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Todd Herman comes to The Successful Pitch podcast with an impressive background. He has successfully exited two companies and he has the Spanish royal family and billionaires as clients. He won the award for The World’s Greatest Salesperson in 2010 and he is also a coach for professional and Olympic athletes. Todd talks to the audience on the importance of creating an alter ego to achieve your goals, why it’s important to take care of the little things, and so much more on today’s show.
Be an Olympic Startup – Interview with Todd Herman
Welcome to The Successful Pitch Podcast. Today’s guest is Todd Herman, who has so many credentials, I don’t know where to start. He has a very successful 90 Day Year program. You’ve heard of the Four Hour Week. Now, you’re going to hear about the 90 Day Year. Todd is also a performance coach to professional and Olympic athletes. He has clients like the Spanish Royal Family and billionaire clients. What impressed me also was he won Greatest Sales Person in 2010 for the International Ad Festival in France. We’re certainly going to ask him to talk about that and more. Todd, welcome to the show.
John, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Todd, I love that you are such an expert on what it takes to become an Olympic or professional athlete. Because our listeners on The Successful Pitch Podcast are all about learning how to pitch to get investors to say yes fast. There are so many similarities between being an [Olympic Startup] entrepreneur and being a professional athlete. I think when you frame pitching to investors as the Super Bowl of meetings, that you are the expert to talk about that.
There’s a study that just came out a little while ago that my wife shared with me. It’s all about risk tolerance. They found that of groups of people that are out there, no two groups have a higher threshold for risk tolerance than entrepreneurs and athletes. It’s funny because I think that threshold tolerance was like 79 or 82%, something like that. The only group that actually rated just slightly higher than them were generals in the military. Fair enough, okay. We’ll all bow down to them.
For me, because I really dance between those two worlds and going back and forth between working with entrepreneurs on high performance and how can you actually get the maximum amount of value that’s stored up inside of you to show up on the field of play. Everyone uses this word, potential. In my world, in my business, that word is not allowed to be used because I don’t believe in potential.
Potential I think is a crutch that a lot of people like to lean on to basically excuse away a lot of their bad habits or behaviors. What I look at, and the only thing that really an investor is going to look at as well when they’re taking a look at a successful pitch is, even when you watch on Shark Tank people are like, “We like the grand idea that you have there. That would be considered potential. But what’s the real performance? Tell me the numbers.”
Even with athletes, I want to know what are your numbers. Don’t tell me what you think you can do. I want to know what’s showing up on the court, on the field of play. The great thing about dancing between these worlds of athletes and entrepreneurs is they’re both manic people that are doing crazy things.
You’ve got crazy ideas to think that you could actually go out there and somehow be the number one sprinter in the world or that you could somehow go into a meeting and walk out with $5 million for this idea that started rattling around in your head months or years ago on your couch. Now, you’re asking people for money. It’s crazy people but I love working with them.
I really like what you said there about the idea that you have for your product is your potential that you have, but what really counts is your ability to execute that idea, i.e. what are your numbers? Investors are saying, “We’re not going to fund anybody who ‘doesn’t know their numbers’. We’re investing in people who know how to execute.”
Todd, you’ve had two successful [Olympic Startup] businesses with great exits so you clearly have been down this path. I want to go back even further. When I was watching a short video you did about a life lesson you learned from your dad, can you share that with the audience?
Sure. I was yelling. I grew up on a farm and ranch in Western Canada. I live here in New York City now but I’m still at my core, a farm kid. We were walking out of a steak restaurant. On the way out, just like most people, I had some meat stuck between the teeth. So very natural for me to snag a toothpick.
When I walked out the door, I tore the toothpick out of the cellophane and then I’d tossed the cellophane on the sidewalk as we continued to walk towards the car. My dad is a man of very few words. Always led by example more than anything else. Very respected in the community.
He stopped, walked back, grabbed the cellophane. He always, just like most good farmers, had a breast pocket with pens and a notebook that he used for the farm. He grabbed the cellophane and he stuffed it in his pocket and kept on walking. I thought to myself, “Wow, that is a perfect example of how you win at life. It’s by taking care of all the little things.”
Most people always focus on the big stuff. But in my experience in working with high performing people is they are fanatical about making sure that details are well taken care of. A friend of mine and someone that I’ve been able to do some work with, Brian Fetherstonhaugh, who is the CEO of OgilvyOne. One of the greatest advertising agencies on the planet.
We were going through and we were doing a presentation together. The gentleman who had put together the slide deck had come in. Brian and myself and his assistant were sitting there. Just watching someone at that level go through that presentation was such a fine tooth comb and picking out just micro little punctuation errors or just the slightest little alignment issues. That’s the CEO.
Most people would think that they wouldn’t care about those things but someone who’s operating at a high level does care about that impression. Because just like the people that are listening are going in to present a successful pitch, glossing over all of those things will be picked up on by people who have a tremendous eye for detail, which are typically people who are very successful.
I love that you brought that up.
The analogy is just take care of the cellophane in your life because it matters.
It does. I love that you brought that up, about the details on the slide because I’ve had investors tell me, “If you have a typo on your pitch deck, that’s it. That’s a no. Right off the get go.” What I love so much about that story about your dad is A, you’re a master storyteller. I’m constantly working with my clients to teach them how to become a master storyteller.
You’ve described how old you were, you described that your father is a man of few words and that he literally didn’t say anything. By not saying anything, he said volumes. Then that life lesson that you took and continue to take with you and teach other people.
We’re going to tweet that out, “If you want to win at life, take care of the little things.” That’s a great phrase and a great tweet for the first 30 minutes or whatever we’re going to be talking together. I love that.
It’s so many things. Take care of the little things and be a storyteller. You encapsulated all of that in one quick story. Amazing. Fantastic. As I promised in the intro, I want to hear about how you won Greatest Sales Person in France. Because let’s face it, when you’re pitching, you’re selling yourself and your idea to investors. There must be a great story there.
That’s actually how I got involved with Ogilvy because Ogilvy and YouTube are partnering up to do this search for the world’s greatest sales person. That was back in 2010, beginning of 2010. Now, I have some successful businesses. The price was going to be a fellowship at Ogilvy.
I wasn’t really doing it to get a fellowship at Ogilvy. How I found out about it was a good friend of mine actually on Twitter sent me a tweet and said, “Hey, Ogilvy, who I know that you absolutely love …” Because David Ogilvy’s book, Ogilvy On Advertising, is one of the first books I give people when it comes to just learning how to communicate or sell or market yourself. It’s still a great bible today on that subject.
She said, “They’re doing this cool thing. I think you could win this.” I went and saw their very tongue and cheek funny launch video for it. What they asked people to do was to submit a two minute video of how you would sell a red brick on YouTube.
I love it.
As soon as I saw their pitch video, I was like, “I know exactly how I’d sell that red brick.” I was working on an important project at the time. I was like, “I’ll get to this later,” which what I teach all my clients is famous last words, because you will never get to it later. If you’re inspired to do it and it’s something that’s going to really make an impact, do it now.
I did some self-coaching there, got up quickly, threw on a sport coat, wrote out a mini little script. One hour later, I had the video done in the can and uploaded it to basically YouTube. My whole shtick with the red brick was that the red brick was used to help build empires because the Sumerians who invented the red bricks used it to build pyramids. It was also used to build roads to help connect us all because bricks were originally the thing that we used on roads. Ultimately, it has helped to revolutionize homes so that we’re no longer vulnerable to the winds of nature.
At the end of the day, all those [Olympic Startup] innovations started in the mind of one person. Just like them, you probably have an idea, a dream, a goal or something that you have never taken action on. If you buy this red brick, it will be a message to not only you but the world around you that you’ve laid your first red brick. You’ve taken your first step to a life of committed action.
I went on from there and then I said, “If you buy this brick, we’ll donate …” Because it was right around the time that Haiti had the big hurricane roll through and devastate the country. I said all the proceeds will go to the Red Cross at Haiti. Anyways, it will help rebuild that country as well. Metaphorically, it helps to rebuild the nation.
Anyways, that submission video got me down to a final three. Final three of us then were flown over to Cannes, France to the International Advertising Festival. I got a free trip out of it already, I didn’t even win yet. There was myself, a gentleman who was a Hollywood producer and then a lady from Japan.
We all had to do a two minute pitch on stage of how we would sell the new Motorola Droid cellphone. Motorola was a client of Ogilvy’s. Now we were in the biggest theater in all of Cannes, the Cannes Film Festival, the big movies. We’re on stage, we’ve got two minutes.
Me going over there, I had never been to an advertising festival. I had no idea what to expect, what the demographic of the audience was going to be there. I actually prepared five different pitches based on different demographics. When I got there, I found out and realized after meeting a bunch people, that there’s going to be a big chunk of the audience that didn’t have English as their first language or really didn’t even speak English at all. All they’re going to hear is like, wa-wa-wa-wa.
I thought to myself, what is a character, a story, something that when I say a word, it’s the same word across every single culture? I was playing with the idea, Motorola Droid, just the word Droid. It’s a cool cellphone, it’s a technologically advanced thing. Who would use that? Batman would use it.
I started off my pitch with, “If you had the opportunity to design your own mobile device, the Motorola Droid cellphone would be that device. In fact, it would be the device used by Batman.” As soon as I said the word Batman, there was this crowd of Greek advertisers that were in front and I saw this one lady nudge one of her counterparts. She said, “This guy’s good.”
That’s when I knew that I had the audience pretty well. There’s like 1,300 people in the audience. At the end of it, everyone did live text message voting and then the result was I ended up winning this. It was a great experience. I ended up meeting Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook party. He came up to me and said, “Hey, aren’t you the World’s Greatest Salesperson?”
What a great title.
It went on from there. That’s how I ended up doing a bunch of work with Ogilvy.
Wow, I thought there was probably a good story there. But you gave us two good stories. I love it. I want to break it down, what you did, so that the people listening can really understand just why you won and why it was so good.
When you’re describing something … I tell people, “When you tell a story, give three points for people to take away.” You said, “If you have a dream, an idea or a goal.” It just flows so effortlessly out of your mouth but clearly you’ve thought that out. People are going to say, “I have one of those three things, so this is for me.”
That’s so important when you’re pitching. I constantly work with my clients and say, “You cannot wing your pitch to investors.” Clearly, you did not wing this. You had five different pitches ready, depending on who the demographics are. That’s of course the key to success, is know your audience.
Investors are not all the same. You have to customize your pitch to what their specialty is and what their hot buttons are and what they like to invest in. You nailed that, and on your feet no less, of what’s the word that resonates across the world that you don’t have to speak English. In that case, it was Batman. You became the Batman and won the award.
What a great story. Thank you so much. So much great information there, on how to pitch and how to connect with the audience.
To your point, there’s a reason why rules of three are influence. It’s the whole, “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Everyone knows, as soon as you say, “See no evil,” everyone else can repeat the next two things. You’re right, organizing information into threes is exceptionally helpful to the audience.
Now, the Batman thing leads directly into one of your key areas of expertise, which is creating an alter ego. Can you speak to that, Batman?
For sure. My first business that I started was doing mental game coaching with athletes. They weren’t pro athletes at that time because I was starting out. I was young. It didn’t take long before I started working with professional and Olympic athletes. How I got my name was I built up a name as being the person to go to build a secret identity or alter ego to boost performance.
How that came about was I played college football. I was a national rank badminton player. One of the devices that I used for my mental game was not going out on the field of play as myself because Todd has his insecurities and his worries and his concerns about other people judging him.
That’s not going to serve me on the field of play where I need to perform. What most athletes do, which is what they get wrong, is they go on to the field and they carry themselves with them, as opposed to stepping into something else that’s going to perform for them.
People naturally see actors do it. They go out in that stage and they act as a character in order to deliver the results or the emotional response to the audience that makes the story believable. If we want to make your performance believable, why not step into it as someone or something else.
I’ve got this five step process. I’m in the midst of writing the book on it. I’ve been doing this for well over a decade with clients. As I started doing a lot more work with people in the corporate world or entrepreneurs, there’s a field of play that everyone steps on.
When you go into a pitch, there is a certain rule and there’s a certain framework around how to be successful in that field or in that room. Going in there with trepidation and concern and a lack of belief in what you’ve done, maybe you didn’t prepare properly, is not going to serve you by any stretch of the imagination.
People are investing at the end of the day. Yes, the idea is important and the numbers behind it are important. But they’re still investing in the entrepreneur. Because you and I both know that the odds of the thing that’s being presented actually being 100% the thing that show up in the marketplace. I’ve never seen that happen personally and I invest in products and companies all the time.
We’re investing ultimately in, “Do I believe that this person can actually steward this thing to completion? Can they execute or are they just an idea person who gets excited about something and then drops off three months later and now my money is gone?”
Building out this idea of stepping into a better heightened version of yourself on that field is the fastest way I’ve ever found to help people boost performance and the result that they’re looking for on the field. If you think about it, this is not about being fake. This is not about being unnatural. You are already doing it.
Because, who Todd is, I’ve got two little girls under the age of two and a half. I am very different with them than I am as Todd, the hard charging, spank-you-in-the-ass coach and adviser that I typically have an avatar as being. Who I am in business is very different than who I am in the home with my family. Who I am with my friends when I’m out for a drink or a beer watching the game is still another version of my personality just magnified to accommodate that experience.
It’s just that, when you get this, you become far more intentional and deliberate about who it is that you’re creating so that you can perform at the level that would be considered the highest levels, so that you get the result that you want.
I’m so glad you said that. I was going to ask you about it. You answered the question before I even could ask, which is, how do you have an alter ego and still stay authentic? You said, and we’re going to tweet this, “When you have a better heightened version of yourself, that boosts performance.” That is magic. That is gold. That allows you to still be yourself.
This word authenticity is a very big buzz word that’s out there nowadays. I challenge people all the time. I’m like, “Tell me what authentic actually means?” Here’s my premise, I don’t think anyone on this planet is really authentic. Because if people are authentic, the most authentic moment of your life was when you came out of the womb and you were bloody and you were shitting yourself and you were crying.
If you want to be truly authentic that’s how you should be behaving right now. Not to be too explicit, but that’s the reality. That’s what true authenticity is. How do we all get our personality shaped? Yes, definitely being a dad of two little girls, there are just things that are baked into their DNA. My wife, Valerie and I, had nothing to do with that whatsoever. It’s just in them and you can’t explain it.
There’s environmental impacts. There’s social impacts. There’s the friends that we have that helped to shape that personality. Where does their authenticity begin and who they’re showing up in life as that personality begin as well? My challenge to people is, I just don’t believe on the word authenticity. All I care about is performance.
If you are a good person to me, I don’t care if you’re not being authentic in the moment. You’re just nice to me. What do I care if you’re being authentic? The result was my interaction with John was a good experience. Whether you were faking it or not, I don’t care.
Great. The other thing that you’re really on that I find so fascinating and useful is this whole [Olympic Startup] concept of positive thinking versus positive expectations. In Silicon Valley and the startup world, there’s this whole thing called the trough of despair that all startups go through.
You talked about in one of your blogs, about high performers tend to battle depressive states more than other people. Can you talk about that and what causes that and how can we handle those depressive states?
To use maybe a metaphor to help explain it, I think of life as having two classes of fish in the sea. There’s a class of fish that lives at the very bottom. It’s cold down there. It’s dark. Light doesn’t travel down at the bottom there. There’s an exceptional amount of pressure that’s down there.
Now, currents can come along and maybe the fish that’s living down there gets caught in the current and slowly that current starts to bring them to the surface. If that fish doesn’t escape the current and travel back down to where its natural environment is, they’ll get eaten by a predator at that level or eventually they’ll get to the surface and the sun will burn them or whatever the case is. They’re built to be down there.
Then there’s another class of fish that’s at the surface of the ocean and they’re colorful and they’re bright and they jump and they’ve danced at the very top. If they got caught in the current and get taken down to the very bottom, they would die because of the pressure that’s down there.
In my experience of working with thousands upon thousands of high performers at the Olympic level or entrepreneurs, whether it’s billionaires or whatever, they are the people who live at the bottom of the ocean. They can handle the pressure. They can handle the intensity of what it’s like to be in these situations.
I think the real problem that people are experiencing is that there has been this one rule that’s set up in life that is, life is about being happy and joyful. I disagree because I don’t think that Elon Musk’s sole purpose in life is to be happy. He has said that he is here to solve really big problems for this planet.
You don’t give really big problems to someone who’s lens on life is to have just a fantastic lifestyle. I think that people need to be careful about the rules that they’re setting up in their head and making themselves feel bad because they don’t feel like they’re happy all the time, because they’re in a stressed out state. No, you chose it. Almost you didn’t even choose it, it chose you.
You’re meant to do this because you can handle it. I’ve said that to some entrepreneurs and friends that have struggled with it. One of them remarked back to me, “I’ve been living in just a state of worry and self-judgment for fifteen years.” He sent me an email the day afterwards and he was like, “I have never felt more free. You just lifted so much pain and anxiety and soft judgment off my shoulders. I felt like I was doing something wrong in life because I wasn’t that typically very, very happy person.”
Now, it’s one thing to be able to handle depressive states. I’m not saying that depression is an okay thing. But it is something that people who do big things deal with because our roller coasters are hell of a lot steeper. Which means they’re steep on the climb and that means the very top can be incredible. But they’re steep as well and they can go a lot deeper than other people who just aren’t taking on challenges like we would be.
The trough of despair is something that is very common but the idea that you’re a bad person for experiencing it isn’t true. It’s just the nature of the world that you’re living in. You’re meant to handle it and it’s okay.
Being a former swimmer, I love the analogy of the different levels of the water. I almost want to combine your two metaphors and say, if my alter ego is going to be a deep sea diver, I’m going to put on my deep sea equipment as my alter ego. When I have that on, I know I can handle the pressure in the analogy of the water. I won’t always stay down there. I’ll come up for air when I need to but when I need to get the job done, I’m going to be able to handle the pressure cooker. It’s really helpful.
Absolutely. To carry on with your analogy, if I’m going to give someone a tool then that they can put on and wear to help them manage that deep level of pressure that we go through. It’s the first thing I try to get all my private clients to get into, is meditation.
Here are the numbers. Ten of the top thirteen private equity traders in Wall Street here in New York City, the wealthiest people, will all credit the reason that they outperform everyone else, they meditate every single day. That helps them avoid the emotional highs and lows that everyone else in the market is going through.
Really, what meditation does is it flexes the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe of our brain is the part that allows us to stay focused, to concentrate and to mitigate the limbic emotional part of our system. Whether it’s two minutes, studies have proven, even if you do two minutes of meditation, it’s proven to help manage emotional states. Even just two minutes.
The misconception that people have with meditation is that, “I’ve tried meditation and I can’t get my mind to shut off.” Meditation has nothing to do with your thoughts going away. That’s the misnomer or the myths that’s out there.
Meditation is all about being okay with what’s passing through your mind and not getting attached to it. If you think about it this way, I’ll use a metaphor, your mind is the sky. The thoughts passing through it are clouds. What most people do is they get some self-judgment cloud passing through and they get entangled with the cloud, thinking that that’s who they are. I’m telling you, no, it’s not.
I love it.
Here’s the thing, we all think those thoughts. I’ve worked with the ultra-high performers on the planet. I can tell you, they deal with those self-defeating thoughts too sometimes. They just don’t get entangled in it and they continue to execute and take action.
That’s great. We’re going to tweet something out about, meditation is like clouds going through your head. Just keep them moving. Say next, next, next. Don’t get entangled in any one that would bring you down. Just go, next. Keep the wind going, keep the clouds going.
I think that’s so helpful because like you said, so many people are so afraid. “I can’t stop my thoughts. Oh, I don’t have to? I just can’t.” The goal is to just not get stuck on one and perseverate around it and go over it. Keep reliving it. How many times that we’ve done that?
Sorry to interrupt you, John. Think about when you’re just looking at the sky any way. Sometimes, you’re just looking at clouds and you’re like, “Oh, that’s an interesting shape.” The same thing can go with your thoughts. You’re like, “That’s interesting that that thought entered my head.”
Be more curious about it. Don’t get entangled into it as, “That’s me. That’s who I am.” It’s more of like, “Oh, that’s an interesting thought. How about that? What about that one over there.” Be a more observer of it rather than someone who’s just identifying themselves with the thought.
I love that so much because I think that’s the key, is not being attached to any one outcome, especially when you go pitch an investor. You cannot be attached to that outcome because they’ll smell it. Just like a date or anything else, you can’t be attached. Is this the person that’s giving me the money? Is this the person who’s going to marry me? Is this, whatever? You just have to not be attached to any one outcome and you’ll be at your top performance.
Stay engaged in the process.
That’s great. You’ve already given us a hint of your book that’s coming and you mentioned the Ogilvy book. Are there any other books that you want to recommend to the listeners before we go?
I think a great book that’s out there, I don’t even know if it’s in publication anymore, but it’s Seeking Wisdom, from Darwin To Munger. It is a fantastic book on just thinking in the context of models. I’m a really big visual models person, whether it’s been diagrams, XY graphs and pyramids and stuff like that.
Warren Buffett has said that Charlie Munger is the fastest 30 second thinker on the planet. That’s because Charlie Munger has made it known that he has, I think it’s 96 different mental models that he’s memorized from tons of different disciplines. Whether it’s mathematics or physics or literature or psychology, so that he can think quickly.
He doesn’t get entangled in the whole subject matter. He goes, “What’s that about? What is the idea of confirmation bias about?” When I’m listening to John give me a pitch and he’s telling me why this thing is going to be successful, is he coming at it from a point of data or is it confirmation bias because he’s travelled down that road into this niche or this industry? He’s able to think far more quickly. It’s based in a real data and real science.
It’s a fantastic book. It’s just a really great read. People think that it would maybe be really dry but it’s such a great book.
I think another great book that’s out there that I actually would attribute a good chunk of maybe my messaging that I had, which was successful for the red brick video, is called Metaphorically Selling. Most people wouldn’t have heard of it. It’s not like a bestseller. The lady does such a great job of giving examples of how one speech without a metaphor and one speech with a metaphor connects.
You were talking before about stories. Metaphors are just a micro story and a very short sound bite for people. Metaphorically Selling, I recommend that book. She should probably send me commission checks because it’s some of those darn books that maybe she has. It’s a great book and she’s a lovely smart lady that wrote it.
You’ve given us so much valuable insights into how to sell through metaphors, how to look at the numbers and not focus on your potential, not get stuck in your ideas, to get out of trough of despair. Is there any one final piece of advice you want to leave the listeners with?
Continuously take action. That’s it. That’s just the hallmark of how you get yourself out of the trough of despair. Just keep moving and not defining where you’re at with where you’re going to be for the rest of your life.
I want to be careful that we’re treating everyone as if they’re in this trough of despair. Just keep taking action. You never know what’s going to be around the next corner. You just don’t.
“Keep taking action.” It’s that simple. Thank you so much for being on today, Todd.
John, appreciate it. Thank you.
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