Turning Ideas into Impactful Ventures 

Nic Cary interviews Seth Godin, a renowned entrepreneur and bestselling author. Seth shares his journey from early ventures, like selling ice cream sandwiches, to becoming a marketing guru. He discusses the difference between actual and perceived risk, the importance of genuine value, and the power of small, manageable risks. Seth emphasizes learning by doing, forming supportive peer groups, and picking the right customers. The episode concludes with Seth advocating for giving forward and creating a positive impact.

S3E3 - Seth Godin - Website Image 300x300

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • The difference between actual and perceived risk in entrepreneurship.
  • The importance of offering genuine value and building trust with customers.
  • Strategies for taking small, manageable risks to grow your business.
  • The value of learning by doing and forming supportive peer groups.
  • The concept of giving forward and creating a positive impact through your ventures.

In this episode…

Nic Cary interviews Seth and they discuss the lessons learned during his career journey including:

  • The importance of distinguishing between actual risk and perceived risk, and how managing perceived risk can lead to innovative and successful ventures.
  • The value of creating genuine value for customers and building trust through empathy and authentic offerings.
  • The power of small, manageable risks and iterative learning, emphasizing the significance of starting with small projects and growing sustainably.

Sponsor for this episode:

This episode is brought to you by Sky’s The Limit, one of the largest nonprofit programs for underrepresented young adult entrepreneurs in the US. Sky’s The Limit is a quick-growing digital platform that connects entrepreneurs with their peers, volunteer business mentors, training resources, and funding.

Our goal is to develop the social capital that founders need to chase their business dreams.

To learn more, please visit today.

Episode transcript

Intro (00:04):

Welcome to the First Buck podcast where we feature stories about entrepreneurs and the people who support them. Now let's get started with the show.

Nic Cary (00:24):

Hello and welcome to the First Buck podcast, brought to you by Sky's the We feature stories about entrepreneurs and the people who support them. Today we are joined by Seth Godin. Seth is an entrepreneur, bestselling author, and speaker. In addition to launching one of those popular blogs on the internet, he has written over 21 bestselling books including The Dip Linchpin Purple Cow Tribes, What To Do When It's Your Time and It's Always Your Turn. His book, This Is Marketing, was an instant bestseller in countries all around the world and his latest books are The Song of Significance and the Practice Creatives all over the world have already made it a bestseller. He's renowned for his writing and speaking. Seth also co-founded two companies, Squidoo and Yoyodyne, acquired by Yahoo. By focusing on everything from effective marketing to leadership to the spread of ideas and changing everything, Seth has been able to motivate and inspire countless people from around the world. He's also just one of three professionals inducted into the direct hall of fame and in an astonishing turn of events in May, 2018, he was inducted into the Marketing Hall of fame as well. We think he's the only person to be in both. Seth, we are extremely excited to have you with us today and we have a little tradition around here. I know you don't like to stick to script, but we got to ask you one question and then we can get into everything else. How did you earn your first buck?

Seth Godin (01:38):

Superheroes in the Marvel universe and the DC Universe each have an origin story. The Green Lantern, that guy found him and gave him the ring Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider. The origin story we tell ourselves may or may not be true, but it's the fuel we use. So I can't tell you exactly which one of my many projects of my teens was the first buck, but I can tell you a couple sophomore year they built a new high school and that's where I started and they forgot to finish the kitchen. So there were all these hungry high school students. I got permission to use the freezer and ordered cases of ice cream sandwiches and over what would be lunch. We sold thousands of ice cream sandwiches. I didn't get to keep the money, I did it for the high school band, but that sort of counts.


Then I started a ski club that involved finding 40 of my friends who wanted to pay up front to go once a week by bus in Buffalo to the ski mountain. It wasn't really a mountain, it was a hill. Then there was the project selling bio rhythms, which are like horoscopes, which I did through the local TV auction. It was just one Habra scheme after another, but the magic of each one of them was I wasn't hustling anybody. If you didn't want a nice cream sandwich, it was fine with me. If you didn't want to go skiing, it was fine with me. Here's a service, take it if you want it. And I continued this into college where I sold posters on the quad. The first day people got to class because their dorms were empty and then I co-founded the largest student run business in the US but I only got paid 50 bucks a week. So it's never been about how much money can you make, it's how much service can you offer.

Nic Cary (03:26):

I love that I immediately find the mutual benefit that you are providing in all these scenarios. You're offering something. If somebody wants it, there's a price they want to buy it, then it's useful to them and it's useful to you. I love that. So it starts off selling ice cream and then ski club and a membership bio rhythms and horoscope and then selling posters on the quad to young adults. Walk us through what happens when you get done with university and how do you take those steps to sort of increase the amount of risk you're taking personally in your endeavors? What kind of things gave you the confidence to do that? I think a lot of young entrepreneurs would say they don't know where to start, so talk to us a little bit about your personal story with that.

Seth Godin (04:08):

Well, so there's a difference between actual risk and apparent risk. Actual risk is getting eaten by a saber tooth tiger succumbing to river blindness, having not enough food to eat. Perceived risk is what will I tell my friends if I fail perceived risk is maybe they're going to laugh at me. So if it were up to me, I might still be working at the job I got after business school at Spinnaker Software because what I got to do at Spinnaker is lean into apparent risk launching new products. I worked with Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clark, Michael Creton. I was 24 years old, I wasn't my company and I got to become very comfortable with apparent risk to speak up when I wasn't sure to launch projects that might not work. And after I left that company because I had a move to get married, I became a book packager and book packaging is the idea of book publishers don't have enough books.


This is the old days. They need things like almanac and how-to guides. I would create these and they would pay for them. The beauty of that business is you don't make the book until after they pay you. So the cashflow is very positive and I got 800 rejections in a row the first year and we were window shopping in restaurants and eating macaroni and cheese for dinner. I got comfortable not just with the intellectual apparent risk of here's an idea, but the actual risk of this might not work and that dance between the two of them is something that I keep focusing on, which is I will never do and have never done a project where if it doesn't work, I'm bankrupt and I have to sleep on the street. That means the project is too big. Don't try to start big logs on fire if you don't have enough kindling to do so start with little logs that match the amount of kindling you have. So what I say to people who are getting started is there's all sorts of magical kinds of apparent risk you can take that aren't very expensive. Here's an example. Go to the bus station with a $10 bill and walk up to a stranger and ask if they're willing to buy it from you for $5. Now this is on its surface an obviously great deal for the person you are selling it to and almost everyone will say no because they don't trust you because you don't have the benefit of the doubt.


So if you can get comfortable with that because you're not hustling people, you're not hustling people, you're offering them a huge possible exchange, now you can say, alright, I get that feeling, that feeling's okay to have because that feeling isn't hurting anybody and that feeling's not going to make me go broke. How do I now use that feeling to create value for other people in a way that I make enough money to do it again tomorrow? This is the opposite of I need a $10,000 to go buy Bitcoin, then I'll be a millionaire. That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about the generosity of leaning into discomfort.

Nic Cary (07:21):

I love that. I struggled. It was just get out of your comfort zone, practice a little bit of small sales even if it's a good deal for somebody else and seeing that those things don't happen. The other thing that's a persistent story with so many of the entrepreneurs that we interview is that kind of learning about rejection and not taking it as some sort of catastrophic personal upfront, which is it's not the same as being mauled by a saber tooth tiger. It's just someone saying, maybe not right now. I don't want an ice cream sandwich right now. It's freezing today. So it is about basically practicing those skills and I think that's one of neat things about entrepreneurship and business is that we can all get better at these things if we put our time into 'em and learn how to be open to changing and improving. And so that's one of the key things I'm always trying to pull out of these stories. So I'm glad you already

Seth Godin (08:09):

Shared. I just want to put a small pin in this. I have a different approach than some people, which is I abhor the rejection Olympics. I abre the people you see on the internet who walk into a Krispy Kreme and ask for some absurd thing, manipulating the person behind the counter just so that they can get some points By being rejected, that doesn't count. You created that false environment to insulate yourself from actual rejection. Actual rejection is when you make a useful offer to somebody else where you can prove that you are right and then they say no because you need the empathy to discover what they want. That's when you learn something, not when you're just practicing getting punched in the face because all that teaches you is that it's okay to get punched in the face

Nic Cary (08:58):

Or worse humiliate someone, which brings around I think far worse consequences in the long run. Let's talk a little bit about you've been at the forefront of watching technology and business change so much over the last few decades. How's the world really different for young adults now that are entering the workforce and what are some things you think they might consider as they take their first steps into either founding their own businesses or exploring working for somebody else?

Seth Godin (09:27):

There are two spectacularly huge differences. The first one is everyone has a microphone and that's brand new that when I started out, there were three business magazines. That was it when I started out, there were just a few books published in any given field every week. Now there's an unlimited amount of outbound noise that anyone is capable of creating and if you're not careful, you'll start acting like an unpaid employee of TikTok or Twitter as opposed to using these tools to build something. And the other side of that is that AI plus the wisdom of the internet means you can look anything up. There is no shortage of insight and information. That is the first time in the history of the world that has been true. It is a spectacularly large shift and what the combination of these two things means is that if you go out and get the job, that's easy to get. Being a cog in a system doing what you're told, you are going to be under respected. And this is a moment when the entire system is changing and the change agent is tech. And when a system is changing, you can see how it works because exposed under stress and that is your moment to show up and do something that people older than you aren't willing to do.

Nic Cary (10:57):

Love that. Back to us a little bit about the role of maybe people in your career that have sort of been like, I would describe 'em as mentors or advisors, but did you ever cultivate relationships like that? How did those function? How did you even go about finding people to lend you an ear or and vice versa? Tell us a bit about that. I think a lot of people, they're sort of confused about the difference between paying for a business coach or going down the route of a self-help book from some guru or working maybe with someone more familiar like a pastor or somebody like that. But talk to us a little bit about that role of exchange of social capital between those who have it and those who seek it.

Seth Godin (11:42):

That's a great way to describe it. I wrote a blog post about the difference between mentors and heroes a long time ago. Mentoring doesn't scale. It's an unreasonable ask and it's a good way to hide if you say, well, I would do better if I could only find a great mentor. Heroes on the other hand are free. You can say, what would Jesse Owens do? What would the Mahatma do? What would Nick do? And they don't have to even know you exist, but they can become a role model for you. So there are more heroes for you to model behavior on in a given space just because their tracks are visible. But when we think about mentoring and there have been people, I've been so, so lucky along the way who showed up when I needed them maybe for an hour, maybe for a year to say, I see you, but you shouldn't wait for that.


What you ought to do is find four other people and start a circle that the mastermind group of five, if you do it well, we'll stick around for decades. And these people don't have to know the answer. Your hero knows the answer. These people just have to hold you accountable. So you get on a zoom call twice a week or whatever that is, and you tell each other the truth. This is what I'm hiding from, this is what I'm expecting, this is my theory, these are my assertions. And they'll look you in the eye and say, tell me more. And that person doesn't have to be smarter than you. They just have to care and people like that already and they're just waiting for you to organize this group. They don't have the guts to do it.

Nic Cary (13:24):

I think that is a hundred percent true. We see this with peer matching happening on the sky's limit platform, which is just groups of people that identify with one thing they have in common with each other. And we encourage them to do exactly what you just described, which is find a few other founders just like you talked openly about your problems and you will find collectively or much stronger together and can ride that emotional journey that comes with all business ownership. So I like that a lot. Finding role models I think is seemingly somehow more challenging than ever. When we look at the types of people that are profiled at the highest levels of leadership today. How do you think the role of social media has changed how we perceive what good behavior is? Can you talked a little bit about how you shouldn't go out and try and get a whole bunch of views because you make fun of people at a Krispy Kreme or something else and yet we somehow people get a lot of our attention. So how do you think about that phenomena in the future and how can young adults get out of that trap of the seduction of attention when maybe that could actually lead to pretty adverse consequences? Personally or professionally?

Seth Godin (14:34):

I grew up in Buffalo, New York, and they figured out at Eyewitness News, the local network, the local evening news that if they announced at four o'clock, five o'clock or six o'clock in the afternoon, a fire in South Buffalo today details at 11, more people would watch the news. And I grew up thinking that South Buffalo was this desolate wasteland that all of it must have burned down because every single night, every week it

Nic Cary (15:03):

Burns down again

Seth Godin (15:05):

There was a fire in South Buffalo. So if all you're doing is looking at popular social media, you would come to the conclusion that the only people who are happy are the ones who are hustling other people. The only people who are well off are the ones who have yachts and private jets, that the only people who are succeeding are the ones who are picking fights, acting like trolls, shutting down entire divisions of their car company on a whim, just acting like idiots because that's what gets clicks. That's what gets views. So you can come to the conclusion that like South Buffalo, the world is burning down. This is actually not the case, it's just what gets clicks. So it's on us to curate what we're going to pay attention to. It's up to us to curate where we're looking for our role models. And most of the people in my country who are millionaires drive a used car, an old car, live in a nondescript house and have the same spouse they've had for 30 years, that that's the majority, that's the average. So I don't have any patience for people who show up in my box spamming people and they say, I'm just trying to get the word out, or I'm just doing what everybody else is doing. Well, no, that's not okay. You should do what you're proud to do. And if you want the engagement with people who want to root for people who are doing that, that's how you do it. By doing that, not by racing to the bottom, but by racing to the top instead

Nic Cary (16:44):

That advice, don't race to the bottom, race to the top and do what you are proud to do. I wanted to ask you also, and I know we're coming up on some time with you, so be respectful of that. A lot of young entrepreneurs, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds who are underestimated, who just may not have friends and family that are role models or near them may not know where to start. A lot of them think they just add venture capital money or loan from a wealthy uncle or aunt that their idea would just work. What kind of thoughts or advice or words of wisdom could you share with those types of entrepreneurs around how to think about the early stages of building their business when they just don't have types of resources that seem to be lauded by social media and all these other places where they're comparing themselves constantly to this completely unrealistic personality type?

Seth Godin (17:39):

I have so many things to share about this and that's why I'm here. Alright, let's go. I'll do my best. The first thing is when you pick your customers, you pick your future. So while it's tempting to sell to people who might be right around the corner, if they don't have a big problem to solve and money to spend to solve it, they might not be the customers you want. If you end up with customers who are shortsighted or bullies, you're going to spend your day with people who are shortsighted and bully. Pick your customers, pick your future. Number two, raising venture capital and getting a loan is not success. It is the opposite of that. It is signing up for a series of decisions that you'd rather not make. Don't keep track of that. It's different. It's this, solve a problem for someone who has money to spend for the solution.


They will pay you preferably solve a problem that doesn't require you to spend money in advance. Solve a problem where the customer might be willing to pay you in advance. And it doesn't have to be technical and it doesn't have to be fancy. It has to involve coordination and the creation of value. So if you live in a place where it snows, organize 20 kids with shovels, and on a snow day you can make a thousand dollars just by getting people who need a gig shoveling, connected with people who need something shoveled, right? If you can do that once and you have a thousand dollars now, you don't need to borrow a thousand dollars for your next project. You created value by organization by showing up and doing things, not buying stuff. So what we're getting at here is this, the media tells you you need to start a car company or a social media company and the media tells you you need to go public for a billion dollars. None of this is what you need. What you need is to find customers, make a promise, keep it, and get paid enough to do it. Again. I'm sure that sounds boring at first, but if you do it for six months in a row, then you'll have enough trust and enough resources that if you want to go build something fancier or hipper, please do, but don't start doing this out of debt. Start doing this with abundance by creating value.

Nic Cary (20:00):

I love that. So I'm going to just go through it again to make sure everyone hears it and it settles in. So it's pick your customers, pick your future. And I think this is really wise, sort of like going fishing. You don't want to fish in the tiniest, dirtiest feted pond near your house. You need to go out to where there's fresh water and lots of other fish. Raising money or taking a loan is not success. You're just signing up for a whole bunch of other issues. And I think what you're really getting to is you need to scale up to those moments if those are necessary. A lot of great businesses bootstrap themselves, never owe anything to anybody, and those are the real secret wealth creators and a lot of the conversations I've seen. So solve a problem for someone who can pay you for it, and ideally if you can create a business where they pay you in advance, that's sort of a real hack. I love that one. So yeah, I think like you said, find your customers, make a promise, keep it, and then make enough money so you can do it all over again. So you've done all these things in your career, Seth, and I know you love to give back through your writing and your public speaking. Talk to us about the role of giving back and how you think about that as a writer, as a contributor to worlds thinking around business and more. How do you think about what the future holds for you there?

Seth Godin (21:22):

I'm averse to thinking of it as giving back. I think of it as giving forward. And the reason is nobody who has a car begrudges the fact that the government paved the road because you need a paved road if you want your car to go somewhere. Here we have this world we live in where for a hundred years we've been digging energy out of the ground and burning it to make money. And we created the conditions where you and I could be talking from thousands of miles away. We created a culture based on largely civility, a lack of graft, the ability that you can show up somewhere, transact with a stranger and it'll work. This is not an accident. This is the result of a lot of effort and every single person who's listening to this has an enormous amount to contribute. But we've indoctrinated people because of issues of caste and social standing, because of all sorts of mistakes. To think that their contribution doesn't matter. Your contribution matters an enormous amount. It is the future. And so I'm not saying, oh, I won the privileged lottery. I have to do this. What I'm saying is why wouldn't all of us want to make things better and to figure out how to weave together possibility toward improvement? And yeah, my parents raised me to be a philanthropist and I've been one my whole life, but what it's about is changing the system and if the system is working in a way that's harming folks, let's make it better.

Nic Cary (23:04):

Love that. So giving forward, not giving back, making sure our future has some of those things that have given us the opportunity to be where we are today, which is civility, mutual benefit. And I think one of the things you said that stood out to me is how do we sort of ensure the conditions under which people can basically achieve their full potential? And I think we've got work to do is basically the headline, but I love your mindset for that. I have one last question, which was, is there anything I didn't ask you that I should have asked you? And I didn't have a script so I just missed it. That'll

Seth Godin (23:38):

Be my last question. If I created discomfort because you didn't have a script, there are plenty of people who will say, oh, I don't learn by doing, I'll just watch. Tell me what the summary is and I'll check it off. If you go for swimming lessons and you watch other people in the pool, you're never going to learn how to swim. The fact is lots of people learning lots of different ways, but the number one way to learn is to learn by doing. And the number two way to learn is to start a peer group of mutual support. If you do those two things, I have no doubt you will succeed if you don't do those two things. I can't imagine how you will.

Nic Cary (24:24):

Alright, well there's so much to cover in this summary. So Seth, I really appreciate you giving your time today, all the time that you have spent researching these topics and leading yourself and organizations. Thank you so much. I guess all in conclusion, summarize with what you said. That was sort of the end, the final question, which was you got to learn by doing. And it's not saying jump in the deep end, by the way. You can start in the paddle pool. You can go to me, Dave, you can get a little bit deeper and keep going. You don't have to risk it all right from the beginning. There are different strategies for getting wet, but there's also some that lead to drowning.


Just be aware of that, but learn by doing and then find some peers that can support you along the way. And ideally ones that are probably from slightly diverse backgrounds of opinion that can be there for you. And so without further ado, thank you so much, Seth. At Sky's limit org, we connect underrepresented entrepreneurs with volunteer business professionals for free. one-on-one mentoring. We also provide business guides to all of our members, plus monthly funding opportunities. You can sign up for free and if you like what you heard, please subscribe.

Outro (25:34):

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