For many, spending the workday listening to inspiring stories and powerful lessons from some of the world’s most impressive entrepreneurs—think Mark Cuban and Richard Branson, for example—sounds like the very definition of a dream job.
But for Ramtin Arablouei, the producer of NPR’s popular “How I Built This” podcast, it was really something he just sort of fell into.
Arablouei had a successful career as a full-time musician, recording music for movies and TV, when he was contacted by an NPR producer for a gig scoring the show “Ted Radio Hour.” The job gave Arablouei the chance to forge solid relationships at NPR—including with Guy Raz, the host of Ted Radio Hour.
Six months later, Arablouei received a call from Raz, who had an idea for a new show. He asked Arablouei to come onboard to work on the pilot: a small project that was supposed to take only three to six weeks.
“That turned into months and then years,” says Arablouei. He soon joined the team at NPR to work side-by-side with Raz on the “How I Built This” podcast. “It was a real kind of a hit the ground running thing from the day I got there,” he says, “And, we did it. Pun intended, I guess we built it.”
Today, Arablouei is responsible for producing the show’s episodes, which involves weeding through two-hour interviews with some of the world’s most impressive and inspiring entrepreneurs.
Needless to say, it’s a challenge that Arablouei not only enjoys but also learns a lot from. We sat down with him to uncover some of the best lessons he’s learned from “How I Built This” guests—as well as how he applies those sentiments to his own life and career.
6 Entrepreneurial Lessons from Interviewing Entrepreneurs
1. Always protect your ideas.
When it comes to safeguarding ideas, many entrepreneurs tend to think of the legal side of things—copyrights and intellectual property, for example. But, Arablouei has learned that many seeds of innovation require a different kind of protection.
“One of the things I’ve learned from all of these entrepreneurs is that you really have to protect your ideas in a sense that as soon as you tell someone about something, they’re going to raise doubts,” he explains, “It’s human nature.”
This is something that Arablouei experienced firsthand in developing “How I Built This” with Raz. The two persevered to create the show that so many people know and love today.
That’s a point that Arablouei think is important for all entrepreneurs: in the end, you have to have faith in what you’re doing—despite what criticisms the naysayers have.
2. Get comfortable with rejection and uncertainty.
Speaking of naysayers, any entrepreneur will be quick to tell you that rejection is a core pillar of the journey. And, being able to deal with that is something that Arablouei claims is critical for pushing on and eventually achieving success.
“Some of these people, what made them really successful is being able to shut off that logical part of the brain that says, ‘This might not be worth it,’” he says. “You really have to be a little delusional in a healthy way.”
Another thing that entrepreneurs encounter? Unexpected twists in the road and setbacks. “You need to have an ease with uncertainty and be able to accept that you may or may not succeed,” Arablouei says. It's another key lesson he’s learned in working on the show.
“What sets the entrepreneur apart is being able to cultivate a tolerance for rejection and a comfort with uncertainty.”
3. Understand that technical skills aren’t necessary for success.
What Arablouei has to say next might surprise you: “The most successful entrepreneurs often tend not to be the most technical people.”
“Often, the more technical people are, the more difficult it is for them to take the 10,000 foot view,” he continues.
Arablouei highlights Mark Cuban as an example. “He was a programmer, but he wasn’t the best programmer,” Arablouei says. He didn’t achieve his success because of that technical capability, but because he had a vision for what he wanted to accomplish and was then able to find other people to help him build it.
“It’s the same with the guys who started Instagram—they weren’t photographers,” shares Arablouei.
It’s tempting to become convinced that the most influential entrepreneurs are highly skilled in one specialized area. But instead, Arablouei has learned that it’s much more about having vision and being able to lead others toward it.
4. Be willing to step outside of yourself.
Another key trait of a successful entrepreneur? Empathy.
“The best entrepreneurs are the ones who can really step outside of their own head and understand what someone else wants from a perspective of innovation,” says Arablouei.
In order to grow a business or a product, they first need to be assured that they’re meeting a need or solving a problem—a confirmation that can only occur when they take the time to listen and comprehend what their target audience is saying and experiencing.
“The ability to deeply empathize is required,” says Arablouei.
5. Have an insatiable curiosity.
“These people have a certain humility, a lack of arrogance, and a willingness to learn new things,” says Arablouei about another thing he’s learned from the various podcast guests.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and Arablouei states that the most forward-thinking and progressive entrepreneurs have a real desire to learn—and aren’t intimidated by needing to challenge themselves with something new or foreign.
“Almost every single one had to teach themselves a new skill in order to become successful. Gary Erickson, who had never cooked anything in his life, learned how to make an energy bar,” he explains of the creator of the Clif Bar, who was also a podcast guest.
“No matter how old you are or where you are in life, if you want to do something, you have to always be willing to learn,” Arablouei advises.
6. Be relentlessly tenacious.
“You know, we haven’t had a single guest where I’ve thought, ‘Oh, they just got lucky,” Arablouei explains of the numerous impressive entrepreneurs they’ve had on the podcast.
Instead, he says that they’ve all demonstrated a certain relentless tenacity. They had unwavering belief in what they were doing, and refused to give up—even when all odds were against them.
“No matter how many times these people were told, ‘Your idea sucks’ or they started ideas and they failed, they kept coming back—they kept coming back for more,” he shares.
When so many roadblocks stand in the way of reaching success as an entrepreneur, that level of resilience and tenacity is absolutely crucial.
It goes without saying that Arablouei’s day job isn’t just fun — it’s also incredibly enlightening. And, he feels lucky that he’s been able to extract so many valuable lessons that he’s been able to apply to his own life.
“I have to say, working on this show has made me so much more entrepreneurial,” he says. “You know, I have essentially this small kind of podcast scoring business now. I work with a lot of different podcasts. A lot of that has come from being really inspired by some of these guests.”
Outside of work, Arablouei also continues to hone his creative talents by not only scoring different shows, but also by drumming with his band Drop Electric. The band is on a new compilation record coming out with Lefse Records on August 11, where they appear with numerous other big-name artists like Mac DeMarco.
The mission of the album is to raise both money and awareness for anti-Islamophobia groups—a cause that’s near and dear to Arablouei, whose parents are from Iran.
Arablouei is also working on developing his own podcast at NPR with a co-host, which will look at current events through a historical lens. At this point, that’s slated for late August or September on NPR One.
Yes, Arablouei has a lot of awesome, creative projects on his plate. But, it’s pretty safe to say that whatever he does, he’ll be successful at it. After all, with the advice of dozens of the world’s most impressive entrepreneurs behind him, how could he not be?
Author Bio Kat Boogaard (@kat_boogaard) is a Midwest-based writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. She is a columnist for Inc., writes for The Muse, is Career Editor for The Everygirl, and a contributor all over the web.