How should I seek my fortune?
July 5, 2011 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I want to go off to seek my fortune -- how do I do it?

I read a lot of stories about people striking it rich by taking risks and going off to seek their fortune, but have no idea how it actually happens.

If you were me, what would you do?

Some background below...

- Bachelors and Masters degrees from elite universities (with high GPA)
- Some programming skill and experience
- A couple of college internships at top companies as a business analyst
- An entrepreneurial spirit
- Native English speaker and a couple of other languages (not Mandarin)
- Accounting, finance, real estate, etc. courses
- Well-traveled and enjoy new environments, willing to live anywhere in the world. I've done the backpacking/youth hostel thing
- Significant amount of savings (over $100k in USD)
- No family ties, responsibilities, romantic relationships, etc.

- Unmotivated and directionless at the moment
- Some psych issues (depression, anxiety, moodiness)
- Need structure in order to perform, but am miserable in very corporate environments (so no investment banking or corporate law for me)

- Tech boom in San Francisco?
- Seeking my fortune in China? (If so, what should I do to prepare? What contacts should I make? Should I try to get a job from here?)
- iPhone/iPad app development?
- Distressed real estate?

- How do you structure a search for a way to make your fortune?
- What would you do if you were me?
- What should I be reading (forums?)/thinking about/listening to (podcasts?) that will help me?
posted by carolinaherrera to Work & Money (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Read some stuff by Paul Graham (the guy who started Y Combinator) - I'm not suggesting you apply to Y Combinator since it sounds like their money wouldn't impress you, but there could be some useful nuggets in his general observations. For instance, it's always, always better to have a partner in a venture like this - it's just too much work, too many balls in the air, for any one person to do properly.

My own bit of advice would be to think it through, but don't overthink it. Let's say you have an idea (maybe real estate investment, as an example - though I don't recommend for or against that in particular). Make a list of the potential upsides, and a list of things that could go wrong. Go talk to one or more people who do the thing you're considering (work through friends, family, Facebook, Linkedin, etc, for "informational interviews" - be clear that you're not asking to get hired). Based on those interactions, update your list. Assign ballpark probabilities to the various outcomes. See if it makes sense as a place to invest your time and money. If so - try it! You might fail, but as some famous guy said, "even if you fail at your ambitious thing, it’s very hard to fail completely." You'll still learn something, and you may even have something positive to show for it.

Honestly my main concern with your bio is that you claim to be "unmotivated and directionless" - if you want to do anything significant you've got to put some heart into it. Not on the level of "this is the best thing in the universe and I want to commit to it irrevocably forever," but at least on the level of spending all your waking hours trying a certain thing for a few months. Spend a bit more time figuring out what you might care about that much.
posted by rkent at 6:16 PM on July 5, 2011

It doesn't appear that you are exceptionally good at anything. Get exceptionally good at something first.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:16 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

What's the goal here? "Fortune" usually means money, but is that your only goal?

(if it is, investing your savings wisely may do you more good than going in search of whatever.)
posted by mmoncur at 6:22 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

You have an enviable set of resources and skills to start with, not least of which is the entrepreneurial spirit. I think you need to find an idea to run with more than a location or specific field. The silly example I think of is from the late-'80s classic Working Girl, and how Tess (and Tess alone) figures out how to put "Trask" and "radio" together (happy to summarize if you don't feel like spending two hours with Melanie Griffith, but Joan Cusack and Harrison Ford help make it worthwhile, I promise).

If I were in your shoes, I'd try to surround myself with interesting, creative, independent risk-takers. Go to meet-ups for start-ups in your area and brainstorm with the people there. Read newspapers and look for tidbits about (very) small companies that are doing cool-sounding things, then find a way to meet and talk with the folks who run them (who are undoubtedly doing the lions' share of the work, too, not just being executives, but know well what skill sets they need). Become a master of your LinkedIn profile and follow some odd paths through friends of friends that get you to people who seem to be doing something cool. Do all of this like it's your full-time job. Live frugally so your nest egg will last. You'll find out what gives you a kick (and therefore passion and direction), and find a way to do it -- it won't be the only thing or last thing that will lead you to your fortune, and you should expect to have some valuable failures/learning experiences, but you should also have a blast.
posted by mauvest at 6:27 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

San Francisco? China? Distressed real estate? iPhone app development? You're kind of all over the place here. If you could narrow down what you might want to do (and maybe talk a little more about what you've done already), people may be able to provide more helpful and concrete advice.
posted by box at 6:29 PM on July 5, 2011

I like Paul Graham. Other entrepreneurial bloggers to read include Fred Wilson, James Altucher, Roger Ehrenberg, and the people these guys link to.

But reading is going to get you only so far. Where do you live? If you're in a major city, there should be networking groups/meetup events to meet with like-minded people.

You also need to narrow your focus, and that entails figuring out what you want to do. Right now you're all over the map--which is fine--but you need some sense of direction before people can tell you how to get what you want.
posted by dfriedman at 6:38 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I didn't see the questions you asked at the end of your post, so let me answer them in turn.

How do you structure a search for a way to make your fortune?-

I would figure out what my comparative advantage is and exploit it. Example: Jim Simons is a hedge fund manager who has compounded money at a faster and more consistent rate than anyone else in the history of financial markets because he exploited his deep knowledge of arcane math to consistently generate alpha.

What would you do if you were me?

I would figure out what my comparative advantage is an exploit it.

What should I be reading (forums?)/thinking about/listening to (podcasts?) that will help me?

Reading is always good, but if you are set on doing something entrepreneurial, meeting people (AKA networking) matters as much as riding a successful train. Identify the one or two areas you are interested in and figure out how to meet people who work in that industry. If you're interested in distressed real estate, meet real estate attorneys, accountants, insurance people, and others who deal in distressed investments. Etc.
posted by dfriedman at 6:49 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Read some stuff by Paul Graham (the guy who started Y Combinator)

God, don't do that.

Paul Graham writes some of the worst shlock on the internet. He fell ass-backwards into money during the first dot-com boom and has been relentless since then in confusing that with having anything valuable or insightful to say. Dabblers And Blowhards is a good read, but his entire his entire oeuvre can be summed up as "Here is a marginal anecdote about me. Programmers are awesome and special. I am a programmer. I am awesome and special. Be awesome and special by being more like me."

If you have "an entrepreneurial spirit", but are "unmotivated and directionless at the moment" then figure out what you care about enough to be actually doing day in and day out. Since your suggestions are all over the place, which I assume pretty much means they're nowhere, that may take a while. From what you describe, you have a fair bit of freedom to hand, but I'm guessing you haven't done the "youth hostel" thing nearly enough. In your situation I would read, travel and volunteer until I figured out what I cared about enough to actually pick something specific, and then do the hell out of that.
posted by mhoye at 6:52 PM on July 5, 2011 [9 favorites]

There is no fortune waiting for you out there in the world that will be yours if only you strike out somewhere to find it. There is no pot of gold waiting for you at the end of the rainbow. Those are peculiar American fantasies that are promulgated by politicians and movies. You are never going to leverage your 100K into a multi-billion dollar fortune (although a lot of people will want to tell you just how you can do that for just a bit of that 100K)

Most people who are rich, have rich parents who have given them rich fortunes and rich lives and rich sets of connections to begin with already.

You have an accounting degree from an upscale University. What you do is find a very good accounting position at a very good accounting firm and you work very hard. You make contacts and connections. You get yourself noticed. You fight your way up the ladder. You wait for a break to come your way and if you are patient enough and persistent enough and aware enough and hopefully talented enough i your field , that break will eventually come your way and you take it and repeat and rinse until you are at the place where you want to be. These things take many years, sometimes several decades.

There are a great many people who will take your chunk of change and promise you the next killer app or a swanky real estate deal or a sure thing in the next tech boom and indeed those people have found their own way to make small fortunes for themselves - but not for you.

There is no magic fortune awaiting you out there save the one you put the time and effort of years to make for yourself.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 6:55 PM on July 5, 2011 [8 favorites]

The problem with answering your question is that the map to any "fortune" you may find today is going to leave you shaking your head saying, "no, that's not the type of map I'm asking for." but it's the only kind of map there is. Here are my ideas:
--start a company like Google or Facebook or YouTube
--become one of the top people at Goldman Sachs
--start a company with the global reach and ability to win government contracts of a company like Halliburton or Boeing
--or, slightly less ambitious, become a partner at Cravath Swaine and Moore or a firm on that level
--start a huge retail firm worth millions/billions (on Million Dollar Decorators I learned that the founder of Jimmy Choo shoes(?) has a ten million dollar manhattan apartment and she's only 43)

I know you said legal/corporate doesn't work for you but you've got to make some sacrifices ... I would suggest that becoming a hugely rich person would require dropping such boundaries that would serve only to keep you away from money when you're trying to FIND money.
posted by jayder at 7:12 PM on July 5, 2011

You can get reasonably rich simply by taking a good business idea, even a "modest" one, and executing on it well. People can be reasonably wealthy by starting and managing franchises, for instance. Start one up, manage it well, parlay it into another and then another. People who own multiple Subways, or car washes, or laundromats can be wealthy. Or go into real estate development, carefully.

Or figure out some simple idea that people have neglected and provide it. For example, some people one day thought of having slushie food carts on the premises of grocery stores in hot areas. They did well. Create software, a service, a product that people want or need. It doesn't have to grow into the world's biggest company as long as it is run well and has a competitive advantage.
posted by shivohum at 7:25 PM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

You should get a whiteboard and some weed, and lock yourself in a room. Also read everything Tim Ferriss.
posted by blargerz at 7:53 PM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

God, don't do that [read things by Paul Graham]. Paul Graham writes some of the worst shlock on the internet.... can be summed up as "Here is a marginal anecdote about me. Programmers are awesome and special. I am a programmer. I am awesome and special. Be awesome and special by being more like me."

While I think that was a needlessly dickish comment by mhoye, it has inspired me to do what I probably should have done in the first place, which is find the couple particular Graham essays that led me to make that recommendation. One is How to Start a Startup, another is What We [at Y Combinator] Look for in Founders.

I don't believe either of those falls under the category of narcissistic preening mhoye is warning you about, but I can't speak for everything else he's ever written and in any event you can decide for yourself after reviewing a few paragraphs.
posted by rkent at 8:40 PM on July 5, 2011

With your background I find it hard to reconcile some of your thoughts on how to make it big.

Ask a few economists in the firms you have worked for about both the current internet tech boom and the direction and value of distressed real estate investments.

Personal opinion: we're ready for tech bubble 2 and single family housing is not a tool for generating wealth. Could you catch a survivor in tech, or a solid multi-family 10 year investment property? Absolutely, although I am relatively certain the 10 year investment property wouldn't make you a millionaire (but a continual expansion and reinvestment in multi-family housing may make your kids comfortable), nor would a successful startup guarantee you survival, even if you entered on the ground floor with a somewhat successful product (there is a lot more to success than just that). The good news about the property? the $20K distressed 2 bedroom apartment in Baltimore will only loose a small (absolute) amount of value since it is priced so low, wheras the $400K home for a $200K firesale in Plano probably has a lot more left to devalue in any sort of an additional correction. The big hint there: when property values are tied up in the house and not the land (exceptions apply) the house sits on, the property is ripe for a correction. Likewise take a look at a lot of the business strategies of many tech companies and there is a lot of smoke and mirrors and vaporware for sale these days.

So yeah, I'm a downer.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:01 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Watch a lot of TED videos. Check out some Ignite presentations, if there are any in your area. Both of these are great for inspiration.
posted by cyndigo at 10:08 PM on July 5, 2011

Sign on with a contractor in Iraq or Afghanistan.
posted by LarryC at 12:13 AM on July 6, 2011

You can't just decide to strike it rich and then actually strike it rich. If you could, everyone would do it, and with all due respect, you don't bring anything special to the table. That said...

Fame. Fortune will follow. (Or at least, fortune is more likely to follow. Get a reality TV show start charging $50,000 to show up at a club, write a book and sell millions of copies... something like that.)
posted by J. Wilson at 4:03 AM on July 6, 2011

- Unmotivated and directionless at the moment
- Some psych issues (depression, anxiety, moodiness)
- Need structure in order to perform, but am miserable in very corporate environments (so no investment banking or corporate law for me)

These are all very worrisome. Striking out on your own means you will constantly doubt your decisions and your abilities. You will become socially isolated because your work will consume all your time. You will be paralyzed by indecision and thus tempted to procrastinate. You will have to absorb one failure after another. You will have to absorb rejection. Positive reinforcement will be rare, at first. As your abilities improve, work you did 6 months ago will start to look like garbage, and you will be constantly balling up months of progress and throwing it in the trash.

In the face of all this, you will have to maintain your motivation, your work ethic, your belief in yourself, your sanity, and your sense of humor. Lose any of these and you're sunk. Usually, the only people capable of perseverance in the face of all of these are those that seriously love what they do. You seem to be motivated to make money - not faulting you for that - but I question whether that motivation is strong enough to see you through.

I'm not saying you shouldn't give it a shot. You may at the very least learn a lot about yourself and make some progress with your aforementioned weaknesses. At the same time, be ready for failure and have an exit strategy.

Granted all of this applies to creative pursuits - it could be computer code, or literature, or art, or invention of some widget, whatever. If you're opening a car dealership, disregard this post.
posted by tempythethird at 4:46 AM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Unless you are pursuing something you love, I wouldn't recommend putting all your energy into it. If you want fortune, you are going to have to put all your energy into it. Start with something you love. Go from there.
posted by jasondigitized at 7:39 AM on July 6, 2011

Nthing "figure out/get your comparative advantage." Random example: Are you one of the few people who knows English and Italian and basic programming and finance and can give a good presentation?

The conventional wisdom says: find what you have a passion for and what can eventually be lucrative, because your passion will help you through the local minima to a skill level that the market will find lucrative.

You're a finance gal -- we're talking about life-level arbitrage. :-)

What sorts of places have you travelled already? What did you find intriguing? You sometimes have to soak in a place or a domain for a while to see what only an entrepreneurial outsider can see and leverage.

And what kind of structure do you usually need to thrive? Honestly, if you want to increase your level of independent risk-taking but feel adrift without interpersonal structure, you might be a candidate for a life coach.
posted by brainwane at 8:26 AM on July 6, 2011

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