Illustration by Peter Prato
Guy Raz used to think he wasn’t interested in business. “I was interested in human stories,” he says of his early days covering the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as a foreign correspondent for NPR. But after a journalism fellowship landed him in classrooms at Harvard Business School, he realized that the beginnings of companies are human stories, often following the form of a classic hero’s journey.
Raz went on to start the business podcast “How I Built This,” one of five shows he has created or co-created that reach a total of 19 million listeners every month. In September, he published a book, How I Built This (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), that pools the stories of more than 200 entrepreneurs—including the founders of Airbnb, Ben & Jerry’s, and Dell to offer lessons and inspiration to aspiring founders. “I want this to be the kind of book that people can turn to,” he says, “especially when they’re feeling like they want to give up.”
On the trait successful founders share:
“The ability to withstand rejection. What I found with all the people I’ve interviewed is that they have figured out how to plow through the nos. They know that eventually they will get to yeses. It’s why a lot of entrepreneurs start out in sales, because sales is sort of a form of rejection exposure therapy. Before she started Spanx, Sara Blakely sold fax machines door-to-door, and a lot of those doors slammed in her face. That makes a lot of entrepreneurs more resilient when it comes time to pitch their products at a higher level.”
On his most surprising insight:
“I can’t say I’ve interviewed a single entrepreneur who does it for the money. Yes, all of us have our needs, and we all want to be comfortable. But I think if you asked the vast majority of people who’ve been on my show if they would give it all up and move to a tropical island and drink piña coladas all day, they would all say no. They do what they do [to have a] mission, and for the camaraderie of a team, and for the excitement of coming up with ideas and the solidarity that comes with that.”
“The thing that holds most of us back is the fear of failure. The reality is that we will all fail. We have to fail. Without those failures, we don’t get better. You have to put yourself out there. It’s hard, but everybody has the capacity to do it. I really believe that.”
On the impact our current crises will have on startup businesses:
“We’re living at a time when there’s a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of people are out of work. But I also think that a lot of people are starting to ask themselves, ‘Is now the time when I can start something? I’ve got nothing to lose.’ I think we’ll look back at this time in five or 10 years and say this was the beginning of a rebirth of entrepreneurship, because people were kind of forced to do it.