For some authors, this creative life is about seeing their one book in the world.
Others have a vision of their stories reaching the world in many forms, over many years. Today I interview Sean Platt about the beginning of his story studio, and his journey from co-author of one book to the multi-faceted creative business he runs today.
In the intro, I mention the history-making deal that Barbara Freethy has made with Ingram for print distribution to bookstores – exciting times for indies as the final frontiers come tumbling down! I also recommend the new book, ‘Discoverability: Help readers find you in today’s world of publishing‘ by Kristine Kathryn Rusch – it’s a goldmine for fiction authors. Plus I mention my design competition for the key to the Gates of Hell, which I ran on 99 Designs 🙂
This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
Sean Platt is a storyteller, creating myriads of bestselling fiction through his story studio Sterling and Stone with co-writers David Wright and Johnny B Truant, as well as being one of the hosts of the fantastic Self Publishing Podcast.
Sean’s journey from his first book to running a story studio.
- I interviewed him first in Nov 2011 and it’s taken iterative steps to get to the point of having so many books available now, it’s getting hard to count! Sean talks about his copywriting and internet marketing background and how that helped get him started. How the foundational books have led to more experimental work by layering and building on the steps before. Film and TV and all the rest are for the future, but it’s important to take each step at a time.
- The long term view. The next 5 to 10 years in the business of publishing. Long term thinking is a mindset thing. We talk a bit about Kindle Unlimited and making choices for the short term vs the long term. Sean mentions that someone will figure out some kind of tool for discoverability in fiction that rivals the way non-fiction is sold. This will disrupt the way books are sold.
- On gaming and other media. I mention the gaming advert ‘This is for the players,’ and Oculus Rift. We talk about getting our stories into gaming and other media, as well as 3D printing. We’re both super excited about this in the future. On bleeding edge activities for indies – like translation. Sean mentions that people shouldn’t copy his methods e.g. not worrying about sales but focusing on the big picture. We talk about growth hacking and how you need awesome product in order to grow something.
On switching your head from introverted storyteller to CEO of the global publishing empire.
- Sean’s business model: I build stuff, and I talk about it. That’s two different things, and they go in that order. Every morning he creates beats, creating story and then spends time on the business side of things. There’s a lot of moving parts and all of it is valuable.
- How to work effectively and collaborate with others and on leaving the ego behind. How to trust your gut when talking to people you might collaborate with. Some tips for knowing when you have a partner you can work with.
- On finding inspiration in order to keep going with helping other people. On not wanting to be the smartest guy in the room. Making time to have a break, but the reality of a start-up is hard work and long hours. Lucky we love our creative work!
Transcription of the interview with Sean Platt
Joanna Penn: Hi everyone, I’m Joanna Penn, from TheCreativePenn.com, and today I’m here with Sean Platt. Hi, Sean.
Sean Platt: Hi, Joanna. It’s so awesome to be here.
Joanna: It’s great to have you back on the show. In case anyone doesn’t listen to the Self-Publishing Podcast, and I’ve agonized over the introduction, so let’s see how I go. Sean is a storyteller creating myriads of bestselling fiction through his story studio, Sterling and Stone, which could be a bit of a tongue twister, with co-writers David Wright and Johnny B Truant, as well as one of the hosts of the fantastic Self-Publishing Podcast. Is that all right for an intro, Sean?
Sean: That sounds fantastic. I’m blushing.
Joanna: Yeah, well what’s interesting, you were on this show last in November 2011-
Sean: Yeah, the world has changed since then, for sure.
Joanna: I know.
Sean: There was no podcast, we had one book to our name. We hadn’t yet started trying to reinvent the wheel, you know?
Joanna: Yeah, well that’s what I wanted to first ask you about. Your bio when I introduced you in November, 2011, it was for the launch of Yesterday’s Gone. You were replicating the launch of a nonfiction book in the fiction space, which we both know kind of failed, and we know that doesn’t work anymore.
Sean: Yeah, that doesn’t work.
Joanna: It just doesn’t work.
So can you just talk briefly about how you’ve shifted from where you were then to this story studio?
Sean: Yeah. Actually even back then this is kind of where I wanted to be. I think our word for this year is “iterative,” right? You can’t get the moon the first time, right? You’ve got to send a rocket up there before you send people up there, and I think that’s a really big lesson for us because all three of us to varying degrees have big plans. There’s really cool, big stuff that we want to do, and we just can’t do it because we want to.
We have to do the little baby steps that get us there in munch-able chunks, so I love the idea of a story studio. I love the idea of being all over the place with different genres, and different audiences, too. I love telling stories to my children and I love telling very grownup stories too, and I want to just tell stories. They make me get to know myself better and I feel like I make a difference in the world and I touch people’s lives, and that’s what I want to do. It feeds me, but you have to start with just the one little serial story, Yesterday’s Gone, right? I think that I was really lucky to hit fiction when I did because I had a pretty strong copy-writing background, I had a pretty strong marketing background, and I think that it enabled me to see the intersections that I needed to veer onto to make that first wave, and that was all like 1.0 stuff. I still was doing full-time copy-writing, I had a little bit to build before I could put that behind me, but that was always a goal. I never wanted to be a full-time copywriter. In fact, not being a copywriter is the most expensive decision I’ve ever made, but I still really believe in it and I believe that’s where I’m going, and I believe in the 10 year plan, but by no means did I think, “okay, I’m going to do fiction and I’m going to be rich,” because that’s not how it works. It’s very, very, hard, hard work and it’s constant. In Write Publish Repeat that’s kind of our model.
You can’t just go out there and pin your hopes on this one big book and see the finish line and, “oh, I’m done. I’m a published author.” Well, great. You’re going to languish and not do well. You really have to get out there and connect with the audience one book after another. So Yesterday’s Gone was just a way for us to connect with audience in a really novel way at the time. I think you look at Amazon now and there’s a lot of that language, with episodes and seasons and that kind of stuff, but when we did that, not only did it not exist, but everyone said we were stupid. “That’s not going to work, that’s not going to work.” Then it was just a matter of growing from there.
We started the podcast really just because Johnny nagged us into it. I don’t think that ever would have happened. Dave and I had talked about it, but that means nothing. I think Johnny really was instrumental in getting the Self-Publishing Podcast going. What I really love, and I didn’t know this until we were actually building the Sterling and Stone site and moving those old podcasts over, but in the very first episode we talked about Sterling and Stone, and that’s really interesting to me because I thought that was something that was just in my head that I kept to myself. I didn’t really know that I had talked out loud about that so early, and that’s pretty cool. Most of the stuff I do now is stuff that I had wanted to do six years ago, and I just couldn’t do it yet, and I failed. I’ve failed so many times online, but I keep circling back to the ideas. “Okay, I’m stronger now. I can try that idea again.”
The book that Johnny and I are just finishing right now, it’s called Axis of Aaron. It’s very literary, it’s a standalone novel. It’s not genre fiction, it had no tie-in to any funnel, and we wrote it because that’s creatively what we wanted to do, and we couldn’t have afforded to do that last year. We had to build our basic foundation before we could do that. So it’s our version of buying a sports car. It’s just, “I can afford to write a book that no one’s going to,” if they read it, awesome, but it really is just a creatively rewarding experience for me. Goodness, people. So it would be really great to be able to do more and more of that stuff.
The last few years have just been really layering one thing on another, and I’m very careful to only take baby steps. I’m very careful to only, because there’s so much I want to do and I think it’s a mistake to rush your steps, and that’s why I haven’t sold anything to film and TV for example, because I think that I’m not ready for it. Yes, I have the content and yes, I think it would do well in that environment, but I’m not ready. I want to own my copyright, I want to make my own stuff, I want to have more control, and my actual traditional publishing experience has been the one that’s been so out of my control and so not a part of my plans that it’s made me even more gun shy to do things that I’m not ready to do.
Joanna: You know what’s going to be funny, you and Johnny could win a literary prize or something for Axis of Aaron. That would just be hilarious.
Sean: It would be hilarious. Do you know the story of Axis?
Joanna: Only what you’ve shared on the podcast.
Sean: I don’t know, it’s so funny because it’s exactly the kind of thing where people, we would get a lot of emails from people trying to save us from ourselves. “What are you doing? You can’t write a story that way,” but I love it. I love doing stuff that hasn’t been done before. That’s one of the things that feeds me, too. It really drives me. If I know something hasn’t been done before and I can articulate a way to make it happen, even if I don’t have all those steps yet, but I know, “okay, we’re here and I can see this and I can see the alchemy,” then it’s just a matter of getting my hands into the clay and figuring out how to shape it.
Joanna: Then it’s interesting because we’ve talked before and you’ve said you don’t really care about rankings. You do these projects, you don’t necessarily want to get short term sales. You’ve got this long term view. How do you see the next five to 10 years in the business? We get so obsessed with, “oh, Kindle Unlimited, the latest thing,” or whatever.
How do we take a longer term view on the five to 10 year? What is publishing going to look like? What are you thinking is going to happen?
Sean: Well, it’s really hard. I think that’s a mindset thing and it’s very difficult. Right now, Unlimited, there are a lot of people doing very well with Unlimited, and for me, I mean for all of us, I think we’re very united on this. We kind of hate Unlimited. Not Unlimited; I think it’s a good idea and it serves customers well, and I think that’s all great. What I hate is the fact that Amazon has these amazing tools and you only get them if you’re exclusive, and I really don’t like the exclusivity. I really, really don’t like it.
In fact, we’re moving not only away from exclusivity with Amazon, but exclusivity with e-tailers. I want relationships with my readers. I don’t want Amazon to have that relationship. Now, they deserve it. They built the platform. I don’t begrudge them. I’m not, “Amazon’s evil.” I don’t think that at all. Amazon changed my life and I’m very appreciative to Amazon, but on the other hand I don’t want to be exclusive to Amazon. The only one I’m exclusive to is my wife. That’s it, and my partners and the people in my life, but as far as business, I think that I should be able to serve any reader who wants to, however they want to consume it, I should be able to let them consume it that way. I
t’s not cool to have a bunch of readers on Kobo that have come to read us and have come to expect us and they’re waiting for Yesterday’s Gone Season Five and we’re actually going to be in Select for 90 days on Season Five, and I hate that. I hate that I’m weak enough to do that, because the right thing to do is to just say, “no, Amazon, no. I’m going to offer this on my site and I’m going to offer it at Kobo and Sony and Apple and,” blah, blah, blah.
Joanna: Is that part of what you see? A disruption in the space? As in, Amazon won’t have the dominant position in 10 years because everybody really will have changed their business model and won’t-
Joanna: Won’t allow this, basically.
Sean: Yeah, I do think that. I think a couple of big things will happen.
I think somebody’s going to figure out discoverability for fiction, because nonfiction, that’s taken care of.
It’s not hard to find a nonfiction book because people are looking for answers. How To Market A Book. That is the most elegantly named title on Amazon because that is the exact phrase that people who want the content in your book are looking for. It’s that simple, and so nonfiction just isn’t a problem there, and not just the titles of the books, but the descriptions. They’re just so in alignment with reader desire. I have this problem, I’m trying to solve it. The Dream Engine? How am I supposed to sell that on keywords, on anything like that? No one is looking for that. Entertainment is different, but I think that somebody, because it’s a multi-billion dollar idea, right? Somebody is going to figure out the way to make fiction easily discoverable and shareable, and it’s not Goodreads. That’s not what I mean, because-
Joanna: Yeah, that’s still an old model.
Sean: Yeah, and you need casual readers, too. Goodreads isn’t for casual readers, it’s for people who are, they are readers, they would identify themselves as readers, but you need something that’s just a little more commonplace where people who like to read but wouldn’t identify themselves as readers. That’s the mechanism that we need, and we’ll get there. We’re just not there now, but I think that once that problem is solved that’s going to change it for people like me, for sure, because we have a lot of fiction and our funnels at this point are very deep.
If somebody finds us on a random book and we do an intelligent job of leading them here and there and here, our lifetime reader value I think at this point is pretty high for an indie author, and will be exponentially so five years from now, especially because we’ll be able to say, “okay, you just got Yesterday’s Gone Season One.” That will be free because we’ve got six seasons a few years from now. “Now you can get the app, you can get the audio book, you can get the full bundle,” which I can’t sell on Amazon because, you know-
Joanna: It’s too expensive.
Sean: If it’s $10.01 all of a sudden I’m down to no commission, but on my site I could sell all six seasons for $19.99. I win, the reader wins, everybody wins. I could send them to the graphic novel and I could probably send them to the TV show we’re producing. So we’re not just trying to go wide, we’re trying to go vertically and horizontally, and it will take years and years to do that, but things like the discoverability engine, when that is really figured out, that will be a game changer across the board, because right now the best discoverability engine is Amazon. The discoverability engine that Amazon uses is only fantastic compared to nothing else.
Sean: Right? It’s not what we want. It’s not what we need, but it’s still by far, exponentially the best that there is, and so therefore they hold all the cards, and they deserve to hold all the cards because they’ve still done it better than anybody else, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be that way forever, and when it doesn’t I think that will fundamentally change the game from the bottom up.
Joanna: I like that you’re saying it needs to be more casual readers, because I saw an advert in the Underground recently. I think it was Xbox. It must have been a terrible advert, but it said, the tagline was, “this is for the players.” I’m not even a gamer and I was really attracted to this advert, and it looked amazing. You know how these games look especially for an action adventure thriller author. I’m like, “wow, that looks amazing. I want to-
Sean: You should play the Tomb Raider game. I bet you’d really dig it.
Joanna: Yeah, I probably would. I’m scared to get into gaming. I think, “oh dear.” I see my husband, he loves it, but this is the thing. I’m not sure where apps are going to go, but I feel, and I mentioned this when I interviewed Tucker about the Oculus Rift and how we can get our stories into different worlds.
You mentioned film and TV. Have you guys thought about the gaming side, which of course is a massive, billion dollar industry?
Sean: Oh yeah, totally. There is no media that I don’t think we’ll touch 10 years from now, but it has to be specific. For example, we have a line called LOL, which are just funny books. The only reason they exist is for readers to laugh out loud when they read them. That’s it, so that doesn’t really work as an audio book, for example. Maybe it could, but probably not.
Joanna: With canned laughter.
Sean: Yeah. The jokes catch you by surprise and you laugh to yourself, but with a narrator it wouldn’t be the same rhythm and it probably wouldn’t work. Yesterday’s Gone could work really well as a video game. It just could. The environment is there for it, it works really well in audio book, it would work really well as a graphic novel. You can’t just say, “okay, I want everything to be in every place, but I think that one of the reasons that we want to go so wide is, not only are we very interested in telling all kinds of stories to all kinds of markets, but that allows us to try different kinds of mediums, too.
Merchandising; we have a children’s line, Guy Incognito, and very much merchandising would fit with that, but it wouldn’t necessarily fit with Collective Inkwell. Maybe a few things. I could see Boricio having a What Would Boricio Do t-shirt or something like that because people really like that character, but most of the stuff that’s written for Guy, if it took off, could have merchandise. So I think that, again, there’s nothing we would be afraid to try, but yeah, games would be great. Johnny and I have a book called Namaste, which would make a fantastic beat-em-up. It’s about a-
Joanna: The monk guy.
Sean: Buddhist monk who goes on a rampage of revenge, but it would make a really cool, the way it’s written is very big boss, big boss, big boss, you know? That’s the rhythm of a video game. So I love the idea of seeing our stories in, because as technology has improved in that environment, the stories are getting better and better.
So I like the idea of being a part of that revolution, and as games get more and more sophisticated and they’re actually looking for quality writers, because it’s always been that the story has to serve the game instead of the game having to serve the story, and I think we’re at a pivot point right now, and pretty soon we’re going to see games that really are there to serve the story.
Joanna: Yeah, I’m going to do a 3D printed thing with my next book, going to collaborate with a 3D print designer and do a pattern. I know obviously no one’s got a 3D printer yet, but I’m so enthusiastic about it because it’s so cool.
Sean: Yeah, that’s what I love about you, too. You’re always thinking in ways that other, it’s not that other authors aren’t willing to, it’s jut that they don’t even know to. I love that. Your eyes are so wide open and that’s fantastic.
Joanna: I’m like you. I like playing in this, bleeding edge though. I mentioned to you the translation thing before and I’ll talk about that separately another time, but I would not suggest people do what I do.
Sean: Well, right, and that’s hard. When you’re doing so many things that other people wouldn’t do, it’s hard. You started at the beginning of this conversation about us not caring about sales. That’s terrible advice. It’s the worst, I would never tell somebody to ignore their sales, but it was very important last year; 2013 was a production year for us. It did not matter how many books we sold, it mattered how many franchises we built on the bottom so that we could start building on top of those, and if we start worrying about, look, I’m good at sales.
I know how to build funnels, I know how to create fantastic auto-responders, I know how to get people to buy, that’s not what I want to do right now.
Growth hacking is something that I’m fascinated by because you really get you users to grow for you, right? I love that, but what I see the mistakes people make in the growth hacking space is, “how do we grow? How do we grow?” Dude, build an awesome product first. Build something that is easy to grow because it’s awesome. You know what? We can’t do that in a month or six months or a year. That’s going to take three or four years to grow something really amazing, and then we turn the growth hacking engine on.
So I’m embarrassed because I don’t have a single auto-responder across any of our lines, and I used to be paid quite a lot of money to make great auto-responders. I’m good at that, but it’s just that I don’t want to take the time to stop and do that because then I’m putting sales before quality, and I don’t ever want to do that. It should always be reader-first, it should always be product-first. How can we make the things that we’re making more amazing? Not, “how can we drive more sales?” I need enough to eat, I need enough to feed my children, and I need enough to take my wife to a nice dinner every once in a while. That’s it. Everything else will come later, and I need enough to get Johnny down to Austin right now too, actually.
Joanna: Yeah, and I need to make enough so I can come to one of your summits. That’s one of my plans.
Sean: It would be so awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun than that weekend.
Joanna: I know. I was listening going, “oh, damn it.” I see this happening too, though. I feel like it’s starting to mature, the space is starting to mature. The way you talk as well, you’re talking in a similar way as I do, as a business man, as a CEO of your story studio now, and a lot of people ask me, and I want to ask you,
How do you switch your head from Sean the introverted, storytelling guy who just wants to make stuff up to Sean the CEO of the global publishing empire?
Sean: That’s a fantastic question. I was at a friend of mine’s house a few years ago, and she’s a little crazy, and she’s just all over the place, and I love her dearly. I’m the godfather to her children, but she’s crazy. She’s thoroughly crazy because she makes me look mute. She has more ideas than anyone I’ve ever met and she’s just all over the place. I was doing a lot of copy-writing for her and, because she was all over the place, I had to be all over the place too. So it just made me, I just wanted to step back.
I was over at her house for dinner and she was just like, “wah” with all this information and all these things she wanted to do, and I just said, “man, I just want to build stuff and talk about it.” I will never forget that moment because that defined my business model in the fewest words ever.
To this day, that’s how I define what I do for a living. I build stuff and I talk about it.
Those are two different things and they have to go in that order. You have to build your thing, whatever it is, and then you go out there and talk about it. They’re different skills for sure. When I’m building something in the morning, I get up very early every morning, and I start on what I call beats, which is the basic pre-production stuff that I’m going to then hand off to Dave or Johnny and I’m creating the world.
That’s purely just creation mode, and I determined earlier in this year that, because I’m not writing right now, and that kind of breaks my heart a little bit because I do love writing, and I’m building the Sterling and Stone site out and I’m doing a lot of that kind of stuff, a lot of project planning, and I keep telling myself so that I feel okay, I keep telling myself that that is my writing. It’s still creating, it’s a creative block and I’m writing something that’s larger than just words on a page. I decided that, no matter what, I could sacrifice words on a page, but I couldn’t sacrifice that world building.
I had to make that a part of each day no matter what because that’s the building stuff. The talking about it just happens. Whether I want it to or not it happens. We have a lot of podcasts, I do stuff like this, I email a lot because we get a lot of emails that I respond to and it takes a lot of time, and that’s part of the talking about it, and then building the team is talking about it. Meetings are almost a daily thing now because we have so many things going on, whether I’m talking to Jacob, who is our admin/project manager, or Johnny or Dave, there are a lot of moving parts and we’re always kind of talking about it, but also the talking about it is really, really valuable too.
I think that’s the intersection there, I also think that the talking about it, if you go into it with the right mindset, it’s part of the building, too, because I think that if you are with creative, collaborative people and you’re talking things out, you’re also creating stuff and you’re getting smarter and you’re figuring out those solutions and you’re seeing those intersections.
It’s shocking how often I think, “okay, this is the way we’re going to do this thing,” and 10 minutes into our conversation, 10 minutes into our meeting, “no, of course. That’s so dumb to do it that way because this way is clearly better.” I think that means that you have to be, you can’t bring ego into relationships like this. When you’re collaborating with people you have to be candid and you have to be willing to accept candor, and if you can do those two things and not bring your big ego into it, then I think that you can make magic easier, and I think that it’s a mistake to say that you shouldn’t have ego, because I think ego is very valuable.
I think ego is a great thing. I want to build a really big story studio, I want to buy land in Austin and build a big place where we make stuff, and I think you have to have ego to have those thoughts. When we did our summit earlier this year and we did our Kickstarter we got a lot of push-back from some fans, and they said, “the ego on these people,” and I’m like, “damn right. Of course. I want to do big things and I need ego for that,” but you can’t bring your ego into a place where it hurts people and you can’t bring your ego into where it’s a pillow on the face of other good ideas because you think that you’re right. I never think that I’m right.
I trust my gut, I trust my instincts, but I also trust my partners, I trust my collaborators and I trust them to tell me when I’m wrong or to tell me when I’m too enthusiastic about an idea, which I am very capable of being. So it’s very nice, and I think that I’m also lucky to have such quality collaborators, all the way from my first, which was Dave, who is as pessimistic as they come.
So that’s actually good to temper me, but I’m also really lucky to have Johnny, who agrees with maybe 95% of what I say, but that 5% is gold. It’s gold, that disagreement because it usually means that we pivot in the right way. Even Jacob, who’s the newest member of the team, he’s always got his hand up, “wait, what if we do it this way?” and that’s wonderful. So I think that to be the CEO of whatever, even if you’re the CEO of one, it really means listening to the people around you. You know, what you do with this show is genius because you’re able to bring people on and you’re able to have conversations with them, and I can’t imagine each one doesn’t make you a little bit smarter.
Joanna: Oh yeah, that’s why I do this.
Sean: Right, but you’re never thinking, “I’m right. I know everything.” You’re surrendering yourself and saying, “what can I learn from the people that I’m bringing on to have a conversation with? Because they know about X more than I do.” I think that, if you want to be a really good leader and you want to build stuff and talk about it and actually get momentum from the stuff that you build and talk about, you have to be a good listener. I think that’s really, really important. You can’t think, “my ideas are the best,” because they’re probably not.
Joanna: Your relationship with Dave and with Johnny has really been making me think about this collaboration thing. I would say I’m, like many indies I have control freak-ery issues, but what you guys can do with more than one person is so impressive. In working with narrators and audio books and translators, I’m feeling the control freak-ery dissipate a little bit.
Sean: Right, right.
Joanna: So you really inspire me on that, but what I wanted to ask on the collaboration is, it sounds like, from everything that you guys have said publicly, and you’ve had a long business, businesses before all of this, have you had collaborations that haven’t worked?
How do you know to trust your gut with people? And can you give people any tips on how do you know when you’ve got a collaboration partner you can work with?
Sean: That’s such a hard question, but a great question, and it’s also an interesting question. I was actually, just right before this call I was paying attention to a thread in a mastermind group that I’m in and they’re talking about hiring and firing and trusting their gut, and it’s hard. I had to fire my first person at 17, and it ruined me a little bit because I’m a peace keeper by nature.
I just want everyone to be happy, and so because that was such a horrible experience, I put off firing people for a long, long time, and a lot of times I didn’t listen to my instinct, I didn’t listen to my gut, and I was wrong 100% of the time. Tony Robbins says, and this is a little harsh, but Tony Robbins said, “how do you know when to fire somebody? The first time you think about it.” That is a little harsh and I don’t think I would go to that extreme, but I understand where he’s coming from because I’ve never thought about firing somebody and been wrong about it ever. Not once. I think the difference is you don’t want to get to that thought. You don’t want to get to think, “man, I should fire them,” because you probably should if you’re thinking that, but there’s a lot of stuff up into that.
Now, Dave and I have had a tremendous amount of conflict in six years, because he just doesn’t believe. I think that, to really do amazing things, you have to believe that you can do them, otherwise you’re just starting out with a brick wall in front of you. I’m lucky to have somebody as creatively minded as him, but he’s also very lucky to have somebody who will climb to the top of the wall and hold their hand down and-
Joanna: Drag him up.
Sean: Right, drag him up. He would be the first to admit that, but I’ve never once, despite the conflict, ever, ever questioned my relationship with Dave. I’ve never thought, “man, I can’t do this. I can’t work with him anymore.” Never. That’s the key, it’s because I trust his intent. It’s not that he wants us to fail; it’s that he’s afraid. He’s afraid of what will happen if we fall on our face, and I’m not afraid of making mistakes, at all. I know I’m going to make them and I don’t see them as the enemy. I see them as something very necessary to make me smarter, faster, and better at what I do. Dave sees them as the enemy. He sees them as something that’s going to embarrass me or hold me back or prove that I was wrong. We were having a conversation yesterday and he said, “I don’t want to be right. I hate it when I’m right.”
I think that it’s the key that you need to find people who you trust, not necessarily their opinions and not necessarily their perspective, but you trust their intent and you trust their ability to work hard, and you trust them on that level. Between me and Johnny and Dave, we’re in this business together, we don’t even have contracts. We don’t. We’re handshake guys and we all trust each other. I think that’s one of those things that to me, that they trust me in that way and that I trust them in that way, that’s a beautiful thing and it’s very hard to transfer that, because again, it’s like not paying attention to your sales. It’s terrible advice.
Joanna: Yeah, I was going to say, “don’t do that, everyone.”
Sean: Yeah, right. I would never, ever suggest that somebody shake someone’s hand and trust them with their 10 year goals. It’s a terrible idea, but I also believe, and we’ve talked about this on the show, too, I believe if somebody screws me over, that it’s their loss more than mine. I feel like I’m a very capable person. If you’ve screwed me over, then all you’ve done is eliminated the chance that we’ll ever work together and make money. So I feel like anybody who actually has worked with me, I don’t think they would do that because I think there’s magic when I work with people. I do, and I don’t think that people want to jeopardize that. I think that it’s sacred.
You want to make cool stuff and talk about it. That’s fun and it’s addictive, and I don’t think that you would want to put that in jeopardy, but I think that’s a very hard thing. You can’t teach that, right? Looking for good collaborators, you have to really, really trust the person, and I think that does come with your gut. I don’t think you can sit there and make a list of pros and cons because if you’re making that list, you probably don’t trust them enough. If I were to make a list of pros and cons for Dave, I love you, Dave. You’re probably listening to this, but it would probably be pretty con-heavy, but that doesn’t matter to me because the stuff that is pro speaks to my soul and I know that I can make art with this person and I know that, ultimately when it comes down to it, Dave trusts me, and if I were to ever dig my heels in about something, “no, I firmly believe this. We have to do it this way,” he would trust me. He would acquiesce. It’s a duality there. You need to thoroughly trust the person that you’re working with, but they also have to thoroughly trust you, and if you feel even a flicker of doubt in how much you trust them or how much they trust you, then collaboration at that point can be very dangerous.
Joanna: No, that’s great. Final question, you’re an inspiring guy and people come to you for inspiration, and I wondered, because I get this as well, we have to feed ourselves as well as helping other people, so where do you get your inspiration and that kind of feeding? You mentioned a mastermind group.
How do you go into a room as the least inspirational person? You know what I mean? When you need to go somewhere and get inspired, what is that for you?
Sean: I love your questions. You have great questions.
I think that masterminds are important. I do not ever want to be the smartest guy in the room, because there are people who do. They want to feel power by feeling that they’re somehow better. I don’t. I want to feed off of other people. I get a tremendous amount from my family.
My family is super, super supportive and they want to know about the business. I get to talk about the business and include them in the business, and that’s really cool. So naturally I get a lot of it from them. Naturally I get a lot of it from my partners, and that helps to feed me, too. I haven’t done as good a job in the last few years of feeding myself. I’ve fed myself a lot all through my life. I go to at least one, if not two, movies each week. If it came out in the theaters and it was worth watching, I saw it. That ended when my daughter was born. It gets really, really hard. The first year she was born I was just so driven to not lose some of that stuff, and I knew I couldn’t manage the movies without leaving Cindy home with our newborn on a Friday night, which I just wasn’t willing to do even though, to her credit, she encouraged me to. I just don’t want to do that, but I was really driven that year to read as much as I possibly could, because I could do that.
That was the last year I really read a lot, and I read a couple books a week at that time. Then I had my son and things got even harder, and then I opened a preschool and then I went online and got stupid, because when I went online I really did, I did get stupid. I forgot every business lesson that I ever knew and thought, “the internet’s magic,” and I thought that somehow things were different online, and so that was a struggle those first couple years. Then I figured it out and then I got really, really busy with work and I got busy building the fiction thing, and I’ve just been busy, busy, busy. So I haven’t done the things to feed myself, which are mostly reading and watching movies and really good, scripted television. Those feed me tremendously.
Only now, this last could of months, I’m finally taking a big, deep breath and I’m building, I’m not sitting at the computer for 12 hours a day, which I’m very guilty of doing. I’m building breaks in. We moved to this really hilly section of Austin and I love it. Three times a day I leave and I go on a long walk around the circuit, and it’s a very hard, strenuous walk. I go down a steep hill and up a steep hill. When I come home I’m like, “hoo,” but I do it a few times a day and I listen to audio books constantly. Right now I’m listening to one that you recommended, Quiet, which is fantastic, and I’m making time to watch things. At night I’m going to bed earlier and watching movies at night time. So I’m feeding myself in the ways that I used to feed myself and I kind of neglected for a long time.
Joanna: I’m really glad you’re doing that because, having listened to you guys for so long, I do feel that you guys have hurt yourselves quite a lot in the amount of work you’ve done. You’ve done really well, but you could kind of sense at times you guys were really tired, and you need a break.
Sean: Yeah, well it’s nice to pull back. These next few months are going to be really, really hard. We have a lot of things that we’re trying to just finish up for the rest of the year because we’ve got big plans for next year, of course. But I think that next year, already when we’re looking at the schedule I have more flex than I’ve had in a long time, and it’s good. I’m not dumb enough to not know that I don’t need it or think that I’m super human.
It’s just that I believe that I can pour as much of myself into it for this time while we have to build, because I look at any huge startup that I really admire and they were putting in 80 hour weeks. That’s just what it takes in the beginning. I don’t really consider any of my mistakes failures at all, but I would consider it a failure if three years from now I’m still working with the hours that I’m working now.
I like work. I have no problem working. I like it, it feeds me, and so I still want to be working a lot, but I do want to have a date day every week with my wife. That would be really awesome. I do want to see more movies in the theater. I do want to read more books. I want to exercise. I want to get a personal trainer so that Johnny doesn’t have the best abs on the show. These are things I want to do, but I just have to make that as much of a priority as building the business, but right now, honestly, it’s not as much of a priority as building the business. I feel like I owe it to my partners and to my family who have been very, very tolerant with my very high risk tolerance. I want to make everything okay for them before I take more time for myself.
Joanna: No, fantastic.
Right, so where can people find you and all of your hundreds of books online?
Sean: The best place right now is SterlingAndStone.net. The site is getting a little bit neater and cleaner and easier to navigate by the day, but you can find all of us there. If you need to get a hold of me you can do it through the contact for there. Yeah, that’s the easiest place.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Sean.
Sean: My absolute pleasure. Have a great day.