Why You Should Toss the Elevator Pitch: An Interview with Michael Port

The entrepreneur, speaker and New York Times bestselling author of “Book Yourself Solid” talks about why he doesn’t want to be a billionaire and why you should toss the elevator pitch.


Amy Segreti: How important is lifestyle when it comes to how we work and what we define as success?

Michael Port: It’s incredibly important for all of us to decide what kind of lifestyle we want to live. I would need to work more given the way my business is designed now, but it’s not important to me to make that extra money if it means that I don’t get to do the other things I enjoy in life, like being with my son many hours a day, kissing him on the forehead after he goes to sleep, and having a relaxing day of some yoga, a few interviews and writing.

A lot of people put those things off until after they’ve made their fortune.

I think that we can design our lives so that we have the revenue we need to live the lifestyle we want. And if you want to have seven homes and fly off to Abu Dhabi, you’re going to have to make millions of dollars. But does it make you happier? If you saw my house, I’ve got nice stuff, but I know that stuff is not going to make me a happier person. Experiencing the things that I enjoy is what adds to my happiness and my pleasure.

How does this play into how your business is designed?

My business is designed to help people get clients. But I’m always trying to balance that need for success that so many of the people I serve have—that desire for wealth—with what is actually important to them at the end of the day. Is your goal really to be booked solid? Those are the kinds of questions that I always put forth.

But isn’t your book about getting people booked solid?

For many business owners, they need to know how to do that first—get tons of clients—before they can go beyond that. Which is where my follow-up book comes in, “Beyond Booked Solid.” Each one of us needs to open our mind to what we really want in order to serve the lifestyle we want. A lot of folks have trouble relinquishing any kind of control whatsoever. Control is a complete illusion. But once we embrace uncertainty, we can create circumstances that lead us to the kind of results we want.

It can be hard for entrepreneurs to relinquish control.

Well, when you try to control outcomes aggressively, if you do produce something, you often produced something less than you could have, because you didn’t produce it organically and didn’t have people help you shape it. Doing it all yourself won’t give you the best thing you could have made.

So you think collaboration is really important.

Yes; collaborate and trust as a first way of being. That will lead you to bigger and better things. Do you want to live thinking that everyone is out to get you? Be pragmatic, but allow other people in.

You need to have a lot of confidence to do that.

It’s a balance between arrogance and insecurity. Confidence lies somewhere in the middle. For example, I feel confident enough to work with an artist to do a completely illustrated version of “Booked Solid” based on her vision, allowing her to propose chapter re-arrangement and such, and as a result I’m going to have something better than I could alone.

You have to be confident to do collaborate—confident in your decision-making, your ideas and your choice of people. If you’re arrogant, you won’t choose anybody, and if you’re insecure you’ll choose people who will dominate you and you won’t be fully self expressed in the process.

I’ve heard you speak about getting rid of the elevator speech, which is essentially the idea that we have a limited time to sell or prove ourselves.

I’m from New York City—what you do in an elevator in New York is guard yourself, not pitch someone something. But, we do need to prove our value—to the customer. It’s a balance between the need to prove value and the overblown desire that comes from an insecure place to prove ourselves. Sometimes we try to prove ourselves by exaggerating our experience or using a lot of hyperbole in the way that we present ourselves—and usually people can pick that up. It’s hard to hold contradictory ideas in your head at the same time. If you’re saying that only you have all the answers, it’s too much. Or if you’re saying the other extreme, no one will hire you.

What’s the ideal time period for an entrepreneur to plan out?

Plan in 90-day periods. Forget the five-year plan. No one thinks about this. I can’t even remember what I’m doing this afternoon. Look at 90 days, three months from now: what are you going to need to do from a financial perspective, from a personal one? And if you know what those goals are, how do you go about achieving them in the next three months? In doing this, you’re creating the circumstances, even if you don’t know the specific goals.

In “Book Yourself Solid,” you talk about making a habit of commitment-making and fulfilling. How can entrepreneurs reign in that desire to overcommit, at which point the fulfilling part feels draining?

If you don’t make any commitments, no one wants to play with you, and if you make too many and don’t commit, no one wants to play with you. If someone asks me to do something, before I say yes or no, I look at my goals. Is that thing going to make me closer to these goals or further away? It’s an opportunity intake filter.

There are obligations and we generally know what they are—children, family—and then there are other things we take on as obligations, and as a result we feel constrained. And then we end up feeling resentful to the people that we’ve committed to—and they haven’t done anything except ask you something that you said yes to.

Do you think that success comes from keeping commitments?

Pride, confidence, success—I think they all come from doing the things we say we’re going to do. You build confidence from making commitments and fulfilling them. That way, you don’t reduce your own confidence to be able to do something. When you fulfill, you respect yourself more.

What’s the most important thing to have when you’re building your business?

Nothing is more important than the people you surround yourself with. if you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t support your dreams, get out now. When they will support you if not now?

Is applying your “red velvet rope policy” to people you work with something you do? What does an entrepreneur do if interns or volunteers are more trouble than they’re worth?

The process of selecting who you work with is serious business. Free help is great, but always tell them what they’re doing wrong. I ask permission and say: ‘I have something I can share with you that I think will be helpful, but it might not be comfortable for you to hear. But if you want me to tell you, I will.’ I keep an open mind and keep the source in consideration.

I’m based in Boulder, Colo. and I care a lot about place—

Well, you live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

[Laughs] Thank you. I was reading a piece in The Intelligent Optimist in which Dr. Bruce Lipton says that if we change our environment, we can change how we think. What kind of message do you think this holds for people trying to follow their passions in life and work?

I agree, your environment is so important. But it can be as simple as your office space. I have a treadmill built into my desk, so I can choose to either walk when I work, or sit down and have a conversation with you as I’m doing now. And it’s the best thing I’ve ever purchased. It influences the way I feel, the way I live, and how much water I drink and what I choose to eat.

What’s one last tip you have for entrepreneurs trying to inspire people to use their product or offering?

Always have something to invite people to. Make it something relevant to them and relevant to the work you do and the reputation you want to have. And as they continue to come, they’ll see you as a leader, they’ll see you creating something that helps them flourish.

Note: This first appeared in Twine Magazine.

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