Jon, the manager that night, calls out to me: "James, you're up." And now I'm all nervous. I've just been told I 'can't' skip the line.
I'm about to do forty-five minutes in front of a hundred fifty people. It's my first time doing that long. Vince's been doing it twenty years. But after what he said, I've lost confidence. Maybe he's right. But it's too late to be scared.
I go through the crowd. Open the door. The MC says, "Here he is, Jaaammes Altucher!"
* * *
I change careers a lot.
In 1987, while still in college, I start my first business: a debit card for college kids. Debit cards don't yet exist. And companies like Visa and Mastercard are not giving credit cards to college students.
I convince eighty different stores and restaurants to accept the "CollegeCard" and give discounts to all of our members. I program the point-of-sale machines to accept our cards and install them in the restaurants.
I want more equity. I'm doing all the work. A friend tells me, "You're too young. Wait your turn."
I run the entire business for over a year. My two partners in the business graduate. One goes to business school. The other starts working at...Mastercard! I'm left alone. I run the business for another six months and then shut it down. It was going nowhere. But it changed my life.
For the first time, I program a computer. And I'm obsessed. I want to switch my major to computer science. I go to the guidance counselor.
She says, "You can't do that. You're going to be a senior. How are you going to take all the classes you need?"
She says, "You have to take four years of calculus; you don't even have one."
She says, "Maybe take some classes in computers, but stick to what you were majoring in. You can't really make a big change like this right now."
But then I do become a programmer. And then I decide I want to write
novels. Then I work at HBO. Then I make a TV pilot for HBO. Then I start a company making websites.
Then I sell it and I start a company making mobile software.
I have to raise money for that company. In one meeting someone insists on knowing how it all works.
I say, "Well, first the signal goes up to a satellite and then it beams down to your phone."
"I thought the signal goes to cell towers."
I have no clue. I don't know what I'm talking about. "Well," I say, "sometimes it does that and sometimes it goes into space." That business doesn't work out.
Later, I start a venture capital firm. Then I day-trade. Then I'm a writer. First for one website, then two, then two newspapers, then I write books. Then I write twenty books. Then I start a business selling newsletters and online courses I create.
Then I start a hedge fund and then another one. Bernie Madoff rejects investing in me. I start a business: a social network for people interested in finance. I sell it. I start another business that crowdsources advertisements.
It doesn't work out. So I start something new. And then again. And then I start something again. And again...podcasting, writing, investing, several businesses, stand-up comedy.
Throughout this time, I go broke repeatedly. I'm switching careers, but I don't know the three rules of money: making it, keeping it, growing it. I keep losing it. Sometimes people say to me, "You're that guy who keeps going broke," and then everyone laughs a bit.
People often subscribe to a theory that failure leads to future success. This is the furthest from the truth. Does pain lead to creativity? Does failure lead to understanding? Often it does. But it's not a requirement. People show the example that a baby learns not to touch the stove when they first touch it and burn their hand. But I'd rather not burn my hand at all.
***** TABLE OF CONTENTS *****
1. You 'Can' Do That
2. The 1 Percent Rule
3. 10,000 Experiments
4. Become the Scientist of Your Own Life
5. Borrow Hours
6. Build Microskills
7. Plus, Minus, Equals
8. Who Are You? Why Are You? Why Now?
9. Exercise the Possibility Muscle
10. Learn Idea Calculus
11. Frame Control
12. Find the Conspiracy Number (or How to Know if an Idea Is Good or Bad)
13. Microskills Everyone Should Learn
14. The 50/1 Rule (or How to Be Infinitely Productive)
15. Take Two Steps Back
16. Wobble Without Falling Down
17. Exit the Line
18. Become an Entrepreneur
19. The Spoke and Wheel (or How to Monetize Anything)
20. Three Ways to Make a Billion-Dollar Business
21. The Incerto Technique
22. The 30/150/Millions Rule
23. What to Tell Your Kids (or 10+ Rules for Living a Good Life)