Ep. 221: Tucker Max – The Top Five Things I Learned From Tucker Max

tucker max

“You and I both know what happened to you 18 months ago,” he said. “If you don’t write about it, you will die as an artist.”

Tucker’s sold over 3 million copies of his books. I know I’m going to have to listen to him.

Maybe later.


I’ve known Tucker many years. I can safely, say, I’ve been in the trenches with Tucker.

We’ve both started businesses since then, published books, invested together, and cried (well, I did) together since we’ve met.

In one of the worst personal disasters of my life, Tucker was there. He was there for the beginning, middle, and end.

I always ask myself ‘who is in my scene’?

What’s a Scene?

I consider it:
– the people I learn from
– the people who I can count on
– the people who challenge me to work harder and rise to my potential (and I can do the same for)
– the people I can call when I am confused or troubled, and the people who are there for me no matter what.

Ask yourself: Who is in your scene?


Without a scene, it is much harder to succeed. Ask Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jack Kerouac, Andy Warhol, Sara Blakely and many many others who have risen to the top of their fields throughout history.

Tucker and a few others have been in my scene for years.

So I visited him. Talked reinvention, writing, and his current business success.

Here’s the top five things I learned:

A) THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PEOPLE WHO SUCCEED AND PEOPLE WHO DON’T 

“No one has ever replicated anything I did because they looked at the surface. They didn’t actually understand the underlying input.”

“What do you mean by input?” I asked.

“People look at my writing and they say, ‘I get drunk, I fall down, I yell curses… I’m going to write really arrogant things. Then I’ll get the same attention Tucker Max gets.’ But that never works.”

“I was opening my soul,” he said. “I was being honest. Anybody trying to mimic me forgot the honesty part.” That’s the work. That’s the input.

“If you want to boil it down, people who succeed are worried about input. People who don’t succeed are worried about output.”


B ) DIFFERENT > BETTER

Spaces are getting crowded. Anyone can blog. Anyone can make a youtube video. Self-publishing is growing. And they’re handing out podcasts at all the major international airports.

More and more people are getting creative.

More creativity = more competition. So how do you stand out?

Micro-tribes.

“I’m talking about being different, which is not the same thing as being better,” Tucker said.

“When I started writing, I wrote emails for my friends and my only measurement for whether the emails were good or not was whether those nine guys thought it was funny. There was no arguing. If they did, it was good. If it didn’t, it was bad.”

This reminded me of how Craig from Craigslist built his company. Started out with an email, with the sole intention of providing pleasure for his friends.

Provide benefit for the few, and then you can scale to provide benefit for the many.

Tucker found his micro-tribe. And it grew. Because his did this…


C) TELL THE TRUTH

People send me articles all the time, “Can you read this?”.

I read one the other day. “How to survive a breakup” But the author left out his story.

Advice is autobiography.

Don’t give me advice from the mountaintop. Tell me the story of the struggle.

Of how you were the very reluctant hero, who was called into action for better or worse, who climbed the mountaintop, who now has the knowledge.

Your story is the only test: Are you original?

“I’ll give you a super simple trick to being original,” Tucker said. “Tell the truth. The hard truth that everybody thinks and nobody says.”


D) ASK YOUR QUESTION

Last week I did seven podcasts. I probably asked 1000 questions.

So I asked Tucker, “What’s the skill? How does one become a good writer?”

He had one answer:

Self-evaluate.

Tucker asks himself three questions:

Am I what I think I am?
Am I who I want to be?
Am I good at this or not?

It gave me food for thought. Sometimes the more I work hard at something, I realize the worse I am.

I want to improve.


E) WAS HE WRONG TO REJECT JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE?

Tucker destroyed his own movie.

“You will die as an artist,” I said, laughing, “if you don’t fully write this story.”

“I’ll never forget,” he said. “It was the night of my birthday… the night I knew the movie was a failure.”

“Why’d you turn down Justin Timberlake for your movie?”

“It’s embarrassing,” he said.

I said, “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone. I’ll never write about it. I promise.”

“I was convinced the Tucker Max character was going to be huge and I wanted it to be about me, not the actor.”

He was sorry.

But, listen, if only 30% of our decisions are correct, we will have very successful lives. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

And it’s how you take a bad decision and later convert it into wisdom that is the true test of future success.

“The same thing that screwed up my movie, happened in my company. This time I recognized it early enough to see what I was doing.”

He decided to step down from CEO of his company, Book in a Box. He still works there. Just not as CEO.

“It was a really hard decision,” he said, “but I knew it was right because as soon as I made it, I felt a thousand pounds lighter.”


Since hiring his replacement as CEO, his business has grown 400% in the past year. “Book in a Box” takes non-writers and helps them get their first book out the door.

It’s a great idea for a business. I wish I had invested.

After the podcast I had the chance to meet the newest baby in his family.

And after that I started to think about how I could avoid dying as an artist.

I need to step up my game.


Links and Resources:

Also mentioned:

  • James Buechler

    I do not understand the ubiquitous it’s like I was like I was like it’s like and like like like like. James, are you aware this is how you speak? It’s not how you write. Why do you continually fall back on this lazy language?

  • I listened to this podcast not knowing anything about Tucker Max. Within ten minutes, I thought: wow this guy is such an asshole. Then I googled his name and found out he is THE self proclaimed asshole. Being self aware doesn’t make it any better. Props to his success but boy his arrogance makes him truly abhorrent.

    • John

      It’s interesting how some people interpret confidence as arrogance. It would be an interesting question to ask yourself why you have such a hard time with confident people and why you feel the need to dismiss them instead of learning from them. This interview had some of the most powerful keys to success that I have ever heard. It’s too bad for you that you couldn’t hear them for some reason.

      • You are misinterpreting my comment. I agree with you that Tucker displays confidence and probably is giving sound advice in many areas. I never said he was not doing this. I want to suggest you ask yourself why are you getting defensive regarding my opinion about his personality? Tucker calls himself an asshole, so what is there to debate here? Confidence, intelligence, judgment, and personality style (ie. being an asshole) are all different things. There is no confusion here.

  • Greg Mueller

    Good work guys. Love you Tucker. Keep it up

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  • Blue Apron can eat my nuts. How’s that for fresh ingredients? A bit stale, huh? That is a compliment to you guys though, Mr Max and Mr A., so anxious I am to hear more

  • Aisha Visram

    We enjoy your podcast very much, however this episode was terrible. Tucker Max even in his “vulnerability” is ALL ego. He offers nothing to the audience other than how not to be an asshole like him.

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    • John

      I got the exact opposite from this podcast. This was probably my favorite Altucher podcast ever. Tucker’s ability to be honest with himself and to radically self evaluate is inspiring. Being honest with yourself and taking responsibility is the key to growth and progression. Tucker takes responsibility for his movie failing, for hiring the wrong people in his company, for his failings as a CEO, and many other things. I’ve rarely if ever seen such honesty and accountability. You have no idea what ego is. Admitting your weaknesses and taking responsibility for everything in your life is the opposite of ego. Yes Tucker is very confident and he used to be full of ego as he admitted. However the Tucker in this interview showed huge humility by being accountable, owning his weaknesses, and being willing to change. You have some unresourcefull internal beliefs that are skewing your view of Tucker and who he is now. If you got nothing from Tucker then you missed out in some of the greatest keys to success that I have ever heard.

  • Kevin J Jerge

    Drop the stupid background music. I’m sorry but it is so distracting.

  • Michelle Ponte

    Great podcast, James! I appreciate all of the work you do to bring us unique speakers and points of view. I have learned so much from them over the last few years. Thanks again!

  • Tucker is always fun to listen to since he tells it like it is. I wished he would acknowledge that the Book in a Box is really a collaborative ghostwriting service. I think whoever produces a manuscript should get co-authorship credit. There is nothing wring with it, but it should be made transparent.

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    • I asked him the same thing on my podcast[1].

      As Tucker describes it, “ghostwriting” involves actually compiling all of the knowledge and resources. With Book in a Box, you have to have the knowledge to “write” the book. They simply turn your knowledge – which you compile through interviews – into a digestible format.

      1. http://kadavy.net/blog/posts/tucker-max-podcast-interview/

      • David,
        You do a great job with interviews. I didn’t know your work prior to your reply. Will check out more of your podcasts.

        If all we got was a book of Q&A then it’s fine, but what they are producing is a book from the interviews. There is a lot of massaging that is taking place with the content. Another thing that authors need to worry about with this approach is plagiarism. No one will care to look into a book closely until you make it big and then it’s too late. Who is accountable for that?

        • Hey Jay, thanks so much for taking the time to listen! That really means the world. I’m also thrilled to hear that you enjoyed it. By the way, I’ve interviewed James[1] before, too. That may be a good episode to check out, too.

          I personally don’t think “ghostwriting” is an inaccurate term for it, but there’s definitely gradations of ghostwriting. I could go either way. As for plagiarism, I sure hope they have that covered in their contract!

          1. http://kadavy.net/blog/posts/james-altucher-podcast-interview/

          • David,
            I will send you my book when it is done (hopefully soon). One thing I have learned is that self publishing a good book is hard, so I can see why Book in a Box is a good way to go if you can afford it.

  • Kayvee

    James…love your podcasts.

    But your “links and resources” could use some work

    Tim Ferriss and Lewis Howes have comprehensive “links and resources” section

    They mention every book, tool or person.

    You can even monetize the books you mention with your amazon affiliate link

  • John

    Amazing! It was one of the best interviews I have ever heard. So many gems of wisdom. Anyone who dismisses Tucker because of his past or his confidence is missing out on some of the greatest keys to success I have ever heard. His radical self honesty and his ability to take responsibility for everything is inspiring! Thank you Tucker and thank you James!

  • Eva

    Very interesting and honest interview, thank you for that. If you are contemplating to write once a week for instance (or even less), the right people won’t forget you at all. And it perhaps gives you some peace of mind and time to enjoy or do some other things. All the best!

  • Jason Randell

    Love how transparent the two of you are : )