James Altucher, treasure hunter? In a recent episode of On Purpose with Jay Shetty, Altucher reminded listeners that some of the very best things in life don’t look like much on the surface.
The speaker, author, businessman and highly successful Angel investor has made a name for himself digging for goodness and truth in sometimes unlikely places. He’s built his life on tapping into undiscovered potential.
Although a pioneer in web marketing, programming and design, Altucher is best known these days for his no-holds barred approach to investing. He’s also known to take risks and bank on success from some unlikely sources.
When Altucher and Jay Shetty sat down together, their conversation got honest fast. Altucher shared how money has affected his success, things he has learned about success and relationships, and how he continues to stay on the cutting-edge in a rapidly changing world.
Back to the Beginning
Known for his genius in computer science and web marketing, Altucher began life wanting to go in a different direction. He moved to New York City thinking he’d make his break by writing a book or a TV show for his favorite network, HBO. Turns out, living in the Big Apple was the perfect fit for a treasure-seeker.
“Every corner I turned seemed like a story, and I just wanted to hear it,” he explained to Jay Shetty. “I wanted to hear everybody's story, and I became fascinated by that.”
At the time, he was working as a programmer, but his fingers itched to write. Every day, he would complete the required work for his programming job in 30 minutes a day, and spend the rest of his waking hours writing.
Still, he couldn’t shake his dream of working for HBO. Eventually he got an interview at the network, but it turned out to be a fail. Due to his less than impressive performance, Altucher decided to write off his dream.
Turns out fate had other plans. Thanks to a chance meeting at a park, Altucher caught the eye of an HBO executive. After chatting, the man offered him a job.
Altucher and the World Wide Web
As Altucher settled into programming for the cable network, a large development in technology caught his eye – the world wide web.
“It was 1994. Nobody knew what the web really was,” he told Jay Shetty. “But for me, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is gonna be huge.’”
Altucher mentioned to his boss that using web streaming would be an exciting way for the network to not only increase their viewership but remain on the cutting edge. Unfortunately, his boss was not as excited about this gem of potential as he himself was.
“I remember specifically he said to me, ‘James, James, James’ – whenever someone says your name three times, they're about to insult you – he said, ‘James, James, James, I think the cable guys know a little bit more than you about what the future holds for entertainment,’” he said to Jay Shetty. “So why don't you let them do their job, and you just code it up.”
Altucher backed off. The project he’d been eyeing failed, but the world wide web itself took off and became huge – another treasure discovered by Altucher. This setback didn’t stop Altucher, however. He wasn’t about to let a good thing pass when he saw it, and continued to ride the technology wave.
“My first company was creating websites for corporations that did not have websites,” he told Jay Shetty. “So I made americanexpress.com, timewarner.com, and then my company. And you could maybe just tell by the way I look. My company specialized in websites for gangster rap music labels.”
Although he joked to Jay Shetty that he himself isn’t exactly the poster child for gangster rap, his impressive client list includes Tupac, Interscope, Death Row Records, Loud Records, Bad Boy Records, and Jive, to name a few.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Part of what makes James Altucher equal parts relatable and successful is his honest approach to the challenges that come from success. He readily confessed to Jay Shetty that his own success brought struggle.
“You mentioned that you got obsessed with money. When you started to get obsessed with money, what did you notice changed about you and your choices?” asked Jay Shetty.
In what Altucher described as “the good old days,” he felt like he was on top of the world when he was doing things he loved. His days were filled with making TV shows for HBO and websites for big-name companies. Creating and being in a space that was filled with other people investing in their creative work was life-giving for Altucher.
Although the bank account was empty, Altucher felt he was living in abundance. When cash started to flow, however, his perspective shifted with it.
“As soon as I had money, that second, I literally felt impoverished,” he said to Jay Shetty. “I felt totally poor. It was almost like a disease or like a brain disorder that happened in my head. So the first thing I thought of was, ‘Well how can I make more money, because I'm poor now?’ even though I had millions and millions of dollars in the bank.” Sadly, Altucher’s thought process wasn’t the only thing affected by this life change.
“Once you start thinking like that,” he told Jay Shetty, “it's only a matter of time before you make a series of bad decisions that will cost you all of your money.”
Relatively new to success himself, Shetty confessed that he can identify with this lesson.
“I went through a process last year where I had to rewire my relationship with money,” he said. “I grew up believing that if you wanted to be rich, or if you had the ambition to make lots of money, it was a negative ambition. Last year, I had to rewire that to really understand how money was just a resource. It was just a tool. It was something that could facilitate growth. It was something that could facilitate change, as opposed to, like you're saying, being the goal.”
Still, Altucher was able to find treasure even in the middle of hitting rock bottom.
“I sort of figured out finally what was working more on the way up and what was not working on the way down,” he told Jay Shetty. “And I kind of started focusing on, ‘Hey, let's just stick to what's working and leave behind what's not working.’ But it took a good long time to sort of come to that realization.”
Altucher confessed to Jay Shetty that he felt very alone at that time in his life. He’s never forgotten the feeling he had of wishing for someone to talk to and get advice from. Today, he stands as an outspoken voice of wisdom for others. One of his most unique gifts is his ability to communicate both his failures and his wins in ways that help others navigate the journey of success.
“Thank you so much for the honest take on that,” said Jay Shetty. “I feel like it's very natural when someone comes into anything in an accelerated form, to not know what to do with it. You can't blame yourself for that or blame anyone. It's such a human trait that when something comes to us – not easily, but quickly… it's hard to know how to honor that and how to keep and grow that.”
Navigating this truth has been paramount to the trails Altucher has blazed in both his personal and business life.
Unearthing and cultivating relational skills is another one of Altucher’s strengths, perhaps the most crucial one he possesses.
Because his work centers primarily around helping other people make money, a healthy amount of trust and truth is important. He has put in the work over the years to discover the secrets of healthy boundaries and communication when it comes to dealing with people.
“We all help each other,” he told Jay Shetty. “You know, no man is truly self made. You find your scene, you find your team and these people who are in the trenches with you, and you make money together. Or they help you and you help them with their situations or goals and so on.”
For Altucher, this process was multi-layered. After much trial and error – mistakes that left him with rocky relationships and a hurting bank account, he learned how to choose the right people, both as partners in business, and as friends. Initially, saying no to some tempting offers for the sake of his health seemed risky, but it paid off in the long run.
Perhaps more importantly, Altucher quit keeping score. He admitted that for a long time, he focused on what he was getting or giving in a relationship, not fully aware of the value of the other person. Once he shifted his perspective on this, he realized how unhelpful this practice was.
“I just kept score,” he told Jay Shetty. “I just counted the score. That thought right there means that this relationship has gone off the rails. It doesn't necessarily mean cut it off, it means something has happened wrong. The second you feel like you are keeping score in a relationship, something's wrong that needs to be recalibrated.”
Ultimately, Altucher believes, this is how to find the treasure within. Abandoning the score allows people to work on a problem together; not in competition with each other.
“It's not about your success versus the other person's success,” he said to Jay Shetty. “It's not about you getting what you want versus the other person, because then the relationship becomes transactional. It's about the unit as a whole moving forward in every situation.”
“I often say to people that it's not you versus the other person,” agreed Jay Shetty. “It's both of you versus the problem. If you are looking at me versus that person, that means someone's got to lose. As soon as someone's gonna win, someone's got to lose. Whereas if it is both of you against the problem, then the right team is winning.”
Altucher lives out his commitment to relationships firsthand. As an Angel investor, he’s had the same business partner for 19 years and remains focused on maintaining relationships where everyone is winning. Altucher is over trying to please people or fit a mold. Authentic success involves risk, and diving in head-first with the right people makes the trip all the more fulfilling.
Nowhere to Go But Up
The legacy that James Altucher is leaving behind extends far beyond padded bank accounts and successful clients. He admitted it’s easy to get overwhelmed or discouraged by looking at the world around him and fixating on things he cannot control. That, he says, makes him worry about his own success, worthiness and the state of the world his kids are growing up in. Instead, he’s adopted a practice of centering and gratitude. This allows him to focus on what matters, truly finding the treasures within.
It’s been a hard lesson to learn. It’s not easy struggling with the stress and anxiety that comes with blazing trails in new business and the life of high stakes investing.
“I need to really have this mentality of surrender where I can't really control how I'm feeling right now about losing money,” he explained to Jay Shetty. “I can't really control what's going to happen. I can't force XYZ company to be sold to another company. I can't force the economy to do well. I can't force all these massive, massive things that I felt needed to go in my favor in order for me to do well.”
Altucher now focuses on creating space to intentionally cultivate goodness and creativity in his life.
“What I can control is my physical health, my emotional health, who I'm spending time with, and my creative health. Basically, I just ask myself at the end of the day, ‘Did I do the best I can? Did I try to improve my physical health? Did I eat well, sleep well, move well? Have I been around good people who add to my life? Was I creative today?’”
The sky's the limit for Altucher. He has an entire generation of rap artists who thank him for helping make their names known around the world. All in a day’s work for Altucher, who can’t resist the treasure within a good story. His focus on goodness and growth paired with his keen eye for new avenues of success and innovation make his name a name worth following.
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “How To Build Relationships That’ll Elevate Your Career & Create Financial Abundance In Your Life” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.