The Bregman Leadership Podcast
Episode 86

Tim Sanders

Love is a Killer App

How do you “show love” in your professional life? It sounds like a crazy question, but according to former Yahoo Chief Solutions Officer Tim Sanders, being genuinely selfless is actually the best thing you can do for your career. His newest book is Love Is the Killer App: How to Win At Business and Influence Friends. Discover the three ways you can show love in the professional world, the rules for smart giving so you aren’t taken advantage of, and how to be a super-connector–not a networker.


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Bio: Tim is the author of four books, including the New York Times bestseller Love Is the Killer App: How To Win Business & Influence Friends. It’s been translated into over a dozen languages and has been featured in Fast Company, USA Today, the New York Times, The Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor and on CNN. His other books include Today We Are Rich, The Likeability Factor, Saving the World at Work and Dealstorming (coming out 2/23/16).



Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host, and CEO of Bregman Partners.

This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.

Tim Sanders is with us today. Tim and I met a year ago at a dinner with a good friend of ours, Tavo. Everything he’s going to talk about today that’s related to his book, he represents as a person. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting him personally. We started off and ended off with a big hug, and everything flowed from there. We’re lucky to have him with us today. Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends was the book that put him on the map in a big way. He was the Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo. He’s a writer, a speaker, and a smart and nice guy.

Tim, welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast.

Tim: Great to be with you Peter.

Peter: I thought Love is the Killer App was a really excellent book and really fun. You talk about a love cat. Describe the love cat.

Tim: In the book, I created this persona. I call it a love cat. It’s based on the song, if you remember, “Love Cats.” “We move like cagey tigers, no two can get closer than this.”

I first heard that phrase used to describe a person back in 1997. It was used to describe Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher. Someone said, “He’s a tough old love cat,” and what that means is that this is a person who finds their professional success caring for other people, and showing this care by sharing their intangibles, their knowledge, their network, and their compassion to make the other person successful. When that’s what you do, where you find your pleasure and your meaning, you, my friend, are a love cat.

Peter: There’s a sentence that you wrote on page 142 that I think was the most important sentence in the book. “Love cats are in the business of getting others to trust us, to let us become a positive force in their life.”

Talk about it a little bit, because I think it’s profound.

Tim: When we think about trust, Peter, oftentimes we want people to trust us in order to buy from us, in order to follow us, in order to do what we want to get what we need, but I flipped trust. I flipped the script. My sales job in life is convincing people to believe that I really want to help them, and expect nothing in return. I want people to trust me intellectually, so when I give them knowledge they will be open to that knowledge and willing to act on it and read more. I lump into trust that my network of relationships is not only valuable to them, but available to them.

I think most importantly, when I tell somebody, “Dude, I really care about you,” and I give them a hug, I want them to trust that we just had a real interaction, and not think I’m trying to ingratiate them. That’s how I think about trust.

Peter: That’s great, I love it.

On the one hand, you do want your trust to lead to something that is mutually beneficial. Am I thinking about this correctly? I think this is where people could get a little stuck, confused, or where it might feel a little slippery. I want to make sure we’re super clear about it.

Tim: Yeah, and this is where I’m kind of crazy, but remember, nice smart people succeed. If you help the right hero for the right reason at the right time, they don’t have to do anything for you for that to be incredibly rewarding. I always assume, as a guy who’s been doing this for 20 years, I assume that he is paying it forward, not paying me back, and it releases me from my ego’s economics about how much did I get out of this transaction.

Here’s why that’s important to the long term career, here. Because I don’t ask for anything in return, I create surprise and delight and a world of takers and traders. It has helped me, over the last 20 years, build a brand as a guy that actually helps without expecting anything in return. That brand has led to awareness, surprising opportunities that fell into my lap by third parties that heard about it from them.

I gotta tell you Peter, I didn’t write this in the book, but I picked this story up on the road, I’m not alone. In New York City, there’s a guy in the life insurance business, his name is Elmer Leterman, just one T in Leterman. His company still exists to this day. He started his company in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, trying to sell life insurance. You can imagine it was a tough sale, right? So he started this thing around 1932 called the Leterman Lunch. Every week he’d find three people that should meet, and he’d put a lunch together to get them started on an opportunity. Maybe he’d find a chef who’s of a job and has vision for a new place in the meat packing district, he’s already got chefs lined up and a menu designed. He’d invite a construction guy, he’d invite an investor. That’d be a classic Leterman Lunch.

Here’s the catch. He would never bring brochures or business cards to one of these lunches. If you were the chef, out of gratefulness you could say, “I want to buy life insurance from you, I appreciate what you’ve done.” Leterman would look at you like you slapped him in the face, and he’d say, “Focus, Peter, on the opportunity.”

He could come to the opening of your restaurant a year later with the line around the block, and famously he wouldn’t accept a free meal or even a cut in line. When he shook your hand at the front door, he would ask you, “How did you pull it off?” And this is the punchline. He had so much humility about what networking really did for a person, one step. He had so much detachment from what he got out of it, 10 years later he’s a deca millionaire life insurance guru, because he was swimming in endless referrals because in a contained market, doing this 50 times a year for a decade, he compounded the power of his brand and no one would do business with anyone but Elmer.

What he and I have in common is that we trust the system. What is that system? We trust the system where money goes where it’s wanted, and stays where it’s well kept. I consider my breaking free of reciprocity as something that makes me very different than the average guy that wants to “network” with you, but what he’s really doing is screening you to see what you can do for him, and holding out that little carrot, whatever that is, piece of advice, somebody you can meet. I think we’re jaded about those kind of people in the world we live in.

Peter: It feels like one of the elements to that is long-term versus short-term thinking. A sense of, I’m actually going to think in terms of decades, not days. If I think of decades in terms of days, I can allow these relationships to blossom.

It also seems like it’s something else though. It’s not an enlightened self-interest. It’s actually a genuine life of service.

Tim: One of the books that really changed my paradigm … It was like, I had this moment, Peter, in 1996/1997 where the whole thing came to me. I was like, “I’m going to be the only guy anybody knows that will help them without expectation, and I’m going to stockpile knowledge, I’m going to build this massive network, I’m going to give it away. Here’s where I got the idea. I was reading the Being book by Abraham Maslow, you know, “Toward a Psychology of Being”, and he talked about the difference between B-Love, and D-Love.

B-Love is a being form of love, where you feel like you’ve got everything in the world you need, and you’re completely fascinated and immersed in the other. All you want is for the other to do better and be happy, that’s B-Love. You’ve usually really actualized a lot to get to that stage, because everybody else lives in D-Love, that’s deficiency love. I want to love you, so you’ll love me, because not enough people love me. I love you in part based on what you can do for me, it’s a quid pro quo. D-Love produces nothing but anxiety for people on both sides of that relationship, at some point. At some point they disappoint you, you disappoint them, and it’s a negative way of living. When I read about B-Love, I’m like, “This is who I’m going to become.”

When I made that move in my career, this is right when I went to work for Mark Cuban in 1997, the timing couldn’t have been better. This is something I’ve learned through many times of change. When things are really rocky, people are looking for answers. By the way, that’s out of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, one of my favorite movies. Looking for answers when times are tough. If you can be that person, who’s willing to mentor someone … I just came from a lunch where I mentor someone who’s really at rock bottom, and I really want to help him. If you can do that, it changes the way you think, and it also gives you incredible power and confidence when you’re doing the rest of your life.

I made a little decision around 2000 … I’ve been doing this, and a lot of bosses were like, “Tim, you’re too nice. People are going to take advantage of you, you’re an open target,” and I realized I needed to tweak my system based on two little pieces of advice I got from Stanley Marcus Jr., who gave me a lot of help at the time.

Number One, only help heroes. If I do screen people when I meet them, it’s not to ask what can he do for me, it’s to ask, does he have a heroic quality about him? In other words, are you a giver or a taker? If you have ambition, if you have courage, if you have purpose, I’m going to help you. If you’re a taker, I’m going to shun you, and that’s what makes the world go round.

Peter: So that’s how you define heroic? Heroic is someone who’s out there not just trying to take, but who’s a giver?

Tim: They’ve got courage, they’re in motion, they’re going a little bit too fast. You can read the passion on their faces. They want to do something positive, and they’re not trying to find a shortcut through me. I’m going to give my all to that person with that expectation, because to get statistical here, eight to nine times out of 10 they do pay it forward. I don’t measure reciprocity.

The second rule, Peter, that I came up with that kind of protects me and allows me to be very vulnerable in these relationships, I only invest the time I’m willing to lose. It’s like an investor who’s really smart about their money. How much time do I spend a week mentoring and networking? About six hours. I steal those six hours from other time-wasting activities, like meetings I shouldn’t have about side spin off businesses. Facebook I shouldn’t be surfing, shows I shouldn’t be watching, things I shouldn’t be enjoying, like sports maybe. I steal time from the rest of my life to give it away. But my core 48 hour a week work on my career is sacrosanct, and that’s the way I built a separation if you will, between my love life if you will and my professional life.

Peter: I think it would be useful to spend a minute or two each on knowledge, network, and compassion, because that’s the formula that you have.

Tim: Absolutely. So here’s the premise. The way that you show love in a professional context is you intelligently share your knowledge, your network, and your compassion, to help another person succeed. Peter, these are the intangibles that every human possesses that if you share them intelligently, you actually have more, not less. It’s very different than time or money, that’s why I focus on these three. No one’s ever guilty receiving the knowledge/network/compassion. They get guilty when they take your time and money.

So, knowledge. What I mean by this is what insights, or information, can I give the other to solve one of the other’s information problems. What can I do to mentor the other to help that hero make the next step of his or her journey. Knowledge is a tricky one, right? Because in my mind, knowledge sharing is the foundation of a relationship at work. When you admire someone, believe in someone, trust them on a professional level to follow their advice, they’ve shared knowledge with you that’s relevant, that’s accurate, that’s uniquely valuable. I think of it like this. You give good return on attention in every meeting. That’s called ROA.

To do that, though, the challenge you have is you must be a voracious aggregator of knowledge and insights. Not the stuff everybody else is reading and knowing. The first step I head to take to become that love cat is I had to replicate … I was working for Cuban at the time. I had to replicate his bookish behavior. That guy wrote 50 books in 1997, before the end of the summer, because he knew that the future was in the books and that long-form reading was more committed than short-form reading. He used to always quote Bobby Knight, the basketball coach, because he was an Indiana guy, and it would always be like this, “Everybody wants to win, but only a few people are willing to do the hard work to prepare to win.” I took that to heart.

I would spend all of my off time, I mean get up early, when I flew, on the weekends, as I drove into work, absorbing long-form content. When I started to do that, I found I had a lot left over I could share. A few years into this journey, I discovered this thing called prescriptive reading. I didn’t make this up, this is a Michael Dell practice, but I heard about it, and I was like, what a brilliant idea! He would read at least one book a month that solved one of their customers’ biggest problems. He liked to read outside of his industry. Maybe he’d read something to do with healthcare, or he’d read something to do with government management or whatever. He’d read a book on behalf of the other person.

I took it a step further. I would read a book to solve a customer’s challenge, or to help understand their future, and I would study it like a student, I would mark it up and take notes. If it was a really good book, that’s the swag I would give that client the next time I saw them, and we’d have a discussion about those contents. That’s the way I made knowledge sharing a programmatic part of my life. I do that to this day, except now prescriptive reading is half of every book I read. I read about three books a month.

Peter: That’s great. Network.

Tim: So, your network is your greatest net worth. You may not be able to solve somebody’s problems you meet, but I’m telling you a friend of yours can, so think of it as a really valuable asset. I know you read the book, this phrase I use is … I like to say, you can share knowledge and you’ll never get dumber, right? It doesn’t go away. But if you share your network with the wrong person at the wrong time, you might lose one of your own nodes, because they’re like man, I hated that guy, right? So I believe that the difference between sharing knowledge and network is like the difference between ham and eggs. The chicken’s involved, but the pig is fully committed. You must be intelligent about how you share your network, right?

The first thing you gotta do is really organize your network. I spend a lot of time inputting things into my network. Taking LinkedIn and moving it into my Outlook network. I want to make my network as portable and as addressable as possible. It’s almost like the book thing. Gotta read a lot of books to share knowledge. Gotta organize your network to share your network. I find that the key here, also, is I have to change conversations to create opportunities, because I don’t want to be thought of as a networker. That’s a bad word, now. We think networking is a shortcut, right? I want people to call me a super connector. Tavo is a super connector, the person you referred to that put us together. That’s what he does.

The super connector asks different questions to find real opportunities. A networker’s gonna be like, “Well, Peter, what are you doing right now? What do you do? What’s your job, what’s your asset base?” More or less, that’s what we ask in most conversations. I don’t want to know that. I want to know instead, what’s your “wow” project right now? What are you working hard on right now that you’re passionate about? We’re going to have a conversation about that. I’m going to be quiet, and you’re going to take me on a journey from like, headline, to body copy, to hopes and dreams and challenges and obstacles, and within that part of the story, oftentimes you will reveal to me an opportunity to introduce you to someone to bring a resource to the table.

Most of my conversations, I’m laying in weight like Columbo, with one more stupid question to find that networking opportunity. You have to stick with it. The last thing I’ll say about networking is you also need to make it programmatic. About 15 years ago, I made a commitment that by Friday at three I will have introduced three people that should meet. Unlike Leterman, I don’t have to have a lunch. I can use video like we’re doing. I can use a conference call. I can even use a three-way email. I’ve been working very hard on the technique around three-way email to make sure the right links are in the email. I text the benefactor, that’s the person that’s going to help, before I even send the email, or call that person and say, “Answer that email, this is a good one.” And then I follow up with the beneficiary the next day, to say, “Did you seize the opportunity?” I’ve really worked on that.

As a matter of fact, I made a connection today before I went to lunch, but I’m still short one for the week. But hey, it’s only Tuesday.

That’s networking for me. Put three people together every week that should meet, and get out of the way. I promise you, your network will double year over year. Double year over year.

Peter: You talk a lot about getting connected and staying connected and the process for that. How do you continue to stay connected to your network and follow up when you’re not necessarily matching everybody together? You’re doing it very actively, so that allows you to stay connected, but how do you stay connected and not be annoying? How do you not lose the connection to relationships you’ve developed, even if you’re not tapping into them or helping them in a particular year?

Tim: First of all, you’ve gotta put yourself out there, right? I try to program myself to attend enough events where the majority of my network is present every year, to at least see, let’s say 15 percent of them face to face at some point. You’ve got to put yourself out there.

Second thing, is I stalk people. I talked about how I stole some time away from social, I actually set aside certain time for LinkedIn, Facebook. I troll people, but in a positive way. I’ll got through my feeds and just kind of randomly see who in my network is talking about what, if I can be encouraging, if I can contact them. Frequently that leads to in-mail messages, which leads to conversations like this. I find that social networks, especially LinkedIn, and to some extent Facebook, provide you a good opportunity to kind of look in on the people that you already know.

Here’s a little trick that I think is really important, and I just have been doing this for a few years since I read my buddy Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, which obviously is kindred spirit to Love is the Killer App. He talked about this idea that every week, at least once a month but if you can every week, reach out and talk to somebody that you haven’t talked to in at least a year. Preferably two or three years. They’ll be grateful that you reached out, you’re not being annoying. If you listened, and you asked the questions I just talked about, you know, what are your wild projects, what’s your passions? They’re really going to appreciate the conversation.

But Grant says, and this is true, is not only does that keep those loose ties in the network, it broadens your horizons greatly. They’ve been off doing things for a year, or two years, and three years, and they’ve learned things you don’t know. As they express to you what they’re working on, it actually makes you better in the future at sharing knowledge with the next person, so I love that idea of finding a dormant connection in your network, reaching out, and having the highest quality conversation, which is either face to face or video, is the new belief I have now.

Peter: You mentioned Adam Grant, and if I’m remembering his book correctly, I think he came out from a research perspective in saying that takers don’t win in the end, but neither do the pure givers. It’s the givers and takers, it’s the ones who have a balance between the two, because the givers often get walked on. I don’t know how well you know Adam, and how much you know about the book, but I’m curious if you have a thought around that.

Tim: Well, I’m not a pure giver, I’m a conditional giver, right? Adam hadn’t read Love is the Killer App, he hadn’t met people like me. He found out about me because somebody came into one of his lectures and said, “Man, you sound like Love is the Killer App,” so when I got to know him a little bit, he was intrigued by the idea that I only help heroes, and that when someone that I wrongly thought was a hero turns out to be a taker I never help them again, and he thought that was a nice hack, so that a person could be a conditional giver, but never a taker, and not get taken advantage of.

When he studied the idea that, you know, the person who’s a giver as well as a taker, I think what he was studying was financial, and that’s never been the issue with me. I really want to be satisfied with my career when I look back on it at the end of my life. That’s what I consider success. I don’t consider success accumulation. I think that his definition of winning and my definition of winning are slightly different, but I think where we come together is around the idea that nice, smart people succeed, nice people get crushed by takers. I totally agree with him on that, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to be a pure giver to anyone that wants you. I think you must be intelligent about how you approach this, because if you give too much away and don’t leave time for yourself, you’re going to lose the very resource base you had to share to begin with. I’m always thinking about how I build my business, and protect that time.

I will say, Peter, there have been people who I’ve helped who’ve come back and said … I had a guy a couple years ago, he said, “I want to do this for you,” and I’m like, “Nope, nope, I don’t help to get anything in return, I’m the love cat.”

He looks at me, and he goes, “Look, I’m in a tough place right now, and I just want to feel like I helped somebody, and I can give this to you and I know for a fact you need it,” and I learned to accept. I’ve done a better job in the last few years in empowering the people I help to give back, because then it’s not about me owning them, or them feeling in debt to me, sometimes people want to give back and you must be receptive. It’s just if you go into it not expecting anything, you have that opportunity to stand out. That being said, I’m willing to take if they want to give.

Peter: It’s interesting, because there’s a certain vulnerability in giving, which you’ve described, and there’s also a certain vulnerability in receiving. Receiving might be different than taking, right? Which is what you’ve just described as not even taking so much as receiving. There’s a vulnerability in receiving. It’s difficult to receive in some ways.

Tim: But that vulnerability, it’s really important, though, Peter. Love is like oxygen. If you stop being vulnerable, then you’re going to suffocate on your own loneliness, right? I love vulnerability, and I’ve just made my life now about all the hacks and safeguards that let me be that tender-hearted guy and not get crushed by the real world.

Peter: Give us a sentence on compassion.

Tim: Compassion is your desire and commitment that others do not suffer unnecessarily. I really take it from Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness. I’m a southern baptist by trade, but I could not shake that definition the Dalai Lama had of what compassion means.

Think about it. In every part of how we care about people, from mentoring someone in need, to user experience design, the end of suffering is the goal. When I show someone compassion, I participate in somehow alleviating their negative emotions or embracing their positive emotions, and that’s what it means to be a compassionate person.

Peter: I want to finish with the question that you gave me. Tim, what are your wild projects and passions? Let’s see if there’s a place where we can connect on that level, and if there’s any way I can help, I would be happy to.

Tim: You know, good question. I bought a lot of musical equipment over the last few years for my wow project, to make a couple of fun songs and have a little bit of fun with that. That’s like a side project, but my wow project for my life right now is working on my book, which will be my 6th book, it’ll be my follow up to Love is the Killer App. Earlier in the interview, I actually said the title of the new book accidentally, I’m not supposed to do that. It is a book on how to be faster at falling in love with people you meet in your professional life, and how to be more resilient when they disappoint you later.

If you burn out on caring about other people, you cannot lead people and you cannot be a good provider of any type of service. As the guy who wrote this thing back in the ’90s, here I am in my 50s, I’ve been thinking a lot now, Peter, about how we stay the kind of person who’s willing to really fall for someone, and be okay if he or she doesn’t say thank you later.

Peter: It’s an emotional resilience to disappointment.

Tim: That’s exactly what it is. I was going to call it Love Intelligent, but the whole LQ thing just smelled bad, so I’ll stick with whatever title I accidentally said earlier, which you’ll tease out on playback, which I think is a much better title, unless the band sues me.

Peter: I now know what to play back to to hear it.

Tim Sanders, Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends. This is one of five books and the sixth is the one that you’re about to come out with. You also wrote The Likeability Factor, sort of your L-factor. Tim is, as you can tell, a passionate guy full of life.

Tim, it’s a pleasure both to know you and to have you on the Bregman Leadership Podcast. Thank you so much for being here.

Tim: My pleasure, my pleasure. I’ve actually parked an excerpt for everybody of Love is the Killer App at

Peter: That’s awesome. We’ll put that in the show notes as well.

Thank you. It’s such a pleasure, Tim, as always.

Tim: Thank you.

Peter: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast. If you did, it would really help us if you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review.

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Thank you, Clare Marshall, for producing this episode, and thank you for listening.