Chip Conley Podcast – Modern Elder Academy Founder

Chip Conley

Rebel hospitality entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author, Chip Conley disrupted his favorite industry… twice. At age 26 he founded Joie de Vivre Hospitality (JdV), transforming an inner-city motel into the second largest boutique hotel brand in America. He sold JdV after running it as CEO for 24 years, and soon the young founders of Airbnb asked him to help transform their promising start-up into the world’s leading hospitality brand.

Chip served as Airbnb’s Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy for four years and today acts as the company’s Strategic Advisor for Hospitality and Leadership. His five books have made him a leading authority at the intersection of psychology and business. Chip was awarded “Most Innovative CEO” by the San Francisco Business Times, is the recipient of hospitality’s highest honor, the Pioneer Award, and holds a BA and MBA from Stanford University.

In today’s episode, Brian & Chip Discuss:

  • What it’s like to have your birthday fall on Halloween
  • Choosing to go to a high school where Chip knew he would be in the minority
  • Having a very engaged, passionate father who wanted nothing more than for Chip to become a better version of his dad
  • Starting a hotel brand in one of the worst neighborhoods in San Francisco
  • How Maslow’s Hierarchy has influenced Chip’s Leadership & Business Philosophy
  • Meeting AirBNB Founders & joining the company as both a mentor & an intern
  • Why today’s workforce must embrace the wisdom of our Modern Elders

Connect with Chip: Website | LinkedIn

Check out Modern Elder Academy.

Connect with Brian Mohr: Website | LinkedIn

Chip Conley Podcast Interview

Brian Mohr: [00:07:43] Well ladies and gentlemen welcome to another edition of the Built on Purpose podcast.

Brian Mohr: [00:07:49] I am incredibly excited to have with me today hotelier, author, social alchemist, disruptor, student, sage, and modern Elder the one and only Chip Conley… Chip:

Chip Conley: [00:08:08] What is up man.

Chip Conley: [00:08:10] I am wearing way too many name tags… All different.

Chip Conley: [00:08:17] You know I dig it.

Brian Mohr: [00:08:19] It’s a good thing. I guess you’ve been constantly reinventing yourself or should I say continuing to learn more about who you are and what you’re capable of.

Chip Conley: [00:08:29] Thank you. Thank you very much.

Brian Mohr: [00:08:31] Absolutely great to have you. So I want to start off.

Brian Mohr: [00:08:34] You were born on Halloween and I am just so curious. As a guy born on Halloween as a youngster was having your birthday on the same day as Halloween. An exciting thing? Or did it just piss you off that Halloween was robbing you of your special day?

Chip Conley: [00:08:52] I think it meant it meant that my special day meant that I was just a weird kid, you know, everybody and you got dressed up really strangely on this, like “what was all that about” No, I – you know – I have lots and lots of photos of birthdays with people dressed funny and I still have those because every five years I do have a birthday somewhere in the world starting at age 30.

Chip Conley: [00:09:17] And now I’m 58 so I’ve got the sixtieth coming up soon. But it’s been everywhere from Bali to Marrakech and I promise you we do have a master party one night.

Brian Mohr: [00:09:27] I love it. I love it.

Brian Mohr: [00:09:28] So as you as you think back on all of these Halloweens is there any one particular costume of yours that just really brings back me or the most vivid memories as the costume itself.

Chip Conley: [00:09:44] Interesting question.

Chip Conley: [00:09:48] No not quite. I mean I you know. I did show up at one point in what looked like a birthday suit. Like….

Chip Conley: [00:09:55] Nothing. But it wasn’t I actually; it was a body double… Gave me a suit, like showed me how to actually create in essence what looks like…

Chip Conley: [00:10:06] A naked body, but it’s not my naked body. And I did show up at a birthday party like that once. And the shock factor was enormous. You realize:

Chip Conley: [00:10:16] Oh! Chips wearing something!

Brian Mohr: [00:10:19] I’m sure the looks on people’s faces were were pretty priceless.

Chip Conley: [00:10:24] The good times good times.

Brian Mohr: [00:10:25] Thanks for indulging me on that. I’m always curious there’s you know you always meet folks who have their birthdays coincide with that with a big holiday and you were the first person I met who was born on Halloween social super curious about that.

Chip Conley: [00:10:41] You know I will say one thing that’s interesting Brian is that you know, I live in Mexico for more than half the time. And I was in San Miguel de Ndadaye which is not too far from Mexico City a couple of years ago. And going to the day of the dead which is actually after Halloween. It’s in early November and doing the day of the dead experience in Mexico that is how they do their Halloween. Or their post Halloween, right? I mean it’s really quite an experience. And I think probably of all the places in the world, there’s no place that does that – That period around Halloween day. The dead are better than men in Mexico.

Brian Mohr: [00:11:24] That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Well that sounds like a whole ‘nother conversation we could probably hear.

Brian Mohr: [00:11:30] And I’m really curious, and I want to kind of rewind the clock here, and this may be super interesting or maybe absolutely not an interesting topic but I’m curious when you attended Long Beach Polytechnic… You’re enrolled in the PACE program which stands for the program of additional curricular experiences. And having not attended Long Beach Polytechnic or having not been a part of any kind of a program like that: Is there any impact? I’m curious as you think back on the impact that program had on who you are and the experiences that you pursued after you left Long Beach Polytechnic.

Chip Conley: [00:12:12] Oh my gosh wow! Well I appreciate you doing the homework. I’ve rarely been asked that question or anything close to that. So Long Beach Poly is a famous high school. It’s actually where Snoop Dogg went to high school. And Cameron Diaz. And it’s pretty famous because it’s the number one school in the country for being a feeder school for the NBA and the NFL. So it’s a big inner city high school public school. But it’s also the number one feeder school for the UC. System in the state of California for the public state universities system. So it’s an academically relatively strong place. PACE, my program, was the first graduating class. PACE Was meant to be a way an alternative to bussing. So I’m 58 – this is back in the 1970s. There was a strong desire in us to integrate high schools. And one alternative was to create a bussing program and there are just all kinds of protests around bussing from school. So what long beach did was different. It actually took all of the best programs academically in the school district where there were five high schools and they put them all in the inner city high school. And they said if you want to do college prep programs, you can do it. And we’ve got great programs but they’re all in inner city school. And what that was meant to do was, to sort of – Instead of forcing people to be bussed it was giving choice to say I want to go to school in a neighborhood that is generally not integrated.

Chip Conley: [00:14:00] So I was known as curious white boy is my older nickname.

Chip Conley: [00:14:06] And I would say that’s the combination. To answer your question.

Chip Conley: [00:14:08] The two elements to it. Number one is going to high school in an inner city school where I was a minority as a white guy was a great experience because I think all of us in our life need to live in a place for some extended period of time…

Chip Conley: [00:14:23] Where we are the “other.” And when I say the other I put that in quotes. The “other” being the person who is not in the majority because it helps students understand and have empathy for what that means. To be in the minority whether it’s a woman in a boardroom or a person of color. In most companies or me at AirBNB as an old guy. So I was the “other” by being a white person in a predominately non-white school. And then the PACE program was a really intense college prep program that prepared me well for going to Stanford. And so, you know, you wouldn’t expect an inner city high school to have had five or 10 grads be accepted into Stanford but that’s exactly what happened because the program was strong enough that this. The Inner city public school system allowed that. So I think it really helped me also get really connected to purpose. My own sense of like… How do I give back? Because I was able to see in an inner city community how so much of society wasn’t really giving back to that community. And so for me, one of my chief things I did with my foundation is to have it give money as well as project support to inner city youth programs because of my experience growing up there.

Brian Mohr: [00:15:51] That’s awesome. I appreciate you sharing that.

Brian Mohr: [00:15:54] As you finished Stanford, and if my research is accurate, you spent a couple and a half years in the real estate business and from what I gathered it sounds like you realized pretty quickly that that was not where you were going to spend your career and after a couple and a half years you got out of it. Was there anything in particular about the industry or any incidents that you encountered where, you know, that sense of purpose you talk about where you just knew that that wasn’t where you were going to dedicate your life’s work?

Chip Conley: [00:16:42] You know, I went directly to Stanford undergrad business school so the years you’re talking about are after getting an MBA and I felt that business can be very money driven. It’s somewhat of a mercenary business on the brokerage side on the development side, etc. and there are some visionary developers and I really admire them and the developer I was working for was moderately visionary. But at the same time it felt like I didn’t have enough creativity. What was really fueling my decision that I wanted to take my real estate background and apply it in a more purposeful but also more creative way – was the need to sort of feel I was going to. And to do something that was pioneering that haven’t been done before and that’s when I decided to start a boutique hotel company in the mid 1980s at a time when boutique hotels were just getting off the ground in the US. And I love the fact that the purpose of the company or the mission of the company is to “bring joy of life.” That was also the name of the company in French. I also like the fact that I can use my real estate background, but apply it in a more creative way and also in a way where if I did my job well and our team did their jobs well, we would make people happy and that’s really what the hotel business is about. So yeah – that’s how I got started. Age 26: got my first boutique hotel and in a bad neighborhood.

Brian Mohr: [00:18:12] Yeah right. Right. Yep. Yep exactly.

Chip Conley: [00:18:16] Yeah.

Brian Mohr: [00:18:26] So at some point I would assume during the early part of you hotel career, you had – please correct me on how the interaction occurred – but you had a chance meeting or a chance connection with a legendary concert promoter Bill Graham and then I think there’s somewhat of the story as Bill had impressed upon you that as musicians are coming in and out of San Francisco that there’s really isn’t a property that psychographs and there was a real opportunity there. I’d love to talk just a little bit about your experience with Bill: What you picked up from him and what kind of a figure he was in your life.

Chip Conley: [00:19:03] So when I was working for the real estate developer for two and half years out of business school, one of the projects that I was assigned to was a potentially joint venture with Bill Graham and his organization to build the Shoreline Amphitheater which is right down your Google headquarters.

Brian Mohr: [00:19:20] Now down near STANFORD UNIVERSITY, Yes.

Chip Conley: [00:19:23] And so the truth is that there was a joint venture that didn’t really need us. And so the question was: How are we supposed to be partners with them? And over time I got to know Bill a little bit, and that’s when he said listen: “You know what you guys really should do instead of trying to be our partners on this project, is you should try to create a hotel that accommodates musicians on the road.” And then he told me why. And that’s what led me to saying: “OK you know I’m going to get a broken down motel in the tenderloin of San Francisco which is a tough neighborhood and turn it into a rock n roll hotel called the Phoenix. And that was more than 32 years ago and it became a surprising success against all odds. And led me to creating 52 boutique hotels over the next 24 years. As my role as the founder and CEO of what became the second largest boutique hotel company in the U.S. and yes it certainly was doldrum.

Brian Mohr: [00:20:24] Yeah that’s super cool and as I understand it the original name of the Phoenix was Magnolia Court, if I’m not mistaken.

Chip Conley: [00:20:34] You’ve done your research. Funny, I saw my mom & dad yesterday at the Phoenix. We had an annual owners meeting at the Phoenix yesterday and they’re investors and I laughed at my dad and I said that you wanted to call this place Magnolia Court. And I said: “We want to make sure we’re in play and that our primary customers – families from the Midwest that were coming didn’t say: ‘Dad, this is a motel surrounded by hookers & pimps in the neighborhood…this is not where we’re going to go’ ”

Chip Conley: [00:21:08] And so the Phoenix is what we became because it was rising from its own ashes like the mythical bird. The Magnolia Court – My God – it sounds like a place where you go to retire for sure, at least a very nice assisted living facility or something like that.

Brian Mohr: [00:21:34] Yeah, for sure. You know, I don’t want to spend too much time on it, but was it hard to have your dad one of the lead investors in the Phoenix? Did that present challenges or was it pretty easy?

Chip Conley: [00:21:46] I mean at first it was very hard because I was young and let’s start with that – I was way too young to be doing what I was doing. So having my dad help.. He was a small investor but he was somebody I would bounce ideas off of. But what became clear was there are certain things like traditional business stuff -Yes he was helpful. Anything that related to theoncept of a hotel, what kinds of services were offering, the design of the hotel, the branding of the hotel. All of that… He was so much a fish out of water. And what was problematic was that he didn’t really get my vision. And it was almost up to me, the way I thought it was. He didn’t have confidence in me or my vision or what I was going to be doing, and it was it was a tough time.

Chip Conley: [00:22:31] You know, we had almost a wrestling match & the hotel staff was watching like “What is going on here?!”

Chip Conley: [00:22:43] But over time it was hard. And my dad you know let’s also recognize, I was always in his shadow. Or he was always there right next to me and that was supportive. And yet it was also a little oppressive. And I’m even his Junior, which is another “Chip off the old block” which is part of the reason I have the name Chip.

Chip Conley: [00:23:06] And I went to the same high school as my dad and swam and played water polo there just like he did and went to the same college as my dad – Stanford – and joined the fraternity just like he did. I’m a mathematics major just like he was. I went to business school just like he did. And he was my Boy Scout leader and Eagle Scout and I became an Eagle Scout. And he was my baseball coach and I was a star pitcher. So, bottom line is my dad was ever present in my life. And I would say if he had diluted that by 20 percent it would have been perfect. Because it was a little too much. And yet from those whose fathers were not in their life at all, you know, I would rather have my dad in my life the way he was not in my life at all. But I would say it would have been probably healthier for my dad if he had been about 20 percent less active in my life, because I felt like I was very much on my dad’s path.. He wanted me to be a better version of himself. And he even admitted that yesterday we were talking he says: No, I want it. I want you to be a better version of myself.”

Chip Conley: [00:24:08] And it’s like: “Well if you if you’d said you wanted me to be a different version of yourself that would have been helpful because I was a different version. I was just trying to be a better version of you.”

Chip Conley: [00:24:20] Because that would actually have limited my path in so many ways. And as it turns out, I am a better and different version of my dad – I’m both. It didn’t have to be an either-or; it could be both.

Brian Mohr: [00:24:32] Yeah, sure. Absolutely. I appreciate you sharing a little of that insight. That’s really good stuff.

Brian Mohr: [00:24:40] I want to shift a little bit here and I want to make a reference so Jerry Seinfeld.

Brian Mohr: [00:25:02] I think he’s an absolutely brilliant comic and I think so much of his brilliance comes from his keen awareness of paying attention to simple acts of daily life. And, you know, finding the humor in the daily things and I want to draw an analogy because I think in many ways your leadership follows a similar path – at least what I’ve seen and read and experiences I’ve had – Where you have looked to your frameworks like Maslow’s hierarchy and instead of recreating the wheel you’re finding what is a Truth. You adopt them and then figure out: “All right. How can I leverage this framework as the way to run a business?” And you talk about joie de vivre the joy of life and to bring a sense of joy to the people that you’re serving. To me, using Maslow’s hierarchy makes so much sense, but I’m curious. What might seem like common sense to some is very uncommon to many. So my question is: When did you know or how did you know to simply look for these common sense frameworks and use them as the basis from which to grow everything that you’ve been involved in?

Chip Conley: [00:26:20] First of all, thank you Brian – I appreciate that. For me, I am a voracious learner and reader. So I like to constantly learn new things feed and feed my head. So I’ll just give a couple examples using Maslow and Viktor Frankl. So with Maslow – I took one psychology class in college. I liked it but I didn’t do anything beyond that. I do rememberin one classs that the guy who had the halo around his head as a psychologist was Maslow because most that most psychologists were focusing on neuroses and deficits as I was focusing on best practices and human behavior and what we learn. From them created this hierarchy of needs theory. So when I was struggling in the dot com bust we were the largest hotelier in the SF Bay Area. At that point we had 18 hotels in San Francisco alone. That’s just in the city. And the city and everything was just falling apart. That’s 16-18 years ago. I went to the local bookstore looking for a book or business book saying: “OK, I went out into business school so I learned something, like You know I need a clue right now” and I only after about 10 minutes in the business section I ended up in self-help and psychology and that’s when I realized my problems are more serious than just business. And that’s where I ended up running into one of massive books and I sat on the floor for two hours reading Maslov. I had to learn this stuff in college and this is really interesting, and I was really applying myself here to have actualisation on the level at the top. To myself, saying like “How can I feel self actualized in a time when I feel completely deflated right now?” And so I bought the book and then reading at night I just said “Well what if if companies are full of humans in masses – here is basically a human hierarchy of needs. How could you apply the same hierarchal image for an individual and apply it to a collective like an organization?” And that’s again with my desire to read and learn it’s sometimes a matter of reading, learning, and then reapplying it in a new way. And we took Maslow’s pyramid, five old tiers, and turned it into a three level transformation pyramid to apply that hierarchy of needs principle and sort of paradigm to employees customers and investors who are our three most important stakeholders in our company. And ultimately we tripled in size in the dot com bust which was a big surprise to everybody because everybody said we were a goner we were the biggest foothold in Bay Area. Kimpton and Schrager who are two biggest boutique competitors were losing hotels to the banks & turning some hotels going into bankruptcy. And instead we know we did really well and it was partly because of this theory which ultimately led me to reading a book called: “Peak: How Great Companies get their Mojo from Maslow.” And then a few years later, you know the great recession once again it was a Jewish psychologist who actually came out of it out of the woodwork…

Chip Conley: [00:29:38] And you know on the library shelf it was like “OK I’m going to read that “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, a guy who had been in a concentration camp in World War II and apply it to myself. And that’s how I sort of got reacquainted with the idea of:

Chip Conley: [00:29:53] “How do you find meaning in the darkest of times?” And for anybody who’s who’s having a difficult time and lamenting, you know reading Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” about what it was like to be in a concentration camp and you’ll realize that you are you are just in your pity pot because your life is probably not bad compared to what he was going through and the people he was in the camp with. But his books are very very powerful books and it lead to me reading a book called “Emotional Equations.” And led to me just sort of start looking at how do we apply emotional intelligence in a more fundamental way in leadership in organizations. And that’s what I did in my company and that’s ultimately what I used when I went to AirBNB.

Brian Mohr: [00:30:38] Yeah let’s talk about that. It’s a perfect segue.

Brian Mohr: [00:30:42] You know I’d love to hear how did you originally connect with AirBNB as a gender neutral team there and you know clearly this sense of value from all of your experience and your your building of emotional intelligence and as you talk about that exchange of Iike EQ for DQ and I’ll let you explain it. You know, how did you meet the team? How did you guys decide that this was a good idea? And how did you find your way through with the maze?

[00:31:21] Yeah I mean, it was funny – when I read “Man’s Search for Meaning” I read it at a time when I was struggling and it made me really realize I needed to sell my company which is a hard thing. You know when you start a company at age 26 you can run it for 50 or 60 years and 24 years into it, it’s like”You know what I’m over this. I need to move on.” It was a hard thing to do but I did and a couple of years later as I was in a new era, there’s a great great quote from Robert De Niro in a movie where he says “Musicians don’t retire, they quit when there’s no more music left inside of them.” And I think that really was appropriate for me I was 52 I knew there was a lot of music inside of me but. And that was when six years ago Brian Chesky Co-Founder of AirBNB and CEO approached me and said I’d love to have you be my intern and in-house mentor and help us become a hospitality company because we’re a small tech company that’s growing fast but we have no hospitality or travel industry people in the company. So I delved quite deeply into helping run the company with those three and a senior leadership team that helped. To work with them ws a full time job and what it taught me quickly when I was as much as I was the mentor – I was older than everybody else, twice the age the average person in the company – but I was the intern as much as I was the mentor. Yes I had a lot of wisdom around hospitality and leadership and strategy. I had a strategy for the company as well. But I didn’t know a damn thing about technology. Didn’t know a lot about millennial travel habits, didn’t know much about the Silicon Valley tech world of investors, and so often I was learning as much as I was teaching. And so it led ultimately that coined the term in the company people started calling me “The Modern Elder” and the modern elder is different than a traditional elder in the sense that the modern elder is as much a curious learner as they are a wise teacher. And it’s that combination of curiosity and wisdom that makes them relevant and elder. The past is all about you give reverence to your elders. But no one does that anymore in Western society. So it’s about having relevance and relevance allows you to use your wisdom but apply it to modern day problems. And so that’s what I did. And EQ for DQ that you mention is I traded my emotional intelligence for their digital intelligence. And the truth is that power is moving 10 years younger in most companies and we’re all going to live ten years older and so all of a sudden create a 20 year irrelevancy gap. If powers were younger and were going to live older and that’s what I’ve tried to do in terms of those speeches I have been giving and the book I wrote which is called “Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder.”

Chip Conley: [00:34:23] And then the Modern Elder Academy which we created in Mexico.

Brian Mohr: [00:34:27] So I want to hang on this for a minute and specifically talk about – I’m not sure if there’s a better word for it so feel free to jump in here – ageism and what is happening within the workforce right now. I think we are in the most fiercely competitive labor market certainly in the last 20 years if not longer. And you know with great technology and platforms out there like LinkedIn that have certainly proliferated the resume and you can find people and learn about what they’re up to at the same time. You know you’ve got photos on there and people are making judgment calls based upon college graduation dates or what their photo looks like or the number of years of experience and you know whether we want to believe it or not people are discriminating. I’m curious: what have you learned or what did you learn from the AirBNB experience and what are you learning from the Modern Elder Academy as you are working with individuals that have had and gained such amazing wisdom and continue to share it but maybe are running up against these invisible brick walls?

Chip Conley: [00:35:43] Yeah. Yeah great question. And yes ageism is the last form of socially acceptable bias in our society. Now the others still exist but they’re less socially acceptable and we laugh about, we joke about, eccentric such a senior moments etc. And the truth is let’s be honest that there are certain things as we age that don’t get better with time. And other things do get better. What we’ve tended to do as a society is have a societal narrative that gets very fixated on what doesn’t get better without focusing on what does. Let me use a specific example so it doesn’t sound too abstract. As we get older our recall memory and our quickness with our mind isn’t as good as it was say 25 years earlier. Fine. But what a lot of people don’t know is there are a series of studies as shown in the last five to seven years. As you get older you’re more adept at doing what I call the left-brain right-brain tango which means you actually have all wheel drive. You’re better at being able to move from logical to artistic and back and forth and do that. Left brain right brain which what why is that valuable. It allows you to be more holistic in synthetic meaning – being able to synthesize things in your thinking. It allows you to get the gist of something faster. It allows you to actually tap into your intuition and use it in a more fundamental way. So what does that mean for a company? Well if you have somebody who’s older who’s got a great ability to get the gist of something, there’s someone who actually doesn’t get caught in the weeds. And that is exactly my role. I mean all this I’ve learned since joining AirBNB six years ago but it’s exactly true of what happened to me. I joined and was like “Oh my gosh 30 strategic initiatives why don’t we just have like four – let’s get clear about what the four are what essential what’s important what’s good.” So that’s the kind of thing.

Chip Conley: [00:37:58] So the point is that we have a narrative in society that much says as people get older, the best times are behind them and in some ways that’s true if you’re talking about the playing field of your body that may be true. If you’re talking about the playing field of how much money you make a year salary wise you top out at age 45 in the tech industry and age 50 in the general population so when it’s 55 or later you’re late probably making less salary.

Chip Conley: [00:38:31] But your emotional intelligence gets better with time: your ability to synthesize and have wisdom can get better with time etc. So what’s my answer to the ageism society? Number one is is to go out and give lots of speeches write books like this one and try to help people see the value in intergenerational collaboration. I’m not suggesting we go back to the era where we revere our elders. That’s not coming back but I’m also saying that diversity of all kinds is valuable in the workplace and we are very familiar with diversity of gender and race and sexual orientation but there’s a lot less familiarity with gender of age and cognitive diversity which sometimes has nothing to do with age. Can be about neuro-diversity but often age is an element of cognitive diversity in the sense that you get somebody at the table who’s going to look at things a little differently and that means you have less likelihood for group think. Finally I’ll say one last thing on this subject which is I was talking with a well-known executive recruiter not long ago. And she said to me something really interesting s- she said “You’re right if you just get caught up in the robots, the artificial intelligence looking at your resume you’re in trouble because people perceive you as older and that could be a problem.” So you have to use soft contacts -sometimes people who know people to get in the door. Or actually go to a networking event or things like that. But she says the key thing to know is this: when you do have that face to face time which will happen occasionally, the key thing to know is that when you are curious and passionately engaged your wrinkles start to evaporate and what people notice is not your face and it’s wrinkles what they notice is your energy, and if you’ve got that kind of passionate energy that people want to sort of feel a part of it becomes a bit magnetic. You can overcome people sort of looking at you and judging you based on your age. And that’s probably true of any bias we out there but the truth is I think it’s more frankly for someone with age in terms of those two qualities: curiosity and passionate engagement.

Brian Mohr: [00:40:49] So as you think about the team you built at the Modern Elder Academy and having folks on board like a resident Shaman and a yoga and meditation teacher and massage therapy are the folks who are enrolling in the academy embracing with open immeditely? Is there some resistance given that some of things like – I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that some of the folks coming to the academy may know what a Shaman is in principle or in theory but having one is probably a new experience for some of these folks.

Chip Conley: [00:41:32] That’s optional. No one has to work on that. That’s an optional added benefit.

Brian Mohr: [00:41:42] Got it. Got it got it. So really meeting people where they’re at and allowing them to pursue what they believe is going to create the most impact for them.

Chip Conley: [00:41:50] Yep yep yep. So I think that first of all, the key thing that people need to know is that they are not alone. And first of all one of the biggest surprises of the academy has been the following. That people are showing up at a much younger age than I thought. So almost 20 percent of the people who apply are are people under 45, when it was originally said there was a 45 to 65 year age range. But what we found is we’ve had people as young as 30 and people as old as 74 in the program. But we’ve had between five and 10 percent of our actual grads at this point have been in their 30s. So people are feeling a little irrelevant in their 30s or have a desire to sort of somehow start to cultivate their wisdom. The average age is about 52. So these are not people who are elderly. There are people who are at a stage where they may be an elder in a more relative term in the sense than it typically means. You are older than the people that surround you, so if you’re a 35 year old surrounded by 20 year olds which is how it is many tech companies, you could be an elder. The key that we do at the academy is we help people frame their mindset, but on a personal level in terms of the actual world nd then also from the perspective of the societal narrative on Aging. The thing that’s really interesting, Brian, is that there’s a ton of evidence and a lot of them made this about the curve of happiness. There’s even a book that we came out last year called “The Happiness Curve” that’s quite good. And the happiness curve shows the following across all societies except Russia. Russia is the only one that’s a little bit of an aberration. But across all societies on the planet, there is a huge curve of happiness where people start seeing a decline in their happiness that goes from about age 28 to about age 45 to 50 and then it bottoms out around 45 to 50. And then it starts getting better and people in their 50s are happier in their 40s. People in their 60s are happier than the 50s and people in their 70s are happier than in their mid-60s. There’s a bunch of reasons for this but it’s not actually woven into our societal narrative on aging. So that final narrative on aging is you hit midlife you have a crisis. You don’t love your life as it is then you actually go out and, you know, have an affair and buy a sports car or whatever you do and then you get through the crisis. But on the other side of midlife is aging which is awful. It’s for decrepitude and disease. And that’s what people know and when we actually start introducing some action, some research – scientific information that helps people to understand that a new narrative that they could add a new mindset that they could actually adopt it it helps them to see I have some wisdom that I’ve learned along the way that it can be applicable. In a whole new industry that might be a better habitat for for me because. I am in you know I’m a I’m a computer engineer and I spent 20 years doing it but now I’m in my 40s and I feel. You know over the hill. But I’ve learned team collaboration skills and I’ve got to tell you those companies are full of really smart technology people but they’re full of teams too. So maybe I start shifting my skill set to being a team leader. More than that the individual contributor is a rock star as an engineer.

Brian Mohr: [00:45:55] So as a tech entrepreneur, since so much of this modern elder philosophy came from the experiences you had with AirBNB, Is there any advice that you would want to deliver to tech entrepreneurs who are brilliant in the products or services that are creating the technology that they’re building but have yet to have that realization that there’s this massive massive well or reservoir of elder talent – modern older talent that they can tap into to help them with building teams, collaboration, focusing on whittling down 30 key strategic initiatives… How do you help them realize that they need this when they are so smart smart and maybe you just haven’t had those laps around the track – help them realize?

Chip Conley: [00:46:43] The thing I’ll say to them is the same to anybody is: do not hire people who are just like you. I mean your natural tendency is to do that because you like them, you’re socially adept with them, and they agree with you a lot of the time. But actually go beyond that. Because I understand the age side of things: maybe somebody who has some experience. The thing I would also say is don’t hire somebody who’s just stuck in the past. If you’re hiring somebody because they actually just tell you the way they always would have done it or they don’t have a curiosity and an appetite for learning – that’s not a modern elder, that’s just sort of an older person who’s trying to sort of live on the fumes of their past. So I think what’s really important is to look at people, especially – let’s say your technology is disrupting an industry like health care, and you know health care deserves to be disrupted because nobody likes the industry and all that’s true. But that means maybe you should go out and hire a really serious modern elder. From the industry. He’s got a big Rolodex and I know you don’t know what that means.

Both: [00:47:57] –Laughter–

Chip Conley: [00:48:00] But they also know how the industry works – that person while they are wedded to that if they’re wedded to the past and they don’t really believe in their technology, then don’t hire them. I believed in Bryan and in AirBNB as a disruptor in the lodging industry. Not to actually take over the hotels. The good news is I’m still here. I still own hotels. I just don’t manage the company but I still own the real estate of hotels. So I didn’t think that AirBNB was going to come in and just ruin the hotel industry. So you know, it was easy for me to be part of a disruptor that I knew was going to still keep me in the industry, and intact in general.

Chip Conley: [00:48:37] But the new way of doing things would actually help maybe improve innovation in an industry. So that’s what you want to look for. How do you find those people? Maybe ask your parents, they may be an alma mater in common and you might need to actually go out and literally look for that person.

Chip Conley: [00:48:57] If you’ve got a venture capitalist or an investor involved you might sort of say to them: “You know what? I want to hire somebody as our head of strategy that I actually want them to frankly be 10 to 15 years older than me.” Let’s look for that and not only exclusively deals for anybody exclusively based on a demographic. That’s a very dangerous path to be going on but you can say that you want some of the following experiences as well. And so. Long story short is that this is part of what a lot of younger people don’t think about as a possibility. Partly because they feel like they don’t want to hire their parent. Or their preacher. And a lot of times that older person is a parent or a preacher and are lecturing most of the time.

Brian Mohr: [00:49:39] You know, that’s fantastic advice. So, I saved what I hope would be the best question for last. Are you ready?

Chip Conley: [00:49:51] Yeah.

Brian Mohr: [00:49:51] –Spanish words that this transcriptionist doesn’t understand–

Chip Conley: [00:50:05] So actually give it to me in English.

Brian Mohr: [00:50:10] I’ll give it to you in English. And this is about the extent of my Spanish.

Chip Conley: [00:50:16] It sounds like it was about listening potentially, or something.

Brian Mohr: [00:50:19] You’re super close. The question is I understand you are learning Spanish – How’s it going?

Chip Conley: [00:50:31] Yes – Oh, yes yes. I just answered. Still I’m learning Spanish and surfing in my late sixties and I’m enjoying it. But I mean I’ve only had six lessons for Spanish & my Spanish is better than my surfing.. Clearly it didn’t work.

Both: [00:50:42] Laughter

Brian Mohr: [00:51:01] There ya go. It’s my pleasure. What an amazing, amazing conversion – my curious white boy friend Chip. Thank you so much for joining us. And I could chat with you for hours. I really appreciate it. Take good care and good luck to you.

Chip Conley: [00:51:10] All right. Thanks. Bye bye.

For more episodes of the Built On Purpose Podcast, visit

Y Scouts, a leadership search firm, finds purpose-aligned as well as performance-proven leaders to help organizations achieve their missions faster. Ready to supercharge your leadership search and get the right person in your organization? Contact Y Scouts.