Last week was EntrepreneurshipWeek USA across the nation and beyond, sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the New York Times, and Inc Magazine. Over 350 participating universities host their own events to bring together the best entrepreneurial thinkers and leaders–events like Brown University’s 60-second Elevator Pitch competition, Purdue’s Idea-to-Product (I2P) competition, and the Idea Bounce contest at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

I’ve been meaning to share my travels to Stanford for a few days, so I’ll start from the beginning. Last weekend, February 24th, was the national opening ceremony for E-Week at Stanford University. I travelled down to Palo Alto with my roommate Steve, where we stayed with our buddy Patrick Briggs (the Zazzler).

At the E-Week kickoff, Jonathan Ortmans (National Executive Director of EntrepreneurshipWeek USA) stressed the value of entrepreneurs to the US and world economy, citing that entrepreneurs especially reflect the pioneering spirit of the early American colonizers. An entrepreneurial career definitely highlights the difference between merely taking a job that someone else provides for you and making a job for yourself! It is a move back toward the self-made legacy of great American heroes like Ben Franklin, for one.

Next we heard from John Hennessey, president of Stanford University. Hennessey is one academic who has an entrepreneurial legacy himself, as he transferred his important research in microprocessor technology to actual industry application by co-founding MIPS Technologies (he also sits on the boards of Google and Cisco). President Hennessey explained that fostering an entrepreneurial atmosphere does five important things: it 1) increases people’s creativity and willingness to think outside the box, 2) encourages individuals to follow their passion and therefore excel at what they do, 3) creates a community that embraces and leads change, 4) encourages people to have a “glass half full” approach to problems and see them as potential opportunities, and 5) increases people’s willingness to take on and overcome challenges by building excellent teams. This entrepreneurial atmosphere is definitely prevalent throughout Silicon Valley–which is why I feel myself drawn there. It is one community of people who do not let fear of failure prevent them from giving their BIG ideas a shot! And they are great at assembling quality teams to tackle problems-as-opportunities.

Carl Schramm (President and CEO, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation) surprised some of the audience when he said that 70% of college students will start a business at some point in their lives. He referenced the common statistic that while our grandparents may have had on average four jobs over their career, we will have something like 13! And who is responsible for creating all those new jobs? Entrepreneurs, of course! Schramm is author of The Entrepreneurial Imperative and calls entrepreneurship the US’ “competitive secret,” which allows us to stay ahead of developing nations economically (who knows for how long?). He says that startups “birth the new” and give security to others by creating jobs, and they posses the only key to creating wealth! This presents an interesting new way to look at economic models that I hadn’t really approached before: without the for-profit businessman to virtually create capital, governments could not operate (no one to tax), and the non-profit foundations would not have any money to give to their causes. So without individuals to start up businesses, there can be no government, no philanthropy, no charity…

Finally Steve Jurvetson (Partner in the VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson) shared some insight into what ties philanthropy, raising families, creating art and literature, and entrepreneurship together–people’s desire to create some kind of a legacy that will last beyond our short time here on earth. He recommends students pay close attention for uniqueness, persistence, and infectious enthusiasm in their classmates (his peer Jim Yang went on to start up Yahoo!) because successful entrepreneurs are rarely lone rangers, but more often come in dynamic duos as he says. Most importantly, he says to look for ways you can harness what you’ve learned from past experiences in new and perhaps unfamiliar territory. That is why I try not to let job descriptions discourage me when I am looking for something new–I feel that my accumulated experience across many different job types will lend itself to being a flexible team-worker in different settings even if I haven’t worked in that field before. And I hope that my experience leading teams successfully in my academic career, recruiting and assembling student teams, and creating my own leadership projects in a position where I’m not officially given a lot of seniority, will translate well into being a fair and effective leader in business. You take the lessons you learn, and just apply them in a new setting.

In the end, I really felt like these guys opened my eyes to a few new ways of looking at entrepreneurship and how it benefits society. In a capitalist community, it really spurs all progress, and is responsible for all wealth- and job-creation. Carl Schramm says that all entrepreneurs are social entrepreneurs for these reasons.

Founder & Small Group Facilitator

January 2007 – April 2008

Sacramento, Carmichael & Roseville, California

Career MasterMinds was an exclusive Sacramento Mastermind group for young professionals and college students to empower each other through the college-to-career transition and beyond. We ran an organized group of 8-10 peers across different disciplines—from entrepreneurship to economics to philosophy to engineering—who met weekly for over a year to serve each other as a personal “Board of Directors”, supporting one another and holding each other accountable to goals in career planning, personal development, professional development, and in business.

A colleague forwarded me some information this week about ethanol and Flex cars, a video in which Stone Phillips interviews Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and now head of the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Khosla Ventures, a group whose interests in biofuels, solar power, web 2.0, microfinance, education, health, and more line up quite perfectly with mine. This quote from Khosla’s site exemplifies some of the sentiments I shared in my call for grassroots collaboration to solve global problems:

Innovative, bottom-up methods will solve problems that now seem intractable–from energy to poverty to disease. Science and technology, powered by the fuel of entrepreneurial energy, are the largest multipliers of resources we have to solve our many social problems.”

-Vinod Khosla, venture capitalist and ethanol fuel evangelist

The May Dateline NBC report, The answer to sky-high prices?, examines the tremendous success of ethanol in Brazil, which has recently gone completely energy independent. There, “flex” cars give consumers the choice to use ethanol, gasoline, or an 85% mixture thereof (E85). Three out of four new vehicles sold in Brazil are equipped with flex-fuel engines, and automakers like Ford Brazil are pulling in profits, even while their domestic counterparts are failing. Drivers say the ethanol is cheaper in almost every case, and Khosla gives three reasons for making the change here in the States:

  • Economic: The fuel costs significantly less to produce, and he argues that prices at the pump could go as low as a dollar or even 70 cents! What more incentive do you need?
  • Environmental: Khosla also discusses alternate methods of processing the alcohol from waste materials such as leftovers from paper mills, fruit peels from food processing plants, and even from prairie grass. Such methods would be even more economical and go further to reduce and recycle waste. = Happy Earth!
  • Social: Ending our energy dependence on the Middle East would put more money into U.S. agriculture and new energy markets rather than into corrupt regimes and terrorist groups. Not to mention, make us INDEPENDENT! Which is always good.

Dateline also reports that WalMart has committed to install E85 pumps at all of its gas station locations. For a full transcript and links to more information, see A simple solution to pain at the pump? And for those of you with a little more technical understanding of ethanol, watch extended footage of Phillips’ interview with Khosla here: Fuel of the future?, in which he discusses the science and process behind ethanol in more detail.

Note: Ethanol is a very disputed topic among environmentalists. I’ve seen the argument that ethanol from corn delivers only very little excess energy than is necessary to produce it. (But that’s why it’s Khosla’s comments about ethanol from other, ready sources that interests me!) Get the other side of the argument at Robert Rapier’s R-Squared Energy Blog. Robert is a chemical engineer in the energy sector, and he takes a critical approach to Khosla’s claims. Very interesting piece.

I don’t have the answers. But it’s certainly worth looking at!

The only thing standing in the way? BIG OIL.

Rajesh Setty is the popular author of the book Beyond Code: Learn To Distinguish Yourself In 9 Simple Steps and another of my absolute favorite bloggers, at Life Beyond Code. He is the president of Foresight Plus, a Silicon Valley management consulting firm that aims to give entrepreneurs a competitive advantage, as well as founder of the new online companies Suggestica and iPolipo. He has lived quite the motivated and successful life, not only as founder, president, and chairman of many companies, but also as an author, teacher, and public speaker.

With such an accomplished list of entrepreneurial pursuits, I thought Rajesh would make the perfect contender for my second business interview. He has had many successes and failures, and has a lot of solid knowledge to share from that experience. I was fortunate enough to be able to meet with him in person on my recent trip to Silicon Valley, and he was kind enough to let me interview him by email.

Rajesh, you are a founder, president, chairman, author, and blogger. Please tell us about the many business projects you are currently involved with.

Cody, first of all thank you for inviting me for this interview. Now, to answer your question, currently I am involved in five different companies. I will go with the latest one first:

  • iPolipo – I am one of the founders and serve as the executive chairman. We think that people want to spend more time “meeting” people rather than “scheduling those meetings” with them. We have a solution that will help in doing just that.
  • Suggestica – I am one of the founders and serve as the president. We think that there is a non-information overload on the web. By bringing trusted content, we not only hope to save time and money, we truly want to bring joy into people’s lives.
  • Compassites – This is a company in India and I serve on their board. Compassites is totally focused on helping entrepreneurs with their product development needs. Their claim to fame is that they can take an idea from concept to launch in record time.
  • Foresight Plus – This is a management consulting firm where I partner with some select businesses and individuals to bring them an unfair and sustainable competitive advantage. I am no longer accepting new clients with this business for the near future.
  • CIGNEX – I was one of the founders and served as the CEO for the first five years. While I am no longer operationally involved in the company, I help in some business development activities when appropriate.

I am involved in a few more projects but those are all in stealth mode. I am an entrepreneur at heart but I am also an author and a teacher. On the business side, I act as a catalyst to speed up multiple projects simultaneously. On the personal side, I love to help already high-performing people reach greater heights.

What sort of background do you come from? And what was your experience like living and working in different countries around the globe and finally coming to reside here in California?

I was born and brought up in Southern India. I come from a middle-class family. My father was a civil engineer working for the state government. That meant that we would move from one place to another place every few years. It seemed like a pain at that time but it taught us to adapt to new situations.

That family background helped me to adjust easily when I lived and worked in five different countries–India, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and France. I am generally a happy person so I enjoyed living and working in all those countries. These experiences have helped me tremendously in the following ways:

  • Increased my respect for diversity: Every country was different and we had to get used to the diversity. Now, it is more fun than a problem.
  • Enhanced my ability to adapt: Each country was also different in terms of how we live and work and basically how to get things done.
  • Expanded my network globally: Relationships in different countries help tremendously with globalization in full force.

Where did you get your formal education and what did you study?

I completed my Bachelor of Engineering at Mysore University in India, in Electronics and Communication. Of course, I didn’t use much of what I studied in my engineering at my work.

Do you have a word of advice for college students and other young people who would like to become successful leaders or entrepreneurs?

I think every college student should try to pursue a life of leadership. If you are a college student, you can learn that by taking some initiative to do what I call “filling in the blanks.” Wherever you are, you can always find something that everyone thinks someone else will take care of–blanks–and rather than thinking that someone else will take care of it, you can take the initiative to take care of it. If you make this a habit, you would have laid a good foundation to become a leader.

Are there any specific skill sets that don’t get taught in school that are invaluable in the business world? What do you recommend to get over those hurdles?

This question is very interesting to me. There are many skills that are not taught in schools, but if you don’t learn them you are at a serious competitive disadvantage. It will take me a while to list all of them, but here are a few for starters:

  1. Building long-term relationships: Long-term relationships can be a huge competitive advantage just because of the sheer fact that it takes a long-time to build them. Everyone knows that, but the schools don’t teach it. You have to learn it on your own initiative.
  2. Improving your likability: When I tell people that likable people have an easier time getting ahead, people usually agree. When I tell people that unlikeable people have a hard time getting things done, people agree to that too. However, when I ask them if they have done anything in the last one year to improve their likability factor, they look at me as if I am from a different world. Likability is a key skill and you have to learn it on your own.
  3. Learning how to learn: Schools teach you stuff but rarely teach you the concept of “learning how to learn.” It is your responsibility to learn the best way to learn new things. Many of your current skills won’t help you to succeed in the future. So while you are delivering your current projects with your current skill sets, you have to also learn new skills. Unlike the times when you were a student, you have less time to learn a lot more. This means you have to learn how to learn.
  4. Leveraging your time: Every one of us has only 24 hours, but successful people get more out of those 24 hours. How can you too get more out of your time? For starters, start designing your activities to yield multiple rewards. For example: you come across a very interesting service on the web, you can see who among your friends will be interested in it and why. Remember that even if only two people are interested, the reasons for their interest may be different. Your job is to send both of them a note explaining the relevance of that service to them. This is an example that you are caring for what they care about.
  5. Building your personal brand: Every person has a personal brand, whether they like it or not. It is “who they are to the world.” So, you have a personal brand too. The real question therefore is: “Is your personal brand effective?” Like likability, personal brands provide a powerful shortcut to many things. It takes a while to build a powerful personal brand and it takes a lot of effort to maintain and grow it, but the rewards are long-term and sweet.

What values would you say have provided you with the greatest motivation to be continually successful? What do you care about most?

If I could pick one value, it would be the ability to touch the lives of people in a positive way. I like to have a magic touch–meaning when someone is already magical (high-performing), I would like to touch them!

As an entrepreneur and executive businessman, what experiences have left the most lasting impression or have been the most memorable in your work experience?

It is hard to single out any one experience during the last decade, Cody. However, every time I see a smile on one or more of our clients’ faces, I feel blessed that we were able to solve a problem for them or open up a significant opportunity with our products or services.

So, you’ve just unveiled your newest venture iPolipo just days ago. Please tell us all about it.

We launched iPolipo in the “controlled beta” mode on Monday, December 11. We hit 90% of our beta customer count by Friday of the same week. This was an overwhelmingly positive response for something that was built over the last one year.

iPolipo solves the everyday scheduling problem for business executives. It is common for two people to exchange multiple emails or voicemails to schedule one meeting. It is also frustrating to hold a particular slot on your calendar open waiting for a confirmation from the other party. iPolipo solves this problem by allowing people to share their free slots on the calendar effectively on the web.

 

And what motivated you to start writing? Tell us about some of your written work.

I started reading early. By the time I was nine, I must have read close to 700 books–mostly novels and other fiction. When I was nine, I had an idea–you can say a crazy idea–to write my own novel. At that age, you don’t have a lot of logic in your head. So I didn’t think much, but wrote a 200-page novel. My parents thought I was mentally ill, as it was odd for a 9-year old kid to write 200 pages of anything. But my craziness continued. I thought, “writing is the hard work; publishing should be easy.” I immediately took action and started searching for a publisher. Long story short, after more than a hundred rejections and four long years, I found a publisher to get my book published. After that there was no looking back, and I have thoroughly enjoyed writing since then.

I have so far got seven books published. Four novels, one collection of poems, one book on mathematics and my latest book Beyond Code (with a foreword by Tom Peters) is a management book that’s focus is to help people distinguish themselves to raise above the commodity crowd. I talk about 9 things that people can do to distinguish themselves. It is available in many major bookstores and almost all online bookstores like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and 800-CEO-READ.

What kind of readers do you write your blog Life Beyond Code for?

My blog is targeted at knowledge workers, entrepreneurs and ambitious students who want to get something more out of their lives. It started off as an extension to the book, but has taken a life of its own. I write on topics that range from how to get more out of your life, the art of leverage, distinguishing yourself, leadership, entrepreneurship and some occasional mini sagas (a mini saga is a story in exactly 50 words).

How do you think web 2.0 technology is changing the way we do business? Is this a positive trend?

Web 2.0, Software as a Service, Open Source or any other thing in and within itself cannot make a significant change. What we do with them is what is causing the change. I just received a business plan to look at where the entrepreneur had explained the business model something like this: “We have a web 2.0 application delivered as a Software as a Service model in the healthcare vertical.” I was sad because the idea should not be to create a buzzword-laden business plan. The underlying magic is the power of the business model and the power of execution. Both idea and the team are important and then comes the “how” part where web 2.0, open source and SaaS models come into play. Sometimes people tend to put the cart before the horse because of all the hype surrounding these buzzwords.

Describe your vision of the future of business. How do you think things might change on an international level, and how might businesses anticipate those changes?

All I know is that the rate of change that is happening at a global level is mind-boggling. I think nobody can cope with this change all on their own. Everyone needs help and whoever realizes this early and builds powerful configurations that can withstand the change can survive and thrive. There aren’t any sure-fire ways or practices that can help any organization to guarantee success. What I tell people is to constantly build the capacity to:

  • handle change
  • relentlessly innovate
  • read the markets
  • anticipate mid to long-term needs and start planning to create offerings before someone else does
  • execute better than the competition

Who do you think are 3 or 4 of the most authoritative experts in leadership, innovation, and business productivity currently, other than yourself?

Here are my current picks, in no particular order:

Leadership

Innovation

Productivity

What one life tip would you like to leave us with, Rajesh?

Focus on ROII. ROII stands for Return On Investment for an Interaction. Everyone is busy and running around to take care of many of their concerns.
People say time is money, but most people really don’t mean it or at least they don’t behave as if time was money. In fact, they do something that is shocking–they treat money as if they can never get it back, and they squander time as if they can easily refill it at a gas station or something like that. In reality, we all know that time lost is gone forever and money invested in the right things will yield multiple returns. Imagine for a second that you did subscribe to the “time is money” philosophy. This would mean that when someone interacts with you, they are investing their time and that means they are investing money in you. Like any business person, they are interested in getting the right return on their investment (in this case, this happens to be time) and it is your duty to provide that return for them.

If you don’t care about providing a decent ROII, you become a liability for that person. Worse, if someone else who is in the same role provides a better ROII for the same job, you have a serious competitive disadvantage.

I wish to thank Rajesh so much for giving me a few hours of his time and sharing his valuable thoughts and experiences! As is fitting, he is the king of ensuring he delivers the highest return-on-investment to everyone he interacts with!

Rajesh Setty currently lives in Silicon Valley with his wife Kavitha and their son Sumukh. You can learn more about him on his website Life Beyond Code, or from his book Beyond Code.

We all get sick. It’s a part of life.

About four or five days ago, my brand new running routine that I’ve been trying to keep up 3 or 4 days a week finally irritated my asthma (something that hasn’t bothered me for several years since I was a kid). I was in the emergency room until 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning on a breathing device, and then finally checked out with an inhaler, etc. Unfortunately I am still struggling to get a deep breath, so I chose to take a sick day from work today until I can get in to see my regular doctor tomorrow for follow-up at 11. (I’m hoping they can prescribe me something a little more preventative!)

Aside from my hopes and wishes, it’s very difficult for me to concentrate on work when I feel like I’m struggling for breath—plus I need to relax my body and get my mind off my breathing as much as possible—so I chose to stay home. While it is hard to concentrate on things, that doesn’t mean I can’t get things done! A day off from work is always an opportunity. So, the first thing I did after I slept in a little and called my doctor was read Patricia’s “How To Use A Sick Day To Change Your Life” at A Better You Blog. I figured this would be a great kickstart for my lazy day at home. She says, “Stay on track. Do not use your illness as an excuse to be derailed from your path in life.” Instead, she offers 10 examples of how you can make a sick day a productive and successful day! Here are a few of my favorite excerpts:

“You will be healthier if your mind thinks constructive and uplifting thoughts. When you are sick in bed is not the time to consider all the things you cannot do. Instead, make a deal with yourself to think only about what you CAN do.”

“Dream. What would you do if you could change your life? Use your sick day, a day away from your typical routine, to consider your life course. Set goals and aim high. Think big. It is okay, no one will laugh. And no one will even know if you stay quiet. Consider telling someone your dreams, goals, and aspirations. You may find encouragements in surprising places. Then take action. Are you stuck with an extended illness? Consider how you can use the time to help others. The biggest cancer fundraisers began with one person considering what to do to influence the world. What about you?”

“Grow, create, and expand. Before your day is over, enrich your life. Learn something new. Watch a documentary or “how to” show on television. Read a book about a subject you do not know. Browse the internet to learn what you do not typically seek out. Evaluate your life purpose, your measure of success, and consider your sphere of influence. Create a post for your blog if you have one, or express yourself through whatever medium your talent allows. You can be very productive while your body rests. You can even change your life. Do it today.”

So, after reading this insightful post, here are a few goals I have set for myself for today:

  • To blog about my sick day. Check!
  • Put the time I have to the best use and finish up a group project I’m working on strong!
  • Read a back issue of Vanity Fair (the Green Issue) to expand my knowledge.
  • Possibly catch up on balancing my checkbook and polishing my budget if there is time.

What will you do with your next sick day?

How To Use A Sick Day To Change Your Life at A Better You Blog

He won’t just teach you to be rich…he’ll also teach you the skills to get into college, get a great job, bargain for what you want, and so on. Ramit Sethi is one of my absolute favorite bloggers. He’s based out of Palo Alto, and is known for IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com. But aside from being a personal finance guru, Ramit is a graduate of Stanford University, he’s founded several companies such as his latest, PBwiki, he has two books coming out in the next year, and he’s just an all-around nice Silicon Valley guy.

Now, part of my own personal mission is to start interviewing people who are doing what I want to do, or people who are experts in their fields–in business, finance, environment, technology… So, here is the first of what I hope to be many.

Ramit was kind enough to sit down with me (outside on a freezing Sacramento morning no less!) for a cup of coffee on a recent trip home to visit his family. I am so grateful for the time and thoughtful answers he gave me! We had such an amazing discussion, but here are the highlights.

Ramit, how would you say your essential self differs from your social self? In other words, if you could be living your dream, independent of how others might perceive you for it, what would that look like? Do you identify yourself more as the IWillTeachYouToBeRich teacher, or as something else?

Actually I think I’m lucky enough to be able to do whatever I want right now, and I’m doing it! Some of that involves trying to build a great company with some other guys, some of that involves writing a great blog that’s completely my own, and I can say whatever I want–no editorial control or anything. I don’t think there’s much of a difference between what people see on my site versus my personality. What my readers see me talking about day-in and day-out though is personal finance and entrepreneurship, and really there’s a lot of other stuff that I’m interested in–I don’t talk about college recruitment, and I don’t talk about my travel that I do on a personal basis. And if there’s one thing my friends would say about me that’s a little different from what’s on the site is that maybe I’m a little bit louder, a little bit more vulgar in real life, but pretty much what you see is what you get. The biggest compliment people give me is that they say, “When I read that I can actually hear your voice!”

It’s hard to put me in a bucket though–like, personal finance over here, wiki over there, college recruiting over here. That may be a little confounding, but my general goal here is to find what I’m really interested in, get really good at it, and then turn around and teach other people. That’s what happened with personal finance, that’s what happened with the musical instrument I play–the tabla… Teaching it absolutely helps me learn it better, because people challenge me all the time when I’m teaching things. That to me is pretty exciting, because I can read all the blog posts and all the books, but there’s nothing like having somebody with an individual question I don’t know challenge me, so I really appreciate that.

What sort of background do you come from and how did your childhood influence the person you’ve become?

We’re sitting here right now in Sacramento–we’re about a five minute walk from my house. I grew up very middle class here, my parents were very modest. They were immigrants from India, and what they taught me were things like “just ask”–ask for a discount, or ask to get published, just write it up and send it in to the newspaper! They taught me the scrappiness of “just ask–there’s nothing wrong with asking”, and not to fear failure. I manage most of my life through my email, and I have a folder in my inbox called “failures.” And for me, I say if I’m not getting 4 or 5 failures in there a month, then I’m not trying hard enough. When I was in high school it would be like applying for scholarships, in college it was applying for grants or projects, now it’s applying for jobs, etc. Learning from your failures is like: what did you do wrong? And what could you do better?

What was your experience like studying at Stanford University? How do you apply what you learned about psychology and technology to the business world?

I loved it! I had a great time there. I did my undergrad and graduate work there. I studied technology and psychology. It was about the people. The way I prioritized my work was: number one was my friends, two was my own business stuff, then third comes my academics. I don’t know if parents will like hearing this, but if it came down to me working on an essay that was due next week or going out with my friends, I would almost always choose going out with my friends. I don’t know if that’s for everyone, but it worked great for me, because I spent all this time meeting all these different people that are now all over the country that I can visit anytime, and they taught me more than any book could teach.

I studied a lot of bargaining and persuasion, and combined that with technology. In general I think it helps me understand things like, “Why are my friends saying this or acting like this?” In business, what are the levers that would motivate people? I’ll give you an example: Some people are really, really motivated by money, and that’s okay–they’re open about it. Other people are more motivated by ego, while some people–a lot of engineers, for example–are motivated by a challenge, like “How difficult is this problem? How big is the impact?” So, it’s like, you figure out those motivational things, and you work with the person to get what they really want. If someone came to me and they offered me a lot of money, it probably wouldn’t be the most motivational thing, because money is not as important as other things to me right now. So, it’s really important to understand people’s motivation and then turn around and apply it.

What would you say are the most valuable lessons you learned from your education that have helped you become successful since?

I learned that being smart is not the most important thing–I’m a big proponent of that. There are people who are way smarter than I am; probably most of my friends are way smarter than I am. And that’s good if you want to, for example, get into law school. But for my path, being book smart is not the most important thing by any means; it’s about, “How do you get things done? With really limited resources?” If I wanted to write an e-book or start a website, I’m not too technical, so I would need to persuade people to help me, and I would need to create this passion in them. Or how would I go around the bureaucracy of a university and get what I want? That was the most important stuff I learned. For me, what I value more than anything when I’m hiring somebody, it’s not your GPA–I don’t give a damn! It’s “Show me some examples of where you’ve gotten something done.”

What experiences outside of your education would you say have been essential? What skills are there that you think business-minded individuals need that aren’t taught in school?

Number one is taking initiative. In school it’s so easy to get by if you do the papers, take the tests, and get an A or an A- or whatever. You’re done, you’re satisfied. And to me, that’s like the bare minimum. I would rather get the B or a B- in a class, and have done something really cool outside of class. So taking initiative to really find what you’re interested in, talking to the right people… Like you emailed me and here we are meeting up! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. I do that all the time. I did that in college, I do it all the time with CEOs or anybody I think is interesting. Take them out to lunch, take them out to coffee. They teach you something, maybe introduce you to their friends. And that’s the way that I’ve been fortunate enough to really come further than I thought I would have been able to.

What motivated you to start blogging?

When I was a sophomore–this was around 2002 in college–I came up with this idea called IWillTeachYouToBeRich, and I came up with the framework for a one-hour class, which I still use. And I went around to my friends telling them, “Hey you guys have got to take this class! In one hour, I will teach you how to be rich!” People would be so excited but they would never show up. I was so frustrated, so finally I thought I’d just start a blog, and I’ll just write–I’m gonna make it funny, I’m gonna make it how I really talk in real life, and I’m not going to make it really pedantic and boring like the old white men at Wells Fargo and Fidelity. There’s really cool stuff to be taught here; there’s so many lessons! And I can learn as I teach. So I did that, and for the first six months there were very few comments–like maybe one or two comments per post. And I just kept writing because I liked it. After six months I had all this that I had written; I was like, “I’m on a roll.” People started commenting, and maybe about 8 or 12 months into it there was some sort of click and a lot of people started commenting. In the background I was also doing a lot of marketing to spread the word. I was covered in the Wall Street Journal and a lot of people started coming to the blog, and then it really started building into a community.

College students and recent college grads are my core audience, that’s who I go after. But what’s interesting is that I have all these people I had no idea about. I have a very large group of 30-40 year olds, and I have high schoolers, and I have people who write me that are senior VP at a Fortune 100 company and they’re reading my blog! And it just happened because the word spread.

How significant do you think blogs and podcasts are as a new medium of communication?

I think they give everybody the ability to write something interesting about what they do, or communicate something interesting. I always say, everybody has an X-man ability… everybody’s got at least one thing that they’re amazing at—-they’re an X-man! Somebody’s got the piano, somebody’s an entrepreneur, someone may be a Westinghouse Scholarship winner, whatever it is. Everyone’s got something. If everybody just put their one thing, or their passion, on a blog or a podcast… I’ll tell you IWillTeachYouToBeRich was probably the best business decision I ever made. Now I have a huge reach, and I feel very fortunate about that. Business opportunities have come my way that I never would have found. The ability to start a blog–which you can do in like ten seconds–is great. It’s letting the really passionate people come out and spread the word.

What was your first company and what was it like founding and running your own business for the first time?

First one was right out of high school, called Scholastic Advising, which still operates with the involvement of my parents. When I was in high school I got so frustrated because so many people would say, “Oh I’m not going to apply to Stanford, because even if I got in, I couldn’t afford it.” This is exactly the wrong way to think about it. The right way to think about it is “I’m going to apply everywhere. I’m going to do a great application, and if I get in, then I’ll think about the money.” And usually what happens is if you’re good enough to get in, then they’ll take care of you. I saw a lot of kids doing this and it made me sad. My parents were very middle class and there were four kids in the family. They told us, “You guys have got to get scholarships, otherwise you can’t go to college.” So we did! And there’s no secret, it’s the same things I talk about: take the initiative, be patient, learn from your mistakes, that sort of stuff. So Scholastic Advising was an advisory company, a consulting company. We helped high school students get scholarships and financial aid, and with admissions. That was what we worked on, and it’s still continuing through my parents.

You’ve done some consulting with Omidyar Network and Storm Ventures. What has that taught you? And what do you think of the whole “web 2.0” phenomenon?

Pierre Omidyar was the founder of eBay. He’s very wealthy now and he wants to give back to improve the world. I was brought on to do some social psychology consulting. I would evaluate deals and make suggestions–“I think this is good, I think you should invest this much…” Similar thing for Storm and I’ve also done some consulting for a capital firm called Gemini. Mostly they want to get in and learn about this web 2.0 stuff and what young people are doing these days.

I think one thing a lot of young people don’t realize is that they are experts at what young people are doing! If you use instant messenger, Facebook, Myspace…you are an expert, and older people have no idea what’s going on! And that is a marketable opportunity. So, I turned that around and I marketed it, and they hired me as a consultant to teach them about blogs, social networks, photos, music sharing, all that stuff. A lot of companies are stuck in the past and they’re just buying big billboards, and they don’t understand young people don’t care about that anymore. We care about personalized recommendations, we care about what our friends say, we see it on Myspace and blogs and YouTube. And these older folks are struggling to understand that, so I think there’s a humongous opportunity for young people, if they’re smart and they package it right, to say “Here’s the things you need to know, here’s what I’m getting on a daily basis, and here’s the things you should be doing.” Older companies are paying a lot of money to have market research firms come in and instruct them, and I always just say why not get together a group of 5 or 10 people and just talk to them?

You’re also a co-founder and VP of Marketing for PBwiki. Tell us about PBwiki and where you hope it might lead you in the next few years?

It’s a scrappy startup that I love! We all co-founded this, there’s three of us, three Stanford grads. PBwiki means it’s as easy to make a wiki as it is to make a peanut butter sandwich. And a wiki is an easy-to-use website that lets a lot of people edit it together. You may have heard of Wikipedia; that’s a good example of using a wiki as an encyclopedia. So if you have a group project you might say “Hey Mike, you put the information about Thomas Jefferson, I’ll put the information about Susan B. Anthony.” Or if you’re taking a vacation, “You do the airfare, I’ll do the hotels, and we’ll put it all together and see what everyone has done.” And of course businesses are using it, educators are using it in the classroom… If you go to PBwiki.com it takes about ten seconds to set one up, we host it and manage it, and it’s free for you! And if you want to have more features or more space then you can pay us a small subscription fee. So we’ve hosted over 140,000 wikis in about a year, and it’s growing very quickly. We got offices a few months ago, which is a big step for us. And we just hired somebody else on, and have taken some funding. The goal here is: wikis for the masses. Most people still don’t know what a wiki is, and we want to share that, because if you’ve ever sent emails back and forth a hundred times editing this and that, why not just put it on the wiki where everyone can see the changes and everyone can go back in time to see past revisions?

You’ve co-authored a book on college recruiting coming out — Recruit or Die, scheduled for release July 5, 2007! And the big news is that you just signed your second book–this one to go along with your personal finance blog! What will be in your forthcoming IWillTeachYouToBeRich book that is unique from the online resources?

IWillTeachYouToBeRich, the book, won’t be coming out for a while. In fact, I’m just starting to write it. But if you’ve read my blog, you know that I have a no-nonsense style. I’m not about platitude, I’m not about being bought by any corporate interests, I’m just about telling people the best things to do. And I offer some different ways of thinking about things: for example one thing that I encourage some people to do is buy a new car instead of a used car. And that’s different than a lot of personal finance people, and I explain why. If you like my reasoning or not, at least you understand it. IWillTeachYouToBeRich the book will have a combination of personal finance and entrepreneurship, and you’ll be able to pick it up and finish it and say “Man, I know what to do tomorrow, I know what to do next week, and I know what to do for the next 30 years.” You can never finish learning, and I’m not saying this should be your only book, because of course it shouldn’t. But in terms of getting your strategy together and getting started, in the one or two hours it takes you to read it you will know exactly what you need to do. That’s the difference–I am very tactical. I could give you a lot of generalities like “start early” and “diversify,” but that doesn’t mean anything if you think “Shit! What bank account should I get?” Or, “What do I do with this debt?” I’ll be saying: here’s the steps, here’s what you do, and here’s what to look out for.

You’ll be able to see excerpts of the book on my site. And it’s not going to be just a book. I’ll be letting my readers contribute to it and actually add some of those stories to the book, and I’ll be asking people to actually help me shape the way the book looks, give me links, tell me what you think should be in this book. So it’s going to be a pretty collaborative effort. And there will be some fun stuff that I won’t announce yet, but stay tuned.

In your opinion, who are 4 of the most authoritative experts (other than yourself, of course) in the personal finance field today?

One I really admire is Suze Orman. I’m actually a big fan of hers. Some people are not a big fan of her style, but I don’t mind someone’s style so much if they have good things to say. Every time I watch her show I learn something. What I like about her is that she encourages people to manage their own finances. One of my core tenets is that almost everyone can manage their finances without a financial advisor. And she teaches you that you don’t want to be paying fees to these financial companies–you want to learn a little bit, and do it on your own.

Another guy I really admire is Jonathan Clemens at the Wall Street Journal. He’s saying “Think long term.” And a lot of young people are very stupid–they’ll say things like “I bought this stock and I sold it for a 20% profit.” And they don’t realize that–no they didn’t–they had to pay a huge amount in taxes on that, and they didn’t realize their gains as much as they could have, because if they just held it and read the research, long-term investing beats short-term almost every day of the week. He focuses on getting started, putting your money away and diversifying. It isn’t sexy, but there’s a difference between being sexy and being rich.

JLP at AllFinancialMatters is great. And J.D. Roth, who just started up a new blog called Get Rich Slowly, has just been around for a few months and he’s doing very well–he’s got great readership and great articles and it’s not a surprise. I think these guys are doing a phenomenal job. I think it’s interesting you have these experts like Suze Orman, but then you have just these regular guys doing everyday blogging, day-in and day-out.

To top this all off, do you have one financial tip you think everyone should know?

I don’t do that. It’s pretty sensationalistic to say I have one tip. IWillTeachYouToBeRich is a sensationalistic enough title! If you go to the site, you’ll be surprised because it’s not about any secrets. There are no secrets, but I’ll tell you a few things that I think work. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, you just have to get started early. And what I mean by that is you have to understand your financial accounts. You have to look at how much you are spending–most people don’t even do that!–and I will teach you to do that. And then you say “Alright I have one credit card; I need a few other sources of credit and I need to use them effectively.” And then you can get a free E*trade account and you can start trading a little bit and investing in index funds, which are a pretty good bet. And don’t be stupid! A lot of people just watch MSNBC and read CNN Money, which are some of the most hyped-up, unbelievable things, and they buy stocks that they read about in Smart Money. Big mistake! Because those magazines and those TV shows have to sell something. And I’m not out to sell anything, it’s just about picking something that you know and you love, and you use. Finally you need to learn to track these things, whether you use a pen and paper, or Excel. Tracking exactly what you’re making and what you’re spending is a way that you can get rich over a long period of time.

I have a very boring investment strategy: evaluate my diversification strategy, understand that I can take a lot of risk because I’m young, buy stocks or index funds and let it ride. If I think there’s a good value, buy some more. I’ve hardly ever sold. That’s not sexy, but at the end of the day the question is: do you want to be sexy or do you want to be rich? My basic message here is you don’t have to be the smartest person in the world, you just have to get started. And taking that first step will put you above 99% of other people your age. If you do start early and you are sensible, I think long-term you will be rich. That’s it, it’s as simple as that.

Well, again I want to thank Ramit Sethi so much for taking the time to meet with me and discuss his successes and experiences. If you’d like to learn more about Ramit and what he does, check out his blog IWillTeachYouToBeRich, his company PBwiki, and his upcoming book Recruit or Die. Students who’d like to learn more about personal finance can start with this article on Thrilling Heroics, Six Simple Money Tips to Get You Back on the Financial Track.

I want to be a revolutionary. I want to make this world a better place for my future children. I made the conscious decision some time ago that I don’t want to live a normal life—I don’t want to bury my head in the sand and I don’t want to be apathetic. I want to confront the problems and I want to participate in change. I have spent the last few years searching for ways in which I can accomplish this goal and ways I can live my life to best reflect these values…and though my ideas and values may change over time, I, like many young Gen-Y professionals, am blessed to have been given the health, education, and affluence that I have. It is our responsibility to make the most out of life and explore our full potential!

Tim Sanders says that “Happiness is like a ray of light that sits just beyond the dark clouds of suffering. When those clouds part our joy shines through. We only get glimpses of this light because there is so much suffering in our lives.” Sanders believes that our greatest joy and energy comes from participating in the end of suffering and in facilitating happiness for others. On that note, here are a few of my beliefs at this point in my life:

  • Our general attitude here in the U.S. is too self-centered, too greedy, and too busy
  • We make the fallacious assumption that we can impose our societal values on other groups of people without first striving to understand those people
  • Decades of slow transition have blinded us from recognizing trespasses to our own freedom and democracy
  • War and killing are an inhumane means to get what we want
  • We tend to have selective hearing only to the suffering of those who it benefits us to help
  • Our consumer mindset has distanced us from the means of production for both food and goods
  • Our culture of debt is setting us up for economic failure
  • We have an unacceptable level of dependence on oil as an energy source
  • Our world is in trouble if we don’t do something to stop and reverse the effects of global warming—and we have nowhere else to live

And here are some of the things that I strongly advocate based on those beliefs:

  • Government accountability
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Sustainable business practices
  • International business development and open international diplomacy
  • Overseas travel and cultural learning
  • Awareness of humanitarian causes worldwide
  • Living a sustainable life
  • Redesigning infrastructure to support renewable energies

From A Mission Statement that rocks: The End of Suffering:

It is my informed opinion that the most effective leaders in the world focus efforts towards the end of suffering. They are first and foremost happy and proactive in defending that happiness. They are sensitive to others’ feelings and possess a connected form of emotional intelligence.

After reading Tim Sanders’ words, I am motivated to develop a definitive mission statement and make a public statement of some of my life goals. Although I do not know where this life will take me, I aim to take action to make my above values reality, and to live my life in accordance with them. My goals: to spend the next 5 years gaining professional experience and cultivating strong contacts in relevant industries; to apply to the Stanford Graduate School of Business; to research in business, environment, and sustainability; and to start my own social venture or green company.

Almost everything I share on this blog is related to my above values. I want to sincerely thank those of you who have consistently returned to read my thoughts on these issues and to check out valuable information that I try to pass along. I also want to ask you to spread the word about this blog to other individuals who you think share similar ideals. And most importantly, I would like to ask my readers to help support me in my mission and to help hold me accountable to my goals.

I will continue to write here at Thrilling Heroics about my professional, educational and entrepreneurial experience. I encourage you to follow along with me through the journey and offer your own thoughts and opinions along the way. In addition to following my journey, I also want to write this blog to encourage others to make a similar journey. Let me know if you work or study in these areas, and what your thoughts are on my newly-adopted mission!

Republished from a 2006 article I wrote for Prosper Magazine:

When Prosper Magazine asked me to take the lead on its student Perspectives event, I jumped at the chance to assemble a group of local students from UC Davis and Sacramento State to share their views with the local community.

The voice of the youth only transforms society very slowly, and is only taken seriously by some. But it is the voice of things to come.

So, when I was asked to step outside of my technical role as administrator and recruiter, and speak here about what issues I believe will shape the future, I thought back to a recent incident when an acquaintance accused the my generation of being lazy and apathetic to our education and to the world around us.

In a setting of “adults” who agreed with her, it was hard to argue my case.

But let me tell you why I believe we are slowly transforming society. And let me share why you should pay attention to this series about what issues we believe will shape the future.

I admit that our reliance on texting, instant messaging, online dictionaries, calculators, SparkNotes, Napster, YouTube, MySpace, and other resources can indeed lead to some laziness, but my generation — Generation Y or Millenials, as we are called — a generation which is currently becoming increasingly educated and entering the workforce — is not apathetic! My generation is simply utilizing technology and software to find new, and oftentimes more efficient, ways to solve the traditional problems that generations past have always had to solve.

I could tell you how the new millionaires are the 20- and 30-something programmers like Tom Anderson, Max Levchin, and Kevin Rose (see the recent issue of BusinessWeek). I could tell you how the internet is providing new ways for us to connect with each other through sites like MySpace, Facebook, and their business-oriented counterpart LinkedIn. I could tell you how I think we are slowly taking the corporate control out of consumerism with co-creation sites such as CafePress and Zazzle.com. I could talk about how blogs and podcasts are providing a new grassroots information outlet, and sites like Wikipedia, Digg.com and del.icio.us are empowering the everyman to have a say in which information, and which news issues, are most important—one of my personal favorites. But I will focus on three examples that are making real differences in the world.

There are many blogs I read every day. Several that are influencing the direction of the worldwide web—Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo for news and politics, Lifehacker for productivity solutions, and PFblog and I Will Teach You To Be Rich for finance and money matters. Ramit Sethi is the aggressive Stanford grad blogger who claims to be able to teach you to be rich. I find his mission to be the most interesting—because he combines his online presence with real-life financial seminars he gives (often for free), but mostly because he targets college students! Through stories of his own entrepreneurial experience, smart financial deals, and wise saving habits, he is undoubtedly transforming the lives of his readers.

To quote one of my favorite songs by Faithless, “Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction.” While some of my classmates may tend to be physically inactive, spending their days on MySpace or playing Halo 2, inactivity does not equal inaction. I run my own weblog to get the word out about current issues I think will have an impact on our lives, and like me, there are many individuals across the globe using the internet and other technologies to promote social change. The net has supported many large ground-up social campaigns like Million Voices For Darfur, a campaign to send one million postcards to President Bush to ask Congress to support more aid to the genocide-stricken region in Sudan, started by the Save Darfur Coalition, which has spread like wildfire across the web and inspired several student-run groups like STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur), the Genocide Intervention Network, and Students Against Genocide.

Also in the business of changing the way society interacts, Kiva.org is a brand new service that I recently came across. Its mission is to provide a link between American capitalists and third-world working poor, harnessing a new concept called microfinance. In the words of the organization’s president, Premal Shah, the company aims to “allow individuals to make small loans to low-income entrepreneurs in the developing world. In this way, people like you can help provide affordable working capital for the world’s poor—money to buy a sewing machine, livestock, etc.—empowering them to start a business and earn their way out of poverty.” Amounts as little as $25 can make a significant difference for someone in the developing world. It is not an investment—more of a charitable contribution, with the goal not being financial return, just the repayment of the principal. But, by putting capabilities like this in the public arena like they never have been before, organizations like Kiva and Omidyar Network could truly reshape the landscape of international business and economics.

So, while many of us doze off, text message, play video games, or visit MySpace in class, remember that our methods of consumption, news aggregation, communication, and finance are slowly making an impact on the world—one which I hope will be positive as we slowly learn to take the reigns of society. The challenges that will face us in this endeavor are to make sure that the lines of communication stay as open as possible (see: Net Neutrality) and to make sure that truly cutting-edge ideas like the ones I’ve mentioned above get the proper amount of financial support (in the form of venture capital investment, charity, and philanthropy). And remember, as you read these student blogs, that you are witnessing the transformation in the way information is communicated.

I met the wealthiest man in the world when I was 22 years old.

Warren Buffett, born in 1930 Nebraska, the “Oracle of Omaha,” is renowned as one of the world’s most talented investors and money managers, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, and has consistently been ranked among the world’s wealthiest people for at least the last 20 years (frequently in the top 2 or 3 for the last several years running).

Warren Buffett and Cody McKibben

In 2008, Forbes ranked Buffett as the richest person in the world with a net worth somewhere around $62 billion.

Buffett started out with the money he earned as a newspaper boy to buy his first income-producing assets, and despite his now immense fortune, he still lives in a home he purchased for $31,000 in the 1950s and embraces a frugal lifestyle.

In 2006, I learned that apparently Sacramento State University’s President, Alex Gonzalez, didn’t know Buffett’s reputation, and his office was ignoring calls from Buffett’s staff. I had long been an admirer of Buffett’s approach to value investing, as well as the wisdom of his vice chairman Charlie Munger (who’s writings on mental models are definitely worth a read).

I passed some information on to my boss and the Dean of the College of Business Administration where I worked.

A few weeks later, I’d worked with my supervisor Thomas Matlock to organize a meet and greet event for our Executive MBA students, and I had the opportunity to meet Warren myself briefly, shortly after his announcement in 2006 that he’d be giving away 85 percent of his fortune via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The College of Business was invited to a special reception with Warren Buffett in Rocklin, California.

EMBA students with Warren Buffett

Reprinted from our Business Futures Magazine, Volume 26, Fall 2006:

College of Business Administration Meets Fortune 100’s “Oracle of Omaha”

A 16-member group of faculty, staff, students and community business leaders from the College of Business Administration attended an “Exclusive Meet and Greet” on July 20, 2006 with Warren Buffett.

The reception and the ribbon-cutting ceremony that followed marked the official grand opening of the first California showroom for home furnishers RC Willey. Buffet, second in wealth only to Bill Gates of Microsoft fame, is the CEO and Chair of the Board of Berkshire Hathaway, which purchased RC Willey in 1995. The legendary investor and philanthropist was in the area to support the opening at the store’s new Rocklin location and took the opportunity to meet some of the community.

“Sacramento business was privileged to have Warren Buffet visit the region,” CBA Dean Sanjay Varshney said. “A business leader of his caliber wanting to meet with educators—and students—is a reflection of his character and humility. He enthusiastically chatted with our students and faculty, taking time to pose for pictures with each individual. This was truly an exciting opportunity to meet with the most successful investor on Wall Street—the Oracle of Omaha himself!”

oracle of OmahaDean Varshney and his assistant Thomas Matlock were accompanied to the event by Christopher Cady, President, Pulte Homes Corporation; Mitzi Caycendeo, Chipset Planning Analyst, Intel Corporation (EMBA student); Matt Cologna, VP Industrial Services Group, Grubb and Ellis; Karna Gocke, Associate Physician, UC Davis Medical Center (EMBA student); Kimberly Harrington, Sac State HR Training & Development; Chris Higdon, President and CEO, California Moving Systems; Earl King, VP/Branch Manager, Fidelity Investments (EMBA student); Cody McKibben, Administrative Support Assistant, CBA; Monoo Prasad, Senior Project Manager, Ebay; Tim Ray, Executive Director, External Affairs for Northern California, AT&T; Randy Sater, Senior VP, Teichert Land Company; David Snyder, Director of Economic Development for Placer County; Denver Travis, Professor, CBA; and Chiang Wang, Interim Associate Dean for Graduate and External Programs, CBA.

I can’t recall the words we exchanged verbatim, but I will always remember the impression Warren made on me. That moment he gave my hand a firm shake, and looked me in the eyes with a smile.

Though I was starstruck at the time, he was a surprisingly approachable and down-to-earth man. I asked him what advice he had for a young clueless college student who was interested in business but had no idea where to start.

In those short few minutes I had to interact with him, his attitude left a lifelong impression on me. He doesn’t have an entourage; no bodyguards; no driver. He doesn’t spend much money on toys. His idea of happiness is being able to watch his basketball games on a big screen TV in his sweatpants…

And it taught me that, this legendary business tycoon, who is idolized by many, is not some lofty superhuman god. He is still just a man, and a humble one at that. Warren Buffett looked me in the eyes with a sincerity that revealed, while he is very accomplished and in-demand, he still has respect and time for someone just starting out in life.

His tips for me essentially boiled down to:

1. Never stop learning.

Buffett was rejected by Harvard University in 1950. Maybe he just recognized the potential in a young nobody who, at the time, was desperate to break into Stanford University without the typical pedigree many ivy league students have.

Whether through formal schooling or self-guided learning, he started by admonishing me never to stop learning and reading. Like many hugely successful people, Warren is a voracious reader, who has estimated at times he spends up to 80% of his workday reading, 5 or more hours per day.

He was once speaking at the Columbia University School of Business when students asked what was the biggest key to success that he could share with the class? He held up a stack of reports and trade publications he’d brought with him and said: “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

2. Find something you absolutely love doing.

I remember very clearly he stressed the importance of finding my own thing that I enjoyed, and just focus on that. As he often does, he discourages copycats and reinforces how not everybody is cut out best to follow his exact path to success. Not everybody is great at finance or investment, and therefore they’re not going to necessarily have the same energy and consistency behind their actions as Buffett would. But everybody can find something they love to do.

In a 2006 CNBC interview, “The Billionaire Next Door”, he was asked “What is the Warren Buffett secret to success?”

His response: “If people get to my age and they have the people love them that they want to have love them, they’re successful. It doesn’t make any difference if they’ve got a thousand dollars in the bank or a billion dollars in the bank… Success is really doing what you love and doing it well. It’s as simple as that. I’ve never met anyone doing that who doesn’t feel like a success. And I’ve met plenty of people who have not achieved that and whose lives are miserable.”

“Really getting to do what you love to do everyday—that’s really the ultimate luxury. And particularly when you get to do it with terrific people around you.”

3. Start now

As far as wealth, while he’d made it clear not everybody is going to be the next Warren Buffett doing the same things he had done, he simply said, “start right now, just do whatever you can.”

Like reading, the main principle of wealth building that Buffett emphasizes is the power of compound interest — or how the simple fact is that when you start saving outweighs how much you save. The more years you stay invested in something, and leave your capital untouched, it can add up to a large sum, even if you never invest another dime.

I’ve carried these lessons with me until today.

Though I don’t keep up with Warren’s 5 hours a day, I spend a very hefty chunk of my personal time reading, watching documentaries, going through training courses, and researching topics for the blog.

I’ve certainly learned a tremendous amount more in my post-university, self-directed education, in areas that impact my business, my wellbeing and my bank account far more than most subjects in school, and I’ve enjoyed it more.

Though it’s taken me many years to hone in specifically on the things that I truly love doing with my time, I have made the sacrifices to build my life and my business around my own interests. I’ve learned to rely on my own skills and resourcefulness to make a living since I quit my job in 2007, and with years of practice, failure, learning, and trying again, I’ve finally built a business where I’m fortunate to do work that is deeply fulfilling, and makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning.

I’m not a rich man by any stretch of the imagination, but I believe I have met Warren’s definition of success: I enjoy my role in the world, what I get to do, and I am surrounded by my favorite people. I have invested in the right things to create a life of my own design, to create incredible personal freedom and flexibility in my career, and I continue to make sacrifices to invest in my own business above everything else — constantly reinvesting in my own platform that allows me to produce new income streams.

If I hadn’t shook hands with such a jolly, generous billionaire at such a young age, who knows, my life could have gone very differently.

Dean Varshney Warren Buffett Thomas Matlock

Mr. Buffett with my Dean Dr. Sanjay Varshney and mentor Thomas Matlock

I credit Warren Buffett for showing me it’s possible to march to your own beat, as opposed to following the typical template life path, and still manage to pull off incredible accomplishments.

Now I live in a beautiful tropical paradise with my wife and son, I’ve traveled over 35 countries, experienced more fabulous memories than I will ever be able to remember, teamed up with a stunningly beautiful young woman, and become a father to an amazing son. I am surrounded by fascinating people and supportive friends, and every day I get to spend my time with people I love.

It took me many years of near impossible struggle, but I’d say I’ve managed to manifest a very wealthy life. Thanks Warren.

Lesson learned: If the wealthiest investor and philanthropist in the world grew an astounding business from just a few dollars from his paper route, just maybe you can too.

Also recommended: How to Think Like Warren Buffett

Chris Cravens drummer

Christopher Cravens

Born: Sept. 16, 1983
Died: June 20, 2004
Remembered for: His kindness, confidence in the future.
Survived by: Parents Joyce and Brent Cravens and sister Crystal Cravens, all of Carmichael.
Services: Have been held. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that any donations be made in his memory to the Sacramento Children’s Home.


Like many young people, Chris Cravens was excited about the future, even if he hadn’t settled on a career.

As the drummer for Avington, a Sacramento rock band, he contemplated becoming a professional musician.

Other times, he thought of joining the U.S. Air Force and being a pilot, or simply staying in college to pursue a business degree.

Mr. Cravens’ dreams ended tragically the night of June 20 when he died as a result of a motorcycle accident on Antelope Road.

The California Highway Patrol said he lost control of his 2004 Yamaha motorcycle and it slid into a steel pole—ejecting Mr. Cravens. He was transported to Mercy San Juan Medical Center, where he died of his injuries minutes later.

He was 20.

“My son was my hero in every way,” said his father, Brent Reid Cravens. “Sometimes I looked to him for guidance on certain things, because he had an uncanny ability to see certain things a little clearer than I do.”

For instance, Cravens said, he sought his son’s insights on how to relate to today’s youth.

No one could have asked for a better son, said Mr. Cravens’ mother, Joyce Cravens.

“Chris was truly too good to be true,” she said. “He was just a happy soul who loved everyone.”

Christopher Reid Cravens was born in Sacramento in 1983.

Initially he played the piano but switched to percussion in middle school.

An “A” student, Mr. Cravens graduated from Rio Americano High School in June 2002 and enrolled in American River College three months later.

He was considering various professional avenues.

One option, he told friends, was to obtain a business degree, then open a club where young people could meet and hang out.

Or would he be better off studying engineering before joining the Air Force, where he might become a pilot?

Mr. Cravens was also exploring the music world as the drummer for Avington, an indie rock quartet that formed last fall.

The band had recently completed a six-song extended-play CD and had performed what may have been its final concert on June 19, at the Underground Cafe in Roseville.

News of Mr. Cravens’ death was posted this week on www.avingtonmusic.com, the band’s Web site.

Along with a photo tribute, the site contains an announcement that Avington is on a temporary—if not permanent—“hiatus.”

Neil Irani, the band’s lead singer, said he and the group’s other two remaining members, Matt Jones and Josh May, are grieving and haven’t discussed whether to remain together or break up.

“We haven’t talked about it, but I don’t see how we could continue playing in the band without Chris,” Irani said. “Chris was really an important part of the band.”

Irani, 19, said Mr. Cravens “was almost like an older brother to me. He was a really great person.”

Irani remembered that Mr. Cravens loved extended drum solos.

“When our morale was low, he was always there to keep everyone happy,” he said.

 

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Originally published by The Sacramento Bee, by Edgar Sanchez, Bee staff writer