In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Matt Higgins. Matt is a self-made entrepreneur who went from poverty to the top of five industries and now serves as a guest Shark on ABC’s hit series Shark Tank. He will soon star in a new spinoff Business Hunters also executive produced by Mark Burnett. Matt is also the author of Burn The Boat: Toss Plan B Overboard and Unleash Your Full Potential.
Ready to take your dreams from pipe dreams to reality? Matt Higgins explains how the age-old strategy of “burning the boats” can help you get there. It’s not just for wartime anymore! Across his journey, he absorbed stories of world leaders and inspiring figures that enabled him to put together a template – one available for anyone who works hard enough, and he’s sharing it with us in this episode.
Questions I ask Matt Higgins:
- [1:21] If somebody were to ask you how you got here, what’s the five-minute version of what your entrepreneurial journey has been like?
- [5:34] What is the story behind the metaphor “burn the boat”?
- [11:47] Do you think that people come to the conclusion that they burn the boats in hindsight? Is sometimes luck at play?
- [14:30] Would you say there’s an element of things getting easier, less scary, and more clear once you practice the art of fully committing to things?
- [19:10] Tell us a little bit about the spinoff Business Hunters.
- [21:59] What cool resources come with the book and where can people pick up a copy?
More About Matt Higgins:
- His book – BurnTheBoatBook.com
Learn More About The Agency Intensive Certification:
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John Jantsch (00:00): This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Nudge, hosted by Phil Agnew. It's brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network, the audio destination for business professionals. You can learn the science behind great marketing with bite size 20 minute episodes packed with practical advice from world-class marketers and behavioral scientists. And it's not always about marketing. Great episode. Recently you learned the surprising truths about and tips for beating, stress and anxiety. Sounds like a great program, doesn't it? Listen to Nudge wherever you get your s. Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Matt Higgins. He's a self-made entrepreneur who went from poverty to the top of five industries and now serves as a guest shark on ABC's Hit series Shark Tank. He'll soon star in a new spinoff, business Hunters, also executive produced by Mark Burnett. He's the author of a new book called Burn the Boats, toss Plan B Overboard and Unleash Your Full Potential. So Matt, welcome to the show.
Matt Higgins (01:19): All right, thank you for having me.
John Jantsch (01:21): Like many entrepreneurs, you have a long and winding journey. If somebody were to wade into, you know how you got here, I wonder if you have the five minute version of kinda like what's been your entrepreneurial journey. You obviously are at a, you know, a lot of times people will look at somebody and go, oh, he is on Shark Tank. He's, you know, made it, you know, but they a lot of times look back or don't look back
Matt Higgins (01:45):
(02:26): So just to make it sound, what does that really mean? Growing up with basically wondering where the next meal was coming from. Grow up on government cheese, little blocks of cheese from the U S D A and food pantries. So just a lot of instability, fragility in my upbringing. And my mother had a lot of disabilities that were compounding over time. She is a high, she was a high school dropout, but really fiercely intelligent. And these all my worlds were colliding as a kid where food was an issue. I was selling flowers on street corners and I was watching my mother deteriorate. And you go through so many disappointments in life where you hope the calorie's gonna come. And I learned, fortunately, for better or worse at a very young age, that the cavalry never comes. And so I was getting increasingly desperate. And around 1314, I, I had an epiphany, wait a second, my mother got a G E D and she was able to go to college with the ged.
(03:13): I was like, I was looking at the PennySaver, a little local newspaper in Queens and there was a job offer for a kid to deliver flyers, but it said college students only. And I was like, what's this special thing called college student? What if I could drop outta high school at 16 and get it at $9 an hour paying job instead of making 3 75 at McDonald's, could I pull forward my escape from poverty? So my entire entrepreneurial journey begins with me architecting my way and why that origin story is so important because it really put me through everything an entrepreneur has to go through. One, my guidance counselor said, you're absolutely crazy. The stigma of you being a high school dropout will follow you forever. This is before a little Mark Zuckerberg with his hoodie I made a
John Jantsch (03:53): Four was trendy. Right, okay.
Matt Higgins (03:54): Before it's trendy things, right? So that was number one. So I have the conventional wisdom of the world and the question of, well you're not gonna know enough to go to college. I was like, I don't know. I don't think that's necessarily true. And the fact that no one had ever done not, no one people hadn't done it deliberately, certainly actually dropped outta high school and poor as a fan, right. As a, yeah. You know? And then the last piece is really important is that I realized I had so much pressure for me to change paths. I used to sit at McDonald's all day, get picked up by the truancy police, carted back
(04:32): My mother was, would cry through the entire night in pain. I would wrap a towel around my head so I could hear through the fibers, but try to sleep. So, you know, I'm under constant duress as a kid pretending to be affluent with my jordash jeans that I bought, you know, with whatever money I had. So like I'm putting on a mask my gut, everyone giving me advice, can't see the truth. So the advice is corrupted because it doesn't have full information created by me, you know, hiding my shame. So I had to go through that crazy decision to drop outta high school 16. And in one chess move I went from high school dropout where everyone's looking at me with pity to a year later going to my high school prom as a finishing my first year in college on the debate team, three five GPA and a well paying job compared to McDonald's. And I remember the look on my guidance counselor, my teachers that had win from one of sadness and it's probably a degree of disdain to one of admiration. And so everything about my entrepreneurial journey and a lot of the in incoherence of it, the way my look on paper, all these different industries can be explained from that one move.
John Jantsch (05:34): So, so remind le listeners, probably most people have heard one version or another of this story, but the metaphor burned the boats, the story behind that.
Matt Higgins (05:42): Yeah. So I, I've, you know, despite my quote unquote success, you know, I've always tackled with the lingering effects of the story I just told you, you know, it's a degree of, yeah, PTSD and trauma. There's obviously more to it and anxiety and whatnot and all those things create hesitation. And so I get so mad at myself when I know in order to succeed I need to fully commit and I need to slay the naysayers in my head or the external forces that are trying to stand on my way. I know that intellectually, but I don't believe it. And I was like, what does it take to fully believe that in order to be successful and achieve plan A, you have to fully surrender to the goal? Why do we hesitate? And I noticed throughout my career this phrase would keep coming up, burn the boats, and then I would look back in history like, wow, you know, Caesar said it right?
(06:26): You know, it's in the art of war, right? It goes back to the ancient Israeli lights. This idea of that in a military context, when you're outnumbered a hundred to one, the way that you could sum an unnatural resolve from your troops is to destroy their way home. In the article where they say, you know, burn the boats and the, and destroy the cooking pots, and that obviously that makes people say, I have no choice but to win h how can I take that co that concept and appropriate it for peacetime activity? Yeah. And so the word boat is a little bit different than used in a military context. My boat are all the things in your life that force you to hesitate and hold back.
John Jantsch (07:01): Yeah. The cushy job that you got right now,
Matt Higgins (07:03): The cushy job you got. But more often, as the Italians say, the fish rots from the head, the cover of my boat is a paper boat and it's meant to be a child's boat floating in a bathtub and it's on fire in Cindy Air. And the reason why I start with that metaphor is because a lot of the things that hold us back are legacy issues that we haven't synthesized shame. And for a number of years, the story I just told you would be something I wouldn't talk about because I wouldn't wanna show vulnerability and I had cancer and a bunch of other issues I went through. So the first mandate of my book was model what it looks like to shed shame, show people that everybody who has transcended their circumstances had to go through that journey and then try basically articulate all the different kinds of boats that we have to burn before achieving greatness. And a lot, and it's not rocket science. The rocket science comes in execution, not in our, not in identifying, but the b the themes in my book that'll be familiar to your listeners are imposter gen drum, the corporate saboteurs, all these of these obstacles. But it's basically a treat toe on hesitation and how to commit.
John Jantsch (08:01): Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's interesting. I work with a lot of startup owners and many of them jumping out of corporate jobs and in some cases, you know, it took 'em three years or they tried to do both at the same time and found that they weren't, you know, they were struggling with both. Yeah. So I, you know, I do think that there is a fear that stops people because you, you know, a lot of, lot of take the leap or you know, how other metaphors that people use, I mean they really, starting a business is, you know, a leap of faith in, in some cases. I want to go to a line that I read, I think it was in another interview you gave but, or maybe it was, was just a build up on the book, but why research proves that the mere contemplation of plan B statistically reduces the probability plan A will ever materialize. I think that's a pretty profound backing for this idea of burning the boats, isn't it?
Matt Higgins (08:52): Yeah, it's, that's a great point. Well the, well, so I put a lot, lot of energy in the book to buttress this idea because it's at the same time, it's kind of simplistic and there's a lot of people listening who will reflexively say, yeah, I heard that before, burn the boats, but risk. But I have kit Mals to feed, but I have rent to pay. Right? So number one, the idea of burn the boats doesn't mean the boats with you in it. And by the way, burn the,
John Jantsch (09:13): That is a huge clarification. Okay. Yeah,
Matt Higgins (09:16): That's what I'm saying. Little caveat, ask her why that's important because I am the most paranoid risk taker you're probably ever gonna have on your show. Like I process risk thoroughly and I work backwards from the worst case scenario so that I can ensure that if the worst thing I can imagine what happened, would I still be okay? And the answer's always yes, but I argue and burn the boats is not a shoe all risk or ignore it, it synthesize it at the start of the journey. And by the way, here's how you do it so that you can go ahead and you could fearlessly, you know, move forward. And a lot of people don't do that. Now, the science that you're talking about, there was a study at a warden, which I think is so fascinating, it was 2014, they decided to see if they could identify what, what is the underlying, you know, consequence of anyone not actually having a plan B, but simply comp contemplating a plan B.
(10:01): And I won't get into how they recreated it in the study setting, but all the subjects had to do was just think about another way they could get that snack, you know, in the study, whatever the stimuli was, right? And it found out that just thinking about it both eliminated the probability that they would succeed with plan A, but also killed their intrinsic motivation. So my book is meant to also be a retort to any one of you out there listening who's going? But no, we get into the butts
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(11:38): Visit DTM world slash workshop. That's DTM world slash workshop. Do you think sometimes people come to the conclusion that they burn the boats in hindsight? So in other words, like they really only saw there was like, this is what I think I need to do, or this is what I was told to do and next thing you turn around and it's like, I succeeded and now I look back and go, oh, because I didn't have a plan B. I mean was is it sometimes, I guess I'm talking about luck almost
Matt Higgins (12:10): Yeah, I think that's true. I do, I'm a big anti luck person if there is such a thing because I think a lot of times luck is sort of robs you of agency. Yeah. And I think sometimes luck is a dirty four wet alert that people use against you to say, well, you know, you didn't manifest it. So I think that the universe is fundamentally benevolent and does give you multiple opportunities to save yourself. And so a lot of times you're reconstructing, you're right in hindsight like the, I think it's more you're reconstructing what was the turning point? What was the moment when I finally actually pulled it off? And usually the moment I find in dealing with so many CEOs, I'm sure you have a similar experience, the moment that actually led to the breakthrough was the moment they stopped giving an F about something that was recurring in their head, it was the moment of almost capitulation like, you know what, I have a great story in my book of founder, it's one of my favorite stories in all business.
(12:59): And he was a founder, an amazing guy. I bought his company and I knew frankly he was gonna get eaten alive by the investors that we had brought in. He just wasn't ready for primetime and he wasn't dealing with some of the hard staff choices that he needed to upgrade the team. He was just a martyr who was taken all upon himself and ultimately the walls began to crash in on him. And he calls me one night crying saying, I failed you, I'm gonna resign at the end of the year. And I heard in the background an EKG or you know, the beeping machine. I said, what is that? He's like, well I'm in the hospital. My, my little baby girl we're testing her for seizures. We think she might be on the spectrum. I said, first of all, why are you calling me? Hang up the phone.
(13:36): Go. Second of all, I'm the one who makes this phone call. I, when I'm, when you're done, I'll call you. You don't have to worry about that. I will let you know. I said, but actually I think you're not done. I think you just got started. And he hangs up the phone. True story. We bring in an industrial psychologist, he surrenders to the work, he credits stat as the breakthrough moment when he started realizing, you know what, if this were to fall apart, whatever, Matt will be fine. I lost a few million for him, you know, my family will eat, I'll be okay. I'm an Irish bartender, I came here, I built this country. Eight months later he sells that business for nine figures and it was a zero 18 months later and it was a zero at that moment. And he has enough money to feed his children for generations. And so I share that story and all these stories like it so people can pick a moment to identify it like, oh I have a disabled child. I felt like that. Or you know what I mean? Even with me being a high school dropout, I was like, oh, I grew up in poverty. Matt could do it. Maybe I could do it too.
John Jantsch (14:30): Would you say there's an element, maybe talking about you personally, but maybe you've seen this also of building habit muscle around this. Like you do it once and you go, wow, that worked out, nobody died here and the next time it's easier and the next time it's clearer. I mean, would you say that has happened to you?
Matt Higgins (14:48): There's a hundred percent I get frustrated that it's not, not more habituated, you know what I mean? I get mad at myself like, come on, you know this already, right? Like yeah, you'd be shocked if you were in my head as you're listening to this, you'd be shocked by the things that I revisit. But I've come to realize the awareness of it is a habit that I need to burn the boats and fully commit to extract maximum. Right? And I have the fact patterns, but the reason why it doesn't always hold is because I'm always doing new hard things. And so the reason why I talk about imposter syndrome in the set of Shark Tank when I was arguably very successful is to show if you are putting yourself in truly new and uncomfortable situations, you are always feeling like an imposter because you are an imposter, you're an interloper for sure another I word, but you're also interloper and imposter feel kind of similar.
(15:32): And so the answer is it gets easier with muscle memory, but if it ever gets too easy, it means you're not putting yourself in new really hard situations. Yeah. Like when I went to Harvard to Harvard Business School, I'd never taught a day in my life, one could argue, well your ego should have carried you or your sense of self-worth of self-esteem. It's like bullshit. Like I'm teaching in Harvard, like this is hard and like, and so I had those emotions and then next time it got easier and then by the third time I have to find a new intrinsic motivation system cuz I'm no longer full of anxiety. Right. So it does get habituated, but at the same time it should never get too habituated.
John Jantsch (16:03): Yeah. I mean when I listen to you describe that, it's, you're really talking about growth, continued growth, aren't you?
Matt Higgins (16:07): Right. Right. There's, I always say there's a reason growing pains hurt, right? Like they're supposed to hurt. And sometimes people say about my book, they're like, oh God, it sounds exhausting. Do you ever get to relax? And I said, the answer is no. And the reason why talk to anyone who's been to the top of the mountain and they'll tell you there's not much to see there. I really believe that the joy of living is in the striving and it's not in the winning, which is a little bit contradictory cuz then you're like, well then what are we fighting for? I think we're fighting for to touch the ceiling of our ambition, our potential. So that I think that brings us closer to God. I, when I see a person who's struggling to break through and I can make a slight trajectory change in our life and I watch them get closer to touching the ceiling of their potential, even though it's unknowable, I feel like I'm watching God and magic and the universe sort of play out. And I think we all have that feeling in ourselves. It's when we run the marathon, there's a reason we're depressed when marathon's over and we wish we were still training for it, right? Because we were pursuing the ceiling of our potential.
John Jantsch (17:04): It's interesting, I use this metaphor all the time, you know, a lot of people talking about striving to the climb Everest, you know, to get to the top, I mean, how dangerous it is and how hard it is. About three times more people die coming down actually going up. True. And I think that's such a great metaphor, you know, for kind of that idea of climbing and then like, you know, going back down
Matt Higgins (17:22):
John Jantsch (17:28): Exactly. There's a
Matt Higgins (17:29): Lot of, a lot of lessons in that simple fact by the way, in terms of we get to wifi, but
John Jantsch (17:33): Yeah. Yeah. So, so you did, as you mentioned, dozens, maybe more than dozens of interviews for this. Do you have, this is always a hard question when people do this, but do you have a couple favorites or a couple you like to highlight?
Matt Higgins (17:45): Oh, interviews I've done?
John Jantsch (17:47): No, that you did for the book in
Matt Higgins (17:49): Particular? Oh, you mean interviews around the book that I really like?
John Jantsch (17:52): Yeah, yeah. With different leaders.
Matt Higgins (17:53): Oh, in the book? Yes, for sure. I'm so sorry. Yeah, you know what, there's a woman profiled in the book and she had created a marketing firm called Village. Right? And when I was working on the book, our interaction and sort of fade in the back of my memory and her name had kept coming up throughout my career. And then at one point I realized, wait, I know her actually I had interviewed her before she had created this business cuz I tried to recruit her to join my business a new PR eight years ago. And I reconnected with her and it was one of these sliding door moments where she had a choice to join my new firm, right? And instead she went off and created the, this firm called The Village. And the reason why she did it is because she decided she needed to burn the boats and give it a shot, or she never would.
(18:38): And she had a little baby daughter and she wanted to try to create a firm that would be designed to enable her to raise her daughter the way she wanted to. So instead of joining my firm, she created her own and she only hired women. It was an all woman firm. And at the exact moment, within three months that I sold the firm I built that she passed on, she sold her own and created massive generational wealth. And I tell the story of that, I tell the story in the book of a lot of female entrepreneurs because my whole life has been guided by strong women. So I just, you know, it happens to be a lot of incredible stories, but I'd say hers is one of my favorites.
John Jantsch (19:11): So tell us a little bit about the spinoff that I don't think it's out yet. Bus business hunters.
Matt Higgins (19:15): Yeah. Yeah, so, so for everyone listening, I've been on Shark Tank a couple seasons, I love Shark Tank and you know, shark Tank as a kid would always give me hope and like everybody else sitting watching that show. Yeah. But there's one part that is missing from Shark Tank. We all love it. But if you actually take a step back, how many people can really relate to the idea that you have an invention that is good enough that's gonna put you in front of Mark Cuban and the rest to try to get venture funding. It's actually a very alien concept that most people will never, ever get close to. What we love about Shark Tank is the act of going for it. The sort of glory of, you know, getting that investment of winning. Like it just has, everything's on display cuz every single person at some point or another has harbored either an idea or more like autonomy and freedom that comes to be a business owner.
(19:56): We have a crappy boss. Or like, I just wanna quit. I just would love to it. Right? So I realized Mark Burnett realized that there isn't a show that speaks to that impulse. What if we created a show that was designed to take anyone in America who has a dream for like a restaurant or a drag cleaner or like a marina, you know, how do I buy that business? How do I get the financing for it? How do I value it? And so the show takes usually a tandem, a husband and wife, a couple or something. And we, we both break down the psychological issues that go into becoming a new business owner because has these like, oh, it's gonna be a great, I'm gonna have a restaurant, I'm gonna take weekends off. Like, no, you're not, because your cap door, your inventory's gonna disappear. You'll be working seven days away.
(20:37): So a lot of it are those disabusing people of misperceptions about what it means to be a business owner. But the second part of the journey is let me present you with three different ideas. So, and then let's evaluate them together. And then we give an opportunity for the entrepreneurs to actually work in those businesses before they buy them. Oh, nice. And then we, that's very cool. I try to teach the audience because I get excited about like everything from like an ice cream truck, you know, to a hundred million acquisition. Everything excites me that try to teach the audience about this area of the business sector that's kind of unexplored. So, you know, the business could cost, we have one business, it's $75,000. I mean, these are not, you know, of businesses.
John Jantsch (21:14): Yeah. Well I'm sure you've got it all wired, but I want to come be a, a guest host on the thing because I've done, I've been doing this for 35 years and I've worked with 10,000 small businesses. I mean people you're talking about.
Matt Higgins (21:26): I would love that. It's so fun. And then, you know what's interesting about it? As somebody who's worked on, you know, whatever billion dollar deals and everything's the same
John Jantsch (21:58): Awesome. So you have in selling burn the boats. You have like a lot of authors just kind of buy extra books, get bonuses, but your bonuses are really fun. You've got some, you know, go to a Dolphins game, you know, come, I mean just don't up in front.
Matt Higgins (22:14): I definitely have nice toys.
John Jantsch (22:16):
Matt Higgins (22:28): Yes. No, I have a, I have a, it's called Burn the Boats book.com is the website and, and I wanted to make it fun and come up with unique packages. I have a lot of interesting businesses in my portfolio, so Right. One of them is we're doing a session with Gary Vaynerchuk, who's my partner, and just if you check out the website, all sorts of cool and interesting things. Yeah.
John Jantsch (22:45): Very fun. Well, Matt, thanks so much for stopping by the Duct Tape Marketing podcast and hopefully we will run into you one of these days soon out there on the road.
Matt Higgins (22:52): All right, thank you for having me. I appreciate
John Jantsch (22:54): It. Hey, and one final thing before you go. You know how I talk about marketing strategy strategy before Tex? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It's called the Marketing Strategy Assessment. You can find [email protected] not.com Check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That's just marketingassessment.co. I'd love to chat with you about the results that you get.
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