Ramit Sethi, author of New York Times Bestseller, I Will Teach You to Be Rich, and “new finance guru on the block,” as the Fortune Magazine calls him, fireside chat with Google’s Rachael O’Meara.
Female Speaker: Before we do the introduction, I have a quick clip that I wanted to show first.
Ramit Sethi: Hey, guys. Ramit Sethi here. I’m actually in the studio right now here in San Francisco, recording some videos for another project. Today I want to talk about social skills and how I used to be a freak of nature. You have funded your 401(k). You’ve funded your Roth IRA. And it is all automatic.
Chase Jarvis: How’s it going? I’m Chase Jarvis. I’m an artist and an entrepreneur. And I’m lucky enough to be sitting here with my man Ramit.
Ramit Sethi: It’s because we really got deep into the psychology of, you know, becoming the best.
Chase Jarvis: Yeah.
Ramit Sethi: I want you to ask yourself the same question. What business are you really in?
Susan Cain: Hi, I’m Susan Cain. I am author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”
Ramit Sethi: Your book made that very clear. And, as you mentioned, it’s almost, in a word, stigmatized.
Pamela Slim: I’m Pamela Slim, author of “Escape From Cubicle Nation,” and the upcoming “Body of Work.”
Kris Carr: Hi, everybody. I’m Kris Carr, and I’m the founder of kriscarr.com.
Ramit Sethi: Thank you for coming in.
If I asked you, what percentage of your income do you invest back in yourself, what would you say?
[Video Playback Ends]
So that video clip was a good intro for Ramit. But just for those who are not familiar with his work, he’s known for his witty advice on a wide range of topics, from personal finance to negotiation tactics, to testing systems. That’s a lot of what we’ll talk about today, to be your own master of personal influence.
And what he shares is based on results of hundreds of tests he’s run in his personal laboratory of 500,000 monthly readers and about 56,000 Twitter followers, I guess. That’s just a little bit of Twitter there for us. And much of his work is based on his background in personal influence and persuasion that he studied at Stanford.
So today we’ll hear from him and talk about his personal experience and how he’s leveraged his background in psychology to grow himself and his business.
So please welcome Ramit.
Ramit Sethi: Thank you.
Female Speaker: How are you today?
Ramit Sethi: I’m great. Thank you for having me.
Female Speaker: Yeah. Actually, let me kill the video here so we can see that.
So let’s talk a little bit about your background first. And we’ve known that you have worn many hats. You’ve been an entrepreneur, a best-selling author, business owner, financial guru, and you started out as a finance blogger a couple of years ago. So you even spoke here at Google a couple years ago about that book, “I Will Teach You to Be Rich.”
So tell us a little bit about where you’ve come from. Where have you been? And how did you go from being that entrepreneurially minded person– graduate, to where you are today?
Ramit Sethi: Well, I remember — I have a pretty big family. And when I was in high school, my parents were like, Okay, you want to go to college, which you have to because you’re Indian — so if you want to go to college, you have to find scholarships because we can’t afford it.
And so I remember building a system to apply to scholarships rapidly. So I applied to about 65 of them. And it occurred to me, I love the systems part of this. I built the system. That’s one of the systems I’m most proud of because I applied in a really cool way, and I ended up paying my way through school. And I took that first scholarship, and I invested it in the stock market. This is like ’99, 2000. That’s what you do, right?
And then I lost a lot of money. And I was like, I better learn how this money stuff works. And so I started reading books on personal finance and investing. But at the same time, I was studying psychology and persuasion. And do you remember that book, “The Emperor Has No Clothes?”
Female Speaker: I do. Movie too.
Ramit Sethi: Yeah. And I’m looking at this advice that everyone’s telling us. Keep a budget. Stop spending money on lattes. And I’m like, nobody does this. Nobody listens. My friends, the people in this room — they don’t want to stop spending money on lattes. They want to live a rich life. They want to go out. They want to buy a round of drinks for their friends. Maybe they want to live in an awesome apartment or even have two apartments.
And so this typical advice just didn’t make sense to me. And I started applying what I had learned in the psychology area to money. And I started trying to teach a class which nobody ever came to. And so it’s like, all right, these lazy kids – maybe they’ll read a blog if I post a blog.
So over time, I learned how to write in a way that– a non-judgmental way, where it’s like, look, if you want to buy $300 jeans, cool. Let me show you how to do that.
And so I took that blog. And over time, I turned it into a business. I wrote a book based on the systems that I tested. And now, basically, my site is not just about money. It’s all about living a rich life, whether that is traveling or finding your dream job or negotiating your salary. And it’s all using the strategies, tactics, and systems that we find in the world of psychology.
Female Speaker: And you even got an offer from Google at one point.
Ramit Sethi: I accepted an offer here actually.
Female Speaker: You accepted an offer.
Ramit Sethi: Well, it was weird because — so the first time I applied here, I got rejected. And then I was like, who are you to reject me? So I came back the next year. This is why I’m unemployable. So I came back the next year, and I applied again. And it was like a four month interview process. So they’re just stringing me along. And then I was like, look, guys, I have five other offers, and I need a decision. And they’re like, OK, OK. So they made me the offer. And it was an APMM, which was a great offer. And I felt like, wow. And I decided to come here. So I accepted the offer.
And then they were like, why don’t you take some time off? You’ve been in school for a long time. And I was like, oh, I will. I will. So they’re like, what do you need? Two weeks?
I was like, uh, I’ll come back in three months. So I take three months for the summer. And at that time, my friend was like, hey, come work on this startup. And I started working on it. It was called PBwiki, and it really took off. And so I came back to my recruiter at the end of the summer, and I was like, can I have a little bit more time? And she goes, what do you need? A week or two? I was like, how about two years? And she’s like, I don’t think so.
So I decided to go work at the startup. And that was a very tough decision for me because a lot of my friends worked here. The company was amazing. The position was amazing. But ultimately, I decided to go the startup route.
Female Speaker: Yeah. But you came in for the free food.
Ramit Sethi: I came in all the time. I mean, you don’t make that much money as a startup entrepreneur. And then you have all these friends. So I’m coming in like four times a week to eat lunch, but I’m always going with different friends.
Female Speaker: Yeah. That’s a good tactic.
Ramit Sethi: They didn’t catch on for a long time.
Female Speaker: That’s a good strategy. Good to share. Well, that’s a good point. You bring up rejection. And a lot of us have rejection all the time. And knowing that you’ve gone through what you’ve done, how do you handle rejection, even if it’s not a Google offer? If there’s something big or small, what do you do when that happens? And how do you repair and come back from where that was?
Ramit Sethi: Well, I think all of us have been rejected. My philosophy is most of us are not rejected enough. And so I have a folder in my Gmail called Failures. And if I’m not filling that up with at least four or five failures a month, then I feel like I’m not trying hard enough. So a failure could be as simple as I emailed someone that I want to have lunch with, and they just didn’t reply to me, even though I tried a couple of times.
Or back in the day when I applied for a job, and I got rejected, which happened a lot. One of the things that I try to do to improve my failure rate is to, number one, to surround myself with people who do the kind of things I want to do. So if you have people who are, let’s say, more extroverted, or they’re just great at talking to random people, and that’s something I want to pick up, I try to study them and model that.
Another thing is if you have trouble going to the gym, I try to experiment in ways that will make me go to the gym. Is it folding my clothes before the night’s over? Is it hiring a personal trainer? Notice that I didn’t say, I try to sit in my room and say, Okay, I’m going to get better at this. Changing your attitude is something that most of us try, but it rarely works.
Attitudinal change is extremely — there’s a low correlation with behavioral change. So for me and for my students, I focus on specifically, how do you change your behavior? And then the attitude will follow. That’s a very different approach than most of us are taught. We’re taught things like, if I show you this compound interest chart, then you’re going to realize how important it is to start investing. And then you’re going to start investing. That doesn’t work.
There’s a million compound interest charts, and none of us invest. So what do we do instead? We create defaults to start investing. We build automated systems. We build systems so that by default we do the right thing, instead of hoping that we’re going to make the right decision in certain times of the day.
Female Speaker: Yeah. And that’s a good point about following through with what you want to do, but you’re not necessarily doing that. So tell us a little bit about how we can all be a little better, whether we’re wanting to invest or start a new project and knowing that we should do it, versus actually taking the action. How can we take that next step?
Ramit Sethi: Well, all of us know what we should be doing. And typically, they’re the same four or five things. I want to work out more. I want to have better relationships with the people around me. I want to eat better. I want to travel more. I want to save my money and invest. These are the classic four or five things that we all know we should do, and none of us do it.
So what we typically do is we go through these spurts of, Okay I know what I’m going to do. All right. I’m motivated to do this today. I’m going to get this book. I’m going to read it. And I’m going to buckle down. We use these words. If I try harder this month, I can save that $100. All right. I’m going to go on a diet this weekend. And that doesn’t work. We do it over and over. We’re guilted by experts giving us these micro tactics. And I mean, if it works for you, great. But frankly, we see the literacy rate, financial literacy rates. We see how people are overweight. We see all these behavioral problems.
So one of the things that I focus on is willpower is not enough. We’ve had a rash of books recently about willpower. And we know trying harder alone is not going to solve the problem. Education alone is not going to solve the problem. That’s quite a radical notion if you think about it because think about what most money experts believe. They say, let’s teach these kids about financial literacy. What kid ever woke up in the morning and said, yeah, I want to be financially literate? Nobody.
What do they say? They say, I want to be rich. Right? And so speaking in our customer’s language, whoever it may be — and this is what we do from a technical design perspective. This is what I do from a copywriting perspective. I can sit around and talk about financial literacy, and exactly zero people will care.
Or I can talk about living a rich life, automating your money so you can get on with your life because no one wants to be a money expert or a negotiation expert. And in my experience with my testing, that is likely to really generate behavioral change.
Female Speaker: And speaking of your site, “I Will Teach You to Be Rich,” where a lot of this is done, that name itself seems a little weird.
Ramit Sethi: Oh, does it? It seems so normal to me.
Female Speaker: So tell us a little bit about what that’s all about.
Ramit Sethi: Well, I was sober when I picked the name. I was a college kid. But it wasn’t like I was — I was just having a normal day. And I was like, oh, let me pick this name. And I have come to both love that decision and regret it every day of my life. It’s a cool name. But let’s be honest. he first time you go to that site, you’re like, what is this? What is this weird site? Who is this weird Indian dude? What’s going on here?
And your defenses are up a little bit. And I understand that. When you go to my site, you will see me with, say, Stanford graduate. That’s not for my gigantic ego, although I do have one. It’s because I have three seconds to capture your attention. And you’ll see me on the Today Show. You’ll see a video or something like that.
What I want people to know is living a rich life is only in a small part about money. But there’s so many other things that I talk about. So we talk about negotiating your salary, finding your dream job, starting a side business. And then one of the things that I do with my site that I think is a little different is– has anyone here seen advice that was just very generic? It’s like, network. Go find people who are in your network and become their friend You’re like, OK. What does that mean? What am I supposed to do? Who are these people, and what do I email them?
So what I do with my material is try to go ultra-specific. Here’s the actual copy and paste email that you can use. If you want to interview better, if they ask you what’s your greatest weakness, I show you what to say and how to use your body language.
I think the true sign of mastery is to be able to show people a very specific answer and then once they get that answer to teach them how to think about it in their own way. So try to get really specific, give them ultra-specific tactics, and always focus on mastery, not just quick wins, big wins.
Female Speaker: Yeah. And I know on your site– I’ve been there a few times. And your pages are just scrolling in an endless way. And I think that’s really interesting because you try to be very specific and brief and give advice on how to connect with people. So why are those pages so long? What’s going on there?
Ramit Sethi: All right. So who here has ever seen one of my sales pages for one of my courses? Okay. So first of all, big shout out to the front row here. These are some of my students who came in all the way from Slovenia and DC. I want to give a big shout out to you guys. They’ve all seen my sales pages. My business model is I give away 98% of my material free. And then about 2% of it is premium courses. These are online courses. They’re video. They’re recorded typically. They’re not live with me. And they may range from 14 days to eight weeks. They may range from a couple $100 to $12,000. They’re quite involved, and they typically take us 12 to 24 months to build and test. And we collect 100,000 plus data points for our biggest courses.
Some of our biggest courses — the sales page for those courses is 57 pages long. And I know people in tech who love– especially engineers– they love to say, just keep it short. Just keep it concise. Just give them what they need.
And that’s one of the things I want to talk about today is challenging these assumptions that we have with actual data, with actual testing. So 57 pages long. A lot of people say, who would ever read a sales page that’s 57 pages long?
And I know a very sophisticated marketer. His emails are 15 to 30 pages long. And someone said to him, why do you write those emails? Who would ever read a 30 page email? And he laughs and says, only the buyers.
So if you think of something you have an intense pain point with — it could be back pain. It could be you have curly hair. If you have curly hair, you think about curly hair every day of your life. What’s the weather like? Is it going to be frizzy? And there’s a — anywhere here? True? Yeah, that’s right. It’s okay to admit it.
So you see a page that’s educational, informative. It’s got other people like you. You will read forever. And that’s what we find when we’ve tested short versus long. And frankly, direct response marketers have known this for generations. Long copy, particularly for more advanced material, almost always pulls better than short copy.
Female Speaker: And I know you also have a lot of scripts that you give away for free. And like you said, 98% of your content is free. So do you have a favorite one of those or something that you’d want to share that you enjoy talking about?
Ramit Sethi: I like one. So one of the things that I know when I started doing things a little different was — a lot of people around me were kind of peer pressuring me to go back into the norm. So for an Indian guy, you really have two choices for your profession and actually two choices for your car.
So anyone know what Indian people drive? Toyota Camry, Honda Accord. And then what about jobs? What are your two job options as an Indian guy? Engineer and doctor. Okay, come on. Let’s call a spade a spade.
So I’m like doing this weird thing, where I’m like doing this online wiki company, and I got this weird blog. And they’re just like, what is going on here? So I had to learn how to respond to that. And I think whenever you’re trying something new, you’re in a very vulnerable place. You’re not even sure if it’s the right thing to do. And then you’ve got your parents and your friends like, are you really sure about that? And they do this concerned troll thing. I’m just concerned about you. Are you going to be Okay? Has anyone here experienced that? Okay, a lot of people.
It can be very debilitating. And if you don’t know how to respond, it can really get to you. So I tested a lot of different responses. And I liked this one. It’s a “co-opetition” model, we’ll call it. And so what I used to do was I would say, no, mom. This is what I want to do. And it was just– that never wins with anyone, whether it’s a relationship partner or a parent. What I would say instead was — I said, I don’t really know if this thing’s going to work out or not. I really don’t know. But I figure it’s worth a shot. And if it fails, who knows? But let me ask you a question. If you were in my position, what would you do?
And so instead of fighting against their criticism, I co-opted it. And I actually made them my ally. And when I’ve shared that with my readers, they have found great results. Because all of us, particularly when we’re going through this world of self-development — maybe we’re learning yoga. Maybe we’re starting to lose weight or just trying improv. People around us will sometimes get uncomfortable with that. And they may pressure you to stop doing that. Maybe you’re even just trying to dress better. How do you respond to that? That’s been a very good script for my readers.
Female Speaker: That’s good. And then the other thing about your site and business is that you do not accept anyone with credit card debt. Correct?
Ramit Sethi: Correct. I don’t accept people with credit card debt into my flagship courses. That decision costs me over $2 million a year. And I’m glad you brought it up. So I believe that — when I came out with this policy, I was very clear about why I was doing it. And I shared the carrot and the stick. So I said, the carrot here is an extra $1,000 or $2,000 from you — it makes no difference to my lifestyle. But it makes all the difference to you. So don’t spend your $1,000 with me. Get my book from the library. Focus on your savings. Pay off your debt. And then when the time is right, come back. I’m still going to be here.
So I shared it with love because I don’t believe that ethically I should be taking $2,000 from someone with credit card debt. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. But then I put the stick down too. I said, if I find out that you joined my program with credit card debt, not only will I refund your money, but I will ban you for life. And so people are really scared of me on my site, which I love. I’m like, great.
And still people — they defy me. They still join the course with credit card debt sometimes. And we find out. And then we have to ban them. We put them on what’s called our DNS, do not sell list. And they’re banned forever. But I believe that when you start to become very good at persuasion, it’s like any skill. You can use it for good, or you can use it for nefarious purposes. And so I have a very clear ethical guideline on, who do we sell to, and who do we not sell to?
And I believe that if– my simple ethical guideline is if everyone were rational, and everyone had all the information in the world — just assume for a minute — would they make this decision? Would someone with 20 grand of credit card debt pay $3,000 for a course? Probably not, if they understood how interest rates work and stuff like that. They may not understand it, but I understand it. And so it’s my obligation to not sell to them.
But on the other hand, if it is right for them, and I know it could help them, then it’s my obligation to sell aggressively to them. That’s my basic sort of ethical compass for the business.
Female Speaker: Got it. So let’s talk a little bit then about mastering influence and more about that psychology behind it. So you have a lot of connections. You’ve got contacts from Tim Ferriss, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” Seth Godin, the marketing maven, Pamela Slim, Kris Carr, the folks we saw on the video. And how do you do that, put your best foot forward and keep an eye on the business that you have? And then what advice would you give us in this room or on the web, what we can do to start those relationships and connect in that way?
Ramit Sethi: Well, I think that more and more people are looking for genuine connections. And the way I made friends with a lot of those people was just to email them. I just said, hey. And I always try to add value. One thing that you’ll find with especially people who are really, really time crunched is everyone wants a piece of them. So if you look in any of those people’s inbox, they get like 1,000 plus emails a day. And 900 of them are people asking for something. Can you send me this? Can you do that? Can you write a blurb for my book?
And so it is so refreshing when someone says, hey, I noticed that you’ve been doing more videos. And I noticed that there’s this one thing you could do to increase your subscribers. And by the way, I just did it for you. And here you go.
And you’re like, whoa. That’s amazing. And then that person adds value again and again. And all of a sudden, you’re like, who is this person? I want to know.
Also, whenever I try to email people, I always try to mention any relationship we have. So if I were here, I would definitely be saying, I work at Google. Because a lot of people will take your call if you work at Google. When I was a college student, I told them where I go to college. And 95% of people would say, cool, let’s do lunch. That’s just ways that I do it.
I think one of the other things to do is what I call the closing the loop technique. And that is to keep people — always stay top of mind. I don’t know how many people here have had this experience. But I know I’ve met people. And I meet them at a conference, or I email them. And we hit it off well. And then I just forget to email them again. And a year later, I’m like, oh, wow. It would be really helpful if I could talk to them. And the relationship has gone cold.
So I always like to stay top of mind for them. And typically, that means something like emailing them a value added link or something that they would find useful at least once a month. Hey, here’s something I’m working on. I just wanted to keep you in the loop. And here’s a little trick that I taught my readers, which I love because now 30% of the emails I get use this line. I say, no reply needed.
If you think of a busy person, that’s actually adding value to them because they don’t feel the guilt and urge to have to reply to you. You’re like, hey, here’s a cool link in the Wall Street Journal. I remember when we talked. You told me about x, y, z. So I thought you’d like this article. No reply needed, just thought you would like it.
You do that three or four times, they’re going to be like, this person is awesome. They’re adding value to my life, and they’re not asking for anything. That’s how I try to start building relationships.
Female Speaker: So no email blasts out to the 500 contacts you have, BCCing everyone.
Ramit Sethi: Well, I don’t know. Does anyone do that anymore?
Female Speaker: I don’t know. Does anyone do that? I think that sometimes people think that’s sufficient or that’s a way to get after it.
Ramit Sethi: Yeah. Relationships are not about efficiency. You want to be efficient? Try the dating market. You want to be efficient? You just go up to a guy or a girl. You’re like, hey. That’s not how you build a relationship.
So I’ve seen people do the quarterly updates and stuff. And Okay, that’s fine. I skim it. And then it doesn’t resonate at all. I would much rather get just a quick email. It could be five lines. Hey, I was thinking of you. I remember what you said about this. You should check this out. Hope to talk to you soon. Bye.
That’s so much more effective than a BCC blast. I mean, if you’re using the word blast, you’ve already gone wrong.
Female Speaker: Yeah. And I think it comes down to the genuinity and authenticity, so really connecting with that person, researching them a little bit, and just going in on that personalized individual email.
Ramit Sethi: Yeah.
Female Speaker: Yeah. That’s a good idea.
Ramit Sethi: I think it’s interesting you said efficiency because particularly here in Silicon Valley, we’re so deep in the world of efficiency that we think everything has to be efficient. Emails have to be short. Do you know how long my emails are, the ones that people read and buy a lot of stuff from? They’re really long.
What happens with that? One, it filters out all the illiterate people. And so I’m like, good. Get off my site. Just unsubscribe. Here’s the link. Get away.
But then the people who are left are highly committed. They want to read it, provided it’s adding value, and it’s really interesting and engaging. And we’ve tested it. We’ve done short versus really long. Why do you think we keep doing long? Number one, it’s more fun. I like to write like that.
But two, it actually works. So I would urge everyone to step out of the efficiency mindset. Efficiency can be great in certain areas. But if you’re building a relationship, you don’t be efficient. If you’re communicating with someone, efficiency sometimes matters, but prose and emotional connection also matter.
Female Speaker: Yeah. Well, it sounds like you’ve got a really good pulse based on all the testing that you’ve done on those in this room, the Generation Y, millennials, Generation X, that kind of thing. So what are some of the challenges that we face as a group, whether it’s Silicon Valley or anywhere, where we just want to be efficient and that kind of thing? What are some of the big ones that come top of mind?
Ramit Sethi: For me, the biggest challenges that I see with myself and with my friends and my students is, number one, distraction. We just have an infinite number of things that we could do. And I know just from the last 10 years. I used to be able to focus and just write pages and pages. And now I’m checking my email, going to Reddit, reading Hacker News, checking all this crazy Twitter stuff.
And I think the second thing is — it ties in, which is too many options. And we have so many options that it’s easy to get paralyzed. And it’s a little ironic when we hear older people. Our parents might say to us, when I had a job, I was just happy to have any job. And I took that job, and I stuck with it for 30 years.
Well, that’s great. But that’s not how the world works anymore. And it’s difficult to find other people who understand because the only other people who understand that are the people like us. We’re going through that same thing right now. We don’t have the answers. So I’ve really spent a lot of time working on how to help my students follow through, how to help them focus, how to remove all these ideas that you have to do this. You have to do that. You have to be on this social network. You have to do all these million things. And really take an 80:20 perspective to say, what are the key big wins that matter? And forget the rest of this stuff.
If you just get these four or five big wins in your life right, all the rest of this stuff falls away.
Female Speaker: So how do you not get overwhelmed with all of that?
Ramit Sethi: Well, I focus on big wins. So let’s take money, for example. Who here feels like they are 100% on top of their money? We got one nerd in the back who’s like, me. All right. I like that.
You have a — OK, I knew it. You have a huge spreadsheet. The only guy who still uses a spreadsheet to manage his money. And who here feels like there’s something, at least one thing we should be doing more with our money, probably more like 10 things? OK, almost every single person in the room.
So then when we think about, what should we be doing with our money? It’s like, we wake up in the morning, and we could not go to coffee. We could cancel that dinner we have. We could adjust our student debt, change our asset allocation, increase our savings. There’s a million things we can do. And when faced with these choices, we do the same thing we’ve always done, which is nothing.
What my approach is, and which is based on psychology, is there is a such thing as analysis paralysis. There is the paradox of choice. So what I tell people is focus on the four or five big wins. Get a dream job. Negotiate your salary. Invest automatically so you don’t have to think about it. It’s not a decision. If you do these four or five things, it doesn’t matter how many lattes you buy. It doesn’t matter if you buy a small Coke or a large Coke. It doesn’t matter. None of that stuff matters. Those are micro decisions that are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
People are like, you could save $3 a day. That doesn’t add up to anything if you actually do the math. People are like, save $3 a day. In 48 years, you’ll have $12,000. OK. That’s it? And I’m going to live a miserable life every single day from here until then? What if I could negotiate my salary? What if I could optimize my credit score, just these four or five things. How many lattes would that be worth? And I could live the kind of life I want.
So when it comes to so many decisions, I want to focus on reducing it and focus on just the major ones, ignore the rest. They will work themselves out.
Female Speaker: So for us, where we’ve got these challenges, and there’s a lot going on in our world, we are all good at a lot of that efficiency stuff, taking tests, getting good grades, especially here at Google. So we want to go off the beaten path. We want to take those risks. We want to work harder to do what our dream jobs are. So how do you take that first step and where can we excel to start moving off the beaten path?
Ramit Sethi: Well, I think that’s pretty savvy to say. If you’ve made it here, you’re probably really good at excelling on the beaten path.
Female Speaker: Don’t all leave your jobs, by the way.
Amit Sethi: Yeah. I have to be very careful here. If you’re here, if you’re watching this, you’re a nerd. You’re really good– let’s be honest. You’re really good at taking tests. You’re really good at getting the approval of people who matter. And honestly, that’s important. When people say, oh, just do what you want– if you want to win, you have to learn how to play the game. And you have to win at that game. And then you can win at the other games. So I truly believe in that. I’m not one of these guys who says, skip college and just do what you want. I think college is important.
And I think learning how to master these common situations like social skills, finding a job– those are important. But at a certain point, I know a lot of people who made it to the top of that mountain. They got the best job. They’re getting paid a lot of money. And they’re like, wait a minute. What else is it? I made it up here, and the view isn’t what I thought it would be. And so I think that there’s a lot of things we actually can do. But it’s incredibly scary. We can readjust our expectations, which is something that most of us don’t want to do. We don’t want less. We want more. That’s OK.
So going along that route, one of the things I like to do is take micro steps. So I always encourage my students to start a side business, not to quit their jobs entirely and try to raise $10 million in VC, but to say, you know what? There’s something I like to do. Maybe I’ll try it on the side. I’m going to learn how to validate my idea, generate a little revenue. And let me just see how this goes. We can look expansively at saying, how do I improve in my personal development? This is really interesting to me because I have a lot of friends who are– they work here, or they work at top companies. And they’re amazing at their jobs. They’re so good.
And the personal development side of it– it’s interesting to me because about half of them are super into personal development. And half of them are not into it at all. They think it’s really weird to read a self development book. I’m curious, out of the crowd here– who here never reads any kind of self development? It’s OK to admit it. I won’t make fun of you. Appreciate the honesty.
And then who here reads self development books or courses or materials? Wow. A lot of– OK, so the people who came here.
Female Speaker: A lot of Googlers are developing–
Ramit Sethi: The people who came here read self development. That’s shocking.
Amazing. All right. I love it. So I actually think it’s really interesting that there are people who are really good at their jobs. They’re at the best companies. And they’re not really into self development. I also think that it’s OK to be a weirdo. I call people in this room a nerd and a weirdo. I actually love it. I’m both of those things. And I’m fanatical about self development.
So one of the things that I would strongly encourage people to do when they’re trying to go off the beaten path is to develop themselves professionally, whether that is books, courses, coaches. It could be free. It could be paid. Find people who can save you years of heartache by nudging you in the right direction. That’s worked incredibly well for me.
Female Speaker: Yeah. So what are you doing right now to have personal development in your life? Are you reading something? Do you have a coach?
Ramit Sethi: I do. I have all of the above. I read, I mean, tons and tons of self development. I have someone who — one of my mentors is someone who– I actually joined his class. And for 15 months, I flew from New York to LA for 15 months straight, once a month, just to have 45 minutes with him. And it was incredibly– it was life changing. It changed the way I thought about business. I’ve invested in my health, so food and training. And I’m huge on self development. And it’s made a gigantic difference.
But even when I think about self development when I was a college kid, I didn’t have that kind of money. But for me, self development back then was emailing some CEO that I admired and just asking if I could take him out to lunch. And I put aside $20. The funny thing is nobody lets you pay when you’re a college kid. So I saved that money. But back then it was just– that was my self development. And I think as you get more successful in your career, you can afford to join courses or get a coach or things like that. And truthfully, that has made a huge difference for me.
Female Speaker: And I think going back to that and then incorporating it into the systems model and testing, a lot of that a experimenting as well. What’s going to work for me? Maybe emailing the CEO for lunch. Maybe it’s a coach or whatever it is, a book, whatever fits into your lifestyle and your budget. So let’s talk a little bit about the systems and the testing that you’ve done.
You’ve created systems with improving a lot of things in your life, productivity, efficiencies, things like that. So what’s a time saving favorite system that you have we could all learn something from?
Ramit Sethi: Okay. I could talk about this all day. But I have a couple things that I’ll share.
All right. Number one, if it doesn’t exist on my calendar, it doesn’t exist. So I get random to-dos in my inbox. And I’m like, don’t send this to me. Get it on my calendar, and that’s the way it will get done. If it doesn’t exist on my calendar, it doesn’t exist. So we all have these kind of random things that we know we should be doing. And we actually don’t put it on our calendar. We resist doing it. But if we put it there, it’s staring us in the face. So that’s number one. Put it on the calendar.
Number two, I am almost fanatical about everything in one place. And I’m going to reveal how anal I am about certain things. All right. I find it really stressful if I’m supposed to write a paper or do something, and I can’t find something. Like I don’t have a pen or my research document is even in the other room. I just won’t get up. I’ll just be like, oh, I’m not going to do this. So I know myself. I need it to all be there.
So I have constructed systems that make it so when I open up my writing calendar in the morning, everything is there. Even when I open up my calendar reminder– this is how crazy it got. All right. Whatever, I’ll just tell you. So I double click. I used to double click the link. And my assistant would put “agenda,” in, and when I double clicked it, it copied agenda. So I had to strip out the agenda from the URL bar, manually backspace five times. And it just got me really irritated.
So I have a new policy. Always add a hard return, so I can just double click the link, Control L, Control T, Control whatever. And it just pastes. And I do it like that. So I know this is a really micro example. But for me, if there was one little minor barrier stopping me from accomplishing what I wanted to do, I just wouldn’t do it. And I think we all have that. But we guilt ourselves into saying, oh, I should just try harder. Or you’re just being lazy.
I used to have this gym thing. I wanted to go to the gym in the morning. And my clothes were in the other room. And so I’d wake up in the morning, and I would have to go to the other room and get my clothes. And I just wouldn’t do it. I would just stay in bed. I’m not lazy. But that one barrier alone stopped me from doing it. So I learned through testing to put my clothes folded on the floor. My shoes and socks were right there. My gym compliance went way up.
So I’m all about systems, even to the point of ridiculousness. Whatever it takes to help me get the things done that I want to do.
Female Speaker: And what are– so in that case, all of that sounds really good. And I’m sure we’re all going to go right out of this room and test out some system that we’ve been thinking of. But what are some common mistakes? What can happen where it might be testing something, versus actually implementing a system that is typical for someone who’s new to this or doesn’t know what to do?
Ramit Sethi: Well, I think I’ve made a few classic mistakes. I thought that once I built a system, that’s it. It just runs and lives on its own, and you never have to change it. That’s not true. Sometimes I used to go to the gym in the morning. And then I was going out a lot at night. So my gym system in the morning didn’t work. So I had to move that later in the day.
Sometimes I just got crazy busy, and my systems fell apart. I couldn’t find certain things. That’s OK. It’s OK to have systems change and be fluid. Sometimes you have to refresh them. I think that’s one thing.
I think the other thing is just– again, it comes back to being really realistic with yourself. I know a lot of people who– they say, are you a morning person or not? I’m a total morning person. I love waking up early.
Female Speaker: I’m glad we got this at 10 o’clock then.
Ramit Sethi: Yeah. I do all my writing, all my cerebral work in the morning. And when you tell someone you’re a morning person, it’s very interesting. There’s two things that happen, two situations where people look at you in an almost religious way. When you tell them you’re a morning person, they’re like, oh, I wish I could be like that.
And when I tell them that as soon as I sit down in a plane, I fall asleep. They’re like, wow, I wish I could do that. And I’m like, whatever. That’s just the way I am. And also, I practiced to get good at being a morning person. I think that sometimes we don’t acknowledge how we really are. So you’d have someone who’s really a night owl. And they’re like, OK, I’m going to start by waking up at 5:45 in the morning and writing for three hours. That’s not going to happen. That’s not a realistic system.
Systems work for us. We don’t work for the system. So I think it’s critical to make it a realistic part of who you are and what your interests and capabilities are.
Female Speaker: I think that’s actually a pretty good point as well. And it’s important to not just abandon the system or give up. I think a lot of us say, oh, that doesn’t work. Obviously the gym is just not for me. Or I’m not going to bother to write anything, because I’m just—
Amit Sethi: I’m not that kind of person.
Female Speaker: I’m just not going to do that today or whatever it is. So it’s actually about that. And then just not beating yourself up and saying, this simply doesn’t work. I’m going to just tweak it. Or I’m going to try one new thing and then implement something. And at Google, we have a lot of systems here too. We have a lot of data. We data all the time. We make a lot of our decisions– and many companies do as well– just based on data and facts and data, data, data and incoming things.
So what do you think about data and how that has made an impact on what your decisions have been? And is it all about the data? Is there anything else there? And how has that structured your business?
Ramit Sethi: We use data a lot. We have analysts. We crunch numbers. We make projections. We split test many things. We have year long tests that we run. We do very, very quantitative measurement. But at the same time, we’re very interested in the qualitative. I would argue actually we’re more interested in the qualitative.
When we design our courses– again, these are the courses– they sometimes take two years to build and test. We’re collecting 100,000, 150,000 data points. And most of those are qualitative. Especially at the early stages, I want to know the words people use. I want to know the emotions they feel. So we’re asking all open ended, qualitative questions. In my emails– if anyone here is on my email list, you’ve seen me say, hey, please reply. I read every response.
Has anyone here written back to me and gotten a response? OK. So if you’re on my email list, which has 200,000 plus people, you can write to me. And I’m not saying always, but you’ll get a response. I do that because I want that kind of data.
When it comes to art versus science, we look at the data. But sometimes, we have to put the data aside, just because it’s not the right thing to do. So we have– we had courses where the performance wasn’t good, but it was within parameters. And we were just like, this isn’t the kind of delivery we want to make for our students. It’s not the kind of experience we want. So we pulled the course.
But usually, the data is very informative for us. And I can talk about what kind of split tests we run and our testing vault and surprising results and all that stuff. I love talking about it. But in general, I think most of us could depend on data a little more. But the people who tend to depend on data often don’t value the qualitative, which I value above almost all.
Female Speaker: So it’s qualitative and quantitative. And in knowing that there’s these systems we could all implement or think about in a different way now, what advice do you have for implementing that on our personal growth, leading it back to that? And where can we go from there?
Ramit Sethi: OK. So I recently ran a– I’m always running weird tests, just simple ones. And one of them was, how do I– I could take a 30 minute nap, but I couldn’t do a 15 minutes nap. I would just sit in bed, and I wouldn’t go to sleep. And I was like, I want to do a 15 minute nap. So it took me six months to figure out how to do it. And it was– I just– and it’s like, there’s no fancy Excel regression thing that I built. It’s on the back of a piece of notepad paper. I just wrote down a bunch of stuff. What did I eat? Did that work? What time of the day? Did that work? Was I stressed? All kinds of crazy stuff. And I discovered what worked for me. It took me six months. And now I can do a 15 minute nap.
Same thing for– here’s a test you can do today. Someone comes up to you, and they say, oh, what do you do? And most of us have the worst, most boring responses. I’m an engineer. I am a marketing coordinator. And the person’s like– their eyes glaze over. And they’re just like, OK, bye.
What if you could actually test that and make it more interesting? So for me, people used to say, what do you do? And I was like, I’m a writer. And they’re like, oh, my cousin too. My cousin’s son is trying to become a writer. I’m like, your cousin’s son is not a writer. Your cousin’s son is unemployed. So then I was like, I’m an author. And that got a very different response. And whether it’s, what do you do? Where do you live? These are questions that we give answers to for our entire lives. And most of us never test responses. All the responses were true. They were all authentic. But just a simple way you word it can get people fascinated in you. Or they can just be like, oh, nice to meet you. I’m going to go get that shrimp cocktail.
Female Speaker: So that’s a good challenge, I think, for us to take away today and maybe try out today too. Just take an experiment. If someone you meet or talks to you, what would you say that might be a little different? And come up with how that has affected what your outcome is with that person. That’s a good idea. I like that.
Amit Sethi: Or another test– so the social skills ones are really fun. I met a group of people. Because my friends when they get together, they ask you within the first five minutes, what do you do? Anyone here– are you guys like that? You ask people what do you do? That’s a common thing, right? Because a lot of my friends—they identify with the work they do.
I met this group of people who– I hung out with them two or three times. And they never ask me what I do. And I was like, what is going on here? But I then said, you know what? I kind of like this because we’re talking about stuff that I would normally never talk about. It has nothing to do with my job. And I was like, this is kind of refreshing. There is more to me than my job.
So one of the things I did was I just created a little challenge for myself. I was like, the next time I meet people, I’m not allowed to ask them what they do. And it was really hard. I mean, it’s really hard for me to do.
Female Speaker: That’s a good one.
Ramit Sethi: So I wonder, if we take these little micro challenges, how does it help us grow socially? And it really did help me find other ways to be interested in people.
Female Speaker: Yeah. That’s a good one. I like that too. So in a couple minutes, we’ll open up for questions. But just a couple of closing questions I had for you. What is next, Ramit? What are you going to do? What’s on your agenda at this point? You’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. What are you working on?
Ramit Sethi: I have — well, we’re always trying to do new things. For me, it’s all about helping people lead a rich life. And so whether that’s in the business world, whether that’s with social skills, whether that’s with relationship stuff, if it’s an online course, that’s fine. If it’s in person, that’s fine. Whatever. We’re agnostic to that. We just want to find out how to do it in a way that scales and using our background in psychology and stuff like that.
We look at areas where people have a burning desire and the advice is horrible. And I’m like, that’s for us. So money, burning desire, the advice is terrible. How to start a business. A lot of people want to do it, and the advice is really bad. We’re like, see you there. So we’re always looking for opportunities like that. And that’s been pretty cool for us.
So that’s what’s next, just more of helping people lead a rich life. I’m sure one day I’ll do a Ramit Sethi’s parenting course. I always said, my child is going to pay for its entire existence in its first year of living. So I’m just waiting for that.
Female Speaker: Yeah, yeah. 20 or 21, something like that. And you talked about rejection earlier. And that brings up a lot of fear for people. So what is your biggest fear when you’re looking at developing something or just in your personal world? What are your fears, if you had to name one? Because we all have them.
Ramit Sethi: We all do. I think I have a couple. I think for me, one fear is being ordinary. I never wanted to be ordinary. And it made me nervous to see what my path might be if I took the default route. And then I think another fear I have is I think probably being alone. I’m a very extroverted guy. I need to be around people. One of my New Year’s resolutions– every year, I try to do something uncomfortable for me. And this year one of them was seeing a movie alone because I hate– I’ll never go to a movie alone. I never eat alone. I never see a movie alone, ever. I’m terrified of it.
And so I was like, OK, I’m going to do it. And June rolled around. September rolled around. And I live pretty close to a movie theater. And I have a free pass one of my friends gave me. They’re like, here. So I have no excuse. And finally I was like, OK, I’m going to do this. So I went. I went all in too. I got popcorn.
Female Speaker: Did you do a double movie, back to back?
Ramit Sethi: No, no. Should I do that? OK. I went at 3:00 PM on a Thursday. And I loved it. But I have to admit, I was nervous. I thought everyone was looking at me. And what is this loner doing here? You know what I mean? It was an irrational fear, but we all have it. And I always talk to my students. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all have these crazy fears. Because a lot of my friends are like, I love going to movies alone. They love it. They’re like, it’s peaceful. And I hate it.
But I went, and I forced myself to do it. And I have to say, I kind of liked it. I didn’t love it. But I’ll do it again.
Female Speaker: That’s good. Yeah. You took the micro step to get there.
Ramit Sethi: Exactly.
Female Speaker: Great. And then this is the last question I have. What would be the one takeaway from today that you’d want our audience to come out of this to really know more about, one key thing?
Ramit Sethi: I would love for everyone here to really challenge the core assumptions we have. One of the simple ones I said was, oh, email should be really short and to the point. And that’s just not true in all cases. I used to be 40 pounds lighter. And I’m not that huge of a guy. And I would say to myself, oh, I’m just a skinny Indian guy. I can’t get big. That was real negative self talk.
And if I had challenged my assumptions back then, I would have learned how to actually eat right, lift weights, look like a normal human being. So challenge the assumptions, whether it’s social skills, whether it’s the business that you’re doing. A lot of this stuff can be tested. And I think if you do, you can find out that what a lot of other people have been doing, best practices– they’ve never actually really tested it.
So if that’s one thing you take away from today, think of some of the core assumptions. I call them invisible scripts you have. And try to test them in little micro ways. They could really change your life.
Female Speaker: Yeah. That’s good advice. Well, thank you. I want to thank you for coming today.
Ramit Sethi: Thank you.
Female Speaker: And we’ll open up to questions. So we’ve got a mic going around the room. And we also have a couple that were submitted online. But we’ll take the room questions first. Does anyone have a question?
Ramit Sethi: For me, what I like to do is just to say, what is one key takeaway that I can implement today? And get really specific. For example, I wouldn’t say, I’m going to improve my social skills. I would say, the next 10 people I meet, I’m going to introduce myself in a different way. That’s one key takeaway we could take.
Or I would say, oh, Ramit talked about invisible scripts. I’m going to Google that, and then I’m going to find out, what are my five invisible scripts? And how can I dismantle one of those? Again, one of the big ideas behind “I Will Teach You to Be Rich,” is behavior first, then attitude. So a lot of people walk away, and they think, I’m going to change my attitude about money or about negotiating my salary. That’s really, really hard. It almost never works.
Instead, what’s the one behavior, the one action I can take that’s going to change for me in a measurable way in the next 24 hours. That’s something I would recommend.
Audience: So you’re an ambitious person. You care about scaling your work. You want to reach as many people as possible. How do you balance that ambition with things you do, like weeding out people from your email list, specifically getting rid of C players from your customer list, things like that?
Ramit Sethi: Yeah. So how do I get rid of the people from my business or email list that I don’t want? And I take a pretty clear stance on this. If anyone’s on my email list, you’re going to be like, what is this guy doing? He’s telling me to unsubscribe. He’s threatening to kick people off. How is this a real email list? And I do that on purpose because I believe that if you really simplify it down, there are A players, B players, and C players. Again, gross oversimplification.
The A players are already doing the things they need to do. They’re the best. They’re already optimizing stuff. The great unwashed masses– is that offensive to say? I don’t know. Whatever. There there’s a big group of Bs, and they could possibly be As with a little bit of guidance. And in my world, the Cs– maybe someone can help them, but it’s not me. That’s not my place on this planet. That’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to work with C players. I want to work with B players and help them become As. And I want to work with A players and help them become A pluses. So I’m very clear about who I don’t want on my site. And I tell them to leave. I make it really easy. I write really long things. So people who have a short attention span– they just leave.
I tell people, we’re not here for frugality. If you want to cut back on lattes, here’s the unsubscribe link. And here are some people I recommend. You’re not going to enjoy this site. Please go over there. It will be better for you. I believe that you’re doing them a duty, and you’re not wasting their time. And they’re not wasting mine. So if people don’t take action on what I’m recommending, I’m just like, why are we wasting each other’s time?
I know in the past, I used to– hey, you really should come to my class. You should come. And I would try hard, and no one would come. And when I changed that, when I said, here’s who I’m looking for, and here’s who I’m not looking for, it really made all the difference in making those people more committed.
Audience: What are the most common mistakes made by average people that severely limit their ability to build wealth?
Ramit Sethi: Oh, Okay. Good question. One is waiting to start investing until they’re rich, when quite honestly, it’s the other way it works. You become wealthy through investing.
The other thing is trying to outsmart the market. Oh, man. This is crazy. So so many tech people, a lot of my really smart tech friends– they’re so smart at their job. And then they think that because they’re smart in this area, they’re smart in every other part of their life. So they’re like, oh, I’m going to invest in aggressive funds and active management. They think they can beat the market. I’m like, you can’t.
It doesn’t matter how good you are at your job. It doesn’t matter how complicated your systems that you’ve built at work are. It’s simple, low cost investing, the stuff I talk about in my book. Automate it. Move on with your life. That’s one thing.
And then the third thing that I’ve discovered in the last few years is really mindset about money. As I worked on money, I had to change the way I thought about it. Growing up in an immigrant family, you learn certain values about money. Some are good. Some are not good. On the good side, I would say I learned to be frugal. I learned that you don’t have to buy everything you want. That was cool.
On the bad side, I think I learned that if anyone charged a premium price, I immediately assumed they were trying to rip me off. And that was something that was really deep inside. It was an invisible script. And I had to learn how to identify it and overcome that as well. So I would take those three things and try to work them.
Audience: How do you make yourself aware of invisible scripts that you don’t know are there?
Ramit Sethi: That’s a very tough question. The quick answer is, number one, there’s some introspection that goes on.
Number two, I use external frameworks. So I’ll say, OK, these are the three things I’m working on right now. And why am I getting stuck at this? And then I do the five whys. Why am I getting stuck? Because I’m not productive. Why am I not productive? Because I’m not waking up early. Why? And I really try to dig deep. And the third thing I try to do is surround myself with other people who might challenge me and say, hey, do you really need to be doing that? Or why are you thinking that way? What about this?
And when I put those in combination, in concert, those things have helped me find my own invisible scripts, which I’m still discovering.
Female Speaker: Great. Thanks, Ramit. Thank you for coming today. If anyone else wants a book, they’re in the back.
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