The FourHourMan AKA Tim Ferriss
A journey of persistence, work and MED
Tim Ferriss is born a premature baby in New York. His first weeks of life were spent receiving blood transfusions, attached to respirators and sleeping under the bright hospital lights. Although he doesn’t remember them, these first moments of life have come to define much of who Tim has become.
Tim grew up on Long Island as a self-described ‘rat-tailed townie in the Hamptons.’ He was a scrawny kid and would frequently get picked on. It was hard for him to participate in team sports because he was easily outmatched by opponents. He did, however, find his niche in wrestling. Wrestling organized the competitions by weight. This leveled the playing field for Tim. Kid wrestling has little in the way of strategy, but as he grew he began to refine his craft. To be competitive he was forced to get really good at cutting weight, and by high school, Tim already had stacks of notebooks filled with notations of various experiments he had conducted. He was searching for the most efficient ways to operate within his constraint, stretching his body as far as it would go.
The quest for efficiency is an ongoing theme in Tim’s life. While working at an ice cream parlor in high school, Tim looked for ways to complete his duties as quickly as possible. He did not agree with the owners cleaning regiment, so he devised a method which allowed him to finish the task in record time. After he was done, Tim would go out into the parking lot and practice Kung Fu. Needless to say, the owner was not impressed and ordered him to clean the restaurant once again. Tim did not last long at this establishment.
After a hard day’s work, Tim would come home and watch television. From a young age, Tim had a hard time falling asleep. His mother thinks his insomnia is due to the many nights he spent under incubator lights as a baby. Whatever the reason, Tims watched a lot of late night infomercials and developed a keen interest in them. While he was not interested in buying the products, but he was fascinated by the concept. To whom are these advertisements directed? Why were the presenters talking in such an exaggerated fashion? This interest in sales would be a boon for Tim later in life.
Entrepreneur at Last
After graduating from high school, Tim attended Princeton University. It would be here that Tim began to test and develop his business acumen.
His first foray into entrepreneurship was a failure. Tim created an audiobook series called “How I Beat the Ivy League”, and invested most of his hard earned cash into manufacturing the product. Although he managed to sell only two copies (one to his mom), he learned a valuable lesson. Test the market.
To better understand the art of sales, Tim used a resource from his early years: tv advertising. Tim called the sales hotlines and listened to the telemarketers on the other end. He soon realized that the salespeople used scripted decision-trees to make their sales. If the customer says x say this and if the customer y say that. Tim even ordered a few products, to test how the fulfillment worked. How did they process payment? How long did it take them to ship the products? How did they handle returns? Slowly, he reversed engineered the system and came to understand the business from the inside out.
Soon, Tim stumbled onto his next venture. Due to the immense amount of required reading at Princeton, Tim developed a method to increase his reading speed based on measurable indicators. When his friend asked him how he managed to get through all the readings, an idea popped into his mind.
Over the course of the next several weeks, Tim put up flyers around campus encouraging people to attend his speed reading seminar. He promised a 300% increase in reading speed or 110% of their money back.
As inquiries about the seminar trickled in, Tim applied the lessons he learned from the infomercial salesman. He locked up his first group of customers and booked a daycare room in a local church. The first seminar was a great success. Not one customer requested a refund. He made so much cash that it didn’t fit into his pockets. He folded the money in his palms and pressed it against the handlebars of his bike as he pedaled to the bank.
Tim continued the seminars but soon he would graduating and could not continue giving the seminars if he was not located on campus. While finishing his degree, he profiled a high-tech company for a school project. He hoped they would give him a job when he graduated. They did not. Tim graduated without a job and went back home to Long Island. Soon he started to get antsy. He began emailing the founder, with whom he had worked while profiling the company and attempted to schedule a meeting with him. After months of polite rejections, the founder relented and granted Tim a meeting ‘between 1:00–1: 15’ the next week. Tim wasted no time. He booked a standby ticket, grabbed a backpack and donned his ill-fitting suit.
Several days later he arrived at the meeting on time. The founder was nowhere to be seen. About 45 mins past 1 o’clock, the founder made his appearance. They chatted for a while and at some point during the conversation the founder said, “So, you won’t leave me alone till I give you a job?”
“Pretty much” was the response.
Tim got the job.
Success and Failure
Tim becomes a salesman sitting at a cramped desk next to a fire escape.
He worked hard at his job but soon realized the company was doomed to fail. He began thinking about his next project and examined his credit card statements to determine how he spent his money. He noticed that he was willing to spend quite a bit on nutritional supplements relative to his entry-level salary. During his lunch breaks, he began developing ideas for new products. Eventually, he left the company, but before he did he convinced a few colleagues to commit to buying one of his non-existent nutritional supplements. This presale gave him the seed money he needed. Tim negotiated a deal with the manufacturer and he was off to the races.
BrainQUICKEN, his supplement company, was a success. However, as the company grew, the work began to consume him. He would work 14 hours on a typical day. Tim was stressed and unhappy. He had slowly become the inefficiency in his own business. The girl he had planned to propose to walked out. He crashed.
Tim left the country. He decided he would either rethink his business processes from the ground up or close up shop. The trip was supposed to be a month long. He ended up traveling for a year and a half. On this trip he took notes and made observations, trying to determine what his ideal lifestyle would be. Slowly, he integrated these ideas into his own life and removed himself from the company he had built.
The 4-Hour Workweek
After his travels, he returned to Silicon Valley. Tim was in a better situation now that he had automated his business. He looked for things to do. Tim began volunteering, helping organize public speaking events. Due to his success, he was invited to teach a seminar about high tech entrepreneurship at Princeton.
During one of these seminars, an attendee suggested sarcastically that Tim write a book instead of presenting in lecture format. Having vowed never to write a book due to a nightmarish college thesis, he did not think too much of the idea. But Tim ran the idea of writing a book by Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, who he had met while volunteering on the lecture circuit. Canfield loved the idea and started making introductions and arranging meetings. Tim wrote a book proposal and began attending pitch meetings with various publishers. Tim was rejected by the first 26 publishers he approached. Hurt but undeterred, he continued to pitch his book. He knew that people found his seminars worthwhile and would want to buy his book.
Tim walked into his 27th meeting with publishers. 20 different people were in attendance at the meeting. Tim was used to disappointment by now and went through his usual spiel. As he gave his pitch, he got the feeling that this would be another on a long list of rejections. Towards the end of the meeting, he threw a hail mary. He looked the head publisher in the eye and said “If you look at my track record, I’ve never half-assed anything. I have an extremely high pain tolerance. If you take this small bet on this book, I will stop at nothing, I will kill myself to make this a bestseller. I will do everything within my power, and find other people to help me with things outside my power to make this succeed”
A few days later the publisher called and gave him the deal
Tim made good on his promise and got to work.
He wanted to call the book ‘Lifestyle Hustling’ but after some negative feedback decided to look for a better option. To test titles, including ‘Drug Dealing for Fun and Profit’, Tim put several iterations on Google Adwords. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich garnered the best response.
Not only did Tim test titles, but he tested covers as well. Tim went to the Borders bookstore in Palo Alto, armed with several different cover designs. He wrapped a few books with different covers and observed which designs got the most interest from passersby.
With this incredible motivation and persistence, it’s no wonder the book went on to become a New York Times bestseller.
As an overweight 18-year-old, The 4 Hour Body captured my imagination. Could I really become superhuman, as the tagline suggests? Tim Ferriss made it possible.
The book still sits by my bed till this very day.
Tim’s philosophy on life and work has inspired me throughout my journey as a young adult. His candor allows me to connect with him on a fundamental level, especially since the launch of his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show.
Most of the information in this article was gleaned from the episode ‘Cal Fussman Corners Tim Ferris’. (Cal is an extremely talented interviewer and I encourage everybody to listen to his podcast Big Questions.)
The interview reminds me that heroes are not born. Heroes are made, forged of sweat and tears.
Anyone can attempt the hero’s journey.
It can be tempting to dream of fame and fortune. To suddenly have wealth of tremendous proportions plopped at my doorstep. But this is not how life works, and it’s better that way. Each step is a gift, a lesson learned. I strive to enjoy this moment, for it is the most important moment of all.
“If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact, we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future -and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
~ Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
The moment we are born our journey begins. We are not tasked to be expert navigators or predictors of our journey. Our task on this journey is to make the journey our own.
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Originally published at gabrielhaines.com on July 16, 2018.
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