A Billionaire Stiffed Me $30K — Here's What I Learned from the Experience Here are three key lessons I learned after a billionaire stiffed me out of $30,000.
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A billionaire stiffed me out of $30,000.
Yes, you read that correctly! He paid me initially for some of my work — but refused to pay the remaining $30,000. Now, $30,000 is potentially a significant amount of money and may even represent several months or even years of income for some. However, to a billionaire, $30,000 is a relatively small sum and may not even make a noticeable difference in their wealth. It is like comparing a small pebble to a large mountain.
Now, you might be thinking, "How could this happen, AJ? Why would a billionaire care about $30,000?"
Those are both great questions. However, you'll soon see that we both learned major lessons in this process. And what many would see as potentially devastating — I've found to be invaluable. I mean, I lost $30,000 (my lawyer hates that I'm telling you this), so, it's still a tough pill to swallow.
In this article, I'm going to share the lessons I learned from this experience in hopes that it will help you in business, too.
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Who wants to be a billionaire?
Now, a billionaire is totally different from a millionaire. You may have seen those graphics that show you the difference. It's major.
There are only 3,331 billionaires on earth out of 7 billion people. I want to explain that just in case you don't understand this concept. I don't mean that in a negative way. It's just that in reality, it's extremely hard to comprehend that.
That means — if you measure people accordingly by net worth — "billionaire status" means you represent 0.00003% of the world's population. That is a very specific number for an important reason.
Let's be honest: Most people do not understand what it means to actually be a billionaire. Being a billionaire is exactly as amazing as it sounds.
What do you think of first when you picture a billionaire? It's probably things like sick houses that could fit entire neighborhoods inside, a giant yacht off the coast of Monaco, beautiful people everywhere like you're in your own music video and a dreamy aesthetic that fills each moment of your day.
And you would be right.
We were flown out to the home of the billionaire who stiffed me. It was epic. His guest house alone is worth $10 million — which is more than what 95% of millionaires can afford. It looks like something out of Architectural Digest, including custom cabinets in a palatial bathroom, a beautiful covered veranda and spectacular water views.
While he owed me $30,000, he spent more than that on soft goods. He spared no expense on things like towels, napkins and bed sheets — everything had to be of the highest quality. That, and it also had to be of a high thread count!
I was told that what he purchased the main house for — in one of the most expensive areas in the United States — was the most ever paid for a home in that state! The price tag: $60 million.
The 295-acre property wasn't even on the market at the time. So, he did what any billionaire with money to burn would do: He paid over two times the property's assessed value. Not to be outdone by the guest house, the main home features 5 baths and 3 bedrooms and comes in at 7,400 square feet!
Clearly, this man had no shortage of money. Now that I've given you some insight into the person who stiffed me, let me share a little bit about myself, too.
I'm a guru maker
I run a pretty hot boutique social media content creation agency in Los Angeles called The Limitless Company. I study entrepreneurs, I am an entrepreneur, and I work with world-class entrepreneurs. Basically, I'm a guru maker — and I create content for thought leaders. I've worked with the top 1% of individuals to grow their digital brand business.
I get them famous for the stuff they are really, really good at. Then, I use that fame (or attention) and turn that into money, book deals, sponsorships and more.
I call it ROAC: Return On Attention Created.
We create short-form vertical video content for our clients and help them get engagement on social media. But it's not just video clips. We help our clients build really cool and culturally relevant digital brands — brands that have the power to influence consumers with the content to drive commercial activity.
Over my 15-year career in digital marketing, I've helped my clients generate tens of millions of dollars through physical products, digital products, brand deals, joint ventures and more. Currently, with the handful of clients that we're working with now, we're reaching millions of people every month. And all that attention we help our clients create gets monetized.
Bottom line: I film people who are masters of their domain. But, no, not in the Seinfeld sense. It's more like someone who is creating their reality — someone who is already a force of nature.
I come in to help them cement their personal brand as a "GURU" in their industry. I do this for television stars, business moguls, tech founders and high-profile individuals.
They go from being a leader in their industry to being a leader for their industry.
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I learned a valuable lesson in the process — and so did the billionaire (maybe)
We were hired to help this person produce short-form vertical video content. I spent time educating his team on the value of short-form vertical video. I explained that it's about connecting with modern culture.
If you want to be a successful U.S. company, I told them, you need to be connected with U.S. culture (and pay your bills). Social media cultures represent real life in many ways. It's the lens people see through first — when they perceive reality. I tried to convey to them how important it was to get this right in context.
But unfortunately, he got in his own way. We gave his team the videos. They had an overseas team review it and were confused as to why we didn't incorporate logos, intros and outros all over the video. While these were previously known as "best practices," these are not the kinds of features on a video that drive attention on social media. All these features take up valuable time, disrupt the flow, decrease engagement and make the video appear less authentic on the platform.
I also want to mention that even before signing the contract, we allocated resources and time to the project. But that didn't matter to him or his integrity. Because you see, when you reach that kind of level, you technically don't have to care about anything.
A major lesson for him and all billionaires: Just because they had that one unicorn grand slam, doesn't mean it will repeat. This new company was different from what had made him a billionaire. Clearly, billionaires fail too — and this was very much that. Further, for me to see a billionaire try to navigate a company and industry they weren't familiar with made me realize how much power I have. It made me see the true value of digital world skills.
The story of the billionaire is a classic example of how things can go wrong even at the highest level. But like I said at the beginning, to a billionaire, $30,000 may not be a significant sum. It's like a drop in the bucket to them. So, it takes a special person to be so stubborn.
Afterward, I discovered that this particular billionaire had a reputation for not paying his bills. Even when I signed the contract with him at first, I thought to myself, "I won't have an issue getting this money."
Normally, I collect upfront. However, this contract was written by his company, and for the sake of their convenience, I just moved forward with it. Big mistake. In the end, we both had valuable takeaways from the experience. I'm probably the only one who did anything about it though.
Victim or creator? Which one are you?
Now, this wasn't the first time I was "screwed." I am no longer the same person I used to be — a victim.
I realized that there are two types of people in life. There are people who are "victims" — they idly sit back and watch life happening to them. And the other group is "creators." These are people who see life happening for them. They are the cause. They believe that life happens for them — to create.
The fundamental difference between the victim mindset and the creator mindset is where they place their attention. For victims, the focus is on what they don't want. Problems constantly preoccupy their lives, and they fear the loss of control or loss of purpose.
Creators place their focus on what they do want. Instead of focusing on problems, they find (or even create) solutions. So, when this billionaire guy stiffed me, instead of defaulting into a victim, I chose to use this as a lesson. And I carry this lesson into Limitless. I help people do a very specific thing: create a "guru" brand. This is a "vehicle" that fast-tracks their career.
So, just like how any vehicle needs to go to a gas station and pay for gas up front, that's how I set up my company's services. I'm fueling their brand in the digital world the same way gas powers a vehicle in the physical world.
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Use this as a lesson for your own success
There are three key things I want you to take away from my experience. First, you need to value your time as a creator. Get paid upfront for the work you do. Don't be a victim of your — or someone else's — circumstances.
Secondly, never let your own success be your downfall. Get out of your own way. As a guru in any field, you have a great responsibility for yourself, your team and your audience. Take it seriously.
Third, digital world skills have become so valuable that everyone, regardless of their socio-economic status, needs them. So, get really good at it.
Remember: To be exceptional, you have to be an exception. As you create and build your brand, share that greatness with your customers.