Tim Ferriss has been listed as one of Fast Company’s ‘Most Innovative Business People.’ He is an early-stage technology advisor and investor(Shopify, Uber, Facebook, Alibaba, Duolingo, amongst others) and the author of five #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers, including Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, The 4-Hour Workweek and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. The Observer and other media have called Tim ‘the Oprah of audio’ due to the influence of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, which is the first interview podcast to have exceeded 100 million downloads.
Ferriss was born in 1977 in the US in the state of Long Island. Throughout childhood, Ferriss experienced poor health, sparking an interest in self-improvement. He recalled, “My parents did not have a lot of money, and the one exception they made: ‘We always have a budget for books. So if you want to get a book, we will figure out a way to get the book.’ So what does that do to a child’s brain? It makes you excited to figure out ways to get books. And so we became fascinated at a very early age with books.”
As a child, Ferriss was small for his age and often got picked on due to his size. His mother signed him up for wrestling classes when he was eight, as Ferriss was a hyperactive kid. He says, “Some other mothers told my mom, ‘You should put him into something called ‘kiddie wrestling,’ because that’ll drain his batteries, and then when he gets home he’ll just fall asleep.'” The sport soon laid the foundation for his love of experimenting, he says, “But the confidence built on the wrestling mat as a puny little – God knows, like 40-pound kid – is where a lot of it started.”
At 15, Ferriss spent a year as an exchange student in Japan. It was his first time travelling abroad, and he says it was “a huge formative experience in my life.” He considered this part of his life to be a wake-up call to the realization that there was a vast world beyond Long Island, and it fostered his passion for exploring other cultures.
This deep-rooted love led him to Princeton, where he majored in East Asian studies. However, it wasn’t a smooth journey; Ferriss revealed in his 2017 TED Talk that he had dealt with bipolar depression and he got to a dark point during his senior year of college, he says, “And that is when I came close to sort of the precipice of total self-destruction.” Ferris has since come to see it as one of several turning points in his life.
To safeguard his depleting mental health, Ferriss decided to take a year off and travelled to China, followed by Taiwan, where he taught Japanese and worked odd jobs to survive. When he finally returned to finish his degree, he was confident that he would not follow a traditional Ivy League path like his peers.
“I saw my classmates competing, because that’s what they were good at!” he says. “I mean, you take kids who go to a school like Princeton, they’re used to competing, and they are used to being number one, so if something seems coveted, they will compete for it, whether or not they really want that thing.”
After graduating and gaining a perspective on his career, Ferriss decided to move to Silicon Valley, where he soon founded his own company, BrainQuicken. Ferriss says, “I created my own athletic supplement company because it was an area I was obsessed with in my life. I decided to combine supplements I was already taking while working with college athletes to determine the most considerable demand.”
However, in 2004, Ferriss soon hit a roadblock after a close friend passed away, a relationship ended, and his business felt like it hit a dead end. Given his prior experience travelling to China to clear his mind, he once again decided to travel, this time he went to London to visit a friend.
In London, Ferriss discovered Seneca, the ancient Roman philosopher whose values have since helped him move through all the low points in his life. One line of the renowned author has stuck with him ever since “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” This has provided him with a new understanding of life.
During his absence, he realized that his business was performing better without micromanaging, and he extended his trip to visit Spain. During this time, Ferriss compiled lessons around efficiency and planning from his personal and professional struggles that led to his first best-selling book, ‘The 4-Hour Workweek.’
Ferriss knew he could quickly have become a one-hit-wonder, so he decided to invest in budding tech start-ups. He befriended Mike Maples, the leading venture capitalist who helped lead him to hugely successful investments in Uber, Facebook, and Twitter. Ferriss was a proficient student and soon achieved great success as an early-stage investor and adviser. However, he decided in 2015 to refrain from making more investments to focus on his businesses.
Ferriss decided that his following projects would explore other passions to avoid becoming pigeonholed as a career expert. His next book was 2010’s ‘The 4-Hour Body,’ which became a number-one New York Times bestseller.
At the time, Ferriss had already authored several books and wanted to take a break from anything that was even remotely related to writing. He was then interviewed on Joe Rogan’s show, Marc Maron’s ‘WTF,’ ‘Nerdist’ with Chris Hardwick, and he says, “I really enjoyed it because I could be myself. I could curse if it came out, from Long Island and all, and there was very little censuring. I didn’t have to try to encapsulate everything about a 600-page book into 20 seconds of scripted time.And in those interviews I had so much fun, No. 1, and then, No. 2, they moved a lot of books. I was blown away by how many books these podcasts moved. It just completely made my jaw drop compared to a lot of other media.”
Awestruck by the power of podcasts, Ferriss committed to six episodes. He says, “I felt like that would give me a certain critical mass, where I could develop new skills. First one was a softball with my buddy Kevin Rose. Didn’t even have a name for the podcast at that point, I was really nervous to interview one of my best friends, partially because he was busting my balls the whole time, and after six episodes I decided to keep doing it.”
Now 500 episodes later, Ferriss is still going and has turned into the go-to guide for personal and character development. His podcast has been chosen by Fortune Magazine as the top business podcast and was named ‘Best of’ to Apple Podcasts’ list.
In conclusion, he adds, “By working only when you are most effective, life is both more productive and more enjoyable. It’s the perfect example of having your cake and eating it, too.”