A Million For Your Thoughts

What makes those platinum-plated minds tick?
Magazine Contributor
13 min read

This story appears in the March 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

"Whoever said money can't buy happiness didn't know where to shop." --Author Unknown

There was a moment on January 6, 1990, in Providence, Rhode Island, when David Posman apparently thought he had made the business deal of his life. That moment was after he took a bottle and smashed it over the head of an armored truck driver. Posman grabbed four bags from the truck and fled. Unfortunately for him, each bag weighed 30 pounds. He painfully staggered away, and the police soon found the exhausted thief hiding in a nearby parking garage. It was right about then that Posman discovered he had stolen 120 pounds of pennies.

There's a long history of low-IQ criminals botching their get-rich-quick schemes; one just has to read the newspaper or the book America's Dumbest Criminals, or watch Jay Leno ridicule them on The Tonight Show. One robbery suspect who was apprehended a few years ago protested: "There's no way he could identify me; I had my hat down over my eyes."

If only they knew. Becoming rich doesn't have to be so difficult. "It's almost like you don't have to be a Wall Street whiz, or have a huge salary, to become a millionaire anymore. You just have to teach yourself how to become one," observes Daryl T. Logullo of the Noble Financial Group in Boca Raton, Florida. Logullo is also the host of two daily financial radio shows heard across the nation, The First Word on Investing and The Final World on Investing.

He's right. In today's nearly Utopian economy, getting the money isn't the hard part anymore--it's figuring out what you should do with it after you've got it. 1-800-SOLD-OUT's CEO Justin Fallon, 31, observes, once you've made your millions, life isn't always the way you'd dreamed it would be: "Sometimes people treat you differently. My mom just got remarried, and [at the reception], people were coming up to my girlfriend and saying, `Can you believe how much money he's worth?' "

To this, Fallon retorts, "Who cares? People think it's a big deal. That's weird. I don't want people to think any differently of me." Then Fallon recites a quote he read on a tea box 10 years ago: "Judge a man not by what he gains from his toil, but from what he becomes in spite of it."

On paper, Fallon is worth millions in equity. He founded his company, which locates hard-to-find and sold-out tickets for events, in 1987--but it exploded in 1999 with the debut of his Web site. Fallon didn't want to offer exact figures, but let's just say his financial worth is somewhere between $40 million and $60 million. And, like many millionaire entrepreneurs, he's currently trying to figure out what he's becoming--in spite of it.

Geoff Williams, like many magazine writers, is not a millionaire. He had an interesting time writing this story, even though he cried into his pillow every night. "Is hundredaire a word?" he wonders.

The Millionare Blues

Everybody we interviewed for this story agrees with the obvious: The problems of the rich are--pun intended--a million times better than the problems of the poor. "It's like Cindy Crawford complaining about beauty. It's really hard to complain about having money," confides Jodi Shelton, 35, president of Shelton Communications Group, a Dallas-based high-tech communications firm that had sales of $3 million in 1999. Shelton herself has a personal worth of $8 million from stock investments and various other things. "It's been wonderful," Shelton says of her wealth, "and it's enabled me to do things for my family that I've never been able to."

But Shelton, who was raised in a middle-class family, notes: "You're working very hard to bring in that money. You're working a ton of hours, investing a lot of your time. You're a prisoner of your money as well."

How so? "You're on a fast treadmill. A million dollars sounds like a great deal of money, and, of course, it is. But," Shelton observes wryly, "most everybody, including millionaires, devises a lifestyle that matches the amount of money they make. So you're [forcing yourself] to keep working really hard."

She might have a point. On top of that, these days, a cool million doesn't get you nearly as far as it did a couple decades ago. Indeed, Fallon feels multimillionaire status is really where it's at: "I don't think a million is the bar anymore," he says.

The Requests Begin . . .

Not that we're ready to shed too many tears for the mere millionaire, but the truth is, the more money an entrepreneur brings in, the more people want a piece of it. "It can be demanding," says Logullo. "We see a lot of cases of successful CEOs who have $10 or $20 million net worth--they're always being asked for something, whether it's personal appearances at an event or charitable contributions."

And it's not just the corporate world that comes running after millionaires; it's also friends and family. Darien Dash is billed by his publicist as "the first African American Internet-made millionaire." If so, he's also the first African American Internet-made millionaire to be hit up for loans by friends and family he probably never knew he had.

Dash, 28, owns Digital Mafia Entertainment, a company with offices in New York City and Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. And while Dash's company sounds like something out of The Firm, one of Digital Mafia Entertainment's missions is to make money in an honorable way: by marketing to minority communities, hoping to narrow the "digital divide" between the poor and the affluent, the have-Nets and the have-nots. So far, it's working. Dash oversees a staff of 35, and his firm, which he started in 1994, made over $1 million last year.

Dash says he's invested wisely, and he's also half-owner of Roc-a-Blok Records, a hip-hop label, which had a recent No. 1 Billboard R&B single with Sporty Thievz' "No Pigeons." The result? A net worth of $14 million.

That news hasn't escaped those close to him. Even Dash, who seems like a decent enough guy, mutters a startled "damn" whenever a friend or family member asks for a sizable loan. "Over the years, it's gone from somebody needing a hundred dollars to a hundred thousand," gulps Dash.

Caren Sinclair knows the feeling well. "There's been a change in my friends," says the 29-year-old entrepreneur, who is worth $3 million and counting, thanks to a business she runs with her mother Isabelle Tate. "They've always known that I've had these goals in my mind," grumbles Caren, "and now that it's actually happened, they've said that I've changed."

And then there are her extended relatives. "Family--they feel, `Okay, you have it, so we have it, too.' And in some instances, that's true, but you don't get something for nothing. And my family has just wanted to be given money. And it's like, `Now wait a minute . . . ' "

Caren Sinclair is doing the last thing you'd think you could make millions doing: She gives swimming lessons to the rich. The very rich. Like Saudi Arabian princes and princesses. And movie stars. While Isabelle, 54, does the bookwork, Caren charges $2,000 for two weeks' worth of 30-minute one-on-one swimming lessons. That alone would be good money for many entrepreneurs, but Sinclair and Tate have made Pasadena, California-based Waterwaves Inc. into a tsunami to be reckoned with.

They also employ lifeguards who work at military bases, hotels, homeowners' associations and private pool parties. Soon, Caren says, their swim company will be expanding into a pool-cleaning service and a pool-safety education center. Also in the works: a Waterwaves University to teach lifeguard training and, in the next three years, a plan to open 38 new swim centers, where children can receive one-on-one lessons from qualified instructors in six states. "I love the Y," says Caren, "but I'm going to take it to the next level."

It's Not All Bad

As entrepreneurs' bank accounts move to the next level, the positives obviously outweigh the negatives. Caren, a subscriber to Millionaire magazine (see "They're Everywhere" on page 95), says the biggest purchase she's made so far has been to take her mother on a long-desired vacation to Hawaii.

Dash, like Caren, hasn't been a millionaire for very long--his biggest purchases, as of this writing, have been a BMW 540 for his wife and a Mercedes for himself. "I almost bought a $17,000 home stereo system, until my wife stopped me," says Dash, who adds that his wife "has been able to temper me."

This seems to be a trend among younger entrepreneurs: Having struck it rich so quickly, they're either too busy earning their fortunes to spend them, or they're a little too nervous to do so. "We know it can go as fast as it came," muses Dash.

"My dad had a couple of companies that went bankrupt," says Fallon, echoing the same sentiment, "and my grandmother lived through the Depression. I tend to look at money with a squinty eye." That said, Fallon admits he travels fairly frequently. "And I've started to get some of the toys--the BMW convertible, a house in the country, an apartment in the city. Life's pretty good."

Indeed. Shelton recently treated herself and four friends to an Italian vacation. And three years ago, she gave her father a Thunderbird ("zero miles; my dad had never had a new car") for Christmas--a sort of payback for when Shelton's father gave his one and only car to her so she could take it to college. And Shelton pays to send her niece and nephew to private school. "I want to make sure that my money is used for bettering other people's lives, not just my own. I'm interested in bettering my own, too, but if I can help the people I love, it's so rewarding."

The True View

Others fear that money will warp their perspectives on what's really important. Sinclair says one of her clients made a big impression on her. While most of the movie stars and wealthy CEOs she has worked for have had "three kids and five nannies," there was one actress who stayed to watch her son's swimming lessons, and then would take him to school. "She didn't even have a nanny on the staff," marvels Sinclair, who reveals that the actress was Valerie Bertinelli. "I'm going to be like that, too," says the often-working, still-single Sinclair.

Shelton just became a mother herself, and her millionaire status gives her the freedom to be a stay-at-home mom. Since her baby's birth, she's been running her company by telecommuting, relying on her staff of 26 to see that the company continues to thrive. "I think [being able to delegate] is the mark of a good entrepreneur," Shelton says.

It's this freedom that Shelton says is the best gift you can buy yourself when you become the next millionaire on the block. "The one thing I have truly found since I've been able to buy a lot of things is that [the finer things in life] do not bring you happiness," she says. "What I like more about the fact of having money is it buys you the freedom to travel and to choose things. It's the same thing with having a child; I did not have to make some of the decisions that other working mothers have to make, and I feel so fortunate."

Fallon is still figuring out what the best thing about being a millionaire is--but he understands the worst. "I know a lot of people who, if they couldn't fly first-class and didn't have money, they would be unhappy," he says. "And I guess I don't ever want to be in a situation where I have to hold on to money that tightly. I don't want to be afraid of losing it."

And then, like people do in the movies but almost never in real life, Fallon expresses his thoughtful philosophy by quoting a stanza from Rudyard Kipling's poem "If":

" 'If you can make one heap of all your winnings

" 'And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

" 'And lose, and start again at your beginnings

" 'And never breathe a word about your loss . . . '

"That's kind of the thing, you know?" muses Fallon. "I'm blessed to have this, but I want to live my life so that if somehow the money is taken away or lost, it's not really that big of a difference. I don't want money to become very important to my happiness because I think that's setting myself up for false expectations. Who knows? Anything can happen."

They're Everywhere

It's not your imagination. Millionaires are hot--and they're multiplying. When they aren't the focus of newspaper and magazine articles, they are the magazine. Consider Millionaire, a thriving luxury and lifestyle magazine. Last year, it went from being published four times to 10 times a year. (It's $7.95 an issue, but if you're a millionaire, who cares?) Meanwhile, ABC's sporadic television series, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, is a bona fide hit. "I think the reason . . . Millionaire has struck such a chord is that it taps into that idea that you can become instantly rich," says ABC's Kevin Brockman. "It's the American dream."

These are no pipe dreams, though, in the pages of Millionaire magazine. According to Vanessa Berkling, editor-in-chief, while many readers are millionaire wannabes, she's received messages from callers thanking her for some of the ads they've run: "This is just the jet I was hoping to find," said one. Another was pleased to find an ad for a helicopter. "Buying a helicopter isn't one of my top priorities," admits Berkling, and as far as her non-millionaire status goes, she says, "I'm working on it."

And she just might do it, if her take on the new millionaire is correct. "I don't believe it takes money to make money," says Berkling. "I think if you want to make your dream a reality, you really need to take the world on, and don't let anything stand in your way. It's just the result of a lot of hard work."

Contact Sources

1-800-SOLD-OUT, http://www.soldout.com

ABC, http://abc.go.com

Digital Mafia Entertainment, (212) 422-6600

Millionaire, vberkling@millionaire.com

Noble Financial Group, (800) 688-6262, dlogullo@noblefinancialgroup.com

Shelton Communications Group, (972) 239-5119, http://www.sheltongroup.com

Waterwaves, (626) 294-9084, http://www.waterwaves.com

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