The Christopher Lochhead Hypothesis: Legendary People, Products, and Companies Follow The Exponential Value of What Makes Them Different

Christopher Lochhead is the author of Play Bigger and Niche Down, a 3x Silicon Valley CMO, and the host of the Follow Your Different Podcast. This week on the Product Science Podcast, we sit down to talk about his years of experience in Silicon Valley, what it means to design a market category, and how you can make it as a solopreneur.

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Questions We Explore in This Episode

The Christopher Lochhead Hypothesis: Legendary People, Products, and Companies Follow The Exponential Value of What Makes Them Different How did Christopher start his own tech business at eighteen? How did he get started and what skills did he develop? How did he position himself as an early guru in salesforce automation and CRM? What lessons did Chris learn as the head of marketing by swapping jobs with the head of engineering twice a year? What goals did Chris set as a business leader to make an impact and get recognized? Why does Chris think executives should be in each other’s business?

How do you drive big growth and get out of the optimization mindset? Is there a place for product incrementalism? What are the traps? What does Chris say when he explains that most people are bottom-up thinkers? What’s the difference between that and a top-down thinker?

What does Chris mean when he says that market categories are designed? Why are high-end sunglasses more expensive than flatscreen TVs, and what does that say about category design? How do you teach the world to think about a problem in a new category? What can Netflix, Airbnb, and Nothing Bundt Cakes teach us about category design?

What is a “category king?” What is the data behind this idea? What percentage of business value created goes to the leader in a category? What can we learn from the work of Eddie Yoon, and how does he explain what’s behind this effect? How does There’s Something About Mary explain the problem with most product development? Is it better to compete with a better product or a different product?

What has Chris gotten from the experience of writing Niche Down? How does Chris approach work-life balance, and why does he think that’s a misleading term? What does the corporation of the future look like? What is Chris’ approach to being a “solopreneur?” What is the mindset behind that? How do you stay motivated to keep pushing further? Are you a mercenary or a missionary?

Quotes From This Episode

Legendary innovators, legendary entrepreneurs do not compete in an as-is category. They teach the world to think about a problem and a solution the way they want, and when the world agrees with them, bam. - Christopher Lochhead Click To Tweet The people who are different make the biggest difference. What is the difference you have that solves a giant problem in a completely unique way? That's what nicheing down is about. Different, not better. - Christopher Lochhead Click To Tweet The reward is the journey. The reward is the struggle. The reward is you get to play, so pick the game you want to play very carefully. Start or join a company worthy of your talent.” - Christopher Lochhead Click To Tweet There's going to be a massive amount of losery along the way. Losery being a word we invented to make failure sound a lot more fun than it actually is. There's going to be massive, massive losery. - Christopher Lochhead Click To Tweet


Holly: Hi, and welcome to the Product Science Podcast, where we’re helping startup founders and product leaders build high growth products, teams and companies. They’re real conversations with the people who have tried it and aren’t afraid to share lessons learned from their failures along the way. I’m your host, Holly Hester-Reilly, Founder and CEO of H2R Product Science.
Holly: So, I think some of our guests may have heard of you and heard of your podcast or read one of your books, Play Bigger and Niche Down but not all of them will have. I’d love to start with a little bit of background. I’m super excited to have you on. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started working in tech and what you do today?
Chris Lochhead: Yeah. I think my story is a lot like many entrepreneur’s story which is for me, entrepreneurship was not a way up in the world, so to speak. I didn’t graduate from Stanford with a ding-dong degree in engineering, or entrepreneurship, or an MBA or anything like that. I got thrown out of school at 18 for being stupid. So for me, entrepreneurship was a way out, not a way up. A way out of a life of struggle and a life of not executing on your potential.
Chris Lochhead: And again, my story is a lot like a lot of entrepreneur’s story, I think, where for many of us entrepreneurship is the path particularly when nobody is willing to bet on your potential. And when nobody else will bet on you, which is translation give you a job when you’re a young person, then you sort of have to bet on yourself. So, I started my first company at 18, in the technology industry. The personal computer was just kind of exploding onto the scene at that time, and I saw a big opportunity there to help companies and people with PCs.
Chris Lochhead: I have been in the technology industry for more than 30 years, and ultimately ended up selling another company that I had started to a … I grew up in Canada. I was in Toronto when I started my second company, and ended up selling that company to a Silicon Valley based software company in the mid ’90s. So at 27, going on 28-years-old, I was the head of marketing for a publicly traded Silicon Valley software company and kind of never looked back since then.
Holly: That’s incredible. It sounds like you had sort of a 10 year journey there from, “Oh my God, who’s going to give me a job? What am I going to do to make a living?” To being in Silicon Valley in the first, the dotcom boom.
Chris Lochhead: Yes.
Holly: So tell me a little more-
Chris Lochhead: Actually pre-dotcom boom. The dotcom boom hadn’t even quite started yet.
Holly: Okay. That is so fascinating to me. I love to hear stories about what was going on back then and everything, but I’m sort of curious like I don’t know, not everybody that I know who does have struggles, grows up somewhere … My own, I’m in Washington Heights, which is a neighborhood where not everybody goes to college and things like that. A lot of people that are in those situations, they don’t go out and do something as crazy as start their own business. You know, somebody’s telling them, “Well if you can’t get this job, you should clean or whatever.” How did you end up doing that?
Chris Lochhead: I don’t know if you remember that movie Officer and a Gentleman. There’s a scene where Richard Gere, who is the lead in the movie, they’re going to throw him out of the marines. I think it’s the marines. His drill sergeant is yelling at him and saying, “You’re a bum. We’re going to throw you out.” And all this stuff. There’s this famous scene in the movie where he yells back, “I got no place else to go.” And so for me, look, I didn’t have many options.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: Right? So it’s not like, “Oh yes,” some altruistic thing. It was like, the question in my young life was for a long time was, “Is Christopher going to make it?” School was very very challenging for me. We can talk about why if you want. Oh, am I allowed to swear? How do you want me to talk on your podcast?
Holly: Yeah, this is a good question. I’m actually okay with it because I like people to be whoever they are. I know you swear, and I’m fine with you swearing on here.
Chris Lochhead: Okay.
Holly: You can talk about your disfucklia.
Chris Lochhead: Yes. So I have disfucklia right? Which is dyslexia and dyscalculia and a whole bunch of these other things. Look, my mom Jackie, had gotten me a job as an orderly in a hospital, because she worked in a hospital as kind of, she was a called the unit coordinator. But essentially, the secretary, the right hand woman of the head nurse was what my mom did for a living. So, through nepotism she got me a job.
Chris Lochhead: My alternatives in life at the time when I was 18, after I got thrown out of school, I wanted to be musician. I was in a band. We had had some success, but bands are always hard, and the drummers are always leaving, and the bass players are always sleeping with the drummer’s girlfriend, and somebody’s always stealing your gear.There’s just a bunch of dumb shit always going on when you’re in a rock band. So I was doing that and working as an orderly. It was like, “Well, what the fuck is going on with my life here?” I mean I’m in this struggling band and when I’m not doing that I’m shaving guys’ nuts. It’s just didn’t look like a great road to be on.
Holly: Yeah. I guess not. Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: And so my buddy Jack, who’s a great guy, and we’re still good friends to this day, and I love him and his wife. He’s got two awesome kids who all call me uncle Chris. He was working for a small software company. He said, “Hey, what if we start a company doing technology training and consulting and custom programing?” So, it was a path. It was a way out. It was a game worth playing. It was like, well there’s really … I could stay in this dead end situation and just keep spinning my wheels and chasing my tail, or whatever analogy you want to use, Holly, or I can try to build something.
Chris Lochhead: And so Jack and I set out on our own, and I never really looked back. I made a very big decision just before that, when I was about 17-years-old, that I was going to go for it in life. That I wasn’t going to be a bum. Yeah, I sort of had a moment of reckoning with myself and so entrepreneurship was the path that made sense because it didn’t matter that I had no education, no relationships, no money, or no experience.
Chris Lochhead: You could just start doing stuff, and if you could close a sale and then deliver on that sale and make that customer happy, then they would buy more and they might refer you to another customer and you could just get into business. And so that’s what I did, because it was exciting, and it was new, and it looked like a better option for getting the rent handled.
Holly: Yeah. Yeah. What was your role? What were you doing in those early days? What skills were you building?
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, so of course, I didn’t show up with many skills. Right? My friend Jack, he said, “Look, I’ll handle the technical stuff,” because he had more of an inclination to that background and he was already teaching and he had learned some of the basic PC technologies applications that were prevalent at the time. He was like, “So I’ll handle the technical side of the house, and you handle the sales and marketing side of the house, and we’ll meet in the middle and we’ll go from there.”
Chris Lochhead: That’s essentially what we did. When I started, I had a personal computer that I had purchased with orderly money, a phone. We had a small office in an incubator space. How I started was with this ancient document that was the source of much revenue for many small young entrepreneurs. And that ancient document, the ancient scrolls is called the Yellow Pages.
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: If a company had a big ad in the Yellow Pages, like a three-quarter-page ad or a full-page ad, I figured well they must have some money because they’re spending money on this Yellow Pages ad, so maybe we could sell them. I would cold call just like any other telemarketer or salesperson.
Holly: How long did you do that for?
Chris Lochhead: Let’s see, well I guess … We called the company Rogier Pierce or Roger Pierce. I guess Roger Pierce lasted about three years. We did very well for a while and then we … You know, we had huge clients like Air Canada was a client and a couple of the big banks. We got some pretty good names, but we didn’t know shit about running a business so we ran the thing into the ground. And then, so three years in, I guess 18 to 21. Yeah, at about 21, we had wrapped the mustang around the lamp post.
Chris Lochhead: As revenue went up into the right, expenses went up into the right faster, and we did a bunch of dumb things, and hired a bunch of dumb people, and screwed up a bunch of jobs with clients. You know, the things that you do when you don’t have any idea what you’re doing. So at 21 years old, I found myself in debt and we had to shut the business down, and I had to go get a job. I was terrified about that. I was brand new, newly married at the time, and was shitting myself. But luckily, and this is a lesson that I’ve carried ever since then. First of all, it’s never as dark as it seems to be in the moment right? In the moment it seems-
Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Chris Lochhead: I’m somebody who’s somewhere on the bipolar spectrum so I can get to dark fast.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: Fuck. Anyway, but I had built relationships and a little bit of a reputation I guess and maybe a little bit of respect. And so another entrepreneur who we had collaborated on some stuff with, I had called him. His name was Bill Walker, and I said, “Hey Bill, we’re going to shut the business. We kind of fucked the thing up.” And he said, “Well what are you going to do?” I said, “I don’t know, I’ve got to get a job, I’m pretty worried about it actually.” He said, “Well I’m starting another company. Would you come and help me start this company?”
Chris Lochhead: It was a software distribution business, and again the PC was really in its early explosion days and he was distributing business PC software. I ended up joining the company as kind of the original sales guy. So I was back in the startup game, even though it wasn’t my startup. That company ultimately ended up doing very well and we had a great time building that company, and then that led to the next thing and the next thing and ultimately I created another company, which I ultimately sold to a Silicon Valley software company.
Chris Lochhead: I have never gotten any job or any kind of thing that you would call work in my professional life, through a headhunter. It’s all been through relationships, it’s all been through building and network. It’s all been through building a reputation. In the beginning, nobody was going to bet on my potential. At that point, even though I had fucked up, I had demonstrated enough capabilities in enough areas where an older entrepreneur saw something in me. In a lot of ways, Rogier Pierce, my first company, was my MBA.
Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yeah, absolutely. The companies that came after, I imagine you took some of your learnings with you. I guess the one that sold to a Silicon Valley company, tell us more about that one. What was that company doing? Was it growing a lot and what was that like?
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, it was growing like crazy. It was a small boutique consulting company called, Always An Adventure. Isn’t it always an adventure?
Holly: It is, yes.
Chris Lochhead: I’ve always liked fun company names. Anyway, what I had seen was that this new technology, not just the PC, but at the time this thing called client server which was sort of for lack of a better description, networking around this new technology. So at the time, in the corporate world, the mainframe was the big technology and then the mini-computer emerged, and then of coursed the personal computer emerged. And then client server technology was the technology that really had, in the corporate world, the personal computer explode.
Chris Lochhead: And so as I saw that happening, it first started to happen in custom development and then there were companies building off the shelf applications for accounting and manufacturing and things along those lines. That sort of was the birth of companies like Oracle and SAP and all that. They rode the client server wave. Frankly, in fairness to them, they helped create the client server category. So, it just became very clear to me that this technology was ultimately going to come to a world that I loved, which is sales and marketing.
Chris Lochhead: I proactively positioned myself as, today we would call it an influencer, but as a thought leader, guru, consultant, author guy in what in the very beginning was called sales force automation. Of course, today it’s CRM. I became one of the early gurus in that space. I would speak at all the big conferences and that kind of stuff. I had a very small team behind me, and ultimately the company that I sold to was a company called Vantive. They were an early pioneer in client server or CRM and so that’s how I was able to catapult myself to Silicon Valley and that was my first CMO gig at a public company.
Holly: Yeah. Wow. So when you joined Vantive and then you were working as a CMO there … So a lot of our listeners are in the field of product management, and I’d like to paint a bit of story about how this came to be and how it is what it is today. So I’m curious, at that point in time in the tech industry, at a company like Vantive, did they have product managers? Did you work with any?
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, absolutely. It was a whole, and it has been my whole career, it’s been a whole discipline. In most technology companies there are two sides of this coin. There’s product marketing and product management. And then of course, there’s engineering where we actually build the products themselves. The bigger the company, the more sophisticated that structure is, But product marketing being an outward bound activity, customer facing, analyst facing.
Chris Lochhead: And then get feedback from the market, talking with, working closely with product management, whose job is more getting the input from the category from customers, from the market, typically through product marketing into product management. And product management ultimately is responsible for things like marketing requirements, documents, MRDs, PRDs, product requirements documents. So the product management folks typically doing the what should be build next and what’s our roadmap to do that? And then working with engineering to execute on that.
Chris Lochhead: In every company I’ve ever been associated with of any size, when it’s a startup it’s different of course, but once a company gets to some kind of size, certainly 100 people, even 50 people, you begin to see a delineation of responsibilities between product marketing and marketing and then product marketing and product management and engineering.
Holly: Yeah. I guess I’m curious about what the working relationship was like, because I certainly have stories about best and worst relationships between marketing and product. What was it like for you there?
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, so if you look at marketing, typically sales hates marketing and visa versa, and typically products, which can encompass product marketing in management. Sometimes product marketing is in marketing and product management is in engineering, it depends on the company. But typically, sales hates marketing and visa versa, and marketing hates the products group and/or the engineering group and visa versa. Right? So that’s where the mutual hate society exists. Over time I became wiser and wiser as a CMO and I realized of course all that’s dumb. Right?
Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Lochhead: The enemy’s outside, it’s not inside. All that is complete stupidity. And so to answer your question, I could tell you what I did on the sales side if it matters.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: But on the product side, what I did was … First of all, I love that stuff. I love sitting there with engineers, and product managers, and marketers, and the whole products organization from tip to tail talking about where we’re weak, where we’re strong, what we should build next. If we had this, we could really crush this competitor, if we develop this capability, we could really redesign how people think about this category, etc. etc. etc. And so I’ve always loved being part of the product cycle. What I started to do was swap jobs with the head of engineering.
Holly: Oh.
Chris Lochhead: So, twice a year I would “run engineering” and twice a year the head of engineering would “run marketing” and then we could compare notes. I would meet with all his direct reports and take all of his meetings, and visa versa. By doing that, it sent an even more powerful signal than I ever could have imagined, Holly, to both the products organization and the marketing organization that, hey, these two executives respect and admire each other and work very closely together. They would never be doing this if they didn’t … They would have never swapped jobs if they didn’t.
Chris Lochhead: Even more than that, and this blew me away, then that was happening, those job swaps, not only did of course the marketing and engineering organizations know what was going on. Over time, because we did it consistently, the whole company knew not only that it happened, but they would typically know when it was going on.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: And so that sort of symbolic gesture was incredibly power in of itself. And then my behavior as a CMO always, when I heard anybody internally bitching about another organization, I would stop them and say, “Well, have you gone and talked to so-and-so about that?” “Nah, those guys are assholes, they don’t get it.” “Oh yeah, fuck you. You don’t get to call them assholes unless you go and talk to them about it.” The enemy is not finance, engineering, sales, whatever. The enemy is outside, the enemy is the competition. The enemy is the delta between where we are and where we want to be.
Chris Lochhead: I was just never an executive that tolerated … I was a company executive who happened to be running marketing. I wasn’t some idiot who would defend marketing at all costs against all the other departments. I wasn’t against anybody internally. It’s like the political debate in our country. You know, republicans against democrats. I’m not against anybody, I’m for the United States of America. When democrats do dumb shit that I disagree with, I say, “They’re doing dumb shit.” And when republicans do dumb shit, I say, “They’re doing dumb shit.” And so I did that as an executive. I think that mindset and behavior that is congruent with that really changes behavior.
Holly: Yeah. I can imagine. I’ve never heard anybody tell me that they swapped roles with somebody that they needed to be a partner with. I’m just thinking of course you would say that because you were telling me at the beginning of this no one thinks about the paradigm of interviews, and they don’t think about this paradigm and that paradigm. It seems like you’d be the person to have done that, but I’m super curious, like how did you even come up with that idea?
Chris Lochhead: It came in a couple ways. Number one, other than marketing, the things that I really love to do, I love product strategy. I love being with engineers who are particularly legend … You know, I love legendary engineers who are creative and thoughtful. Sit down with three really legendary engineers and brainstorm a couple of big ideas and if they get into it, they’ll go to work and 12 hours later after a bunch of Red Bulls and pizzas, they’ll like have a working prototype, and they’ll come into your office and go, “Hey, man. Remember that thing we talked about two days ago? Look at this.” You’ll be like, “Holy fuck.”
Chris Lochhead: Being part of that process with deeply committed, super creative, super thoughtful product folks, whether they’re marketing, management, or engineers directly, or developers, however you want to think about that, I love tha.t I’m a creative guy, so I always love that. I wanted our marketers to feel connected in that way too, the folks on the product side. That was sort of a very natural thing for me.
Chris Lochhead: Then the other area of tremendous joy for me is I love selling, and I love sales people. There’s no harder job in a company than sales. I don’t give a shit what anyone says. So, as a CMO, I spent half my time in the field. I always, when I was a CMO, I always knew on a personal basis the top 10% of our sales force, absolutely. My goal was always to be the number one most requested executive on a sales call. I traveled like a mad man, and was sort of the executive, or certainly one of the executives who was a key part of a lot of the corporate visits when customers came to see us.
Chris Lochhead: So, I just think you have to be that kind of an engaged, committed executive. The thing I learned over time, and by the time I got to my third CMO job, it had become very clear to me, my personal belief, Holly, is the most legendary companies, the top six or eight executives in the company are all in each other’s business. That’s the way it should be. So, when the head of sales wanted to talk about his top folks, and who he should promote, or a problem he was having with somebody, or whatever it was, I was engaged with the sales force. I could engage in that conversation with him.
Chris Lochhead: I also had no issues. As a matter of fact, again, I welcomed it, having other executives get up inside the marketing organization. We would do these huge user conferences that are pretty typical in the tech industry, with thousands of people. The head of sales, and regional sales executives would want to meet with on a periodic basis our events team to talk about how it was going. It was a giant area of investment for the company, several millions of dollars a year. How we were providing incentives for the sales force to get customers to come. What were doing with … whatever it was.
Chris Lochhead: I never gave a shit. I’ll never forget. I hired a new head of corporate marketing who had events rolling up to her, and in her first couple weeks on the job she got a meeting invite from the head of sales who wanted to sit down and talk to her about some of this stuff, and field marketing, and etc. She came to me and she said, “Hey, Christopher. I got this meeting from Meeting Maker from Jay, and he wants to talk about all these things, and you’re not on the meeting invite. What should I do?” I said, “What do you mean what should you do?”
Chris Lochhead: She said, “Well, I don’t want to break the chain of command.” I said “I don’t give a fuck about the chain of command. If Jay is requesting to meet with you, then meet with him, and if you and Jay think it makes sense to have me in the meeting, by all means, but if I don’t have to be in the meeting, hallelujah. Just, hey, when you’re going to meet with Jay, you better have your shit together, because he’s a serious executive.” I learned that over time that legendary companies operate that way, and I think it’s very healthy to “be up in each other’s shorts, or in each other’s business.” Right?
Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Lochhead: For example, I never had investor relations reporting to me directly, but the CFO and I deeply deeply partnered on IR, and the head, the VP of IR worked as closely with me on earnings announcements, or acquisition announcements, or any big strategic thing, any big strategic communication. The head or IR, investor relations, and the head of PR, and the CFO, and myself would work closely together on these things. I didn’t give a shit who worked for who. All that stupidity around the orgs, getting all wrapped around … That’s all dumb.
Chris Lochhead: What’s smart is, how do we get our best people working on an initiative to produce a legendary outcome, and by definition if it’s something that’s going to move the company forward in a material way, it will be cross-functional in nature. There’s no way you can “stay in your swim lane” in a company of any size and get something done just in the marketing organization, just in the product organization, just in the finance. It’s going to be cross-functional. So, our ability to work with teams of people in a cross-functional way, many of whom don’t necessarily report up into us as an executive, in a lot of ways is really the harbinger of how successful you can be. As an executive, I wanted to be the guy that the finance team wanted to get my advice on something, or the products team, or the sales team, or whatever it was, right?
Holly: Yeah. I love that vision, and that approach. I’m always coaching people to do collaborative, like bring stakeholders in. Find the smart people who know about this thing, and work with them. It doesn’t matter what their title is. One of the things that you mentioned along the way that I want to dive deeper into is product strategy, and specifically I want to hear more about category design. How did you come to care so deeply about it, and tell us how you describe it.
Chris Lochhead: I think most of us love great products. Right?
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: If you think about yourself, I don’t know if you have a car you love, or a piece of technology you love, or an umbrella you love. Whatever it is, we all have certain products in our lives that we for whatever reason really love. Even though I don’t walk around all day thinking, “I love my iPhone,” but I do every once in a while have a moment with it and go, “Holy, fuck, man. This is the Star Trek communicator.”
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: Like, “This thing’s incredible.” If you just take a sec and just stop, we have awesome shit right now! Right?
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: There’s amazing shit going on all the time. The future is on us in a very real way. A little girl with a 3D printed arm threw out the first pitch at a San Francisco Giant’s baseball game this year.
Holly: Wow.
Chris Lochhead: A little girl with a 3-D printed arm.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: That’s happening now!
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: Look at what you and I are doing, right? Holly started a media company from her house.
Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Lochhead: That’s made possible because of Zoom, and because of all the podcast players. Apple Podcast, and Stitcher, and Spotify, and Blubrry and Libsyn, whichever ones you use. So the reality is, I think we all love great products. When you have a piece of, some kind of product that you love … You know, I’ve been wearing the same boots for 20-something years. I love those fucking John Varvatos boots. You can bury me in them.
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: Maybe you have a jacket you feel that. I have a Patagonia jacket that’s like that for me. It’s been on all my back country trips. They make a more advanced one with better this and that. I don’t give a shit. I love my Patagonia. Anyway, I think it starts there. Then, the other big aha for me, it sort of centers around two things. The first one is, on the products side, what most people get drawn into is product incrementalism.
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: There’s a role for product incrementalism. When you have an existing customer base, and you have a product that they use, and you’re looking to come out with a new version, or whatever it is, asking those customers, “Hey, what works, and what doesn’t work?” Doing focus groups, and survey monkeys, and user groups. Whatever it is you do to kind of hang out with customers to learn what they love, and what they don’t love, and what they want more of, and what they want less of, and da, da, da, da, da, that’s important shit. It is incremental, but it’s important.
Chris Lochhead: However, that said, it gets very easy, and I’ve found typically the bigger the company the more easy this happens. It jut get lulled into that’s what we do in products now.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: Even worse than that, we don’t apply it a lot of thinking. What we do apply is essentially some kind of scoring system. We ask 2,000 customers, “What do you think about X,” and if 800 of them vote that we should do this, and 300 of them vote that we should do that, and like da, da, da, da, da, then we do what the 800 said.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: There are certain things that that is a very smart thing to do and listen to, and be a guidepost on what products/engineering should do. But make no mistake. That is incrementalism. The likelihood of that yielding a breakthrough is almost zero.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: However, there are many big companies that get sucked into that, and that’s really all they do. My area, I can add a little bit of value there, but not really. My area of value is what are we going to do that is a massive leap forward? My whole life is focused on the exponential, not the incremental. That’s the first piece. The second piece to answer your question is I had this aha, plus or minus, midway through my career. When I had this, when I learned this, a lot of things started to make sense to me. That is, and I learned this from psychologists, most people are what are called bottom-up thinkers, and they live in a world of detail.
Chris Lochhead: For them to see a big picture, so to speak, they need to see all the piece parts come together. Much like how you put together a puzzle. When you can granularize things, when you can atomize things and then show people how these pieces fit together, then they get the big picture. Sort of that’s how they work. A lot of people work on components of things. If you’re working on a car, maybe you’re the axle gal, or maybe you’re the inner part of the axle, whatever it is. Right?
Holly: That’s why they call them cogs in the machine.
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, they work on their piece, and that can be very, very important.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: I don’t mean bottom-up thinker in any kind of a pejorative way, Holly. The aha for me is, A, what psychologists and researchers have told me is that’s how the vast majority of people think, and the more sort of engineering oriented they are, the more likely they are to think that way. It’s not always true of course, but tends to be the case. I’m what’s called a top-down thinker, and I’m also someone who has no respect for incumbency. I have no respect for the way that it is. As a matter of fact, when you tell me it’s a certain way, my brain goes to, “Fuck that,” or, “That’s dumb,” or, “Why is it that way,” or, “Couldn’t it be something different,” or, “Why did we think about it that way,” or, “Isn’t there a new way to think about this part?”
Chris Lochhead: I just reject the rules, reject the way it is, reject incumbency, reject history and legacy, and go to the way it could be or the way it should be. Of course, I’m not always right, but hat’s the conversation I like to have. What I learned for myself over time with product oriented folks was there were some people in the product organization who are very much like that. In the technology world, often you find those types of individuals are more like what are called CTOs, Chief Technology Officers, where they’re sort of dreaming and scheming about the future, which then influences the present and the product roadmap over time.
Chris Lochhead: I’m more of that dreamer and schemer, and so what I learned is if I could bring that skillset that I have to a great engineering organization that tends to be more incremental, then I could be a real resource in helping them look at things that are exponential. Then with the folks that were working on exponential things, I might have questions that they didn’t think about, I might have a different angle on the problem that maybe they didn’t think about. Or even if I didn’t, they would educate me on this exponential idea that they’d have, and then I’d start to think about, “Okay so how is that going to work from a category design perspective, from a marketing perspective? How can we take this idea and make it 10 times bigger? Make the world get it.”
Chris Lochhead: Not only did I like to create and/or contribute to the exponential ideas, but with the exponential ideas that maybe I didn’t have much to create, or co-create, or contribute, but I would still get excited about them and then I’d start to think about, “I fell in love with the idea. How do we make this idea work in the world at scale, such that we gain an unfair competitive advantage?” All of those conversations are conversations that I, as a CMO, love to be in, and today as an investor and advisor, I’m in that conversation a lot.
Holly: I think those are a lot of the things that my listeners and I talk about. The 10x, not 10%. How do we drive that big growth and get out of the optimization mindset. I really like the framework that you have from Play Bigger. I’m curious to hear sort of how do you describe that to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
Chris Lochhead: Where I would start is just the simple aha that for some people is, just on its face is a radical idea. The simple aha goes like this. You can design a company. What’s our business model going to be? Where are we going to be? How are we going to structure this? Are we going to do engineering in [Udaho] and manufacturing in wherever? Are we going to be multina … You think about, in the biggest sense you can think about, company design, structure, the whole thing, cap structure, raising money, all of it. So companies get designed.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: Obviously, products get designed, right?
Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Lochhead: And there’s been a big breakthrough in a lot of ways because of the legendary folks at IDO have created a lexicon, a set of thinking and a set of approaches around this thing they call design thinking. Then there’s lots, and I assume it’s in different industries as well, but in the technology industry there’s a lot of education, and best practices around product management, and how you do it effectively. So there’s a lot of thinking around product design in one way or another. Then, of course, what are the right development methodologies to get there.
Chris Lochhead: In the old days, we would talk about waterfall methodologies for building software. Today we talk about lean startups. Today we talk about agile development. Different approaches, but that all exists, and I would put all that under a giant banner called product design. The aha is, market categories are designed too. Sometimes by accident, and sometimes intentionally. But categories get designed. The simple aha goes like this. If you take a step back and you start thinking about categories and how they get designed, you’ll start to see category design everywhere.
Chris Lochhead: A simple example I love is a pair of high end sunglasses cost how much?
Holly: Gosh, I don’t know. I’ve never bough any.
Chris Lochhead: Well, if you go buy a pair of Maui Jims, you’re going to spend between 250 to maybe 400 bucks, or Ray-Bans, or something like that, the high end ones. Then you and I can go to Costco today, or God forbid Walmart, and buy a good sized, good quality, flat screen TV for 150 to 200 bucks.
Holly: Wow.
Chris Lochhead: Let’s call it 200 bucks for the TV, and 400 bucks for the sunglasses. You look at that and you go, “What? How can that be true?” One is a piece of plastic sitting on your nose, albeit a great piece of plastic, but that’s what it is. And one of them is a marvel of technology that talks to satellites. If you didn’t know any better you’d go, well the category that is the more expensive one must be the marvel of technology that talks to satellites, and yet of course it’s the opposite. Why is that? The answer to why it is that way is because the category got designed that way.
Chris Lochhead: Somebody taught the world how to think about a problem and the solution in a very particular way, and the value associated with solving that problem articulated in that way, and so we have these sort of value associations that we make, based on the way we’ve been educated to think, and we get educated to think via this mechanism called a point of view, because somebody educates us, they tell us things in a particular way. And from a category design perspective, that way of communicating with people about a problem and a solution is called a POV, or a point of view.
Chris Lochhead: The aha is, somebody taught the world to think about a problem and a solution in a very particular way. That’s why it costs what it costs. Then there’s very clear dynamics that happen in categories we can talk about if you’d like, Holly. But the first big aha is that legendary innovators, legendary entrepreneurs do not compete in an as is category. They teach the world to think about a problem and a solution in exactly the way they want the world to think, and when the world agrees with them, bam. That’s where you get Google. That’s where you get GoldieBlox, the first STEM toys for girls.
Holly: Yes, I have that in my house right now.
Chris Lochhead: Do you? Are they around?
Holly: I do. Well, yeah. So we have the movie machine. Got it for my daughter’s fifth birthday. She really enjoyed it.
Chris Lochhead: Wow. Well, Debbie Sterling, who I don’t know, who’s the founder of GoldieBlox is one of my heroes, because everybody told her in the toy industry, “Nobody’s going to buy STEM toys for girls.” She said, “Oh yeah,” and to quote the Big Lebowski, “This aggression will not stand, man,” and she proved them all wrong.
Holly: Yes, I’m so glad for that.
Chris Lochhead: As am I. That’s the other thing about category design is, in the beginning most people go, “This is never going to fly,” and then when it works everybody goes, “Well, duh. Of course.” If you look at Netflix today, of course you don’t drive to a fucking Blockbuster, and return a movie, and pay a late fee, and they probably don’t even have the movie you want next, and there’s a sweaty zitty kid behind a counter. If you just sort of think about driving to a video store and what that used to be like, everything about that sucks. But at the time, that was a solution to a problem, and Blockbuster was one of the greatest startups in American history at the time. Today, you would never want to do that, A, and B it’s like, of course you would go to a website, and you would deal with this digitally.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: But, when Reed Hastings started Netflix in the late ’90s, early 2000s, that was not an of course. That was not an obvious thing, right?
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: That’s the other thing about legendary category designers is they take something that in the beginning is a head scratcher, and then they make it an of course. Airbnb’s another great example. In the beginning, who the hell’s going to want to rent their couch, or even worse, stay on somebody’s couch, and now if I’m not mistaken, they’re the most valuable hospitality company on the planet. Right?
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: So, as Spinal Tap so famously said, “There’s a fine line between clever and stupid.” Airbnb looked like a very stupid idea, and almost everybody in Silicon Valley told them to go get fucked. Then Sequoia backed them, and Brian Chesney executed, and the rest is history. Look, you can do that at scale like those companies, or one of my other favorites that I love. We talked about them in Niche Down, is these two gals who started a baker, and because they were thoughtful about category design, there’s now 250 franchises of them, and most bakeries fail. That baker is called Nothing Bunt Cake, because they niched down on bunt cakes, and there’s over 250 franchises in the United States, and maybe beyond. I don’t know. I haven’t checked recently.
Chris Lochhead: My point is, if you and I just start a bakery and it’s called “Holly and Christopher’s Baker, maybe we’ll be successful, maybe we won’t. Chances are we won’t, if you look at the statistics. If we think we’re just going to make it to get back to where we started this conversation, if we think we’ll get good company design. We’ll have a good location, and paint the place, keep it nice and clean. We’ll have good prices, etc. Then, we’ll have good product design. We’re going to bake awesome cookies and shit, and whatever it is we’re going to bake. We’re going to hope that by having good company design and good category design, or excuse me, and good product design, the world will taste our products and everything’s just going to work out.
Chris Lochhead: That may or may not work. In most cases, it actually doesn’t work. In some cases it does. But then when you go that extra step to say, “Hey listen, we’re going to design our own category.” In the case of Nothing Bunt Cake, “We’re going to niche down hard on this one type of cake.” They did that, and of course now the rest is history. My point is, the legendary entrepreneurs, the legendary innovators don’t rely on the product to speak for itself. They do all three things: product, company, and category design. We call it prosecute the magic triangle. When you prosecute that magic triangle, if you get it right, it’s a game changer. Then you take two-thirds of the economics. That’s the other part of it. We can talk about how that works and the research behind that if you’d like.
Holly: Yeah. I actually, I love to get into the data, and I’ve actually used your data on that before in some of my talks on the category king, and what they take. Tell us a little more about what that looks like.
Chris Lochhead: The interesting thing, we did it for Play Bigger, and God bless them, the folks at the Harvard Business Review actually published an article based on this research. Just as a side note, as a guy that’s been a CMO, and been responsible for PR for the better part of 30 years of my life, I’ve never had a media company shove a thermometer so far up my butt as HBR. When you are presenting data in the Harvard Business Review, they do a lot to make sure that you’re not full of shit, and that your data is real.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: Anyway. We’ve discovered this thing, which is essentially that in the tech business, one company takes 76%, on average, of all of the value created in the category. For Play Bigger, my first book. We built a big data store of every venture backed technology company created in the United States from 2000 to 2015. We got ahold of the best data possible around how those companies grew in value. That is to say, wheen they were private, how their valuations increased over time. Of course, once their public valuation turns into market cap, and it’s very easy to track.
Chris Lochhead: In specific, what we wanted to do Holly, is get not data on market share, although market share is important. My belief is the number one goal of an executive entrepreneur on the executive team is to create enduring, sustainable value as measured by what’s the value of this company, what’s the worth of this company, market cap or valuation. It’s not profitability. It’s not revenue. It’s not cash. Those things are all important, but they’re in support of are we building a valuable company or not. With all that said, we want to understand how as categories develop, and there’s players that emerge into these new spaces, what percentage of, if you take all the companies in any given category, and you add up their valuation and/or market cap, what percentage goes to the leader, or what you could think of as the category queen or category king.
Chris Lochhead: That number in the tech industry is 76%.
Holly: Yeah, that’s humongous. I imagine I’m probably not the only person that has spent so much in the tech industry we’re not so aware of the others. Is that pretty unusual?
Chris Lochhead: I don’t have data on other industries like I do on the tech industry, so this is … What I just shared with you is HBR data, HBR validated data. What I will tell you more sort of anecdotally is that dynamic is playing out in industry, after industry, after industry, and it’s playing out in the consumer space. A good buddy of mine is a guy named Eddie Yoon.
Holly: Yeah, I just listened to that episode with him.
Chris Lochhead: Did you?
Holly: Yeah. It was really good.
Chris Lochhead: Did you enjoy it?
Holly: I sure did.
Chris Lochhead: Isn’t he awesome?
Holly: He is awesome, and the last time you had him on, I really enjoyed that one too, so I started following him.
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, I want him on on a regular basis. I think he should have his own podcast, but he doesn’t appear to be doing that so I’m just going to have him on mine on a regular basis, because I like people with giant brains who are interesting and fun. Eddie is the category growth guru to the Fortune 100. He wrote a book called Super Consumers published by Harvard Business Press. He’s been writing for HBR for quite some time. You saw we just wrote that article together, which was a blast. Hopefully we’re going to write a couple more. Anyway, what he tells me, and he works with big consumer brands.
Chris Lochhead: I don’t want to name names, but if a big potato chip manufacturer wants to do something to produce a great breakthrough in growth, they call Eddie, or a big drinks company, or a big … He’s working with a company right now that I’m helping him a little bit with in let’s just call it the beauty space. Anyway, he’s that guy, right?
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: What he tells me is that dynamic where one company gets plus or minus two-thirds of the economics is playing out in space, after space, after space. It’s predicated on two insights. One is, human dynamics. You and I as human beings are pack animals. So, every purchaser of spanks makes every non-purchaser of spanks think about and feel more comfortable with, “Maybe I should buy some spanks, too.”
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: Because we’re pack animals. We don’t want to stand out, because it’s the person that’s over here by themselves, away from the pack, that gets eaten by the lion, and so it’s sort of a primordial thing. Think about it. When you buy a car, you don’t want to buy some exotic car that nobody ever heard of that you can’t get serviced anywhere. You want to buy a good car, that you could go to the dealer, buy a Honda. There’s lots of Honda dealers, so we feel good about that. If we can’t make it to a Honda dealer, well we can probably go to Jiffy Lube and they’re going to be able to do an oil change.
Chris Lochhead: But if you bought some car that you can’t have that kind of simple service with, you’re going to feel less comfortable, right?
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: The more people that do X, the more people that are attracted to and/or comfortable doing X. That’s just a human primordial reality of why category queens and kings exist. Then of course, once the category queen starts to emerge, she gets so much more category power than anyone else, because she knows more about the market, she knows more about the customer. She’s defeating more competitors more often, etc.
Chris Lochhead: It starts this, if you will, virtuous circle that makes it very, very hard. If you think about, if you wanted to start a doll company to compete with American Girl, that’d be really hard, because they’re like so far ahead as the category queen in that space, that if you started USA girl … Here’s what everybody does. Do you remember Something About Mary?
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: It’s that seven-minute abs discussion. There’s the scene in the movie where Stiller picks up the crazed hitchhiker played by comedian named Harland Williams. Remember this?
Holly: I do. Yeah. He’s like, “Let’s do six minute, five minute,” etc.
Chris Lochhead: Yeah. He says, “What’s your strategy for success in life,” and the Harland character says, “Well, you know that commercial, eight-minute abs, I’m going to do seven-minute abs.” Then Stiller says, “That’s great, but what are you going to do when somebody comes out with six-minute abs?”
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: Most people in business are doing six-minute abs. That is to say they’re caught in a trap of mindless, stupid competition, that ultimately just erodes margins, because they don’t have any real differentiation. Legends don’t do that. They don’t play seven-minute abs, and they’re trying not to get into a competitive discussion. This is where the distinction between I’m going to compete with my better product, which is what the vast majority of people do, versus I’m going to compete with my different product. If I say to you, “Hey, Holly, what do you feel like for dinner tonight? Mexican or sushi?” I’m forcing a choice. If I say to you, “Well what do you feel like? Sushi or sashimi?” It’s on the margin, right?
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: So legends force a choice. Legends differentiate by being different. Legends want everyone that comes after them to be compared to them, not them to be compared to others, and so you have to find a way to niche down and standout around something that is, if you will, and exponential different, as opposed to what most people do, which is compete on a bunch of incremental betters.
Holly: Yeah. I love that. I personally, read Niche Down last year.
Chris Lochhead: Thank you.
Holly: Yeah, thank you for writing it. It really helped me. Last year was my second year of business as more or less a solopreneur. A coach, consultant, trainer, etc. Reading Niche Down helped me sort of take ownership of my difference. Think about that, and kind of filter out the noise of the people who say, “Shouldn’t you be like this, and like that, and like that?” It’s easier for me now to come back and be like, “No, because that’s not me. This is my different. This is my value. This is what I do.”
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, and I think that’s the biggest gift one can give oneself, is to figure out what is it that makes you different, and follow your different. What is it that makes you unique? Then, most importantly, tie that different to a problem that matters, and then when you can articulate all that in a simple point of view, then the world understands, “Okay, this is why Holly’s different, and this is why that different matters,” and I have a choice between her and something else. I’m not looking at her as just another, one of the 20 billion coaches in the world,” right?
Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: So, you stand out in that way. We become known for a niche that we can own. Right?
Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Thank you for writing that, because it really helped me.
Chris Lochhead: You’re very welcome, and thank you for saying that, because when you write the kinds of books that I have written, the reason you write them is you hope that one day you’re on a podcast with Holly, and she says that she appreciated the books.
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: No, really.
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: That’s what you dreamed of.
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: In the case of Play Bigger, a year and a half. In the case of Niche Down, about six months, but regardless of the time, it’s a big chunk of time, and it’s something you’re deeply focused and committed on. And the whole time you’re doing it you just think, “I hope at least one fucking person reads this shit and thinks it’s not garbage.”
Holly: Yeah. Oh, man.
Chris Lochhead: It’s like whenever I go do book signings today, most of the times when I go to a book signing they budget anywhere from an hour to two hours, depending on what the event is, right?
Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Lochhead: I have done four-hour book signings.
Holly: Wow.
Chris Lochhead: Because I’m not leaving until the last person who wants me to sign one of those fucking books gets that book signed, because I prayed for this day.
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: I prayed for the day that Holly said, “I read your book and it helped.” That’s why I did it, was in the hopes that one day Holly might feel that way.
Holly: Yeah. That’s awesome. Yeah, I feel like somebody else told me that too, that they sign every person who’s waiting, just wait for the whole thing, however long it takes.
Chris Lochhead: Unless there’s some f-ing reason that I’ve got to go that I don’t have any control over. But I am going to sit there, and I am going to sign every flipping book. I don’t even, it’s not even, it’s not work. It’s not a chore. No. It’s a joy.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: People want to take selfies with you and shit. It’s like, okay, all right. Let’s take a selfie. If someone says, “Can you fill this out for my mom, or my colleague?” Whatever it is, that’s a mind blowing thing to have that happen in one’s life.
Holly: Yeah. Well listening to-
Chris Lochhead: I got an email this morning from a young marketer in Brazil.
Holly: Wow.
Chris Lochhead: At the beginning of his career. He says in the email, “Christopher, I’ve read both your books, and I’m pretty sure I’ve listened to every one of your podcast episodes.” He goes on to tell me how much he appreciates it, and then he is asking for some career advice. It’s like, that’s incredible.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: Yeah.
Holly: Yeah, we live in an amazing world, too, with the connectivity, and the accessibility that people can reach out to you from Brazil, and have experienced that, and get to you.
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, I just got hit up by a guy, his name is Matt Brown. He has a very popular entrepreneur business podcast in … I know he’s in Africa. I’m pretty sure it’s South Africa. I might be wrong. But it’s definitely in Africa. I checked him out, and he’s a big damn deal over there, and a similar thing. “Read your shit. Love it. Love your podcast.” It’s just like, hey, man, making a difference in Brazil, and in Africa, and wherever, right?
Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Lochhead: We live in a miracle of a time.
Holly: Yeah. That is amazing. I’m so happy for you, and everybody who gets to do that, because I think we need those-
Chris Lochhead: Well, you get to do it too.
Holly: I totally am thrilled with what I’m doing. It’s fantastic. That’s one of the reasons why I loved the episode with Eddie, you and Eddie talking about your personal IPO, and what you can create for yourself. I don’t follow the prescribed thing. I’m, what kind of life do I want, and how do I make that work?
Chris Lochhead: Amen. Hallelujah, sister.
Holly: Yes. Exactly, so I listen to you guys and I’m like, “Yes, these are my people.” The more of that I can put out there, the more people whose questions I can answer. For me, I have two young kids, a five-year-old and a two-year-old, and so I’m also really passionate about talking about it for moms, and parents who are in the phase where their kids are at home. I appreciated that Eddie talked about that. With the parenting, it’s not like you can plan, “I’m going to have this beautiful moment on Saturday.” It’s just, it’s going to happen when it happens, and if you’re there, you’re more likely to be there for it.
Chris Lochhead: Look, you’re sort of inviting me maybe to stand on a soapbox, so I’m going to stand on it. If nicheing down and being a solopreneur, and doing a personal IP, and being able to realize the value of what we called in that HBR article, Eddie and I, the emotional business case for going solo, if those things make a difference to parents, and to single parents … I’m a product of a single mother. I want to see single parents, moms and dads, or parents together, I don’t give a shit.
Chris Lochhead: But like if you’re somebody who has children, maybe younger children like you do, Holly, and you’re trying to figure out an alternative to the corporate world, one where you have more control, and where you can do more of the things that you love, and you can do life and career design as one, which is how you should do it, because we only have one life, right?
Holly: Right. Yes.
Chris Lochhead: This business and work-life balance is such bullshit, because what are you talking about? There’s life, and then there’s what do you want to do with your life? There’s not work-life balance.
Holly: No.
Chris Lochhead: Right. Anyway, I think that’s a completely broken paradigm, because it suggests there’s work over here, and life. No. There’s just life. Sometimes you’re working, and sometimes you’re not working. By the way, if you get work really right, you need a new word for it. Everything I do today is not anything that accurately sits inside a container called work.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: I don’t know what to call it, but it ain’t work in any way that most people would think of it. Anyway, I digress a little. My point is, if my life’s work of helping people to design their own category, helping them to niche down, helping to follow their difference, helping them to understand that it’s okay to be unique, as long as you can connect that uniqueness to the world in a powerful way, if those kinds of big ideas, and the things associated underneath those ideas can make a difference to women like you with young kids who are trying to pioneer their own path, that’s exactly the difference that I’m hoping to make in the world, Holly.
Holly: That’s wonderful. Well, we’re glad to have you helping to do that, because it’s a crazy world these days, but I also believe personally in the power of networks and connectivity for us to put ways out there that work, and show them, and help other people find them, and make it happen for more people.
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, and you said a magic word in there, which is networks. Eddie and I talked about this on that recent episode. My buddy, Mike Maples Junior, who’s one of the smartest people I know, essentially says that corporation as we understand it is done. It’s a construct from plus or minus the Industrial Revolution is really where the idea takes off. He thinks this command and control business is pretty much over, and what the corporation of the future looks like is a network. I think that’s absolutely right. The beauty of being a solopreneur, or as my buddy Chris Ducker calls it, a youpreneur …
Chris Lochhead: Eddie said it on our podcast. He said, “Oh, when I went out on my own people said to me, ‘You’re going to be so lonely.'” He said, “I’m not lonely at all! The difference is, I only have the people around me that I want to have around me. I guess my point in all this is as an independent solopreneur, you create your own ecosystem, where you’re the sun, and everyone else is planets, and moons, and shit, but you also get to be the planet and moon and shit in other people’s ecosystems, right?
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: So if I take Eddie and I as an example. There’s nobody forcing Eddie and I to write articles together. There’s nobody forcing Eddie and I to work on any kind of company together, like we’re currently working on one together. There’s nobody forcing us to do podcasts, or any of these things. Why do we do it? Because we like each other. We’re of like mind, we have similar skills, but we bring different things, so we have areas in which we’re very similar, and then we have areas that we don’t overlap. That is an incredibly powerful thing, etc, etc, etc. But Eddie’s boss is not telling Eddie to work with Christopher, and my boss is not telling me to work with Eddie, right?
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: That’s the power of these sort of self-governing, self-forming networks. Whether they’re companies, or solopreneurs, or a mix. Whatever it is, if you go back to Mike, Mike Maples, that’s what he thinks the future is. What the technology allows us to do is to each be hubs and spokes of each other’s networks, and come together, work on shit together, produce some outcomes and results, disband, come back together in a different form later, etc, etc, etc. That’s an incredibly exciting thing to be part of. It’s like if everything you work on is sort of like the way Hollywood does a movie, or the way the music business does a record.
Chris Lochhead: Where you know, “Well, we need a saxophone on this tune.” “Okay, well I’ve got an unbelievable guy on saxophone.” “We need something different on the drums here.” “Well, I know this gal who’s really good at that,” etc, etc, etc. So you create this hybrid … Hybrid’s not the right word. This collage of people that come together to do something legendary. It’s very cool as a solopreneur to be able to be the creator or author of those things. For me personally, I’m often today not the creator or author of those things. I am a node in somebody else’s network, and I find that very, very rewarding.
Holly: I think you, and me, and other people like this, we’re optimizing for where we can have impact. The work we do is work that we’re good at, that we’re excited about, that we can make a contribution on, and sadly that’s not always the case when you’re in a corporate environment. Hopefully this way we drive good change for more.
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, and maybe do work that … This is going to sound like I’ve lived on the West Coast too long, but makes your heart sing a little more, right?
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: The truth is, we self-actualize through work. Not that we don’t self-actualize through other things as well, but work is a huge part of people’s lives. We had Magdalena Yesil on my podcast, she’s the original founding investor in She was talking about her mom, and how after all the kids left and all that, her mom got a job as a barista, and the joy her mom had by being known as like the greatest barista in their town, and everybody who came into that coffee shop knows her by name, and when she walks down the street, she bumps into customers, and everybody loves her, and the pride she has from making people cappuccinos and shit.
Chris Lochhead: Here’s a woman who is a wife, and a mother, and all that stuff, but she’d never had that sort of work self-actualization, and what a big difference it has been making to her in her later years. My point is, everybody has that need. Right?
Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Lochhead: I think your life is different. Let me say it that way. Your life is meaningfully different. Your relationship with yourself is meaningfully different when you achieve a level of success and mastery, and are generally respected and admired for your work, whether you’re a barista, or whether you’re Elon Musk. That doesn’t matter. We all have that primordial human need to gain some mastery, to feel like we’re making a contribution and a difference, and to be recognized and acknowledged by whether it’s our peers, or our customers, as being somebody of value in our chosen field.
Holly: Yeah, absolutely. I hope that we’re able to reach a place where modern technology makes that easier for people, instead of them being scared about losing the paycheck that came with the job that didn’t give them that satisfaction.
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, I mean as we talked about in the HBR article and in the podcast episode that sits with it, it’s not always true of course, and I don’t want to have rose colored glasses. It’s a very scary thing to go from a paycheck to, “How the fuck are we going to make the mortgage?” It’s a very real thing. And, as Eddie said, there’s real joy on the other side of fear. What the data suggests is that at least among executives, that most executives make equal, if not more, when they do this.
Holly: Yeah, absolutely.
Chris Lochhead: Look, here’s the other thing, there’s no security. Come on.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: When I was a kid, what was security? “Go get a good government job, a good union government job!” Oka and I don’t know if you want to get political or not, we don’t necessarily have to get political, but regardless of your political beliefs, we have 800,000 people in our country that have “good government jobs.” I don’t know what percent of them are unionized, but they’re good government jobs, right?
Holly: Yeah, supposedly.
Chris Lochhead: And they’re not fucking getting paid.
Holly: Yeah, it’s-
Chris Lochhead: They’re in food lines. We have TSA agents in food lines.
Holly: Yeah, no, it’s crazy.
Chris Lochhead: We have air traffic controllers that can’t feed their families. There is no security, period. You don’t necessarily have to be an entrepreneurs or a solopreneur, but what I do think you have to do is it’s a headset, it’s a mindset that I am responsible for my life. I am responsible for my job, my career, my income, and my self-actualization and self-expression through my work. I think that’s a good headset to have. If we outsource that to our employer, we’re in trouble, because you just never know when someone’s going to move the cheese.
Holly: That’s right. That’s absolutely right. Heavy stuff, but I’m super excited to talk with you about it. I don’t know about you, but I actually probably need to wrap up, so I always love to ask people if they have one final piece of advice for like new startup founders. I’m sure you’ve talked to a share of people who are saying, “Gosh, I want to achieve this greatness” that these companies you were at did. What would you tell them?
Chris Lochhead: The first thing I would say is, it’s the people who are different that make the biggest difference. What is the difference that you have or can create that’s going to make a difference, particularly in the domain of solving a giant problem in a completely unique way. That fundamentally is category design. That fundamentally is what nicheing down is about. Different, not better. Get focused on what’s the difference that you have that’s going to make the difference that’s going to position you proactively as unique, and that’s it’s going to have you stand out in a way that it’s going to be virtually impossible to compete with you.
Chris Lochhead: That’s the first one. Here’s the second one. The reward is that you do it. So, we’re so goal oriented in our world, Holly. Everybody thinks it’s about getting to some place.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: Look, there are some places that are worth getting to. If you have some of those places, then go get after it. So for me, financial freedom was a place to get to, and my definition of financial freedom was not having to work again and being able to have the lifestyle that I want for the rest of my life. I got to that place at a fairly young age, and that’s an incredible thing, and that’s an achievement, and you should be proud of it, or whatever goal along those lines you may have for yourself and/or your business. But what I’m here to tell you is as awesome as that shit is, and it is …
Chris Lochhead: You know, we had Andre Iguodala, who was the MVP of the MBA finals for the legendary Golden State Warriors on my podcast. He said something really interesting. He admitted that the second and third championships don’t feel anywhere near like what the first championship feels like. The aha in that is that, and it’s something that particularly as a player who’s getting a little bit towards the end of his career, we talk about this. That his reward, particularly having already won now three championships, if I’m not mistaken it’s three, but anyway it’s a fair number. His reward is that he gets to play basketball, and he gets to play basketball with those guys, and then that they get to win.
Chris Lochhead: I guess my point, to get back to your question is, the reward is the journey. The reward is the struggle. The reward is that you get to play, and so pick the game you want to play very carefully. Let me say it even more specifically. Start or join a company worthy of your talent.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: Yeah. Then the third thing I’d say is there’s going to be a massive amount of losery along the way. Losery being a word we invented to make failure sound a lot more fun than it actually is. There’s going to be massive, massive losery. It’s going to fucking suck. It’s going to suck like physical pain in your body, like wanting to cry, like can’t even believe it, like, “Why am I doing this?” Ben Horowitz, the entrepreneur turned venture capitalist who wrote The Hard Thing About Hard Things, he’s got a great quote, and I’ll paraphrase. He says, “You know, when I was a startup CEO, I slept like a baby. I woke up every two hours screaming, looking for my mommy.”
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: There’s going to be that. You will feel like a failure. You will feel like a sack of shit on the floor, and nobody can put your Humpty Dumpty back together. That’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen many, many times. To bring it back to Eddie, Eddie says, “Are you a missionary or a mercenary?” Because missionaries, if you’re a missionary, and you’re primarily motivated by money, missionaries are going to tap out. Excuse me, mercenaries are going to tap out.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: Missionaries will walk through flaming glass to make it happen. That’s why I say pick or start a company worthy of your talent, that you can get fired up about the mission behind it, because if you do that, then those moments of losery are going to hurt, but you’re going to continue. I had to start all over two years ago as a podcaster from the bottom. It’s weird when you’ve achieved a certain level of success in one domain, and you move into another, in my case writing and podcasting, and you go from being at least in my case, known in your niche, and a little bit respected, and whatever. Like, I’d achieved some shit.
Chris Lochhead: Then you start at the bottom, and you’re a nobody. It’s very humbling, and people treat you like shit, and success doesn’t come anywhere near as fast as you want it to, and there’s lots of reasons to quit. At any point where I said, “Okay, well fuck it! I’m not writing another book, or I’m not writing the first book, because this is too hard, or for whatever reason the podcast is pissing me off,” or whatever. I just go, “Okay, so great. So stop podcasting, Lochhead, or stop writing. Then what are you going to do?”
Chris Lochhead: The reality for me, and I think this is the reality for most of us entrepreneurs is you can’t not do the thing, because you’re pulled to it. You’re drawn to it. It’s almost like the mission has you by the throat whether you want to do it or not.
Holly: Yes. Yeah. Absolutely.
Chris Lochhead: I just think these are some of the dynamics that you’re going to face on this path, and being wide eyed and open eyed about them in the beginning is really important. Maybe take some of the heat out of it and, God if my younger self could only know to just fucking enjoy the ride a little bit more, because it’s actually about having a great ride. That’s really what it’s about, and the people that you meet along the way.
Holly: Yeah. But it’s so hard when you’re in those moments to step back and say, “Hey, I should just be enjoying this ride.”
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, and love the losery.
Holly: Yeah. Have you had moments, I mean you mentioned moments where you thought, “Okay, the podcast is annoying me,” or whatever. But what does that look like, and how did you get yourself back to doing the next thing?
Chris Lochhead: I think any of these things are simple, which is get back to why you started it in the first place. What’s your real mission? What are you up to? Why does this matter to you? If you can get centered back on the why, if you can get centered back on the mission, if you can get centered back on your true north for why you started whatever it is you started in the beginning. In my case, and look I know it sounds corny, but it’s true. In my case, it was that a magical combination of wanting to give back and make a difference, and thinking that writing and podcasting were the primary ways that made sense to me, because I’m somebody that wouldn’t exist if David Ogilvy didn’t writing Ogilvy on Advertising.
Chris Lochhead: That’s the first part. Wanting to make a difference, and choosing these vehicles, in my case writing and podcasting, as the primary vehicles to do that. I still do a little bit of advising and investing, but those things don’t scale, so I can only work with a few companies. Podcasting and writing can scale, and so it just gets back to that. It’s like, okay why are we doing this? Why are you really doing this? When you can get focused on your mission, and your purpose, or your why, or whatever words you want to associate with it, then tolerating the bullshit of the how, and the losery along the way becomes a lot easier.
Holly: Yeah. I’ve definitely experienced that as well.
Chris Lochhead: Yeah. I think we all do.
Holly: Yeah. We do. Then there’s times when I forget that, or get far from it, or think it’s crazy, and then it maybe takes me a little longer to get back up, but eventually I get back up and I’m like, “Okay, this is the mission. This is why we’re doing it.”
Chris Lochhead: The other thing is time’s on all of our sides. I think having some perspective on this really really helps. If you look at yourself, I guarantee you, Holly, there are results that you’re super stoked about that happen in your life and your business today that a year ago, six months ago, two years ago, three years ago seemed very difficult, if maybe even impossible. Now, there may be some work, but they’re not that hard. Yes?
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: So, that’s the other sort of perspective that we need to have. Tonight, by way of example, I’m going to go have dinner with the had of marketing and the founder/CEO of one of the highest profile tech startups of the last decade in Silicon Valley, backed by one of the top venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, and it’s a nonchalant … And the founder/CEO guy is a billionaire, and he’s been on magazine covers, and da, da, da, da, da, da, da.
Chris Lochhead: For me, today, that’s not a big deal. I mean, I’m very much looking forward to the meeting. Very interesting set of people. Maybe we’ll work together, maybe we won’t. So, I don’t want to be flippant about it, but at the same time that’s not an unusual discussion for me to have. Now, if you had said to me at 18 or 25, “Hey, some of the top folks in the tech industry are going to seek you out, and they’re going to read your books, and they’re going to read your books, and they’re going to want to have dinner with you, and they’re going to want to ask for advice, and maybe they’re going to want to engage you, or have you join their board, or whatever the fuck it is they’re going to want to do. And this was going to be relatively easy.
Chris Lochhead: You’re just going to get this email, and this billionaire was going to say, “Hey, over the Christmas holiday I read your book, and I thought it was really awesome, and I think you could really help us, and I know some people who know you, and da, da, da, da, da, and can we have dinner to talk about all this shit?” If you had told the 25-year-old me, or the 18-year-old me that that shit would happen in my life on a regular basis, I would’ve been dancing cartwheels. I would’ve been like, “Really?” So, tonight is a great example of … The thing I’m going to do tonight is a dream come true for the 18-year-old me, and today I’m nonchalant about it.
Chris Lochhead: My point is, if you do enough of the right stuff for long enough, then you can produce breakthroughs. They just don’t feel as dramatic as they might, because they happen over time. I’m not surprised today that that happens. Because, I fucking did the work to get there.
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: Right?
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: I belong in the goddamn room.
Holly: Yeah.
Chris Lochhead: And so I don’t go like, “Oh my God! I’ve got to go meet this billionaire!” No, he’s not the first fucking billionaire I’ve hung out with. Far from it. But, the 18-year-old version of me would have been shitting, both scared, and happy, and all that stuff, and I’m going to go have an interesting dinner. My point is, we can traverse extraordinarily challenging terrain, and achieve levels of success far beyond what we thought was possible if we apply ourselves over time.
Holly: Yeah. What is the saying? We over estimate what we can get done in a short period, but we under estimate what we can achieve in a longer period.
Chris Lochhead: Yeah.
Holly: We think 10 years from now what could I be doing? 10 years is a long time away.
Chris Lochhead: Right, so if I get pissed out about something on my podcast, or my books, or whatever I go, “Okay, well you’ve been at it for two years, you dumb ass. What’s it going to be like when you’ve been doing this for 10 years?” I don’t know, but one thing’s for sure. You’re going to be meaningfully better at it, one would hope.
Holly: Yes. Yes, yes. That’s exactly right. That’s actually, that’s good to hear, too, because like I said I’m two years into my business, so I’m thinking okay, yeah if you get several years out, then some of the things that seem crazy right now, I’ll have learned from all of them.
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, and you will get much further. You won’t get anywhere near where you think you can get in two years, and you will get meaningfully further, if not to places you could never dream in a decade. I try to center myself, Holly on, hey, what’s the most legendary thing I could do today? If I was legendary, and it was today, what would I do? Well, I know for sure it’s today, right?
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: So, if I do what I think a legendary person in my position could or should do today, then 10 years from now will take care of itself, won’t it?
Holly: Yes.
Chris Lochhead: I don’t know if you’ve heard this expression. I love it. What will future you thank present you for?
Holly: Yes. That’s a good one.
Chris Lochhead: Yeah, I love that one, but it leads me to another one in my life which is, man, so I’m 50. There’s a lot of shit that 50-year-old me is really grateful and thankful that 25-year-old me got busy on. Like I want to really take 25-year-old me out for a beer and go, “Hey, dude. Thanks for busting your balls, because 50-year-old me is having a great time, and we never would’ve been here unless you did all that shit.”
Holly: Yes, absolutely. That’s awesome. This has been fantastic. Thank you so much for your time, Christopher, and for your wisdom and insights, and lovely wonderful energy. I can’t wait to listen to more podcasts, and more content, and just see where things go, and how many people follow your wisdom, or follow your different.
Chris Lochhead: Thank you, Holly. I super appreciate you having me on your podcast, and I love the work that you’re doing. We need more entrepreneurs. We need more solopreneurs. We need more female entrepreneurs, and so bless you.
Holly: Thanks so much, Christopher, and have a great dinner. Product Science Podcast is brought to you by H2R Product Science. We teach startup founders and product leaders how to use the Product Science method to discover the strongest product opportunities, and lay the foundations for high growth products, teams, and business. Learn more at Enjoying this episode? Don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss next week’s episode. I also encourage you to visit us at to sign up for more information and resources from me and our guests. If you love the show, writing a review would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.