The Interview Issue

Author Tim Ferriss: The 4-Hour Makeover


A side of beef makes a brief appearance as the author of The 4-Hour Workweek and other 4-Hour tomes gives our executive editor a 4-hour makeover.

Photograph by Jake Stangel for Bloomberg Businessweek

5:30 p.m. Thursday. Ferriss calls with instructions to eat light, abstain from alcohol, and fast (water only) for 10 hours before a pre-breakfast blood test.

7:30 a.m. Friday. At the offices of WellnessFX, an 18-month-old private health service where Ferriss is an adviser, a phlebotomist draws three vials of blood.

So what are we doing?
I feel like I should pay as much attention to my body as I do to my car. If I’m doing oil changes every 7,500 miles, I’ll do a blood test every one to two months.

What have you changed as a result of frequent blood tests?
I had a mild selenium deficiency, and as a result I had low testosterone. When I fixed that, by consuming fresh Brazil nuts, and made a few other changes, I effectively tripled my testosterone and doubled my sperm count.

8:30 a.m. Ferriss provides a tour of his home in San Francisco, showing off a tactical knife collection, a hurley stick used in the ancient Gaelic game of hurling, and a solarium/hyperbaric chamber. He serves strong green tea.

For The 4-Hour Chef you moved from Crown to Amazon Publishing (AMZN). That made some waves.
I was viewed as the Antichrist, swinging a battle-ax made of Kindles toward the independent booksellers. I’m not anti-bookstore, I’m pro-reader. I anticipated the boycott by Barnes & Noble (BKS). They refused to carry it on the Nook. I was like, “Pfff! Fine, I don’t care.” But I underestimated the visceral response that other retailers would have to Amazon as a rival publisher. I was also boycotted by Costco (COST), Target (TGT), and Wal-Mart (WMT), and that made distribution hard.

Do you regret the move to Amazon?
I’m glad I did it. Publishing is changing so quickly, there’s going to be some fast-hitting bloodbaths in the next few years, and some of the traditional folks who are worried about Amazon should keep a close eye on Silicon Valley. There are little dragons growing very large that they’ll have to contend with as well.

You released parts of the book on BitTorrent, right?
I did. That was hugely effective. A lot of people think of BitTorrent as a tool for downloading ripped content. It’s actually being used by a lot of content producers—musicians, movie studios—to distribute content. BitTorrent users are actually more inclined to purchase content than the general population.

11 a.m. Archery tag. After practice shots with a bow and foam-tipped arrows, Ferriss leads a duel through Glen Canyon Park. He wins.

Now this is how I imagine someone who works a four-hour week spends his time.
People forget to play, and to learn new things.

OK, but you can’t expect anyone to believe that as an adviser or investor in 30-plus tech startups, you still keep a four-hour week. Or do you?
That’s the amount of time I was spending running my mail-order sports nutrition business in 2005. The weekly management was actually closer to two hours, but my publisher thought that two hours was too unbelievable.

The objective of the four-hour workweek is not to create a lot of time and then drop acid and stare at a wall. The objective is to increase your per-hour output 5 to 10 times. And in doing so, you then have this increased time that you can allocate how you want. I love working with startups.

What are some of those you’re involved with?
Uber, Evernote, Twitter, Facebook (FB), TaskRabbit. Refinery29, a content site. StumbleUpon.

So what do I get when I get Tim Ferriss as an adviser?
I focus on conversion, ensuring that the product is going to convert the maximum number of visitors into users. I also focus on how we target and attract specific customers.

Ever want to run your own startup again?
I have no desire to be a CEO. I really feel like it’s a young man’s game.

And you’re how old?
I’m 36.

You’ve already aged out?
Yeah. And my friends who have been in the game would agree. Generally speaking, not always. It’s like professional sports.

2:30 p.m. Following lunch, Olivier Cordier, the owner of Olivier’s Butchery, graciously provides, at Ferriss’s request, a hands-on lesson in dressing a side of beef.

You’ve field-dressed a deer. How about a cow?
No. This is a first for me, too.

And what’s the advantage, exactly, of knowing how to butcher?
Well, The 4-Hour Chef is really a buffet of accelerated learning techniques disguised as a cookbook. And I chose cooking because I’d failed at cooking many, many times.

Will there be a fourth 4-Hour Something, then?
I do not have any plans to extend that franchise. While I think the 4-Hour moniker has been very enabling, it’s also been very widely misinterpreted. Whereas I’m really striving for an elegant minimalism, it does sound like something you’d see right after the rotisserie chicken infomercial.

5 p.m. Kettlebell swings with an improvised “bell” fashioned from plumbing pipe and six 10-pound disc weights. Ferriss demonstrates proper technique, does 50 repetitions, and then it’s Businessweek’s turn.

How often do you do this?
Normally twice a week, Monday and Friday. One work set of 50 to 100 reps.

And this is one of those “only workouts you’ll ever need”?
Yes. It’s like using antibiotics or any other drug: You’re looking for the minimum dose that produces the desired outcome. No less, no more. And do not race the clock, because in my experience that leads to form degradation.

As someone who is constantly optimizing, when do you stop—when is good enough good enough? Are you impossible to live with?
(Laughing.) I don’t think that optimizing and being content are mutually exclusive. There’s optimization that’s driven by discontent, dissatisfaction. And there’s optimization that’s driven by curiosity and a desire to be better. And I think I fall more in the latter category than the former. As for the live-with question, I’m sure I’m difficult to live with no matter what. I’m kind of a funny monkey.

Wieners_190
Wieners (@bradwieners) is an executive editor for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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