1. READ SIX THINKING HATS
At least the Wikipedia page. Edward de Bono’s best-selling book is a great way to ensure you don’t get stuck in a mental rut. Sure, being critical of a project and saying why it can’t be done (“Black Hat” thinking) is useful, but it’s also the easiest hat to wear and can be a real bummer when it’s overdone.
Solving problems is all about knowing a guy who knows a guy. You establish a network by staying connected, and that means staying curious. We could have paid an animal service $500 to provide a dog for this Converse spot, but I knew my friend Judi’s dog Boner would be perfect, and Judi was happy to get $100 to see Boner on TV. If you smoke pot and watch TV with your girlfriend all weekend, you’re not “recharging your batteries.” You’re falling behind.
3. MAKE PROFITS A PRIORITY
Make your To Do list away from your desk and do it at night when you have perspective. After it’s done, put the ones that make money at the top of the list. Sure, your friend needs help with his Web page and he’s promised you equity down the line if it ever goes anywhere, but the guy who wants you to go over his book proposal is offering cash now.
4. IDEAS AIN’T SHIT
Most kids today think there are fun jobs like working on the show Eagleheart. Then there are shitty jobs like highway construction. They’re both the same job. Sure, it’s fun to come up with funny ideas for the show, but that only takes a minute. The other 99% of the show is lugging the equipment to each spot, setting up the lighting, getting the boom right, transcoding the footage, getting the notes on the first cut, and so on forever. This is why it’s so important to have summer jobs as a kid. You learn how to bust your ass.
5. ASSEMBLE A HIPSTER, A HACKER, AND A HUSTLER
If you follow the money and keep doing the thing that’s generating a profit, eventually a company will form. Ad agency exec Rei Inamoto said, “To run an efficient team, you only need three people: a Hipster, a Hacker, and a Hustler.” That is, you need a pop-culture nerd that’s obsessed with creating content, a tech geek that can make sure your project works on all platforms with no glitches, and a salesman who is out schmoozing clients and bringing in money. Everyone is replaceable at any company, but my experience has been that the Hustler is the least replaceable.
6. LET THE JEWS RUN YOUR MONEY
Years ago I asked Def Jam cofounder Russell Simmons about the secret to his success. He told me he did well because he didn’t get caught up with “his peeps” and only hired people based on who was good at their job. We talked for a while and I started to get the feeling he was really saying, “I didn’t just start hiring blacks because I’m black. I hired Jews because they’re good with money.” It seems like every time I see a financial mess—from American Indian tribal issues to charity issues with the Catholic Church—it’s linked to a lack of Jews. The Nazis might still be around today if they had let some Jews in their wallets.
7. CREATE A “CRAYON CONTRACT”
Don’t waste money on lawyers if you don’t yet have a company. Draw up your own contract among the partners that clearly explains who gets what equity and why. Within this contract, there should be a “What if I fuck your wife?” clause that lays out exactly what will happen if you end up hating each other’s guts. These contracts should always be signed in blood. (I find biting your inner lip is the most painless way.) There were a lot of arguments when I started my most recent company and when things got bad, I pictured the blood-soaked contract I had sitting in my safe and it gave me peace.
8. WORD IS BOND
A man is only as good as his word, so don’t flake or say things you don’t mean. “I give you my word” should have gravitas and that is something you need to earn. When someone commits to something with a handshake and later bails out, I mentally put him into a compartment labeled “Bullshitter,” where he remains forever.
9. BONE UP
Know your industry. Read Fast Company if you’re doing anything remotely media-related and read Handyman if you do everything else. That way, when someone brings up that new thing people are doing during a meeting, you’ve heard about it. Shark Tank is another helpful show for new entrepreneurs.
10. ASSIGN A PRESIDENT TO EVERY PROJECT
It’s very groovy to treat everything like a hippie commune, but the buck has to stop somewhere. There has to be a boss for every project and it’s his job to make sure everyone is hitting their deadlines and the client feels like his voice is being heard from soup to nuts. The president gets the high fives when the job is done, but it’s also his head on the chopping block if something goes wrong.
11. STAY NEGATIVE
Basking in success leaves you vulnerable to failure. Before going out and getting wasted to celebrate a finished project, have a meeting with everyone involved and discuss what went wrong. Who screwed up, what was late, and how can we make sure that never happens again? That’s the worst part of being an entrepreneur. You’re constantly worrying about worst-case scenarios so when they happen, you’ve already mapped out a plan to solve them.
12. DON’T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER
When I ran a tree-planting company, our competition had a motto: “Do your best and fuck the rest.” They promptly went bankrupt and lost their contract, which meant the house their owner used as collateral now belonged to the government. You don’t hope things will work out. You make them work. If that means staying up all night and doing it yourself, then stay up all night and do it yourself.
13. START WITH WHAT THEY NEED
If someone is looking for a thirty-second clip from a celebrity, you only need to interview said star for about ten minutes. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen writers transcribe an hour-long interview and then spend days trying to whittle 20,000 words down to 500. If they only need 500 words you can bang it out on the phone without even taking notes. I call this the “red book syndrome.” In English, we use the adjective “red” first and then the noun “book,” so your brain first has to take this infinite blob of red and then cram it into a tiny book. In French, they say le livre rouge, so you start with the book and then only need to fill in enough red to cover the front. Stop wasting your time with a big blob of red. Start with the book first. Start only with what you need.
14. SUCK IT UP
If you turn off your phone on Friday at 5 and consider yourself off the clock, you’re not an entrepreneur. Owning a business is like being a fireman, and if a client is in town and feels like grabbing a beer, put your shoes back on, kiss your wife goodnight, and get out there.
15. SAY YES TO EVERYTHING
When someone discusses a partnership or a huge project that could take years, your first instinct is often to sit around and poke holes in the plan. That’s not healthy. Instead, say yes to everything and talk about all the positive things this could lead to. Let the Jews hammer out the details when you get the contract. If it makes dollars, it makes sense.
16. THE BALL IS NOT IN THEIR COURT
There’s this tendency (mostly young) people have where they think they’ve done their job if they sent the guy an email. If you didn’t get into contact with him, the ball is still in your court. Don’t just send an email; call him. If that doesn’t work, go to his office.
17. EMBRACE FAILURE
Even if you refuse to take no for an answer, there will be things that are beyond your control. If you bid on a contract and someone else gets it, you can’t have it no matter what you do. When that happens, laugh it off and move on. My experience has been that there will be about one win for every 15 failures. You need thick skin to not let all that rejection chip away at your ego. This is what’s so infuriating about Obama’s “You didn’t build that” quote. He thinks having a successful business is like winning the lottery, but virtually every successful business you see is the result of an entrepreneur banging his head against the wall 16 times. Great Wolf Lodge is a magnificent chain of family-friendly indoor water parks, but the guys behind that franchise lost their shirts on a slew of failed restaurants before this success. Here in Brooklyn, a local movie theater/restaurant called the Nitehawk is enjoying a loyal customer base, but the owner is the fourth after three went bankrupt before him trying to make it work.
18. NO HIGH FIVES UNTIL THE CHECK IS CLEARED
The job isn’t done until the check is in the bank and you can see that it’s cleared.
19. DON’T GET HIGH ON YOUR OWN SUPPLY
When there’s a surplus in the bank, it’s tempting to skim a bit off the top and dole it out to the partners. You should do the opposite of this. Always put it back in the company. Whether it’s buying more equipment or just renovating the office, you need to keep pushing the finish line as far ahead as possible. Even letting the money sit there and rot is better than taking it out. August is always way slower than you thought it would be.
20. DON’T FIRE PEOPLE
GE CEO Jack Welch says you should always fire the bottom 5%. I disagree. Most companies blow way too much money on HR. As with your own children, it’s way easier to fix a fledgling employee than to create a new one from scratch. Sit down with the loser and explain to him what he’s doing wrong. Give him three clear warnings so when it becomes impossible not to fire him, he understands why.
21. FIRE PEOPLE
One exception to the above rule is drugs. I’ve never worked with a functioning drug addict and they need to hit rock bottom on their own. He’ll freak out at first but inevitably thank you years later.
22. SHORT AND SWEET
The way to fire someone is to take a walk, quickly explain, “It’s not working out,” and give them their two weeks. Getting into a debate about why he’s a fuckup is a waste of time because you already gave him three warnings.
23. PAT BACKS
I hate this part, but you need to tell employees when they’re doing a good job. Money should be the only incentive people need, but my experience has been that it pales in comparison to feeling like you’re part of a family. They want you to like them and appreciate them, which is so fucking gay it drives me nuts.
24. SHUT UP
Nothing turns off buyers more than the 24-hour-a-day salesman. If a client wants to meet you at a restaurant for dinner or play a game of golf, don’t bring a marketing kit. These types of meetings are to see if you guys can get along and when you’re about to spend a couple hundred hours together, this can be just as important as competence. When you’re at the restaurant, shoot the shit about sports. Complain about your wife and ogle the waitress. While playing golf, focus on the game and ensure there is always cold beer in your cart.
25. AVOID MEETINGS
At Marvel, the conference rooms are superhero-themed. In the Hulk room, the chairs are all green and there’s a six-foot-tall Hulk statue grimacing at everyone. In his hands is a sign that says, “Keep it short. Meetings should only be as long as they have to be.” I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a meeting and watched someone pontificate blindly in the name of “spitballing ideas.” The vast majority of what’s done in meetings can be done via email so let’s all stop blabbing and get back to work. Meetings are for situations when you’re drowning in Reply Alls and it would be faster for everyone to get in a room for five minutes. Also, when holding meetings with new clients, please don’t do that thing where you go, “Let me tell you a little bit about what we do here” and then bore us all to death with the history of your company. Are we doing business? What’s the budget, what are the parameters, and when is it due? If I want the history of your company, I’ll Google it. The most efficient contract I ever received was a brief email from Alexander Wang’s people that said, “Can we shoot a comedy bit with Bon Qui Qui?” with the budget and due date attached. The next time we saw them, we were shooting.
26. DON’T BRING YOUR iPAD
I’m not sure men should even own iPads, but I am positive they should not be at meetings. No computers should be. They’re a distraction and they say to everyone else there, “I’m not really here.” If you have to take notes at a meeting, bring a notepad.
27. DON’T LIE
Nobody wants to do business with a sycophant. The “fake it ’til you make it” mentality is why so many people hate salesmen. Just tell them like it is. If you’re dubious of the word “organic,” diplomatically bring it up during a meeting with an organic food company. They’ll explain where the stigma comes from and what they do to avoid it.
28. HAVE KIDS
Muay Thai fighter Chris Romulo once told me the secret to winning a fight is to imagine your opponent is trying to take food out of your kid’s mouth. “It works,” he said, “because they basically are.” When you have kids, you stop thinking about yourself and when someone else is getting paid too much or a competitor is poaching clients, it’s an attack on your children.
29. GET YOUR HOME IN ORDER
Remember in The Godfather where Marlon Brando says, “a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man”? You don’t? OK, what about that part in in Mad Men where the guy who looks like a kid is thinking about leaving the agency and the headhunter tells him he has to get his divorce sorted first? No? All right, well, the point is that you can’t deliver at work when your home life is a mess, so don’t cheat and make sure your wife feels appreciated. A happy wife is a happy life and only a happy life can generate income.
30. SELL IT
Just as everyone is replaceable, nothing lasts forever. If you get a reasonable offer for your company, sell it. I knew a guy with a lunch truck and he got offered $80,000 to sell his equity. He hesitated because they were grossing that every year. Eventually he realized the food industry is a total crapshoot and grabbed the cash. His mentality was, “If I’m good at this food thing, I’ll get another business going. If not, I was going to go bankrupt.” He took the money and built his own restaurant called The Cardinal, and it’s now grossing much more than a lunch truck ever would. (American Apparel’s Dov Charney and I are also owners.) Conversely, I knew a guy who ran a T-shirt company called Subfreakie. A Japanese businessman offered him $100,000 just for the name. He decided not to sell, saying how it would only be $50K for him and his cofounder, and after tax that would be nothing. “Just start another company,” I said to him. “It’s fun.” He ignored my advice and they both retained 100% ownership when they went under.
Studies have shown “the key to satisfaction is doing things that feel risky, uncomfortable, and occasionally bad.” That’s what running a startup is all about. You lose money for two years, take out the trash, and get crapped on by people you need to survive. It’s a rough slog, but making something out of nothing and getting paid to pull it off is one of the best feelings in the world. It doesn’t just make us happy. It defines us.