Shane Snow Transcript

Clint Betts

Welcome to the CEO.com Show. My name is Clint Betts. Today I talk to Shane Snow, an award-winning entrepreneur, explorer, and journalist. His writing has appeared in GQ, Fast Company, Wired, in The New Yorker, some of the greatest and biggest publications in the world, and he is a world renowned keynote speaker on innovation and human behavior. He's helped expose gun traffickers and government corruption, climbed up abandoned buildings around the world, eaten only ice cream for weeks in the name of science, and taught millions of people to work better through his original research and best selling books on human behavior. Those books are Dream Teams, Smart Cuts, and The Storytelling Edge. He's also performed comedy on Broadway, produced award-winning films and founded various successful companies at the intersection of media and technology, including the business skills training company, Snow Academy. He's also the founder of Contently. He has a new company called Showrunner.

We talked about leadership, we talked about all sorts of things in this conversation. We talked about writing and how that's a critical component to one's career. We talked about lessons he's learned from his first company and how he's taking it to the second company. I think this is an incredible conversation on somebody who's done this multiple times, meaning he’s been an entrepreneur, been a leader, done interesting things in the world. I hope you enjoy it. Real quick, if you wouldn't mind, give us a five star rating or review if you're listening to this on the podcast, like and subscribe if you're listening to this or watching this on YouTube. Here's my conversation with Shane Snow.

Clint Betts

Shane, thanks so much for coming on the show. As I've looked into your background and your work and the various things you've done in this world, man, it's a lot. I was legitimately overwhelmed when I was on shanesnow.com. This guy has done some incredible things. You've performed comedy on Broadway, you've done investigative journalism, you have a couple of companies that I know of. You may even have more than that it seems like. And your websites and everything are so beautiful. It really is just wonderful to have you on the show. To start, I just want to know how did you get your start? What's your background?

Shane Snow

Yeah. Well I think what you just pointed out makes me think that I have undiagnosed ADD. There's so many things going on. I'll also say I'm 38 years old, so I've lived several different chapters career wise and gone on several side journeys. That's a good segue into the answer to your question. How I got my start was I grew up in Idaho in a small place outside of a small place. And my dad's an engineer, so he was an auto mechanic and then he got his master's degree when I was in my early teens and he became an engineer at a nuclear power plant. So I grew up fixing cars, learning about science, learning about technology, and I loved taking things apart and building things. And that I think is a theme. The other thing is my mom was an educator. She taught sign language, taught deaf students, and then raised us kids and tricked us into reading and learning.

And so I had these two things that in hindsight I think have been themes for my career, which is always being really eager to learn and to teach what I'm learning, and to use teaching as an excuse to learn. I think great parents do this. They encourage you to read some book because they want to read it too, or to explore your interests because they want to learn about those too and I think those are great. So I take that mindset and that explains some of the entrepreneurial ADD and some of the side quests like doing comedy and all that. But with the engineering thing for my dad, I became fascinated by the idea that everything that seems like magic that exists in the world is made of components that have been put together and I can do that too. I can take things apart, figure out how they work, and I can build my own.

So my brother and I, we built go-karts, we built forts, built computers and that led to wanting to be an entrepreneur, wanting to learn computer science, to do computer stuff. And then at a certain point I was also, because of the reading thing because of my mom, I wanted to be a writer also. Two different things. Being an engineer and being a writer. And I was in school and I got a job in the newspaper and I loved it so much. My roommate was an editor at the newspaper and I was like, "I want to be a writer."

Clint Betts

Was this in Idaho still?

Shane Snow

This was in Idaho still. Yeah.

Clint Betts

Yeah, that's cool.

Shane Snow

And so for the school newspaper I started writing and I said, "Oh, this is what I want to do. I want to write about business, I want to write about entrepreneurship, I want to write about technology." And so that became my career for a while. I went to journalism school and I wanted to learn about companies and use writing as an excuse to meet incredible people. And then at a certain point I caught the bug of entrepreneurship again and decided, no, I'm going to build something now. And then after that I decided to write about it. And then after that I decided to build another thing. So that's been the theme, is jumping between these two worlds of exploring and learning and building things and then writing and teaching about them and it's been a very satisfying career. I get to hobnob with people who are so incredible, but it's because I've hacked my way into the room and a lot of that has been through wanting to learn about them and then tell their stories.

Clint Betts

Yeah. I studied journalism too, and I don't know what your sense is, I felt like that was a huge waste of time.

Shane Snow

Studying journalism?

Clint Betts

Yeah. Except for this. I thought that at the time that it was a huge waste of time. Now let me clarify that. That I now feel like my career for whatever type of career I've had, the advantage I've had is the ability to communicate and the ability to write. And that's what I want to ask you who've done this at such a bigger level. How has the ability to communicate and the ability to write helped your career?

Shane Snow

To me, it's everything. Because in part, it's what I'm most passionate about is writing and communicating and telling stories. And so I use that as an excuse to do things that might otherwise be hard or I might otherwise not have done. So for me, because it's the thing I love the most, writing, there's that. When I went to journalism school, my dad was like, "Why are you going to pay money to go to journalism school? Get a job as a journalist, if you really want to do that. First of all, are you sure? But get a job as a journalist, get trained on the job. That's how most journalists do it." And I was grateful, I think in part because I didn't have a network. Growing up in the small town in Idaho I didn't know people, but through going to journalism school in New York City, I was able to meet and be mentored and those relationships have really helped. So there's value to that.

There's also value in having these taskmaster teachers really crack down my writing. But I'll say the things that have transferred to entrepreneurship or building things from journalism school that I think about the most are investigative journalism in particular is all about figuring out how you're going to get access. If you're a salesperson that is half the battle. How are you going to get access to the people you want to talk to? And so the repetitions of getting access for the story have helped in getting access for investors or for sales purposes for business. The other, I think, that I come back to a lot is asking questions well. You know this. You interview people for part of your living. The mistake a lot of people make—here's a whole bunch of mistakes people make—but the one that I notice all the time is they have the access, they're asking you questions and they give you multiple choice surveys.

So how did you get into business? Was it this or was it that or was it this? And then they keep talking. And you started this interview by saying, “How did you get your start?” Stop. And that is a journalistic technique. You don't give me options because then you're going to lead the way. You want to see where this goes and then following up. And that practice I think is really good for our business for figuring out when there's problems with employees. What is really afoot? Letting people explain themselves, knowing how to go into a conversation that's going to be hard and get the information you want. Same thing with clients. Same thing with investors. So those are the things I come back to. And then being good at writing helps in a world where half of the jobs, half of the time in half of those jobs is spent doing email or some other form of communicating written. Long answer to your question but—

Clint Betts

No, no, no. That's what I noticed too, is I can write emails pretty well and get people to respond to them, I guess that's a skill? And so yeah, I think the ability to write is pretty underrated even today. It does seem like a skill that may be going away. Real quick, just on the journalism front, before we get to your entrepreneurial career, what are your thoughts and what is your take on the state of journalism today?

Shane Snow

Yeah. It's been a couple years, but every so often I'll write a blog post that has some variation on the theme of what is the future of journalism. Because that was the big question when I went to journalism school in '09 that was on everyone's minds. It's like recession and digital ads and this and that and Craigslist has destroyed all this revenue for newspapers. And every couple years there's some new thing that is changing media. And so I haven't thought about it as much over the last couple of years because I've been focused more in the world of TV and entertainment. But I think there's always going to be a need for the core of what journalism with the capital J is, which is shining light on things that people need to know. Especially in a democracy. I'm saying especially in an autocratic system, but it's harder for journalism to exist there.

But if people are going to have power, then they need to know what's happening. And so I think holding those in power accountable or shining a light on what they're doing, I think is going to be important. The thing that gets lumped in with journalism and has forever are the sports section and the opinion section. And today a lot of people I think probably think of journalism as cable news, which has some journalism and a lot of opinion. And I don't think that's healthy for people being able to sort out facts that can help them make decisions as citizens and as neighbors and all that. So that concerns me. But there is great stuff being done. This is just my armchair analysis. Primarily traditional newspapers that are investing are subsidizing journalism that's important and they'll subsidize that through the ads on the sports section and all of that.

The New York Times and Washington Post are always doing great work. Local newspapers in big cities are always doing great work. But the second category that I'm seeing a lot of is this Substack generation of individuals who are subject matter experts. Many of them are drilling into topics and reporting like journalists in ways that I think is very, very valuable. And the fact that they can get paid to support that work is great. Plenty of Substacks are entertainment and that's awesome, that's great. Plenty of them are opining on whatever politics. But there are folks that are investigating really important things or just covering the news in industries that I think are very valuable. And the fact that they can support themselves through donations, or through subscriptions rather, I think is a big deal. And I own some shares in Substack so maybe there's a bias here, but I'd say Substack years from now, the thing that it started, whether Substack is still around, will probably be taught in journalism schools as a thing that helped sustain important reporting in this crazy media landscape.

Clint Betts

And empower independent journalism and the ability to give the power to the journalist in terms of what they want to cover. And as long as their subscribers like it they get to keep doing it. It's pretty beautiful.

Shane Snow

Yeah. I'll also say podcasts are another example of that. Podcasters being able to drill into topics. Again, there's a lot of entertainment, there's a lot of education information, but there are folks that are drilling into what would be done by a regular journalist. Yeah. That's another example of that.

Clint Betts

Yeah. Isn't it remarkable that there are a number of podcasts that just get so many more views and listens and watches than anything on cable news? Not even close.

Shane Snow

Yeah. It's cool. It's fascinating.

Clint Betts

It's pretty wild. So how did you go from journalism to being an entrepreneur?

Shane Snow

The real story is that I was an entrepreneur before I got into journalism. I put myself through school building websites for people and selling stuff in eCommerce and various other things that now as a proper adult, it could only be described as schemes. But figuring out how to make money as a teenager and then in college I sold stickers for UFOs. My roommate saw a UFO. We thought it was hilarious and I made UFO stickers and sold them. Things like that were always part of how I made ends meet. My family was a big family and so my parents couldn't pay for my school and my housing so I had to do something. So there was that. And then when I went into journalism, I was reporting. My first jobs were at Mashable covering tech startups and then Fast Company and Wired covering businesses that are doing entrepreneurial things.

And so the transition back to entrepreneurship was pretty easy because it's like this is in my DNA. Building things and paving my own way. Really what happened is I was in New York, I was covering the tech boom that was happening in New York City in '09, 2010. And I was hanging out with the founders of Foursquare and Tumblr and Buzzfeed and some of these companies that ended up becoming very big very quickly and was writing about them and learning about how they did it and was inspired like, “I want to do this too.” I'd always had a few side projects going on, but the one that became a company that took my full-time attention was in the media space. It was brokering work for freelance journalists who were being laid off from newspapers and everywhere else. Helping them get gigs like a talent marketplace, like an Upwork now or a Fiverr.

And then that turned into clients that we got initially that were paying good rates for professional reporters and editors were largely brands that were starting to do blogs and social media and content marketing. And so then we built a software company around managing content marketing. And it's doing quite well. I'm actually in the Contently office right now. I'm still on the board, but whenever I'm in New York City, I work out of here. You can see I was a journalist, I had started a company to help journalists and then it turned into something bigger and we raised money and learned all of the tech stuff firsthand that I'd been writing about. And then at a certain point when I had run my course as active founder here, I decided to go back to writing about some of the things I'd learned, investigating things that I wanted to learn, and then inevitably got pulled back into doing another company again. And so yeah, the pattern repeats itself.

Clint Betts

Yeah. What did you learn about being a leader and building teams as you built this company?

Shane Snow

Yeah. Well this was one of the things that I, as I was coming out of the company or I guess a year after, published a book about teamwork called Dream Teams that was inspired by my having that question. What do I need to learn about leadership and teamwork as I go from this builder entrepreneur type who's used to being hands on to having 100 employees? And my job is to help them be hands on, help them build things. So a few years in, I had this anxiety around this and I started writing articles for my LinkedIn newsletter or the LinkedIn article thing about leaders and teamwork and different facets of debate and diversity and these things that I wanted to understand and get right. I was helping myself learn how to be a better leader and telling some of the stories that I was experiencing as a leader in this blogging effort.

And 100 posts later I had some working theories that I wanted to—I took a sabbatical. I took several months off and traveled the world and met people and interviewed people and did original research and whittled it down into a thesis that became this book. Basically the core thesis is that most teams get less efficient as they get bigger and it's harder to make great innovative decisions the longer the team stays the same or the more alike you are. And that happens. Just a group of people become more alike over time in their perspectives. But the formula for a team that keeps getting better and keeps climbing and keeps making breakthroughs is a team that thinks differently and injects new thinking into it frequently. A team that's willing to lean into what I call cognitive friction. So leaning into the tension between different viewpoints and different ideas and actually considering things that don't sound right or that sound crazy so that you can learn from them.

And then the third is this concept of intellectual humility, which is all of that's good, but if the boss is never willing to change their mind or if the team is never willing to back down, then none of it's any good. You just have debates and you have different ways of thinking and the person in power gets their way. So that was the core thesis. And then I explored facets of that through history and in dynamics from police partnerships all the way up to big social movements and in between are companies and hockey teams and all that. So I learned a lot but those are the,again rambling, but the question you asked is what did I learn about teamwork? I learned that the best teams are seeking different ways of thinking and then leaning in to those different ways of thinking, especially when they identify this is something I don't understand or I don't agree with or I don't think will work, let's see what we can learn from that and then let's be open to change. And that's not an easy process, but those are the teams that come up with incredible ideas more than once. Become more than one hit wonders.

Clint Betts

I'm sure you've seen Coinbase and I believe it's Basecamp and other companies who have outlawed politics or talking about politics within the company. That was a really big story when Coinbase did it and it caused massive, massive disruption to Basecamp when they did it. And you write about this and you touched on it just barely in your answer and in the book that you mentioned about the art of debate and productive conflict. I wonder if you have any advice for CEOs or leaders who are running teams, running companies, whether they should do the Coinbase, Basecamp approach? Should they do something different? How do you manage? Given that it does seem like in today's world we're just constantly angry and wanting to fight about everything, how do you remove that from your company and should you?

Shane Snow

Yeah. Well, and a lot of culture revolves around politics. Where we live culture is all around us and if that's what's on our minds when we're talking about work, yeah, how do you deal with that? I think it's a fascinating question. I have a couple of, I guess heuristics for this or maybe more like paradigms. I think the effort with Coinbase and Basecamp, that those kinds of moves, I appreciate because they're trying to solve a problem and they're taking drastic action to do so in the face of a lot of pushback. And to mixed results. The thing that makes a relationship fall apart is not necessarily how much you argue. Statistically speaking, it's when you stop talking about important things. So research on marriages, the biggest leading indicator that separation or divorce is going to happen is when you stop talking about important things, not how much you fight. Fighting is also not good for relationships. It erodes things over time. But just having arguments is not the thing that drives you apart, it's going apart.

Same thing with mergers that don't work out. This is something that I dug into. Mergers that don't work out. Company initiatives where you combine people. Diversity initiatives where you're getting people from different backgrounds of different race or gender or nationality or age or any of those things that on the surface indicate someone might think differently. When those initiatives don't work out a lot of the time, a huge percentage of the time it's due to stocking your group with people who you think are different and then not allowing them to express their differences or people being afraid to express when they do have something different to say. And so really the hard part is dealing with the hard conversations.

So I think when it comes to politics at work, not work politics but national politics, I assume, or local politics, the thing that is a problem is when those conversations start to erode the important conversations you need to have about work. We've convened for work purposes. And if our work is not inherently about politics, then talking about politics is fine unless it makes it so we can't work together and talk about the hard things about work. I think that's what I would hypothesize. This is part of the rationale for a Coinbase. Yeah, people talking about politics is making them fight and hate each other and then we can't get work done. So banning it all together I think is an approach, it's an attempt. I think were I'd make a rule on this—I'm building a company right now. We're small enough and I think disinterested in talking about politics enough that it's fine for now, but at a certain point there'll be that interest. When we're 100 people, I'm sure that it'll be a thing.

When I've thought about this, I've thought about the heuristic is if a conversation becomes personal, then it is no longer productive. And if we are having these conversations at work with our colleagues who we want to make progress with together and we want to care about, then we have to identify when conversations get personal. So I would say talk about politics all you want, but the second that you're getting mad at each other that means it's personal for you if it's mad, it's personal for them if they're mad and that's when you need to pull back. And I would dare say employ some mechanisms to recognize this and to acknowledge with each other, "Hey, I'm feeling like this is getting personal. Perhaps let's change the subject." Expressing that like, "Hey, I would like to be able to maintain respect in a great relationship and I'm finding that this is overwhelming."

That's hard to do, especially if you're not in a position of power. But if you're not in a position of power and you're getting in arguments about politics, that is a very tricky place to be. But I think that's the general thing with even work debates. We're arguing about what's the strategy we should go with? We have limited information, we got to pick a path. The moment that it gets personal is the moment when variables are going to start to come into play that are not going to be productive to the team. If I'm worrying about the decision we make because of my promotion or because of how I'm going to look, I'm going to look bad if someone else's idea wins out. Whatever it is. That means it's personal. That's another factor. And ideally teams should set up the incentives so that that's not the case. We should all get promotions if we get to the right idea no matter who brought it up. But it's not always that way.

But I think leaders need to identify that. And I think there's this kind of training of this meta skill of recognizing when a conversation is becoming personal in a way that's not productive. And then practicing taking time, because it happens all the time. We care. If we care, that's good. But that means that we need to make sure that we care for the right reasons because we care about the team winning, not because of some other thing. Representing a group like our political group. We care, it's important to us, but now I'm fighting on behalf of all these people behind me. I better win this argument and then suddenly work is affected by it. So I think it's not as simple as hey, no talking about politics at work. But that's the underlying principle that I would say is really afoot.

Clint Betts

You also write about this thing called lateral thinking and I wonder if you could go a little bit deeper on what you mean by that and how it relates to being a leader and working with teams.

Shane Snow

Yeah. This is one of my favorite topics. Lateral thinking is a fancy way of saying approaching problems from new angles or different angles than they've been approached before. And it's part and parcel to this idea that the only way to change the game is to rethink the game. If we're using a sports analogy, you can make your muscles stronger, you can learn to run faster. The high jump is the classic example. You can practice jumping over the high jump bar like everyone else or you can practice jumping a different way. The guy who originally jumped over the high jump bar backwards, Dick Fosbury, was not the best athlete. He was an amazing athlete, but not the best in the group. But he won the Olympics because he found a better way to approach the challenge. And so that's the principle of innovation. We're all playing the same game and we are playing within the boundaries of that game.

But changing the game requires rethinking the rules or the assumptions about it. I think it's a chewy concept because the world is always changing, which means the circumstances and the rules and assumptions and all of that are always changing. Classic story that I love telling is, you know how newspapers are all enormous? The big classic newspaper size like The New York Times. This huge broadsheet, enormous newspapers. Do you know why they're that size?

Clint Betts

No.

Shane Snow

Okay. I don't know how many years ago now, a decade ago, the Independent in the UK, that big broadsheet size, well respected newspaper. Their finance team basically proposed to the news team, "Hey these huge newspapers are expensive to print and if we just switched to a smaller size, a tabloid size, we'd save a ton of money, we could avoid layoffs, better for the business, blah blah blah." And the news team flipped out. They were like, "No. People respect the big newspapers. Have you seen tabloids?"

Clint Betts

Yeah. They're like size matters when it comes to newspapers.

Shane Snow

Yeah. They're like, "You look at tabloids. That tabloid size is associated with aliens worshiping Oprah and gossip about celebrities and no, we're serious news, we can't do that." And someone, I don't know who it was, but as the story goes, this is a news team so someone decided to do the reporting work of finding out why do we have the broadsheet size in the first place? Who decided that this was the format for respectable news? And what they found out is that newspapers didn't used to be that size. They were originally smaller. But in the 1850s in England, a tax was passed based on the number of pages you had in your newspaper. And so the newspaper companies printed enormous pages so they could pay less taxes. And now 150 years later it's assumed that newspapers are big because people respect that size. But actually it was a way to save on taxes 150 years ago.

So the end of the story is they switched to the tabloid size and everything was fine. People still respect the newspaper. I love that example because what had changed? Well, regulation had changed by that point. Newspapers were not taxed based on the size of the paper. Consumer behavior had changed. Technology had changed. A million things had changed where the smart idea if you consider saving money on taxes for a newspaper company, the smart idea. But the smart solution to that problem was the best thing they could come up with at the time given the circumstances and the technology and the culture and the people involved. And that is not the solution you'd come up with today if you're starting a newspaper company from scratch. You wouldn't say let's use the most expensive printers in the most giant paper possible. Say let's use standard sizes.

So lateral thinking in part is about looking at problems that way. Saying the current solutions, the current way that everyone is looking at this problem, why? And can we look at it a different way? Can we go back further in time? Can we approach this from an angle that doesn't have the baggage of the current solution? And if you look at problems that way, sometimes really elegant solutions just are there in front of you. And with harder problems, sometimes it's just a better place to start to get a team of people to think differently about the solution. And I think the way that it comes back around to the end of your question, the way this has to do with teamwork, the best way to inject lateral thinking into a problem solving process is to inject people who see the problem from a different perspective than you.

So if you and your team all have these assumptions that people respect the big newspaper and someone walks in and is like, "I don't have that assumption. Why is the newspaper big?" That is a way to kick you out of your frame of thinking and start to help you think outside the box. So yeah. I've done a lot of work over the years on lateral thinking. How do we trick ourselves into thinking differently than we think? And there's a lot of tactics, but the best one is other people are showing us what we don't see because we make assumptions we don't even realize.

Clint Betts

You've written a number of books and I wonder at what point do you—I'm going to ask you a couple book questions here. When do you realize you have an idea or a subject that you want to go deep on that's worthy of a book versus a blog post or something like that?

Shane Snow

Yeah. My answer now is different than it was when I wrote my first book. My first book was a goal. I want to write a book by the time I'm 30. I was a journalist, I'd written a lot of stuff. It was the level up. I've done big feature articles in magazines, now I want to do a book. And so for that there was this process of, “What do I have as a foundation for a topic I want to spend a lot of time on that I think could be worth a book?” And that was the lateral thinking thing. Which is cool because it's a topic that has legs forever. I would say I would not write that book the same now. I think there's some naivete to my approach. But by the time I got to my third book, my approach very much was this is a topic that I've been writing about or speaking about and obsessed with learning about for so long that I'm starting to see patterns that I'm not finding in books out there, that I'm not finding in other people's work.

And part of it too was with writing business books in particular or nonfiction, a lot of how you make money from it, a lot of how you get exposure for it, how you get more readers for it is through public speaking. And so I also had this filter of basically here's this thing that has been on my mind, I've been chipping away at this marble. I think there's a statue in here that would make a great book that I would love to complete. Is this something that I could talk about in front of big audiences to expose lots of people to these ideas? Because more people will buy the book that way, and speaking gigs pay better than books do anyway. So that was a filter. And so with Dream Teams, that was very much the process of I have all of this stuff, I've seen these patterns, I have been doing these features where I'm working in material that I'm thinking about putting into this book and it's resonating. Some of it's not, so I'm going to take a different angle.

So that was the process. I'll say that I have another book coming out which is— none of this advice is relevant. Which my wife and I during the pandemic co-wrote a middle grade novel about two kids going on an adventure in space. And I'm never going to give a speaking gig about that book. But we did get a lot of 10 to 12 year old kids and their parents to read early drafts. And so we're growing a little bit of an army of people who hopefully will spread the word about it when it comes out. But totally different thing when you're dealing with fiction. Because the way fiction spreads is by word of mouth, and the way a lot of business ideas spread are through interviews like this. Thank you for asking about the book. Or through public speaking, through PR. That sort of thing. So that is a factor when writing a non-fiction book is, “Is this going to be something that inherently can have a stage where I can talk about these ideas?”

Clint Betts

I imagine there's some CEOs or leaders listening to this or watching this right now who have either written a book or would like to write a book for credibility. There's something about, I've written a book, having that on the mantle that is interesting. By the way, when your motivation's that it's not going to be good. Have a real motivation behind it.

Shane Snow

Yeah.

Clint Betts

Yeah. That's why they hire ghost writers and things like that. But for those who are really going after it and want to write a book and want to do what you've done, how do they promote it? How do you get the word out? You mentioned a little bit around public speaking, but I imagine the PR and trying to hawk a book gets pretty difficult and the financial rewards may not be extremely great.

Shane Snow

Oh, yeah, it's an investment either in hard money. You're hiring PR people. All of the things. You're doing your marketing campaigns, and/or you look at the hourly rate for all of the shoe leather that you personally put in in promoting a book and your effective hourly rate is so low. So I don't think it should be looked at that way. I do think there's some value in thinking of a non-fiction book that shows your expertise as a calling card that can help you with consulting and all of that. That does convey something. It doesn't convey that if people open the book and it's bad or it's cliche or it's garbage. So it has to be good. And people can't tell if there's a ghost writer, so that is an option.

I'm a little more of a purist. I have friends who are ghost writers so I think that's fine. If you have ideas that are worth reading and someone helps you write those, communicate those, I think that's great. So that's fine. For me, where I am a writer, part of it is the thrill of it. I love writing. So there's that. But the promotion of a book, it's changing. The best practice years ago was very different because the world's changed. We're not paying taxes based on the number of sheets in the newspaper. Things are changing. For my last book, I did a lot of podcast interviews. I had already had a lot of consulting clients and public speaking clients, but I did webinars, I did all sorts of web campaigns. But they boiled down to this idea of super connecting, I guess. Who has an audience that pays attention to them, that can have me on to talk about these ideas or who can say that they read this and they like these ideas? That's the general thing.

So it's like if Oprah has your book on or she's like, "This book is great and I love it," a lot of people will listen to that. So there's the micro version of that times a thousand. There's so many books out there. That may not be the best strategy for leveraging your time and resources for a book tomorrow. But in general that principle of people pay attention to the recommendations of other people, I think is a good one. Whether it's podcasts or Oprah shows or whatever. I'll say the thing that's like the newspaper tax thing is the convention used to go on Good Morning America. I've had plenty of friends go on Good Morning America and not sell very many books from it. It used to be this traditional be on TV. I was on CNBC and Fox Business and CNN and all of these. Bloomberg. I did not sell books from that. And so that I think used to be very much a thing and now it's very much less of a thing.

Clint Betts

Isn't that funny? Yeah. This whole idea of being on TV. Having done a little bit about myself in a different way, it almost feels like the social media post, like someone taking a picture of you at that anchor desk or whatever is more valuable than the actual segment because you get to say you were on this thing. Obviously I've been on the news a few times. I don't know how to tell people to find it. It's so outdated that it—

Shane Snow

It just whooshes by.

Clint Betts

Yeah. It's like I don't know. But here's a picture. And the picture is cool because everyone's like, "Oh, you must be doing something."

Shane Snow

Yeah. You're right. It's the credibility stamp that actually I would say is more valuable. Yeah.

Clint Betts

Yeah. It becomes the credibility stamp. I have a question for you. We have a theory here or I have a theory here that life is as much about the chances you give as the chances you take. And I want to maybe touch in with you on this idea of when in your life have you been given a chance that really made a difference?

Shane Snow

Wow. I love that question. I think about my writing career. There have been times when I've been taken under someone's wing or my first magazine story was for Wired Magazine, which is a hard magazine to get into.

Clint Betts

For sure. That's the premier tech magazine. Yeah.

Shane Snow

And still, I love the magazine. And I'd worked my way up the ladder of blogs in order to have some credibility for it, but I was still pretty green. And the editor that gave me a shot to write that first feature story for Wired I was really grateful for because that was an accelerant to my career. It was a lot of work to edit. So that comes to mind. There's a couple of mentors who come to mind. When I was in college there's a guy who's up in Columbia in New York City. A guy who was in charge of this entrepreneurship program of spinning out ideas from the business school into the market. And I was in the journalism program. And he was not supposed to meet with me for whatever reason. I emailed him. I was like, "Hey, I could use some help with this thing I'm thinking through." And he was like, "Come to my office but don't go past my boss's office. Come through this side door." And then he closed the blinds. He's like, "How do I help you?" And he's been a mentor for years now.

I guess he was supposed to be on the clock for other things. I don't know what it was, but he was like, "You're at the J school. I'm supposed to be doing this other thing." And he's invested in two of my companies at this point and opened so many doors. And it's just someone who without knowing who I was, just wanted to help even though it wasn't his job and he maybe shouldn't have for whatever reason. Things like that I think have mattered a lot. Yeah. I'll say that on the personal front, the thing that really comes to mind is I'm divorced and married a second time. And I had a lot of baggage after my divorce that I had to work through. Internal baggage. And swore I would never love again and all of that and certainly never get married. Fool me twice. That whole thing.

And when I met my wife Sylvia and we started dating, I was such a pain about that whole thing I had in my head about how I was not going to be fooled twice. And I think she gave me the chance to grow in a way that I think a less mature person would've said, “I'm out of here.” And I'm so grateful because we're having a kid. I've never been happier in my life. And she's like I said, my co author, she's my business partner. Been together for a while now. Who knows what made her decide to do that. If it's just that she's wonderful or if she just randomly decided to give me a shot. But I think most people would've walked away because I was a bit of a mess. So I'm grateful for that.

Clint Betts

That's incredible. That's the one that matters the most. I wonder as you are building this next company, maybe we can talk about that a little bit. Lessons you've learned from your previous companies. What you're applying to this one. And also tell people what this company is. Is this Showrunner?

Shane Snow

It is. Yep. So that is the full-time thing now. We're headquartered in Chicago and we have employees all over the place. So after Contently and after the books, I started getting into writing for television and making indie movies because what I decided is that entertainment was a vehicle to reach a lot more people than I had reached before with business writing and with investigative journalism. So I wanted to try that. Use entertaining stories to show people the world that they don't see or help them understand people that I want them to care about. And that led to starting a production company with my wife Sylvia and a business partner. And then during the pandemic because of Covid restrictions and everything else, we had to work with very limited crew and it takes a lot of people to make a commercial or a music video or an episode of television.

And so we started experimenting with smart home tools so that you can remote control the camera from afar, remote control the lights from afar. And then that snowballed into building a tech platform for running a studio like a smart home. And the big aha for us when we decided this is a company that we should just use these tools but we should offer to other people was this thing called virtual production. Essentially, it's the smartest part of a smart studio, I guess you could say. Instead of going on location to bring your crew and your actors to the desert or a street in Croatia or whatever, you have a room made out of LED walls and you put that location on the LED walls and then you connect trackers to the camera. So when the camera moves, the wall moves subtly. It looks real to the human eye.

It's a lot of math that goes into that stuff. So we started building tools to help filmmakers do that and that virtual production world is blowing up. Every TV show you see now is using that in some way. The new Lord of the Rings show, the new Game Of Thrones show, all of them are using it. Yeah. So that's what Showrunner is. We're making tools for that and it's going well. I don't know how many people are operating sound stages or studios that are listening to this, but if you are, we should definitely talk. The stuff that we're doing is very cool and it's in studios around the country.

So the question you had about what am I doing this time differently? What am I taking away from the last company? There's a lot of the nuts and bolts things around cash flow and strategic planning that you get wrong once and you never get wrong again. But on the team front we've been very deliberate about how we're hiring so that we don't have to let people go as much. And so there's an expectation for certain roles that this will be a limited thing, like it's not a big deal when this runs its course. So doing a lot with high paid contractors so that they can afford the benefits that we can't do with contractors, but keeping a pretty lean team. But we've been very deliberate about the different facets of cognitive diversity and different kinds of thinking we're bringing to the team and that is the big one.

The other is at Contently, we were helping people with freelancers and using project management tools that helped people with remote teams. So we were early to a lot of the things that people had to figure out during the pandemic with remote work. But a lot of that is stuff that I'm applying to this. Like our headquarters is in Chicago but there's only half a dozen of us there. Everyone else is remote and that's fine. Because we from the beginning put in a lot of systems and norms, I guess, for making that productive.

Clint Betts

What made you decide on Chicago? Because Contently is in New York, right?

Shane Snow

Yep. Yeah. So we decided on Chicago because the tax incentives there for films are really good and we got wind that there was going to be a boost in that. So a lot of productions are starting to choose Chicago over Atlanta or even over LA. And so seeing that growth. And also real estate is cheaper than New York so we're like, we want to build out our own showroom, R&D studio that we can show clients these tools. Chicago's a cheaper place to do that but it has all the amenities of a great city. It's got a great film community that's growing very fast. And so in that liminal space of you're moving operations to Chicago, you're thinking of shooting your film there instead of LA, we wanted to be there when people are having that transition. And so far it's been great.

And the film scene in Chicago, the people there are just lovely. So helpful. Even in competitive situations people are so great, which is refreshing. I think in a market like LA you get a lot more ... People there are awesome, but there's a mixture of cutthroat people in there that makes it hard to ... You have to be a little more guarded I think than I've found I've had to be in Chicago. You don't have to figure out whether someone is going to be helpful, they just are. Which is generally the case in Chicago and that's been awesome.

Clint Betts

I wonder with Showrunner ... Because not every company, like you said, it's probably a pretty niche market in terms of who would want a studio or anything like that. But a lot of companies are building podcast studios and want really nice podcast studios. Is that something that you guys are thinking about, "Well maybe we could help them with their film and audio studio within companies?" Because I feel like there would be a big market there.

Shane Snow

Yeah, absolutely. Audio is a category that we are doing. Right now the tools are pretty basic. But audio tools for filmmaking in particular are a big piece of the roadmap. Corporate studios have actually been surprisingly a big source of leads for us and we have some really good stuff going with ... Yeah. I mean a lot of corporations are realizing they can certainly do social video in house. You don't have to always take it to someone else's studio or take it to an agency or you could have your agency come to your studio which is branded you want and all that. So there's more and more of that. There's more creative agencies that are building their own in-house studios and more of those are considering the LED wall thing. The virtual production, which is great. For us, the corporates that we're working with right now aren’t virtual production studios so it's just their marketing team has the iPad where they're controlling things, that sort of thing. But I think there's going to be some growth there. Every podcast now it seems like has a video component or should. So making that easier, smoother, higher production value, I think is certainly a thing that we could get into.

Clint Betts

Yeah. I would've never thought that people would want to watch two people talking. Listening to two people talking I got, but the fact that podcasts have really taken off on YouTube and other places is pretty incredible. I guess I have two final questions for you. You mentioned this a little bit as you're building Showrunner and you have these distributed teams. You have some people in the office in Chicago, some people throughout the world. How do you think all of this shakes out? Because post pandemic, we're in a completely different world. Most tech companies used to require you be in the office. That's no longer the case for a lot of them. How do you think all of this shakes out? Do you think this is the new normal?

Shane Snow

Yeah. Hard to predict. I think it should be the new normal. I also think the decision—like the decision about whether you should ban talk of politics at work, I think the decision should be a bespoke one based on some principles. And I think one of those is what is the nature of the work you're doing? What is the nature of the collaboration you're doing? So in our case, we do have a hardware integration component to our business, which means we've either got to ship you expensive hardware or you got to be in Chicago or you come once a month with the rest of the team that's remote to do that. So certain businesses will have those constraints naturally and I think you shouldn't fight those just to be egalitarian about being remote.

It's a practical thing like how are we going to work best and what do we need people to do from a location standpoint in order to work best? I think the thing that needs to be solved or we need to collectively get better at is the meetings thing. Remote meetings can take up so much time of the day and it can be so draining and being on a video call all day long and not having time to do your work, that's I think from what I've seen statistics wise and what I'm sensing in my own world, there's more time being sucked up into that than in person meetings were taking before this. I think because it's just so available. We can always do a video call even when an email would do. And in the office, sure, there's a lot of useless meetings, there's a lot of unnecessary meetings, but this default to the Zoom call I think is something we need to get better at collectively. Or a conclusion might be let's have the pendulum swing. Everyone get in the office. We're spending too much time on video. I don't think that's the right choice either.

Clint Betts

My final question for you, and I'm really interested in this when it comes to you, is what your day looks like. When you wake up at ... I wonder how much time you spend writing, how much you time ... What does your day look like?

Shane Snow

Yeah. Every once in a while I have to reset the routine. But generally I wake up between 6:00 and 6:30. I will immediately go to the coffee shop downstairs if I'm home or someplace like that if I'm traveling and I journal. If I have a writing project I'm working on, I'll make some progress on that or if I'm trying to learn something. So generally an hour to an hour and a half there and then if I'm being diligent, I will then go to the gym. If not, I will go straight to work. But I have blocked off that my mornings typically are deep work and afternoon local time is when I can do meetings. And then I stop doing meetings at five. And then I will generally do an hour or so of the follow ups that those meetings generate. I would love to have more time for deep work, but as CEO of a company, the nature of my job is I'm delegating and communicating and meeting. But I deliberately do not let that be my entire day any day of the week because there is also deep work to be done. So that's so far so good.

Clint Betts

I think that's great advice. Shane, thanks so much for coming on. It's such a pleasure to talk to you. I encourage everyone to go to shanesnow.com, read your writing. You have one in particular about how the CIA created the original fake news network and I just think that is such a beautiful in depth investigative story. People should go read that and good luck on everything my friend.

Shane Snow

That is one of my favorites. Thank you. It's been a pleasure. Thank you for your interest and curiosity and yeah, so flattered to be here and appreciate it.

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