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#297 Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia)
April 3rd, 2023 | E297

What I learned from rereading Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard.


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[3:45] One of my favorite sayings about entrepreneurship is: If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, “This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.”

[4:32] The original intent for writing Let My People Go Surfing was for it to be a philosophical manual for the employees of Patagonia. We have always considered Patagonia an experiment in doing business in unconventional ways.

[7:48] MeatEater Podcast #188 Yvon Chouinard on Belonging to Nature

[7:55] The first part of our mission statement, “Make the best product,” is the cornerstone of our business philosophy. “Make the best” is a difficult goal. It doesn’t mean “among the best” or the “best at a particular price point.” It means “make the best,” period.

[9:58] When I die and go to hell, the devil is going to make me the marketing director for a cola company. I’ll be in charge of trying to sell a product that no one needs, is identical to its competition, and can’t be sold on its merits. I’d be competing head-on in the cola wars, on price, distribution, advertising, and promotion, which would indeed be hell for me. I’d much rather design and sell products so good and unique that they have no competition.

[14:32] We were like a wild species living on the edge of an ecosystem: adaptable, resilient, and tough.

[14:49] I believe the way towards mastery of any endeavor is to work towards simplicity. The more you know, the less you need.

[15:49] The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

[17:59] Complexity is often a sure sign that the functional needs have not been solved. Take the difference between the Ferrari and the Cadillac of the 1960s. The Ferrari’s clean lines suites its high-performance aims. The Cadillac really didn’t have any functional aims. It didn’t have steering, suspension, aerodynamics, or brakes appropriate to its immense horsepower. All it had to do was convey the idea of power, creature comfort, of a living room floating down the highway to the golf course. So, to a basically ugly shape were added all manner of useless chrome: fins at the back, breasts at the front. Once you lose the discipline of functionality as a design guidepost, the imagination runs amok. Once you design a monster, it tends to look like one too.

[21:29] Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight. (Founders #186)

[28:02] Becoming Trader Joe: How I Did Business My Way and Still Beat the Big Guys by Joe Coulombe. (Founders #188)

[28:55] There are different ways to address a new idea or project. If you take the conservative scientific route, you study the problem in your head or on paper until you are sure there is no chance of failure. However, you have taken so long that the competition has already beaten you to market. The entrepreneurial way is to immediately take a forward step and if that feels good, take another, if not, step back. Learn by doing, it is a faster process.

[31:33] Can a company that wants to make the best-quality outdoor clothing in the world be the size of Nike? Can a ten-table, three-star French restaurant retain its third star when it adds fifty tables? The question haunted me throughout the 1980s as Patagonia evolved.

[35:47] I was still wondering why I was really in business.

[38:17] We had to begin to make all of our decisions as though we would be in business for a hundred years.

[39:02] Made in Japan: Akio Morita and Sony by Akio Morita. (Founders #102)

[39:13] Jeff Bezos on what he learned from Akio Morita and how it influenced the building of Amazon:

"Right after World War II, Akio Morita, the guy who founded Sony, made the mission for Sony that they were going to make Japan known for quality.

And you have to remember, this was a time when Japan was known for cheap, copycat products. And Morita didn’t say we’re going to make Sony known for quality. He said we’re going to make Japan known for quality. He chose a mission for Sony that was bigger than Sony.

And when we talk about earth’s most customer-centric company, we have a similar idea in mind. We want other companies to look at Amazon and see us as a standard-bearer for obsessive focus on the customer as opposed to obsessive focus on the competitor."

[42:13] Keep your company in Yarak: Super alert, hungry but not weak, and ready to hunt.

[42:45] Against The Odds: An Autobiography by James Dyson (Founders #200)

[44:02] Jay Z: What am I here for? To be second best? I don’t think so.

[44:13] The more you know, the less you need.

[51:33] Teach, inform, and inspire. Do so relentlessly and the sales will follow.

[53:04] I was taught by some wise people that if you manage the top line of your company-your customers, your products, your strategy-then the bottom line will follow. But if you manage the bottom line of the company and forget about the rest, you’ll eventually hit the wall because you'll take your eyes off the prize. — Steve Jobs

In the Company of Giants: Candid Conversations With the Visionaries of the Digital World by Rama Dev Jager and Rafael Ortiz. (Founders #208)

[56:03] Quality, not price, has the highest correlation with business success. Whenever we are faced with a serious business decision, the answer almost always is to increase quality.

[56:59] Huberman Lab Podcast

[57:19]  I cannot imagine any company that wants to make the best product of its kind being staffed by people who do not care passionately about the product.

[57:39] One of my all time favorite quotes:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.

[58:56] You should not see change as a threat, rather as an opportunity to grow and evolve to a higher level.

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