I’ve been putting off an item on my TODO list for years. Years! I had an insight about a Laws of Physics style Definition of Business that would help technical types understand that building a great product isn’t enough, and that they also need to engineer their marketing and sales. I never found the right way to phrase it, but it was something like this:
“Business is when a customer is convinced that you can solve their problem for less cost than the pain of the problem, and you can do so profitably.”
- Building a product is not enough, customers have to know the solution exists
- Customers being aware of you isn’t enough, they have to be convinced of your claims
- Solving a customer’s problem is not enough, you have to do it a profit that lets you justify continuing to work
- and more.
To anyone experienced in business, all of these are “duh” insights. To a young, inexperienced, myopic nerd turned slightly outgoing engineer, they were blindingly eye-opening.
I no longer need to to write that blog post, because Michael Ellsberg’s book The Education of Millionaires covers these topics oh so much better than I would have.
The short version is that the author found 20 self made millionaires (and billionaires), most of who did not finish college, and interviewed them about what they felt was important to their success. He then pulled out 7 general skills that every ambitious person should learn, with stories, principles, and homework for developing each skill. (details after my impressions)
It’s hard for me to overstate how highly I value this book. I’m years out of college, with a family and comfortable career, and I’ve been semi-pursuing entrepreneurship for many of those years, but this book transformed the way I view myself, my career, and the skills I want to develop. This book is not just for kids or college students – it’s for anyone ambitious that wants to set themselves up for decades of opportunities and prosperity.
Even before I finished the book, my personal focus changed and I started implementing one of the lessons from the book, about building a world class network. I’ve made contact with people I would have been too timid to approach in the past, and I’m seeking out ways I can help others, rather than just seek out gain for myself. Even my first forays into this have been rewarding – meeting and helping people is so much more fun than not knowing they exist – who knew?
I have plans for the next lessons I’m going to work on, but while it only took a few hours to read the book, I expect to be rereading it every year and working on every skill in the book every year for the rest of my career. It helped me stop thinking so much about tomorrow or next week, and to put more focus on how I can make a better next season, next year, next decade.
Lastly, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so connected to an author. Ellsberg pours out himself into the book – his struggles with education, identity, self confidence, and money in the past, and the changes in his life and relationships since learning from these prosperous people he interviewed. It’s like he’s the first case study for his book. Since I heard his interview on Mixergy and reading the book, I have gone back and read all his entire blog archive and Forbes columns, watched the all his posted talks, and attended every one of his webinars. Almost every interaction I’ve had with his work has energized me, and reshaped my perspective.
If I have one complaint, it’s a thread throughout the book saying how a real-life education is so much better than a college education, and that college is a waste of time and money. For me, college was fruitful personally, financially, and professionally. But I have a Computer Science degree and have solid jobs with rapidly increasing pay since before I even graduated. I also went to an inexpensive college and graduated with under $8,000 of student loan debt. For people that went to a more expensive college, or took a less lucrative major (or both), this antagonistic thread will ring more true. Having said that, I would be so much farther today if I read this book 10 years ago when I was an undergraduate.
If you want more from your education, your career, and your life, you owe it to yourself to buy this book, read it, and put its lessons into action. Thank you Michael for writing this book!
To close, here are section titles of the book, along with some choice quotes, to give you a flavor of what you’re looking forward to:
- Introduction – The Craigslist Value of a BA
- How to make your work meaningful and your meaning work
- How to find great mentors and teachers, connect with powerful and influential people, and build a world class network
- What every successful person needs to know about marketing, and how to teach yourself
- “The first part of marketing has nothing to do with the communications or ads or messages. It has to do with the concept of the product or service itself, and how well it is designed to meet needs/solve the problems of a specific target market… Good marketing is not something you do after you create the product; the fact that most marketing is done this way is why we hate the word “marketing” so much… If you start with marketing – then that market will be glad to hear about what you’re offering.”
- What every successful person needs to know about sales, and how to teach yourself
- “No matter what you’re up to in life, you have to sell something, whether it’s selling an employer on why he should hire you, selling your boss on why she should promote you, selling the members of a corporate meeting on your billiant idea … Sales is simply persuasive face-to-face communication. It’s relevant anything you are talking with someone and you want a specific outcome to arise from the conversation.”
- How to invest for success
- Build the brand of you
- “Your brand is what people think about when they hear your name. If people think “trustworthy, confident, intelligent, funny, hip, savvy, and up-and-coming” when they hear your name, then that is your brand. If people think “wannabe loser” when they hear your name, then that is your brand. And if people think absolutely nothing when they hear your name, then you have no brand.”
- The Entrepreneurial Mindset vs the Employee mindset
- “In this increasingly unpredictable and chaotic world, the wisest choice for thriving and flourishing is to focus your efforts on cultivating skills, habits, and ways of being that will work for you under a wide range of market circumstances and economic realities, and which will allow you to bounce back and adapt to changes, shifts, shocks, crashes, and new opportunities as they arise. This is called cultivating resilience.”
- “The courses in this book prepare you for success in any job, including jobs we can’t even imagine because they don’t exist yet. It is a completely adaptable set of personal and professional skills for life in the real world, applicable under any market conditions, any economic landscape, and personal circumstances.”
- Epilogue – The Education bubble is about to pop – are you prepared for the aftermath?