65: Unpacking the Myth of the Tech Genius with Shawn Livermore, Author of Average Joe: Be the Silicon Valley Tech GeniusPublished February 16, 2021
Run time: 00:52:49
Are the tech geniuses behind the likes of Uber, Facebook, or Groupon born with a magic dust that’s contributed to their success? Short answer: No.
However, global fascination of these companies has created a dangerous barrier of entry into the tech industry. Software engineer, consultant, and tech startup founder Shawn Livermore is dispelling the myth of the tech genius with his best-selling book, Average Joe.
Shawn joins the show to breakdown how the idolization of tech geniuses has shaped the tech industry and how tech is actually made by everyday people, how communicating complexity can be more powerful than writing code, and how anyone can become a “tech genius”, but it may not be what you think it is.
In this episode, you will learn:
- The power of a good analogy in making tech accessible
- Why it’s dangerous to prioritize intelligence in tech
- How to build a company culture that fits the goal
- The value of empathy in tech
- How the Slow Create Framework works
- Techniques for overcoming psychological hurdles and becoming a “tech genius”
- How communication is your greatest learnable skill
- How to manufacture confidence
This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group, where we make sense of mobile app development with our non-technical approach to building custom mobile software solutions. Learn more at https://jmg.mn.
Recorded January 29, 2020 | Edited by Jordan Daoust | Produced by Jenny Karkowski
Follow Shawn on Twitter @shawnypants
Tim Bornholdt 0:00
Welcome to Constant Variables, a podcast where we take a non-technical look at all things technical. I'm Tim Bornholdt. Let's get nerdy.
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Today we are chatting with Shawn Livermore, author of the Amazon best-selling business nonfiction book, Average Joe: Be the Silicon Valley Tech Genius. In this book, Shawn dispels the myth of the tech genius and teaches anyone how to think, speak, and create like some of the brightest tech founders in the world. Shawn joins the show here to break down how the idolization of tech geniuses has shaped the tech industry, and how tech is actually made by everyday people. So without further ado, here is my interview with Shawn Livermore.
Shawn, welcome to the show.
Shawn Livermore 1:29
Thanks for having me, Tim.
Tim Bornholdt 1:30
I'm really excited to be talking with you about this topic. Because I preach it all the time on here and to any other nerds that I come across all the time about, you know, the importance of making tech approachable to everybody. So I'm really excited to have you on the show here. I'd love to hear you talk about your origin story and how you decided to to write this book.
Shawn Livermore 1:52
I appreciate your time. Thanks for having me. I was consulting for a client a couple years back and writing on the whiteboard. And as a software consultant for 20 years plus, you know, now I run my own agency, Product Perfect. But you know, the client is typically amazed by software first of all. On top of that, if you tell them anything in a way that's simple to understand and throw an analogy in there, they think you're amazing, right? And so I was explaining something on the whiteboard. And the client said, Oh, my God, Shawn, you are a tech genius. And it kind of stopped me in my tracks. And I thought, That's ridiculous. Why would you say something like that? But later, I began to think about it and a little more clarity came to me around the dimensions and the layers that clients have to go through to understand technology, the stack, you know, the considerations from both fiscal and technological and operational perspectives. And then to have someone explain things to them in a very simple pancake, flattened the layers kind of manner, it really does validate the impressive nature of software. And I thought, you know, part of this is technology. And part of this is communication. And if I could only put it all together and explain to people how to do what I just did, in a way that anyone can understand, I think a lot more people would not only enter the tech arena, but I think a lot of people in the tech arena would up their game, learn how to crystallize the vision, learn how to communicate, and also defeat the barriers of intelligence, creativity, that so often hold them down and tether them to mediocrity. So that's what drove me into the book writing mode.
Tim Bornholdt 3:27
Man, I think from my end, this is like exactly the book I need to be telling people about. This is like, exactly the messaging that I think all the time, that if you can explain things to people. And people aren't dumb, like people get tech. It's just there's like some veneer of magic or mysticism or something around just technology in general that people kind of throw their hands up and say, Okay, Poindexter, you go and do it, and we'll pay you to go and do it. And it's like, I don't know, like, I feel the same way as you. I've had that exact same moment of sitting in a room and somebody asks a question, and you kind of go back to you know, the old analogy of you know, building a house or working on a car or whatever it is that you're doing and they look at you and they say that, like, You're a genius. And it's like I don't necessarily see anything magical about it. You had the one encounter. I assume you have the same thing all the time, right?
Shawn Livermore 4:21
Yeah, I think it's interesting in technology, you know, when you get into software to become a programmer, especially for those that are not programmers, you probably understand even better than I would have, of what it feels like to see someone else write code, and then you look at their code, you're like, Oh my god, how do you? What is that? How does that even work? And then for those in the industry who know how to put a software development career together and they can, you know, write in different languages of code. You know, it's sort of this, Well, you know, I guess I am special kind of moment, right? And I can decipher what looks encrypted to one person, I understand it quite clearly. And I not only can replicate it, but I can create volumes of it endlessly, right, all night, you know, and it does feel good to be, quote, special. And that feeling, though it's very complex. There's a lot going on there, because it extends into your personality. Right? So where does the specialist end? Right. It gets in your bloodstream and it slithers in your mind and this idea that, you know, I'm a little demigod, you know, and I walk around with special powers. That then permeates and goes further. And if you round it up, it becomes the magic dust. And what is the magic dust? Well, that's this Elon Musk and Steve Jobs effect where anything you speak into the ether is coated with layers of gold, you know. There's this presumption from the audience that you have the thing. You are Neo in the Matrix. You are the guy with the power, you know, and we got to hire that guy. Didn't you meet that guy? Oh, my gosh. Were you in the interview? Or that lady, you know, she's amazing. And we got to find more of those type of people right, n the buckets of psychometrics and IQ and you know, all of the cadence by which we run our companies and the PhDs hiring more PhDs, who then in turn, hire more PhDs, right? I think there are articles about Google for doing that. And not just Google, but other companies in the tech industry really focusing on academia as the source of their future, which is dangerous. It's very dangerous, and it's limited and very sterile and short sighted. And I can't tell you enough how much of a problem that is for the tech industry, that they're hurting themselves. You know?
Tim Bornholdt 6:41
Let's unpack that a little bit. Why is it so dangerous for, you know, you'd think having a bunch of PhDs on staff would be like a great thing, right? Like, a bunch of really smart people working together to accomplish a goal. Why is that so limiting?
Shawn Livermore 6:57
Well, there's two parts of it. One is that it buys into a philosophy. And two is that it venerates intelligence to a place where it's impossible to carry out the expectation. And the philosophy is of the Great Man Theory. 1840, Thomas Carlisle, a Scottish philosopher, came up with 20 volumes, roughly 80,000 words on this one idea of the great man, and in the book codifies that and translates it for the tech industry to understand in their lens, that the great man has something more, right. This idea that the one candidate, the needle in the haystack, if you find that one person, that they will drive the company forward. Certainly founders have that magic touch, because they started the company, and you need that guy who's been there since the beginning, who pretty much knows everything and anything about the company, you know. So when you acquire a company for private equity, or when you're looking at investing in bright, starry eyed founders, certainly you want to find those key people. In fact, they have insurance policies called key man insurance, so that if the key person gets hit by a bus or wins a lottery or leaves, you have an insurance policy to protect the investor. So that's how important it is to get key people in your organization or to keep key people in your organization.
Tim Bornholdt 8:12
But we're not talking about that. We're talking about how people are delusional to think that everything hinges on being that key person or manufacturing that key personality. That's the first part of it that the book addresses and helps you to understand and helps you to actually conquer. The second part of it is that intelligence being overrated, and everything hinging on intelligence. Well, let's take a step back and look at that. So the history of it is all rooted in psychometric scoring. And in World War I and World War II, they were trying to learn the lessons of World War II when they were recruiting for World War II. And there were folks in the early 1900s 1920s 1930s, they started looking at academia for answers of how do they know which recruits should go in the trenches and which recruits should go in the tents, right? Who are the smart warriors who we don't want to sacrifice their flesh? We want to keep their brain. And the brain versus brawn kind of battle began. And so they looked at genetics, they looked at history, they looked at academia, and it finally came and culminated into IQ scoring. And they said, Let's get all these 1000s of soldiers into a room and have them write down their name on a piece of paper and answer 37 questions, and then we'll take all the, you know, so the bell curve and all this statistical models from that began to drive bodies in different directions. And as you drove those bodies in different directions, so goes the rest of our society, right. For 100 years after, we are driving bodies in different directions, right. And it was never meant to be that. It wasn't meant to tell a student you can't go to this college or, you know, tell a family you can't live in this neighborhood. I mean, it certainly wasn't meant to be that way and yet it has been and that's a whole other saga. But in the tech industry, we buy into the myth, the myth of the tech genius. We drink that kool aid, and it's poison. And so that's where I really dig the knife in the book.
Yeah, I went to college for computer science, and I might have told the story on the podcast before, but I remember the computer science school actually drove me out of wanting to be in computer science, just meeting the other like eggheads that were in my class with me. It was like, I couldn't understand. There were people that would be, you know, getting 100% in the class, and then after, like our TA would lead a session, after that session, there would be the same two or three people that would go up to the TA and fight with him, because they didn't get as many extra credit points as they thought they deserved. And again, they already had 100% in the class. So it's like, you know, it was arguing semantics. And it seemed like it was just arguing for the sake of being superior, you know, in one way or the other. And I think I can totally get your point and see it, like that was right then and there, I was like, I don't want to work with somebody like that. And I think it's hard because I would imagine that not a lot of people want to work with people that are just constantly putting you down and belittling you. But at the same time, you also do need some of that, you know, egg hattery or whatever, nerdom, however you want to shape it. How would you propose or, you know, advise businesses that are kind of seeing this problem as well within their own organization? Like, how do you counter that once your culture is kind of gone that way? Do you have any good tips for like, you know, finding ways around emphasizing that intelligence aspect?
Shawn Livermore 11:52
What you described sounds a lot like, I think it was Michael, I'm thinking of his name. He was one of the geniuses that would get up and argue with the instructor about his grades all the time till the instructor just, Ah, for the heck, you know, whatever. Yeah, fine. I'm not even gonna mark him wrong on these questions anymore. And he battled his way through school. He was a certified genius. But anyway, the answer to the question, I think it starts and falls on leadership, you know. Everything rises and falls on leadership. And if the CEO of the organization is aware of the problem and is pulled into the conversation, they can direct HR, they can direct the nerds that are hiring the other nerds to think about things differently, right. But the nerds who are hiring the other nerds have to be separated from their current reality. And their current reality has been, you know, they put them in a Skinner box, where the pigeon, you know, pokes at the thing to get the pellet, right. So they're rewarded for hiring other nerds that are academia propellerheads in, and I think what you want to do is change the culture first, and then the hiring will follow. So the culture of the company has to bleed a different color. And it might need some dialysis machines, not making fun of that process. It's very serious. But to strike the analogy properly, you might need to pull out what's been flowing through your veins a little bit and start taking in a whole different dialogue, both from a verbal to a written to an email to a slack to all the different forms of communication hinge on building a culture that fits the goal. What is the goal? Is it for a lot of really intelligent people to hang out together? Well, not necessarily, no. It typically ends up serving the customer and our shareholders, right? And depending on that order of priority, is it employee then shareholder, then customer? Is it customer, then employee, then shareholder? I mean, this pulls out to the 20,000 foot view, looking at the whole market industry that you're serving, but then driving really down locally to the granular conversations again, in that interview session, which, you know, the book is not quite about this, but this is a fun topic, right? It's, why are manholes round? Well, okay. This is nonsense. What are you talking about? You know, well, we want to see how the person thinks. Well, okay, you know.
Tim Bornholdt 14:17
I really think my next book should probably get into some of the true ways of shaping culture with how you hire people, because I think that's where so much of the company spawns off in different directions, you know, and yeah, some companies hire a-holes. You know, some companies hire really smart people that become a-holes because they're so demigod smart. And, you know, like, there's this great rant in the book that I captured. Mr. Torvald's the inventor of Linux, he goes off on someone. It's like in the forums when they were messing up his open source code base for Linux, you know, and he just goes on this rant almost as if he was performing a verbal vomit, you know, whipping session and it was really almost hurtful to read this stuff.But he's tearing into this guy for committing or doing a pull request on some code that was not to his satisfaction, and he uses words like unreadable and shaming and you know, profanity laced all through it. Now, I'm not just picking on him. There's other people out there in tech that are doing this prolifically and profusely and cyber bullying each other. Tech snobbery at its best, right? But the purists is what they end up becoming right? So purists. It's not helping anyone. Right? So anyway, intelligence worship is a broader theme. And getting out of that game, right? How do we get out of that game of intelligence? Because once you enter the game, you're entrapped by it. If you don't answer the question right, you're in or you're out. And that's the binary test. Are you the tech genius? Or are you an idiot? And there is no middle ground? Right? And Elon Musk goes on these idiot rants, so says Inc Magazine and Wired Magazine. They did some expert exposes on him, and I just quote from them. But basically the former executives at Tesla and his other companies would say that once he thinks you're an idiot, that's it. You're done. Like you're an idiot. And he goes on this 10 minute spiel about how stupid you are. Right? And it really does draw a flashlight to the issue that when we venerate the CEOs, and we put them in the spotlight, and we call them geniuses, they act accordingly. But they don't act in necessarily in the way that we would hope they do. They become evil. Sometimes they become evil geniuses, right? So this dark matter, this storm cloud enters the building, and good luck getting rid of that. So I think there is something to be said for the topic. And I think people out there listening to me, you're probably nodding their heads like, Yep, I've seen this. You know, I mean, this one rant that Torvalds goes into, he says, It's idiotic, crap, unacceptable, stupid, silly, incompetent, and compiler masturbation. I mean, that is literally what he calls code. It's ridiculous. Right? But I think we, in tech, are kind of sick of that crap. You know, I'm sick of it. I won't work for anyone who treats people that way. And I will never treat my people that way at my company.
Yeah, me neither. And that's why, like I said before, you know, I wasn't even going to go into tech because this is when you look at what organizations are put on pedestals, I mean, the quintessential example when I was in college was Steve Jobs. You can just look and see the hundreds and 1000s of stories that are out there of how he would just torment and harass people and call them idiots and he'd cry and spaz out and he's just a jerk. Like, there's a point where you're like, Yeah, he may, like, you know, help drive forwards so many pivotal innovations with the iMac, the iPhone, the iPod, all of them were because he didn't settle, you could look at it from one perspective. Nut from the other perspective, it's like, he just was a jerk. And it's become so accepted in our industry with our peers, like everyone has stories of people that they know that are really good at developing software, but they have absolutely zero emotional intelligence or empathy or ability to just kind of put themselves in the shoes of the people that are actually using this software and hardware that they're creating. And it's just, I'm in the same boat as you. What can we do as an industry besides make people become more empathetic or shame them?
Shawn Livermore 18:51
Totally. EQs a huge deal. And this ties into what the source of it all is, and what Freud calls the narcissism of minor differences. And there are two parts of that that Freud that Freud identifies. Not to say that I subscribe to all of Freud's views. I'm just pulling out one very specific one that seems to match here is that humans have an innate proclivity for aggression. Okay? Number two, humans have a desire for distinct identity. So when you take aggression, and you pair it up to identity, these comparisons of you versus me start becoming workplace conversation. And Steven Brooks, political scientist, calls this the uncomfortable truth of resemblance that we resemble our neighbor and that we are uncomfortable with that. We don't want to do that. We want to be superior. We want to have some divergence from the flock. And as you engage in that internally, the psychological wheels start turning and for some people, they get a pat on the back from Mommy, they get a pat on the back from the workplace, they get a million dollars put in their bank account from an investor, they get a board meeting where they hand you stock shares for a great job that year. And they get 1000 employees cheering for them at the event in the auditorium. And then this starts becoming this unstoppable blob that eats the city, you know, like that 1970s movie where the blob of jello comes out. It's like taking over the world, right? Anyway, a tightly clenched fist is how they rule their people. And I kind of feel like we have to pry the fingers off, and allow people to breathe, allow them to inhale and exhale, allow emotional intelligence and mental health to once again be the river flowing through the organization. So I'm all about that stuff.
But anyway, besides for the mental health, besides for the domineering kind of dictators that we deal with, internally, in our brains as people, this is for everyone, not just pointing to the bad guys, but looking at ourselves. The imposter syndrome issues that we deal with in tech, right? I'm not technical enough. I don't know how to code therefore I can't ever, I can never launch a tech company. Well, obviously now, that's not true with all the no code solutions that are out there, right. And I think there was a venture fund that was set up with hundreds of millions of dollars exclusively for no code solution founders, you know. There's a lot of money being thrown at this stuff because people realize that you no longer have to write 10 languages and be the propellerhead academia not to be successful.
Tim Bornholdt 21:32
Yeah, it's the, I can't remember what the psychological thing is of where when you always see the successes, and you see the successful companies, but you don't see all the failures. And everyone always looks to the successful companies and just mimics them, which is why like, after, you know, Facebook blew up, everybody wanted to go find the Harvard dropouts that they could throw a bunch of money at because that's the ticket to success. And it's like, the more our world becomes connected, the more we get exposed to other people's stories and other people's journeys, that would enable them to create products that maybe aren't geared towards me specifically, but they'll certainly help out a huge, you know, sector of the market. So I think just beyond having all of the issues in tech of people, you know, having the stereotype of a jerk founder at the top, it's interesting to see that more and more investors and more and more different parts of the tech ecosystem are moving towards embracing other kinds of founders and personality types and giving them opportunities, just like with the no code solution, you said. Being a mobile software developer myself, you know, I would rather people give me money to do it. But as a person that's interested in helping out humanity, it's like, I think the more people can be exposed to no code solutions and get a start, it's just like the the introduction to getting them to move into this space and realize that, you know, this stuff that we do is not too difficult, but it's stuff that once you get exposed to it, you can really jump in and get your claws into it.
Oh, totally. And I think it dovetails into the other part of what I like to write about in creativity, right, is that founders who already have a chip on their shoulder feeling like I am an imposter, I shouldn't be here. They also have to deal with the creative block, right? Well, I can't think of a new startup, you know, and, or I'm not creative. I don't do any graphic design, those are the design guys, they sit over there, you know, and I'm just a programmer, just send me at the back end code or whatever. I'm just gonna sit here quietly with my headphones on and like a little mouse in the corner. You know, I'm an introvert, leave me alone. But in fact, creativity is really all about a process, not a person. And we engage in it, even in our code bases, don't we? When we name our classes, right? Look at inversion of control, IOC, that's creative, man. I mean, some of the stuff that these developers come up with blow my mind when I really get into the inverted paradigm that their brains are thinking about this. Intelligence and creativity merged together, and then flipped on hinges all over the place, sprouting up and spawning off new things. I mean, it's amazing to see their brains at work, but not just from an intelligence perspective, from a creativity perspective.
Shawn Livermore 24:27
So, you know, I also point the finger up at the venture capitalist saying, Hey, dude, you're not helping, right? There's a lot of venture capitalists that, you know, they're investing in the right people. Certainly, they know how to spot winners. I guess you could use that phrase, but sometimes they take it too far like Tim Draper, not to pick on him specifically. But there was a quote that he had made on an interview once that I wrote down I thought was really a profound quote, he said, A really great founder seems to be building a groundswell. Even if there is nothing there, he in effect is a magician. He creates something from nothing. Now let that sink in for a second. We're expected as founders to create something from nothing. We are expected to be like magicians. We are expected to have a groundswell. I'm not talking about hype and hustle. I'm talking about this amazing proclivity to reach out into the ether and grab a new business model and slap it into a screen and have users fall into that and sign up in droves. I mean, that is the expectation, that is almost impossible for most people.
Tim Bornholdt 25:39
Like, even if you're a great designer, and a good developer, as a unicorn, as I call you, like, you still have to have this amazing business mind. And you have to know a vertical market like the back of your hand. These are very different skill sets and finding the pie chart in that way, as well as the magic dust, I mean, he's basically saying I'm looking for founders with magic dust, right. And yet, there is no magic dust.
Shawn Livermore 26:05
But part of the book that I want to present is his creativity framework. In chapter three, I say, look, there is no magic dust. But if you want to become the tech genius, there is no tech genius. But if you want to become one, you know, I can show you how to do it. And so I create, me and the help of a neuroscience professor out of UCLA, Dr. Jesse Risman, PhD, who is just a brilliant professor and a wonderful communicator, we spent months and months together creating the slow create framework. And the slow create framework is a tool. It's made up of a canvas, a pipeline and a triad and the square, rectangle, triangle kind of shapes. These processes go together, these three groups of efforts that anyone and I mean, anyone, your grandmother can do this, your 10 year old can do this, can invoke their creative ideation cycles, plot them out on a canvas, take all their canvases and stack them into a pipeline, take that pipeline and push it through the triad, the communication triad. And at the end of it all generate what I call Sustainable Mystique. Sustainable Mystique is this ability to crystallize your vision, to crystallize the work of your hands, the clay that your fingertips are rubbing, where the skin cells rub off the 10,000 hours of expertise as some refer to it and turn that into something that's transmittable to the rest of the world where they hear it, they decipher it, they ingest it, they understand it, and they're amazed by it. Now, whether it's your wife, your husband, your co worker, your partner, your person, your kids, whoever's around you, your employer, your investor, your prospects, all of them need to hear that communication, need to hear that Sustainable Mystique, that magic dust, and be amazed by it. Why wouldn't they? Right? If you communicate the perfect leverage point, the fulcrum, the data, the information, the efforts, all the things you're touching, in a way that is profound, that is unlike anything else. And that represents truth. It's not hype or hustle, you can do it with a whisper, you know. And I'm amazed at some of this stuff online, like it just randomly thinking of people and nothing in particular, but I think of Click Funnels. I think of some of these other brands that are out there that are creating these conferences, and there's a couple other ones like it, not to pick on them at all, they're wonderful. But there's other founders that I've seen, email me with videos, and so forth. And they're just like, full of caffeine and sugar. And they're just, you know, oh my god, you know, there's a lot of volume happening, a lot of noise. And I almost just want to turn the volume off, turn on subtitles, and read what they're saying, instead of hear their voice. I want to read the data, right? Without any emotion, I don't want to see the slide deck. And if you can do that, if you can give your subtitles to people without your emotion, without your exuberance, without your personality bleeding into the messaging, then you have something, right? So crystallize it, condense it, subtitle it, and see what you have left. And if you have something through that triad, through that canvas pipeline and triad process, then maybe you're ready for some trial runs with investors, maybe you're ready for a pitch deck, maybe you're ready to go through an accelerator, get some mentoring, and actually get that message out there and raise some money.
Tim Bornholdt 26:11
And I don't want to, you know, have you give away all your secrets, obviously, that's why you're selling books, but I am curious if you have like an example or something like an exercise and it's something that you've done in the past where you've walked through your process and out came, you know, a result. I'd be really curious to hear just even at a really high level, you know, just some sort of an idea or, you know, from the starting line all the way down to the the finish line, if that's possible.
Oh, yeah, sure. I mean, in Chapter 10, Chapter 11, we talked about communication and pitching and how to take inflections and turn them into fascination, right? So venture capitalists, Mike Maples speaks about inflections and puts them into four types. Technology inflections, like Moore's Law, you know, when microchips double every couple years and become half as expensive. That's an inflection that can carry out on a chart, you know, that you can really see it take shape. Adoption inflections, like, how many people today use Bitcoin versus 10 years from now, etc. A regulatory inflection, where you believe that practicing telemedicine across state lines, or automobiles moving into hydrogen instead of electricity, whatever cecause the government is going to regulate it differently. That's an inflection as well that could drive money investment, or a belief inflection where new beliefs actually formulate that weren't there before. Beliefs about a product or a technology that have evolved over time, things that people are comfortable with today that they weren't comfortable with before. Like, you know, Airbnb said, Hey, we think people are going to be more comfortable sharing their bed. What? Why? Right, no one would believe that 20 years earlier. They'd say that is insane and disgusting, right? But today, they're like, Yes, I'll pay $400 a night to sleep in your nasty bed.
Shawn Livermore 31:18
So these four infections, if you can get to that, that's a great place to end up. So pitching in and using the triad, the Sustainable Mystique triad, you know, usually you have a slide deck. I don't want to go too deep into that. But for those of you who have never done a pitch deck before you usually start kind of with a problem, right? The problem of the customer, the pain of the customer, and you say, you know, Gosh, this is a, this is a really big problem, and we're solving it. And then you are the founder and what makes you special to solve that problem. Well, why are you uniquely qualified to be the knight in shining armor to save the princess? Right? Sorry, classic metaphors. And why now? What about the the timing? Right? One of the best TED Talks out there that explains why certain startups are successful versus other not as is culminates on the final answer. And the final answer the guy had was timing, timing. And so the premise of premature startups is a very big deal. Go talk to the people at segway, who invested hundreds of millions of dollars into Segway and it really flopped, because it's just not, people weren't really ready for that. It wasn't, it didn't click, you know, made sense. But it didn't click, and then the intellectual property part of it. Do you have any IP that is sustainably different? And that has a moat dug around it that other people can't easily replicate? And then what do you want to do with the money? There should be a slide on on the investment where you're taking it? And why? Why do you want to do with the money? And when do you need more money? What's your round A of funding look like? What's your round B of funding look like? I can speak to a lot of this because I've pitched 130 times, have raised seed funding, which is the hardest funding to raise, by the way, in my opinion, in many people's opinion, because you're talking to dentists and lawyers who are at the country club listening to your speech. And they have boat money, and they have kids college fund money, and they have, you know, vacation money, and they're trying to figure out how much of that to give you so you better be better and more compelling than them riding on their boat in the bay. And then, in the other slides, talk about, you know, breakeven and some financial modeling, you need to be familiar with how to breakeven and what your Excel pro forma looks like, customer acquisition costs, etc. And then sales and marketing channels strategies, best possible outcomes, second best possible outcomes, third best possible outcomes, who might buy you later? Who's the biggest threat to your business? Who else has tried this and failed? How do you differentiate from them? What are the regulations dominating that industry? There's so many questions that your slides have to answer. Now, I say all that. But I really want to say that eventually, it'll come to a place of discussion in their minds of this question. The same question that Tim Draper's quote points to, Is this founder amazing? Now, if you don't feel amazing, that's good. Because you're not, no one is, right? It's like you're starting at Ground Zero, that's great. If you already think you're amazing, that's probably bad. And you probably need to unlearn some things and really go back to first principles and prove that your business model, the trajectory, the calibration, all the data, the granular matter, the assets that you have, are truly, perfectly configured for a successful run. But most of the time, when they poke around and kick the tires, they know in the first few seconds of hearing someone's voice, just like it's a first date and you're talking to somebody who you think could be a match for your life. That moment or when you're hiring people point you're like, Man, this guy shirt's all wrinkled, or this gal's shoes don't match or what's wrong with this person in front of me. You know if you're going to hire that person pretty quickly. You know if you want to date that person, and the investor knows already if they like you or not, but all the words that you're throwing at them will prove that despite their presuppositions about who you are, what you look like, how you sound, the lisp, whatever you might deal with, they can be convinced using Sustainable Mystique. And that's the whole point of this book really is to go from Average Joe to tech genius, at least in the minds of the person that's listening to the words coming out of your mouth, that you can string together a lot of words and a lot of thinking and a lot of carefully calibrated models and slides that can make them go, Holy crap. That is the best and most amazing thing I've ever heard in my life, right. And anyone can do that, anyone, literally anyone can do that. I really believe it.
Tim Bornholdt 33:19
And then that part of it, of being able to learn how to be that amazing person, that's all stuff that you cover in your book. Because I think that's something I don't know, I run into, and maybe this is just myself projecting. But I feel a lot of times when I'm, you know, doing pitch meetings, because we don't have any products of our own at JMG. But we work with a lot of startups and a lot of people that are going out and raising money. And it's always amazing to me as somebody that, I always, I can do the tech side of it, no problem. But it's the business stuff and going up and sounding confident and all of that, you know, that's the part that I think I struggle with. And I would assume a lot of people have, you know, confidence issues on that front. Is that kind of stuff that you, using through this process, that you outline in your book, that's really how people are going to be able to overcome that and kind of jump to the next level of being able to be a quote unquote, tech genius?
Yeah, you'll feel it filling up from the tips of your toes to the top of your head, as you invoke the sustainable mystic triad. When you have a narrow focus, you're working on interesting problems, when you have an articulate speech pattern, and you use analogy and inversion, these techniques in the book will help anyone build up that confidence. You will fill up all the voids in your mind of I'm not good enough, I'm not smart enough. I don't know the industry enough. I can't program efficiently enough, my whatever, my speech is impaired, my hands sweat, my knees shake, fill in the blank. There's so many things, right. But, you know, this technique is the actual antidote for all of that. And it really doesn't matter. At the end of the day, what you say is what the investor feels when they leave the room. And not even an investor, people around you. I know people that have pulled me into projects, my company Product Perfect, we do software projects for people, and I've been pulled into the boardroom. And they say that the slides and the Visio diagrams and the designs that fit on the wall that we all look at and point to, these colorful designs that Shawn's group puts together are by far the most amazing. And they'll throw all these, you know, compliments. That's all very nice, and I appreciate that. But it's communication that is your greatest asset. It is not your code. Your words are way more valuable than your code. And I think the tech industry needs to snap out of it, you know, and to learn that no one cares about their stupid code anymore. Okay. They need to stop talking about their code, stop talking about your your technology, unless it's you know, in a way that frames up the communication and that's fine. But the whole picture and being able to articulate the whole vision with crystallized perfection, that is your most valuable asset. So you should work on that. And so many people don't work on that. They hide away in their cubicles or in their home offices and they're cranking away and for years literally. Hey, what's going on with you? Oh, I'm still working on my startup. Dude, you've been working on that startup for like five years, man. Yeah, but it's amazing. Oh my god, you should see it. By the time you see the darn thing, it's already obsolete. It's using like five versions too old and like the calendar controls and the weird text boxes look all old and archaic and outdated because they're just so insecure about it and they don't know how to pull the team together. It's just not the right way to go. Right So, anyway.
Yeah, no, I've seen that happening all the time. Like you said and I think it goes back to talking about the worship of intelligence. It's kind of, you sometimes get a nice slice of Humble Pie when if you are a top of class intellectual developer and you kind of are, like you said, you get kind of patted on the back by everybody all the time, that's great. And if you're building like, you know, a programming language, or you're architecting, something, you know, low level, that's awesome. But if you're in the business of solving people's problems, like you said, your intelligence means jack to those people. They want to see what your solutions are, and being able to clearly communicate, you know, how you're going to use your, you know, oversized brain to develop software, that's great. But like, what does it software going to do? And how is it going to actually make people's lives easier and better, faster, whatever the business problem may be?
Totally, there's a great example this. This German mathematician David Hilbert in the 1860s. Okay, a full decade before DNA was first identified, this guy created, he's this weirdo that studied fruit fly. I won't say weirdo, but it was kind of like this, odd...
Shawn Livermore 40:57
Yeah, he was a little odd, you know, and he's probably brainy. He would have probably been a great programmer, right? So he was studying fruit flies. Who does that? Right. But he was really digging in to the mix and the merge between physics and math and developing the linear model for heredity. This is a huge deal. And he was trying to tell people about it, but no one quite got it. They didn't understand him, and he wasn't able to connect. That's an important issue here. So years later, a man named Frederick Freeman Dyson, sorry, he took that work that was done. And he was kind of the sales guy to the programmer, right. He created the veneer, the layer, the magic, the Steve Jobs to the Wozniak. Right. He sold it, and he explained it. And he provided that layer that people could, that palatable, juicy morsel that they could grab a bite of. And he explained the genetics and how that all worked. And then DNA, really the lights came on. And people understood the strand and how those, I don't even know how to talk about DNA, truly, I'm not qualified to describe it. But he really brought that into full color. And so a lot of us are poking and dissecting fruit flies and talking gibberish in the corner, and you got to take a step back. And you have to learn how to communicate. And that's what Average Joe helps you do.
Tim Bornholdt 42:27
Nice. Yeah, I think we can all use that a little bit. Because, yeah, I think the more that we can work together to pair up like, no you said the Wozniak Jobs example, it was like that was a perfect kind of mix of two polar opposites in terms of what they bring to the table, because I don't think Steve Jobs could write a line of code to save his life. But I mean, the man built Apple and Pixar and everything else that he did. It's like, if you have that ability to sell. And then you have the ability to back it up, that's what you need. But yeah, it's always hard when you have an organization based around, you know, one side one way versus the other. Because you can also have a team like, I can't remember the name of the company that had those VR headsets, when they had that amazing demo of like they're sitting in a basketball court, and then a dolphin, like, just explodes out of the water that's just materialized on the court. And it was this amazing demo, but then they couldn't actually pull it off. And people have been like, kind of tapping their foot waiting to see, you know, okay, Well, where is this thing now? So it's like kind of finding that right balance of, you know, you got to have the technical chops to back up what you're selling, but at the same time, you need to have the sales chops to be able to sell what you're what you're creating.
Well, and let's be clear, Wozniak did a great job, right? He's an amazing man.
Shawn Livermore 43:49
And he wrote many books, I'm sure, you know, we all point to him. And I think it's wonderful. At no discredit to Waze, I think we have to be careful, too. It's like maybe you don't want to be the Steve Jobs. Maybe you're happy being the Wozniak, the fruit fly poker, you know, and you want to dissect the wings, and you want to go into your code corner, and no one talk to me for 10 hours. Hey, that's awesome. Good, keep doing what you're doing. I'm sure it'll work out great. I'm talking to the people who want to be not only the fruit fly poker, but also the DNA inventor, right? I'm talking to the nerds out there that are also dreamers, that say, You know what, I feel like there's more in me. I feel like if I could only learn how to, you know, I think sometimes the developer community and techies that are a little bit odd ducks like myself, we and I say we and I mean it, you know, we fall into those two buckets. Some who just enjoy kind of being the introvert and they don't want to be the sales guy and others who say, you know what, I wish I could talk like that guy. I wish I had good teeth or I wish I could, you know, I was that six feet two football quarterback kind of feeling where you, you know those guys. They walk in there, like bravado and they're like the Type A personalities and you know. There's a great comedian, he starts off his talk saying, Yeah, my wife wanted to marry a Type A, I'm a beta, I'm a beta guy, you know. He's kind of just leaning into who he was. But I think a lot of us betas out there, and I think I've started my career as a beta. And I've turned into an alpha and and I think that that's totally cool. Some people will not like that characterization that I'm making, but I'm just going to use it for the purpose of analogies, you know, the introverts versus the extrovert, or the insecure versus the confident, and you can take it whatever color you want to splash on that. But I think that there is a lot of value that I've added to my life with learning how to manufacture that confidence, learning how to walk into the boardroom, and not be sweaty. And there are times where I feel nerves that will get to me, but you know, when when you're pitching on demo day, and there's 300 investors clapping for you, or listening to you, and you've rehearsed your slide deck for three months, and you've animated it, and you've run a team, and you're building code, and you're launching marketing campaigns, and you're learning, learning, learning and talking, talking, talking and pitching, pitching, pitching. And you're raising investment capital, there is a level of experience that you gained from that effort, even in a failed effort, that you can't get anywhere else, right? You couldn't watch 1000 hours of YouTube and get that same level of confidence. So you just got to get out there and try, right. You got to get out there and try and fail. And after the third or fourth time you've been rejected, humiliated, and sent home with your head down, you'll learn and you'll feel, and you'll you'll synthesize the nervous feelings and the insecurities to the data and the data will win. Because if the data is structured, it will be greater than the nerves, right? It's just a simple equation. The math checks out. It's your experience will greater-than-sign your nervous tendencies or your insecurity. So I'm talking to the Woz's out there that want to be the Jobs's, right. The nerds that want to be the sales guys or the marketing creative types. And I think there are a lot more. There are a lot of people out there that want that, that look for that, that try for that. But they're stabbing at darkness. They're poking at the ether. They're hoping it's wistful thinking, you know, they're trying, but they don't quite have the tool in front of them. And so I wanted to create something that gives them that tool.
Tim Bornholdt 47:34
I love it, because I think it's amazing the people that can grasp because, you know, we're talking about tech, and you know, kind of one of the conceits is, Yeah, anyone can learn tech, but at the end of the day, you know, if we're being honest with ourselves, it is actually a hard skill to master and learn and to become super proficient at telling a computer what to do. It does take a lot of time and tinkering. But what's amazing to me sometimes is the same people that do take the time to learn and become, you know, expert programmers, they think that this type of stuff like sales and clear communication and just being able to be personable are completely unlearnable skills. And let's be very clear about that, that working with people and learning how to communicate clearly is absolutely a skill that anyone can learn. It takes practice, it's not easy. But it's certainly something that with experience, like you said, falling on your face a few times, making an idiot of yourself, and learning what works and what doesn't work. It's something that just if you can learn how to program a computer, then by God, you can tell an analogy. Like, it's not a complete 180 reversal. And it's something that you know, with the help of your book, I assume people will be able to pick that up and just run with it.
Shawn Livermore 48:52
Yeah, I think a lot of people who have reached out to me and thanked me or said a few comments to me here and there, the wonderful feeling is that they can talk to their spouse now about what they do at work, you know, or they can pretend that they're on stage pitching, but they're just talking to their buddy in the break room or on Zoom or whatever. And it's the simplified messaging. It's the crystallized vision and learning how to take the 1000s of thoughts and words in the cloud in their minds and blow away the smoke and clear the fog out and begin to write out and think through systematically and comprehensively the most important bits and bytes and turn them into something that compiles for other people. And that is a hard to learn skill but can be manufactured. I think people need to understand the takeaway is, you can contrive mystique. You can contrive it. It's not based on the energy levels that you're emitting. It's based on the structure of your information, right, and the structure is laid out in the proper path and the proper threads and everything lines up, it'll checkbox, checkbox, checkbox, you know. The investor will check the boxes, the spouse will check the boxes, the co workers, the hiring managers, the peers, they're gonna pull you into their world because you check all their boxes, right? But you have to invert your paradigms a little bit, and you have to loosen up and you have to learn how to, you know, fall on your face a few times and structure your data differently and continue to restructure and reshuffle and recalibrate. But you can do it.
Tim Bornholdt 50:27
I couldn't agree more and especially with the help of the Average Joe book. So, Shawn, this was a fun conversation. And I definitely took away a lot. How can people reach out to you, find the book, do all that good stuff to be able to support what you're doing and to be able to grow their own careers here?
Shawn Livermore 50:43
Yeah, for sure. The audio book just came out. And you can go to AverageJoeTechGenius.com. Or you can search Amazon for Average Joe: Be the Silicon Valley Tech Genius, or my name, Shawn Livermore. You can find me on Twitter at ShawynPant, and Productperfect.com is the company I'm running. Feel free to hit me up about software. But other than that, thank you so much for listening. And thanks for having me, Tim.
Tim Bornholdt 51:09
I appreciate it. The pleasure is all mine. Is there any parting words of advice or anything you want to leave our audience here with?
Shawn Livermore 51:16
Just a reminder that you too can become the tech genius. And it really is possible. It's just not what you think it is. It's not a special endearing quality we're born with. It's not a genetic disposition. It's not nature or nurture, it's manufacture. And so we can all have a little bit of our own magic dust.
Tim Bornholdt 51:36
I love it. Everyone go out and become tech geniuses. Let's change the world together. Thank you so much, Shawn.
Thanks, Tim. Have a good one.
Thanks to Shawn Livermore for joining me on the podcast today. You can learn more about Shawn and his book at averagejoetechgenius.com.
Show notes for this episode can be found at constantvariables.co. You can get in touch with us by emailing Hello@constantvariables.co. I'm @Tim Bornholdt on Twitter and the show is @CV_podcast. Today's episode was produced by Jenny Karkowski and edited by the keen Jordan Daoust.
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