Life Hacks Backed by Science: How to Self-Improve & Build Leadership Skills · Paul Benigeri · #145
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Life Hacks Backed by Science: How to Self-Improve & Build Leadership Skills · Paul Benigeri · #145

March 4, 2020

Coming up in this episode… Paul Benigeri: A lot of great relations that
are built by doing experiences with people and I think – Geoff: Or shared suffering. Paul: Or shared suffering or whatever, and
I think the more extreme the experiences are, the deeper the relationship we can build. And so, I think by doing like a hard fast
and having these shared experience around like being hungry and like you know, it’s
going through the ups and downs, you can actually build like really good relationships and I
think that was something that absolutely brought our company closer together because we would
obviously work, but we’d have this whole harmony around these like – call it like challenges
or biohacks that really kind of like threw us through these struggles together. And I think that’s – when you look at people
organizing a team-building summits, you do like these challenges and all these kind of
like manufactured exercises to do that and we’re just like doing it just – Geoff: Organically… Paul: Organically and normally. Announcer: Welcome to the H.V.M.N. Podcast. What we do with our bodies today, becomes
the foundation of who we are tomorrow. This is, Healthy Via Modern Nutrition. Geoff: Alright, welcome to this very special
edition of The H.V.M.N. Podcast. So, the global team of H.V.M.N. is actually
now in Lake Tahoe and every year we have annual retreat, annual ski trip to really plan out,
not just Q1 but the rest of the year. So, a lot of exciting material and plans and
strategies that we were developing for all of you guys to enjoy in the new decade of
2020. To give you guys more of an insight behind
some of the key people that have built this company with me and Michael over the last
four years is Paul Benigeri. Some of you guys might know him as what New
York magazine calls “a handsome Stanford grad”, but I call him our vice president of engineering
and growth. Welcome to the program Paul. Paul: Great… Super excited to be here. I’ve listened to a lot of these episodes and
obviously I’ve been with the company for a while now so, this means a lot to me. Geoff: I want to cover about three broad themes
here; I want to show and expose the kind of caliber of people around us in this community,
one. And then two, talk about leadership and culture. I’ve seen that as our longest-standing collaborator
and team member here, or part of the founding team, you’ve established a lot of the cultural
best practices and have really evolved as a leader. So, I definitely want to touch upon those
learnings and those best practices and I remember some of the conversations when we’ve had elite
athletes or folks from large defense institutions come and visit us, they really complimented
us on our team dynamic, team energy, team spirit and I think you’re really key part
of that, so I want to talk about your contributions, your thoughts in that aspect and the last
broad theme want to talk about is human performance. I mean, obviously that’s been a cultural – I
mean, part of our reason of existence here behind at H.V.M.N. and you’ve been not just
a key part of that, but also initiated some of the key trends that have impacted not just
Silicon Valley but global trends. So, we’ll dive into some of those biohacking
stories as well as you really introducing intermittent fasting to me and H.V.M.N. and
basically the rest of Silicon Valley and the world. So, a lot of interesting anecdotes and learnings
there. Let’s just start off with a little bit about
your background and get a sense of the human behind the handsome Stanford grad. Paul: Thanks man. Geoff: Yeah. Paul: All right, so, I was originally born
in France and grew up – moved around a bunch because my dad worked for IBM, was capatriated
[?], so one of the interesting things that I was exposed to a lot of different cultures
early, so I lived a little bit in Paris, a little bit in London, New York. I was really kind of like thrown in, for example
like in London without knowing any English. I went to English speaking school, didn’t
know how to speak English. So the first couple weeks were rough. And I think that kind of really instilled
a lot of learning mindset for me which I think is important for individuals and also for
teams. Then fast forward to college, I went to college
you know, same as you at Stanford University, studied computer science. My main track was computer systems even though
that wasn’t my favorite. That’s what I thought, what would kind of
like push me to learn the most. And I think like one of the things that I
got that was really valuable from that was not necessary just the tech experience but
the ability to kind of like think about systems and I think a lot of the ways I think about
just life in general is kind of like modeling it as a system because systems you know, like
we talk about in a lot of our values and a lot of our initial content and post. If you think of things as a system of inputs
and outputs, it’s really easy to be objective and rational about how to improve them. So, I graduated early, I graduated in three
years because I got a bunch of credits and was excited to move into the real world. I spent a lot of time getting involved in
cryptocurrencies, so I set up some mining rigs in my dorm rooms because there’s free
electricity, got really involved with like profit [?] mining pools and I actually really
got close to Jeff through a company I initially started to work on right after college called
Backslash which was a cryptocurrency payments platform and Jeff was an advisor. And through that, a year and a half – two
years of working on that after college, I got into human performance and trying to improve
my biometrics; trying to cut out soda, trying to eat healthy. So, Jeff and I kind of like stayed in touch
and I was one of the early Nootropic users, like one of the old. We used to have blue bottles of Rise – Geoff: Sort of remember that, yeah. Paul: Jeff and Mike Brandt used to package
and I remember getting some of those first ones in like a little newspaper envelope. Like they initially packaged the first Rise
bottles in I think in New York Times print – Geoff: Wall Street Journal… Yeah. Paul: Wall Street Journal as a little kind
of like the light factor. When that wrapped up, I think I really respected
Jeff’s business sense and advice and I think Jeff saw that I worked hard and had some value
to bring to the table and then as soon as that wrapped up I was like, “hey Jeff, you
know, I’m looking for something new…”. Jeff and Mike Brandt had just raised money,
so it was like a really good time and I remember coming in on the interview on a Sunday and
just moving really quickly and I think that kind of set a lot of the frame for how a lot
of things happen at H.V.M.N. Like we try to move really quickly, we try
to learn fast and that’s kind of like my background. And I started off doing a lot of computer
science for the company and software engineering, building up the website and then through that,
we kind of realized that it’s not just – we can’t just build a beautiful website, a really
nice website, we have to think about marketing and distribution and design. And through that, I kind of learned a lot
about those different functions and helped build teams to kind of level our company up
in those regards. Geoff: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting
overview and I think the fact that we both specialized in systems at Stanford is an interesting
shared experience because the way you talk about inputs and outputs in modeling, not
just computers as a system but almost every aspect that humans try to engage in. Whether that’s human performance or building
company cultures. I think the systems approach is a rigorous,
very quantitative approach that do something like that. I think you already start seeing the snapshots
of where we came from. I think we were very tech Silicon Valley oriented
in the early days and as we’ve really grown and involved the community, I would say that
we’ve gotten a lot more sophisticated, a lot more nuanced around the broader aspects of
running a business and growing a brand, growing a community. Can you speak towards a little bit of these
self-learning process, whether that just having the opportunity to make mistakes and learning
from them, having such unconstrained scope is intimidating, what was your mindset going
into it? Was that something that’s excited you, was
that something that’s intimidating, a little bit of both? I’m curious in terms of your training, your
personality, how did you respond to that initial skills from the beginning? Paul: I think that different people have inclinations
toward different types of work. To me, I was working with a really awesome
team on a generally interesting problem space of Human Performance. So, it didn’t really matter like what the
you know, day-to-day work was. It was like, hey, let’s do this, let’s build
this together. And so, it just goes down to – I think it
goes back to one of the mindsets, it’s like really important for effective growth as a
team or as an individual. It’s kind of having like two modes of operation. So, there’s Paul that does work and there’s
also Paul that like takes a step back and like watches Paul from above and guides you
know, the worker Paul. And so, being able to be self-aware and identifying
what you know, what you don’t know is really important and I think most of these things
are solvable and have been solved by like really smart people, right? So for example, one of the things we’ve worked
on a lot is Facebook ads, paid social. There are dozens and dozens of companies and
people that have spent years and years and years mastering that. Geoff: Spending millions of dollars. Paul: Spending millions of dollars. And so, instead of someone going out and doing
that for the first time by themselves, making all of the basic mistakes, what you can do
is inherit someone else’s plan, right? And that might not be perfect for your company,
but you can almost copy their plan entirely or almost entirely and you kind of start off
with like a B+ solution for you and your company. And then from there you run that for a month,
two months, you identify some weaknesses, you take a step back, look it as a system
and like hey, what’s working, what’s not working? And then you just like block-and-tackle, right? You look at how like hey, this is difficult
for us, let me go talk to person A, B and C and get some feedback there. And so, I think the combination of just having
like that ambition, that excitement to just like work on cool things, it doesn’t really
matter like what specifically whether it’s marketing or call it engineering or building
this, just like solving problems is kind of like you know, interesting. And if you’re able to kind of go to people
that are senior, that have done this for many years and they’re usually very willing to
give feedback and give advice so you can kind of like really kick start that growth and
then you’re on your own trying to iterate on that B+ solution you just inherit it from
someone. Geoff: One thing that you mentioned I think
is interesting and worth unpacking is this notion of decompartmentalizing or what you
said, that self-awareness where you have the individual contributor, the day to day work
Paul and then the meta Paul which is the observer that looks at what Paul is doing and can you
improve that system. What I’ve observed with people that I see
as really effective, really efficient is an ability to really see reality, see the truth
about how they’re operating and admitting weaknesses and then actively fixing those
weaknesses or doubling on strengths. My observation is that most people either
never ask themselves those hard questions or they’re too afraid to say that hey, like
I’m bad at this and like I need to do a lot of work to improve or focusing and on anesthesia
which is like hey, I don’t wanna think about it too hard because it’s kind of stressful
to think about myself as a week or something that needs improvement. I’m gonna just like go watch Netflix or they
live vicariously through other people. Was there like a key moment where you’re like
hey, I can really create a reality or a version of myself that’s really what I wanted to be? I feel like most people seem disempowered. They’re very passive in their life and I’ve
known you for quite some time and you’re a very active participant in molding your life,
your personality, your goals. Paul: I think that it’s a combination of two
things, just – I used to be – like in all these high school tests, I got like tested
with really high, like unusually high inner conviction. So, that’s kind of like a strength and a weakness
like I think I can do like anything, it just takes time and I think that pushes me to be
like okay, I can do it right now but I can do it. So, what do I need to learn and figure it
out? Going back to teams, having that self-awareness
and that ability to kind of just realize you’re not perfect and just by doing something else
and learning from someone else that’s done it for longer, you can obviously get better. It’s almost like an obvious truth, right? Even the best athlete still has a coach, still
works on training in some things, right? So, you can’t really – it’s just like incorrect
to think that you’re not – you don’t have like room to grow. Geoff: Yeah, I think one of my favorite sayings
is “life is too short to make all the mistakes. Learn from other people’s mistakes”, right? Paul: Yeah. Also over time, seeing that you can learn
things and get good pretty quickly, whether that’s extra-curricular or sport or you know,
cooking, or different aspects of your career or your work. You can learn a new language, right? Like people have done that. You can learn marketing, right? Everybody’s had to learn what they’re good
at. And then, I think just seeing enough people
and also just seeing from yourself, like as an individual being able to grow, once you
see that, you can be like hey, you can really just like learn anything. The question is, are you able to put in the
motivation and the time, right? So, I could maybe be a decent-ish basketball
player if I put in like 10,000 hours and spend my whole life working on it, but I’m not doing
that so I’ve like no expectation to do that. But, from like a work perspective, like I
spent in a lot of hours like learning, I spend a lot of hours on the marketing side, on the
engineering side, on the management side, so I do have an expectation to be able to
grow. And there’s this kind of like self-fulfilling,
kind of like learning cycle where you go back and like man, two years ago I learned so much,
I was like so – almost like silly or so dumb I learned so much and like okay cool, like
what’s the next phase? Like clearly you haven’t learned everything
there is to learn in two years. Geoff: Yeah. Yeah I think that’s one of the things that
I hope and I think we both share the sentiment that hopefully we always look back for the
two years ago version to ourselves to be like wow, that person was silly, that person was
so naive. I think that’s like a good objective function
in terms of how we want to live and how one strives and moves forward. Paul: Looking back, it’s amazing how much
your brain can hold. Like I take a lot of notes and try to write
down everything I can, but it’s amazing to see how much my brain looks at the world differently
because of all of my compounded experiences, right? Just because I’ve been working for a bunch
of years, so I just have this different view that Paul coming out of college just like
did not have, did not understand. So, like a lot of the mistakes I made that
you know, other people gave me advice about, like when I had like the YC interviews, Y
Combinator, some startup interview thing… When I initially got that feedback I was like
oh no, like our idea is like pretty good and now I’m like oh man, like they’re totally
right. I totally see the world like the same way
they do. And so kind of like, having those moments
reinforces the fact like hey, make sure you lean on senior people, smart people to help
gut-check and reinforce your decisions. Geoff: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting
tidbit there where I think a lot of young gunners who graduate from a top prestigious
university… I don’t want to sound overly contrived or
arrogant here, but I think folks that have been lucky to have that kind of Education
opportunity are told that they’re the future leaders of the world. That they’re awesome, they’re geniuses, you’re
great. And I think a lot of these people end up being
overly confident, overly arrogant in terms of what their knowledge set and skill set
is versus reality. And I think I had the similar journey as you
where you’re at 22 – 21, have a nice Stanford computer science degree, all of these big
tech companies want to give you six-figure jobs right outside of school, it’s like you
know, like basically infinite money compared to college student where you know, a few thousand
bucks is gonna change how much you can live and party and whatnot for a month or a couple
months and then you read all these startup books or business books or leadership books
and they give you these little axioms or these short phrases like oh, only work with great
people, only work with you know, fire quickly. All these kind of like simple statements that
seem obvious, but you don’t have enough of that scar tissue, that all experience to actually
understand what it means and I think – it sounds like you’ve internalized some of these
lessons around like oh, like your core business functions were not great and you’re like no,
I’m smarter than you, like I like get it and now in retrospect, like oh yeah, like some
of these fundamental assumptions I had about the world just don’t seem true. And I think one of the analogies I think about
a lot is that some of these axioms are very simple, almost like Zen koan or like these
like seven word sentences are like raisins of truth that I miss all the life experience
in that grape. Like it’s just distilled so much where it’s
like transmittable but you really want that grepe, you really want to have that punch
of like oh, I messed that up, now I like have to fix it and it takes me two months to fix
something, you know, like fire fast, right? And I think – Paul: Hire slow fire fast. Geoff: Yeah, I think that’s like a good one
because I think we’ve, you know, I would say like you were lucky to have worked with really,
really good people but sometimes there’s not a culture fade or a personality fade or a
business fade and I think it’s really hard to fire a first person or like to recognize
like hey, like this is not gonna work out. Paul: Yeah. Geoff: I mean, I’m sure you’ve had experience
with that. Weather it was with colleagues or agencies
or partners and it’s like scary. Like yeah, of course, fire fast. Paul: And it’s funny because one additional
piece of context to that, that axiom is that usually like when you’re firing to slow, everybody
in the team is kind of like they know. And so, when you have that conversation like
hey, we let person XYZ go, you might be like oh, that the whole team’s gonna be shocked
but everyone on the teams like oh yeah, I had a feeling that was gonna happen because
you know, everyone’s senses are attuned enough to kind of like understand the situation. I remember seeing that once at H.V.M.N., I
was like wow, like I remember hearing that but now I actually – like it’s super true,
I actually like felt that experience, I saw it happen. And so, leaning on people’s feedback for kind
of like performance reviews and 360s is kind of – that evolved into having that process
where we lean on people for feedback to kind of detect those signals even faster. Geoff: Right. Or just even like good partnerships, right? Like when it’s – I think there’s another probably
axiom where it’s like if it’s really complicated to begin with, it’s probably like too complicated
of work in reality. Paul: Yeah. Geoff: So I think there’s something about
keeping it simple, these like maxims and axioms around like hey, just like make it super simple
because like make the relationships simple or make the API simple or make the arrangements
simple because there’s gonna be something wrong with the assumption to beginning in
the first place and it’s already complicated and over-engineered and then you thrown it
against reality and it’s complicated on top of the complexity of reality, then it’s gonna
fail for sure. And I think, that’s why going back to simplicity
and understanding okay, we think we’re really smart, we can over engineer and think about
all the possible scenarios here and think of all the edge cases and you should realize
you just can’t. Now I want to kind of pivot but also broaden
the conversation that obviously we’ve talked a lot about some of these principles of leadership
and self-discipline in a work setting but obviously that has translated into personal
– whatever you want to call it, biohacking or human performance. I think one of the lesser well-known stories
is that while H.V.M.N. and – I’ve been like a very broad public speaker on fasting, it
was actually you, Paul, at the end of 2015 really coming into the H.V.M.N. office, a
couple months into the job talking about, hey like there’s some interesting research
out of USC longevity research group, I’m gonna do this fasting thing – Paul: Yeah. Geoff: And I want to make these concoctions
of 200, 300, 500 calories to do these 60 hour fasts. Paul: Yeah. Geoff: Do you wanna tell that story? Paul: Yes, so the origin of that story is
actually a little bit before joining H.V.M.N. So, after my crypto startup that didn’t work
out, I joined a large tech company and it was kind of like coasting there just as I
was like figuring out the next thing. And actually I came across that, I think it
was like a talk that discussed some of the studies that Valter Longo recently published
and I was like wow, like I want to live forever, like let’s go. So, I was really motivated by longevity even
though there were some really nice benefits on the body composition side. And so, I started off at a big company and
I would make these jugs of, I think it was like some almond milk protein powder and some
other stuff just to kind of have like three to 500 calories to start easing into these
fast. And the fast that I started doing off we’re
actually pretty long. I was doing like sixty hour fast from day
one. And I didn’t know about like the Warrior,
like the 16/8 and all that stuff. I was like yeah, let’s just do a sixty hour
fast. And so, I would stop eating on Sundays and
I would fast all Monday, all Tuesday, I don’t have breakfast on Wednesday. And I started doing this at a big company
and everyone was thinking I was super weird. They’re all like, yo like why aren’t you eating? Like there’s free food, like come on indulge,
like eat, look at all these snacks… But the big reason why I was doing it was
to kind of like help control some of these pressures that you have in some of these big
companies where you have like chocolate and Reese’s and snacks 24/7 and it’s really hard
to just moderate your consumption. But everyone was kind of like judging me for
doing it and was like oh, you’re not fat, why are you starving yourself? And nobody really understood. And then I joined H.V.M.N., back then that
was Nootrobox, it was like super busy for the first month, so I kind of like put that
on pause and then I was like hey, I wanted to start fasting again, I actually shared
some of the studies with back then Sumeet, Dr. Sharma who was one of our research team
members back then. He was yeah, this seems legit and like okay
cool, let’s do like some company fast. And the first person that was down to try
it with me was actually Michael Brandt. And so, we did our first fast and I came into
the office with this sludge in a little like – we had like mason jars that we made for
some of our products and I just had jars of sludge and put them in the fridge. And so, we would do these fast together like
Monday and Tuesday and I remember on the first fast, I think it was on Monday or Tuesday,
this was Michael Brandt’s first fast and he felt “zippy”. He was like, “I feel so zippy!” and he was
going around the office at like 7 or 8 p.m. Because we were working like pretty late hours
and we still do but at 7 or 8 p.m., there’s like no one in our shared working space and
he’s like doing pull-ups and push-ups all over. Like man, this fasting thing is great, I have
so much – I’m hungry but I have a lot of like mental energy, it feels good. And so, Mike Brandt did it and then I think
you started doing it and it took Gavin like 3 to 6 months to start doing it. Geoff: Yeah. Paul: But really it was, I think a lot like
me, you and Sumeet were doing it together. Geoff: Yeah. Paul: And then we started doing these long
fasts and eventually bringing down like our sludge amount to zero calories so we could
do the full fast which was kind of like a real – more of a real fast versus heavy caloric
restriction and we started doing these breakfasts. So, I think that for the first couple of times,
this was kind of funny, we would fast together and on Wednesday mornings we’d go to this
like brunch, like this – Geoff: We would binge eat. Paul: We would binge eat at brunch. So we’d fast and we were really good for 60
hours and then we’d order pancakes with syrup and a hot chocolate. Geoff: With like orange juice, grape juice. Paul: With orange juice, like everything,
the whole thing and we would just like eat there for like an hour and be uhh… Geoff: [Crosstalk] Paul: Ah, this is – we’re full. We’d really indulged and then eventually we
kind of like – and I think this is one of the interesting things about human performance
and biohacking is that you don’t have to be like a 100% perfect from day one, you can
kind of do in phases, right? So you do the first fast with some help, and
then you can do your full fast with a binge breakfast and then eventually you get to your
full fast and you eat maybe some avocados and eggs and you’re in the money, then you’re
good. But it takes time and it’s okay to take time
to kind of like phase through that. And then, we start inviting our community
members and we started inviting our community people because I think you were talking to
a reporter and you mentioned that we had these breakfast, these breakfasts that we had together
as a company and the first reporting crew wanted to come and we just sent an email out
and we had I think 8 to 12 other community members that did the fast with us and met
up with us in San Francisco. Geoff: Yeah. Paul: And that started this whole year or
two of – Geoff: “WEFAST”. Paul: Of “WEFAST” literally back-to-back,
like media crew filled breakfast. We went to this small like coffee shop in
San Francisco that maybe had like 20 seats and one out of two times, we’d take over the
whole restaurant and sometimes there was like three or four camera crews just like fighting
over to like watch Jeff slurp some eggs. Geoff: Yeah, I think that’s like a funny inside
peek behind the spark from pure read science but also the experimentation. Again, think about this was early – this is
late 2015 early 2016, and I remember my initial first reaction was that growing up in a standard
Western diet kind of household, not eating for 24 hours seemed like it was impossible. I remember it was like oh, like am I just
gonna die? I didn’t even – like we had no idea if it
was physiologically possible. Paul: Yeah, we didn’t really know about ketosis
back then. Geoff: Yeah. And there’s no literature on this space, right? Like no one talked about enter intermittent
fasting and I remember a lot of the early conversation is that, is this Silicon Valley
tech Bros having eating disorders? Paul: Right. Geoff: But that was like the main narrative. That is interesting for me from two perspectives;
one is the nature of media and how they drive narratives and then two, just from the evolution
from science and taking evidence and data and applying it into the real world and I
think you described it quite nicely; we had our best understanding of the data at the
time and we had you know, sludges that we were, exactly right, like we were basically
doing heavy caloric restriction down to a pure water fast and then binge eating and
then realizing that binge eating probably wasn’t effective in terms of just like being
a very very low insulin and then bum… Just eat like three – a stack of three pancakes
with blueberries, with maple syrup, jacking like you know, 300 grams of carbohydrates
in a sitting instantly it’s probably not good for your insulin response. And then getting much much deeper into the
science and physiology and I think – I don’t want to claim too much credit, but I think
it is worth noting, I think we’ve established a lot of the best practices, at least within
Silicon Valley in terms of you know, nicknaming things like “a Monk fast” which is a 36-hour
fast or a “Warrior”. I mean, “Warrior Diet” was something that
was previously known, but just helping people get from there with some of these fasting
routine. Paul: Right. So, that was one of the big issues. A lot of people would ask like okay, what’s
the best fast? Or what’s the right fast? Is it better do a short fast or a long fast? And there’s, even to this day, like we’re
getting like a lot more – there’s a lot more research and there’s a lot more interesting
research about you know, the time at which you have your eating window and stuff but
back then there was like very very little research. I think the nice thing about fasting is that
it’s very similar to exercise where it I think offers benefits on like multiple time scales
and I think that’s super valuable for picking up a good habit. You’ve got autophagy which would potentially
help for other biomarkers but you don’t really feel that on the day to day, right? Like you don’t feel like all my instance are
like super good right now. Geoff: Right. Paul: However, there’s some kind of like medium-term
benefits like hey, you can actually feel like these body composition improvements. You can actually kind of like you look leaner,
you’re in good shape. For some people, that can be a goal. Or just pure weight-loss. And then there’s also this kind of like very
short-term aspect which is, you feel pretty good when you’re fasting. I think one of the interesting things with
fasting is that it requires a high level of mental activation energy. It’s really easy to fast if you really want
a fast, but it’s really hard to fast if you’re like kind of wanna fast. Because if you’re super committed, you’re
like, no dude it’s good, I’m not eating today. But if you’re like uhh, I’m kind of gonna
fast.. Then it’s like oh, man, I’ll just have some
eggs you know, I’m not really sure. Geoff: Yeah. Paul: But if you’re committed, it can actually
be pretty easy and then you can feel really good for a day or two and not worry about
that. Geoff: Yeah, I think the analogy to exercise
is actually a very [?]. I think that’s how fasting will be viewed in the near future
and within just broader society. Exercise takes some mental activation energy
to go to the gym or go do some pull-ups or push-ups right now, right? If you’re listening to this podcast and you’re
at home, why not just do some air squats while you’re listening. There’s some mental activation energy there
but as you develop a habit, it’s actually fun, you feel really good about it and it
becomes a staple of just, I think what we would both consider like a well lived life,
and I think the same thing for fasting. If it’s just something that’s passive, yeah
like why do extra push-ups? Like yeah, why not just eat like an extra
little egg or a bacon? But if you just actually decide hey, I’m gonna
do like an hour of exercise every single day, it’s like very simple to say, I’m gonna do
a 16/8 or do an 18/6. And I think a very apt analogy. Let’s talk about the second part which is
like kind of the media cycle around it. I think that was like an interesting early
learning experience for both of us in terms of how to build cultural movements or how
to build communities and I have seen a couple of these templates is that there needs to
be some kernel of science or truth behind any interesting movement, right? If it just doesn’t work, no one will do it. You might fool some people for a little bit
and just crashes, no one talks about it. But I think what makes something really interesting
from a narrative perspective is it needs to play into some broader commentary, whether
it’s positive or negative that either reinforces or breaks existing norms. And I think the narrative that we had kind
of going on was that there was the Silicon Valley tech Bros that were doing Nootropics
and smart drugs and they’re also having eating disorders. Like these are just weirdos in Silicon Valley,
let’s go talk to them and see what they’re up to. Yeah, I want to hear your thoughts about that. Like do you have some broader lessons takeaways
or reflections from that experience? Paul: Yeah, that’s a good question and actually
a lot of people reach out to me seeing a lot of the work I think that you and Mike Brandt
led on the PR side and asked for like hey, do you have advice on the PR side? Who’s your agency? I think you’re right. Like it’s important to capitalize on a nugget
of truth that’s ready kind of like getting exciting, getting interesting. Especially as a small-ish company, right? Like well, you’re not Apple, you’re not Google,
like nobody really cares whether you hired someone new or whether you launch new product. Like you know, people care but it’s not newsworthy. Like the media, the world doesn’t care. And that’s fine, you can still work on stuff
for like the whole world to care, so you need something where like the world really cares
and I think that talking about food, talking about like this new fasting thing that really
breaks a lot of social norms is kind of very interesting and I think a big part of it,
and that’s something that we started thinking about in our marketing campaigns too is there
needs to be a story, right? And there needs to be tension. So, I think for like fasting, there was obviously
a lot of tension because it broke so many different views around food; around breakfast
being important, around like, I’m scared of fasting. Like aren’t you gonna die? Like you know, there’s a lot of tension there. I think we’re seeing that with a lot of other
food based kind of like stories and media cycles because there’s so many different communities
that it’s very easy to build tension. So for example, like veganism, there’s a lot
of tension across people that either don’t support veganism for reason A or B, or like
carnivore diet, right? Like there’s obviously like a ton of tension
when they talk about anything like there’s like a whole you know, whole population – Geoff: Populational baggage with that. Paul: You know there’s a whole population
around like hey, you know, no plants are healthy or whatever. Not making claims but you know, there’s this
view of plants being healthy, there’s a view of like hey, you shouldn’t eat animals for
moral reasons XYZ. And so, if you’re able to find a that has
this tension and that also has this wider appeal like food, that can be really interesting. When companies ask me for advice on the PR
side, I usually tell them like hey, the easiest thing you can do – do all this like ABC PR
stuff, like hit up journalists, do your you know, your PR news stuff, hire an agency potentially. But really what you should try to do is find
a way to plug your company in your story on like a bigger, like what you’d like to call
as like a macro trend, right? And some companies have been doing a pretty
good job tying themselves on the you know, politics stories around the elections, around
like immigration, things that are again, like that already have a lot of tension, already
have a lot of conflict and press is looking for an expert to talk to. And so, if you’re working on that industry
day in and day out, you are an expert and you can become even more of an expert and
be known as an expert and every time there’s like a story, they’re gonna be like hey, let
me call Geoff to get like feedback from you know, this professional biohacker, right? Geoff: Yeah. Paul: And I think that’s a way you can really
kind of like get mass media and something more than just like you know, really like
a dry TechCrunch article that’s like hey, company “A” raised money or something. Geoff: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s exactly right. I mean, the easiest way to get people that
care is do something that people care about. Paul: Yeah. Geoff: Like don’t try to hack it by saying
hey, my little boring little app that no one cares about, I want like to pump it out there. It’s like, if generally no one cares about
it, it’s very hard to do, but you can just do something interesting, novel, a little
bit wild or a little bit controversial. Those are the things that I think I as a consumer
want to learn about and listen to. Those are just more compelling to people. I think just go from, again, from systems-thinking
go from first principles. Paul: People like stories, people like drama
you know? People consume media like the TV show, right? The people that are reading the news and stuff
a lot of time, it’s like not – a lot of people do it to kind of like get educated, but a
lot of other people do it as like passive, like entertaining consumption, right? And so you need to make sure you’re providing
entertainment for those people. And so, I think having a good story, having
tension, having controversy, being polarizing, right? Having a really firm stance that people can
– it’s important for people to be able to strongly agree or strongly disagree with. If you come in with like a mild perspective,
then nobody’s gonna really care, you know? Geoff: And I think one of the things that
you mentioned which I also share, which I think makes us and gives us a naturally interesting
perspective is that most people enter and start learning about their health and wellness
after a medical issue or an accident, right? You look at the founding stories or narratives
of a lot of people that are in the industry, it’s like oh, my grandfather had Alzheimer’s
and therefore like that would be my life mission to solve that disease, or I got really fat
and obese and then I really needed to figure out how to cut weight and be strong and now
I’m a fitness influencer. And I think when we entered the “health and
wellness” or human performance space is mainly focused on improving cognition and then looking
at health span/life span which is very different from how, again, talking to multiple, like
hundreds of people in the industry, a very different perspective and very different goals;
fasting, Nootropics, ketosis have applications for cognition and longevity, but I’m curious
in terms of other things that you’ve done, whether that’s other lifestyle hacks… What other things has that initial different
perspective enabled you to explore and think about? Paul: Yeah, there’s a few things, but some
of the main pillars are like exercise and then kind of like diet. Which I think includes fasting, right? The first thing was cutting out soda. I used to – remember like in the dorms at
Stanford, there was a soda machine and I would just live on on diet coke or coke zero just
like[?]. I mean, like my first step was really to just
like cut that out and then eventually kind of like trying fasting and other things. I think some of the more interesting recent
ones are being like really thoughtful about sugar, actually like listen to – I love sweets,
I’m French, I love Macaroons and Eclairs and Croissants, like I love dessert. I use to make like bomb creme brûlée and
it’s just like so good. It’s always been like a hard thing for me
to not binge on sweets, like chocolate cookies, Nutella, all that stuff. But I listened to a podcasts, I forget with
who, one of your podcasts and I’m talking about like, just like a small mention of how
having like processed sugar increases inflammation and for some reason that stuck with me and
that created kind of like a spark of motivation for me to just cut out sugar for like 20 days
straight. And I traveled to France back then and it
was my dad’s birthday and I went to different bakeries all the time and there was so much
sugar in front of me. And I don’t know what exactly – there was
just like some unusually high level of motivation for me to cut sugar because of that moment. And so, that trigger was kind of like interesting
cuz it’s like, I’ve tried to cut out sugar like a ton before and now I’ve been like pretty
successful, like even on a retreat, I’m like three or four days now without sugar. So, I can keep like these pretty good periods
but it’s weird where that comes from but I think that’s kind of like something to think
about, is like where that motivation comes from because you having like a burst almost
but I think it’s valuable to just jump in when you have that. One of my friends said like ambition comes
in waves and so, if you’re able to just realize you have that ambition to do whatever healthy
thing or like productivity hack or biohack, just start doing it right now while you’re
really motivated and hopefully you can carry that through. Geoff: Yeah. I think that’s an interesting way to think
about habit-forming because a lot of people say “oh, motivation is temporary, so it’s
not even worth it”. But I think what you’re saying is that, don’t
even be judgmental around where the motivation comes from, just jump on the bandwagon when
you have some extra discipline. Paul: Yeah. Geoff: And hopefully they’d be form to habits
around it. Like don’t overthink it, just start doing
it. Paul: There’s a common kind of saying that
talks about willpower being a limited resource or a finite resource. And I actually had that mindset for a long
time. I was on the plane back in France and I was
reading this study but I forget who it was. We can we maybe pull it up later. It basically proved that willpower is not
a limited resource specifically and if you exercise willpower, you actually kind of generate
more willpower because of the positive feedback loop. And that was a huge paradigm shift in my thinking
which was hey, like a lot of the excuses I would make for maybe not working out or whatever
is oh, I worked really hard today, so I’m not gonna work out you know? Or oh, I’m really tired today I don’t have
that much willpower, so I’m gonna snack and eat unhealthy. And so, when you kind of flip that mindset
and know that it’s scientifically shown now, my understanding of that principle was like
backed by science, so I really strongly believed in it. It’s a very different approach because like
hey, alright, I’m gonna do a little bit of good that’s gonna help me be better the rest
of the day, right? So like hey, there’s this little snack, I’m
gonna be good for breakfast and skip this – this maybe piece of sugar and then you’re
on a roll. Then for dinner when your buddies make lava
cakes, you can be like no, I’m already on this roll, I’m not gonna – I’m not gonna indulge,
right? And so, that compounding – the kind of compounding
benefit of exercising willpower is a really interesting psychological phenomenon which
I think most of my life I grew up like on the wrong side of the coin. I actually believe that willpower was finite. Geoff: Yeah, I think that’s also again, just
from a matter of perspective, you built a mental framework to guide how you think about
willpower, right? Like you think about it in terms of compounding
momentum versus limited resource. Paul: Yeah. Geoff: That simple realization changed your
effectiveness in sticking to some of these habits which I think are some of these lessons
in terms of leadership and culture. Before talking broadly again about leadership
and culture, about how we built an interesting team dynamic and culture, I want to talk a
little bit about all the other biohacking experiments that you’ve done because I would
say that you know, you’ve been one of my thought partners and crazy people that do some of
these experiments with me, right? We’ve done continuous glucose monitors where
– Paul: There’s one big experiment we have to
talk about. Geoff: What? The seven day fast? Paul: Yeah, talk about seven day fast. Geoff: Yeah, let’s talk about the seven day
fast story. Paul: Okay… So, this was when – back in November a couple
years ago Jeff and I were pretty heavy into fasting. I think Jeff was doing like a 36-hour fast
every week, I was still doing 60 days – not 60 day fasting, 60 hour fast – 11.[?] three or four years ago. Paul: Yeah. We went to this conference in Las Vegas that
one of our investors Andreessen Horowitz put together. I mean, it was a really good three-day conference
in The Wynn, a really big hotel in Las Vegas. It has a lot of clubs, a lot of casinos, a
lot of food. So, people really go there to kind of indulge
and let loose. So, we were there for a conference, we networked
with a bunch and on the last day, Jeff and I were networking, I think we were – might
have been fasting during that point and then eventually, everyone kind of it goes to this
big well-known club called Encore Beach Club. We kind of go there with a networking spirit,
there’s a bunch of tech people going in and talking about tech and software in this corner
and there’s a bunch of people just pulling up to Las Vegas, like let loose unlike the
other corners. And so, it’s really this funny concoction
of people. And so, a lot of our colleagues and networkers
were really starting to let loose and just you know, just get the bottles out and drink
up, get some food in. And Jeff and I were still working, I think
we had some important things to do, so we didn’t – I don’t know if we drunk at all or
maybe like a drink or two. And so fast-forward till like 3 a.m. we’re
talking to people and then we go to this restaurant and just like we’re starving after kind of
being up for a while, pretty sober. We’re just talking about how everyone in Vegas
is like crazy and really not taking care of their health. Geoff: Or even like a clam linguine pasta. Paul: Meanwhile, we ordered some heavy heavy
carbs, like I think pizza and linguines and we’re like damn, we’re eating a lot of carbs,
we got to get back on this Aikido train. And I think I’m like, yo Jeff we should do
a 7 day fast or something. And Jeff like laughs like oh dude, that’s
like so long, we can’t like not eat for 7 days. I’m like, nah dude, some people in our community
are doing 14 day fast, we got to do it. And it’s 3:30 a.m., 4:00 a.m. We’re eating some pasta and stuff like ah,
alright, let’s do it and shake on it and then we’re like oh, beep, like we’re doing seven
days first time. And so, we scheduled it for New Year’s and
the funny thing is we loop in the whole company. And so, I think early January – Geoff: We invited entire WEFAST team and I
believe over a hundred people signed up with us. Paul: Yeah, a hundred people like signed to
do this fast. Every current employee at the company committed
to trying the fast. However, we had a new employee joining on
our seven day fast week, Michael Lee, our head of design. So, we show up on Monday not eating and he’s
like yo, why is nobody eating? You know, like it’s his first day on the job
and he’s the only person eating at the company. So, that was kind of a funny dynamic but we
pushed through, we did the fast. I think a few people decided to break it early. Zill lasted three days which was super solid. I think one of the things, we do challenge
each other to do these fast but it’s no judgment, right? It’s like do what you can, right? No one’s pushing anyone to bench 800 pounds
like go. Push yourself but within reason, so we encourage
people to join but it’s not – it’s cool if like – Geoff: Yeah. Paul: No one’s forced to do the 7 day fast,
right? But we did it, it was really interesting. I think the hardest thing for me was not necessarily
the hunger, I just missed food and flavor. So, by day six or seven I was going crazy
just smelling different foods around the office. We got a bag of like one-pound bag of my favorite
beef jerky and I would just open it and just start to sniff it… and then close it. Geoff: Yeah. Yeah, I wanna fill in the context from my
perspective as well. I remember, yes, at that time we had built
quite a big following within the WEFAST community and you were exactly right, people we’re trying
an extended fast and I remembered being inspired to try doing a seven-day fast a number of
times and would stop at three days, stop at four days. It’s very hard to do seven days. And I think that challenge we shook hands
and then kick off the new year. I think that was like seven days and through
2017 as like a new way to kick off the new year was finally the catalyst that like helped
me push through, but definitely like the multiple attempts to do extended fasting got me much
more metabolically flexible to be able to do that. I think there’s probably – I think there’s
some photos from The Guardian where it was like we were all very lean. Paul: Very lean and chiseled, yeah. Geoff: Yeah. Paul: I went down from 155 to 142 I think,
something like that. I mean, a lot of that just for context is
like water and food weight too right? But definitely some – Geoff: Yeah, a lot of glycogen to store carbohydrate. Glycogen takes a lot of water. But I think we were also doing it somewhat
recently, right? We had blood glucose sticks, blood ketone
sticks, I did DEXA scans before and after that fast. And I remember that some of the most interesting
observations again when this was much less used was that when you – at least I worked
out, I don’t know if you worked out any single days. Paul: Yeah. Geoff: But it is very interesting in terms
of observing your energy levels while doing workouts and also just observing how your
body can produce sugar through gluconeogenesis. Not doing workouts as you were doing heavier
lifting or trying to do some cardio, your blood sugar would spike even though you hadn’t
eaten for five days. Paul: I remember that, yeah. Geoff: Which is an interesting observation
– Paul: And ketones go down quite a bit too. Geoff: Yeah, ketones we consumed. So, let’s talk about some of the physiological
observations but I also want to talk about the spiritual, mental portion of it as well. Paul: Do you remember your workout regimen
because I know that I had to switch my plans. Geoff: Yes. Well, so basically, one of the things as of
reading a literature, again, we didn’t just decide to do this on a drunken Vegas trip. We actually at this time probably had about
year-and-a-half of fasting experience – Paul: Right. Geoff: And also got much, much deeper into
literature, you know, having done a number of podcasts with Jason Fung. Some of his literature and his essays around
growth hormone elevating during longer fast was interesting to me and then stimulating
mTOR, stimulating muscle would help enhance and preserve that lean muscle tissue. So, I would try to do a mix workout of doing
some aerobic and then making sure I do lifts. What was interesting for me was that my lifts
were consistent. I didn’t lose that much power actually. But my cardio was like down. It was like very painful to – like I didn’t
want to run. It was like maybe I just wanted to walk on
the treadmill for like 10 minutes. Like walk, like a half mile or something. Every other exercise, yeah, I think my strength
was retained. Paul: Yeah. I concur with that. Especially, so I used to do a lot of strength
training during my 60 day fast, so I would – Geoff: 60 hour fast. Paul: 60 hour fast. Stop eating on Sunday and then usually I’d
like a strength training either on Monday or Tuesday depending on whatever. And the first couple of times it was hard,
but once – you would kind of like wake up hungry, but once you kind of like committed
and starting to really like go at it and do it and do your first lifts and like warm up,
it kind of like got rid of hunger and just got back into it and you would be able to
maintain strength. I actually never really noticed a difference. I mean, first of all, if you’ve eaten the
night before, you starve like a lot of stored glycogen potentially, but I have no problems
working out, fast heavy. Doing like heavy lifts like fasted. However, on day like four, five or maybe five,
six or seven, I actually just like canceled the workouts because I felt like pretty just
like generally like low-energy. Um, so I don’t know what happened. I mean, I think obviously the fast got more
and more extreme over time. But I think within like I would say a medium
fast of like two to three days, I have no issues doing strength training. But it was quite difficult for me on the second
half of the seven day fast, I end up not doing anything. Geoff: Yeah. So I wonder – there I also had a little bit
of a challenge I remember on day five, six, seven and I started doing a lot more electrolyte. So it had a lot more salt water and potassium. So I imagine that probably some of the challenges
for these longer fast, especially if you’re exercising that you’re sweating. You’re losing, excreting sodium potassium. And then when you already are fasting, your
insulin drops and you excrete more of these electrodes out through your urine. So you’re essentially compounding a lot of
electrolyte loss. So I remember maybe day five, day six, having
some salt that really helped me be able to continue to work out. Paul: I think we are all – Geoff: Did you try salt? Paul: Yeah. We were all I think just passing around like
different salts and electrolytes in the office. I think a big part of it is also like the
mental aspects. I think it takes like a little bit of commitment
to be able to just like push yourself to just like go hard into the exercise when fasting
and then your body kind of adapts and metabolism takes over. But maybe I just didn’t have that for day
five and day six. Because again, like the first couple of times,
I tried working out fasted, that was really hard. Not sure if it was because I was just like,
oh, I’m working on fasted for the first time and it was like a new thing and I just didn’t
believe I could do it or because I actually got like metabolically adapted and became
easier. So I’m not really sure what it actually is. Geoff: Yeah. Do you remember your physiological biomarkers? I remember I think Zill was helpful pulling
up some of the historical records. At end of the seven days, I was at 5.4 millimole
ketones and my blood sugar was in the 60s. Very, very deeply in ketosis and there’s this
notion that Thomas Seyfried has popularized the keto and glucose index so very, very deep
in therapeutic ketosis there. Do you remember like all those specific biomarkers
and all that? Paul: I don’t unfortunately. I remember the cycles, right? I remember ketones going up throughout the
day and then going down as you went to bed. And especially waking up with relatively low
ketones and having another kind of like dip in ketones and rising blood glucose during
the workouts like we talked about, but I don’t remember the absolute values. Geoff: These tools used to be only available
to professional athletes or people that were you know very, very sick and now as consumers,
we can use this actually understand and inform ourselves on how to live a better life. I want to move towards – Paul: Speaking of that real quick, one of
the ways I learned the most about food and improve my diet was actually through the CGM’s. The Continuous Glucose Monitors. Because you can kind of look at different
foods and look at the label and kind of get a sense of whether it’s good for you or bad
for you, but there’s nothing quite like eating something that you think is fine and just
seeing the blood glucose spike. And just kind of like getting that empirical
understanding like, “Oh, wow!” Like, you know, “This food actually is like
XYZ better or worse than that food.” And just seeing those reps, right? Sounds like a really valuable thing that I
think we all did. Geoff: Yeah. I mean did you have like an experience – I
remember this very, very clearly where I was flying to Boston. I was – I had my CGM on, I am like, I want
to eat a double whopper with a full thing of coke and this is very, very early in our
fasting keto days. I am like, “I deserve this. I want to eat this.” Bam! Bam! Bam! And then I see my blood sugar literally spiked. I think like 220, 250. This is like almost double, triple where you
really want to be. I was like, “Wow!” I think we all know that drinking a sugar
bomb and a fast food hamburger isn’t necessarily good for you. Right? Paul: Yeah. Geoff: We all know that. But just seeing the numbers. Paul: Yeah. Just seeing like it affects your body. It’s like, “Hey, this is your blood glucose
going up like right now.” Was is it worth it? You kind of like damn! People can tell you like, “Hey, drinking a
coca-cola with like 30 gram of sugar is bad. but like once you actually do that, you can
measure the impact, you really I think have a different mindset and view around it. And it’s easier to be like, hey! I actually know exactly what this does to
my body. It’s not just me trusting some scientists
in the air. Like we did it we measured it. We tried it. I think that that’s like really powerful in
terms of like educating yourself. Geoff: Let’s move on to the spiritual cognitive
psychology behind fasting. Almost every single religious culture or tradition
has some sort of long fasting. I am happy to share my experience but I’m
curious to get your broader thoughts around the psychological aspect of fasting especially
for seven days. Paul: Yeah, just a couple notes on the spirituality
and I think camaraderie aspect of fasting. I’m actually Jewish, so I’ve done like Yom
Kippur which is a 24-hour fast and I remember that was like crazy hard, like so hard. Geoff: Yeah. Paul: And then when I did it like after my
like 60 hour fast, I was like, “Ah, we’re chilling.” But it’s funny because you do it for like
abstinence and to kind of like get forgiveness for your sins, right? And I think it kind of like ties back to kind
of like out of the consumption culture they have in modern days. And like doing these fast, abstaining for
a little bit just kind of like resets your mental calibration on that stuff which is
interesting. A lot of like great relations are build by
doing experiences with people and I think. Geoff: Or shared suffering. Paul: Or shared suffering or whatever. And I think the more extreme the experiences
are, the deeper the relation we can build. And so I think by doing like a hard fast and
having these shared experience around like being hungry and looking at like food porn
together and you know, going through the ups and downs, you can actually build like really
good relationships. And I think that was something that absolutely
brought our company closer together because we would obviously work and do corporate kind
of intellectual work where we would have this whole camaraderie around these, call it challenges
or biohacks that really kind of like put us through these struggles together. And I think that’s like when you look at people
like organizing a team building summits, you do like these challenges and all these like
kind of like manufactured exercises to do that. And we were just like doing it just organically
and normally. So I think there’s definitely like a really
nice camaraderie aspect. And then lastly on the psychological side,
that’s absolutely true and that’s one of the reasons why I go back to fasting is, you’re
in a culture where it’s a snack and culture. It’s a heavy consumption culture. You have like food available all the time,
you have like breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, protein shake, you got these chocolate raisins. And when you kind of like do that over and
over again like the first time you have a snack, it’s easy to have it like a second
time and you kind of get into this loop. And so just abstaining from that from two
days and having that mental contrast, where like yo, actually like earlier this week I
didn’t have like any snacks. Like why am I going to snack like three times
on like Wednesday? You kind of you realize what you are doing
helps you kind of go back into this observer mode that looks down at like Paul doing his
whole dieting and being able to be self-aware. Like, “Hey, you don’t need to snack, you’re
just doing it because you’re stressed or hungry.” That’s like an important point. I think a lot of people especially in modern
cultures eat not because they’re hungry, they eat because they have some emotion. Whether that’s stress, hunger, boredom, joy. It could be anything, right? But being able to learn to to identify when
you are like real hungry and when you are emotional and crave food because it’s nice. Geoff: Yeah. I want to reflect on two thoughts there. One of the biggest things that I remember
from that experience was needing very little sleep and feeling very, very sharp. I remember this was probably after I had come
back from vacation from I believe New Zealand. I was jet-lagged, went right into a 7 day
fast. And then only needing to – partly I think
due the jetlag but also just like needing to sleep for 3-4 hours a night and then just
being able to like do workouts, be really productive at work and be very, very focused. So I am curious in terms of about the sleep. Did you feel like you had sleep requirements
change? And then from a mental acuity perspective,
I felt very lucid and sharp and level. It wasn’t necessarily like exuberant. I didn’t have any sort of euphoria per se. But very lucid, calm, focused. Paul: Yeah. I think a good way to describe it is from
a mental perspective, if you you’re at lunch and you go have this like Chinese buffet,
then you get back to – eat like a lot of carbs, a lot of like glucose and you come back to
the office, and you’re maybe at like -40%. Your hands are kind of clammy and you’re kind
of like sluggish. I think when you’re fasting, it’s like 40%
in the opposite direction where you feel like really kind of like sharp and light weight
on your mind. And so that’s definitely noticeable. Again, I didn’t feel euphoric either. It wasn’t like the greatest feeling in the
world. Some people actually do feel like that but
it wasn’t nothing like an amazing feeling. But it felt pretty good and sharp. When you’re pretty leaned and your body feels
like light, it’s like the same thing but for your brain. From a sleep perspective, it’s interesting
because a lot of people that I’ve talked to have completely different – fasting affects
them in different ways on the sleep side. So Michael Brandt for example and Gavin I
think had major difficulties sleeping when fasting. Geoff: Yeah. I had trouble sleeping as well. Paul: I never really had trouble falling asleep. The one thing I did notice was that I would
get real hungry at night. So around like 9, 10 P.M. then I would go
to sleep, and I’d be fine in the morning. Another day. Geoff: And that was I think the hardest part
actually. Like going to bed hungry, it was brutal . Paul: Going to bed hungry, yeah. That’s probably like the hardest part for
sure. Once you do it and you are like wait, “I am
going to wake up tomorrow not be hungry.” It helps like you cross that chasm a little
bit. Geoff: I remember I think after day three,
day four the tongue attenuates. Paul: Yeah. Geoff: Right. I think, I mean, there’s good early data issuing
that BHB drives [inaudible] which suppresses appetite which makes sense physiologically. And then one point that I wanted to reflect
upon was this notion of eating for boredom. And I remember when I first broke that fast
at the end of that seven days, I literally felt like the drug effect of serotonin dopamine
making me happy from that food consumption. I think that – that feeling that I’m acutely
because again, I think we all realized that food when you eat can be a pleasurable experience. But you don’t really know about it because
we just eat all the time. But I think after seven days, eating that
first like a little bit of chicken broth, a little bit of dates, I think I had an avocado,
it literally was a good euphoric experience eating. And I think just having that experience realizing
that, yes, food is a very potent mechanism that drives dopamine, that drives serotonin,
allows me to better understand, okay, I need a control food and not let food control me. Curious in terms of, as you broke that seven
days, you know, that fast, how was your experience? Paul: That was the same for me. Like I remember that beef jerky I was smelling
all week. I like grab that bag and just like had a couple
pieces and it was euphoric. Like it was the best beef I’ve ever had. Geoff: [cross-talk] Paul: I was almost chewing up everything. Like I just hadn’t tasted anything in seven
days, like no taste, you know? Feeling those flavors hit the palate. I don’t even know if it was like the food
getting digested or your body like consuming the energy versus experiencing those flavors. So I don’t I don’t know exactly what it is
but that was absolutely euphoric. Geoff: Okay let’s zoom back out in terms of
best practices and leadership. I think we talked [unintelligible] for us
as individuals. What is your broad sense over the last four
years going from an individual contributor to running teams now? Running multiple teams across the multiple
domains as a VP? What are some of the biggest takeaways, tactics,
best practices that you would give advice to for people that are currently managing
teams or want to be a manager later down in their career? Paul: So there’s two books that I read that
were pretty like transformative there. The first one is called CEO From Within or
The Great CEO Within. And it is just like a CEO coach who is it’s
like dumping like a bunch of valuable insights. And the other one is Principles by Ray Dalio. And the interesting thing is that I think
I learned and figured out like a few things on the leadership side by myself or from blogs. But when I read both of those books, I felt
like my knowledge that like you know, two or three out of ten. And they’re showing me like the ten out of
ten picture. So again, they were showing me like all the
mistakes they made and I kind of like inherited like, I fast forward like ten, fifteen years. One of the important principles that stuck
was the importance of fast iteration speed. And I think that’s something from like a project
base. So, like if you are building a website and
you’re able to iterate fast, you’re able to get like faster compounding growth. Same thing on the finance side. If you’re able to get results faster. Iteration is super important and that’s something
that is not necessarily always put in perspective like what that means from team perspective. When you look at your team, you kind of can
step back and look at it as a system, right? Your team and proses [sp] and iteration is
really important. And so one way to kind of like improve iteration
is by making sure that everyone on your team has really clear goals. And like the goals need to be – you need to
be able to like look at them all the time and it’s really kind of like a self-grading
criteria. So if you’re working with someone and they
don’t know what it means to do a good job, it’s really hard for them to self-correct. So imagine you’re getting – you’re doing a
– you’re doing the SAT, and you’re filling your grades in. And then like three weeks later you get your
results. That’s like three weeks where you don’t know
what you can do to improve. You can try but you don’t know. Imagine if you’re doing the SAT and like every
question you got like instant feedback; Correct, wrong, here’s how you can improve. There’s two ways you can do that as a manager. Number one is by being present and giving
you know, constructive criticism or positive feedback. And you can also make sure that like everyone
has their own grading criteria so that they can look at the work they’re doing and grade
themselves and kind of like self-improve faster than just this kind of like you know, loop
that needs to involve like a manager or something. That’s like super super important and especially
with people that are highly motivated and like owners and want to self-improve, I think
having that is really powerful. And I think a quick way to gut check whether
your goals are doing a good job is by asking your team members if they’re looking at their
goals on like daily or weekly basis. People appreciate that grading criteria because
they like knowing they’re doing like great work. So I think that’s like super important, it’s
like one concept. And another one that that’s important is one
of the most valuable things I’ve seen is making sure that whoever’s on your team is responsible
for kind of like one primarily thing. And their kind of like core responsibilities
only take up say 80 percent of their time. So you imagine you have two scenarios, you
have like one person working on two projects, Project A. Project B and they’re doing kind
of like you know, 40% to 60% of project A then 46% of project B and they’re doing their
job, they’re making progress but they don’t have that much time to kind of again, step
back and self-reflect. If you give someone just project A, they’ll
do more project A and they’ll be done with like their initial kind of like job requirements
or whatever in say – in the first 80% of their time. If you hire the right person, they’re not
going to check out for the rest of the 20% to go play video games. They’re going to read. They’re going to learn. They’re going to think what they can do better. And that’s I think when you really get call
it kind of like innovation or generation of like really great solutions. Run your team like you run your hardware. If you’re managing a data center, you’re not
going to run your hard drives at 100% utilization because they’ll burn out and fail. You run at 80%. And for different reasons, I think that applies
like really nicely to kind of like thinking about like how you run teams. Making sure that people have time to you know,
self-reflect and kind of like transition into the the god mode looking at your personal
work. I think that’s like super important. And if you overload people too much and give
them too much to do, then they’re just going to be kind of like, I will do this, this,
this, this, this, this, this, this this and you can do great work on a local scale but
you don’t have that kind of perspective to step back and really think outside the box
and be like, “Hey, are we even on the right track?” Geoff: And also that meta skill is a very
rare skill set. And so I think also hard interview for you
know, just reflecting about if I had to give best advice in terms of a high-performing
team, I think it is having one, an underlying mission that’s broader than just, “Hey, let’s
go make money.” I think it’s important that us as humans feel
valuable, meaningful with our art, with our work, that’s not just like, “Hey, I am trading
time for money.” Which unfortunately, I would say, is what
most of us are doing in terms of how we look at our livelihoods. Okay, I am going to trade this chunk of time
with this chunk of money so I can then use that money to like do that do stuff I actually
enjoy. And I think that’s pragmatically I think most
people have to make some sort trade-off there. I think some of us are luckier, can ski more
of their time towards making a light living through work that they actually find meaningful. So one, I think having like a core mission
that’s inspiring is very helpful. Then two, that self-selection part in terms
of selecting for people that are meta aware, that can self-improve. I think you exactly right. I think certain types of workers, you treat
as if they’re hamps [?] and hard drive. But that’s not necessary give me a high performing
team because you’re literally utilizing them as a resource. It’s like human resource as opposed to a hardware
resource. The best teams I’ve seen everyone’s a person. Everyone is multifaceted and you almost want
to encourage that kind of self-correction, self-learning. I think you’ve been a great culture banner
out of there. And as we do some of these retreats and these
off sites talking about reaching out to mentors learning having some of these books that you
have given out to some of your teammates. Obviously like the third interesting aspect
in which you mentioned before is this notion of shared experience or shared suffering. Companies have tried to do this by making
these like fake corporate treats which I think give you some sort of camaraderie. Paul: I think they work. Geoff: But if it’s truly organic, if it’s
not contriving, it’s even more powerful. Paul: I agree. I agree. Geoff: Right. So I think if they can work it as a tool,
if you actually have a shared meaning for a shared underlying mission that’s really
authentic to a shared experience I think that’s a magic combination. Paul: Well, the nice thing is that we got
all of this camaraderie and team building perks for free because – Geoff: It’s organic. Paul: – We were excited and in just doing
this either way. And so you know, the company and the team
gets free value from these shared experiences that happen organically. And I think speaking of that, I think one
of the things we filter for and I think we pitched heavily when we hire especially across
like different cultures is, this is kind of a – the pitch is like, ‘Hey, you’re really
smart. You can do great work at every possible company,
but we want to make sure that you working at, you joining the company, joining H.V.M.N.
is going to be like the best move of your career like two years from now.” Like whatever you do, you can join H.V.M.N.
and feel really good that you’re going to grow massively in two years. And I think that’s also like super important
from a team perspective because it goes back to having a job where you’re trading your
time for money. And having a job when you’re actually like
generating excitement and fulfillment, right? Geoff: Yes. Paul: And so, you don’t have to go like trade
your money on the weekends to be fulfilled, you’re actually fulfilled because you’re learning
and growing. And a lot of the people we work with that
we’d like to work with and we screen for, you know, the job doesn’t feel like work,
it feels like people are intellectually curious. They like enjoy solving hard problems. They enjoy working. They enjoy learning. That really helps with like retention. The employees feel fulfilled and so it’s like
they’re not like necessarily looking for like a better bidder in terms of the salary. People get better over time. So the team kind of like self-heals and continuously
improves. So, you can have like the same people on a
team in say 2010, and then like that same team in 201BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBB2. I don’t know why I’m saying those years but
like two years later is just like much better because we all work together to improve. Geoff: Yeah. That’s actually an interesting point in terms
of really seeing efficiency grow over these compounding relationships. I think it is one interesting observation. And then two, I think a lot of first-time
entrepreneurs or early first-time executive try to like hide the ball where it’s like,
“Oh, this is like actually the best thing for you.” And not being open about the fact that everyone
is pretty smart and understands like there’s like a transaction from a company to employee. And I feel like a lot of times like the corporate’s
peak is like, this is the best company ever. Like, just invest your entire energy in there. Be in your box. Paul: Yeah. Geoff: And I think one, it’s not – I think
people are too smart. There is just too much information everywhere
to understand when people are not being treated fairly. And then two, people are just pretty mostly
faceted, right? Like a company wants a software engineer to
just be of super-efficient software engineer. But a software engineer probably likes improving
their health. They probably have different – they probably
are also into design or content or whatnot. And I think having a working collaborative
environment where people can explore those interests within the context of the job I
think really makes that employer, that person not just feel like a, again, a human resource
but part of an organic tribe that’s like growing. And again, I think that self-healing is an
interesting word or just self-evolving. Where it’s not just like, hey, there’s just
some genius people at the top like they just have it all figured out. No, this is like a very dynamic, adaptive
organism that self evolves and self-adapts the requirements of the problems that we’re
trying to solve. Paul: Yeah. Now, I think and related to that is I think
like how you approach those conversations and coming to them with I think two things. Number one is like radical transparency. So being really upfront with what the opportunity
is and like what can happen. And then also as a manager, not making the
call for your employees and not being the one that generates the options. I think like a lot of – I think what I’ve
seen a lot of success for is actually going to the person you’re working with or the person
you’re managing be like, hey like start off by you telling me like where you want to grow. Like, what excites you? Like, Do you want to – for an engineer, do
you want to get really good at DevOps? At management? At like design? And ask them like, what excites you the most? And just listening. Right? They’ll tell you. Like they’ll be like, yeah, it would be dope
if I got really good at front-end. And then you can e like, Okay, great. Like that’s great. We need some front-end work too. Let’s make sure we do some like pairing sessions,
right? And it’s quite easy to do, it just takes I
think like an open and ego free mindset. Where it’s like, hey, I am not going to tell
these people what they want to do. What’s best for them. You can literally have like a two-way conversation
about it where you look at like, hey, what’s the kind of best overlap between your worldview
and where you want to go and what the company has to offer and then we can just pick and
choose and really be open about what the best fit is. Geoff: AndI think that’s a very mature, sophisticated
new understanding of leadership. So I think again, the very junior leaders
like I am super alpha, like I’m going to micro everything. And I think maybe that is the case when you
don’t have top caliber people working with you. But I just know that- Paul: I don’t even think so because everybody
has ambitions, everybody can learn and grow. Geoff: Yeah. Maybe it translates to all levels and skill
sets and experience sets. But I think, really I think it is about environment
around to be productive and aligning incentives in a way that’s very natural organic. I think that’s like the magic trick. That’s kind of hard to pull off. Paul: One of the other things that I’ve seen
that has been really impactful from a manager standpoint, a leadership standpoint is having
like a platform for feedback. And again, this helps with iteration. So, you can think of your team and your processes
and your work as like a machine. And as we have more people involved, you as
one part of the machine can’t spot all the weaknesses. So, it’s really important to have like literally
forced context or feedback so that the person on this part or that part can kind of like
help diagnose issues because that’s how you improve the machine. You are like hey, I might be in the passenger
seat and I might have someone in the wheel and I need the person the wheel to notice
that the wheel’s broken or else we’re never going to know. Especially when you work with a lot of people
in different cultures, so I think our company is very interesting because we have people
that are fully American raised. We have people that have grown up in different
countries like Europe and America, we have people in the UK, we have people in Minsk
Belarus and like Amsterdam right? Completely different cultures. And so, everyone comes with different perspectives. So it’s really important to kind of like force
context or feedback and be like, hey, let’s actually just take time to reflect and come
up with these diagnosis of issues and encouraging everyone to be kind of again, self or comes
down to self-awareness, self-aware about. Not just their work but like everyone else
and having a really like open platform. One level deeper is like, okay, cool, you
notice an issue, what next? I think one of the most valuable tools is
the idea of like a proposed solution. So if you come up with an issue whether it’s
like, hey – whether it’s like hey, I think that air condition is like too hot or too
cold or like, hey, we’re losing a lot of money on this initiative, right? It can be anything literally require people
to come up with a proposed solution. That can be a long form like a really fatuous
solution or just a quick kind of like exercise to think about, hey, I might not be the best
person to come up with a solution but let me actually just like give an attempt. And that helps with two things. Number one, it shows like hey, we’re here
to solve problems together and it’s our job to find problems and solve them and it’s you’re
not kind of like complaining. Complaining is good, but you need to complain
with like also backing up with a solution. I think complaining is great because it’s
really just like part of self-awareness. But it’s a different kind of like cultural
thing than just shelving up like problems all the time. You’re like shelving a problem but you all
saying like, here’s how I think we can solve it. And a lot of times you’ll find that the people
who you least expect to be able to solve the problem better, the best, will have like a
really creative solution. And so, we typically get a lot of value from
that. And then again like on one-on-ones, I think
as a manager you’re not here to necessary tell people what to do. You help guide people. And so, if you’re working with an engineer
and they identify a weakness, like maybe they were like unproductive one week. Having them actually generate solutions, they
might be great solutions and they’ll be like so much buying because it’s like, hey, I found
this problem and here’s how I think I can solve this problem. No one’s telling me to solve this problem
that way, I literally just came up with a way to solve this problem. And I think as a manager, you can kind of
make sure the solution is the correct one or a good one. But having those solutions come up organically
again is like super, super valuable. Like again instead of like hey, you did something
wrong. Go do this, it’s like hey, we noticed something
went wrong and that problem is often self-diagnosed. And you start building a culture of like hey,
okay you know, I fucked something up. Here’s how I can improve. And I think that’s how like a lot of our company
cultures evolved through this process of again, you’re designing a larger scale process for
self-improvement for the machine by having all of the notes self-improve and then also
having these wider meetings every quarter where you kind of like collaboratively try
to self-improve on a bigger level. Geoff: I think that’s brilliantly stated. I think it’s not enough to just flag a problem. It’s like, okay, there’s a problem, also bring
a solution and let’s figure out together. Paul: I think there’s a lot of people that
talk about complaining being bad. Like I love complaining and people that complain. It’s like a sign that you care and want to
do something better, right? And then it’s like the attitude around the
complaint that’s kind of interesting. You can complain and not do anything about
it or complain and have a proposed solution, right? Geoff: Yeah. Well, I think just riffing a little bit on
that, I think some of the most interesting people have opinions, right? I think if you don’t complain, you just have
no opinions. Paul: Right. Geoff: So I think almost this in terms of
which maybe is just, is a kind of an interesting secondary and actually just potentially screened
for in terms of talent is that opinionated can be dangerous because you can be too dogmatic,
but I think it’s a good sign that this person cares. If you don’t care about anything, then you
don’t have any opinions. Having opinions, having things to complain
about show some sophistication around their observation of the world. But then the second when you’re on that you
say okay, I got to make sure that this person is also self-improving on their opinions and
not just dogmatic. Paul: And that’s a really good principle from
like Ray Dalio who talks about the idea of idea meritocracy. So it’s really important to have these opinions,
but it’s really important to have a mindset where like, hey, you don’t really care where
the opinions come from and you’re open to having these things challenged. And like may the best idea wins or the most
correct idea wins. And so, when you have like a balance of someone
who’s opinionated and cares but that can also be self-aware enough to kind of function in
a idea meritocratic world which is like hey, if person A who’s really a junior came up
with like this better plan or idea and it’s like provable that it’s a great idea, then
great. Like let’s do it, let’s embrace that idea. Geoff: Yes. Yes, exactly. I’ve learned a lot over the last four plus
years working with you side by side I think in terms of not just leadership and culture,
and it’s also been awesome to watch you grow and I think hopefully we have a much more
to learn and grow and evolve in. Come up with own Maxims and books and principals
down the line in the coming decades. Paul: So for folks that want to tune in to
get your updates and thoughts, I know you’re reasonably active on social, where do people
find your personal thoughts notes? I’m mainly on Instagram, but it’s more the
play side of life. I don’t have that much content around like
work stuff. I think it’ll be interesting to do a little
bit more stuff there. I think this podcast is probably like a pretty
good deep dive for right now. Geoff: Cool. Yeah, I look forward to having more of these
conversations. I really see this as a first installment of
a dialogue around leadership and culture and creating high performance. Thanks so much. Paul: Yeah, it’s been great learning and growing
with you Geoff. Geoff: Yeah, cheers. Announcer: If you’re interested to learn more
about H.V.M.N., visit Thank you for tuning in.

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