James Altucher is a serial entrepreneur that has founded or co-founded more than 20 businesses, including Reset Inc. and StockPickr. He is also the author of 17 books, including Choose Yourself! and the Wall Street Journal best-seller The Power of No.
Altucher’s work can also be found on his blog and in online publications sites such as The Financial Times, TheStreet, The New York Observer and The Huffington Post. Most recently, he has become known for his popular podcasts, The James Altucher Show, Ask Altucher and Question of the Day.
With a resume like his, I expected Altucher to dispense standard, heard-before business advice, but he definitely did not. Read on for seven unique perspectives on achieving success in business and in life.
1. Don’t take giant risks.
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The word entrepreneur has almost become synonymous with risk-taker or adventure-seeker. But Altucher took the adventurous route and it lead him to bankruptcy — twice. Now, he advises entrepreneurs to do what he did in the early days: Build a business on the side.
“People think, ‘I’m gonna start the Uber for maids,’ or whatever,” he says. “That’s risky.” Altucher had about a dozen employees, a dozen clients and an office 20 blocks away from his day job.
“Finally, 18 months later, I quit my job at HBO,” he says. “Kept them as a client, by the way … So it’s all about mitigating risk.”
2. Don’t worry about your purpose.
Almost every day, Altucher gets emails from people asking him about how to find their passion or their purpose in life. That question is the problem, he says, leading many people to disappointment and frustration. Instead, he says he believes we are happier if we are flexible.
“I don’t like the question, ‘What do you do?'” he says. “Since the age of 27 I’ve probably changed careers — not just jobs, but careers — 15 times. You have to reinvent yourself every couple of years.”
3. Don’t worry about the numbers.
At the start, many entrepreneurs are focused on their first round of capital and the amount of equity they can keep, as any episode of Shark Tank will demonstrate. Instead, Altucher says, if they focus on being the best at solving problems, the money will come.
“Many people are greedy about percentages,” he says. “Don’t worry about getting rich. Worry about perfecting a craft. Be the best in the world at solving something that really annoys other people.”
One astounding fact about Altucher is that he doesn’t set quarterly goals or regular benchmarks. Instead, he focuses on themes: physical health, emotional health, creativity and gratitude. He strives to simply do better today than he did yesterday in each of these themes.
“That I can do,” he says. “It’s a much better recipe for happiness.”
4. Do create a destination.
In today’s digital culture, everyone wants to find and build traffic. Rightfully so. But Altucher cautions that you have to build a traffic-worthy destination. Many record stores and book stores, he explains, failed to transition from stores to destinations, so they went out of business.
Altucher boosted traffic with StockPickr, the “Facebook of Finance” that he created in 2006 and sold for $10 million in 2007. The platform was profitable from day one, so Altucher arranged to give away a percentage of the business to TheStreet.com in exchange for ads and four daily articles, written by him.
“Each article would link three times to my site,” he says, “so suddenly, I was getting an enormous amount of traffic.”
As momentum picked up, Altucher decided to sell his half of the business.
“I called AOL, Reuters, Yahoo, InterActiveCorp, Forbes … TheStreet.com, of course, and Google, and I said, ‘Okay, we launched. I can’t do this myself.'” And that, he explains, is how you create a frenzy around your buyout.
5. Do turn customers into friends.
Business today is often the opposite of friendly. People prefer forms over emails, emails over phone calls, phone calls over in-person meetings. But Altucher believes that you need to be in contact with a new client every day for your first 100 days. Clients don’t want a vendor-customer relationship, he says, explaining that you should over-promise and over-deliver for them.
“You kind of want a friend, so part of building a customer relationship is also building a real friendship,” he says. “That’s what life’s about, let alone business. Business is just a subset of life.”
6. Do stay grateful.
Altucher emphasizes that one of the most important things entrepreneurs can do is practice daily gratitude. Go deeper than the easy thoughts, like gratitude for your children. When you’re in a difficult situation, such as losing your biggest customer or a large amount of money, flex the gratitude muscle. Altucher calls that a difficult gratitude problem, and he tries to solve one every day.
“No one thinks, ‘Oh, how can I be good at gratitude?'” he says. “It’s actually really hard. And to exercise, to make that muscle sweat, is incredibly valuable.”
7. Don’t neglect the basics.
In terms of his creativity habits, health habits and daily routines, Altucher focuses on the basics. To him, the basics are eating well, sleeping well and light exercise. People obsess about methods and trends, but the details, he says, don’t matter that much.
“‘Should I be paleo? Should I eat plants? Should I do this? Should I do that?’ That’s the final five percent,” he says. “Worry about that after you get the basics done.”
He also makes sure he exercises his creative muscles, which he believes otherwise atrophy. He does this by coming up with 10 ideas to solve problems — any and all kinds of problems — every day.
Another basic principle? Surround yourself with great people. We have a short life, Altucher says, and we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. “Choose yourself by choosing to spend time with the best people.”
Watch more videos from “The Pursuit” on the show’s YouTube channel.
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