A Chat with Guy Kawasaki Episode #145

Aaron McHugh


My guest today is Guy Kawasaki, chief evangelist of Apple during the early 1980’s Macintosh era. In this punchy, simple and short conversation Guy answers the following questions:

  1. What are you best at?
  2. What are you most proud of?
  3. What piece of advice do you give that people fail to follow?
  4. How are you GREAT at writing books, speaking, starting companies, and evangelising change?
  5. What key lesson did Steve Jobs teach you?

Who is Guy Kawasaki?

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. He is a brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz  and an executive fellow of the Haas School of Business (UC Berkeley). He was the chief evangelist of Apple and a trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation. He is also the author of The Art of the Start 2.0, The Art of Social MediaEnchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

Guy Kawasaki, Mr. Simplicity

Transcription of my interview with Guy Kawasaki

WLP: I’m guessing, I’ve been underneath your Guy Kawasaki Jedi training for, I don’t know, probably going on 20 years now. My first startup gig I worked for was 1999, 1998, and a buddy of mine gave me a copy of “Rules For Revolutionaries,” and I have been using it and quoting it ever since and a bunch of your other work.

Guy: I should get a percentage of your company.

WLP: Yeah. So you didn’t miss out on much.

: Okay. Thank you. Good to know.

WLP: So you’ve been at this since 1983 was, ’84 was when you joined Apple? Is that right?

Guy: I joined Apple in the fall of ’83.

WLP: And then I was listening to the intro on your “Enchantment” book about you were actually jewelry before that. Come on, start there.

Guy: I worked for a jewelry manufacturer, sales and marketing. Literally schlepping gold and diamonds. So I went from true hardware to software.

WLP: Yeah. It’s a big, but probably still high value though. So when you started then as an evangelist. In that, in 1983,1984 era, like, what did you even describe an evangelist as?

Guy: Well, there was Jesus before me, but…there was a 2,000 year gap there. So “evangelism” comes from a Greek word meaning “bringing the good news.”

So what I did as an evangelist was I brought the good news of Macintosh, how Macintosh would make people more creative and productive.

And so I evangelized Macintosh and, you know, I’ve been evangelizing stuff to this day.

Right now, I’m the chief evangelist of a company called Canva out of Sydney, Australia. We’re in the business of democratizing design. That’s what I do, I democratize stuff.

WLP: One of the things you talked about is about the idea of creating and developing mantras. So what are some of the mantras, the drum beats that you beat today?

Guy: The key to understanding the need for mantras and most mission statements are too long and not memorable. So what I like is two or three words.

So for example, my personal mantra is, “Empower people.” So with two words, I define myself. What Canva does in two words is democratize design.

Because a mission statement is typically, you know, 40, 50 words long and, you know, you try to say, “Well, we’re gonna enable shareholders to get a meaningful return, while enabling employees…”

WLP: “People are our most important asset.” Blah, blah, blah. Yeah.

Guy: Yeah, exactly. Right, and exceed our customer’s expectations, while killing as few dolphins as possible. And, you know, it just comes down to “Democratize design.” That’s all you have to remember.

WLP: One of the things that I’ve attempted to emulate from learning from your Jedi training is about this power of simplicity, and I describe it as it has to be easy enough for a 5th grader and I’ve spent a lot of my career in technology.

In your TED Talk that you did, you talked about how most tech speakers suck, and that some of the challenges is just the end of these super-complicated things that end up being talked about in such a complicated way that, effectively, you communicate nothing.

How did you discover the power of simplicity and how much of that was innate in you, and how much of that has just been a skill-set craft that you’ve honed over the decades?

Guy: Well, probably the biggest thing or influence in that whole process was Steve Jobs, right, because when he did a keynote slide as opposed to a PowerPoint slide, his keynote slides had minimum 90-point fonts.

Steve Jobs had a 90-point font, three words. And that was a wordy slide for Steve Jobs. You know, that was a great example that I learned that less is more.

WLP: And I know that from your gospel, you preached the 10/20/30 rule, which I’ve used a lot, too, in terms of how to tell a story.

You wrote a book talking about, like, how mind-numbing your experience was from listening to founders try and pitch their thing, and you were just like, “Cut the crap and just give it to me straight. Give it to me in 10/20/30, and if you wanna talk to me, this is how you come talk to me.”

Guy: Well, basically, that’s why I’m deaf in my right side because I listened to so much crap for years.

If you can’t do it in 10 slides, 20 minutes with a minimum 30-point font, you probably don’t have a good idea anyway, so it doesn’t matter.

WLP: Guy Kawasaki, what are you most proud of?

Guy: Probably Macintosh. Because it affected so many people’s lives. It made so many more people creative and productive. Second to that would be Canva. Because we sign up tens of thousands of people per day.

WLP: I saw that. It’s like 10,000,000 users or something crazy.

Guy: Yeah. Literally millions of people are creating great graphics. I was in Australia last week and we had our best day ever. 1,400,000 designs were created in 24 hours in Canva.

Guy: That’s affecting a lot of people. Not just the creator because, you know, 1,400,000 designs doesn’t mean that 1,400,000 people used it. Let’s say, I don’t know, it’s 700,000 because, on average, they created two designs.

WLP: At the end of the day, what are you best at? When you net it down, distill it, make it simple, what’s the mantra that you’re best at? You said “empowering people,” but is that what you’re best at?

Guy: Well, I hope so, but I think there are two things I’m really good at.

One is working my ass off, and the second is cutting out the bullshit.

So I can see through the bullshit. I can think clearly.

WLP: In your “Rules For Revolutionaries,” I printed out some of the main headlines. One of them is, “Work like a slave.” One of them is, “Create like a god.” One of them is “Command like a king.” And in that, so, “Work like a slave,” that’s one of the things you’re best at?

Guy: Yeah. That might not be so politically correct right now

Well, I don’t know if it was ever correct, but that is a quote from Brancusi, a very famous sculptor and artist, and so his whole sort of work ethic was:

  • Work like a slave
  • Command like a King
  • Create like a God

So I embraced that. But, you know, it’s not fun to be a slave, okay? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not endorsing slavery.

WLP: So one of the things that I’ve adopted from early on from that “Rules For Revolutionaries” was, “Don’t worry, be crappy,” and I’d love to just tell you a quick story. At the time, it was streaming media days and early precursors too, like a WebEx.

We were selling telephony and coding servers, which basically meant took a telephone signal and coded it into a streaming media file you can listen to on your computer.

But at the time, it was a big deal. It was like, you know, Troy Aikman’s retirement broadcast from the Dallas Cowboys kind of thing over a computer.

In those cases, engineers just always wanting to perfect, perfect, perfect, perfect. And then when your messaging came out of, “No. Don’t worry, be crappy,” and. “The next one is revised quickly,” I really took that to heart and realized,

“Okay. There is like a speed to market thing here that we’re burning time on trying to get it to this certain place versus, having it be, you know, minimum product viable.

Get it in the market. Let our customers know we know there are imperfections to it.

Don’t profess it’s perfect.” But then actually, you know, have a rapid cycle of deployment for renovation and iterations improvements. So say more about how you discovered that yourself.

Guy: So basically, you know, in a perfect world, you’d ship a perfect product. This isn’t a perfect world. And so, if I had a choice between, taking a long time and trying to ship a perfect product or shipping an adequate product, a viable product and then fixing it fast, I think that’s the real world.

So I love the concept of MVP. Eric Ries called it MVP, I called it, “Don’t worry, be crappy,…”

But I would add two more V’s to that. So the second V I would add is that you need to be not only Viable, but you need to Valuable.

That is you’re changing the world, it’s not just another piece of crap that can make a buck.

The last thing, I think it has to be validating. That is it has to fit in with how you envision the world changing. So you need to be testing your assumptions.

You know, you can ship something that’s viable, but it’s not really testing the thesis of your company, then why bother?

You just make a buck.

WLP: Who is doing this well today from your view? Who would cover, “Don’t worry, be crappy,” and, “Be valuable and viable”?

Guy: Well, you know, the hard about saying that is no company wants to say, “Yeah, we’re being crappy on purpose.”

WLP: Yeah. So maybe call it “minimum viable product,” then. Right, that’s a little bit more P.C.

Guy: Yeah. Well, certainly, Canva is doing that. You know, we’re coming out with different forms of the app and all now, the Android, the iOS, the desktop, obviously.

WLP: I guess the thing that’s always puzzled me a little bit is how are you so good at all of it? Because you’re good at the evangelism piece, you’re good at start-ups, you’re good at venture capital, you’re good at writing books, you’re good at speaking.

Guy: Okay. From your mouth to God’s ears, okay? So I have never started a company that has become a billion dollar company, so, you know, you could argue I’m not good at startups. I have never funded a billion dollar company, so you could argue I’m not good at venture capital.

WLP: Keep poking holes in my theory.

Guy: I have 14 books, but it’s not like any of them were on the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. I’ve had New York Times Bestsellers, but not like, you know, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” or any of the Malcolm Gladwell books that sold millions of copies.

So, I’m a failure, right?

WLP: I’d say you’re a solid utility player. Maybe that’s a better way to say it.

Guy: Yeah. I only hit singles and doubles.

WLP: Repeatedly.

Guy: But I hit them all the time.

WLPWhat’s the piece of advice that people don’t implement or don’t take from you, and you scratch your head over it?

Guy: Yeah, well, believe it or not, it’s 10/20/30. I mean, I can’t tell you how many people show up and meet with me and they start off by saying, “Yeah, I read all your books, it’s all dog-eared and, you know, Post-it notes everywhere, underlined. You should see it. I really love everything,” you know?

And then they open up PowerPoint and it’s a freaking 60-slide presentation with 10 points. I’m like, “What part of that book did you not read? Where it said 10/20/30 and you show up here with 60 slides?”

“I think that you would show up with two slides and you go into a demo, that would even be better.”

WLP; That’s very true. Right, yeah. “Tell me the story, get to the grit of it.”

Guy: Well, no. I have limited attention. So I just think that in this world with so much signal or, actually, so much noise, a little bit of signal goes a long way.

“10 slides, that’s all it should take. 30 seconds to explain what you are, what you do.”

To use an airplane analogy, I want you to be an F-18 taking off an aircraft carrier, not an Airbus, you know, A380 taking off from SFO with two miles of runway.

That’s how I gear my life. I want five-sentence emails. I love Twitter for that reason. You know, for 140 characters, you can either tell me what you want or you can’t, it’s not my problem anymore.

WLP:  Distilled 5th-grade-friendly, simple, 10/20/30. Okay. I have worked hard at developing that craft, and I do find that it is, and you mentioned the distinction between signal and noise. There is a lot of noise and way less transmission of solid signal, so less is absolutely more.

Guy: I think if you can’t distill it, you probably don’t understand it. I mean, that’s the bottom line. Because, you know, like, I can distill my whole being into two words, “Empower people.” You know?

WLP: Yeah. But you are a Jedi, though. You can’t discount that part. So some of us are still part Padawan in training. Yeah. So I’m just….

Guy: I feel more like Jar Jar Binks on any given day.

WLP: Well, it looks…you know, I love is that when you get on the inside, everybody feels more wonky than it looks.

Guy: Yeah. I guarantee you. I guarantee you, you don’t wanna see how the sausage is made.

WLP: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, don’t come backstage. You don’t wanna see everything that goes into this pot.

Guy: I don’t want to see the rodent here and, you know, what goes in there.

WLP: That’s right, that’s good. So I’m curious for you, as you…like “Art of the Start” is another one that I watched you, and I thought it was really fascinating how, I would say it appeared to me that “Enchantment” and “Art of The Start,” you really moved away from being just the tech marketing guy.

Guy: To then the “start anything.” So then, in the language, it was like, “Hey. I don’t care if you’re a board of the directors at a church. I don’t care if it’s PTA. I don’t care if, you know, what it is you’re starting. If you’re a construction company or a window washer, this is how you start things.”

Fundamentally, you’ve got a product or a service, you need to make it, sell it, support it and collect the money.

I mean, that’s it. It doesn’t matter, you know, a church has a product, it has to collect money, it has to service its customers. It’s kind of that simple.

WLP: And has that changed a lot of the people that you interact with? Because the message all of a sudden, in my view, got just a lot wider and more inclusive versus specific and narrowed, focused down to technology only.

Guy: Well, and, you know, don’t get me wrong. I did it to expand my base.

WLP: Yeah, good for you. Yeah, so you’re a strategist, says the strategist.

Guy: Why sell only to nerds

I want to empower anybody. I want to empower anybody with $25, actually. So, yeah, I want my message to go out there. I think many not-for-profits, they could learn a lot from business.

Although I will tell you, there’s a lot of business who could learn from not-for-profits, too.

WLP: Absolutely…

Guy: Because a lot of these businesses, they just have no soul.

WLP: Yeah. You know what I call that? I mean, a friend actually learned it from Mike Rowe from “Dirty Jobs.”

Guy: Yeah, yeah. I love him.

WLP: Yeah, I do, too. He had a little video riff he did on his website and this is long, you know, 10 years ago. It was a little riff he did through Fast Company (the Business Case For Generosity) about the importance of being a mercenary and a missionary. And so my buddy and I have kind of expanded on that and talked through, like, the benefits of mercenaries, you know, for profit in business, is you get really, really, really good at taking the next hill.

Mercenaries pay-for-performance, “I’ll fight, not for a cause, but just to take the hill and just to get paid,” versus the missionary is very heart-centric and very why-centric, and maybe not as skilled in the tactical executable of the what you do and how you do it, but they’re really soulfully grounded.

When you combine the two of those of being really good in taking the hill, but having a soulful reason for the why and having a mission and a purpose, then you can get everybody to unite.

Guy: I like that. Missionary mercenary.

WLP: Thanks for what you’ve done and all the tools you’ve made available over the years, and I’ve used your PowerPoint deck, 10/20/30.

I’ve downloaded your, basically, P&L performance spreadsheets and used them for homework assignments I had in my day job for starting up a business unit.

And, you know, and it was a lot of stuff I was just kind of overwhelmed by. “I don’t know how to do this. I’ve never done this before.” And I’d go find Guy Kawasaki’s latest freebie, and…genuinely. And then I’d go in and I’d say, “Listen. No. I got this from Guy Kawasaki. Why is it so simple?

Because Guy said ’10/20/30′ and he said, ‘We don’t need to worry about all of the crap. Let’s just focus on this stuff.'” I’ve done it for board meetings. I’ve done it for a lot, and, just genuinely, thanks.

Guy: You’re very welcome, and it’s very gratifying to hear that it’s helped you so much. Thank you. I’m trying to fulfill my mantra.

WLP: Empower people, baby.

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