I hope your Tuesday is going well. Welcome back to another episode of Ask Ash, where I interview WatchMojo Founder & CEO Ashkan Karbasfrooshan and ask him questions about various topics, ranging from career advice to students & entrepreneurs, to covering what is going on in the news.
Today I wanted to discuss motivation. Motivation is something that since the pandemic, it’s seemed to affect everyone that I know. Because we have been inside for so long, it’s hard to motivate ourselves to do lots of things that we used to do before the pandemic. I wanted to get Ash’s thoughts on how he creates motivation for his team, and how he motivated his team before WatchMojo became a profitable business.
How do you create motivation for you and your team?
When you work with bankers, accountants, salespeople… it’s easy: they want money, power, fame, etc. With young graduates who study communications, film, English, etc., it’s not as easy to motivate because you are working with a profile of an individual who didn’t even envision having a traditional 9-to-5 job. For that reason: I always ask people what they want to get out of their experience at WatchMojo. I did this with you, I’m pretty sure I’ve done it with everyone else.
A lot of leaders in business – founders in particular – view loyalty and motivation in an unreasonable and unrealistic way. When you hear a CEO say “we’re in the same boat,” it’s nonsense. We may all be in it together, but employees don’t all row in the same direction, let alone at the same pace. But mainly, as a founder, you have to be realistic and have the intellectual honesty to realize that the others are not just not gonna feel the same way about the boat, let alone rowing at the same pace or same direction… so you have to find a way to align people. You need to get inside of people’s heads in a healthy way, put yourself in their shoes and understand what fuels them. Some are driven, ambitious… but most people are still trying to find their way and find ways that help the organization and allow them to grow and develop within it. And sometimes, it doesn’t work out… and that is OK.
I want people to live their best life, fulfill the best version of themselves, and ideally, that is within WatchMojo, but if not, then that is OK too. If people leave the company, I’m sincerely happy for them because and actually hope that they go on to do great things, the same way that when I left AskMen I went on and recruited a team to build WatchMojo which in many ways was a far bigger success story. I use that as a lesson: I tried to build that within the old organization, but they weren’t interested… so you want to create an environment where people bring their best ideas and put their best foot forward inside of your organization.
I used to think everyone had ambition and drive as I did, but I just manifested it more. But I’ve learned that most people don’t really have that same drive and that’s fine. The key as a leader is to determine what people are good at, how they fit in a puzzle, and then bring those ingredients together to help the organization and develop the individual.
Is there a quote that motivates you?
My favourite all-time quote is President Calvin Coolidge on persistence and determination:
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
Michael Jordan’s quote about success and failure:
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.”
Wayne Gretzky is well known for that adage about skating to where the puck is headed, but my favorite quote of his actually echoes Michael Jordan’s quote:
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
As a founder, you will always have critics and doubters, which takes me to Teddy Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic/Man in the Arena” speech.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Steve Jobs had many gems, namely about dogma:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Of course, when you are ambitious and driven, you have a target on your back… so this is a realistic one I always liked:
“The tallest blade of grass is the first to be cut by the scythe.”
But last but not least:
“They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”
How did you push through during the times where WatchMojo did not break even?
Well, on the one hand, I don’t think I had a choice because I was in the trenches and if I would’ve given up, I would’ve been just buried in debt for the rest of my life. I literally had to persevere to succeed…
Second, it’s true that entrepreneurs are generally driven as much to prove others wrong, as they are in proving themselves right.
When I was younger and earlier in my career, I would never state this so starkly, but I’ve had so many people put sticks in my wheels that you just develop the strength and conviction to persevere… and frankly, very few people are interested in seeing other people succeed. That is one of the reasons I try to help others because I can count on my hand the number of people who helped me in my career…
Recently when my alma mater included me in a list of alumni, I stated candidly that that experience was bitter-sweet, and representative of life.
But fundamentally I talk about perspective and privilege and will never complain, but want people to be realistic about the setbacks you will face in life.