthy section, I realized I was bookmarking almost every page. It was getting to be too much. A 700 page book with hundreds bookmarks is not the easiest thing to deal with on a Kindle.

I went out and bought the book. Not a legal ebook, the actual physical fucking book. So I could bend page corners. Highlight Twitter accounts to follow and apps to download. Scribble notes on the pages. Strategies to follow. (Which reminds me, I need to buy a couple of different color highlighter pens tomorrow.) I’m following Ferriss on Twitter and will probably download and listen to some of his podcast episodes once I get back to Manila (not sure when that will be though). One point Ferriss makes is that he gives out 90% of his “product” for free, and then charges ultra-premium rates for the other 10% (speaking engagements, seminars, etc.). I think there’s probably a lot more in that 90% that can benefit me.

You see, I’ve always been as fucking cynical a New Yorker as I can possibly be. I now have to question how far that cynicism has taken me. I have learned that it’s one thing to be cynical about Trump or Brexit and something completely different to be negative about the company you work for or the people you know. One aspect of that was looking at shelf after shelf of books on how to get rich and thinking that they were all snake oil, that the only people getting rich from these books were the people who wrote them (and their publishers). All of those self-help be a better-happier-powerfuller person were all Little-Mary-Sunshine-crapola as far as I was concerned.

I’m starting to believe that I was wrong all those years. That at least some of these books do contain useful information, that I just need to be somewhat choosy about which ones I spend time with, and then not just spend the time reading them but also spend time thinking about them, drawing the lines from them to my life, figuring out which ones might help me be more effective at work, better able to manage stress, just generally be a better and happier and more powerful person. Or maybe it’s just a phase I’m going through? (I don’t think so. I think this is a major philosophical change in my life that will stick.)

Back to RISE.

One of the speakers today was Gary Vaynerchuk.  I’ve known the name for a long time but I didn’t know much about him. What I know now is that this is a 41 year old guy with bad hair and crappy clothes who 20 years ago took his parents’ New Jersey liquor store and turned it into a $60 million dollar a year online business. He then started VaynerMedia, which is now a $120 million dollar a year business advising some of the largest brands in the world on social media marketing. And, as he likes to point out, he built both of these businesses without a penny of venture capital funding, he built them on solid business principles. His family emigrated to the U.S. from Russia when he was 3 years old and at the age of 41 his net worth is said to be closing in on $200 million. Not too shabby.

I was working the stage during one of his three Q&A sessions at the conference. I was one of those guys running through the audience handing a microphone to people asking questions. (I probably could have made some nice change by telling people who came up to me that they could be next for 10 bucks.)(No, I didn’t do that.)

I seriously liked the answers he was giving to people. It wasn’t just that he was the only speaker I’d heard in two days saying words like “fuck” and “bullshit.” HIs answers weren’t rehearsed and yet they contained a lot of insight and common sense. And when his allotted time was up, he wouldn’t leave the stage, he insisting on taking more questions and giving more answers (which threw off the rest of the schedule for the day, but not by much). There was a lot of stuff he said that just made a lot of fucking sense. (You can see me in the video of his session, standing next to people I gave the microphone too, though each time I looked up at the screen and saw myself I cringed more than a little bit.)

My impression of “GaryVee”? He’s not a snake oil salesman. Yes, he gets 6-figure fees for public speaking and he’s written four books. But he also has a blog and a twitter account and Youtube videos where’s he providing a lot of useful information for free.

And what is that going to cost me other than time? Granted, time is a limited and precious commodity. But surely spending 30 or 60 minutes a day on this kind of stuff is more productive than getting worked up over when the next Arcade Fire album will be released?

“There is always potential. There is always time.” @GaryVee

(Not directly related to what I’ve written above but related to one of his answers at the conference, about how he is not always successful, that he fails daily at the micro level but over the course of time always wins at the macro level.)

Another guy I ran into at the RISE Conference – I’m not going to name him – is someone I haven’t seen in about 6 years. 6 years ago he was a really nice guy who wasn’t very happy about the situation he was in, even though I suspect he was making a lot of money from it. Today, he’s a fucking rock star in the video game world. As I said, I hadn’t seen him in six years. He came up to me, I smiled and went to shake his hand but he grabbed me and hugged me (and yes, he remembered my name). And I thought to myself, here’s a guy who was really nice, he’s now really successful, and success hasn’t changed him. It was yet more food for thought.

Being cynical hasn’t gotten me where I wanted to be. It’s time to try a different approach.