How a Near-Death Experience Led This Founder to Rethink His Entire Leadership Strategy

Matt Pholson book

Matt Pohlson’s startup deals in once-in-a-lifetime experiences, but he never expected to have one of his own. Here’s the book that helped him make sense of it all.

Six years into running his startup Omaze, Matt Pohlson technically died.

As a newborn, Pohlson received neonatal surgery to fix a twisted stomach. In August of 2018, a piece of that scar tissue broke off, causing the entrepreneur to flatline for four-and-a-half minutes. For two days, doctors gave him a zero percent chance of survival. When Pohlson walked out of the hospital, he says, he was a changed man. “I think about it every single day,” he says. “And so, as a result, I practice gratitude every single day. And I think that helps it to be maybe not an overwhelming but an empowering experience.”


On Tuesday, Pohlson joined me on the latest episode of Inc.‘s Book Smart podcast, where we explore the books beloved by prominent entrepreneurs, founders, and notable figures across the spectrum of industry. Struggling to process his near-death experience, Pohlson asked his friend Adam Grant–the Wharton psychology professor and best-selling author–for advice. Grant recommended The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, by New York University leadership professor Jonathan Haidt.


The book delves into the science, philosophy, and history of gratitude, giving Pohlson a way to understand how his brain worked and why he was experiencing a bevy of complex post-hospital feelings. Moreover, he says, the book’s psychological insights directly correlated with–and challenged–the way he defined success at Omaze, an online fundraising platform that supports nonprofits by offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences to people who donate.

To learn how Pohlson shifted his entire leadership philosophy–and what that meant for his employees and his company’s bottom line–listen in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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