Today’s guest is one of my all-time favourite writers and I rarely go more than a few months without rereading his book Choose Yourself.
He is an American hedge fund manager, entrepreneur, bestselling author, blogger and podcaster.
He has founded or cofounded over 20 companies and 17 have failed. He sold one for $15 million and spent all of the money — all of it. Then he built and sold another within its first year for $10 million.
He fails quickly. He fails frequently. He claims Entrepreneurship is a sentence of failures punctuated by brief success.
He is invested in about 28 private companies. He advises about another 50 private companies — companies ranging from $0 in revenues to a billion in revenues.
This conversation is long than usual but you will not even notice because not a second is wasted.
Now, let’s hack…
What you will learn in this episode:
- How James makes his sound better during a podcast (maybe I should have edited this part out)
- Exactly how to make a living in six months, a great living within two years and be rich within three to four years.
- Success can be measured today or it can be measured in decades.
- The important thing is to always be thinking of giving to others.
- Most ideas that people have are bad (and this is ok).
Resources and links mentioned:
- James’s blog
- Choose Yourself by James Altucher
- The Power of No by James Altucher
- James on Twitter
- Jon on Twitter
- Show sponsor: FreshBooks (30-day Free Trial)
Most Things in Business and Life Fail (And Why That’s OK)
Voiceover: Welcome to Hack the Entrepreneur. The show which reveals the fears, habits, and inner battles behind big-name entrepreneurs and those on their way to joining them. Now here’s your host, Jon Nastor.
Jonny Nastor: Welcome back to Hack the Entrepreneur. I am so glad you decided to join me again. My name is Jon Nastor, but you can call me Jonny. Today’s guest is one of my all-time favorite writers. I seriously never go more than a few months without rereading his book, “Choose Yourself,” and I am super excited for this conversation.
He’s an American hedge fund manager, entrepreneur, bestselling author, blogger, and podcaster. He has founded or co-founded over 20 companies, and 17 have failed. But he sold one of them for $15 million, and spent all of the money. All of it.
Then he built another and sold it within the first year for $10 million. He fails quickly. He fails frequently. He claims entrepreneurship is a sentence of failures punctuated by brief success. He’s invested in 28 private companies. He advises about another 50 private companies. Companies ranging from zero dollars in revenues to a billion in revenues. This conversation is a bit longer than usual, but you will not even notice because there’s not a second wasted. Now let’s hack James Altucher.
I want to thank today’s awesome sponsor, FreshBooks. Not only for sponsoring Hack the Entrepreneur, but also for personally helping me fix one of my biggest problems. I am absolutely terrible at staying on top of my bookkeeping and accounting for my business.
Now, rather than losing receipts and handing my accountant a giant box of papers at the end of the year, FreshBooks has an amazing app for my phone that lets me instantly take pictures of my receipts and sort them with the touch of a single button. FreshBooks is designed for small business owners and is the number one cloud accounting solution that helps millions of entrepreneurs and small business owners save time and get paid faster. FreshBooks integrates directly with three things that I use every day in my business: PayPal, Stripe, and MailChimp. To start your 30-day free trial today, go to FreshBooks.com/hack, and don’t forget to enter ‘Hack the Entrepreneur’ in the ‘How Did You Hear About Us’ section.
Welcome back to Hack the Entrepreneur. I can’t even believe that I get to introduce this guy today, but welcome to the show, James.
James Altucher: Jon, thanks for having me on this show. This is really great. I like the title, too, Hack the Entrepreneur.
Jonny Nastor: Thanks, James.
James Altucher: I hope it doesn’t mean we’re going to axe though.
Jonny Nastor: It depends on how the interview goes. All right, James.
James Altucher: I’ll make sure then, that it will be as good as possible. Or I’ll try.
Jonny Nastor: Excellent. Hey James, can you tell me, as an entrepreneur, what is the one thing that you do, that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your successes so far?
How He Improves His Sound During a Podcast (Maybe I Should Have Edited This Part Out)
James Altucher: Most things that you do, fail. So whether you’re an entrepreneur or not an entrepreneur, most things just in general fail. People might date a dozen potential spouses before they find their spouse. People might start a bunch of businesses before they have a business that makes money. People might start and stop 10 books before they finally write a book. That implies several things are important. One is persistence. It’s really important because I know people who start a business — and I have been this way too — and then it fails, and then it’s like, “You know what, I am not cut out for this. I am never going to do this again. It is so annoying and so painful. I just don’t want to do it.” Oh, I’m actually making my sound better right now. Does that sound better?
Jonny Nastor: Oh wow. Yeah.
James Altucher: All right. You can keep this in the podcast, too. It’s good to see how things go wrong. I just failed at making my sound better, and now I made my sound a little better. So persistence is really important. But persistence is not something you’re born with. A little baby doesn’t get born and say, “You know what? Life is going to be pretty difficult for here on out. It was pretty easy while I was in the womb, but now I’ve got to make sure I persist through all the times that I cry, and I don’t get fed, and all this other stuff.” So persistence is something you learn and something you get through. I had to learn the hard way. Every time I said, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this horrible thing is happening to me again,” I had to learn the hard way, take a step back, and say, “Look, that was one experiment that didn’t work out. Now I’m on to the next experiment.”
Life itself is like a sentence of failures and only punctuated by the briefest successes. That doesn’t mean it’s constantly up and down, up and down, up and down. Hopefully, it’s more like a roller coaster that’s taking you up in the long run. I think that’s largely true, particularly as you keep yourself healthy, and you have persistence, and you figure out there’s many different ways to succeed and make money.
The other thing I want to add, it’s incredibly important to give. I got a question yesterday. Someone said to me, “I have an idea for a video game. How do I patent it, and how do I prevent other video games from stealing it, and how do I sell it to a video game company?” So he went through all these things. That’s fine. But he was so concerned with how he could protect himself. Then before he even develops the idea, he’s already thinking, “How does he sell it to a video game company?”
Well, does it actually do anything for people? Does it help people? Does it entertain people? Does it do both? It’s very cheap to make a video game, particularly if it’s a basic video game. Why don’t you make it, and see if people actually use it. Then you know you have a good idea. Most people don’t know — most ideas are bad. Even if you have an idea you think is good, chances are it’s not so good. Why don’t you first test to see if this is a good idea or not. Then you can start thinking about deals you can make. You can’t make a deal with nothing.
An idea — as much as I’m happy for people to come up with ideas — ideas are ephemeral. They go away. They’re like ghosts. You have to actually make the idea before you can sell it, or do things with it, or even protect it. The important thing here is to always be thinking of giving to others. Are others going to have value from this? Are others going to be entertained by this? Are others going to be able to make use of this to make their lives better? This is really important. Those are the basics of entrepreneurship.
The real basic for me — and I had to learn this the really hard way — the real hard way is failing, and losing a ton of money, and just really struggling with money, and family, and everything. You have to keep yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy. I’ve talked about that in a number of places. But building that basic foundation of health, they’re all connected. You can’t be mentally healthy if you’re physically sick all the time. You can’t be grateful for what you have if, emotionally, you’re only around bad people and bad situations. They’re all connected. That’s the basic foundation that needs to be built for the house of entrepreneurship to be built on top of — for the ability to what I call choosing yourself to be built on top of. For me, those are the basics of entrepreneurship.
I’ll add — I know I’m talking a lot — I’ll add that even with all that, you’re still going to fail most of the time. But you start to basically learn how to transform that from failure to calling it an experiment and saying, “Okay, well I’ve just got to keep on doing the next thing. There’s a reason for everything, and I don’t always know what my best interests are, so I’m just going to keep going because I have to. There’s nothing else to do.”
Jonny Nastor: I was going to say, is it really failure? I saw — actually on your blog — and you replied to somebody, and you said, “There’s this whole thing about failure. Everyone’s glorifying failure,” and it’s just that there are hard problems we have to through.
James Altucher: Exactly.
Jonny Nastor: And I liked the way you said that, “Yeah, it’s not failure!” It’s not like, “Okay, now I’m dead, and that’s it. I never get to do anything else.” It’s like, “You’re just a hard problem you have to work through.”
James Altucher: A lot of people use Thomas Edison as this great example. He tried a 1,000 times — he failed 998 times to make the light bulb, and on the thousandth try, he finally succeeded. I’m sure he did not once think for a second, “Oh, I just failed again. It was 998 times I failed.” I’m sure he just thought to himself, “Okay, that experiment didn’t work. I’m going to move the wire over here, and now we’ll try this.” It’s all experimenting. If you view it as failure, that’s a very negative way to view things, and it’ll stop you from eventual success.
Everything that you do prepares your way for eventual success. Thomas Edison, every experiment, prepared himself for that thousandth experiment where the light bulb actually stayed lit. If he had given up 500 times too and said, “You know what? No one is ever going to make the light bulb.” He never would have done it and, guaranteed, somebody else would have. It’s just a matter of having the health to stay with it, and be persistent, and keep being creative, so you can try new things.
All these things added up together, guarantee, add up to success. Success means both inner success — because by the time you end with something that works you’re in a much better place psychologically than when you began, and in a much better place creatively, and spiritually, and so on — then it also adds up to outward success. Because the outward is really a mirror of what’s going on inside of you, and that’s how you find abundance.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, I agree. With finding success and working through the hard problems. Somebody emails you about a video game, and his idea, and you say, “Well, just make the game.” But what about if you think, “Well, maybe I’m not someone to make a video game?” You know what I mean. Does anybody know what they’re doing before they do it?
James Altucher: I don’t think so. I gave just the basics of what I view as entrepreneurship. Kind of the second layer is this tricky layer, where you do things that you have no idea what you’re doing. This is important because nobody really knows the future.
A great example is there was this company. I’m sure some of you listeners know of this story. There was this company called Odeo, which was like a podcasting platform. They made software to help people do podcasts. It wasn’t really doing that well. This was like in 2005. It wasn’t really doing so great, and some of the programmers started a project on the side where they could send SMS-style messages to each other. That little side project started taking off.
The CEO of Odeo said to all of his investors — and they were all the best venture capitalists in the world. They were the top guys. You would think they would know the future one way or the other, and they had all made their bet on Odeo, on the podcasting software — the CEO said to them, “Listen, it’s not really working out. This little side project seems fun, but it only has 10,000 users, which is not a lot in the grand scheme of things. I am willing to make sure you’re all even. I will give you back all of your money at cost. All of the money you invested in my company, or you can stay in and we’re going to play with this new little project that only has 10,000 users.”
He gave that offer to all of his investors, and they were all venture capitalists, all professionals. A 100% of these professional investors said, “I’m going to take my money back. I really do not want to go into your other little crappy project.” So he gave them all their money back, and the other project eventually went public. It’s a little company called Twitter. It was just a huge success. Who would know? All these professionals didn’t know. The CEO didn’t really know. He was just excited about it. He had already made his tens of millions when he sold Blogger to Google, so he wasn’t sweating it that much either. Which is why he’s probably not the CEO anymore. He gave it to a different CEO.
Exactly How to Make a Living in Six Months, a Great Living within Two Years, and Become Rich within Three to Four Years
Nobody really knows the future, so you kind of have to make that leap into something you don’t know. In an extreme case, let’s say this guy does not know how to make a video game. Well, there are a thousand companies out there that you can delegate to, “I have this idea for a video game. Can you make it?” They’ll say, “Sure. It’ll cost you $3,000. We’ll make it for you from beginning to end.” Then he can say to himself, “Well, what if they steal my idea?” Which, by the way, they’re not. One out of a thousand steal, or one out of a hundred thousand steal ideas. But okay, worse come to worse, outsource it to a software company in India. Let them steal it in India. They’re not going to be able to market it here in the U.S. the way you would because you have the passion for it. Passion is always the best way to protect an idea.
That’s how he would handle the situation if he didn’t know how to program video games. Now he’s got a video game. He doesn’t know how to market it. Okay, well he does know how. He can put it in the app store on iTunes and on Google. Then he can make Facebook ads. You can make a Facebook ad for as cheap as like $5. You can make 20 of them, and you could test which ones people are clicking on and actually downloading the app. Then, when you see one that works, out of your 20 ads, you can start adding money to that one and so on.
There’s many blogs, and books, and texts on how to market apps now even. Or you can hire a company to help you market your app and pay them per performance. Again, you don’t have to know anything. In fact, what I would encourage that guy to do is to come up with 10 ideas for apps or games, and make all of them. Try all of them.
A lot of people think, “Oh, well, I know how to make a car, so I better start a car company.” Well, we live in a different world now, you know. A car company cost you a million dollars back in 1900. An app company costs you a few thousand dollars to start. Start 10 app companies, and see what happens. That’s how it’s worked for me in every single case. I had no idea what I was doing. I started many things, and some things worked. Actually most, 90% of things did not work, and one thing worked. Or zero things worked. And then I would either focus on the one thing that worked, or I would throw away all the ideas and start something new.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah. Exactly. Or you can give the ideas, like you always say. If you have 10 ideas — if you write 10 ideas down for great video games, he can just give those to somebody else. I actually just, in my email on Monday, somebody randomly — his name is Andrew, I believe. Monday morning I woke up and there was 10 ideas. A couple of them were actually really, really smart. The other ones were like, “Okay, I’ve thought of that.” But it was like, “Here’s what you can do with Hack the Entrepreneur, and different business places you can go. Here’s a section on books you can create. Here’s a … ” I was like, “Wow, who is this guy?” And I responded to him.
James Altucher: That’s a great idea.
Jonny Nastor: I’m like, yeah. I was like, “Did you get this from James Altucher?” He’s like, “I’ve been reading his blog for a couple of years, and I know the idea machine. But I never thought of this. I just kind of…” He’s been doing this 28 days in a row now, and just emails them to people he has no clue what they are. I was like, “Do you know how to implement these? Is that the point? Is this to build business?”
He’s like, “No, I have no idea how this…but I mean if you want help with any of them, I’ll see what I can do, but that was not the point. I just came up with these ideas last night, and I thought you could maybe use them, Jon.”
James Altucher: Yeah. That is a great thing to do.
Jonny Nastor: It’s brilliant!
James Altucher: If you’d do that every day, then most people won’t respond to you, but I guarantee you within six months, you’re making a great living. If that’s all that guy does every day is those 10 ideas to people like you or people like me, then he is going to be making a great living within six months. He’s going to be making a great living within two years. He’s going to be rich within three to four years. That’s how it works every time, a hundred percent of the time. That’s how it’s worked for me. I’ve had to start from scratch. I always start from scratch, doing those ideas, and sending them to people.
You know what? Sometimes I send them to people, and they say, “It’s great. Can I hire you to do this?” And I ignore that response because I’m on to my next 10 ideas. I’m happy to just give. Then you just have to find the right match. Sometimes you’re going to give, and they’re going to respond, but it’s not quite the right match. Sometimes you give, and they respond, and you feel like, “Okay, this feels right.”
Jonny Nastor: Right. They don’t even all have to be like the James Altuchers of the world do they?
James Altucher: No.
Jonny Nastor: I mean, it’s me. I just have a podcast. A small podcast that’s less than three months old. Yet, it’s funny because he emailed me, and I was like, “Oh.” Today, I actually responded back to him because he had sent me another email, and I was like, “Actually, I’m talking to James later today. That’s interesting.” He’s like, “Oh wow.” Then I was like, “That’s interesting isn’t it?” What a weird connection. Just because he put out the effort. Now we’re actually talking about him.
How Success Can Be Measured Today or In Decades
James Altucher: Right. Also, that’s a connection you’ll have for the next 10 years. Let’s say you never talk to him again. Ten years from now you build a business, and it turns out he’s the head of business development at Google. You could say, “Hey, remember you sent me those 10 ideas 10 years ago? I’ve got this other business now. I’m going to be in San Francisco. Would you love to meet?” Of course, ninety nine percent chance he’s going to say, “Whoa, Jon that’s great! We haven’t talked in 10 years. Let’s meet.”
These things build up over time. I was just talking this morning with my wife, Claudia, actually, and I was thinking how — and this is something I’ve learned from my podcast a lot, just talking to so many people who have been successes in their different fields — success can be measured. Forget for a second all kinds of self-help, success can be measured by your inward stuff. I’m just going to be blatant about money. Success can be measured today. Like, “How much did I make today?” Or success can be measured in decades.
Those are really the two metrics. Because almost everyone I’ve spoken to, they had their good years, and their down years, and their good days, and their down days. But over time, over decades, their contacts, their intelligence, their creativity, their ability to execute, grew and grew and grew. Then finally they hit upon that lucky set of circumstances over decades that really propelled them into the ‘overnight success.’ I can’t think of an example where it didn’t work like that.
It’s important to remember that success is measured today. Like, “how many people did I help today? How many opportunities did I create for myself to make money today? How much money did I make today?” But also to keep in mind you’re planting seeds for the future. It’s like you’re planting perennial seeds. Perennial seeds, you throw them in your garden. Ten to 20% of them will actually grow into plants. The rest of them will disappear. Then 10 years later, those plants are still growing. It’s the same thing — or 20 years later. Or 30 years later. Sometimes, that’s depressing. “Well, I want success now. I’m feeling really sick right now because I can’t pay my mortgage.” Well, that’s fine. Work on ways to pay your mortgage today. But keep in mind always, you’re still planting seeds for twenty or thirty years out, where amazing wealth is created.
Jonny Nastor: Exactly. You said something interesting. When you said talking to the people in your podcast, and they’ve had their ups and downs, but they’ve also had an ability to execute. You’re right. Ideas, being an idea machine is great, but at some point you also have to execute. Whether it’s executing, “I’m going to write 10 ideas a day and send them off.” Or “I’m going to start a business with this idea. This video game, or anything.” How do you get the ability to execute? Or how do you still work through having the ability, every day, to execute what you, James, want to do?
James Altucher: For me, I’m involved in a lot of different businesses. I do a podcast. I also write a lot, so I’m writing books and blog posts and so on. For me, I don’t do a to-do list because I can only do one thing at a time. Even if I do a to-do list, it’s not like I’m going to do 10 things in the next moment. I’m only going to do, in the moment, what’s the most important thing to me at this moment. It might be in the morning, writing a post, and I’ll block everything else off, the Internet, emails, phone, and I’ll write my post. Then, it might be the case in the afternoon, “Okay, well I’m on the board of directors of a company, they’re having some problems that I think I can help them with. That’s the most important thing for me to do. I’m going to call them up.” Then I might think to myself, “Okay well, now what is the most important thing for me to do? Well, I want to get some more podcast guests for February. I’m going to write to these three people, and see if they’re willing to be my podcast guests.”
Again, each step of the way, I’m always thinking, “What’s the most important thing for me to do right now?” I don’t bother with a to-do list because people do a to-do list so they can remember things. Well, if I forget something, it probably means it wasn’t really that important to me in the beginning. I’m only going to do the one thing that’s important to me right now.
Now, at the end of the day, I do an ‘I-did’ list. Because it always turns out that I did so many more things than I ever possibly could have imagined putting on a to-do list. But that’s another point. The I-did list keeps me going, and makes me realize all the time that I actually get a lot accomplished during the day. On most days, not every day.
But, for me, in specific cases, execution, and again it’s something you learn, so if I’m going to make a website, I know how to make websites. I know, “Okay, well here’s what the front page looks like. Here’s all the buttons. Here’s what it looks like if you’re signed in. Here’s what it looks like if you’re not signed in. Here’s all the features I’m going to offer. For each feature, here’s what that page looks like.” Once I have that sketched out, I might outsource the development of the website to a website developer. That’s a typical case of execution.
Now some people have a hard time getting themselves going on execution. I have that hard time, too. I might have ideas for 10 websites, but only the website that really excites me will I really spec it out in that way. The same thing goes if, let’s say, I have an agency. I used to run a website agency back in the ‘90s. If some clients didn’t excite me, I would keep telling myself, “Oh, I should write the proposal for that client.” But if the client didn’t excite me, I never would write the proposal. It was only when I was really excited about a client that I would sit down, and I would just simply write the proposal because I wanted to make a website for that client.
Another example is, take Mark Cuban. A typical response when someone mentions Mark Cuban is, “Oh my God! That guy got so lucky. He sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo. Yahoo went up to four hundred bucks a share, he made billions, and then he sold it.” People forget that Mark Cuban first started a bar. Then, he started a computer software company. Sold that — and he went door-to-door selling software or hardware or whatever it was. Then he started a hedge fund. Then he started Broadcast.com, and it was a small company. He built up, and he built up, and he built up, and he raised money. But by then, he already had some money, so he was much more advanced at all aspects of business. Executing on a business, building a product, raising money. Even then, he went through the IPO stage, but he already knew how to go through the IPO stage because he had run a hedge fund where his money was parked at Goldman Sachs. So Goldman Sachs took Broadcast.com public.
By then, he was so sophisticated in the markets, he knew, “Now’s the time to sell to Yahoo,” and “Now’s the time to sell,” because he spent years buying and selling stocks. He had a sense of when it was the time to sell. Everyone can call everyone else ‘lucky.’ Oh, Dallas Mavericks is another great example. I think he bought that for $200-300 million. Now, the Clippers, you know, which had that guy who made that racist comment? He had to sell the Clippers?
Jonny Nastor: Yeah.
James Altucher: He sold the Clippers for $2 billion to Steve Ballmer. The Clippers, I didn’t even know that basketball team existed. It’s the worst basketball team in the world. Mark Cuban has the Dallas Mavericks. He bought it for, again, $200-300 million. What’s that worth now? Four billion? It’s worth this enormous amount more than he paid for it. Did he get lucky? No! I don’t think so. You see pictures of him every day on the Mavericks court, being involved, doing stuff. He knows how to execute. But he learned that over time. He learned that over a period of probably 25 years. When he first started in a bar, he learned how to open up and close, and make sure he wasn’t robbed, and make sure he had the right inventory, and make sure he provided great customer service. All the basic things you need to do to run a bar, he still does, just at a much bigger scale.
Jonny Nastor: He also says that with business you don’t have to, or entrepreneurship, you don’t have to be good or get successful all the time. Really, he’s like, “You can get successful once or twice, and be set.” He became a millionaire once. He doesn’t need to become a billionaire again.
What are your thoughts? Because you’re talking about, you’re like, “Oh, this is two billion. He bought this for 300 million.” If it were someone like at a job, or we don’t have that money, it’s fine to say we can start with ideas, which is great, and then in a few years — but what are your thoughts on the abundance and the bigness of ideas? Your first company sold for $10 million. That’s a lot of money.
James Altucher: Right.
The Important Thing Is to Always Be Thinking of Giving to Others
Jonny Nastor: What do you think about taking on a project now, or something. What is your thought on bigness? Does it have to be like this massive scale idea? Or can they just be ideas that you just want to run with? Is it worth your time?
James Altucher: Well I write blog posts for free.
Jonny Nastor: Good.
James Altucher: I don’t make any money on those. Now people can say, “Oh well, it’s easy to say he doesn’t necessarily have to make money.” Whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t matter. A lot of people write blog posts for free. But I do get involved in other projects. I do have a bar where I’m going to get involved in a project if it means a) I’m going to be helping a lot of people, and b) there’s a potential here to make at least tens of millions of dollars, if not more. So far so good. Those projects are working out.
Some projects don’t work out. Some projects I get involved in don’t work out. Like Mark Cuban said, “You never really know what’s going to work out and what isn’t.” But I’m involved in like 30 different companies right now. Some as an investor. Some as a board member. Some as an advisor. But I’m probably involved in 30 companies. Some I’m involved with because I just love the idea. Some of them I’m involved with because I have smarter friends than me who said, “Hey, you should just piggy-back what I’m doing.” Some I’m involved with because I realized I could help a lot of people if I do this, and make money at the same time. Those two things are possible. A lot of people think if you’re helping a lot of people you’re not making money. But I like to get involved in projects where I can do both.
Jonny Nastor: Right. So bigness, though. I read your blog, and you’re never talking about somebody, or you, and saying it made $20,000 a month, or $5,000 a month. It’s huge right? It’s like you bought a company. I was reading — I can’t remember the company name — but for like $20 million on paper. You got a letter of intent.
James Altucher: Yeah.
Jonny Nastor: These are big numbers, and most people would never have the balls to just even do that.
James Altucher: Right.
Jonny Nastor: Is that an abundance thought? How do you even think in such a scale like that?
James Altucher: Stuff like that, that is this kind of this sort of second or third layer of entrepreneurship where you kind of have to jump into the deep end of the water. In that particular case, I had just sold my company, which was making websites. I had this not really earthshaking idea, well, okay that’s the Internet, but soon there’s going to be the wireless Internet. The Internet was still going hot. I figured, “Okay, I’m going to do something in the wireless Internet.” I didn’t even know what that meant. I assumed it meant something with phones, but this was 1999. Smartphones weren’t really around. There was the Blackberry, and that was it.
I wrote to 20 different companies that literally just had the words wireless or mobile in their company description. I had no idea what any of them did. I said, “I’m the CEO of a wireless…” — I think I was calling myself US Mogel or US Wireless — something weird.
Jonny Nastor: Completely made up.
James Altucher: Yeah. I wasn’t trying to be deceptive, but I said, “I’m interested in buying your company.” Nineteen of them didn’t really respond to it. Maybe 18 didn’t really respond to me. Two did. One I didn’t like. Then the one said, “Hey, we’re about to be in New York because Ericsson’s just offered us” — I think it was $19 million — “So this is a perfect time to talk to you.”
I met with them, and I said, “I can’t believe you’re even considering Ericsson. They’re an old school phone company. What are you going to do with them? How is it going to grow? I’ll offer you $30 million, and half of that can be stock in my company. We’re going to IPO in a year, and look what’s happening to IPOs right now.” We were running an IPO bubble. Not an Internet bubble, but an IPO bubble.
They thought it over for a day or two, and they said, “Okay, yes.” So I signed a letter of intent with them, Which gave me exclusively, they couldn’t sell to anybody else. I had six months to buy them. Suddenly, my company had a real asset, a real tangible asset. I had a letter of intent to buy this company with real revenues and profits, and I had six months to do it.
I called up basically every billionaire I knew. I didn’t know that many billionaires, I should add. I called one. I called one banker who introduced me to his boss, who introduced me then to a bunch of billionaires. So it was a friend, of a friend, of a friend, of a friend. He started raising the money for me, and he became a partner in the business. We did raise $30 million, so I gave these guys 15 million. Then, we had $15 million in the bank still, and we bought two more companies. Then, suddenly, I was a company with real revenues, and profits, and everything. Every bank was pitching us to take us public.
Now, it didn’t really work out so well. The Internet bubble burst. But that was a situation where I didn’t do anything deceptive. I made an offer to them, which they agreed to, and then I did pay them their money. And I had it. When I raised money, I didn’t start raising money until I had a real asset, which is this LOI. But sometimes you kind of have to be clever about what order you do things.
Jonny Nastor: Oh yeah. It’s smart.
James Altucher: If you do the traditional order, then nothing’s going to happen. Or it’s going to take too long. You have to kind of like dive right into it. I remember one meeting I had. I was pitching investors, and they were like, “Well how does this work again? How does the whole mobile thing work?” I said, “Well, you make a call, and it goes up to a satellite, and then it comes down.” They interrupted me, and they were like, “Wait, isn’t there a cell phone tower? It doesn’t go up to satellites.” I was like, “I guess so, maybe only sometimes it goes to satellites.” I guess there was a company, Iridium, at the time, which did go to satellites, but everything else went through cellphone towers.
Jonny Nastor: And so did your company.
James Altucher: But they invested $5 million. Not only that, they set me up in a venture capital firm, alongside the company. So things happen, and that was just one thing I tried. At the same time I was trying that, I actually set up a company where I made the website and everything. And I’ve never really talked about this before, but I set up a company where you could put your name, and your profile, and your photo, and you could keep like a journal. Then you could link to other people. You could be friends with other people, and other people could send you messages.
I had created this website, which was almost like a social network. My only problem was I was calling it a beauty contest. I was going to say this was the world’ largest beauty contest on the Internet. But when my wireless thing started taking off, I kind of completely forgot about this beauty contest thing. But I could have also potentially set up a social network. I even had some beauty magazine wanting to sponsor it, so I called them, and I said, “I have this website done. I’d like you to be an equity partner. Let’s feature it in your magazine.” And they were willing to do it, but then I just kind of forgot about the whole thing. But maybe that could have been Facebook for all I know, and I didn’t do it.
Jonny Nastor: Right. Is that okay, though? Are you cool with that? Does that make sense that how you should work, that it doesn’t matter that you left that thing that could have been something big because you went on to something else? And you did. You know what I mean? People sometimes, I think to a fault almost, want to have a clear direction. Like, we’re coming into a new year, I want to be completely clear with the next year what I’m going to do, and I don’t want to deviate from that.
James Altucher: Well, Jon, let me ask you a question. December 31, 2013. You’re sitting around with your friends and family, and you’re thinking — everybody’s thinking what their New Year’s resolution is going to be. Did you think you were going to start a podcast in 2014?
Jonny Nastor: No.
James Altucher: You started this podcast when?
Jonny Nastor: I started in July, recording.
James Altucher: So July was only six or seven months later. Why didn’t you know on December 31 or January 1 you were going to start this podcast?
Jonny Nastor: Because I hadn’t met the people I met in March who convinced me to do it.
James Altucher: Right. March was only three months later. Did you even know them, or did you even know their friends on January 1?
Jonny Nastor: No.
James Altucher: Right. We have no ability to predict the future at all. You couldn’t even predict three months ahead the friends of the friends of the people who were going to convince you to do a podcast just three months later. Now how many podcasts episodes have you done?
Jonny Nastor: Thirty-seven yesterday.
James Altucher: Thirty seven.
Jonny Nastor: I released. Yeah.
James Altucher: The year of 2014, really for you, is the year of the podcast.
Jonny Nastor: That’s what they said in March! They said that to me for a week solid. We were in the Philippines together. It was like, “It’s the year of the podcast, Jon. It’s the year of the podcast.”
James Altucher: On January 1 were you in the Philippines?
Jonny Nastor: No, we weren’t.
James Altucher: Did you know you were going to be in the Philippines?
Jonny Nastor: I did. I knew I was going there.
James Altucher: Okay. You knew you were going there, but you didn’t know you were going there to start a whole career in podcasting.
Jonny Nastor: Not at all.
James Altucher: What did you go there for?
Jonny Nastor: I went there for a mastermind conference.
James Altucher: Okay. Alright. I get it.
Jonny Nastor: We were working. I was there for business, but I was doing it for business at the time.
James Altucher: Right. But have you made a dime off this podcast yet?
Jonny Nastor: Off these? A couple of dimes.
James Altucher: A couple of dimes.
Jonny Nastor: Just from sponsors. Yeah.
James Altucher: Okay. You had no idea. You could have said as a New Year’s resolution, “I’m going to write a thriller novel by the end of 2014.” But, no, instead you’ve made, so far, 37 podcasts, which is incredible, and incredibly creative. And it’s difficult work, and it’s hard execution. For me, last December 31, I hadn’t started a podcast. Now I do eight a day across two podcasts, and I’m probably going to launch a third podcast. I had no idea. Then, I also wrote another book I had no idea I was going to write.
We have no real ability to predict our future. More important is to have themes. You had a theme on January 1, which is, “Okay, I want to improve myself, and so I have this idea. I’m going to go to this mastermind, and I’m going to be around really smart people. Who I’m going to hope to inspire, and I’m going to hope they inspire me. And out of that is going to come probably a variety of ways and ideas I can use to improve myself.”
That was a theme that you had rather than a very specific, narrow goal. That theme you had led to you doing this podcast. Which I’m sure you enjoy or else you wouldn’t have done almost 40 of them.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah. It’s amazing.
Why Most Ideas People Have Are Bad (And That’s OK)
James Altucher: Yeah. It is amazing. I think for myself, I’m starting and stopping things all the time. Some things work, some things don’t. I would say the hardest times are when things work for many years, and then suddenly they don’t work. That’s hard because you feel like you’ve put a lot of effort into something, and then it didn’t work. But, other times, again, it’s this idea that life itself is this sentence of failures only punctuated by the briefest of successes. That’s really the way you have to think of things. That’s not a depressing way. Ultimately, your lifetime is a whole conversation of these sentences.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah. Exactly. James, are you ever, do you just sit there and just shocked by how far your ideas, and just like the baring of your absolute soul to people on your blog, and now podcast, and anywhere else you’ve done it? Just how far it’s taken you, and how many people it’s reached.
James Altucher: I never think about it because I don’t really get that much of a sense of it. Most of the time I’m just sitting in my room typing. I just think every day, “What am I going to write about.” That’s the main thing on my mind. I try to keep as a goal, “Okay, I’m going to be entertaining, and I’m going to have value.” I see all these posts like, I don’t know, “10 Ways to Make Your Morning Better” or “10 Ways to Do a Better Interview,” and in order for someone to write that, they must have had a lot of really bad interviews. So I want to see how they, what was the story? Every superhero has a secret origin. Anybody who’s writing an article that’s meant for the masses is like a superhero, and they’re giving their advice, somehow, from a pedestal. Well, I want them down at my level. I want to see when things hurt. That’s just basic writing. That there’s an arc. The hero’s journey, where someone who didn’t mean to be a hero goes through some hard times, learns from them, and then has a good outcome at the end.
Often these articles, and it’s 99% of articles, are so poorly written because they don’t know this fundamental aspect of writing. Then, on top of that, I read an enormous amount, so I try to learn from really good writers. I really, really try hard to learn every day more about writing. It’s just my main focus. It’s my main love in life, and I hope I do a good job at it. I think sometimes I help people, and sometimes I get nice emails. But of course, there’s also hate emails occasionally. I just, every day, try to start from scratch and write something I think will be fun.
Jonny Nastor: Excellent. Yeah, your reach is big. Just in the last two weeks since we booked this, I would say to people two words, James Altucher, and people are like, “Oh my God! You get to talk to him?”
James Altucher: That makes me happy.
Jonny Nastor: You’re the one person, and I’ve talked to some brilliant people, but James Altucher, you have this aura about you.
James Altucher: That’s good to know. The funny thing is, okay, I’ve sold a good number of copies of books, but not like “Fifty Shades of Grey” kind of copies. But I think my articles have been read quite a lot. I think we’re in more of an article society, than a full book society. Most people when they buy a book, they only read the first chapter, and then they put the book down. But I think with articles, people read the whole article, and if you can make an impression in the beginning, and the middle, and the end of the article, then they know who you are when they see the next article that comes in your style. I’m always playing, too. I write all sorts of stuff across different genres of both non-fiction and even a little bit of fiction.
Jonny Nastor: Excellent. I have one question for you.
James Altucher: Sure.
Jonny Nastor: To end this off. If your career was to end today, would you be happy with the legacy that you’ve already got to leave so far?
James Altucher: Absolutely. I am really happy. I feel like five years ago, I would have answered ‘no’ to that question because I was very unhappy. But I’m really happy how things have gone in the past five years. Really, it boils down to this physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. If, for instance, you write down 10 ideas a day, and just exercise that idea muscle. Then eventually start sharing and giving of these ideas, it’s just going to create huge value in the universe. I would say the answer is yes.
In fact, look, if I were to die tomorrow, no problem, as long as it’s not a painful death. As long as like my kids would have to get over it. That would be the only — and Claudia, my wife — sad thing if I were to die tomorrow. But other than that, I’m fine with dying tomorrow as long as it’s not painful.
Jonny Nastor: Excellent. I love it. James, thank you so much. We’ve talked, just so much about you and your blog. Can you just tell everybody, in case they don’t know, but I’m sure they do, where to find you?
James Altucher: Yeah. It’s funny, my blog is at JamesAltucher.com, but I do most of my posts, really, on my email list. I don’t post as much. I post once every week or so on my blog, kind of to keep it alive. But I post mostly on Facebook, and on my email list, and on places like Quora and LinkedIn. Then, kind of almost like an afterthought, I post on my blog. But my blog also has links to my email lists. It has links to my podcasts. It has links to a contact page where people can send me questions.
Also, I encourage people. I give out my phone number. My phone just rang from an unknown number because I give out my phone number on my podcast, and people can text me questions, which I’ll try to answer. 203-512-2161. I don’t always answer directly by text because I have a hard time writing on the phone. But I’ll try to answer always, like in an Ask Altucher broadcast.
Jonny Nastor: That’s awesome. James, thank you.
James Altucher: Yeah.
Jonny Nastor: Thank you so much for everything you do, and thanks for spending the time with us today.
James Altucher: Jon, thanks so much for inviting me on your podcast. Best of luck with it, and I hope you have good success with it.
Jonny Nastor: Thank you. I appreciate that.
James Altucher: Thanks.
Jonny Nastor: James. James. James. Thank you so much for that brilliant conversation. That was amazing. So James did something cool there. He said something really interesting, and it’s got me thinking. Not only did he give me – I think I have written down here five potential hacks, which is hard. This is going to be a hard, hard choice. I want to try something because he mentioned at the end that he gives out his cell phone number on his podcast.
Let’s try this. My cell phone number, I’ll give it to you, and I want you to not listen to the Hack right now. I want you to think about what the Hack is, and see if we can choose the same one. Let’s try it. I want you to text me at 807-472-5290. That’s my cell phone. Text me. Tell me what you think the Hack was, and then listen to it, and we’ll see if you’re right. Or if you just have any questions. Or just say hi, tell me you listened. That’s my cell phone number. Anyways, this was an amazing conversation. It was a bit longer, so let’s get to it. He said one thing, didn’t he? Did you get it? Did you hear it? Let’s do it. Let’s find the hack.
James Altucher: We have no real ability to predict our future, so more important is to have themes. You had a theme on January 1, which is, “Okay, I want to improve myself, and so I have this idea. I’m going to go to this mastermind, and I’m going to be around really smart people, who I’m going to hope to inspire, and I’m going to hope they inspire me. And out of that is going to come probably a variety of ways and ideas I can use to improve myself.” That was a theme that you had, rather than a very specific, narrow goal. That theme you had led to you doing this podcast, which I’m sure you enjoy or else you wouldn’t have done almost 40 of them.
Jonny Nastor: And that’s the Hack. James, brilliant. Again, I love it. Themes rather than goals. It’s true we don’t know where the future is going to lead us. This is something that really resonated with me, I guess. The new year is coming. I have a mastermind group. They’re talking about goals. I have friends trying to sort out what we’re going to do, and I haven’t come up with any. Maybe it’s okay. James says it’s okay. I trust James. It’s true because I was even saying to somebody the other day, I was like, “Well, I know that I want to create a business next year. I’m sure. It’s just something I know that I have to do. I have to create something new.”
This podcast ended up being a business that I got to create this year. And he’s right. I had no idea I was going to create it. I think if I cut myself off from the idea that I can even do whatever it’s going to be in this coming year, not only will I get bored and I won’t be passionate about it, but I don’t think I’ll be successful at it, because of those two things. I love that. Whatever it is. If it’s the new year or if this is March when you hear it, it doesn’t matter.
But it’s true, you have to be open to it because we can’t predict it. But have themes of things that you do want to do. Do you want to choose yourself, as James’ book says, that I think you should read? It’s whatever you want to do. But you do have to set up those themes. There’s no better way, I think, to set yourself up and to send yourself into the future — Whatever that’s going to be, and set yourself up for success as you see it.
So thank you so much. So much. So much. This has been an amazing episode. I got this one out way quicker than I typically do with an episode because I was really, really inspired by it, and I really loved that message, how it resonated with me. If you haven’t checked it out yet, Hacktheentrepreneur.com/insider. I’m setting up a mastermind group. I want 25 people that we’re going to work together, and we are going to set themes, I guess, as James would say, for ourselves and for each other. We’re going to push each other to grow to become better people to do cool things next year.
It’s very cool. You can check it out. I think five spots are gone already. I put it up about two days ago, so if it’s still available when you get to hear this, go check it out. Hacktheentrepreneur.com/insider. If it’s right for you, I would love to have you in there. Again, if you have any questions or you just want to say hi to me, 807-472-5290 is my cell phone. Give me a text. Tell me what’s up, and say hi. Maybe it’s quicker. My email is getting jammed packed with stuff, and I keep missing things potentially. I guess the phone is the new way. This has been a lot of fun. Thank you so much, again, for everything, and until next time, keep Hacking the Entrepreneur.