“Avoid sugar. Especially soda and juice. All other diet advice is noise.”

BRAM COHEN is the inventor of BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer (P2P) file- sharing protocol, and founder of BitTorrent, Inc. In 2005, MIT Technology Review named Bram one of the top 35 innovators in the world under the age of 35.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
Before working on BitTorrent, I was on an ill-fated project called Mojo Nation, which had a massive list of very cool features it was supposed to have, but due to lack of focus, it didn’t deliver well on any of them. After that experience (and being part of similar software project failures earlier) I decided to make a project that did only one thing and did it well, with the goal instead of succeeding being to not fail. Anything is better than never shipping. The result was BitTorrent. These days the term of art is “minimum viable product,” which is an overly clinical term for the ethos of forgetting about succeeding massively and instead focusing all your efforts on desperately trying to not fail. Abject failure is the result of most software development projects.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say?

“Avoid sugar. Especially soda and juice. All other diet advice is noise.”

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I’m a published inventor of mechanical puzzles. The latest one is widely available in toy stores and is called the Fidgitz. Hopefully these sorts of puzzle toys are intellectually engaging and make people smarter for playing with them, and if not, then hopefully they’re at least entertaining.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?

One life lesson I’ve grudgingly come to accept is that it’s important not to work with crazy people. It’s good to be open-minded and accepting about who you’re friends with, but in a professional setting, where you’re relying on someone, their overall mental health issues usually become a major problem.

There are some blazingly obvious things that are taboo to even talk about. If someone believes that all taxation is theft, or that a strictly vegan diet is healthier, they’re demonstrating such a serious lack of judgment that you should be very leery of trusting them to make major decisions. It’s laudable to maintain personal and professional relationships with people with a diversity of political opinions and life outlooks, and I try to do that myself, but at some point an opinion crosses from “extreme” to “crazy” and the difference is important.

In an interview situation, the thing you can look out for is flagrant narcissism. If a candidate tells you that you don’t need the position they’re interviewing for but a higher one, and you should hire them for that, or says that if you don’t hire them then you’re screwed, or harangues you about the business as if they’re an investor doing due diligence, then they’re playing obnoxious political games before they’ve even set foot in the door, and you should give them an immediate no. That sort of behavior only gets worse once someone is on the job, and telling them that that behavior isn’t acceptable in advance won’t result in them doing anything differently.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
I’ve recently started taking my lactose intolerance a lot more seriously, which has resulted in a significant improvement in my quality of life. My case is much more serious than most, but lactose intolerance affects a large fraction of people in the U.S., and many of them aren’t diagnosed or don’t do anything about it. When I’m even a little bit not careful, I wind up having chronic pain from bloating, and a few basic steps are a huge improvement. Things I do are: 1) Try

as much as possible to avoid lactose, including cheese and butter (and unfortunately almost all chocolate. If a label says, “may contain traces of milk,” that means it does). 2) Take lactase pills twice a day, even if I’m not aware of having eaten anything with lactose in it, because when eating out you never know what’s slipped in there. 3) Take simethicone (Gas-X) twice a day, because that directly helps with getting the gas out. And don’t be afraid to burp, because any gas that is in there is going to have to get out one way or the other, and there are only two exits. It’s better to let it out the front than to force it through the back.

It’s frustrating how there’s a fad of people mostly falsely thinking they’re gluten sensitive, while lactose intolerance isn’t even brought up. Especially because lacto-fermentation costs very little, and could even be done before the milk is used to make butter or cheese. Lactose-free should be the default. Most of the black and Asian people in the U.S. are lactose intolerant, and they’re served food that they’re incapable of digesting as a central part of every one of their school lunches.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?
Pick your early jobs based on what gets you the most valuable experience. If you want to be an entrepreneur, don’t dive directly into doing your venture but go get work at an early-stage startup to learn the ropes and get paid to make your early mistakes. Only after getting the necessary experience and knowledge should you strike out on your own. This is what I did, and although the startups I worked at were mostly failures, I don’t think I could have succeeded at my own thing without that experience.

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