The Moment You Feel You're Better Than Someone Else... You're Finished | GVAE w/ Thomas Tull

January 22, 2022

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Today's episode is an awesome interview I did with the phenomenal Thomas Tull! We discuss his career in full, focusing on your strengths versus your weaknesses, soft skills versus hard skills, the importance of humility and much more.

Enjoy! Let me know what you thought.

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this is the Gary vee audio experience. Mhm. Alright, podcast nation, we are back, as I said many times with the be friends in FT project exploding. I'll be doing less interviews in 2022 but more meaningful ones or people that I think can bring you uh a lot of value. And our guest today is definitely someone who and share friends and I've heard really great things but we've never really been able to chop up. As a matter of fact, it's the first time we're really even jamming together but um thomas told is with us, I'm gonna let him uh kind of give us a three minute, five minute to minute kind of comic book number one little bio and how he sees himself for what things he's done and then what kind of a shoot the ship about um some of those themes and and kind of where the world is my friend, how are you?

I'm good, I'm good. Thank you for having me on,

I'm happy to do it. So for everybody on here that you know, when they google you, it says american businessman, how do you speak about yourself?

Hopefully very little


that's that's always uh it feels awkward, strange and you know, so uh look, I've I've been very fortunate in my life, There's no question about it and uh what I enjoy doing is looking at opportunities, markets, companies and then applying innovation technology and so forth to hopefully give that company a chance to to do something both different and and profitable. Um and I've gone through, you know, a number of iterations in my career from being in tech venture capital, my background is in tech and finance took a big left hand turn in my life, had no media experience, But I was fascinated by the way movies and television was financed and the revenue streams, this was back in 2004 and thought I could bring institutional capital to that ecosystem built legendary into a pretty sizable company. Um, along the way introduced

listening, what, what is legendary production company?

Yeah, so legendary was, is a production company that does movies, television, there was a comic book division, there was a digital division, Um, you know, etc. I sold the company back in 2016. Uh, and one of the things that happened along the way is using data science to do, we felt like a much better job of deploying capital not to make film and television or to predict how audiences would feel and all that stuff. I, you know, I had the chance to partner with chris Nolan and folks like that. So that on the creative side that, that worked well, but we were really the first company to use data science to find people who are persuadable to find audiences and talk to them in a very sort of bespoke way in order to cause an outcome. And that, that made a big difference for the company that led me after selling it to form telco, which I know is not very imaginative in terms of the name, but it's a holding company, you're

talking to somebody who's got Vanner Vanner Land. I mean I'm, it just makes it easy.

Well in our case the joke of it was they kept asking me to come up with a name and it's a holding company, right? So it's not a land. And they kept jokingly, instead of calling it Newco, they'd call it telco and one day they're like, look man, we need to wire money. So what's the name of the company and that? I'd love to tell you a better story, but that's, that's how that happened. And the idea behind telco was we go and buy either whole companies or usually controlling stakes in them and besides providing the capital and, and hopefully some business acumen. We also had telco labs, which was sort of a, you know, I was always enamored with Bell labs and what Bell labs meant in terms of innovation. So we had practitioners of artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science. So we would bring those resources to bear in companies that didn't traditionally have a lot of innovation and would not have access to folks like that and it and it's worked well, you

know, do you do you think of yourself as an operator?

Well, I certainly, you know, was I ran legendary and so forth. But it's not my, it's not my favorite thing to do. My favorite thing is just going to say, my favorite thing to do is to partner with great operators and provide capital input, you know, access to

strategic financial, strategic financial arbitrage.

Yes. But I think also if I have any skill sets which is certainly up for debate, it's looking at a business or looking at a sector and thinking about it differently, right? And saying

like seeing white space. But you know, it's funny, I mean like let's actually break this down because even just listening to the way you're deploying humility and a little self deprecation because I understand it and I do it at times though, I'm a little bit more comfortable and like, look, I'm really good at this one thing and I suck ship, I usually go with, I suck shit at these 99 things, but I'm working really good at this one thing. Let's break this down because now I'm starting to see where I may want to take this. We have a lot of people listening, I'm In 40. I mean what is it really actually in eight minutes, what's very clear to me, I'm like, oh, here's my connection point with this other winning player, There's a level of self awareness that I am hypothesizing that we share that allows us to squeeze the ship out of the things we like and are good at versus over. Obsessing that maybe some of the things were not as good at and in that there's a real level of like happiness and success, when I say that does that connect and then more importantly for everyone who's listening, what's the learning in that, in their world of what they may be good or not good at. But

well, I think there's a blend of extreme intellectual honesty, right? Being able to look at yourself and if you can, and it's a hard thing is to put ego aside and say, what am I good at? What am I not good at? What makes me happy and fulfilled. And one of the things that even I, even though I know I wish I were better at it, is it worth spending the cycles, those 10,000 hours to get good at something versus using my time elsewhere. And you know, the other thing that I think in this day and age, I'm not on any social media and I'm not here to bash or whatever else, It's just not interesting for me. And you know, so because you have to spend so much time curating and so forth. Uh and I also know I'm bound to say something stupid, which then gets amplified and so forth. So I try to be very comfortable with, look, this is what I like. This is what I think I'm pretty good at and I'm going to stay on that highway and at the same time, I think you also have to have the conviction that, look, if you've, you know, if you've done the homework and you've convinced yourself that something is real important, it's an opportunity then even if there are a chorus of well meaning people telling you, you're, you're stupid or you're wrong or you shouldn't do this. Even if they're well intentioned, you have to have a convention conviction to say no, no, I've measured twice, I'm gonna cut once. And

and and on that note, do you factor in regret as a variable to why you're willing to make that cut? So when I hear you say that, that's been the story of my life as well, I also am a little bit more like whitespace new stuff, right? one of the big factors in my world and that is, I just know that when I'm 87 whether I was right or wrong, I'll always regret not cutting that one time because I've already gotten to that convinced place. And if God forbid I let my dad or you, if we became best friends for 20 years and I respected you anybody. If I let them convince me otherwise that I would be too accountable too. Knowing at the end of the day it was my call and I would not be willing to point fingers and then I would be disappointed in the regret of not tasting the experience and that actually drives me almost more than any, even more than thinking I'm gonna win and make money and all that. Like it's just like the fear of regretting it being like, fuck, because I'd rather die on my sword than someone else's.

I think that's well said, and and frankly, I think if that is partnered, if you will with again that awareness to say, have I really thought about this, I have any expertise, have I consulted with people and if I convinced myself in a rational fashion and now I am willing to take that mountain if you haven't done that work, because there's plenty of times, you

know, many people like you and I get high on their own supply just because they want somewhere else. They become delusional, that they think the next thing is gonna work.

I have to tell you that is, you know, I uh I think that as soon as you give the vibe out to the universe that you're smarter than that, you're better than you've got it rigged,

you're finished.

I think the universe will come back and teach you.

Are you are you a buck? I know you love football like me and you've accomplished a lot of things. I want to buy the new york Jets. Do you have a sense of do you like boxing or mm. A

Yeah, I mean, look

completely convinced that that's what happens to great fighters completely.

Well, look at the end of the day, you know, there's something certainly very primal about two people go into a ring and it's pretty clear most of the time at the end of it, and I think that um again, you think about what it takes to be a great fighter, It has to be, you have to be crazy enough and have enough resiliency and hubris to enter that ring, but at the same time you have to have enough of check yourself to say, hey, is it time to stop? Is it? So, I think that's a really good

show, you something, keep talking, I'm

gonna show you something, oh my goodness, you're gonna lose viewers by the minute if I just said you're

looking good. Alright, so I just wrote this book right? This is where we're going the whole way and it talks about emotional ingredients and I'm listening to you and obviously I've known about your success from afar And I'm getting excited because I'm like, man, I think I really landed on something with this concept of ingredients. So here are the ones that I value, the fact that you're talking right now for the last seven minutes about number 10 and 11 in combination and so few people understand that 10 and 11 feel like they're opposites, but when mixed together, like making a meal, that's what you're describing to me right now, I'm literally, I don't know if you see it, I have goose bumps because you have been talking for seven minutes about conviction mixed equally with humility and that and you know this, a lot of people struggle when you carry. It's kind of how I think about the world right now, we're living in a very, you know, this a very red and blue world and I'm like, it's fucking purple. It's if you can't, if you don't go to purple, your fucked. It's not how are people walking? I mean, no matter how conservative or liberal you are, no matter what, if you do not have the intellect or the humility or the curiosity to understand that it's fucking purple and that's what you're saying right now. You are you went right down a path right away which I'm a huge fan of 10 and 11 humility mixed with conviction because your humility will protect you because that's what you were talking about doing the home. That humility allows you to stay curious and open to somebody, talking you out of it along the way or making a point or a data set that may make you look at it slightly different? No,

I think that's exactly right. And you have hopefully some internal compass that says has I have I earned this right? Have I put the work in? And the reason I have conviction isn't because I read something on the internet or the last person I talked to said, no, it's I did the work and therefore I've earned the right to to dig in on this position. Look at in terms of purple. The thing that I am hopeful of. I love this country. Uh, you know, I came from a very, you know, single mom poor background. This country afforded me the opportunity to, to, you know, do what I've, what I've been fortunate enough to do. And at the same time I always think about the whole point of this being the United States is that it's a whole big country of different cultures and different things. But at the end of the day, what's made this country great is a belief in certain things. And as soon as you villainize the other side, that it's not just that we don't see it the same way because I've had different life experiences than you have, but you're a villain and now you're a bad person or you're a dummy.

I just, I think that that

we've lost civility on both sides and we are going to need to lean into civility and purple or we're in deep trouble. Let's go to that childhood real quick were, you know, I was born in the soviet union. So talking about somebody who really value this


was three. So I don't remember it. Obviously my parents lived until they were 22 there. So I have a lot of feelings towards it. But we grew up very like immigrant eight family members in the studio apartment. So I, I associate to humble beginnings. What I guess here's the first question were you an entrepreneurial kid?

Yeah, by necessity. You know, it's one of these things that um, you know, everybody that has had some challenge as a kid or in life, I'm not gonna sit here and say when I was eight years old that I thought to myself, wow, you know what? This sucks, but I'm building resiliency, I'll bet this will affect me. No, you

didn't, you didn't, you didn't say attend my favorite sentence of, you know, adversity is the foundation of success.

Yeah, no, I just said this, but you know, look, there is the things that I do think happened is where I was in life, made me comfortable being uncomfortable, right? And then the second thing, you know, my mom

is that why you're petrified of eighth place trophies because that's why I'm petrified of

them. I'm not, I'm not a big look, I'm not a big participant participation trophy person. I think life whether you like it or not keep score. Um, and I think that even with our foreign adversaries at this point, we're sort of wishing and hoping that we lived in a different world than we do, right? And I wonder sometimes when I watch americans screaming at each other, if if if they don't understand that we have foreign adversaries that are a true challenge and that we keep taking our eye off the ball.

Yeah. And I think if you deploy any level of common sense and understand scale and influence, like I would argue that it's already a foregone conclusion. Like, like there is no scenario of our great, great grandkids, not in a world where china, you know, china is only vulnerability is people forget they're actually communists and thus that's against the human spirit and they'll have to figure that out. But china runs its country the way we run businesses, it's communism with capitalism, right? Like every good company, your legendary Vanner, I promise you here's what it looks like. You empower people to do a ton of shit, but you at the tippy top, You're gonna make 3-6 decisions that are not debatable there just and and so yeah, I mean I think, but I think more taking it out of the macro and geopolitical. let's, because I want to get this out of you because now I've got a sense of your philosophical framework which I think we can extract some really cool insights for some of the entrepreneurs and executives that are listening tell actually before I make this assumption, would you argue? And based on that hard pivot you made, I think we share another thing I'm starting to sense. Do you find yourself curious, do you think curiosity has helped you go down some of these paths and because of that curiosity you're coming in with fresh eyes and when you come in with fresh eyes, sometimes you can see things that the people that have been living in it forever can't see anymore.

Well look I can tell you uh intellectual curiosity has been a staple of my life since I was a little kid. I read voraciously eclectically. Um and I think that that's extraordinarily important and once you latch on to something going down that rabbit hole and saying I want to know everything there is to know about this really

important eclectically, right? Like you're saying things I want to make sure everybody caught that because that was I thought that was a very important word you're saying. Like you may randomly find coin collecting interesting out of left field because you heard somebody say one thing and then actually start reading and then actually may go even deeper. And then you decide actually after this first book I'm going to go deep, is that what you're saying?

Yeah I I think and whether that comes in a business opportunity, personal satisfaction. And I think also that context with with learning and knowledge is everything right If you can, whether it's history, whether it's science, I'm a huge believer in math and science. Uh you know I'm on the board at Carnegie Mellon and I'm on the Engineering School advisory board at M. I. T. So I'm Proximate to some pretty amazing things

that some fancy boogie ship there, my friend.

Yeah I'm just I'm just standing next to them and hoping I suppose this happens but you know at the end of the day that curiosity and being not only curious but hope, but trying to get context around that. So it's either applicable or you've built mental models and things that allow pattern recognition to happen. I think all those things are extremely important.

Let me ask you a question that really just popped up after this enjoyable 20 minutes. Do you believe that being underestimated is a tremendous advantage and gift.

That's an interesting question because I think sometimes, yes, being under regarded allows you the opportunity to grow without people trying to stop that growth. There are other times when you want to cut through all the crap and just say, look, let's let's let's try to fast forward to the real thing because there's another,

so what you're saying there is because you value actual execution and practicality that after putting some wins on the board in your life, that that reputation allows you in that meeting setting or boardroom or whatever environment is to maybe speed up the waste.

No question about it because look, there is a certain point where you've done enough in your career to not have to explain either who you are or what

about when you're innovating at scale. So for example, one thing that I find interesting about my career is I pivot so much And even though I continuously put winds on the board when you're going to something so new, it's almost like you're doing the same thing all over again. And I also think, and I've come to realize this in my mid 40 now that oh, I actually enjoy being underestimated, I like being an underdog. That's probably why I'm a jets fan by the way. Uh, you know. Um but because I do that to myself, there is a level of like having to repeat certain things. Um and I'm, but at the same token to your point, which is why I use that analogy I do enjoy At this point in my career where I could be like, Hey, can we just get to this point because talk about somebody who's obsessed with seven minute meetings. I don't want to waste one minute because it's the only resource besides health that I care about, and I don't want to have a 45 minute meeting pandering to people's insecurities and lack of knowledge of the subject matter. Let's just get to the punchline and collectively do something here.

Look, I think that's absolutely right. And I it's always interesting to me that people are willing to waste money. Um or I'm sorry, miss speaking the exact opposite that they obsess over saving money.

But time. But

time is like, you know, I can because I doubt that anybody on their deathbed says bring me my financial statements,

not one person,

right? So

that's a regret, by the way.

Well, one of the things that speaks to me just in terms of reading and so forth is stoicism, right? It's hard to apply every day, but I find if you haven't read Marcus Aurelius or you know any of the stoics it's worth visiting. And one of the things that they talk about, Ryan's a good friend.

So Ryan has been enjoying the last five years just whispering to me like taking clips of me and being like do you know how much of a stoic you are? And I'm actually very interesting. I love information but I've come to learn. I haven't really gotten classified though. I may it just takes time back to what we're talking about. I clearly have a massive reading comprehension issue. So I I don't read books obviously I read a lot of micro and I listen and watch a lot. Um but he just gets a kick out of it and it's interesting you're bringing it up because he's really pounding up me on like how much I am it.

Well look I Ryan's a great guy, great author, big thinker and a lot of their philosophy speaks to me just because you worry about what you control and you know their whole thing is you should contemplate death every day. Not in a morbid way but just to say look we all have an expiration date right? And if Covid hasn't shoved that like right up in your face that you know you need to really focus on not only what's important, but even relationships, people you care about, you know making sure that you continue to cultivate that. Um So it's something I at least try to say to myself did I do a good job today of spending time on things that matter and that there's real yield

before we get you out of here. It's running out of time. I want to go current events in business because I'm gonna take advantage now that I understand how

much I enjoy your macro.

Let's go a little micro where if anywhere are you with your curiosity or digging into of N. F. T. S.

Well I have a number of investments in that world. And obviously we're hearing all kinds of monikers now right? There's there's N. F. T. There's there's tokens, there's crypto, there's web three dot oh all these different things and I do have a number of of investments in that world. The thing that's interesting to me that I'm trying to watch is what is the intrinsic value going to be and how will it stand the test of time and sort itself out. There's no question in my mind that digital goods, right? If we assign value to them that is no different, then hey I have a baseball card and it has a value because other people say right, it's it's a shared myths sort of thing. Um The thing that's interesting to me about crypto is what happens when governments writ large sort of say okay now this currency has the full faith and credit of the US of whatever it is, it's gonna be really interesting to watch what that policy looks looks like uh the tax situation, how all of that is going to unfold. I have some very, very smart friends in in deep finance that tell me that they think this will be one of the biggest sort of opportunities and transfer of wealth in human history as this thing unfolds. So I'm trying to participate.

But also yeah, and just because I don't, I don't know where it's going

to, let me do a little more rapid round. I apologize. I I love the in depth questions. Movie theaters, given your background state of the union of the movie theater business hot takes 23 sentences. What are you thinking,

tough business going forward? I don't think movies are going anywhere.

You think they can innovate to go super. Like I keep wondering, would I pay, why am I willing to pay $400 for a sushi night? Like there's gotta be a way to get me to pay $300 for the new batman. There's gotta be no.

Well, but the question is, do you need that large box piece of real estate which you're talking to someone who loves going to the movies? That communal experience. But

that's my point, right? The community like, like the answer is no, but the, but the world is, and now instead of your right, like sometimes I want to sit and like I watched the Lucille ball thing on amazon prime. I didn't need to go to the theater for that. You know, a marvel vs. DC crossover super film of Justice League versus, you know, like Avengers with, you know, I don't know, I could see myself wanting to, especially, you know, I like to head to head ship. That could be really fun in the theater to see who likes the one side or the other.

Yeah, I think the other challenge is just the appointment nature of it. So if I need to go out at 7 40 park a car, go inside,

but you're so willing to do that for dinner so many times a month.

Look, the question is though, If you have a 60 in flat screen at home and hi def, this

is a combo of and right to your point, the experience now is so, I mean, look, you and how old are you, my friend?

I am 51

Look Great. So I'm 46, we've had the same basic thing, right? Ghostbusters comes out, you know that if you don't go see it there, that you're not gonna see it for 18 months on VHS and you're gonna be on your shitty team. Like it's like, right, so to your point, but I still think the communal and then I still think food and beverage, you know, I know these, some of these things have popped up, right? I went to one in Naples. You can get a nice little glass of wine, but I still don't think they broke the format. Listen, we've we've run out of time. I would love to do this again in the future. I loved. I really enjoyed this.

Me too. Thank you very much for having me on.

Thanks for being on.