The Penguin Q&A

Patrick Vlaskovits and Jonas Koffler

The authors behind Hustle share their inspirations, most-loved novels and who they'd invite to a fantasy dinner party

What kind of books do you write?

Patrick: My first two books dealt with one set of problems in entrepreneurship; specifically, the methods startups use for testing innovative products and services before scaling.

My latest book, Hustle, deals with internal, personal innovations.

Namely, how we can own -- and not rent -- our dreams. In a world rigged against us, how do we get more of the three things that matter to us most: Money, Meaning and Momentum?

Jonas: I’ve contributed to both nonfiction and fiction works over the years as a ghostwriter. Fiction’s fluid, playful nature means your characters can and do awaken you in the middle of the night for a shot of espresso or bourbon, conversation and a drive deep into the landscape of your imagination. Nonfiction keeps you honest, invested, serious, and driving towards a well-reasoned truth. 

In our new book, Hustle, we explore human potential and self-actualization at a time when most of us have more material stuff than ever, yet feel more stifled, exhausted, and emptier than ever. We’re fearful and tense, the social, economic and technological forces push us into states paralysis, perfectionism, overload, and uncertainty. And then there’s the self-inflicted “cycles of suck” that keep us stuck in unfulfilling work for years on end.

Patrick Vlaskovits

Jonas Koffler

We lay out the idea that we can shake ourselves free from the rigid, outdated, conditioned model of life. The system that says, “OK, you’re born. Now go to school, saddle up with debt, join the workforce, buy a car, marry, take out a mortgage, have kids, find your way into a career, stay hopeful, and good luck retiring.” 

This is the basic social convention, the meh we’ve bought into, yet it was a better fit for a prior time in history, a time of relative predictability, security, and stability. Today’s world moves differently and exponentially faster. Now we must make our way in a new matrix where work and life demand imagination, creative problem solving, and reinvention.

The good news? There’s a more adventurous approach, an antidote which draws on personal innovation, small risks, and everyday experiments that surface our talents and push us toward pursuits that ultimately reveal our best selves—the people who we are to become in the context of the future we consciously make. That approach is called Hustle.

What inspires you?

Patrick: I am inspired by storytellers of all stripes. Be they lyricists and songwriters of country music (I actually pay attention to the lyrics), or visual storytellers like film directors and creators of animated films.

Jonas: Recognizing that we can learn, love, create, and grow each day, and we get to try a lot of amazing things along the way. For example, I took up punting and am horrific at it. I nearly sunk our boat on the River Cam a few summers back, when my wife was working on a post-doc program at Cambridge.

I’m a big believer in Emerson’s idea, “Every spirit builds itself a house; and beyond its house, a world; and beyond its world a heaven. Know then, that the world exists for you: build, therefore, your own world.” If that’s true, then we really should be spending time doing the work that matters to us with the people who matter to us. There’s nothing quite like spending time with truly authentic, untamed spirits who set their own rules and create their own worlds.

People who lead themselves with courage, curiosity, creativity, and intelligence inspire me. The ones who are unapologetic about what they want and trust themselves enough to go out and do it. I love improvisation, humor and irreverent people and ideas. Kindness is an inspiring thing. So too are nature, animals, travels. Great food, friends, and health. Novel experiences. And getting to work with Patrick and Neil is pretty inspiring.


Books and authors I’ve loved include:

Patrick: Dan Neil’s punchy car reviews in the Wall Street Journal are pure art. I’m not even a car nut, but I leaf through the WSJ every weekend to find his column just to marvel at his wordsmithing.

Tibor Fischer’s Under the Frog is the non plus ultra of tragic-comic novels.

Jonas: My uncle introduced me to Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust some years back. Not only did the work bring us the desperately lonely outcast Homer Simpson, but it also raised profound questions about the American Dream and the insidious vanity of Hollywood culture. It’s a brave, hilarious, terrifying, sad, and wonderful work. And it’s as relevant now as ever. I still read it every couple of years.

Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It is a masterful work that evokes the best of modern-day transcendentalist prose. Reading that book is like melting into the earth and discovering a bar where the ghosts of Whitman, Emerson, and Thoreau, gather to read their stories aloud.

Bill Shakespeare. If I’m not mistaken, he wrote a few plays of substance over the years.


What would be your desert island film?

Patrick: The Tree of Life, directed by Terrence Malick

Jonas: Assuming I’d have only my wife, some wild animals, and a few thousand coconuts to entertain, I’d likely choose Cocktail, with Tom Cruise. Fabulously awful movie. Maybe the worst ever. We’d realize how terribly mad the world had gone. And if not that, then maybe Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Baraka, directed by Ron Fricke or Annie Hall, directed by Woody Allen.


Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party and what would you serve?

Patrick: It wouldn’t be a dinner party. Instead, we’d charter a boat for a 10 day surf trip to Indonesia. Between surfing sessions, we’d feast on freshly caught wahoo, tropical fruits - and of course, the surfer staple: fish tacos.

Aside from my friends and family, I’d have waterman extraordinaire Laird Hamilton to provide surf and SUP tutelage. Jimmy Buffet would be in charge of entertainment and drinks. In the evening, discussions would form around writers like Nassim Nicholas Taleb and natural historian David Attenborough. Camille Paglia, of course, would lead cultural outings.

Jonas: First, we’d reconceive it as a Fellini-esque picnic. Among the distinguished guests would be: George Best at his drunken worst, Diego Maradona’s hand of God (not Maradona, just the hand), Eddie the Eagle in full skiing gear. Sir Ben Kingsley in character as “Don Logan”, Ian MacEwan, Tony Iommi as himself, Ricky Gervais. And his cat. The Spice Girls in their heyday. Musical accompaniment by Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno and the rest of Roxy Music, of course. Food would include bacon, ham, sausage, and cabbage for our vegans, a bit of bourbon, and maybe a few hundred crumpets.


What are you like on social media?

Patrick: Unengaged, sadly.

Jonas: Exactly as I am in real life. Abstruse. Portly.  Effervescent even. A feral beast at times.


Not many people know this, but I’m very good at…

Patrick Trivial Pursuit. I never lose.

Jonas: Picking perfectly ripe avocados. It’s one of my underappreciated gifts.



Patrick Vlaskovits (and others)

Hustle is a step-by-step guide to breaking out of the monotony of the 9-5 lifestyle and making your dreams a reality. It lays out the tools you need to realise the work you enjoy and gain the confidence and motivation to be in charge of your own adventures. In a world where loyalty doesn’t translate into success learn how to get ahead and discover a more imaginative way of living. Hustle is split into three parts: ‘The Heart’, which teaches you how to follow your own dreams rather than others; ‘The Head’ covers how to get started and how to prepare for the mistakes that can come with risk; finally, ‘The Habits’ demonstrates how to spot opportunities and create your own luck. Hustle explains how realigning these parts will bring more momentum, money and meaning to your life.

Neil Patel, Patrick Vlaskovits and Jonas Koffler know all too well that not all of us are born extra ordinary, and how in fact, for the majority of people hustling is not second nature. Each of the authors has figured out how to secure a more imaginative way of living through work that defines, but also reflects and rewards their strengths and talents.

Find out more about the authors

Related features