Fail Like A Billionaire


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Fail Like A Billionaire
Steven Bertoni, 11.04.10, 6:00 PM ET

 Mark Zuckerberg is a freak. At least as success stories go. He created Facebook, now 500 million members strong. He has a net worth of $6.9 billion and can claim to be one of the most powerful people in the planet–No. 40 by Forbes’ count. He’s only 26 years old.

 You’re not supposed to be so successful, so young, especially not on your first try. Zuckerberg stands out even among the 272 self-made billionaires on the Forbes 400. For our Secrets of the Self-Made special report, Forbes surveyed some of America’s richest about their paths to riches. Several cited one main ingredient for success: Failure.

 Asked what one experience a successful entrepreneur should have, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban responded, “Coming home and having the lights turned off because you couldn’t afford to pay the bills. It’s incredibly motivating and humbling.”

 Mistakes are the classroom of entrepreneurs. In a column penned for this package, billionaire investor Ken Fisher points out that Sam Walton’s first Arkansas store went bust. Walton learned from his first missteps and started a new operation. Today Wal-Mart Stores is the world’s largest retailer with 8,600 stores, 2 million employees and more than $405 billion in sales (and six Walton heirs are among the planet’s richest people). The Forbes 400 is filled with hundreds of similar experiences.

 This trial by fire is a vital experience for companies too. Apple launched its Newton tablet in 1993. It flopped. But in the Newton lies the DNA for the Steve Jobs‘ iPod, iPhone and the iPad. Those gadgets have changed how the world ingests media, and has helped Apple gain a larger market cap than Microsoft ($290 billion vs. $230 billion).

 The world’s wealthiest must not only grow from their mistakes, but learn to live with them. In dispensing advice for investors, Fisher says “Don’t fuss if they’ve [your investments] had some bad years. Everyone has had them. Bill Miller. Buffett has had some doozies. Peter Lynch. Everyone. You know who didn’t have bad years? Bernard Madoff–until he got caught.”

 Because all investors–amateur and professional alike–make mistakes, the billionaires we spoke with preach diversification. They largely spread their money around a vast host of investments and ventures. When choosing a financial adviser, they don’t pick one to run their money; they hire a dozen. This way a mistake or a bad bet–whether on a stock or a stock broker–won’t sink a hard-earned fortune.

 Chances are you won’t “pull a Zuckerberg” and strike it rich on your first venture. Failure is expected. What separates the world’s most successful entrepreneurs from the wreckage is the confidence, tenacity and drive to dust themselves off and make the adjustments needed for success.

 Forbes asked real estate and energy mogul John Catsimatidis to name some of his heroes. His answer: “Donald Trump–I’ll tell you why–no matter how bad a day he’s having, he keeps his head up high and he goes back and fights some more. … He doesn’t go and put his head in the ground and cry.”


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