Not So Lazy & Entitled Millennials : David Perell
This is the fourth interview in my Not So Entitled & Lazy Interview Series.
I interview David for this one. As always, we connected on Twitter. I came across him when he was about to join Cycle Media in 2016 after graduating from college. I loved Cycle’s creative work, and I worked with them for a few months in 2017. Our conversations around our mutual respect for Cycle’s work have transpired into a friendship now.
David is a learning machine, a phenomenal writer, and a podcaster. It is difficult to not feel inspired after having a little chat with him. I encourage everything to check out his website, which is a beautifully designed place where he consolidates his blog posts, tweetstorms, podcast episodes and book reviews. I once spent a couple hours over a weekend binge-reading everything.
In this interview, he talks about Naked Brands, a phrase he has coined, how he filters what he reads, how he prepares for his podcast interviews, his thoughts on future of sports and media in America, what he disagrees the most with adults on and much more.
Here we go :
What do you do for work?
I’m the founder of North Star Media and lead multiple projects under the North Star umbrella.
Education is the best kind of marketing.
At North Star Media, we help companies communicate their vision, create content and build a following. We work with clients to produce original content, such as articles, podcasts, and videos.
Companies that can create information-rich, entertaining content earn attention, generate trust, and develop an impenetrable network.
Our clients predominantly work in sports, investing and cryptocurrencies.
I also host the North Star Podcast. I interview guests who live with joy, learn passionately, and see the world through a unique lens. I’ve spoken with scientists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, marketers like Seth Godin, venture capitalists like Albert Wenger, and investors like Ari Paul.
You have a phenomenal blog where you write thoughtful book reviews and your Naked Brands series. What do you mean by Naked Brand and give us an overview of how it applies across fields.
“Naked Brands” is a term I coined last year.
Naked Brands are founded by influencers, built on transparency, and prize ongoing communication with fans and customers. Their brands are defined not by symbols, logos, or television advertisements, but by the authenticity of their personalities.
Today, fans don’t just want to support favorite brands. They want to establish emotional connections with them. They want to shape their evolution and establish intimate connections with people who inspire them.
After college, I worked at Cycle on their business development team. At Cycle, we had a saying: “people are media companies.”
For the first time in history, athletes, politicians, and entertainers can reach their audiences directly.
Many of them have a more significant reach than newspapers like The New York Times or TV stations like ABC. LeBron James has 37 million Instagram followers; ESPN has 10 million. Beyonce has 114 million Instagram followers; MTV has 9 million.
This is a massive shift. Ten years ago, none of this existed. It’s a new world now, and we’re still in the early innings.
After leaving Cycle, I read Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media. McLuhan taught me how new technologies transform knowledge, restructure society, and shape the character of culture. From the wheel to the printing press, to the car, to the radio, this theme runs the course of history.
Now, it’s happening with the internet.
Only after reading the book did I realize that Cycle’s saying — “people are media companies” — wasn’t provocative enough.
People are companies now.
Influencers are leveraging their trust and attention to start companies.
My favorite examples are Emily Weiss in the beauty industry, Virgil Abloh in the fashion industry, and Casey Neistat on YouTube.. It’s also happening in music, education, venture capital, wealth management, and cryptocurrencies.
Naked Brands are everywhere.
On social media, people want to follow people — not companies. That’s why people are becoming brands, and brands are becoming more like people.
You run a great podcast. I’m a big fan of not only most of the guests you have had on it but your interviewing style. Tell us how you go about picking your guests and doing your homework before each interview.
I love to learn — I love it.
Before each interview, I ask guests to send me a list of books, people, experiences, and ideas that have shaped their worldview. I secretly have the world’s best reading list!
Once I receive the list, I prepare like crazy.
I’ll read their favorite books, listen to their favorite podcasts, and learn about their favorite people.
As a general rule: the more diverse and obscure the list, the better the interview.
Once the interview begins, I try to use my notes as little as possible. Since my interview skills still aren’t where I’d like them to be, I write personal notes down before every interview and use the time between interviews to reflect on my performance.
The best conversations happen when people are energetic and relaxed.
As an interviewer, I keep my belly soft which helps me relax. The softer your belly, the more you relax. Try it, it works!
Anyone who follows you on Twitter can tell that you are an excellent curator of insightful thoughts and quotes on various topics. You curate them and put them into tweetstorms that almost always get widely circulated.
My question is twofold. One, how you do go about aggregating those insights. Is it intentional or you put them all together when you have read enough on a certain topic? Two, can you distill key insights from your threads on career and learning for us?
Ok… it’s time to share my secret sauce.
I have a digital model of my brain, which makes all this possible. It’s the coolest thing!
I save all my knowledge in Evernote. I’ve worked with a coach to develop the system.
I want to live a life where I don’t have to remember anything. Seriously. That’s my goal — to forget as much as possible.
Eventually, I’ll reach a point where all my memories could vanish, and it wouldn’t impact my work. It’s a lofty goal (perhaps unattainable), but I’m moving closer and closer to it every day.
I’m a voracious reader, so I always have an abundance of quality information. Since I don’t have to remember anything, it’s easy to write these threads.
As you mentioned, I recently published a thread on career advice. It went viral. I can’t believe how many people have seen it; the top tweet has more than 600,000 impressions!
My favorite career advice comes from Keith Rabois: “Aim to become not the best at what you do but ‘the only one’ who does what you do.”
As for learning, start with the core principles that govern the field and master those. Across fields, the fundamentals are under-rated.
Most knowledge is a combination of the core principles in an area.
Are there any trends in blogging that you are excited about?
Yes! The blogging space is about to explode.
Content is essential, especially for B2B companies. It’s the best kind of marketing.
Content helps companies build their network, which can become a competitive edge. Whether you’re an individual or a company, nobody can replace you at the center of your network.
Being the linchpin in a network makes you immune to competition.
At North Star Media, we’re developing a method to remove the friction from content creation.
Organizations everywhere hold tons of knowledge. Unfortunately, most of them don’t know how to store it, organize it, or create content with it. That’s where we come in.
With our system, founders can create lots of content in minimal time. Through content, they can build a following and shape the future of their industry, which has huge ROI for them.
I’m psyched about what we’re building.
I am going to pull a Thiel now. What one thing do you disagree the most with adults on? I know any, and every answer would make a generalization on a how a group of people think but we are lazy and entitled anyways so they can cut us some slack on this.
Good question, Sar!
This idea was inspired by Dan Wang, who I recently had lunch with in Hong Kong.
The vast majority of science fiction is dystopian and negative. People underestimate how much this hurts economic growth and technological expansion.
To innovate, we need to be inspired to do so. Innovation is more likely when people are given inspiring visions of potential futures.
We don’t need utopias, but we do need hope and enthusiasm. That’s where Science Fiction helps — it injects people with imagination.
There are other ways to improve our capacity for imagination: museums, music festivals, conversations with inspiring people, and tours of exciting places. But there’s friction in all these solutions.
Science fiction has fewer constraints. Almost everybody is influenced by fictional stories. And because of that, movies and TV are potent levers to pull.
These days, stories about the future tend to have a dystopian, nihilistic bent. I recently saw Ready Player One, which describes a cruel world that I don’t want to live in. In the summer of 2015, I read The Circle, which also haunted me.
It’s become contrarian to be positive about the long-term future. We’ve entered an era of innovation starvation where people have lost faith in a better future. That’s a worrying sign.
Who is writing the book about a world with free, infinite energy? Or the one about a world where 3D printers are as ubiquitous as smartphones?
If anybody’s gonna do it, it’s the Chinese — not the Americans.
The data echoes this idea: right now, the vast majority of Americans see a grim future for the world. Most Americans think the world is becoming worse.
Americans have become complacent. We’re less ambitious and dynamic than we once were. We’re taking fewer risks and starting fewer companies.
I see this complacency in the majority of my college and childhood friends. I can count the number of people among them who are genuinely passionate about something (beyond sports or pop culture) on a single hand.
And they tend to be the privileged ones.
They’re armed with the social and financial capital to make meaningful change in the world. And yet, I see cynicism — not enthusiasm.
Dispassionate about their work, I know far too many people who live for the weekend. And when it arrives, they spend their nights drinking and their days hungover — weekend after weekend after weekend — blind to their potential; numb to our magnificent universe.
That’s not good.
There are exceptions though.
There are no superlatives to describe the respect I have for Lux Capital and the firm they’ve built.
Both Josh and Sam are avid science fiction readers. They seek out positive visions of the future. When you speak with them, their belief in a better tomorrow shoots into your soul and melts into your mind.
We need more people like them.
I wish we could shower humanity with their hope, their vision, and their optimism. It’s magical — truly.
In interviewing so many great people, is there anything you find in common amongst them that is very simple and perhaps sounds too simple to be true?
This answer won’t be popular, but it’s the most honest one I can give.
With a question like this, it’s easy to be fooled by randomness.
The podcast also has a sample bias. I’ve only interviewed successful people. That’s makes it hard to judge cause and effect, so it’s easy to misattribute the roots of their success.
When you look back on your life, it’s natural to construct a coherent narrative that makes sense and sounds good.
Humans love stories and explanations. But if you’re intellectually honest, so much success is a result of chance. A priori the future is uncertain.
But our stories rarely acknowledge the messiness of life. Our memories wash away the subtleties that lead to success.
Life is non-linear and random, unexpected things happen all the time, and that’s why I hesitate to answer this question.
What are your thoughts on the future of sports and media in America?
Societies express themselves through sports. Study a culture’s games, and you can understand its values.
Whenever I travel, I use sports as a lens to learn about where I am. Even if it’s indirect, it’s one of the best ways to learn about a culture and its history.
For example, If you travel to Australia, observe the contrast between the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. There’s so much to learn from that single example!
Today, sports are one of the best ways to understand American culture, from race relations to media fragmentation, to work.
Shifts in sports begin with shifts in media: baseball and the radio, football and television, and now, basketball and social media.
The popularity of football depends on television, an attitude of American exceptionalism, and a cultural indifference towards delicacy. As those attitudes perish, so will the NFL.
Basketball reflects the future of work, culture, and society. Like social media, basketball is all about the individual. Like Naked Brands, the NBA thrives on strong personalities. The best players transcend their teams: Michael Jordan and the Bulls — LeBron and the Cavaliers.
Following the NBA is my favorite way to keep up with culture.
As I jokingly said to a friend at brunch last weekend: there’s no reason to read the news when you can follow the NBA instead.
Basketball reflects the future of work, culture, and society. As we enter a hyper-digital world, bet on the NBA.
What skills should young people focus on and what should they read to get an edge over their peers?
The internet pushes us towards the new. Our social media feeds have a recency bias.
I try to read older things. Time is the best measure of quality.
It sounds simple, but it’s an advantage that’s available to everybody.
What are your thoughts on information consumption? How do you filter what and how much to read?
I love Nassim Taleb’s concept of Via Negativa. We know what is wrong with a lot more confidence than we know what is right.
Most people try to improve by addition. I say do the opposite. Remove things.
You see it in the self-help literature all the time. Do this. Do that.
I say “do less.”
“Filter” is the right word: distill, distill, and keep distilling.
It’s hard to know what’s good for us but it’s easy to understand what’s bad for us. All of us know when we’re reading junk or wasting time.
Especially in a world of information overload, removing the noise is simple and straightforward, compared with looking for something new. What you ignore is every bit as important as what you know.
I’m ruthless about removing noise from my email inbox, my Twitter feed, or my life. One lousy email newsletter and I unsubscribe.
It’s less about looking for good stuff and more about removing bad stuff.
Who are your favorite bloggers? Feel free to break it down by topics.
I’m going to highlight three under-rated ones.
1. Dan Wang — Dan writes about technology, globalization, economics and philosophy.
2. Drew Austin — Drew writes about cities, technology, and their dystopian future.
3. On Art & Aesthetics — Explores creativity and beauty across different media
Who are 2–3 interesting, young people I should connect with, follow on Twitter and possibly interview?
1. Nat Eliason (@nateliason) — Founder of Growth Machine and host of the Made You Think Podcast. Nat is probably the best learner I know.
2. Daniel Sinclair (@_DanielSinclair) — Understands social media culture and Gen Z as well as anybody. Quiet guy; powerful mind.
3. Andy McCune (@9th) — At 22 years of age, he’s achieved more than the average person will accomplish in their lives. He’s one hell of an entrepreneur and an even better person.
Other interviews in this series :
Not So Lazy & Entitled Millennials : Anirudh Narayan
This is the first installment of my new interview series on lazy and entitled millennials. I feature people I find…
Not So Lazy & Entitled Millennials : Conor Witt
This is the second installment of Not So Lazy & Entitled Millennial Interview Series.