Bill Gates, Bill Shatner, and Billionaires

“Yeah, that’s nothing. Peter would spend millions just to mildly annoy Gavin. These are billionaires, Richard. Annoying each other means more to them than we’ll make in a lifetime.” – Silicon Valley20170725_232152 (2)

So, I met William Shatner.  He wasn’t as thrilled as I was. I saw him sign this, for me.  It looked like he wanted to get to the Holiday Inn and soak his feet.

Part of great success is built by luck.

Yes, that’s a declarative sentence, and of course I know my old granddaddy Quintin Tarantino used to say, “The less a man makes declarative statements, the less apt he is to look foolish in retrospect,” but I’ll stick by this one.

One of my favorite stories is about an author who submitted his novel to about a zillion publishers, only to be turned down by all of them.  All of them.

He was working a crappy night job at a dry cleaner, and after the novel came back, in a fit of anger he threw it into the trash, right on top of last night’s dinner.  He had given up.  His wife, however, still had hope.  She picked the novel out of the trash.  She replaced the cover – the old one had gotten spaghetti sauce all over it – and she sent it in.

One more time.

The publisher loved it.  Soon a book contract.  Then a movie, “Carrie.”

Yeah, that was Stephen King.  How many Stephen Kings are there working that just never got a break?  That didn’t have Brian dePalma direct a masterful movie off of their work?  Hundreds?  Thousands?

Heck, I have my own magnum opus I wrote on construction paper about a robot that could kill all of humanity and then died.  Because . . .

Dang, that was the hard part.  Yes.  Because humanity was so strong!!!!!

But, that’s me, not Stephen King.

Stephen King can write fiction that millions want to see.  But he was lucky he married a woman who believed one more time than he did.  Unlike my Mom, who cried on the construction paper.  She told me she was happy, but I still think those weren’t happy tears.

Let’s switch gears . . . .

Pick anyone named Bill who is wildly successful, and I’ll point to the break that they had – the luck – that got them over the top.

I’m NOT saying that Bill Shatner isn’t a gift to the world, because clearly he is.  But he was the second person who sat at the helm of the Enterprise, not the first.  He had a stroke or two of luck in that one . . .  But I follow him on Twitter®, he doesn’t follow me. (Yet)

I’m NOT saying that Bill Gates isn’t brilliant as I write on Microsoft® Word™ on a Microsoft© Windows® operating system (though Microsoft® Explorer™ . . . really, Bill?) because Bill Gates is clearly brilliant.  I follow him on Twitter© – he doesn’t follow me.  (Yet)

There were thousands of people who competed with Gates.  But we should all be honest:  it took more than one lucky break for Gates to end up with enough money to buy up all of the Pez® in the world three times over:

  • Gates was born rich. Not mega-rich, but rich.  As we all know, that’s the best way to get rich (LINK).
  • Gates had access to computers at a private prep school when only NASA, MIT, and The Hair Club for Men had access to that kind of computing power.
  • He met lots of the “right people” at Harvard.
  • He was lucky enough to bring some of those “right people” to Microsoft®.
  • He had a lucky meeting with IBM®. They’d use his new DOS® software, because (laughing) WHO WANTS TO OWN SOFTWARE?  Look at this cool green screen!

Bill eventually won – he built a monolith of a cash-generating company from the ground up.  At the right moment in history, Mr. Gates either developed or found:

  • The Right Vision. As early as 1980, the vision was a computer on every desk, in every home, running Microsoft® software.  By 1998 geriatric grandfathers had them to get e-mail from distant family.  By 2002 they were getting e-mailed photos regularly.  By 2004 they were sending money to Nigerian Princes and sending out virus-encrusted email greeting cards to EVERYONE in their address book.
  • The Right Skills. Bill Gates developed a wide variety of skills beyond his programming chops – he developed team leadership skills, accounting and sales skills, and the skills to hire the best.
  • The Right Team. Windows 1.0 sucked.  So did Word 1.0.  So did Excel 1.0.  They were the WORST.  But the team did second and third versions that were so good, so strong, so well integrated that dominant products like “Lotus 1-2-3” and “WordPerfect” were smashed harder than an Amish girl at spring break in Cancun.
  • The Right Business Environment. The early vision of computers on each desk meant . . . they had to be usable.  They had to provide value.  They had to be something that people wanted to use.  By creating that software, by creating Windows 95™, Gates got rid of the old constraints of the IBM clone as a business machine, and brought it into the home, massively multiplying the user base in a single year.

Mr. Gates was always going to do well.  He had too many factors in his favor from day one, even without the family wealth and support.  That was like having a springboard.  With his intellect at that time and place?  No way Bill walks away with less than $100,000,000.  He was going to create something awesome no matter what.  But one of the largest and most profitable companies on Earth?

Nah.  That wasn’t a cinch.

Again, I’m not saying that these Captains of Industry (Gates, Musk, Jobs, Thiel, Bezos, Brin, Page) aren’t worthy.  They most clearly are.  (But do you think that Page gets mad that I put Brin first?)  Again, clearly, each of them would have been very successful without luck.  But luck has played a part in vaulting each of these men into the massive success that they now enjoy.  (I was tempted to throw “clearly” into that last sentence, but, I think you’ve gotten the point by now.  Clearly.)

So you should Get Lucky.

Good heavens!  There must have been a LOT of bad decisions in the 1980s.  Starting with this album cover.

But, you’re asking, “How, John Wilder, can I, like Loverboy®, Get Lucky©?”

Well, you’re in luck!  I have a fairly short list that I’ll expand at a future point, when the astrological signs are right:

  • Hard Work – There is no substitute for this. Okay, there is.  Massive piles of talent and luck.  And money.
  • Live in a Big City (A Rich One) – For heaven’s sake, if you’re not rich? Hang around rich people!  They have opportunity, and, most importantly, businesses you can learn to work with.  And . . . run.
  • Work In a Job Where The Money Is – There are rich cities and poor cities. And there are rich portions of the economy and poor ones.  Would you rather work at the place where they recycle used water bottles, or the place where they build underground secret bases for aspiring Bond villains?  (I’m looking at you, Elon Musk).
  • Expose Yourself At Your Best – Have you ever seen that show, Cops? It’s every person, ever, at their very worst day.  On film.  Honestly, we all have bad days.  And we all have things we’re bad at (hopefully the thing you’re bad at isn’t personal hygiene – and it wouldn’t be, since you read this blog – you must smell like roses and fresh bread, and that’s on a bad day!).   But when you get a chance and you’re with a billionaire?  Show him what you do best.  Unless what you do best is eat Pez®.  Focus on things you can do for the billionaire that make him even more money.
  • Believe You’re Lucky – Sounds crazy, right? No science behind it?  But if you believe you’re lucky you’ll see good things when others see only bad.  You’ll see opportunity when others only see stone walls.  And if you stare at the Sun long enough . . . WAIT . . . don’t do that.  But I’m not kidding – believing you’re lucky makes you lucky.  Me?  I’m the luckiest guy you’ve ever read, unless you’ve read something that Keanu Reeves wrote, because that man is golden (LINK).

In 2016, there were 540 billionaires living in the US.  If 35% of them inherited their great gobs of billionaire cash, that leaves 351 who did it themselves.  Yay, them!  That gives you a 0.000117% chance of being one.

By doing the things I’ve listed above?  If you’re really smart (like 140+ IQ, PLUS read this blog)?  That means you can force those odds several orders of magnitude closer to your own private island.    Maybe even to 0.01% of a shot at the Tres Commas (A Billion has Three Commas) club.

This much, much closer than you could ever become with a lottery ticket.  And, the good news?  You will certainly become a millionaire, you know, with the shameful two commas.

All of this is better than winning the lottery.  Certainly your biggest shame?  You’re only a millionaire.

But none of this will allow you to become as cool as Bill Shatner.  Because there can be Only One True Shatner!

Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom - How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.

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