12 August 2021

In today’s episode, Trey Lockerbie sits down with Polina Pompliano. Polina is the founder and author of The Profile, a newsletter that profiles highly successful individuals in business, science, storytelling, sports, and more. Polina has a wealth of knowledge from her many experiences interviewing everyone from Melinda Gates to Jeff Jordan.

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  • How exceptional people think.
  • Five mental models that are the common denominators for success across nearly every discipline.
  • How to run a Maker vs Manager schedule and a whole lot more.


Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present due to platform differences.

Trey Lockerbie (00:02):
In today’s episode, I sit down with Polina Pompliano. Polina is the founder and author of The Profile, which is a newsletter that profiles highly successful individuals in business, science, storytelling, sports, and more. In this episode, we dig deep into how exceptional people think, five mental models that are the common denominators for success across nearly every discipline, how to run a Maker versus Manager schedule, and a whole lot more. I’m a big believer that investing is primarily about temperament and psychology. It’s important to add these tools to your investing tool belt. Polina has a wealth of knowledge from her many experiences interviewing everyone from Melinda Gates to Jeff Jordan, and more. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Polina Pompliano.

Intro (00:50):
You are listening to The Investor’s Podcast, where we study the financial markets and read the books that influence self-made billionaires the most. We keep you informed and prepared for the unexpected.

Trey Lockerbie (01:10):
Welcome to The Investor’s Podcast. I’m your host, Trey Lockerbie, and today I have with me, Polina Pompliano. Welcome to the show.

Polina Pompliano (01:18):
Thank you, Trey. I’m so excited to be here.

Trey Lockerbie (01:21):
Well, I’m really excited to talk to you, Polina, because I am a big believer in the saying success leaves clues. You’re one of the people I follow most closely to learn about how exceptional people think. If you can determine how successful people think, I think it greatly improves the chances that you yourself will be successful. Beyond that, I’m a big believer that in investing, mindset is so important. I think there are a few topics that you’ve covered in your newsletter that apply to investors. But before we dig in all that, you have a really interesting background that I wanted to touch on, because, at one point, you became an editor at Forbes. How did you come to get that position?

Polina Pompliano (02:01):
Basically, I graduated from the University of Georgia in 2013 with a degree in journalism. I always thought that I would be this great big-time journalist, and then reality hit me when I graduated in 2013 and nobody wanted to hire me, so I had no job. Then I started freelancing from my mom’s couch. I was the stereotype, and I freelanced for about a year, working at both USA Today and CNN because I was young. They were like, “Can you do social media?” I was like, “I guess so.” I did social media, wrote a few articles here and there, but nothing big, and then I moved to New York, or to the media startup called Ozy.

Polina Pompliano (02:42):
At the time, I didn’t know what a startup was at all. But luckily, I was so early that they were just raising their first round of capital. I got to see that process from within. I was there for six months, and then I went to join Fortune Magazine in 2014, which I thought was my dream job. I was like, “Oh, business, journalism. They broke Enron.” It was everything that I thought was what I wanted to do in journalism, but I started as a … What was it? My official title was audience engagement editor, which meant do their Twitter and Facebook. Then I realized that it was a small team.

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Polina Pompliano (03:22):
I asked anybody if they needed help with anything, they would be like, “Yeah, do you want to write this article or help with this?” That’s how I got my foot in the door with writing, and then I went on to become a tech reporter and I wrote Term Sheet which is Fortune’s daily deal-making newsletter, like venture capital deals, private equity deals, who’s raising what fund, all things venture capital. In the beginning, it was really, really hard because I had no sources, I didn’t really have a background in that. But it’s amazing how much you can learn when you want to learn something.

Trey Lockerbie (03:59):
Give our audience an idea of some of the people you were able to interview at your time at Fortune.

Polina Pompliano (04:04):
Yes. Jeff Jordan, Steve Schwarzman, Melinda Gates. Basically what I did was like, “Hey, I work at Fortune, I’m going to try to interview some of these super, super interesting people who you would have … It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to interview them.” Jeff Jordan, I did a full profile on him in the magazine. I spent a day with him. We went hiking in the morning, then I went to his office, interviewed him in a few different contexts. But he was one of those really, really under-the-radar investors, yet he had invested in so many companies like Pinterest and Instacart and Airbnb super early on, and then they were all IPOing and he became one of the best investors ever. It was really interesting to get in his head and figure out why he is the way he is and why he’s so effective.

Trey Lockerbie (04:57):
For those who don’t know, Jeff Jordan is a managing partner over at a16z or Andreessen Horowitz. With all those conversations, Jeff Jordan, Melinda Gates, what is the most memorable moment from that experience or that time there?

Polina Pompliano (05:11):
I’m the type of person who doesn’t really get starstruck, and I think that has served me well in reporting because I’m able to go into it as this is just another human, and most of the time they are very much misunderstood. Steve Schwarzman was really interesting because I only had 30 minutes with him. But I went in and we had such a great conversation, and he actually liked my questions that his assistant kept coming in telling him, “Time is over, you need to call this person, this person.” He was like, “15 more minutes. 15 more minutes.” 30 minutes actually turned into an hour and a half of an interview, and I got some really, really good material to be able to understand how he thinks.

Polina Pompliano (05:51):
For example, I asked him about blockchain and Bitcoin and he was like, “I just grew up in a world where the government needs to be able to control currency, so I don’t understand it. This is not my area of expertise.” The fact that he was so honest about it, but he was still curious, I think some of the most successful people think that way. Charlie Munger would say where their area of competence is or their circle of competence, but they’re willing to be curious about it because they know it’s going to be something bigger.

Trey Lockerbie (06:22):
Yeah, you’ve studied all these people and you seem to find this common denominator of sorts. One of the common denominators I’ve noticed is that the people at the highest level are continuous learners. Is that something that you’ve seen? Voracious readers. Is that something you’ve come across as well?

Polina Pompliano (06:39):
Absolutely. I think the people who are the most successful definitely spend a lot of time learning about areas they’re interested in, that they’re not experts in. When you learn so much, you end up becoming an expert because you’re learning so much. I think people like, for example, Elon Musk and Chef Grant Achatz, the whole idea of thinking from first principles, it’s not that it’s necessarily like, “Oh, I want to learn about rockets, so let me figure out, understand physics.” It’s like you have an area that you’re interested in, and Elon Musk says, you think about it as a semantic tree.

Polina Pompliano (07:20):
You start from the trunk of the base, like let’s learn about physics, and then you work your way up into the base of the tree and the details, which are the branches and the leaves. But most regular people, when they started to learn something, they get disinterested because they start from the details, and they’re like, “Oh, this is too much information. I don’t understand it,” rather than starting from the very, very, simple thing in reading and learning and talking to experts about it before you get into the details.

Trey Lockerbie (07:51):
I’m a big believer in this idea that investing is 5% knowledge and 95% temperament. Through profiling all of these exceptional people, you’ve narrowed it down to about five mental models. Why don’t we start with you just laying out the five mental models? First principles being the first one. Walk us through the other four, and let’s dig into them one by one.

Polina Pompliano (08:14):
It’s so interesting, Trey, because people, when they look at the profile, they’re like, “Oh, Polina just picks a person, and then she writes about the person and they’re all so different.” But it’s not that at all. I think very much like you and what you guys do, is that, yes, you study the person, but the person is a vehicle of understanding how they think, which is a mental model. I really like to learn about different types of people, but then be like, “Oh, interesting.” Kris Jenner and The Rock actually have something in common, or Kris Jenner and Charlie Munger have this shared mental model that’s helped them be successful over the years. Every Wednesday I write this thing called The Profile Dossier, where I look at an individual person and try to extract the mental models that they apply to their career and their life.

Polina Pompliano (09:04):
I wrote about these five mental models that I’ve come across. The first one being first principles. The second one is that the most interesting and successful people, they focus on the process over the outcome. Most people, when they want to do something, they look at the goal, right? They’re like, “I want to be CEO of this company.” But it’s actually the process and the everyday reps that get you there. For example, Nick Saban is Alabama’s head football coach, and he’s won the most championships ever, and he basically explains that he has this quote, where he says, “Don’t look at the scoreboard. Play the next play.”

Polina Pompliano (09:48):
Because his point is he has this philosophy called the process, where he emphasizes that your preparation and your everyday reps and practice and hard work, that should be a priority over the results. He constantly examines the weak spots and looks at the player’s individual process. Then you work as a team, whether it’s in business or investing, you work like a well-oiled machine. It’s not one person wanting all the glory. Basically, what he says was, okay, so if you win, you got to start the process over so you don’t get complacent. If you lose, you got to start the process over to win next time.

Trey Lockerbie (10:31):
You also covered Monica Aldama, who’s the head coach of Navarro Junior College, and there’s this quote there that I just loved, which was, “you keep going until you get it right, and then you keep going until you can’t get it wrong.”

Polina Pompliano (10:45):
Small, tiny, everyday improvements are what makes a good habit stick or what makes a bad habit fall away. Yeah, you keep going until you get it right, and then you keep going until you absolutely cannot get it wrong. She’s talking about in terms of a stunt or a cheerleading routine, but you can apply that to anything.

Trey Lockerbie (11:07):
Sometimes when we talk about mental models, it can feel a lot like a to-do list, and I’m thinking if we could examine these and compare it to a not-to-do list. As Nick Saban says, as you mentioned, don’t look at the scorecard. In the example of an investor, I take that to say, I’m not watching my brokerage account every day, I made an investment in a stock, I’m not checking it, the price action every single day. Is there anything else that comes to mind for investors, maybe as to how to apply this mental model?

Polina Pompliano (11:39):
Basically, you incrementally every day try to improve the process and you don’t pay attention to the everyday volatility unnecessarily. You just look at, what are the tiny, incremental habits that I can adapt to become a better investor? Maybe it’s asking better questions, maybe it’s doing better due diligence, whatever it is that you do, to become better and then the results take care of themselves.

Trey Lockerbie (12:06):
I think that last point is especially crucial because I’m a big believer that money is almost like a byproduct of the process. Too many people, whether it’s their entrepreneurial endeavor or investing, they fall into maybe day trading too early or too inexperienced because they’re just looking for that monetary validation. Whereas I think you’re onto something here by talking about the process and getting almost like a checklist in place that you just execute on very consistently, and the money is a byproduct of that.

Polina Pompliano (12:41):
Yes, exactly. Really successful people create alter egos or ultra personas when they have to perform. I used to be painfully, painfully shy and I would hate public speaking, or, God forbid, I had to interview somebody on stage. But then I realized I was holding myself back in my career because I would only be a writer. Whenever somebody said, “Hey, Polina, can you do a video or can you interview Casper CEO on stage at this conference?” I would literally have heart palpitations. The way that I got over it is I did very practical things. I would watch some of my favorite interviewers, literally sit down, and for hours watch videos on YouTube of them interviewing people.

Polina Pompliano (13:30):
I would pay attention to their body language, I would pay attention to how they ask questions and their tone, and whether they were leaning in or leaning out. After you watch enough of that, enough of people doing something well, you start to adapt it yourself. I wasn’t looking for… Obviously, people have bad habits, whatever. But I was trying to err on the side of what do they do well, and what can I take away from that? For example, I noticed they had very open body language on stage.

Polina Pompliano (13:59):
They would lean in and really listen to what the person was saying and have follow-up questions, not just the list of questions they had pre-written. They were willing to go wherever the conversation took them. Once I started practicing, and I would sign up for anything and everything under the sun, any panel I got invited to, any small little event with 20 people there, just because I wanted to practice being in front of a group of people. Then I became this Polina Marinova, the interviewer, right? I would grow into this larger-than-life persona on stage that I was not offstage.

Polina Pompliano (14:38):
It was really cool to see it on video later and be like, “Damn! You look confident.” I noticed that a lot of actually successful people use this. Beyonce used to be really, really, really shy, but then she would have to do these tours where she would have to appear really confident on stage. She literally created someone called Sasha Fierce. It’s a fake person or fake persona, but it would allow her to express her confidence and be super flirtatious, et cetera, but it would be separate from herself. That way she didn’t feel personally attacked or shy or whatever when she stepped on stage.

Polina Pompliano (15:19):
The same goes with Kobe Bryant. When he was playing, there was a point in his career where people were booing him on the court and things like that, so he created the Black Mamba, which was a nickname inspired by the movie Kill Bill, in which a snake was known for its agility and aggressiveness, and he would embody that sort of persona on stage. When he would hear, “Boo Kobe,” he would think, “Okay, but this is not Kobe that you’re about to see, this is the Black Mamba.” It’s called elitism. It allows you to self distance a little bit from yourself.

Polina Pompliano (15:52):
LeBron James does it. When he talks in the third person, you’ve seen this. He’s like, “Well, this is good for LeBron James.” It’s like, “Why are you saying that?” It’s because there’s a slight distance between you personally and the persona that you want people to see when you have to perform at the highest levels. These are tiny mental cues that allow people to either gain more confidence or appear to be more confident in situations that are really high stakes.

Trey Lockerbie (16:21):
Well, perhaps I need to come up with an alter ego because when I’m interviewing professional interviewers like you, I have a bit of imposter syndrome myself. But again, if we’re talking about investing, what I take away from this one is basically to make things unemotional, to somehow find a way to detach yourself from the results, and especially when it comes to money. So many people get their whole identities wrapped up in the performance of their portfolio. If the stocks are down one day, that could mean your whole day is down. I think the general takeaway is just the stoicism you can apply to anything in life, just putting that little bit of separation between you and the performance.

Polina Pompliano (16:58):
Exactly. It’s all about like arousal control, right? When you’re an investor, you should be as logical and rational as possible, and separate that from your emotion. Let’s say in your personal life, you’re getting a divorce, you have all sorts of problems. But then you can’t go into your professional life with that baggage at the top of your mind, so you need to compartmentalize and have like, “Okay, I’m dealing with this right now in my personal life. But in my professional life, I have a slight distance where I am now pulling on the investor, and I can’t be approaching these entrepreneurs, or whatever, the stock market, with these emotions at the top of my mind.”

Trey Lockerbie (17:43):
That’s a big one for entrepreneurs as well. I think there’s this element of fake it until you make it, which is so true. Because a lot of times when you’re new in an industry especially, you have to go raise money, you have to go convince people that you’re the right person to do something, and very rarely does someone have the whole roadmap figured out from day one about how they’re going to execute exactly on their vision. The details can change, but the destination stays the same.

Trey Lockerbie (18:08):
Yeah. I think that that’s especially a good one to apply in that arena as well. Let’s talk about mental resilience. This one is somewhat similar but distinct in a lot of ways. This one is probably the one I’m most fascinated by because it’s something that, I don’t know, maybe I wish I had more of in my life. When you compare it to the people [crosstalk 00:18:30] you’ve interviewed. Let’s dig into this one a little bit.

Polina Pompliano (18:33):
This one is actually very, very interesting. It is similar but slightly different from the one we just talked about. The one we just talked about is you creating a different persona. This one is, do you know, if, under the most extreme stressful situation, you can keep that arousal control in check and that emotional cool when things are just absolutely falling apart? The way I started this was do you know who you are after running for 19 hours straight with no sleep, or when somebody is trying to manipulate your emotions, or when somebody is just trying to poke you when you’re at rock bottom?

Polina Pompliano (19:13):
This one is very good in terms of a lot of distance runners and ultra athletes have a lot of this, and the reason that regular people don’t is because a lot of us read about… We watched the Olympics, we read about these ultramarathoners, but we ourselves have never put ourselves in a position where you’ve been stress tested unless you’re an investor, and we can talk about that later. But Courtney Dauwalter, she is this badass ultramarathoner who is absolutely insane, but her biggest strength and superpower is that she can remain calm under any circumstance. The way she does it is, obviously when you’re running more than 100 miles, things are going to hurt and you’re going to be in major pain.

Polina Pompliano (20:00):
What she’s done is she’s personified the sensation of pain, as she calls it, the pain cave. Whenever she’s… I think right here I wrote that she stayed calm through bouts of severe nausea, a bleeding head injury, and temporary blindness. The way she’s done that is she knows, she’s like, “Okay, I’m running 100 miles, I know that at some point I’m going to ‘enter the pain cave.'” When she does that, the reason it’s so helpful to personify pain as an actual place is you picture yourself entering it and you’re in control and you’re also in control when you exit it.

Polina Pompliano (20:39):
She knows, “Okay, I’m going to encounter this, it’s going to suck, it’s going to be awful, but I also know that I’m going to eventually get out.” Most of us, when we encounter a really tough situation, we’re like, “This is going to last forever. I’m going to be in this much emotional pain forever,” and we start making bad choices because we’re blinded by the pain. David Goggins is another one of these really, really crazy people. He completed three Navy SEAL hell weeks, more than 50 endurance races, and he holds the Guinness World Record for most pull-ups in 24 hours. He did 4,030 pull-ups, which is … I can’t even picture it.

Polina Pompliano (21:21):
But basically, the way he explains how do you stay calm in really crazy, taxing stressful situations is that we follow the 40% rule. That rule means that whatever your mind is telling you you’re absolutely done, you cannot handle more pain, stop right now, your mind is screaming, he explains it you’re actually only 40% done. You can handle another 60% more. He explains it like this, a lot of cars have governors on them that, let’s say, go 91 miles an hour. It may only go 91 miles an hour because the governor stops it from going 130. We do the same thing to our brains.

Polina Pompliano (22:03):
When we get uncomfortable, our brain gives us a way out, usually quitting or taking the easier route is what he says. In other words, your brain has a threshold depending on how much pain you expose yourself on a day-to-day basis. For me, for example, when I was training for a marathon, that pain threshold went up a little bit. Now, I’d run three or four miles and be like, “I cannot possibly go any longer,” and then I remind myself you one time ran 26.2 miles. It’s crazy, but it’s like you can change that governor in your brain based on how much stress you expose yourself on a day-to-day basis.

Trey Lockerbie (22:44):
Yeah. I think the athletic examples are the most common for this one. Another one being Tiger Woods. I just watched his documentary where that guy would actually go train with Navy SEALs, and you’re thinking, “This guy plays golf,” but he would go and do hell week with these Navy SEALs, basically. If you think about him, he’s under so much pressure and has to perform. You’ve got millions of people watching as you’re swinging a club, you have to block all of that out and zone in. Another thing I’m reminded of is an old stoic, Seneca the Younger, who used to go out into the streets.

Trey Lockerbie (23:16):
He was one of the wealthiest people in Rome at one point, and he would still spend a week and go out and live as a peasant on the streets just to remind himself how unimportant the materialism of life is. I’ve even heard about hedge fund managers who hire people who train them in this way. They mentally train them to achieve these “optimal” levels of performance or focus. I guess my question to you is, how do I apply this to my own life? Do I need to go run a triathlon or sleep outside in the cold? How do we apply this to our own lives?

Polina Pompliano (23:52):
I think that’s why you hear a lot of these investors, they have mental coaches and mindset coaches and things like that. The purpose of that is you get out of your comfortable thinking. Where investors go wrong is following the crowd or doing what’s always been done or things like that, where you’re not willing to expose yourself to more pain necessarily. But if you start taking a little bit of risk, that smart risk and calculated risk, you can change your threshold for what you can sustain.

Polina Pompliano (24:25):
For example, I probably wouldn’t be a good hedge fund manager because I don’t have a lot of emotional control on a day-to-day basis. But basically, you can’t change your psychological and physiological state just by sitting on the couch. You need to put yourself in really stressful situations whether that is physical. There’s a book. Jesse Itzler wrote a book and he had David Goggins come live with him for a month.

Trey Lockerbie (24:54):
Living with a SEAL, I think it’s just [crosstalk 00:24:55]

Polina Pompliano (24:54):
Living with a SEAL. There we go. Basically, just stress test him. At one point, David Goggins is like, “Dude, you live such a comfortable life. It’s really, really hard to get you to this again.” He makes him sleep on the floor, he makes him sleep in a really uncomfortable chair, he makes him jump in a freezing lake, all those things where you want your mind to scream and to tell you to give up where you don’t give up, and that just builds credibility with yourself that, “Oh, I am good at maintaining an emotional calm when I’m investing. I’m good at being rational when other people are being irrational.” Things like that, builds confidence within yourself.

Trey Lockerbie (25:36):
Well, I love Jesse Itzler and I love that book. That reminds me actually, one of the things he’s incorporated into his life lately is just intermittent fasting. I think he’s fasting one day a week, always trying new things to keep his mind sharp. He’s a really good example also of this last mental model, which is basically learning from your failures, and you’ve written about this extensively. What are some other great examples of this?

Polina Pompliano (25:59):
Speaking of Jesse Itzler, I’m a big fan of his wife, Sara Blakely, who founded SPANX and became a billionaire off of it. Most people see failure as something, “Oh, you failed, let’s leave that alone and go do something else because you’re not good at it.” A good example for myself is in high school I played soccer. I wasn’t very good, so I just let it die. But outside, most people would say, “Oh, you failed at being a soccer player.” Or I could reframe it to be like, “Did I fail or did I not try hard enough, and was I not as interested in it so I couldn’t get better?”

Polina Pompliano (26:40):
Sara Blakely, when she was little, her dad would sit the kids at the dinner table, and every single night at dinner, they would have to go around and say what is one thing you failed that day? She said that whenever she had a failure that unless it was big and juicy and whatever, her dad would genuinely be disappointed. He’d be like, “Oh, wow. That’s not really … You didn’t really try that hard today, obviously, because you didn’t fail that much.” It taught the kids that you should, on a daily basis, be taking risks and putting yourself out there to achieve something.

Polina Pompliano (27:16):
If you fail, that’s okay because you get to talk about it at dinner. For her, all her life when she was growing up, she wanted to be a trial attorney, but then she bombed the LSAT, then she went to do Goofy at Disney World, but she was too short for the costume. Then she started selling fax machines, and then she was like, “All right, listen, what do I actually want to do?” But she saw every single failure as an opportunity to do something else. She didn’t give up. Basically, instead of failure becoming an outcome, it simply became about not trying in her head.

Polina Pompliano (27:50):
Then when she created SPANX, she has a really, really good quote where she says, “Spanx wouldn’t exist if I had aced the LSAT.” In other words, just because you failed this test that was your dream doesn’t mean that you can’t create something else and be just as successful.” Dwayne The Rock Johnson, he has a lot of ups and downs in his life before he got to where he is, but he says every single day in the back, no matter how successful he gets, how big his house gets, how nice his cars, he always thinks about the failures, and he’s always like, “In my mind, I am one week away from getting evicted.”

Polina Pompliano (28:32):
The reason that’s powerful and important is because when people get comfortable, they become complacent and they forget they’re not as hungry anymore. They’re not as driven. That’s why you’ll see … Hate to use them as an example, but a lot of these kids on TikTok that became really famous. Okay, you’re famous now, you have all this social capital. But if you don’t reinvent yourself, if you don’t try to be successful at something else, eventually your 15 minutes of fame are going to be up, and suddenly you have this comfortable lifestyle, and then it’s going to be all over because you’re not hungry anymore.

Polina Pompliano (29:09):
Then there’s this profile that I love rereading. It’s about this chess guy. He’s Russian, he’s amazing, he’s one of the best. [inaudible 00:29:17] Lev Alburt. A lot of people don’t know him, but his clients who come to play chess with him are some of the highest-profile figures in finance, including Carl Icahn and Steven Friedman. They come “to get frustrated, intimidated, demoralized.” The whole idea is they go to this guy, he beats them so bad they’re like, “Oh, crap. This is really bad.” The whole idea is that you’ll get frustrated, you’ll grow, you’ll get better, and then eventually you’ll win.

Polina Pompliano (29:50):
A lot of these finance guys, they want that because sometimes it’s missing in their life, so they’re getting it in other ways like let’s play chess and have you beat me so I can get pissed off and I can learn to get better and eventually beat you.

Trey Lockerbie (30:04):
In your dossier on Dwayne The Rock Johnson, there was this amazing quote that he threw out there about basically, “At that point in my life, I knew two things. One, I was broke, and two, that I wouldn’t be for long,” or something like that. That one especially resonated for me as an entrepreneur because I look back at those early days in my career where I was literally living off of the Trader Joe’s lentil soup every night, which because was $1.99. There was a drive home one night in my life where I didn’t even have $5. Anyway, I bring it up because even in that moment, I had that exact same thought that he said.

Trey Lockerbie (30:44):
It was basically, “Yep, I’m broke today. But one day I won’t be.” I think it’s such an important takeaway or mindset to learn from because even with things like investing, it can seem so daunting to learn or study something like the stock market, and you just have to take the first step. You can say to yourself, “Yep, I don’t know anything about the stock market. But one day, I will, or one day I’ll know more.” Too many people I think get caught up on that instant gratification piece where they’re like, “I’m not going to know everything today, so, therefore, I won’t start,” or, “I’m not going to have the money I need to start my business today, so, therefore, I won’t start.” I think this is one of the biggest lessons in life that you could probably learn from.

Polina Pompliano (31:27):
It’s the biggest mindset shift because it shifts it from you being on the defensive to being on the offensive. Suddenly, you’re not waiting for an opportunity to come, you’re like, “I am broke, I need to create opportunity.” The Rock calls them hole-in-the-wall moments where you see this tiny, tiny, tiny inkling of the possibility of your opportunity, and then you start making the hole a little bit bigger and bigger and bigger. But you know you’re in charge of that. You can’t just sit around and be like, “You know what? I got five bucks in my pocket, someone’s going to come help me out.” I think in investing, you have to create opportunities for yourself in order to get returns. There is no waiting around.

Trey Lockerbie (32:13):
Yeah. Again, it’s funny because a lot of my friends are people like musicians who think, oh, finances, this whole other thing that I will never understand. But actually, some of the best investors I know are musicians. It’s interesting how you just get compartmentalized into these, how we look at ourselves that can be expanded.

Polina Pompliano (32:33):
Absolutely. Until last year, considered myself a writer. A writer, not an entrepreneur, not a business owner, not an investor. But recently, I made my first investment in this company, and I was like, “Whoa, it’s so funny because it’s the same skill. It’s curiosity. It’s asking good questions. It’s doing due diligence.” Literally, everything you need to do to be a good reporter is very similar to what you need to do to be a good investor. But it’s the label, and that’s why I’m so against labeling yourself one thing is because it prevents you from being like, “Oh, I can be a writer and an entrepreneur, a writer and this other thing.” People love boxes, and I hate it.

Trey Lockerbie (33:18):
I especially dug into the dossiers you wrote on billionaires, given that we study billionaires on this show, and one of the billionaires that stood out to me was Daniel Ek, the founder, and CEO of Spotify. He uses this mental model called maker versus manager when scheduling his day. Walk us through what the maker verse manager framework is.

Polina Pompliano (33:40):
Daniel Ek is the founder and CEO of Spotify. You think Daniel Ek, you’re like, “Oh, my God, that’s a massive organization. He has thousands of employees, he must be extremely busy and every minute of his time must be taken up.” That’s actually not true. He makes time to go on a walk, an hour-long walk every day with his wife and kids. He spends time reading in the morning, and he says, “I actually start my day around 10:00 AM.” That’s pretty crazy to hear, right? You would think, I start my day earlier than Daniel Ek and I’m nowhere near as important. But the reason is basically he limits his calendar to only three or four meetings per day, and the reason he does that is because he understands the value of unstructured time.

Polina Pompliano (34:29):
He got this maker schedule idea from Paul Graham, who he’s written about it, but you have a maker schedule versus a manager schedule. When you’re operating on a manager schedule, your calendar has all these meetings that people put on there without asking for permission. They’re like, “Okay, we need you in this meeting. We need you in this other meeting.” Makers, on the other hand, they have a lot of time, big blocks of time to work on big thorny creative problems that can’t be solved with a meeting. He prefers to have two or three hours for that block or half a day or something like that because it allows him to think for longer periods of time when his …

Polina Pompliano (35:13):
If you look at your calendar and you only have 15-minute breaks in between meetings, it’s very hard to be creative and to think of long-term projects that you want to work on. The other thing that Daniel Ek does that not a lot of people do, which is so smart, is before you go into any meeting, he suggests you ask yourself, what role am I playing? Sometimes Ek is playing the role of CEO and approver, and I need to go in this meeting and just approve a bunch of things. Other times, he needs to be a participant, he needs to give feedback, ask questions, weigh in on certain issues.

Polina Pompliano (35:48):
But if you don’t know the role that you’re playing, you’re not going to be effective in any meeting. Basically, here he says that a productive meeting consists of three elements, the desired outcome of the meeting is clear ahead of time, two, the various options are clear, ideally ahead of time. What are the options that we can take from this meeting? And three, the roles of the participants are crystal clear and very well-defined. He’s very intentional about how he spends his time, and he doesn’t let other people dictate it.

Trey Lockerbie (36:19):
Intentional is one of my favorite words. For a long time, I didn’t realize what that word actually meant, and the best example that clarified it for me actually came from when my wife started dabbling in interior design because that’s when I realized she was making choices, let’s say, about a couch or a fabric for a couch, not because she just loved that fabric, but it also went really well with the paint on the wall and this lamp on the other side of the room, and everything tied together. Everything had a purpose, but not in a vacuum. Everything had a purpose within the grander scheme of the whole design. You can apply this to life.

Trey Lockerbie (36:59):
We call it lifestyle design, which I’m a huge believer in. What I think you’re ultimately touching on there is something that is simple, but not easy. You find that a lot with investing. Investing can appear to be very simple, but it’s not often easy, especially if you follow the Warren Buffett way, right? Just buy and hold. He definitely follows this maker principle, because I’ve heard that his entire calendar is blank. He doesn’t schedule any meetings. He very much leaves room for himself to just explore and read and discover his next venture. What might be some other examples of how we can incorporate this into our lives?

Polina Pompliano (37:36):
I think you have to be very, very clear again about your intentions, right? Before anybody ever sends you a meeting invite, you need to say, “This meeting is for this purpose, and this is the role that I will play.” If you’re playing the role of investor, and an entrepreneur says, “All right, join our Zoom for 30 minutes so we can talk about you potentially investing in our startup,” you know I am here to, A, ask questions, and then you decide for yourself, am I going to come to a decision by the end of this meeting or not? If not, maybe it can be a shorter meeting.

Polina Pompliano (38:09):
It’s just like just by being aware of those questions and of your time. Recently, we talked about … My husband’s Anthony Pompliano, and we talked about this a lot. But, for example, I was spending a lot of my time with The Profile doing things that I thought were interesting, but they weren’t necessarily growing the business. He made me be like, “All right, well, here’s all the stuff on your calendar, calculate how much money your time is worth,” and when you break it down to dollars per hour, you’re like, “Oh, my God, I’m just giving this all away for free.”

Polina Pompliano (38:46):
You have to be intentional about how you spend your time, and whether the things that you’re doing, you’re just doing it to feel busy, not because they’re actually productive for your business, or you’re doing them because you’re like, “All right, I’m spending Monday, Wednesday and Friday, my mornings on diligence, I’m spending three hours of the day on solving a creative problem that I’ve been putting off for so long, but I just need time by myself without any distractions.” You structure your day like that, instead of leaving your calendar for people to be like, “Free for all. You can put as many meetings on there,” and then you end up not being effective at all.

Trey Lockerbie (39:26):
Daniel Ek also had a saying about basically flipping the corporate hierarchy pyramid on its head. What did he mean by that?

Polina Pompliano (39:36):
I love that. Yes, he said that most leaders think of themselves at the very top of a pyramid. You hear this a lot. People say culture is top-down, leadership is top-down. He actually took inspiration from the CEO of Scandinavian Airlines who says that the right way is actually to flip that model. As a leader, you should actually be at the bottom. You flip the pyramid, you’re at the very, very bottom of the pyramid. Ek says, “You should invert the pyramid and envision yourself as the guy at the bottom, you’re there to enable all the work being done. That’s my mental image of what I’m here to do at Spotify.”

Polina Pompliano (40:16):
He sees himself as a Sherpa, more so than a dictator, and like, “I’m going to run this business, and I’m going to tell you what’s up.” That’s why in these meetings, he actually enjoys being a participant and not the final approver because he feels like he’s part of the process and he’s enabling all the work that’s being done at the company, instead of telling everybody what to work on.

Trey Lockerbie (40:39):
Interesting. I heard something similar about Jeff Bezos recently, where he was usually the last person to speak in a meeting. He’d go around the table and have everyone give their opinion and their mind and then give his at the very end. It’s just another interesting style of leadership.

Polina Pompliano (40:55):
Because he knows that it colors people’s perception of, “Oh, Jeff thinks that? Let me try to impress him and say that I agree.” I saw this in college. When I was working at the college paper, I would cover these meetings where it was the president of the university and all of the deans around the table. It was so funny because somebody would say something that they didn’t yet know that would contradict what the president believed.

Polina Pompliano (41:23):
Then when the president of the university spoke and he said the opposite thing, the guy would reel it back and be like, “Oh, actually, you know what? You’re right.” I was like, “Oh!” Just let everybody speak, see how they all feel, and then you speak because you’re very much coloring and biasing these people by offering your opinion so early on.

Trey Lockerbie (41:43):
There’s another quote by Daniel Ek that I was curious about. He says, “The value of a company is the sum of the problems you solve.” Is he referring to solving the customer’s problems, or is he talking about the internal company’s problems?

Polina Pompliano (41:55):
I do believe that he’s probably talking about the internal company problems just because you are there to be a problem solver, not a problem creator. You should aim to solve really, really thorny problems. It’s like when cases go all the way up to the Supreme Court, those are the problems we need to focus on because they will act as … People will use this as an example of how to handle future problems and arguments. It’s the same within a massive company. The problems that made our way to the top to Daniel Eck, are probably the ones that are worthy of his time and attention, and those will then go back down and back up for people to understand how to handle future problems like that.

Trey Lockerbie (42:45):
I’m interviewing Jim Collins pretty soon, and so I’m rereading Good to Great. I found it interesting that you’ve taken it a step further in this article, where you’re talking about going from great to exceptional. Who are the people that stand out as exceptional to you the most?

Polina Pompliano (43:03):
It’s the people who are not afraid to reinvent themselves, and they don’t see themselves as just one thing. The best example that I can think for this is Martha Stewart. Nobody’s done self-reinvention better than she has, and just purely out of … If you think about it, Martha Stewart was a brand that appealed to my grandmother, and then my mother, and then me. How is that possible? That’s a multi-generational brand that’s withstood the test of time, and the reason is because the woman behind the brand whose name is, she’s reinvented herself time and time again, and she’s taken those risks, right?

Polina Pompliano (43:47):
There was a risk that it would fail, but she did it anyway. Martha Stewart took something that was considered women’s work, gardening, cooking, cleaning, and made it into a billion-dollar business. It was so fascinating, but people love to put her in a box. She was on top of the world. She had magazines, TV shows, books, et cetera, and then insider trading, and she went to prison. People were like, “This is suicide. You will never come back from this.”

Polina Pompliano (44:19):
Not only did she come back, her brand came back stronger, and then she knew, okay, we’re going to be cutting edge. Her magazines were the first to lay things out digitally. She experimented with all sorts of stuff. Then she did a partnership with Snoop Dogg, where she did CBD and things like that appealed to my demographic. The reason I know who Martha Stewart is is because she still has great content, she’s doing things that make sense for my generation, and just not afraid, no matter how old her brand is, to start overtime, and time and time again.

Polina Pompliano (44:56):
I really do think a lot of people are great, but the truly, truly, truly exceptional people, Kobe Bryant, not just the basketball player, he became an entrepreneur, an investor in the final years of his life. The things that people tell you, “Oh, you’re just an athlete, you’re not smart enough to compete with the big dogs or whatever,” and you do it anyway. When you risk failure to reinvent yourself and then find success, I think those are the most exceptional people.

Trey Lockerbie (45:22):
Talk about reinventing yourself, Kobe went on to win an Oscar.

Polina Pompliano (45:27):
Yes, storyteller, investor, entrepreneur, athlete. It’s a lot of things.

Trey Lockerbie (45:34):
Wrapping all this up, you’ve learned all this from some amazing people, and you’ve gone on to start your own endeavor called The Profile, what has been your own personal learning through that experience?

Polina Pompliano (45:45):
I think that every single person eventually gets to do something, whether it’s a job or a career or something like that, where they’re like, “This is my dream,” and they love it so much that they end up tying their identity to their job title, or something external that they do not control. I learned this when I graduated from college and all these professors and people had built up my ego so much to be like, “Of course, you’re going to get a job. You’ve done everything right.” One thing I learned is you can do everything right, and things still won’t work out the way you had planned them.

Polina Pompliano (46:25):
What I learned was when I graduated from college, up until that time, I always had an external label that I tied my identity around. Whether it was suited editor of the college paper, intern at CNN and USA Today, all these impressive titles that people were impressed by, for no other reason than I worked there. When I graduated, I had nothing. I had no title, I was living at home, all my friends had jobs, and it made me realize, who the hell was Polina? I was like, “I don’t know.” I had this crisis, and I promised myself then I will never again tie my entire identity as a human around something external that I could lose.

Polina Pompliano (47:09):
We do it with jobs, we do it with relationships, we do it with sports, and then you get injured. That’s why so many Olympians go home after the Olympics and they are depressed, and it’s because suddenly you’re like has been … There’s somebody better than you, somebody, who can do your job better. Your ex-boyfriend gets a new girlfriend. It’s just you can’t put your self-worth into somebody else’s hands, right? When it’s something that can be taken away from you. In 2017, I started The Profile is a side thing just for myself. It was very important to me at the time, that it’s independent, and that it had nothing to do with Fortune, and that Fortune didn’t own it, that Fortune didn’t sponsor it.

Polina Pompliano (47:53):
None of that. I wanted it for myself, and the reason was because when you’re at a place like Fortune Magazine was such a storied history, it’s easy to be like … I would go into a party and be like, “I’m Polina. I’m a tech reporter at Fortune Magazine. I interviewed Melinda Gates last week. What’s your name?” People would be immediately impressed and respect me, all this crap that isn’t actually real. With The Profile, though, I did it under my own name and it had nothing to do with anything but me, and that’s really a powerful place to be because you approach it from a place of authenticity, and this is who I am and I’ll build my own reputation rather than relying on somebody else’s reputation.

Polina Pompliano (48:39):
When I decided to leave Fortune in March of 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s very hard for me to reach a final decision. I was going back and forth for a while. Then I wrote a dossier on Jim Koch, who started Samuel Adams beer, and he used to work at Boston Consulting Group. He was like, “I was making good money. I was really comfortable. I was going to get promoted, but I really wanted to try something on my own, which was a brewery or a brewing company, a craft brewing company.”

Polina Pompliano (49:14):
He was like, “I had no experience in beer. I didn’t know what I was doing.” He was in a position where he had a mortgage, he had a wife and he had kids. It’s really hard to go from a well-paying job with benefits to something unknown, and he says that the question that he asked himself that actually put him over the edge to do it is, is this decision scary or is it dangerous? If it’s scary, you should do it. If it’s dangerous, you shouldn’t. By looking through that frame is where you realize, okay, what are you scared of?

Polina Pompliano (49:48):
He was scared of telling his bosses, just like I was, scared he would disappoint people, whatever. But it would be dangerous if he stayed because then 30 years, they’ll be like, “Okay, are you happy with your life?” You’re like, “Damn, I really regret not trying that beer thing.” If that’s the case, you should absolutely go pursue the thing that you want to do. At least try it. You can always get another job or whatever. But if you don’t try it, you live with the danger of decade-long regret, and I think that that’s worse than if you’re just scared of jumping into something new.

Trey Lockerbie (50:25):
I love that. Okay, Polina, before I let you go, I want to give you a chance to hand off to our audience where they can learn more about you. Your newsletter, your dossiers, your Twitter account, where can people follow along with all of this that you’re writing? Where can people follow with your writing?

Polina Pompliano (50:41):
You can find The Profile at readtheprofile.com, or you can follow me on Twitter, @polina_marinova.

Trey Lockerbie (50:49):
This is fantastic, and I can’t wait to do it again. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Polina Pompliano (50:53):
Thank you. I love this, and I love this podcast in general.

Trey Lockerbie (50:57):
All right, everybody. That’s all we had for you this week. If you’re loving the episodes, please go into your favorite podcast app and follow us. That way, you get it automatically on your phone every week. Don’t forget to go to theinvestorspodcast.com to check out all the amazing resources and courses we have for you there, or just simply Google TIP Finance. With that, we’ll see you again next time.

Outro (51:17):
Thank you for listening to TIP. Make sure to subscribe to Millennial Investing by The Investor’s Podcast Network, and learn how to achieve financial independence. To access our show notes, transcripts, or courses, go to theinvestorspodcast.com. This show is for entertainment purposes only. Before making any decision, consult a professional. This show is copyrighted by The Investor’s Podcast Network. Written permission must be granted before syndication or rebroadcasting.


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