We hear people asking all the time, “Why is money so important to us as a society?” In the world of business, it’s very simple: money is the sole basis for everything that a business does. It’s why a business is different from a passion. At one point or another, if you want to be an Entrepreneur, you have to make money: it lets you develop your product, pay the rent, hire employees, and keep investors happy.
Don’t forget, either, that there’s a reason why money has been adopted in all different cultures, all over the world: it lets us make our exchanges neutral. It lets us bring together various motivations. Not everyone working at Google and Facebook has the same motivations as those driving Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerberg. But money is the way in which those various motivations can align themselves in a productive way.
And yes, money can be productive: money is not simply coming out of a big stockpile, so that if you make more of it, it is forcibly coming from someone else. Money is not a zero-sum game. You can bring added value into the world.
France (and a lot of continental European countries) in particular has long had a very antagonistic relationship with money, with a lot of people taking the opposite view: that if you were earning more money, you were necessarily preventing others from having it.
But today that viewpoint should not stand. One, because it’s simply not true. And two, because creating true value as an Entrepreneur, which is the statistically best way to become a high-net-worth individual, is harder than it ever has been before. The easy times of building a monopoly are over. The level of Entrepreneurial competition is higher than ever. The days before the dotcom bust of 2000, when it was easy to convince VCs to finance a company and bankers to bring it to an IPO, all without ever demonstrating a value proposition, are over (thankfully). As an Entrepreneur, you need to create real value to get rich.
Now, if you’re wanting to be an Entrepreneur, you have to read just your thinking. First, you need to take into account the value of equity. You should have a founding team that splits the equity about as evenly as possible, because each Entrepreneur is committed to taking an equal part in the risk and each Entrepreneur represents a part of the value proposition. When you’re starting out, there is no value, so that’s not hard. As you go on, this becomes a larger question, but remember one thing: when it comes to giving out equity, it’s a function of value, not a function of time and effort. If you are bringing someone into your company a year after it was started, but that person is going to double the value of your company, you can’t just give them a few percent. The value of a startup is completely disconnected from the time and effort that you put into it. Its value is in actual things: revenue, users, KPI - these are the only things that matter.
That’s why equity should never be a question of savings. First, because if you give out less equity, you’ve put the other person in a position where their interest in your company is lower than yours. And that shouldn’t be the case. But if you give out a bit more equity, you raise their level of interest in the company. A higher level of interest = more dedication to its success.
The same applies to salaries. Startups in Europe should learn to pay higher than market price for their employees. Why? Because paying market price for labor is a luxury for big companies. A startup has to convince its workers that it’s worth the risk to work there, and part of that is paying a premium in terms of salary. Again, it brings people closer to what you’re doing, and makes your chances of success go up. This can of course be a smart mix between equity and cash.
Why do you need everyone aligned and everyone trying their hardest? Let’s visualise what a startup really is: it’s a revenue acceleration project. A startup is trying to reach in five years what it would take a normal business thirty years to achieve. You’re trying to take a future projection of revenue, and pull on that projection, pull on it so hard that it compresses down into a very small timeframe. The amount of energy and force that it takes to compress thirty years into five years is absolutely insane. But that’s what a startup is trying to do.
And remember one thing as you’re thinking about all of this money stuff: it doesn’t take a billion dollars to turn someone into a jerk. They can just as easily be a jerk without it. A happy person with a billion dollars is happy. An asshole with a billion dollars is an asshole. So the money can’t be the key to your happiness. It can’t be the key to you deciding to risk everything on a startup.
Ok, maybe remember two things: money isn’t the key to happiness, and once you’ve decided to take that risk, you have to keep taking it. You have to double the bet, you have to risk everything again and again until it works. Because if you don’t, the losses that you take will be too much. If you aren’t willing to continue raising the risk level, you’ll be afraid of failing. And a fear of failure will kill your startup.
Thinking clearly about equity and salaries, keeping people aligned, not fearing failure - these are concrete things that will help you. Because succeeding as a startup, becoming a high-net-worth individual, it’s not luck. The few lucky stories that are out there become popular because journalists love them, and the people who were lucky love to talk about it. But all the other people, who make up the vast majority of startup success stories, they aren’t interested in being on display. What’s more, their story boils down to the same thing: finding a problem to solve that matters, working hard, and conquering a market doing so.
And all of those people know that we don’t do anything alone in this world. People help us, and they deserve to be compensated for that help. In the end, it’s better to have a few percentage points in something that’s worth a lot, than a large percentage in a company that’s going nowhere. That’s why you reason in absolute terms.
Once you start to move up and develop your business, keep in mind that there’s a difference between money and wealth. Money means that you have a million dollars in the bank. Wealth means that you have a million dollars worth of stock, which has the ability to grow, to keep up with and even beat inflation.
You’re going after wealth, not money. That being the case, never reason in relative terms, reason only in absolute terms. The percentage that you have of your startup means absolutely nothing. It just doesn’t matter. What matters is how many actual shares do you have, and what are they worth thanks to certain events? What is the number on the check? If someone offers to buy 40% of your company for $100M, and someone else offers to buy 30% of it for $25M, you aren’t going to take the lower offer simply because it allows you to retain a larger percentage of your company. The only thing that matters is the absolute value.
That’s why it’s best to just not worry about it. Worry about adding value to your company, and the rest takes care of itself. Don’t think about how much you’re paying to grow your company; think about how that investment is going to affect your revenue growth. Too many companies die because people are worried about relative administrative and logistical details. Reason in absolute terms, and only talk about the things that actually matter.
Once you’re reasoning in absolute terms, you’ll see exactly how important it is to live the future in the present. What does that mean? Living the future in the present means that you aren’t obsessed with what you have right now, but instead with what you’re trying to have.
One of the biggest problems that Entrepreneurs have is seeing money in terms of their budget today. Let’s say that you’ve started your business with $10,000 and you find an office that is absolutely perfect, but it costs $30,000. If you say, “Well, I guess we don’t have the money,” you’re letting the past take over your present. Your bank account, which only represents what you did in the past, is holding you back. An Entrepreneur has to live in the opposite direction. You have to look and say, “Is this place going to change my revenues and my relationship with my clients and future clients?” And be honest! Be honest, because the answer may be no. You have to ask yourself if this decision will change your future. If it will, then you can’t hold yourself back. You have to look for a way to live your future in the present. Find the money - it’s out there somewhere. By the way - it is very uncommon for an office to change anything but you get the point.
This comes down to the fact that being cheap is not just about money. It’s a question of your attitude. It’s a question of how you spend your time, what you optimize within your company, and what is important to you.
Everything comes back to what it will bring to your company and its future. The best way to be successful is to evaluate money, for you and your company, in its absolute terms, and to be a good buyer who understands future value today. Making good choices with this thinking can have positive impacts on your life over the very long term. And of course, making poor choices in this field will have the opposite effect.
Like I said, making wealth is more important than making money. One day, you’re going to come upon a situation when someone calls you up and wants to buy your company. In that case, there is only one response: you sell if you have doubts about the future growth of your company. You don’t sell if you’re loving the idea that you’re going to keep growing. That’s it. It’s not a question of the value of your company today, it’s about your confidence in what the company will be tomorrow. You don’t get stuck in any other questions, other than your company’s ability to continue its growth.
This brings us back to why we’re always so obsessed with money in the startup world. It’s because it’s the way that we can have confidence in what we’re doing and it’s the way for us to have time to do what we want to do. If you have money, you’re untouchable. If you have a business model that works, you get to decide what offers are worthwhile and what offers aren’t.
Earning money through your startup is what gives you power and leverage when you look to move forward. It’s what allows you to stay independent and maintain your ability to make decisions. It’s what gives you confidence at the negotiating table. There’s nothing that an investor can smell faster than the desperation of a founder who needs money to survive. But if you have growing revenues behind you, you’ll be confident in that moment. It’s our animalistic instinct for power, sure. But it’s there, and it’s effective.