Jay Alan Samit is a dynamic entrepreneur and intrepreneur who is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on disruption and innovation. He launches billion dollar businesses, transforms entire industries, revamps government institutions, and for over three decades continues to be at the forefront of global trends.
Everyone from the Pope to the President calls on Samit to orchestrate positive change in this era of endless innovation. Samit helped grow pre-IPO companies such as LinkedIn and eBay, held senior management roles at Sony and Universal Studios, pioneered breakthrough advancements in mobile video, internet advertising, ecommerce, social networks, eBooks, and digital music that are used by billions of consumers every day.
Combining innovation with commercial success, Samit is the consummate dealmaker; his list of partners and associates reads like a who’s who list of innovators, including: Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Steve Jobs, Reid Hoffman, David Geffen, Richard Branson, Paul Allen, and Pierre Omidyar. A proven trend spotter, Samit accurately predicts the future because he is constantly working with those who create it.
Samit is author of the internationally best-selling book Disrupt You! Master Personal Transformation, Seize Opportunity, and Thrive in the Era of Endless Innovation (available in seven languages including Chinese, Russian, Japanese and Korean). He is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and host of its documentary series WSJ Startup of the Year. Samit frequently appears on ABC, Bloomberg, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, NBC and tweets daily motivation to the over 100,000 business professionals who follow him on twitter @jaysamit. An expert on transformational corporate change, Samit has been quoted in The New York Times, The Economist, Businessweek, Forbes, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Fast Company and TechCrunch.
An active philanthropist, Samit was appointed to the White House’s initiative for education and technology by President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore where he helped gain Internet access for the nation’s schools. Through this program, Samit spearheaded the Internet’s first auction, a Net-a-thon fundraiser, benefiting the National Education Technology Initiative. Samit also helped produce some of the most successful charity concerts including Tsunami Aid and Katrina Relief. Samit is an adjunct professor at University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering and teaches a course in building high-tech startups.
You say that “every threat to the status quo is actually an opportunity in disguise.” How so?
Most people don’t realize that problems are actually opportunities in disguise. All that successful entrepreneurs do is solve problems for others. Today, with over 6 billion consumers just a click away on your smart phone, you only have to be right for a nanosecond to become a billionaire or change the world.
Why did you title your book “Disrupt You!”?
Everyone wants to change the world, but most don’t realize change starts from within. Once you learn how to outgrow the limitations others have put on you, then your dreams become limitless. Disrupt You! teaches people how to master personal transformation, seize opportunity and thrive in this era of endless innovation.
You say you wrote “Disrupt You!” to help the next generation of entrepreneurs in their quest to solve the world’s problems. That seems like a tall order. How do you go about doing that?
There will not be traditional jobs for 2.3 billion millennials. Our world is disrupting at an ever increasing pace. 3D printing will eliminate 320 million manufacturing jobs and self-driving vehicles will displace tens of millions more. Office automation will cull the ranks of middle management in half. But new technologies are creating massive new opportunities.
You’ve launched billion dollar businesses, transformed entire industries, revamped government institutions, and for over three decades have been at the forefront of global trends. Where do you get the energy?
We are blessed to live during one of the most innovative times in history. How can you not want to change the world for the better? The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose. You cannot live forever, but what you create and build in your lifetime can. Immortality is making a difference with the time we have.
What led you to the work you do?
I didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur. I had bought into society’s implicit social contract. Get good grades, go to a good university and live happily ever after. Problem was, I graduated from UCLA and BAM – was thrown straight into a jobless recession. No one was hiring young graduates. Especially liberal arts majors with no marketable skills.
The few job openings listed were seeking people with years of experience. My dream was to work in Hollywood on computer effects like George Lucas had created for Star Wars, but I had no skills, no contacts and no experience. But what I did have were student loans and two young sons to support. Fear can either immobilize you or push you to challenge your perceived limits. So with fear of letting my children down as my only motivation, I became an entrepreneur.
With one dollar, I printed 100 business cards for my nonexistent computer graphics company. I knew no one would hire me, but if I worked at a company (mind you, I didn’t even make myself boss for this company), perhaps I could convince studios to hire “us” to do their post-production effects work.
Turns out with a little hustling, they did hire “us.” With hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of business in hand, and not a clue as to how to do the work I had just committed to, I then went on the task of recruiting the best people I could find. Just as I had done in elementary school, I delegated to the people with the actual talent and experience to do the job. I discovered the first rule of self-disruption: the only two things you need to succeed in life are and insight and drive, everything else can be hired.
What do you do for fun/relaxation?
Since I was four years old I have been captivated by magic. For the past 25 years, I have been a performing member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood. Even for fun, I like making the impossible seem possible.
Do you feel any lifestyle matters tie in to one’s success? In terms of your own diet/exercise/sleep schedule, etc., how has that affected your work and success?
Your mind is limited by your body, so you need to find a balance. I am blessed with not requiring much sleep, as I get older, diet and exercise become increasingly important to keep globetrotting.
You have been described as a “media guru”. Can you share a few insights about the media, specifically in terms of how entrepreneurs can best utilize it?
Communication is the key to growing any entrepreneurial venture. Learning how to build and grow your business is tied to getting noticed; rising above the clutter and noise. I have developed apps used by over 100 million people and the secret was leveraging social media. That is why I tweet daily (Twitter: @jaysamit) to over 100,000 business professionals. Working with Reid Hoffman on LinkedIn broadened my reach to over 150 countries. There are no longer any gatekeepers blocking access to your consumers. You just have to be clever at providing them something worthy of their time and energy.
You have been contacted for assistance by the Pope and the President? Please elaborate!
I tell the stories in Disrupt You! But briefly, Pope John Paul II and the Church wanted a way to communicate to youth and we developed a CD-ROM game that became an international sensation in the 1990s.
I believed that getting the Internet into American classrooms would be the best thing we could do to improve our schools and President Clinton reached out and championed my efforts. The secret is that big ideas attract big minds like moths to a flame. You can change the world.
What did you do to help LinkedIn grow?
LinkedIn needed to increase its exposure and find an audience. We worked to show professionals that it was a social media network and not just a job site. Its growth has been astounding and now is firmly woven into the professional lives of nearly everyone around the globe.
Of all the things you’ve accomplished, what gives you the most pride? Which was the most challenging? Which was the most fun?
The response to writing Disrupt You! has been the most humbling and rewarding. Now in six languages, I have heard from readers in dozens of countries. They share how their lives have been positively impacted. In the age of social media, a book is just a long tweet — the start of a two-way dialog with readers.
Who have been your mentors in the business world? Who impresses you?
The list is too long for one article. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, David Geffen, Steven Spielberg, Reid Hoffman, President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, etc. I have been privileged to work and learn from the best and brightest minds. That is why I am trying to synthesize what I have learned and enable the next generation to achieve success faster than I did. I am not exceptional, just willing to work hard and committed to life-long learning.
What else would you like to accomplish?
We need to focus on developing sustainable technologies. Innovations that enhance our lives without depleting our resources and the biodiversity on this planet.
Any insights about Steve Jobs from your interactions with him?
In my three transactions, he got the longer stick each time. Determination (stubborn determination) is how a non-engineer was able to create the most valuable company on Earth.
What qualities does someone need to be a success in the business world?
Insight and drive are all one needs to succeed. Everything else can be hired.
You’ve had so much success in your life that it’s almost overwhelming to take in all your accomplishments. Have there also been failures and if so, what did you learn from them?
I have failed much more than I have succeeded (and that is why I am a success). Most people are afraid to fail. Fear of failure is the most fiendish thief on Earth. Fear robs you of success and the world of your creations. Fear is accepting that the odds are against you. It is the same as accepting defeat before you begin. Fear is why the majority of people are not willing to risk what they have for the opportunity to have something better. Fear creates a paralysis that coerces you into sacrificing your goals and autonomy. To disrupt you, you must recognize the difference between failing and failure. Failing is trying something that you learn doesn’t work. Failure is throwing in the towel and giving up on your potential.
When I set out to put the first video on a computer or launched the first online auction, I didn’t know if we would be successful. Every startup I worked on had moments when it looked like the end was near. Success is never guaranteed. But, you’ll never know how close you are to success if you give up. I learned to stop focusing on how far I have to go and started to appreciate how far I had already come.
Are you a genius? Are you in MENSA? Or have you just worked your ass off your entire life? What’s your secret of success?
I am dyslexic and told I was stupid as a child. Then I was told I was gifted. Both are external labels. We all are as limitless as the universe. We need to unlearn the labels of our childhood. At the end of your life, I can assure you that you will have more regrets for the chances you didn’t take in life, than the ones you attempted and failed at.
You’ve given many industry keynotes and major speeches. Any hints for captivating an audience and giving a great speech?
Honesty and humor can create a connection with any audience.
What are some effective ways of doing a “disruptive” job search?
I have a whole chapter on that in Disrupt You! Google keywords and LinkedIn are great tools for finding jobs before they are posted.
Any non-business life lessons/philosophy you’d care to share?
Don’t let people who gave up on their dreams stop you from pursuing yours.
This interview was written by Mark Miller and originally was published in the Huffington Post on July 18th 2016.