Tim Ferriss on Self-Quantification, Agile Startups, and Deconstructing Complex Skills [Interview]

March 26, 2013

2:02 pm

Tim Ferriss is a man who needs no introduction (especially after introducing himself to Tech Cocktail in 2011).  The last time we caught up with the Four Hour Mastermind, we learned of his involvement with WellnessFX, a San Francisco-based, health diagnostics startup.    This Thursday, in conjunction with WellnessFX, Ferriss will be presenting on the topic of “Building the Perfect Human: Tracking Biomarkers for Performance and Health Enhancement” (sign up here).

(Editors note:  I have since become a customer of WellnessFX’s and genuinely received great value from the experience.  No one’s arm was twisted for an endorsement- and I paid full price.  Blood marker testing is a great starting point for anyone looking to make health a priority, and the WellnessFX dashboard and counseling make it easy to both measure and take action toward improvement.) 

I had the opportunity to catch up with Ferriss and pick his brain on everything from blood marker testing to A/B testing, digital publishers to DISSS, angel investing and agility.  And of course, The Four Hour Chef.  Our conversation is below.

Tim Ferriss Interview

Tech Cocktail:  What can we expect from your upcoming WellnessFX Fireside Chat Event on 3/28?

Tim Ferriss: I’ll be discussing the details of how I track and tweak my body for optimal health and performance. This will involve a lot of talk of blood testing and technology for better results, as the two have finally converged. Last, I’ll have an innovative MD and one of the fittest 50-year olds alive with me to chime in, as I often conduct experiments with them.

Tech Cocktail:  Is blood marker testing necessary for healthy individuals?

Ferriss: Without a doubt. Most self-described “healthy” people have no data to support that belief, other than an “I don’t feel sick” sentiment. It’s critical to test and trend. Even in Silicon Valley, engineers will A/B test and track every detail of a tech project and then completely neglect similar analytics with the body. Quantified Self-type tracking is like dehydration: by the time a problem is externally obvious, it’s too late. Catching things early and correcting course can be super simple… if you test every 3-4 months.

Tech Cocktail:  In your experience, do startup founders do a better or worse job in regards to their health compared to the average person? What one lifestyle or dietary change would you advise to the majority of entrepreneurs for improving their health?

Ferriss: 90% do far worse and 10% (maybe) are extremely thorough, like Max Levchin or Steve Anderson. If I could recommend just one change as a starting point, it’d be this: eliminate grains 6 days a week, except for one cheat day. It can fix everything from apparent “allergies” to miscarriages.

Tech Cocktail:  What will self health-monitoring (self-quantification) look like in five years?

Ferriss:  It’ll be opt-out instead of opt-in, and most users won’t think of it at all. It will be embedded into our commonly used devices and clothing. Non-invasive continual tracking devices no bigger than nicotine patches will exist and track biomarkers 24/7.

Tech Cocktail:  How has your relationship with food changed since The Four Hour Body?

Ferriss: I enjoy it a lot more since writing The 4-Hour Chef. I used to focus solely on performance. Now I can get the same performance while making stuff taste awesome. It’s a different world.

Tech Cocktail:  In The Four Hour Chef, you write, “It is possible to become world-class in just about anything in six months or less.” Does this apply to becoming a world-class startup founder? What key takeaways from The Four Hour Chef are be most applicable to entrepreneurs?

Ferriss:  The DISSS process can be used for everything from learning a new programming language to analyzing market opportunities that Google, Facebook, etc. can’t exploit (or build) as quickly as you can. Deconstructing complex skills = deconstructing non-obvious solutions to big problems. Both have ideal homes in a start-up environment.

Tech Cocktail:  How has your marketing strategy for the The Four Hour Chef been different from your previous books?

Ferriss:  I had to improvise distribution more. A great example was the BitTorrent partnership. It had a 40% click-through rate. Insane.

Tech Cocktail:  How has the digital marketing landscape changed since the days of The Four Hour Workweek? What learning lessons should startups take away from this?

Ferriss:  The tools have changed a little, but the principles of good market testing and A/B testing are exactly the same.

Tech Cocktail:  What are the KPI(s) startups should be most concerned about?

Ferriss:  Depends on the start-up, but I like to look at average weekly users, revenue per user, CPA, LTV (if “lifetime” is well defined), conversion % at all funnel sticking points, and a few others, at the very least.

Tech Cocktail:  You’re a noted angel investor. Do you have a particular investing strategy or philosophy?

Ferriss:  I almost always invest or advise companies that solve painful problems I’ve personally experienced. For example: Evernote, Uber, TaskRabbit, Shopify, etc.

Tech Cocktail:  What’s the single most important trait a founder needs to succeed? Which is more important: intelligence or brute force?

Ferriss Both are helpful, but neither is as important as adaptability. The race goes to the agile, not just the quick. It’s easy to go hyperspeed in the wrong direction.

Tech Cocktail:  Favorite app you’ve discovered in 2013?

Ferriss:  I’ve been really enjoying, and I’ve been toying with Anki. I don’t use a ton of apps.

Tech Cocktail:  Your next project?

Ferriss:  Not sure yet. I’m in no big rush, but probably something in the visual world.

Tech Cocktail:  If given the opportunity to go back and use a “traditional” publisher for The Four Hour Chef, would you? Why or why not?

Ferriss Nope. I enjoyed being the first major book out of Amazon Publishing. It was a beast of a fight for distribution, but I knew what I was signing up for.

Want to learn how to build the perfect human?  Sign up for Tim’s talk here.

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When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.