About this episode

Why won’t you let yourself succeed? What is holding you back from growing or starting your business? Those are the questions this week’s guest, Tucker Max, the co-founder of Scribe Media, wants you to ponder.

Tucker Max is also a New York Times best-selling author and ghostwriter. He is someone who knows a thing or two about book writing, marketing, and selling. And his company, Scribe Media, builds off of his strengths. Scribe Media helps authors write and publish their books.

In 2014, Tucker and his co-founder launched what would become Scribe Media. At that time, Tucker was the CEO. And, he was terrible at being CEO. The company started falling apart within the first two years. Tucker stepped down, and within just a year of hiring a new CEO, the company doubled its growth.

You must know your strengths and have humility and discernment to be an entrepreneur and staff your startup accordingly. Here is Tucker Max’s startup story.

In this episode, you’ll hear

  • About his early childhood and how he came from a long line of people who were entrepreneurial
  • How Tucker let his ego get the best of him throughout college and how he got a taste of humble pie after graduating with a law degree; he ended up getting fired from his first small law firm job in two and a half weeks.
  • About his transition from lawyer to entrepreneur
  • Tucker came up with his first book idea in 2002 before social media and self-publishing were the norm. He shares his experience sending query letters in an attempt to make a book deal and failing horribly at it.
  • Following many rejection letters, he decided to publish his content on the internet; his material began to “blow up,” he caught the attention of MTV, and they did a show about him. And then, he finally landed his first book deal.
  • How he became a New York Times best-selling author, the first time
  • After several more bestsellers, Tucker decided to pivot his career; you’ll hear how he ended up working for tech startups and even became an angel investor.
  • Then learn how he went from tech startup to the co-founder and CEO of his own startup, Scribe Media.
  • Tucker shares openly and authentically his experience as a CEO, how he sucked at it and ultimately turned the job over to someone else, plus what he learned about himself and his organization.
  • How Scribe Media helps authors write and publish their books.

“There is a way to tell your story that helps you AND other people.” - Tucker Max

Resources from this episode

The Startup Story LIVE Dallas! May 7th in Dallas. Tickets on sale now → https://startupstorylive.com

Scribe Media: https://scribemedia.com/
Tucker Max on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tuckermax

The Startup Story on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/thestartupstory
The Startup Story is now on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/jamesmckinney
The Startup Story on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thestartupstory

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He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, HR professionals, recruiters, lawyers, realtors, bloggers, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and impact the world.

Contact him today at https://emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory

Special Guest: Tucker Max.

Episode transcript

The Startup Story -Tucker Max

Tucker Max: Hey everyone, this is Tucker Max. I'm the cofounder of Scribe Media, and this is MY startup story.

Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.

James McKinney: If you are new to The Startup Story, welcome. I'm honored that you are giving our show a listen, and my hope is that you find so much value in this episode that you'll hit the subscribe button on whatever platform you use to listen. So whether it's Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, or even Stitcher, please subscribe or follow on that platform so you don't miss any of our incredible episodes that are in the queue.

For those that are not new to the show, have you purchased your tickets to Startup Story Live yet? If not, you'll want to get over to startupstorylive.com and get your tickets. You will definitely want to hurry because in just three weeks, the early bird opportunity ends and what's the early bird opportunity you ask? Well, if you buy your ticket to Startup Story LIve at any level, whether it be VIP or general admission, you will then be given the chance to purchase a three day pass to Sub Summit for just $100. Now, let me break down the significance of that for you. Sub Summit is the premier event for all things related to the subscription industry. Did you hear the news about Nissan Cars now offering a subscription model for their business? The subscription industry is going to be massive. In fact, it already is huge but it's going to be huger. Wait, huger, you know we'll go with it. We'll go with huger. And Sub Summit is the event to learn everything there is to know on how to bring this business model to your business.

So if you were to visit subsummit.com and buy your ticket right now, it would cost you $500 to get that three day pass, but don't do that. Instead, go to startupstorylive.com, grab a ticket for only $150 for general admission or $225 for a VIP ticket, and if you do this before April 1st you can buy the $500 pass to Sub Summit for just $100. So for those that are bad at math, you can buy a $150 ticket to our event and get the three day pass to Sub Summit for only $100, so you'd be getting access to two unbelievable entrepreneurial events for just $250 which is half the price of just the Sub Summit pass right now. It's a no brainer. Visit startupstorylive.com to get your ticket before it's too late. Act today. All right, now let's jump into this week's episode.

Our guest this week is Tucker Max, cofounder of Scribe Media and New York Times bestselling author. Let me clarify that last point a bit for you. He is a New York Times bestselling author of a book he wrote for himself, but he has also been a ghost writer for a few books that have also become New York Times bestsellers. Tucker Max is definitely someone that knows a thing or two about book writing, marketing, and selling. And his company, Scribe Media, builds off of his strengths. Scribe Media helps authors write and publish their books. In fact, they can help at varying levels from simply helping to edit your manuscript to full out ghost writing, and everything in-between. An interesting layer to Tucker's story is that in 2014, Tucker and his cofounder launched what would become Scribe Media. Upon launch, Tucker was the CEO. What Tucker is going to share with us in this episode is that he was terrible at being CEO, and the company started falling apart within the first two years because they needed to have, as he would attest, a real CEO. Within just a year of hiring that new CEO, the company doubled its growth. This narrative validates a former guest, Brian Carrico of The Guild. He shared with us in episode 60 that not all founders can scale and optimize, and not all founders are zero to one founders. You need to know your strengths and have humility and discernment to staff accordingly. This is just one of the many truths that Tucker is going to share with us throughout this episode.

And as we jump into Tucker's startup story, I find it fascinating how many authors did not see themselves as entrepreneurs, but Tucker is not one of them at all. Probably because entrepreneurship was woven throughout his entire childhood.

Tucker Max: My father owned his own business. He owned a restaurant company for as long as I could remember, and then my grandfather was a doctor. He had his own practice. My grandmother had her own farm, like a beef cow ranch. So my mom didn't really do anything. She was kind of a disaster, like emotionally and a business disaster. But I came from a long line of people who did their own thing, so that definitely was always in my vocabulary, and I was always around it. I didn't come from a long line of you show up every day, you do what you're told, you come home. I didn't. Yeah.

James McKinney: Your dad's restaurant business, since that was the first go-to in response to that, was it an actual restaurant or supply side?

Tucker Max: He had a pretty big restaurant company in south Florida. I think at the peak it was, I don't know in the 20s or 30s of numbers of restaurants. I don't know, it was a lot.

James McKinney: Oh wow. So he had quite an enterprise.

Tucker Max: Yeah.

James McKinney: And restaurant industry is tough too, especially the very first one. Oh man, it is so hard to find your niche and where you play. Growing up though and seeing that, especially from your dad, was it something you desired for yourself or did he just work so hard and maybe depending upon what season of life he experienced as far as recessions, were there any challenges that deterred you from entrepreneurship or were you all in from the get go?

Tucker Max: It's weird. It's like I never really thought… I went to school, the University of Chicago for undergrad for econ, and then Duke for law school. I was like one of those asshole kids who like, one of the dudes specifically, that thought they were master of the universe awesome when they were that age, even though they had done nothing at all. Like all the people that hate the smugness of, how do you pronounce his last name, Buttigieg?

James McKinney: Oh yeah.

Tucker Max: I was like that, except I was an athlete and cool and not a douchebag the way he is, but all the same smugness and all the same superiority. I interview everyday with McKinsey and I could have worked there out of college. I got offers from Goldman and JP Morgan.

James McKinney: Wow, okay.

Tucker Max: So in my mind, I was better than my dad because I was going to work for the important places. But you have to understand, I was very young and very stupid, right? Really stupid when I was in college. Exceptionally. More than most. And so like I'm 44. If I met 19 year old me, I'd have to punch him in the face, and it wouldn't even be out of hatred. Just like dude, you need this, you've got to wake up. And I did. I had to walk a really hard road and I had to eat a lot of shit because of the dumb ideas I had about the world. Thankfully, I did. I'm glad a lot of the hard things happened to me. I ended up getting fired from my first law firm job in two and a half weeks. My dad fired me from the family business. From the family business. Six months, I got fired. I didn't even make it a year. I learned very quickly that my notion about what made me special and important was bullshit. Because look, I worked at Fenwick & West, which they represent Google and Facebook. It was awful. They were very nice people that worked there I guess, but it was just being a lawyer is the worst, man, and the only reason I didn't go work for Goldman or McKinsey is because by the time I was interviewing, I'd had upperclassmen friends who worked there and they all hated it. It was weird. They'd be like oh yeah, they'd try to tell me it was cool. I'm like dude, you do coke every night and you sleep with hookers. That's terrible.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness.

Tucker Max: I don't even mean from a moral stand point. This one dude specifically I know, he was actually with JP Morgan. He was kind of like a nice guy. I liked him in college. I didn't really know well enough to see all the signs that were coming, but then I saw him in New York when I was right about to graduate, and he was just the type of guy at a party like get away from me, man. Oh God, if I got to work for Wall Street I'm going to be like him.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness. What was your wakeup call then? Because you talked about you were a mess in college. We won't unpack those times, but when you're talking about your experience and your wakeup call, who grabbed you by the shoulders and what was that moment?

Tucker Max: Life. Getting fired. I got fired from being a summer associate at Fenwick & West, which is like impossible. It's impossible to be fired in the summer, and I got fired in two and a half weeks.

James McKinney: Oh man.

Tucker Max: I was so bad, I did the impossible quickly.

James McKinney: What was your personalization of that moment? What was your thought process that you just did the impossible, getting fired in the summer internship in two weeks. What was going through your mind?

James McKinney; It's hard to say man, because I was very disconnected from my emotions at that point in my life. I don't know. Nothing. It was like I just blocked it all out, because on one hand there was the shame of it, which I didn't feel at all at the time or the dread of oh God, what do I do now. Or there was the embarrassment. But then weirdly there was also relief which I also wouldn't allow myself to feel because how could I feel relieved about getting fired from something that I had told myself I always wanted? So it was like this weird mix of emotions.

James McKinney: So how old were you at this time?

Tucker Max: I was 25.

James McKinney: 25. What was your very first entrepreneurial endeavor?

Tucker Max: Very first… I guess it'd be writing then, selling books. Yeah. Authors that don't realize they're entrepreneurs don't do good at selling books, but the rest of us that sell books we know we're entrepreneurs.

James McKinney: That makes sense. Did that begin after that moment?

Tucker Max: Oh yeah, way after. Way after.

James McKinney: So what was the bridge from that season to your first writing venture?

Tucker Max: So I got fired from Fenwick & West, I got fired by my dad, and I honestly had no idea what to do. I was writing emails to my friends and my friends thought they were hilarious, and they were like, "You should do this." At first I was like I'm not going to be a writer. Writers are like… writers are bitches. I'm not a writer. I'm a master of the universe, right? They were like, "Dude, listen. You got fired from being a lawyer. You got fired from a family business. You're clearly not good at what you trained at." Here's how I knew. It's almost like a product market fit conversation, although before I even knew what that was. My friends were reading my emails and telling me they were hilarious. It's not that I didn't believe them; it just didn't connect with me, right?

But then I started getting my emails forwarded back to me from other people, in other social circles who didn't know that I was writing them. I'll never forget this dude from high school sent me an email. This is back remember when email forwards were a thing, right? He sent me my email, and he's like, "Dude, this is so funny. It sounds like you." And I was like, "Dude, scroll down to the bottom. Look at the headers. I wrote that email." He's like, "Oh, yeah, that makes total sense man because I thought this was you." But that's when it clicked in my head man, when people are sending me my emails telling me they're funny and not knowing it's me, I've got something here. The ultimate test of product market fit is people are trying to buy something from you before you even try to sell it to them.

James McKinney: Let me ask this question though, especially for you and I'm going to use your words so this is not me calling you arrogant or whatever. I'm going to use your words. You were disconnected from the real perspective of who you were, and you walked around with an arrogance about you so in these moments, how do you get clarity that it's not just you thinking you're everything that you already think you are, to having a real perspective of oh there's something here? You're drinking your own Kool Aid if you will.

Tucker Max: Because none of my identity was attached to being a writer.

James McKinney: Oh, okay.

Tucker Max: I had no identity in that at all. Dude, it probably, it wasn't until years after I had multiple New York Times bestsellers that I called myself a writer to other people.

James McKinney: Interesting.

Tucker Max: Writing was just a thing I did. And I li ked it, and I worked hard at it, and I enjoyed the actual act of writing. It was just luck honestly because if I had attached my identity to writer, I would have tried to quote be a writer and I probably would have done everything wrong. But because I didn't care about being a "writer" I just made people laugh through my writing. That's why I sold millions and millions of books. I see this happen. I've invested in a lot of companies. I'm a pretty established angel investor. I haven't done it in a long time but I got into 50 to 80 companies. That was the number one thing I looked for, people who were obsessed with solving their customer's problem I'm in. people who were obsessed with being the CEO or a founder or raising money or being in tech crunch, I'm out because you're focused on the wrong thing.

James McKinney: Yeah, yeah. Oh man I love that, and I hope all the listeners are gleaning that information because it is about the passion for the service, passion for the solution, passion for the product itself versus the role and the-

Tucker Max: Wait, hold on, hold on. There's a slight differentiation. A passion for a product, okay. What I care about is a passion for solving your customer's problem. So here's the difference. Let's think about it in a workout sense. Someone who's really passionate about cross fit, maybe I'm going to work with them, maybe not. But someone who is really passionate about me meeting my fitness goals no matter what method they use, I'm in.

James McKinney: Oh, got it. There you go.

Tucker Max: They have the same goals I have. You see what I'm saying?

James McKinney: There you go.

Tucker Max: And so being obsessed with product is better than being obsessed with status or name or whatever, but it's not as good as being obsessed with your customer's problem.

James McKinney: Got it, got it.

Tucker Max: That's the ultimate.

James McKinney: Awesome. So what was your first I want to say your a-ha moment that now it's time to write a book.

Tucker Max: When I started getting the emails from my friends from other people, right. That's the moment I knew okay, this is it, this is good, this is funny. The funny thing is I went to, this is 2002, so this is before like social media, this is before self publishing revolution, this is before any of that. Like I sent query letters. I took my five best emails and sent it to every magazine and book publisher. I didn't care. Children's book publishers, cookbooks, cookbook companies, I didn't care, everybody.

James McKinney: Emails that your buddies think are funny forwarded back to you, sending to a children's book publisher.

Tucker Max: No seriously, everybody. And I got 100% rejection. When I say 100%< I mean like 95% ignored me, 4% got sent standard formal rejection letters, and there was I don't know if it was 1%... it wasn't 1% because it wasn't 10, but I got three or four personalized rejection letters of people who were like this is the worst thing I've ever read, you should never write an email again, whatever. But I knew they were wrong, because I'm like look, other people who I don't know think this is funny. You may be in this business, but you don't know your business. So this is back when Geocities was still a thing. I pioneered direct to consumer before that was even a thing in writing. I just put up a blog, and there was no way to monetize any of this then. I didn't care. Screw it, let's go. This is like seriously back when there were 35 or 40 million people on the internet. My stuff was blowing up. It got tons of attention because there was no… There wasn't any good comedy writing on the internet because this is still back when everything, you know.

So it ended up doing really, really well and then MTV came to film a show about me. This is back when it was weird to meet people on the internet and creepy, and I had like a date application page. So they did a thing about me meeting girls off my site, and then that blew up the site. This one girl sued me. I won the case because everything I said on my site was true, but it was a big first amendment case. Then all the publishers came back because they're like oh, this guy's a big deal, everyone likes him, I guess we were wrong.

I kind of regret, I could have just pioneered self publishing at that point. I could have been the leader and quit, but I'll tell you why I didn't.

James McKinney: Did you think it though?

Tucker Max: I did. Lulu at that time was a company. Lulu is real down market now, but at the time they weren't upmarket, they were pioneers. They haven't changed literally since 15 years ago, but they were around. And they came to me and wanted me to do the book. Actually I did something with them really quick. It sold well for like six months. Not much, maybe I made a couple thousand bucks a month. I didn't have another job, so I was eating because of that. But if I had really stuck to that, I think I could have been one of the pioneers. The reason I didn't is because an editor from my publishing house, Jeremie Ruby-Strauss, called me and he said, "Look man." Because I was bitching about I'll just self publish, screw these guys, bestseller lists are bullshit, and this is all just a status popularity game. And he's like, "Look man, you're right. I'm not going to even argue with you that you're wrong, you're right. But what you're doing right now is you're standing in the crowd and you're bitching about the players. No one cares. You've got to get down on the field, you've got to show you can play with the players. Then your critiques matter. And I was like oh man, he's right. The Uber thing would have been like well build a different stadium and a different game, which I'm doing now. We'll get to that, but I was like okay.

So then I signed with him, the publishing company he was with at the time which was Kensington. We went forward and the book, I ended up hitting the New York Times bestseller list the first two weeks my book was out. Not because I got any press or media attention. The only reason was because I had an email capture on my site and I had a 70,000 person email list. This is still back when there were maybe 100 million people on the internet worldwide, right? So I sold 10,000 copies of my book the first two weeks or something like that. I was the first blog to bestseller. I was the first one.

James McKinney: That's incredible.

Tucker Max: Honestly, it was mainly just me following what are now you can clearly see is like very clear obvious business startup principles. I was just kind of stumbling along into it though.

James McKinney: Oh my God, that's incredible. So how long, back to the guidance I think you said Jeremy, that he gave you, until you're on the field? How many books did you put out before you said now I'm going to change the game?

Tucker Max: Two. I did that one and then another one called Assholes Finish First. It took time to change the game. So the next step was at that point I was big. In '08, '09 I decided to switch from author to publisher. So instead, I got multiple seven figure offers from publishers for my next two books, which would be kind of the end of the frat series of all the kind of drinking and hooking up stories. Instead of taking those, I went to them and said no, no, no, I'm going to be a publisher now and so you're going to deal with me like a publisher. Because like Harvard University Press, they're not a distributor. They're just a label, an imprint, a publisher. They use Simon & Schuster's trucks and warehouses and printing and sales people. So I went to them and said you're going to give me the exact deal that Harvard University and Michigan Press, all those people, I want the same deal.

They were like, "Okay, that's great." They loved that because the distribution had no chance they were going to lose money. I loved it because I made three times more money than I would have had I been taking the advance. It was a great deal. I ended up teaching a bunch of people how to do this deal, to Howie, a bunch of people who are pretty famous in self publishing now have done something like this. They learned it from me. And I thought for a while I was going to build a business that did that, but then I realized it was a huge pain in the butt so I did something else. But it worked well for me. I did pretty well.

James McKinney: And what was that change, that shift?

Tucker Max: Well, so I thought I was going to build that system for other authors. So for big authors, I'm like look, I got this deal. I can essentially partner with you guys, almost be like a hybrid imprint. But then I realized the reality is really big authors are a huge pain in the butt to deal w. no, like traditional publishing companies, they make all their money on two things one is the back listed, and the other are the very huge, big authors who sell tons of copies, but these big authors are divas. They're awful to deal w. I don't' want to be in that business of having to take Janet Evanovich's calls at 3 in the morning because she's upset because she didn't find her book in some random Publix in Sarasota. I'm not going to do that. Then I ended up doing a lot of marketing consulting and brand consulting for tech startups for a long time, which is how I got into angel investing. It's so funny man. In the entertainment business, being a great storyteller is like table snacks. You don't get in the business unless you're a great storyteller. But in marketing, especially in business, no one knows how to tell the story.

So I had all these friends in tech who had these amazing products and then be like, "Uh, yeah it does cool stuff." That's not a story. So I would just help them, stuff that was trivially easy for me to tell stories about their company, and then they'd give me some equity or some money, and it's like oh wow, I just made a bunch of money and I didn't do anything. This is great. So then I realized okay, I've got this amazing skill that a lot of people want. I almost went into that field, but then I asked I was in this entrepreneur dinner, and this woman came up to me and she said, "I've been trying to write a book for 10 years. People have been asking me to write a book for 10 years, to get this novel and wisdom out of my head and share it. And I tried and I hated the process, and I tried family. I've got a big business to run. I just don't have time to write a book. Can you help me get this out of my head without having go through all that?"

I looked at her and I said, "Hold on. Are you asking me how to write a book without writing it?" She's like, "Yeah, kind of." So then I start lecturing her about hard work and making fun of her, and being the total elitist writer snob, right? And she rolls her eyes at me. She was patient for about three minutes, then rolls her eyes at me and she said, "Tucker, are you an entrepreneur?" And I'm like, "Yeah, of course I am. And said, "No, I don't think so. A real entrepreneur would help me solve my problem and not lecture me about hard work." I was like, oh damn.

James McKinney: That is so good.

Tucker Max: Yeah, it was bad. It was one of those things, I don't know if you've ever been called out where you like don't have anything to say because they are so right, that you're just like uh… So I became obsessed with this idea. How do I get a book out of someone's head without them having to learn how to be a writer? Then I realized, I took me about two months because I'm slow, but then I realized this is a solved problem. Scribes have been doing this for 2,000 years. Socrates didn't write a word down, Plato did all of it, and go through the list. Jesus didn't write anything down, Marco Polo didn't, Buddha didn't. I'm like well if Jesus can do it, why not her? So I sat, I wrote out every step to write a book on a whiteboard, and I realized I only needed the author for about 40%. And it was an important 40% of the book.

James McKinney: of course, yeah.

Tucker Max: Because it's the content. But the big thing with this though is she didn't want ghost writing, so she didn't want you just write a book and I pay you to put your name on it, it's got to be her words, her voice, her ideas, everything. So I was like yeah, of course. I just realized there's a structured way I could interview her where if I do positioning then outline, then I get the content, if I do it in a certain way I can essentially get the whole book out of her literally in her words. I'll have to edit it a little bit to make it flow on the page, but like I don't have to do any… She was in pop up retail. I don't know anything about this field and I'm not going to learn about it, so I was like okay, this is a cool project, let's do it. So she agreed to pay me what I thought was great, even though I look back it was nowhere near enough by time. It wasn't worth my time but it website a fun project. So I was like all right, I'm going to solve this problem.

So we did it and the book turned out amazing. I did all the publishing stuff. I got the cover done, whatever. At this point, this is 2014 so self publishing is pretty advanced at this point, plus I know the business so well, I just, done. This is how dumb of an entrepreneur I am. I'm like that was a fun project, I guess I'll go back to doing whatever I was doing before, and she's like, "What should I tell my friends that you charged for this?" And I'm like, "Charged for what?" She's like, "My friends who've been asking me how I got my book done, they all want to work with you now." And I'm like, "Why would they want that?"

James McKinney: That's awesome.

Tucker Max: She thought I was retarded. She's like, "Well, I'll just give them your email." So then I started getting them emailing me, they wanted me to do the same thing I did for her. And it took me a while. I actually was aggravated because these people were bothering me to give me money. Seriously.

James McKinney: oh my gosh, it's crazy.

Tucker Max: So I literally, I had a friend of mine who was coming up as a writer and smart guy, he was helping him with stuff. I just told him what to do and gave him all the work, and I split the money with him, and we did that for about a month or two and then I talked about this on a podcast, a different podcast talking about something else. We ended up doing like $200,000 of business off of that. I'm like, "Hey, Zack, I think we have a company here." And Zack's like, "Oh really genius? You think we have a company."{

James McKinney: Oh my goodness.

Tucker Max: Second time in my life people have been throwing stuff at me and it took me that long to figure it out.

James McKinney: That's crazy. So Scribe version one. We'll call that season version one. Was the model to just write? You helped this individual publish, but were you doing that for everybody or was it just the writing side and they had to go solve the rest?

Tucker Max: No, no, we did both. It was always comprehensive because of her. I could have easily started this company as an educational thing or selling courses, or all that other nonsense, but like I'm like eh, that always seemed like bullshit to me. This was like how do I make it so all she has to do is get on the phone and cut me a check? She has to know what she's talking about, get on the phone, and cut me a check. That's always what we were from the beginning. Although now we have a lot of other services, that was our bread and butter for two years, that was all we did.

James McKinney: Now everybody, well I guess I shouldn't say everybody, many people think they have a story to tell, something in their head. So would you, at the time, would you take anybody that came to you willing to cut a check?

James McKinney: Okay, just one quick break in our episode because I want to mention just one quick thing about our upcoming Startup Story Live event. I'm not going to go into too much detail about the event here, because you can just visit startupstorylive.com for all the details, especially about our amazing founders and everything. But what I do want to mention is that if you are a startup and you want to showcase your startup at this event, then visit startupstorylive.com, just scroll down a little bit until you see Showcase Your Startup on the right hand side. Just click that link, fill out the form and submit. It's that easy. There's no fee to apply and if selected, there's no fee to showcase or even attend the event, because we'll give you passes if you are a showcasing startup. We want to highlight great startups, so make sure you apply and tell your other startup founder friends about it. This is a great opportunity to showcase in front of 1,500 people or more. Again, just visit startupstorylive.com to apply. That was it, that's all I wanted to mention. If you're a startup, get on it. I hope to see you there. Now let's get back to our episode.

James McKinney: Many people think they have a story to tell, something in their head. So would you, at the time, would you take anybody that came to you willing to cut a check?

Tucker Max: No, no. at the beginning, we didn't do memoirs at all and we still don't do cookbooks or children's books. Obviously, we can't do novels. But even for nonfiction, we would get people who were looking for ghostwriters, who were like hey write me a book on sales. And I'm like, "Cool, what do you know about sales?" They're like, "Yeah, the standard shit. Just go write a book on sales." And it's like no, dude. You've got to pay $100,000 for a ghostwriter who's going to write you a book on sales. Because what we charge, we charge like $36,000 for the interview package. The reason we're able to deliver such high quality at such low cost is because it's a bounded thing. It's all your knowledge, your wisdom, whatever. It's conversational. We get it out of you in a way where you're not just trying to dictate a book. That doesn't work.

We have, most of our writers, ghostwriting is their main job and they'll do two to four books a year and they'll get anywhere from $40-100,000 a book. But they have tons of downtime because it's hard to find clients for ghost writing. So they'll fill their downtime with us, and we're paying them anywhere from $65 to $80 an hour, which is fantastic money for downtime, and they know they're bounded projects. There's no client acquisition for them. All they have to do is do what they're good at and that's it.

James McKinney: Wow.

Tucker Max: What we do works really, really well as long as you know what you're talking about.

James McKinney: So when you finally realized we have a business here, when you pulled your head out of it and you're like oh wait, we can actually build something on this, when you started moving forward, in my mind I can see numerous challenges. One being where am I going to get all my writers from. As you were going in, what were the challenges that you saw, and which ones did you immediately tackle and how did you solve them?

Tucker Max: Early on, I didn't see any challenges because I know how to write books. If you know how to write books, the process is actually… or write and publish books. I already had a publishing company. I had already done my books. I knew how the whole thing worked, so it was actually really easy. Finding writers, there's so much great writing talent. I mean dude, there used to be like 100,000 journalist jobs in America and now there's like 30, right? So there's all kinds of really smart, talented people out there who do freelance work now that are pretty easy to find.

James McKinney: But real quick, is being a great writer the same as a book writer?

Tucker Max: No, it's not. That's actually a fantastic question, it's not at all. And in fact, we've had some amazing book writers who don't even work with our process, because a big part of our process you have to be good on the phone. You've got to be able to talk to authors. To get hired by us now as a writer, it's actually harder than it is, way harder than it is to get into Harvard or Stanford. Harvard takes like 5% of people who apply. I think we take .02% of people who apply, and we have a pretty rigorous testing process. But a lot of people apply and they want it, because for $65 to $80 an hour of all the work you want, there's a big market for that. And it's kind of funny, every now and then we'll have like a Pulitzer Prize winning writer come in and be like, "I don't need to take your test," and it's like yeah, you do. Even if you're an amazing writer, our process is different and so you've got to work with our process.

James McKinney: And again, as we understand the model more, the writer has to do the phone. That Pulitzer Prize writer you're talking about, you can't have someone else do the phone part, they have to do the phone and the writing?

Tucker Max: We tried. It didn't work well. We really did. We tried a lot of those different things. Now we do actually now, we have a lot of people who are just editors. The phone skill is a very specific skill, and those people tend to get paid the most because that's the hardest. But no, they also have to be great writers because they're doing at least the initial draft and the initial pass. Now, we do have like a whole division where people will come in with finished manuscripts and then we'll do the editing and publishing, so the people doing those editing they can be crap on the phone, doesn't matter because they're just doing the editing. Those people also edit the writers who talk on the phone. We have editors for them, so we have that in our company. To be able to write and talk to people combined, that's not an easy skill.

James McKinney: Yeah, yeah. So growing the business, you knew where to get writers from to your point. There's a volume of writers out there, less opportunities for them to be employed. As you were growing it, what were the challenges?

Tucker Max: It's funny. There were no challenges until we got to about $1.5 to $2 million in sales and then the wheels came off.

James McKinney: How many years did it take to get there?

Tucker Max: About 18 months.

James McKinney: 18 months, got it.

Tucker Max: Maybe a little bit less, about a year. And so, oh dude the wheels came off because… It's so funny, it's so funny. This was a joke. I thought well I know how to write a book and I'm good at talking to people, sales, all that stuff I'm great at. So I just assumed that I could build a business. Oh dude, no, building a business is its own skill that has nothing to do with what you're selling. Once we got to like 10 people, that's when you can't know what everyone's doing all the time, you can't manage everything in your head anymore. That's the complexity exceeds the human brain, and then the company basically the wheels came off dude because we had no idea how to actually build and scale a business at all. How to manage people, how to hire, nothing.

James McKinney: How did you solve that? And I think that's an interesting point because I think there is a transition that a founder has to make at some point, because not every founder can maintain CEO. How did you fix that problem once you realized that the wheels wee off?

Tucker Max: I hired a real CEO. Well, at first I thrashed around and I struggled, and I made so many mistakes that probably should have sunk the business honestly. None of our problems were product quality. All of our problems were business operations, which if you don't get the ops part right it doesn't matter how good your product is, you're going under. We were not doing well on the business side. We were doing great on the sales and product side. It was a ship that looks amazing but it's got holes all through the hull. We got lucky, dude. One of our clients was a badass CEO in Austin. He was running a $100 million software company. He was kind of bored with what he was doing. He wanted to find his next thing. He scaled that company, He didn't start it, and the founder wouldn't give him any equity which was like every day I'm like thank God that guy was a greedy bastard because it helped me. So he was looking for his thing. He loved our service but he like saw how dicked up we were, and so long, long story short man I asked him to come on board.

It's so funny. We kind of went back and forth over salary and all the other stuff. He's like, "If you want, I'll come on as president and COO," and I was like, "No, that's bullshit because what you're going to be doing is what a CEO does. If you're COO and president, that's just us playing a game for my ego." It was a hard decision to make, man. In the moment it was really hard. Now, I look back I'm like it was one of the best decisions of my entire life but it unlocked the company, man. So we had probably done $2.5 million in sales total when he came on board. I think we just passed $35 million in sales.

James McKinney: How many years?

Tucker Max: In four years.

James McKinney: That's incredible.

Tucker Max: And I would say basically all of that is due to JT, the COO.

James McKinney: That's awesome.

Tucker Max: Dan Sullivan calls it who not how. Don't figure out how to fix it, figure out who you need to hire to fix it.

James McKinney: Now again, back to kind of a thread that was part of your early life obviously, it's not now, but the idea of realizing who you really are in this universe versus who you thought you were early on, when the wheels came off the bus and it was on you as the founder and at that time CEO, what were your thought processes internally or did you not personalize it? Was your identity not attached to the success of Scribe?

Tucker Max: Oh no, my identity absolutely was. That's not the way to do it. I did it wrong. But my identity was absolutely, unequivocally attached.

James McKinney: When you say it was hard to hire someone, can you walk the listener through that realization and truth you discovered as to why that had to be done and why you weren't the person to navigate that next chapter directly?

Tucker Max: Some founders are, right?

James McKinney: Correct.

Tucker Max: But I was not, and the reason is because my personality and the things that I like to do, and what my company needed. We needed a leader, someone who really liked people because we're an agency. The only thing we have are people, and so we needed someone who wanted to coach, who was good at coaching, who was good at really understanding how to grow people, and I had never done that in my life ever. I had been a writer my whole life and a consultant. All I knew how to do was be great at the things I was great at. Don't get me wrong, I'm still in the company. I still have a role in the company, but literally nobody reports to me. I kind of sit off on an island and I do two things, three things I guess. Media, like what I'm doing now, bus dev because I'm really good with people, and new products. We're building a memoir product. We didn't used to do memoirs. Now we're starting to do it. I'm building that thing from the ground up because I'm a product genius within books. I understand books at a depth and a level no one else does, so I can build these things. But once they're built, I hand them over to JT and he puts the team in, he scales them, he does all that stuff because that's not what I'm good at.

James McKinney: So it sounds like you fully understand your strength at this point and you have found the perfect fit to handle all of the areas in which you are not strong at, and I love that. But you said something interesting I think I would be remiss if I didn't ask the q. when you say that you are a book genius when it comes to I'm assuming that means writing, publishing distribution, all that stuff. What makes up a book genius and what are all the levels that most people don't think about? Let's just list it off, writing, publishing, distribution. I know there's so many more elements to that.

Tucker Max: The reason I'm a genius at books is well first off I'm good at writing them. But that is, I know a lot of people who are really good at writing them who don't know how to teach how to write, and they don't know how to build processes around writing books. Because like here's the thing, and still most writers will tell you this, that writing a book is a pure art form and there's no process to it, and there's a few things you can do ahead of time, but you basically have to basically open a vein on your keyboard. That's bullshit and I don't believe that, and that's not how I… I struggled to become a writer, to learn all this stuff, but I struggled because there was nothing there to teach me, not because I needed to struggle.

What I really am good at is taking what I know in terms of how to write a book, and then really abstracting out what am I actually doing here? What are the things that I'm doing that matter, that move the needle, and creating a process. But I don't just create the process and hand it to JT and say, "This is genius from the mountain." I'm not Moses coming down with the tablets. The way we do it, I do small batches with authors and test runs, and I test my product. Invariably, if it's half good on the first run that's amazing. I just pay attention to people. Where are they stuck? What questions are they asking? What are they not asking they should be? Where do they get stuck later? All that sort of stuff.

We have a whole process now called guided author, where people want to write the book themselves, we don't interview them. So we teach them our entire process over two days, and they go through the process. They do the book positioning, they do the book outline, in the room with us. We teach them how to write it, all that stuff. So we've put now 200 people through that process. That product is so dialed in because I know exactly every obstacle all those people face. And it's so funny when they come to the workshop now because they all show up and they all think that they're unique and special and different, and then I say things and I'm like, "You're going to be confused by this," and I say it and they're confused. Then by the end of the workshop, everything comes together and they get it, and they're like, "How did you know this was all going to work?" Because I'm a genius and I know… actually, it's because I've done this dozens of times and through trial and error, I figure out what works with people and what doesn't work with people. Even though I am a book genius, the better way to frame that honestly would be to say I am really good at abstracting out what is necessary to write a book and then testing that with real people until it actually works , to help people get through the process and finish their books.

James McKinney: That is awesome. So right now, what are all the aspects of Scribe for our listeners? Obviously it's helping people write books, but what are tall the services that Scribe has?

Tucker Max: We're the premium provider in the sort of publishing services space. Our low end product is $10,000 and that's if you have a finished manuscript and you want us to do the publishing, then it's $10,000. Then you can add on editing and marketing and all the other stuff too. If you want to do guided author like I talked about, where you want to write it yourself but then we handle the editing and publishing, then that's $15,000 which is that's the best bargain. That's a steal given everything you get. But if your time is just too valuable, you can't sit down every day to write, you instead just want to spend an hour and a half a week on the phone and then we do everything else, it's $36,000, it's called professional.

Then we also do have high tier ghost writing that's like $100,000 plus that some people want. But here's the thing though. I'm sure you have a bunch of listeners who are like I can't afford $10,000 to begin with. we actually, because I hate all those people who sell all those courses about how to write a book and publish a book and they charge thousands of dollars and the courses are terrible. So what we did is we took our entire process that we use with our authors, and I mean deep detail. I wrote a 500 page book about what we do, and then we filmed the whole thing, and it's on the website for free. It's called scribebookschool.com. You can't afford a school, then that means you have time. Just put in the time, follow the steps and you will finish your book. It has every single thing we do, explained in-depth.

James McKinney: That is incredible. Here's some tactical questions. When you have an engagement, do you know if the book is going to be crap or not?

Tucker Max: Yes and no. I know if it has a chance to be good or not. We always, that's one of the things that we tell authors who come in, especially the guided author program but both guided author and professional, we tell them that part of what you're paying us for is to hurt your feelings, because we would rather hurt your feelings than let you publish a bad book. So we're always going to tell you the truth, we're always going to hook you up with truth because that's what you're paying us for. A lot of people love that, not everyone does though. No, we definitely tell people. I hesitate to say yes because here's why. I've heard so many amazing ideas and the idea was amazing, but the person didn't execute. There's a big difference between will that book work in theory and did you execute that book.

James McKinney: Interesting, yeah.

Tucker Max: But you've got to have both, because if you have a book idea that doesn't work in theory, if you execute the hell out of it, you just took a book and wrote it that no one cares about, so that won't work. But if you have a book that works in theory and you execute the hell out of it, you're good. If you don't execute on it, then it's like all these amazing movie concept where the movie sucks, or how many startups have I seen where the idea is amazing and they couldn't execute.

James McKinney: Yeah. But it sounds like if they engage with scribe, the execution shifts more from the person, I want to say author loosely, but the person with the idea-

Tucker Max: No, they're an author. They're authors.

James McKinney: My apologies. It shifts more from the author to you, because now once it's in a book form it's on you for the distribution and the publishing, right?

Tucker Max: Okay, so sort of, yes. I get why you would say that. So the assumption that you're making is a common assumption, is that there's no emotional component to books. There is.

James McKinney: Okay.

Tucker Max: In fact, I would say anywhere from 50-70% of our process is dealing with the emotional issues people have with books. We have to be therapists. So much of their identity, not everyone but for a lot of people, their identity gets tied into the book and they get really lost and tied up in that. I'll give you a really good example. You know who David Goggins is, the book Can't Hurt Me?

James McKinney: Oh, I love him. Incredible.

Tucker Max: We did that book. We did everything in that book.

James McKinney: Can't Break Me I think it's called?

Tucker Max: Can't Hurt Me.

James McKinney: Can't Hurt Me.

Tucker Max: Yeah. Writing, publishing, marketing. We did the whole thing. And I told David, "Dude, you have a great book in you. You've got to step up and you've got to put your soul on the page." And David stepped the hell up, man. He fully stepped up.

James McKinney: There's no stopping him.

Tucker Max: That's why that book is great. But we've written 10 other memoirs where I've told people the same thing, and they were afraid to put their full truth in there, and you haven't heard of those books.

James McKinney: Yeah. Oh man, it's crazy you brought up David Goggins. I love him. His first mention on my radar was Living with a Seal, with Jeffery Itzler, and then from that point I was just on a Goggins spree trying to know more about him. I had no idea that you were attached to that book. That's incredible.

Tucker Max: We did it, it's our company. Lion Crest is our publishing company, it's right on the spine.

James McKinney: Had no idea, love that. Oh my goodness. So as our time comes to an end, I want to honor our time together, there's a couple questions I ask. The one I want to ask specifically for you in the challenges. It sounds like you had early success up until that year mark when the wheels started coming off. Was your business capital intensive and how did you solve that?

Tucker Max: No. We are an agency so we basically… if you're an agency, you should not be capital intensive. You should be able to cash flow from the beginning.

James McKinney: Awesome. Excellent. So as our time does now come to an end, the first question is do you believe anybody, because right now we're talking about authors, and potentially many people maybe everyone could potentially be an author if they're willing to go all in. But my question to you is do you believe anyone can be an entrepreneur or are you born an entrepreneur?

Tucker Max: Oh, of course. Anyone can be, yeah.

James McKinney: Why so?

Tucker Max: It's a mindset. That's all it is.

James McKinney: Awesome. The second to last question has to do with gratitude, and I ask this of every founder because I believe if we think we did it on our own without perspective of all the people that poured into us, I do believe we'll isolate ourselves and it will inevitably lead to our failure. So when you look back at your whole journey, all the way from childhood to now, who are the people that you point to with such immense gratitude to help get you to where you are today?

Tucker Max: My godparents. And are you talking about entrepreneurial stuff?

James McKinney: Anybody. Anybody you point to like man, I'm not here today if it wasn't for them.

Tucker Max: Yeah, my godparents are a big one. My counselor in school, Pat Whelan. Not many others man. Maybe Mr. Miller, one of my teachers. And then my team, honestly. I've had some friends, Aaron whatever, but like now we have an amazing company at Scribe, an amazing team. We just passed 50 people and so we're getting that inflection point. 50 is a big inflection point. It's pretty incredible. We put together… there's a reason, Entrepreneurial Magazine named us the number one company culture in America.

James McKinney: That's incredible.

Tucker Max: There's a reason why, man. We have amazing people.

James McKinney: What do you see for Scribe in we'll say three to five years?

Tucker Max: So I'm building the memoir thing right now. We call it One Last Book, and the idea is this isn't just like an autobiography. This is if you had one book to write, what would you say. It's a three day workshop. Starts with a workshop, three days. Probably really about an hour of it is informational stuff, pure informational stuff, or I could condense the information into an hour if I wanted to. The rest is like emotional, therapeutic stuff. Because once people, you start to say you're going to put your real truth in that stuff, a lot of stuff changes.

So we're really driving into the emotional stuff with that. I think that's going to be really big. I think three to five years, that might be our biggest thing. That might be the thing we're most known for. Because you know how like you always see the stat 80% of people want to write a book. 78% of that 80% want to write a memoir. There are not many people that want to write business sort of knowledge books, which is mainly what we do and that's mainly what entrepreneur and startup people want to write, and that's great. But most people want to tell their story. There is a way to tell your story that both helps you and other people, but it's not bribing. It's uncovering and speaking your truth. So I think that's going to be big.

The other big thing that we're going into, and books really it's the only thing we really advertise now, but we built an entire essentially agency off the back end that is a thought leadership sort of agency, where we basically I think all high end professionals are going to have some kind of media going forward. Whether it's that they have a podcast or a book or a YouTube channel or something. They've got to have something that shows the quality of work they do. I don't think any agency really… I don't even think that's a named space right now. Some people kind of call it thought leadership or authority stuff, or personal branding. None of that really works. We call it professional branding, and I think that's going to be a massive space, and that's really… What's cool, there's a bunch of people doing pieces of that.

James McKinney: I feel like PR covers a chunk of it, but not everything.

Tucker Max: It does. There's a lot of things that cover chunks, but no one covers all of it. No one looks at it holistically, and none of them do books. Books are the hardest part and the anchor for most people. So like all of them are going to have to send their clients to us eventually.

James McKinney: That's awesome. That is awesome. I'm excited to see where that goes because that's incredible. The last question, because our time is at an end now. We've been talking to tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and want- repreneurs. People that have an existing business and maybe they're frustrated by the business. Or maybe they have a book full of ideas, a journal full of ideas as to what they want to do but they have some narrative as to why they can't move on it. Or maybe they've tried numerous times to have a business or startup and it has failed. Whatever the case may be. I want to take the conversation down from the tens of thousands of people to the one. So if you were having coffee with just one of my listeners, what would you say to them?

Tucker Max: I'm going to throw a monkey wrench in man, because I wouldn't. I wouldn't speak to them. I would ask them questions.

James McKinney: What questions would you ask?

Tucker Max: I hate the hustle porn, rah-rah inspirational… Like I knew Gary Vaynerchuk and Tom Millieu, they're my friends and I love them as people, but I hate that stuff. I think it is bubble gum McDonald's bullshit, and it does not help. If it helped, then Gary Vaynerchuk would have all these billionaires listening to his show and he doesn't. Everyone is still just as poor and broke and whatever it was they were when they started listening to him. I would start asking them questions. First thing I would start… it depends on the person, man, but all my questions would really lead direct back to why won't you let yourself succeed. And I'm not sure if I'd ask the question directly, depends on the person, but I believe that most people that haven't succeeded don't believe they deserve to. People will only let themselves have what they believe they deserve. So I would try and uncover the core belief that is underpinning why they don't believe they deserve success. Because once you unlock that, the rest is easy.

James McKinney: The wisdom that Tucker left us with at the end right there is worth an entire episode in and of itself. Ask yourself that question, why won't you let yourself succeed? What is holding you back from growing or starting your business? Why won't you let yourself succeed? When you look back at your past ventures, are there more failures than successes? Why won't you let yourself succeed? I don't want to muddy those words up too much because I want you to chew on them and process them for yourself. Once you've done so, hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on that powerful question.

And lastly, if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. Tucker brought us some incredible value today, some real hard truths that are going to help us move forward. So as a way of delivering value to him, I just want you to log Scribe Media into your brain for future reference. If there's someone you k now that has a powerful story to tell, tell them about Scribe Media. Oftentimes, the idea of writing a book is daunting and Scribe Media can solve that for them. So if you truly believe that a person has a story that needs to be told, then tell them about Scribe Media. And remember, entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs so let's show up for Tucker Max and Scribe Media in a huge way. And now, for my personal ask.

The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter @StartupStory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help us grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, then please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.

These simple actions can make a huge impact in getting these amazing founder stories out to the masses. And please make sure to tag or mention The Startup Story when you do share so that we can connect with you and say thank you directly. I'm so incredibly appreciative of the fact that you listen to the show each and every week, and I look forward to sharing these amazing stories with you every Tuesday with hopes of encouraging and inspiring you to start your story.

If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.

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March 10 2020
Tucker Max, founder of Scribe Media

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