Why did you click on this article?
What were you hoping to gain?
Did you genuinely think you were going to gain life-changing insights from reading another article about Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, or Bill Gates?
You can draw amazing life lessons from billionaire entrepreneurs, but most people draw the wrong lessons. Reading an article about a billionaire isn’t going to make you a billionaire. Hell, it probably won’t make you a millionaire.
You can find the seeds in what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur from the stories of billionaires, but that doesn’t mean you need to define yourself by the habits and routines of these people.
Don’t worry. I didn’t bait and switch you. I’m going to give you some valuable lessons that you can learn from billionaires, but they won’t be the ones you were expecting.
If you make it to the end of this article, you’ll have real tools, insights, and strategies you can use to start or grow your business and income.
“Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.” – Nassim Taleb
People like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates would’ve been successful if you started their lives over and ran them through 1,000 different simulations. But they’d become uber billionaires in probably zero of those simulations.
Both had the benefit of luck and timing. Had they been a bit younger or older, they wouldn’t have started their businesses at a time where they could’ve taken full advantage of the nascent technology.
Gates happened to attend one of the few schools in the country with a computer lab. Also, from what I understand, the licensing deal for DOS that he used to build his Microsoft empire is the type of deal so rare and lucrative that there won’t be one like it again.
Jeff Bezos received a $300,000 loan from his parents to start Amazon. Perhaps without that startup capital, he wouldn’t have been able to get the business off the ground. Don’t draw the wrong lesson from this statement either, though.
Many look at Bezos as lucky for getting that start-up money, but most of us, probably zero, wouldn’t have turned $300,000 into a trillion-dollar company, let alone even an eight or nine-figure one.
The point isn’t to worship or hate Bezos, Gates, any of the other billionaires.
The point is to understand the combination of luck, skill, and hard work it takes to become successful. Each variable contributes, but you’ll often find work as a constant.
Gates famously said he locked himself in an office for a decade straight to build Microsoft. Amazon 26 years old. Most billionaires, even though lucky, work insanely hard to get where they are — keyword insane.
I don’t want to be a billionaire because I don’t have sociopathic levels of ambition. My mind is too weak for that level of pursuit.
Stephen King, one of the most beloved, famous and bestselling authors ever, often goes to writer’s conferences. After he talks for a little bit he says, “Any questions?” Inevitably, someone raises their hand—I’m paraphrasing here—and says, “Mr. King, you are one of the most beloved, famous, and bestselling authors ever. What kind of pencil do you use to write your books?” It’s almost as if knowing what kind of pencil Stephen King uses will help them be more like Stephen King. – Seth Godin
Steve Jobs famously wore the same outfit every day because he wanted to free his mind for important business tasks. Mark Zuckerberg does something similar.
If you wear the same outfit every day, you’ll look like a cartoon character.
Pretty much all billionaires read a lot, but reading doesn’t make you a billionaire. Elon Musk’s morning routine doesn’t matter. What matters is his sociopathic ambition, insatiable curiosity, and his ability to dream insanely big and execute his ideas. You can’t copy that.
I’m a fan of routines and habits. I have a ritual I perform every day. But I understand these tools are a means to an end.
Reading articles about the habits and routines of billionaires distracts you and keeps you from doing the hard work it takes to become successful at a business or at anything, really.
No habit will teach you the intersection between your skills and what the market wants. Habits like reading can and will foster creativity and ideas, but only if you use them as a means to an end instead of the ends themselves.
That could be a theme of this entire post – focus on means to the end instead of the ends themselves.
Studying billionaires can be useful. Instead of blindly copying what they do, analyze why they do what they do, and use those insights to help you implement your unique ideas.
Warren Buffet doesn’t read eight hours a day for the hell of it. He’s trying to understand the world in as much depth as possible to make smart investing decisions. Read to gain a better understanding of the world to help you grow your business.
Jobs had a demand on his mental capital so high that wearing the same clothes did make sense. Use that insight on a smaller goal and use it properly, e.g., outsourcing tasks so you can focus on the important parts of your business.
“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” – Eric Reis
Don’t look at the final outcome. Look at the process of reaching that outcome.
Most of these entrepreneurs we fawn over didn’t have insane goals to start with. Facebook started as a way to organize information about students at one college. Instagram started as an address book app. Google started with the intent to organize academic papers.
Of course, you do have people like Elon out there who start with huge intentions. One of my favorite books, Zero to One, shuns the idea of the ‘minimum viable product’ and says you should create huge long-term plans and try to execute them. As great as that book is, it’s aimed at people who want to start venture-backed companies to make billions.
You’re not one of these people. You are better off starting with the seed of an idea and growing it.
Try aiming for your first $1,000 month. Then next maybe $50,000 in a year. At a certain point, you’ll be ready for six-figures and beyond.
I’ve seen people go faster and there is an argument that taking baby steps comes from having limiting beliefs. I’m just telling you the way I did it and how I’ve seen the process work most reliably for others.
Achieve world domination in the long-run by not aiming for it at all to start with.
“Play iterated games. All the returns in life, whether in wealth, relationships, or knowledge, come from compound interest.” – Naval Ravikant
Warren Buffet didn’t become a billionaire until age 56. He started investing at age…11. Yes, he made wise decisions and placed smart bets. But mostly, he waited and let compounding do the work.
Most of the billionaires you know of took decades to earn those billions.
Again, see what lesson you can draw from these billionaires without the goal of becoming one — gradual and persistent effort almost inevitably equals massive results on a long enough time scale.
If you stashed a bit of money away in index funds once a month, eventually you’d become a millionaire. Totally unsexy, but guaranteed.
Now, imagine spending an hour a day on your side business, working at your job, and stashing your money away in investments.
Then, imagine being able to quit your job a few years later and still stashing your money away into investments.
Finally, imagine growing and scaling your business over a series of years, investing your money, and diversifying your investments.
One day, you wake up rich. You wake up with a system that sets you up for life without needing to become some trail-blazing entrepreneur. You can build your way to an amazing life slowly with the power of compounding.
Compound your money, your skills, and the value of your relationships. Put your head down for five years to totally transform your life. I’ve heard it takes about a decade to become wealthy.
If you’re my age, (30), you have a decade of work to a life of complete freedom at 40 plus. If you’re older, don’t waste any more time, but you still have time.
I’ve been at zero. You feel like it’s going to take forever. Trust me, it won’t, but you do have to start.
“Some edges can be acquired. And the game of life to some extent for most of us is trying to be something like a good plumbing contractor in Bemidji. Very few of us are chosen to win the world’s chess tournaments.” – Charlie Munger
The ultimate lesson here.
You don’t want to become a billionaire. Stop fantasizing about it. Grow a big enough business and you’ll get sued constantly, have to speak at congressional hearings, and deal with a bunch of other BS you don’t want to deal with.
I don’t envy these people at all and neither should you. Watch the Elon Musk interview with Joe Rogan. He pretty much admits that he’s not happy.
Money doesn’t buy you happiness. The right amount of it buys you freedom. Too much of it puts you right back into another prison.
Like I said earlier, you should study billionaires. But study them dispassionately in a way where you can take what applies to your life and discard what doesn’t, mainly the ‘becoming a billionaire’ part.
Multi-millionaire? Sure. That’s about what you need to be comfortable in retirement long-term.
When you start your business and actually make some real money, you’ll get a better idea of what you actually want. You’ll certainly come to find it isn’t billions.
Study success. Don’t worship it.
For every tech billionaire, there are millions of people with successful businesses on a much smaller scale that are happy — plumbing contractors, owners of laundromats, e-commerce store operators, personal trainers, art dealers on Esty, home daycare owners, content creators, real estate investors, so many iterations that don’t involve becoming an evil villain to get rich.
Choose one of those.