Episode 11
Laird Hamilton, big wave surfer and wellness entrepreneurHow to build a brand with integrity by taking calculated risks

Laird Hamilton subsidized his surfing career taking odd jobs, everything from construction to modeling and acting, so he could be in the surf as much as possible. As his career took off, he built a personal brand with integrity by taking calculated risks, using a “formulaic process” and personal belief in products to build a new life as an entrepreneur. Laird shares what he’s learned from founding a wellness empire — and from the ocean itself.

Laird Hamilton, a big wave surfing athlete and wellness entrepreneur, is no stranger to danger and risk. Before he was a household name for breaking records, Laird took on many odd jobs (including modeling and acting) to fuel his true passion and vocation as a professional and competitive surfer and athlete.

He took on opportunities to further his career and build a personal brand. From a humble recipe he created for his own use, he built a health and wellness company, Laird Superfoods. His company is based on the tenets he used as a spokesperson: honesty and belief in the product.

Laird sits down with the Entrepreneur’s Studio to share how he went from a “young daredevil” on the most dangerous beaches in the world to the successful health and wellness entrepreneur he is today.

This is part 1 of 2 from our conversation with Laird Hamilton. Want to be alerted when we drop the conclusion of this conversation? Visit theentrepreneurs.studio and SUBSCRIBE for notifications and other exclusive content from The Entrepreneur’s Studio.

Below is an edited transcript of the conversation. In the episode, you’ll hear:

  1. How he built a personal brand with integrity, leading to his business, Laird Superfoods
  2. How to “speed and take chances” to make calculated risks
  3. A “formulaic process” to innovation, entrepreneurship
  4. How to relentlessly pursue risk — but not at all costs

Chris Allen: It really is an honor to have you here.

Laird Hamilton: Thank you very much.

Chris: I would say there are a lot of people that are in and around the Entrepreneur’s Studio that have deep respect for you as a person, as a human, as a professional athlete, as somebody who’s influencing a lot of things and as an entrepreneur.

Laird: Thank you.

A young daredevil finds his ‘lifelong work’ in big wave surfing

Chris: And so, it’s a privilege to have you here. So, there’s a lot of things that I’d say you’re well known for. And one of them is these giant waves. So, is it true, in 2000, that you surfed the heaviest wave on record?

Laird: According to the so-called experts. The experts said yes.

Chris: The experts said yes. And you’re like, “It was just awesome.”

Laird: There’s always that.

Chris: There’s always that. So, what’s that like? We were just sitting here talking about instincts and all that kind of stuff. And you have to be, probably, pretty aware of your surroundings to surf something like that and come out.

Laird: The truth about that particular wave was, it was a culmination of a lot of lifelong work, but then lifelong belief. And it represented something that I had hoped for, dreamed of, thought possible, but never saw kind of thing. The fact that I got accolades from the industry or the audience, that was the byproduct of, I think, of the dream. And again, on that day, there was a lot of instincts going on, well, first of all, to make it that I accomplished it. But then also to the fact that it happened at all.

Chris: It’s powerful. You just said it’s something that you dreamed of. What’s maybe some early surfing aspirations? Talk about the birth of the dream.

Laird: I was obnoxious as a little kid. I grew up at the most aggressive beach in the world at the time. It would drown people, I wouldn’t say daily, but monthly for sure. A lot of people drowned on the beach that I grew up on. And then all of the great wave riders during that era came from all over the world to test their skills. And they were walking through my front yard.

Laird: So as a little boy, or little man, whatever you want to call it.

Chris: Young sir.

Laird: I was empowered to do it, do what the men were doing. And the environment was conducive for that. It was a serious, threatening world that I lived in and was raised in. And then, it just went from where I was there to another more remote, more threatening place. But I was known to be obnoxious in my belief that I could do something in it. I think that confidence that you believe, especially when you’re little. You know Santa’s real and you know you’re going to be great, kind of thing. Life hasn’t just beaten you down with a club yet, and you retain that optimism because you’re ...

I always say if you take a little kid to a scary movie, it’s scary when you’re a little kid. And then you get a little older, and it’s less scary because you’ve seen a bunch of scary movies and you realize that they’re just making them and they’re movies. But when you’re little ... I think that was a big piece of it. A big piece of it was that I was highly impacted by my environment in a really good environment to be impacted.

Laird: And then I had an incredible mom too. My mom was amazing at cultivating my imagination. So she was a big proponent of read you all the “Lord of the Rings,” read you the “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” read you “Dune,” read you all these crazy books when I was young. My mom read me so many books as a young person, I think it affected my reading, because it took me a while to really get good at — I’m probably not even good now at reading — but I can read, let’s just put it that way. I wouldn’t go “good.” “Good” would be a little bit of a stretch.

Chris: “I don’t want to read in public.”

Laird: That’d be a stretch. Good, no. If I look at it, I’d go, “There was a lot of things that lined up, that came together to make it happen.” And then you had to ultimately survive.

Chris: How was it being a kid at this aggressive beach? What was the trajectory to start figuring out how to surf these giant waves?

Laird: My stepdad has a saying: “Big wave riders are born and not made.” And so, I think that I had the inclination. Well, first of all, I was a little daredevil, or whatever you want to say. I was a thrill seeker. I’m the kid that when you turn your head, he climbs on top of the swing set and jumps off. I’m doing stuff that, I think for my mom, it was very hard on my mom, because it was, “Wow! He’s lived all the way till four. Now he’s lived till six. He’s made it to eight.”

Chris: These birthdays are worth celebrating.

Laird: These are big birthdays. These are survival birthdays. And so, I think I had that naturally. I think I had naturally ... The story is, “Oh! You jumped off a giant cliff when you were at this age. And you did ...” And so I think I naturally was drawn to that.

And then the environment that I was in, that’s where a lot of the respect came from. And everyone could say, “How can you be poor? You’re living in Hawaii.” But we were poor. We had an outhouse. We lived in a house that had a bare tin roof that when it rained really hard... But we had a roof, so I won’t complain. But when it rained hard, you couldn’t watch TV. And the TV had rabbit ears with aluminum foil, and there was two channels. And you’d get to the conclusion of the movie, and it would start raining, and you’d put your head and you couldn’t hear what happened. But you get the idea.

So I had that kind of, I would say, discrimination? I had holes in my clothes. And our cars had bad mufflers. And you got teased at school. And then I was also fair. In a Hawaiian world, I looked like a descendant of Captain Cook…

Chris: Didn’t go well..

Laird: …which didn’t exactly go towards my help. And so I had those. And then thrill seeker, and then I have this thing. So then again, chemistry and the ocean is equality. It’s equal. I always say, “We’re all equal before a wave.” I don’t care who you are, what you got, come over here. I don’t care how smart, how rich, how strong. I put you in the water. We’re in the water together. It’s just you, me and the wave. And so it’s, what do you got? What do I got? Nice environment. Good environment for, I would say equality, but good environment to establish some sort of equilibrium. And then, you have this thing where you’re really drawn to it. So as I developed, learning how to swim in some of the most rugged waters in the world.

And go from there as I develop. Surfing’s interesting where people just have a cap. They just go along and then all of a sudden they get to a certain height, and they’re good. A certain height wave and they’re good. And by the way, they’re good for their whole life. It’s not like they change and go and the guys that really are drawn to big surf. Sometimes they don’t even surf unless it’s big. You don’t even know the guys, all of a sudden, you never seen this guy all year, and all of a sudden he comes out of his construction truck, or his hole whatever. And he is like, “Here he comes.” And he might not even be talented.

You’re like, “This guy can barely surf.” But he just has the courage and the draw, he’s drawn to the energy, that power, that power draws him. He goes there and then you’re... So, you have that group that... And then some of the group is that they’re good in little wave, they blur, they just do everything. But they keep going when the surf gets big. And that whole group that’s drawn to the giant wave, it’s a smaller group. It’s a lesser group. I think there is a mechanism, there’s a certain DNA... It’s like the first group that you send out into the field, whatever you like. You go, “Hey, you guys go there and go to the front and charge.”

Chris: These are the SEALs.

Laird: And so, it’s a little bit of that. So you have that. And I just felt the best there. That was the thing that I was consistently drawn to. And everything else around that was just a means to get there. A means to get to that spot. And the thing about big waves is that they just are elusive. So, it’s not a freebie. You don’t just get to go in your airplane and fly up and jump out whenever you want to. You can’t. This is like-

Chris: You got to be paying attention, and you have to be available.

Laird: And you have to be ready. So you have all these things that have to happen, which makes it... You got to have some dedication if you’re going to go at it seriously and not kind of—

Chris: As a hobby.

Laird: Or just underprepared. So, what do we say? “There’s old and there’s bold. There’s no old bold.” It’s like, you go about certain things in a way that you can keep doing it. And I think that’s a big piece of longevity. It’s interesting when dolphins are attacked, they form a ball. And they put the mothers and the babies in the center, then the adults are around, and the young male adolescents are on the very outside. The first line of defense. The young, reckless. The reckless, you know those guys.

Chris: They’re ready.

Laird: Send them in. And there’s probably a few older reckless ones in that group, steering the boys because it’s their first time at it. But I think there is a certain group that just to just have that thing that they’re all, “It’s all good.” That’s what they do and you don’t really have a choice.

Chris: You’re a young guy. We’ll just say bold.

Laird: Some people have other words.

Embracing odd jobs and acting out of necessity

Chris: Other words. We’ll be kind. And so you’re bold, and you end up modeling and start doing movies and things like that. So, how’d you go from being this bold guy to doing that kind of work?

Laird: Desperation.

Chris: Oh yeah?

Laird: Oh yeah. Any way to fund that star. I left school. At the time, my mom was a single parent, so she could sign me out of school. And so I worked full time pouring concrete, and that was the first job I had, was concrete. And I grew up farming, fishing and around a lot of physical activity and then getting caught in riptide. So, I wasn’t scared of working. But I had to subsidize because they don’t pay you a lot and try to convince somebody to pay you to go ride a giant wave, it’s very difficult.

Chris: Very difficult.

Laird: They’re not quick to pay you or get a job like I have. “Can I have a job riding in these giant waves?” And they’re like, “Well, that’s dangerous and what do we get for that?”

Chris: “What would we get out of that?”

Laird: So, a lot of it was that. It was the subsidized, the availability, being like you said, being able to be available to do it, and if you have a conventional job where you’re working all week long, you’re not going to go, “Hey boss...” In Hawaii, you probably can a little bit, but if there’s a lot of surf, there’s going to be a lack of a lot of work. And so, you’re going to be fired. You’re going to not be working anymore. So that was out of that. That was really the motivation. And I wasn’t above that. I wasn’t like, “I’m not going to model. I’m not going to do a movie thing.” There’s a lot of room to be ready for a giant swell.

So, that was the driving force, because how can I subsidize my passion? What do I need? Whatever I needed to do, because I did it every other way. I did arborist, this thing, that thing, carpentry, mason... Name a job, I probably scrubbed rib pans. It’s not like I haven’t done them, every single one of those things. So probably sometimes more than I really wanted to, but those were all to subsidize it, get you...

Chris: To keep doing it. Somebody’s got to buy boards and stuff too. That’s super good. Well, what would you say has been... I know you were in “Point Break” for a couple of minutes, which is a pretty well-known risk-taking movie. What movie are you most proud of? I threw “Point Break” out there.

Laird: Those two really don’t go together. Those aren’t exactly connected —”movie,” “proud.” Let me see. Listen, I got to-

Chris: Well the documentaries, you’re right…

Laird: Well, I got to work alongside George Clooney, in “The Descendants.” That was an incredible opportunity because he’s a master at his craft. Doesn’t take it too seriously, in that sense. He doesn’t put a bunch of stress around it. That’s probably why he’s so good at it. And maybe he doesn’t have stress because he’s so smooth, or he’s so smooth because he doesn’t have stress. I’m not sure which-

Chris: Chicken or the egg on that one.

Laird: But that was fun. And anytime I’m getting to surf in something, the documentaries are different because they’re not feature films, which you realize are, it’s a very patient game. It’s a game. It’s a lot of waiting. It’s a lot of waiting. It’s a lot of hurry up and wait. There’s a lot of confusion in the process that makes it difficult. I’m usually more, “Hey, dig the ditch from here to there.” “OK. No problem.” It’s like, I don’t care if we’re digging all day at night, but at least we have this thing where this other one’s like OK…

Chris: Ready a destination.

Laird: Listen, I’ve had the fortune to be around a crazy different variety of films. Where I grew up they also shot a lot of movies, when I was a kid. So you had “King Kong” coming through, and you had just had all these giant films. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and this and that. So, I grew up in an environment where there was a lot of filmmaking. My mom’s friends were surf filmmakers and then later became the leading IMAX filmmakers. And so, I was around documentation and filming. And I always had an interest with it. So, a lot of times these were learning opportunities. I get to go learn different things. And the truth is some of the most important learning is learning what you don’t want to do. Get that list down quick. And then, because what you want to do that can be ever changing, but what you don’t want to do, let’s try to figure out or what situation you don’t want to get in. And back to the human trying to avoid danger-

Chris: Peril.

Laird: Let’s avoid peril, whatever that is. And what you don’t want to do is a form peril. So let’s work on that.

Surfing competitively, but only competing with himself

Chris: That’s good. Well you’re sitting here saying, you had to figure out how to subsidize this thing. And then all of a sudden, surfing competitions is something you can be a part of. And maybe the money aside, what was the first competition like for you?

Laird: The truth is, I watched my stepdad’s surfing competition. I was at these beaches where these competitions were occurring. And I was in a time in surfing where half the surfers were not competing, and then half the surfers were competing. So there wasn’t an obligatory need to have to compete. I could see that there was a way to have a career without having to be in competition.

Chris: OK.

Laird: So, when we were kids, we did these little surf contests and it was fun, and you with your buddies and you won a trophy and you got a t-shirt and cool, it was great. And then you got to be a man, and then there was money. And then the aggression came in, and I was probably, naturally too aggressive. This was not a good environment for me.

Chris: OK. So you wanted to compete with yourself?

Laird: Exactly. Well, that’s the most honest. That’s the least confusing, compared to... And surfing is difficult to create competition, in my opinion, because you’re talking about judgment. And so, it’s not so straightforward. You see what referees do in games, and it drives people crazy. Imagine if that was determining the outcome every single time? You’d be lost. Or at least I would be. For some people, it’s completely clear. So, I had when I was young, and then I was like, “You know what? I don’t like that environment.” I watched my dad compete. My stepdad. And one particular event was, he probably surfed as good as he had ever surfed in his competitive career.

And the other guy won by 0.01 and was crowned the world champion, but needed to win to be the champ. There was just some stuff that I was like, “I don’t think so. I think I’m going to be a no-go on that one.” And so, I did compete in windsurfing. I competed in paddleboard racing. I competed in things that had to do with time, because pretty straightforward.

Chris: Pretty straightforward.

Laird: I’m faster. I’m slower. Win, lose. It’s pretty clear. You can go home and cry about it, but you’re not that confused by it. And where this other thing is, you can have a phenomenal performance and be like, “Wow, that was kind of confusing. Why did...” So, that determined my... I was just like, “I’m not going to subject my performance to judgment. I’m going to let the audience...”

First of all, I’m going to do it for myself. Let’s just go to the top. I’ll come in and I’ll tell you how I feel about how I did, if you’re curious. And then, I can present my performance to people to observe, and they can tell me if they like it or not. And that’s probably a pretty good sign. It’s like being an artist, if you like the painting and you go, “I like that painting.” And then people come and go, “Hey, I really like that painting.” You’re like, “Oh cool. Then I was kind of on the right line when I said I liked it.” Kind of thing. “Or you know what? I don’t care if you don’t like it anyway, I like it.”

Chris: We keep doing it. I think that that approach is so innovative for the time that you were in, and the time you started doing it. You’re like skating, and all these action sports and surfing were there. And then, you’re like, “I’m going to unplug myself from this machine that’s being designed.” And you went and invented your own machine. Which is like, “I’m going to go surf the big stuff. I’m going to go get a lot of attention for doing that. And I’m going to find a way how to design my life around that and design my work habits and things like that. And I get to risk like crazy.”

Laird: Well, the truth is that I went to Europe, and the Europeans supported me. The French really love art. So, they loved my approach. I got a lot of support in Europe before I ever got any support in America. I went there as a windsurfer and knocked their champion off his speed title. And then, because they like art, then I was able to use all the things that I was doing. And I was curious about innovation, always, that’s always been a piece of... And part of it is I told somebody, “Listen, when you live down a dirt road, and you have one bicycle, and it breaks, you have a tendency to make things.” You make things, you do things, you fix things.

Chris: Resourcefulness comes out.

Laird: Gabby always asks me, she’s like, “How do you know how to fix all this stuff?” I go, “Well, because if you didn’t fix it, you didn’t have it.” So you just learn how to you MacGyver it. You just do.

Chris: And duct tape and baling wire.

Laird: Amazing. A little super glue, a little J-B Weld, whatever, you go.

Chris: You know how to get it done.

Laird: That’s right.

Building a personal brand with integrity that leads to entrepreneurship, Laird Superfoods

Chris: Well, that’s amazing. All of the way that you designed your career and what you pursued and how you pursued it, I think teed you up for what we like to talk about, which is entrepreneurship. So talk about how Laird Superfood was born and what went into it.

Laird: Well, the truth is, actually, it started early on in my career. And I looked at surfing, and I go, “Well, where are people making money in surfing?” And it wasn’t the surfers. It was the apparel companies. And I’m like, “The apparel guys. I got it.” And most of the apparel guys weren’t great surfers, but they used surfers to sell apparel. And so then, a guy that I knew had an apparel line and he liked my surfing. And so, I ended up becoming friends with him and got exposed to apparel. I went to sweatshops, I learned how to cut and sew, I learned how to... I wouldn’t say, I learned how to cut and sew, I just learned the process of making apparel.

Design, sales, the whole deal. Understand the whole market, saw the companies that were making like OP and Hang Ten and all these big clothing companies, and what they were doing. And in that process, I learned about brands. That the brand was the only intangible, it was the only thing that you couldn’t just make. You couldn’t just make a brand. You could make a brand and then develop a brand and make it become a brand. But that takes time.

Chris: And attention.

Laird: And history. And you don’t just become a brand without a lot of investment. And even then, if it’s not authentic, then people can sense it. And then it’s a bot brand. Then you just created something, and you didn’t really. So, that’s where I felt like... That’s when I pulled back from that and just thought, “Well, I just have to focus on my passion, my thing. And I am my brand.”

Chris: You’ll be the brand.

Laird: And I’ll be the brand. And in the beginning, a lot of companies were helping me build my brand, like my sponsors, Oxbow, American Express, anybody who used me, anybody who used Laird Hamilton in their advertising was spending money on my brand. And building my brand. Which was building my brand.

Chris: You’re building a personal brand and they’re adding their value, which builds you.

Laird: And it authenticates yours. Because if these companies, that are great brands, are saying, “He’s endorsing our brand.” That legitimizes your value. Anyway. But the thought that that’s the invisible thing, that you can... And then what do you put that on? So then eventually, what do you put that? If you have that brand, because eventually in the beginning you’re sponsored. And then eventually you get to a point where you need to sponsor yourself. You should be doing something for yourself. And so, apparel made sense. Hard goods, boards and stuff made sense. And then fitness, because fitness is something in my career that we’ve evolved into. Which is really health and wellness and longevity, and ultimately, just being a better organism. But Laird Superfood came out of, again, completely... Because none of it is a strategic plan.

Chris: OK.

Laird: None of it. Because if you said that, you wouldn’t be honest. Because too many things have to happen and people like to take credit for things that have occurred because they had a dream or an idea, but the way it manifested itself, wasn’t-

Chris: Wasn’t by design or intentional.

Laird: Which one? Don’t go there. I don’t care which one. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care which guy, brand, this, you name one. No. Not from them. They started there and then it became this, or their intention was, “I’ll connect you and all of a sudden you have Facebook,” or, “Hey, I’m going to sell some books online, and you have Amazon.” Things are lined up the way they are.

Chris: I would agree. Every conversation that we have in this room, there is an evolution that happens. There’s an initial discovery or a spark. Something they’re chasing and then there’s all the discoveries along the way. And then becomes this thing. Something that’s the theme that you and I have been talking about is this, I’m going to say, situational awareness or these instincts that you develop, and you’ve got to be able to recognize an opportunity. And so, you’re sitting here paying attention, you’re like, “Man, how do you make money doing this thing that I really love to do.” And you’re paying attention to apparel and hard goods and equipment and things like that. And then, when the fitness thing comes around, it’s something that probably you saw as an opportunity to be like, “This could be a good longer term...” Because there’s a window of time that, are you going to be able to sponsor apparel or be endorsed by an apparel company or no? When you’re not in the sport—

Laird: Even, do you want this?

Chris: This is true.

Laird: And I’m still, not in the sport and I could probably get it, but at a certain point, you’ve got to decide. And the one key element, for me, with any of them, any company I ever worked with, any business that I’m involved in, there’s always one key element, which is, “Got to be honest.” Got to be honest, got to be truthful. Meaning, you really use that. You really use that.

Chris: Oh, we saw you earlier.

Laird: No, I’m just saying, at one point, years ago, I was working with Mazda. I didn’t have a Mazda. I bought a Mazda because I’m not a hypocrite.

Chris: That’s good.

Laird: If I don’t use it and it’s not authentic to me if I’m not... I bring my watch. I’m using the watches. I use the watch as a tool. So I’m using it when I do the thing, whether it’s... So Superfood came from a product that I was using, I made a recipe that I was sharing with friends. It was working for me, that I developed to help me perform better, feel better, and just be everything an improvement to my life, right? And so, the apparel is like, “We’re making clothes, because I don’t see anything that worked, that I liked,” that is in a way that either the materials or the design, isn’t the way I want it.

The boards are coming from boards that I’ve developed with shapers over years that work for me. It’s like, I don’t want do something that there’s already something, why would I go reinvent the wheel? I’m not making tires. There’s 10 tire companies, I’ll just go buy good tires. So I want it to be authentic, that way, it’s easy to tell the truth. It’s easy to talk about it, then you’re not having to make up stuff and pretend like you like it. It’s easy. Don’t set yourself up to be like, “Well this is really good stuff, but I don’t drink it.” It’s like, “Wrong, bad dog.” We say bad dog.

And there’s been a couple moments when I’ve had to make compromises. I always say, “Easy to say no, when you can say no. Say no, when you can’t say no.” That’s hard. That’s the hard part. But at some point, you got to draw some kind of line, and you have to make decisions. And I’ve turned down a lot of opportunities over my career just because they were not honest.

Chris: They weren’t authentic to you.

Laird: I didn’t believe in this stuff. I was like, “That stuff’s crap. I’m not going to endorse that.” And then, I think you have a certain responsibility. I see it a lot with athletes where they’re doing things they don’t need to do. Do you really need to do that? Nah, you’re good. You don’t need to do that.

Why are you doing that? You’re making that seem OK to a kid who’s looking up to you and that stuff’s trash. And people can smell that. People can smell that, and I believe that sometimes it takes a lot longer for them to smell it than you’d like them to, but over time, people can sense your genuineness, your honesty, your sincerity. And again, back to the brand, what are the brand values? Like, “Hey, when I go to that brand, that stuff’s good.” That board, the clothes, that thing, whatever that brand’s associating with, I don’t have to be like... I don’t have to investigate. I don’t have to do, “Hey, let me look under the hood.”

And no, this stuff, they’re just trying to make a buck. We got to live and survive it, but where’s the line? Where do we make that line? So Superfood, completely authentic. That’s just coming from a recipe and coming from a belief. The boards that we’ve developed over the years, the foils we do, all these. It’s like, Land Rover, whoever, whatever the brand is, the quality of the brand, the kind of brand, what they stand for, we back them, or it’s the brands that we do personally, that we’re involved in. And it’s a battle.

It’s a battle to try to walk the line. Because you can be, “We’ll just compromise a little bit here and compromise a little bit there.” Pretty soon the whole thing’s compromised.

Chris: There’s a wake of compromises.

Laird: And so, being conscious of that and setting some guide rails. Again, guide rails, some of my guard rails were like, “You got to actually use this stuff.” You got to actually believe in it. You got to actually be like... It’s got to be real for you, because people, I think companies underestimate the intelligence of the customer. Sometimes they just act like, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.” And I think the customers underestimate themselves. They don’t even know that they intuitively can sense things when they’re a little bit... That just doesn’t seem right. We know that. We know that, and we’re learning that more and more. That’s probably why we’re having more isolated, compartmentalized groups and we’re not disabled to have one broad thing. And then everybody goes, it’s like people are scrambling right now. Because I think that tool, that device that we’re using it’s spreading lies, but it’s spreading truths. What do we say? Bright light, dark shadow.

‘Speed and take chances’ to make calculated risks

Chris: It’s creating the polls. And the thing that, I’d say, is striking me. Just to get going into a deep conversation with you, you’re a value-centric guy, integrity, values I’m picking up on, integrity, authenticity, and then innovation. And these are things that you push the envelope because it’s something you believe. Which ultimately has a lot to do with, you were in an environment early in your life that was conducive to, I want to have fun, I want to take risks and you were pushing the envelope. And that carried into this whole... The values thing is important, but then you have figured out how to take calculated risks. And I think that is something that entrepreneurs have in them.

I don’t know if entrepreneurs are born or made. Who knows, I think everybody’s a little bit different, but what are some of the things that... What’s a story that had specifically to do with entrepreneurship? It could be Superfood, that is like, you had a belief in something that was going to happen, and you had to make a decision that was going to be pretty risky in order to bring something to life. What’s a story that would resonate with other entrepreneurs who have been through it?

Laird: With Superfood in particular, you’re talking about having people eat something. There’s a certain level of risk for that, with that. Again, it’s ingestibles, will it do for other people what it’s doing for me? There’s a daily battle of trying to make things affordable. So, you’re taking a certain risk by... We could probably go more, I would say, boutique, but we could go more high-end and be like, “Cool.” And that would probably make the business easier, first of all. We could just be cool with it, in that lane. But because we were trying to get it to people who need it the most?

Chris: OK.

Laird: That’s a risk, that’s a big risk. Because we’re trying to get it to people that... And so we have to make it affordable. And in that process, we could jack it, and put a few more whistles on it, and still be in the same values and still be covering everything. But that’s one thing I think that’s an ongoing battle. Again, risk, a lot of it is its exposure. Is it a one-time risk or is it a continual risk?

There’s a bunch of different kinds of risk. There’s expanded risk, where you’re just on the edge the entire time. And the way the rules of the universe are that the longer you’re in this position, the more chances there are that something happens. If we just go to the edge and we come back, then there was a moment when you were vulnerable. And so, what is that? Those are different kinds of risks.

Chris: Totally.

Laird: And you said something earlier, which I was going to make a t-shirt, in the beginning or during beginning, and now the pandemic, which is “Pay attention.” Pay attention. And that’s an ongoing philosophy for life, and risk is all about the paying attention.

Chris: Totally.

Laird: There’s a lot less risk when you’re paying attention. If you’re driving with your eyes closed, it’s very risky.

Chris: You’re on the edge.

Laird: On an open road, with nobody on it. That’s dangerous. And so, I always make a joke, and I tell people, “Speed and take chances.” But what that really means is, watch what you’re doing, because if you’re speeding and taking chances, you’re probably actually watching what you’re doing. If I say, “Hey, drive conservatively and da, da, da.” Chances are you’re going to drift off and not watch what you’re doing. And you’re going to look at your phone or do something that’s going to put you in a worse position. But I think that’s a big piece of it, is understanding. Because risk is a lot less risky when you understand it, right?

So you can come into a situation and go, “Hey, you’re a young businessman. You got to...” People are funny. They want to own a hundred percent of nothing versus a piece of something big. Sometimes I think, that’s another piece that happens, where we want possession. So we want to possess the whole thing, it’s ours, it’s the whole thing. And it’s like, “Well, you’re going to own all of it, of nothing. Congratulations, good job.” And then, that’s a risk, how much am I willing to give up of something, my baby, that I started and having all that stuff, thinking that maybe it’s the only one you’ll ever have, the only idea you’ll ever have, the only opportunity.

Chris: There’s no new ideas.

Laird: Never. So again, I think there’s a lot of... Life is a risky business. Every day you’re risking your life. You get in an airplane, you get in a car, living is dangerous.

A ‘formulaic process’ to innovation, entrepreneurship

Chris: But you have an interesting relationship with danger. Wouldn’t you say?

Laird: Well, I think I have…

Chris: Particularly.

Laird: …been dating danger for a long time. What Gabby says, “The only woman she’ll share me with is the ocean.” I think I do have a... It’s an interesting thing because, again, because I’ve had a long relationship with risk, I’m able to be more risky? But I also am real honest.

I’m realistic about... I won’t go into a situation that I don’t have any skill in and then do something half-heartedly. I can be more riskful in situations that I have more knowledge, and I have to be less risky in one set. But overall, because of that, I can probably be even more risky in situations that I don’t have, that other people wouldn’t because I just have a certain... I always say, “Life is a formulaic process.” There’s a certain formula. You can just implement it. When you look at success and failure. When you look at learning how to do something, and you have the beginning, which is you don’t know how to do it. And in order to be good at it, you’re going to have to be bad at it, and you’re going to have to fail.

A woman, and I can’t remember her name, but I always remember what she said. She goes, “When you have a great idea,” she said, because they asked her, “Well, if you have a really good idea, what do you recommend?” She’s a great entrepreneur. And they said, “Whatever you do, just don’t tell anybody for the first year.” And they were like, “Why?” And she goes, “They’ll discourage you. They’ll definitely discourage you.” Because people don’t want to have to be responsible for their ideas. And so, if you said, “Hey, I got this idea.” They’d be like, “You don’t want to do that. That’s a bad idea.” Because then, they can sit back and go, “I could have done that, but I don’t want to do that.” Instead of, because you got a risk, you got to put yourself out on the line and fail, you’re going to fail. How many times are you going to fail? You going to fail and fail and fail and fail and fail.

Chris: And it’s about getting back up. And I think the thing that’s really interesting is, people’s advice. It typically is connected very much to their level of risk and to what they understand. And so, when you’re vulnerable, as an entrepreneur, and you’ve got an idea that’s being born, and you’re trying to bring it to life, you have people that you trust, but their relationship to risk and their relationship to what they’re afraid of, their advice will follow that. And so, that’s why I think that’s really great advice, is like, “Do your thing and don’t tell anybody for a year and bring the thing to a nexus of some sort of result and then you can start sharing with people.” That’s actually a really powerful way to look at starting the business, for sure.

Laird: I just never forgot that, when she said that, because I’m like, “Because people will discourage you.” Because innovation’s the same as entrepreneurship. When you innovate, it’s the same. You’re going to follow the same, again, back to the formulaic process. If you’re going to learn a new sport, if you’re going to learn a new activity, if you’re going to do a new business... The formula’s going to be the same. So, a big piece of innovation is, well, first of all, not be discouraged by the people, the naysayers. Because the people are going to be like, “That sucks, that’s stupid. Why would you do that?” That’s the beginning when you’re first starting because you’re just fumbling.

I’m fumbling, I’m learning what’s going on. Then all of a sudden you see the hope, you get a moment of it, and you’re like, “Oh yeah, OK.” But it all has to start with the premise or the idea, it all has to start with the original light that goes off, which is part of paying attention. It’s like, “Hey, what could this potentially be, if I’m able to make it have all the things it needs to be this thing?” What’s the destiny? You have to have an idea. You have to have some sort of destination. There’s got to be some sort of... I tell people, “You don’t get to the top of the mountain without looking up there going, ’Hey, I’d like to get to the top of the mountain.’”

Maybe not that mountain, but you have to have it. You don’t just look down and walk around and then arrive at the top and be like, “Wow.” Because there’s too many times you have to have the north, you have to bring the compass back and go, “OK, there it is again.” Then you go, go, go. And you’re like, “Oh, I’m a little off. I got to go this way.” So you have to have some sort of guiding star. You got to have that.

Chris: And all the false summits along the way.

Laird: Always.

Chris: “I thought I was almost done. I thought I was almost there, and I got to keep going.”

Laird: And then you realize, when you get there, that actually the real destination is back at base camp. So, that’s the bad part. When you get to the very top, and you think, “Wow.” And then you’re like, “Oh no, I’m only halfway there because I got to get back.” And then you’re disappointed because you’ve already went to the crescendo — so the destination’s actually the parking lot that you’re leaving from.

Chris: OK

Laird: And then you get to The Alchemist. So then, you search the world for the treasure only to find that it was in your backyard.

Chris: Well, I would say for those of us who like to chase the spark, the return path is the one that we didn’t anticipate.

Laird: Always. And down climbing’s actually a lot harder. On your knees. Seven times the body weight, every time you put your... So, it’s all that gravity.

How to relentlessly pursue risk — but not at all costs

Chris: Well, something that I think is really interesting about risk is, not every risk we take works. And we talked about the return pass, so we won’t talk about peril, but maybe we’ll talk about knowing when to back out. So, what are some things that getting prepared and then being able to back out. How do you think about jettisoning, if that’s even a word, but getting to a place of like, “I’m going to step back from this one, I took a chance and then I’m going to step back.” What sort of advice that you would give to help somebody recognize that moment?

Laird: That’s a very difficult position because you don’t know if another inch maybe pushes it over. And I have a tendency to be a little bit on the terrier side of things, which is just relentless, just obnoxiously. You can talk to Gabby, it’s not fun to live. It’s something like this. Just back at it, back at it, back at it. Just like this relentless thing, but at a certain point, when you’re banging your head against the wall for long enough, you have to be able to go, “Well, this is just not working.” And back doesn’t necessarily mean quit. It just means retreat, reload, re-observe, then go, we have a saying, “Water always looks for the path of least resistance.” If you continue to go like that, if you just go, “Well, that’s not working.”

Then we just shift over and we go like that. And then we shift over, and we just keep looking. And eventually, you’re like, “Oh wow, here we go again.” Which is why I said It’s so difficult to say, “Hey, you had a plan that brought you there.” You rammed your head, you banged, you moved, you shifted you. What did they say? The best plans are the ones most easily changed. So I think that that’s a big piece of it. And when to make the call about when it’s not being productive, or just you’ve done it enough time. At a certain point, you got to be honest with yourself, and I think, again, that’s where instinct intuition comes to play.

That’s when that invisible power that you have that exists in the universe, that you’re like, “All right. I’m listening. I’m going to make a thing and not just be like... I’m going to just pretend like that power is not there or pretend that I’m not hearing that, or I’m not observing that.” And I think it varies in every situation. I think it varies with every person. I think that’s a very custom thing, depending on what you’re involved in, what you’re doing. For me, some of the physical things that I’ve done with endurance stuff, there’s a reward to relentless pursuit. There is a reward. That’s just the way it is. And it’s not fun…

Chris: Yeah.

Laird: ... but there is a reward when you just continue to pursue and just, and again, not at all costs. And that goes back to family. That goes back to health. That goes back to all these places where, if you don’t have balance and you don’t have homeostasis ... Then you go, “All right. You’re not sleeping, you’re not eating, you’re in a thing. Your relationship suck. You might reevaluate what’s going on, buddy.”

Chris: That’s the water saying, “Hey, that’s one element.” It isn’t just I need to back out because it’s failure. I like the rerouting thing that you’re talking about. There’s the relentless. Something that struck me when you just said that was: I think people recognize or look at failure, because they’re so attached to an outcome, and having maybe open hands to an outcome, and being able to recognize a reroute that needs to happen because there’s a destination that doesn’t have a particular outcome. I think that that is the unbalanced relationship with failure that we have. So, how do you look at failure?

Laird: Well, I have a saying, “No expectations, no disappointments.”

Chris: So good.

Laird: In the game of the ocean, we get a lot of forecasts. We get a lot of forecasts, and they’re good forecasts. They’re beautiful. And you get excited, and this is going to be incredible and it just doesn’t happen. And you’re like, “Wow.” And then, all that anticipation and you’re just going... So you get that roller coaster. And you do that a couple thousand times, you start to learn. You’re like, “Let’s not quite get so worked up.” We have a say, “When you see the whites of the eyes, not before that, when you see the eyes, then you know that it’s going to happen.” So I think that that’s something to be honest.

I worked with a Korean man in downtown Los Angeles. And he had these sweatshops where they were making all this jeans and jackets and all this stuff. And I used to sit with him at the end of every day and try to get words of wisdom. I’m a young searcher and sit with the guy. And he came to California from Korea with $38 in his pocket. And within five years, had a multi-million dollar contracting business. Flew his whole family over and just had this whole... The kids are all used to go USC, things like that.

Chris: What a story.

Laird: Severe. So you sit with him, and he used to drink Miller Lite. That was his beer of choice at the end of the day. And I’d sit, and the most profound thing he ever said to me, which when you think of it seems a little boring, but he’s like, “When good times here, don’t be too happy, because after the good time, the bad time comes. But when the bad times here, don’t be too sad, because after the bad time, the good time comes again.” I’m like, “So what? We’re just non-emotional? We just stay flat.” But there’s something to be said about that kind of thing, don’t be too... Just be, “All right, cool. It’s happy. It’s great.” And then, “It’s great.” And in big wave riding, we get post-traumatic. So we get these big jolt, high edge, and then you just plummet it into the abyss after that.

Laird: And then you start learning about that, and you start learning how to deal with that.

Chris: Regulate.

Laird: Regulate that thing. And that actually just helps you be more prepared, right? So, in a way, if you think about it in business, you think about you get some big gains and then you’re going to have some big losses, and then you get some big gains and big losses. That’s the same, back to that formula, where you’re going to have... You think maybe it’s because you’re so smart, that’s why you got these big gains, but then you think maybe it’s because you’re so not smart that you got these big failures, but couldn’t have nothing to do with either one of those. It’s just the nature of the way that the energy works. And so, I think there’s something to be said because at the end it won’t be about the destination, it’ll be about the journey. And you’ve heard that a million times, but really you can’t beat that in enough. The reason why it is a saying is because it’s so true and it’s happened forever and will continue.

Chris: It’s a thing. Well, something that as a theme as well is just, that preparedness, the readiness, all of that stuff is a really important thing to have. And I think, maybe let’s take a break and come back and talk about things like self talk, talk about mindfulness, talk about patience and why those attributes, characteristics and values really matter to the journey.


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