By Leigh Hartman
Guy Raz, host of NPR’s “How I built this,” on the community of entrepreneurs
Guy Raz is the host of the NPR podcast “How I built this,” where he interviews entrepreneurs, innovators, and executives from all over the world about the companies they’ve built and the stories behind their success.
We were lucky enough to talk with Raz about his own career, his experience hosting the show, and what he has learned from talking to so many innovators and business leaders. The conversation is excerpted below.
You’ve said in other interviews that you think we’re going through a renaissance of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking. Can you expand on that?
When I was a kid there was this feeling that high design and quality products came from Japan and Germany, that they were designed there and even manufactured there. I think what’s been remarkable over the course of my lifetime has been to see this transition from the idea of quality more often than not being products that are designed and created in the US. So for example, the iPhone, the Tesla, Warby Parker glasses, for example, Patagonia, Sam Adams beer, which ignited this whole craft beer revolution in the US and then ignited a craft beer revolution overseas. I mean up until Sam Adams really became a popular beer in the U.S. American beer was though of as a joke in most of the world, in Europe. I mean I remember being in Europe in the 90s and even then people just though it was a joke.
And also the other big consumer products we use like Instagram or Airbnb or Uber, I mean that to me is a really big shift in how we think about consumer products and how we as consumers interact with the world. Not all of them are American, there are some incredible products that are made overseas, but to me there is a feeling that we’re living at a time when there is a lot of really exciting creativity that’s coming out of the US, and I think it’s been happening, certainly, for about 20 years.
It seems like there is a real spirit around the idea of entrepreneurship. It’s something that younger people coming out of college want to do. I graduated college in the late 1990s and everyone I know, with very few exceptions, either went to graduate school or when to go look for a job with a company. And that was their career. And that still happens today, but I think many, many, many more young people finish college and think, “Alright, what can I start? What can I try out? What can I build?” And that to me is a big difference.
Are you driven solely by your own curiosity, or do you see yourself as a resource for future entrepreneurs? When you host these podcasts, do you hope people will listen and learn about what it takes to start a company?
I am very, very fortunate that I get to follow my curiosity so of course I’m super motivated by asking questions because I really want to know the answer. But this show, “How I built this” to me was always about connecting with a tribe of people.
There is a really amazing writer and thinker named Seth Goden, who you probably have heard of and he talks about finding your tribe. He’s been on the TED radio hour a few times and his ideas have really inspired me to think about this notion of tribes. And to me there is a tribe of people in this country and around the world who are diverse in age and race and religion and national origin and ability and identity and they are all interested in building something. And it may not be a business but it is something and it is that they are interested in creating something that they themselves made. And my hope is that with this show that that tribe would find us and to our really overwhelming surprise they have. We are now getting many millions of downloads a month from people who are a part of this tribe.
I feel really gratified to read tweets and get emails from people who say “This show has been such a life saver because I’m in the midst of starting a business its super lonely its really scary sometime I as myself what the hell am I doing and then Monday comes around and a new episode comes out and I can hear these stories and it is such a motivator” that’s been the most incredibly gratifying response from listeners. It’s been amazing.