Monday, 28 July 2008

You don't have to be smart to make money

No one can deny that so much of the Western World is bent on pursuing cold cash. Ask a bunch of high school graduates what they want to do when they leave school and 9 out of 10 will say "we want to make money".

So, if making money is important to you, then one has to consider how does one go about achieving such a goal? You often hear people refer to smart individuals with expressions like "he is a clever guy, he is going to make a lot of money". There certainly seems to be a strong sense that smart people make money. Now, I know many smart people with money. But then I also know many many smart people with no money. And of course, I also know many pretty dumb people who have made money too. My conclusion is that you don’t have to be smart to make money.

In my short life I was lucky to have made some money at a young age. I am still not sure how it happened. I don't think I am dumb, but I don't think I am that smart either. I am certainly hard working and I never give up. Now, in my case, I was never trying to accumulate wealth. I was trying to do something magical and inspired. The fact that our work suddenly was valued with some large amount was a mystery to me. But, I was not going to complain. Now, I know all the cynics out there are going to be very quick to dismiss what I am saying here, but I am used to it by now. If I was passionate about creating ice sculptures, say, then I would have pursued that, but I am not sure how much money I would have amassed from such a journey. Even if I persisted and got really lucky. I mean, how much money is there to be made sculpting ice. Of course, I am just using this as a silly example. Perhaps if I looked into this further I may discover that there is indeed money to be made in the ice sculpting business. But it would not have mattered. The money would not have inspired me. Following what I am passionate about would have been the primary motivator. But, enough of this. Let's move on. The point is, that people typically excel with endeavours they love working at, and, if they make money along the way, well, the way I see it, that is a bonus.

There is a famous story, about an interview with American tycoon J Paul Getty. When asked about the secret to his vast fortune he commented, "The secret to success is this: you wake up early, you work hard, and you find oil". Yes, luck plays a big part of any business venture. If you love the work you do, and even if you work at it like there's no tomorrow, there is no guarantee things will be a success. If you have bad luck then all bets are off. Now, not that success is measured by a number, or a dollar sign, but today I wanted to talk about the pursuit of material wealth and what the ingredients are that are needed to achieve this goal. Luck, in my view, is a key element. It has been said that luck always favours the persistent. We all know Gary Player's famous quote that goes "the more I practice the luckier I get". But there is also something else to consider: where you dig for oil! Yes, the more you dig the luckier you will get, but if you did for oil in the Middle East you are bound to be a lot luckier than if you dug in the Karoo, for example. Follow your nose, watch for the omens - you can make your own luck!

Let's face it. Some guys are just idiots, clear and simple; they bark up the wrong trees all the time. But I will say it again. You don't need to be smart to make money. You need to be persistent and you need to have luck. I know plenty of monkeys in the world that have made big money, by selling stuff to other monkeys. One thing though that they are all is persistent, and they treat their customers well. "The customer is king", they will tell you. But, the vast majority of them appear to spend very little time looking after their staff. But for the customer they will bend over backwards! I think it is the smarter folk, or let's say, the more inspired or perhaps even the more humble, that treat everyone the same. Treating your co-workers with respect, and giving them the same time, if not more, than you give your customers, appears to me, to be the domain of the more enlightened.

I got to know this one guy many years ago. He seemed like a very nice person. But he had no problem selling luftgesheft. He would sell you a car with a lemon engine and it didn't seem to worry him. He made a lot of money from his efforts, and he was certainly persistent. He was quite a charming guy, which also must have helped. But, I know one thing to be true, he won't hang on to that money for long - easy come easy go. He certainly was not that enlightened or inspired or smart. Just as he took your money and sold you rubbish, so someone would do it back to him. This is how it generally how it seems to work.

The most important thing I ever learnt in life is that you don't invest in ideas, you invest in people. Technology doesn't make money - people make money! And people with luck can make a lot of money. I was taught that you would rather invest in a bad business with good people, than in a good business with bad people. Of course, a good business with good people is first prize.

What is luck then? Someone people say luck is all about timing. When we started Internet Solutions are timing was indeed fantastic. The fact that a bunch of like-minded people came together, who were all living at home, free of the pressures and responsibilities that go with raising a family or paying off a bond, the fact that such a group could focus for seven days week, at something they loved doing, well, that was very very lucky. But, making the business work, in a market with many competitors, many who had long track records and deep pockets, well, that had less to do with luck than it had to do with chutzpah, risk taking, passion, dedication and obsession. You could cross the street tomorrow and meet the person of your dreams and land up getting married. That would be luck - good timing! But, making the marriage work is not about luck. It is about commitment and sacrifice. It is about passion and integrity. We had many competitors within the year we started out, and they all made us nervous with their size and experience. But, we gained the dominant market share and have held on to it for 15 years now. And that has very little to do with luck. Of course, this is just my perspective, I could be wrong.

A very wise man once told me that business is about 10% seichel (smarts) and 90% mazal (luck) and those you use more seichel always land up making less money. When you get too clever for your own good you often go and mess things up. Don't mess with a winning formula! And don't forgot who you are and where you have come from.

I think the key to all of this is to be honest with oneself. We all have to play the cards we are dealt. And, when it comes to cards luck is important.

You can indeed make your own luck. Let’s look at one more example before we end off. IF you drive around all day cursing people on the roads and cutting people off and giving people the finger, well, then someone is going to take you out. On the other hand, if you are respectful of others, and you smile and greet people and you generally give a shit about those around you, well, that is probably going to bring you better luck. I guess that old cliché rings true here: the best way to receive is to give.

So, to end off, let's throw out a curve ball to all those who are in hot pursuit of cold cash. Let me end of with something else Mr. Getty once said "If you know how money you have then you are not really rich."

Posted by Ronnie Apteker