Booksellers love Tim Sanders. Chief solutions officer at Yahoo! and the guy who helped bring Victoria's Secret noisily to the Web back in 1999, Sanders personifies the successful post-boom high tech business person. A boyish 40, Sanders' cel phone is an appendage, he actually says things like "I believe that, in business, sacrificial love is uncool" and he leaks the brand of Silicon Valley sincerity that is becoming the badge of success. Tim Sanders is at least part of the reason why.
His first book is deliberately slender. Sanders felt the 214-page Love is the Killer App would be a "much more powerful book if it could be read on a plane between two cities instead of taking weeks and weeks of one's time."
He's probably right. The message he imparts in Love is the Killer App doesn't demand a great deal of reiteration. In a very tight nutshell, Sanders advises the would-be successful business person to become a lovecat or, as Sanders spells it out, a "business person who is known as sharing and a promoter of business growth."
And how do you become a lovecat? It's easy: in part, you read. And read. Then read some more. And you read not only for yourself, but for other people. In fact, Sanders asserts that an early survey of Love is the Killer App's readers reported an anticipated book spending jump of 800 to 3000 per cent. This because Sanders evangelizes not just reading a little bit, but purchasing books by the armload. And not just any old books, either: but big ol' hardcover business titles.
"I think the thing that will change in the reader's heart," says Sanders, "hopefully, is that they realize that the quality information in the world and the real knowledge in the world exists in the pages of books, not magazines, newspapers or Web sites. And, fundamentally, that the diet for a business person -- or an intelligent person -- should be 80 per cent books and 20 per cent others. And that if they fix their diet they understand cause and effect in a more profound way."
Sanders practices what he preaches. While we chat, he occasionally stops to read me something he thinks appropriate to the moment. He peppers his conversation with things he's read along the way. And, he says, he reads constantly: in planes, cabs, while waiting for meetings. He listens to audiobooks while he drives and a visit to a bookstore will often result in him purchasing five or eight books -- a double armload -- for him to devour in his next stolen moments. "I think that books help people exercise their mind. When you read you think. It's almost the only peace I ever get in my life."
All of this comes packaged with an almost overwhelming -- and entirely winning -- enthusiasm. Think an earnest Dana Carvey crossed on the Mike Myers character Austin Powers. He even occasionally says, "Yeah, baby!" and it doesn't sound silly coming out of his head.
I caught Sanders on the second-to-last date of what he had dubbed his "Winter of Love" tour. After nearly six weeks of daily interviews and book signings, Sanders was as charged and glowing with his message as a new author on their first day out.
Tim Sanders lives in Northern California with his wife, Jacqueline, and their 16-year-old son.
Linda Richards: Define the term lovecat.
Tim Sanders: A lovecat is a business person who is known as sharing and a promoter of business growth. You know that person is a maven. They always seem to have great information for you. They always seem to recommend the finest books ... at the right time. They're a ferocious networker. They always seem to put you together with people. They don't expect anything, you wonder how they make money. They're incredibly compassionate. They're very warm and feely and they always manage to have kind words for you. They always manage to find the power of very small people. And they're very gregarious. Yet they're shrewd, they're great business people and they're generally paid retail. I've met many of these people. Mr. Stanley Marcus [Neiman Marcus] was an example of a lovecat. That guy got paid retail. He always told me: Tim, if you add enough value, you get retail. Discounts are for people who don't add value. If you don't add value in this world, you compete on price. He said: If you're willing to take the time to be knowledge added and network enabled, you can get retail.
My book really isn't about succumbing to the enemy or not competing because I say in the book that bizlove is the sensible sharing of intangibles to promote other people's growth. And I talk about the social contract, meaning that, believe you me, I'm at Yahoo! and I take no quarter from companies [that] are in our way. Because I love Yahoo! You don't have to love everybody. I believe that, in business, sacrificial love is uncool. Your social contract, first and foremost, is the company that puts food on your family's table to make sure that they survive and they thrive. It's a competitive world. You should not do evil, dishonest, predatory or anticompetitive things, but you should fight the good fight. The people you should love are your colleagues, your customers and your enablers -- that would be your suppliers and your partners.
What I dislike is scarcity mentality. That's business people that say: You've got a good idea. For God's sake, don't tell anybody. Right? Or: For me to be successful, you have to suck. For me to be good, you have to be bad. Alvin Toffler when he wrote Third Wave, said: This is the conflict of the 21st century, between the second wave generation and the third wave generation. It comes down to people that believe in scarcity, people that believe in abundance. That's what all conflict in business will be defined as. And it will become sharper, he said, with an economic or a social calamity. It will become even more defined, because people will galvanize themselves. And people who believe in abundance will throw down materialism.
Booksellers must love you.
They really do. We're finishing a study right now. We have 580 people that we gave advance reading copies to. And all they had to do to get a free copy of the book was fill out a little survey. It said: Here's how many books I read. Here's the type of books I read. Here's the kind of gifts I give. Here's how many books I give as gifts. And then when they finished reading they turned back the survey -- and we have about 250 of them in so far. When they'd filled it out after reading Love Is The Killer App: How many books do you anticipate you're going to read next year? How many books do you anticipate you'll give as gifts next year? And the numbers are amazing. Basically the jump is around 800 per cent, volume on purchase. And the jump on gifting, going from zero, is anywhere from 1500 to 3000 per cent. Meaning that they say: I bought two books last year. Two fiction books, paperback. And then they read Love Is The Killer App and they fill out the survey and say: I anticipate I'll buy about 18 to 24 hardbacks, business and psychology this year. And I anticipate that I'll probably this time around on holiday replace the box of chocolates with a handpicked book. And it was consistent: I have yet to see a survey that did not show a significant jump in readership. We're trying to get enough people in the survey so that it's meaningful. But I met with Amazon.com yesterday and they're going to look at their data ... [they] can see the before and after shots of individual customers before and after they purchased the book. If they supply us with that data we'll have a pretty meaningful understanding if this really is the gateway drug to reading, which was my intention.
Did you have any goals in mind when you set about writing this book?
There were a lot of takeaways I wanted from the book. The difficult stuff was convincing people to be more judicious about their networking or to be more reckless about their compassion. But I feel like those are really tough things. Those are things that you really just affirm the punchdrinkers in. Meaning that they already do it and then they read the book and go: Oh, I'm going to do it more. But I think the thing that will change in the reader's heart, hopefully, is that they realize that the quality information in the world and the real knowledge in the world exists in the pages of books, not magazines, newspapers or Web sites. And, fundamentally, that the diet for a business person -- or an intelligent person -- should be 80 per cent books and 20 per cent others. And that if they fix their diet they understand cause and effect in a more profound way.
And that in itself will be a big change for some people.
They have to change their lifestyle, right? It's sort of like the person that doesn't work out. And then the person has a heart attack. They profoundly change their time distributions on everything that they do and they still get business done. I've never heard somebody say: Oh, he lost his job because when he had the heart attack and [was] working out a bunch he couldn't finish his work. No. The answer was he did better at his job because he was healthier and more focused. Same thing goes for readers.
But what's the heart attack?
I don't think you have to have one in this respect. I think it's an a-ha moment: it's a moment of serendipity. Samuel Johnson said that the person that doesn't read doesn't have an advantage over those that can't. So the aliterate is no better off than the illiterate and I think people realize that. And they realize that the reason companies like Yahoo! and Dell and Microsoft always hired MBAs, fundamentally, was they still had good study habits. And so instead of reading a newsbite and heading off into battle they would read the context of business. They would read voraciously. They'd read NetGain and Net Worth and New Rules For the New Economy and The Death of Firm, which is a classic work. And Ayn Rand and all these things because they just came out of college and they're used to that. And a person with 10 years business experience reads FT and thinks they know something and they don't.
Who was your target market with this book? Who do you see reading it?
Lovecats. Other lovecats. I mean the target market are people that believe in their heart of hearts in a world of abundance and [who] like to share. Many of them haven't been affirmed. Many of them have done it secretly and are somewhat ashamed. I didn't know [that] when I wrote it. I mean, when I wrote the book I wrote it for young people who didn't feel like anybody spoke to them in a business context.
One of the things that inspired me was, I was at a bookstore one day -- an independent bookstore I would add, quite proudly -- and I was there doing my typical gig, because that's what I do with my spare time: I read. All the time. On planes, at home by the bed, I listen to audiobooks on the way to work, so I'm always shopping for the next stuff.
So I was in a bookstore, in the business section for about an hour. And this kid was there: he couldn't have been 23 or 24 years old. Maybe even younger than that. And he looked like a cross between, like, Greg Brady and Tom Cruise. Curly head, nice teeth. And he was there, tipping books ... and reading some flaps. After an hour I had about seven or eight books: I'd picked all the books I was going to read for other people's benefit over the next two weeks as I went on holiday. He didn't pick a single book out. And this bookstore had a little music thing up front, so when he was getting ready to walk out the door he stopped and he picked up a CD. So he got in line to check out right next to me with his CD and me with my books. And so I was like: Yo, Greg, didn't you find a book? You were there almost an hour, like me. He looked at me and he goes: I don't want my dad in my ear. He goes: They're all like 50. They're all consultants it's just a business card that weighs a pound. He goes: Those guys don't speak to me, they've got nothing to say to me. And I said: I don't know. What about Tom Peters or even Dale Carnegie. And he goes: Dale Carnegie is dead. Tom Peters is old. He yells all the time, he spits. And he said: Nobody writes books for business people like me. They write magazine articles: I read Fast Company, I read Business 2.0. But nobody actually writes a book for a guy like me.
And that really excited me. When we produced the book I wanted a crazy book with a crazy cover. I don't want it to look like a Crown business book. I wanted it to be something that vectored to young people.
So I originally thought I was targeting the book to young people. Then the Fast Company article comes out and the e-mails start pouring in, and they're not from the kids. [Who] they're from is business people like me in their 40s and 50s who are trying to redefine the meaning of their business life. And they've been searching for answers for years and I think what they were really searching for is affirmation. So I got 3000 e-mails already from that article. I have them in blocks. And I have a block of 1400 e-mails that all say the same thing: You have put into words what I live, please don't quote me though because I'm known as being a ruthless person and it's important to our image. [Laughs]
What I realized is that an author is just a voice for other people. That's why author should be spelled with a little 'A' and why I'll never stand on a platform to give a speech. I always walk amongst the people because I understand what an author really is.
When I was working on the book I almost didn't finish it because it was really hard. I'd been bullied into writing the book by Tom Peters and my agent: You've gotta write a book! And I'm like: I've got a job to do at Yahoo!, we're struggling. But they're, like: No. You talk about this stuff at every conference but you're only hitting 20 or 30 people at a time. You need a platform to do something meaningful with your life.
So I was doing it and I was exhausted. It was like a deposition on steroids for me. In the middle of it all I was flying between cities and I [said to my wife]: You know sweetie, I don't know if [I'm] going to do this because this is crazy, it's hard, the Yahoos need me. And I said: I don't think people really care about books. And I'm writing a book about reading books and I feel sometimes like I'm talking on deaf ears because look at all the other stuff that people could be doing with their time. I mean, I'm competing with DVDs. So then I bought this little itty, bitty book by Kurt Vonnegut and Lee Stringer. It was a conversation between the two of them at a bookstore. It's called Like Shaking Hands With God. It's just a little 40 page tome and it's a conversation they had at a bookstore in New York City about writing. And "like shaking hands with God" is a phrase that Lee Stringer uses about what it's like to be a writer. He says it's like shaking hands with God. And Kurt Vonnegut said that being a good writer is like being a good first date: If you make people comfortable immediately and you take advantage of them. It's great stuff!
But the quote that Vonnegut said that is taken from Timequake that got me motivated to finish the book -- it seemed like he spoke to me -- he said: I live in a world of hundred million dollar motion pictures and multibillion dollar theme parks and I've come to believe that people just don't care about books. Books are boring. People don't read books. And he goes: And I wonder why a guy like me even bothers to write books. He says: But I tell you, I've figured it out. The reason a writer writes books is to let the reader know that there's somebody else out there that believes the same things and has the same dreams.
And when I read that I knew that it was really important that I finish the book because I knew in my heart of hearts that there were a lot of other people out there that I would affirm. What was difficult about writing the book was I thought I was going to convert people. From guru to Aaron, it's very important to leave the Moses thing behind you as a writer and take Aaron's shield up and be more humble about the whole thing and realize where your place really is. I mean, that's not to say that there aren't writers who invent things and create things out of thin air, but I believe the vast majority of writers simply speak to readers and confirm their thoughts and tell stories that resonate with them.
And even when they are making things up out of thin air, that can be the case, as well.
Right! Fiction is great storytelling for purpose as opposed to direct banter, as I call it. And I've found that, even on my author tour, I no longer speak, I tell stories. I tell about four or five stories that are real. Some that are in the book, some that came after the book. And that is much more valuable than talking at people: You should do this and then you should do that and this is my proof and blah blah blah. It's really about telling stories and having people say: I live that. I do that. It's like a good comedian does the same thing. The funniest comedian tells something that happened to you on the way to the place.
In Love Is The Killer App you talk a little bit about your days as a musician in Dallas. Your show business background is, no doubt, coming in handy these days. Or maybe it always has.
It has come in handy. But, you know, that cloth that I was cut from is real similar to one of my role models. And the story I always tell about this guy is he published a book two years into the Great Depression and everybody thought he was nuts. And he was stating the obvious during a time when everybody should have been conservative. But, just like me, he was raised on a farm by his grandmother. He wanted to play football, just like I did, to meet girls. But he was little and scrawny, just like I was, and had asthma, so he couldn't do it. So instead he was on the speech and debate team which doesn't solve that problem. [Laughs] At all. But he got a passion for that: he was a champion at that when he was in high school.
When he got out of high school he tried to be an actor, entertainer. I wanted to be a musician. Struggled with that through his career. He finally said: I know how to teach public speaking. So he went to the YMCA and started a training program. And ... that was my first job: training executives how to speak. And I've always thought a lot about him and what he said.
Who was it?
Dale Carnegie. I didn't know this until after I published a book. Because I never read his book until we published. I knew about his work and then the editors would not let me read it when we were involved. They were, like: My God, you can't read this book. With a [sub]title like How to Win Business and Influence Friends. So I'd never read his book until after we'd turned in the final manuscript. Then I got his biography and I was, like: Oh my God. And he used to always wear dark shades whenever he did photos because he wanted to stand out and all sorts of weird little things. And there was a saying I used to have, that I read in a book. It wasn't exactly the same thing. I used to say: two and two and two. Meaning that, focus on two people to help them and you'll save two years. It was always what I said to people. I probably got this because I heard the quote when I was younger. But when I read How to Win Friends and he says: You will accomplish more in two months by developing a sincere interest in two people than you will ever accomplish in two years trying to get two people interested in you. It was like: That's my philosophy of life, taking an interest in other people. It was just very uncanny. And I've worked a bit with the Carnegie folks and they think it's really cool, they think it's really exciting and I totally want to help them.
But he didn't preach sincerity. He said: Handle people. And I'm trying to add just a little bit to that, with care. Because my gig is really not about handling people. It's not just a bunch of tricks: how to get people to like you. I'm not into that. It doesn't last. I'm really talking about tricks to help you get to like people because, if you do that, good things happen. But you really have to mean it. When you say you love somebody, you'd better be serious about it because you're playing with a personal relationship: you're playing with their head.
Are you working on another book yet? Or a sequel?
Not yet. I'm going to go back to Yahoo! and we're going to fight the battle and we're going to prevail. I already know what the next book is, but I'm not doing any work on it yet. I know what comes after this and it has nothing to do with this one. It's a little bit different.
Do you read fiction, as well? Because you talk a lot about non-fiction.
I read fiction to vary things up. I mean, I read a lot for the benefit of customers and colleagues. I had a delta of several years [when] I didn't read, so I had a lot of catching up to do. I've read a lot of fiction. When I was reading a lot several years ago, I was just reading a lot of stuff. I read a lot of true crime. I read a lot of Anne Rice. Good stuff. It was pure entertainment. In other words, it goes right there into the category of watching movies, walking in the park: things I do to escape from it all. But the idea of reading for the benefit of other people's lives? That's a little bit different. I still read fiction in the mix because, obviously, great stories have morals and they teach you things about life that you do not know.
And you need some candy.
You need some candy, but I also think you need to connect the dots. A guy like me, sequentially I go, I'm going to read Circle of Innovation by Tom Peters and then I'm going to read The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and then I'm going to read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and collectively I'm going to be a better manager and do it all. Because you will learn in progressive, little steps. But if you say: No, I'm going to read Circle of Innovation and The One Minute Manager and Who Moved My Cheese and Good to Great then you kind of corner yourself into a single dimension viewpoint. You really don't understand everything you need to know. So yeah, I really do believe in variety. As a matter of fact, the next book I'm going to read is Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight because I think that reading about the power of disappointment is very interesting and I think it will help me understand shattered dreams and why people behave the way they do when they're adults and that will make me a better manager. I like a lot of books. Even some that are pooh-poohed as being a non-book.
Love Is The Killer App is a brisk read. It's quite short.
We cut 140,000 words out of it. It was that big [he indicates a thick manuscript with his hands]. And unreadable. As you can tell already from this interview, I over explain myself, because I like to talk. [Laughs] And so I wrote most of the book to a tape recorder so it goes on and on and on.
One of the things we realized when it looked like this [again, the thick book is indicated] is that it's such a simple argument that it's a book best read in one sitting. That it would be a much more powerful book if it could be read on a plane between two cities instead of taking weeks and weeks of one's time. We should save that for the works or prosaic masters. [Save it] for Atlas Shrugged, for example. That book needs to be 800 pages. You couldn't do that book in 200 pages. But you can do this book in 200 pages. I wanted to retain my voice. I wanted to retain my clarity. So we went through it and the publisher was fabulous: they let me do it. I literally got to do everything I wanted before we went to print, even on the galleys. It's exactly how I wanted it.
And they made you explain some stuff you might not normally have explained.
Yeah. And I'm glad they did that. We fought on some issues. Like the title: Love Is The Killer App. They go: Do you really want to answer what a killer app is? And I said: Sure. Without it, it's not a provocative title.
And if you wanted to reach the people you were aiming for...
Absolutely. And then they said: Bizlove? Z. You end all these words with "Z." You're driving me nuts! And: Lovecat! Is there another way... Jim Collins calls them: Level five leaders. I said: Whatever. Different strokes for different folks. I'm nothing like Jim Collins, although I love him as a writer. He's fabulous. I'm nothing like him. I said: I'm a kid that was raised on New Wave music and my heroes are people like Robert Smith and songs like "The Love Cats" that start out with the phrase: We move like cagey tigers, yet no two can get closer than this. The song spoke to me about the balance between compassion and shrewdness. That it can be done. And that cagey tigers are actually lovecats. And then I thought about [people like] Anita [The Body Shop] Roddick and I said: They're lovecats! It just hit me one day. And, not to sound like Dr. Phil McGraw, but, people kept telling me: What do you have to say about people that say it's a dog eat dog world? And I thought: [An effortless shrug] Choose to be a cat.
I grew up my whole life with a big bad ass German shepherd in the backyard and a little itty bitty Siamese cat. And I watched the dog chase that cat through my childhood and [the dog] never caught the cat. I watched that cat screw with that dog's mind through my childhood. The dog ended up afraid of that little itty bitty cat. And the dog disliked the cat profoundly because the dog was always in the backyard on a chain and the cat was always walking the fence. And so I thought: Dog eat dog is for losers. It's a choice people make: it's easier to be discompassionate and ruthless and greedy, because you can be very consistent in that behavior, and when you're inconsistent, you're charming.
I always think about how we've told stories, whether it's Scrooge or The Grinch, that when they have that moment of weakness and they do something nice, we all just go: Oh, how sweet. But you show me a person who stands for something good that makes one mistake and I'll show you a community of people that shake their finger and say: What a fake! It's very, very interesting.
I don't do this every day. I wrote a book about a person I'd like to be. I do it as much as I can. But, we're human. I find myself being told: You're not being a lovecat today -- Or apologizing: Sorry I'm not being a lovecat today -- a couple times a week. Maybe more if I'm having a bad time. Because you can't be perfect and then it's really difficult to swallow the criticism you get from people because they expect you to be perfect.
Where does it lead, Tim? What's the next wave?
I think that some business people are saying: Am I going to be happy with myself when I retire? And money can't buy that for me. I talked to a couple of people who are retired in Boca Raton and they joke that the canasta tables in Boca Raton, Florida are filled with pathological liars who invent past lives out of shame. They say: Oh, I don't want to admit that I sold timeshare for a living and took advantage of young married couples on their honeymoons, so what I'm going to say instead is that I was an innkeeper in British Columbia and ran a bed and breakfast. They just make up these unbelievable lies because they are so ashamed of how they got there. That is very interesting to me and I hope that, when I'm in that situation -- playing canasta in Boca Raton -- I can proudly say: Oh, I worked at Yahoo! and I did this stuff and [people] will say: I love that company.
Doing what you love is so important. And, if you don't love what you're doing, it comes through in your work and your business relationships.
Well, and I think what you also realize is that the customers that you touch and the people that work with you are your field of merit. They're your opportunity in life to shine besides being a good parent or a good family person. I don't understand how many more opportunities there really are. I do not believe that I can just give to charity, materially, and let that substitute for being a good person. | March 2002
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.