James Altucher was a loser in the most literal sense of the word. He lost millions of dollars, his home, his family life, and his will to live. That was many years ago. Now Altucher is known as a “Jedi Master,” a “Guru of Happiness,” and most poignantly, a “mentor.”
Altucher has built his current career off of highlighting his failures and sharing what he has learned from them. As an author, blogger, podcaster, investor, trader, and entrepreneur, he has brought much to the table in his books “Choose Yourself!” and “The Power of No.” Just a few days ago he joined a room full of entrepreneurs at AlleyNYC for an intimate gathering, hosted by The Phat Startup, to share his life lessons in person, take questions from the audience, and inspire the act of “choosing yourself” with a mix of humor and humility in his talk entitled “How to Make Millions Without Selling Out.”
The main three points Altucher wanted to get across to the room of these students of life include: “Do the daily practice,” “Know how to sell,” and “Create your monopoly.”
1) Do the daily practice
From interview questions to audience questions, everyone in the room wanted to know what his one golden piece of advice is for entrepreneurs; the one thing that could launch them from concept to success. Staying true to his convictions detailed in his writing, Altucher explained that success and happiness derive from a constant pursuit of “The Daily Practice,” rather than one tip or one event affecting a person’s path. He is a big proponent of creating your own luck through taking care of your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual self – the rest will fall into place.
Through his own wins and failures over the years, Altucher has developed a very strong viewpoint on luck, “It’s all luck. You want to give yourself as many opportunities as possible. Try 50 things and you will be good at about five of them. The key is, you have to do the 50 things.“ One of his most poignant observations during the talk stated, “People have been unlucky since the dawn of time because of the shame status associated with failing.” His sentiments at one point in his life were, “You lose net-worth, you lose self-worth.” Once he learned to overcome this, he was in a better mindset to truly succeed.
In order to move forward and work towards the 50 things in your life that you must attempt in order to have a chance at success, Alutcher said the first step is to set yourself free. “Mix a few letters around in the word ‘untie’ and you get ‘unite.’ Untie yourself from everything and you will be united to everything.”
Altucher’s overarching theme when it comes to creating a space where success can thrive is to set yourself free from your own worst critic: yourself. “Goals are a setup for unhappiness. Set a theme instead. Untie yourself from goals.”
2) Know how to sell
Everybody in a company has to be a sales person. As Altucher said in his TechCrunch article The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Selling Anything, we are always selling: selling products, selling services, selling businesses, but most importantly – selling ourselves.
As the event took place at AlleyNYC, home to startups in Silicon Alley, the topic of “selling out” was brought up. Tech startups have a place in the entrepreneur ecosystem to build big things, make a change in the world, and focus on the vision first and money second. Altucher provided context to the concept of “selling out.” He defined it as “doing something that makes you age, doesn’t sit well with your conscious, and generally doesn’t feel right.” Altucher promotes being practical rather than aspirational, “We all need to make money; using your skills to support yourself is necessary.”
He also doesn’t believe in the other major startup mantra: “Fail fast, fail early and fail often.” When discussing this “Cult of Failure,” Altucher added, “I don’t think it’s a requirement to fail in order to succeed. It is, however, a requirement to overcome hard problems.” Altucher is an now a self-proclaimed expert at failing having been through his own share of failures – from having $10 million in the bank to “zero” in the span of only one year.
In order to pick yourself back up from any failure you might experience along the path to success, always default to “The Daily Practice” and surround yourself with people you respect, enjoy spending time with, and who support you.
And sleep. Altucher credits sleep as one of the best tools in an entrepreneur’s toolbox. Sleep can even be used as a powerful advantage in sales – “We wake up in the morning with a certain amount of energy and willpower. Sleep is a tool.” If you can arrange your schedule to sleep a satisfying amount of hours as close to the time of an evening meeting as possible, you will have the upper hand. Most people have depleted their source of energy and willpower by the end of a long day at the office. You will be able to negotiate that much easier when your “fuel tank” is full and the other party is approaching “empty.”
3) Create your monopoly
“Try to form a monopoly. Don’t try to compete with everyone else.”
Altucher went further into detail when he said, “Combine your interests. I figure out ways to dip my toes into everything I’m interested in. Diversify; become the master of the intersection of A & B.“
He discovered this concept early in his career working as an employee at HBO – and as a consultant for Showtime as a side gig. “I always wanted to be my own boss. I turned out not to be a very good employee.” The crowd erupted in laughter when he illustrated this vividly, “I was working at HBO and doing Showtime’s website on the side.”
Through the process of building his own web development agency while still working at HBO, Altucher found his niche in targeting the entertainment industry. By honing in on a specific sector, Altucher was able to create a monopoly of building websites for the entertainment industry, and eventually sold his consulting agency for millions.
Altucher also learned about creating a monopoly and choosing yourself by observing the inner-workings of entertainment industry. He is particularly fascinated by the hip-hop music genre, exclaiming, “These guys were the original innovators.” When he approached Def Jam Recordings, they were beyond excited to tap into new ways to market their music, while others were skeptical of the Internet as a passing fad. Altucher even dove into his learnings from the hip-hop world in the article How To Get An MBA From Eminem. Altucher continues to draw lessons in entrepreneurship from the hip-hop community in his podcast series called “The James Altucher Show.”
The talk was wrapped up in true Phat Startup fashion, with the final question being, “If you had to pick one person from hip-hop and one business entrepreneur to sit down with for 24 hours, whom would you choose?” After some speculation, Altucher landed on RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan and Peter Thiel, Co-founder of PayPal. His reasoning: “These people have no gatekeepers.”