Best-selling author, award-winning journalist, and entrepreneur shares how to go from an urgent, reactive business owner to a proactive business owner, why story based commercials are more effective, the use of pirate radio stations in Cuba and much more.
See on today’s show we’re interviewing a guy by the name of Shane Snow who I believe has moved into the top 10% of guests in terms of his energy, his knowledge base. He’s built a company with over a hundred employees. It’s done very well. Xe. I’m, I’m excited for the listeners to hear the show. Can you tell the listeners what kind of things we covered on today’s show? We covered so much ground. We covered so much ground. We talked about the first book that you wrote and the deep meanings in there and there was kind of fun. We also talked about the things you would change in that book if he could do it now. Seven years later we started using a lot of big words to see what was the word West. We use the word October, Easton, Towson, oxytocin. I throw in chlorophyll just for the heck of it.
Just cause you could cause you’ll visit, which was impressive, but do you agree this was a great show. He did a great job, great show, great energy and we really got to the bottom. I have his last name, which I think is a reveal that I don’t want to, I don’t know. Spoiler. Yeah, no sweat. You want to hang on. Because with the last name snow, if you’re a game of throne fans, I’ll just tell you this, it’s all connected. He’s talking about why story based commercials are super effective. Super. He’s talking about how to go from being in that emergency medic a mode as a business owner and to becoming more proactive. He talks about how the Cubans were using pirate radio stations. He talks about growing a company. He talks about basically working himself out of a job. What else? What else does he talk about? This was a hot show. Well yeah, and he had some great little nuggets of wisdom for the listeners that, uh, I think are a little good. The little pearls, little pearls of wisdom. Z. Are you okay if I hit the play button? You know, let’s just, let’s just, let’s just revel in the the beauty of this show just a little bit more cause it’s so awesome. I just want people to understand that just this is a show that I want to miss three, two, one and go
Shane snow. For the listeners out there that are not super familiar with you and your background, could you tell the listeners a, what do you do for a living?
So I’m a writer. That’s what I consider my career, I guess, or my identity. But I’m also an entrepreneur. I started off writing about business and technology and started a technology business. And uh, that’s, that’s kind of the main thing. I’ve written a few books and I, uh, I’m the owner of, uh, a couple of companies and I guess I do this sort of thing sometimes too. I, I, uh, I do a lot of public speaking and um, and TV and radio sorts of things. And it’s sort of an amalgamation of things that all kind of stemmed from studying business and technology and kind of the things that followed. What kind of businesses have you involved in our unit solved in raising emus or what kind of business? You know, I grew up in Idaho actually and a and that my neighbors had llamas, so that would a lot of money in llamas too far off.
Yeah. Uh, so my, I uh, I have my own speaking and uh, and online education. Got It. Uh, business. But, uh, I’m also co-founder of a content technology company called contently that’s been around for about nine years now. Um, got a hundred and something employees and um, one of those tech startups that’s raised millions of dollars and now kind of runs without me. Um, so, so different things, but usually everything is around media and technology in some form. And I’m sorry to interrogate you. I know this is all, we have so many business owners that listen, and if I don’t ask, they’re going to beat me up. They’re so contently, what does it do? What’s the, what’s the core product? So the idea is that, uh, stories are a great way that humans have built relationships and made people care about things and remember things since, you know, we were living around campfires and that’s what businesses want to do is build relationships and make people care.
And that’s really the, the thing that undergirds social media and what’s called content marketing. You know, if you’re a business and you have a blog, it’s because you want to build relationships with people. So what contently is, is nine years ago, we a sort of building technology to help business owners manage content marketing so they can build relationships with customers. And we’ve also built a network of journalists, reporters, photographers, designers who are freelancers for hire, for content marketing projects. So we have over a hundred thousand freelancers who we screened. And so when a company like Coca Cola or American Express or some other business wants to, uh, make a magazine or start a blog or do some sort of video campaign, they go to contently and use our tools and, um, and our talent network to pull that off. So when did you, I mean, when did you figure out what you wanted to do professionally?
I mean, we, we will love to celebrate the successes of entrepreneurs way. When did you decide, hey, you know, this is what I want to do. So I, there’s a couple of things that I sort of trace it back to. One is when I was a kid, I read tons of books and I wanted to be a writer since I was real young. And I got it in my head. Somehow. I think adults told me that writing was not a viable career, that it was a hobby. And so I decided that I would get into technology and I was really interested in technology and, uh, and entrepreneurship was very interesting to me. And so in Undergrad, I studied computer science and business until I ended up becoming roommates with the editor of the school newspaper. And, uh, and I told him about this secret desire I’d harbored to be a writer, you know, all my childhood.
And he said, well, why don’t you join the newspaper? So I did. And I realized that I loved it. And that I could write about these things that interested me, interested me, business and technology and that way I could sort of live in all of these worlds and I could use writing as an excuse to learn about these things. And uh, and so it was really that point when, um, when I met this guy in joined the newspaper that I decided that I wanted to do something that combined these things. And that’s really been the theme of, you know, even the business contently is really, it’s a combination of, you know, the the ideas around journalism and writing with technology. And so I, I kind of have had this swirl of these things that have all intersected in different ways. I’ve always been the, the excuse, um, to do what I’ve wanted to do kind of for a long time since I was a kid. Combining those passions, I guess.
Shane snow, I’ve got a personal question in a business question. May I ask you a personal question? Sure. Yeah. Your last name is snow, right? Yes. Do you watch game of Thrones? Hmm, yes. Well, and you’re not, you’re, it’s over. It’s over now. But you’re, I mean you didn’t take on the name’s no, cause you’re a bastard from the north ride. I mean that’s really your God-given name. Wow. That’s pretty rough. I mean both those things are true, but my, my little nephew is named John Snow. He’s like nine years old. He must be so cool to be in school. Does he wear a man bun? Does he do dude, the whole thing and carries around the Valarie and still a sword. I mean, does he, is he really into characters or is he just sending it in? He’s a little terror. He does not adopt places.
That’s good to him. He runs into lots of things but a, yeah, he doesn’t stop them for Christmas. Get him a white dire wolf. That’s all I’m going to say about that. Now the business question is this, when you first start, okay, you’ve got this dream on. It’d be a rider. I mean, how many kids out there? I want to be that rock. I want it to be a ride. I want him to change the world. I want to be this awesome. I want to have a business that’s over a hundred people in it. They don’t even have to show up. So awesome. But there had to be, when you started off there had to be, I mean, touch and go. There had to be some times that you were like, what in the world am I doing? Did you tell us about the low point early on? Did you have a low point early on? I mean like low, like how low can you go? Like the limbo or you’re like, yeah,
the, the one that jumps out is when, so when we started the company, I started with two friends and uh, and we were running off of our own funds. You know, I kind of had credit cards that one of the guys had a significant amount of savings. One had a lot of student loans leftover. And then I had credit cards and uh, and we gave ourselves about six months to get to a point where we were either turning a profit or we could raise money from investors. And around that point when it was do or die and we were all running out of money. I checked my chase, uh, balance and it was something like 42 cents. I took a screenshot, I actually should remember the exact number, but it was under $1 but I was down too. And you know, credit parts of through the roofs in my, my actual assets amount of to less than 50 cents
I have, my favorite thing actually about this story is, uh, I, you know, we, we ended up raising money and uh, and paid ourselves a meager wage, but business insider ended up writing an article and I shared this screenshot with them cause I wanted to share for posterity. And you know, as soon after they write about contently raises money and what they wrote is Shane Snow starts with 42 cents is now a millionaire. And like neither of those things were true but it made for a better story.
Yeah. We don’t want the truth to bother him. Good story. Come on out. Neither of those things were truly great. That’s great. Now, you all have obviously just started to develop some really great traction with your, with your career. And I wanted to ask you before wes asks you a tough investigative journalistic question. When did you finally feel like you were gaining traction? I mean, when did you feel like, okay, this contently thing is gnarly, the, I’m not going to be homeless, this thing’s going to work. When did you first get that, you know, traction?
Uh, it’s hard to say there are moments of validation, right? And one of those moments of validation was when investors were willing to, you know, put money into the company and take a gamble with us. Uh, I think it felt like, like we were really not just sort of faking it til we made it, that we’d actually made it somewhere. Um, oh, there was, there was a revenue threshold that they say. So the company ended up becoming very much a software company. And they say that once you hit $10 million in annual recurring revenue as a software company, that nothing can kill the company. And so we reached that point and it’s like, there are still problems. You know, there’s still, things are falling apart all the time because it’s a startup and you’re trying to grow and you know, someone’s always quitting and someone wins. Uh, you know, there’s always some, some sort of problem.
Uh, but at the point when we cross that threshold, all of our investors told us, oh great. Uh, now you can’t screw it up. You know, you still gotta work on growing. And, uh, you know, it’d be nice if we doubled this or 10 x this, but there’s a certain point when we realize you look at the math and it’s like, no matter what, cause people are paying us on a subscription, uh, it can’t go away anytime soon. And, but then also the, the most validating part of that is looking around and saying, you know, we have, uh, all of these people who are now putting food on the table, walking into work, feeling happy with a job that, uh, that they love with people that they love. And, uh, and, and then, of course, this network of freelancers that that sends us emails about how happy they are to be doing the work they’re doing for us. That that was the most kind of like okay we’re making a dent that’s in the world. That’s real. That would probably be it
around that same time. Okay. Should, I know you mentioned it in that a little bit ago, that you don’t, the, the business kind of is able to run without you
for the most part. Now can you share with us a little bit how you went from, you know, we’re all us, those of us that have run businesses putting out fires all day long, how you transfer kind of transitioned from our emergency medic to business owner that can pursue a passion.
I like that analogy of emergency medic cause I know the first few years of very much felt like that’s all you do. I remember actually spending a whole weekend trying to figure out how to get rid of an echo in the office cause the sales people were complaining about echo and they couldn’t make their phone calls like, right, that’s your job. Um, for so long, uh, really what happened is after a few years, we’re growing the business and I had these two great partners who were good counterbalances to me and my skill set. You know, there’s the business guy, the tech guy, and I was the journalism and creative industry guy. Um, after a while we could afford to hire executives who were, you know, actually skilled operators. And, um, and I, I was able to hire a CMO, uh, who came in and I kind of ramped down as she ramped up.
And I actually took two months off as a sabbatical so that she could kind of, uh, stop having people go around her to me since I had been there longer and she was new. Um, but that, uh, hiring basically a replacement who was able to take things to the next level, uh, more reliably than me allowed me to, to kind of ease out. And now my role turned has turned into one of more of a thought leader. And, uh, you know, I, I pop into the office and, and moral support and I still help with big issues and big decisions, but the operational part is left in more capable hands and uh, and so it was nice to be able to afford to do that because the business was doing well enough. Um, but there is a little bit of a, an ego thing that is hard to let go of. You know, when you walk into your own company, you look around and you’re like, Huh, no one reports to me. Uh, you know, this thing works without me. The part that’s really cool. But in part it’s kind of like, Huh, well I guess, uh, I’m depressed now. So you know, starting new projects and uh, and having that creative, uh, you know, in journalistic side of me always there is helpful cause you know, I can work on other things and not actually be depressed about that. I can be proud of the work that we’ve done.
Yeah. I went to a Shane snow.com and that that side and that side is hot. I mean I’ve like burned my rent. Now that thing is really well done. I looked at inZ , your optometrist, you know when you go to bed injury when you burn your retina, it is bad when you sear your cornea, that’s not as bad as burdens. Right. And giving myself like Lasik, I’m looking at, if I look at it just right, I can like get the lasik laser going, shut things off. And on that site there’s a little button you can click called books. Where’s the, it turns out he’s got some, some books here. Wow. And I thought I would go through the books one by one and I’m, this is how it’s gonna go. I’m gonna ask you question number one about the book and then a West Carter will ask you question number two and we’ll go around the table and we will see if we can, uh, catch you and then go for the sketch and then hang up. Okay, here we go. So smart, smart cuts. Uh, what, what inspired you to write the book smart cuts? What’s it all about?
Okay, so that was my first book. I wanted to understand how innovation happens. We were in the early years of building our business and I had been using journalism as an excuse to learn how to build a business. So I was writing articles for Fast Company and Wired magazine, interviewing other entrepreneurs about what makes them tick, what their secrets were. And I got kinda hooked on this question of what, uh, what does innovation actually mean? And in what, in the pattern of history it do, uh, breakthroughs have in common. I mean, you look at businesses, you look at science, you look at art or politics or whatever it is, whenever there’s a breakthrough, what is the set of events that have happened that have allowed that to happen? And so in smart cuts, I explore that idea and uh, and the principle that’s called lateral thinking, which is essentially being able to attack a problem from a different angle than it’s been attacked before. And by stripping away assumptions or looking at it from a different perspective. And, uh, and so that’s what that book is about, is an exploration of how to make breakthroughs by thinking differently.
Wes, if you can not make chain cry with a really tough question, just to really just ooze, I’m curious on smart cuts,
is it work smart, not work hard or is it really just attacking it from a different perspective? Ooh, ah, it’s not the either or. I mean, I think you could say that working smart is better than working hard if you were to generalize. Um, but you know, working if, if you’re an ambitious person and, and that’s really the, you know, the book is kind of for ambitious people who want to build things or change things or make a change. If you’re an ambitious person, you’re going to spend every waking hour thinking about how to achieve what you’re trying to achieve. And you can either spend that in a smart way or a dumb way is how I would say it. So you can work hard or you can work smart and hard. And I think a lot of the great success stories that we celebrate, especially in, you know, business and science and, uh, entertainment, you know, these overnight successes, supposedly a lot of them, when you dig beneath the surface, what you see is their overnight successes. That took 10, 20 years of work and preparation to pull off. And that’s a lot of what I write about.
Z, I’m going to ask him one more tough question here then you can kind of, we’re gonna make him car we go. So this is the storytelling edge. Uh, what inspired you to write this book? Did you, were you, did you hit your head on the toilet seat? Did you, did you draw the flux capacitor? Boom. Here comes the book. Were you watching Drake videos nonstop? Where you, were you out at a foam party in Vegas? Were you raising emus and Canada? What were you doing?
I wish it was, it was one of those things we, you know, I’ve been trying to get Drake to show up to the office for a long time, but come on Justin,
was that the game’s yelling at Claire Anymore. It’s too busy massaging the rafters. Coach right now. Yes. Got them into the finals. Come on. Hey, hey, he’s winning. Don’t hate, he’s not here. He’s winning. Am I in my face back to you? Sorry. I think
it works. I think it works. I think it’s working for them. Actually. The guy looks really uncomfortable that coach every time he does it. But anyway, so the story telling edge is it’s really an outgrowth of the work we were doing at contently. But also, uh, my observation of the pattern of what happened, what has happened in my career as a journalist. And then in our business at contently and what we’re trying to do with other businesses. Uh, I wanted to look at the power of stories and why stories do what they do. Why it seems like when you’re getting to know someone and you sit down for coffee or you go on dates to dinner or whatever. Like we tell stories about our lives, that’s how we connect as people. And Yeah. What is it about stories that, that actually works in our brains?
And, and in part because I had, uh, caught onto some recent neuroscience that talks about basically the chemical responses in our brains that happened in particular, I managed to somehow connect with the, a guy who runs a neuroscience lab in southern California where they study oxytocin, which is neurochemical that a, that basically is like the empathy chemical. It would be the crude way of putting it. It’s like when you, someone gives you a hug or someone’s kind to you on the street, or like you have a child, your brain makes this chemical called Oxytocin, which is not the same as Oxycontin. Um, but just as, can you be missing Oxycontin? Can you be missing oxy toxin? Oxytocin? Uh, I mean if you possible to have a head cause you are missing it, you have of times. Can you be missing it seriously? Again, you have low levels of this stuff.
Sure. So, yeah. Yeah, yeah. It’s a chemical that you brain synthesizes and you can certainly have, uh, problems with that. Um, it’s not, it’s not the thing that would explain like a psychopath fee or, you know, if someone, not having human emotions but it can explain a lack of empathy for sure. What they find is that people who are experiencing a lot of empathy will have a, in their bloodstream. You can measure the downstream effects of oxytocin. And the thing that I discovered is that this lab in southern California was showing people a TV commercials and uh, and basically were able to show that when you see a commercial for a charity that tells you all about the charity and why you should donate, um, versus a commercial for the same charity where it’s a story of someone who’s benefited from that charity, your brain will generate oxytocin when you see the story commercial and a, and also people in these experiments would donate more money when they saw the story-based commercial. So I caught onto that study that they were conducting and a, and that started driving this exploration into what’s the brain science of, uh, of why stories make us remember things more, why stories make us care about people more and a, and some of it has to do with oxytocin. Some of it has to do with some other things, but that’s what ended up turning into that book. Z’s up oxytocin
and chlorophyll and just bigger words. Uh, what’s your question?
Well, sometimes I like to say just big symptoms and I can say big words, even though I don’t know the meaning of them, just to, I sound more photosynthesis as soon as I put the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllables. You know, it’s like, it gets weird. It gets, it’s just kind of weird out there. Yeah. Okay. Back to you sir. So, okay, so smart. So if you could go back and change one thing in that book, now that was your first book. So you had to go, oh, now you’re looking at it now. Do you ever go look at it and go, oh, I could have done so much better, or what show when you look at it now and how many years ago did you write that, by the way?
Uh, I think I wrote that like seven years ago. I think it came out about five years ago.
Okay, excellent. So if you could go back and change one thing and is there anything you’d change in it?
Uh, yeah. I mean, I, I hate reading my old writing
I, yeah, I feel like an amateur. I would, you know, I loved the stories and I loved the concepts and the research. I think I would do a lot more clear job of making my points if I were to write it. Now. Um, there’s also, I mean some of the stories that I wrote about it basically in a lot of my books, it’s a combination of history and stories about people who, you know, but the stories who don’t know about them and using those stories as a vehicle to get at whatever science principle. Um, there’s a, there’s one chapter where I wrote about the use of the pirate radio station during the Cuban revolution, um, as a basically like this hacker radio, how they use the government. Super interesting story. Um, but there’s stories like that that I’ve, I’ve now since spent time in Cuba. I’ve, I’ve been there a couple of times. I’ve driven across rural Cuba. Um, cause I, I’m fascinated by the history of Latin America and business and Latin America. There’s a lot of nuances to that story in particular that I, I know more about that I would have done more justice to. Um, so there are things like that in, in that book that I, I feel uncomfortable about. But uh, but it’s, it’s kind of like looking at, you know, your freshman year effort did a good job would do better now just cause you’re older and more experienced. Sure.
We have the final Trifecta, the unholy trifecta of questions. Oh No. We should go around the round table, which turns out to actually be more of a square attached to a circle. But the point is we’re going to round table. We will ask the tough questions. The, I’ll go first. It’s going to rapid fire. You go Mike. And since the intensity, ramp it up, there are more sound effects. There’s three. Harry,
Carrie wants to chime in.
You could send out a text message to all of our listeners right now, 500,000 people and say, stop doing this. This is causing you dysfunction. Stop doing this. You’ve obviously had a lot of success. You’ve had a lot of failure and rejection in route to the success. You’ve learned a lot. You’ve interviewed some very successful people as a journalist, as an author, tick text. Our listeners tell them what is one thing they should stop doing right now that’s wasting their time, that’s keeping them from having success.
Stop connecting your identity to your ideas and your work. I think you need a divorce, those two things and uh, and realize that progress and if progress and achievement and success are your goals, then those are at odds with hanging on to what you thought before. Every day you should be willing to change. And so getting that out of the equation with your ego and your identity I think is key. We’ll see. That was the best answer ever for the best questionnaire. I mean I get my make a point like we’ll get one because you asked it. Yeah cause I asked to get one mega point. He got one. It’s 1.7 million mega points actually. It’s never had that high of a score. It’s impressive.
Well I can get a free, you can go on and you can go on our website and you can reimburse those and you get a free drink gift shocks.
You have to free. There it is. Okay, nice.
See back to you. You can, you could go to the website and you can go to the gift store on the website and take those 1.7 million mega points. We just parlay that into, I mean, you could probably, Christmas is probably taking care of the sharing in the pinwheel. Just spin, just spins. Wait for, for a few weeks. I mean, it’ll happen. It’ll happen on something very important. We value your mega points. We value your megaphone, your local state government back Tuesday. Okay. This question on if you could go back. Okay. Let’s say you, how old are you right now, Mr. Snow? 34 so you’re just a young girl. Just smells to me on a diet of Kale. I mean, unbelievable Kaylin, sweet potatoes. It’s amazing. Wow. Wow. He’s just incredible to answer your questions. You don’t get that click and that we have a moment here. Okay. Uh, Mr. Snow. Hey man,
if you could go back, say when you’re 2014 years ago, we can sit down with yourself and say, [inaudible] how you doing?
What would you tell yourself? Little 20 year old, you know, punk kid coming up wanting to be a writer, wanting to change the world, wanting to grab the world by the tail and just own it by the tail and slap it around. Slapping around. Huh? What would you say to yourself?
I’d say more smooth jazz records. [inaudible] we know, we just saw, I just learned that one. No. Okay. So to my young self, don’t optimize for grades, optimize for learning what you want to learn. I think I spent way too much time trying to please whoever the authority figure was, you know, in school or whatever it is rather than pursue what I thought was important and it, it took me too long to do that. And I think the younger you are that you can, uh, you can do that the better. Now our next question here is z, this is such good answers. Your question about like gave you 13 mega points, that’s a, that gives you off to early lead there versus me. And then, uh, the question here answer much Mr. Snow was it turns out to be worth 14 million mega points, which has less money than Drake earn less.
I don’t know. What’s the color? Where’s the color hotter?
Wednesday caught it. Ooh. Was the cotton, is this our question? This the last
question? Well [inaudible] no pressure. I think I’m going to have to go with one of the ones that, uh, are my favorites, which is a lot of entrepreneurs
some weird habits. Um, you know, things they do a little differently. Whether that’s from a routine standpoint or you know, just the way you set up your schedule. Are there any skateboarding [inaudible] you have as part of your life that you can point to that’s a, just a little bit of a quirky park that’s contributed to your success?
Oh, I don’t know if it’s contributed to my success, but I haven’t,
that’s really weird. Good.
I can’t, I can’t work from home for whatever reason. I just said I can’t do it. What my, my routine is when I’m working on something that I really want to get done is I’ll go to the coffee shop and I will work until I get antsy and then I’ll go to one coffee shop over and I’ll do the same thing. And I’ll coffee shop, hop all day long until I’ve had way too much caffeine. But it basically, if I get stuck, I changed the setting and maybe that does help actually. I think, you know, you’re, you’re feeling like writer’s block or you’re feeling unmotivated moving a little bit, even if it’s, you know, 20 feet to the next store down. Uh, it helps me a lot. So I do that, that hot when I, I want to keep,
and there’s obviously a lot of coffee shops where you live at every 20 feet.
Yes. Yeah. Where is home? Where’s home, by the way? New York City. Oh, well yeah, of course. Now I have to ask you this question here. What the, uh, what listeners want to learn more about? Tisha, they go to Shane, snow.com they follow you on some Instagram or Twitter or should they just mail you a letter? How can they learn more about you? What’s the purpose? I met game of Thrones, what is it?
[inaudible] dot com has as links to all of that stuff. Uh, I haven’t posted my strong opinions like about game of Thrones yet, but I can do that real quick before anyone
hops on it. Oh, good. Shane, when you get off, you’ve got a Google search, Tulsa floods because we’re having some epic floods here in Tulsa. And so if you’re looking for a blasty blast, just come on down here. Ride the river, baby. It’s beautiful, that’s a beautiful thing. Epic flooding and is, I can say this sincerely right now. I’m looking on the podcast player and right now as of today, at this tee, at the time of today’s show, we’ve had, you know John Maxwell on here. We’ve had Seth Godin on this show. We’ve had guy Kawasaki’s, Wolfgang Wolfgang Pucks, the fun one, maybe 1,618 shows that have been released nearly a thousand and haven’t been released. So we’ve got 2,600 shows in, I’m going to say this isn’t the top 10% easy, bright energy, great energy, great energy. It’s going to, I really just say I do. I just really own the fact that he’s fat from the north and he’s, you know, illegitimate.
And he says the name smell. I mean his hair looks great to his, his, I mean a lot of gray hair products from me. Dude, bake our government, the thrive time show a government. A lot of times we run out of mega points to give away. So doctor Z has teamed up with the good folks at a sharp printer, just like our federal government. And he just prints as much as he wants. So two point something wrong. Otherwise we’re gonna have shutdowns here. We can’t have a shutdown. There’ll be no shutdown. Now we just gave you two point 1 trillion mega points. Yes it is. Wow. And a Drake sound effect.
Hey my friend. Thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show and hope you have a great evening. Thank you so much. This is the greatest show of my life.
Yeah. Yes, and we like to, in each and every show, the boom. Let’s do it one.