[James Altucher is the author of 11 books. Has build and sold several businesses. Is on the board of several private companies and one billion (almost) revenues public company. Has written for the WSJ, the Financial Times, Elephant Journal, Cracked.com, Forbes, and others, and regularly speaks while still chewing.]
The worst business I ever started, I raised over $30 million from venture capitalists and ultimately the business lost $100 million in investor money. I had no idea what I was doing.
Here was my pitch: “first there was the INTERNET and now there is the WIRELESS INTERNET”.
This was in 1999. With that one pitch everyone from CMGI to Henry Kravis to various other billionaires threw money at the business. Yasser Arafat, through a shell vehicle that was uncovered after his death, invested $2 million.
Then Goldman Sachs started coming in and pitching our IPO. We had incorporated the day before. Then the day after we raised the money, we bought a company. I still have no idea what that company did but they had the word “Mobile” in their name so it went in line with my well-thought-out business strategy.
I was the CEO. We had 100 employees.
I was so shy about talking to the other employees that I would call my secretary from downstairs and ask her if anyone was in the hallways before I came up into my office and then locked the door.
Blackberry invested in the company. Ericsson invested. Allen & Company invested.
One time I was pitching the company to a group representing billions of dollars of Saudi Arabian wealth, including the Bin Laden family.
I said something like, “the signal goes up to the satellite and then comes down to the Earth securely through our software.”
Someone brought up the brilliant point, “I thought the signal goes through cellular towers. Like a phone call.”
I had no answer.”That too,” I said. And then I tried to explain further. “Sometimes it goes into space, though. Like if there are no cellular towers in the area.”
They invested $5 million in the company.
Then Merrill Lynch had a slide show about what our IPO would look like. On the last page was what my net worth would be if we IPOed.
I had a very clear idea what I was going to do with that money.
I was going to make a Super Bowl commercial of just me playing chess and walking around and hanging out. That’s it. No message.
Oh, and I was going to get a divorce. Which, as you might know, you need $900,000,000 to do.
Much later, the FBI visited me to find out more about the Bin Laden family’s finances. But that’s another story.
The two most successful businesses I started and then sold for eight figure exits, I did not raise a dime for.
I had profitable customers from day one. Every month had more revenues than the month before.
I was friends with all my customers.
Venture capitalists were constantly calling, but I didn’t take the money.
Other successful entrepreneurs were calling because they wanted to be CEO of the company.
One guy I said “no” to but I asked him for all his ideas, which I promptly stole and used with great success.
He knows who he is, so I will say it now: thanks. (He’s ok with it. He just sold his last company for $900 million.)
There’s a big difference between raising a lot of money for a company and building a successful company, and it can be summed up by only one word. No other word will do.
I loved my customers. I would say “No” to having customers I did not love.
I loved my employees. I was friends with all my competitors and they would be surprised when I referred customers to them.
I had no investors so I didn’t need to love people I didn’t like to begin with.
For my customers I didn’t just sell a service. I sold everything. I gave them advice on their businesses. I would take their calls at three in the morning when they were depressed.
I surprised them with six foot tall trophies on their birthdays. I gave their nephews jobs.
I didn’t do this because I wanted their business. I did this because I only do business now with people I love. Those are the only businesses that work for me.
I only hired employees who were better than me. And I would encourage them to learn enough to start their own businesses. Some would. Some wouldn’t.
And I had compassion for my family. My businesses would not work if I did not say “No” sometimes to work, in order to have time to say “Yes” to my family or friends or even myself.
I’ve chased money so much over the past 20 years. Almost all of that chasing ended up in misery.
One night, when I’d had enough, I tried to figure out if the following was true: if I put a cigarette in a glass of water and left it over the night, then took out the cigarette and drank the water, would I die of a heart attack within sixty seconds because of the pure poison that would’ve leaked out over night?
I never figured out if it was true.
My therapist said to me, “What can I do to make you happy?”
I said, “Write me a check for a million dollars. That’s the only thing.”
He said, “That won’t help.” And he was right.
Ultimately, I did find one thing that made me happy, and every business endeavor after that has resulted in some degree of success for me.
Before, during, or after I say, think, or do something—I try to figure out if it will harm someone, including myself.
If it does, I say “No” to it.
I have never been perfect. Some people are. But I had to learn the power of “No” the hard way after many tears and many years of saying “Yes” too many times.
But from that moment on, everything has been like magic.
- Saying “No” has filtered out 99.9% of the bad things in my life. It has let the right “Yes”-es enter my life.
- Saying “No” has saved me from the people who have tried to bring me down.
- Saying “No” has saved me thousands of hours in wasted time in a life that only lasts tens of thousands of hours.
- Saying “No” has saved my relationships with the ones I love and made them a million times stronger.
- Saying No is what an Owner does.
- Saying No is, for me, what compassion has brought into my life, so I learn over 1000s of Nos when is the right moment to say “Yes”.
When Chris asked me to write for OWNER, I said “Yes”.
- Next article I will describe how I learned to say “No”.
- In the meantime, please buy my book, Choose Yourself!, because I talk about how I moved from misery to success.