Behind the Scenes of Tim Ferriss: His Secrets of Success (and More)

Behind the Scenes of Tim Ferriss: His Secrets of Success (and More)

The first time I met Tim Ferriss, he told me he was going to be a New York Times bestselling author.

This was in in 2005, before The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, or any of his other books. He was even one of my first “guest” posts.

Seriously, what an epic look inside Tim’s brain before he became this uber-famous, uber-successful household name.

Just look at how Tim wrote!

Almost 15 years later, Tim has done it all… and then some.

He’s the world’s most famous lifehacker, a recovering angel investor (he made killer investments in Uber, Twitter, Facebook and WordPress), and accomplished his dream of being a New York Times bestselling author.

Tim recently joined me on Noah Kagan Presents to candidly answer a bunch of questions no one has ever asked him before.

Even though I’ve known Tim for a long time, during over conversation I learned a ton of new things from him. I’m sure you will, too.

We discuss things like:

  • Going bald — and how he's handling it
  • Why he spent 6-figures on billboards for his latest book
  • How he’d escape from a Mexican jail
  • And much more…

You can listen to the full Tim Ferriss Q&A below. Or, you can scroll on to read the post.

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There’s some incredible stuff in this interview and I wanted to break out and share some of the lessons I learned from Tim during our conversation. Keep reading below to discover 14 things I learned from Tim when he joined me on Noah Kagan Presents...

BONUS: Other lessons entrepreneurs DON'T normally share

14 Things I Learned About Marketing, Life, and Going Bald from Tim Ferriss

  1. You won’t always enjoy your work
  2. Results take time (and patience)
  3. Change your geography to meet better people
  4. What makes Tim Ferriss stand out?
  5. Impress your boss and think about outcomes
  6. Elevate others
  7. Have a plan in place
  8. You won’t win every time
  9. Don’t expect others to do the work for you
  10. Instagram Stories can be super effective for marketing
  11. The importance of giving
  12. How to handle going bald
  13. Building trust with your audience
  14. Free or ultra-premium

1. You won’t always enjoy your work


Tools of Titans is like Tim’s personal nerd notebook. It’s his collection of high-level notes from all the world-class performers he’s interviewed over the years, polished for the general reader.

At 704 pages, it’s his longest book so far. Here's also what separates this book from his others: it’s the first book he’s fully enjoyed writing.

Before Tools of Titans, Tim authored three other New York Times bestselling books.

Did he enjoy every second of writing those books? Hell no.

During our chat, Tim shared the ups-and-downs of his writing process with his earlier books. Writing something compelling, interesting, and helpful is exhausting, and Tim is obsessed with every fine detail.

Think about responsibilities we all have. It’s never going to be 100% perfect. In a relationship, this is called compromise. In a job, it’s called sucking it up.

For example, I dislike meetings. But, as the CEO of Sumo, I have to attend some meetings to help share my vision and help the team grow.

No matter what you’re doing, you won’t always love 100% of the process. Try to minimize those parts, or think about them as part of a grander goal to help you push through.

But sometimes, you just have to deal with life not being exactly how you want.

2. Results take time (and patience)


Some of the guests Tim Ferriss had on his podcast include:

  • Jamie Foxx
  • Tony Robbins
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • And dozens more famous entrepreneurs, athletes, and celebrities

Tim Ferriss sharing his success tips with Jamie Foxx

It’s easy to look at all the incredible guests that Tim has on his show and think it must be simple for him to attract the world’s most interesting people.

Not-so-secret secret time: it’s not.

Getting the best guests takes time.

For example, Tim spent over a YEAR trying to get Jamie Foxx on the show before he did.

And he isn’t always successful. He’s spent almost two years trying to get Neil Gaiman on the show without success (but he won’t give up).

Success takes time, and an example from my own business is spending $1.5 million to buy Sumo.com. It took more than 7 years, 200 emails, and 3 brokers to eventually get the deal done. It would have never happened if we didn’t follow up.

3. Change your geography to meet better people


“You’re the average of the five people you hang with the most.”

One of Tim’s favorite sayings emphasizes the importance of improving your "inner circle."

Your network is super valuable in business. If you want to expand your circle and meet incredible new people, the best way to do it is to change your geography.

Here are some great ways to try new places and meet new people:

  • Rent an Airbnb in a new city for a weekend
  • Attend a conference somewhere you’ve never been before
  • Take a roadtrip to a new area, and swing by a Meetup

If you want to improve your network, expand or change your geography.

4. What makes Tim Ferriss stand apart


“I don’t think I’m the best writer. I think I’m a good teacher.”

Tim’s podcasts and books are next-level. They’re ultra-detailed, with tons of actionable takeaways and learnings  — and 10x the value of 99% of other content out there.

Tim's material takes a lot of time to produce, but he does it because he loves to overdeliver.

He believes there are two main reason he stands out from the crowd:

  1. He gives a shit about the topics he covers. When Tim picks a subject for a book, blog post, or podcast, it’s something he truly cares about. He wants to showcase all the details, and dive as deeply into the subject as possible.
  2. He goes hyper-specific. Once Tim’s hooked into a subject, he gets incredibly specific with the details. For example, instead of just listing a workout routine, Tim will bring it to the next level: What does the science say behind the exercise? How many reps should you do? What are the keys to optimize muscle growth or fat loss?

Like Tim, you can separate yourself by offering unique value. Maybe it’s not overdelivering; maybe it’s a cheaper price, or a better product, or a new way to approach something.

5. Impress your boss and think about the outcomes


If you want to deliver real value to your boss, co-workers, or customers, then don’t take requests at face value.

Focus on the outcome the other person wants, not exactly what they ask. Tim says his personal assistant, Donna, is incredible for this reason.

Even if Tim says he wants something, Donna will think about the reason behind his question. She works on the outcome Tim desires, and often chooses a better option for him to reach this outcome than Tim’s initial idea.

Note: This doesn’t mean you should ignore everything your boss says for a “better” way. Instead, think about where you can improve upon ideas to make your boss’ life easier.

A+ players don’t take everything at face value. They improve on instructions where they can, think on their feet, and overdeliver results.

6. Elevate others


To promote Tools of Titans, Tim booked 80+ billboards in New York City rotating 6-10 of his favorite guest quotes on his podcast over the years.

These billboards cost Tim more than six figures. Goodbye, 💰.

For a super analytical marketing nerd like Tim, renting billboards and being unable to exactly track the ROI or results was a huge departure from his past work.

Here’s why he did it anyway:

For pure shits and giggles, for the grand fuck of it, and as a deep bow. It’s a sincere "thank you" to all of my guests and — first and foremost — all listeners who joked I should make some real billboards for Tools of Titans.

These billboards are some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Tim used it to shine a light on those who appeared on his show, rather than himself.

Marketing isn’t always about a ROI. Sometimes, brand awareness (or doing something fun) is worth it.

I do this with my blog, videos, and podcast. I don’t try and sell you anything, I don’t have any ad revenue or sponsorships. I do it primarily because it’s damn fun and I have a lot I want to say.

7. Have a plan in place


Whenever I speak to Tim, he’s always talking about his crazy adventures. Months in Argentina. Technology-free sabbaticals. Trips to Hawaii.

As a world-traveler who’s seen dozens of countries, I wanted to know: who would you call to help you escape a Mexican jail?

I should have known Tim was prepared for this question.

Tim had:

  • His go-to person within 5 seconds of me asking
  • A list of 5-6 people he’d call in case he wasn’t able to get in touch with this first few options
  • The escalation plan if he ever gets caught up in a crazy situation and needs help

His #1 choice was a friend, and retired Navy SEAL commander, Jocko Willink.

If Tim couldn’t negotiate his way out of the situation, and diplomacy failed, he believes Jocko would be able to assemble a private militia to extract him. “Worst, worst case scenario, I want someone who can bring the thunder,” he said.

I’m sure we don’t all need “Get me out of a Mexican jail” plan, but having a “shit hits the fan” plan for certain situations is important. Who would you call if you needed help?

8. You won’t win every time


Tim has made some incredible investments in his career, including Uber, Twitter, and Facebook.

But not all of his investments have paid off...

For example, his investment in Bodongo, a file sharing service, serves as reminder that things won’t always go your way. Bodongo was Tim’s second startup investment.. and the company imploded shortly after he invested.

Tim isn’t the only successful entrepreneur who’s failed:

  • Before co-founding LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman created another social network which failed miserably
  • JK Rowling received “loads” of rejection letters for Harry Potter before someone finally saw the potential
  • I lost out on $185 million when I was fired by Facebook after joining as employee #30

No matter how great you are at your job, you won’t always win.

When things don’t go your way, dust yourself off and try again.

9. Don’t expect others to do the work for you


I asked Tim about what frustrates him.

His answer: When someone sends an entitled pitch or interviews Tim. Then, they expect him to do all the promotion.

I can totally relate to this. As someone who has built up an audience, far too many people expect me to leverage my audience to promote their work.

You can’t expect others to put in work for you. Make things happen for yourself.

When I interviewed Tim, I wanted to:

  1. Create some awesome content my listeners would enjoy
  2. Help Tim spread the word about his new book to my audience

I didn’t expect Tim to do any promotion, or anything in return.

Think about how you can deliver value to someone, instead of what they can do for you.

10. Instagram Stories can be super effective for marketing


Promoting and selling books is a hard business.

Tim and I spoke about his marketing efforts for Tools of Titans and how he promoted it differently than his past books.

For example, for Tim’s second book, The 4-Hour Body, he went to promotion level 9000 to grow awareness. He had giveaways, a live launch event in NYC with goodie bags, and even a freakin’ movie-like YouTube trailer.

It led to incredible results… but it was also exhausting for Tim.

With Tim’s Tools of Titans launch, he simplified and refocused. He turned to a couple of new formats to build awareness:

  • Facebook Live Video
  • Instagram Stories

He found Facebook Live to be hit or miss in terms of attracting viewers: “It depends on how much time you put into promoting the stream,” he said.

On the other hand, Instagram Stories were incredibly useful. Tim found Stories to be unbelievably effective at driving awareness and traffic to his book’s sales page. The “Swipe Up” CTA on Instagram Stories to learn more about the book had an insane CTR.

11. The importance of giving


Tim’s an incredibly generous person. When we recorded my podcast together it was on the morning he released Tools of Titans, aka massively sleep-deprived and the busiest day he’s had for years. He still found time to show up.

More of Tim’s giving nature was showcased when I asked him a big question…

If you were given $1,000,000 to spend in 24 hours, how would you spend it?

His answer was to divvy it up into $20 chunks, and give it to people on the street — with the obligation they have to give it to someone else or use it as a good deed (like buy a meal for someone).

How can you do more to help your customers / friends / family?

12. How to handle going bald


Hi, my name is Noah. I’m going bald.

I've known this for years, but as I typed that last sentence, it still made me nervous.

For a LONG time, I didn’t accept the fact I was going bald. It was embarrassing, shameful, and something I tried to hide. It really hit my confidence and it’s one of the things I’m most self-conscious about.

Here’s a video I recorded about how I finally accepted going bald.

Tim is going bald too, and I wanted to know how he deals with his (lack of) hair.

He shared the story of starting to lose his hair in 2005. Like many balding men and women, he specifically remembers the moment he realized he was getting a convertible top:

I was doing some sport in Germany. Someone took a photo that revealed my head from an angle I’d never seen before.

He was self-conscious about it because he worried how romantic interests might look at him.

To improve his self-esteem, he decided to do a few things:

  • Deny it, get frustrated for a bit, and complain (hey, we’ve all been there...)
  • Double down on going to the gym, so he could control one part of his physical appearance
  • Understand his emotions around baldness, so he could find the right woman would want to spend time with him regardless of his hair

The lesson here: Manage what you can control.

When you go bald, there’s very little you can do about it. What you can control is how you react. This is exactly what Tim did.

Instead of focusing on what you can’t control, go all in to enhance other areas of your life that you can control.

13. Building trust with your audience


Tim has a ton of loyal fans who helped propel each of his books to the New York Times bestseller list.

But what makes people so trusting on Tim’s work and recommendations?

Tim believes it boils down to one thing...

The specifics.

His work goes deep into a subject showing people EXACTLY, step-by-step what and how they should do something.

For example, he’s had fans lose over 100 lbs of weight after reading his step-by-step weight loss guides in 4-Hour Body. He's had thousands of people start their own businesses after seeing the blueprint in 4-Hour Workweek.

Even while we were recording the show, people were messaging me live stories of how Tim’s work changed their lives.

Once his followers have had a tiny taste of success from Tim's advice, they’re more inclined to continue following his work.

Another key to building trust: Tim very rarely explicitly asks anyone to do anything. He shares recommendations and advice all the time, but doesn’t make any demands of his audience.

If you want to build trust, help your audience achieve something.

14. Free or ultra-premium


“There’s too much competition in the middle.”

Tim only believes in free or ultra-premium pricing.

He’s published more than 700 incredibly in-depth blog posts and hundreds of podcasts for free. On the opposite end of the scale, he’s also ran events for small groups of people and charged $10,000 per seat.

Don’t sit around in the middle where everyone else is. Give away incredible value for free or charge a premium price (and still overdeliver).

BONUS: Get more vulnerable lessons from 6-figure entrepreneurs and more

Bonus: Why Tim wouldn’t let me sleep on his couch

A few years back, I was couch surfing. I asked a bunch of friends if I could stay at their place. Tim was the only person to say “no” to me. Check out the episode to find out why — and learn more of Tim's success tips, plus a behind-the-scenes look at his life.

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16 responses to “Behind the Scenes of Tim Ferriss: His Secrets of Success (and More)”

Blahoot
July 24, 2017 at 1:30 pm

Not to take anything away from this episode, which was a fun listen to be sure (side note: It makes me laugh to think of all the experiments/hacks Tim tried in vain to prevent his inevitable baldness--you gotta ask him about that next time Noah), but man that guest post you linked to here from Tim in 2007 blew me away http://okdork.com/who-wants-a-4-hour-workweek/.

Read through the comments from bottom to top to see how relentlessly and doggedly he milks ideas from and engages with readers. No wonder he got where he is. Damn.

Reply
Noah Kagan
July 24, 2017 at 4:15 pm

Truth.

Reply
7 Mile Marketing
June 14, 2017 at 6:14 am

I believe Tim Ferriss is one of the coolest guys in the industry knowing that he is too generous giving tips on how to be your "best version" and how to be successful in your chosen field. I was also blown away by one of his tips, "elevate others". I am sure what he wants us to know that the true meaning of being successful is not just about how wealthy you are now, it's also about how you are with others. Being a role model to everyone or a person that many people look up to is one of the most rewarding things in life. Cool post!

Reply
Wuraola Young
May 21, 2017 at 7:33 am

Hey Noah,
Followed your trail from Tim Ferriss' several mentions of you and then i found monthly1k and was hooked! Using that as a springboard for some business training and writings in Q3.

Surprised Tim hasn't experimented with Black Cumin Seed Oil. Its said to reverse balding. Can't verify that as i am female and have great hair! Sorry! 😉
Anyhu, Tim says he doesn't care and you've said to focus on your circle of control -i totally agree, hair- and otherwise - so no biggie.
But you never know you know. BLACK CUMIN SEED OIL may just be hairfull of surprises for you both.

Cheers!
Wura

Ps: Would be out of this world to have Tacos with you some day.
Doubt if its served any where in Lagos, city sitting along the Atlantic in W. Africa

Reply
Yuliya Maystruk
May 15, 2017 at 4:45 pm

I love this. Thank you for all the positivity! Keep it coming 🙂

Reply
Fllipz
April 24, 2017 at 3:22 pm

Great podcast Noah! Funny it was actually Tim's blog where I first read about you ("How to create a million-dollar business this weekend"). Since then I have applied a lot of tips from both of you in my life. Thanks, keep doing what you doing brother.

Reply
Steffani
April 19, 2017 at 4:26 pm

Tim fucking Ferriss -nice way to start a podcast!
Great questions. Love the chemistry you two have. Brilliant minds. Keep up the great work.

p.s. Bald is sexy. No need to have insecurities. Chicks dig a shiny head ;o

Reply
Rick Benz
March 13, 2017 at 3:35 pm

Noah, great idea to think about asking Tim questions that no one has ever asked him before. I've followed both of you guys for quite awhile and I love how pragmatic the information is that you share. It's great to hear two masterminds chat for a quick 30 minutes on various topics.

Reply
Pavel
February 8, 2017 at 5:04 am

Noah, thanks for posting, seems from the talk you want your fans to take action and follow your recommendations. Tim looks to be much more relaxed on the matter /and i agree with the guy/. Be patient!

Reply
mario
February 4, 2017 at 11:42 pm

Yes Noah - Found you from mixergy. Love the new podcast, feels real, like a friends giving you a kick up the arse rather than an interview. It was Tim that started me on this journey and gave me the confidence to go from 50K to 150K in less than 2 yrs. Thanks to you, I'm about to start a new chapter!

Reply
Andrew M. Warner
February 2, 2017 at 2:11 pm

Loved this podcast by Tim, Noah.

I loved his strategy on free to then do ultra-premium. I just started a new site and I'm thinking about my monetization strategy and will definitely consider that. Because all of that free goodies can help build strong relationships.

Great first episode.

- Andrew

Reply
Bhola prasad
February 2, 2017 at 9:39 am

Hi Noah, just start listening to your podcast. And all I can say is - I love it too much. I think after a very long time, I felt really happier and connected and feeling very light. Love it too much . Can't wait to listen your next episode. Hope you have a great time Noah. Bye

Reply
Justin Gordon
January 27, 2017 at 9:09 am

Damn, Noah, I love how you delivered DIFFERENT answers from Tim on this podcast. As one of Tim's unabashed fanboys, I really appreciated this. Furthermore, it's great how you KEEP IT REAL Noah! I've followed you (In the least creepy way possible) for a while and have really enjoyed learning marketing from you and also have used sumome on my fitness website as well as my boss's site (Which has gathered 15,000+ emails in the last 10-11 months). Thank you Noah!

Reply
Noah Kagan
January 27, 2017 at 4:45 pm

Great to hear from you Jordan =)

So rad to hear about your success!!!

Reply
Rudy felix
May 10, 2017 at 9:30 am

Very cool

Reply
Darrell Harada
January 18, 2017 at 1:34 pm

Tim has influenced me to maintain integrity and honesty. He and Noah are examples of success with integrity.

Reply