Guy Raz dives into the stories behind some of the world's best known companies. How I Built This weaves a narrative journey about innovators, entrepreneurs and idealists—and the movements they built. Order the How I Built This book at https://www.guyraz.com/
Merge Records: Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan
As college students in the late 1980s, Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan launched two projects that came to define their trajectories as entrepreneurs: the "punky but poppy" band Chunk, and the scrappy record label, Merge. For decades, the partners juggled the demands of managing their own band while negotiating record deals and recording dates for other indie artists. But the two worlds also collided in happy ways: touring in their own band was a great way for Mac and Laura to discover new talent, and they also learned that musicians tend to trust a label more if its founders play in a band. Today, Chunk is still going strong as Superchunk, and Merge has morphed into one of the most influential labels in indie music, with bands like The Mountain Goats, Spoon, and Arcade Fire.
Live Episode! Tofurky: Seth Tibbott (2019)
Seth Tibbott may be the only founder in the world who grew his business while living in a barn, a teepee, and a treehouse. His off-the-grid lifestyle helped him save money as he started to sell tempeh, a protein made of fermented soybeans. Throughout the 1980s he barely scraped by, but things took a turn in 1995, when he discovered a stuffed tofu roast made in Portland, Oregon. Knowing vegetarians had few options at Thanksgiving, Seth named the roast Tofurky and started selling it at co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. Nearly 25 years later, Tofurky sells plant-based protein around the world, and has estimated sales of $40 million a year. This show was recorded live at Revolution Hall in Portland, Oregon.
Stasher and Modern Twist: Kat Nouri
As a mother of three, Kat Nouri was dismayed at the amount of single-use plastic she was using to pack her kids' school lunches. She had already launched a successful brand called Modern Twist, which sold placemats and baby bibs made of silicone. So Kat wondered: why not use silicone to make durable food storage bags, which—instead of being used once, could be used thousands of times? In 2016 she launched Stasher, and was soon persuading retailers that an $11 reusable bag was better for the planet—and ultimately, more cost-effective for the big-box shopper. Kat successfully sold the brand to S.C. Johnson just a few years after launch, but her short tenure at Stasher's helm was marked by growing pains and gnawing moments of anxiety, including an unexpected scuffle with the sharks on Shark Tank.
Coinbase: Brian Armstrong
Brian Armstrong wanted to be a tech entrepreneur since he was in high school, but his first serious venture—a tutoring website—never quite took off. Around 2010, while looking to get a job in Silicon Valley, he stumbled across an intriguing idea for a peer-to-peer digital currency called Bitcoin, which quickly turned into his obsession. Brian's initial prototype for a hosted Bitcoin wallet got him accepted into the prestigious Y Combinator program, and he launched Coinbase soon thereafter. Many experts warned that cryptocurrency was no more reliable than Monopoly money, but the startup prevailed, surviving wild swings in the crypto market and steadily building a user base. Today, Coinbase is one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world, with 7.4 million monthly users, 2,700 employees and over 80 cryptocurrencies traded on its platform.
Back to the Roots: Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez
In 2009, Berkeley seniors Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez started to geek out over something they'd heard in a lecture: you can grow a healthy crop of mushrooms on used coffee grounds. Intrigued by the business potential, the pair set aside jobs in finance and consulting and became urban farmers: salvaging leaky bags of coffee grounds, planting mushroom spawn in an Oakland warehouse, and selling their crop to local grocers. Over time, the partners realized they could help others grow food for themselves, so they stopped farming fungus and took the leap into selling tabletop grow kits, seeds, and potting soil. Since launch, Back to the Roots has become the fastest-growing organic gardening brand in the U.S., with its products sold in 10,000 stores across the country.
Audible: Don Katz
Before mp3 players came along in the mid 1990's, listening to audiobooks was a pain. The number of titles was tiny, narration was dull, and if you wanted to listen on the go, you had to juggle a bunch of clunky cassettes. Don Katz faced these frustrations every day while jogging. He was an accomplished writer who thought there was something special and intimate about hearing an author's words spoken aloud. He wondered: what if audiobooks could be purchased online and downloaded onto a dedicated player? At the time, the concept was so new that few people knew what he was talking about. But in 1997, with no direct experience in tech, Don and his partners launched the first digital player for audiobooks. Audible was slow to gain traction and took a beating during the dot-com bust; but its luck changed with the release of the iPod and a timely partnership with Apple. In 2008, Amazon purchased Audible for $300 million, and today Audible has the largest audiobook catalog in the world, with over 600,000 titles.
These stories are inspiring. I have a lot of time to myself during the day whilst working and these stories put me in a good mood. Love your style of interviews Guy!
Thanks Guy for taking the time to create! I am a entrepreneur and designer. I feel incredibly inspired listening to you and your guests get real and talk about not just the victories and achievements but the struggles encountered before reaching the other side of success. So thank you and keep doing what you do!
Very insightful podcast
I love the Podcast. Insightful and easy to understand. Highly recommended.
Btw the graphics/logo design of the podcast... I thought it was a podcast from Dominos pizza...