Today my guest is podcaster and creative Srini Rao of Unmistakable Creative. Over the past decade Srini has conducted over 1000 interviews through the Unmistakable Creative podcast where he’s spoken with guests like Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, David Heinemeier Hansson, and Simon Sinek.
In this episode Srini and I talk about the importance of curiosity, what it means to be unmistakable, and why any blanket recommendations, such as “everyone should start a podcast,” is always bad advice.
Mentioned in this episode:
- Unmistakable Creative
- Notion – how Srini organizes thorough notes from hundreds of books
- Zero Recipes – Srini’s iPhone 11 documentary experiment
- Indian Matchmaking – Srini’s unexpected Netflix debut
Love this episode? There’s more!
Jeff Sarris: So, hey there Srini! Thanks so much for taking the time to be on the show.
Srini Rao: Yeah, my pleasure.
Jeff Sarris: So you’ve done–as we were talking about before we started– maybe 1000 interviews up until this point, which is mind boggling. One of the things I find that you do a really good job at is the icebreaker; figuring out what to say to the person to make them comfortable and get started. Sometimes you dive into maybe their family, maybe their schooling or something like that. What do you think makes a great icebreaker? And how do you choose based on the guests?
Srini Rao: Yeah, so that’s a good question. Well, I’ll tell you where our thought process behind this came from. So one of the things that an old business partner I used to work with noticed was he said, you know, you get these beautiful nuggets out of people, but it doesn’t happen until about 20 minutes into the show, like you get them into flow. He said, I think we can get you there a lot faster. He said change the way that you start the show. He said you know what you’re going to get to their work and you know, their story and all that stuff, but the thing is, we sort of just you know came up with sort of a blanket list of questions to start, like what social group were you a part of in high school or, you know, what did your parents do for work? Or what’s the most important thing you’ve learned from one of your parents? And part of the reason for that is that it’s a combination of two things.
One is it basically interrupts a pattern, right? Because if you interview people who are public figures, who get interviewed, they get asked the same B.S. questions constantly, right? Like, oh, tell me how you got started, which is literally one of the worst questions ever, I think, because the thing when you ask the questions that I do, the natural byproduct of that is you can’t answer those questions without telling a story. And human beings are hardwired to listen to story, particularly in audio. And this is where most of the sort of online marketing/business podcasts completely miss the boat when they do interviews, because they don’t recognize that audio is an entertainment medium first and an information medium second. In fact, I will choose somebody who is interesting and entertaining over somebody who’s famous or will teach you something practical every single time.
For example, we had a porn star as a guest yesterday that we just aired. We can get into sort of how I choose guests and all that, but that’s really the thought process behind the icebreaker. So, here’s the thing, like, I think when people hear you ask that question, they’re gonna be like, Alright, great. Let me write down, you know, a list of questions that Srini gives me to ask and I think that’s the worst way to do it. Like, these are my questions, but I think that you should come up with questions that you’re curious about, but think about the fact that, you know, there are certain questions that elicit stories. Like if you ask somebody what their social group was in high school, they’re going to have to tell a story.
Now, how do I choose the questions? Sometimes it’s just off the cuff, like whatever comes to mind. But for example, if I’m interviewing social science researchers, the social group thing always comes up because they’re two kind of connected stories. Sometimes, you know, like, for example, I’m reading a book right now about a woman who has talked about the role that her father leaving played in that book, and I was like, oh, okay, so I could start–and she’s a social scientist–so I could start with one of those two questions: I could ask her about the lessons learned from a parent, or I could ask about the social. I don’t know which one I’m going to ask ’cause I’m literally doing book notes for it right now. So yeah, it’s kind of the purpose of the opening, the icebreaker, is to elicit a story.
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, I think that’s wonderful advice and I’m definitely going to be picking your brain a little bit because I’m new to this podcasting world. You’ve been doing this for a decade now and I’m really interested about this and then diving into more about what it means to be unmistakable, and things that you’ve written about in the past and currently write about. So you touched on picking people based on how interesting they are versus being famous. How do you go about finding people that are interesting and have a story to tell?
Srini Rao: So, people will ask me questions like what are the criteria? Because, you know, the reason I thought about 1000 interviews is that I just started reading Terry Gross’ book that somebody had sent to me as a gift. I was looking at the similarities between some of the things she does and some of the things that I do, and I was like, oh, cool, like, you know, it worked for her, it worked for me. But I think that the big thing is curiosity. People will ask me sometimes like, what are the criteria for being a guest? And I was like, Well, if we could give you a set list of criteria, then it wouldn’t be unmistakable. That would be the antithesis of unmistakable. And it’s really difficult to put into words. What makes me say yes and no, like my roommates joke that like our rejection rate is higher than Harvard’s, which is true. I probably say yes to one in 10 guests and our iTunes reviews reflect that.
I think the thing that I am always aiming for is I’m trying to find people that you wouldn’t have heard on 1000 other podcasts. But more than anything, I choose people based on my own personal curiosity. The other joke that people have is that every guest is a reflection of some problem I’m trying to solve in my life, which there’s a grain of truth to that, you know. For a while I was like talking to everybody about dating and relationships, and I’m still single. So clearly they didn’t help me solve that problem. But that’s a story for another day. But, I mean, that is really it. I’m an avid reader. Funny enough, I don’t listen to podcasts. It’s not my preferred form of media consumption. I don’t know why they just don’t hold my attention. Which is strange, right? Considering I’ve done 1000 interviews.
I pop into a few every now and then, but I don’t have a regular podcast rotation, which I honestly think has given me an edge as an interviewer because I’m not hearing the way other people do things all the time. But yeah, it’s really hard to boil it down into what it is, but honestly, I kind of let myself just go down rabbit holes. The other thing I do is if I’m reading a book, and I keep seeing names of people who are mentioned in that book, I just start underlining them and I keep a bullet journal, where I have a list of potential podcast guests as well. I’m never worried that I’m going to run out of potential ideas for guests.
Jeff Sarris: So, sort of on that note, is bullet journaling how you keep track of all of these ideas and concepts? Because your stuff is very rich with references to things you’ve read, maybe movies you’ve seen…
Srini Rao: No, like I love the bullet journal–but, so you know, I’m writing a piece called The Ultimate Guide to Making Ideas Happen right now, and I just finished, but I use the bullet journal to track my daily tasks. I use Notion to manage all my book notes. I have an entire database, like a reading list, of like 300 books where I have all the notes from all the books that I’ve read, highlights on the lines. Ryan Holiday has the note card system, Tiago Forte has something called second brain and I kind of just merged the two. The problem for me with the note card system is my handwriting is atrocious and not only that, I just noticed that I wasn’t disciplined enough to follow through, but I don’t just like scan, you know, text, I actually typed it up. And I think there’s something about that because it viscerally reinforces, you know, a concept because you’re typing up by hand.
So, I have literally a database of like 200-300 books. The other thing is that I use all that stuff to write articles. I use it. I mean, you’ll see quotes woven throughout even my written pieces, and those all come from the books I’ve read or even podcasts. So, I’m even working on sort of how we integrate podcast content right now into other forms, like writing and stuff. That’s kind of a work in progress because I’ve been a very good creator, but a pretty lousy promoter.
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, I think that is another form of creativity, but it’s very difficult. It’s hard to extend into the promotion.
Srini Rao: Yeah, so there’s multiple schools of thought on this. Some people will say, spend 20% of the time creating, 80% of the time promoting. To me, I was like, yeah, if you have mediocre content, then do that. I think that my focus has always been okay, let’s produce shit that is so like, good that people can’t help but listen, I think the idea we’re after here, love him or hate him, Roger Ailes is pretty brilliant because he built Fox News into something that people can never turn off. One of his mantras was like, if we do that, they will never change the channel. Now, you’ve probably guessed from my own podcast that I’m far from a Fox News viewer. I’m as liberal as it gets, but this is one of those things, and we can talk about this as well, is that you shouldn’t close yourself off to a person’s message just because you hate the messenger. Like a guy who built Fox News into this mega behemoth probably knows a thing or two about building an audience, so maybe he’s worth listening to. So, I think that the idea behind this was okay, how do we create content where people will never turn it off? As opposed to how do we just blanket the web and, you know, basically, try to be an assault on people’s attention?
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, and that goes in with your main premise of being unmistakable. How do you describe unmistakable? And then how does someone find that for themselves, what it takes to be unmistakable?
Srini Rao: For the purpose of writing a book, you have to obviously define it. So I think the way I defined it was when something is unmistakable, it’s so distinctive that it’s immediately recognized as something that you did, and that nobody else could have done because everything about it just kind of has your name all over it, where you don’t even have to put your name on it. So the example that I come back to over and over again, and part of why he’s played such an integral role in the book, and also the idea and the brand is my friend, Mars Dorian. If you see a Mars Dorian piece of art roll through your newsfeed, doesn’t matter if he did it for himself, a client, or anybody else, you just know, you can take one look at it, like the only person who could have done that is Mars. It’s that sort of unique of a signature.
Now, the how part of it again this is the the thing that gets us into trouble, right? People want prescriptive advice and my advice is very rarely prescriptive. I use tactics to kind of pepper them, but I think there are a couple of ways to do this, but I think it’s really important that we talk about sort of this mindset of, you know, prescriptive advice because the sort of thing that happens in the world of online entrepreneurship is you see somebody do something, they get a particular result. And then you think, Okay, I’m gonna do that exact thing, and I’m gonna get the same result. Now, there’s value in learning from other people, but we mistake mimicking and modeling.
So, a perfect example of this, and no discredit to her, is the people who come out of Marie Forleo’s B-School. It’s funny because I can like I can put five websites up next to each other and I can spot B-School alumni a mile away. I remember one of my friends sent me a list of five guests that she wanted to have, and she had been a guest, and she’s a PR person, and I looked at all of them side by side and was like, I don’t know what the fuck any of these people do. I don’t understand, you know, what’s distinctive about them, but the thing is that you’ll see this they’ll like copy the–and you can talk to Laura Belgrave who’s Murray’s top copywriter has been a guest on our show, and she’ll tell you the same thing she’ll validate what I’m saying because she said it on my show– you get these people that are like oh, and so, as a result, they deny the very thing that makes them unique, the very thing that makes them distinctive.
I think though there are a couple of ways to do this. This is largely a process of discovery. I mean, I met you probably seven, probably nine years ago I think, at South by Southwest or something, but this is a work in progress, like, what you’re doing is you’re peeling layers of an onion, you know, and that comes through creating, like, you have to put work out into the world to discover this. We didn’t fall out of the womb this way. Like we started as a podcast for bloggers talking about how to increase traffic to your blog, or how to grow a blog, which now nobody gives two shits about in my audience and I don’t care about because it’s just not that interesting to me.
But the thing is we wouldn’t have gotten there without hundreds of interviews to really understand that. Like there are through lines and threads in all of your work that you do and the only way to find those through lines is create more. If you have a small body of work, it’s hard to figure that out. So you know, I think even in the book itself, I said, you know, like I understood this idea, but didn’t really become unmistakable until 2014. That’s when we completely gutted the old brand, rebranded it, brought in all this artwork, and all this stuff. I think this is the thing that I always tell people, right? It’s a bit like a variation on Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist. The thing is that what you want to do is you want to borrow ingredients from other people that come up with your own recipes.
So, for example, if I saw something that I like, like we’re playing with narrative journalism now and going away from just the interview format, you’ve probably heard some of the episodes we’re doing and you know, what we’re doing is we’re kind of like, okay, cool, like we like that thing that NPR does, but we also have amazing dialogue with our guests. You could create standalone episodes where I don’t say a word and we have. So it’s a bit like basically barring various elements. Another example I’ll give you is one thing that I always thought when I saw interview shows is, and I still haven’t figured how to do this because I just don’t have the skill set I don’t think, but to take an interview subject and instead of having one person interview that person, tell that person’s story through the lens of three other people, like a family member, a friend, a sibling. That would be so much more interesting than the sort of standard interview, like you would stand out. That, to me, would be unmistakable.
So, you know, the thing that you have to think about is that you want a compass, not a map, right? A map is great to get you to where somebody else has gone before, but a compass is what’s gonna lead you to sort of uncharted territory. Like nobody thought of a podcast turned into animated shorts. We’re like, oh, well, you know, the dialogue in our podcast is compelling enough that it could be turned in animated shorts, so let’s do that. So it’s borrowing elements from different art forms. You know, it’s terrible best practice for SEO to use a cartoon as your About page that’s, like, borrowed from comic books, but we did it. So I think that there’s a constant sort of experimentation that has to happen to figure out what resonates with an audience.
And that’s the thing, we are the anomaly of this world and that we started long before everybody else did, and we’ve grown slower and we’re smaller, but we have an audience that is loyal. Like, go look at our iTunes reviews and they’re insane, like some of them are crazy. People are like, my whole family listens to this show. So that is a hard question to answer even after writing a book about this, but this is how I’ve always summed it up in the most crude way possible. I jokingly always say that unmistakable could have alternatively been titled Everybody is Full of Shit, because that’s effectively what I just said in a very sophisticated way. I just don’t think my publisher would have printed a book titled Everybody is Full of Shit, but that’s the thing, right? I came to realize when I saw the pattern over and over again, I was like, wow, no wonder people are struggling, because they’re denying the very things that make them interesting because they’re trying to be like everybody else.
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, and I mean, you embody this. You embody being unmistakable. Like you said through your podcast, you’re rebranded you changed it. You use art. Art flows through everything you do. I’ve noticed, too, that you, as a person, really embrace opportunities and go for different things to experiment to see what might stick. I saw a few months ago you did a short film on your parents and your family and their cooking, a short documentary and put it on YouTube, see how it goes and like, doing something like that. I wasn’t gonna bring that up but I kind of want to zoom past it a little bit because I just discovered that you’re gonna be on a Netflix show and when this airs will already be on Netflix.
Srini Rao: It’s well, that’s ridiculous. So, like that has nothing to do with my creative capabilities. We’ll get there. I’ll talk about it. I’m happy to talk about it. But yeah, you know the weird thing is like, I got into all of this, you know. I went to business school in LA because I wanted to work in the entertainment industry. My dream was to actually pick what went on television and work in scripted television, but I came to realize nobody hires MBAs to do creative work in the entertainment industry. And the more I got down this path, I realized I didn’t want to pick what went on the air, I wanted to create it. And of course, like I get to do that in a very roundabout way, but film and video were something that always intrigued me.
I would just have like envy looking at the work that you guys did. I’m like how you do that without like thousands of dollars in expensive camera equipment. But when the iPhone 11 came out and I saw the things that people were doing with it, I was like, Okay, you know what, like, why not? I need a subject. I need something that I find interesting personally, but I need a story. Like I need a storyline in here. And the interesting thing is, I learned how to do the story aspect of this from writing for years. Like I understood how to create a narrative because, you know, for a first documentary, there’s some technical problems with it, where my voice is a little louder, but the story itself follows a very clear arc and narrative. The only reason I knew how to do that was from years of running the podcast and years of writing. And so it was mixing different skill sets. And the truth is, I didn’t do that because I wanted to build an audience for it. I just wanted to do something because it seemed really fun and I had a blast doing it. Like, in fact, I’ve been talking to my roommates about wanting to make a film about what it’s like to be quarantined and, you know, what friendship is like in this period of being quarantined. We’re very lucky that we’re, you know, three of us are with each other, we get along famously, and we’re having a really good time. We’re all going as crazy as everybody else has.
But here’s the thing, like, people will say, Oh, you know, you probably will know me as a podcast host. But then people like, what do you do? I tell them I use the internet to make things. Like that’s my job. And so I think that my default sort of question and I told Chase Jarvis from CreativeLive that when new technology comes to market, you know, a lot of people look at it, and I go, this is cool. And my first instinct is, oh, what can I make with this that I couldn’t before? So I’ll give you sort of a thought process that really has shaped the way I think about this and you know, credit where credit is due. Julian Smith who runs a startup called Breather shared an idea with me and the thing that Julian is really good at is being ahead of the curve on trends. But the thing that allows that is something really fascinating. One of the questions–and if you actually take this question and dissect it, it’s literally the source of billions of dollars in innovation and that when you look at new technology, you say, what does this make possible? That wasn’t before. So let’s go back to, you know, say, the late ’90s, when the internet was just starting to sort of, you know, surface.
Well, the porn industry has always at the forefront figured out how to charge our credit cards, right? So you get a combination of a web browser, plus the ability to charge your credit card and the entire e-commerce industry is born. None of that was possible before the late ’90s. Fast forward to say 2008-2009 when I graduated from Business School. Now you go into this era where suddenly desktop publishing the ability to build websites, web 2.0, Amazon Web Services, you get the convergence of, you know, Amazon Web Services, plus WordPress plus all these different things. Suddenly, we can go from idea to execution faster at a much lower cost than we ever could before. So if you think about it, that period like Amazon Web Services made it possible for all of us to do what we do without spending fortunes like to even do what we’re doing right now would have cost millions of dollars.
I mean, Zencaster itself is a perfect example that was made possible by that. Then you fast forward actually, you know, that comes with that comes right around the same time, right around the same time you have another thing that happens and this is the one that you know, I got to give credit to Julian for. You have two things that happen, the iPhone comes out, and with the iPhone, you get the capability of location tracking. You combine, you know, a mobile device with location tracking, and suddenly, a whole slew of things that we take for granted in our lives today are possible. Lyft, Airbnb, Uber, Doordash. None of those things would have been possible before that happened. So now we’re at this sort of next inflection point, where the question you have to ask yourself is okay, we have all those things. Imagine combining all those things with artificial intelligence, what does that make possible and the capabilities are pretty much infinite.
Like, it’s gonna get to the point where I mean you’re a photographer. So, you know, photo editing, like tedious work that you probably had to do in the past is probably going to be very nil to the point where all that’s going to matter is your actual creative capabilities, because what’s going to happen is that, as we basically keep bridging this gap between creativity and technology until it’s no longer existent, what will happen is that technical proficiency will matter less and less, and imagination will matter more and more because machines are going to take care of a lot of the technical aspects of this. And you know, we’re still in that it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to be skilled at what you do. So let me be clear on that, but it’s a very different type of skill set.
Jeff Sarris: And sort of along those lines, then you’ve written about writing 500 words about two years from now. I think it is like sort of your vision of what you may look like in a couple years. What currently are you seeing for yourself with knowing that AI is coming and all these things are happening?
Srini Rao: Well, it’s hard. We’re trying to predict the future and I don’t have a crystal ball. My dream was always to get to the point where I could do a mainstream TV show on Netflix, not a dating show, obviously. I think that it’s hard to say because what I think like I said, is our execution speed will go up rapidly. Now you’re asking about me in particular, you know, I think the one thing I’m very clear on is I never want to be defined by just one thing. I never want the legacy to be a long string of projects, you know, ideas, thoughts. Ultimately, I think at the end of my life, what I hope to have accumulated is like a massive body of work. And I’m kind of on my way there.
I think that, you know, what’s interesting is we’re now at a point where we have so much content from unmistakable that we literally could take the existing content and spin it out into a separate show, based on ideas instead of people. I think what you’ll start to see is just as the team is able to grow, and as we’re able to scale, we will start just kind of, you know, getting bigger and bigger projects out there. Like, I mean, do I want to make more documentary films, I would love to actually write, you know, a television show, like for mainstream TV. Those are a couple of the things those are sort of lifelong creative goals.
Jeff Sarris: How big, actually, is the company?
Srini Rao: It’s tiny; me and like two freelancers. That’s the thing. We’ve always run lean, and part of that is money, but part of that is intelligence. People bloat their teams for no good reason. I was reading Terry Gross’s book, and I was just thinking myself, she is a person who selects guest, a person who does the research, like if you work at NPR, you probably make a lot more money than I do to do that. And at the same time, like I’ve never let go of the guest selection, despite the fact that there are services that offer that because that’s the one thing I think is like, you know, my sort of gift. My main contribution to this is that so letting go would be stupid because it would literally devalue what we do because it would be just another database of people who are like pitching guests like I know because I get those pitches and you know, those people sometimes make the cut, sometimes they don’t.
Jeff Sarris: So what are some of the things that you have let go to bring freelancers into them?
Srini Rao: Audio editing is one. We’ve automated a lot of the production at this point. It was funny because I was thinking about, you know, like our snafu here getting started and, you know, that doesn’t happen to me anymore, not because I’m flawless, but because what we did is we used Airtable and Zapier and all this stuff so that everything gets sent out automatically. No creating links, no email, and guests will notify them that their episodes are live, like no scheduling emails. All of that is done on autopilot. So I literally just pop in a link. The main thing, the only thing I really do nowadays is the interviews. EVerything else around the podcast somebody else does.
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, that’s awesome. So, I want to jump to another concept that I really liked that you’ve written about. So the Art of Unmistakable when that book came out, I just absolutely loved it. I read it this weekend and read the the next Unmistakable book. I haven’t gotten to Audience of One just yet, but in one of those books, you mentioned being too invested to quit. What does that mean for you and how can people use that as a tool for themselves?
Srini Rao: So, here’s the thing, you look at people who do things, like where that came from, was a guy. I started surfing the summer of like, 2009 when I was at uni, or 2008. I was an intern at Intuit and I remember this guy at the bar, like surfing is incredibly difficult to learn. He was like go 50 times because you’ll be too invested to quit. And so the thing is, it’s kind of like if you show up and do something for 50 days, for example, I’m going to write 50 blog posts. That’s it. Like I’m going to commit to 50 if I can get to 50. I think what happens is by the time you get to 50, a number of different things start to happen.
One is that you actually have visible progress of your efforts, right? That’s a whole other concept. But the key is to make sure that you’re tracking progress based on actions, not outcomes, because outcomes are completely out of your control and that’s one huge mistake I see over and over, that basically slows people down and causes them to give up. But if you base it on actions, you’re going to basically accelerate your progress and actually stay motivated. This is based on the research of Teresa Amabile, who is a professor at Harvard, she wrote a book called The Progress Principle. So that’s one component of this idea of being too invested to quit like that’s where some of it comes from. Now, there’s sort of a fine line of this sort of, you know, Sisyphean effort where you’re like, this is going nowhere. Why do we continue with this? And I think you have to know when you’re at a point where you should pull the plug, but most people actually think they’re at that point, but they’re not because they really haven’t invested that much, you know, effort or time into something. They just kind of like, Oh, I’m not making any progress. And it’s like, you’d look at what they’re doing. You’re like, Well, yeah, of course. You’re not you don’t do shit every day.
It’s kind of like the the podcasters you’ll hear who like Oh, hey guys, I know I’ve been gone for three weeks. I’m like, dude, you’ve been gone for three weeks, your audience has been gone for three weeks, and they’re probably not coming back. Because media consumption is based on habit formation, you know, like, you think the example I come back to over and over again is like, look at a TV show like Friends that we all watched for 10 years, right? If NBC and the writers decided, Hey, you know what, we’re just going to air episodes when we feel inspired, or we’re in the mood. That would have been a disaster, nobody would have ever become fans of Friends. But yet, that’s what content creators often do. And then they wonder why they’re not making progress. So that’s kind of on a basic level of getting too invested to quit. So my sort of litmus test is, okay. We got to get to a point also, where we don’t encourage delusional optimism which the world that we plan is notorious for that, right? It’s like, hey, just quit your job and jump out of a, you know, airplane without a parachute. And it’s like, well, yeah, and then you’re going to drop to your death like people do really stupid shit, that is encouraged. And the thing that I want to say is like, what will happen is somebody in a position of influence will actually encourage somebody to do something that is stupid, because it’s in their interest to do that. It’s like, Well, you know, I’m sorry that you spent $10,000 on my coaching program and shit is falling apart while I’m off gallivanting the world and uploading my perfect life to Instagram. And, you know, that being said, people aren’t responsible for the outcomes of the people that they work with, but I think that we have to have sort of a moral line to say, okay, you know, what, like, this is a person who shouldn’t do this, we should turn this away because ultimately, you know, that’s going to be on us for doing this.
We put them in a situation that we knew would be detrimental to them. And, you know, it’s just kind of a natural sort of moral of self development, to sell optimism to a fault. And I think that’s dangerous. I mean, we’ve seen the consequences of that like it’s that you won’t look around, like you look around for people who started doing some of this stuff years ago when we first met, many of them have fallen by the wayside. I think it’s partially because they felt encouraged to make really poor decisions, where they didn’t think too much about the future or the consequences of their choices. We love this narrative that everybody can be anything, but the truth is that, you know, one of my mentors used to say he’s like, we’re just not all created equal, like there are certain people who are given certain strengths. What this is, the way to think about it is, you know, it’s a difference between probability and possibility. And we basically focus on possibility to the exclusion of probability. Like I know for a fact that I could go to the gym every single day, I could basically follow LeBron James’ training regimen to the letter and I promise you I will never be on an NBA court playing ball with LeBron.
Yeah, I like that. So in terms of bailing on stuff, what are some things that you’ve bailed on after you’ve invested heavily but you see that point?
Oh, perfect example is planning events. Like we’ve had one really successful one and everyone after that was a failure. And the thing is, once you see that you’re like, Alright, I’m about to lose money. I mean, this time around, it was like a blessing in disguise that it didn’t work because of COVID. You know, like, that would have been canceled anyways. I mean, those are the big ones right where we saw, it’s like, okay, we’re going to lose money here. So we’re going to lose enough that it could bankrupt us. You know, like, that’s the thing. I think that making huge bets where you don’t protect your downside is just ridiculous. And the funny thing is, there are ways around that it’s like, don’t spend 20, you know, weeks, creating a product that nobody wants to buy, find out if they want to buy it first, you know?
Jeff Sarris: What are some products that you sell, and how have you decided if people would want them?
Srini Rao: So, we basically just have one subscription product, which is called Unmistakable Prime. That includes all of our courses, monthly calls, you know, monthly coaching calls, live calls with our guests, with the focus on helping creative people make their ideas happen. It basically simplified our entire business model and then add, you know, selling ads. So, you know, those are the big ones. I mean, I get hired to do speeches and stuff like that. But you know, to me, everything is about streamlining. It’s like, why overcomplicate the hell out of this, you know, because then we can put everything into one subscription. And we can create lots of products, what we’re good at is creating content, you know, not constantly selling shit.
Jeff Sarris: So what are some of the things, in terms of the courses, that you offer within Prime?
Srini Rao: Well, so prime is, like, I wouldn’t even just say it’s a list of courses, but really, it’s about what I call the four foundations of creative success and making any idea happen. The ability to manage your attention, the ability to develop the right habits, the power of a community, and I can’t remember the other one off the top of my head, even though we just finished up writing this, but–oh, systems, like you need systems, you know, so community systems, attention management, and habit, like those four foundations are really the things that make any idea happen, and you know, but the thing is, once you understand that, you can start. This is where we get back to the idea of progress, you just start to accelerate so much faster.
Jeff Sarris: When it comes to– I’m just gonna shift gears a little bit back to the the ins and outs of podcasting a bit for my own curiosity– when you pick a new guest, how do you prep for them? And does it differ if you already know them, or if they’re someone completely new?
Srini Rao: It doesn’t really differ whether I already know them, or if they’re completely new. I mean, my prep is actually shockingly minimal, other than the fact that, like, if I don’t have a book, the most I’ll do is read their About page, which seems really counterintuitive. But to me, the interview is the process of discovery, it is my research on this person, if they do have a book, you know, extensive book notes, things that I want to talk to them about during the interview, you know, concepts that I want to cover, research that I want to do. To give you an example, the other day I met a woman who was talking about infusing human emotion into computing, like she’s an artificial intelligence expert that came out of the MIT Media Lab. One of the things I asked her I said, you know, is it possible to do this with voice? Could we analyze the emotional impact of our content on our listeners? And she said, Yes, and we should collaborate on that as a resource. So I asked that question on purpose, so that they will let me do that. But you know, it’s that kind of stuff that I think about. Everything I do is driven by just curiosity. Nothing else. Like that is the filter by which I run almost every decision.
Jeff Sarris: So then do you just wing it when you’re there? I mean, do you have like a list of questions written?
Srini Rao: No, no, no. I never have a list of questions. I know how I’m going to start. I know how I’m gonna end and that’s it. So I build all of my questions based on their answers. So that does a couple of things. It forces you to listen in a really deep way like you can’t not be present when you’re doing that because you have to pay attention to everything they’re saying if you’re going to build your next questions. The thing is the problem with the next list of questions Is everybody thinks about it, you know, you’re not listening. You’re thinking about the next question you want to ask. Look at the best interviewers, they’ll tell you that they don’t usually do that. Like I have an idea of things that I want to cover, conceptually, but never the actual question itself.
Jeff Sarris: Would you consider yourself a natural conversationalist, or is this something you learned through podcasting?
Srini Rao: Maybe a bit of both. I mean, I was very lucky that I got some positive reinforcement early on, where somebody said that, you know, you’re good at this. Now, keep in mind, like I wasn’t at that time. I go back and listen, I mean, if I listen to stuff we did even two or three years ago, it makes me cringe. So it was a combination of like, that positive reinforcement certainly helped. But, I think that I also had, I think from having been a musician, the ability to get behind a microphone and basically treat it as a performance. It was something that came naturally to me. That part was easy. I didn’t get nervous when I talked to like, really well-known or famous guests. It was just like, okay, these are people like, I’m curious about them. I just have questions for them. But the rest of it honestly was just, you know, I mean, you do like 1000 interviews at some point, you know, eventually you start getting better at it I’d like to think but that being said, like there are people I’ve heard and I’ve been interviewed by them and think to myself, yeah, this person shouldn’t have a podcast like that might be cool to say, but at the same time, like they have other talents. And that’s the stupidity of this, like everybody should start a podcast mantra that many online marketers are preaching because there are people who shouldn’t start podcasts, who are really good at what they do, so instead of being like, amazing at this one thing, you’re now going to be mediocre at three things, which makes no sense.
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, I mean, starting this is an effort to like, reconnect with community and things for us. Like, I know I’m not good at this yet, because I’m very early and learning how to do this and sort of working on like interview style and whatnot. But yeah, like we’ve realized we got so disconnected from any network, any community because Dave and I are just working on our own, just always heads down in our houses. When it comes to building your community, you do that through the podcast. Do you maintain your network of guests? Do you do anything to sort of like stay in touch? Do you feel like you become friends afterwards?
Srini Rao: I have guests who I have become friends with, not all of them. I mean, as you might imagine, it’s pretty hard to keep track of all of them. I could make an effort to, like put some sort of database together. The interesting thing about this is that, like, I don’t become close friends with every guest, a lot of famous people I’ve interviewed that I wouldn’t consider a friend– like I’ve interviewed Tim Ferriss twice. I don’t consider Tim Ferriss a friend, like he’s not somebody I would call up on the phone, but then there are people who, you know, I have that kind of relationship with where, you know, I can call them or I just know from having the conversation. The cool thing about it is that, you know, my friends always joke like, you literally know somebody who could do everything and make something, anything happen.
And I’ll give you an example we’re doing this episode where we wanted to use a clip from Trevor Noah, about what it means to Black and be Black in America where we weave together sound bites and all this stuff, and it’s really powerful and beautiful. The problem is when we went to Viacom they’re like the media licenses for thousand dollars. So one of the guys in the episode is the founder of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. So I emailed him and I was like, Shawn, I don’t know if you can help me get this make this happen, like, do you have connections that could help us make a donation or raise the money for it? So he got involved and first he just offered to pay for the thing. He’s like, no, this is something we’ll pay for. He’s like, just send us an invoice. We’ll cover the cost of it. So that alone is an example. But then he got really smart. When I put them on the chain for the Viacom thing. He said, Can you guys make this available as a tax deductible donation to the Campaign for Black Male Achievement?
And it’s stuff like that. I don’t look at my network as a place to go and just ask for things. I’m very mindful about how I do that, probably to a fault. I remember even my agent got on my case, she was like, hey, look, you’ve done a lot of good for all these people over the years. It’s your book launch. She’s like, it’s time to cash in on that, and yeah, I guess I just never saw it. The people that are in my network that way, you know, because I feel they’ve given me so much just by being guests. But I’m also not afraid to ask for help when I need. Now with Prime, you know, like, we’re asking for help and ask them to come and talk. At the same time, we’re giving them yet another opportunity to showcase their expertise.
Jeff Sarris: I think that’s really the way to do it. You’re not trying to burn your bridges. Like I think we connect and read similar in that way. Because I am– well, I don’t want to say similar in this way– I am the worst at keeping in contact with anyone. So part of doing the podcast is trying to reconnect with some people that, like yourself, were just awesome and doing cool things and having a little chat. So I just want to jump over to Indian Matchmaking. How did you end up on that show?
Srini Rao: That’s a ridiculously long story. Actually, a friend from college, contacted me and was like, hey, one of my friends is producing this and I thought of you. Are you interested? And I was like, Yeah, I was like, why not? I mean, there’s no guarantees or anything. They basically needed a token weirdo to round things out because everybody were like doctors, lawyers and engineers and they’re like oh, you know, throwing me in there is like, you know, trying to throw a bomb that won’t work into the whole situation. So yeah, that’s kind of how it happened. It was just bizarre. Weird. I’m still I still have no idea what it’s gonna look like.
Jeff Sarris: Mm hmm. Do you feel like there were some takeaways you got from having that experience?
Srini Rao: Well, between you and me, I told the producer, you know, if she didn’t– Look, best case scenario, I mean, somebody’s worst case scenario, this is a fantastic publicity opportunity for my creative work. Like, we get more podcast downloads, book sales, whatever, and then, I’m the most eligible Indian bachelor in America. I went in with no expectations and, you know it’s kind of like, there’s no downside to this. It’s actually kind of an interesting, you know, point of exposure. The funny thing is like, I think my work does come up so people Google me while they’re watching it, like we could see a big spike in a lot of things and that was kind of worthwhile. So I looked at it more as a media opportunity than I did, you know, the possibility of like, Oh, you know, I hope I meet somebody. I was like, Yeah, that’d be nice, but I wasn’t expecting that that would all work out the way I wanted to.
Jeff Sarris: So I like to ask everyone, if this was like the last day that you were making money the way that you are, if your business for whatever reason– tomorrow you had to pivot and do something different, where would you begin? With the knowledge you have now, with the growth that you’ve made over these years, knowing that you were starting from the ground floor on something, how would you approach it?
Srini Rao: That’s a good question. I think that I would basically look at– okay, actually fairly straightforward. It’s like, what are my strengths? Where do those align with something that people will pay me for? And what do I enjoy doing? You know, like the combo of those three things. It’s kind of like, Chris Guillebeau talked about this in his book, Born for This, where he was like flow, money, and joy. So like, looking at, you know, okay, okay, like, I couldn’t do this anymore. Like then where else could I combine those three things, because I think that’s where you would find that.
Because what we don’t do, this is why I still think the whole everybody should start a podcast thing is the height of stupidity and one of the dumbest things to ever come out of an online marketers mouth, which I’m sure I’ll get slaughtered for saying that when somebody hears this, but I don’t care. The reason that that’s so utterly idiotic is because it doesn’t take match quality into account, like it doesn’t take the consideration of do your talents match the environment or the project, because for many people, it doesn’t.
So, when we completely overlook that, it’s just that’s why people end up in jobs they hate. I know because every job I’ve ever had is a job that I’ve hated. That’s why I was fired from all them because when you mismatch talent with environment, you get shitty results. And that’s what happens when anybody says, oh, everybody should do something. No, there’s nothing everybody should do. Like if somebody said, Oh, everybody should jump off a fucking bridge, nobody would do that, but yet in the online marketing world, when people give that advice, you know, people jump on the bandwagon like there’s no tomorrow.
Jeff Sarris: It’s easy to give just a blanket advice and say this worked for this person or even–
Srini Rao: Take full responsibility for how things go, basically, then you can say, Okay, I can blame the author who wrote the book, the speaker who gave the talk, and the podcaster who gave me that advice. You don’t have to own how the outcome turns out.
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, self-reliance and really taking responsibility feels like it’s something that we lack today just as a society, and that’s definitely true. So I don’t want to take too much of your time. Thank you so much for doing this. This is great to catch up and dive in. For anyone listening, where should they go?
Srini Rao: They can find Unmistakable Creative in iTunes, if they want a podcast or just, you know, they want to look up everything else we’re doing at unmistakablecreative.com
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, and that’s awesome. I mean, a thousand interviews, so many great episodes. So, I really hope people check it out. Srini, thanks again for taking the time and we’ll talk again soon.
Srini Rao: All right, man. Sounds good. See ya!