We've all heard about how important it is to live in the moment and focus on the here and now. However, nobody ever built the future by just living in the present. There are some things that demand we step well out of the comfort of the present and far into the uncertainty of the future.
The most successful people can do both.
I have three questions I'd like you to consider to see how well you're doing in balancing today with investing in tomorrow.
Question #1 - Would You Make This Investment?
Let's say I was your financial advisor and I asked you to invest between $220 and $1,500 into a hole in the ground, actually multiple holes, or more specifically, a that promised to transport people through major urban centers in underground tunnels using pneumatic tubes. You know, the kind that the elves took on The Polar Express. crazy hair-brained venture
What you know is that no VC will touch this, you will be competing with Richard Branson (who is also trying do something similar), you'll likely have to deal with the politics of local municipalities, which are notorious for stalling and creating a political quagmire out of anything that touches their infrastructure, and the idea is the brain child of Elon Musk, whose current companies all share the inability to show any significant profit as of yet. Would you do it?
Before answering let me explain how I got the range of $220 and $1,500. The median net worth of a US household is about $44,000 and the average net worth is about $300,000. If you take the $100,000,000 that Musk just invested, of his own money, in the Boring Company, as a percentage of his net worth ($20 Billion) the numbers work out to between $220 and $1,500 for mere mortals like you and me.
Good deal, right? I mean, that's somewhere between what you might spend on Starbucks and monthly date nights for a year.
I can tell you're probably sticking with the Starbucks. On to question #2.
Question #2 - What Would You Tell Musk?
Maybe you wouldn't do it, but if you were advising Musk would you support his dropping $100 Million into this sort of outlier investment? Let's face it, when was the last time transportation infrastructure was disrupted in any way even close to this? In my hometown of Boston it takes decades to put in a new subway line. The Big Dig, Boston's renovation of its skyline by removing portions of an elevated highway and putting it underground, defined a generation and has been an engineering effort compared by many to the building of the pyramids (although the pyramids probably cost less.) There must be better things to put your millions into?
But here's the rub. What I've found from working with some of the wealthiest people on the planet is that there are very few options to grow your wealth when you have billions to invest. You really are left with very few options, and most all of them involve ventures on an enormous scale that come with enormous risk. Consider that Musk's net worth ranks him
at about 143 out of 190 countries based on GDP. (By way of comparison, Jeff Bezos is at about #81) Which is why billionaires spend so much on personal real-estate, yachts, planes, and major league sports franchises. When you have that much money you need to park it somewhere.
But Musk isn't much of a billionaire as far as extravagance goes. In an earlier column I wrote about how Musk's habits and lifestyle are not those of your typical billionaire. His passion and obsession is with building the future.
So, if it's good for Musk but not for you and me, perhaps the conclusion is that Musk's investment is only right for billionaires. Perhaps not. On to question #3.
Question #3 - What's In This For Me?
We love to live vicariously through billionaire flights of fancy--but, lets' face it, were not all able to be as instrumental in building the future. Some of us can put a dent into the universe while other barely chip the clearcoat.
So, perhaps, the more important question is, "What in the world could you possibly learn from Musk's investments?"
You don't have hundreds of millions to put into high-risk/high-reward opportunities. You may be scrimping and saving for a nest egg, funding your own business, or simply trying to figure out how to save enough to put your kids through college.
So, there's not much left over to gamble with. Not so fast.
Musk isn't gambling. If I've learned one thing from starting my own businesses, and working with hundreds of entrepreneurs, it's that none of them see what they are doing as a gamble. Instead they are convinced of its merits, even when nobody else may be.
It may be hard for you to think of an investment in the same way, especially when there's the chance you may loose it all. But I'm not suggesting you start making crazy bets. Instead, here's what I'd like you to consider. What if you were to look at your portfolio of investments in the same way that Musk does?
I firmly believe that you can and should by following these four basic rules?
1) Balance Your Emotional and Financial Portfolio
Most of what Musk is banking on is a nearly $200 billion windfall from the time and effort he's investing in Tesla over the next 10 years. But doing that will require an exceptional level of focus and commitment. Here's what most people miss when they view what Musk is doing as scattered and fragmented across too many companies. In order to put your all into something you need to be incredibly efficient in how you use your time and exceptionally energized. One of the worst ways to do that is to do nothing but that one job.
The beauty of having a portfolio of activities, all of which you're passionate about, is that on any given day, week, or month something is going right. The feeling of success and achievement you get from whatever is working helps to deal with those parts of the portfolio that aren't. I see this at all levels, from CEOs to lone consultants. If they invest in just one activity they are subject to the unavoidable oscillations and volatility, which eventually translate into an emotional roller coaster. Spreading your financial and emotional risk over a variety of efforts keeps you motivated and energized.
2) Always Have A Long Play
Musk is investing in the long future; in some cases very long. We are all tempted by the immediacy of short-term returns. Have you noticed how the lines for a Megabucks or Powerball ticket grow exponentially in the hours before the drawing? It's human nature to want immediate gratification. We're wired that way. We all love a quick hit.
Yet, when you stop to look at the ventures Musk is investing, Tesla, SpaceX, the Boring Company none of them are going to offer a quick hit. These are bets on a distant future.
You may not be playing in Musk's league but time passes just as fast for all of us. If wealth buys you anything it's patience. But the inverse is also true; patience buys wealth. Always have long plays as part of your portfolio of investments. Whether it's your business, a brand, an equity stake in a long term business proposition, real estate, or all of the above, the long plays are most often the easiest to ignore but also the ones we most often wished we'd paid more attention to.
3) Go Where Others Fear To Go
Musk is taking on the problems that everyone acknowledges but yet nobody is willing to take on. One of the most consistent truths among the uber wealthy is that they venture to go where everyone else fears going. While there is comfort in the predictability of the present, predictability rarely pays off in a big way. That's not to say that predictable investments shouldn't form part of your portfolio, but it does beg the question, are you also considering the outliers that may offer the greatest returns? It's called a hedge bet, and the best way to approach this is to allocate a certain percentage (however small) of your portfolio--that your'e willing to lose--to those plays that most people won't touch.
4) Your Success Is Your Responsibility
Above all else, Musk is investing in himself. Perhaps the greatest lesson we can all take away from Musk's strategy is his unyielding commitment to invest in himself by taking risks that are predicated on his performance. This may appear to be arrogance but I suspect that it has much more to do with Musk's belief in his own abilities to shape his destiny.
I recall recently reading about a wildly successful 21 year old silicon valley millionaire who had been an intern at Facebook and is now working at Google as a product manager. When asked for his one piece of advice on achieving success his response was simple, Learn to rely entirely on yourself. This doesn't mean that you'll work alone or become a recluse. It means not putting the ownness for your success or failure on anyone other than yourself. Taking all of the responsibility for where you are and how well you've accomplished what you've set out to do is an immutable law of success.
At the end of the day time passes just a fast for all of us. Focusing on the here and now is a wonderful way to be present and appreciate the moment. Unfortunately, failing to balance that with the long term benefits of an investment strategy that bets long may also be the worst way to build the future.