The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Todd McFarlane, Iconic Comic Book Artist — Lessons from Stan Lee, How to Make Art That Outlives You, How to Compete with Corporate Giants and Win (While Having Fun), Dealmaking Strategies, War Stories from Wall Street and Lawyer Land, Taking Responsibility for Your Life, and Why Creators Need to Smash Limits (#643)

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Todd McFarlane (@Todd_McFarlane), an Emmy- and Grammy-winning director/producer and creator of one of the world’s best-selling comic books, Spawn. He is best known to many comic book fans for his work as the artist on The Amazing Spider-Man, for which he co-created Marvel’s top villain, Venom.

Todd is the CEO of Todd McFarlane Productions, McFarlane Toys (one of the US’s top action-figure manufacturers), and McFarlane Films. He is also a co-founder of Image Comics, which debuted Spawn in 1992, selling 1.7 million copies of the first issue. In 1997, Spawn was made into an Emmy Award-winning animated series on HBO and a live-action feature film that grossed over $100 million. In 2019, Todd made history with Spawn #301, earning the Guinness World Record for longest-running creator-owned superhero comic book series.

Transcripts may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the video on YouTube here.

#643: Todd McFarlane, Iconic Comic Book Artist — Lessons from Stan Lee, How to Make Art that Outlives You, How to Compete with Corporate Giants and Win (While Having Fun), Dealmaking Strategies, War Stories from Wall Street and Lawyer Land, Taking Responsibility for Your Life, and Why Creators Need to Smash Limits


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Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. My guest today is Todd McFarlane. Todd is an Emmy- and Grammy-winning director, producer, and creator of one of the world’s best-selling comic books, Spawn. He is best known to many comic book fans for his work as the artist on The Amazing Spider-Man, for which he co-created Marvel’s top villain, Venom. 

Todd is the CEO of Todd McFarlane Productions, McFarlane Toys, one of the US’s top action figure manufacturers, and McFarlane Films. He is also a co-founder of Image Comics, which debuted Spawn in 1992, selling 1.7 million copies of the first issue. In 1997, Spawn was made into an Emmy award-winning animated series on HBO and a live-action feature film that grossed more than $100 million. In 2019, Todd made history with Spawn #301, earning the Guinness World Record for the longest-running creator-owned superhero comic book series. You can find him online, Instagram @toddmcfarlane, Twitter @Todd_McFarlane, and Facebook, liketoddmcfarlane. Todd, it is nice to see you again.

Todd McFarlane: Yeah, thanks for having me back, Tim. Appreciate it.

Tim Ferriss: And I wanted to close the Marvel chapter, and I’ll just explain for folks who are hearing this episode first. We recorded a first episode, which laid a lot of the groundwork, your background, established your personality, which I’m sure will come through in this episode as well, and early days in comics, many of the key decisions, negotiations, your magical capacity, with your camel bladder, to inflict negotiating superiority on your adversaries, and many other things. And I thought we would put a pin in the Marvel chapter by talking about Stan Lee. And perhaps you could just explain who Stan Lee is and how you first developed a relationship with him.

Todd McFarlane: Probably most people who’ve been paying attention to movies already know who Stan is, but Stan is sort of the grandfather of being one of the co-creators of all these superhero characters that we all know by name. Right? So if we go back, when Marvel first began in the early ’60s, he was a writer, and he helped create characters like The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Hulk, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and the X-Men, and on and on and on and on. To put it in perspective really, when he passed away a few years back, to me — and I think a lot of people sort of said the same thing — you put him in the same category as somebody like Walt Disney, in terms of the global impact that his characters had. Not necessarily him as a person, but that his characters had.

Stan was a comic book guy for a lot of years and then eventually moved out to California in the ’70s and, odd as it is, really sort of became a big-time celebrity when the movies came around. And he started making cameos in the Marvel movies. And he started that when he was 85. So most people don’t begin a new career when they’re 85. Stan did, and he did it.

So my quick sort of meeting with him, first time I meet him, I’m about 16, 17 years old, a Canadian kid in Florida, going to a baseball camp. And I happened to stay overnight, before we’re going to catch a plane, go back home, in a Holiday Inn. And there was a sign that said down the hall there was a comic book convention. I go down the hall, and Stan Lee — again, he’s not the famous celebrity at this point. We’re talking now about the mid ’70s. And Stan Lee was there. And to me, he was like The Pope because anybody who’s ever read any Marvel comic books, at the top of every Marvel comic books at that time said, “Stan Lee Presents.” He was in every book, “Stan Lee Presents,” every comic book I got. So I’m like, “Wow, there’s Stan Lee, the guy who presents every Marvel comic book.”

And I walked up to him. I wanted to break into comics. And I asked him, “Hey, Mr. Lee, is it okay if I ask you a couple questions?” And without hesitation, he pulled a chair right next to him, and he said, “Sit down, son. Ask me what you want.” And he let me sit next to him for about five hours, peppering him with questions. Now, again, he didn’t have a big, giant lineup because like I said, he hadn’t hit his celebrity status that would come decades later. But just that he just said, “Here, sit next to me. You got questions?” And so when I went home to Canada, that was one of the moments where I went, “Yeah, I’m going to really drive and do this.”

My next encounter with him, now, fast forward, I actually do break into comics. I climbed the rank-and-file that you and I talked about in our first interview. I even get to do Spider-Man, which is sort of the corporate icon of Marvel Comics. That puts me on the map, and I set sales records with those books. And then a bunch of us quit, and we start Image Comics. And I end up doing a series of videos with Stan in 1992, ’93 and sort of rekindling a professional relationship.

Tim Ferriss: Todd, I’m sorry to interrupt. What were those videos that you did with Stan? What was the content or the intention of those videos that you did with Stan around ’92, ’93?

Todd McFarlane: Most of them are up on YouTube. They were just Stan and I sitting there, and he did it with a couple of my other, fellow artists. And you just sat at a table, and you talked art, or you drew, and you were talking through your drawing like, “How do you create characters?”

Tim Ferriss: Cool.

Todd McFarlane: “Why does that guy look like that?” Right? And it was just sort of almost a how-do-you-do-it sort of videos that were there.

Tim Ferriss: Did he not view that as competitive, since you guys had split off to be Image at that point? 

Todd McFarlane: No, because Stan was very entrepreneurial himself. He was almost an ambassador for Marvel at this point and doing his own stuff. So the interviews and the videotapes were sort of under an umbrella that was part of his own camp.

Tim Ferriss: Ah, I see. Got it.

Todd McFarlane: I think they were giving him a salary to be a good steward, going around, but he wasn’t writing any books at that point.

Tim Ferriss: Got it. Yeah, he was like the professor emeritus of Marvel.

Todd McFarlane: That’s exactly what he was. And let me also say, he was very, very generous in terms of encouraging us, even though he knew that our books were going to be in direct competition with Marvel. Because again, he was a creative guy. And having been around Stan as much as I have been, his superpower to me, besides he created all these characters that none of us will ever come close to — I mean, I’ve got Spawn. He’s got like a hundred Spawns. 

And I saw it over and over and over, in all the times I was with him, within 20 seconds. When you have a big lineup, and people are coming for autographs, you literally have 20 seconds with each individual. And he would make people feel important, special, and unique in that 20 seconds. And then he would reset for the next person. And he would do it all over again for thousands of people. Right? They felt like that was the best 20 seconds of Stan’s day, even though he was giving it to every single person.

And I saw this when I was 16, when I was sitting with him for the first time. But I just kept becoming more and more aware of this is how you treat the public because the public, without them, without the fans, we have no careers. We are basically self-indulging in our basements. Right? You can have ideas, but if nobody is consuming them — I go to shows, and people go, “Todd, why do you say thank you to me? We should be thanking you.” It’s like, “You give me money. Every product you buy, you give me money. You put food on my family’s table. If you get something out of me, cool. But I must thank you, too, because I have a career because of your existence.”

Which is why it’s odd, Tim, that I’ve run into enough celebrities, whether it’s sports, music, movies, TV, whatever it is, and some are a little off-put by their fans.

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm.

Todd McFarlane: They are the reason we exist. And part of it was looking at people like Stan Lee, I’ve never been put off by people wanting to ask questions or whatever else. And I’ve had reporters ask me, especially during the whole before comic books were sort of a cool, hip thing, “Todd, what’s the dumbest question people ask? Is it like Trekkie conventions?” Here’s the answer. “There is no dumb question. You know why? Because whoever is asking it, it’s important to them. And if it’s important to them, it’s important for me to answer it. So even if the question may seem silly to you — because they want to know who would win, The Hulk or Thor, in a fight — it’s important to that individual. So I’m going to give them as good an answer as I can, and I’m not going to look down my nose at them like you are.”

Anyway Stan is involved in a cameo when the first Iron Man movie comes out, and the studio, Paramount, says, “Hey, we’re going to give Stan his own movie premiere.” And they did it in Vegas. Somebody phones me up and says, “Hey, Todd, can you come and be the MC of that thing? There’s going to be a dinner” or whatever else. And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sure.” So I come. I get up there. I say all the gracious and true things about Stan Lee that I believe. And everything goes cool. And at the end, Stan comes up to me and says, “Hey, thanks. Thanks, young man. That was quite wonderful.” Now, I’m like, “Oh, thanks, appreciate you having me, Stan.”

The next day, and here’s where it happens, the next day is I’m walking around the Vegas hotel, and I see Stan, and he goes, “Todd. Todd, hold us up. Hold up. Hold up.” And he comes running over, and he goes, “Oh, my God. You were wonderful last night. You were amazing last night.” And I went, “No, no, no, you said that. You said that to me, Stan.” And he goes, “No, I didn’t. I can’t hear anymore. I didn’t hear a damn thing you said last night. But what they do is that they record it, and then I go to my room, and then I can actually put on the headphones, and then I heard it. It was wonderful.” Right? He had just figured out how to be in public with bad hearing and pull it off.

So after he hears me, I guess being kind and a little charismatic, he says, “Todd, I go to conventions almost every weekend. Travel with me, and come with me around the country, and you and I, let’s team up.” Now, gracious offer. “Stan, I’ve got a day job.” Right? “So I can’t. I mean, I understand, Batman. You would like me to be your Robin, and it’s very, very complimentary, but I’ve got to do it.” But I said, “When I can, I will.” So I did. From that point on, I did. I’ve probably been up on stage with Stan more than any human being on the planet.

We had this little shtick, and part of it was at the beginning because, literally, Tim, he could not hear. He could not hear. So what he needed was somebody who could hear and then turn and slightly give him the question or frame it in a way that made sense for a comic book guy, where a lot of times, moderators didn’t know the comic book sort of lingo. We just sort of had this weird kabuki dance we were doing so that he could hear. Now, it came to a crescendo one time, where we were in San Diego, and he was up on stage. I mean, it was a big room, with probably 5,000 people in. And they put up the big giant screen so the people at the very back can at least look at the video.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Todd McFarlane: Right? The video screen. And Stan was in the middle. And I usually sit next to him, but I go, “No. Stan, this is your gig. I’m going to be over here on the podium, just talking.” We start doing our thing. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And next thing you know, I’m talking. and I’m sort of not paying attention because I’m looking at the audience, and then I turn, and Stan is literally six inches on my flank. And then I look up at the screen, because the screen wasn’t mobile. The camera was fixed. The stage was empty because he had scooted so far over. So I look at him, under my breath, go, “Stan, you’re offscreen. You’re not on TV. All the people in the back…” But he’s going, “Todd, I can’t hear a damn thing.”

Let me tell you, eventually he got a hearing aid, and all of a sudden, the heavens opened up, and he was like, “Oh, my God, Todd, I should have done this years ago.” Even once he got the hearing aid, we still did our shtick, doing it. And there’s a photo that, to me, is one of the dearest photos that I have in my collection, outside of my family. We were in Phoenix, which is where I live. And we were doing our thing. It was a little, small convention here, and we were up on stage. This is post his wife passing away. That mattered in his life, because, I mean, I was there. I got to bring him up on stage when he got his Hollywood Walk of Fame star and at the Chinese Mann Theater. Right? I was sort of like his guy to bring him up on stage. So I was there for a couple important moments of him.

And I’d gone up on stage with him so many times. He had so much energy. And as we walked up the stairs at that one at Phoenix, he turned to me and said, “Todd, you do most of the talking. I don’t want be here.” It was the first time ever that I didn’t hear enthusiasm out of that man. Right? And I mean, he was already old. And I saw it, when he arrived, that he looked as old as I ever saw him. Anyways, we did our interview.

I always used to take these selfies. I got all these cool pictures of me and him taking selfies because he never understood what a selfie was. So he’s always, right, jammed — his face jammed into the lens. So I got these cool, awesome photos. In the green room before we went up, he used to take a nap because he was in his 90s. He used to pace himself. So I’ve got all these cool pictures of me making faces around him while he’s napping. Right? So I’m going to put a whole book out. It’s going to be Nap Time With Stan. I’m going to publish someday. But he walked up there, and when he said those words, it was a dagger in my heart. And we did our interview. We took the selfie. We walked offstage, and that was the last time he was ever on stage. And he shortly passed away. Right? And I kicked myself because you have a couple regrets. That was one, that I wish we knew that was going to be the last time that he was going to be on a stage in his lifetime because we would’ve sent him off with a better applause than we did that day.

Anyways, like I said, I was fortunate. Even after he stopped going to shows, I was one of the few people that was allowed to be in his house because there was infighting amongst some fiefdoms around him, like I said, once his wife went away. But the last time I went and saw him, I go, “Hey, Stan, how you doing, bud?” And he said, “Todd, I can’t see. I can’t hear. I can’t go to shows. And Joanie,” which is his wife, “and Joanie’s not here. I just want to be with Joanie.” Right? His two things was he had the love of his life, his wife, almost married 70 years, those two people, 70 years. And when she left, you can imagine, he lost his soulmate. And then the only thing he had left was the conventions. And once his hearing and his eyesight went completely, couldn’t go to that. Both the things that were sort of important to him left, and he sort of broke down at the end.

Here’s the thing. We’re talking about a guy who, up to the age of 93, was doing cartwheels up on stage. We never allowed him to be old.

Tim Ferriss: Do you mean literally doing cartwheels? No, you just mean energetically.

Todd McFarlane: No, no. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’m saying 93, he got up there. You throw him a question, and he just went. At 93 — 

Tim Ferriss: 93.

Todd McFarlane: — he was at the top — 

Tim Ferriss: It’s incredible.

Todd McFarlane: — of his game. 94. He passed away at 95. he was still at the top of his game onstage. And part of it was, he was so immortal to us that we never acknowledged that he was in his 90s. We just thought he was like some 50-year-old guy with a lot of energy. Eventually, time came, and he had to leave us.

Tim Ferriss: Todd, you spent so much time with Stan, and you observed so many things, picked up on so many things, firsthand and then as an observer. For instance, the energy that he could summon, the focus that he could summon to be with each person for 20 seconds and then reset, which is really a skill and a talent — 

Todd McFarlane: It is.

Tim Ferriss: — and very taxing. So that is extremely impressive, in and of itself. Are there any other lessons or learnings that you took from Stan or things that still come up that lead you to sort of reminisce about sort of the University of Stan, as it were, spending time with him?

Todd McFarlane: I’ll comment on two things. Number one, the Stan that was onstage was the same man offstage. It wasn’t a put-on. Right? It wasn’t a put-on. I mean, I’ve got recording. He used to let me record him. And he’d be in the taxi and pick me up at the airport, and the whole drive from the airport to the hotel, he’d be like, “Why is Todd here? I don’t like it when the good-looking guys are here.” And he would just do this whole thing, where he was just jabbing me the whole drive, because we did a lot of it up on stage. So again, it wasn’t put on.

But I remember. And here’s the last thing I’ll say. I remember dozens of times of him being in the green room as we’re getting ready to go up on stage or something, and he would turn to me, And it would just be him and I. And he would go, “Todd, isn’t this wonderful? Isn’t this great? I’m having a great time this weekend.” He goes, “Who would’ve thought, guys like you and I — we’re nobodies, and look at this. We’re having the best…” And so what I’m saying is that the reason he was able to summon that energy is because he was getting as much out of the audience as they were getting out of him. It was chicken noodle for his soul when he went to the shows, which is why when his wife was sick, Joanie, she said, “Don’t stop going to the shows. Even after I’m gone, don’t. You need it.” Right?

To his credit, he did. He kept going. Yeah, he liked being there. And so it wasn’t a put-on. Like I said, I’ve been around a lot of celebrities, and I think, in all honesty, Tim, of all the celebrities I’ve been around — obviously, I haven’t climbed the mountain of a lot of others. But of all the celebrities I’ve been around, and all the time I spent, if I was to pick one person to write the book How to Interact With Your Fans, by far, Stan Lee’s the guy who would do the “how to do it.”

Tim Ferriss: Amazing. Stan. I mean, I remember, as a collector, seeing the masthead as a little kid, right, and then even into my early teens.

Todd McFarlane: The “Stan Lee Presents” masthead.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, of course. Yes.

Todd McFarlane: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: Stan Lee. Correct me if I’m getting this wrong, but the voice that you actually impersonated really well, for people who don’t know, would come on some of the early cartoon adaptations.

Todd McFarlane: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: And his voice would come on, and I would see that every morning, eating my cereal, getting ready to go to school. So Stan Lee, for me, also had this iconic, Pope-like importance as a little kid in a childhood experience where that doesn’t really exist. It’s like, “Who is this mythic Stan Lee?”

Todd McFarlane: I’ll tell you another little silly story. We’re in the trailer — again, the equivalent of green room — waiting to go up on stage. And I was sitting with Stan, and they were talking about him doing his cameos. He’d done three or four cameos in a row. And I went, “Oh, yeah.” And I don’t really go to the Marvel movie, so I don’t know. The next one coming up was Thor. The commercials were running. And I kept seeing the commercial. And he had short hair. Thor had short hair. And to me, I’m like, “What? Thor’s got long hair. That’s weird.”

And so anyways, I’m talking to Stan, we’re in the trailer, and I go, “Oh, you’ve got to do some more cameos. Oh, yeah. And the Thor, what did you do on the Thor one?” And he goes, “Let me think. I’m trying to remember. Oh, yeah, I think I was the barber.” And I went, “What?” He goes, “Yeah, I do this scene where I’m the barber.” And I go, “So what do you do?” He goes, “I cut Thor’s hair.” “Hold a sec. I’ve been seeing this commercial. He’s got short hair. You cut his hair?” And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I cut his hair. It’s this weird thing where I’ve got this big blade, and I’ve got bad eyesight, and they’re pinning him down.” And I’m going, “Oh, my gosh, that’s the coolest thing.”

And then I just went, “Oh, man, if we only had a pair of scissors, we could reenact that.” He goes, “I’ll get a pair of scissors, Todd.” And he actually went and found a pair of scissors, and then he literally reenacted — I videotaped it — where I’m Thor, and they’re holding me down, and he’s saying his lines, and he’s like going — he’s doing all of it. Like I said, we’re we’re about to go on stage, but he’s still just goofing around. Right?

Someday I’ll release it. That is arguably the best piece of video I have from Stan, because he was a very kind, polite, gentle man in terms of his language, if you will, when he was up on stage. And I have the one where I recorded, where he goes, “Todd, can I tell you something?” Again, out of the blue. “Can I tell you something?” “Yeah, Stan. You can say whatever you want.” “Do you know what the most flexible word is in the English dictionary, that has the most ways you can use it?” And I went, “No, Stan.” “Fuck.” And I went, “What?” I don’t even think I ever heard him even say “damn” up to this point. And I’d been around him a lot. And it sort of shocked me. Right? And I went, “Pardon?” “Yeah, Todd. Fuck.” And then he went on a dissertation of how you can use that word as a noun, a pronoun, an adjective, and gave examples of all them. It was like a school teacher sort of doing a classic masterclass in how to use a word more than once. It just happened to be that word. So maybe — 

Tim Ferriss: Wow.

Todd McFarlane: — someday that audio will come out.

Tim Ferriss: Well, it seems like, in maybe the appendices of the How to Interact With Your Fans book that he would author, you would have How to Enjoy Life and Not Complain as the supplemental materials. He seems like he was very good at enjoying life, pausing, not getting swept up in all the superficial nonsense, but stopping you and saying, “Isn’t this great? Let’s look at this for a second. Isn’t this amazing?” It seems like he was able to really harness his appreciation in a way that maybe fed him and allowed him to get to his mid-90s still doing the metaphoric cartwheels on stage. That’s something that comes across in the stories.

Todd McFarlane: I think Stan, he comes from the school of those of us who believe our 15 minutes of fame is just about over every day we wake up. We always — 

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Todd McFarlane: — think tomorrow is the day where they’re going to understand that we’re imposters and that there’s way more important people that are more skilled, that have more to say. And all of a sudden you go to your next show, and there’s another group of people, and you go, “Wow, I guess it’s going to last one more day.” Right? And you keep going. And you’re thankful for it. Right?

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm.

Todd McFarlane: Again, at some point, once you know that you’re fortunate, that’s okay. I mean at my end, I think there’s a little bit of Canadiana in it. I was born in Canada. I saw people like Steve Nash and Wayne Gretzky, my big personal hero, sort of act like gentlemen, even though they were superstars. And I think part of it is, and I’m maybe overstating it, but when you’re from Canada, you know that the big brother is America, and that’s where all of the big action is. And if you can get any attention, and you can even in infiltrate down there, you always are sort of looking over your flank, going, “Eventually you’re going to see that they can just pick one of their own. They don’t need us.” Right? And so you see that with a lot of comedians that come from Canada and actors come from Canada. Stan sort of had a little bit of Canada, Canadian, in him, where he was just like, “Enjoy it while you can. You don’t know if it’s going to be here tomorrow.” Like your health.

Tim Ferriss: It seems to me, or at least it seemed to me when I was younger, and even now in some respects, once a comic guy, always a comic guy. However, you have managed to branch out and infiltrate all of these different areas. And I don’t even know how to put them in order. So you’ve got McFarland Toys. Right? So let’s just generically lay it out. You’ve got toys, music, directing, TV, film. What is the order of how you entered those various things? So you’re forging new paths, setting records at Image. When did these things start to pop up, and in what order?

Todd McFarlane: In all honesty, Tim, they’re a bit scattered. So let’s see if we can go through them real fast. Right? Let’s just talk first about how the toys come to be, real quickly. Okay? We start Image Comics. We talked about that in the last show. Image Comics, the third largest comic book company in North America. Marvel, DC and then Image Comics. If you ask who’s three, that’s us, for 30 years in a row. And because of that, when we came out in 1992, that was when we first came out, and Spawn came out in 1992. We’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of both those this year. Spawn went to the top of the charts, right, set sales records at top of the charts. And I’m not saying for independent comic books. I’m saying top of the charts for comic books. It was ahead of every Marvel and every DC comic book.

And so you can imagine, when you have something at the top of a chart, then people in other industries come around, and they start knocking on your door. And so people were coming and knocking on my door going, “Oh, my God, Spawn is at the top of the charts. You want to do pajamas and pillowcases and toothbrushes and all these…” what they call ancillary merchandising. And so all those phone calls were coming. Now, I gently said, “No, no, no, no, no. I understand you want to do pillowcases, but have you read a Spawn comic book?” It was like, “Well, no, but we see it’s number one.” “So, do you know he…”

Tim Ferriss: Wrong answer for Todd.

Todd McFarlane: Yeah. “Do you know he’s from the pit of Hell?” Right? And you can just see there’s a hesitation. Right? They’re going — so I go, “Why don’t you take a couple of the issues. This character’s from the pit of Hell. Go read a couple, and then decide whether you want to do pillowcases for kids that are five years old.” Right? Now, a bunch of them didn’t follow up with their phone calls after I sort of put their nose in the product. All they saw was that Spawn was ahead of Spider-Man and Batman and Superman, so it must be super awesome. Right? That was it. That was all their homework was at that point.

Here’s what I had in the back of my mind when we left Marvel Comic Books and we helped start Image Comics. I wanted to build a foundation because I feel that, metaphorically, if you can build a strong foundation, just like in the real world, you can put a skyscraper on a strong foundation. How do we know? Because they exist. Right? So the foundation to me was, could I do movies, TV, video games, and toys? Those were the four. Those were the four corner stuff.

Tim Ferriss: Could you just repeat those four?

Todd McFarlane: I mean, just for me. Just for me.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, for you.

Todd McFarlane: Right. My foundations were going to be video games, TV, movies, and toys because I felt that if you could get your brand into those four corners, then — and again, because I was playing in the comic book world — then I could branch out into these areas and plant some corners and get people to go, “Oh.” And it’s worked, because I know people who’ve since say, “I know Spawn from HBO,” not because they’ve read the comic or bought the toys. It was they saw it on HBO or wherever. I don’t really care.

Let me just tell you, Tim. I don’t really care. My attitude is building a business. You build a house. That’s your business, and you put as many doors on your house as possible, and you make sure they’re all unlocked all the time. I don’t care how they get into the house. I don’t care how they come to the party. It’s party central inside the house. Right? I don’t care if they go, “Todd, man, I saw you did that music video.” I don’t care. “Door’s open. Come on in, come on in, come on in.” I don’t care how you got here. I am not discriminating on a fan, because the bigger your army is, the collective whole, the better chance you have of then sending out your message for the next thing that you’re about to do, and it might work.

So those were the four pillars. And to go through them real quick, I made a deal with the video games. I made the deal with HBO, and we’ll get back to that, on the TV. New Line Cinema, we made the deal with the movie. And then we got to the toys. And all the Fortune 500, the public companies, came to my door, and they all gave their presentation. Some of them were pretty elaborate. They had prototypes and everything. At the end of it, I just go, “I don’t think they get it.”

What I heard was they’re going to do traditional toys and put them in traditional places and market them in traditional ways, which basically meant they were going to put Spawn next to Teletubbies and all their Disney product. And I thought it was a recipe for failure. And oh, by the way, if I gave it to them, and it failed, then when it didn’t work, which I thought it wouldn’t, they would hand me my brand back, and it would be tainted. How do I then pick up those pieces, when people go, “Ah, it failed last time, Todd. Why would we want now to dust it off and try it again?” So I never felt like I could get what I wanted. And so you have to then ask the next question. How hard is it to make my own choice? That’s it. Right? And sometimes it’s out of anger. I’ve started companies just because I got pissed off. It’s because people think that what they’re doing is way, way more complicated than it is. Let me tell you something right now, Tim. We’ve got the Image Comics and we do our own comic books. And you know what making comic books is at its core? Ink on paper, period, period, period, ink on paper. Toys are not that much different. It is plastic in a shape. And if you have the right mold, you can make a shape. How do I know? Anybody who’s kind of old that remembers this, when we were kids, remember you used to get these little trays and they’re in the shape of dinosaurs, and then you poured the jello into it, and you put it in the fridge, and then you flip it out, and all of a sudden your jello looked like dinosaurs. You know why? Because that was what the mold looks like.

So toys are plastic in jello molds, essentially. Little bit more details I’m leaving out. But essentially, that’s it. So when I asked the question, “How do you make toys? How do you make comics?” Let me tell you, the people in that industry, the people that are the leaders in that industry always want you to think that it’s way more complicated, always want you to think that it’s basically undoable, and will never, ever sidestep, no matter how good your idea is, to let you pass them. If anything, they will intentionally try and trip you as you’re passing them, and tell you it can’t be done, can’t do it, will hire people away from it. They’ll tell you everything, “Stop rocking the boat. Why don’t you just get along?” Everything that you can possibly imagine. Why? They don’t want competition.

So at some point you have to shut all that stuff down and go, “I don’t care if I sell five, I’m good enough.” And it was my money. Again, the whole thing, spend other people’s money, I disagree one hundred percent. Spend your own money. You know why? Because nobody gets to tell you what to do. If you want to go buy a car with polka dots on it, and it’s your money, do it, and drive it with a smile on your face. And if somebody doesn’t like it, tell them to buy their own damn car. But the moment you take somebody’s money, and they get to tell you whether they like the polka dots on the car or not. And so I just go, “No.” I spent my own cash when I started the companies, and I was fortunate because the comic books were paying royalties.

Let me just tell you, I wasn’t getting paid a lot per page. That’s not what made me, just so everybody knows, at the height of my career at Marvel, I was making $125 per page. That was the max they were paying me. It was the royalties, I was getting a percentage of the sales, and that was the magic of it. It’s what literally made us economically at Image Comics because we were getting four percent of the profits. And when we went and started our own company, guess what? We were getting 100 percent. Do the math, if you take a hundred, divide it by four, if we were selling 1/25th the amount of books that we were doing at Marvel, we would make the same money. And guess what, boys and girls? We sold the same, in some cases, more than we were selling at Marvel. So we were then all of a sudden instantly making 25 times more than we were overnight. And that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.

Tim Ferriss: And you could use that to bankroll the toy development, your piece of that?

Todd McFarlane: Correct. I wasn’t spending it, I wasn’t buying fancy cars, I wasn’t doing anything. I’m kind of a tight when you get right down to it. I was just putting it in a corner for rainy days, or when I was going to get angry, because I knew my personality. So we started the toy company, and we came out with the first toys. Action figures at that point were 5.99 and I priced mine at 6.99. And here is the thing, if you’re listening to my voice, all the big companies came to me and patted me on the back and went, “Little boy, you can’t sell a 6.99 toy. They’re 5.99.” Here’s the answer: of course you can. Here’s how you sell a 6.99 toy: you give them $6.99 of value, period.

Oh, I’ll even give you an upgrade. Give them 7.99 of value, and price it at 6.99. What they were thinking, because they were the big corporate guys, how do you sell a 5.99 toy for 6.99? I get that, you can’t sell that because people will understand you’re overpricing it. I’m saying build a Cadillac and sell it at Ford Motor prices, and you can sell that all day long, because people understand value and they can do it. Because I didn’t have any big brands. I didn’t have Superman and Batman or Star Wars. I had Spawn, and there was only one way I was going to be able to compete with those big names, just give them better quality, and give them more plastic. Again, never underestimate plastic. It’s like saying, “Do you want the 15-ounce bar of chocolate for a dollar or the 10-ounce bar of chocolate?” “I’ll take the 15.” What are you talking about? Always take the bigger bar. For a buck, take more chocolate. Come on, man.

So I was the guy who was just giving them more, and more, and more. 

Tim Ferriss: How did you learn about making toys, and figure out the process for making a quality product? How did you educate yourself on the bits and pieces, and steps, and right way to approach it?

Todd McFarlane: I did it slowly. No, when I finally hung up my last meeting with somebody wanting to take the rights of Spawn to make them toys, and I said, “No.” I knew a couple people, and I phoned somebody who was sort of entrepreneurial, and I said, “You know anybody that makes toys?” And they’re going, “Oh, yeah, I got a couple buddies.” And we got on the phone with them, and that was it. And they just went, “Yeah, I’ve been involved in making toys,” and that was it. You sculpt the toy out of clay, back then, you can do it digitally now, but back then it was out of clay. You make a mold of it, and you send it over to your factory, and most toys are manufactured in China, we found factories in China. And they cut a steel mold, and they go, “How many do you want?” And you’re off to the races.

So again, it’s more complicated than that, but at its core, it’s not really. If you’ve got art, you can make art in any shape you want. And so what helped me, Tim, more than anything else, and I’ve said this, I’ve never invented anything original. I’ve never done anything new. What I’ve done is taken everything that I’ve seen with my eyes and just made it sexier and cooler, period. That’s it. That’s the recipe. Everybody who’s out there is listening and wants to be an entrepreneur, stop putting the pressure on yourself to think you have to come up with something new and original. You do not. You just have to add three percent sexy to it, and you will now be the genius.

I’ll give you an example. 10, 12 years ago, there was a guy named Steve Jobs, you may have heard of him. And he went up on stage one day and he said, “Ladies and gentlemen,” I remember the day, there was a bunch of people, and he goes, “We are Apple,” because they were doing iPods, and he go, “We are going to come out with a phone.” And the people in the audience went, “Steve, little late to the game. Cell phones have been out for a while.” “No, but get this, ours can dial people.” “Already been done, Steve.” “And we text,” done, “And photos,” done, “Download stuff,” done, “Email,” done, done, done. There’s nothing you’re doing, Steve, that hasn’t been done.

And then the moment he said, “Yes, but when you text, ‘Hi, Mom,’ on their phone, you are touching a QWERTY with plastic buttons. And when you say, ‘Hi, Mom,’ on mine, you’re not touching plastic, you’re touching glass.” Boom, boom. It did the exact same thing as every other phone on the marketplace, except you touched glass. That was the genius. He gave them the sexy glass instead of plastic. Still have to put H-I-M-O-M, Hi, Mom. It’s still the exact same thing, he just figured out the three percent. If you can figure out the three percent on any idea, they’ll make you a genius.

So what’s the genius they’ve given me, Tim? “Oh, my gosh, Todd, we’ve done sports figures for decades. Oh, my gosh, I’ve won awards. Oh, my gosh, Todd, your toys are so detailed and so realistic. How do you do it?” You’re asking the wrong question. The question should be, “How did they not do it?” I’ll tell you how I do it, easy, we use this high tech, if you don’t understand the high tech, go to Google, it’s called a camera. And if you take a camera and you push the button, it gives you a photo. And if you take the photo, and you take your clay, and you do not stop manipulating the clay until it looks like the photo, then it looks exactly like it.

The question isn’t how did I make my toys look realistic? The question is, how did they not? Because the camera has been around for a hundred years, if not more, how did they not use the tool? And so I use photo reference, and I’m a genius. Let me tell you, Tim, another rule of life. If you want to be smart, act and hang around dumb people, because why does using photo reference get me awards? It shouldn’t. But God bless dumb — 

Tim Ferriss: And those are for the athletes, is that what you’re talking about? The photographs?

Todd McFarlane: Yeah, for the athletes. That was it. Look, we were making toys back then, it’s just manipulating clay. Clay will go into any position and pose and shape you want it to. I wasn’t doing anything original, I was just putting the clay in a different shape. They had clay too, and they’ve been making toys for 50 years. Why they chose not to put it in those shapes, I don’t know, go ask them. But some of it, Tim, became crystal clear to me as I broke into the business why they didn’t do it. Because if they did the detail that I did, they would then have to paint it. Ah, and here’s the magic, that every time you put paint on a toy, that’s a penny. “Oh, now we’ve got to paint that. Oh, a penny. Oh, a penny. Oh, a penny.”

And eventually they go, “That’s 7, 8, 10, 12 extra cents. We can’t do that. Why? Because we’re making tens of millions of toys times 12 cents.” It just becomes a number. They’re in the business to maximize shareholder profits every 90 days. Their job isn’t to be great artists, it’s to maximize margins and profits. So they go, “We need to make 10 million. How do we make the toy? We’ve got to manufacture it for 98 cents.”

I do the opposite, Tim. I go make the product as good as you can, price it afterwards. And if it’s of value, people will pay you the money. It’s why people will pay 10,000 for one car, and other people will give you 70,000 for another car. They believe there’s a value in that price. And at Toys”R”Us, they’re going, “You can’t have a toy at eight or nine bucks. People won’t give you eight or nine bucks for a toy,” back then. Of course they will, because they’re walking in another aisle giving you $200 for a PlayStation. If people think that there is value, they will give the money to you. Just make value, price it afterwards. But they don’t, and so they were making cheap, ugly toys. God bless them. I was able to come in and make mediocre toys and I look like a genius.

Tim Ferriss: So two things real quick on that. The first is, for people who don’t have a lot of exposure to toys, and there’s maybe a blur between toys and sculpture on some level, but I just came back from Japan where I went to a showroom where they have, in effect, toys, they don’t have many movable joints or anything like that, that sell for thousands of dollars. They cost as much as a car, and they’re video game characters that have been morphed into these beautiful three-dimensional, in effect, plastic sculptures. There’s always a market for high quality. 

Todd McFarlane: At a price! At a price. High quality at a price.

Tim Ferriss: At a price. How did you think about distribution? You didn’t want to be right next to the Teletubbies, so what did you do?

Todd McFarlane: No. Well, okay, here’s where beggars and choosers come. Look, I’ve said to people before, “If you’re going to have any amount of success in your life, one of the people you have to hang around with is that guy named dumb luck.” He has to come be a visitor every now and then. So I’m going to give you my dumb luck moment. In comic books, I hate to say it, my dumb luck moment was that an artist on a book literally died, and there was an opening.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I remember that.

Todd McFarlane: Okay, so he’s dead. Todd, not good for him, good for you. My big break in toys was — and do not do what I’m just about to say, because I don’t think this lightning is going to strike in the same place a couple times. I went to Toy Fair in New York City, comes once a year, and this is where everybody brings all their worldly goods.

At that time, this was back in 1994, Hasbro, let’s just take a big toy company, or Mattel, they had their own building, 10 stories high, filled with everything. And the buyers would go into that building, circle the floor one, go up the floor two, and go all the way up and down 10 floors. I, on my first Toy Fair, was in a building that only had five floors. I was on one floor, but on that floor there was 20 rooms. I was in one room, and that room was cut into 40 pieces. My space was five feet by five feet. Okay, now I’m at Toy Fair, and I’m in this little corner here, and even dumber than that, Tim, I don’t even have a prototype. This is how stupid I was, I didn’t even bring a prototype, we didn’t have time to get it done.

Tim Ferriss: Wait, so you bring — sorry, keep going. I don’t want to interrupt, but I’m just like, “What the Hell are you doing?”

Todd McFarlane: I’ll tell you what I brought, a drawing of Spawn on foamcore, and I cut it out and I put it in — so I go, “It’s going to look sort of like that drawing.” That was it, that was my sell, that was my whole speech. And, oh, by the way, I had made some Hot Wheel toys based on a funny car that I had bought, and I’d hand them the Hot Wheel. Okay, and now the moment. At this point, Toys”R”Us is number one toy buyer, not Walmart, and pretty soon Walmart’s going to crush them, probably within six months. But at that point, Toys”R”Us is the toy buying gods.

And then, we’re in this room with 40 of us, like a bad swap meet when I was a kid. And the door opens up, and everybody stands up and snaps like they’re in an army barracks and the sergeant has come in. And I’m like, “Huh, what’s that about?” Now, again, the room was so small that you had to come down a little bit of a walkway, and then bend, there was a jog, and I was around the jog. So I didn’t know, I just saw people stand up and present themselves in front of their beds. And it’s like, “Oh, okay.”

And so I go around the corner to see, and I go, “Who is that?” And they’re going, “Oh, my God, that’s the buyer from Toys”R”Us. And it was like The Pope had come into the room. And it was like, “Oh, my God.” So I was watching him come, and as he’s walking closer and closer, down towards where I was standing, if he walked by you, he wasn’t buying anything. So it was a really cool visual, I still have this moment, where it’s like as you walk by people, you could just see them collapse physically because it’s like, “Oh, shit, he’s not buying mine.”

And he’d keep walking by, and they’d go, “Oh, crap, oh, crap, oh, crap, oh, crap, oh, crap.” And then I went, “Oh, I guess I better go stand by my barrack, and my bed.” And so I stood in front of my little thing, and they come around the corner, and guess what? The Toys”R”Us buyer stopped at my place. Now, Tim, did this buyer care about Spawn? No. Did he even know who Spawn was? No. Did he know who I was? Of course he didn’t. So why did he stand there? This is the moment, he had an assistant, and the assistant looked like he was about 21 or 22. And then the magic words, “Hey, boss, this is the guy I was talking to you about.”

Now remember, at this point, Spawn the comic book is number one in the nation. So basically, this kid, I don’t even remember his name, I owe my career to this dude. And when he said, “This is a guy I’m talking to you about,” and all that Toys”R”Us buyer said, he just looked at it, and just went, “Let me ask you a question. Can you get it to me at this price?” “Yes, sir.” Did I know if I could, Tim? Of course I didn’t. Always say yes to any opportunity; figure out whether you can actually do it later. “Can you give me at that price?” “Of course I can.” “Can you deliver it on this date?” “Of course I can.” “Fine.” I didn’t know if I could, either. I didn’t even have factories at that point.

And so he goes, “If you can do that, I’ll put you in all my stores, I’ll go storewide.” And just so you guys know, if they take a sample, they don’t usually put you storewide. But he said, I don’t know who his assistant was, he must have been bending his ear, he goes, “I’ll put you storewide.” And I went, “Yes, sir.” So he left all of a sudden all the other people in the room came around me, because it was like, “Oh, my God,” like I just won the lotto. And then, this is why those moments matter, I couldn’t even get a meeting with Walmart, and Kmart, and Target and those people back then. And now, all of a sudden, I’m in Walmart’s room, and I get to now say, “Well, just to let you know, I’ve got this Spawn product, and it will be going storewide in Toys”R”Us.”

Now does Walmart know anything about me or Spawn? Of course they don’t. But what they don’t want to do is get beat by their competition. So they go, “Toys”R”Us going storewide?” “Yeah.” “Okay, we’ll take some.” And then, the dominoes. I go to Kmart, and Target, and all these other places, and then you just keep adding. “Well, Toys”R”Us and Walmart are on board,” and they’re like, “What are we missing?” And it just becomes this thing. The next thing you know, I’m in all these big stores, and I go, “Wow, without even having so much as a prototype.” It doesn’t usually work that way.

Now, once you get into the stores, you must now sell. Because people go, “Wow, Todd, you got your product selling at Walmart,” or whatever. Is that — 

Tim Ferriss: Hold on, we’re skipping a few steps. What was the hardest part of figuring out how the Hell to make that volume of toys? Because I’m just thinking about the upfront cost. Thinking about it from the standpoint of Toys”R”Us, they’re like, “Okay, great, we’ll give you net 90 terms. We have the ability to return all of them if they don’t sell,” it could just kill you financially, I would think. So how do you think — 

Todd McFarlane: No, they don’t return.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. All right, tell me more. Because if it was a Home Shopping Network or something, I don’t think this is absolutely accurate, but with some retailers, they have all these terms that can just crush you if it’s a lot of inventory.

Todd McFarlane: Yeah, I’ve been fortunate enough that both toys and comic books are, if you order, it’s yours. Okay, what you want to do on in the toy side is to make sure that they’re not overbuying. Both parties need to be realistic. And it’s one of the reasons I think, Tim, that I’ve survived as long as I have, because I’ve talked them down from orders. Which is actually the opposite of what they’re used to. Which I go, “I know you want 75,000 units of that. But you know what, why don’t we start you at 40? I’ll build some inventory, it’ll be on my nickel. And if you need more, then we’ll just supply you as you need. I think if you buy 75…”

Because here’s the math, just so everybody knows. You buy 75 ,and you sell 60, they’re going to go, “Ah, I got 15,000 in inventory, it’s not a success.” If you give them 40, and then they have to buy another 20, and they sell 60, they go, “Wow, we ordered 50 more than our original order.” You’re still at 60, but one, they’re disappointed, and one, they’re not. You’re still playing some weird mind games a little bit so that they feel good about whatever number was there.

And again, I’m not a public company, and I don’t have to maximize profits. My goal is, I’ve told all my employees, “Get me to zero every year, and we get to do it again for another year.” So as long as we’re money in, money out, sort of about the same, let’s keep doing it. I’m okay, I don’t need to impress anybody. My kids, I’ve already paid for their college, they’re off, the house is paid for, we’re good. My wife and I are good. We don’t need — 

Tim Ferriss: Is the paired directive just like, “Let’s make the best stuff we possibly can?” Because there’s probably a couple of paired principles, I would imagine, that go with that.

Todd McFarlane: That was it. The company came from one simple question, “Why can’t toys be cooler?” Again, I was looking at it from an artistic point of view. I wasn’t asking it from a business point of view. Again, you find out what that means when you ask that question. And so I go, “Why can’t they make cooler toys?” I found out, Tim, that the reason they weren’t making cooler toys is because, again, like I said, every time they did an extra joint, or an extra movement, or an extra paint job or something, it was pennies, and it just added up. And so I ran into this thing where I had my prototypes at Toy Fair, because I started actually making prototypes, and each year I would bring them. And we would sculpt at twice the size of the final product. Why? Because the bigger you sculpt it, the more detail you can put in it. And when you shrink it down, it holds the detail.

So I would bring these sculpts, and I’d bring them to the showrooms. And the buyers would go, “Yeah, Todd, they look really, really, really nice. I get it, but what’s the product going to look like? It’s never going to look like this.” And I went, “What are you talking about? It’s going to look exactly like this.” And they’re like, “Silly boy, that’s not how it works.” I found out, because I spied on Hasbro and Mattel and all the big guys, I was able to get into their showrooms, that they were doing this thing where they would bring these prototypes out that were awesome. Think of them as like the concept cars at an auto show, but you never will see those cool cars. They’re just there, they’re eye candy.

And I remember seeing this one toy that was super awesome. And I went, “Wow, that’s good.” And then I saw it months later, literally at the store, and it was blue plastic. Didn’t put even a drop of paint on it. So what I ended up having to do, because I was paying for the sins of these public companies, is that I then took my prototypes, and I showed from step 1 to step 10. And when the buyer got to step 10, guess what it was? It was the product, in package, manufactured. I go, “That’s the manufactured toy, that’s what it’s going to look like in your store.” And they couldn’t believe it, that it was like, “Whoa, that looks just like your prototype.” “Yes, that’s what I’ve been saying.”

Tim Ferriss: What’s the point of a prototype?

Todd McFarlane: Right, but everybody else had been using a prototype just to — 

Tim Ferriss: Was doing it the other way.

Todd McFarlane: — yeah, to sucker them in. So eventually, they got to the point that like, “Hey, if McFarlane shows you something, that’s actually what it’s going to look like.” And they started buying into that maybe there was a quality component to these products that were coming in. I didn’t have any big brands, so I had to beat them with pricing and quality, because how else am I going to survive next to Star Wars and Transformers and G.I. Joe and Marvel? I can’t. I have to just — 

Tim Ferriss: And what year is this, roughly, would you say?

Todd McFarlane: Well, we started the toy company in ’94, and so literally from the first time, we hit the ground running. And here’s the thing that’s interesting, Tim, is that if you look at the first two, three, four waves of toys I put out, they were winning awards. And people were going, “Oh, my God, Todd, look at you. You’ve upgraded the whole industry.” And if you look at those toys, compared to my standards today, they are laughable. And even yet, back then, just that upgrade put me on the map.

And here’s the other thing too, nobody else was doing what I was doing in terms of quality, in terms of the pricing that went with it, and then in terms of brand selection. So here’s the thing about big corporations. Their blessing and their curse is their size. They have more people, more money, more everything, they can squish you at every moment. But because of that giant, enormous size, they don’t move fast. And if you can just be quick and nimble with your business — I never once said, “I’m going to slay the giant.” That’s never the question, “Todd, how do you take down Hasbro?” No, you’re asking the question in reverse. Not how do I take down Hasbro and Mattel, they’re billion-dollar empires. The question is, how do billion-dollar empires not squish me? I am a gnat. How can they not kill me?

Why would Hasbro and Mattel, or any other public company, want me to have one foot of space in Walmart? That’s their territory, that’s their money. And so the question is, why can’t they kill me? And the answer is, because when you’re big, and you’re a giant, and you’re a sloth, and I’m a mosquito, and I’m biting you on your right arm. By the time you contemplate slapping that mosquito, you’re so slow with your movement, that by the time you slap your arm, I’m on the other side. They can’t move quick enough, Tim. And that’s their weakness. And the weakness in toys was they will never do anything outside their comfort zone. What does that mean? They’ll never make Freddy Krueger, they’ll never make The Terminator toy, they’ll never make The Matrix, they’ll never make, essentially, R-rated toys.

And I felt that there was a need, that you could sell toys to adults, you just have to put it in the right content. I can sell a toy to my mom, I just have to make it look like Tom Jones, and she’ll buy it, because she loves Tom Jones. So if you put it in the right brand, then there’s an audience that’s out there. And now we call it geekdom. And I was the only guy doing it, so everything I was doing was like, “Oh, my gosh.” There’s now dozens of people and companies that do what I do, so I’m not nearly as unique anymore. But back then, I was the trailblazer.

Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk about 1994. The reason I asked about that timing ties into where you were going a handful of minutes ago with respect to how do you sell these toys. How do you get the sell through once you get toys placed storewide in, say, a Toys”R”Us? And 1994 is relevant, because I was thinking, how would you have any direct fan outreach to live sales?

Todd McFarlane: Right, the internet, it doesn’t exist.

Tim Ferriss: Because now you have social, you have email, even email was really nascent in terms of mainstream adoption in 1994. So a couple of questions, and you can tackle them in any order. One is, how on Earth do you actually ensure these toys sell once you get them at retail? The second is related to the comment you made about so-and-so huge toy company owning real estate in a given retail store or chain. And I know that it’s fairly common at retail for people to pay for placement. They pay extra, they pay the retailer for end caps, they own the first, say, 20 feet of a store. I’m making up this example, but Coca-Cola, boom, they own the first 20-feet deep at A, B, and C retailers.

And you literally cannot invade that territory, it’s just not possible, it’s been paid for. This is true in publishing as well, with books and so on. There are all these, they might call them co-marketing fees, they might call them placement fees. There are all sorts of crazy incentives that make it hard for a smaller company to break in. So one is, how on Earth do you sell these toys when you have them placed at retail? But then, maybe the precursor to that is, how do you even get the placement? Maybe this doesn’t exist in toys, but do you have to pay those placement fees? In which case, how do you pay for it?

Todd McFarlane: There are iterations of what you’re talking about, but not quite what you’re saying. I think this is closer to what the reality is. The stores, let’s say they have a run of a hundred feet. Again, I’m in the boys toy action figure aisle, let’s call it aisle five. Aisle five is a hundred feet long. I think the buyers, for the most part, go, “I’m going to dedicate 85 percent of that to the big brands.” And we all know what they are, because we see foot upon foot upon foot of these brands. And they rotate them out depending on what the movies are, and what’s hot out in the zeitgeist. But they go, “Okay, 85 percent of that’s going to be given to the thing that’s going to be in every company’s…” I don’t care whether you’re Kmart, Walmart, Amazon, everybody’s going to have it.

Then there’s the 15 percent left. And the 15 percent is “Ah, this is just in case we’re missing something. Just to give us a little bit of diversity, just so that we can hedge our bet at the roulette table a little bit.” And that was the space that I needed to get into. I needed to figure out, could I rise and get into the sales that were worthy of that 15 percent? And so, to your first question, how did I get people to know and buy the Spawn toys at the beginning, I didn’t. In all honesty, the internet, and I know this seems foreign to people, was literally just in its infancy. And so that wasn’t the gameplay. The only play was value, quality, and put it together, and hopefully people would notice it.

Because the upside of making toys and action figures is the packaging is see through, so you actually get to see what you’re buying. There’s no fake photo, and then you take it home and you go, “Man, that didn’t look that good.” What you see is what you get. And I think that my toys just quickly passed the eye test to a lot of people. And again, remember, I was coming off setting records with Spider-Man, and then we quickly went to do the comic books with Spawn, so there was a big fan base that was there. And they went, “Oh, my gosh, Todd’s going to do some toys.” So they jumped on very quickly, and as you know, in any business, you’re only as good as your last set of sales. It doesn’t matter what you have today, they just look at the data of your last ones.

And so once the first series came out and did really well, and then the second one continued, because I got to put some characters in it, I don’t know, it just — and then the internet started to become a little bit relevant. And we were getting traffic even on our own website that was phenomenal. I was getting pulled into Hollywood, people going, “Todd, how are you getting that much traffic?” I mean big studio asking me how I was getting the traffic that they weren’t getting as a studio. So at some point, the geeks just find you, Tim. And I would like to say that I knew what I was doing all this time, and that somehow I’m a savant. It’s not true. You just try your darnedest, and sometimes that 30-foot shot banks into the bucket, and you score the three points and you go, “Wow.” I can’t say I can replicate it. But what you do is, once you have momentum, can you keep momentum? It’s like a good disc jockey, the good disc jockey keeps people on the floor dancing. The bad ones figure out how to put on a song that everybody walks off. I need to basically keep the momentum going and finding places. Here’s where I kept the momentum. We started selling places like Virgin Records and Tower records and KB Toys and Hot Topic and we were going to what I was said earlier, non-traditional places, and they were buying lots and lots of toys. You know why? Because I was making like crazy R-rated, at times gory, toys, and then all they cared about was the one magic sentence, “Walmart’s not buying this.” Boom, “We’ll take it.” Because now they don’t have to compete, because if you go into competition with the big boys, everybody has the same product, you’re just going to get into a pricing war.

And they want a product that the big boys didn’t have. And back then I could make anything up in my head, put it in the plastic, and I had hundreds and hundreds of thousands of sales waiting for these guys who didn’t want to compete with the big boys. Unfortunately, the world changes and Babbage’s and Virgin Records and KB, all these companies don’t even exist anymore. So there was a consolidation and some of the fun that we were having at the beginning is no longer sort of available to us.

Tim Ferriss: So momentum, you strike me as someone who’s a very good sort of creative and business DJ, to push the metaphor, which I like, you mentioned the four pillars, games, TV, movies, toys. It seems like toys came in one of the earlier chapters in terms of setting that pillar of the foundation. Where did, whether it’s music, TV, directing, any of those other elements, come into the picture?

Todd McFarlane: Okay, so I’m going to get to that. Let me just go back to toys and tell one more quick story — 

Tim Ferriss: Sure.

Todd McFarlane: — on the toy end. So there is another story that people to this day scratched their head on, and it was in 1998, Mark McGwire — if you’re a baseball fan — Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were going for the home run title. And at the end of the season Mark McGwire had hit 70 home runs, the prior record was 61 home runs by Roger Maris. Sammy Sosa hit 66 that year. Okay, why is that relevant? Because for a couple years I had been — I’d started my toy company in 1994 and I’m an athlete, and again, stick to what you know. I know sports. And I was trying to make sports toys and I couldn’t make sports toys. Why? I couldn’t even get a meeting because I’m a nobody. The NHL, major league baseball, the NBA, NHL, why would anybody let me in the front door? They wouldn’t.

And so you have to figure out back doors and alternatives. So here is the play. And again, from one perspective it seems like the dumbest thing that a human being can do. I’ll give you what I was doing during that play. Anyways, the 70 McGwire ball, the last ball he hit that was a record, goes up for an auction in Madison Square Garden. I’m the anonymous bidder. Anyways, nobody’s ever spent more than $300,000, $400,000 on any baseball paraphernalia. At the end of the auction, I end up winning the 70 ball and it costs me three million dollars. 10 times what the previous record was, three million dollars. Now you can say, and I understand this perspective, why would any human being with a brain spend three million for a $3 baseball? Why would they do that? Especially, given a couple years later, Barry Bonds broke the record.

Oh, by the way, I had to go buy that ball too. But I bought the 70 ball. Here’s what the 70 ball did and it seems like the stupidest thing. Three million dollars for a baseball. It’s stupid. You’re never going to get your money back out of it. It depends on how you’re looking at it. Here’s how I was looking at it. I knew that spending and getting that ball would get me headlines. So instantly it was a national story and I was on lots of talk radio shows and TV shows and everything. I mean I canvased the planet. And do you know how much money it would cost to get that attention by buying ads in any of those areas? It would cost you way more than three million, but let’s put that to the side. Here’s what it did. Those headlines then got seen by all the sports leagues and the unions.

And when I phoned the next time and said, “Hey, I’m Todd McFarlane and maybe you’ve heard of me, I bought the McGwire ball, but I’d just like to talk to you. I’m also in the toy business.” They let me in the door and I got to have a conversation with them. In short order I ended up having the license for baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. I did it for 13 years. I can tell you, ladies and gentlemen, I made more than three million dollars in profits on those toys multiple times over those 13 years. So at some point you have to put up an ante on the table to play the big game with the big boys in poker. And my ante, unfortunately, was a three million dollar baseball so that they took that as saying, which, just so everybody knows, it was every red cent I had and then some. I had to beg, borrow and steal to pay for it.

Then what ended up happening, people see those headlines and they go, “Oh, if he’s got three million dollars to wipe his ass on a baseball, he must be successful, he must have a lot of money. Bring the successful guy into the room.” And I got the four licenses and it was there. One last comment on it, why do you care that I spent three million on a baseball? Because for me, I’ve made it over multiple times, and any time I do any interview, because I’m now the expert — just so everybody knows — guess how many interviews I did when Aaron Judge, this year, was going to do a ball, people were asking me how much the ball is worth. I’m now an expert because I spent an ungodly amount on one ball, I’ve become an expert. This is how silly all this is. But I get to amortize that three million dollars once again that’s sitting there.

But if I don’t spend that money and I don’t get there, I don’t get to the table, then my company never does any of it. And here’s why, this is one of the reasons, Tim, I can’t be public, because you can’t play that game. I can’t go to the shareholders and to the board and the chairman of the board and say, “Hey, I’ve got this gut feeling that if I do this one thing I think it will pay off.” If you can’t categorize it on a spreadsheet in rows and columns and tell them what it’s going to equate to in terms of capital money and profit margins in 90 days, you’re going to get shot down. And this is why I can’t go public. And let me tell you, when my toy companies were flying, did Wall Street come and knock on my door? Of course they did, Tim.

Of course they did. But I horrified them to the point that I’d become a bit of a talking moment because I’ve run into them years later. They would come, and here’s what I found with Wall Street. “Todd, we’re going to give you X amount of dollars and we’re going to buy your company.” “Okay, that’s cool, but I’m still in control.” “Well, no, no, no, no, at that amount of money you’re not in control.” “What? I’ve got to give up control of my company?” “Uh-huh.” “For what, your money?” “Uh-huh.” “I already got got money. I don’t need any of your money.” So they’re like, “Okay.” And then here’s where Wall Street is literally a one-trick pony. “Okay Todd, we won’t give you X amount of money. We see that you’re a little stubborn, we’ll give you 2X.”

“Okay, but if you give me twice the money, do I have control?” “No.” “Whoa, that’s a problem.” “Todd, last time, we’ll give you 3X of money.” “Guys, let me now define what money is to me. Here’s the word — I’m Canadian so maybe you guys in America do it a little bit differently. So my dad taught me a word, it’s called useless. And here’s what useless is. It’s when you have something and you don’t use it. So do you know that I have money in the bank right now, which basically means I’m not using it. So it’s kind of useless to me because I’m not using it because it’s just sitting in a bank doing nothing.” Do you know the reaction to people from Wall Street when you call their one product useless? Do you know how horrifying it is? That they’re just going, “What did you just call money?”

And eventually they stopped coming. And then I remember I was at a party years later and I introduced myself and then they went, “Todd McFarlane, why do I know that name?” And it was somebody I’d never met before. “Oh, you’re the guy that doesn’t like money.” And let me tell you, and I’ve told everybody, look guys, I’m not a saint. I’m not a saint. I can be bought. We all have our price. The price though that I needed that day was that they would give me enough money that I would then give up control of the company but have so much money I could then buy it back at a discount, fire all of them, and I’d still have a profit and I’d have my company back. But nobody’s ever given me that deal so I’ve just never sold the company and they’ve stopped saying, “Todd.” I’m just a madman. So anyways, over to Hollywood now.

Tim Ferriss: Well, before we get to Hollywood, I want to do a deep dive on the madman part. So you mentioned that this three million was basically all the money you had and then some. You strike me as a risk taker, but you strike me as a calculated risk taker. You don’t give me the impression of being reckless. Some people could say, well, if you say yes to Toys”R”Us and you haven’t even figured out manufacturing, that’s reckless. But it’s not reckless because what’s the downside? You can’t figure it out and you’re like, “Sorry pal, I can’t make it work.” The downside’s actually really, really limited for you. Three million bucks, different story. So given that the NHL and NBA and so on hadn’t returned your phone calls up to that point, what gave you the confidence or how did you do the calculus? Did you have enough safety net that you were like, “Ah, this could suck for a year or two if they don’t actually open up to me?” How did you think about this? What was the reasoning going into it?

Todd McFarlane: Okay, so there’s two things that I thought were, again, keeping the momentum going in my favor. One, I had the data of all the toys that I was doing with Spawn. And Spawn at that point, it hit a point where consecutive series that were coming out, I think we got all the way up to 36, was the second longest running streak of series of toys other than I think Transformers. It was even longer than Star Wars. Star Wars had gone quiet and gone dark for a while. So again, there was a little bit of that. But I planted one small seed before I made the crazy play, and the small seed was I was able to get to the players’ union of the NHL. Because of the four major sports most people will say, especially in terms of revenue, that the NHL is the fourth one, the stepchild, if you will.

And so I didn’t go to the league because I knew I couldn’t get there. I went to the union. And just so you know, if you ever make any sports toys of any current players, you must have two licenses. You have to license the union so you can get the players and their likeness, and then you have to get a contract from the league so that you can get basically their uniforms and their logos. And then you have to glue the two together and you have a double royalty that you have to pay. So it’s not the best model, but if you want do it that’s how it works. So I went to the NHL players’ union, which was like nobody ever gives us any money because they just sell jerseys and stuff with logos, everything’s logo, logo, logos on the hat. And I said, “I’m going to make toys of your players but unfortunately I can’t put their uniforms on them because I don’t have an NHL. I’m going to have to do generic uniforms.”

And they went, “Yeah, sure, we’ll take money.” So I had in my back pocket one small seed. I had the union of the NHL. So that later, once I spent the money on the McGwire ball and I was hoping I would get a meeting, then I could go in there and say — one of the first meetings I took was with the NHL per se, and I just pulled out my toys and I go, “Guys, look at these toys. Aren’t they cool? They look just like Pavel Bure and Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretsky. Look at them, these are super awesome, right? Here’s the thing, notice that I don’t get to use your uniform.” And at that point I sort of had a conversation with them and they were threatening to sue me because they said that my generic uniforms were looking like them. I think I had even done some generic McGwires too. And I’d even at that point then went to the NFL union and I go, “Hey, I’ve got the baseball and I’ve now got the hockey.”

Again, it all tumbles. And so I was then able to go into rooms and I remember these odd conversations you have, Tim, that I just want to hit my head against walls, but whatever. I’m in a room with the NHL and there’s like six lawyers, there’s always lawyers, and they’re threatening to sue me because I’m doing like a sort of a generic uniform on one of the players that I had there. And they’re going, “We’re going to sue you. You cannot do these toys.” 

And I’m like, “Oh, yeah? You sue my ass. You sue my ass, because here’s how it works and you guys aren’t even smart enough to know how this works. Number one, you’re sitting here right now across this table telling me you own everything. Good, sue me, and if you win, you don’t get a fucking ounce of upgrade. You say you got a hundred percent at the end, the best you can hope for is a hundred percent.

“Go ahead and do it. But if you pay attention and you do a little bit of research on me, you’re pulling the wrong tiger’s tail, because I’ll do this. Because here’s the thing, if we go to court and you find out that you don’t have a hundred percent, and I’m betting you don’t, that not only do I get a piece of that a hundred percent, it is going to basically be a story for every human being on this planet that they can now go against you. So you’ve got two choices. You can either go to court and say that somehow you own reddish colors and bluish colors, if you want to make that argument be my guest, or what I’m saying, I’ve got a check for half a million dollars here I’d like to shove down your throat to give me your fucking logos. I don’t know, sue me and potentially lose a hundred percent or take a half a million dollars. This seems like my six-year-old could figure out what this thing is.”

Eventually they took the half a million bucks. So what are you talking about, of course they did. Of course they did. Stop it. And sadly I had to sort of play the same conversation with everybody. When I had the NFL and I’m like, “I’m doing your players. The question is, do you want any of the cash?” I mean at some point forget the art and forget anything else, just get down to the core of it. “Do you want any of this money I’m about to make? The answer is yes or no. And if you don’t, fine. Oh, by the way, I thought you were in the commerce business because you’re a public company, but you guys go ahead and do what you want to do.” It is amazing how many times I’ve had to try and shove money down people’s throats. But anyways, that’s corporate America. They do their thing, I do mine.

Tim Ferriss: So doing your thing, let’s hop across some lily pads and touch on, whichever you want touch on next, the music, TV, movies, how do any of these other elements, I know you’ve mentioned games, but which of these elements enter the picture?

Todd McFarlane: So let’s talk about TV first. So again, go back to the release of the Spawn comic book after we leave Marvel, the group of us leave Marvel, my character Spawn comes out, bam, shoots to the top of the charts. And for months and months, even maybe a couple of years it was the number one selling book. So it was at the top of the chart. So like I said, phone calls were constantly coming. I get the phone call and on the other line is HBO, legit at that point. I mean, what are you talking about, they’re still legit, right? But they were one of the big sort of companies out there. And I go, “Oh, cool.” And they said, “Hey, we want to do some animation.” And I knew animation is like Saturday morning cartoons and a couple of my partners at Image Comics had sold and were going to get Saturday morning cartoons, which they did. But I did Spawn, again, the guy from the pit of Hell, it just not wasn’t what I wanted.

And I don’t say this as a joke, and I’ll tell you why I asked this one question. I go, “Hey, guys, it’s cool. I appreciate your enthusiasm. Let me ask you just one question. I just have one question for you. Can I say ‘Fuck’ in my show?” And it wasn’t meant to be a joke. And they paused and then they said, “Yeah, probably, why not?” And that was all I needed to hear. Not that I wanted to use that word, Tim, not that I wanted to do and show naked women or anything. I just thought that if they were willing to basically say yes to that, then I had a wide lane of creativity. And the reason I needed a wide lane, because my character lives in a dark, serious world and I’m going to have corrupt policemen and I’m going to have mafia people and I’m going to have criminals, I’m going to have drug addicts. And these people don’t talk politely when they get mad. You have to be able to go into watching an R-rated movie.

You have to be able to have a certain dialect for your characters that matches who they are. And so I just needed to, if the moment came, I needed to be able to do that and have the creative freedom to do it. So when they said, “Yeah, sure,” then I was like, “Cool, then let’s do it. Oh, one more thing. I know nothing about animation, never spent a second on it, but I’ve got to be in charge, so you guys go and have that talk and do what you’ve got to do.” And they came back and said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can be in charge but we’re going to put some good people on your flanks,” which they did, and we went in there. And so I was working on HBO animation. At this time, Tim, HBO had started an animation division. I think there was five, maybe six shows going on, of which Spawn was one.

Very quickly, the other five failed and I was sort of the lone wolf by the end of it. But when we first came out, I was in the room now with this group of people they had amassed to make an animated show, who collectively probably had 600 years of experience, which is cool. But there’s also moments where I realized I’m in front of people at times who have been institutionalized. And here’s the frustrating thing that I’ve run into over and over and over in my life. The bark being way better than the bite. 

And so artists would go, all these creative people, all these people who worked on animation, “Man, if we could only do it our way, man, these people, these executives, they don’t know anything.” I’ve heard that over and over and over. And we finally get to a point where literally we can almost do anything, and guess what a lot of them did? They just went back to status quo. They just went back to status quo. And so being the dumbest guy in the room, I used to ask these questions. Any question, there’s a legitimate answer why you can’t do it. It’s usually time or money. “Oh, you can do it but it’s going to cost more money.” “Can’t do that, I have a budget.” “No, it doesn’t cost any more money, but it’s going to take twice as long.” “We don’t have the luxury of the deadline.” So that’s it. And I understand.

So I would constantly be asking these questions, “Can we do this?” “No.” “Why?” “Because of this.” But every now and then, being the dumb guy in the room I didn’t know where the guardrails were so I’d ask a question and then you get the moment, Tim, which is you ask a question and you’ve got 50 people in a room, and I go, “If we do this will it cost us any more time or money? I mean a little bit of effort maybe, but about the same.” And then you get, to me, the golden moment, a pregnant pause, silence. So there was nobody in the room with 600 years experience saying, “No, we can’t do that. No, we can’t do that.” And I went, “So you’re saying that it won’t take more time?” “No.” “And it won’t cost more money?” “No.” “So why don’t we do it?” “Well, that’s not how we do it here.” “No, no, I understand that’s not how we do it. I’m not asking that question. I’m saying will it take more time or money and you’re saying no.”

Why are we figuring out how to self edit ourself, self censor ourself, when nobody else is? This is a crime. Why are we putting guardrails on ourselves? We should be smashing up against the walls until the executives upstairs go, “Whoa guys, whoa, whoa, whoa, pull it back.” Right? That’s what we should be doing. But when you’ve had a dog that has been in a small backyard for so long that it gets comfortable, that the moment you throw the doors open to the wild farmlands and you go, “Run, Rover, go.” It was amazing how many creative people sat down instead of running because that’s all they knew. They knew one way to do animation and they knew one way to draw it and they knew one way to storytell. And they only knew one way and one way and one way and one way. And here’s the frustration, by the end of the three years we were butting heads because they all thought I was the crazy guy and whatever else.

We won Emmys on that show, and I remember being up on the stage and getting my Emmy and behind me was 15 of these people, most of them I was constantly having to basically drag them into some of these decisions. And they were all holding an Emmy in their hands too and with a big smile. And I was like going, “Oh, my God, here you are, so happy you’ve got an Emmy in your hand, and you were resistant to almost everything; that is the reason why we’re up on this stage today.” It bugged me that I was putting that award in their hands because they were not willing participants for the ride. 

But the reason we ended up getting canceled wasn’t because people weren’t watching it. It was because, and this is again just the way of the world, name’s Todd, it only rhymes with God, I don’t get to control any of this.

And it was that they had five shows, remember I said they started an animation show, and every time a show got canceled, one of the animations got canceled, they just put all the costs on the existing show. And eventually all of them failed except for me. And I remember them calling me in saying, “Todd, we’ve got to stop the animation.” I go, “Why?” And they go, “It’s getting too expensive.” And I went, “Expensive? You haven’t given me one red cent more than you did the first year. I’m working on the exact same budget.” And then I found out I was covering all the other overhead that had basically failed.

Tim Ferriss: Accrued, yeah.

Todd McFarlane: And so they put that on my budget and then they have to get so many eyeballs per dollar and somehow they had put all that money that had accrued onto mine and it fell under their threshold and whatever matrix they used, and they’d never go public with any of it but it was like that was it. We were doing the exact same job, winning Emmys, doing exactly what we were doing, but now all of a sudden they had to let us go because somehow the math didn’t work for them.

Tim Ferriss: So a question for you about that. It seems like, and I know this is simplifying, but you’ve had this incredible bull run with Spider-Man, Image Toys and then you have this television experience, which is super challenging, it doesn’t end the way you probably would’ve liked it to end.

Todd McFarlane: Well, we won Emmys, so I’ll take that — 

Tim Ferriss: Okay, no, no. Well, that leads into my question, which is are you glad you had that experience or would you have removed it and replaced it with something else?

Todd McFarlane: No.

Tim Ferriss: How did you contend with that yourself? Did you feel good about it at the end?

Todd McFarlane: Yeah, sure.

Tim Ferriss: Proud of it?

Todd McFarlane: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Okay.

Todd McFarlane: Tim, this is easy. There’s only one human being I have dominion over: me. Period. My wife, I love her, I’ve been with her for over 40 years. I don’t even control her and she’s the closest person that I have in the world. Okay, I don’t worry — I mean, it can be exhausting at times trying to drag people to the water but you can’t make the horse drink at times. So at some point I just go, “Guys, you do your thing. I do my thing and we’ll just figure it out.” I do not stand by water coolers and complain about bosses. I quit jobs and start my own companies. As a creative person, if I’m going to complain about how the business works, then I will then go and become my own businessman. I consider myself, Tim, to be bilingual. I have learned the language of business.

I am first and foremost a fluent speaker in art, that is my native tongue. But I have learned business to the point where I can now go into a meeting with executives or bankers or government people or whatever and sound like a CEO who happens to be a pretty good artist. I can convince them that I’m that guy, that they go, “Oh, okay, the art is sort of like he just does it on the side.” Because I’ve got two choices. I either let people with experience do the business side of it and have full trust in them and knowledge of what they’re doing so I know that I can trust them or I just figure it out myself. My personality didn’t allow me to put it in the hands of others. If I’m going to fail, I want to fail on my own merits.

And so I just learned business. Did it take away from the art? Of course it did. Every time I’m in one of these dumb meetings for an hour, I am acutely aware that I am not creating and everything in my world business-wise is a byproduct of me doing some kind of creating. It’s a fallout of my me creating. And when I’m not creating, I don’t think I’m bringing the most value to my company. I need to be an artist as much as possible. But I also need to be able to sing and tell the story of what we do for the company so that we can get past the nos, because I can be very stubborn of going, “Well, before you say no, let me just download you with the reality of what you’re walking away from.” And at the beginning it was all BS, let me just tell you, it was BS. But as the years have gone by, there’s hardcore data now.

Tim, let me just again go back a little bit. Last year, I don’t even pay attention to it, but last year — there’s the equivalent of the Nielsen ratings in toys and they literally count when something gets scanned at the big superstores and it goes into a database. So we’re not talking about “You’re the most popular, you’ve got the coolest toy, Todd,” those are different awards. This is data based on sales. Last year, our line of DC Multiverse toys, I don’t even have the master license of DC Multiverse, I have a fraction of it. I have a collective little sliver of it. And our sliver of that outsold not only the master toy license of that, but it outsold everything Marvel and everything Star Wars.

It was the number one selling line in America and Canada. My company literally that is a handful of people sold more toys in action figure lines than Hasbro, Mattel, Playmates, Spin Master, all these public companies. And the question is either I and my people are geniuses or they’re not getting full value for whatever infrastructure they did. I think the answer lies somewhere in between. How is it that I can take on Fortune 500 companies? Last year I had the number one selling comic book, the number one selling comic book. Marvel is owned by Disney. DC Comics is owned by Warner Bros., AT&T Warner Bros., Discovery, whatever it is this week. Those are billion dollar empires. And my comic book division is four people. How do four people take on billion dollar empires and beat them at times at their own game?

I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s a curiosity. Why aren’t they selling more? I don’t know. Go ask them. I’m just doing my gig. But it’s doable. And I’m hoping that the story of a guy like me should be, hopefully to some people, somewhat inspirational. Because every time I read a story where David took on Goliath and didn’t get killed, didn’t slay the giant, just didn’t get killed himself, those should be encouraging of the yes, you too can go against these guys and succeed. And here’s the thing, as long as your company is the right size, with the right overhead, you can make a profit. So you can make $10,000 a month and make a profit as long as your overhead is less than 10,000. Or you can make a hundred million a year and lose money because your overhead is over a hundred million. You just have to right size your company and you can make money. Don’t worry about being rich. Just go. I make 30,000; as long as we spend 25, we’re making five grand a month. It’s a living. It’s a living. Cool. And you’re having fun doing it.

Tim Ferriss: Two questions related to all of this, the first is, and we’re going to bounce around chronologically, but how do you protect or create the time for creativity and making? So if we think about it as making versus managing, so the making is the creative stuff, the managing is all the meetings, all of the CEO stuff. I would have to imagine there have been times where you’ve looked at your calendar after a hard week and you’re like, “For fuck’s sake, I’ve spent 90 plus maybe a hundred percent of my time this week managing stuff.” How have you been able to block out or protect the time to create? Have you thought about that as someone who has all these different business ventures now?

Todd McFarlane: I think it’s the eternal question we all struggle with. How do we balance our life? We all ask that, both on the personal and the work. We’re always going how does this work? I, through failures, Tim, found that I was a five-ball juggler. And here’s what that means, that I don’t care who you are. I don’t care if you’re the best juggler in Vegas and you’re with Cirque du Soleil and you can juggle 25 balls. Even that person, if you go one ball more than they’re capable of, guess what happens? All the balls fall. Every ball you’re juggling hits the floor and it’s a mess. And so I, unfortunately, let the balls drop at times that I was acutely aware that I was doing a disservice to certain areas. I learned that I was a five-ball juggler, and here’s what that means for me. It means that I’m always constantly juggling five balls. But if another opportunity comes along and I get excited about it and it makes sense both from an artistic and from a business CEO level, I must put one of the five balls I am currently juggling down or put it in the hands of others and give them full trust to do what they need to do before I pick up that new opportunity so that I’m constantly at five and don’t extend myself.

And so it was a lesson hard learned over the years. What that also meant was, “Todd, you can’t do all the artwork yourself, so you’re going to have to become a good scout and you’re going to have to find talent.” At some point on a good day, I feel that I am Phil Jackson when he was coaching the Chicago Bulls. I think, maybe not, his conversation went something like this, “Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and I don’t even know what the name is of the rest of you dudes, could you guys just go over there and your job is, could you put that ball in that bucket? Oh, by the way, if you have any questions to that in-depth analysis I just gave you, I’ll be over here in my three-piece suit with my clipboard and you just come over and ask me a question.”

Phil Jackson was smart enough to find the proper talent and put it in the proper place so that the end of that run, not only did Michael Jordan have six championship rings, so did Phil. Do you know how many buckets Phil made during that time? Zero. He was just smart enough to know to put Michael and the crew out there in the right iterations. And so there are times where you have to just go, “Todd, you can’t build this all yourself.”

There are some things that make sense for me being the lead and/or even isolating myself artistically. There are plenty of other things we do, making toys, making comic book, making movies, making video games, all of it, that’s a collective team. I actually sort of enjoy being with the collective team because if I can find my Michael Jordans or my Scottie Pippens and I’m in a meeting and they show me their skill, artistically or with ideas or how to promote or how to sell or market, whatever, in any field in any sort of skill set, and I feel like I’m the dumbest guy in the room, those are great days for me, Tim, because I sit there and go, “Oh, my gosh, I wouldn’t have even thought of that. I can’t even do it to that skill set. Thank God they work for me.”

I just sit there and go, “Hmm.” If I really want to make it look like that I’m sort of more important that I am, I’ll say something like, “Interesting, I’ll take it under advisement and get back to everybody tomorrow,” where inside I’m going, “Holy shit, this is awesome. I just hope they don’t quit and start their own company and compete against me because they’re super awesome.” And so that’s it. You just have to find talent and coach them along the way. I’m just a coach. I feel like I’m a coach now.

Tim Ferriss: Harkening back to what you said about last year and toy sales, the example you gave was DC, so we’re not talking about Freddy Krueger, we’re talking about DC. It’s not the R-rated advantage. Presumably, these are at large retailers.

Todd McFarlane: Oh, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: You no longer have the Hot Topic advantage. How are you competing so effectively? I would imagine also the people who have emulated and tried to copy the style by adding more detail and trying to compete. I assume that. Maybe that’s an incorrect assumption, but how are you guys still competing so effectively in selling, certainly as multiple of your head counts, so much more than these other guys?

Todd McFarlane: Okay. Well, let me just tell you, brand matters, right?

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm.

Todd McFarlane: I’d been making toys for 25 years that I said every day of my life, “I can sell Star Wars, just give me the contract. What are you talking about? It’s Star Wars, right? What are you talking about? Star Wars.” How come I don’t sell a lot of Spider-Man? Because I don’t have the contract. Eventually, I’d walk around Toy Fair and it seemed like everybody had a piece of Marvel. Everybody had a piece of Star Wars and DC Comics, except for me. I don’t know why I was the only guy. But somehow, we ended up doing a deal, Warner Bros. walking away from Mattel. They had given Mattel both the Master Toy license and the Collective sliver. I guess it didn’t — 

Tim Ferriss: What is the difference between the Master Toy and the Collective? I guess I’m not sure what the difference is between those two. Would you mind just explaining that?

Todd McFarlane: Well, those definitions are internal definitions for every corporation. They define them differently. But essentially, a Master Toy license means that you basically, not only get to do action figures, but you get to do the Nerf gun versions of them and you get to do the Hot Wheels with the logos on it.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Todd McFarlane: Basically, you can do puzzles, you’re in the entire store, if you want to be. You’ve got all the aisles. I’m in aisle five, boys action figure. I always said, “No, I don’t want to diversify. I want to just be the king of aisle five,” if I could. That’s it. Just focus. Don’t get lost in all the other aisles. Just be good at one aisle. I’d rather be a master of one than the jack of all trades. Eventually, we ended up, a couple years back, getting, after decades at trying, finally, we got the license for the DC Multiverse.

Let me tell you really what the big piece of that was. I had the word “Batman” and “Superman” on my toys. What are you talking about? Those are global brands. I’ve always told people, “Look,” and you and I have discussed it here, “If you do a quality product at a fair price and do little bit of marketing and build a better mouse trap, you can survive.” How do I know? I’ve done it for 25, 27 years prior. But I always had a but to it. But if you ever give me a triple A brand on top of that, on top of that mythology, shit, get out of the way. What do you talk about? Because now I’m going to give them price and quality and a name that everybody knows. I’ve been saying that for years, and guess what? They finally give me one of the big brands, and guess what? We outsold all of them. Boom.

Now, here’s one of the things, also, that mattered. Big companies, and this is their job, I’m not saying it’s good, bad, I’m just saying this is their job, is to maximize value for the shareholders every 90 days. How do you do that? You just make as much money as you can. How do you make as much money as you can? You figure out how to cut corners. And so one of the ways you cut corners in our trade of toys is that you reuse the same pieces. Lego does the same thing. I mean, I don’t care how ambitious whatever it is you’re buying, there are still certain blocks. I mean the colors may be different, but there are still certain blocks that are universal in every one of their builds. And then, they put the unique pieces that will make it into the shape they need. But there’s still a portion of the reuse of blocks that have been used for decades because that’s their formula. Cool. Works for them.

Toys are sort of the same, that they go, “Oh, we’ll do a generic body and we won’t make anything unique about it. And then, that way, we can paint it with a bat symbol on it or a S or a flash and it all sort works, and we don’t have to cut any more molds. We don’t have to cut any more steel.” Why? Because that’s money. “And we don’t have to do all those things.” Early on, when I was giving Warner Bros. our lineups and we were talking to them, I go, “I want to make this character,” and they were talking about this and then they go, “Oh, we can’t really make that character.” I go, “Why?” And they go, “Well, it doesn’t really share the same look as any other character.” I went, “No, no, I know that. We’re good. We’ll cut some new molds.”

When they found out that I was willing to make new molds, specifically for one character, they were blown away by that because they’d been dealing with the big boys. They were going, “Hold a sec. You’re going to do five new characters and make five new sets of molds?” “Uh-huh.” “And that’s okay with you?” “Yeah, it’s how I’ve been doing it for years.” Wow. Here’s why that mattered, Tim, because it allowed me now, for the very first time, to make characters that nobody had made prior to that. People have been making Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman toys for decades. Of course they had. But some of the other iterations of those characters and/or B characters or C characters that look super cool, I don’t care if you even know their name, in plastic, they look super cool on a shelf. I was able to make them.

And then I think there was a big enough audience in geekdom that came by and went, “Oh, my goodness, nobody’s ever made that character or that character or that character or that character,” and they were able to get, literally, the rookie cards using sort of trading card. They were getting the rookie cards of all these characters that nobody had ever made before, and I think it mattered. I think it mattered that I was doing something different than what the big boys did.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that makes sense. All right. I’m glad I asked. Thank you for answering. Where to from there? Or I should say, not really from there because these are all parallel lines in a sense.

Todd McFarlane: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: The comic books are going. The toys are going.

Todd McFarlane: They each create an opportunity. Again, let’s talk about music videos. You mentioned that. How do you get to music videos? I don’t even read music. I can’t read a lick of music and I’ve got a Grammy. How’s that possible. Some dumbass kid who doesn’t know anything about music’s got a Grammy. It bothers my wife. She’s a very good pianist and it bugs her that I’ve got one, so don’t say it out loud if you come to dinner. Here’s how you get there. You just find the back door. They’re always going to block the front door. Status quo is going to always get put in front of you. You find the back door. Here’s the back door.

Out of the blue, we’re doing the HBO animation. It’s doing pretty well and, again, I’m winning a couple Emmys. And then, out of the blue, I don’t know why, go ask him, out of the blue, I get a phone call from Eddie Vedder. Eddie Vedder’s the lead singer of Pearl Jam. Eddie then says, “Hey, Todd. Eddie.” “Hey, Eddie, how you doing, bud?” “Here’s what we want to do, Todd. The record label is bugging us to do a music video. We hate music videos and we don’t want to be in it.” Which is sort of a cool thing that it’s like, “Pardon? You don’t want to be in your own music video?” “No, and we’ve been putting them off and putting them off, but they keep bugging us. Now we’re at the point where I’ve figured it out, Todd. I’ve been watching this Spawn animation on TV. We can do it animated. Let’s just do it animated, and then we don’t have to be in it.”

I was like, “Okay, cool.” And so he goes, “Do you want to help us with it?” I’m like, ‘Yeah, sure, cool. What’s the gig?” And then, he sort of gave the song. It was called “Do the Evolution.” I go, “What’s it about?” He goes, “Oh, it’s about all time, space, and dimension, but you’ve got to do it in three and a half minutes.” I go, “Okay, I think we can come up with some creative things on it.” And then, Eddie went away and he goes, “Here, I’ll send you something here in a couple days just to sort of give you the vibe.” And so, a couple days later, I receive in the mail from Eddie this tape and I play it. He’s taken a couple of episodes of Spawn and edited them to go with his music of the song that we were talking about, “Do the Evolution.”

Tim Ferriss: That must have been surreal.

Todd McFarlane: I wish I had that tape. I don’t know what I did with this tape. And so I get on the phone, and it was really good. I’ve got to tell you, Tim, it was really good. I get on the phone, I go, “Oh,” I said, “Hey, Eddie, I’ve got it. I understand what you want to do. Okay, whatever. We’ll come up with that. Who edited this thing? This is super cool.” He says, “Oh, that was me.” And I went, “Hold a sec. You edited this video?” “Uh-huh.” The big editing machine was called an Avid, “You have an Avid at home?” “Yeah, I have an Avid.” “Wow, Eddie, you’re confusing me a bit. Rock and rollers, when they’re done off stage, go home, relax by doing Avid editing?” It doesn’t make any sense to me. But he’s like, “Yeah, I just sort of like it and it’s just sort of therapeutic.” I’m like, “Cool.”

We end up doing the video for him and doing the animation for it. It ends up getting nominated for a Grammy which, again, it was my first foray into music. I went, “What? You go into music and you get nominated for a Grammy. That was easy. Should have done this earlier.” We lost to Madonna that year. But we’re going to edit and Eddie says, “Hey, is there any way I can come to California and edit with you?” “Eddie, it’s your video. You can do whatever you want. Sure, heck, come.” He sat with us in the three days that we were there editing, and he’s really smart. I mean, really, he had a lot of good stuff. “Hey, what if you did this? What if you cut this down and you did this,” and whatever. He’s talking the language. It was really good.

The side story of that three days was he came with a briefcase, the first day, and he’s Eddie, all dressed in black. But he had a briefcase, what I thought was sort of formal. He put the briefcase down next to us and then we worked all day and we did the editing, and then he left. And then, the next day he came dressed just like grunge Eddie, cool. He had his briefcase again and he put it right down next to us. Never touched it the whole day again, and he left. And then, on the third day he came, same thing. But at some point, I just went, “Hey Eddie, I don’t mean to pry, but why do you keep bringing the briefcase with you every day? It doesn’t seem like you do anything with it.” And then, he goes, “Oh, my gosh, Todd, I’m glad you finally asked.”

Now, I often wonder if I hadn’t asked, what would’ve happened? Would he had just gone home that day? He goes, “Oh, my gosh, Todd, I’m glad you finally asked.” It was a briefcase, just like you’re a spy or something. And then he clicked it open and you’re waiting for the CIA folders, except for there wasn’t no CIA folders, it was two baseball gloves and a ball. And one of the gloves was lefthanded. He turns to me and he goes, “I heard you’re a pretty good baseball player, Todd.” I went, “Yeah, yeah, I played back then, Eddie.” He goes, “You want to play catch during lunch break?” I went, “Sure, I can play catch with Eddie Vedder. That’s cool,” because Eddie’s a big baseball nut. And so he had done his homework and he knew it and he knew I was left-handed.

Like I said, if I’d never asked him about it, would he have ever opened it? But then it goes even further. We finally go outside and, unfortunately, it’s seasonably hot. It’s about 105, 106 that day in California. But I’m from Phoenix, it doesn’t matter. I can deal. But Eddie has got black boots, black pants, black shirt, black sunglasses, and he’s smoking. Have you ever seen that scene of John Candy in the movie Splash where he is trying to play handball and he’s drinking and whatever, and he’s having a heart attack while he’s playing? We start going and, at about minute eight, I could see he’s starting to slow down and the throws are not quite with the authority and it gets slower. And then, he starts breathing heavier. And then, pretty soon I go, “Eddie, let’s just take a break.” He’s like, “Yeah, okay, if you want to.” If you want to.

And then he sits down and he, “Uh, oh.” I mean, I go, “I’m going to kill this man.” We keep playing, he’s literally going to pass out with heat exhaustion, I’m going to have to rush him to the hospital. But he wasn’t going to give in. This is a dumb thing about boys and our testosterone. Neither one of us was going to give, but I’m a cockroach. I could have gone all day until I killed him. I just pulled it back. I didn’t feel like being the guy that was the one that sent Eddie to the hospital and had to cancel his — because they were on tour at that point. He just came in for a couple days.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, God.

Todd McFarlane: I didn’t want to be the bad guy. But anyways, Eddie wasn’t quite smart enough to go dress appropriately and don’t smoke when you’re exerting yourself physically but, anyways.

Tim Ferriss: And so that video goes on to, I don’t know how many views it has now on YouTube, like 50 plus some million views on YouTube. We’ll link to that in the show notes. Where does all of this lead? This is your first foray into music and you’re animating, which means you’re directing.

Todd McFarlane: But that comes from the HBO. Again, this is — 

Tim Ferriss: Right, it comes from the HBO.

Todd McFarlane: Right. Again, you do Marvel, that begat Image Comics. Image begat — I’m going to use biblical terms, begat Spawn. Spawn begat HBO. HBO, because Eddie was watching it, begat, “Hey, you want to do a music video?” Music video comes out successful, gets nominated for a Grammy, that begat people phoning, “Hey, you want to do more music videos?” It all just becomes this weird accident that just starts tumbling and these doors of opportunity open up where you never knew they were ever going to open up before. None of it’s planned. It’s just happy accidents along the way.

Tim Ferriss: And doing a good job on each piece of it so that those doors open or present themselves.

Todd McFarlane: So let’s talk about that piece. What you just said is important. Sometimes I get people go, “Oh, Todd, you’re just sort of getting rich and famous and you got a ego,” whatever else. Probably that’s true. But let me tell you why I like success. Not because I want some more money. I’ve got it. Not because I need a bigger ego. I’ve got plenty of people who’ve said nice things about me for plenty of years. I’m over me. Nobody’s more bored of Todd than me. Here’s why success matters, because you can’t keep doing art, which is what I am, an artist. If I walk into the room and say, “Oh, get this, the last thing I did failed,” you don’t get the job. You have to have a certain level of success to get the next job.

That’s why I need to keep the momentum. That’s why I need to have success. Not for the fame or the fortune. That’s just a byproduct. I need it so I can do art again tomorrow and the next day and the next day. Hopefully, if I do it right, I’ll die and I’ll have been doing art until the time I take my last breath. That’s the success. The art and the success has to be a component. You’re not dealing with HBO and the NFL and Microsoft and all these companies we’ve dealt with if you’re not able to show that you can do the job at a level that makes sense for them. I’m not going to apologize for us doing our jobs.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Doesn’t seem to be your style. All right. We’re talking about these multiple encounters with our very nice friend, dumb luck. But it’s not really, as somebody put it to me once, I can’t remember exactly who it was, I wish I could give attribution, but they talk about the surface area of luck. By doing certain things, you can increase the surface area that is available for luck to stick to.

Todd McFarlane: I agree.

Tim Ferriss: I think you’ve done a very good job with that. Where do games or movies enter into this entire constellation of activities?

Todd McFarlane: Right. Let’s go back to the dumb luck just for a minute to just paint a metaphor. Again, I at half court and I got my back to the basket and I throw it backwards, and then I make the bucket and they’re like, “Oh, Todd, you’re a genius.” Some people will look at that and go, “You’re a genius.” I’m going, “Eh, it’s a little bit of dumb luck.” But to your point, the reason that I was able to get that genius shot that some people think of, because I was there for four days in a row and I took 10,000 shots and I missed every other one, but I didn’t leave until I made the shot. If you take 10,000 shots, sometimes one of them goes in. There’s the personality of going when they say, “No,” which is basically a missed shot, “Don’t do it, Todd.” “Oh, yeah, I’m going to shoot again.” “You can’t do that.” “I’m going to shoot again.” “You can’t. You can’t.” Shoot, shoot, shoot.

And then, bam, every now and then you sink one and then you go, “How do I build off that?” Because people saw that, you put it up on TikTok and you don’t show all of your misses on all those TikToks. You only show the one you made. You don’t know how many years or hours or months they spent until they made that one shot. Business, a little bit is like that. Again, it’s a perceived skill because when you see the one shot on TikTok, you think they’re super awesome because you didn’t see the three days they didn’t make it. There’s a little bit of that going on there, so back to your question, sorry.

Tim Ferriss: Well, actually, before we get to games and movies and how that sort of coalesced or entered the scene in some way, let’s talk about creating characters or fictional worlds that endure for decades. In doing research for this, I found an interview of yours where you talked about going into Hollywood and pitching various ideas. I might be misquoting, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, but the section here that I’d love to hear you elaborate on is, “So these people in the meeting go, ‘What’s the end of it?’ And my answer is “I don’t give a shit. What’s the end of Superman? What’s the end of Batman? What’s the end of Spider-Man? Why are you asking me for the end? Why aren’t you asking, ‘Can this last for 30 years?'” It goes on. But could you just speak to building something that endures and how that informs, maybe, decisions you make or how you think about creativity?

Todd McFarlane: Well, that quote that you spoke is true, and I’ve had that conversation many, many times in Hollywood. It’s weird that you’re walking in, presenting them the beginning of an idea, and one of the first questions is, how does the idea end? For a company, a studio, a conglomerate, who’s built on trying to make money, why would you want to kill anything in the crib? It’s a weird conversation I’m having with them because, again, what is the end of Batman? I don’t know. Who cares? We hope it goes a thousand years. Why are we talking about this in the first meeting? I mean, I get it maybe in season three and the ratings are lagging, we can maybe have this conversation, but not in the first one.

I think one of the ways to create a brand that does have some value is using another word, and it’s called attrition. Attrition is that, over time, you’re going to have both high points and low points, but you’ve got to just keep going. You can’t quit. You’ve got to just keep going and going and going and going and find yourself and put yourself in as many corners as possible, during both the good and the bad time, so that maybe people don’t know who you are or don’t know what you do but then they go, “You know what? I’ve heard the character Spawn.” They don’t have to have bought anything. I’m going to use a big example. I know and have read nothing about the Kardashians, and yet I have information in my head about them. I’ve done nothing towards that and, still, it’s in my head. Why? Because I can’t get away from them. Somehow, because I’m looking for an article, I read the headline, and so I’ve got info. That’s just attrition.

And so, were people going, “Did the Spawn comic book have a lull at times?” Of course it did. Where the sales were not very good? Of course it did. But I thought that the value wasn’t that, was I making money in the way that I needed to at that point, it was just to keep the machinery going because the value, at some point, isn’t now any single issue or any single year, it’s now sum total of all of it. So that all the people over 30 years who have passed through any of the characters I’ve created, let’s use Spawn. He’s my biggest guy. Maybe they came in for five years and then quit, but they’re still there. They’re still there. If we ever do a movie, they’re going to remember, “Oh, yeah, yeah. 20 years ago, I collect that.” But maybe it was somebody who passed through it 15 years ago or 10 years ago, or five years ago, or just jumped on since we set the world’s record that came in going, “Huh, you know what? I’ve been a DC and Marvel acolyte and now I’m going to sort of try this.”

I don’t care. All you want to do is collectively keep building so that when you go to your next move, you can maybe peel off a piece of that army off to the side. To me, now, it’s just attrition of just going again, again, again. And so it will just get into your brain. I’ll give you a bad, bad, bad example early on. I mentioned it before when I was at my first Toy Fair. I gave them a Hot Wheel. I bought a funny car. I don’t know if people know what a funny car is, but a funny car is a cut down dragster and they put this really cool fiberglass body and they go down. Just Google, what’s a funny car look like? They’re super cool.

When I grew up in Orange County, Orange County International Raceway, we used to go down there, funny cars was the coolest thing in my life. Way better than dragons and robots. Anyways, I bought a funny car when Spawn came out and, really, because I wanted a funny car, but I had to convince my wife and other people otherwise. It was like, “No, it’s not that I need a funny car, it’s just that if I take a funny car and I paint the word “Spawn” on it and I take it to shows, you know who has a funny car at comic book conventions? No one. You know who’s ever had a funny car comic book conventions? No one.” If you bring something to a show that nobody’s ever brought before, you’ll be surprised. If you bring a elephant to a comic book convention and paint it purple, people will actually look at it. They’ll come and look at it because they’ll be going, “Why you got a purple elephant here?”

My purple elephant, my pink elephant, literally was the funny car. Now, here’s what I did. I did a two tone paint job on it. One side was white with the word “Spawn” on it and it had blood like you hit a deer at a thousand miles an hour and it splattered over the white. The other side was black with flames because it’s super cool. And then, what I used to do, Tim, is I used to have it sort of centered in my big giant booth. And then, I had this piece of paper and it said, “Vote. Which side do you like better so I can finish this project?”

Here’s what people did. I saw it with my own eyes hundreds of times. They took their kid or one person and they went on the white side and they went, “Yeah, that’s kind of cool with the blood. I like it, and I like the fade.” They went over to the flame black side and went, “Yeah, I like that. But, man, let me see. Let me go back over there. No, maybe I like that one,” and it went back and forth, back and forth. And then, they marked the sheet. You know what I did with the sheet at the end of each show? I threw it in the garbage. I threw it in the garbage. I didn’t give a shit. I was never going to repaint that car.

What I needed them to do, Tim, was to spend five minutes looking at my logo. If I had painted that car with one paint job, the same on both sides, they wouldn’t have looked at it for five minutes. I forced them to look at the word “Spawn” thinking that they were helping me on some polling survey, and it was just I need to get the word “Spawn” into their wormhole. This was my trick. If you just figure out iterations of that, how do you get people to do that? Then eventually, over time, time matters. Time does matter. Time becomes the biggest value you have on your brand.

Tim Ferriss: From a creative, let’s just say, writing standpoint, you’ve now published more than 300 editions of Spawn. When you started Spawn, how many books out had you planned from a plot or character perspective? How much of it was setting, conditions and making it cool, and then assuming you’re just going to figure it out later and see where it goes? How far in advance did you or do you plan with that kind of thing?

Todd McFarlane: Tim, I just finished what’s going to be the biggest comic book in the country this just last week, the Batman/Spawn crossover. We touched upon it. I was winging it until they pried it out of my hand on Tuesday. What are you talking about? It horrifies writers. The way that I do it is horrifying. Do I have it in my head? Of course not. I just figure it out on the fly and, luckily, I get it right more times than I get it wrong.

Here’s what the goal was when I started Spawn. There was two goals. One, we started the company Image Comics, the third largest company as I mentioned. I said to myself, when we started, that Image Comic Books will exist for my lifetime. How do I know that? because even if there was only one book called Spawn, I was never going to take that logo off. I knew it was going to exist because I’m just that militant. I’m putting it on issue number one and it will never come off. Image Comic Books somehow, maybe in a small tiny way, will exist. Obviously, we’re flourishing so I don’t have to worry about there only being one book because we do about 60 or 70 books a month.

Number two, could I create a character that would outlive me, period. The guy who created Superman is dead. The guy who created Mickey Mouse, dead. The guy who created the Fantastic Four, we talked about him earlier today, Stan Lee, dead. Their characters live on. 

I consider creations to be creative children. Every parent has the same wish. You always want your children to outlive you. You always want your children to outlive you. Why? No parent gets up saying, “I hope my children go before I do.” You always want to go. We’ve seen movies, “I’ll sacrifice my life. Women and children first.” You’ll sacrifice your life for your family, but you go first.

If these are creative children, then the goal is, because I read about these people who created these characters that I know about, but their creators have long since passed away, including my good friend Stan. Could I create one or two characters? I don’t need a hundred. I’m not Disney. I’m not Walt Disney. I’m not Stan Lee. I’m not that good. But could I create one or two characters that when I die, people say, “I still want to see the characters.” That was the goal in the back of my head. Did I have a plan of where it was going? No, not really. Did I have a plan of how it was going to end? I do actually have the end. I just never have given it to anybody, and I hope it never gets written, because the only time you write the end is if nobody wants it. So you go, “Ah, I guess we better write the last story and put it to bed,” or whatever else.

Now to the point, Tim, and I hate saying this out loud, but Spawn’s costume was alive. It’s like a symbiot. It moves, and the chains are like the tongue, and the spikes are like the teeth, and the cape is all alive. Was his costume alive an issue with number one? No. No. How did it become alive? You just hit these moments real quickly. People were right in, because I’m very lazy. I never did a lot of referencing. There was no internet, but I still didn’t go to the library and get reference. I had deadlines, don’t have time for it. I just fake everything.

So I was drawing my pages of issue number one, and I guess this is how bad I am. I don’t pay attention to my own drawings. People were writing in, going, “Todd Todd, do you know you had the pouch on his left leg, and now it’s on his right leg? Do you know that you had six spikes on his arm, and now he’s got eight spikes?”

These are easy moments, Tim, that you have two choices. You either admit you’re a dumb shit. Or you go, “That’s because it’s alive. The costume morphs, and it can do anything at any time. It’s a living being.” And that’s now part of the mythology, and it was just because I screwed up. What are you talking about? You make lemonade out of your lemons, and you just keep moving on and hope they don’t catch up to you. I’ve been in those rooms plenty of times, where I said something I shouldn’t have, and they go — 

I’ll give you an example. I was doing a movie pitch for something, and I think it was for Doom or something. I was given this pitch, and they discovered something underneath the Mojave Desert or whatever. I was on a rant, and my buddy next to me slides a piece of paper over to me. I’m right in the middle of it. I’m with the Warner Bros. people and the prior writers, because they brought me in to see if they could help spark it. He slides a piece of paper over to me as I’m standing up, and on it says, “Todd, it takes place on the moon,” or something like that. I’m going, “And they discover it in the Mojave Desert.” I’m actually off a lot of miles, and I’m like — 

So I just blow the whole premise of this book, and I’d go, “Well, I’m this deep. I’ve got to finish. I’ve got to keep going.” And I sit down, and I remember the executive at Warner Bros. looks at me for a couple seconds, dead silence. And then he goes, slaps his hand and goes, “That’s what I’m talking about. He’s not afraid to take chances! He’s not afraid.” And the answer was, I just didn’t do enough research, sadly. Otherwise, I would’ve put it on the moon.

So sometimes you just have to, if you say it with enough confidence, they’ll go along for the ride with it. “He’s not afraid to basically follow everything in the book. This is what I’ve been talking about. We’ve got to bend some of the rules, blah, blah blah.”

Anyways, The Spawn, we’re up to issue 336. Went to the printers a couple days ago. Do I know what 337 is? I write a book called Gunslinger Spawn. Do I know what the next issue is? Nope. I know there’s a guy. I just introduced a cliffhanger with a guy who runs fast. That’s all I know, that I’ve got to pick up with a guy who runs fast. So I’ll figure it out when I’ve got to get the plot in two days.

10 years from now, you and I may be talking about my speedster runner, who’s the most popular guy. I had no idea the day before what I was doing with him.

Tim Ferriss: Well, Todd, where do you want to go next? I’ll leave it up to you. You’ve got so many stories. You seemingly have so many lives that run in tandem. You’re an excellent five-ball juggler. Which ball, if any, would you like to talk about next?

Todd McFarlane: What if we get away from the businesses and talk about personalities, not mine, but other people. I think that what’s of value to people who are thinking about doing ideas and/or some entrepreneurialship is, to some extent, recognizing your own personalities of whether you’re actually built for war or not.

To me, all of this is a war. I know my wife has said, “It’s sort of sad that you see your life as a war every day.” I’m ready, and if I’ve got one regret, and I’ve got a few of them, but one of them is I wish I was born 3,000 years ago, because back then, in a movie like Braveheart, if you believed in something so strongly, you would go to the battlefield. You would face your enemy, who basically was trying to deny you whatever it was that would give you personal happiness or what you thought would be good for your family. Only two things were going to happen. You were either going to cut his head off, or he was going to cut yours. That simple. I’ve always been the guy willing to go, “I’ll die for what I believe.”

Now, unfortunately, Tim, killing your enemy and cutting their head off is illegal. It’s really frustrating to me because man, there’s a lot of heads I’d like to see on the ground. And I’m sure they’d like to see mine. But we can’t do that. We have to be a law-abiding citizen. So now what we have to do in modern times is sue people and take away market shares and tell them “You will never work in this town.” And it’s just not nearly as satisfying as if I could just cut their heads off.

If I get ready for the war, which means that every day — I’m going to give you a piece of advice that don’t tell your mom if you’re listening to me, because moms will be horrified by this — here it is: lower the bar. Lower the bar. Don’t raise the bar. Lower it. Here’s why. Way easier to get over low bars than it is high bars. Try it. Put a bar six feet high, try to jump over it. Put a bar six inches off the ground. You can get over it 20 times in a minute. It’s easy. Lower the bar, ladies and gentlemen.

That means that I get up every day, and I don’t have high expectations of anything, not even with humanity. I’m not a religious person, but I do have a personal prayer, and it’s this simple, every day: “Today will not be perfect.” And many days in a row, Tim, I’ve nailed that. Every single day of my life I have never — I’m on even a longer streak than Cal Ripken Jr. with that.

What tortures people, and some of you are listening, are the people who have the bar higher than that. “Did you see this email this guy sent me? That son of a bitch.” “Oh, you thought today was going to be perfect. Did you see that guy? That guy cut me off on the freeway.” “Oh, that guy cut me off here in line. I was waiting in line, and they cut me off getting a ticket for the Black Panther movie, and now I can’t get in,” or whatever. “Oh, somebody said something about my haircut.” “Somebody said something about that.” 

So you thought that the world was going to be perfect and that everybody was going to wake up and that they were going to make your life better. You know who woke up on the planet today with eight billion people and said, “I’m going to make Todd’s life better today?” There was only one human being — one — and that was me. No other human being, not even my wife, that was their mission today. That was me.

So if you’re expecting others to make you happy and make it accommodating for you, you’re going to get crushed. Here’s what I would say. Lower the bar. Go to your job interview, and before you walk in, give it your damnedest, but assume you’re not getting the job. Give it your damnedest, but assume you’re not getting it. So when they don’t phone you back, and when you don’t get the job, you are okay with it, because if anything, you actually take it as a pride that you actually called the shot. “I knew it, I knew it. I went there. They didn’t give it to me. Dumb shit, but I knew it.” And pretty soon you don’t get hired for 10, 20 jobs in a row, and you’re on a hot streak now. You’re actually feeling pretty good that you called it 20 times in a row, you’re not getting the job.

And then guess what happens? You go to the 21st interview, and you give it your best, and you walk away and they go, “Todd, where are you going?” “I’m out of here because I know you’re not going to hire me.” And they go, “No, we actually want to offer you a job.”

And here’s why that’s a awesome day, because well, it’s sort of quasi-frustrated. First off, they break my streak of 20 noes in a row. So I’m a little frustrated that my streak went away, because I’m like, “God damn it, they broke my streak.” But by breaking my streak, I got the job. I got the job. It’s a good day.

Here’s what most people do, Tim, and my family members do the same thing. And I can’t help if it’s a personality. They actually think they’re going to get every job they go and apply for. And when they don’t, they get crushed. It literally crushes their soul for two or three days, and they’re a shell of a person. Why? Because they put the bar high. The bar was that we were going to get the job. No, put the bar where it says, “I’m not getting the job,” and you will never be disappointed. Assume today’s not going to be perfect and assume human beings are flawed, and you will have a pretty good life. Because guess what happens? Some days, nobody cuts you off, nobody cuts in line, and nobody writes you a bad email. And it’s a pretty good day. It’s a pretty good day because discomfort didn’t come. Not that you won the lottery, not that your team won the championship. You just didn’t have a lot of aggravation. You didn’t get sued today. Cool. It’s a good day.

I don’t know. I psych myself out. I psych myself out for little success, so when any of it comes, it’s cool. We talked about it with selling the toys at 60,000. There’s either way to get to 60,000 sales, and it be a negative, or it can be a positive. It depends on how you psych yourself out.

I am a horrible golfer, horrible golfer. I don’t do it much. Also, I’ve had people say, “Todd, you’re the worst golfer who doesn’t care.” Here’s why I don’t care. I don’t golf, and so I don’t golf. I don’t assume I’m going to get better by not golfing every three years, any more than my Mandarin and my Spanish is going to get better by me not practicing either one of those languages either.

You don’t get better by not doing it. So when I go golf, the odd time I’m in Phoenix, I’m horrible. But every now and then, I get lucky, and all of a sudden, on a par five, I get a six. I am dancing naked when I get a six on a par five. But it’s interesting. I’m with another guy who must have had a different expectation. His bar was different than mine. He hits it, he hits it, he gets a six. And he is so mad, he actually breaks his club that costs more than my entire rental. And he breaks his club, and I’m sitting there going, “Wow, he got a six. I got a six. It’s the same number. I’m dancing naked, and he’s cursing up a storm. He must have had a different expectation than me.”

So that’s it. I just keep my expectations low. It gets you through there.

Number two, they’re always going to say no to you, always going to say no to you. There has never been a story written in which the person who had the new idea, the person in the lead said, “Oh, I will now slow down or get out of the way so you can pass me.” Never ever will happen. So if you’re going to do something that’s going to aggravate the system status quo, there’s never been anybody in history that’s ever changed anything on any level and was liked by everybody. Get over it. Get over people liking you. Just figure out what your goal is.

I’ll give you my personality. I take my wife. We’re going to go to the bar, and we’re going to go dance. Okay. Nine o’clock comes around, the band starts playing, nobody wants to be the first one on the dance floor. Let me also say, if you’ve never been the first one on a dance floor, you’re probably not built to be an entrepreneur. Let me just put that there, because that means you give a shit about the rest of the people in that room.

I don’t. And here’s why. First off, I don’t even know them. Why would I give any weight, why would I give any power to a stranger in my life? Here’s what my goal is. My goal was to take my lovely wife out for an evening of dancing. There’s a dance floor, and there’s music. I’m going to dance. If every other human being in that room doesn’t want to dance, I don’t care. If they all want to dance, I don’t care. None of them are of importance to me. What’s important is that I want to dance with my wife tonight, and I’m doing it. I’m doing it. Do I care whether they think I’m a good dancer? Nope. Do I care if they think I look like a goof? Nope. Nope. Not one second of power do I give to that person.

If you are the person that’s going to wait till the dance floor is full so that then you can get on and nobody will see you so you can hide in the middle of the pack, I’m just telling you, you’re probably not built to be an entrepreneur. You have to just be at times, literally, don’t care. It’s not a trait that I want to encourage. I don’t want my kids to be like me. But you have to have it, because if you’re going to make change, if you’re going to go up against competition, they’re going to, every day, try and tell you you can’t and try and embarrass you somehow. And you have to just push it and categorize it to a side and say, “I don’t care. This was my goal, and I’m going to do it anyways.”

Tim Ferriss: Now, why would you not want your kids to have that trait? What’s the downside? Or how do you think about that?

Todd McFarlane: Because I can be a cold fish at times. When you — 

Tim Ferriss: Cold fish.

Todd McFarlane: Right.

Tim Ferriss: Meaning you’re like too Spock-like, or you come off as unemotional?

Todd McFarlane: No, no. I told you. Let’s say you put me out tomorrow, and I could cut the heads of my enemy though. Let’s go back to Braveheart. And I could cut the heads of my enemy.

So I got my mortal enemy in front of me, and I cut his head off. Do you know how much time I’m going to give to feeling guilty that I did it? Zero seconds. You know why, Tim? Because I’m in the middle of a battle. Remember, I keep thinking I’m at war. And if you watch something like Braveheart, I’m not the only one, and they’re not the only one on the battlefield. And if I sit there and give time to feel sorry for what I did to that man and think about his family and his children, somebody coming up behind me is going to cut my head off, and I will be dead six seconds later. So I must learn to cut and turn and forget about that dead victim, because somebody’s out to kill me five seconds later, and I either survive, or at least attempt to survive, or I lament and get my head cut off in a second.

Here’s how this works, Tim, here’s how this works in practical, modern terms for a guy like Todd. And I don’t necessarily want anybody to do it. I’m just telling you who I am.

I usually phone lawyers that I don’t like, and I’m in a fight with on Friday about 4:30. This is actually a very good time, and here’s why it’s a good time. Because I can get on the phone with them, and they can argue. And then you start raising voices, and you start sounding like Mussolini on the balcony. And you start going, and then you usually end those conversations like, “Oh, yeah? Well, fuck you.” “Yeah, well, fuck you.” “Okay, I’ll get on the phone with you Monday. We’re going to settle this bullshit.” And you go “Click.”

Now, here’s what I’ve told my wife, because she’s heard me do this before. She goes, “Todd.” She’s heard me before. “Todd, you’re going to have a heart attack.” “No, I’m not.” “Yes, you’re going to have a heart attack.” “No, I’m not. And here’s why.” My wife’s name is Wanda. “No, Wanda, I’m not going to have a heart attack.” And she doesn’t believe this, until this one scary moment, that I go, “No.” And she goes, “Why?” I go, “Because I don’t care.” The moment I hang up that phone, click, I don’t even care about that guy. That lawyer I just yelled at? Click. He’s like, “Dude. The weekend’s coming. I’ll worry about him on Monday. I’ll worry about him on Monday.”

But because I can do that, here’s what happens to the lawyer. He gets off the phone. He goes to all of his people in the office, he goes, “I just got off the phone with this son of a bitch, and here’s what he said.” And he’s going to chew on it, and he’s going to chew on it. Then he’s going to go home, and his wife’s going to say, “How was your day?” “Oh, fine, except for at the end, this guy…” And he’s going to chew on it. And then they’re going to go out, and they’re going to have a barbecue with their friends. They’re going to go, “How are things going?” “Oh, fine, but I’ve got this one thing.” And he’s going to chew on it and chew on it. And he’s going to sit there and think about me the whole weekend. By Monday, he’s exhausted.

And you know how much time I gave him during that same amount of time? Not one second of my emotions. Why? Because on Monday, click, I turn it back on. Guess, between the two of us, who’s emotionally more stronger to continue the conversation? The guy who was in the gym the whole time, bench pressing that weight? Or the guy who put it down and let his muscle sort of relax so I can go back to the gym a couple days later? I don’t care.

And here’s how I know that’s true. I know it’s true. You can believe it or not, but I proved it to my wife one day. She took out a life insurance policy or something, and the doctors have to come to the house, and they have to do an exam on you to make sure that you’re not dying or whatever. They come, and they got to do an examination on me and my wife. My wife is top fit. She’s awesome. She is a hiker, runner. She’s like a model. She’s awesome.

Anyways, they came, and I was in the middle of one of these Mussolini moments. The doctors came, and they go, “Todd, we’ve got to examine you.” And I go, “Tell them to do Wanda first. I’m on the phone, I’m on the phone.” They go and do Wanda. And then, they do my wife, whatever they had to do. And then, they come upstairs. She knows. She can still hear me yelling. She comes up with the doctors, there’s a couple of them, and then they go, “Okay, Todd, it’s you.” And I go, “Yeah, oh, yeah, okay. And fuck you.” Click. I end my conversation. I go, “What are we doing? Oh, we’ve got to do this examination. Oh, yeah, okay. Cool.” My wife was waiting for it. They do the blood pressure, and they do all the testing. And they go, “Oh, yours is the same as your wife’s.”

I literally, and it horrified my wife, let me just tell you it horrified her, because she goes, “I am married.” A, she was happy that I’m not going to die of a heart attack, because I literally can turn the switch off. Two, she was horrified she’s married to a monster, that he literally doesn’t care about another human being and can just turn it off.

I turn it off, Tim, not out of pride, not because I think that’s the way to go, not because I think that’s it. It’s because we all, if you’re in war, and I think I’m in war, if you’re at war, you have to find out ways of surviving that work for you. This is how I’ve learned to survive, to not let any — I’ve been sued, I’ve been screamed at. I’ve had people threatened. The other day, what are you talking about? One of the big retailers threatened to take all my toys off their shelf. You just accept that this is just part of the world that you live in.

If at any time, Tim, I ever get aggravated — you know who I’m the most aggravated with? Me, because at the end, no matter what’s happening, I have to ask the same question. “Who put me in this position?” “It’s uncomfortable. I don’t want be here. Why am I arguing with lawyers today? Oh, that was you, Todd. You started that company. You kept it going. You kept doing it.” I don’t get to pass the buck. I have to sit there and say, “The guy who basically caused all this is the guy I shave with every day.” And here’s the problem with that. I actually like that dude. And even if I don’t, I’ve got to live with him for the rest of my natural life. So you know what? I’m stuck. I’m stuck with it. I just figure out ways that work for me.

I don’t want you or any listener to replicate it. I would say, “No.” What I do do when I go to business classes, which is super awesome, when I go talk to business classes at university, first thing I say is, “I’m not going to tell you how to make money.” 85 percent of them throw their pencil down in disgust, because they thought I was going to give them the 10 lessons in how to make money.

I go, “Here’s what we’re going to talk about for an hour: how to keep your humanity, how to actually be a reasonable human being. So here’s what I’m going to tell you. I would rather you become a garbage collector and go become a good community person and go coach Little League for free than to be the VP of a bank and be divorced four times and estranged from your family and nobody wants to hang out with you.”

We somehow equate, in North America, money to success. And to me, my definition of success is different. I just think that there’s a way to just not care, even if you do have money and prestige and all of it. To me, it’s all silly. It’s all complicated our lives. My wife will tell you the same. It was easier when life was simpler.

But you guys are built, the guys that are doing their MBAs in these classes, they’re just little baby sharks. When I’m giving that conversation, I know that they want to emulate the big sharks, so I’m only talking to four or five of them that are out there. And at the end of it, after we go with it, I sometimes do this last little question there.

I go, “I’m just going to leave you with one thing, because I know about making money. You’ve got to make money. And the reason I don’t want to tell you how to make money, because if I tell you how to make a million bucks, you, in your brain and your intellect and your personal experiences, might have figured out how to make a hundred million. Why would I try to tell you how to make a million? You might have made a hundred million. You may be a thousand times smarter than me. I don’t want to limit you. But let me just leave — once we talked all of this to see if we can’t leave you with one thought here. All of you just woke up tomorrow, and you’re not feeling very good, so you go to the doctor. Doctor takes you in the back room, and he does a bunch of blood tests and says, ‘Hey, I’m going to run the blood test.’ And you go sit out in the lobby. ‘I’ll get back to you.’

“So you go out in the lobby, and you look on your cell phone for a while. 25 minutes later the doctor comes back. He doesn’t look very good. He’s got a serious look. And he says, ‘Hey, I need you to come back to my office.’ ‘Yeah, sure, doc.’

“You go sit down. They go, ‘We ran all the tests, and we reran them, and you have inoperable cancer. There is nothing modern medicine can do. You will be dead in three weeks. You’re dead. There’s no hope.’

“Now, I’m going to assume that everybody listening to my voice right now has at least one person they care about, at least one person. So think about the person that you care about the most. That person, I assume if you care for them that much, they care about you that much. And in three weeks that person is going to be left without you. It will be trauma to their life.

“So here’s the question. If you could only pick one human being to help that person you care about to transition after you’re gone, to soft-land them as much as possible, to be by their side, to do anything that will be helpful in their grieving period, who is that individual? I want you to pick just one individual. I’ll give you 15 seconds to think of it.” And then I stand there, Tim, in silence. And then I go, “My last question before I leave. Did you pick the richest person you know, or did you pick the best person? Why don’t you want to be the second one? Why don’t you want to be the best person instead of the richest? Because when it mattered, and we just proved it, you didn’t pick the rich person. Be the second person, and you can still make money and be that second person. Don’t worry about it, but don’t make the money the driver. Don’t do it. But I’m only talking to three of you in this class. The rest of you’ve already sold your soul.”

Tim Ferriss: Well, Todd, I think that is the best place to maybe bring this conversation home and leave people with that to chew on, without adding too much more. I have to say we could easily do a round three at some point. But I do think that is an excellent place to stop and begin to at least land the plane. Is there anything else that you would like to add, call people’s attention to, or anything else? Any closing comments before we end this conversation, at least for now?

Todd McFarlane: Yeah. The only thing I’d like to do is encourage people who have a little bit of doubt. If you got a lot of bit of doubt, it might not work. A little bit of doubt, I think we can get past that hurdle.

I don’t consider myself to be smart or intelligent or do anything better than anybody else. I was able, through just a little bit of perseverance, to get there. I believe that if I can do it, and I was dumb, I got nothing but Ds in school and stuff like that. If I can do it, I just think there are so many people up there. What I do at times, it’s frustrating to me. I’m up on stage sometimes at comic conventions. I don’t even talk about comic books, but I go, “I’m going to talk to you as your dad, as your uncle. And I’m going to tell you why I think you should try this.” I think we’ve spoken about some of those on your show in these two parts.

“Just try it, and if it doesn’t work, it’s like cutting your hair. It’ll grow back. You can always go back to the system wherever you’re at. You can always go back. There’s no harm, there’s no dishonesty in trying and failing. That’s okay. The person who never tries, I think, has more regret.”

I talk to them. I stand on one side of the stage and I go, “Come on, man. Just try. Try. Try it once.” I think everybody, in all honesty, Tim, should try to be an entrepreneur once in their life. And then I walk to the other stage, and I go, “Now I’m going to talk to you as Todd the CEO. And here’s what I’m going to tell you as Todd the CEO. I hope you don’t do it. I hope you sow those doubts, and you never do it. And you know why? Because that means I will never have to compete with you. And you may be smarter and better and more well-equipped, and I’ll never have to play the game against you. So make my life easy, and don’t compete.”

But I’m telling you, the dad side of me? Take me down. Man, because the 25-year-old Todd, I’m telling you, I just know would’ve listened to me, the 60-year-old man and would’ve said, “Dude, I will gut you.” I would never have let an old man on that stage go, “I hope you don’t do it because you’re not good enough.” I would’ve gone and said, “Oh, yeah, I’ve made it my personal mission.”

So even if I can just gin up a couple of people to just go, “Come on, man. Come on, man.” You can do it. But if you keep coming up with reasons why you’re not built for entrepreneurialship, you have to think a little bit delusional at times, to the point where you think you’re better than you are. That’s okay. That’s okay. Confidence is half the battle, and now we’ve got to figure out whether you got the skill set, which is the other half. But some of the skill can come along the way, because confidence and determination can take you pretty far until you learn those skills. Just go, go, go. That’s all I’ve got.

Tim Ferriss: Well done. I will say first that I can see why the people from the NHL or wherever would’ve said, “Yeah, I think we’ll just take the 500 grand and not choose to have this guy jabbing us with a spear for the next 20 years. So let’s just do that deal.” I can definitely see that.

I find you to be extremely impressive as a creator, as an artist, fascinating as a CEO. And I got to say, you’re a Hell of a good teacher. You’re a really good teacher. So thank you for taking the time to have these conversations and to share your stories and your lessons and your beliefs. It’s been a Hell of a lot of fun.

To everybody listening, we will have links to everything we discussed, all the music videos, anything else that my team and I can possibly find as a reference to link to related to the show, we’ll include in the show notes, including the show notes at As usual, you can find Todd on all the social networks. We’ll link to those in the show notes as well at

Until next time, get out there. Give it a shot. Take your shot. You’ll miss all of the shots you don’t take, so give it a go. You can always go back to the system and the status quo. And thanks for listening.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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