Sunday, February 19, 2023

Interview With Serial Entrepreneur & Best-Selling Author Matthew Higgins

1. What motivated you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and turning it into this book? I grew up in poverty, one of four boys born to a disabled single mother, crammed into a basement apartment in Queens, New York.  Early on, I realized the traditional path to success wasn't going to be available to me, and I was going to have to do something different.  I intuited that if I dropped out of high school, I could take the GED, go to college two years early, and, overnight, qualify for better paying jobs as a college student.  I went all in on that plan, and figured it was a one-off, and that I'd settle into a "normal" career path after that.  Except as I started looking around at successful people in all walks of life, I realized something -- it wasn't just me, and there was no "normal" path to great achievements.  Everyone who did something great went all in, and burned the boats to get there.  I was working for the Jets in 2011 when I heard our head coach, Rex Ryan, tell the team about how military strategists always summon maximum effort by eliminating any possibility for retreat - they literally burn the boats - and it hit me that this was the strategy for greatness, and had been for centuries.  Then, once I realized this could be a book to inspire everyone to achieve their full potential, I talked to 50+ entrepreneurs who all had their own Burn the Boats story -- and the whole thing came together perfectly.  

2. What is it about and who is it for? In many ways, it's for entrepreneurs and those aspiring to create something new -- a roadmap for finding inspiration, having the courage to take the leap, and then the tactical choices they need to make in order to achieve success.  But as I shared it among early readers, so many of them came back to me and said it's more than that -- it's really a roadmap for anyone looking to level up their lives and understand that taking the ordinary road is not the way to achieve extraordinary things.  You have to be unafraid to listen to your instincts, to avoid backup plans, and so much more.

3. What takeaways might the reader be left with after reading it?
A reader should emerge from the book with the inspiration and the tools to access the gifts within them, and to understand that what they need for greatness is already there.  It's about trusting yourself, cradling your ideas with love and support, and then being smart about how you go about executing.  It's about surrounding yourself with the right people, in the right roles, and not letting failure drag you down.  Already, readers have told me that the book helped them give themselves permission to stop hedging -- to embark on something new, finally build what they've always dreamed of.  That's the power of this book, and what I'm really hoping to achieve with it.  I want readers to understand that it's hard for everyone -- no matter how famous they are, or how easy they make it seem -- and yet it's all reachable for every one of us.  We can all live our fullest potential, if we go about it with the energy that I hope this book can unleash in readers.  

4. How did you decide on your book’s title and cover design? Once I heard Rex Ryan shout the "Burn the Boats" line to the team, it really stuck -- for almost a full decade until I started working on the book.  I've talked to a lot of writers who say that the title came last in their process, and I get it -- but for me, it was absolutely the place I started, because it really is the philosophy that has fueled my life.  For the cover, I must be honest -- I saw a vision in my head, but I am no artist.  I would go to Barnes and Noble and sit on the floor for hours staring at covers to see what resonated, what worked and why. I've always loved Adam Grant's covers, especially Think Again, and that became the high-water mark to strive for. My wife Sarah put together a mood board for inspiration pulled from design, literature, history. Then once I had the essence down, I turned to an amazing designer I've worked with for years, Carol Lehmann, and she translated our vision into a reality that I think is so much more striking and impactful than I ever could have hoped for.  We did over 400 iterations, and it wasn't until the 410th that I realized something was missing. I wanted the cover to break form, as that's the point of Burn the Boats - to fearlessly defy convention. So, I decided we needed to char the letters to convey that once you burn those metaphorical boats holding you back, watch out! Also, Carol did an amazing job creating an image of a boat that is reminiscent of a child's boat floating in a bathtub… I wanted the boat to be an image from childhood because that's the first boat many of us have to burn, the unreconciled legacy issues that weigh us down.  I love the design so much because every aspect of it was intentional and meant to stop you dead in your tracks.    

5. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers? The idea of writing a book -- especially for a first-time author -- is intimidating at first, but when you start to break it down, you realize, 250 pages with maybe 8, 9, 10 chapters -- that's 25 pages each, and then you break that down into 5 or 6 ideas and stories in each chapter, and suddenly you're talking about a series of 50 or 60 mini-essays, each with a story or an example to back them up, and, sure, that's still real work, but suddenly it feels far more doable.  And then you just attack it, and figure out what a reader really needs to hear, what you can't wait to tell them.  I didn't think the process would be nearly as fun as it ended up being, so I would encourage aspiring writers to stick with it.  If you have an idea that you know has legs -- you can write that book. But a word of caution: I think a lot of books written by prominent individuals fall flat because they think everyone will be enamored with their own personal story. And while I'm sure that is true for a minority of authors, it's safer to assume the opposite -- which I certainly did. I started with the premise that no one cares about every last detail of my life and a reader is going to pick up a book to enhance their own lives, not my ego. It was my job to deliver exponential value for the time and money someone invests in Burn the Boats.   I tried to always keep the reader's needs front and  center and in every sentence I wrote, I asked myself, why is this useful?  

6. What trends in the book world do you see -- and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? I think it's striking the way the media landscape has changed -- even just within the past few years.  I've realized as I've started to figure out how to find my audience: micro influencers reach far more people than TV or traditional media can these days, and I think reaching out to micro influencers across social media channels, while it's not so common right now, will very soon become par for course for authors.  Writers should consider hiring a social media firm that can aggregate smaller, sticky audiences. Check out a firm called The Village if you want to explore further.   

7. What challenges did you overcome to write this book? I think perhaps the biggest challenge was one that I end up talking about in the book -- for a long time, the book began with the story of my SPAC.  I launched a special purpose acquisition company during the pandemic, with the mission to find an undervalued company and, using the unique resources I brought together on my team, take it public and unlock tremendous value.  After an incredible amount of work, we found the right company, Kin Insurance, led by an amazing leader, Sean Harper, and I opened the book with the triumphant story of how I rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, on the way to huge success.  And then the deal fell apart.  The SPAC market collapsed, and we couldn't move forward.  My big triumph became a failure.  Figuring out how to tell that story, honestly and sincerely, in the pages of the book without feeling like it undercut my entire story was a real challenge.  And then I realized -- I needed to take my own advice.  Failure is okay.  No, we don't want to fail, but when we do, we can extract lessons and move on to bigger and better things next time.  So, I kept the same opening, only now the book starts with my latest failure instead of my boldest move.  

8. How would you describe your writing style? I hate cliches, and I hate repetition.  I made countless passes over the text of the book, each time trying to make sure that every story, every sentence, every piece of advice was there for a reason.  I hate when I pick up a book and feel like there's nothing new there.  I didn't want to rehash material that people can find elsewhere; almost everyone I talk about in the book is someone I interviewed myself, and when I relied on third-party sources, it was because the story was so compelling that I couldn't bear to leave it out.  I felt an obligation to readers to give them value they couldn't find elsewhere, and I scrubbed the book in the hope that there's something they can walk away with on each and every page to change their life. Also many business books are written like reference manuals. But we assimilate information through storytelling and modeling of behavior. Textbooks don't stay with us. In reality, I don't feel as if I wrote a book as much as engineered a feeling that is meant to linger long after — the feeling of infinite possibility.   

9. If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours? My hope is that Burn the Boats becomes more than a book, and inspires people to take the leaps they're right now only dreaming of.  Those readers who have come back to me and said they're making big life changes -- amazing ones -- just because of the book — they make me feel like it's all worth it.  So, I think people should read this book because it can truly alter their trajectory, just like the trajectory was altered for so many of the people I write about.  I hope they walk away feeling inspired -- and that feeling should make it worth the investment of time that I know it's so hard to make these days, especially when books are competing not just with each other, but with social media, streaming platforms, and more.  

About the Author: Matt Higgins is a self-made serial entrepreneur with deep operating experience that spans multiple industries over his twenty-five-year career. Higgins holds dual roles as cofounder and CEO of the private investment firm RSE Ventures. His business-building acumen also earned him a spot as a recurring guest Shark on ABC’s Shark Tank during seasons ten and eleven. He is a prolific investor in the direct-to-consumer space and leveraged this expertise to become an executive fellow at Harvard Business School, where he coteaches the course “Moving Beyond DTC.” A lifelong New Yorker, Higgins was appointed press secretary for the New York City mayor’s office at age twenty-six—the youngest in history—managing the global media response during the 9/11 terrorist attacks before ultimately becoming chief operating officer of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. After transitioning to the private sector, he spent fifteen years in senior leadership positions with two National Football League teams, starting as EVP of business operations for the New York Jets before serving as vice chairman of the Miami Dolphins for nearly a decade. Higgins received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2019, joining the ranks of seven former US presidents, Nobel Prize winners, and other leaders for his work to improve society. He is also a longstanding board member of Autism Speaks, advocating for scientific research and greater acceptance of neurodiversity For more information, please see or




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