I want to share a very personal story with you today.
It’s not one that I tell often – partly out of embarrassment, and partly because it’s kind of painful to think about…
Let me begin by saying how truly blessed I feel each and every day.
In addition to being healthy and having a great relationship with my family and friends, I’ve managed to accumulate a sizable amount of wealth for someone my age. I live in a luxury building in midtown Manhattan, and I spent the last year traveling the world after selling my last business.
There was a time, however, when I couldn’t imagine living this sort of lifestyle.
You see, I was born in Queens, New York and like most of my childhood friends, all I really hoped for in the future was a stable job with a steady paycheck.
“The rich get richer” wasn’t just a cliché in my old neighborhood – it was a fact!
Or at least I thought it was… until I learned about the world of technology startups and the Internet. Let me explain…
“We’re Losing Our Home”
I remember the day vividly.
A massive man with biceps the size of my head came to the door of my house. I was 14-years-old and had taken the day off from school.
When I opened the door – just a crack because this guy was pretty intimidating – he asked if I lived there.
“Yes,” I answered. “How can I help you?”
“Give this to your parents,” he said. Then he walked away.
I opened the thick envelope and realized immediately what the letter was for – and why a guy that large was chosen to deliver it.
As I came to learn, when someone receives a notice that their home is being foreclosed on, chances are they’re not going to take the news very well. And it’s probably better to have an intimidating guy deliver the letter so that the homeowner doesn’t do anything rash.
When I finally gathered the courage that evening to show the letter to my mom, she broke down and cried.
A Little Bit of Luck
I remember how guilty I felt as we were packing up to move into a rental apartment.
You see, several months before that letter arrived, I’d been begging my parents for a computer – and they’d finally agreed to buy one for me. It was an old refurbished machine and only cost a few hundred dollars, but it was still a major expense for them at the time.
I almost went out and sold it so I could give my parents some of their money back. But then a very fortunate thing happened…
My father had a childhood friend from California. His name was Victor and he’d visit us from time to time. Victor had held various roles at technology companies since the 1980’s, and was well connected in Silicon Valley.
He was visiting right around the time we were moving and he offered to take me out to lunch. I think he could tell I was feeling a bit down. When I told him about my guilt, and my plans to sell my computer, he looked at me like I was insane.
“Wayne,” he said, “do you realize how much money you could earn if you learned a bit more about computers?”
I was confused. How could I earn money when all I did on my computer was play video games?
That’s when Victor explained the world of tech startups to me. And Silicon Valley. And software development.
He opened my eyes to people and companies that were changing the world.
A Lot of Hard Work
Even better than that, Victor set me on a path that would profoundly better my life, and the life of my family. He suggested that my best bet for earning income was learning how to build computer programs and websites. It’s called “writing code.”
So I set myself to the task of learning how to “write code.” I figured if I could make a few hundred extra dollars per month then I could help out with the bills around the house… and I’d feel less guilty about my parents buying that computer.
Victor got me a paying job, and little-by-little, more business kept falling into my lap.
I finally got a “break” when a small startup from Texas hired me to work remotely. It was steady, part-time work.
Within 6 months, I was earning more than both of my parents.
But ultimately, my calling wasn’t to be a programmer.
I learned a lot from my boss in Texas. I learned how he built his business. I saw the freedom it afforded him and his family, and I saw the wealth he was able to generate. And that’s when I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
I wanted to chart my own course, and I wanted to provide a better life for myself and my family.
It sure wasn’t smooth sailing (I’ll save that story for another essay), but ultimately two of my businesses were acquired, and I was able to use the proceeds to live the type of lifestyle I’d always wanted.
I was able to give back to my family too… I can’t begin to explain how gratifying it was to hand my mom a check so she could buy a new car.
My point in telling this story isn’t to brag… or to make you feel sorry for me.
The reason I wanted to share this is to emphasize a major lesson I learned.
You see, I didn’t make my money by earning a salary. I didn’t scrimp and save in order to be where I am today.
I generated true wealth by owning equity in “startups” – early-stage high-growth businesses.
With technology startups, you can begin with an extremely small stake (or in my case, nothing at all) and literally change your fortunes.
This is why I’m an entrepreneur to this very day, and it’s why I try to help other entrepreneurs and investors become successful. It’s why Matt and I are so passionate about the JOBS Act and equity crowdfunding.
Now everyone – regardless of whether they were born rich or poor – will soon have the opportunity to participate in the industry that literally changed my life.
I know today’s post was a little unusual. Thanks for letting me share – and happy investing!