the third door book summary

Book Summary: The Third Door by Alex Banayan

The Book in Three Sentences

In this summary of Alex Banayan’s The Third Door, you’ll learn about his journey to interview some of the most influential people in the world and learn their secrets. Banayan soon found out that all these people had something in common: they found a hidden path to success.

The Third Door Summary

Step 1: Ditch the Line

  • The First Door is the main entrance where 99% of people are waiting to get in.
  • The Second Door is the VIP entrance reserved for billionaires and celebrities.
  • The Third Door is the secret entrance most people are unaware of, the one that people like Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg used.

Chapter One: Staring at the Ceiling

Alex Banayan starts narrating the moments before meeting Bill Gates. Three years before the meeting, he was in his freshman dorm room. The author was at the University of Southern California where he was studying to be a doctor. He is the son of Persian Jewish immigrants and a B-student. He was consistent and had a sense of direction yet he found himself staring at the ceiling as if something was missing.

Bored and questioning why he was at USC in the first place, he felt inspired by Bill Gates, who founded one of the most valuable corporations when he was about Alex’s age. He was also inspired by Steven Spielberg and Lady Gaga, among others. Right then and there, Banayan decided to write a book about the moment in those celebrities’ lives when they found a way to launch their careers. To fund this mission, Alex participated in the famous television show, The Price is Right.

Chapter Two: The Price Is Right

In this chapter, Alex explains how he hacked The Price Is Right. First, he made sure he was chosen from the audience by acting strange. He then learned how to play the game by talking to random people in the audience. After winning the final round, Alex left the show with a sailboat which he ended up selling to finance his journey.

Chapter Three: The Storage Closet

Alex switched majors. He wanted a business degree but didn’t know why and this ordeal affected his family, especially his mother. He moved back home and set up an office in a storage room. Alex asked his friends who he should interview on his mission and some of the names that came up during the conversation included Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet, Tim Ferriss, Steven Spielberg, and Larry King.

Step 2: Run Down the Alley

Chapter Four: The Spielberg Game

An administrator who worked at USC told Alex that Spielberg was going to be at film school for an event. Students weren’t allowed, but he went as an “assistant”. Alex read Spielberg’s biography and watched all of his films. During the event, he approached the renowned filmmaker but couldn’t speak, since fear paralyzed his body. Alex knew Spielberg pretended to work for Universal TV for months so that he could learn as much as possible. The young director eventually brought a short and it made it into the vice president of production’s hands. Spielberg was offered a seven-year contract and eventually became a renowned filmmaker.

Alex calls this the Spielberg game. The game had three rules:

  1. Jump off the bus tour.
  2. Find an inside man.
  3. Ask for their help to bring you in.

Alex eventually mustered enough confidence to speak to the director and Spielberg agreed to do an interview. Soon after the exchange though, the dean caught the Banayan and told him to leave.

Chapter Five: Crouching in the Bathroom

Alex read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss and was deeply touched by some of the book’s lessons. He added Ferriss to the list of people he wanted to interview. Luckily, Alex had an acquaintance who knew Ferriss. Banayan went to an event where Ferriss was the speaker and had a chance to speak to him and tell him about his mission. The young author was so persistent that Ferriss eventually said yes. They discussed perseverance and how there’s a line between being persistent and being a hassle. Then they also talked about the importance of gaining credibility early on.

Chapter Six: Qi Time

Alex was introduced to someone named Qi Lu, a forty-year-old, sandal-wearing Microsoft employee. Qi Lu grew up in rural China with no running water or electricity. At 27, he made seven dollars a month, but by the time he was forty, he was president of online services at Microsoft. Qi Lu got into a good university and majored in computer science.

The Chinese engineer started thinking about time and how everyone was given twenty-four hours a day. He started experimenting with cutting down hours of sleep and as part of his daily routine slept for four hours and worked twice as fast as everyone else. They now call him “Qi Time”. Back when he discovered this hack, Qi gained two extra hours of productivity. He read and studied, hoping to study in the US. Eventually, Qi was offered a scholarship in the United States, got a job at IBM, then Yahoo, and finally settled at Microsoft. Qi’s story isn’t about the lack of sleep, it’s about sacrifice. Qi offered to help Alex meet Bill Gates.

Chapter Seven: The Hidden Reservoir

Alex started receiving no’s from every person on his list, but he was determined to contact them. One exception was Sugar Ray Leonard, a six-time world champion boxer. Leonard grew up in a family of nine in Palmer Park, Maryland and they were very poor. At age seven, he decided to try boxing but was hit repeatedly and quit. Six years later, he tried again and the same thing happened. Leonard decided to chase the school bus every day to train. Sugar Ray didn’t have experience, but he had discipline. He told Alex about the hidden reservoir, an inner strength everyone has inside, but few use. This motivated the young author to continue on his journey.

Step 3: Find Your Inside Man

Chapter Eight: The Dream Mentor

Alex kept getting rejections for months, until one day, he got an email from Bill Gates’ Chief of Staff. The problem was that Alex didn’t have a publishing deal. Banayan was inspired by Elliot Bisnow, a young entrepreneur who owned several companies, knew a lot of famous people, and was co-founder of the Summit Series. Alex wanted to talk to Elliot, so he sent him an email. He soon got a reply and agreed to meet Elliot on the same day he had a final exam. Missing the exam would mean failing the course, but Alex decided to travel anyway.

Chapter Nine: The Rules

Alex met Elliot in a hotel lobby and had an exchange. They talked about “the mission” and building momentum. Elliot shared some ground rules:

  1. Never use a phone in a meeting. Always carry a pen in your pocket.
  2. Act like you belong. Never ask someone for a picture.
  3. Mystery makes history. Never post pictures of what you’re doing on social media.
  4. Never break someone’s trust. Act like a vault.
  5. Adventures only happen to the adventurous.

Alex and Elliot went to a TED conference and saw some of the most successful people. Elliot encouraged Alex to tell everyone about how he funded his mission. He talked to the assistant Dean one hour before the final exam and explained where he was and with whom. He was given an extension for the exam. Elliot dared Alex to talk to the CEO of Google Larry Page, but Alex felt paralyzed and could barely speak.

Chapter Ten: Adventures Only Happen to the Adventurous

Banayan set out to get a publishing deal as Bill Gates’ Chief of Staff suggested. To get one, you write a book proposal, you attract a literary agent and that person gets you a publisher. Elliot invited Alex to go to Europe which caused some problems in Alex’s family.  They were worried about him going overseas with a young millionaire he’d just met, but ultimately Banayan decided to travel anyway.

Chapter Eleven: Bite Off More than You Can Chew

Elliot Bisnow started printing T-shirts with a friend when he was younger but didn’t sell most of them. He went back home to Washington D.C. and helped his dad with his real estate business. Elliot learned the business as he closed deals. The company made millions and he eventually sold it. As a side project, he also created the Summit, a series of events that attracted the rich and famous. Since he started doing business, Bisnow’s motto has been “bite off more than you can chew.”

Chapter Twelve: That’s How You Do Business

Alex, Elliot, and Elliot’s brother flew to Barcelona. They went to a party together and Elliot encouraged Alex to tell The Price is Right story to several people. To Elliot, the story wasn’t important, but how Alex told it was the important part. Elliot didn’t have an active social life growing up and when he started doing business, he had an antiquated way of doing them. That changed because Bisnow was eager to learn.

Chapter Thirteen: Exponential Life

During their stay in Barcelona, the trio of entrepreneurs slept for eight hours, did yoga in the morning, and walked for hours. Elliot didn’t drink or smoke. He took conference calls during long walks. Bisnow had participated in a Hamptopms Pro-Am tournament after donating $4000. He thought he was going to “look legit” if he did. Even though he didn’t have a place to stay, people he met invited him to their houses and drove their sportscars, he even watched professional sports with people who owned one of the teams on TV. This also allowed Elliot to find sponsors for the second summit event.

Regarding money, Elliot strongly believed that the money you invest early on will come back in a bigger way in the long run or enough in the short run. Years after the first summit, Elliot read The 4-Hour Workweek and the book inspired him to sell all of his possessions and travel around the world.

He then met Yosi Sergant, co-creator of the Obama “Hope” campaign, and was invited to the White House to host an event. The formal gathering went extremely well and Elliot was asked to organize bigger ones. According to Elliot, most people have a linear life, but successful people have an exponential life. The latter allows you to skip steps. Alex was offered an opportunity to work with Elliot, who thought the mission wasn’t a career and that Alex wouldn’t be making a lot of money in writing.

Chapter Fourteen: The Avoidance List

After the job offer, Alex visited Elliot’s hometown, Eden, a city of six hundred people in Utah. Elliot had a cabin there where he hung out with several entrepreneurs. During the final day of his stay, he talked to a man who used to work for Warren Buffet and told him to write twenty-five things he wanted to accomplish in the next year. The man then instructed him to circle the five most important things. Those five things became “the priority list”. The other twenty became “the avoidance list”. The key to achieving the five most important things is to avoid the other twenty. Alex told Elliot he wouldn’t be accepting Elliot’s job offer.

Chapter Fifteen: You Can’t Out-Amazon Amazon

Alex went back home and called some of the people who offered him help to get a publisher in the summit. He traveled to New York. The first friend he met, took him to an agent and agreed to read his proposal. The same thing happened with the other agent. Everyone said no. A friend told Alex a story about how, in the year 2000, Amazon was killing the competition, and Walmart tried to copy Amazon’s strategy. A new Walmart executive hung a banner that said “You can’t out-Amazon Amazon”. Alex was copying someone else’s strategies too. He sent an email to the agent he wanted the most, telling her exactly how he felt. She soon got a response and she became her agent.

Chapter Sixteen: No One Ever Asks

Alex went to a friend’s costume party where he met Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. He Asked Zappos if he could follow him around to learn from him. Hsieh invited Alex to Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas. They went from meeting to meeting. After each one, Hsieh asked Alex his opinion on different matters. At the end of his trip, Alex asked Zappos why he didn’t allow other employees to follow him around, but the CEO told Alex that he was the first one to ask.

Chapter Seventeen: It’s All Gray

Banayan thought about dropping out because he had a deadline for the book proposal. When he told Elliot about it, Bisnow said that smart people don’t drop out of college, not even Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. These decisions are never black and white. Taking risks is about whether to take them and when to take them. Ultimately, Alex decided to take the semester off which didn’t sit well with his family. Alex was torn between what his family wanted for him and what he wanted for himself.

Step 4: Trudge through the Mud

Chapter Eighteen: Hallelujah!

Rewriting the book proposal became Alex’s priority. That’s the only thing he did for a week, barely getting any sleep. The result was a 140-page manuscript. He then emailed Bill Gates Chief of Staff, hoping to get the interview he wanted. He didn’t receive confirmation about the interview which made him desperate, so Alex contacted people who knew Lady Gaga, Oprah, Bill Clinton, and Warren Buffet. All of them said no. He hid this from friends and family, feeling terrible about the rejections. A friend of his offered him to pass along a letter Alex had written for Warren Buffet.

Chapter Nineteen: Grandpa Warren

Alex went home to do research about Buffet, an investor who became the richest man in the US and lives in Omaha, Nebraska. Banayan read books, listened to audiobooks, and watched videos on Buffet, most of which he found fascinating. The author didn’t see Buffet as a genius, but as someone who chose to go the extra mile. He re-wrote the letter and sent it to Buffet.

Chapter Twenty: The Motel 6

Banayan soon received a reply to his letter, handwritten by Buffet himself. The famous investor respectfully refused the interview. Alex thought persistence was the key to getting the interview and sent several letters and emails, and repeatedly called Buffet’s assistant. The author continued his research and took another semester off. Alex even bought the domain, filmed a YouTube video for the home page, and offered the website to Buffet. The insistent author sent flowers to Buffet’s assistant along with a thank you note and suggested he’d do errands for her, but she said no. He was thinking about traveling to Omaha when his friend Elliot told Alex he was making a mistake. Eliot said that he shouldn’t be focusing on getting one interview, he should be focusing on getting as many interviews as possible. After their discussion, Alex decided to fly to Omaha anyway.

Chapter Twenty-One: Frog Kissing

Alex got an interview with Dean Kamen, the inventor behind some of the most inventive gadgets. Kamen is also known for coining the term “frog kissing” to refer to the potential solutions to a problem. Each frog is a potential way to solve a problem and if you kiss enough frogs, one of them is bound to turn into a prince. The prince is the solution you’re looking for. Kamen told Alex that by giving up you feel your brain is showing weakness, lack of vision, loss of courage, and cowardice. But you also think doing what you’re doing is a waste of time, that you have to move on. No one knows which of the two paths you should take.

Being an innovator means not having a roadmap. But if you want to be one, get ready to be frustrated and embarrassed. He advised Alex to 1) step back and see if what he wanted to accomplish was possible in the first place and 2) don’t try to find all the possible solutions at once, try to see how many kinds there were, and 3) offer a different kind of solution.

Chapter Twenty-Two: The Shareholder’s Meeting

Alex and his friends traveled to Omaha. Buffet’s assistant had offered passes to an annual shareholders meeting, an event that had a Q&A where people in the audience could ask questions to Buffet. Out of the 30,000 people, thirty to forty were randomly chosen to ask questions. To participate, someone would have to get a ticket and put it in a bucket in one of several stations. Alex soon found out that while the stations closer to the stage had thousands of entries, the ones furthest from the stage only had a few.

Soon after, Buffet appeared on stage in the most spectacular way possible with loud music, cheerleaders, and a parody video. Soon, the Q&A portion of the event started. One by one, Alex’s friends asked their questions. When it was Alex’s turn, he asked about the avoidance list. Buffet made fun of the question and then said that this productivity method wasn’t his invention. For the group’s final question, Buffet also made a joke but he answered it anyway. People made fun of Alex as he left the arena and he wondered why someone would lie about the avoidance list.

Chapter Twenty-Three: Mr. Kinggg!

Dan, Alex’s entrepreneur friend, had lied about the avoidance list. This made Alex realize that Dan hadn’t been honest about knowing Buffet either. Soon after that, Alex ran into Larry King at a grocery store in LA and yelled his name in the parking lot. He asked King to have breakfast with him and the famous interviewer agreed. Banayan went to the restaurant, waited for an hour, and when King was about to leave, Alex asked about the secret to interviewing people. King discouraged Alex from copying someone else’s style. He told Alex to be himself and told him to go back for breakfast on Monday.

Furthermore, King agreed to be interviewed by Alex. The legendary interviewer then introduced Alex to a writer at Esquire magazine called Cal Fussman. Alex kept going for breakfast and asking questions to King and his friends. Larry King advised Alex to try to impress people face-to-face and not via email.

Chapter Twenty-Four: The Final Bulle

Alex went to Long Beach for a TED conference and after that, he met Gates’ Chief of Staff in person. He also had a chance to meet Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of TED, but had to literally run in order to meet Gates’ Chief of Staff. Wurman liked Alex’s mission and agreed to introduce him to Bill Gates.

Step 5: Take the Third Door

Chapter Twenty-Five: The Holy Grail: Part I

Bill Gates read the entire World Book Encyclopedia when he was nine. He was a fan of Napoleon, taught himself how to code, rigged the computer system at school to put himself in the classes with the prettiest girls, and majored in applied math at Harvard. Microsoft became the most valuable company in 1998, the same year in which he became the richest man on earth. When he retired, Gates dedicated himself entirely to philanthropy. Gates was Alex’s holy grail and the young author didn’t want to ruin the interview, so he contacted Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, a book that features an interview with Gates.

Chapter Twenty-Six: The Holy Grail: Part II

Alex met with Bill Gates. The young author tried to pay attention to every detail in Gates’ office: furniture, books, and clothing. Then the interview started. Alex asked about how everything Gates learned in high school helped him with Microsoft. Gates started to ramble and Alex was nervous that the interview would teach him nothing. Alex then proceeded to ask a business question, but he was looking for a nugget of wisdom that the new generations would find useful. He then asked about Gates’ negotiating tactics. Gates suggested, “to find out your opponents’ fears and use them to your advantage.” Alex saw Gates’ answers as brilliant in retrospect. At the moment though, he was unsatisfied with the interview. During the interview’s final moments, Gates started sharing funny anecdotes, and they laughed and had a great time.

Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Third Door

Alex was supposed to get an interview with Buffet but didn’t. He was being over-persistent, but he didn’t see it like that. He was getting many rejections but wasn’t listening. Elliot advised Alex to think big and think differently. He introduced him to Matt, someone who knew many famous people, including Lady Gaga.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Redefining Success

Alex got an interview with Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. Wozniak shared several stories about Steve Jobs, founding Apple, and being happy doing what he wanted.

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Staying An Intern

Alex went to Florida to interview rapper and musician Pitbull. The musician had a rough childhood because his mother was a drug addict and this rough environment shaped him to become a drug dealer. He escaped drugs by getting into the music industry, so the musician wrote songs, learned about the business, and signed a deal with a record label. His first album went gold and used his fame and money to help the community and spread his message through music. Pittbull’s advice to Alex was to always remain an intern.

Chapter Thirty: The Collision

Alex interviewed Jake Goodall, a 79-year-old anthropologist. She was obsessed with animals as a child and her dream was to study chimpanzees in Africa. The key to the dream was held by Louis Leakey, a paleoanthropologist who made sexual advances toward Goodall. She politely refused and he respected her decision. Goodall went on to publish thirty-three books and became an expert in the topics she discussed. This interview made the author realize that all interviews so far have featured men.

Chapter Thirty-One: Turning Darkness into Light

Alex had a conversation with her sisters about his recent interview with Goodall. Her sisters told her that women face obstacles all the time yet most men don’t recognize that they do. Alex now had a chance to meet Angelou, a singer, dancer, poet, professor, film director, and civil rights activist. They talked about criticism, starting out a journey with no experience, and dealing with fear.

Chapter Thirty-Two: Sitting Down with Death

Alex’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He felt hopeless. He got an interview with Jessica Alba. She is a Hollywood actress who made $300 million. When she brought up her family and cancer, Alex told her about his father and that’s the only matter they talked about for the rest of the interview.

Chapter Thirty-Three: The Impostor

Alex now had a chance to interview Mark Zuckerberg. He showed up at an event looking forward to the meeting, but security rejected him and accused him of forging an email. He had to leave the event and couldn’t reschedule it.

Chapter Thirty-Four: The Greatest Gift

Alex met Quincy Jones, a legendary producer who produced Michael Jackson’s Thriller. He also produced Spielberg’s The Color Purple and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. They discussed meditation, languages, nanotechnology, architecture, and movie directing. He had a rough childhood, but his life changed when he discovered music.

Chapter Thirty-Five: Getting in the Game

Alex had a chance to meet Lady Gaga in a nightclub. Gaga’s manager asked Alex to write a speech and prepare a PowerPoint presentation for a South by Southwest keynote.

Everyone can choose something that alters their life and changes it forever. You can continue on the same path or you can change, jump out of line, and take a different one. One that takes you to the Third Door.

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