10 Life and Success Lessons from My Conversation with a Billionaire

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I’ve always wondered what makes billionaires tick. Sometime last year I started a ridiculous reading project in which I hoped to read every book written by, recommended by or written about a billionaire. My editor Stephanie asked what I was hoping to learn, which I thought was an amusing question given the project.

I read dozens of biographies about people like Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, and the founders of Home Depot. Then I attempted to read Things Hidden Since the foundation of the World, which Peter Thiel cited as one of the books that had the biggest impact on his thinking. After 80 pages, I couldn’t take it. If there’s one piece of wisdom I could pass on people who have aspirations to read more, it’s to be ok with quitting books you’re not enjoying.

Then it happened. I finally got to interview a billionaire. And looking back on the conversation I couldn’t help but think of something Alex Banayan said about meeting Bill Gates in his new book, The Third Door. There was no holy grail.

Much like Alex’s chat with Bill Gates, my conversation with Naveen Jain didn’t reveal some sort of holy grail of success. But these are just a few of the insights he shared with me.

  1. When you stop looking for the approval of others, you can continue to move forward in the things you believe in rather than constantly looking for someone to tell you the path you’ve chosen is the right path.
  2. Success is not about how much money you have in the bank. It’s about how many lives you’ve been able to improve on. Success is about building self-worth. Self-worth doesn’t come from what you on. It comes from what you create. If you own a lot but haven’t created anything you’re still a parasite on society.
  3. The definition of failure is simply giving up. The ideas you start with may or may not work. But you only fail when you give up. Everything else is simply a stepping stone to a different idea and bigger idea.
  4. Building an amazing team together is the first step. When you’re looking for a friend, you want someone who is just like you. But when you’re trying to put together an entrepreneurial venture you want to be working with people who are unlike you because you want to get the complimentary skill. If you are the person with a vision who sees where things are, you want somebody who doesn’t care about that. Your job is to cut the trees and the person who is your partner has the responsibility to keep building the road behind you.
  5. Most entrepreneurs die of ingestion rather than starvation. They are always trying to do too many things rather than too few things. You can not open up too many battlefronts. You win one battle at a time. Do the things that are most important and focus on them.
  6. It’s easier to solve a big problem than it is to solve a small problem. It takes the same amount of effort. But it’s so much easier to recruit the best talent when you’re focused on a big problem rather than a smaller problem. It’s really easy to build a billion-dollar company if you know that the problem you’re solving is going to help a billion people.
  7. People who spend too much time thinking about the past or thinking about the future, meaning people who have a lot of hindsight or a lot of foresight, tend to miss on eyesight, which is what’s right in front of them. I never looked anything as a failure other than learning opportunity that one has. The life of an entrepreneur is like a heartbeat. The only way you know you’re alive is if it goes up and down.
  8. Every problem that you see is simply an opportunity for an entrepreneur to find a great business around it.
  9. If you want to disrupt something, if you want to make something 10 times better or 100 times better rather than 10% or 15% you have to challenge the foundation of what people have taken for granted. It will never come from an expert. It will come from someone who is coming from outside the industry looking in and applying the knowledge of some other industry into the one they’re coming into.
  10. 10. What drives humanity forward is intellectual curiosity. Once you lose that, you essentially become a zombie. Whether we’re parents or teachers, our job shouldn’t be to take kids to the water and make them drink. Our job should be to make them thirsty.

If you’re interested in my full conversation with Naveen Jain, you can listen to it here.

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