Welcome to GrowthLab’s Close Up, where we sit down with today’s leading entrepreneurs, authors, movers and shakers. We get up close and personal to see how they work, think and live. In today’s Close Up: Tucker Max.
“Things always work out for me because I do whatever I want without worrying about the consequences.” –– Tucker Max, Hilarity Ensues
This brash, unapologetic approach to life has earned Tucker Max a loyal following (and a fierce set of haters). His first four books, including I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, spurred an entirely new literary genre, called Fratire, powered by a hyper-masculine, raunchy style.
Having officially retired from writing Fratire, Tucker now runs a company that helps people turn their ideas into books, and he writes about the publishing industry, entrepreneurship and personal development.
What gets you really excited these days?
These days, the only two things that really get me excited are my family and my business, Book in a Box.
What gets me excited about my family are the simple things: I have an awesome wife and a great kid. There’s really not much better in life than that.
What’s exciting about my business is that we’re solving a tangible problem that many people have (how people can turn their ideas into books in their voice in a quick way), and it’s deeply impacting people’s lives in a meaningful way.
Besides your business and your family, what’s the single biggest success in your life?
I would probably say the biggest success I’ve accomplished in my life outside of business and family things is the fact that I have helped so many other people succeed as well.
I don’t deserve all the credit for their success, but I’m just glad that I helped in some way.
What conventional advice did you flagrantly ignore and still manage to succeed?
Haha — all of it?
I think almost every single part of how I became a writer and a successful author was against the grain at the time. You have to remember that I started writing in 2001 before the word “blog” even existed.
There was only one path of success then, and that was work your way from the bottom. You had to sell your writing, and you could only sell it through certain channels. You could only say certain things.
I did the opposite of all of that. I went through new channels, I said new things, and I worked my way up from nothing. I earned my own audience, and I connected directly to them, without a middleman.
What was the biggest disaster you faced?
I’ve had so many disasters in my life. The biggest would have to be the failure of my movie. It sounds funny to say that there was a movie made about my life, before I turned 33, and the fact that it didn’t do $100 million is a disaster. That’s the definition of a privileged white person problem, but at the time and to me, it was genuinely devastating.
How did you recover?
It was a long process, but basically the failure of that movie cracked my grandiosity and it made me realize that there was a lot of things about myself I had to work on. I went and put in the time and worked on them.
It led me to deeply understand myself and face a lot of issues I hadn’t been willing to face before. Because of that movie, I went into psychoanalysis, I got into meditation, I did the work necessary to meet my wife. The success I’m having in my business now is pretty much all because, after failing, I decided that I was going to rebound from that failure.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve ever worked on?
If we’re talking about a singular project, not a business or something larger, the answer would have to be my first book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.
I wrote that in a short amount of time, in a burst of frenzied activity. I was at a unique point in my life, and I think I did a really good job capturing a certain voice. I remember working on it. It was a good time in my life. I had just gotten my dog, Murph. She sat on my lap as I wrote that book, and a lot felt right in the world to me.
What do you wish you could teach your 20-year-old self?
There’s more than I could ever put in this article that my 20-year-old self needed to hear. The problem is that my 20-year-old self was an idiot and never would have listened to anything by anyone. I probably would have had to kick my 20-year-old self’s ass. If I could have pushed something through his head, it would have been a version of the lesson that Socrates teaches in The Apology: That you don’t know anything, and you need to shut up and listen to people. You should learn from them and not think that you know everything.
At the same time, that hubris is what helped me become who I am today. It helped me launch that first career as a writer, but then again, it also held it back. It’s the reason the movie failed. My 20-year-old self had to go through all the pain and the pleasure that I’ve been through to get to where I am now. I was unfortunately not smart enough to learn from the mistakes of others.
What does a rich life mean to you?
There’s really only two things that matter in life: The quality of the relationships you have with the people that you love (and that love you), and the work that you do that contributes to the world. That’s the definition of a rich life.
What will be the next big thing in your industry?
Depends on how you define my industry. If you define it as books, then not to be arrogant, but we are the next big thing in the industry.
The old publishing model is based on scarcity; the new model is based on abundance. We’re the only business model that understands that. Also, we’re the only business model that understands that you can turn an idea into a finished book through a series of steps — not just some magical process.
Now you can’t come up with the idea for a book or the knowledge or the wisdom in a series of steps, but you can turn that knowledge and wisdom into a book very easily, actually, if you follow a process. That’s the next big thing. It’s what we’re doing. We’re the only ones doing it now, but we’re going to have competitors eventually. That’s just the way it works.
If you define our industry as media, I think the next big thing is that every company, every solo practitioner, and every entrepreneur is going to have to essentially become a media company.
The only scarcity going forward is going to be attention. That means that, no matter what you’re selling, you’re going to have to be good at capturing attention. That’s why I think the companies that understand how to hold consumers’ attention are the ones who are going to win.
If you could have lunch with anyone living or dead, who would you pick and what would you ask them?
Edward Bernays. He’s the man who essentially invented modern advertising and modern media. Although I think in a lot of ways he was an evil guy, he was a genius, and I would love to dive deeper into his understanding of humanity and of people. I would just use it for a better purpose than he did, at least I hope so.