5 Habits of Exceptionally Rich Founders
We're searching for top company cultures to be featured on our annual list. Think your company has what it takes? Apply Now »
You work hard at building your business. That’s a good start, but do you have what it takes to be rich? And by "rich," I mean the ability both to generate material wealth and achieve what matters to you most. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against you.
The good news, however, is that there is a path to follow and habits that you can emulate, to give you a better chance at achieving your goals.
Certainly, it's easy to focus on the wealth of successful founders. But how did they actually build that wealth? We may hear about the size of a CEO’s house far more often than what made him (or her) rich. And, yes, I know it’s tempting to ignore the complete success stories of wealthy founders and focus on the money. But, instead, let's look a little deeper at wealthy founders and how they did it.
First, there are more billionaires today than ever before in history. And many of them did it with very little money in the bank -- that is more good news. Larry Ellison started Oracle with an investment of $1,200. Oprah Winfrey overcame incredible odds as a child to become one of the world's wealthiest women.
Every one of these billionaires has a different story, and many disparate factors determine whether a person becomes successful or not. But one thing is certain: If you want to be rich and successful, you cannot do it in isolation. You have to learn from others.
I have been blessed to be the CEO of three companies, two of which were acquired by public companies. Now, as the CEO and co-founder of Aha!, I challenge myself to learn something new every day. I read as much as I can (and wish I could read more), especially around the subjects of innovation and entrepreneurship.
As I've studied the paths of successful founders to see what they had in common, I've discovered at least five attributes they share:
1. They are innovators.
Successful founders do not just set out to start any old business. They see a problem that needs to be solved and a huge opportunity to provide the solution. For example, Jeff Bezos quit a hedge fund job to start Amazon when he learned that Internet use was growing 2,400 percent annually. He saw the opportunity to model his new business after the digital catalogs that book distributors were using, and ironically met with his startup team at a Barnes & Noble.
2. They are risk-takers.
When Bill Gates and his friend Paul Allen first approached MITS about their new Altair 8800 microcomputer, they boasted that they were already working on a BASIC interpreter for the Altair platform. In reality, the pair just wanted to see if the company was interested before they started the work. Once MITS showed interest, they took several weeks to build their next invention and prepare their presentation. Luckily, the deal was a success, paving the way to what would become Microsoft.
3. They tackle hard problems.
Elizabeth Holmes was only 19 when she dropped out of Stanford to start the blood testing company Theranos. She was inspired after her uncle died of cancer that was diagnosed too late. Her company's technology provides an easier, faster and less painful method to test blood so that people can detect diseases earlier. She has worked to influence Arizona law so that blood testing will be widely available to patients without the need for a prescription.
4. They do what they love.
Larry Ellison did not set out become a billionaire. He taught himself to develop software, dropped out of college and started Oracle, mainly because he wanted to create an environment where he would enjoy working. Likewise, Bill Gates spent all of his free time as a kid programming, so starting Microsoft was a natural fit for him, and right in the sweet spot of his talents and his passions.
5. They leave a legacy.
Many wealthy entrepreneurs donate wealth to charity, but these founders translate philanthropy into action. Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg and many others have signed a pact to donate half of their wealth to charity over time. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation partners with other organizations to tackle problems, such as poverty, on a global scale.
As Larry Ellison has said, "How can you move the world just a bit, make a difference, change lives . . . and how much can I help [while] discovering my own limits?"
Wealthy founders know that with their material resources, they have the opportunity to make a global impact and change lives.
These hyper-successful leaders set out on a path to achieve audacious goals -- and then blew right past them. They did not let fear hold them back from doing great things. We can all learn from them and be inspired to pursue our passions and make our mark on the world.