How To Be A Billionaire
Shaun Rein, 02.17.10, 2:33 PM ET

      Have you dreamed of becoming a billionaire?

      Based on the response I’ve gotten to my recent article «Three Myths About Starting Your Own Business,» many people have. They imagine having wealth like the founders of Google and Apple, so they can fly to their own chateaus on the French Riviera in a Gulfstream IV or maybe even a Boeing 737. They picture making it onto the Forbes Rich List and buying diamonds from Tiffany.

      Billions: The World’s Richest People

      What does it take to get that rich? Are billionaires completely different from you and me? My firm, the China Market Research Group, decided to see if we could answer those questions and if there were any secrets we could learn from them. Over the last five years we interviewed secretive real estate tycoons in China who own companies through proxies for fear of being too high-profile, Internet pioneers in the U.S. who party with rock stars, multigenerational conglomerate tycoons in India and retail heirs in Europe who hit the Alps to ski. In all, we interviewed about a dozen billionaires and several dozen people worth more than $100 million. We had fun doing it, too, from gambling at racetracks in Hong Kong to chomping on biscuits in Boston.

      While almost everyone we interviewed said luck and timing played a role in their success, we found some other similarities in their responses, too. Most of the truly rich, perhaps surprisingly, are not that different from you and me. They have the same fears about their children and their health, and the same desires. But we did find some differences.

      We narrowed those differences down to three secrets of the truly rich that most of the people we talked to said had helped them get to where they are:

      The first secret of the truly rich is that they are never afraid to fail. Most of our interviewees told us that at one point they had had a choice to either stick to an easy, secure route or take a calculated risk. To reach the truly heights of wealth, some risk is needed. If you look for security in a job or are scared to try something different, you won’t get far in the pursuit of true wealth.

      Even when they had failed—and every single one of them had at least once—the truly rich said they had used those experiences to learn from their mistakes and get back in the saddle. They had avoided the real failure of letting a bad experience destroy their optimism and their passion.

      An Internet executive told us how his net worth had surpassed $1 billion during the dot-com bubble. He had partied with Elton John and jetted around the world on in his own Gulfstream. His net worth collapsed when the bubble burst. Instead of letting failure and financial difficulty stop him, he went out and tried again. He learned from his mistakes and created another tech company that actually had a business model and didn’t rely merely on eyeball hits and being cool. The result? He just sold his last company for several hundred million dollars. He has that jet back, but he isn’t resting on his laurels at the beach. Instead, he has started yet another company.

      The second secret of the truly rich is that they look creatively at problems to find new revenue sources. The people we interviewed often told us of how they looked at problems from different angles and liked to go against the grain. They recognized that everyone else believing or doing something didn’t make it right. But being a contrarian for the sake of being contrary was no solution either. They knew they always had to think critically when analyzing any problems.

      An oil executive told us how decades ago he had wanted to make better use of gas stations. They were profitable, but he felt they wasted space. People would drive up, fill up and then drive off again from the expensive real estate. His solution? Put in convenience stores, so people could buy gas and snacks at the same time. At first, he got a lot of ridicule for the idea. Who would buy petroleum and coffee together?

      Well, today you’d be hard pressed to find a gas station without a convenience store. That executive is among the truly rich because he looked creatively at a problem and didn’t let a little criticism discourage him from doing what he believed would be right.

      The third secret of the truly rich is that they marry well. I don’t mean they find a rich heir or heiress to wed, though that might not hurt. Rather, most of the truly rich we talked to, especially the self-made ones, told us that having a good spouse had been critical to their success. Starting a company or running a conglomerate takes a lot of sacrifices. The stress can be a killer. Having a good spouse to support you and, most important, believe in you as you struggle to the top is critical.

      Many of the rich we talked to had been through long patches of poverty. They rented rather than bought their homes or took out triple mortgages to get cash flow for their start-ups. Some spent years working out of the garages or working double jobs to pursue their passions. Some made it big but then lost it all before bouncing back again. Make sure you find someone who believes in you and is willing to accept the hardship it takes to get to the top.

      Yes, being rich is nice, we found. Very nice. We can’t deny that we enjoyed living a little of the high life while we were interviewing the truly rich. Those memories of Australia and Hawaii bring out smiles. But something else we found, the main secret that towers above all the rest, is that money isn’t everything. As you try to become truly rich, don’t forget your family and health.