Amy Wilkinson is an Entrepreneur, analyst, and Author of The Creator’s Code. Her career spans the White House, McKinsey, JPMorgan and starting her own company.
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Worst Entrepreneur moment
- Amy was years into her book research when a massive merger threatened to ruin everything. Her mother told her to quit. Her Dad told her to strive on! Which path did she take?
What has you FIRED up?
- The Creator’s Code by Amy Wilkinson
Small Business Resource
- Linkedin Pulse: Pulse The news and insights you need to know. Your News · Top Posts · Discover.
Best Business Book
Female Speaker: I am ready to ignite. Yes.
Male Speaker: Amy is an entrepreneur, analyst and author of The Creator’s Code. Her career spans the White House, McKinsey, JP Morgan, and starting her own company. Amy, say what’s up to Fire Nation and let us know what’s going in your world.
Amy: So thank you so much for having me on Fire Nation. I am psyched to be on your show. So I am just out of the gate with my first ever book called The Creator’s Code: the Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs and I am fired up about that. It’s just two weeks on the market right now and it hit the No. 1 in the Amazon business category. So that is what I'm thinking about in this very moment.
John: That’s exciting stuff, and I have to ask. Do you love or roll your eyes to House of Cards?
Amy: You know what? I like it. I like it, I guess. I'm not a devotee, I guess is the truth but I like it. I'm always interested; I'm always curious.
John: Okay, good to know. Someone who’s been in the White House, I'm always wondering: do they just hate this show because it’s so obnoxious or do they love the show because it’s so close to the truth, or somewhere in between? And that sounds like where you lie.
Amy: It’s somewhere in between. I think it’s somewhere in between. Sometimes you think to yourself: wow, that look so much cooler than it really is. And then other moments in time you think: well, okay, that’s pretty accurate; these kind of things happen. So I don't know; it’s a little bit of both.
John: I kind of picture that and then people that are in London right now watching Downton Abbey being like: that is definitely not how things used to be. But who knows? All we can do is enjoy the shows. And Amy, what I want to talk to you about right now is what I call the one minute mindset. Because I really kind of want to introduce you to Fire Nation and get some insights into your mind. So take about a minute each to answer these questions, number one being ideally what are the first 80 minutes of your day look like?
Amy: Ideally, and my pattern is not always super consistent, but ideally I get up at about 5:30. I go to the gym to try to get some energy up for about 45 minutes. I come back; I always eat a huge breakfast. So I am a breakfast protein eater. So a couple eggs always in the morning. And then I try to get a little bit of time, just mental time, like mental space time before I'm on email, or before I'm running around, or before I'm dashing out to a meeting. One entrepreneur that I interviewed for this book said something kind of counterintuitive to me but now I think even I try to incorporate it, is Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanks.
And she told me that she lives five minutes from her office but she drives a 45 minute commute. And that just sounds like crazy. But what she does is she drives in a loop in the morning for 45 minutes before – so she leaves her home, where she’s married with a child, and before she gets to her office where it’s chaotic, and for 45 minutes she just has the time in the car to think about things. And so I try to build that kind of time in in the morning, as well.
John: You know, I guess if you don’t have to make the commute, like it’s not something that’s forced upon you and there’s traffic you know you're going to have to beat down, but instead you just kind of take those side country roads, maybe pop on some music – some Mozart, maybe some podcasts – I get it. I do get it. That can be a quiet time, kind of the calm and the eye of the storm between your home life and your work life. So I get that.
Amy: Right. And I think a lot of people, either they find it in a commute in a car or walking. A number of entrepreneurs that I also interviewed for this book talked about walking and thinking. And I do that, as well. If I can walk into my office in 20 minutes, I get a lot of ideas. There’s the interesting part, right? It doesn’t just feel good to me; I actually come up with creative ideas. And I think there’s some cutting edge research around that; the walking part, the kinetics behind coming up with creative and entrepreneurial thoughts.
John: Yeah, I'll tell you, when I take my 35 minute walk every morning in the bay here in San Diego, I get so frustrated when I forget my little hand held notebook because I have these three or four great ideas, and then I just have to keep repeating the ideas to myself over and over again if I didn’t bring the notebook with me so I don’t forget them. And then I don’t enjoy the walk as much. So always bring that notebook, Fire Nation, when you're on walks, when you're doing whatever.
Amy: That is so true. That is so true because ideas are fleeting. They vanish and then you can’t remember 20 minutes later what the great insight was. That is so true.
John: I love it. So Amy, what’s your biggest weakness as an entrepreneur?
Amy: I over commit to things and it’s just a personality trait, probably. I really try to manage it back. But especially with – as an entrepreneur, as an author of an entrepreneurial book, there are so many people that are asking for time or asking for attention and I truly want to be helpful. And then that becomes a problem when you're flooded with emails and flooded with calls. I'm over committing and scrambling. So that is something that I really try to be measured about. But I would say it’s a weakness, and some people manage that better than others. I personally feel like I will always be dropping balls and it’s just a question of trying to make sure that the ones that get dropped can get picked up again.
John: So what’s your biggest strength?
Amy: Exactly the flipside. So I think it’s connecting with people. And it’s from Airbnb, Joe Gebbia, who was just talking to me this week, chatted for an interview on the book about how hard it was to be a designer and an artist and have his rent go up in San Francisco by 25 percent and all that. Or Elon Musk at Tesla Motors and SpaceX telling me he’s scared and he feels fear really strongly, and getting a little misty eyed.
I think the ability to connect to people is a real strength, and entrepreneurs have to be able to connect with people. So I think that becomes the strong suit. It also is the weakness where you want to be connecting and there’s just not enough time. So it’s probably a flipside of the same thing.
John: So Amy, I'd love to kind of divert real quick because I'm just fascinated. I mean the founder of Spanks, Airbnb, Tesla, you're getting their ears and their time for this book that you're writing, The Creator’s Code. How did you manage to build these connections and grow these relationships so that you were able to have a sit-down with these people?
Amy: It’s very much friends and friends of friends. So the Creator’s Code has 200 interviews as the data set behind the book. And none of them did I go cold to. So it really is an ability to – like the sister of one of my best friends knew Kevin Plank at Under Armour, for example. And Kevin Plank at Under Armour opens the book. I think he’s such a great story and that’s such an amazing company out of Baltimore. Or it’s someone that I met at a wedding who is the sister of the Chipotle founder. Or it’s friends of friends from school or from different jobs that I've had. And that is something that all of us can do, and I think that maintaining relationships and talking to people is important.
The other note here is that entrepreneurs, as you know with your show, love to inspire other people. And so when you ask them and you say: hey, I'm going to write a book and I really want this to matter in the world, to give people the skills to be entrepreneurs – that’s the idea behind the book – Elon Musk is happy to try to help and so is Kevin Plank and Spanks and Under Armour and all of these big companies, they want other people to be entrepreneurs. So they’ll give you some time and it’s a real fortunate position to be able to go chase them down and then relay their stories.
John: And one thing I found, too, that’s really valuable is to just look at it like you're building a foundation. Like you didn’t just go out one day and send one email out and get all of those great entrepreneurs to agree to sit down and talk to you. But once you’ve gotten a couple of those huge names, like you’ve sat down with Elon Musk and you’ve sat down with the founder of Airbnb and Spanks and Chipotle, and then you can use that as social proof going forward to maybe even some of those more distant connections.
They’re there but they’re not quite there. But then they’re like: oh, wow, these people have already talked to Amy about The Creator’s Code. This would be a great group to be involved in and have my name in print with them. Was that a part of it, too?
Amy: I think that that’s a part of it but these people are so busy, I think they’re making individual decisions. And they’re running these big companies and the bigger part of it is they just want to inspire other people. They want other people to also create and scale ideas. So some of it is yeah, they’d like to be in the group. And I will say there’s quite a lot of curiosity at the end. This has taken five years, so I don't want anyone to think that it just happened like in a day.
John: Oh, I thought you did this last week.
Amy: No, no. I mean and I truly, as a first time writer, didn’t know it would be that hard, either, take that long. So it’s something you have to believe matters in order to stay after it. But towards the end, when you're in year two, three, four, a lot of these people then are really curious about what the others are saying. It is one of the things – like the people at the start are just helping out. The people at the end are like: wow, does the Dropbox founder also think like that? Or does the JetBlue founder do what I do? It’s one of these things where there’s a lot of curiosity about what the results are. You know, when somebody has been a researcher and run around for that long.
John: So Amy, I'd love to talk around the subject right here about the one thing that has you most fired up right now. Like what would that be, specifically?
Amy: I think the one thing, to me, that’s most exciting is the idea that entrepreneurs create jobs. So I started writing this book when I was in the White House. I was a White House fellow, which is a nonpartisan public policy – public service idea. And I looked around and I just thought to myself: gosh, government’s not going to solve this; big business may not solve this. But true creators, it’s successful to everyone. Like you, me, my brother, the neighbor, anyone can create and scale an idea. And then with that, the research shows that companies less than five years old are creating all the net new jobs in the United States.
So that’s really exciting to me. If we can catalyze this and get people to create and scale their ideas, we actually are going to boost the economy quite a lot. So that, to me – I'm fired up about it. I'm on Fire Nation to do this, right?
John: Well, I'm fired up to and this is what I love, Amy, is that you're sharing the message, the voice, the mission of all of these entrepreneurs and that’s exactly what I'm trying to do every day here with EntrepreneurOnFire and the now over 900 episodes that we’ve done over the last couple years. It’s just so great to see the ripple effect that these messages being thrown out there in the world can have. And that’s kind of what I'd like to use as a segue to what I want to talk about next.
Because this has been a journey for you. As you mentioned, this didn’t happen overnight. This was five years in the making, and that’s a long time. Some people will sit down and they’ll whip a book out in a few months, maybe a year and then they’ll be off to the next project. This is five years for you so you’ve had your ups and your downs. Can you take us to what you consider the lowest of the low, the worst entrepreneurial moment that you experienced on this journey?
Amy: So this has been a tough journey. It is very hard to be a first time writer, like full stop period. It’s particularly hard right now because the industry is going digital. That’s not a surprise. The big publishing houses in New York are getting overtaken, or certainly there’s a lot of flow towards Amazon and a lot of people self publishing and all of that. So for me, it has taken a lot longer than I thought. The one real low moment was I turned this book in two years ago, in fact, and delivered on a deadline. And then – I'm under Simon and Schuster, which is a big publisher.
Random House and Penguin are the other two big houses in New York and they announced a merger five weeks after I hit that deadline. And I got caught in an industry merger, basically. So with that industry landscape change, the division I was under called Free Press, the inferant, was closed. And the editor I worked with, the acquiring editor, they were all fired, let go. And so to me, obviously you don’t like to see your colleagues go off into the world but it also was a moment where it looked like my book – and a lot of books then just got cancelled.
And mine was resigned to a different editor and I was supposed to go back to Silicon Valley and cofound a company with a business school classmate of mine. But the decision that I made was to rewrite this book for a new editor and it took two more years. Because with a new editor, and you had to look at the same material and reshape it in a different way. So I pulled back from starting a company and rewrote the material. I think it’s better. But it’s a very hard thing to do, and especially as a creative person it’s like you’ve finished a painting and it’s red and you think it’s beautiful, and everyone thinks it’s beautiful.
And the new editor comes in and says, “No, I want blue.” And then you’re like: what? So to me, that was a real moment and my parents, who have been wonderful supporters of this project and everything else, they were divided. My dad thought I should double down and just keep after it. My mother thought I should think of it as a failed startup and just move on and cofound this other company and just figure that an industry consolidation was just that, and it was done and the book wouldn’t come out.
So it has been this arduous pathway. And that, to me, you know, you have to believe in your project to spend more time and do it again. It was kind of a gut check, heart wrenching – I don't know what you want to call it, but it took two more years. And I'm really proud of the results so I think it made it better, but it hasn’t been easy.
John: So Amy, it wasn’t easy and I kind of want to sit on this thought for a second of the division between your mother and your father just to kind of talk about how we as entrepreneurs face this a lot. Now there are multiple ways to look at this, but how I feel like you tied it perfectly in at the ends. Because when we are facing the dip, when we are facing that low point in our journeys, there’s gonna always be the desire to quit. And I am a big believer in that quote: “The only way to get out of a hole is to stop digging, period.” But that is when you don’t really believe in your project; when you don’t really have that passion.
Because there are so many times that so many people have quit and walked away right before striking that goal. They’re right before getting that inflection point that actually turns things around. So I think where you said it, your mother gave a great point: hey, look at this as a failed startup because if you keep going forward, you're going to be wasting time on something you could be doing that could turn out to be amazing. But your father’s like: no, head down, keep moving forward. Great advise on both ends because that’s very valuable.
But the reality is that it has to come down to you. What do you, as the entrepreneur, want. And if you're passionate about that – and you were – you were like: you know what, I'm going to change this painting to blue and it’s going to be the best gosh darn blue painting you’ve ever seen.
Amy: Right. I think that’s right and I took quite a lot of inspiration from the people that I was interviewing. So Elon Musk had said to me about Tesla Motors: that took six years to get the first Tesla off the manufacturing line. That was not fast, either. And when I was interviewing him, I was saying, “Gosh, is this fun for you?” And he said, “No. Starting a company is like chewing glass and staring into the abyss.” And I was like, “Okay, that sounds terrible.”
John: The worst.
Amy: And then he said to me, “Well, it’s only like that for the first three to five years and then these things take off.” And obviously, Tesla is a wonderful company. That’s a beautiful car, now. But it’s hard. And so then what he had also said to me is, “If you think it’s important enough –” and then he stopped and doubled back and said, “No, if you believe that it’s important enough, even if you're scared, you still keep going.” That’s a direct quote. And it stayed with me, too, because I was really scared on my own project when the division was getting closed and I was in this merger of a traditional industry and I had a new editor who wanted it a different way.
That’s a scary moment. You have to believe that what you're doing matters. It’s not that you think it; you have to find it somewhere else inside that you think: yeah, this actually is important enough and I believe it will – in my case – inspire others to create companies and it will be worth doing. But I think every entrepreneur faces that in one moment or another because these are not straight line pursuits.
John: Believe. To me, that’s the word, like you said. And that word stuck with you when Elon doubled back and said it. And my question to you now is, Amy, what’s something else that stuck with you during all these conversations that you think would be kind of helpful and maybe relevant to this conversation right now?
Amy: So another line that was in my mind a lot is one thing that Kevin Plank at Under Armour said. And he said, “No one has your answers for you.” And I think that’s also true with being an entrepreneur or being a first time writer. And to take it back to my parents, I have two parents and I think they’re both fabulous. And they had very different views of what the answer should be, right, at this sort of dark moment. And nobody could answer it for me. And I think that that’s right: no one has your answers. You can take a lot of feedback and you want to have people giving you their insight and their wisdom and their experience.
You want boards of advisors and certainly friends and colleagues to be helpful. But when it comes right down to it, with innovation or entrepreneurship, if there were a really clear answer, we would already know it. So in this case, you're trying to solve something that we haven’t seen before. No one else has the answer. But the good news is some people care enough to try to figure it out. And there’s the passion part. And I know you talk about that in your program, as well. You really have to be passionate about these things to carry them forward.
John: Man, I'm just loving this and I feel like the trifecta would kind of close this down, now. You share something with Elon Musk about believing, you share something with the founder of Under Armour about you are the person that has the answers. For Fire Nation that’s listening right now, these are things that are so important for you on your journey. Just like Amy was scared and terrified about the merger and potentially losing her book deal, but then she took solace from Elon’s words.
Just like so many times I've come up against those walls and those obstacles that looked insurmountable but I've found inspiration from my guests and even from my listeners. What’s the third kind of leg, here, that you want to maybe share before we dive into the next section, Amy, that you think our listeners – entrepreneurs, wantrepreneurs, small business owners could really take out that you experienced through The Creator’s Code?
Amy: Another great quote that I've thought about a lot is from Jessica Herrin, and she’s the founder of Stella and Dot, which is a jewelry company. And she had originally been one of the founders of Weddingchannel.com. So she’s trying to empower women, women entrepreneurs and women who want to make some extra income on the side sometimes. At any rate, what Jess has said to me that I always think about is: “There are no jobs on the unicorn farm.” That’s one of her things. Like there is not going to be some perfect job.
And we kind of think that there is, or we have been led to believe we’d have 30 years at a certain company, or a corner office, or we would have made it sometime. And so Jessica often says, “The promise isn’t that it’s gonna be easy; but the promise is that it will be worth it.” And I think that that’s something, too. Like there is not a perfect job description. And really, truly, I don't think that there is even, if you were trying to have some kind of secure corporate or banker or consultant or other kind of job, it doesn’t exist. So entrepreneurs are out there and they’re just battling through but with the idea that it’s a worthwhile and worth it kind of thing to do.
John: There’s the trifecta, Fire Nation. Amy, thank you for delivering. And I'm not gonna let you go yet because we’re about to enter the Lightning Round. But before we do, let’s take a minute to thank our sponsors.
Amy, welcome to the Lightning Round where you get to share incredible resources and mind-blowing answers. Sound like a plan?
Amy: I'm ready.
John: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Amy: Perfection. Perfection was holding me back. So what I have learned is there is no perfect timing, there’s no perfect plan, it doesn’t take a million dollars, it doesn’t take a certain credential or a degree. That idea that you have to wait for something, I did start a company and that was an adventure in itself. And then being the writer of a book, that’s an entrepreneurial endeavor. And there’s no perfect preparation. So I think that’s it. You just have to go forward.
John: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Amy: I would say to believe in what you're doing. So we talked about that a little bit before, but I think that if you truly believe that what you're doing matters, you can take the setbacks. And people can fail wisely; that’s one of the skills. But you have to believe that it’s important enough to be resilient. And so I think that’s the best advice.
John: Fail wisely, love that.
John: What’s a personal habit that you have that you believe contributes to your success?
Amy: Gifting small goods. That’s one of the six skills in the Code and what that means is paying it forward with small kindnesses or small favors. In the business world, it could be critiquing a proposal, making an introduction, writing a few lines of code, helping other people. And I think that is something that I like to do and I think that that’s really one of the best habits because it opens lots of opportunity back. And that’s not the reason for doing it, but I do think – you know, it’s something I'm proud of.
John: Do you have an internet resource, Amy, like an Evernote, that you can share with our listeners?
Amy: I love Linked-In Pulse. The pulse function, you know, the news headlines and the idea that on Linked-In people are sharing content that’s around verticals, around different business opportunities or different activities, industries. That’s something that I think is more and more valuable as someone in the business world every day.
John: So Amy, along with The Creator’s Code, do you have one book that you can recommend for our listeners?
Amy: I have a lot of books because I'm a nerd and I love reading books. So how about I give you two? I love Zero to One, so Peter Thiel’s book that’s about a year in the market. I think that’s a valuable thing. It’s got some interesting ideas in it. And then I like this book called Self Renewal that John Gardner wrote like 30 years ago. And it’s about how we all have to renew ourselves, that we can’t get stale and we can’t lose inspiration. That a lot of times if we’re in the same job for awhile, or even if we just get in the middle of our careers or the middle years of our lives, people have to be self renewing. I think that’s a really great book. It’s kind of timeless.
John: Yeah, and we’re all about the trifecta, and then The Creator’s Code makes number three so there’s another trifecta.
Amy: Good, that’s great.
John: Fire Nation, I know you love audio. So I teamed up with Audible. And if you haven’t already, you can get an amazing audio book for free at EOFirebook.com. And Amy, I have to ask, is The Creator’s Code in the Audible store?
Amy: Yes, it is.
John: Heck, yeah!
Amy: Heck, yeah, that’s really exciting.
John: So Amy, this next question is the last of the lightning round but it’s a doozie. Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world, identical to Earth but you knew no one. You still have all the experience and knowledge you currently have. Your food and shelter, taken care of. But all you have is a laptop and $500.00. What would you do in the next seven days?
Amy: I would be reaching out to other people – obviously, I don't know anybody in this context but I would be networking minds – it’s another one of these skills. I would be trying to find other people that would build solutions and probably get me off the island. I don't like to be very isolated.
John: Oh, it’s not an island; it’s a whole new world.
Amy: Oh, it’s a whole new world?
John: Yeah. Identical to Earth.
Amy: Oh, I thought it was an island. Oh, okay. Well, then I would just be reaching out to people. I would use the computer, I would hope that it had internet. I would be posting pictures, I would be posting questions, I would be trying to figure out how to get other people together and how to build things and create new ideas. That’s kind of the whole genesis of my world, as we say. So I think $500.00? Eh, all right, that’s fine. I don't know if I care about money. I think it would be all about the computer and finding people.
John: Relationship building, Fire Nation, at the core, at the core. And Amy, let’s end today on fire with you sharing one parting piece of guidance: the best way that we can connect with you. And then we’ll say goodbye.
Amy: You can find me at my website: amywilkinson.com. And I would absolutely love for anyone who wants to create and scale ideas to reach there and sign up for free resources and free guides. Because the entire idea of my last five years and The Creator’s Code is to help people scale ideas. So find me there and I really appreciate the Fire Nation mundo. So I appreciate being on your show today.
John: I love it.
Amy: Thanks for inspiring all those people out there.
John: My pleasure, Amy. And to prove it, I want you to give one parting piece of guidance.
Amy: Create things you care about and that’s really informed by the research of this book. People love what they do. And so if it’s Chipotle, the founder was a classically trained chef. The Gilt Groupe Girls loved fashion and flash sales. You know, go forward and find what you're curious about and find what you love, and then just believe that you can make it happen. That we can all create and scale ideas.
John: Love that. And Fire Nation, [inaudible] [00:29:17]the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and you have been hanging out with Amy and JLD today. So keep up the heat and head over to EOFire.com. If you type Amy in the search bar, her [inaudible] page will pop right up with her book, Creator’s Code, her recommended resources, her website – amywilkinson.com – you name it, it’s gonna be there. And Amy, I just want to thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Amy: Thank you.
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