"Every great success is a giant failure up until the minute it tips."
Jon Berghoff walked into Christopher Lochhead’s Play Bigger keynote at the One Life Fully Lived conference in Sacramento in 2016. Just a few minutes in, Jon realized that Christopher was expertly teaching how legendary companies (like Facebook) become that way by designing a category.
Over the last few years, Christopher has gotten one question more than almost any other: “How does ‘category design’ apply to me if I’m not going to be the next Mark Zuckerberg?” His answer is Niche Down – a book about how “small” entrepreneurs and people who are seen as unique, different or ground-breaking achieve great success by developing niches of their own.
He joins the podcast to share success stories of entrepreneurs selling crazy socks, sushi burritos, bundt cakes, reggae, surfing, and more – and you’ll almost definitely be surprised by what you learn.
- Why “hustle, hustle, hustle” and “follow your passion” are some of the worst pieces of advice ever given.
- The reason category design has nothing to do with personal branding – and why the notion of personal branding is disastrous for business.
- Why now is the worst time in history for American entrepreneurship and what Christopher is doing to change this.
- The reasons people who are different – and don’t fit in – are almost always the people who make the biggest differences.
- How to escape competing in the current paradigm, make the world see things the way you do, and evangelize the problem – not the solution – in order to achieve massive success.
- How you can stay true to yourself and your vision while also protecting your niche from competitors.
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CLICK HERE to learn more about Christopher’s book – Niche Down: How to Become Legendary by Being Different
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Jon: Christopher, we’re here live with the entire Miracle Morning universe. By now they’re in 64 countries and four planets as far as I know.
Christopher: Four planets? Which planets, Jon?
Jon: Well, we’re going to go with Neptune, Pluto, Jupiter and, of course, Uranus.
Christopher: I think at least I have a lot of fans and friends. Is it in Uranus or on Uranus?
Jon: It could be all around Uranus. Isn’t it possible that didn’t Pluto get like uninvited from being a planet? Wasn’t there one of these planets that got “deplanetized”? There’s probably a word for that.
Christopher: No. They were just niching down. They’re just trying to differentiate themselves from all the other planets.
Jon: That was the most seamless segue in the most unexpected place to Niche Down. Hey, buddy. I’m so glad to bring…
Christopher: It’s great to see you, Jon.
Jon: Yeah, man. It’s really good to see you. It’s been a little while. It’s been a little while. I noticed as I’m watching you that I notice you’ve added a fluorescent cactus to your setting there in the live studio. Is there a story behind? Is there a name to that cactus? What’s the deal?
Christopher: There is. Actually, it hasn’t been named. Maybe you and I could name it but there is a story.
Jon: Yeah. I’d love to hear that. I’d love to understand that.
Christopher: So, as you know, I’m the crazy uncle to many children like yours, by the way.
Jon: My own. Yeah.
Christopher: The unwanted crazy uncle and, of course, if you’re going to be a good crazy uncle just like anything in life, it’s good to have a role model. So, I have a crazy uncle, my Uncle John, and when I saw him last, he wanted to give me this very special gift in celebration of Legends and Losers and he loves the podcast and the new book. And anyway, he wanted to give me a gift, so he gave me this fluorescent cactus.
Christopher: So, I put it in the studio and so this is my crazy Uncle John’s podcast. Not a podcast. What’s wrong with my brain? Cactus. I have podcasting on the brain clearly. But we don’t have a name for crazy Uncle John’s cactus.
Jon: All right. Let’s give it a little time and see what happens.
Christopher: Yeah. And by the way, I say crazy uncle with tremendous love and admiration.
Jon: So, where do we want to start? Where do we want to start, man? Is it another sunny day in Santa Cruz? I’ve been to your studio by the way and we were talking about this a minute ago. Standing on the balcony like 7 feet away from where you’re seated is one of the most, in my opinion, inspiring breathtaking views. It’s like a feast for the soul. You’re surrounded by these huge, huge, what are these trees called? What are they called? Monterey eucalyptus?
Christopher: Yeah. We have Monterey cypress and we have, all the way from a glen down under, we have a eucalyptus grove that kind of is around us. We have lots of palm trees and, of course, we’re two blocks from the beach here and, yeah, it’s quite the place.
Jon: You put up on your Facebook page regularly just little streams of you just like standing in the water. You spend time there every day?
Christopher: I tried it. My wife and I have a goal, and this sounds insanely stupid because we literally live two blocks from the beach, but we have a goal of getting to the beach every day and we’re lucky enough to live in one of those places where people vacation. And I used to years ago I ran. I’m not you but now what I like to do, I don’t go on super long runs but two to four times a week I like to get to the ocean and run along the ocean. And so, yeah, I’ve started live streaming little parts of my runs while I’m out at the beach going for a run because my friends in Buffalo, in Idaho, and Udaho and Chedaho and all those places, get a kick out of a bit of a beach view from every time every once in a while.
Jon: Yeah. You inspired me to think about connecting with nature. It’s something I already valued but when I came out and visited you, I’ve been there a few times and you took Scottie and I out to the beach and took us through an MMA workout which scared the crap out of me by the way. It really pulled the least manly part out of me by just being in the sand. It’s fantastic.
Christopher: Yeah. And the more I run on the beach the bigger my calves get and the stronger my feet get.
Jon: You’ve got that surfboard next to you. I just bought a paddleboard and we have a lake behind our house and we lived there for three years and it took me three years of thinking about paddle boarding on the lake and then one day I’d spent two-and-a-half seconds pushing a button on Amazon to finally get the paddleboard to show up at my house. This was like two months ago. So, I have a new like routine. I either start everyday literarily before the sun comes up or I finish every day as the sun is setting paddle boarding on that lake and it’s become one of my new kind of favorite things to do. I have one of the kids will lay down on the – if I go at the end of the day, at the sunset, the kids they lay down on the front of the board and we just do a lap around this lake and it’s been a great addition to my life.
Christopher: Right? And I’ve learned something in the last maybe 15 or so years which is and this may be a “duh” to most people. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just slow but the place you live like the physical environment you’re in makes a gigantic difference and for some reason, that idea is connected to an idea. Years ago, when I was living in Toronto I used to, and I still do, mostly I listen to podcast now when I run or music, but back in those days, I listen to motivational tapes. Zig Ziglar in the car but running I used to listen to these tapes. I remember listening to this Deepak Chopra tape and the seven laws about how to be spiritually awesome or whatever it was and one of the things he says is, “You have to spend an hour a day in nature,” and at the time I have a gnarly commute and I was hustling super hard in my career and I thought, “Deepak,” or have you heard Ali Wong, the comedian? She calls him Deepak Oprah. She packed them together in one person. Anyway, so Deepak Oprah like, “How are you going to have the time to spend an hour a day in nature like who’s got time?” And to your point, now I feel incredibly lucky because I spend a lot more than an hour a day in nature and whether it’s with the ocean itself or just to your point, enjoying the trees. We have a beautiful garden and get to play with my hens and all of that.
Jon: Yeah. You and I have that in common. I didn’t realize we actually had a similar – it’s interesting that we’ve known each other. We’ve spent time together. We’ve played together, worked together, and I didn’t realize your story is eerily similar to mine because I too had a period of time in my life, this was 12 years ago where I was listening to Deepak Chopra’s it was called like something like Synchronicity, the Power of Synchronicity where he had all these meditations and now I used to listen to those while trail running and that planted a seed in me. I went through the same journey but years after you did. For me, it was like three years ago. We actually, my wife and I got just fed up thinking about the things we value that we were living kind of like out of integrity with. So, in a matter of days, we put one house on the market and bought another house within a couple of days, sold the first house, moved our whole family across town so that we could back up to 300 acres of this natural preserve, so we could be in nature every day. And I know there’s more to it than I actually understand but knowing that there’s something to it and experiencing it, yeah, I don’t know how I would operate if my feet and/or my hands did not touch the earth every day.
Christopher: Yeah. It’s like, look, I didn’t grow up gardening. I grew up in an apartment that was slightly larger than a postage stamp in a much more urban area, but we have a wonderful garden and, yeah, there’s something about being in the garden. There’s something about getting your hands dirty. There’s something about getting your feet dirty. There’s something about chasing chickens around.
Jon: Where are the girls? I thought maybe you’d have one on your lap today.
Christopher: I went through cuddling with Beatrice earlier, but they just got out so she’s off running around right now.
Jon: All right.
Christopher: But, hey, we just got three new baby girls, three-week-old chicks.
Jon: So, was is that? Twelve now?
Christopher: We were down to five because we unfortunately just lost our beloved Gladys, so we went from 6 to 5. The thing about animals and you know this. You’re an animal guy. You’re a pet guy. The one thing as we all know one day that pet’s going to break your heart, right?
Christopher: So, unfortunately, we lost Gladys too soon and we were thinking about getting three new hens next year and we just thought we were so heartbroken over Gladys, so we got three new hens or little babies right now. We’ll be eight now once we get them integrated with the flock. They’re living in the house right now.
Jon: Nice. I was going to ask, well, what does that mean to integrate them with the flock? Is that a whole process? What does that look like?
Christopher: Yeah. Because the pecking order is this really very real thing and so you got to sort of integrate them slowly, otherwise, there’s going to be too much fighting. It’s kind of like when immigrants show up in your country, you sort of got to be careful about how that works, or some people are going to get angry.
Jon: Oh my gosh. Hey, speaking of that, what’s new in your world today? I want to ask you about and I want to talk about, I want to hear about Niche Down and part of how I want to bring this in to the conversation is I want to share with our Miracle Morning Community and with you, Christopher, the day that I met you and I don’t think you actually know this. The first day I laid eyes on you it was actually at I think it was at a 1 Life Fully Lived conference. I think it was in Sacramento and I think it was I think because all these details are all blurry. I think it was October maybe two years ago and I remember walking into the room about two or three minutes after you had started your keynote speech and at the time you were talking about Play Bigger and you’re talking about companies that had become legendary by designing a category. And I don’t know if I’d ever shared this experience with these but that was the first moment I knew or I guess I heard of you but kind of saw you directly talking about this idea of category design and I’ll never forget standing there in the back of the room thinking, “Oh my gosh, he’s describing something that I’ve had this like rare fortune and privilege to work for a company because I had been at the Vitamix Corporation where I got to witness a company that actually created a category.” They created the whole category of high-end premium blending. Like, before Vitamix was around, the idea of a blender was like a $50, $100 thing and they came along and said, “Well, no, there’s this thing called premium blending and we’re going to charge you $600 for it.”
So, I remember the first time I met you, hearing you talk about this stuff thinking, “Man, I got to live inside the walls of a company during a time when they grew freaking exponentially,” because they did the exact thing that you are teaching. And now, a couple of years later, why Niche Down? Why did you decide you wanted to bring in a message may be to a new audience or a different message to the same audience? What’s the deal there?
Christopher: So, the big thing was so the first book, Play Bigger, came out two years ago and the good people of Forbes were kind enough to say that Play Bigger is the new how-to guide for creating the next Google, Facebook, or Amazon which is just an incredible wonderful compliment and the number one question I’ve gotten, Jon, in the two years since Play Bigger came out is, “Hey, this is all really interesting this notion of designing and dominating your own niche, your own category and all that, and examples are great, blah, blah, but Play Bigger was really all about what you could think of as biggie entrepreneurs.” You and I write some awesome-tastic algorithm. We show up on sand, we rode in Silicon Valley, we raised $200 million from a bunch of big ding dong VCs. We tried to build a giant new category. We tried to build a company worth billions of dollars, go public, and ultimately buy Hawaiian Islands and stuff.
And so, that’s cool and I’ve spent most of my life there, but the truth is I started off my life as what you could think of as a smallie entrepreneur. And so, the number one question I got in the two years since Play Bigger came out is, “This is great but how does it apply to me and my career if I’m not going to be done next Mark Zuckerberg or whoever?” So, Niche Down is all about how smallie entrepreneurs can take the concepts of how you design a category and apply them to your personal life. So, if you look at every legendary individual we admire, artists, musicians, scientists, entrepreneurs, musicians, I don’t know if I said musicians, whoever, even politicians if there’s any that we still admire, they all share something in common which is they are unique. They were different. They took new ground and as a result, they became known for a niche that they own. And there’s been a lot of BS in the world lately about this, I think it’s one of the most damaging ideas in business, called personal branding and it’s a disaster.
And so, anyway, people started to ask, “How’s this different from personal branding and how do I apply this notion of category design to my own life, my smallie entrepreneur business, my youpreneur business, my solopreneur business?” And so, that’s what Niche Down is all about. It’s for those of us who are smallie entrepreneurs, those of us who are on our own or those of us who just want to really effectively position ourselves for success in our careers to answer the question, “How do I become known for a niche that I can own?” and that’s what Niche Down is all about.
Jon: Yeah. I love some of the ideas that you have taught me about the whole concept of being different and how important it is and I love for you to talk about some of those but actually when I reversed a little bit and I love for you to share, one of the things I found really interesting the first time I met you is how passionate you are not just about what you’re doing and what you’re teaching but about what I’ve heard you call just a crisis in general around entrepreneurship. Can you talk about this? Because I feel like having this kind of historical context around this topic, I don’t know, for others maybe they don’t care. For me, I found it really interesting just to understand kind of the state of entrepreneurship and that you had a passion about helping to solve this crisis. Anything you’d say about that?
Christopher: Yeah. First of all, it’s a crisis most people don’t know is going on because if you consume most regular media, it’s easy to get the impression, certainly the impression I had that everything is great, everybody is an entrepreneur, hustle, hustle, hustle, follow your passion. You know, two of the worst pieces of advice in history.
Jon: Can we go back to that by the way.
Christopher: Oh God, I hate that stupidity. “Follow your passion.” No, you dumbass, you might follow your passion right off a cliff. And hustle is the worst piece of advice ever. Anyway, we can talk about why, but it turns out and the first I saw that two years ago the Wall Street Journal wrote an article that said the crisis in America in Entrepreneurship. That was the headline and I thought, Jon, what crisis? Everybody and their brother’s an entrepreneur. And then I started to dig into it and most recently by the way if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking it out the good people at the Brookings Institute just came out with their new report on entrepreneurship. If you go to their website, you can find it. It’s brilliant.
Anyway, here are the facts. We are at what most people consider to be the worst time in American history for entrepreneurship. Most people believe, the data shows, that more companies die in our country every week than are found. The millennials and I don’t mean this in any, I don’t mean to throw them under the bus because I don’t mean it that way. There are structural problems we can talk about, but millennials are on track to be the least entrepreneurial generation in history and the first American generation that are less well off than their parents and America is absolutely whether you believe the Wall Street Journal, whether you believe MIT, whether you believe Brookings, you look at these sources and they all point to the same thing which is there is a crisis in America and entrepreneurship startups are not happening.
And then when you start to unpack the importance of smallie entrepreneurs and startups, you begin to realize, “Well, wait a minute,” and I forget the exact numbers but something like 60+ percent of the patents that get applied for in the US are by companies with a 500 or less people and the huge percentage of employees that work for those companies virtually all the job creation is done there. It’s not created by IBM and GE, not to be nasty to them but the job creation companies from smallie entrepreneurs. And then in the latest Brookings report and I generally don’t like to have political conversations in public because I don’t think they’re very helpful for the most part but anyway, it turns out particularly at the state level, our state governments in the United States have laws in place that favor big companies and create a hostile environment for startups particularly from a tax perspective.
And so, the bottom line is at a macro level the success of the American economy is jeopardized because of a lack of entrepreneurship. There’s no question about that and it is an F-ing crisis. And on a personal level, Jon, I know I’m somebody that got thrown out of school at 18 for being stupid. There was no job for me other than a manual labor job and my options in life were shave guys’ balls for a living or start a company.
Jon: Let me hold on to that image. Go ahead.
Christopher: It’s terrible. No, because my mom got me a job as an orderling, so I would come up to you and say, “Hello, Mr. Berghoff. I’m here to shave you,” and you say, “Well, I shave.” I said, “Probably not where I’m going to shave you.” And even then, I don’t know that I was qualified to do that. I will tell you one thing, when you’re saving somebody’s nether region, you have their full attention and they very much want you to be successful.
Jon: These are lessons for life.
Christopher: So, anyway, all kidding aside though, like for many entrepreneurs or young people with few options, nobody was going to bet on me. I had to bet on myself and so entrepreneurship for me was not a way up in the world. It was a way out of my life struggle and I come from very modest beginnings, a very loving family, but we had to struggle. And so, on a personal level I get upset, I get angry, I get sad and it may sound corny but for me, I’m somebody for whom being an entrepreneur and working and building entrepreneurial companies and working in an entrepreneurial ecosystem, Silicon Valley, for so many years it has been a way for me to have an amazing life. And I want that opportunity for everybody who wants to seize that opportunity.
To me, the American dream and the entrepreneurial dream are deeply, deeply interconnected and when we have an environment that’s hostile to startups and we have people not embracing that when we have an environment that’s hostile towards smallie entrepreneurs, I want to try to do something about that. So, big motivation for me and I know I could speak for Heather Clancy who partnered with me on Niche Down. We wanted to provide a set of insights and inspiration that would make a difference for people in their careers to be entrepreneurial in their careers as well as for solopreneurs, youpreneurs, and other smallie entrepreneurs to try to tilt the advantage to them because the irony about all of this and we talk about why if you like, now is the greatest time in history to be an entrepreneur.
Jon: When you share your story, Christopher, I got to tell you this. I don’t think I told you about this. Three weeks ago, I know you’re very familiar with the GoBundance guys. You’re one of the tribe and we had 20 of these guys at a dinner and there’s something that happened during that dinner that when you tell your story about entrepreneurship being a way out which by the way I can relate to that. For me, it was almost a source of healing at a really challenging time for myself and our mutual friend, Hal Elrod, and actually quite a few others you’ve had on your podcast, we were all beneficiaries of this crazy unexpected entrepreneurial environment selling Cutco kitchen knives that was like this magical place to learn about entrepreneurship for young people, but we were at the dinner with the GoBundance guys. This was and there were 20 guys and we’re having dinner and one of the guys says, “Hey, if it would be okay,” he said, “I’d love to hear each guy’s story at this table,” and he says, “By the way, before each of you share your story,” he said, “I’d like to know how many of you are like me.”
And then over half the 20 guys raise their hands and it was an amazing dinner because as one guy at a time went around the table and shared where they had come from, what they had been through. What was fascinating, Christopher, is every single guy at that table had this universal deep personal relationship with the opportunities that they had found their way into as entrepreneurs and it was amazing because your whole brand of Legends and Losers, the common bond that these guys had that wasn’t that clear to me until this moment was that the large majority of them had been by many societal definitions, big-time losers in the environment that they grew up in and yet the way that they all found to get out was entrepreneurship. It was such a memorable moment for me to hear those stories. So…
Christopher: And I think that’s a lot of our stories, right? I mean, look, that everybody is a misfit. I’m married to a wonderful woman and she’s not a misfit. She fit in the world. She found her place and she never felt disenfranchised and she found her talents and she built her life around them and she’s one of the most legendary people I’ve ever met, my wife Carrie. And if you’re that kind of a person, God bless you, hallelujah. I’m not. I grew up on the island of misfit toys. I have felt like an alien for the vast majority of my life. I don’t fit in. I never colored in the lines. I have five diagnosed learning differences. I had them together and I have a name for them that I won’t say in this environment because we try to not swear but there’s an F-word that go – I took the F word and added dyslexia at the front it to get a new word to combine all these things but there are many of us.
We get taught in the world that the pathway to success is fitting in and that the pathway to success is being like other people but maybe being a little bit better. We get taught that the trick in life is to find your place in the world. Well, some of us don’t fit in. For some of us there is no place in the world and if you’re one of those people who grew up on the island of misfit toys and you are fundamentally different, look, it can be really hard. We quote Kermit the frog in a new book, “It’s not easy being green,” but the truth is it’s the people who are different who make the biggest difference. That’s the truth. Picasso was different. Sara Blakely found her Spanx different. The Ramones, that’s Joey Ramone in the bottom of the surfboard, incredibly different, right? And so, if you start to look at the people that you love and admire whether they’re entrepreneurs or artists or whatever they are, the vast majority of them were unique. They broke or took new ground and they were different and they had if you will the courage to follow their different. And I think that’s a very powerful thing and for some of us, myself included, it’s a very challenging thing. It’s hard to feel like you’re green in a world where very few other people are green, to quote Kermit.
Jon: I’ll never forget, and you just fixed this if I’m misquoting you, but I’ll never forget, it may have been the very first slide I saw when I saw you presenting at that 1 Life event two years ago and I think it was a quote along the lines, Christopher, of the exponential value of being different compared to the incremental value of being better. And the best-case study for this, I don’t know if it made it into the book, but I’ve heard you talk about the scene from Something About Mary where it’s when I’m talking about when Ben Stiller picks up the hitchhiker.
Christopher: Yeah. We actually did quote it in the book because for years, I’ve been trying to find a great example of this distinction between better and different particularly in our careers and in our work and in our entrepreneur lives or whatever. And that seemed probably does it better than any other.
Jon: So, tell the scene for us. Take us through the scene.
Christopher: Stiller, Ben Stiller is driving at night and he picks up this hitchhiker, always a good move at night and the hitchhiker is like a wanted serial killer played by an absolutely pee your pants funny comedian named Harland Williams and if you ever get a chance to see Harland live, I highly recommend it. I’ve seen him at least once, maybe twice and he’s priceless. Anyway, they get to talking and Stiller is sort of is asking about his life and sort of what his plan for making in life is. And what Harland says is, “Well, you know that infomercial, 8 Minute Abs? I’m going to do 7 Minute Abs,” and he starts describing how he’s going to just crush the 8 Minute Abs people with the 7 Minute Abs and he gets done on his diet tribe and Stiller looks at him and goes, “You know, that’s really interesting. What are you going to do when somebody comes out with 5 Minute Abs?”
Jon: He’s annihilated.
Christopher: And he starts convulsing and most of us make an unquestioned unexamined decision to compete by trying to be better and a lot of our education teaches us this. You want to be a lawyer, you got to do better on the LSAT than most people to become a lawyer and all these things but where we’re playing a comparison game inside of an existing paradigm if you will allow me that. The legends don’t do that. They say, “F the paradigm. I’m going to create my whole new world.” The reason we know who Picasso is, is because he designed a new niche of art called Cubism. The reason we know who The Ramones are is because they are the category designers of a new niche of music called punk rock and there are so many great examples of entrepreneurs doing this. You’re ready for the newest one I heard of?
Christopher: This one’s not even in the book it’s so new. So, Carrie comes home last weekend and she was off at this I call the junk fest. She was off at this artisan these things where they rent a whole bunch of open space and people sell antiques and stuff and whatever. These big end…
Jon: Yeah. The bazaar.
Christopher: Yeah. The big antique bazaar or whatever. The bizarre bazaar. Anyway, she loves to go to this thing in the Bay Area. It’s a big deal once a month blah, blah, blah. Anyway, so she goes to this thing and she’s telling me all about it and things she saw and whatever, whatever, and she says, “Oh, and I had one of my favorite lunches.” I said, “Oh yeah, what’s that?” She said, “A Sushirrito.” And I said, “A what?” She said, “A Sushirrito. Don’t you know a Sushirrito?” And I said no. I said, “What’s a Sushirrito?” And she said, “Well, it’s a burrito made of sushi.” And I was like, “Wow. That sounds great.” Of course, she’s telling me this. You know there’s that time in the afternoon around 3:00, 4:00 where some of us will get real hungry. I was like, “Well, did you bring me one?” And she didn’t. But anyways, a Sushirrito is a great example of a niche down in that if you think about a restaurant, restaurants are arguably the small business that fails the most often. The statistics are terrifying.
And if you and I were to open a restaurant, what most people do before opening a restaurant is they said, “We really like food. We really like cooking. We really like all the stuff.” If we’re going to open a restaurant we’re going to call it Jon and Chris’s restaurant or whatever we’re going to call it and the way we’re going to compete, how we’re going to be successful is, well, we’re going to do two things, we’re going to have awesome food because we think they make awesome in this case sushi and we may well have awesome service. We’ll have great waitstaff, we’ll have a beautiful restaurant, and then we’ll open, and we’ll do what most restauranteurs do which is pray, the old build and they will come motto which is absolutely disaster, insanity, and great pathway to bankruptcy. So, what does the Sushirrito guys do? They don’t do any of that. They are not competing on our sushi is better than everyone else’s. They invent a new category. They niche down. They say, “We’re going to take a concept of people want to eat on the go.” So, how do I eat sushi on the go? Have you ever tried to eat sushi on the go? You get those plastic containers and you’d spill the soy sauce all over your lap in the car.
Jon: It’s not safe.
Christopher: It’s not safe. So, these guys take, I don’t know what it’s called. You know that sushi paper they use that…
Jon: The rice paper.
Christopher: Rice paper. Yeah. That stuff. It’s kind of black color and so they take that rice paper.
Jon: Maybe it’s a seaweed.
Christopher: Maybe it’s a seaweed. What do I know?
Jon: It’s something edible hopefully.
Christopher: It’s totally edible. And they make a giant imagine a sushi roll that looks like a stuffed into a burrito and, tada, it’s the Sushirrito. Well, they’re hugely successful. There are seven or eight of these things. They’re absolutely killing it and they’ve created a brand-new niche of sushi restaurant and if you want to compete with them particularly in the sushi on-the-go category then you’re forever going to be compared to the founders and creators of a Sushirrito. And so, they competed on a dimension called different as opposed to what most entrepreneurs do, most of us do on our career with our own individual careers, we try to be the best accountant in town, the best salesperson in town. These folks are a different kind of sushi restaurant and that difference is the difference that makes all the difference.
Jon: Well, I don’t know if I want to ask you more about the book or more about Sushirrito because I could eat…
Christopher: I know this conversation does tend to make you hungry.
Jon: Have you had a Sushirrito yet or not yet?
Christopher: No, I still haven’t had a Sushirrito because my wife ate it all herself.
Jon: Well, understandably. So, I love that. It’s a great example. Christopher, as I got to know you over the last few years I’ve really wrestled with this myself personally how to position myself as different. One of the things that’s been fascinating is not only hearing the examples that you have and knowing you, your book’s littered with examples but also having learned from you and heard from you talking about some of the things that you need to do as an entrepreneur to be different. For example, you have to take ownership over how people talk about and think about you, otherwise, as you said, you will be positioned. Or another example would be one of the ideas that we learn from you that actually sat on our wall, on a Post-it for several months, I don’t know why it’s not there. I think the sticky just ran out or maybe we didn’t like the idea anymore, but it was the idea that you got to get really clear, and I’d love if there’s anything you want to say about this, about what are you moving from and towards. The FroTos, right? And that was really helpful for us at FLI to realize that okay our brand of whatever it is we do, we need to have a point of view, we need to be able to articulate that this is what everybody else is doing or was doing but what we’re doing is moving from that towards this and that was really helpful, that concept for us. Anything that you can add to that or say to just kind of bring that to light?
Christopher: Yeah. Of course, I think a trap that a lot of us just fall into is we compete based on the current paradigm, the game the way it’s laid out. Legends don’t do that. They take the world from the way it is, and they educate the world about how they want it to be and when enough people see things the way you do then, bam, big-time success can happen at scale and specific it’s around the way the innovator or the way the category designer, the way that I love this term, the niche-downer, the way that person sees the world and particularly a problem and therefore the solution. And so, when enough people see the problem the way you do, they’re going to demand the solution and there are ways to do this if you’re trying to be the next Mark Zuckerberg and there are ways to do this if you’re trying to be a legendary realtor. I’d talk about any kind of level examples you want but the big thing is to market the problem, not the solution.
Jon: Talk about that.
Christopher: Yeah. So, I’ll give you some example from the big-time tech world and then we can look at a smaller example. One of the greatest category designers in the tech world is this guy name Marc Benioff who’s the founder of Salesforce.com and for 20 years he’s been pounding the drums saying no software, no software, no software. And Benioff more than anybody is responsible for the popularity of this mega niche, this mega category called the cloud. And by saying no software, what he was really saying was the traditional approach, the “from” of how the software industry used to work was all bad and wrong and you need it to move “to” this model the cloud and unpack it at whatever level of detail you like but over time, at first it sounds crazy. You’re like, “What You want me to put my data in this scary thing called the cloud? It’s not my own server. It’s not in my data center. Why would I do that?” And over time people get the argument around the problem and therefore they buy into the solution. So, that’s at one level.
I’ll give you – this is probably my favorite example in the new book and this to me is probably the most inspiring entrepreneurial story I’ve ever heard. So, there’s a father and son entrepreneur team named Mark, Mark’s the dad and John the son Cronin and they’re in the New York area and Mark’s had an entrepreneurial career, the dad, and the son, John, when he graduates high school Mark says to him, “Well, what do you want to do now, son?” And he says, “Well, I want to start a business with you, dad.” He says, “Well, what kind of business do you want to start?” And they brainstormed some ideas but the idea that John ultimately comes up with, I guess he’s always been a creative guy, always like colorful things, and in particular always love bright colorful zany socks. So, in classic niche down form, they started a company called John’s Crazy Socks. And the problem they solved is boring socks.
Jon: I didn’t even know that was a problem.
Christopher: Well, there you go. But sometimes we’re…
Jon: But it surely is.
Christopher: Well, why would you want a white pair of socks or why would you want just a pair of blue socks? Nobody wants – you don’t want to have boring socks now, do you, Mr. Berghoff?
Jon: Not anymore.
Christopher: So, why not get some crazy socks? So, they set up on this mission to evangelize this problem called boring socks and the solution is colorful crazy socks. The other part of the story I’m not telling you which sort of speaks to this idea of follow your different and in particular sometimes being different can feel like a reliability because we don’t fit in and how do you take what may be could feel like a liability and turn it into a massive asset and in this case, to build a successful business around? And these folks are maybe a year-and-a-half in roughly. Well, guess what? John Cronin, the son, has Down syndrome and he’s the face of the business because he’s got a big smiling face. Their mission as a business according to John and Mark are to spread happiness through socks and through any other mechanism by the way. And they had been legendary about evangelizing the power of crazy socks to make people happy so much so, they sent some socks to former president, George H. W. Bush, and he loved the socks so much they had a pair of socks, Jon, with a books and stuff on them and it turns out Barbara Bush is, one of her big things, her big focus area in life was literacy. And so, George H. W. Bush wore John’s socks to her funeral in honor of her. And John’s Crazy Socks has subsequently taken that sock design and now all of the profits from those socks go to her literacy foundation.
And so, John’s Crazy Socks to me is an amazing example of defining a problem that most people didn’t realize they had which is, “Hey, man, your socks are boring,” and you go, “Well, yeah it is. I got a drawerful of blue socks or white or whatever you got.” Okay. So, we fixed that problem and then evangelizing that and taking, in this case, John’s different, his creativity, his Down syndrome, things that you might have seen as a negative and turn it into a positive and doing some very clever marketing to build awareness. And so, the combination of a powerful niche down was focusing on what makes us different, evangelizing that difference. In this case, they’re about a year-and-a-half old. They’re hugely growing really quickly. They’ve won all these awards. They’ve been on all these pot lists and all this stuff and they’re really making a powerful go of it and it’s incredibly inspiring.
Jon: That is. That’s an incredible story. What’s interesting is as soon as you mentioned for the first time that it was crazy socks, I don’t know if there’s relevance to your story in me sharing this, but as soon as you said that, it actually immediately reminded me of two or three people who in totally random situations shared with me that they had crazy socks like one of them was seven years ago. I was doing a leadership training for the judiciary branch, but you can’t make this up, the judiciary branch of the Trinidad government which is a whole other crazy story in and of itself and it’s this very serious, these are wonderful people by the way. We had in the room the Chief Justice and all the chief magistrates and all these other long titles that I had to say every time I said somebody’s name. It was a fascinating environment to be in and at one of the breaks, one of the chief magistrates, your honor, comes up to me and he says, “I just wanted to see that even though we all have to behave a certain way I am wearing,” and I don’t know that he said crazy socks but I’m just going to say, “My crazy socks.” And he showed me his crazy socks. So, as soon as you shared this story, it actually reminded me and there’s another one I thought of too, of people who’ve actually gone out of their way to show me their crazy socks. So, there is a whole movement of people that want to wear these crazy socks but how easy to overlook that.
Christopher: Yeah. And what a great example of an unexploited niche that tied to something that John was uniquely passionate and interested and had a lot of creativity around and at the same time they’re claiming that niche that if you want boring white socks, don’t go to JohnsCrazySocks.com but if you want crazy socks, that’s where you go.
Jon: Does it takes courage to do this? I think about at FLI, Christopher, and as we have wrestled with how we position ourselves and how we define our category, one of the things I find myself from time to time thinking is just part of my internal dialogue is how do I know if I’m choosing the right different? I don’t know if that’s a common struggle but a lot of times I think about things like that. Any thoughts on that?
Christopher: Yeah. I have a lot of thoughts on that. It takes a tremendous amount of courage because, by definition, there’s no evidence for a new category. So, whether you’re a Henry Ford saying, “I’m going to bring,” he called his new category at the time, the horseless carriage, “to the world,” or whether you’re Mark and John Cronin. There’s no evidence for it. Can I tell you another story about this, one that I absolutely love?
Jon: Yeah. Of course.
Christopher: The creator/entrepreneur’s name is Debbie Sterling. She’s the founder of a company called GoldieBlox and they’ve been incredibly successful and she’s a Stanford graduate in engineering and she came out of school and she realized there were no what are now called STEM toys for girls and STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. So, at the time there were Meccano sets and Lego’s and other things. I’m not an expert on toys but there were these sorts of toys, but they were very kind of male/boy-oriented and she said, “Well, where are the STEM toys for girls?” There weren’t any.
So, like all legendary entrepreneurs when they discover a problem, when they discover a missing, and they say why isn’t there X or why isn’t it the way I wanted it to be? To go back to those from-tos, Jon, well it is this way. That’s the from. I want it to be a different way. That’s the to. So, she has that kind of a moment. So, she decides she wants to start this company. Well, guess what, nobody will fund her. The people in the toy industry say, “Ah, this is a nice idea, maybe a charity or whatever,” and they kind of give her a very placating almost the way she describes it if you read her interviews and stuff as we did researching her, they almost placate her. She goes to Silicon Valley. She asked all the leading VCs, she doesn’t get accepted by Y Combinator, any of that. Just as a side note, guess what percentage of venture-backed technology startups in Silicon Valley are founded by women?
Jon: Not enough?
Christopher: Yeah. Way not enough. 2%. So, she gets rejected by all these people and so she says, “F it. I’m going to go for it anyway.” She believes so strongly. So, to get your question, there’s this place where you believe so much and the problem you’re solving, my friend Eddie Yoon who wrote a great book called super consumers, he’s one of the smartest guys I know, he’s sort of the growth consultant to the stars. He makes a distinction that I’ve glommed on to call the difference between being a missionary and a mercenary. And most people in business, most people in life are more mercenary-oriented and the truth is if you are getting paid to do something and that’s your primary motivation, look, I’m a big fan of getting paid, don’t get me wrong, but if that’s your primary motivation, there will come a point in time where most mercenaries will tap out. If you’re truly on a mission, you will crawl through burning glass.
And so, Debbie Sterling’s a missionary. So, she refuses to give up. She creates a little prototype, a little booklet. She puts that stuff up on I forget which side it is but one of the kind of social crowdfunding type sites. She raises almost $300,000. Anyway, long story longer, GoldieBlox is a huge success today. She is an icon of a category designer. It’s a classic example of a niche down. There were hundreds of toy companies but she’s the first to design a niche of STEM toys for girls. That’s what she calls it and guess what, she is so much on this mission and she’s enrolled other people in this mission. This is what legendary category designers do. They build an ecosystem of people who get into the mission with them, that sign up to the mission because I don’t know about you, I hear this thing about STEM toys for girls and I want to sign up to help. And so, anyway, she partners with the Girl Scouts of America, Jon, and today, there are STEM badges for Girl Scouts to begin to try to encourage and support and stimulate young ladies, young girls who want to get into science, technology, engineering, and math. And that is a classic example of a niche down because Debbie discovers a problem. She sees it in a unique way from a unique perspective, in this case of female perspective. The whole industry disagrees with her, a lot of whom with no disrespect to fellow penis owners, don’t see it and she fights forward. She fights and continues to fight forward. And so, to get back to your question, it takes courage to be legendary. You have to be willing to take that leap around that missionary vision that you have, around solving that problem. You have to be willing to hear potentially thousands of no’s over time and every great success is a giant failure up until the minute it tips, right?
Christopher: And now Debbie’s the one laughing.
Jon: Yeah. Wow. That is a great story and that also brings us back around to or brings me back to remembering because I can’t help as I hear that story that I just filter my own business through the lens of those lessons and it reminds me to not get hung up on the brand or and I think I’ve heard you say this, the category makes the brand, not the other way around. Is that right?
Christopher: Yeah. Absolutely. And this is what people get used about.
Jon: What does that mean? Yeah. Help me with what that means. Because I think I understand it and I think I realize especially when you said the point about building an ecosystem of people who want to get into the mission, that sounds like a smart move right there, but as soon as you said that, it made me think, “Oh man, it’s probably easier to get them into the mission than behind some brand if they don’t understand the mission.”
Christopher: Well, yeah. Nobody wants to be – nobody cares about a brand. They care about the mission. They care about what you stand for and specifically the reason the category makes the brand. Look, if I say to you, “Hey, Jon, could you pick up some scotch on the way home?” What’s likely your next question?
Jon: Yeah. What kind?
Christopher: Right. And so, first, there’s category, scotch. You understand what that is and then brand comes second. If I say to you, “Hey, could you just pick up some booze?” what’re you likely to say?
Jon: Yeah. I don’t know. What kind?
Christopher: And when you say what kind, what you’re asking is, “What category?” And so, that’s how the human brain works. Category first, brand second. And so, and it’s a category that makes the brand. Here’s an example from the biggie entrepreneur world. Google in most big ding dong brand assessment awards and all that is now considered to be one of the top 10 brands in the world right up there with Coke and Nike, etcetera. Well, when they take that brand and they apply it to the office productivity application space and they create a new product called Google+ that competes against the entrenched category king which in this case is Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office is roughly $250 a year to subscribe to, maybe it’s $100, whatever it is. It’s somewhere in that range. Google Docs is free and most people in the tech world say Google Docs is a “better product” than Microsoft Office. So, here we have a free product that most people say is better. Guess what percent market share Microsoft has?
Jon: A whole lot more?
Christopher: IDC says they’re still over 90%.
Christopher: And so, when you have one of the top 10 brands in the world and you move outside your core category and you apply that brand to a whole new niche, but you don’t create a new one, you just compete for sharing an existing one? You get crushed. So, my point is what makes Google, Google is they got, they won in the category of search and when they tried to take their brand and put it into different categories, they lose. I’ll give you a simpler example, I love this one. There are these two gals named Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz and over a decade ago they decide they want to create a bakery. Now, if you and I were going to start a bakery, what most people do is they say, “Hey, let’s start a bakery and we’re going to win by having a great location and great service and we bake really good cakes or pies or we bake really great stuff.”
Jon: Great Bakers.
Christopher: GreatBakers.com or Jon and Chris’s Fantastic Bakery and we’re just going to win that way. Well, most of those businesses fail. Not Dena and Debbie. They start a franchise chain of bakeries and today there are over 250 of them. You know why? They pulled a niche down. They are the category queens of a category called bundt cake bakeries and they tied their brand to their niche. So, guess what the bakery is called? You ready for this? Nothing Bundt Cakes. And they dominate the bundt cake bakery space and they’re unique. They stand alone and so if you want a bundt cake, you go there. If you think bundt cakes are awesome, you’re going to go to Nothing Bundt cakes. If you think bundt cakes are terrible, you’re not going to go there. They force you to make a choice, “Hey, Jon, you want bundt cakes? Okay. Great. We should go there. They’re the specialist. Oh, you don’t feel like a bundt cake? Well, don’t go there because they’re nothing bundt cakes.”
And so, it’s a very simple idea whether it’s Google at the high end, not understanding that the category makes their brand or Debbie and Dena understanding that they niche down, they designed a category. There was no – you could’ve hired 100 management consultants from McKenzie wearing khaki pants and bad shirts and outfits and pay them $10 million to do a study and say, “Should we or shouldn’t we do a bundt cake chain?” Chances are they’d say no.
Jon: That’s so great. I don’t even know if I know what a bundt cake is.
Christopher: And I’ll get killed for this but it’s circular – imagine a cake that was sort of like a giant doughnut. There’s a hole in the middle of it. They’re these little I don’t know what to call them, they’re these little archie things in the middle so like it’s sort of, I’m going to get killed by somebody I’m sure, but it has a very – the circle has a very – there’s like part of it that comes up and you buy these cake mold things and it’s got the hole in the middle and all. Anyway, they’re great and it’s fun because you sort of drip the icing on the top of it and sort of slides down the side and so it’s a whole other kind of an icing experience. I don’t know. I’m probably not doing bundt cakes too much justice but…
Jon: Nothing Bundt cakes.
Christopher: Nothing Bundt Cakes for us from now on. There’s one in my neighborhood. They opened up here about a year or so ago.
Jon: Well, what you got to do is leave the house, grab a Sushirrito and a bundt cake and you got a feast, you got a picnic.
Christopher: And I’m good to go, right?
Jon: On the beach. One of the segments or groups that I think a lot about, Christopher, all the time when I think about what you’re bringing to the world is and I’m just going to use some very big labels here, authors and coaches. And so, I’d love your opinion on this and I’ll share mine, I guess, the highly abbreviated version. Hal and I we happen to serve quite a few folks that are either coaches, authors or aspiring to be an author or a coach, and those are really tricky spaces depending on what someone’s goals are. I mean, if you just want to be a coach or an author and there’s no barrier. Anybody can do that but if you want to thrive, those are very crowded spaces and I often find myself when I’m coaching somebody in one of our mastermind groups who wants to be a coach, there’s an irony to all that, trying to encourage them to consider not that they shouldn’t be a coach but to run the other direction of anything that sounds anything like everybody else who’s a coach which can be hard to do because there’s a million of them.
I’d love any thoughts you have on that whole space because I feel like if one more person writes another book that at least his position to be just another book on another topic and I feel like there’s some good advice sometimes gets poorly filtered which is, well, if there are a lot of books on leadership and that’s a sign that people would buy more but I think people take that the wrong way and then they position it as just another book on leadership and then they run into trouble. They can’t figure out why it’s so hard to grow their business. I’d love your take on this topic.
Christopher: Yeah. I love this topic. First of all, we need to understand that category queens and kings rule and so part of the analysis we did for Niche Down we did a whole bunch for Play Bigger as well. We looked at the economics associated with this and if you look at Eddie Yoon’s work by way of example he says that 80% of the economics go to the category king or queen. So, if you look at any given niche, a vast majority of the economics go to the leader and I’ll give you the very simple short course on why that is. You and I as human beings actually don’t want a choice, Jon. And we live in a world where there are so many options and so many products and so many apps to our phone and it’s like whenever there’s all these things to choose from, we just shut down and don’t make a decision. And so, we only buy things when the right answer becomes clear when, A, we identify what the problem and, B, the right solution is very, very clear. And if there’s confusion around the solution and maybe we need to read 1,400 consumer reports and talk – yeah, well, F it, we’ll just go do something else, right?
So, that’s a big part of why one company tends to get the vast majority of economics whether that’s one local pizza parlor who really crushes it because they’re highly differentiated in their niche or whether that’s Facebook and everybody in between. So, now to get your question. Hal is a legendary example of how to do this as a coach, author, consultant and, look, he says that he wrote the foreword to Niche Down. He says it in the foreword. When he starts off as a coach, as a speaker, as an author, he’s undifferentiated. He’s a great young speaker, coach, author. He’s a handsome young guy. He’s wonderful in front of the room. He’s got good natural writing skills which he’s honing and all of these things but he’s one of a zillion good speaker, coach or writer-type guys. His niche down was the Miracle Morning. When he creates the Miracle Morning, what he’s really doing is evangelizing a different, and I use that word on purpose, problem.
So, at the time he’s competing with everyone else. He’s talking about achieve your goals and motivation and all the good stuff, but he sounds like almost everybody else. The minute he begins to say, “Hey, listen, wake up an hour early and what you do with that first hour of the day influences your entire day and if you really are thoughtful about getting that first hour to be as powerful as possible for you then you’re going to have more powerful more effective, more enjoyable, more alive days. And if you don’t, then you won’t. And of course, if you change that first hour, you change your day and if you change your day, you change your life.” And so, I would collect huge insight. Some people might say it’s just a little wrinkle. It depends on what your definition of it is but however you want to think about it, that was a niche down. He took all the things that he was learning around how to design the legendary life that he was trying to teach others and he focused it on how do I get the first hour of the day to be super powerful because I know that influences the rest of my day? And he learned that, you know better than me, he learned that from how he dug his way out from almost dying in the car accident and all that stuff.
So, the minute he writes the Miracle Morning, he goes from being a completely generic, “Hey, go forth, follow your goals, say your affirmation, whatever,” all the other speakers in the world to now he becomes known for a niche that he owns. He’s the Miracle Morning guy. He’s created a whole new category of the way you construct your day to construct your life and the minute that tips at any kind of scale I think he says once he got you are around 2,000 or so people that were sort of beginning to get into this idea of the Miracle Morning then it catches and now he’s not just another great speaker/author guy. He’s the Miracle Morning guy and that being different, his different made the difference. And so, for other coaches and speakers and that whole crew, this is a world that I’ve only really entered into since my first book came out two years ago. I didn’t know anything about podcasting. It’s a whole new world for me too. The people who are successful in the world of speaking, podcasting, coaching, etcetera, authoring are the people who become known for a niche that they own, and Hal created a niche around the idea that the first hour of the day matters and, bang. And so, I would encourage people to think about what makes you different. What problem are you solving? And how do you evangelize the problem as opposed to just screaming, “Hey, I’m a good speaker. Do your affirmations and do your burpees or brush your teeth or take a poop or whatever.” Find out what makes you different and in particular what’s the problem you solved and why does that problem matter?
Jon: Yeah. I love that you used Hal as an example and what’s interesting is as I get to hear you sharing his example, I get to reflect back on having been there since way before there was a Miracle Morning and it actually reinforces, Christopher, one of your points about personal branding because before the Miracle Morning, Hal was Yo Pal Hal and if you can go find, if you can dig through the archives and find the old websites, his brand was and he’d be so happy that I’m out there telling people this, his brand was at something like America’s success coach. And he and I used to make fun of his own brand because we both realized we just didn’t understand any other way other than he just makes stuff up and say it but what’s interesting is he as a person, he didn’t change but he gave, like you said, he gave people so much clarity on this problem and solution about how they start their day. And to Hal’s credit, I do want to say this, like one of the things about Hal that’s maybe one of the most underappreciated qualities of his is he’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. And so, I’ve watched firsthand the energy that he has put into evangelizing the concept of the Miracle Morning, not the Hal Elrod brand but the concept of the Miracle Morning and it’s why today it’s craziest of all crazy stories that when the hand he was dealt with last year with cancer, he basically took the year off and his business still thrived because, fortunately, you put all that work in and it kept growing without him which is in and of itself says a lot about what he built.
Christopher: Well, and to your point, he got and this is something that intuitive category designers like Hal do. He created an ecosystem. That’s a big highfalutin word but what he really did was he was a missionary, not a mercenary. He believed in the Miracle Morning because it helped transform if not save his own life after he was pronounced dead a couple of times. And of course, he’s had to use it now from the horrible getting hit by a drunk driver. He had to use it again when the recession almost wiped him out and God bless him, he’s had to use the techniques of the Miracle Morning again to overcome one of the spookiest, scariest, life-threatening kinds of cancers and he’s now cancer free. And so, life keeps testing the Miracle Morning theories and concepts and how he’s proving that he’s the Energizer Bunny of the Miracle Morning practices but the point being he was undifferentiated. When he was Yo Pal Hal, America’s blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, that’s totally forgettable. The minute he says, “No, no, no.” “Well, what kind of motivational speaker are you? Well, what kind of self-help writer are you, Hal?” “I’m the Miracle Morning guy.” “Huh, what’s a Miracle Morning?” “Well, I discovered this problem which is most people don’t think very much about what they do when they get up or when they get up, and they just get up to have a cup of coffee and the kind of turn on the TV, watch the news, want to kill themselves, and get on with their day, and I discovered something else.”
And then he rolls is, if you will, point of view about why that first morning matters and how to structure that first morning around the SAVERS and all the good stuff. And people start nodding their heads and all of a sudden, what he’s doing is he’s enrolling them in his mission and they become part of the ecosystem and to your point, he could take a year off in this case, not on purpose but to deal with a very serious spooky health situation in his life and his business not only goes but, and you know better than me, but I was talking to Hal just the other day, it grew without him doing anything because so many other people were on the mission. And so, legendary category, it’s like Picasso is the evangelist for Cubism. It’s like Bob Marley is the evangelist for reggae and by evangelizing reggae if you believe what he says about reggae then you get stoked about his music.
And legendary category designers make a category big for everybody. They evangelize the idea around the problem and the solution. One of the – we featured Jack O’Neill, the inventor of the surf wetsuit in the book and he trademarks the term in the 60s, Jon, Surf Shop. That didn’t exist because surfing was a new category, a new industry that was emerging and he was at the forefront of it. He never sued anybody for using the term surf shop because he understood that there needed to be more surf shops. He was the evangelist for surfing. He was the evangelist for the surf shop and he was absolutely the evangelist for surfing in cold water. He’s like, “Hey, surfing in cold water, problem, right?” “Yeah. Why?” “It’s cold. Can’t surf that long.” “Haha, solution,” and he becomes one of the most legendary guys in California history and in surf history so much so that when he died last year when surfers die, we do this funeral at sea called the paddle out and the largest paddle out on record I think was 500 or 800 people, something like that. Over 2,500 people, myself included, paddled out for Jack last summer.
Christopher: And that’s not just because he was an entrepreneur, right? That’s because he was somebody who made a contribution to the world. He made surfing go to a whole other place. Our point earlier, he took how it was, from where it was to where he wanted to be which is make surfing available to way more people, that he was the evangelist for surfing and he never sued anybody for using the term surf shop because he wanted to grow it for everybody, right? And that’s what Hal has done and in the coaching world, another one of my favorites. Do you know Joe Sanok by chance? Practice of the Practice?
Jon: Joe Sanok? I think I may have just met Joe at a TED event in Traverse City. If not, I met someone with a very similar name. The guy I met was a great guy.
Christopher: Well, this guy if it’s the same guy, wonderful guy, speaker coach type guy. He starts off as a I think he was like a healthcare counselor like – I don’t know much about this world, but you want to go get some counseling, so he was one of those kinds of people and when he started off as a counselor, he got himself educated and certified and all that stuff, but he was trying to figure out how to grow his practice because he didn’t get taught much about that. He got taught about how to be a good counselor, therapist, etcetera. And so, he started to look for help and at the time, this was many years ago now, he couldn’t find a lot of content from thought leaders on how to build a really good counseling practice. So, he started learning by trial and error and this and that and then he started sharing a little bit about what he learned. Well, before you know it, he’s blogging and he’s podcasting and he’s doing all the stuff.
He starts to podcast called The Practice of the Practice and he’s, I forget how many years he’s been doing it, but he’s got over 1 million downloads now and he is if you’re somebody that has a counseling practice, you subscribe to Joe’s teachings and he’s just a regular guy in that field trying to give back but by sharing his learnings on the business side of how to be a good practitioner so to speak, he’s got this whole other business now where he’s like the guru to people with counseling practices. That’s a classic niche down. And it’s also a classic example same as Hal, both Joe and Hal share this as well in common which is they also use the technology to scale the ideas, how to use Amazon to get your books out, how to use podcast to get your ideas out, webinars, all this good stuff today. You and Hal run a media empire from your laptops.
Jon: It’s kind of crazy. When you give the – when we talk about Hal, one of the things I’m reminded of is, hey, I’ve got several friends who are also entrepreneurs who one of the debates that we’ve had is and I feel like there could be others who could look at Hal’s story and might say something like, “Well, I don’t really care if I’m in 88 countries and I’m that big or I don’t need to scale up,” and I’d love your opinion on this, Christopher, and I don’t know that I’ve formulated mine but since I’m asking, I’m happy to share that I feel like there are people I know who are entrepreneurs in different spaces who will sometimes say that they’re comfortable with the business being of a certain size and maybe they’re right or justified in their intent behind that but in my own, and by the way I’m not one of those because I feel that mission I’m on has an enormous potential and I need to work joyfully to fulfill that but when I talked to some of these friends of mine and there’s a couple of I’m thinking of who I see how comfortable they are and they somehow rationalize, “Well, I don’t need to be as big as Hal,” there’s a part of me that thinks that same rationale is stopping them from making some of the decisions that’s just going to help them even to survive because somebody else is going to come into their space and not necessarily because it’s all about size but because they realize I need to dominate in this space otherwise I become irrelevant. I wonder about folks who are having that internal conversation. Does that make sense what I’m raising?
Christopher: Yeah. I think it makes a lot of sense and getting clear on who you are and what your true north is. I think if you tie your point of view to that, it will help govern it. Let me share. There’s a story in my mind. This entrepreneur came on Legends and Losers. We feature in the book. She is somebody I think is incredibly inspiring and her name is Anne Morhauser and she’s the founder of an outfit here in the Santa Cruz area called Annie Glass and she starts off as a real artisan, as a true artist learning how to, and you’re going to have to excuse me. I don’t know any of the technical carbidingmulation, deconfribulation of how you make high-end handcrafted pieces of work of art from glass. But she studies under a master and she learns. She becomes obsessed with it very early on and she starts to build her business.
And her designs were so beautiful that two things happen, one, she gets knocked off all the time so mass producers in foreign countries will take a design that her and her team handcrafts and she hand makes everything from here in the Santa Cruz, Monterey Bay area to this day and she’s in all of the super dingdong restaurants, all of the super – she creates pieces of art that go in the dishwasher that are used in restaurants, that are used in hotels. Her work is in the Smithsonian. Her work is in – the folks at Corning have a glass museum. She’s trumpeted as like a pioneer glass artist entrepreneur at the Corning Glass Museum. She’s that kind. In the art design world, she’s like completely a goddess and what happens over time is people say to her, “Hey, you should get into mass production. You should do offshore production. Making everything by hand in California, that’s really freaking dumb. And oh, by the way, just like if you think about any high-end fashion design kind of business, we should take this design for this new plate or whatever, Annie, and we should license it so that we can like sell beach towels and plastic knick-knacky crapola things with it and stuff.” And she’s like, “NFW. We’re not doing any of that stuff.”
She is the queen of a niche and she thinks that over-diversification can kill a lot of businesses and so she has stayed true to that niche, Jon. Handcrafted beautiful design at scale. Every piece made by hand in California so when the Four Seasons or Bloomingdales or Neiman Marcus or a high-end restaurant buys her products, handmade, beautiful, and it goes in the dishwasher. And everybody else tries to knock her off and more importantly, everybody told her to go offshore manufacturing and to license her designs so all these other things. She said no. She said no to money in the short term. She stays true to her craft, her vision, and the real mission that she was on and she’s been the category queen of handcrafted glassware in America for over 30 years. Nobody can touch her. She owns the niche that she designed.
Jon: That’s awesome. I’m just trying to imagine what her handcrafted glassware looks like now. Now I got to look at…
Christopher: Go to Annieglass.com you can see lots of it. It’s very, very beautiful and you could order some for your family if you want.
Jon: You know, I would look while we’re talking but our Internet I don’t know if it’s like the heat outside slows it down. I try and search things while we’re talking on here and all of a sudden it screws it all up.
Christopher: Is it Putin?
Jon: I presume, yes.
Christopher: I just presume when everything is going wrong, it’s Putin. Or as we call him around here, Puttie.
Jon: Hey, Chris, for one of my favorite questions that I learned from you, is there anything else?
Christopher: Yeah. Well, there are lots of is there anything else. It is my favorite question. I think the big thing for me, Jon, is and my new buddy, Bill Walton, help me understand this. He’s been the greatest most random awesome-tastic gift that I could have imagined to have this 7-foot NBA Hall of Famer in my life. It’s been so fun.
Jon: Your episode with him was one-of-a-kind.
Christopher: It’s a trip-and-a-half, isn’t it?
Jon: I’ve never heard so little from you but that was okay.
Christopher: We at the beginning of Legends and Losers we say strap yourself in and when you got Bill Walton…
Jon: You just strap.
Christopher: Double strap and you’re going to go from Grateful Dead stories to what it’s like to win the NBA championship and his mother and everything in between. We’re going to talk about Proteas or Proteus depending on your religious beliefs and how to say that flower’s name or, yeah, you’re just going to have an unbelievable magical mystery tour and you can just ask one question and let him roll.
Jon: It was awesome.
Christopher: But he makes these incredible comments about how tough life can be and how life can beat us up and how life can get us down and how people say no to us and he makes this comment of, “I want to live in a world of yes and I don’t want to hear excuses. I want to hear a plan for going forward.” And, look, Kermit The Frog said it, it’s not easy being green. It can be hard to follow your different. It can be hard if particularly if you’re someone who feels like a misfit to have that, as we talked about earlier, that courage to stand out in the world that makes us the same, but my dream is that we live in a world where more people understand that being better is incremental and it’s what makes us different that makes a difference and that more people follow that different. And that’s really why I do this work and that’s really my big dream for people is that they follow their different that they have the courage to be their original self.
Jon: Christopher, buddy, thank you for being yourself. Niche Down, when’s it coming out? Where do we find it?
Christopher: It’s out. NicheDownBook.com.
Jon: NicheDownBook.com. So, if you’re watching, if you’re listening, or consuming this in some other format, NicheDown.com. Check it out.
Jon: NicheDownBook.com. Hey, I appreciate you, buddy. I can’t wait to see you again.
Christopher: Thanks, Jon. As corny as it sounds, I love you and I know Hal’s listening. Hal, Heather and I will be forever ever grateful that a man of your stature, of your wisdom, of your awesomeness in over 72 languages was kind enough to write the foreword to our book. We love you, Hal, and we hope whatever you’re doing right now, you’re having a great time.
Jon: Hal’s a Korean best-seller.
Christopher: Yeah. He’s huge in Korea as he should be.
Jon: As he should be. Love you too, buddy, on behalf of the entire Miracle Morning, Achieve Your Goals, Hal Elrod-ian community.
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