22. Interview with Nathan Schulhof (Father of the MP3 Player)

Nathan M. Schulhof is a visionary entrepreneur who was a key player at the beginning of the technology era. Mr. Schulhof is the lead inventor on three U.S. patents, and he is also listed or referenced in numerous other patents.

Nathan’s book, “Father of the MP3 Player: Lessons in Business and Life from a Visionary Entrepreneur”, is available on Amazon, Booktopia, GoodReads, and numerous other publishers. He was featured in Gizmodo.com, Wired.com, Men’s Health – Top 100 Tech Guide, Cult of Mac, Wall St Journal & other technology and business publications. He has received numerous awards, such as an Innovations Award from the Consumer Electronics Show, and the People’s Choice award from Upside Magazine.

Nathan Schulhof has worked with and consulted for Apple since 1980. If you own a portable media player or a smartphone, chances are you own a product today that uses the technology invented by Nathan Schulhof.

Schulhof is involved in creating green energy and other emerging technologies. He also founded Future Technology Corporation, which produces low wattage power systems for developing nations. Most recently, he has focused on developing fuel cells and power systems for these countries as well!

Today, Mr. Schulhof is a board member of several companies and continues to consult with them. He is also a keynote speaker at events around the world, where he enlightens his audiences about the future of these technologies, and how to use them to lead a better and healthier life.

Below are some insights from Nathan Schulhof. Enjoy!

What is your definition of success?

My definition of success has evolved over the years. For most of my life, success was about achieving wealth and possessions. I lived for “the future”. Today I am a comfortable minimalist. I still like nice things, but I try to live in the present. My goal is to achieve tranquility and peace of mind. I try not to accumulate possessions and only keep items I use at least every month or week. I have always been a happy person, but I have found one can be happy and mentally tortured at the same time. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, we are all renters.

When did you consider yourself a success?

In 1980 I started my first company called Silicon Valley Systems. We made a best-selling word processor for early Apple Computers. Our product, “Word Handler” (the word processor) and “List Handler” (an early relational database), cost $3.63 to produce. We sold it to computer stores for $149, with a retail price of $249. We were all young and dumb, but despite ourselves, we made lots of money. At 32, I was “the old man.” This was my first real success. That gave me confidence, which led to other achievements.

What steps do you take daily to improve?

When I was building my company, I understood that to become successful; I had to be at my peak performance every day. I ran five miles, six days per week. I ate extremely healthy and was light on alcohol. My passion and complete commitment were an essential part of my success. I also meditated daily to keep my mind at peak performance.

What have you recognized as your greatest strengths, and how have they impacted your success?

My greatest strengths are my passion, commitment, and belief in what I’m doing. When I was in my twenties, I tried selling insurance for New York Life because I scored so high on their aptitude test. I didn’t even try to stay longer than a year because I didn’t believe in it, and I wasn’t committed. However, the president of New York Life came on my Board of Directors at Audio Highway out of that experience.

Tell me about a weakness or personal character flaw, and what you’re doing to overcome it?

As an entrepreneur, I have been too early with some of my product ideas, including the MP3 Player, because the internet base was too small at the time and needed to grow to attract tier-1 content.

How do you make important decisions?

One technique I have used for years I referred to as “The Spock Technique”. I would find I made my best decisions when I could keep all emotions out of the equation. I would close my eyes and meditate and become one with Mr. Spock, a Vulcan who has no emotions. I would become Mr. Spock and make the decision he would make. I also like to research the facts and hear opinions from trusted advisors. It’s essential to look at all possible outcomes (as you would when making financial projections).

Was there a pivotal moment that set you on the path to where you are now?

Financially, it would be when Audio Highway went public in December 1998. I had another personal growth moment on January 16, 2004, when I went into a coma from an untreated toothache. My body went septic, and I had an 8-year recovery. This gave me a new appreciation for life. Also, producing the first major cybercast at Dodger Stadium, Wango Tango, which was covered by Entertainment Tonight.

Are there any books you’ve read more than once? Why?

“As a Man Thinketh” by James Allan and, of course, “Father of the MP3 Player: Lessons in Business and Life” by Nathan Schulhof and John Seeley.

Tell me about a difficult commitment you’ve made, and would you make it again?

Starting Silicon Valley Systems, TestDrive, and Audio Highway were all difficult commitments.

What character traits do you value most in others?

Passion and loyalty to your committed cause.

How do you push through your worst times?

I push through tough times with exercise, proper nutrition, meditation, and logic.

What keeps you awake at night?

For most of my life, I have only slept four hours per night. I have not been able to turn off my mind at night.

What inspires you?

  1. Things that haven’t been done before.
  2. The future.
  3. When someone says, “you can’t do that”.

How do you manage and prioritize opportunities?

Usually, I prioritize by profit and loss. In the past, I said, “a company runs on sales and collections.” There are many factors for all that to happen. Today, I prioritize by lifestyle and lack of stress.

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

In 2017, I gave a Keynote speech in Guadalajara, Mexico, to 25,000 young adults attending the conference. After the keynote in a media interview, a reporter asked me to give a piece of advice. Here was my recommendation: “When you have passion in your heart, stay with it. Don’t let doubtful people discourage you. Make smart decisions, but if you believe in your plan, stick with it!”

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