First off, Claudia was naked.
I mention this because I have a new podcast. It’s called “Question of the Day” and I do it with Stephen Dubner (Freakonomics co-author).
We analyze questions we find on the site Quora.com and have fun with them.
I mention in the first episode that when Claudia found out she was a ‘Top Quora Writer’, she was so happy that she ran around the house NAKED and singing (she should really not be singing. The neighbors might complain).
Because this podcast is being heavily edited, they took out the word “Naked”. I don’t know why. But I want to set the record straight.
Second, I think Stephen saved my life.
When I was going dead broke, one of my closest friends, Camille Sweeney (her book is excellent also) introduced us.
I was supposed to be the fool in Stephen’s next book.
He was writing a book about “The Pyschology of Money” and he wanted to start with me being the fool who went from $15 million to $0.
I was literally crying all the time. I think he saw me cry.
He was at the party the night before I was losing my house in NYC. Everything was gone. We were all drinking. He was taking notes.
(He eventually ditched the book and, after thinking hard about it, decided to write “Freakonomics” instead. Much better choice.)
I would talk to him about wanting to kill myself. He even later wrote:
“After a downslide that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy…”
He was encouraging. I wanted to write a book about “how to beat your friends at any game in the Universe”.
I would write 10-20 shortcuts for winning any game. I had it all outlined: chess, checkers, scrabble, monopoly, hearts, spades, othello, and so on.
You wouldn’t be able to beat pros with my tips. But you would beat 100% of your friends. Unless they were pros.
He wanted me to write it and maybe make a series out of it. Still, nobody has done a book like this and I have made a study of every game.
And then he was very encouraging when I first started writing for different websites.
The day before Freakonomics came out, I was encouraging to him. He was practically crying. He had just gotten a major job offer. It was MAJOR.
But he didn’t want to take it. He wanted to be a successful author (this was his third book).
“If this book isn’t a success, it’s all over for me,” he said (incorrectly I think).
I’m going to have to take this job, he said.
Not that it’s so bad to have a job. But he had worked for ten years to be a successful author and he felt this was the end. “The book might not be good enough.”
I said to him, “I think this book is going to be huge.”
I didn’t know that for sure (who could know?) but I wanted to be encouraging to him. I listed the reasons why I thought it would be huge. He relaxed. One more day until it came out.
I wrote a massive review of it at thestreet.com. But I can’t take any credit. The book was on all of the bestseller lists for years. It totally changed his life.
The next thing that happened was that I desperately needed his help.
I was supposed to go to Mississippi. I was meeting the ex-CFO of Worldcom, who was going to invest money in my new hedge fund.
And even though I am an “honorary colonel” of Mississippi (long story) I REALLY DID NOT want to go.
So I did the worst thing possible. I called up Jim Cramer and said, “Can I go on your TV show this Friday”. That being the day I was supposed to go to Mississippi.
Jim asked me, “Are you managing more than $5 million in your hedge fund?”
“Yes,” I TOTALLY lied.
“Ok, you’re on”.
Here’s what happens with TV that they don’t tell you. About three hours in advance, they give you the questions and conversation topics.
I had never been on TV before. So I was nervous eating all day.
Now that’s it’s been about 12 hours I can honestly say: I shat in my pants in the middle of the day and had to buy new underwear.
I couldn’t control myself.
I called Stephen: “Help”.
He came over to the studio right away.
In the waiting room, he spent an hour or so asking me every question they were planning. We went over all the answers. I must have answered each question a million times.
I went on the show and because the ex-CFO saw me on Cramer’s show, he put $5 million in my fund. Now I didn’t lie about that anymore.
More on this in a second.
Stephen and I started playing backgammon to calm me down before the show.
We started a match to 101. Whoever hit 101 won games first would win the match. And now we are playing “best of 11 matches”.
The score is 2-2. But, I have to say this Stephen, I’m ahead in the 5th match by 39 to 24. So I’m slightly ahead after TWELVE YEARS.
The next project we worked on was Junglesmash in 2008. I am SURE this is a multi-million dollar idea for anyone who would do it right now.
We were doing it 50-50. The idea: we would throw out a brand (“Crest”) and people would submit via YouTube commercials that they would make about that brand.
Then we would pick the best one and pay them $2000.
The site is still at junglesmash.blogspot.com
We had over 100 videos submitted for the first two. People put hard work into them (Check out the winners on the first two).
Even Procter & Gamble (!) submitted 10 videos. They wanted to win on their own brand. They wanted me to fly out to Cincinatti to talk to them about it.
This idea would’ve worked. Crowdsourcing commercials. BAM!
Why didn’t it work? Because I was getting a divorce.
When you get a divorce, that’s like a fire that sucks all of the oxygen out of your life. I had nothing left to give.
I stopped this project, lost all my money (again), lost my house (again), and I would just wander the streets of New York trying to make eye contact with women who wouldn’t even look at me back.
Now we have another project and it’s the one I’m most excited about.
Stephen runs Freakonomics Radio, one of the most popular podcasts.
I’ve been doing podcasting as well (“The James Altucher Show” and “Ask Altucher” that I do with Claudia).
While we were playing backgammon, we wandered into talking about Quora, a site where anyone can ask any question and anyone can answer.
Like, if someone asks, “Who started Wikipedia?”, Jimmy Wales will actually answer and say, “Me”.
It’s amazing who they get on there.
I forgot who said it first, but we decided: “let’s do a podcast about this”. We were going to go one every day.
Claudia begged me to do one a week. “Too much work!” We ended up at three a week.
One thing I learned: Answers mean nothing. Questions are the key to success in life.
We know only 1% of 1% of 1% or less of all there is to know. Answers are human beings just pretending we know anything.
But questions make you explore the world around you. Makes you grow as a human. Makes you look inside and wonder what was there that you never saw before.
I learned from doing this podcast that the key is asking, not always coming up with a smart answer.
We would go off on tangents and never return. We would just explore.
Exploring is the only way you find out where your comfort zone is, and then how to break through it.
If you just start: “What if I….?”
I have a confession: after 450 podcasts, I have never listened to a single one of my own podcasts. I hate hearing my own voice.
This morning, I listened to all 5 of the Question of the Day podcasts (they are each 10 minutes long). I have to admit that I loved them. I was laughing.
I hope you like them. Every new adventure, every great success, every memorable moment in my life, has come from the people who I surround myself with.
Friendship is how we’ve survived as tribal animals for two million years.
Meanwhile, that day Stephen helped me the first time I was on TV: It was the first of many.
When I came home that night, 12 years ago, my daughter was looking up at me and smiling and staring. She had just seen her Daddy on TV!
If you ever have a chance to see that expression on a kid’s face do it.
It was the best moment of my life. I will die with Josie’s glowing face looking up to me in adoration (maybe the last time she had that look.)
I am a father and a friend.