Written Tom Bernthal
I’m starting to think we have a billionaire problem. For 15 years, I’ve been fielding questions from business school students and doing my best to advise them, but lately the conversations are all about unicorns. No longer is it enough to pursue a mere million-dollar idea. Many of today’s MBA graduates say they won’t rest for less than a bill-. Here’s why that’s terrible news:
Do the numbers.
Whether they’ll admit it freely or not, most entrepreneurs starting out are motivated primarily by money. It’s what they want and what they believe will satisfy whatever itch got them to B-school. The trouble is, you don’t need a billion dollars to be successful. In fact, you’re practically guaranteeing failure by setting the success goal at 10 figures. USC is No. 5 among universities that mint billionaires (the University of Pennsylvania is No. 1, if you’re wondering) but that hardly makes every alum Marc Benioff.
Only one out of every 600,000 Americans becomes a billionaire but the chances of becoming a millionaire are higher than ever in 2017. It’s one in 30. I’ll take those odds any day — not because it’s easy; it’s not — but rather it broadens the aperture on the kind of business you’re running. It frees you to do meaningful work. It keeps you sane.
It’s true what they say: mo money, mo problems.
Biggie Smalls was right. Mountains of cash can really mess with your day. Gargantuan companies tend to move slower and are less adaptable than smaller startups or service businesses, and they’re way more risk averse. The scrutiny from investors and Wall Street is enormous, and so is the pressure to take the company public. Many businesses are better off staying private, focusing on quality rather than meteoric (aka “uncontrolled”) growth, and on providing solutions to problems that still generate enviable, steady returns.
At the risk of sounding like the old guy here, I think the wisest move is to master the basics first. Determine your market, satisfy unmet needs, and make sure your systems, teams, operations and strategies are in place. Build that base. Be great at one thing. Then maybe we can talk about pulling a Facebook.
Happiness costs less.
Bill Gates, of all people, gives perhaps the best explanation for why billionaires are overrated. He told a group of University of Washington students, “I can understand wanting to have millions of dollars, there’s a certain freedom, meaningful freedom, that comes with that. But, once you get much beyond that, I have to tell you, it’s the same hamburger.” The same hamburger. I like that. Work is work, in other words. The key is to actually enjoy what you’re doing.
Our agency does exceptionally well by helping clients develop creative ways to evolve and grow in a changing world. Is it the fastest path to an IPO? Almost certainly not. But, is it fun, engaging and deeply rewarding to collaborate on projects that have real impact on the world? You bet your unicorn it is.