From Starship Captain to Electric Bike Pitchman: a Conversation With William Shatner
The 87-year-old acting legend says the future of humanity rests on young entrepreneurs.
Captain Kirk himself has a mission for us: Develop new technologies and businesses in order to save the world from itself. "It's not about closing down the government," he explains, "but enhancing governmental research and development into new ideas. That's where all you young entrepreneurs should be at."
We'd be wise to listen. After warping onto the scene in the original 1960s Star Trek TV series, William Shatner has proven himself a genius at staying relevant as an actor, author, musician and supporter of products ranging from travel websites to solar-panels to VR companies to electric bicycles.
Shatner chatted with Entrepreneur via phone (communicators weren't available) to discuss his recent partnership with Pedego Electric Bikes -- but the conversation soon reached the furthest reaches of the galaxy.
What made you first hop on an electric bike?
The whole idea that I didn't have to pedal home. It's true! I have an indelible picture in my mind: Years ago I was driving up a hilly coastal highway in Washington state in a convertible, and I passed by two bikers -- a man and a woman -- and the woman was crying. It just suggested to me that she couldn't go up another hill; she was fatigued and couldn't make it to the next town. I've sort of carried that picture with me whenever I go biking, because how many times have you enthusiastically set off to pedal your bike, gone a certain distance, then turned around and thought, "Oh my God, I'm really tired and getting back is hellish"? It doesn't have to be that way with an electric bike, and that's incredible.
Your Pedego commercials are hilarious. Was shooting them as fun as it looks?
Absolutely. Everybody brought the right equipment, there was a terrific director, the material was good, and the bikes all worked.
I particularly liked the one with the guy getting the rectal exam.
I thought that was hysterically funny.
It's obvious that you believe in the product you're endorsing.
I really do. I wanted to become part of the company, because it's so good. Pedego is a company with a great product that's run beautifully, and I'm so glad to be associated with it.
Besides acting, you make music, write books, endorse products -- do you think of yourself as an entrepreneur?
I don't think of myself as an entrepreneur, I like to think of myself as an artist. However, there is artistry in entrepreneurship. There is the joy of creativity, of making the business work, of being successful at whatever it is you're doing. There is artistry in that. And so you can be an artist and an entrepreneur, in fact you should be an artist and an entrepreneur at the same time.
Knowing how to deal with failure is also important.
Well, it's a well-known fact among us entrepreneurs that you have to fail. You can't know what is successful until you find out what isn't successful. You'd be hard pressed to find anybody who says, "Oh, I don't know failure, I only know success," because it's a path untrod. You're going to trip, and you have to learn where to place your feet.
What inspires you to keep trying new things?
The basic philosophy -- if there is such a thing in my life -- is to say yes. The books that I have written, the last one in particular, are all about saying yes to life. It's very easy to say no and close the door and expire slowly. And it hurts to get out! The muscles are tight, the bones are grinding…but you gotta do it, otherwise you're essentially dead.
Are you excited about the race to send regular citizens into space?
Well, I don't want to go myself. There's an amusing story that I've told about Richard Branson. Richard Branson offered me a seat in the airplane that's going up into space, and he said it would cost me $250,000. I said, "You got the wrong idea, it's going to cost you!" I never heard from him again.
Absolutely! That should be an honor for him to have you on that flight.
That, I think, is the definition of entrepreneurship.
Well, they all have their qualities, don't they? I mean Branson has been at it a long while, and he's got long wavy hair.
It's almost Khan-like, isn't it?
I suppose you could say that. But it's long and wavy and streaked, and he looks marvelously dramatic. The picture I have of Elon Musk is him being sleepless in his office as he tosses and turns over the success of his rockets. And as for Mr. Bezos, after his divorce I don't know that he can afford to go into space.
Do have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
The future is rife with new technologies. But it's not just a matter of which technology will be the one to advance, but which company of that technology is the superior company. That superiority usually resides in the management. It's not the exterior -- whether the buildings are made of glass and titanium or not -- it's what the management is doing. That's where the entrepreneurship is.
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There's never been more need for new technology. The old technology has taken us to the brink of the extermination of human beings. And we may be over the brink!
Well, if we're not, it's up to technology to save us -- direct the carbon dioxide and the methane out of the air. I just keep thinking someone is going to say, "Eureka!" The world needs a technological revolution in order to save itself; that's where our energy should be.
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