“Welcome to The UIUC Talkshow. Our goal with this show is to introduce you to the most interesting people with the most interesting ideas.” This is me at the start of every episode.
The UIUC Talkshow is one of the best, most enjoyable, and most fun projects I've ever created.
Let me tell you how it all started.
Everyone will tell you college is a place to explore ideas. But in my experience, it’s been the worst place to do so. Through classes and tedious busy work, you barely have time to think.
But I wanted to change that. I wanted to feel alive and excited about being in college. Most importantly, I wanted to use college to learn from the most brilliant people in the world.
How? THE UIUC TALKSHOW .
But how did we get the idea? Aaryaman, my co-host, had gotten a job at a new place where we now record our show. He invited me to come to visit him and offered to give me a tour. I thought, 'Why not?' It's essential to make time for new projects and take advantage of serendipitous opportunities rather than always being busy.
So I went, and he showed me around the building, and then we went into this state-of-the-art studio. I was shocked. I stopped and told him, “Most people in the world have ideas but not the means. We have the means, but we don’t have ideas.” I tell him, “Let’s do something!” If you’re down, let me know.
I tell, “Let’s do something!” many people on campus. But everyone is busy as dogs following squirrels that no one has time to think about anything other than grades, homework, internships, and clubs (oh, and stupid shit like frats and going to the bars).
However, Aaryaman called me two weeks later and said, “I’m ready.” I reply with, “Ready…for what?” The rest is history. We met up for a couple of hours to figure out the name, logo, and everything else, and we were rolling (quite literally).
For the first episode, we had no clue what to do. Cameras? Lighting? Audio? No a single clue. But we still did it. Aaryaman wanted to get everything right (he’s a true engineer), but I’ve learned that quantity is THE QUALITY, so we just got started.
On the first episode ever, here’s how the quality looked. Let’s not talk about the audio. It’s even funnier if you see the story behind this picture. First, Aaryaman is wearing my jacket. He didn’t have a “nice shirt” for the video, so I just gave him my jacket. This jacket has saved us a couple of times, here it saved me.
But we continued to get better in literally every episode. This was the second episode—a world of improvement.
Then we started using cameras for different angles and microphones and testing different strategies for better conversations—for example, some photos from the last episode we did in 2022.
A big difference. This quality improvement was due to Aaryaman’s ability to never settle and always wanting to improve. I probably would have recorded it using my phone and a shitty microphone if I were doing it by myself. This isn’t a joke, I actually did that. In many ways, it was a rough draft for The UIUC Talkshow.
Aaryaman brings careful attention to detail while I bring in the urgency to iterate, which is why we complement each other perfectly and make a great team.
Having cameras and making everything professional is a double edge sword. While it gives us credibility, it also can hurt our conversations, and we suffered from that a couple of times this year.
This is important if you want to meet/surround yourself with interesting people. I’ll be straight up, interesting people are busy, and they don’t have time for “chats.” This is why we make The UIUC Talkshow professional and frame it around an “interview.”
But beyond this, we wanted to talk, meet, and learn from the most interesting people on campus. We’re doing this project for ourselves. These are the conversations Aaryaman, and I want to have, and we make them public. They'll probably say no if you ask someone “important” to have a conversation. But if you ask them for an interview, they’ll almost always say yes.
The “interview” is an added incentive to make people want to say yes. Once you add cameras and everything else, some people get cautious about what they say or even nervous. We’ve also had to learn how to deal with those conversations, get the best out of people, and even make them comfortable.
That’s something we’re still learning and haven’t quite mastered yet. When we look at the Lex Fridmans or Joe Rogans of the world, we’re still blown away by how interesting their conversations are and how relaxed their guests are. I heard Joe Rogan spends the whole day with the guest so that they do just one more thing when they get to the interview. Please let me know if anyone knows how Joe, Lex, or any other extraordinary interviewer process before the interview hits record. I’ve researched this online, and nothing helpful shows up.
I’m writing this right now, and I can’t help but think how similar running the UIUC Talkshow has become to running a startup.
We reach out to guests (investors) and find customers (subscribers) while doing everything in between editing, social media, distribution, design, programming, and lots of fun.
Perhaps this is just preparation for something bigger. Maybe I’m just getting the reps in. Perhaps, perhaps, and perhaps. But one thing is certain: the endless excitement I have when working on The UIUC Talkshow.
One of the best UIUC Talkshow memories was going to Quad Day.
Quad Day is when everyone at UIUC goes to the center of campus (The Quad), and they learn about, mostly, clubs. I say “mostly” because we went with the UIUC Talkshow, which isn’t a club. It’s cooler!
Usually, you need to ask for permission, and so on. But that is BS, so I just borrowed a table from a friend, found a random blue tablecloth on the floor, borrowed the poster, printed flyers, and we sat up base. Our philosophy? “Ask for forgiveness, not permission.”
The yearbook photographer even took a picture of us. Not sure what he’ll do once he realizes we are not registered. Maybe they’ll include us; we’ll have to see this May.
And here we were. Our goal? Get 1,000 Subscribers! I know, I know. Crazy goal, but otherwise, I wouldn't have tried as hard. We start by talking and talking and talking to people, bringing them over, and just having fun.
You have to believe in what you are doing because you are repeating yourself not once, not ten times, not twenty times but hundreds and hundreds of times. Every interaction is unique, and you need to have the same level of energy and excitement with every person.
If you don’t love what you are doing, you will get tired and stop doing it. Therefore, it’s a great passion/motivation test.
Did we reach the goal? Noooooooo. Not even close, haha. We got about 80 new subscribers and reached 210 subscribers (subscribe if you still need to).
We wanted to be at Quad Day, and having a goal would be more fun, so I thought a crazy goal would incentive us to talk to people and be more out there. The subscriber count is a bad goal because you want quality, not quantity. I’d rather have ten subscribers who always watch than 10,000 thousand who rarely watch (or 100,000 who always watch 😉). But still, why not? Why not do something crazy that it’s more likely to fail?
But even though we failed at our goal, we achieved things we didn’t even know. We achieved one crucial thing: awareness. Many people know that we exist, and we’ll be in their minds for future opportunities, connections, and reaching the show's objective, creating a movement where we can start thinking and talking deeply about the world.
We stayed there for almost five hours, and our voices began to hoarse, but we kept going. A combination of explaining what we do at the UIUC Talkshow and a series of live interviews closed off a great Sunday and the start of the new school year.
But beyond these goals or what we did or how we did it, the most valuable aspect that I hope other people get is that when you’re yourself, you allow others to be themselves too.
The UIUC Talkshow and other projects I did throughout the semester are, hopefully, an start of a new movement where students do what they love, not join clubs.
In How to College: Advice, Mistakes, and Thoughts, I wrote:
Clubs are meetings and meetings, and not doing much. People join them because they “look good” on their resume, and it’s simply what they’re supposed to do. But you know what, fuck this mentality. These are the same people who think the future will be good or bad but don’t know how. These are the same people who think everything is random and is not worth working hard because everything is luck.
There must be more options, not just clubs, frats, or nothing. Doing cool projects and interesting things must be #1 or at least an option in people’s minds.
It’s sad how many of these clubs on college campuses have applications, interviews, tests, and even high fees. For what purpose? To be like how everyone else is and to do what everyone else does. This is exactly how one loses control of their NPC level. If you forget you think for yourself, your NPC level will skyrocket.
A friend suggested writing a book about NPCs, starting with the meaningless of clubs, the stupidity of majors, and the calamity of college.
Like I've said before, we're all NPCs, and it's really about to what extent one is.
I truly, truly believe that being more vocal, building projects in public, and being unapologetically yourself is how we can start … a cult. I mean, a movement where people think for themselves.
I'm in a college of 50,000 people. What can you do when you align the incentives of 100 of them? How about 1,000? How about 10,000? You can do anything. You can start massive companies. Or you can take control over what the university does. You can work on any problem and solve it.
You can create one of the most important things in the history of the world, like Wikipedia, with 2,000 people. Imagine if we have 10,000 dedicated young college students. What kind of things can we create?
All jokes aside, cults or movements, or whatever you want to call them, are effective ways to align the incentives of a collective group where you can achieve a common goal. Going to Mars/Elon Musk? Good example. Climate change activists? Good example. Any successful startup? Good example. Apple products? Good example.
This skill is massively important to learn because this is how anything important gets done. So we’ll see how things go. I have a lot of things to learn and lots of experiments to do.
How do you create movements? You hold RALLIES! And we sort did that.
This time? During the 2022 Homecoming Parade. I’m not sure how we made it happen, but I found a way to sign up and get a free golf cart (driver included). Don’t ask me how.
We also barely made it to the event, but once we made it, it was a lot of fun!
We had lots of fun. I loved it! I lost my voice, we gave out lots of stickers, and more people know about The UIUC Talkshow.
We started this project for ourselves. That's always been the goal. But I also wanted to use it to get better at other things, like marketing, distribution, building a community, and raising awareness.
When you have goals, opportunities come to you. And that's what happened for the next memory.
One of the best and most random memories from this year was when two of my projects combined for an unbelievable experience.
In May of 2022, I was inspired and followed my intuition to stop studying for finals for a couple of hours and create the UIUC Free Food project. It gained around 100 followers in just one week, but school ended, and the project paused.
School started again, and the UIUC Free Food Twitter Bot had just been buzzing with free food everywhere.
So I checked the Twitter bot, and I saw a free food opportunity, but at the moment, I was talking to the media department trying to set up an internship program for the UIUC Talkshow. After I was done, I went to the free food opportunity and enjoyed it quite a bit. And this is where two intuitions connect: the UIUC Free Food and The UIUC Talkshow.
The event ended, and over 50 Jimmy John’s sandwiches were left behind. Everyone left, and they just left the food, not in the trash, but almost. I notified the UIUC Free Food, and some folks came, but still, a lot was left. And suddenly, my eyes opened. I jumped off my seat and said, “UIUC TALKSHOW EVENT at the QUAD.”
I picked the food, and the event was ready to start. I started by making a UIUC Reddit post, posting on my Snapchat story, and getting some UIUC Talkshow music ready.
I walked about a mile carrying the boxes and getting excited.
We get to the main quad (the center of campus), and the event is almost ready. But before that, I took some flyers on it and taped them to the boxes and, most importantly, my shirt.
I set up the boxes, taped the flyers, and started screaming, “FREE FOOD! FREE FOOD! FREE FOOD! by The UIUC TALKSHOW!”
The event lasted about two hours, and we spread happiness to everyone who came by, from students and professors to workers, mariachis, and even the famous rotten pig.
I had so so much fun. At the end of everything, we gained about 50 new subscribers and about 100 people who know the UIUC Talkshow is a thing.
This is why I say this:
Following your intuition is the highest return activity of all time. This is especially true if past and future intuitions combine.
And last September 2022 could not have been a more perfect combination of those two intuitions. Those projects are not a big deal; they aren’t.
I'm having a lot of fun with them while creating a new movement.
They may lead to something bigger, or they won't, but who cares? What matters the most right now is how much I enjoy doing these types of projects. They are interesting, so I follow interesting. That's it.
This is the true purpose of college: creating hypotheses, testing them, and starting again to find and experience what I love doing and, most importantly, what I’m uniquely great at.
Since the first UIUC Talkshow conversation, we have achieved our goal of meeting interesting people while having deep conversations.
But in October of 2022, it felt like we genuinely reached this purpose because we talked to someone we would have never had the opportunity to talk to if it weren’t for the UIUC Talkshow.
So who did we talk to?
If you don’t know who that is, he created a Google for nerds (WolframAlpha), the author of A New Kind of Science (a book that changed how science is done), theoretical physicist, CEO of Wolfram Research, and a truly remarkable guy.
I’ve always said The UIUC Talkshow is about the most interesting people with the most interesting ideas. But in reality, it’s about people who are sane in a way most people are crazy.
Wolfram’s story is precisely that from obsessively following his curiosity and making theoretical physics discoveries when he was a teenager to dropping out of high school and college to go directly get a Ph.D. from Caltech with Richard Feynman as his advisor.
You can call him a polymath, renaissance man, or whatever you want, but you can’t ignore him!
Our conversation lasted about two and a half hours, and we couldn't believe we had done it. After the interview, Wolfram said we reminded him of Lex Fridman. We don’t want to compare ourselves to anyone but reaching Lex Fridman’s talent level is a massive compliment.
We met Wolfram because he was in Champaign for the Wolfram Annual Technology Conference, and I emailed him about an interview. We had the conversation, and the Wolfram conference was happening, and we wanted to go. But it was more than $500!
So Aaryaman asked if we could go. A few minutes later, the communications director replied, “Your badges are at the registration table.”
We went from starting a talkshow to interviewing Wolfram a few months later and attending an incredible conference. Oh, and Nassim Taleb shitting on us. Other notable guests include many interesting professors, friends, a local bus driver, a Nobel-prize winner, the UIUC Chancellor, the University of Illinois system president, and yours truly.
We’ll keep following our curiosity and doing what we want while learning from the mistakes of others.
One last memory before we get to the reflection.
You can do something great, but if no one knows about it, did you do it, or was it great? It reminds me of this quote: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
This is why I go in hard mode on distribution. Once we made 20 episodes, we had quality and experience, and now we needed to get the word out. Again, we're not trying to become YouTubers, but if you are going to do something, you might as well "make a sound" about it because distribution is everything, whether you're working on a YouTube project or a billion-dollar startup, or even a research idea.
So what did I do? I reached out to lots of people in media across Urbana-Champaign. I contacted the local newspaper, the school newspaper (those mfs never replied after multiple emails to multiple people), the local news, and more. I sent emails, Twitter DMs, and LinkedIn DMs everywhere. I invaded people's phones, and they were surprised once they saw that much push.
For instance, here's a Twitter DM I sent a local reporter:
Finally, this is the interview.
And you know what's even cooler? We killed two birds with one stone. In this four-minute segment, we talked about The UIUC Talkshow and The UIUC Free Food. All in four minutes.
I share this experience because it reflects a crucial aspect of my life and how I find opportunities.
"Ask, and You Shall Receive" is one of the most important principles of my life. Steve Jobs taught me. Since I learned that, I have embodied it as a law of nature and never looked back.
The UIUC Talkshow makes me alive because it makes me practice and improve at everything I love doing. It's a significant preparation for something bigger. I don't know what it is. It may be the talkshow itself, but I know I'm getting the reps in. That doesn't matter, nor do I ever think about it. What matters is that I have a ton of fun every day. I'm playing all day long while working on The UIUC Talkshow. I'm so grateful I started this project with Aaryaman and for him for working as hard or harder than me. I'm excited about what's to come.