#167: Unlocking the Third Door with Alex Banayan
#167: Unlocking the Third Door with Alex Banayan
At age 18, Alex Banayan sat in his dorm room, wondering what he wanted to do with his life. He was on a pre-med path, but something was missing. Alex hit the library and started reading all the biographies of his heroes he could get his hands on, in the hopes that he could learn the secret of their success. But the advice and knowledge in the books didn’t satisfy him. He knew he had to write the book he wanted to read. So, a young Alex set off to interview the world’s greatest minds about their journeys and uncover the secret to success. In this episode, Hala and Alex talk about the idea of the third door, that there is always a way in. Alex shares his favorite stories and lessons from his book and talks through everything he learned along the way about persistence, mentorship, and profiting in life.
– Alex’s Journey
– Funding the book by winning The Price is Right
– Alex on making transitions
– His strategy for getting interviews
– Getting past the gatekeepers
– Steven Spielberg’s story
– Connecting with Tim Ferris
– The truth about persistence
– Defining the third door
– Favorite stories and lessons from The Third Door
– Advice from Maya Angelo
– On meeting your heroes and Bill Gates
– Pitbull on always staying an intern
– Elliott Bisnow and biting off more than you can chew
– How to find and select a mentor
– Alex’s mentorship program during COVID
– Alex’s best advice for people who don’t know what to do next
– Alex’s actionable advice
– Alex’s secret to profiting in life
– And other topics…
Alex Banayan is the youngest bestselling business author in American history. The Third Door chronicles Alex’s seven-year quest to uncover the definitive mindset of exponential growth and success.
Throughout the process, Alex interviewed the most innovative leaders of the past half-century, including Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Larry King, Maya Angelou, Steve Wozniak, Jane Goodall, Jessica Alba, Quincy Jones, and more.
Alex was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list and Business Insider’s “Most Powerful People Under 30,” Banayan is his generation’s leading expert in high-performance and personal development, having been featured in Fortune, CNBC, Businessweek, The Washington Post, MSNBC, Fox News, and NBC News.
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The Third Door by Alex Banayan: https://www.amazon.com/Third-Door-Uncover-Successful-Launched/dp/0804136661
Alex’s 30-day Clarity Challenge: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/413802
Alex’s Website: https://thirddoorbook.com/time-magazine-article-alex-banayan/
Alex’s Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexbanayan/
Alex’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alexbanayan/
Alex’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlexBanayan/
Alex’s Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/AlexBanayan-TheThirdDoor
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Hala: [00:00:00] Hey, Alex, welcome to young and profiting podcast.
Alex Banayan: Thank you very much. I'm excited to be with you.
Hala: Likewise. It is such a pleasure to have you on the show. You are the definition of someone who is young and profiting. You are known to be one of the youngest bestselling authors ever. You are also one of the world's youngest venture capital.
Hala: Exactly. Which landed you, the Forbes 30, under 30, you were also business insiders, most powerful people under 30, and you were truly paving the way for young entrepreneurs. And before we get into your book, third door, I want to take you back to a very pivotal moment in your life. You're in college, uh, from my understanding just a month into college, as a pre-med, when you realized it wasn't the path that you wanted to take.
Hala: So what was going through your mind at that point? And why did you make that decision?
Alex Banayan: And I was lying on my dorm room. Staring up at the ceiling, going through the, what do I want to do with my life crisis? And for anyone who's ever felt that, you know, it's this all consuming thought where it follows you in bed and the shower, when you're riding your bike, you know, it sort of [00:01:00] haunts you and to understand why I was going through it.
Alex Banayan: You have to understand I'm the son of Persian Jewish immigrants, which pretty much means I came out of the womb. My mom cradled made our arms and then stamped MD on my behind and sent me on my way. And, you know, you might think I'm kidding, but I literally wore scrubs to school for Halloween and thought I was quitting.
Alex Banayan: And that was my childhood growing up. And in high school, I checked all the boxes study for the SATs to call the biology classes, went to pre-med summer camp. So by the time I got to college and I'm the pre-med of pre-meds, but, you know, as you mentioned, that's how I found myself on that dorm room bed, looking at this towering stack of biology books, feeling like it was sucking the life out of me.
Alex Banayan: And at first I assumed, you know, I'm probably just being. That's what everyone tells you about, especially if they're young and they're not feeling good, you're being lazy, but eventually I began to wonder, maybe I'm not on my path. Maybe I'm going to have somebody else has placed me on and I'm just rolling down.
Alex Banayan: So now not only did I not know what I wanted to do with [00:02:00] my life, I had no idea how the people, who I looked up to, how they did it and how bill gates, when he was also in college, how did he sell his first piece of software out of his dorm room? And nobody knew. How did Spielberg, when again, he goes around the same age, become the youngest major studio director in Hollywood history, without any experience, you know, these are things they don't teach you in school.
Alex Banayan: So I just assumed there had to be a book with the answers. So I started running the library and ripping through business books and biographies and self-help books. Assuming there had to book, not in a particular age in life, really a stage when you have a big dream, when you have a big goal. No one's taking you seriously.
Alex Banayan: No. One's taking your calls. How do you find a way to break?
Alex Banayan: And eventually I was left empty handed and that's when my naive 18 year old thinking kicked in. I thought, well, if no, one's reading the book, I'm dreaming of reading. Why not write it myself? And, you know, I thought I'd just call bill gates, interviewed him, interview everybody else.
Alex Banayan: I thought I would be done in a few months that I thought would be the easy part. The hard part I figured was [00:03:00] getting the money to fund this journey. You know, I was buried in student loan debt. I was all out of bar mitzvah cash. So there had to be a way to make some quick. So two nights before final exams, I'm in the library doing what everyone does in the library, right before finals, I'm on Facebook and I'm on Facebook.
Alex Banayan: And I see somebody offering free tickets to the prices. Right. And I'm sure, you know, the game show, you know, it's the longest running game show in American history. And I was going to school in Los Angeles, not too far from where the show filmed. And my first thought was, what if I go on the show? And win some money to fund this book, you know, not my brightest moment.
Alex Banayan: Plus, you know, the show was filming the next day I'd finals in two days, you know, it was a bad idea. And I told myself with a dumb idea and I'll think about it. I don't know if you've ever had one of those moments where an idea, no matter how crazy it is, it keeps climbing itself back into your mind. So that night I decided to do the logical thing and pull an all nighter to [00:04:00] study, but I didn't study for finals.
Alex Banayan: I studied how to hack the prices. And I went on the show the next day and did this ridiculous strategy and ended up winning the whole showcase showdown, winning a sailboat, selling that sell button. That's how I funded the book. And that's how the journey got.
Hala: Wow. So I know the story cause I did research on you.
Hala: So you one, you sold the boat for like $16,000. Now you are able to embark on this journey, which was pretty expensive because you basically plan to fly around America and interview your idols and do whatever it took. But how did your parents react to, because did you pause school or did you drop out of school 100%?
Hala: Like what,
Alex Banayan: what was that? It happened in stages. And I think when, whenever you're on the precipice on taking a big change in life, it can feel daunting that it has to be this one big, giant leap. Oh, you just got to quit your job and never look back. Or the reality is, and especially when I've studied [00:05:00] success over the past 10 years, Every single person who achieved their dream, normally didn't take some reckless leap.
Alex Banayan: They took one courageous step after another. So, you know, for me personally, it started sort of small first. It was just deciding over summer vacation. Pre-med classes over the summer instead of work on the book. And then the next year it was switching from being a pre-med to go into a business major. But by the way, these weren't small things, you know, this was like my identity.
Alex Banayan: My parents came from Iran as refugees with a single hope that, you know, I would have a secure, safe flight. Yeah, unlike they did. And then from there the next year after that, you know, the books started getting a little bit of momentum and I was so close to getting that interview with bill gates and that publishing deal that I, then I took a semester off from school and, uh, went from there.
Alex Banayan: So in hindsight, it's really easy to say, oh, I just dropped out of. Um, but the reality is it's a one terrifying step after another.
Hala: I love that you showcase that because I was [00:06:00] reading your stuff and it was really positioned, or I assumed that it was like cold Turkey, but that's a great lesson to know, even with like starting a side hustle, you don't need to quit your full-time job right away.
Hala: It's okay. To kind of ease your way into something. See if it's actually going to take off, see if you get momentum. See if you like it before just cutting the cord.
Alex Banayan: Absolutely. Most surprising things I learned in my research on bill gates, leading up to my interview with him was that he didn't drop out of school the way, you know, the media makes it sound, you know, you look at a headline and it said, you know, drop out bill gates becomes young, you know, richest person on earth and things like that.
Alex Banayan: The reality is bill gates started Microsoft when he was in college from his dorm room, um, with his buddy Paul Allen, and they decided to take one semester off. If the company would get some momentum and dealing what happened after that, they realize it wasn't getting momentum. And bill went back to school.
Alex Banayan: No one ever [00:07:00] talks about that, but that's just the reality. If, you know, open his biography. It's right. And he went back to school, you know, tried it again. Then after that took another semester off and then it started picking up. And I think our society in particular, our generation, we grew up with tweets and now with tic talks and it's so easy to compress years and years of someone's journey into 60 seconds.
Alex Banayan: Um, but the reality is, especially when you're studying success, it's a lot more. And it's a lot more little steps. A tipping point is only available in hindsight, the reality when you're going after your journey. And especially if anyone listening is in the trenches right now, it's okay that it's not happening overnight.
Alex Banayan: It takes. Little step after a little step.
Hala: It's so true. It's such a great point. So we were talking offline and you were asking me how long I've done young and profiting podcasts. So it's been about four years, but it was a 10 year journey. And when I started the [00:08:00] podcast, I had big guests from the gate because I had this really inspiring story.
Hala: I almost had a show on MTV. I was like, you know, on hot 97. And so people believed in me and it was kind of easy to get. Off the bat. And I was punching above my weight from the start with you. I want to know what it was like for you because you were 18 years old. And from my understanding, no track record in media, how did you get in touch?
Hala: Like, I mean, you. Tim Ferris, eventually bill gates, Steven Spielberg, these huge names. So what was your strategy like overall? And then I'd love to do like a rapid fire and get some of your crazy wild stuff. It was a lot
Alex Banayan: more Forrest Gump than Albert Einstein when it came to,
Alex Banayan: you know, the reality is to my surprise, bill gates normally doesn't do interviews with 18 year old college students. So my simple idea turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. And the book ended up taking seven years. Um, you know, seven years of, you know, hard [00:09:00] work and sweat. But eventually it happened, you know, it took two years to get the interview with bill gates.
Alex Banayan: It took three years to attract on lady Gaga and every single one was different. So
Hala: you're saying every single one was different. Well, tell us the story. I'd love to hear. For example, how you got in touch with lady Gaga, you brought lady Gaga. So let's start with
Alex Banayan: lady Gaga again. That was one of the, that was one of the final interviews of the book.
Alex Banayan: That's one of the final chapters, cause it just took so long. And with all these people on it, you know, you worked in radio in particular. You know, every one of these people have multiple gate holders. There's the manager, there's the agent, there's the manager's manager's manager. You know, there's the assistant, you know, there's like 15 people who all claim, they are the decision maker.
Alex Banayan: So you sort of get, you can get lost in those worlds, but then lady Gaga in particular, it just so happened. I met someone in that Nicholson, um, who worked for lady Gaga and helped her on her digital projects. So he brought me in through that door. And what I learned is that. And I actually learned this from studying Steven [00:10:00] Spielberg, that every single story, without exception, whether it's Warren buffet and finance, my Angela and poetry, every single one of these people always have that inside person and inside man, inside a woman, someone inside of the organization that they're trying to get into, who believed in them.
Alex Banayan: And you actually brought it up earlier, who believed in them as a person before the idea had any. Believed in them and was willing to open that door and bring them in. So with Steven Spielberg, it was a man named Chuck silvers who helped Spielberg get his first contract. Um, with Warren buffet, it was an investor in Benjamin Graham.
Alex Banayan: But when you read a magazine or you turn on CNBC, those things aren't talked about, but that's the reality of how the world actually works.
Hala: Yeah. So basically you went and found the inside man, the person that you could hook you up with the person you actually wanted to meet and you would get in their good graces.
Hala: So how can we go about finding an inside man? Do you have any tips for that?
Alex Banayan: Yeah. You know, my [00:11:00] favorite, I just referenced the Spielberg story to me. The Spielberg story is the best case. Of how the inside man inside woman actually works. And the reason I love this story is most people don't know is that the way it started is when Steven Spielberg was, you know, 17, 18 years old, he applied to film school and he didn't get in.
Alex Banayan: And then he applied a second year to USC film school and he still didn't get. And that's where most people would normally stop their journey and think they're not cut out for it. But Spielberg decided to take his education to his own hands. So he signs up for community college in Los Angeles, so he can sort of be around the industry.
Alex Banayan: And he goes to universal studios, Hollywood, the theme park. And for those of you, I've been a theme park. You know, there's a ride called the tram ride that takes on the backlog of the studio where you can see where the movies are made. So Spielberg goes on this little tour bus and. About halfway through jumps off the tour bus hides in the [00:12:00] bathroom and waits for the bus to keep driving.
Alex Banayan: And Spielberg walks around the lot on his own. And about an hour in, he bumps into this older man named Chuck silvers and Chuck silvers sees this like pimply faced kid and says, you know, what the hell are you doing here? And Spielberg told him the truth. He said, look, I'm so sorry. You know, I jumped off the bus.
Alex Banayan: I always dreamed of being a director and they end up talking for about it. And Chuck silvers was the head of the universal television library, the head of all the archives. At the end of the hour, he says, Steven, how would you like to come back onto the lot? And Stephen goes, that would be a dream. So Chuck silvers writes him a three-day pass and Spielberg comes back.
Alex Banayan: The first day comes back. The second day comes back from. And on the fourth day, he shows up again, wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase, and just walks to the security gate, waves his hand in the air and goes, Hey, Scotty. And the guard just waves back. And Spielberg walks right there. And he does this for months.
Alex Banayan: He's sneaking onto soundstages [00:13:00] going into editing booths, asking directors and producers out to lunch. And he's essentially creating his own film school from scratch. But what happens after a few months is Chuck silvers, lowly becomes Spielberg's mentor and Chuck silvers gives them one of the best piece of advice.
Alex Banayan: A mentor can give someone, he said, listen, Stephen, stop schmoozing on the lot. Every day, go create something of value. Go create a short film of quality and don't come back onto lot until you have it ready to go. So Spielberg took that hard piece of advice. And he went and spent months filming and editing a short film called the ambulance.
Alex Banayan: And he went back to Chuck silvers and showed it to him. And it was so good at the end. A single teardrop came down, Chuck services' face, and Chuck silvers picked up the phone immediately and call the vice president of universal television, Sid Sheinberg, and said, said, I have some that you got to see. And Sid said, listen, there's a lot of things.
Alex Banayan: People tell me I got to see [00:14:00] and up and said, no, if you don't watch this tonight, Someone else will. And the vice-president said, you think it's that damn important? And then Chuck silver says, yes, it's that damn report. And sure enough, the vice-president watched it that night. Spielberg, the next morning got a call from the vice president's office saying he needed to be on the lot immediately Spielberg rushes over and on the table as a contract, making the youngest major studio director in Hollywood history.
Alex Banayan: And the reason that story is so powerful to me is yes, of course, Uber was tremendously talented. If you wasn't talented and doesn't. However, I think we can both agree. There must have been at least a handful of other talented directors in Hollywood at the time who didn't get that contract. And when you look at what made Spielberg different than everyone else is that on top of the town.
Alex Banayan: Was this ability to find this inside person, his ability to have the courage to jump off the bus, talk to Chuck silvers, tell him the truth about his aspirations, not being manipulative, but tell him the truth and actually [00:15:00] follow his mentor's advice and actually do the hard work. But if it wasn't for Chuck silvers, Spielberg never.
Alex Banayan: Would've got that past to come back on the lot. He never would've gotten that good advice. And most importantly, there never would've been someone to get the vice-president to pay. And then everyone's career, whether launching a podcast, writing a book, starting a business, trying to get a promotion. It's always that insight person who believes.
Alex Banayan: Who uses their social capital or kick the door open to help you get in.
Hala: This is so powerful. You are dropping bombs right now of knowledge. So thank you so much. So I want to get into a couple of your cookie stories. I think Tim Ferris and Larry King, I think would be two great ones. So tell us
Alex Banayan: about how, and now you definitely two to have the two of the kookier ones, Tim Ferris.
Alex Banayan: Again, you have to understand, you know, at the time, 18, 19 years old, no one wants to talk to me. No one wants to answer my emails. [00:16:00] So with Tim Ferris, what ended up happening was because at the time Tim was one of the youngest selling authors in American history. So I followed there's someone who had to have some kind of insights for me.
Alex Banayan: It had to be him. So. I ended up, one of the things that I would do in the beginning of the journey is I had a little note card that I printed out in my dorm room. And it just had a list of all the people I wanted to interview. And because I didn't have any real connections, what I would do is just whenever I would like literally whether it was on my college campus or anywhere I would go whenever I would tell someone about the book, I would show them the.
Alex Banayan: And you would be surprised if you show it to like 10 people, one at a 10, they might, they, they won't know a person on the thing, but they'll have an idea for you. And they'll say, oh yeah, you know, Spielberg's actually going to be speaking. I saw on the LA times is going to be speaking at this event or, oh, I heard buffet has this thing.
Alex Banayan: I actually have a friend who met buffet at [00:17:00] up, so I would carry this card with me wherever I'd go. And one of the people I met in the first year of working on the book was a name, name, a man named CSR, bossa Negra. And he worked for a nonprofit called donor's choose.org. And I showed him this card and he goes, oh my God, my boss actually went to high school with Tim Ferris.
Alex Banayan: So by the, all these things are so random, you know, you don't think you're ever going to find someone who went to high school, you know, it's so random, but you just sort of got to keep putting yourself out there. So he goes, let me ask you about. And sure enough, I never heard back. CSR said he would talk to his boss, but I never heard back.
Alex Banayan: So I decided to just take matters into my own hands. And I started emailing Tim Ferriss, his assistant, asking for this interview and I email one time, two times, five times, 10 times, no response. And I'm thinking, okay, maybe it's a loss. And right as I'm about to give up, I'm checking my inbox and I see sort of like a newsletter span and it's for an app that I [00:18:00] used on my phone called Evernote note taking app.
Alex Banayan: And it said the Evernote conference in San Francisco this summer featuring bestselling author, Tim Ferriss has keynote. And I'm like, oh my God, this is my dream. All I have to do is go to this conference. I use the money from the prices, right. I think it was like $50 to register. And I was like, oh my God, this is my dream.
Alex Banayan: And I bought my first ever plane ticket by myself. And I go up to San Francisco. And what I did though, is because I knew Tim was involved with donorschoose.org, that company where, you know, assess our work, the nonprofit, I took a donors choose gift card in my back pocket, just in case. And I also, for some reason, decided to print all 10 emails.
Alex Banayan: I had sent Tim's assistant put in my backpack into it. I don't know why I just, I needed some kind of like safety. So I think this is a genius plan. You know, it's a conference for an app. There's no way, you know, anyone else's there to talk to Tim Ferris. This is my dream. So I get there. I showed to San [00:19:00] Francisco, I'm 19 years old and I step into this conference hall.
Alex Banayan: Almost every single person. There has a copy of Tim Ferriss's book, the four hour workweek under their arm. And they were hits me every single person here has the exact same idea that I do. Everyone is here to talk to him. So I'm like, what am I going to do? So I decided, all right, I'm going to take a seat right at the front of the stage on the far left side where the staircases are.
Alex Banayan: So when Tim walks off the stage, I'll be the closest person near the stairs. So I can be the first person talks to him. So I sit right in the front row. Right. I think I'm a genius. Like I think I just hacked the whole system. The lights turn on. Tim walks on stage from the far right side. So now I'm on the complete opposite side of the entire conference hall.
Alex Banayan: So I'm panicking now and thinking, I can't believe I came all the way here. I'm going to lose this opportunity. I don't know what [00:20:00] to do. And I sort of look around and they see. VIP bathroom on the far right side of the room. So during Tim's speech, I just sort of like sneak out of my chair and run to the bathroom.
Alex Banayan: And there was like a bouncer guardian, but I just sorta like begged if I can go inside and he'd just like, let me go use the bathroom. And I ended up crouching in the bathroom stall for about 30 minutes with my ear pressed to get, by the way I did not, I'm not proud of this story. I did not recommend anyone do this, but this is just what happened.
Alex Banayan: I ended up crouching in the bathroom. For about 30 minutes, you know, the smell of urine stinging my nostrils and my ears pressed against the wall. And I'm waiting to hear the sound and sure enough, I hear the applause. And as soon as I hear the applause, I jumped out of the bathroom and sure enough, Tim Ferriss is standing about five feet in front of me all by himself.
Alex Banayan: And I don't know if you can relate to this, but when I am in those moments, when it lines up so perfectly like that, it's actually, when I get the most nervous. And I even have a name for that feeling. I call it the [00:21:00] flinch, that feeling when your throat tightens up, your mouth is wired, shut your feet, turned to stone.
Alex Banayan: And I just like awkwardly stood in front of Tim Beyers in front of a bathroom, staring at him and almost to break myself out of the grip of the flinch. I just reached into my back pocket, handed him that donors choose gift card. And I said, this is just for you. And he looks. Oh, great. I actually, I know the founder of donors, you know, went to high school with him and I'm like, oh, you don't say.
Alex Banayan: And he's like, how do you know donor shoes? I'm like, well, I'm actually working on a book right now. And he's like, oh cool. What's your book about? I'm like, well, I'm interviewing some of the world's most successful people like for business. I'm trying to interview bill gates. I'm trying to interview lady Gaga.
Alex Banayan: I'm trying to interview Jane. Good. I'm trying to interview you. And he's like, ha ha. Very funny. And I said, no, I'm serious. And then I reached into my other pocket and gave him the 10 printed. So he just looks at me, he's laughing and he's like, you know, let me look through these, but I'll get back to you in the next couple of days.
Alex Banayan: And he was really nice [00:22:00] a couple of weeks ago by silence. So I emailed assistant again, no response again and again, I ended up emailing his office over 32 times. And again, I did not recommend this, but I ended up emailing him 32 times until out of nowhere. I got an email saying, sure, Tim is available and he can talk in two days.
Alex Banayan: And we did the interview and the interview was amazing. Um, and I learned a lot from the, to read particularly about how to properly cold email people, how to properly reach out to people. But one of the lessons that I missed in that moment was I thought the reason this whole journey worked to get to Tim was because I was so present.
Alex Banayan: When I found out years later when I actually met Tim properly and got to know him as a person was he told me the truth about what actually happened behind the scenes, which is Tim was so annoyed and [00:23:00] angry at me. He called his mutual friend, the person that donor's shoes and said what the F is, this kid's problem.
Alex Banayan: And thank God, the person of donors who says, look, I know Alex is rough around the edges. But it's hard to in the right place. And I think he's really trying to help this generation. I think this is a good idea. And that's why Tim said yes.
Hala: That's so interesting. It's so funny because we're always taught, you know, be persistent, be persistent, but when you're on the other side and you're a busy person, it can get quite annoying.
Hala: If somebody, you know, won't let up when you're busy or not interested, and you've already clearly said, no, I'm busy or I can't do it. So he did teach you about persistence versus hassle. So do you want to kind of break that down for us?
Alex Banayan: I will say a big takeaway is that I always thought persistence was about knocking on one door, a hundred.
Alex Banayan: What I've had to learn is that persistence about knocking on a hundred different doors. And no business book talks about the [00:24:00] dangers of over persistence, where you can knock on a door so many times that they put the deadbolt on and, you know, call security on you. And again, persistence is not about knocking on one door a hundred times.
Alex Banayan: It's about knocking on a hundred different doors. It took me many years of.
Hala: So let's get into the concept of the third door, because you already shared a couple of stories that really illustrate this. Well, for example, Steven Spielberg, him jumping off the bus and kind of getting in film school in his own way.
Hala: You hiding in the bathroom to meet Tim Ferriss. So what is the third door you talk about these doors, like it's like getting into a nightclub. I'd love to hear that analogy. Yeah.
Alex Banayan: So after spending 10 years studying the world's most successful people. You know, when I started, there was no part of me looking for that one key to success.
Alex Banayan: You know, we've all seen those business books or there's Ted talks. And normally I just roll my eyes. But what ended up happening over 10 years of research is I started realizing every single one of these people treated life and business and success, [00:25:00] the exact same way. And the analogy that came to me is that it's sort of like getting into a nightclub.
Alex Banayan: There's always three ways. So there's the first door, the main entrance, where the line curves around the block, where 99% of people wait around hoping to get in. And we all know that line, people waiting out in the cold, hoping the bouncer that's in it. And that's the first door. And then there's a secondary, the VIP entrance where the billionaires and celebrities go through.
Alex Banayan: But what no one tells you. But I'm sure you've seen your career many times is that there's always, always the third door and it's the entrance where you jump out of line and run down the alley, bang on the door a hundred times, crack open a window, go through the kitchen. There's always a way in, and it doesn't matter if that's how lady Gaga got her first record deal.
Alex Banayan: How Spielberg, you know, God is directing contact. They all took the third door.
Hala: Yeah. And it kinda sounds like you are saying that mentors can be like your key to third door as well. Your shortcut. All right. Cool. So let's talk about [00:26:00] some of the big lessons that you learned from all of these interviews.
Hala: You learned a lot about luck. You learned a lot about confidence. Tell us some of your favorite stories and lessons.
Alex Banayan: One of my favorite interviews was actually from my end. And those of us who are familiar with my Angela's work know that she's one of the most celebrated poets in American history. She is one of the best selling authors of all time, her book.
Alex Banayan: I know why the caged bird sings is still one of the top books, but what most people don't know is where her life. No, my Angela was born in stamps, Arkansas, or raised up in stamps Arkansas at a time where the city, the town was strictly divided between blacks and whites. And as a young black girl, you know, she grew up at a time where you could see, you know, crosses burning and lynchings.
Alex Banayan: And, you know, it was a very, very dark time in American history. And at about age eight years old, uh, she got raped by her mother's [00:27:00] boyfriend and. When she told her brother what had happened a few days later, the brother of course did the right thing and told the mother and the man was an only arrested.
Alex Banayan: But a few days later he was found dead behind the slaughter house and what the eight year old, my Angelou thought, cause this is how kids brains work sometimes is that she thought that her using her words caused this man to die. So she became a mute and didn't speak to anyone for you. And her life continued to unfold full of tremendous challenges.
Alex Banayan: She faced tremendous domestic abuse. She faced teenage pregnancies. She lots and lots and lots of challenges, you know, face race them at every corner. But what's so amazing about Maya Angelou. To me, it's not the darkness she endured. It's how she turned that darkness into light. That's how she channeled her experiences [00:28:00] into works of art and transform them into ways of healing for millions of people.
Alex Banayan: And one of the things I asked her is if and everyone in their own ways goes through those cloudy times, I know I've been through it. You know, my dad got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed a year later. I've had people, I love go through bouts of abuse and have to get out. And I was asking her almost selfishly, when you're stuck in the storm, when you're stuck with the clouds, what do you do?
Alex Banayan: And she said, I want you to write. She literally, and she has a beautiful way of talking. She goes, young, man. I want you to write this down on your note pad right now. And I said, yeah, of course. And I said, what do I do? And she said, I want you to write this down. This is a line I once heard from a countryside.
Alex Banayan: And I think it answers your question perfectly. And I said, of course, and she goes, write this down. Every storm runs out of rain. [00:29:00] Every storm runs out of rain and he'd just have to get to work. And what's so powerful about Maya Angelo. Is that because she has, Anne had endured so much. She had this ability to help me get some perspective that yeah, hard things happen, but they're impermanent, but you've got and get to work.
Alex Banayan: And one of my other favorite things she said, um, so I interviewed her the year before she passed away. And one of my final questions for her was, you know, what's your final advice for the next generation? And she said, Get yourself out of the box. Try to understand that to how is M works for some people, give it a shot, read Cesar Chavez, read Martin Luther king, read Nelson Mandela, [00:30:00] read, you know, not everything will work for you, but try it out and see what does work.
Alex Banayan: There's all this wisdom out in the. And if we stay holed up in our little boxes, we'll never see all of the wisdom and all the riches the world has to offer. And then she said this beautiful final line. She said, life is short, no matter how long you live. Get to work.
Hala: That's so beautiful. You must feel so crazy that you've interviewed so many of these powerful people.
Hala: Like that's all, you've got a pretty impressive track record in terms of who you interviewed. I'm very lucky when you're talking. It seems like bill gates was really like your, your big goal, you know, your big audacious goal. As we were doing this interview, you kept mentioning like, oh, like, you know, I was waiting for bill gates or I finally got bill gates.
Hala: So why was bill gates? It's such a big deal to you. I mean, you interviewed lots of other huge people. And what did you learn from him? Was it, was it everything you hope for? Because they always say like, you know, don't meet your heroes in [00:31:00] person, visit everything you hoped for, you know, you built it up quite a bit.
Hala: And what did you learn?
Alex Banayan: Uh, you know, I think about that line a lot that don't meet your heroes. Um, it cuts both ways. I've met my heroes and been disappointed. I've met my heroes in been shocked that they're even better than I could've imagined. You know, with bill gates, the way this whole book got started, the way you even made this list was it's a product of just being this young, naive kid.
Alex Banayan: And I sort of said, all right, when I make my list of people who I want to interview, I knew what I didn't believe in. And I knew I didn't believe in things like that. You know, a Forbes algorithm of success I need. That was not what I subscribed. So I did what I do whenever I'm in trouble. I call my best friends for help.
Alex Banayan: And I called my best friends. And one night we all gathered up in my dorm room and I said, guys, if we can make our dream university, who would be our professors and that's how the list came to be. And then [00:32:00] it became easy. Okay. For business. Bill gates for finance Warren buffet for poetry, Maya Angelo, for science, Jane Goodall for Latin American studies pit bull.
Alex Banayan: Like, you know, we're just these goofy kids, but that's really how the journey got started. And it was really by making that list that it sort of became this treasure map for the third door. And, you know what? I met bill gates, I learned tremendous things. I learned his negotiating secrets. I learned a lot about his strategy of how he was able to, especially at an early age, talk about anyone who was young and profiting.
Alex Banayan: It was bill gates and his twenties and the strategy that he used. And I sort of might take away from that. From my interview with bill gates is, you know, the guy knew what he was doing, because even if he didn't go into software, if he had a hot dog stand, he would have had the biggest hot dog stand empire in America, just because he really understood the mechanics of not only how to grow and work hard, but how to really strategize and think [00:33:00] very long-term.
Alex Banayan: But yeah, no, it's, I think when you spend two years fantasizing over anything, it never leads up to your fantasy. And some of the interviews that I wasn't even fantasizing about at all were the ones that changed my life in a major.
Hala: So I would love to. Talk about some of the stories that really resonated with me that I think my listeners will like, so Pitbull, he told you to always stay an intern.
Hala: Can you talk to us about that
Alex Banayan: one? Yeah. I love that. He talked about someone who, you know, of course I was very excited, but who just blew me away with their authenticity and their wisdom was pit bull. Again, it sort of doesn't match the persona at times you watch a concert or a music video of him and it's, you know, popping bottles on a private jet.
Alex Banayan: Um, but you sit down with him and the guy is. He's just sharp. He's so wise. So sharp and his backstory isn't talked [00:34:00] about much. Well, most people don't know about pit bull is that he was born literally with cocaine in his blood. His mom was high when he was born. And what people also don't know is that pit bull went to literally eight different high schools over the course of three years.
Alex Banayan: Because they had to move around so often and people do know a little that he was a drug dealer in high school. And what's so funny about the interview with pit bull. This is not in the book, but I think you'll appreciate this pit bulls PR person said no, talking about drug dealing. I was like, great, no problem.
Alex Banayan: You have my word. I will not ask a single question. And he's like, great. And I'm very like in integrity, in moments like that, you know, if they're granted me that access, I'm very grateful. But for reasons I may never understand about halfway through the interview, it was going so well that people just started opening up on his own and talking about all of the struggles he went through as a kid.
Alex Banayan: And in hindsight, I think I know why he was trying to [00:35:00] explain to me how his life was. This constantly, almost like a video game, trying to get to the next level in high school, he was trying to survive and just make it out alive from the drug world. Then he was. Barely make it into the music world. Then he was trying to make money in the music room.
Alex Banayan: Then he was trying to be the biggest musician out of Miami. Then he wanted to be the biggest musician in the world. And his life was like this video and constantly leveling up. And he was telling me story after story, after story. And at the end, at the end, he finally sat back in his chair when he was done, telling me about all the different levels that he's worked on in his life.
Alex Banayan: And he just sort of sat back. We were sitting on a balcony in Miami overlooking this. And there was just a silence and it was at the point of my journey where I was starting to become a better interview. And I learned to sometimes just let the silence sit and I didn't say anything. And the silence just lasted for about a minute.
Alex Banayan: And [00:36:00] then he started just talking on his own. And he said, you know, a few weeks ago I was with Carlos slim Jr. Who, you know, as you know was one of the richest people on earth, the richest person in Mexico. And he goes, you know, I was with Carlos. I told him, you know, I want to be your intern. I'll get donuts for you.
Alex Banayan: I'll get a coffee. I just want to sit around and shadow you and see how you operate. And at first you hear something like that and you think he must be exaggerating or, you know, joking. But I looked in his eyes and I said, this is probably the most serious thing. He said the whole interview. And I was looking at him and I was realizing here's a person who can perform a Madison square garden.
Alex Banayan: And he's talking about how he genuinely has a deep desire to be an intern for. At this stage in his life and Pitbull kept explaining, he goes, look, I can walk around a music label, like a king, but at night, what people don't know is I'm walking around the offices of apple and Google taking notes. And what I learned from Pitbull is that the best executives, [00:37:00] the best entrepreneurs are constantly leveling up.
Alex Banayan: Do it because they are never satisfied with being an executive. They constantly want to stay in intern. And if you want to be the move faucet, if you want to be the king of the pride land, you have to be Simba as well. You have to hold both at the same time, because the moment you're comfortable being at the top is the moment you begin to fall.
Alex Banayan: And for pit bull, it wasn't just about a strategy of success. It was who he. And by staying an intern in all areas of his life, it's what allowed him to continue to level up. So the key to growth is to constantly go back to the bottom.
Hala: Oh, my gosh, I resonate with this so much. That is such a great lesson for everyone to have heard.
Hala: So there's one more secret to success that I want to uncover. This one actually comes from one of your mentors, Elliot biz now, and he taught you to bite off more than you can chew. Now, this is very counterintuitive. Usually [00:38:00] it's, don't bite off more than you can choose. So tell us about that one.
Alex Banayan: So one of the things I learned from that.
Alex Banayan: And sometimes the best lessons are the ones that you're never explicitly sad. They're the ones you just learn. What I learned from Elliot is that, and it's true for all of us. We're all more capable than we give ourselves credit for. And I, and I truly mean that from all my years of studying success, all my years of meeting readers of the third door, people are more capable than they give themselves credit.
Alex Banayan: And this idea of bite off more than you can chew. You'll figure out how to chew later is essentially giving yourself the credit you deserve, which that you'll figure it out. You might not have the ability to. But you can grow, you can learn, you can try for new things. And by the way, he didn't say bite off more than you can chew.
Alex Banayan: It's so easy and fun. No, he said you'll figure it out later. And the [00:39:00] reality is, is it's hard. It's painful, it's uncomfortable. You want to cry, but what's interesting. And this is a big thing I want to share with everyone. Is that in the world of fitness, I think, you know, if we pulled 10 random people on the street and said, Hey, if you can only live.
Alex Banayan: 50 pounds on the bench press. And you want it to lift 150 pounds by the end of the year, how would you do it? Nine out of 10 people will know the answer. Well, you go 50 pounds, 55, 60, 65. Oh, you, you know, tore your muscle. Now you go back down to 55 and you work your way up slowly until you get there. But in the world of business and the world of entrepreneurship, you ask someone, well, your business is this size and you want it to be this as how'd you do it.
Alex Banayan: Not in 10 people have no idea. To even say, and the truth is it works exactly the same way. All of these skills that we need an entrepreneurship, whether it's sales strategy, [00:40:00] pitching storytelling, business development are all learnable. Except when you go to the gym, it's much more obvious what to do and entrepreneurship.
Alex Banayan: It can be a bit more true. But the truth is it's all learnable. You can learn to be a better storyteller. You can learn to be better at sales. You can learn to be a better marketer. Now what people think is they either got it or they don't got it and they try it. They don't have it the first time and they give up.
Alex Banayan: But what Elliott's advice was bite off more than you can chew. He's like all the other things you'll figure out on your own. And I think that's one of the best piece of advice. So
Hala: let's stick on this concept of mentorship. Uh, you are a mentor. I know you do some mentorship groups and things like that.
Hala: You have a couple mentors, I think Cal Fussman is another one of your mentors. So how do you go about finding and selecting a mentor?
Alex Banayan: Yeah. I didn't do much [00:41:00] selecting. I was very much like a beggar taken, whatever I, you know, I think the thing about mentorship is, you know, the reality is I asked, I wanted hundreds of people to be my mentors.
Alex Banayan: You know, when I was 19, I want to Tim Ferriss to take me under his wing and spend every day him, you know, people have different constraints in their life. You know, Tim is really busy. He's got a lot going on. He already does a lot to give out all of his knowledge out to the world. The reason it worked with Elliot Biznow is because at the time, no one really knew him.
Alex Banayan: Um, with Cal Fussman essentially the same thing. No one had heard of him outside of, you know, the, the writing world. And I'll, I'll share a piece of advice. Someone once gave me and his name is will McDonough. And at the time I met him, he was a vice-president at Goldman Sachs. And I asked, well, essentially what makes a mentor want to spend time with a mentee?
Alex Banayan: And he said from his experience, it's one of three reasons. [00:42:00] Number one, the mentor sees a part of themselves in the mentee. Number two, the mentor wants to make the mentee a bit more like them sort of pull them. And their direction. Number three, which I think is the most interesting one is the mentor sees something in the mentee that they want to cultivate in their lives.
Alex Banayan: So they want to spend time with that young person. And that one didn't make any sense to me because in my mind, or what the hell can any of these successful people want from a young person. But now that I've seen so many stories unfold, the truth is you would be surprised at an executive in their sixties or something.
Alex Banayan: Is missing something in their life and what they're missing a lot of times is that sense of possibility. That sense of hope. That sense of there's always a way that sense of a dreamer because they had that too in the [00:43:00] beginning. And sometimes it's even more practical. I remember when I was spending time with Larry King and his friends.
Alex Banayan: I was like showing them how to use an iPad. I was like showing them what Snapchat is. So sometimes it was even as practical as literally teaching them things that they were curious about, but the best mentor relationships have all three, the mentor sees a part of themselves in you. The mentor wants to teach you things to pull you in their direction, but also the mentor wants you to rub off on them.
Alex Banayan: And I think the third thing. I didn't understand at the time, but that actually is in your control of it. You can choose to be a positive person. You can choose to be kind and nice and a dreamer and excited about life. You can't really choose that the mentor sees themselves in you, or if they, but you can choose how you show up in the world.
Alex Banayan: And even if a ho you talk to a hundred different mentors [00:44:00] and 95 of them think you're an idiot and don't want. The five who do will change your life. And that's all you need.
Hala: This is really, really good stuff. So Alex, you spent the pandemic giving free coaching away. Basically you were doing mentorship programs.
Hala: What did you see? Like why did you see there was a need for that? What was happening, where you felt like you needed to kind of open that channel for people and what were people feeling and, and what is your advice to people who are feeling similar that may not have been involved in your mentorship program?
Alex Banayan: Yeah for me, I didn't see it at the time as coaching or mentorship. I saw it as you know, when I had started writing the third door almost 12 years ago. Now, um, the book came out a few years ago, but it's essentially been this like 10 year labor of love. The original intention was I wanted to go on this mission and, you know, gather all this, you know, knowledge and tools and put it in a book to help people who are [00:45:00] struggling just like me.
Alex Banayan: And while people have read the book who are executives at Merrill Lynch and MasterCard and Nike and Disney in my heart, it was always that young scrappy person who has a big dream. That was my original intention for the book. And when the pandemic hit originally back in 2018, I couldn't have expected that essentially my inbox became flooded with all of these readers who I had met over book tours and book signings and things like that.
Alex Banayan: Really struggling, losing jobs, having family members who are sick, sometimes being stuck at home with abusive parents. And I didn't really know what to do cause I, a part of me loved these people, but a part of me, I had no idea how to help people. I barely knew. And thankfully, a mentor of mine by the name of coffee has been said, why don't you just, you know, With people publicly one hour a day on zoom and just answer their questions about what they're [00:46:00] dealing with.
Alex Banayan: And I said, that is such a stupid idea like that does not scale that doesn't why, who would even want that as I thought that was a worst idea. I said, do you know what would be a good idea? Why don't I just take some time and write everything I've learned over the years into a second book and then share it with them then and counselor?
Alex Banayan: Well, it took me seven years to write your first book. I don't think your second book will get there in time. He's like, why didn't you just meet people where they are? So I decided to just, you know, I just posted on Twitter and on Instagram and I said, look, one hour, a day, I'll be here in this sume room, sharing the lessons I learned over this 10 years of research, whoever wants to come by all means come no pressure.
Alex Banayan: And you know, it was a pandemic. People were losing their jobs. I said, this is completely free. There's no course there's no nothing. It's just. I'm here to help how I can, if I can. And what ended up happening was a miracle [00:47:00] people from all over the world came together. We had people from Nigeria and India and Japan, and, you know, single mothers from Colorado and college students from Florida, you know, there was a person in Nebraska on their tractors zooming in, you know, there's all these different people.
Alex Banayan: Um, and what's amazing is. The people who showed up with the people who were betting on themselves. And a lot of times it was people who couldn't afford, you know, a fancy course from a self-help author. It was people who needed help, but wanted to help themselves. And it was a big honor for me to hold that space for them and what was supposed to be just for a couple of weeks, we ended up doing it for over a year and a half.
Alex Banayan: And while I ended up. After a year and a half, so I could focus on my next book and my next projects, I'm still in contact with them. I'm still on the phone with them. They're just these remarkable people. And I love them [00:48:00] dearly and they helped me more than I could've possibly had.
Hala: Yeah, it's a two way mentee mentor relationship that you were talking about just earlier.
Hala: So what is your best pieces of advice? As we wrap up the interview to everybody out there who may be struggling still it's two years after COVID, a lot of people have found their feet. A lot of people are going through like a crisis where they have no idea what they want to do with. And they're quitting their jobs.
Hala: It's a great resignation, as you are definitely familiar with. So what's your advice to people who feel like stuck. Like they they're, they might want to quit their job or they just quit their job and they have no idea what to do next.
Alex Banayan: You know, I have different tools that if people want a practical answer, one thing I have is a thing called the 30 day clarity challenge.
Alex Banayan: So if that's something, you know, you can just type that into Google with my name. I'll put in the show notes. Awesome. Amazing. Yeah. You're much more advanced than I am at this. Um, but if I had to share a final thought, no, that [00:49:00] success and failure are not opposites. I think I personally can get so caught up in, oh, am I succeeding?
Alex Banayan: Or my family and my succeeding or my family, but the biggest thing I've learned from 12 years of studying success. Is that success and failure are not opposites. They're different sides of the same coin. They're both are resolved at the same thing. They're both resolved of trying. So the opposite of success isn't failure.
Alex Banayan: The opposite of success is not trying. And if I have one wish for everyone listening to that, you unattach yourself from success and you unattach yourself from failure. And he said, commit yourself to trying and growing because that's what will change your life for. Awesome.
Hala: So we're going to close out the interview with a couple of questions that I ask all my guests, and then we do a couple fun things at the end of the year with them.
Hala: The first one is what is one piece of actionable advice that our listeners can do today to become more profiting
Alex Banayan: tomorrow. Look yourself in the mirror every morning and say, I love you. [00:50:00] Ooh.
Hala: And what is your secret to profiting in life?
Alex Banayan: No, exactly what you're trying to do and why you're trying to do.
Alex Banayan: Because if you're chasing a salary or if you're chasing a certain amount of money in your bank account, I'm going to tell you a secret when you get to that, the goalpost is going to keep moving. So if you're not very clear about what you want and why you want. You're in for a life of chasing that does not satisfy you.
Hala: And where can our listeners learn more about you and everything that you do?
Alex Banayan: Uh, the third door is available wherever people like to buy books. So whether it's Amazon or Barnes noble, or if you like audio, it's on audible. And I narrate the audio book. And if you end up getting the book because of this podcast, you know, let me know on Instagram or Twitter, it's just at Alex.
Hala: Amazing. So I'll stick your link for your book in the show notes. And what about your next book? Can you tease that out a little bit? I'm working
Alex Banayan: on it right now. Slowly, yet. It's in the same [00:51:00] genre, but it takes it a little different approach.
Hala: Awesome. Well, we can't wait to have you back for that one, Alex.
Hala: Thank you so much for
Alex Banayan: your time. Thank you. This was such a joy.
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