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‘This is a moment for huge, radical thinking’: Guy Raz on entrepreneurship and economic growth

The author and podcast host of "How I Built This" offers insights from hundreds of interviews with entrepreneurs.'s Chris Wink (L) and "How I Built This" host Guy Raz. (Screenshot via YouTube)
In a crisis, it can be tough to see the bigger picture. But look back at how it started or forward at how it might play out, and it’s likely there’s a longer arc at play.

Take entrepreneurship. Plenty of founders face moments where they’re ready to quit, or on the brink of insolvency. Yet they’re guided, said Guy Raz, by an “unshakable view” that their product was solving a problem that many have, in a way that no one else can solve it. That sense of a longer game can be a guide.

“If you really fundamentally believe that the world needs it, then it’s not time to quit,” Raz said during a Sept. 25 keynote at the Introduced by conference.

The author of the recently published book “How I Built This” and host of the widely followed NPR podcast of the same name, Raz has interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs and charted their paths. (He’s also gone through 100 sharpies signing 16,000 books).

For Raz, story is central to learning. Taking a central insight from a business class that lessons on building and running companies are told through stories akin to the hero’s journey, Raz launched “How I Built This” in its podcast form in 2016. Charting the paths of some of the world’s biggest companies through longform audio interviews and now a book, he’s only grown more assured that even the most actionable advice of business literature is hard won.

“There are no shortcuts to starting a business, or introducing an idea out into the world or a disruptive concept inside your own company,” Raz told CEO Christopher Wink. “The only shortcut is to learn from people who made mistakes before you so you know how to avoid them.”

Often, it’s the moments when entrepreneurs are tested that end up not only summoning the will to go on, but the key insights that can propel them forward.

Raz sees this on a wide scale during the current pandemic and economic downturn. Like many recessions, this time is delivering a huge blow. Many businesses are struggling in a way that no one would wish. Yet the fight to keep going could have the unexpected outcome of showing a new path.

Raz is seeing companies take new paths to approaching the market that may prove set up the future. It can also change how things are done internally. He offered an example from an interview with Zumba founder Alberto Perlman, in which the dance fitness brand spun up a new video platform for instructors in six weeks. Normally, he said, it would’ve taken two years, but it has unlocked a new way of doing business.

“Right now is a moment for every small business, any business, to think radically about every possible thing you could do not only to save your business but to prepare you for when we come out of this moment so that you actually have an advantage because you have laid the groundwork for the next phase of your business,” Raz said.

But again, there’s a wider narrative at play. Entrepreneurship has in fact been declining since the 1970s — which Raz attributes to an employer-based health system that makes leaving a business riskier. Where this year fits in is yet to be known, but Raz has a hunch that the overlapping, health, economic, racial justice and political crises will inspire some bigger thinking from the country’s smartest minds to tackle “moonshot” ideas that solve world-changing problems. As an example, he offered Pat Brown ended up leaving Stanford to start Impossible Foods. The engineer saw plant-based meat a means to solve climate change.

“This is a moment for huge, radical thinking,” he said. “I believe we have no choice but to hope and to believe this is a moment that will inspire that. It has to.”

The reckoning over racial justice that came to a head with the summer’s protests following a series of police killings of Black people, but is on an even longer arc that is timed with the history of this country. It’s a generational challenge that is linked to the country’s entire history, and Raz reminds that solving it will be a “marathon.”

“There is a growing and really inspiring movement of Black entrepreneurs in the tech world, in the consumer packaged good world,” he said, “in every sector.”

Raz said he takes very seriously the idea of amplifying Black voices and women, which make up half of the guests on “How I Built This.”

“We know that people come to us for inspiration, and if there’s a 20-year-old, or even a 40-year-old listening to our and can hear themselves in the person I’m talking to that can feel empowered to go and do that themselves, then I’m done.”

It’s also a time when companies are standing up against racism. It comes amid a wider move as companies move toward social, employee and environmental returns alongside profits. With the summer’s events, there’s more impetus to take action in a lasting way. Will the energy continue?

“I think that the employees in many of these organizations are demanding it or are expecting it, and that’s probably ultimately what’s going to matter,” Raz said.


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