20VC Founding Legendary Entertainment and Creating Batman, The Hangover and 300, The Importance of Luck vs Skill in Success, How Relationships to Money Change & Why Velocity is the Most Important Factor in Company Building Success with Thomas Tull

Summary Notes


In this episode of "20 VC," host Harry Stebbings interviews entrepreneur and investor Thomas Tull, founder and CEO of Tulco LLC. Tull shares insights from his journey, which began with humble beginnings and led to investments in companies like Figs, Colossal, and Oculus Rift, as well as his tenure at Legendary Entertainment producing major films like The Dark Knight trilogy. He discusses the importance of resilience, informed risk-taking, and the balance between work and personal life. Tull also addresses the rapid pace of today's world, the impact of social media, and his optimism for future generations. Despite his success, Tull remains grounded, attributing part of his achievements to luck and stressing the importance of intellectual honesty in his relationship with money. The conversation delves into Tull's investment misses, his excitement for biotech advancements, and his approach to building a holding company that aligns with his diverse interests and desire for efficiency.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Thomas Tull

  • Thomas Tull is a renowned entrepreneur and investor.
  • He founded Tullco LLC and has invested in companies such as Figs, Colossal, Il Macchiage, Pinterest, Zooks, and Oculus Rift.
  • Tull was previously the founder, CEO, and chairman of Legendary Entertainment, which produced major films.
  • He is a trustee of several prestigious institutions and part of the Pittsburgh Steelers ownership group.
  • The show acknowledges Leor Avadar from Lob for making the interview possible.

"So Thomas Tull is a leading entrepreneur and investor. As the founder, chairman and CEO of Tullco LLC, he's made notable investments in the likes of Figs, Colossal, Il Macchiage, Pinterest, Zooks and Oculus Rift."

The quote introduces Thomas Tull, highlighting his status as a significant figure in entrepreneurship and investment, and lists some of his notable investments.

Sponsorship and Advertisement

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This quote explains the services offered by Tigis, emphasizing how it can benefit venture capitalists and corporate strategists in their investment processes.

Thomas Tull's Early Life and Start in Business

  • Thomas Tull grew up in a poor family with a single mother and two younger sisters.
  • He began working early in life to help support his family.
  • Tull had a desire to work for himself and not be employed by others.
  • He identified a need for laundromats in his economically challenged neighborhood and innovated with dynamic pricing.
  • Tull emphasizes the importance of turning ideas into profitable realities.

"Well, because I grew up poor working and making money was just omnipresent. Had to shovel snow and mow lawns and things of that nature to help my mom keep the lights on."

The quote provides insight into Tull's early motivation to work and make money due to his family's financial situation.

Overcoming Challenges and Embracing Uncomfortable Situations

  • Tull learned to deal with uncomfortable situations and take responsibility from a young age.
  • He adopted a pragmatic approach to challenges, avoiding victimhood and focusing on what needs to be done.
  • Tull credits sports for instilling a sense of competitiveness and a desire to measure his achievements against others.

"I think it's understanding the difference between when you have choices and when there is a hard thing in front of you that you do the hard thing and you just say, okay, this is what's in front of me and it's not going anywhere."

This quote reflects Tull's philosophy on facing and overcoming challenges by tackling them head-on rather than avoiding them.

Motivation and the Desire to Live a Consequential Life

  • Tull's early motivation was driven by survival and competitiveness.
  • He seeks to live a consequential life by engaging in meaningful activities and making a positive impact.
  • Tull strives to prove to himself that he can excel in various endeavors, whether in business, sports, or charity.

"I think the motivation to make sure that I'm doing things that matter and matter to me and made a dent here somewhere. That's the way I'd think about it."

The quote speaks to Tull's personal drive to engage in work that is significant and impactful, reinforcing the theme of living a consequential life.

Relationship to Money and Success

  • Tull views money as a means to freedom, choice, and the luxury of time.
  • He acknowledges that growing up poor has left him with a persistent concern about financial security.
  • Tull believes money is important but warns against allowing it to create a sense of entitlement or a distorted self-image.

"At the end of the day, what I try to remember, I'd been very poor, and I have been something different than that. And anybody that says that money doesn't matter, I'm sorry. That has not been my experience."

This quote reveals Tull's personal perspective on the importance of money based on his life experiences, contrasting poverty with financial success.

Perspective on Wealth and Happiness

  • The importance of keeping wealth in perspective with regards to personal happiness and well-being.
  • The unlikelihood of financial statements being a comfort on one's deathbed.
  • The emphasis on understanding what truly matters in life beyond financial success.

"I haven't had this experience yet, but I doubt anybody on their deathbed says, bring me my financial statements. So you just have to truly keep it in perspective."

This quote stresses the idea that at the end of life, financial success may not be what individuals find most comforting or important, highlighting the need to maintain perspective on what truly contributes to happiness and well-being.

Dealing with Changes in People's Behavior Due to Wealth

  • The challenge of navigating changes in how people behave towards you after acquiring wealth.
  • The necessity of establishing personal principles and boundaries in relationships.
  • The decision-making process regarding lending money to friends and discussing business in social settings.
  • The importance of treating everyone with respect, regardless of their status or what they can offer.

"I think anytime that you're going to make fundamental decisions like that, you have to decide what your principles are, what is truly important to you."

This quote underscores the importance of having a clear set of personal principles to guide decisions, especially when wealth changes the dynamics of personal relationships.

Work-Life Balance and Fear of Mediocrity

  • The concept of work-life balance and the fear of becoming mediocre by engaging in a normal lifestyle.
  • The trade-offs between pursuing maximum wealth and having a fulfilling personal life.
  • The transition from constant grinding to leveraging pattern recognition and efficient networking to achieve success.
  • The importance of making conscious choices about life goals and the trade-offs involved.

"Look, what do you want your life to be? Right. If you want to be as absolutely as wealthy as possible and thought of as a top tier investor, if that's what you want it to be in life, well, then you're starting to see what that roadmap looks like."

This quote addresses the need to identify personal life goals and understand the necessary steps and sacrifices to achieve them, highlighting the importance of knowing what trade-offs one is willing to make.

Transition from Grind to Efficiency

  • The shift from relentless work to a more efficient approach through delegation and leveraging one's network.
  • The personal realization of when it's appropriate to transition from constant work to a more balanced approach.
  • The importance of surrounding oneself with competent people to delegate tasks confidently.

"I would say I started to get more comfortable with being efficient and also surrounding yourself with other great people and being able to not only delegate, but delegate with comfort."

This quote reflects on the personal journey towards achieving efficiency in work and the significance of building a supportive team that allows for confident delegation.

Motivations for Financial Success

  • The drive to achieve financial success stemming from negative experiences of not having money.
  • The desire to challenge oneself and see what can be accomplished.
  • The evolution of goals from simply surviving to building momentum and achieving more significant accomplishments.
  • The privilege of being able to engage with various interests and interact with influential individuals in different fields.

"The reason that I wanted to make money is the sting of not having it and being forced into situations that felt uncomfortable, to shameful, to all kinds of things."

This quote reveals the speaker's personal motivations for seeking financial success, which were rooted in past experiences of financial insecurity and the desire to avoid those negative feelings.

Commonalities in Conversations with Successful Individuals

  • Curiosity about the driving factors behind successful individuals' achievements.
  • Questions range from philosophical to specific, including inquiries about the realization of one's talent and the handling of success.
  • The fascination with how individuals perceive and process their success, whether with confidence or humility.

"Yeah, I would say it runs the gamut between sort of the big philosophical, what drives you? When did you know you were good or outstanding or world class at what you did?"

This quote indicates the speaker's interest in understanding the underlying motivations and self-perceptions of successful individuals, exploring both their internal drives and their reactions to success.

Luck vs. Skill in Success

  • Acknowledgment of the role of luck in conjunction with hard work and persistence in achieving success.
  • The balance of recognizing both privilege and meritocracy in one's accomplishments.
  • The belief in hope and opportunity for those from less advantageous backgrounds.

"I think realistically, if you don't shake hands with the fact that there is absolute universal luck involved, that you could have gone an inch to the right, inch to the left, and my life would have been completely different right now."

This quote conveys the speaker's recognition of the role of luck in life's trajectory, while also not discounting the efforts and choices that contribute to success.

Defining Moments of Skill and Luck

  • The foundation of Legendary Entertainment without prior experience as a defining moment of skill.
  • The fortunate encounter with director Chris Nolan as a defining moment of luck.
  • The recognition of both skill and luck in the creation of culturally significant works.

"I started legendary entertainment with zero experience in media. Zero movies, television, nothing. And it really started from, I love movies, have always loved movies and television and culture and so forth."

This quote illustrates the speaker's leap into a new venture based on passion and interest, which required skill and vision, setting the stage for future success influenced by fortunate circumstances.

Duality of Entertainment Industry Impact

  • Harry Stebbings discusses the juxtaposition of the entertainment industry's lack of disease curing with its incredible influence through storytelling.
  • He reflects on the power of cinema to captivate public imagination and connect with audiences.
  • Personal anecdotes illustrate the profound experiences he had within the industry, particularly with the film "300" and its star, Jerry Butler.

"And I used to think quietly to myself, look, I get it. These are incredibly skilled people, but at the end of the day, we're still not curing diseases, right?"

This quote highlights Harry Stebbings' internal conflict between recognizing the skill in the entertainment industry and the perception that it lacks the societal impact of fields like medicine.

"So, again, there's a little bit of duality there, but it was incredible to be a part of something that you would see go out on a Friday night."

Harry Stebbings acknowledges the duality he feels about the entertainment industry but also expresses the excitement of being part of something that deeply impacts popular culture.

The Power of Casting and Talent

  • Thomas Tull shares his experience with casting Chadwick Boseman for the Jackie Robinson story "42" and the impact Boseman had on and off-screen.
  • Tull reflects on the transformational journey of Boseman's career, including his role as Black Panther, and his personal relationship with Boseman.

"The most special experience I had was making the Jackie Robinson story. 42. He was a personal hero of mine growing up."

Thomas Tull shares his personal connection to the Jackie Robinson story and how it made the experience of making the movie "42" particularly special for him.

"When we were casting for Jackie Robinson, there was this unknown actor named Chadwick Boseman that came in."

This quote introduces Chadwick Boseman as a pivotal figure in the Jackie Robinson story and highlights the beginning of his significant career.

Skill in Career and Business Strategy

  • Harry inquires about the role of skill in Thomas Tull's success, as opposed to luck.
  • Tull explains the strategic thought process behind creating his holding company, Tullco, and how it aligns with his interests and skills.
  • The conversation delves into the decision-making process and the desire for a broad, innovative approach to business.

"One of the things, I have no idea if this is skill, but it's what just popped into my mind."

Thomas Tull humbly suggests that his business decisions may not be purely skill-based but are the result of intuitive thinking and strategic planning.

"So I designed a holding company, right imaginatively called Tullco."

Tull describes the intentional design of his holding company, Tullco, to align with his goals and skill set, emphasizing its success and strategic purpose.

Decision-Making and Business Constructs

  • Thomas Tull discusses his rationale for not wanting to run an operating company or a fund, focusing on his eclectic tastes and desire for a varied career.
  • He emphasizes the importance of partnering with management teams and providing capital, technology, and business acumen without the need for direct operation of the businesses.

"I knew that I was at a point in my life that I may have some things to share and the ability to solve problems and how to look at things."

Tull recognizes his ability to contribute to businesses through problem-solving and strategic insight, which informed his decision to create a holding company structure.

"But I can also step back from that and not have to operate it."

This quote underscores Tull's preference for a hands-off approach in his businesses, allowing him to maintain a broad focus and not be tied down to the day-to-day operations of a single company.

Interplay with Traditional Venture Capital

  • Thomas Tull discusses how his personal tech investments and the operation of Tullco differ from traditional venture capital.
  • He emphasizes a hands-on, partnership-oriented approach with the companies Tullco invests in, providing capital and support without the need for external fundraising.

"With Tullco, I'm by far the biggest shareholder. So at know again, most of the risk is my risk."

Tull highlights his significant personal investment in Tullco, indicating a high level of commitment and risk-taking in his business ventures.

"It just felt right and bespoke for me."

The quote reflects Tull's satisfaction with the unique business model he created, tailored to his personal preferences and investment style.

Risk Appetite and Informed Risk-Taking

  • Thomas Tull describes his approach to risk as informed and calculated, emphasizing the importance of understanding potential advantages and consequences before making decisions.
  • He discusses the balance between the potential for success and the ramifications of failure.

"Yes, but I would argue my thought process is to take informed risk, right."

Tull clarifies that while he takes risks, they are not reckless but are instead well-considered and data-informed decisions.

"If you look at all those things and say, yes, this is worth the risk, the reward is there and if it doesn't work, I'm okay with it."

This quote captures Tull's philosophy on risk-taking, where he weighs the potential reward against the acceptance of possible failure.

Resilience and Knowing When to Quit

  • Thomas Tull speaks about the importance of resilience in the face of challenges and the need to differentiate between worthwhile persistence and recognizing when to cease efforts.
  • He touches on the rapid pace of change in today's world and the need for flexibility and nimbleness in decision-making.

"And there's a bunch of stuff in the world that I just think all of your life experiences and whatever aptitude or intelligence and emotional quotient and all those things that you have allow you to make decisions real time as they come up."

Tull acknowledges the complex factors that influence decision-making, including life experience, intelligence, and emotional intelligence, especially in a rapidly changing world.

"I believe that there are certain absolute axioms on the way that you conduct yourself on the way, that you believe in certain business principles."

This quote emphasizes Tull's adherence to core business principles and personal conduct, despite the changing landscape of the business world.

Concerns About the Current State of Society

  • Thomas Tull expresses his optimism but also his concerns about international social issues, government trust, and social media behavior.
  • He reflects on the broader societal challenges that are present in the world today.

"Well, unfortunately, I'm an optimist by nature, but when you look at what's happening internationally with a lot of breakdown in what I'll call social contract stuff, belief in government, look at how people treat each other."

Tull conveys his inherent optimism while critically observing the decline in social contracts and government trust, as well as interpersonal treatment, particularly on social media.

Civil Discourse and Social Behavior

  • Thomas Tull reflects on the current state of social discourse, particularly on the internet.
  • He finds it odd that people say things online that they wouldn't say to someone's face.
  • Tull expresses concern about the binary perspective of "I'm right, you're evil" that inhibits civil discourse.
  • He hopes for a future where people are more civil and evolved, especially when someone is truly remorseful.
  • Tull wishes for people to take a step back and be more civil to each other.

"Is this sort of binary? I'm right, you're evil. We can't have civil discourse because my ears can't even take that."

This quote emphasizes the lack of nuance in current social interactions and the tendency to view disagreements as a moral dichotomy, which hinders productive conversation.

Climate Change

  • Thomas Tull touches on the issue of climate change.
  • He believes climate change is happening more rapidly than models have shown.
  • Tull calls for action to address climate change, implying a sense of urgency.

"Climate change is something that I think is starting to happen more rapidly than even the models show, et cetera, et cetera."

This quote highlights Tull's concern about the accelerating pace of climate change and the need for immediate action.

Social Progress and Equality

  • Tull acknowledges the ongoing issues with gender and racial equality.
  • He has witnessed significant positive shifts in his lifetime but recognizes there is still much work to be done.
  • Tull is optimistic about the direction of social progress and the need for continued efforts toward equality.

"I think we still have a long way to go to reach a point where everybody's playing on the same field as it relates to issues with women, issues with folks of color."

This quote acknowledges the existing inequalities and the necessity for further progress towards a more equitable society.

Medical and Technological Advancements

  • Tull is excited about the advancements in the medical field, such as CRISPR and cancer research.
  • He is hopeful about the potential of technology to bring about positive changes.
  • Tull believes that the upcoming generation is better equipped to tackle future challenges.

"And I'm not a biotech guy, but when you look at the promise of what's going on in the medical field, what's going on with things like CRISPR and just amazing things that are hopefully going to take a bite out of terrible diseases and things like that."

This quote conveys Tull's enthusiasm for the potential of biotechnology to revolutionize the treatment of diseases.

Reading and Storytelling

  • Tull recommends the book "Sapiens" by an Israeli professor as a must-read.
  • He also praises the "Lord of the Rings" series for its storytelling, which he has enjoyed since childhood and recently revisited.

"Sapiens, an Israeli professor just blew me away and I would still say best book I read as a kid was the Lord of the Rings series."

This quote suggests Tull values insightful literature and the power of storytelling, as exemplified by his recommendations.

Education and Remote Learning

  • Tull initially thought remote learning through platforms like Zoom might become the norm.
  • Upon reviewing data and experiences, he believes the in-person element of education is hard to replace, especially for younger children.

"But the more that I look both at the data and the experience and what happens with kids, especially in formative years, I think that in person element is hard to replace."

This quote reflects Tull's reconsideration of the efficacy of remote learning compared to traditional, in-person education.

Daily Routine and Personal Development

  • Tull describes his daily routine, which includes waking up early, working out, reading, and maintaining a consistent schedule.
  • He emphasizes the importance of intellectual curiosity and reading a variety of materials.
  • Tull has shifted his workout routine to focus more on interval training, cardio, and pliability.
  • He also makes time for activities with no utility, valuing leisure and personal enjoyment.

"Being well read, intellectually curious, and constantly reading an eclectic group of books and articles and everything is super important to me."

This quote reveals Tull's dedication to continuous learning and intellectual growth as part of his daily life.

Investing Perspectives

  • Tull missed early investment opportunities in Uber and Airbnb, underestimating the shared economy.
  • He is cautious about investing in cryptocurrencies due to a lack of deep understanding.
  • Tull is intrigued by the potential for governments to create digital currencies backed by their full faith and credit.

"I had an opportunity to invest in Uber and Airbnb early, and to be honest, I completely missed the shared economy."

This quote highlights Tull's reflection on a missed investment opportunity and the importance of understanding emerging economic models.

Insecurities in Investing

  • Tull discusses the unpredictability of the market and the disconnect between public markets and reality.
  • He finds it concerning how uninformed groups can significantly impact a company's value for reasons unrelated to its actual worth.

"Just the number of things that can go wrong even if you do everything right, and especially in the public markets."

This quote conveys Tull's view on the inherent risks and irrationalities present in public market investing.

Exciting Investments

  • Tull is excited about his investment in Colossal, a company working on advanced genetic technology.
  • He is inspired by working with geniuses like George Church and the potential impact of their work.

"Colossal Ben Lamb and George church at the church lab in Harvard. George is one of the best geneticists in the world."

This quote expresses Tull's enthusiasm for the groundbreaking work being done at Colossal and the high caliber of expertise involved.

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