the money or your life

“Choices are the hinges of destiny.” – Pythagoras

Today I’m going to share a true story with you that you couldn’t make up if you tried.

But first a little background…

The Money or Your Life?

It’s the age old question.

And the crazy thing is, you used to actually have to make that choice.

Today it’s a little different.

John Lusk is perfect proof.

In 1997 John started at Wharton Business School, one of the most prestigious finance schools in the country. On his first day, he and five friends swore to each other they’d become entrepreneurs instead of the typical investment bankers and consultants that their school was known for producing.

Easier said than done…

When John graduated in 1999, it was the heart and height of the dot-com blow out. His friends were becoming paper multi-millionaires right and left, and banks were offering $1 million signing bonuses to keep up.

But John had a vision.

He wanted to learn what it felt like to build a company, and create a real, tangible product.

So he turned down the million dollars.

And instead moved back home with his parents, and maxed out his credit cards to build a MouseDriver – a computer mouse that looked like the head of a golf driver.

Most his business school buddies laughed at him, as their stock options began to double – again and again.

Then, after a year or so of swallowing some ridiculous humble pie, people actually started to buy the thing.

Before long he was on the cover of Inc. Magazine and featured in nearly every major business publication.

He was then asked to publish a book, The MouseDriver Chronicles, that is now used in over 200 university courses around the country.

John has since become a serial entrepreneur, and is currently the founder and C.E.O. of Rivet & Sway, the only online shopping boutique experience exclusively for women’s eyeglasses.

Somewhere along the way, a kid knocked on his apartment/office door in a neighborhood not far from mine in San Francisco. He asked John if he’d mentor him as the kid built a nutritional supplement company that followed a similar outsourced manufacturing model.

The same kid later asked him about writing a book and even asked John for an advance testimonial.

Then that kid published his book, The 4-Hour Workweek. His name was Tim Ferriss. 

And that’s just the beginning…

From Laughable Idea to Tangible Product – While Turing Down a $1,000,000 Paycheck

You really cannot make this stuff up.

Here’s a bit more of what we cover in the below interview…

  • How to negotiate & barter absolutely everything – from credit card rates to advertising fees and access to industry parties
  • How to ensure business school actually turns you into an entrepreneur instead of training you to be a highly paid corporate jockey
  • The only two skills that matter in business and why so many get it wrong
  • How to successfully outsource and manufacture in China – despite having thousands of units getting lost in a typhoon
  • Growing a subscriber list to over 10,000 people before blogs even existed (he had to email 100 people at a time via Outlook)
  • Leveraging a passionate community to crowdsource near-impossible solutions and build the ultimate hybrid mentor
  • Using passion to eliminate the majority of the risk in starting a business
  • His biggest surprise in taking an idea from concept to market
  • And a dozen other ridiculous stories…

This interview will change your view of what it means to take ‘risk’ and become an entrepreneur. If it doesn’t turn you on to exploring the road less traveled, I don’t know what will.


Don’t see a video? Click here.

What Story Will You Write?

It’s a question John’s experience begs us all to ask.

Is it a story you’re proud to tell, or is it time to rewrite the script?

You get to choose – and the alternative has never been more real.

I’m grateful to call John a friend, mentor and inspiration – and to have him a part of our community.

Be sure to check out his latest projects at the links below:

And if you have questions for John, please leave them in the comments – I’m sure he’d be happy to jump in!

Here’s to making the right decisions – and to the choice becoming a little more obvious,


Email readers, watch the interview on LYL here.

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Leave a Reply

31 Responses to “Difficult Decisions: How to Turn Down a $1,000,000 Check to Keep Your Integrity”

  1. Scott – great interview. I am a huge fan of Mr. Lusk. I just posted (last night in fact) an excerpt from John’s talk at UCSB. It focuses on how he, and his Partner Kyle, turned their startup newsletter into a best selling book.

    Keep fighting the good fight!

    • Nice – I can’t wait to give it a watch! You’re students are damn lucky to have such an experienced practical-minded business guy for a teacher – sadly a very rare thing in university. Thanks again for introducing us John. We’ve been having a blast trading ideas and stories the past few months. Fighting the good fight indeed!

      • John Lusk says:

        Couldn’t agree more! UCSB students are incredibly lucky to have both a professor and alumni so passionate about entrepreneurship. Many kudos!

  2. David Harbour says:


    Tim’s audacity is the kind of push through the fear move that, in hindsight, all of us look back and say, I wish I had done this sooner.

  3. Christie Lindeque says:

    Amazing interview, thank you for sharing this!

  4. Ed Chao says:

    Thank you for this timely interview. My wife is in MBA school, struggling to find an internship not in Oil and Gas (we’re in Texas). She’s considering Warby Parker (designer glasses), probably a competitor to John’s Rivet & Sway but just reading the text content of your post was inspiring for her.

    second of all, I just started mentoring a 10th grader from a poor background, and I will be using your weekly planning template with him this afternoon. I’m super excited to share it since I’ve been using it for about 8 weeks straight now.

    Thank you!

  5. A.j. Clonts says:

    It’s a blessing and a curse for me…..misspelled “turning” in one of your bold points…

  6. A.j. Clonts says:

    But I love your info…….between you and Tim, I have more goals/incentives to get out of the “cubicle” life……

  7. Jeremy says:

    That was really awesome.
    I love his thoughts about his new business. I’ve started my first business with my fiance recently in women’s clothing. I agree, I don’t necessarily have a passion for women’s fashion (but my fiance does), but I do have a passion for growing my business, connecting with customers, and living the life I love and choose.

    • John Lusk says:

      The passion for ‘connecting with customers’ will take you a long way. If you’re truly in it to ‘serve’ your customers, you’ll be able to take that passion into pretty much anything you do. The best part of my day is interacting with Rivet & Sway customers, learning about them, learning from them and understanding how we can make their experiences better.

  8. Listening to this now. Great inspiration. It’s been years since I gave up the easy 6-figure jobs up here and I’m probably down a million or more in “lost income” but man, this world traveller/entrepreneur thing is damn exciting.

    One more guy to learn from. Thanks Scott.

    • John Lusk says:

      Life is all about the experiences. Not many people choose to avoid the ‘easy’ route. But climbing the mountain (instead of going around it) is what allows us to learn, to grow and to ultimately be more fulfilled.

      • Thanks John. I haven’t been so excited to read a book in a long time. Just ordered yours. Also, congratulations on all the 5-star reviews. I don’t think I have ever seen that before. Considering you mentored Tim and how much he has inspired me in life, I truly hope to meet you one day.

        • John Lusk says:

          I’ll look forward to meeting! Personally, I believe the books is timeless, so hope the 5 star reviews continue for a long, long time. Kind of cool seeing them come up. Always fun to read. Really hope the story can serve as an inspiration for you as well.

      • Jeremy says:

        Yes! T Ferriss signed a book for me recently that said “Enjoy the path less traveled”. Sometimes I can’t believe I found myself on this path but I am so excited every day to be on it.
        Now I’m trying to figure in the world traveling part…

        • John Lusk says:

          Seems like all authors use inspirational quotes. Mine? (and the subtitle for my blog…’live life. dig yourself. experience’. And for me, experience definitely includes world travel. Travel is like investing in an education for me! As is entrepreneurship.

  9. Ed Chao says:

    John – I didn’t know you’d be responding here… And I’d hate to solicit, but from watching your video, bartering and negotiating is fairly crucial to success. So, I’m just curious if Rivet and Sway may have any internship opportunities this summer for an MBA student. Regardless, my wife and I plan on visiting my college roommate in Seattle this summer and if possible, would love the opportunity to meet you and take you out for brunch at CJ’s Eatery? :)

  10. This interview is awesome! Loved it!

  11. jo says:

    Really Inspiring! Thanks!

  12. Mike says:

    This is incredibly relevant to me, as I will transition from a military career in a few years and I really want to build something of my own versus simply leveraging that experience into a more traditional job. A part of my brain is always thinking about next steps and I appreciate the vote for taking risk.

  13. Les says:

    Such a great Interview, thanks Scott and John. Would love to hear your advice on meeting needs with regard to creating a music album to be sold online. I don’t think addressing peoples needs and offering them a solution would apply to creating artworks, but maybe you have some insights to prove otherwise?

    • David Loker says:

      You’re right in a sense that it’s more difficult to think of the need for creating art. But, I don’t think that’s because the need doesn’t exist, but rather because it’s pervasive.

      Art is something that is always needed in some form or other. Music is the most obvious because it is so readily accessible. You’ll rarely find anyone on this planet who doesn’t appreciate music in some form or other. The problem, then, is the amount of competition since many people are all trying to address the same need.

      That’s sort of where new music genres come in, and where you have to work at creating something uniquely “you,” since there is only one of you. You want to stand out – don’t try and copy some other artist since if they’re established it will be very hard to compete.

      People do want to be entertained, enlightened, inspired, motivated, etc. That’s what art and music can do. So, you’re definitely addressing a need.

      Maybe find a topic that you’re passionate about that is under-addressed in music/art that will allow you to corner a small niche market within that industry?

      Inevitably, it will come down to promotion. You’ll spend the vast majority of your time just promoting your creation – but that’s true about all business. :)

      • Les says:

        Hi David, thanks for your valuable insights, especially where you talk about art being pervasive, that word has helped unify alot of thoughts together.
        Looking back at my original comment I noticed that I mentioned ‘addressing people’s needs and offering them a solution’ what I meant to say was finding people’s problems and offering them a solution, which I hear time and time again from coaches and mentors, however I find it very challenging to think in this way whilst creating artworks, as my works are more autobiographical.
        My persistence as an artist aims to empower others to follow there dreams and my work is more of my journey, imagination and creativity. The lyrics push into abstraction also. Because my work is autobiographical i find it difficult to think of a niche area and a specific audience. Also I think there’s a different mindset to creating a new genre and creating something authentically you, would be great to hear your views on this :)

        • David Loker says:

          I believe that empowering people to follow their dreams definitely addresses a need (or solves a problem). People feel stuck at jobs they hate all the time. They need to feel empowered to do something more meaningful with their lives – to do work they love, work that matters. If you can do that, there is something there.

          Lyrics are poetry, so it would make sense they push into abstraction. I would try and keep the message visible, though, since you’re trying to get across a clear message, you need to make sure it remains clear. ;)

          Your audience seems to be people who are stuck, hating their jobs, wishing for a better life. Since approximately 80% of people are not passionate about their work – I’d say you have a market.

          In the end, I think people teach what they need to learn. So, if you focus on creating lyrics that speak to you, two things will happen: they will be very passionate because of how passionate you are about them, they will be uniquely “you.”

          In the end, it’s about getting your message in front of other people like you. I would suggest writing some articles, perhaps autobiographical, and what you learned from them, and point to your music your bio. Definitely create a page solely about your music, why it exists, how it speaks to you.

          Hope that helps.
          Best of luck!

  14. Love the interview, can I ask the video platform you used to to hold this interview? Is it skype, oovoo, etc..?

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