Sam Ovens Interview with Jake Millar from Unfiltered.tv
Jake Millar: (00:00:06):
Hi, my name is Jake Millar co-founder and CEO of Unfiltered. Today I’m in Los Angeles, California, and fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Sam Ovens, the founder and CEO of Consulting.com. A market leading e-learning platform that helps everyday people start and grow their own business. Originally from New Zealand, Sam describes his first year in business as a miserable failure. After working 12 hours a day from his parents’ garage, he was $30,000 in debt and hadn’t made a single dollar in revenue. Consulting.com was his fourth business and where he really started to find success and the five years after he started the business and before he turned 28, Sam moved to New York city and opened offices in Dublin and Manhattan, building out a thriving global community of self-educating entrepreneurs today. Consulting.com says it has a thriving community of over 20,000 active students, has helped create 52 millionaires and has generated a collective $619 million in revenue for its students.
Jake Millar: (00:01:08):
Despite some controversy around Sam’s story and training programs, Forbes estimated Sam Ovens net worth at US $65 million. In this exclusive interview we’ll be discussing his inspiring story, including his early years in business working out of his parents’ garage and the most important lessons he learned from his first failed startups. For entrepreneurs just starting, we’ll be delving deep into product market fit and the process Sam has developed to gain a deep, powerful understanding of a niche and for entrepreneurs that are rapidly scaling we’ll be discussing how to build an effective high-performing organization, including how to hire the best people and build a scalable company from day one. And as always, I’ll be asking Sam his advice for you as business leaders. Sam Ovens, Good to see you. Thanks so much for having us, you state that your mission is to collectively educate every human on earth. What does that look like?
Sam Ovens: (00:02:00):
Well, I guess it would be like 7.8 billion humans educated in whatever thing it is that they want to be good at. So it could be educated in music, educated in rugby, educated in making a spacecraft, educated in biology. We’re not saying it has to be like maths and science, but just in whatever it is they want to do that they’re able to self-educate themselves and achieve a high level.
Jake Millar: (00:02:37):
Okay. So you see Consulting.com going into broader education for all of these different fields, as opposed to just being focused on helping people start and scale companies.
Sam Ovens: (00:02:45):
It depends. I only know how to teach people how to start and grow a business and how to focus on things and be more productive. And so that’s what I can teach. But we can provide people with tools that they can use to teach themselves. Right. So if you think about some base level things, if you teach someone how to learn, then they can go and learn anything they want. So we’re mostly focusing on some core principles, frameworks and practices that anyone can use to basically master anything. Right. We can’t possibly provide all the information in the world.
Jake Millar: (00:03:28):
So what would you say is your vision for consulting.com?
Sam Ovens: (00:03:34):
Well, It is to basically help people start and grow a business and to have the best online training that’s self service and accessible to everyone to start it and then once they’ve started it to grow it. And basically the best results focused online business school.
Jake Millar: (00:03:55):
Yeah, absolutely. You’ve always been very passionate about education. What do you think the biggest problem in education is today?
Sam Ovens: (00:04:08):
That it’s had the life sucked out of it. You know, it’s being like formalized and structured. There’s so many rules. You’ve got teachers, you’ve got all this bureaucracy, you’ve got like classes and textbooks and homework and assignments and grades and tests and exams. Then you’ve got the subjects that they teach you at school. I mean, there’s only a handful of them but there is like an infinite array of things a human being can actually learn or be good at. They think that if you’re not good at math, then you’re dumb. Right. But that’s not really true. You could be classed as dumb when it comes to math, but not everything else. They use these heuristics to judge a human based on such a limited range of things and it doesn’t really align with someone’s passion. When I was going through school, I was passionate about things that typically weren’t school, like building a go-kart or a tree house or race car, partying, things like this.
Sam Ovens: (00:05:16):
And so my mind was always thinking about those things. I remember I was always kind of getting told off in class for not focusing on the work, but the work was boring and the things I was interested in were no. I always felt like I must just be stupid and I’m not very good at this thing. Right. And the teachers and the system I was in basically told me that. In hindsight it was those passions and interests that actually lead me to bigger discoveries than I could have ever made by just trying to learn, by memorizing and following instructions.
Jake Millar: (00:05:59):
Yeah. So from those early experiences of your own, as well as everything you’ve learned through Consulting.com, what do you think that the ultimate education system looks like?
Sam Ovens: (00:06:09):
Yeah, so it should be peer to peer. Instead of how we have this false dichotomy of teacher and student. It’s like the teacher is the teacher and they know everything and they’re not a student. Then you’ve got the student who isn’t a teacher and they should listen to the teacher. Right. This is a really strange kind of thing because really the best person to teach is the best student. Right. Really learning is a lifelong thing and really someone might be an expert at like teaching someone accounting or finance or sales, but they might be totally clueless when it comes to how to write code. Right. So people can be a teacher and a student just depending on the situation and the other person that they’re interacting with. Right. And our education systems don’t deal with this at all.
Sam Ovens: (00:07:10):
And they also don’t personalize and adapt to the individual. So someone might be more visual. Someone might just like reading text. Someone might be extroverted and like talking to people and interacting with others. Some people might like just doing it alone. The systems we’ve got now just force people down these linear paths. If they don’t comply with it, it’s just like get out. Yeah. Basically the way I would describe it is the current systems, we treat it like a Henry Ford model T production line. We grabbed the inputs, which are the human beings like Henry Ford would grab raw materials like iron. Then we just put them on a conveyor belt and just take them through year one, year two, we just hammer on them. If they don’t comply, they just get rejected out of the system. What we produce out on the output end is basically just like homogenous, carbon copy, like obedient slaves.
Jake Millar: (00:08:14):
So you would say sort of intense and intelligent personalization is where the greatest opportunities are for valuable education companies?
Sam Ovens: (00:08:21):
Yeah, treat it more like you would grow a plant. So you focus on setting the conditions and the environment and then you let the person find their own path through there and self discover and work through instead of you trying to control every decision. Yeah. That way people can do things that they’re passionate about. They can kind of invent their own path and it’s more enjoyable, it’s fun, it doesn’t feel like work or it doesn’t feel like they’re being forced to do it and let the real world and the real environment give feedback as to whether that person is learning or not. Yes. Instead of doing tests, which are abstractions of the real world. Nothing beats reality better than reality. You know what I mean? So a test is an abstraction of reality. I would much rather hire the person who, if I want to hire a person who can ride a bicycle, if I can see a person riding a bicycle, I’d might rather hire that person than the person with a PhD in riding bicycles. And so we should use the real world as feedback and we should iterate and optimize based on our success in it. Not a test.
Jake Millar: (00:09:40):
Absolutely. Just to challenge some of that perspective a little bit. Would you agree though, that it’s important that in the early years that young people should be exposed to all sorts of different pathways and options, and then from there they work out what they’re passionate about? How early on should we be putting someone on a pathway to greatness in one field?
Sam Ovens: (00:10:01):
Well, before someone can even interact with anything, they need to learn the human protocols system, which is basically like a language. You know, the number system and the laws. You need to understand some fundamental principles and building blocks that you can use to then go and self discover and do what you want. So, yeah I think that in the initial stages there definitely needs to be some structure and some formal kind of roles. But then at a certain stage, once that person is capable of like self-awareness and autonomy, they should be able to start going off on their own.
Jake Millar: (00:10:46):
Absolutely. And you know I’ve known you for it for a number of years now. The first time I interviewed you, it must be five years ago now. Scary how fast time flies. I’d say over that time you’ve been driven and motivated by a lot of different things, going back five years ago sitting in Auckland you were building Snap Inspect at the time, as well as the early days of Consulting.com. You were very much into fast cars and nice watches and nice things. Then you moved to New York and you got this beautiful apartment in New York, and now we’re here in Venice, California and obviously over that time your motivations and aspirations I would say from my observation anyway have changed. What drives you today? What would you say today is getting you out of bed and what are you most passionate about?
Sam Ovens: (00:11:36):
Yeah. Well, the first thing that really drove me to start a business was like freedom and money because I didn’t have either. I was working a nine to five job that I really hated. It was just politics and bureaucracy and nothing real. And I didn’t have much money either. I had nothing basically. So those were the two things that I wanted in entrepreneurship. I saw it as a vehicle to help me get that. So my first objectives and goals were freedom and money. I remember just thinking like if I can just make a hundred grand a year, then I’m all right. So I was aiming for that, then when I got that, I think I wanted to fulfill some kind of childhood thing of having a Ferrari.
Sam Ovens: (00:12:31):
And I did that. Then I thought, “Oh, I’m just done now. I might as well retire.” Then I realized this is actually pretty boring and I actually miss building things. It’s kind of lame just driving around thinking you’re cool and having some money. I want to build something and do something. So then I set my sights on growing the money and building a company that could produce more money because I was still very materialistic. Cause that’s all I could really see back then. You watch movies of like business people and pop culture, and the public opinion always kind of shapes these business figures to be like this, you know what I mean? And so I thought that it’s just what you did and I thought that was the goal.
Sam Ovens: (00:13:30):
And so I kept trying to do that but I just kept feeling unfulfilled each time. I was feeling like now I’ve got three cars and this is a pain in the butt because now one of them has always got something wrong with it and they always need cleaning and now I’m thinking about the administration of these things. It’s just a total waste, it sucks and my life isn’t really any better. I just have some objects. What I realized then was business was a good teacher of life. It showed me what I actually enjoyed doing, which wasn’t so much trying to make money and buy things, that was actually quite unfulfilling and stressful. What I really enjoyed doing was solving problems and building things. That was what I really enjoyed. I realized that the other things were distractions from solving problems and building things. They were actually slowing down the building and distracting me from the building. So I realized that and I just got rid of all of that stuff and I just focused solely on trying to solve problems, build things and learning education. Things that I discovered in myself that were the true things I really liked. And then those became the main thing.
Jake Millar: (00:14:55):
Where you’re feeling like you’re having an impact on other people’s lives?
Sam Ovens: (00:14:59):
Yeah. So you want to achieve the perfect balance. Like symbiosis… You don’t want to be a parasite, right. A parasite will feed off of something else. It latches onto something and it feeds and there’s a lot of businesses that are like that. They’re toxic businesses. But the best business is one that’s symbiotic. So the whole is better off by it being there. It contributes something and the other thing contributes something to it and it goes around like this. So I looked inside myself and I was like, well, I like solving problems, building things, education, technology, how can I combine all of these elements in a way where I am helping other people and there is a symbiosis there? That’s what I found to be good because you’re working hard, you’re helping other people, you’re making the world better and you’re also making an income for yourself.
Jake Millar: (00:16:00):
Yeah and it’s easy to take money and freedom somewhat for granted when you have it, but for you, where did you find that line to be between when you were on that journey to obtaining money and freedom to that line where you felt like having more money or more freedom and such wasn’t materially going to make you happier. Where was that line for you? Because I think people perceive that line to be much greater and more forwards than it is, particularly as it relates to money. What were your sort of experiences around identifying that point?
Sam Ovens: (00:16:30):
Sure. Well really I think a lot of people when they don’t really know themselves they optimize their decisions to satisfy other people. Right. So they’re trying to build an image that impresses other people and that’s what they’re optimizing for. Not really themselves because the perception and the reality aren’t the same. I was definitely doing that because I thought that’s what you did, but really the reality of it was that it wasn’t really that fun. It’s when you understand that and the difference. Then you realize it’s more important to just say to yourself who cares what other people think and you just want to satisfy yourself. Yeah. So I would say that’s the point where you realize that. It’s like self-awareness and also freedom. I had this false belief that freedom just means you didn’t do any work and you just lied down on a beach or something. But really freedom is… I think a lot of people want it because they have to work because they need that money to live. Right. And so I still feel free. I work harder than I’ve ever worked now, but it’s my choice. You know what I mean? I don’t have to do it. I could not do it if I wanted to and I think that is the main thing is that it’s a choice, but you still are working extremely hard. People have a lot of false beliefs about these things.
Jake Millar: (00:18:07):
And outside of your work and obviously your family, your wife, your cats who are walking in and out of the shot, where do you derive most of your happiness? What are your other biggest things that you do today for pleasure?
Sam Ovens: (00:18:22):
Reading books and then just hanging out with my wife, like doing nothing really that complicated or fancy. I like simple things and I like hanging out at the beach or in nature and going out for breakfast, reading a book, learning things and hanging out with people that are interesting.
Jake Millar: (00:18:50):
Absolutely. You’ve always been someone who’s had a schedule that you’ve stuck to and sort of routines and the way you do things, what does that look like today? Monday to Friday, Saturday, Sunday, what does a day in the life of Sam Ovens look like?
Sam Ovens: (00:19:04):
Sure it changes a lot. The things that don’t change are that I wake up at 6:50 in the morning, go to the gym which is in my garage. So everything’s optimized so there’s minimal waste. I hate commuting, driving, waiting in lines. All forms of waste I’ve tried to eliminate. So I wake up at 6:50, go to the gym at seven then at 8:00 AM, I have a shower and a breakfast and then 8:30 I meditate for 20 minutes and at nine o’clock I start my work day. I’ll probably stop work at 10. So I work roughly 13 hours a day and six days a week. Sundays is wife day and I stop work at 10 and then I’m asleep by 11. That is consistent, never changes ever. But within that day, that changes based on what’s needed.
Sam Ovens: (00:19:59):
So for the past six months I’ve spent 90% of my time hiring. Just interviewing probably 480 people to find engineers and trying to navigate the whole ecosystem of talent in this particular field and how to get the best talent. Which has been quite a hard problem to solve. But at other times it might be creating content or it might be building a system to get customers or just doing a lot of admin stuff in the company to make sure that different problems are fixed and little flare ups that have happened are cleaned up. The pattern, the structure is constant, but the variable within that structure is always changing.
Jake Millar: (00:20:52):
Absolutely. Yeah. And you are out with students quite often as well, right? You do these mastermind workshops and so on.
Sam Ovens: (00:20:58):
So that happens every four months. There’s three a year for three days each, so nine days. Which you might define as a lot.
Jake Millar: (00:21:08):
Your story has been relatively well-documented over the years but for those that are not familiar watching this, I do want to go back to the very early days and talk about your early years growing up in Auckland and what your motivations and aspirations were.
Sam Ovens: (00:21:23):
Sure. So at what stage?
Jake Millar: (00:21:27):
I think, first of all, just like when you were young before you went to college when you were at high school. From memory your dad was a builder and mom was a teacher, how did those early years define what you wanted to achieve?
Sam Ovens: (00:21:42):
Yeah. Well, my earliest memories are just taking things apart. So like if I got a hold of it, I’d probably dismantle it. Even my parents stereo, the VCR players. If you remember those things. If I saw something, I’d be like, what is it? What is inside it? And I would dismantle it and I would just play with all the parts and figure out how they work. I always had a curiosity of how things worked, much more curiosity of how machines worked than talking to humans. So I would often like lock myself away in a room and just play with computers or dismantle computers, often breaking them in the earlier days. I did more harm than good for sure. I’d broke pretty much every electrical device we had. Then it was building like tree huts, go-karts. I always liked having projects where I was building something and like understanding how things worked. And I was introverted and awkward with humans so that’s basically my initial conditions.
Jake Millar: (00:23:00):
Most people can go back to that point in their life and say, my hero was Richard Branson or a Dan Carter or someone. Did you have any sort of early heroes, people who you really looked up to at that point?
Sam Ovens: (00:23:12):
I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that before. The one that I do remember the most would be Bill Gates because my first computer was like my first love and Microsoft and Bill Gates back at that time was the King of invention and technology. That’s the first person I remember. But then I got kind of derailed from these things when partying and girls were introduced to my life. There’s a period of blur in there and then I rediscovered these interests after that blur.
Jake Millar: (00:23:56):
Yeah. And then you went to university, you studied your degree and then what was the degree you graduated with? I didn’t even graduate. That’s right you dropped out, but you were nearly finished from memory.
Sam Ovens: (00:24:07):
Yeah. I was doing a bachelor of commerce.
Jake Millar: (00:24:10):
That’s right. Then you’ve got the role at Vodafone and you’re at Vodafone and as the story goes, your girlfriend’s friend invited you to the beach house which turned out to be a private Island. So tell me more about that experience because obviously it was very formative for you and and how that changed your perspective on the world?
Sam Ovens: (00:24:28):
Yeah. Well, there’s always this pattern in my life of like forming a mental image of what something is like a perception of what it is and really desiring that thing and then achieving it and then finding out that it’s not actually anything like that image and being quite disappointed. So perception and reality have always been themes where I’ve been disappointed. So I went to study a B comm because everyone else was doing a B Comm because apparently that’s what you did if you were going to be successful. I was just basing all of my decisions off other people’s gossip. Then I went and got a job at a corporate because that’s what you’re supposed to do. I went and worked at that office, but I was like, what are we even doing here?
Sam Ovens: (00:25:24):
I was like, does anyone do anything in this building? I went in to try and find the people that built things and they didn’t exist. We used contractors to do basically everything. Like the people inside were mostly proxies for external things. I thought this is so messed up. It’s all politics, proxies and PowerPoint presentation meetings. And I was like I can’t enjoy a lie basically. It’d be alright for a day but not for my life. So then I took this trip to this Island and it was like the first time my eyes had been opened to something. Back in old times when there was a town they would drive a pale like out a few hundred meters or maybe a kilometer out from the town, they’d put a pale in the ground.
Sam Ovens: (00:26:26):
And you weren’t supposed to venture beyond the pale of the state because it was dangerous out there. But mostly it was a control mechanism because if people went out there and learned other things then they could be a danger to the power structures that be. They had been radicalized in a way. So going to that Island was me going well beyond the pale of the state. So I was an obedient slave I guess from like being put through the system. Then I went and got radicalized out on that Island where I basically saw that there was a helicopter and I remember like Googling how much would this thing cost? And then I calculated how many years it would take me to buy this thing with my current salary. It was like a full lifetime. I thought something is wrong here.
Sam Ovens: (00:27:18):
And it like blew up my brain. I couldn’t compute it. I was trying to figure out how someone would even be able to own this. I remember asking everyone on the Island, what does this guy do? And they just said, he’s an entrepreneur and I didn’t even know what an entrepreneur was. So I remember Googling that. Seriously. One of the first things I Googled was what is an entrepreneur. And that’s where it started. And I couldn’t unsee that, once you’ve seen something and been exposed to it, you can’t go back.
Jake Millar: (00:27:52):
So true. It’s like when you see a different world and you think this is how life is meant to be. Yeah.
Sam Ovens: (00:27:57):
Probably the biggest wasn’t about the material things. The dude actually seemed like he was having fun too. It wasn’t like he was just doing politics. He was actually very counter the corporate way. He would wear linen pants and talk normally, there was no formalism. I was just shocked. I was like all of the stuff that’s going on back in this building is fake and everyone here believes a lie.
Jake Millar: (00:28:29):
Yeah. And the guy we’re talking about actually retired early to spend most of his life with his kids right so he definitely has worked out all his priorities. You got back from the Island back to Auckland, presumably back to Vodafone at that point, at what time did you go “this is it I’m done. I’m going to go and start a business and become an entrepreneur.”?
Sam Ovens: (00:28:48):
Well, I was still at university because I had two papers to finish. So when I got back from the island I was doing an internship at Vodafone and I was at Auckland Uni. I did this elective paper because everyone said it was easy and it was on like birds. I didn’t go to any classes because people told me that you don’t need to go to any classes. So I was sitting in the library the night before the exam, studying a textbook about birds and seagulls and things and I just was like, what in the hell am I doing? This is wrong. I remember I thought about it for a bit. And I was like no, stay, stay. Then I remember going back and forth like six times in my mind, then I said screw it.
Sam Ovens: (00:29:33):
I just put the textbook in the bin. I quit my job and school, I’m just going to a business. because in my mind I was thinking surely I should be trying to solve a problem and like add value to the world. Not learning about some seagulls. It was a good contrast of like, surely this is the right thing to do. Even though other people say it’s not right. So I kind of learned to go against the crowd in that moment. Did you have an idea at this point? I had like lots of different ideas and even just thinking about those ideas was more productive than learning about seagulls.
Jake Millar: (00:30:14):
Right. So at that point you moved into your parents’ garage. How did your mom being a teacher and all, how did she kind of deal with you making this decision?
Sam Ovens: (00:30:24):
Well, she was a little bit shocked, but mostly because I had such high conviction when I finally did make the decision. When you’ve got a lot of conviction in something people are often not as skeptical. You know what I mean? So people were definitely like I don’t know if you should do that but I was quite confident in my decision where if you’re only like a little bit confident on it, they can sway you a lot. But yeah.
Jake Millar: (00:30:57):
And those first couple of startups you worked on weren’t as successful as you hoped, I believe you racked up about $30,000 in debt by the end of that. So when you reflect on that time now, what was your mindset like and how did you continue pushing forward through a time that was presumably quite different.
Sam Ovens: (00:31:14):
Yeah. Well it’s just like learning. So it’s kind of like if you’re going to ride a bike for the first time without training wheels you’re going to graze your knee. So it was me getting my knee first and learning how to balance. So the first business I started was an online job board called promote yourself. I found a software engineer and locked myself in a room and spent a whole year building this thing and all the money I had at the time which was like probably like six grand or something. I never spoke to the customers, I never spoke to anyone about it. I kept it a real secret and I never validated any of my assumptions. I just built this thing based on what I thought people would want.
Sam Ovens: (00:32:06):
And then came the day when it was built and I went out to go and talk to people about it and they all just looked at it and they were like, this is cool, but I don’t need it. I keep speaking to people and they keep saying that. I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve built something. No one wants.” And so it sucked because I’d wasted that money and a whole year. But the way I saw it is I could just quit and give up, which made no sense and go back to the job or try again. And I know exactly what went wrong. So the best part about it was that I knew the cause. When you know what the cause is, you’re like, well next time I’m not going to make that mistake.
Speaker 3 (00:32:52):
What did you do differently the next time?
Sam Ovens: (00:32:54):
So I realized that you really need to solve a problem for people. You don’t come up with an idea in the shower. I think people, when they’re trying to start a business, they believe it’s all about this unique idea, right? Like I just needed an idea. So you don’t need an idea, you want to solve a problem. So I had that insight and then I was working still, actually working at Vodafone at this time. So I had my first failure while I was still at the job and I had a problem that I knew quite well, which was getting food for lunch down in the viaduct area. There’s no good lunch spots. And this was a real problem. Everyone talked about it, it was true and I was like, well, I could create an office lunch delivery business.
Sam Ovens: (00:33:45):
And I did, and it worked and it made money. But then I learned my second lesson and I actually quit my job halfway through that business. The second lesson I learned is that food doesn’t scale and that I really disliked dealing with food. So the problem we had there was that we solved a problem and it spread rapidly, like it really grew without any marketing or anything because it was such a problem. And I was like, aha I identified the true cause of that first scenario… I’ve solved it on this next one. But I learned a new thing that you need to think about, scalability. So I was like, all right, time for round three, then I need to build something scalable. What scales? Food is like atoms and it’s cools down and things, bits can scale well like software.
Sam Ovens: (00:34:43):
So I was like, all right, I need to solve a problem and use software. And so I then looked for a problem and I found one in property management and they were doing inspections by clipboard and pen and paper and with digital cameras then compiling it all into word office. It was just a lot of manual labor. And I was like, well, I could build an app for that. So I’m thinking okay, does it solve a problem? Yes. Then is it scalable? Yes. And so I got both of those. And then that one did even better and it took off and that one still exists today. It’s called snap inspect and I started it with the same founder, the same, like co-founder I had from the other companies. So his name was Terry. He had built promote yourself with me and that failed. Then he stuck around with me to do the office lunch delivery business. Then he went with me to do Snap Inspect. My lesson from that one was that I don’t like property management. And so I realized you need to not only solve a problem, it needs to be scalable, but it also needs to be something you’re passionate about. I just didn’t enjoy talking to property managers.
Jake Millar: (00:35:58):
You talked about identifying that problem that people have and then solving it. I believe with snap inspect, you sold about $5,000 worth of licenses before you launched, what did that experience teach you? And the advice you’d give other entrepreneurs about selling an idea before you actually have a product?
Sam Ovens: (00:36:13):
So it’s just the main resource we have is time. Right? And so anything you can do to save time is really important. And I burned a whole year of my time to find out that no one wanted what I built. So I was like well how can I go to that validation stage immediately? So I was just like well let’s mock up like a prototype of this thing, go to the market, sell it to them as a concept and say, it’ll be ready later. Do you want to buy this? And you can actually sell it as a concept. And if it takes off there, then you’ve got not only money, not only conviction, but a whole bunch of motivation to build it. Instead of doing that at the end, which is so dangerous.
Jake Millar: (00:37:00):
Yeah, exactly. What do you think a scalable commercial product market fit looks like? Like how can entrepreneurs be sure that they’ve found something that has all of those aspects?
Sam Ovens: (00:37:11):
So product market fit can only be achieved once the product is built and you’re iterating towards perfection and that can’t be done conceptually, the validation is just validating that your assumptions about this thing are true. It’s like, is this a problem? Will people actually pay money for it? Is this differentiated enough from other products available in the market? You’re trying to validate those key assumptions, which you can do theoretically, but then product market fit is a different beast. You must release the thing and it’s a two way interrelationship between the users and the thing. And that can only happen once you let them use it, watch them, listen to their feedback, iterate, and test things. It’s evolving the thing through a series of iterations between the user and the product. That’s the only way to achieve product market fit. What does it look like? Really what it looks like is adoption. So like when something is being mass adopted, that’s a really good signal. What if no one’s adopting? Then you probably don’t have it.
Jake Millar: (00:38:30):
Right. So if you were going to walk through the process from an idea to getting product market fit through those steps you’ve mentioned, if you were going to summarize that, how would you summarize it?
Sam Ovens: (00:38:40):
So find an overlooked problem, solve it with a simple solution, validate all your assumptions before incurring any time or financial costs, then build a scrappy version one, ship it early, and then iterate rapidly towards perfection.
Jake Millar: (00:39:07):
Such good advice. What do you think are the biggest false indicators of product market fit?
Sam Ovens: (00:39:13):
Fame, like any form of any form of thing that isn’t a user adopting it and using it? So like people’s opinions about something like PayPal, like you’ve gotta be really careful of false positives and there’s a lot of them in business, like for example, you don’t want to be focusing on how famous the company is or how famous you are. You want to be focusing on, do we have the best product and are our users in love with it and are they adopting it at a faster rate than any other technology? You’ve got to shut out all of the other noise. The hype. That destroys things. I fell for it a lot in my earlier days because I was basically iterating and adjusting based on an image based on other people’s perceptions of an image. So I messed up.
Jake Millar: (00:40:15):
That’s so true. You’ve said that your second biggest epiphany was when you realized that the key to success for virtually every business is to identify a niche and figure out their pains and desires. So talk to me more about this idea you’ve mentioned, obviously finding a painful problem, but what have you learned about niches and actually finding valuable niches?
Sam Ovens: (00:40:35):
Sure. Well, a niche is basically just something to focus on, right? Because it’s very hard to focus on the entire world. You’ve got a diverse population with so many different interests and problems. Sure, you could focus on the world if you solved death or you solved cancer or you solved some massive thing, but chances are you’re not going to do that on your version one. So you’ve got to pick like a smaller cluster to focus on. Even if we look at organisms in nature, they have niches too. So you’ve got to adapt to an environment and you’ve got to be competitive and you want to be fully adjusted and adapted to your environment. That’s basically what product market fit is. You want your company to thrive in this environment and the environment is the niche and when you focus on a niche, it’s so easy to understand who the people are, what their problem is, what their desires are, what solutions there are and what all of the downfalls of all of those solutions are. So you can really simplify everything. Then when you create it, there’s like an echo chamber when people within these clusters talk to each other, they copy each other and it’s easy to get adoption. It’s easy to target and market these people. It’s easy to understand them instead of thinking about the whole world which is complex.
Jake Millar: (00:42:08):
What is your niche for Consulting.com and how did you identify that?
Sam Ovens: (00:42:12):
You start small and then you expand over time. So the first version was back when it wasn’t even called consulting.com. It was right back when I had snap inspect. I had a problem which was I needed to generate money to fund the development of the software. To do that, I would sell consulting services on digital marketing to local businesses.Then I’d get that money and fund my SaaS company. Then I realized that a lot of SaaS companies needed money. So the first course I made was called cashflow consulting and it was literally for SAAS business owners who need money to fund development of their SaaS and they are willing to do it through the sale of services to local businesses. That’s how niche it was man. Still to this day nothing has just taken off or caught fire with the market so fast because I had such focus on that. Like that thing just exploded.
Jake Millar: (00:43:16):
I remember the booklets in the office. Yeah.
Sam Ovens: (00:43:19):
I couldn’t even handle what happened with that. But it was just evidence of what happens when you truly solve a problem that people have. It just catches fire.
Jake Millar: (00:43:30):
Yeah. And today, what are the biggest mistakes you identify your students making when they’re trying to identify those niches?
Sam Ovens: (00:43:38):
So what you want to do with the niche is there’s three elements. There’s something you’re interested in. That’s key. Then there’s an industry or a group of people, and then their problem. All three of these things should combine in a way where it’s like, I’m interested in this. I know who these people are and I can speak the language and I also understand their problem and I think I can solve it. You need all of these elements to be true for this to take place. I think the biggest problems people have when picking a niche is they don’t know themselves. They actually don’t know what they’re interested in. So they can’t choose something. Instead what they fall back on is copying other people. So they will ask questions like what is the best niche?
Sam Ovens: (00:44:30):
Or does anyone have a list of the top 10 niches? You can’t create that. And even if someone did produce that, then everyone would rush to those things and that’d be the top 10 worst niches. The best niche is personal to each individual, ones that you uniquely know. It’s something you’re in love with, you have a passion and interest is upstream of skill. So if you have passion and interests, you will develop skill. But if you don’t have passion and interest and you’ve got the skill, you won’t even be able to apply it. So that is honestly the main thing. It’s because a lot of people just don’t know who they are, what they’re interested in and they’ve become so conditioned to society and just copying other people. They’re like little self replicators.
Jake Millar: (00:45:21):
I was at a speaking at a women’s prison in Auckland recently and it’s not to say that prisoners are passionate about prison, but it was on like a business entrepreneurship course. I was talking about how there’s that concept finding a niche and owning it and building a business. I was like, you guys are probably better equipped than anyone in the world to like come out of prison and build something for the prison system cause you know what works and what doesn’t inside the system. You’ve got to find something that you uniquely know and can add value to. I think it’s great advice.
Sam Ovens: (00:45:51):
Yeah. You’d have to also be somewhat passionate about solving that problem because I’m sure some people get out of prison and they’re like I never want to think about that thing ever again. But there are people who probably, I remember seeing a startup, a guy who was in prison who then got out and he invented this system where you can communicate with inmates. So you can send a text or an email or even a phone call. Cause those are the common inputs that like people like to use but the only way to get a message into a prison is through a letter. People don’t write letters these days. So what they do is they allow you to send a letter through any medium, text, email or phone call and then they turn it into a letter and send it to that inmate. Because inside, he was closed off from communication and he’s found a way to optimize a message to get around the prison rules. That’s a great idea. And so you’re on the right path with them.
Jake Millar: (00:46:59):
Yeah. So let’s move on to the next section now before the rapid fires. I want to talk a little bit more about companies that are rapidly scaling. They have a product market fit, a customer base and are ready to pour fuel on the fire as such. I want to focus on three areas, kind of building an effective high-performance organization, then some advice around hiring, scaling, and sort of workplaces of the future. So starting with organizations at a macro level, you talk about this kind of full stack methodology for building a business. Can you briefly unpack this for us?
Sam Ovens: (00:47:33):
So it’s basically you want people who are generalists that are specialists in a specific thing. So it’s this false dichotomy thing. Like people say, “Oh, you should be a generalist or, Oh, you should be a specialist.” And the specialists only know one thing and they can’t interface with anyone else and they’re useless. The generalists aren’t really strong at any one thing so they’re like Jack of all trades. The answer isn’t on either side of this thing, it’s it’s to be both. So you want to have a broad range of skills. You want to understand the entire system, a company is a system and the best people in business and the best hires are the ones that understand all the components of the system and how they interact with each other to achieve an ultimate goal. So if they see a movement in one thing they know where that’s going to kick somewhere else in the machine and they know how to orchestrate in this whole.
Sam Ovens: (00:48:39):
Whereas other people who are just fixed on their thing, they only understand that. And not how that inter connects to other pieces. I’ll give you an example. We spend a lot of money on paid advertising, more than a million dollars a month most months on ads now. Our accountant is horrified to see that we spend a million dollars a month on advertising. He’s like “you need to cut this back” And I’m like, dude, we spent 1 million and we made 2, why would we cut to that back? He still failed to understand it.I just told him about 14 times but he does not understand the whole. So sometimes expenses can be investments and sometimes profits are bad. Like some people think profits are the Holy grail of business. Well Amazon the most valuable company on earth, at least for a awhile, worth more than a trillion dollars. It has only made a profit one year out of 25 in business. So Jeff Bezos, his strategy was actually to not make a profit and drop the margin so low that no one could survive. He basically went underwater with bigger tanks than everyone else and didn’t surface until everyone was dead. So you can use profits, it can be a good or a bad and costs can be investments.This is the type of thinking that I look for in a person they’re not these binary state things where they’re like, this is good this is bad. Costs are bad, profits are good, good company that doesn’t make profit = bad. You know what I mean? That is stupid thinking. I like someone who is unconventional and can understand the whole and play with it in unusual ways which no one understands, but that ends up coming out on top. That’s basically what full stack is.
Jake Millar: (00:50:41):
What do your hiring techniques look like to find those people?
Sam Ovens: (00:50:46):
A lot of like hard work and time. Talking to a lot of people was probably the best way. I used to hire people where I would just interview someone and say all right hired! I honestly made some hires in the beginning by only talking to one person and that always ended up being a really bad idea. Then I learned later on that you really need to talk to a lot of people, like a hundred or at least 30 before you really understand what good looks like. If you’ve only seen one… The way the human mind works is how do you understand hot without cold, or dark without light? So until you’re able to see the ends of the spectrum, you can’t actually make any accurate judgment. So if you’re hiring on your first shot, you have no idea what you’re doing.
Sam Ovens: (00:51:36):
So I’d say the number one strategy is that. Then we use recruiters. We don’t post on job boards at all. So when we hire, we don’t go to any job boards. We don’t put it anywhere on the internet. We just have a curated collection of about 10 recruiting companies that we use. We go to them and we let them go out and scout it. And then we funnel them into our system and we go through a process of about seven interviews. We have to interview about 152 people to find one. And that’s from recruiters? Yeah.
Jake Millar: (00:52:14):
How would you describe the importance of culture fit when you’re hiring? Because some people say it’s the most important thing. For you, how high up on the list is finding someone that aligns with the culture that you’re trying to create?
Sam Ovens: (00:52:27):
I don’t really consider it culture fit. The main thing I’m looking for is, I would just define it using three elements. It would be intelligent unorthodox athletes. Number one is just raw mental horsepower, nothing beats someone who’s extremely intelligent and able to solve problems and deal with complexity. That’s number one. Number two would be unorthodox. So that’s the thing where they’re willing to go against the crowd. So they’re going to form their own analysis on something and then they’re going to stand with the conviction. Even if everyone else in the world criticizes them, ridicules them, they’re not going to care. They’re going to stay holding that position and quite often they’re right because opportunity is something that no one else sees. So you don’t want someone who’s going to optimize for popularity, you want someone who’s going to optimize for what is right. The third element is like athlete. By that I mean someone who has a disgusting work ethic. So like they understand that being smart isn’t enough, being different isn’t enough, you also have to combine that with just ruthless long hours, working hard and being intensely focused for long periods of time.
Jake Millar: (00:53:54):
That can be hard to test though right? Because everybody in job interviews just goes on about how hard they work. Do you do brutal reference checks every time you’re hiring?
Sam Ovens: (00:54:05):
We’ve honestly found that in order to actually achieve the first two elements, It can’t be done without doing the hard work. So it’s quite funny how that happens. The people who do get to that level of understanding, awareness and skill, that’s only achieved through accruing thousands of hours of intense work and caring about it at a high level. We analyze the keywords from like resumes and interviews and stuff and we do like a lexical analysis to see if we can spot patterns in the process to find clues. We have found one with a high correlation, which is the word love. People who are really good use the word love. Usually the word love is reserved for talking about a human, like how I love my kids or I love my wife. Really talented people use the word love to talk about their thing. They love their passion, their job, their whatever. It’s funny if you read some of the best software engineering books of all time, like the art of computer programming for example, people usually at the start of the book they devote it to their wife or children, this one’s devoted to his computer. I’m not joking. But I’m thinking that this is obviously going to be a good book.
Jake Millar: (00:55:31):
That’s funny. You have always been a voracious reader. Is there any book in particular on like hiring or building great teams that you think is the best you’ve ever read?
Sam Ovens: (00:55:44):
Yes. It would probably be How Google Works. It’s written by Eric Schmidt. So he knows you’d hope.
Jake Millar: (00:55:55):
Yeah. So let’s talk now briefly about scaling headcount. You’ve written before that how in one year your company scaled significantly. You scaled to about 40 people, but you said your productivity and throughput actually declined. So what are the lessons you learned about keeping things agile and the productivity retaining when you hire more people?
Sam Ovens: (00:56:17):
That’s a good life lesson. We quite often think we want to move faster so let’s just put some more humans in the workforce. You know what I mean? But what happens there is that if you put a new person on a team then they have to be taught what to do. So you’re now taking your best worker offline to educate someone who’s not going to be anywhere near as good even when they come back online. So what you see by adding more people is you actually slowed down and it’s quite fascinating to watch. For example, scientifically this is like entropy existing. So for example, there’s an optimal number of components in a system for it to achieve the maximum output. If you want to bake a cake, two people might be faster than one but 30 people would probably be slower than one. You know what I mean? So you have to find this point of efficiency and what it really taught me is that instead you want to aim to have as small a team as possible but scale in terms of the skill level of each individual. So you can find an individual that’s 10 times better than another one in terms of this job and it’s way better to have one person that’s the power of 10 than 10 people that are the power of one.
Jake Millar: (00:57:41):
Right. In Silicon Valley they talk about 10 X developers right. Like finding those people that can have the output of 10 times the people.
Sam Ovens: (00:57:48):
Okay. And I’d say it’s honestly more than that. That’s not even an exaggeration. When it comes to knowledge workers and people who have to use their brains, it could be a hundred to one.
Jake Millar: (00:58:01):
Okay. What have you learned about scaling sustainably and efficiently outside of that lesson?
Sam Ovens: (00:58:07):
See, there’s only one way. So like the only way that you can get average people to perform is by policing them and running a command and control type thing. But that doesn’t scale because one person can’t make all the decisions.So that one’s doomed. The only way to really scale is to build a de-centralized autonomous company where you actually give people the ability to make important decisions. That’s the only way it can scale. However, the only way that that structure works is if you have highly intelligent people. So really if you boil this and reduce it down to one thing, it’s the number one priority of any entrepreneur to find the best people.
Jake Millar: (00:58:55):
It’s something that we see time and time again interviewing top CEOs, that’s what they spend most of their time doing.
Sam Ovens: (00:59:00):
I wish actually, you know that guy we went to see in New Zealand. Do you remember? He had that paint company that he sold, he was on the shore or something.
Jake Millar: (00:59:13):
Ah, David Levine. Yes,
Sam Ovens: (00:59:15):
That guy. He actually told me, I remember asking him when you and I went to see him, I was like, what is the most important thing business? He said it’s all about the people. I remember leaving that interview and I was like what the hell was that guy talking about? And it took me like 10 years to figure out.
Jake Millar: (00:59:33):
Absolutely. You’ve called communication a cost and destructive inefficiency. Why?
Sam Ovens: (00:59:37):
Because communication is when people aren’t doing something. They’re trying to understand what to do or what other people are doing and so no actual doing is taking place. So meetings are a massive inefficiency and you can never get everyone on the same page. It’s impossible. So most companies complain about communication and say there’s not good enough communication but really the problem lies in the structure of the thing. So you want to build small teams no bigger than four or five people and assign them a problem to solve or goal to achieve and let them be free at it. Give them full autonomy. And in that team each unit should be separate so they don’t need to talk to each other. They can if they want to, but they don’t need to so there’s no handoff. So someone isn’t doing the research and then handing it to someone to build it and then handing it to someone to publish.
Sam Ovens: (01:00:44):
That is the worst idea in the world because there’s going to be so much lag. One team should handle something from end to end. Communication happens without even thinking that you are communicating when you have a team of about four or five. It’s organic and natural. It’s when you go above that where all the problems occur. So it’s not that I’m saying people should never speak, it’s just that you don’t want to have to stop. It should just be naturally occurring and you have to do that through an autonomous distributed structure of teams.
Jake Millar: (01:01:19):
The interesting thing about talking to you is you’ve got your own experiences but also those of the 20 odd thousand customers you’ve worked with over the years. So from your experience teaching these entrepreneurs to build their businesses, what are the most common problems you see people facing when it comes to scaling their organizations from say like 10 to 30 or 10 to 50 people?
Sam Ovens: (01:01:42):
Hm. That’s a good question. So it’s absolutely the people at that stage. You generally don’t get 10 employees without validating some idea and making some kind of money. So at that stage it’s always people. Once you’ve got a company with a customer and a product that makes the money, the leading cause of death is talent.
Jake Millar: (01:02:09):
Is there any form of structure that a 50 person organization would need that a five person wouldn’t? What would you say the biggest things you need to be building out from a structure perspective as you get bigger?
Sam Ovens: (01:02:25):
That’s a good question and it’s having clearly defined principles of how to make decisions. Like you see this as a recurring pattern across the best companies in the world. Amazon, they talk about the principles in every meeting, Bezos talks about the principles in every letters to share holders. Same with Google, and all the best companies in the world. They have clear principles that haven’t changed from day one and a clear mission statement with a clear goal. If people don’t know what they’re trying to do, they’re not going to go anywhere. They’re going to just loop. And so that North star needs to be clearly defined and then you need principles that people can use to make decisions. These are like heuristics. So if we’re in a scenario and we have to choose between this or that, what do we do?
Sam Ovens: (01:03:24):
You look at the principles of how we do that. Most companies will never create this. This is basically the DNA code for the organism as it scales. Cause you can never make all the decisions yourself beyond like five people. So you’ve got to have people make decisions and aim towards the same thing in a consistent manner and that’s the principles. They have to be clear and people actually have to use them. I remember Enron, its principles were like honesty and integrity and stuff, but obviously they didn’t have any of that. So it’s not enough to just write them on a piece of paper. You actually need to live and breathe them.
Jake Millar: (01:04:11):
Banks and so are the worst at that right.
Sam Ovens: (01:04:13):
They always put honesty and integrity. Be careful when someone says they have integrity. It’s a warning sign.
Jake Millar: (01:04:19):
Yeah, exactly. So just before we head into the rapid fire questions, I want to briefly touch on workplaces. I know you’ve got some strong thoughts around this. You’ve said that you think open plan offices are a bad idea and a stupid modern day corporate fad. What do you think the most productive space looks like today?
Sam Ovens: (01:04:36):
I’ve thought about this a lot. Basically you break your teams into like four or five, right? So there should be an office for like four or five desks in it. So they’re sitting in an open plan so communication is fluid, but they’re closed off in their own kind of section like a cell. They’ve got their own couch area and they’re own meeting room and whiteboard area. So basically within the company office they’ve got their own cell. So they just are naturally talking and communicating, but they’re not getting by communication flows that they don’t need you hear.
Jake Millar: (01:05:22):
Yeah. That’s really smart. Are you a big fan of David Heinemeier Hansson talks about remote working and so on. What do you think of that? Like having a distributed workforce all over the country?
Sam Ovens: (01:05:35):
I don’t believe in it. Well, it depends right. So when you’re starting out, it’s great because you don’t have money for an office, you don’t want to lease and you don’t want to buy furniture and you don’t want to have to employ people and pay payroll taxes. There are a lot of annoying things that come with an office. So when you start, absolutely go remote. Best idea in the world. But at a certain point the communication is going to break and it’s hard for a culture to form virtually. The key thing with this is that nothing beats putting a bunch of smart people in a room together. You don’t even need to have a plan when you do that, because in one week one will emerge. And so a lot of the best ideas and inventions and innovations, they’re accidents.
Sam Ovens: (01:06:30):
An office is a Human Collider. Like as if the humans are particles, you’re colliding smart people and accidents occur. Those accidents are quite often the best inventions a company ever has. For example, Google AdWords was an accident. Most of Google’s billion dollar businesses were accidents and they’re very adamant on having people in-person because something happens when you put people together where they lose their sense of self and they adopt a hive mind. They become one consciousness and they think and act as a whole. Whereas when you’ve got people separate they’re just thinking about themselves and it’s very hard. Can you imagine like sports teams training virtually, come on.
Jake Millar: (01:07:26):
Yeah. And also the hustle and the culture and the sort of camaraderie that comes with having everyone.
Sam Ovens: (01:07:30):
You adopt one mind, like you become one thing.
Jake Millar: (01:07:35):
It’s even like traveling by yourself versus traveling with friends. Right. Like you do sort of feel different.
Sam Ovens: (01:07:40):
Or remote can be good if you have really bad people. Cause no one wants to be around anyone else so you’re already doing that anyway.
Jake Millar: (01:07:49):
Yeah, exactly. And just finally on this topic, there’s a lot of talk at the moment around the future of work with people talking about four day work weeks and we’ve talked about remote working and so on. What do you think the future of work looks like? That’s a very broad question but.
Sam Ovens: (01:08:07):
Sure. So, you know, I think that good times create weak people and weak people create bad times and bad times create good people who are strong people and strong people create good times. Right now we’re in very good times, too good. So I think the people are getting pretty weak. I see it because I’m looking at the petty sort of things people complain about. Buying $15 juices complaining because they have to work till three o’clock and they’re only allowed to bring two dogs to the office. Just things where you are like people haven’t experienced hardship for a long time. And so I think that’s coming and it’s going to shake a lot of people. I think that there’s a lot of talk about three-day work weeks and stuff. I mean, it’s a nice utopia kind of thought but if we look at history it looks like most people are going to get one hell of a wake-up call and we’re going to go back to like less complaining, more doing,
Jake Millar: (01:09:09):
I remember talking to Peter Beck from rocket lab about the same thing. He’s like nobody ever changed the world working 40 hours a week.
Sam Ovens: (01:09:15):
Exactly and besides, really talented people they enjoy what they do. They don’t see it as work. Again, we’ve got this slight false dichotomy. You’ve got play and work, but that’s silly. Really good people combine the two. Work is play. Work is fun. They enjoying themselves and they want to do it a lot.
Jake Millar: (01:09:41):
Couldn’t agree more. So we are going to do the rapid fire questions to finish. So the personal computer, the internet, the smartphone have all catalyzed major shifts in the way we all live and work. What do you think one of the next major technological kind of waves that’s truly going to transform the world is going to be?
Sam Ovens: (01:09:57):
Well, probably like some new interface because all of those things have been interfaces. So that brain thing where you think and it communicates back in brain technology and having a way to communicate with machines and networks that doesn’t include a screen, a keyboard and a mouse.
Jake Millar: (01:10:14):
Okay. And you’ve spent about 15 million of your own money advertising with a large chunk of that going to Facebook, what’s the secret of a good Facebook ad?
Sam Ovens: (01:10:25):
To know your numbers and to measure everything and to only spend money if you make more than you spend. That’s as simple as it is, but no one does that and so advertising is an expense for them and they can’t spend unlimited amounts, but when you make money from it you’d be silly not to. It’s like if you put a dollar into a machine and two bucks comes out. Why would you have a budget? How do you have a budget? Budgets are for people that are losing money.
Jake Millar: (01:10:57):
There’s a lot of talk at the moment around these social media giants in particular Facebook’s been kind of beaten up quite a lot over the past 12 months it’d be fair to say. What do you think the future of Facebook is? Do you think it will be here in 10 years?
Sam Ovens: (01:11:09):
It’s not good for a human to be on that thing. You know? Like you’re looking at other people and you’re worrying about like just weird things. It’s a waste of time. It’s unproductive, you don’t learn things. It’s an echo chamber. It’s not good for you. So I think it will end, I think it’s already ending. I talked to a lot of people who haven’t used it in forever. And what is emerging is Reddit honestly. Like that’s the number four most popular websites in the world, it goes Google, YouTube, Facebook, and then Reddit. And I think in the next two years Reddit will overtake Facebook. It’s very close if you just look at the stats.
Jake Millar: (01:11:58):
Okay. And what lesson in business has taken you the longest to learn?
Sam Ovens: (01:12:03):
It is probably the hiring good people, seriously. That took a lot of hammering to learn that one.
Jake Millar: (01:12:13):
How do you learn new things today? You’ve read a lot, but do you have other ways of consuming content and acquiring new skills and knowledge?
Sam Ovens: (01:12:22):
Yeah, I would say it’s like immersion and obsession. So if I want to learn something, I just think about it, dream about it, read about it. Find people who are interested in being obsessed with me and be obsessed together. Just doing anything I can to learn more about that thing. And testing, playing with things, experimenting, if you’re not obsessed with it like you can’t really get very good.
Jake Millar: (01:12:52):
When people ask me about you and my time with you I always say that you’re one of the most well-read people that I’ve ever met. So when you think about all of the books you’ve ever read, what would you say the two or three that have had the most transformative impact on your life?
Sam Ovens: (01:13:07):
Sure. So the ones that come to mind right now is like Ray Dalio Principles. That’s a great book. And then Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. It’s to do with your brain and like delusions that you have and how to deal with those. And then the third one would be the Everything Store. It’s about Jeff Bezos and that’s just such a great story. I’ll add one more which is Made in America by Sam Walton.
Jake Millar: (01:13:40):
You’ve read all the annual reports of Amazon and most companies. You really spent a lot of time. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from the Amazon reports?
Sam Ovens: (01:14:03):
The principles, like that’s what I was saying before. A company needs to have them. Bezos stated in 1995 or 1993, he stated the mission, the goal, and he stated the principles. And then that is exactly what they did for like 25 years. They never changed it. It was that. They held that constant and everyone internalized that and actually made it a part of themselves. That DNA pattern just replicated itself through the entire organization and it still has today, even when Amazon is 600,000 employees. All of them still to this day have that in them. Which is the most important thing.
Jake Millar: (01:14:50):
What advice would you give to an ambitious 18 year old who wants to use a Steve jobs phrase? Leave a dent in the universe.
Sam Ovens: (01:14:59):
What’s my advice for them? To do it. Just try and find what you’re interested in. Think back to your childhood,, ask your parents and people who know you, like what do I not shut up about? What am I obsessed about? Find that out, just understand yourself. Then you’ll start to understand your passions and interests and then in that area, find a problem people have and try to align your passion with a problem other people have and a business.
Jake Millar: (01:15:38):
What single entrepreneur in the world do look up to the most to toda and why?
Sam Ovens: (01:15:48):
If I had to say one, that would be Jeff Bezos.
Jake Millar: (01:15:51):
What about him specifically, other than the fact that he’s the wealthiest person in the world?
Sam Ovens: (01:15:56):
Yeah. So it’s not that at all. It’s mostly like that he has built the most successful company of all time basically and that he has stuck to his principles for so long. He used a counterintuitive strategy. Everyone ridiculed him for years and thought he was an idiot and even wall street and the press. Everyone’s been on his back in the early days and he didn’t flinch. He had a conviction, everyone in the world thought he was wrong and he didn’t flinch. And then it prevailed with that. He was right. So he’s got these elements. He’s intelligent, he’s unorthodox, and he’s an athlete. That guy is relentless. He even owns the domain relentless.com. He was going to call Amazon Relentless, but then some PR people said “Yeah, I don’t know, Jeff. Probably, probably not that friendly” but you can tell he is that guy. You don’t want to be up against that dude. Even Elon Musk says you don’t want to be up against that dude in his book because he’s ruthless. Yeah and he stuck to it for like 25 years. He hasn’t relented. So he has all the attributes I admire and he’s proven it.
Jake Millar: (01:17:18):
I asked you this question maybe five years ago, you’re a little bit closer to this age so I wanted to ask it again today. What do you think the 16 year old boy you were would think of the man you’ve become?
Sam Ovens: (01:17:29):
It’s interesting. I don’t even know how to think about that. How would the 16 year old me think of who I am now? Probably like, this is kind of obvious But it would be “I had no idea.” You know what I mean? I didn’t understand myself but seeing it now it’s so obvious that that’s all along what I should have done.
Jake Millar: (01:18:02):
Yeah. If you were looking back at that 16 year old version of yourself giving him one piece of advice today, what would you say to him?
Sam Ovens: (01:18:09):
Jake Millar: (01:18:11):
What would you say is the quality of mind or state of mind that has best served you during your success so far in one word?
Sam Ovens: (01:18:18):
Jake Millar: (01:18:18):
A question that was a Peter Thiel question, I remember you originally told me to read zero to one. What’s something you believe to be true that not many people agree with you on?
Sam Ovens: (01:18:31):
That the way humans think fundamentally is wrong and that we can’t even use it to comprehend what this life is. We think of start and end what came before the start? Our binary state thinking like hot, cold, on, off, start, end. It does not work to analyze what this life is. So no one’s gone back and reinvented human logic from day one. So I think in the future we are going to realize that and it’ll totally change everything.
Jake Millar: (01:19:14):
When you look back over everything so far from having had that earlier epiphany on the private Island to starting your first businesses in your parents’ garage to creating you say 60 millionaire students with many more on the way I’m sure and helping over 20,000 people with their dreams, what are you most proud of today when you look back over your success so far?
Sam Ovens: (01:19:34):
It would probably be just finding a little spot in the world where I can actually help other people in a way that also helps me, that I also enjoy. Like I never knew you could have all of these things. I thought business was couldn’t be like that, but it can if you if you engineer it correctly, most people don’t. But when you get it like that there’s nothing better I can imagine to have.
Jake Millar: (01:20:03):
What do you want now? Like, what’s next?
Sam Ovens: (01:20:08):
Well to achieve the mission. So the mission is big and it’s like that because all the other goals, I set were small and I kept achieving them. So I just thought, even the ones I set that were big I remember when I set them, I was like, dude, you’re delusional. Then they came true. So I was like, all right, screw it. Let’s just go really big because nothing makes you happier than just chipping away like step-by-step little bits towards some massive goal and making little progress to something big. So to achieve that and to just get closer towards it, make more progress towards it.
Jake Millar: (01:20:56):
And you may have just answered my next question. But what have you discovered to be the secret to happiness in your life so far?
Sam Ovens: (01:21:03):
To find out truly who you are and what you’re interested in, like knowing yourself and then adding value to the world instead of like taking from it in a way that also adds value to you. So being like a symbiotic partner to the world and knowing yourself. Just doing all of that because it aligns all of the major things in the most optimal way.
Jake Millar: (01:21:34):
And how far away is the the private Island?
Sam Ovens: (01:21:37):
I don’t think I would ever get one of those. That sounds like a lot of maintenance, a lot of headaches. I’ve learned that nothing makes me happier than building things, so when I see money now I think of engineers. I can use it to hire more engineers, I can get more smart people in a room. I can do more research and development. I can build things. And that to me is more fun than any material objects.
Jake Millar: (01:22:09):
Yep. Absolutely. Well, it’s been a huge pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time. It’s been very cool to see your story and your success develop so much over the past five years from when you were still involved in snap inspect through to today with all of the students you’re helping all over the world. So we’re grateful for you putting the time aside. And the last question we ask is what is your billion dollar piece of advice or the top bit of advice that you would leave for the viewers in the world of business entrepreneurship and making things happen?
Sam Ovens: (01:22:40):
So know who you are, discover yourself and then be that person, solve problems in the world and start your own company. Help other people and don’t care what anybody else thinks.
Jake Millar (01:22:57):
Sam Ovens thank you!