Last updated: October 1, 2019
Secrets from the Tech Billionaires of Silicon Valley
What’s the best way to become a billionaire in the 21st century?
Start a tech company in Silicon Valley, of course!
But it turns out that entrepreneurship is an unlikely road to riches for most.
With famous Silicon Valley successes like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs now household names, it’s easy to imagine that starting your own company is a relatively easy way to make millions.
Success Is in the Cards, but Far From Guaranteed
But even in Silicon Valley, the tech startup capital of the world, there are no guarantees. Most new startups fail, whether they liquidate soon after beta testing or limp on in obscurity for years.
In fact, some experts estimate that the startup failure rate in Silicon Valley alone is over 90%.
Silicon Valley’s oft-quoted mantra is “fail fast, fail often.”
Entrepreneurs are encouraged to not waste too much time on planning, but jump into testing as soon as possible, quickly proving whether their ideas will survive. The knowledge and experience they gain from failures, it’s said, is necessary for their eventual success.
But plenty of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are discovering that failures don’t automatically pave the road to riches.
A history strewn with failed startups is just as likely to turn away investors as it is to grant you wisdom.
Who Survives the Death Phase, and How?
Even so, there are plenty of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who’ve achieved their dreams despite all the odds.
The sheer amount of wealth concentrated in Silicon Valley makes even millionaires feel like nobodies. When compared to the wealth of Silicon Valley giants, a couple of million dollars suddenly doesn’t sound like much.
How Are They Doing Now?
It may seem at first glance that the women and men on this list don’t have much in common. They hail from all over the globe, with vastly different backgrounds and levels of education.
Their companies deal with everything from social networks and online dating to enterprise software and file sharing. Despite their differences in ventures, they all share factors that helped them reach success.
Check out the graphic below to discover their advice on how you can find your own success in the world of startups.
Silicon Valley Giants’ Secrets to Success
Everyone knows the names of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs: men who made their vast fortunes while changing the tech world. (Speaking of rich men, did you know that 9 out of 10 of people worth more than $30 million are male?)
But Jobs isn’t the only one who struck it rich in the southwest edge of San Francisco Bay.
The man behind Paypal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity, this South African-born entrepreneur has plans for our world and beyond.
- Age: 43
- Net worth: $9.3 B
- Secret to Success: Tenacity
- “If I’m trying to solve a problem, and I think I’ve got some elements of it kind of close to being figured out, I’ll pace for hours trying to think it through.”
- Words of Advice: “Take as much feedback from as many people as you can about whatever idea you have. … Seek critical feedback. Ask them what’s wrong. You often have to draw it out in a nuanced way to figure out what’s wrong.”
- Interesting Info:
- Musk’s first company, Zip2, sold for approximately $306 million. He turned 28 years old that year.
- Musk attended Stanford University…for two days. He intended to pursue a PhD in energy physics.
- He has five sons: a pair of twins and a set of triplets.
- In the U.S, the odds of having twins are 1 in 30, and 1 in 726 for triplets or higher.
- “Elon” is Hebrew for “oak tree.”
The Founder and CEO of Oracle, Larry Ellison is officially the wealthiest person in Silicon Valley, and he ranks fifth across the globe.
- Age: 69
- Net worth: $49.7 B
- Secret to Success: Take no prisoners
- “Ellison is like a modern-day Genghis Khan who has elevated ruthlessness in business to a carefully cultivated art form. His weapons are not the marauding hordes but his company’s possession of a key technology platform, his willingness to exploit it, and his disdain for anyone who gets in his way.” — Karen Southwick
- Words of Advice: “People will be critical of you if you do things a little bit differently. It takes a certain amount of strength not to succumb to fashion.”
- Interesting Info:
- Ellison thinks Napoleon was the greatest general in history.
- Until he was 12, Ellison did not know he was adopted. (He was raised by his aunt and uncle.)
- Even though Ellison was named science student of the year at the University of Illinois, he dropped out in his second year.
- He attended one semester at the University of Chicago before dropping out again.
The Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sandberg’s a published author, mindful of efficiency, and a married mother of two.
- Age: 44
- Net Worth: $1.1 B
- Secret to Success: Speaking out
- Sandberg negotiated a stock options package when she signed onboard at Facebook in 2008.
- Advice for The Ladies: [women need to] “grab for leadership roles even if we are only 60 percent certain that we have the credentials for that step — because, after all, that is what men do.”
- Interesting Info:
- Sandberg is one of the 172 female billionaires in the world (out of 1,645 total).
- In the first draft of her book Lean In, Sandberg had pages on matrilineal Maasai tribes. (African tribes where women serve as the leaders, as opposed to men.)
- Sandberg has a website, leanin.org, dedicated to encouraging women to pursue their ambitions.
Co-founder of Dropbox, Houston (whose name is pronounced “HOW-ston,” not “HYEW-ston”) really made it big with his sixth startup: the cloud-based file-sharing system we all know and love.
- Age: 31
- Net Worth: $1.2 B
- Secret to Success: Assume nothing.
- People thought they’d figured out file sharing, but when Houston offered them a better alternative, we snapped it up.
- Words of Advice: “People assume — and misunderstand — that it’s risky to join a startup or start their own company, but you have to know this is ridiculous. Even if it doesn’t work out, the experience is so valuable to so many employers that your worst-case scenario is, ‘Ok, so that was a bust, I’ll get a six-figure job at whatever company.’”
- Interesting Info:
- Houston started his first company–an online course for the SAT–in a Chili’s restaurant.
- Whenever Houston speaks to his grandmother on the phone, she always ends their conversations with, “Excelsior.”
- Houston plays guitar in a 90s cover band called “Angry Flannel.”
Not only the co-founder of Twitter, but Williams is also the CEO of Medium, a blogging platform. (Apparently, he really likes blogging/micro-blogging, as he also co-founded Blogger back in 1999.)
- Age: 42
- Net worth: $2.4 B
- Secret to Success: Helping other people share
- Williams’ biggest successes are all platforms where people can connect with other people.
- Quote: “People like other people. So hearing from them, and being able to express yourself to people you care about in a really simple way, is fun, and it can be addictive.”
- Words of Wisdom: “Do fewer things…The vast majority of things are distractions, and very few really matter to your success.”
- Interesting Info:
- Odeo (one of Williams’ earlier startups) was originally going to be a podcasting platform.
- In the early stages of Twitter, Odeo employees racked up $100+ SMS text messaging bills (which Odeo agreed to pay).
- Initially Williams was skeptical of Twitter’s potential.
- In 2004, PC Magazine named Williams their Person of the Year for his work with Blogger.
Cofounder of LinkedIn, Hoffman was a major financial contributor to Mark Zuckerburg in Facebook’s infancy, (and he says that he really missed out on an opportunity with Twitter).
- Age: 47
- Net Worth: $3.3 B
- Secret to Success: Networking
- Hoffman says that he puts himself at key intersections in as many of his networks as he can. That way, the opportunities he encounters are the ones he wants to act on most.
- Words of Wisdom: “One of the things I learned from that whole experience [SocialNet], was that you should focus on one domain that really matters to people and just do that really well.”
- Interesting Info:
- In 1997, Hoffman founded a dating website called SocialNet, which some consider the first online social networking platform.
- Hoffman has co-authored two books: The Alliance and The Start-up of You.
- He also serves on the boards of four organizations out to change the world for the better: Do Something, Kiva.org, The Weekend to be Named Later, and Endeavor Global.
There were 56 billionaires living in Silicon Valley, according to Forbes’ 2013 list, so many that the area’s millionaires feel like “nobodies.”
But the words of advice and examples provided by the seven billionaires above should help the up-and-coming entrepreneur.
- The next Billionaires in Numbers – bbc.com
- The Fabulous Life Of Elon Musk – businessinsider.com
- Elon Musk Biography – biography.com
- Bloomberg Billionaires – bloomberg.com
- At Home With Elon Musk: The (Soon-to-Be) Bachelor Billionaire – forbes.com
- Your Likelihood of Having Twins or More – babycenter.com
- Elon Musk – forbes.com
- Entrepreneur of the Year, 2007: Elon Musk – inc.com
- Elon Musk and Richard Branson’s Best Advice for Entrepreneurs – inc.com
- Forbes Billionaires: Full List Of The World’s 500 Richest People – forbes.com
- Larry Ellison – forbes.com
- Everyone Else Must Fail – forbes.com
- Sheryl Sandberg – forbes.com
- Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg: Who Are You Calling Bossy? – theguardian.com
- Sheryl Sandberg’s 5 Best ‘Lean In’ Tips For Women – forbes.com
- Inside The 2014 Forbes Billionaires List: Facts And Figures – forbes.com
- Drew Houston – forbes.com
- Drew Houston’s Commencement address – newsoffice.mit.edu
- How to Win as a First-Time Founder, a Drew Houston Manifesto – firstround.com
- Dropbox Founder Drew Houston Is in a ’90s Cover Band Called Angry Flannel – pando.com
- Evan Williams – forbes.com
- The Real History Of Twitter – businessinsider.com
- Evan Williams’s Rule for Success: Do Less – inc.com
- Reid Hoffman – forbes.com
- Before LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman Founded An Overeager Dating Site – businessinsider.com
- Brilliant Management Advice From LinkedIn’s Billionaire Founder – businessinsider.com
- Reid Hoffman – amazon.com
- The Alliance: A Visual Summary – reidhoffman.org
- LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman Shares 20 Years of Insights – huffingtonpost.com
- Silicon Valley tops San Francisco in resident billionaires – bizjournals.com
- Silicon Valley: Where Millionaires Feel Like “Nobodies” – elitedaily.com
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