Guy Raz is the host of the National Public Radio podcast How I Built This, where he interviews entrepreneurs, innovators and executives from all over the world about the companies they’ve built and the stories behind their success.
We spoke with Raz about his career and what he has learned from talking with many innovators and business leaders. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q. You’ve said that you think we’re going through a renaissance of entrepreneurship. Can you expand on that?
A.When I was a kid there was this feeling that high design and quality products came from Japan and Germany, that they were designed there and even manufactured there. I think what’s been remarkable over the course of my lifetime has been to see this transition to the idea of quality more often than not being products that are designed and created in the U.S.
“It seems like there is a real spirit around the idea of entrepreneurship. It’s something that younger people coming out of college want to do.”
I graduated college in the late 1990s, and everyone I know, with very few exceptions, either went to graduate school or went to go look for a job with a company. And that was their career. And that still happens today, but I think many, many, many more young people finish college and think, “All right, what can I start? What can I try out? What can I build?” And that to me is a big difference.
Q. What themes run through successful entrepreneurs’ lives?
A. I think if there is one meta-characteristic, one overarching characteristic that unites all of them, it is optimism and the unshakable belief in the thing that they are working on or the thing that they’re doing. And it may not ultimately be the thing that they succeed in, but there is an unshakable belief in it.
Q. What about hustle?
A. I think it is the most important part of starting a business. I think it is a really hard part, because the hustle component tends to favor extroverts over introverts, but many of the people who are have been featured on the show are introverts. … But what they’re able to do is focus on product development and on other kinds of innovations and partner with a co-founder who has the skills to make the deals and make the sales. But ultimately everyone is hustling, everyone is trying to prove that what they have to offer is worth considering, is worth looking at.
Q. The people you interview talk about the challenges of starting a business. What draws you to that?
A. What I found to be interesting is that some entrepreneurs that I talked to, they’re reluctant to talk about failure and I have to push it out and tease it out of them. And explain to them that it’s really important and it’s actually a real act of generosity to talk about failures, especially when you are not successful yet, because you are essentially saying, look, failure is a natural part of any process, and if you don’t fail you can’t learn how to succeed. I really think that to a person they all believe that.