Candid Advice For Those Joining The Startup World: Sleep With One Eye Open

Eyeball

Sleep w/ one eye open

Ever since college graduation in 1999, I’ve had equity ownership in every single company I’ve worked for. When you get equity, no matter how small it is, you tend to pick up the litter in the hallway, champion your company outside of work, and work harder than the actual value of your total compensation. In short, having equity makes you care more!

Pride of ownership is important for maximizing employee production. There’s just one problem: sharing. If you’re a founder, you’ve got to have the generosity and foresight to let your employees share in your company’s equity. Giving up equity is one of the hardest things a founder can do because we are all naturally greedy. We want everything for ourselves despite the need for great people to make our company a raging success. Sometimes, we’d rather fail and hold onto everything than give up equity in order to succeed. Irrational.

As an owner of an online business and as a consultant/advisor for startups, I straddle both sides of the fence. And, for the first time in 16 years, I’m doing some work with no equity. Sure, it’s rare for consultants to gain stock options or RSUs, but that’s exactly what I got from my first client after 1.5 years of service. In this culture of moving around every 1-3 years, why shouldn’t a consultant who’s stuck around longer than some employees also deserve something similar?

Working with no equity feels off. It makes me want to do only 101% of what is expected, not 130%. I wonder if this is how much of the workforce feels where they don’t have any stake in the organization they are working for? Please let me know.

This post offers up some candid advice for people looking to join the startup world, either as an employee or as a founder. It’s the sexy thing to do nowadays given people want more excitement, more purpose, more control, more money (?!?) and more flexibility. Be forewarned. This post is a 2,700 word beast that will make you see the world a little differently by the end. 

Mortgage As A Forced Savings Account To Build Wealth

Ship in a storm - Money leaking everywhere

Our journey with money

Back in 2000, many investors were cocky, much like investors today with the stock market at record highs. I remember asking my Director at the time what he thought about the concept of the mortgage as a forced savings account? At the time, as an investor, it appeared he could do no wrong.

He said, “I don’t need no forced savings account. Only irresponsible people who don’t have the discipline to save every month would consider their mortgage as savings. I’d rather have as big of a mortgage as possible so I can make money in the stock market!

My Director ended up losing millions when the dotcom bubble collapsed. He no longer looked down on people who slowly grew their wealth. At least, unlike most people, he had millions to lose!

If you have a traditional mortgage that pays down principal and interest, the mortgage “forces” you to save because you are forced to pay your mortgage every month if you want to keep your property. A percentage of each mortgage payment goes towards principal, which can be considered savings.

I’m also in the camp that it’s better for most people to receive a tax refund, even though it’s like giving the government an interest free loan, because most people can’t save for crap!

Mortgage Payoff Fees And Procedures To Know

Mortgage Payoff Letter Sent

Final mortgage payment!

“Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there’s nobody to live in it.” – Death Of A Salesman

After twelve years of methodically refinancing my property whenever rates dipped, and consistently paying down principal every month, I finally own my two bedroom condo in Pacific Heights, San Francisco free and clear!

The condo originally cost $580,000, which I thought was relatively good value for a 2/2 with parking and a park view in 2003. I had relocated from Manhattan two years earlier where all park view condos cost a bloody fortune. Go watch Millionaire Dollar Listing New York to see for yourself. My condo is nothing fancy, but it has everything one needs to live a comfortable life in my favorite city in America.

According to Zillow, USAA, and a one bedroom sale in the same building last month, the value of the condo could be worth double its purchase price with a little bit of updating. Whatever the real value is, I don’t plan on ever selling because it is an income generating engine. Real estate is “forced savings” at its finest.

The Top 1% Net Worth Amounts By Age

Mega Mansion - What Is Considered Rich?

Tom and Gisele’s mansion

People like to throw around random net worth figures all the time when asked how much is considered rich or how much they would need to never work again. Often, the figures just sound nice, like saying “one meeeeleon dollars” without any mathematical justification.

This post puts some numbers behind ascertaining how much wealth one needs to be in the top 1%. Remember, having a large net worth is better than having a high income. The government goes after income more than it goes after wealth. For example, you can live in a $8 million mansion and get Universal Healthcare subsidies if you make less than ~$94,000 a year with a family of four.

So what do we know?

Based on my Top 1% Income Earners post, we know that in order to be in the top 1%, you’ve got to earn at least $380,000 in gross income a year. The data comes from the all-knowing IRS.

Based on my Net Worth For The Upper Middle Class post, we learn that the net worth range for the top 15% of all Americans between the ages of 45 – 74 is around $700,000 – $830,000.

Finally, I’ve shown numerous examples as to why earning roughly $200,000 – $250,000 gross a year per person and $300,000 a year per couple is the ideal income for maximum happiness. Being rich is sometimes a state of mind, and I’ll use these income figures in my analysis as well.

Given these data points, I’d like to construct two simple models to demonstrate what I think should be considered top 1% rich. All wealth and no income is not ideal. Similarly, all income and no wealth is not ideal either. There needs to be a balance.

Want More Money? Ask Yourself This One Question

Believe In Yourself, Squaw Valley

Once you believe, it’ll start raining money

In order to get rich, one of the most important things is believing you deserve to be rich. There are trillions of dollars out there for the taking. Why shouldn’t you enjoy some of the world’s prosperity as an honest, diligent, and talented individual as well?

I began developing my money mindset after reading countless stories of CEOs earning millions of dollars while driving their companies into the ground. They would get massive multi-million dollar severance packages for crap work that even a baboon could do. As soon as I started believing in my worth, my confidence shot up and the money started coming in.

IBM’s CEO got a $100,000 base pay raise to $1.6 million in 2015 along with a $3.6 million bonus in 2014, and a $13.3 million stock incentive reward payable in 2018. Meanwhile, IBM is down ~20% over the past two years while the S&P 500 is up 40%, a 60% underperformance! For half the compensation, you and I could do just as good a job as the IBM CEO. I’m picking on IBM here because I bought the stock in my active portfolio. One day this dog will bark!

On a more common level, I’ve seen people who are utterly unqualified get hired for jobs making multiple six figures with multiple six figures in stock options. Every time I see such an event I’m thinking to myself a couple things. The first is, What the hell were they thinking?!

The second question is the subject of this post.

Social Security Will Make Us All Millionaires In Retirement

Social Security Makes Us All MillionairesWhen I was driving home from San Mateo one day I took a wrong turn and ended up at Hillsdale Mall. There I saw an amazing relic, a Barnes & Noble bookstore! Before 2011, I used to spend an hour every week reading personal finance books at my local San Francisco B&N. It was a lot of fun, but like the trees in Dr Seuss’s story, The Lorax, the stores began disappearing.

There’s nobody I know under the age of 40 who believes Social Security will be paid in full when it’s time to collect. Maybe half of what’s owed, but certainly not 100%. As a result, many have smartly decided to write-off Social Security from their retirement plans in order to focus on accumulating enough assets on their own. Depending on an inefficient government during our golden years is dangerous. Instead, we must max out our 401ks and IRAs, while investing even more into after-tax investments.

Out of all the books on the Personal Finance bookshelf, I decided to pick one up on Social Security because it’s been off my financial radar screen for years. Here are some important bullet points we should all know about a program that will make us all millionaires if we work long enough!

The Average Net Worth By Age For The Upper Middle Class

Upper Middle Class LifestyleThe upper middle class, aka the mass affluent, are loosely defined as individuals with a net worth or investable assets between $100,000 to $2 million. Some also define upper middle class as those who are college educated with incomes in the top 15% – roughly $100,000 or greater for households or $63,000 or greater for individuals.

The upper middle class is different from the rich because there’s a good chance everybody can achieve mass affluent status if they work and save for a long enough period of time. The mass affluent didn’t inherit their money, they earned it through hard work. On the other hand, getting rich often takes a tremendous amount of luck.