Wait But Why’s Tim Urban tells us the superpowers of being 20 and his request for a startup

One of the internet's most popular writers would like to see the doctor's office disrupted and more platforms connecting supply and demand (e.g., Uber, Airbnb).


December 17, 2020

Trends member Bilal Zaidi is the man behind Creator Lab, a business podcast that dives inside the minds of leading entrepreneurs & creators.

Zaidi recently had a convo with Tim Urban, author of Wait But Why and one of the internet’s most popular writers (check it out on your favorite podcast app or watch on YouTube). 

Just for The Hustle readers, he asked Urban the following questions: 

Do you have a request for a startup?

A ton. This sounds self-interested, but my wife is doing a startup in an area that I think is critically needed, which is just innovation on what a doctor’s office should be and what healthcare should be. 

Why is there no innovation in something so important?

Why are we still going to the doctor the same way we did in 1985? 

It’s so bad and it’s such an important thing. 

Also, I think there’s opportunities for models of connecting supply and demand — like Airbnb and Uber — in surprising places. There’s just a lot more where that came from. 

Take cooking. There are people who love home cooking meals for their family, but their kids are out of the house. And there are other people who want to eat home-cooked food and don’t want to cook. 

How can we connect these groups? I have 50 of these ideas. 

If you were 20 years old, what business would you launch?

Well, what I would do is I would start writing because I haven’t changed and what I care about most is creating stuff. I like taking what other people are doing and kind of telling the story. 

That’s what I like most.

And, well, 20 is an interesting point because if you’re 20, you can do 2 things. 

You can go build something kind of simple and straightforward and likely succeed and learn the ropes, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s a good exercise. Build a first business before the big second one. Right? 

The other way to look at it is at 20, you have a few magic superpowers that you don’t have, even at 26, 27:

  • Time: You truly have time. Like…REALLY have time. Because, when you’re 26, 27, you still have time.

    When you’re 32, you STILL have time. A lot of the best businesses are started by people in their thirties.

    You suddenly have nothing to lose. You can be fearless. You can dive into something that is likely to fail, which is of course, like one of the ways to create something great.
  • Fresh eyes: You don’t realize at the time, how fresh your eyes are. You have the freshest eyes. 

    Without even trying, you’re on the bleeding edge of what is new and what’s possible. You have your finger on the pulse of what people want in a lot of ways and what is possible. 

    Mark Zuckerberg was 19 when he created Facebook. That’s not a coincidence in a lot of ways. 20 year olds are the most tapped in. 

Once you’re 26, 27, you start to harden in on the world view that you have now been building.

At 20, it’s like you’re just on an open playground.

So I just think, you know, you have super fresh eyes and you have all the time in the world. 

It’s a really good time to just go big and to go bold. It’s likely to fail because 20 year olds are inexperienced business people while big and bold things usually fail.

The amount that you learn from doing that, though, it’s as good as any degree you could get. 

And maybe it succeeds and man, how cool is that?

Right, so taking that mindset to different industries?

The two I just mentioned: healthcare and platforms connecting supply and demand. 

And then, there’s social media, which is part of a bigger category…which is we’re a lonely species of people that are supposed to be in big groups and we’re not.

And so there’s this hunger to connect, which is, I think a huge part of what drives social media. 

Social media is a beautiful thing in so many ways. It does so many things. You know, people are so hard on it. It does so many things for loneliness. It connects family and friends. Having it connects ideas across the world.

Of course, there’s an immense dark side to it that we’ve just been learning about over the last decade that we weren’t ready for. A real dark side to it, and it can bring out our worst and it can really do bad things on a mass scale. 

So I think the question isn’t going anywhere.

The best way to fix that social media is to build better ones that people will gravitate towards. No one wants to be in a toxic place. If you can build a social media kind of place that is less vulnerable to toxicity…

…people will come.

The last question for you, what’s your favorite Wait But Why post? 

Um, my favorite posts are all the ones that are way less read!

The article I’m having fun writing and really nerding out on because it’s like brain play for me. 

And then I go and just do it on a post. I play on the post. 

Like I wrote one called Putting time in perspectivewhich is just a huge infographic. That’s like a cascading series of timelines that looks back at the deep past eventually. 

And another one called “7.3 billion people, one house.”

It’s those posts where I’m just playing with math and I’m playing with things I happen to like the most.

I guess I’m not a typical reader of my own.

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