This article is part of a series entitled: 9 Wise Men Who Taught Me How to Put Life Ahead of My Startup. We've already covered mindset shifts toward financial freedom and Clayton Christensen's questions on How Will You Measure Your Life?
Nassim Taleb said, "The three most harmful addictions are heroine, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary." But salaries, fed through cubicle farms, are worse than addiction: salaries are slavery. While starting a company may emancipate you from salary slavery, most founders are enslaved to their startups -- trading family time, personal health, and happiness for late nights, long commutes, and stress. So where's this freedom in the Land of the Free?
My Soviet-Jewish refugee uncle Igor found it while driving a taxi seven days per week. Arriving to America in 1989 with an enduring smile, brilliant wife, retired parents, and a shrieking toddler, by 1992 he owned his first taxi medallion. In 1995 he owned seven passive-income-generating taxi medallions, a laundromat, and quit driving taxis to pursue his passion of photography. My middle class, Soviet-trained engineering parents never understood how Igor and his brilliant wife pulled it off. I discovered the secret in 1999 while working as his wedding photography assistant during in college.
Driving in Uncle Igor's new Acura to my freshman dorm after a Saturday wedding, we passed his laundromat as he craned his neck to look inside. He smiled to himself. I asked, "Why the smile?" He humbly and reluctantly said in Russian, "I'm not working and they're putting quarters into my machines."
Uncle Igor speaks softly so I want to make sure you heard him: THE GUY SHOWED UP TO AMERICA WITH ZERO RUBLES, ZERO ENGLISH, AND ZERO DIPLOMAS. SIX YEARS LATER HE HIT FINANCIAL FREEDOM, QUIT HIS JOB, AND PURSUED HIS PASSION.
Robert Kiyosaki defines financial freedom as cashflowing more money than you spend without having to get out of bed in the morning. And if you do get out of bed you can pursue your passion: I just spent nine months campervan-ing in National Parks, boxing in Cuba, kitesurfing in New Zealand, and occasionally checking in on my real estate company.
Let's call this Uncle Igor's guide to financial freedom. It took him six years but if you speak English, have a diploma, and have more than zero rubles you can do this in 36 months:
Month 1: Learn the Financial Freedom Formula
It's simple: (Cashflow) = (Passive Income) - (Life Expenses). If annual expenses are $100K of car leases, McMansion mortgages, resort vacations, financial freedom is an endless battle. But if you follow Mr. Money Mustache's philosophy and cut annual expenses below $25K, financial freedom attacks swiftly.
Month 2-6: Study an industry that spews passive income
My MIT friend learned digital products and now sells niche-industry e-books while living on a sailboat in Maui. Igor studied taxi medallions and laundromats. I studied real estate. If you're short on inspiration or technical skills, then the choice is easy: real estate. It's responsible for 80% of millionaires in America and if you're reading this, you're likely smarter than 80% percent of them. "Study" doesn't mean expensive courses -- you'll learn more from the University of YouTube and the Academy of Amazon.
Month 6-9: Question the numbers
Before investing a dime, learn the numbers inside out. I'll use real estate examples because it's what I know best: How much do local rental properties cost? What's the mortgage, tax, insurance, maintenance etc.? What's the rent? What's the cashflow? What metrics will tell me if these numbers are good? What happens if you invest in a higher or lower income neighborhood nearby?
Month 9-12: Break out of analysis paralysis
I wasted months at meetups with hundreds of would-be real estate entrepreneurs who dropped ten thousand dollars on guru courses and ten years on research but never pulled the trigger. Years later, they still live in cubicle farms grazing on monthly salaries. If you found a cashflowing business model then it's time to pull the trigger.
Month 12-36: Build systems to run your business so it can scale
In Four Hour Workweek, Tim Ferris explains "Becoming a member of the new rich is not just about working smarter. It's about building a system to replace yourself." We'll discuss systems-building in upcoming articles.
If your goal is to create the next Apple or Uber you must devote your entire existence to your business. You can only be good at one job: CEO or spouse. Pick one. But if your goal is to be rich in health, family, friendships, and time while leading an entrepreneurial life, the course is clear: passive income