James Altucher’s new book How To Be The Luckiest Person Alive looks at the Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual aspects of his life as an investor.
Like most of James’ writing, this one is funny, personal and insightful, with a decent amount of “lifehacking” thrown in for good measure.
Although its a fun book to read, many Amazon reviewers said they found it inspiring. James describes how to develop a “lucky attitude.”
“Why do I like James Altucher so much? Is it his brutal honesty? Is it is rapid-fire writing style, half comedy, half serious great advice? This little “book” is actually a collection of his blog postings over the last couple of years- but that is not an insult. Who wouldn’t pay for what is essentially a notebook of his ideas, lessons learned, and tips on entrepreneurship?”
“This book is a detailed training session for a happier, less stressful, more successful life. It actually gives you step-by-step advice on how to achieve all the above (and many more). It prepares you like an athlete prepares for the Olympics. It is not a theoretical book but a practical one.”
“This book both teaches and entertains. Many important and essential lessons in life and, of course, business to be learned. Highly recommended no matter what field you’re in. You’ll be glad you read it.”
“This book is a must-read if you are an entrepreneur, budding, or already an your way to a “liquidity event.” For the rest of us, his thoughts on the “Daily Practice” are worth a thousand times the price of the book. Well done.”
Sample chapter after the jump . . .
HOW TO BE THE LUCKIEST PERSON ALIVE
I told my dad, “I’m a lucky guy.” He said, “But are you lucky in love?” I was six years old. Love was the most disgusting thing in the world to me. What the hell was he talking about? Love was living in another neighborhood at that time. Or another planet. It would be years before Love stuck its ugly little nose into my house and said, “Hello, anyone here?
Luck was all about rolling the dice. Or finding a quarter on the ground. Or seeing a double rainbow after a quick storm.
But now I’m different. I’m constantly checking in and out of the Hospital of No Luck. I’m older. I need luck to be constantly transfused into me or I run out of it. Without luck, I’m dead. For me, good luck equals happiness. On a scale of happiness from 0 to 10, I think I’m about a nine.
But that’s a big improvement. When I was lying on the floor after my divorce, or after my first big business failed, or after I lost my beautiful apartment in NYC, or after I lost my father, I was probably about a zero. Or at different points in this story, I was maybe at negative. So I’m trending upwards. I get lucky when I stick to three simple goals:
My ONLY Three Goals in Life
A) I want to be happy.
B) I want to eradicate unhappiness in my life.
C) I want every day to be as smooth as possible. No hassles.
That’s it. I’m not asking for much. I need simple goals else I can’t achieve them.
There’s been at least ten times in my life that everything seemed so low I felt like I would never achieve the above three things and the world would be better off without me. Other times I felt like I was stuck at a crossroads and would never figure out which road to take. Each time I bounced back.
When I look back at these times now I realize there was a common thread. Each time there were four things, and only four things, that were always in place in order for me to bounce back. Now I try to incorporate these four things into a daily practice so I never dip low again.
The Daily Practice
A) Physical – being in shape. Doing some form of exercise. In 2003 I woke up at 5am every day and from 5-6am I played “Round the World” on a basketball court overlooking the Hudson River. Every day (except when it rained). Trains would pass and people at 5:30am would wave to me out the window. Now, I try to do yoga every day. But it’s hard. All you need to do, minimally, is exercise enough to break a sweat for 10 minutes. So about 20-30 minutes worth of exercise a day. This is not to get “ripped” or “shredded”. But just to be healthy. You can’t be happy if you aren’t healthy. Also, spending this time helps your mind better deal with its daily anxieties. If you can breathe easy when your body is in pain then it’s easier to breathe during difficult situations. Here are other things that are a part of this but a little bit harder:
Wake up by 4-5am every day.
Go to sleep by 8:30-9. (Good to sleep 8 hours a night!)
No eating after 5:30pm. Can’t be happy if indigested at night.
B) Emotional– If someone is a drag on me I cut them out. If someone lifts me up, I bring them closer. Nobody is sacred here. When the plane is going down, put the oxygen mask on your face first. Family, friends, and people I love – I always try to be there for them and help. But I don’t get close to anyone bringing me down. This rule can’t be broken. Energy leaks out of you if someone is draining you. And I never owe anyone an explanation. Explaining is draining.
This doesn’t mean abandon those who need you. Quite the opposite. If you are a clean river, then people can drink from you. If you are dirty water, then people will get sick.
Another important rule: always be honest. It’s fun. Nobody is honest anymore and people are afraid of it. Try being honest for a day (without being hurtful). It’s amazing where the boundaries are of how honest one can be. It’s much bigger than I thought. A corollary of this is: I never do anything I don’t want to do. Like I NEVER go to weddings.
C) Mental – Every day I write down ideas. I write down so many ideas that it hurts my head to come up with one more. Then I try to write down five more. The other day I tried to write 100 alternatives kids can do other than go to college. I wrote down eight. I couldn’t come up with anymore. Then the next day I came up with another 40. It definitely stretched my head. No ideas today? Memorize all the legal 2 letter words for Scrabble. Translate the Tao Te Ching into Spanish. Need ideas for lists of ideas? Come up with 30 separate chapters for an “autobiography”. Try to think of 10 businesses you can start from home (and be realistic how you can execute them?). Think of 20 ways Obama can improve the country. List every productive thing you did yesterday (this improves memory also and gives you ideas for today).
The “idea muscle” atrophies within days if you don’t use it. Just like walking. If you don’t use your legs for a week, they atrophy. You need to exercise the idea muscle. It takes about 3-6 months to build up once it atrophies. Trust me on this.
You can get 100 waiter pads for almost nothing at any number of restaurant supply shops on the Internet. Use waiter pads. This forces you to list things rather than write. And you feel a sense of accomplishment by filling up pages quickly. Plus its cheap.
D) Spiritual. I feel that most people don’t like the word “spiritual”. They think it means “god”. Or “religion”. But it doesn’t. I don’t know what it means actually. But I feel like I have a spiritual practice when I do one of the following:
Pray (doesn’t matter if I’m praying to a god or to dead people or to the sun or to a chair in front of me – it just means being thankful. And not taking all the credit, for just a few seconds of the day).
Meditate – Meditation for more than a few minutes is hard. It’s boring. You can also meditate for 15 seconds by really visualizing what it would be like meditate for 60 minutes. Here’s a simple meditation: sit in a chair, keep the back straight, watch yourself breathe. If you get distracted, no problem. Just pull yourself back to your breath. Try it for 5 minutes. Then six.
Being grateful – I try to think of everyone in my life I’m grateful for. Then I try to think of more people. Then more. It’s hard.
Forgiving – I picture everyone who has done me wrong. I visualize gratefulness for them (but not pity).
Studying. If I read a spiritual text (doesn’t matter what it is: Bible, Tao Te Ching, anything Zen related, even inspirational self-help stuff, doesn’t matter) I tend to feel good. This is not as powerful as praying or meditating (it doesn’t train your mind to cut out the BS) but it still makes me feel good.
My own experience: I can never achieve the three “simple” goals on a steady basis without doing the above practice on a daily basis. And EVERY TIME I’ve hit bottom (or close to a bottom or I’ve been at some sort of crossroads.) and started doing the above 4 items (1991, 1995, 1997, 2002, 2006, 2008) magic would happen:
A) Within about one month, I’d notice coincidences start to happen. I’d start to feel lucky. People would smile at me more.
B) Within three months the ideas would really start flowing, to the point where I felt overwhelming urges to execute the ideas.
C) Within six months, good ideas would start flowing, I’d begin executing them, and everyone around me would help me put everything together.
D) Within a year my life was always completely different. 100% upside down from the year before. More money, more luck, more health, etc. And then I’d get lazy and stop doing the practice. And everything falls apart again. But now I’m trying to do it every day.
It’s hard to do all of this every day. Nobody is perfect. I don’t know if I’ll do all of these things today. But I know when I do it, it works.
HOW I SCREWED YASSER ARAFAT OUT OF 2MM WHILE LOSING ANOTHER 100MM IN THE PROCESS
I needed to make one hundred million dollars pretty fast. You know how it is. There are bills to pay. There are things you want to do in life. I wanted, for instance, to work as a cashier in a bookstore. But with a twist. I would own the bookstore. I wanted to do a 90 second ad in the SuperBowl which would just be me walking around for 90 seconds saying and doing nothing. People would argue afterwards, “He could’ve used that money for charity. How selfish!” But I wouldn’t care. It was my money and I could do what I want with it. I would be teaching this grand lesson to all the people watching the Superbowl. I had no other specific desires about what I would do with one hundred million dollars. Just those two. But I knew more things would come.
At the time (1999) I had recently made money selling a company in the web services business. Among other things, my company made the website for the movie, “The Matrix”. I knew I was Neo but I wouldn’t be able to take the red pill until I had my first hundred million. That was the pill that would let me be a real person. The pill that would allow me to be fully alive.
So I came up with an idea. It was a catchphrase and I would use it many times over the next six months. “First there was the wireLINE internet. Then there was the wireLESS internet. Which would be ten times bigger.”
Those three sentences (or maybe it’s one if you use commas) were my path to $100 million. Here’s what you do then once you have your catchphrase. I had a business partner who wasn’t shy. So he called up 20 companies in the wireless software business and said, “We want to buy your company.” We had no money to buy anybody but if you ever let that slow you down you might as well run around naked in a football stadium with 60,000 people watching you.
One company responded. A company called “MobileLogic” out of Denver. They flew in and we took them out to breakfast at the Royalton Hotel on 44th Street. It’s a fancy breakfast place. The sort of place Rupert Murdoch orders the pancakes, chews it up, spit’s it out without swallowing, and then orders granola to be healthy.
We’re all sitting around a table. “It’s fortunate that you called,” the CEO of MobileLogic said to us. “Since Ericsson just offered us seventeen million and we’re thinking of taking it.” “Why would you take that,” I said. “We’ll offer you twenty million, half cash, half stock. That stock alone will be worth one hundred million or more once we go public. We have five other companies we’ll buy after you. You’ll be President of a major company that’s going public, pronto. Ericsson is the old generation. Be a part of something new and exciting.”
I love the pancakes at the Royalton. They whip the eggs into the batter. It’s fluffy and delicious. And the bacon is thick and the bacon juices spill into your mouth as you bite into it. Life was good. Jerry Levin might very well have been at the table next to us buying AOL right in front of our eyes. That’s how good life was then.
They took our offer. We quickly wrote up a binding LOI which they signed. We negotiated their salaries, their options, their earn out, everything. Now we needed to pay them twenty million dollars. We knew we could pay half the twenty in stock. So that was easy. That was a piece of paper. Now we had to come up with the other ten.
No problem. Because suddenly I had a real asset. I had a binding LOI for a company with $5-10mm in revenues (despite my propensity to remember every detail of my childhood, I can’t remember how much in revenues this company I was buying in 1999 had). There were companies going public then with zero dollars in revenues that were now worth over a hundred trillion dollars.
So, with some partners who were excellent middlemen I started going to potential investors. Mark Patterson, who was then vice chairman of CSFB and is now the head of multi-billion dollar hedge fund Maitlin-Patterson set up a conference call with a few small investors. One call he set up was with Henry Kravis, Leo Hindery, Jim McMann (CEO of 1800-Flowers) and Dennis something or other who just sold a huge Irish telecom company and was worth a random billion or so. I gave a fifteen minute talk. I described my background and the company I had sold. Then I used my catchphrase (see above) and scoped out the opportunity (“10x the size of the wireline internet”) and that was the call. Henry Kravis asked a question. I can’t remember what it was now because all I kept thinking was “you were the barbarian at the gate and now I’m the barbarian.”
Right after the call, Mark Patterson’s phone started ringing. Mark told me, “Henry wants to wire five million right now.” But we only took one from him. Too many other people wanted to invest. Everyone on that 15 minute conference call put in one million each.
At another meeting to raise money, I had to describe what we did. I wasn’t even totally sure what MobileLogic did. We protected data that was in corporate databases but was being sent out to the sales forces through wireless devices that we set up. It was pretty solid. I said, “the data goes to the satellite and then comes down to our devices.”
“I thought the data didn’t go through satellites. Doesn’t data go through cellular towers?” someone named Mamoon asked.
Uh-oh. That seemed to make more sense than satellites. “Sometimes,” I answered.
And they put five million in. Frank Quattrone put money in. Sam Waksal, Allen & Co. CMGI. The list goes on. We were the hot investment for three seconds. One guy who had initially rejected us but then saw the list of investors called me at two in the morning and said: “please let me put in a million.”
So we closed on thirty million dollars and bought our first company. Then we bought a second company. A consulting company called Katahdin. They had nothing to do with wireless but they had profits. We’d bury them in the IPO story but make use of their profits. Then we bought a third company. I can’t even remember their name but they were a spinoff from MIT. Right away we were getting calls. Aether Systems wanted to buy us but we said no. They only wanted to pay fifty million for the company. A banker at CS First Boston told us he could get us seventy five million no problem. But we didn’t even listen to him. In the elevator we laughed at him. What an old fool! We were going for an IPO.
Every bank came in with a PowerPoint and a team of young people to pitch us. Goldman, CSFB, Merrill, Lehman, etc. CSFB was the front runner because Frank Quattrone was an investor but Merrill made a strong pitch. The pitch was funny. The top Merrill banker was there. He said to the associate on the deal, “John, walk them through the numbers.” And John said, “uhh, my name is Roy”. Two other things I remember from the pitch. The first was, “Henry Blodget will be the analyst on this deal. He loves wireless.” Which made no sense to me since he was an Internet consumer analyst.
The other thing I remember was the back page of the presentation. The beautiful back page. The only page that mattered. It had what my net worth would be if we IPOed and the market valued us similar to Aether Systems. I would be worth something like nine hundred million dollars.
I knew exactly what bookstore I wanted to buy. It would be Shakespeare & Company on Broadway. None of the other employees would know that I would be the owner. And I would work just stacking books and being the guy at the cash register. My secret would give me infinite power.
I didn’t know how to be CEO of this company. And because I didn’t really know any of the employees of the companies we were buying I was feeling very shy. I would call my secretary before I arrived at work and ask her if anyone was in the hallway and could she please unlock my office door. Then I would hurry into the office and lock the door behind me.
Eventually they replaced me as CEO. Even later, when we had to rise up to another 70 million, they asked me to step off as a director on the board. At one point I arranged for a reverse merger to occur. We’d be public at least at a hundred million dollar valuation. But the guy behind the reverse merger turned out to have a checkered past and had spent some time in jail in 1969 for either embezzlement or something to do with transporting fake diamonds. But that’s another story.
None of this portrays me in a good light at all. Except for maybe the fact that I was a good salesman during the greatest bubble in world history. But it was decade ago and I don’t mind what people think.
But I did learn several things that became incredibly important to me later:
A) If you have to raise thirty million to start your business, it’s probably not a good business (at least for me). All of my good businesses (businesses that I started that I eventually sold and made money on) started off profitable from day one and never raised a dime of money.
B) Most M&A transactions don’t work. When you buy a company, it’s very hard to keep the owners of the old company incentivized. 90% of acquisitions don’t work. Build your business. Don’t buy it.
C) A lesson I learn repeatedly: traveling for business almost never generates more revenues. New York (and America) is big enough a place to generate revenues. You should never travel. In the course of doing this business I traveled repeatedly to the west coast, Denver, England (to try and buy a company), Sweden (where Ericsson was based), Germany (Ericsson wanted me to show up at a conference for one day), Georgia, Florida, Boston, etc. etc. Not a single meeting generated any revenues for the business but wasted hundreds of hours of my life.
D) Hiring smart people doesn’t work if you aren’t smart. Everything ultimately comes from the top down.
E) Spending a lot of money on branding and marketing materials is a waste of money for a startup. If you don’t know who you are, no amount of money will create materials explaining who you are.
F) If you are going to raise thirty million for a business, then raise a hundred million if you can. Don’t turn down Henry Kravis’s five million. It doesn’t matter how badly you get diluted. If you have to raise money, take in every dime you can.
G) MOST IMPORTANT: If you raise thirty million, spend none of it. Warren Buffett once said: “if you know a business will be around 20 years from now then it’s probably a good investment.” With thirty million we could’ve stayed in business for 20 years or more and eventually figured ourselves out. Instead, I spent forty million in the first month or so. I learned a lot, and over a hundred million was lost.
Eventually Vaultus (the name of the company. I think I forgot to mention it until now) was sold to Antenna Software. I made no money, as I rightfully shouldn’t.
Four years later, I was on a train to Boston with my business partner. It was 5 in the morning and we were going up to visit a hedge fund we were invested in. He was reading Bloomberg magazine. “Holy shit,” he said, waking me up. He showed me an article in the magazine. It was about Yasser Arafat, who had just died. Turns out he had a front corporation that was making various investments for him from the money he had somehow made off of the PLO. His largest (or second largest) investment was two million dollars he had put into a “New York company, Vaultus, Inc.”. I can tell you for a fact his estate lost that two million. So, as they say in Brooklyn, it was good for the Jews.
. HOW TO SUCCEED IN L.A. WITHOUT REALLY TRYING
She asked me if she could play. I was in a bar in a hotel in LA going over a game on a portable chessboard while waiting for Steve to arrive so we could go out for dinner. This woman sat down about two seats from me, looked over, and then challenged me to a game.
It was almost surreal because nothing like that had ever happened to me before. It was like a scene from a chess movie only nobody would ever make a movie about chess. How could I refuse? So we started the first few moves and she wasn’t awful. She told me her last boyfriend was Benecio del Toro but now he wasn’t calling her back. And now she was playing chess with me. The only reason I was staying at this hotel, “The Bel Age”, was because that’s where the TV show Beverly Hills 90210 had their prom.
Steve finally arrived and I introduced them. I want to think she seemed sad to see me leave.
We left. I was thinking I was pretty cool at that moment. Steve was like, “what the fuck!? That was a high end prostitute!”
“No way,” I said, “she played chess.” Somehow all the circuitry in my brain was fried. Everything was on fire.
“Man,” he said, “she was a call girl. The last time I was in this hotel I saw [owner of now defunct record store chain] with prostitutes all over him. She was a call girl.”
Maybe it was the thought that she was “high end” made me feel a little better about it? I don’t know.
Steve and I went to dinner where we met up with a guy who had just gotten out of jail. Steve and I were tiny Jews in LA. This guy was the opposite of that. He was the size of three bathroom stalls put together. He said over dinner, “when [jailed famous hip hop mogul] gets out of jail, Snoop better be in hiding. I give him 30 days before Snoop is dead.” As we were walking out of dinner, he said to me: “I really like what you do. Can I stop by and hang out in your office next time I’m in New York?”
What can you say to that?
On the way back to the hotel I ask Steve if he’s going to pay his bills anytime soon. His company owed me $80k. I had a payroll of 40 people I had to make. Steve was in charge of Internet stuff for [famous record label]. “Why are you always asking me that?” Steve said, “Don’t you trust me? And your guy Adrian was threatening my secretary today. Tell him to back the fuck off or I’ll never fucking pay you.” Now I had to apologize because I never did business back then with a contract so I had nobody to sue. It was all “relationships”.
We stopped off at a bar where the owner of Steve’s record label was hanging out in a booth with two beautiful girls. He was a billionaire known for having multiple women around all the time. Steve introduced us and said to him: “you guys would get along. James plays chess.” And the guy said, “Oh yeah? I just sponsored the World Chess Championship with Kasparov” but then turned away and started kissing one of the girls.
At the bar was [famous comedian] whose TV show I had just done the website for. I was feeling shy but Steve laughed and encouraged me to go over and introduce myself. I went over to him and said: “Hey, sorry for interrupting but I’m a big fan. I just wanted to mention that I just did your website for your TV show.” He looked at me, squinted for a second or two and said, very, very slowly, “who. are. you.?” and then everyone around him laughed.
The next day I went over to UTA, the big talent agency that represented, among others, Jim Carrey. “We love your stuff,” they said, “we want to do something big with Jim Carrey. It has to be really really big.” I threw out some ideas. “We LOVE that. Let’s do it!” One guy said, “you should come with us to this party tonight.”
But I was unsure if I had other plans. An hour later, when my other plans canceled I called one of them and said, “hey, I can go to that party,” and he said, “oh, we made other plans but we LOVED your stuff. Call us next time you are in town and we’ll do something.” I never spoke to him again despite repeated calls when I got back to New York.
For one thing, I wear sweaters. And I don’t drive. People in LA don’t get either of those things. I tend to look different and stand out because I’m walking on the side of the road a lot.
I had breakfast the next morning with a guy who invented the kind of pen where it changes according to how your fingers press it. He was in his late 50s but was tan and fit. He wanted to make a website to sell his pens. He ordered pancakes and French toast but had only one bite of each. “I like to test things,” he said, “for my restaurant. You should stop by.” I had done a website once for a movie he produced. Headless Body In Topless Bar. “I lost a half million on that movie. You know what that’s like?” I said no.
He opened up his cellphone. “This is technology. This is where it’s going.” He had a speaker on the cellphone and called someone. A sleepy sounding woman answered, “Hello?” “Hello, baby,” he said, “Just showing my new friend this new technology.” Then he snapped it shut. “I don’t like you,” he said to me. “You didn’t comb your hair before you came to meet me and you’re disheveled. You should clean up a little if you want to do business with me.”
Later that day I had lunch with a friend of mine who had moved to LA a year earlier. She was now a Pilates instructor for [famous female comedian]. “I love it here,” she said. “It’s so much healthier.” I felt bad it never worked out with us (and I never had a chance) but she was married now and she really did look happy and healthy.
Later that night I took the red eye home. I can never sleep in planes so I try to read but I’m too tired and end up in this weird stupor while everyone sleeps in the dark around me. When I landed I went straight into the office. It was early and the sun was just creeping out. I could see the smoke from my breath in the cold air when I got into the cab. My sister was already at the office when I got there. “Hey!” she said, “how was LA?”
It was awesome.