Holloway Editione1.1.1Updated September 14, 2022
You’re reading an excerpt of Stop Asking Questions, by Andrew Warner, a veteran podcast host of 2000+ episodes. The book explains how to lead high-impact interviews and learn anything from anyone. Master the craft of interviewing with this complete digital package. Purchase now for lifetime access to the book and extensive audio and video resources.
When Gregg Spiridellis sat down for an interview with me, I had a sense he wasn’t sure why he even agreed to do it. His production company, JibJab, was cranking out viral video after viral video. He’d even been featured on The Today Show. I wouldn’t blame him for feeling odd about sitting in front of a webcam with someone he had never met as a favor to a friend whom I had interviewed a few days before.
“It’s a challenging day,” he told me when I asked how he was doing. How could I get his best effort when there was so much pulling at his attention?
Gregg was running one of the hottest content brands in the country. ABC News named him and his co-founder People of the Year because their video, “This Land,” went viral with a message of unity at a politically divisive time. Meanwhile, my podcast hadn’t yet broken the 100-download barrier.
When I doubt myself, I remind myself of my mission. I want to get the true stories of how founders built their companies. I sensed that telling Gregg my vision in a way that showed him the benefit of participating would get him engaged.
Before we started recording, I looked into my webcam—the closest I could get to looking him in the eyes. I said, “Gregg, I want to record an interview so good that decades from now when your great-great-grandkids wonder how you built your business, they’ll come listen to what we record today.”
With that one sentence, I got his attention. When the interview began, he sat up in his chair and started telling me some private, never-before-told stories. Turns out that when he was on The Today Show, his company was struggling financially. So the night before, he and his brother came up with a quick way to make some money. They mocked up a DVD box that looked like it had their video on it. Then they created an online store.
When The Today Show cameras were on them, they held up the fake DVD box and said their video was for sale for $9.99 on their site. “We had no idea how we were going to fulfill those DVDs,” he told me. But their site said it would take four to six weeks for shipping, so they knew they’d have time to figure it out. As a result, the first day the DVDs went on sale, they raised almost $100K in much-needed revenue.
As Gregg talked, I could see the smile on his face and the enthusiasm of someone who worked hard and finally had a chance to look back in awe of what he accomplished. When we were done, he told me that if he knew how important this interview was, he would have made an effort to look good on camera instead of just throwing on a baseball cap.
A few months after I published, he asked for a downloadable copy of his interview so his family could have it. I could tell he had bought into my mission. And it showed in the final interview. He hadn’t just given me quick, superficial answers as a way of living up to a commitment.
Sharing my higher purpose has also helped me land interviews. One of the toughest pitches to potential guests was my Fail Series. Our producer, Tristan de Montebello, wrote a blog post on Mixergy asking entrepreneurs to spend an hour telling me how their companies failed. Not exactly an easy sell. Think about what they’re risking. These founders will start future companies. They need investors and job candidates and co-founders to believe enough in their abilities to stake their careers and money on their venture.
Tristan explained how the interview series would help listeners avoid potentially fatal mistakes in their businesses. As tough as it would be for a founder to talk about their own failures, it would be a gift to other entrepreneurs like them. It would lead to stronger startups.
As a result of sharing our higher purpose, we ended up with more than a week’s worth of interviews in this series. It created a ripple effect in the Mixergy community. When interviewees in the series talked about their mistakes, they did it with a spirit of support for other entrepreneurs. Listeners picked up on it and started spreading the word that Mixergy was a place to talk openly and safely about failures to help other entrepreneurs.
I can still feel the impact of that series to this day. Years later, Nikki Durkin of 99dresses, a platform for women to trade clothes, felt comfortable enough on my show to tear up and talk about losing her co-founders. Marcus Weller, the founder of Skully (the helmet with a built-in display), felt he could talk safely about being accused (and later cleared) of spending company money on strippers and sports cars.
Sharing your higher purpose helps beyond interviewing. When my wife and I moved to Washington, DC, we argued about how much I ran. I understood how she felt. We were both working long hours, and she wanted to see more of me. But DC was the first city I had lived in with parks everywhere. I wanted to run and experience all of them. So we argued.
I finally used what I learned in my interviews. I said, “Olivia, we both believe in pushing ourselves physically. I think I might be able to do my first solo 26.2-mile run, but I’m still at only 14 miles. Would you help me?”
That was a dramatic difference from my previous approach of saying, “You know how much I love running. I need time to do it. I can’t give that part of myself up.”
She bought into the goal of pushing myself to do a bigger run than I had ever done before. She even found ways to support it, like meeting me at the office after work so we could both run home together. On the weekends, if she had an appointment far from home, I’d drive there with her. She’d drive home alone and wish me well as I attempted to run home. Once, she dropped me off at the top of Rock Creek Park and then went to run errands. I had no choice but to run home, which was over 30 miles. We’re both proud of that accomplishment.
In business, interviewing, and life, we often find ourselves needing to persuade and motivate other people. Share a higher purpose to get others on board with your goals. Give them a mission they can buy into and support.
🎬 With Gregg Spiridellis: “The JibJab Story. Maybe The Most Inspiring Mixergy Interview Ever!.”
🎬 With Nikki Durkin: “How 99dresses failed (with three cofounders, funding, and a mentor).”
🎬 With Marcus Weller: “Skully founder opens up about failure (and tells me what he learned).”
Most people think an interviewer’s job is to ask questions. I can tell you from experience that it’s not.
I learned this at a hilltop house in Los Angeles overlooking the ocean. While my friend Steve and I had a beer by his pool, I asked him what he did to earn such a gorgeous place.