I may or may not have seen every episode of the Showtime series Billions at least twice. I may or may not have participated in Billions-related email conversations where, for once, I don't mind if the number of people in the "CC: field" steadily multiplies. I may or may not have stood outside the Taj Mahal of motor coaches with an actual billionaire arguing about which Wags one-liner is the funniest. (We agreed to a five-way tie for first place.)
Billions is the best show on TV. It's wildly entertaining.
But more than that, with characters like Bobby Axelrod (Axe), the head of Axe Capital, facing off against U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhodes, Billions is a show filled with cool quotes on business, startups, leadership, interpersonal dynamics, and more.
1. "I don't lie to myself, and I don't hold on to a loser."
Some of your employees drive you nuts. Some of your customers are obnoxious. Some of your friends are selfish, all-about-me jerks.
But here's the thing: You chose them. If the people around you make you unhappy, it's not their fault, so don't pretend otherwise. It's your fault. They're in your professional or personal life because you drew them to you -- and you let them remain.
Think about the type of people you want to work with. Think about the types of customers you would love to serve. Think about the friends you want to have.
Then change what you do so you can start attracting those people. Hardworking people want to work with hardworking people. Kind people like to associate with kind people. Great employees want to work for great bosses.
Successful people are naturally drawn to successful people.
And don't forget to cut loose the people who don't contribute to your happiness or success. If you don't, you're the one who loses.
2. "You weren't ready."
Lara, Axe's wife, has started a healthcare business (assuming restorative IVs for hungover executives belongs in the healthcare space). Lara wants to take the business to the next level by raising capital but she doesn't want to use family money. She wants the outside validation that comes from a cap raise.
Her first meeting goes poorly.
"Well, I tried to tell you," Axe says later. "You weren't ready, but you wouldn't hear it from me."
Lara asks why he feels that way. His response?
"What is it you do that you're the best in the world at? You offer a service you didn't invent, a formula you didn't invent, a delivery method you didn't invent. Nothing about what you do is patentable or a unique user experience. You haven't identified an isolated market segment, haven't truly branded your concept. You need me to go on?"
As I said in another article, if that's not the best explanation of what makes a startup a great startup, one with huge potential, one poised to grow, hey, send me a better one.
3. "Whenever you can, put a company in your mouth."
Axe is considering a takeover of the fictional YumTime, a baked-goods company that sells products like Ding Doodles, Cuckoo Nutties, and its flagship, the Scrumpet. (Think Hostess.) Axe is sure that the recipe for Scrumpets can be improved, and tells an employee, "Whenever you can, put a company in your mouth."
The point? Trends are useful. Numbers are useful. But if you really want to know about a company, use its products or services.
Case in point: I almost bought GoPro stock for around $18 a share not too long ago. But before I did, I bought a Hero 4, and I thought, "Huh. This isn't any different from the other compact cameras I've tried."
Currently GoPro stock trades around $9 a share.
Numbers and trends are useful, but over the long term, the actual experience will always matter more.
4. "You're ignoring the quiet (voice) inside."
Wendy, the firm psychologist, is working with a trader who has lost his confidence. "Everyone else is up double digits," he says. "I'm down."
"You're just listening to the wrong voice," she replies. "You're tuned in to the one yelling at you over the loudspeaker that you're f---ing stupid, and you're ignoring the quiet one, inside, telling you where the alpha is. Now, that's the voice that got you here."
We all have that voice. We all have the voice that got us here.
That's the voice we all need to listen to -- because that voice will also get us there.
5. "I think you're trying to bully me, and a bully is devastated when you try to stand up to him."
Which is why you should always stand up to the bullies in your life. We all have them. Start facing them down.
6. "Saddle up: Body shots and sushi at the strip joint, on me."
Hear the phrase "team-building" and you probably roll your eyes. Most team-building events are contrived, superficial exercises that force participants into awkward scenarios where everyone constantly thinks, "Please let this be over soon."
Wags knows better. When morale is low and Axe Capital seems adrift, Wendy, the firm psychologist, says to Wags, "I think it's time for one of your offsite team-building exercises."
Wags responds by yelling, "Yo, bitches, saddle up. Body sushi at the strip joint, on me."
Maybe -- OK, definitely -- body shots aren't appropriate for your company, but if you want to improve morale and teamwork, find things your employees actually want to do together.
7. "You have hands."
Instead of trying to set this one up, just watch.
It's easy to find excuses not to do the inconvenient thing, the uncomfortable thing, or the hard thing.
But the hard things can be done, using the one tool each of us has: Effort.
8. "There's a way to make this work, and that way is hard. As Taleb says, 'Become anti-fragile, or die.'"
Axe has bought a town's municipal bonds in anticipation of a casino deal, but the casino will be built in another town. He has to decide whether to eat the loss or recoup his investment by seizing the town's assets. Neither is a great choice.
Taylor offers the most logical option.
Should you always take the most logical option? Possibly not. Business decisions should involve more than numbers and logic -- because business is also about people.
What is the right answer? Finding the answer always requires looking at both sides.
9. "First I figured out where the sharp action was, where the guys who had a plan were, the guys who grinded. Took the guesswork out of it."
Take a close look at the people who are successful in your field. What do they do on a regular basis? Then adopt one of their habits and make it your own. Commit to a process, not a goal. Don't just set a goal of creating better customer relationships; commit to calling at least two customers a day to ask how you can better serve them. Don't just set a goal of landing new clients; commit to cold-calling at least two leads every day.
Commit to a process that leads to a goal, and you're much more likely to achieve that goal. Focus on what you will do, not on what you hope will happen.
Never reinvent a wheel when a perfect wheel already exists.
10. "What's the point of having F you money, if you never say 'F you.'"
OK, maybe you shouldn't go that far, but success does sometimes mean standing up for yourself and what you believe and saying, "Yes," or, "No," or maybe even (with all due respect, of course) "F you."
Even if you only say that in your head.
And a bonus quote...
11. "You get one life, so do it all."
Can't beat that.