“Trust the process, follow your curiosity, and don’t get too wrapped up in what other people are doing.” – Neil Soni
In this episode of Nat Chat we have Neil Soni. Neil and I originally connected over Twitter a few years ago as members of a startup incubator alumni network. While Neil was an undergrad, he started a company called “College Zen” to help prospective students get matched up with current students to get a real feel for the school.
That startup didn’t work out, but the people he met and the experience he got from it turned into his next few roles, including his most recent work, as an “innovation consultant” for Estee Lauder.
I wanted to talk to Neil for a few reasons:
He’s had an extremely varied career during and after college, from starting that first company to leading growth at another, to doing this innovation consulting, and now starting a beer company of all things.
He is one of the more well-read people I know and draws deeply from history, philosophy, and science in his discussions. These can lead to really wide-ranging discussions on anything when we talk, and our catch ups tend to run about as long as this interview.
And he’s also great at testing ideas while maintaining safe alternatives. He was able to try out a number of startup ideas while doing his consulting work, giving him the best of both worlds. A steady income he could rely on, but also the flexible hours he needed to test startup ideas. Now that one’s working, he’s able to leave with much more security than he would if he were jumping in blind.
We cover a wide range of topics, including:
- Optimizing for learning versus wealth
- Testing startup and business ideas
- How Neil has landed such interesting work roles, and what an “innovation consultant” is
- Developing skills on your own, marketing or otherwise
- How Neil chooses what to read, and how he learns from the books he reads
- What Neil did and would have done differently with his college education
- Philosophy, psychology, books, podcasts, blogs… you name it
Please enjoy, and reach out to Neil on Twitter!
If you enjoyed our discussions on self-education and learning new skills, check out my interview with Taylor Pearson on apprenticeships and the end of jobs.
If you want more on starting companies in college, you should listen to my interview with Max Friedman who taught himself to code in order to get started.
Question: What was your favorite lesson or segment from this episode? Please let me know on Twitter after you listen!
Links from the Episode:
Find Neil Online:
Mentioned in the show:
- Estee Lauder
- Mom Trusted
- No Wait
- Y Combinator
- University of Pennsylvania
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Unlimited Brewing Company
- Neil’s article on commodity versus luxury
- Procter and Gamble
- Booz Allen
- Dangers of Ibuprofen and other NSAIDS
- Gen Next
- 33 Strategies of War
- 48 Laws of Power (Nat’s Notes)
- The Secret
- Count of Monte Cristo
- Infinite Jest
- The Book of Five Rings
- Everything is Obvious
- The Image
- Complete Joy of Homebrewing
- Happy Accidents
- Meditations (Nat’s Notes)
- Letters from a Stoic (Nat’s Notes)
- Discourses (Nat’s Notes)
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
- Atlas Shrugged
- Fight Club (Neil’s recommendation for students)
- Antifragile (Nat’s Notes)
2:12 – Intro to Neil, what he currently does in the cosmetic industry, and how he got his job.
11:53 – How Neil started his first company, College Zen.
23:36 – Neil moving on from his startup onto working with Mom Trusted and what he ended up doing afterward.
26:10 – How Neil learned to test his company College Zen and his first experience with entrepreneurship.
30:48 – Neil speaking on himself currently starting up Unlimited Brewing Company and it’s mission.
34:33 – What Neil learned about companies while working for Estee Lauder.
44:03 – Neil on optimizing for learning and optimizing for wealth.
48:04 – Neil speaking on the importance of networking and providing some tips for reaching out to people.
56:41 – Neil on commodity versus luxury and why it’s important. Neil’s article on this here.
1:05:00 – Neil speaking on the habit of reading, thoughts on books, and some book recommendations.
1:19:59 – How Neil chooses which books to read and his perspective on learning things from books.
1:30:15 – Neil speaking about spending time on grades in school versus learning skills.
1:36:12 – Neil speaking on “safe” volatile jobs versus spending time on learning valuable skills that translate well to numerous companies.
1:44:08 – Neil’s experience with his parents on making the choice to focus more on skills and projects rather than getting better grades. Also continuing to speak on learning valuable skills that you can be more versatile job-wise with.
1:51:23 – Neil’s experience with depression while being a student and as a post-grad. Also speaking on the importance of being open while connecting to people.
2:01:07 – Neil and Nat speaking on the power and value of stoicism.
2:10:20 – Neil’s learning experience with the use of crowdsourcing projects and having people invest in companies going bankrupt.
2:17:10 – What Neil would have done differently in college knowing what he currently knows and on how what you learn in college can translate loosely into real-world field work.
2:31:19 – Which podcasts Neil thoroughly listens to and some of his favorites.
2:34:40 – Neil’s favorite failures and what he learned from them.
2:40:27 – Neil’s one book recommendation to incoming freshmen at Carnegie Mellon University.
2:48:12 – Neil’s last thoughts and some advice he wished he had as a student.
2:50:30 – Wrap-up, where to find Neil online, and a last piece of wisdom from Neil.
If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe at https://nateliason.com/podcast
“In college, you’re paying other people to teach you, but in the real world you can get paid to be taught.” – Neil Soni