Billionaires: They’re Just Like Us

VVIP Concert Pass Dreamforce

I know plenty of people with money, lots of money. Me, I've got just enough to not work full-time, which makes me happy. I know far fewer people with power, lots of power. For those with power, their lives seem quite fascinating.

Given we tend to want more of what is less common, is it safe to say that power is a more desirable asset than money? I've never thought so, although I'm someone who likes to stay in the shadows.

I don't even have the power to require angry commenters to at least share where they are coming from. Ah, but I do have the power to press the DELETE button, which I sometimes do with an ascending evil laugh!

Recently, something happened that made me appreciate power over money. This event will also make you realize that behind all the glam and glitter, billionaires are just like you and me.


Dreamforce, the largest tech conference in the world, just finished up in San Francisco. Every year, some 125,000+ people line the streets to attend Marc Benioff's conference.

Marc is worth about $10 billion and is the founder of Salesforce (Ticker: CRM), a customer relationship management software company valued at over $140 billion. He is a fantastic supporter to many charitable causes in the Bay Area, most notably UCSF's Children's Hospital.

Luminaries, such as Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and movie stars such as Jessica Alba all participate in sharing their wisdom. Further, after a day of presentations and seminars, there are countless corporate parties to attend with endless yummy hors d'oeuvres and exotic cocktails.

The grand finale is a concert at one of the piers. This year, Dreamforce hosted The Foo Fighters and The Killers (one of my favorite bands) at Pier 70. It was a zoo! Anyone who paid $1,000+ per ticket to the main conference was invited.

The Most Important People Only

In addition to general admittance, there was a special section zoned off with three layers of security checking badges. This was the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Benefits area, reserved exclusively for donors who paid an additional $5,000 to $1 million in support of Marc's cause.

Marc Benioff Concert
Hanging w/ Marc Benioff

I really had no idea what I was walking myself into. Pier 70 was a maze of trails where event coordinators ushered people to various lines.

My date and I walked through every security checkpoint, including the Benefits Area, where we bumped into none other than Marc himself, chatting it up with a couple ladies who seemed enthralled with everything he said.

I said, “hello,” thanked him for throwing such a great event, and moved on to get some drinks before The Killers went on at the East Stage. After The Killers finished, I headed back through the private Benefits Area, and deep into the hive to Platform 4, Lower Deck where, unbeknownst to me, the big hitters roamed.

I asked the third security checkpoint guard what was the level of this pass and she said, “This is the VVIP pass. It doesn't get much closer and better than this!” While people were getting rejected by security for getting any closer to Center Stage, here we were moseying on through. This is when I started thinking to myself, Ahh, so this is what power feels like!

Billionaire Gets Rejected Too

Men like to impress women. Why else do some guys drive sports cars to work when the fastest they can go is 40 mph for five seconds due to all the traffic? Why else do men consistently try to highlight their income or fluff up their power at work when speaking with women? Men are pretty funny people. We have this innate desire to impress and conquer.

At one of the corporate parties before the big concert, I briefly spoke with a woman who told me about a man she had met earlier at the conference. She said, “This really geeky guy with a wife and kid at home asked if I wanted to see the Dreamboat later.” The Dreamboat is a luxury cruise liner shipped in especially for the conference to provide rooms for conference attendees.

If you've never been on a cruise before, checking out a cruise ship may be somewhat interesting. But as a veteran cruiser, I suggested the guy was basically inviting her to see his room, and then who knows what after. After all, she was an attractive woman and the boat was his hotel.

She was a little incredulous at first but finally agreed that it was probably not the wisest of moves going back to his boat at 10 pm. Two marriages potentially saved by the Financial Samurai! Hooray!

Related: Never Sell Assets And Pay Less Taxes Like Billionaires

Back To Platform 4, Lower Deck

Travis Kalanick Denied Entry - A billionaire!
“Access denied,” says the usher to the billionaire couple

My date and I were drinking our Cuba Libres while singing along to My Hero, when in walks the Co-founder and CEO of Uber and his girlfriend. They were smiling, laughing, and having a great time just like us!

All was good until they wanted to go to the upper-level platform where we had just come down from. The usher looked at them, shook her head, pointed at their badges, and said they weren't allowed up.

It was a humbling moment where at some point, I'm sure he was thinking to himself, Do you know who I am? This is so embarrassing to get rejected with my girl here. I better text Benioff to let me up!

But alas, the billionaire CEO and his girlfriend were denied. They had no power to get past one determined usher. Only a lowly minimum-wage earning Uber driver and his beautiful date had the ability to move between platforms. At least Travis got to hang with us on the lower deck.

I once again felt that intoxicating feeling of power that seldom rushes through my veins. I can totally understand why politicians, CEOs, singers, and actors can get addicted to power and end up doing incredible nonsensical things.

The adoration feels great. I understand why people love to tell everybody how much they make, even though it's a sure sign of insecurity. Being able to walk through security when other people can't is amazing. Stealth Wealth be damned!

Billionaires Have A Lot Of Similarities To Us

If you have some unhealthy desire to be rich and famousfor your own health, I suggest taking it down a notch. The uber rich are just like you and me. They've got their insecurities, their frustrations, their hopes, and their failures. 

After a while, the big house, the fancy car, and all the other material things money can buy gets old. Even the incessant adoration slowly loses its allure. All anyone wants is to spend time with a best friend away from the madding crowd.

The one thing the top 0.1% (not the 1%) do have is the ability to experience more than the average person. But how can they fully enjoy their riches, when they're busy handling the responsibilities that come with so much wealth? The irony is that students, recent college graduates, and the poor have much more free time to smell the roses.

I say enjoy the life you have and don't worry about how much further some people are “getting ahead.” You don't have to get invited to the Oscars to enjoy the show. Just switch on the TV. You don't need a private villa in Hawaii to enjoy the water. Most beaches are accessible and open to the public. Billionaires and the rest of us are more alike than you might think!

Related: How The Rich And Powerful Get More Rich And Powerful

Invest In Real Estate Like A Billionaires

The one asset all billionaires have is a ton of real estate. Real estate is the tried and true way to building wealth over time. It is a tangible asset that is less volatile, provides utility, and generates income.

By the time I was 30, I had bought two properties in San Francisco and one property in Lake Tahoe. These properties now generate a significant amount of mostly passive income.

In 2016, I started diversifying into heartland real estate to take advantage of lower valuations and higher cap rates. I did so by investing $810,000 with real estate crowdfunding platforms. With interest rates down, the value of cash flow is up. Further, the pandemic has made working from home more common.

Take a look at Fundrise, my favorite real estate crowdfunding platform. You don't need a huge down payment nor do you need to manage tenants and deal with maintenance issues with Fundrise. Fundrise is a way for all investors to diversify into real estate through private eREITs.

Fundrise has been around since 2012 and has consistently generated steady returns, no matter what the stock market is doing. For most people, investing in a diversified eREIT is the way to go. 

I've personally invested $953,000 in real estate crowdfunding since 2016 to diversify and earn income passively.

Recommendation To Build Wealth

Billionaires are also fanatical about tracking their wealth. To help you do so, sign up with Empower. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts in one place.

Before Empower, I had to log into eight different systems to track 25+ difference accounts. Now, I can just log into Empower to see how all my accounts are doing, including my net worth. I can also see how much I’m spending and saving every month through their cash flow tool.

The best feature is their Portfolio Fee Analyzer. It runs your investment portfolio(s) through its software in a click of a button to see what you are paying. I found out I was paying $1,700 a year in portfolio fees I had no idea I was hemorrhaging! There is no better financial tool online that has helped me more to achieve financial freedom. It only takes a minute to sign up.

Retirement Planner Empower - track your wealth like billionaires
Is your retirement on track? Check for free after linking your accounts

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About The Author

34 thoughts on “Billionaires: They’re Just Like Us”

  1. Back in the late 1980s, I attended a business lunch at the Plaza Hotel in NYC, taking the place of my boss, who could not attend. Fresh out of college, eager & full of pep, I extended my hand to everyone I met before everyone was seated, introducing myself and the name of my company that I represented. I turned to the person on my left and introduced myself to the seated middle-aged gentleman. He said “how do you do?” but didn’t introduce himself, so I persisted and said, “So what do YOU do?” Suddenly, from his facial expression and mouth set into a firm line, I knew something bad just happened, but the lunch began as a speaker went up to the podium. I dimly recognized the weatherman from a network daytime news show. He then said, “and here’s the man who needs no introduction!” The man seated to my left was up there.. it was Regis Philbin, about 10 years before “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” would make him a household name for non-daytime viewers such as myself!
    It struck me at the time, how upset my innocent question of what he did for a living made him. If he had thought about it, he’s have realized from my age & occupation that I was not a daytime TV watcher… this was long before DVRs and OnDemand TV, or even his resurgent fame w/ that game show. That was when I realized how fragile the egos of even celebrities were, at age 22.

  2. DP @ Someday Extraordinary

    I really don’t have a desire to be super powerful. I want to have enough to be comfortable, experience life, and afford the freedom to do what I want. As the great Peter Parker knows, “With great power comes great responsibility.” haha. I would much rather be the humble man behind the scenes than stressing out trying to run an Uber or Tesla or something of the sort, but that’s just my personality.

    I like this . . . good write up.


  3. Great post! I agree w you that power is often what money can bring and perhaps it’s what we yearn for more. After all being President doesn’t pay all that much compared to other careers but I’d still say it’s a highly sought after job…even for billionaires!

  4. Rob in Munich

    Sam, best post yet!

    My wife and I are far from weathly but thanks to bloggers like yourself we turned around our finances and now have a fabulous quality of life and more importantly she’ll be leaving the work force ahead of her peers (60ish vs 67-70) and planning on traveling the world.

    So again thanks!

  5. My idea of power is slightly different from what you described. Some people here claim they don’t want power, but they certainly don’t want to feel powerless.

    A segment of the crowd seeking financial freedoms because they feel powerless at work. If you have the power to make your own schedule, chose the customers, clients, and co worker you want to be with. Perhaps even chose the most interesting projects. In that scenario you might not feel such a hurry to build a nest egg and retire.

    Personally I for sure want the power to control my environment. The kind off power you deceive in terms of access, connections, privilege is nice, but is secondary. And some if that can be resolved with money.

    Over all money is more versatile. With enough money we can work as much or as little as we want or pursue our passion. For the most part money buys access and experience also. That said, power is still important.

    I disagree with the statement that it is easier to translate power to money. From an ethical point of view, we see too many politician try to leverage their power for the finer things in life or to cut a sude business deal. I know that’s how the world witks, but I just cannot respect that.

  6. Very interesting post, especially the last paragraph.

    Reminds me of a book I read by Felix Dennis, rarely it seems is the intense work for riches worth it.


  7. Money is just a limited form of power. Its easier to turn power into money than the other way around.

  8. “Such a waste of time, he chose money over power. In this town, a mistake nearly everyone makes. Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after ten years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I can not respect someone that doesn’t see the difference.” – Frank Underwood, House of Cards

    1. Sounds like a fun event. Your VVIP versus VIP and regular attendee seems like the people who gamble at $10 minimum tables all the way to the people who can afford to be the super high roller big whales in the Vegas casinos.

      It’s a tough one, but given a choice, it’s probably better to choose an opportunity which will provide money over power initially to achieve financial independence for most people.
      The velvet rope is present in all facets of life. Most actors won’t get invited to the Oscars, only few people will get an invitation to the best Super Bowl parties, only handful of countries selected for G8 & G20 meetings, most won’t attend the best D.C. political events, etc. The reality is majority of people in US will never reach the top echelon in power and influence, but having a financial independence at least provides some freedom.

  9. Great post Sam, your writing is getting better and better. One small, common, error, the phrase is “far from the madding crowd”. Way cooler than maddening.

  10. No Nonsense Landlord

    I once bar-tended for Carl Polad, owner of the MN Twins at the time. It was a cash bar for some sort of charity event. He just happened to come to my portable bar.

    He was obviously used to hosted (free) bars, as he ordered a glass of wine and started to head away. I had to call him back to the bar and make him pay. Of course, he didn’t actually pay, several of his friends flipped out their wallet and paid the $2.50 for the wine.

  11. Ali @ Anything You Want

    I would definitely rather have money than power. I’ve never wanted fame or power; I just want to live a simple happy life, without having to worry about money.

    I haven’t met any major celebrities, but I am often struck when I meet very successful business people with how normal they seem. They still go to the grocery store (probably Whole Foods, but still), and take care of their kids, and buy birthday presents, etc. etc.

  12. I’ve never been too interested in power, and just want enough money to live an interesting, enjoyable life.

    That said, I do like spending time with rich people. They have much more interesting problems, and solutions, which results in a great opportunity to learn how to take your game to the next level – should you want to.

  13. Fortune > fame. Fortune encompasses: relationships, time, security. Money is not a necessary ingredient for fortune, though it sometimes helps someone become fortunate. Not always though.

    “The one thing the 0.1% (not the 1%) do have is the ability to experience more than the average person.”

    Definitely not necessarily true at all. Conversely, I would say for any feeling or experience the super-rich has access to, there’s much less expensive option for substitution. “More” is not necessarily better.

    I definitely have no desire for fame/power. And I’m generally a proponent of stealth wealth, though I don’t believe it has to be a secret really.

  14. Great post, Sam! It reminds me of my concert promoter days. I managed the “VIP Experience” for a few big festivals. My co-workers used to joke that these patrons were more like “VUPs” – very unimportant people. Festival VIP experiences provide a healthy stream of additional revenue on an very risky investment. Anyway, VIP experiences work because some people just want to feel better than the average festival goer. Or, like you said, to impress a date! Usually, artists and celebrities just wanted to hang out, listen to the music, and enjoy some free drinks. Generally, they were the most chill of anyone in these areas :)

  15. Ha! I was in town..but not for that event! Great article. I’ve met a ton of each (millionaires/ billionaires/celebrities..not really athletes) and my current (long time) boyfriend is a multi-millionaire. He works very, very hard. I’d say money…because it gives you freedom to do things you want to do and designate some of the other stuff.
    Yes, they are like other people, but very focused and definitely very stubborn (sometimes makes me think that that is how they got rich in the first place) and hate inefficiency. I do think they value money a bit differently; certainly than the poor, so in that way they’re very different, and they seem to care about time a LOT (it is definitely not to be wasted and don’t dare waste it in front of them). My father had a good analogy; they (the super wealthy) sort of ‘play’ with money while the poor don’t; that aspect is fascinating. It’s like they (the super wealthy) really understand money for what it is. I think that that’s power.
    I think there is definitely also a correlation between getting richer and caring less in terms of what others think, etc. I met another one on the flight home who took an interest in me, also, and didn’t make a big deal out of the fact that he had just sunk 3 mill into another deal (a partner happened to call him while we were speaking but he was more interested in telling me about the businesses he had and what he was working on, NOT his net worth or anything like that). I think that if they take a liking to you or find something interesting about you, they do tend to keep in touch and sort of mentor you; if not they can just blow you over, which can be painful to watch (ie someone trying desperately to get their attention for status/ a business and just being plain ignored).

    1. On the fella hitting on you on a flight home… isn’t him talking about his business and sinking $3 million a tactic to try and show off his power and position to you?

      From the post, “Men like to impress women. Why else do some guys drive sports cars to work when the fastest they can go is 40 mph for five seconds due to all the traffic? Why else do men consistently try to highlight their income or fluff up their power at work when speaking with women? Men are pretty funny people. We have this innate desire to impress and conquer.”

      When you gonna tell the bf to put a ring on it?

  16. I can understand the allure of power. When I was managing a team and experienced them showering me with compliments in front of their spouses at a company event once it felt amazing lol. But I could also see how if one isn’t careful that same allure of power could change one’s sense of self in a negative way over time if you’re not careful. I don’t manage a team anymore and don’t crave that same power anymore but it was fun while it lasted.

    Ultimately I prefer money over power although they are correlated especially for at the billionaire level.

    I know a few high range multi millionaires (I don’t think they are billionaires yet) and they do seem like regular, nice people who have problems just like everyone else. They just have more expensive houses and take much more luxurious vacations. :)

  17. I’d just settle for being financially independent and being able to spend time with our daughter (which we are, since our small home based business allows us to do so). We do have a millionaire friend who’s never made a show of his money, in fact he’s one of the coolest and most modest people I know. He’s working like crazy, loving his business and being a really true friend to us all.

  18. In the end, we just want to be loved and accepted, whether it’s by another person or a group. Money doesn’t take that away.

    One thing money does do is thin out the crowds around you. Vip areas in clubs and concerts are much more comfortable than the lawn, it’s arguable which is more fun. :)

  19. Thias @It Pays Dividends

    While everyone craves some power, it is not a big motivator to me. I work in the business sector and I see people everyday do things to try and show they have more power over others and I personally think it has to be exhausting.

    I am after money because it offers the power of opportunity and flexibility in my life. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t need any power in the outside world but I don’t think it is the most important thing in my life. Even though I would love to have some VVIP passes

  20. The chairman of our Board is a billionaire. He is in his 70’s and a pretty easy going guy. I do notice that many people tend to kowtow to him but that is normal with hierarchy in Asia. Hierarchy is based on age, power, status and wealth and this gentleman has all of these.

    He definitely is happy when the share price is on the up and up.


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