Be an Ethical Entrepreneur, Marketer, and Business Builder

15 Must-Follow Rules for Retiring Wealthy

retirementAs someone who has owned 4 businesses before my 30th birthday, family and friends regularly ask me about investing, retirement planning and overall, what are the best ways to have more financial security.

Follow these simple rules and you’ll be well on your way.

Top 15 Rules for Retiring Wealthy:

  1. Always spend at least 10% less than you make. Always have a savings plan and understand that most people who “look” wealthy are just in a bunch of debt. Don’t be that family. Look comfortable and BE wealthy.
  2. Spending, Saving and Giving are all habits. If you spend every dime when you make $2,000/month, you’ll spend all that you have when you make $20k/month. Develop spending, saving and donating habits immediately!
  3. The quickest way to “make” money is to pay off debt starting with the highest interest credit cards and loans first. It’s a guaranteed Return on Investment (ROI).
  4. Never put more on a credit card than you can pay off each month. If you can’t pay it off each month, shred the credit card and pay with cash or debit cards for everything.
  5. Once the high-interest debt is paid off, save up 3-6 months in savings for a rainy day.
  6. Know your budget and don’t break it. How much are your housing costs? gas, grocery bills, Starbucks purchases, gym memberships, car payments, insurance, cell phones, internet, cable TV? Track your purchases every month (Mint.com is a decent way to do this) and make sure they are under budget. Reward yourself with a dinner out or other fun activity for each month the budget is met. Just make sure the reward is also budgeted. 😉
  7. Compound interest is the most amazing invention in the world so invest early and often.
  8. Max out any employer matching 401k’s or IRA’s. It’s like getting a guaranteed 100% ROI.
  9. Never consider your primary home an investment. By the time you pay utilities, taxes, maintenance, interest, and insurance a home is nearly always a loss. However, that’s not the goal of a home anyway.
  10. Short-term investing is extremely hard to do well. Long-term investing is extremely easy to do well.
  11. Learn how to minimize taxes legally. Taxes are your biggest individual expense BY FAR.
  12. Statistically speaking, money managers don’t know jack. Very, very few are accurate over the long-term.
  13. The most expensive thing in life is ignorance. Investing, like everything else, takes some homework and a commitment to learn.
  14. Never buy toys with debt. If you can’t afford to pay cash for motorcycles, quads, dirtbikes, jet-skis, razors, boats, vacations or anything else non-essential, then you can’t afford to have them. In other words, ONLY consider debt to buy a home, business, primary vehicle and some college degrees.
  15. Delayed gratification is the number one predictor of long-term success. It’s more accurate than IQ, EQ, SAT’s, ACT’s or any other tests ever administered. In other words, spending an extra $10k to get a nicer car today can mean having $50k less when you go to retire. Discipline yourself to be an expert at delayed gratification.

Here is one of the best articles I’ve come across for a nearly foolproof plan for a healthy retirement. It lists out exactly where to invest your IRA and 401k dollars each year.

Start with the book that is referenced, If You Can: How Millenials Can Get Rich Slowly, as it is only about 35 pages long, costs less than $6 and is available for Kindle.

Warren Buffet (one of the top 3 richest men in the world for several decades) told us 30 years ago the simple secret to investing and he predicted, quite accurately, that almost no one would listen.

Do you think there are any other investing or money-management rules that are missing?

To your healthy and secure retirement,
Bryan

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Why WhatsApp is NOT everything that’s wrong with the economy

By WhatsApp Inc. (http://media.whatsapp.com/) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia CommonsFacebook recently purchased a startup with no profits for $19 billion dollars in the largest tech acquisition in history.

The venture capital-backed, tech startup world is rife with problems as I’ve blogged about before.

However, Robert Reich has brought up one of the more popularly alleged economic problems.

He claims the problem is that tech companies like WhatsApp are hurting the economy by not creating enough jobs.

In Reich’s words:

Productivity keeps growing, as do corporate profits. But jobs and wages are not growing. Unless we figure out how to bring all of them back into line – or spread the gains more widely – our economy cannot generate enough demand to sustain itself, and our society cannot maintain enough cohesion to keep us together.

In other words, Mr. Reich is saying, “55 employees were able to make a business worth $19 billion dollars serving 450 million people and that’s not fair. Why do such a small group of people deserve so much?”

Of course, he offers no solutions other than to mention income inequality implying that it’s the fault of successful companies like WhatsApp for being successful.

Venture backed start-ups with insanely high valuations, minimal revenue and no profit have all sorts of issues.

But not creating enough jobs is not one of them.

Remember the Luddites rioting to destroy new machines that made the textile industry more efficient back in the 18th century?

Richard Arkwright invented his cotton-spinning machine in 1760 which became one of the main instigators of the Luddite riots.

After all, the cotton-spinning machine would displace the jobs of all of the seamstresses who used to make the clothes by hand, right?

In 1760, there were about 7,900 persons in England engaged in production in the textile industry. In 1787, 27 years after Arkwright’s invention and only 8 years after Ed Ludd destroyed 2 stocking frames allowing his name to become synonymous with all the machine destroyers, there were 320,000 people employed in textile production in England.

Why did more efficiency results in a 4400% increase in jobs?

Because with increased efficiency came lower prices so, instead of having 2 sets of clothes, people could afford to have dozens.

The same complaints have been lodged against every major technological advancement.

Every time we progress, the Luddites come out claiming this time the new increase in efficiency is going to hurt the public by reducing jobs.

The exact opposite is true.

About two centuries ago, the majority of America was an agrarian (i.e. farming) society.

However, the invention of farm machinery didn’t result in the majority of Americans starving because they were no longer needed on the farm. In contrast, less people on the farm meant more people inventing, building, and creating other things.

At its core, economics is very simple.

If something increases efficiency it’s good for the economy. If it decreases efficiency it’s bad.

WhatsApp figured out how to connect 450 million people with only 55 employees. That sounds hyper-efficient to me.

Our knowledge-based economy has seen the fastest and greatest improvements in efficiency and leverage the world has ever known.

The end result of that increased efficiency is always an improvement for society.

Massive fortunes were made by Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie when we transitioned from an agrarian to an industrial economy.

More recently, Gates, Zuckerberg, Page and Brin have been richly rewarded in our transition from an industrial to a knowledge economy.

Would we all be better off if none of them were allowed to reap the rewards of their creations?

You have 2 options

Become a Luddite, slow down technological innovation, and reduce the reward for being an innovator by asking the government to intervene.

OR

Learn what it takes to excel in the knowledge-based economy and join the successful companies that are improving our lives.

Time will prove, once again, that Robert Reich, despite all of his experience, power, and prestige, is no different than Ned Ludd whose name became synonymous with the machine destroyers’ failed attempt to halt progress.

The problem is education

The problem is not our exponential increases in efficiency.

The problem is an education system that was built at the beginning of the industrial revolution and is still designed to teach students to be good “workers” instead of great thinkers.

As the owner of a marketing tech company who has been almost steadily hiring for 2 years, I can assure you that the education or degree of people who succeed on my team is irrelevant.

A particular degree, or college education at all, cannot predict job success as well as cognitive reasoning abilities, emergent leadership, the ability to learn quickly, a passion for your expertise and a willingness to make mistakes while admitting when you are wrong.

Google recently revealed their top 5 hiring attributes and indicated that the number of people at Google without degrees is increasing.

So whether it’s Twitter, Google, Facebook, WhatsApp or my company, Optimized Marketing, fast growing companies that understand how to leverage technology are coming to realize that relying on someone’s particular degree or level of education is not a good predictor of future job performance.

In other words, our education system isn’t reliably producing people with the skills we need.

The problem isn’t successful companies.

The problem is we haven’t yet learned how to educate students for the knowledge economy.
Don’t blame successful entrepreneurs for not making more jobs.

Celebrate their success and start teaching more people how to do the same thing.

There’s a reason Ken Robinson’s below TED talk explaining how schools kill creativity is the most popular TED video ever with over 25 million views.

Mr. Robinson’s talk is popular because he’s right.

Whether creativity comes in the form of becoming the dance choreographer who wrote Cats or the founders of a successful startup company that sells for billions, creativity is the solution.

Taking away the rewards of creativity, as Mr. Reich seems to be implying, would further hinder creative pursuits and not help anyone.

Imagine what the next 100 years will look like if we are all allowed to “come up with original ideas that present value”, as Mr. Robinson defines creativity.

To your passionate, creative success,
Bryan

P.S. For more examples of technology increasing employment in various industries, check out Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.

Avoid Venture Capital and Outside Investors for your Startup

One of the most exciting days for a startup company is the day they receive money from an investor. The day someone believes in your idea so much they show up with their checkbook. The TV show Shark Tank unabashedly captures the exuberance that comes with that financial backing.

This guy is not your friend.

This guy is not your friend.

However, the opposite should be true…

Instead of popping open champagne in celebration, a lonely evening with a bottle of scotch would be more appropriate. Getting VC money, particularly if your business is pre-profit, is practically a kiss of death.

You have a better chance of winning at craps in Vegas than your company does of succeeding and becoming profitable after your VC check.

Let me clarify that VC money and outside investors, are the same thing. Whether money comes from a major VC company or your father-in-law, outside investment too early is the real problem.

The facts are simple, 75% of venture backed businesses fail according to research by Shikhar Ghosh, a Harvard Business School lecturer.

By comparison, overall only 55% of business startups fail after 5 years. In other words, venture backed businesses are 36% more likely to fail than startups overall in the first 5 years.

So if you’re spending most of your time as a startup seeking out VC funding, you are, statistically speaking, setting yourself up for failure.

Why are so many startups obsessed with outside investments?

The answer is pretty simple. The VC’s want you to be.

Anyone familiar with silicon valley knows of Peter Thiel and how he made his billions on Paypal (a company he co-founded) and Facebook which he bought into in 2004 for $500k in exchange for more than 10% of ownership.

What most people don’t realize is that he’s also invested in over 40 other companies of which you’ve probably never heard of any of them.

This is how venture capitalists work. Even if only 1 out of 4 businesses last, they can still be way ahead of the game. More importantly, they can still win big with an IPO even if the business fails shortly thereafter.

In other words, they don’t much care if your business succeeds.

Why do VC-backed businesses fail at such a high rate?

The Business Genome Project studied over 3200 startups to find out why they fail and their results should be common sense…

The #1 reason 74% of startups fail is premature scaling.

In other words, pre-profit, pre-revenue, or sometimes pre-customer start-ups start hiring and investing in infrastructure.

This is, quite frankly, insane!

Until you can get a sale and a customer, you have no business whatsoever trying to “grow” your business through hiring.

The reason these VC-backed businesses fail is the same reason government is so inefficient. The startup is now playing with someone else’s money.

The founder now no longer feels the pain of losing everything or the need to scrape by on table-scraps when he has $1,000,000 in the bank today after having $0 yesterday.

In the 2 years since my internet lead-generation business started, I’ve had numerous offers from investors that I’ve never accepted for one main reason:

The only thing more money would do for us now is make us less efficient more quickly.

This is true of every business in the early stages.
Even the 25% of VC-backed businesses that succeed are made less efficient with large checks.

As a start-up, you lose either way.

If you get VC money, most likely you’re going to fail. If you don’t fail, then you just gave up a very sizable chunk of your business and control.

The whole concept that to be successful at business you must take risks is ridiculous. The greatest entrepreneurs rarely take major risks and any risks they take are painstakingly calculated. The Heath brothers discuss this in their free Kindle book, The Myth of the Garage.

High risk examples of VC-backed businesses

If you’re still looking forward to that first VC check, let me give you a few examples of businesses that went that route.

  • SnapChat – Valued at $4 billion dollars with $0 in revenue and no plans for generating any revenue.
  • 4Square – Valued at $600 million dollars with $2 million in revenue.
  • Living Social – After being one of the hottest tech startups in the country, it posted a $566 million 3rd quarter loss in October 2012 and I wouldn’t bet on it being around in 10 years.
  • Groupon – Which IPOed at over $26 to drop all the way to $2.60 only to now start rebounding back to $10.65 while still losing $.15/share.
  • Yodle – Though this business is currently profitable and will probably stay that way, they took a major gamble when they took a profitable start-up with $700k in revenue and leveraged it until it wasn’t profitable again until they had over $100 million in revenue. That’s an extremely large risk to take. I do commend them, however, for proving the business model first.
  • Zynga – IPOed in December 2011 around $9.50 before being hyped up to $14.69/share and since tanking to $2.09 and hovering between $2.60 and $4 for the last 52 weeks. Not surprisingly, it’s still not profitable.

Even when you take a group of industry veterans who should know better and put them together to make a “super team”, the injection of too much money too quickly inevitably causes inefficiency and often failure as we saw in the case of BlueGlass SEO.

This list could go on all day. The number of great business ideas and innovations that have been harmed by too much money too early is far larger than those helped.

The concept of riding your idea to change the world a la Mark Zuckerberg is so strong, here’s a list of companies who turned down $100 million dollar buyout offers including Viddy, 4Square, Qwiki and Path.

Keep in mind, many of the VC’s who invested early in the businesses above made a killing when those companies went public or simply sought additional rounds of funding. They made their money on the hype of the IPOs not on the profits of the businesses.

The point is, it’s good business for the VC’s but rarely good business for the businesses themselves.

Private Companies with Higher Profit than their Peers

Here are a few examples of how growing profitably has created great companies.

  • Chick Fil-A – $400 million in revenue with no outside capital investments (privately owned)
  • Leo Burnett – $600 million in revenue with no outside capital investments (privately owned)
  • State Farm – no outside capital investments and now has over 18,000 agents.
  • Northwestern Mutual – privately owned and the largest provider of individual direct life insurance in the US

All of these businesses were case studies from the book The Loyalty Effect.

What’s most impressive is that the author didn’t seek out privately owned companies with no outside investments when searching for the most profitable businesses within an industry.

Instead, once he found the most profitable businesses in an industry he realized those were a few things they had in common.

He then examined these businesses and their industries and learned that avoiding outside investments was a major factor in their successes.

Lessons from VC’s

As of the end of 2012:
Apple’s Market Cap was $392BN on Revenue of $156.5 BN for a multiple of 2.5x revenue
Amazon’s Market Cap was $115BN on Revenue of $61BN for a multiple of 1.88x revenue
Netflix’s Market Cap was $12BN on Revenue of $3.6BN for a multiple of 3.33x revenue
Facebook’s Market Cap was $64BN on Revenue of $5.1BN for a multiple of 12.5x revenue
Recently 4Square’s Market Valuation was $600 million on Revenue of $2M for a multiple of 300x revenue

In other words, to match the revenue multiplier of Facebook, 4Square will have to grow its revenue by 2,400% to $48 million.

Maybe 4Square has something up its sleeve to grow revenues 24 fold in the next few years… After all, these VC guys have made billions so they know what they are doing.

Not exactly.

It’s a gamble. A big one. One that’s reliant on public opinion more than actual business fundamentals. That’s what VCs bank on. That’s why Thiel quickly sold the majority of his shares when Facebook went public while making $1 billion dollars.

In other words, early-stage VC’s couldn’t care less if most companies they’ve invested in fail. All they need is for the company to go public to cash out. Even then they only need a small percentage of their investments to go public to make money.

Take the story Tony Hsieh told in his book Delivering Happiness.

After making $30 million on his first web venture, he became a VC and lost almost all of his money by investing in around 30 different ideas. He finally decided to take Zappos over himself and pour in everything he had left in terms of time, money, and passion.

Considering he grew Zappos to over $1 billion in revenue before selling to Amazon, you could say that one paid off. But he was extremely close to losing everything.

He didn’t have to drive himself to the brink of bankruptcy (something he seemed to learn as well) to build a profitable business.

Most ideas don’t need millions of dollars prior to turning a profit to prove a concept. That’s one thing that made Zappos unique. The founder who came to Hsieh with the idea actually proved that it worked by creating his own crude website, selling shoes, and then going down to local shoe retailers to buy the shoes and ship them off.

That method wasn’t profitable but it did PROVE that people would indeed buy shoes online. Once you know that, it’s a lot easier to determine how buying shoes at wholesale, eliminating expensive store fronts, and utilizing an efficient nationwide delivery system can make internet sales of shoes highly profitable.

Considering Hsieh seems to have forced out the original founder (a topic he doesn’t explain in his book) that’s also more proof that VC’s are rarely your friend.

Unfortunately, the rare stories of companies like Instagram and 4Square, along with Shark Tank and the Inc 500, do not put the focus on how to grow a business profitably. They put the focus on securing funding, top-line growth, and cashing out.

That’s how the VC and early-stage outside investors like it.

Unfortunately, that’s very rarely what’s best for your startup.

To your startup success, Bryan

P.S. People who point out problems without providing solutions rarely fully understand the issue. Hopefully my next blog on funding your startup will provide you ideas on some better alternatives to venture capital.

The quickest way to $1,000,000 – Stock Market? Real Estate? Business?

Unless you’re a doctor, lawyer, or work on wall street most people will never be able to become millionaires without one or more of the above methods for generating wealth. As a matter of fact, less than 12% of millionaires get that way by virtue of their “jobs” according to The Millionaire Next Door. So what’s the easiest/best path to becoming a millionaire? Keep in mind, that we’re not talking about a get-rich-quick scheme, but instead the old fashioned way to make $1,000,000 as I blogged about before.

The most important concept to understand is leverage. The goal is always to do more with less. Whether that’s make more money with less invested or more money with less time, the more you can leverage your current assets the more quickly you’ll be able to acheive millionaire status. Now which option – stocks, real estate, or small business provide the greatest leverage?

In reverse order:

  1. Stock market – Once you acheive $1,000,000 in your bank account you can put that into a CD at your local bank for 5% and live comfortably off of your $50,000 per year in interest. Also, once you acheive a net worth of over a million with income of over $250,000 your stock broker can get you access to buying public shares at wholesale prices. In other words, the more money you have to invest the cheaper your per share investment will be. The problem with stocks is that you have to have money to leverage the stock market. Unless of course you can convince a bunch of other people to invest with you in which case you can leverage their money. However if you did that you would no longer be an investor you’d be in business. 😉 Typically a stock market investment prior to becoming a millionaire might look something like this. You invest $5,000 after doing your thorough research on EBB LLC and after a year manage a 20% return. That’s a VERY ideal situation but if you did that you’d cash out in a year with $6,000 or $1,000 profit. Not bad but not a whole lot of leverage there. If instead you invested $20,000 and you’re the next Warren Buffet who can sustain a 20% annual return for 21.5 years you’d be a millionaire. That’s before taxes of course.
  2. Real Estate – If you’ve been around real estate at all you’ve heard the often touted “statistic” that “real estate makes more people millionaires than anything else.” I say “statistic” because I’ve never seen hard evidence to back this up and even if someone produced it, I believe they’d be showing that people are paper millionaires. In other words, on paper their real estate is worth $1,000,000 if they sold it for a $1,000,000 but they don’t exactly have a million smackers in the bank. Real estate is beneficial however in that it gives you much greater leveraging power than the stock market. For instance if you buy a $100,000 property with $5,000 down (which would be tough these days) you would then have around a $600/month mortgage. If you then rent the property to someone else for $1000/month you now have a positive monthly cashflow of $400. Now here’s where the leverage comes in, if the property appreciates 5% in one year and then you sell it (by yourself of course since a realtor would take your profits), you would cash out with $14,800. Let’s say after insurance, maintenance, taxes and other expenses you actually walk away with $10,000. You invested $5k to begin with so you made $5,000 or a 100% return on your investment. Obviously this is an ideal situation however I’ve personally done nearly 100% in less than 22 months so it is definitely possible. If you were able to maintain a 50% return on your real estate investments every year by acquiring positive cashflow rental properties (with the first one worth $200,000) that appreciate at 5% annually you’d be a millionaire in a little less than 10 years. As a matter of fact, in Robert G. Allen’s book Nothing Down for the 2000s, he proposes just such a strategy to help you become a millionaire within 10 years. It’s actually a very good book that I personally credit for inspiring me to buy my first rental property at 21 while enrolled in engineering school. Obviously real estate offers quite a bit more leverage…
  3. Small Business – Here’s the bottom line, with around $5,000 out of pocket I’ve structured a business purchase that has yielded me in perks and compensation more than a 14 fold return on my investment within 12 months. That’s right, a 1400% increase on my initial investment in less than 12 months. Keep in mind, that’s on my very first business purchase and that’s without even selling the business yet. Since I’ve nearly doubled the profits in the business in my first 12 months, I would tend to think that my ROI will actually be well in excess of a 20 fold increase on my money. To make the math a little simpler, a 20 fold increase would be like investing $5,000 and getting back $100,000.

Now to make the comparison more accurate we need to take into account 2 more crucial pieces:

  1. Time
  2. Taxes

The only time I ever made money in the stock market required me to invest a lot of time in research before investing. Once I make those investments I should just be able to stick with them for years and so very little “maintenance” is needed. However that’s the get-rich-slowly method since we have little to no leverage of our money. So if your time is very limited this may be what’s best for you. However with capital gains around 35% your actual profits will be much smaller since when you cash in your stocks you’ll be taxed around 35% on the profits. There are creative ways to reduce that number but in the interest of simplicity we’ll leave it as-is.

When I had my rental property while studying engineering I was able to sufficiently manage my house, classes (while averaging over 21 credits per term), and racing so, though the time investment was constant and sometimes unexpected (like the time when the toilet exploded when I was a state away), it shouldn’t take over your life. Once you get 10-15 properties that’s a different story. As for taxes, real estate actually can be a great tax shelter however if you’re making money and your properties are appreciating you’re probably looking at close to 30% in taxes. I say that because capital gains on your profit will still be 35% however you have more deductions and, if you run it like a business, you can give yourself perks like business travel, laptops, mileage reimbursement, etc.

My business nearly consumes all of my time. Ironically, at the same time, I have more freedom now than I’ve ever had before as either a student or under the employ of someone else. In other words, I may have to trade a Saturday this weekend for skipping out next Friday for a long weekend but I don’t have to ask permission to do so. Overall my business is a full-time job that could still afford me the time for stock market investing and real estate speculation, but could not afford me (at this point) time for a normal full-time job. With 1-3 rental homes it’s very possible to have a normal full time job. The tax benefits of a business are so many and varied that I pay less than 20% of total income in income taxes.

If we take all of those into account here’s how our returns actually look:

  1. Stock Market – (after taxes and assuming a normal full-time job) $650 or 13%
  2. Real Estate – (after taxes and assuming a normal full-time job) $3,500 or 70%
  3. Small Business – (after taxes and deducting the salary I’ve been offered as an engineer) – $18,000 or 420%

So even after taking into account both my time investment (which wouldn’t be nearly as flexible working for someone else as an engineer) and tax consequences, investing in a Small Business as your first step to generating wealth is the best one because it offers by far the greatest leverage. Don’t forget that my ROI for Small Business still assumes that I make absolutely no additional profit when I sell the business. Obviously I don’t plan on that happening. 😉

To your wealth generating success, Bryan

P.S. My original out of pocket expenses for my business purchase were all lawyers fees that were reimbursed by my new business shortly after buying it which meant my inital cash investment was tied up for maybe 90 days versus the entire year for both stocks and real estate.