From working as a foreign correspondent to co-creating three successful NPR radio programs, Bay Area-based Guy Raz has always kept storytelling at the forefront of his career. His new book, How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), continues that tradition, serving as a touchstone for those seeking inspiration in their own careers—or simply a spark of possibility. Here, the award-winning journalist shares what makes him tick.
What motivated you to write a book?
When we launched How I Built This, people would write in and say, ‘I can’t afford business school and this is my business school.’ Over the years, I’ve amassed this database of deep, long interviews with some of the most incredible entrepreneurs, and it seemed that I should really write a book for people who don’t have the resources to pay for business school or an expensive course.
Where do you think your confidence and drive come from?
I didn’t come out of the womb with confidence. Confidence is really hard-earned in a lot of cases. It comes over time and it can wax and wane. There are times in my life where outwardly I might have success, but inwardly I don’t feel confident. So it comes and goes, but I’ve learned to accept that. That’s just part of the journey.
Have you experienced failures in your career that have helped you grow?
I’ve had so many. My dream in life was to be the evening host of All Things Considered. For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t the person that NPR wanted for that job. It was really hard, because I was a news person my whole life. But it was actually the most incredible gift, and prompted me to search for what I really wanted to do, which is to tell stories. It led me to leave the news world entirely and to begin a show called the TED Radio Hour. And that led me on a completely new path that finds me where I am today.
What’s one valuable lesson you’ve picked up from an interview?
Never sell beyond the close. I learned this from Cathy Hughes, the founder of Urban One. She’s one of the wealthiest self-made Black women in America. She came to Washington, D.C., as a single mother with a small child and no money. And she was persistent as hell. She went to 30 banks to get a loan to buy a radio station in Washington, and 29 of 30 banks turned her down. And bank number 30 said, ‘All right, we’ll give you the loan,’ and she was so excited. She kept telling them all the wonderful things she was going to do, and how they’re going to be so proud and that she’s going to repay the loan. The loan officer looked at her and said, ‘Cathy, you got the loan; you don’t have to sell beyond the close.’ I love that.
You’ve already accomplished so much so far—what’s next?
Nothing is set in stone, but we’re really excited about the possibility of a How I Built This television show. I think it has a lot of potential to be really inspiring and interesting. Hopefully Netflix is going to see this article!
Photography by: Peter Prato