Are You a Dirty Entrepreneur?

Recently by James Altucher: How to Change the World (Or…How to Occupy Yourself)

The man was crying in my office. He was interviewing to be head of sales at my company. We made websites for entertainment companies.

It started out differently. He had come in confident. He wasn’t tragic yet and the mythology of all of our success still permeated the room. “How come you are no longer managing [insert magazine devoted to hip-hop culture that was funded by famous rap star whose name started with a “P”]?”

“We got big fast and then P stopped paying the bills,” the aspiring head of sales said. “I loved that magazine. I thought I was going to do it for the rest of my life.”

He was looking at me. I didn’t say anything. I thought there was going to be more to the story.

Then he started to cry. He looked down while he was wiping his eyes

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“I’m sorry,” he said. “I really wanted to do that magazine”.

I couldn’t hire him. Not because I think cryng is for babies. I cry. But because I didn’t want him to depress me. When you are trying to run a company there are too many things that can make you cry. I didn’t want my head of sales crying alongside of me. There are many moments like this in business. When a story turns into a tragedy. When the only thing left in a room is a fear that we will all die in a cold prison, and it wouldn’t be our fault.

Everybody thinks being an entrepreneur is like being Larry Page. You come up with something really really smart (a new way to search every piece of information in the world) and then people throw money at you, you ride skateboards down the office hallways, you bring in the Grateful Dead’s gourmet chef, you figure out how to make money six years later, you IPO, you get rich, and then FINALLY, you get to hang out on Richard Branson’s yacht and visit his private island. Larry Page is a “clean entrepreneur”. Larry Page is human being number one. [See, Why Are Larry Page and I So Different?]

The rest of us are way down on the chain. Being an entrepreneur is a dirty business. I’m a dirty entrepreneur and always will be.

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Another company wanted me to do websites for them. A record label. On the way out the door, the guy (an employee of the label) who introduced me to the label said, “you got the gig, dude, this is going to be great!” He was small, overweight, had written songs for a famous pop singer. But was now a slave trying to figure out how to support two sick kids and a wife who didn’t love him.

“One thing,” he said, “you know that guy Josh who was sitting in the room next to the head of the label?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“He’s the #2 guy at the label. You’re going to have to give him a piece of each deal on the side.”

So I said OK to that. I had payroll of 30 people to meet. I had my own mouth to feed. I had a baby on the way. I believed I was an honest person. But there are circumstances and the world is shaped into a different maze every day. One day, I thought, I’ll find an honest way to make a few dollars.

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The man continued, hesitating for only a second, “And I need a piece of each deal also.”

I said, “OK” to that also.

A few weeks later I was invited to a party at the record label. I didn’t go. Later I heard that some rappers didn’t like how Josh looked at them at the party. They threw him down a staircase and then beat him with baseball bats. I don’t know why they had baseball bats at a party. But they beat him so hard he ended up in the hospital and with brain damage. The record label gave him some money to cover it up. I never had to pay Josh for each job we got from the label.

I was involved with a mental health facility for teenagers. I was helping the owners sell the business. One day the CEO’s wife had to be called out of our meeting. One of the teenagers in the facility had shat and smeared her feces all over the wall. The CEO’s wife had to clean it up. That was her job because how do you hold onto employees if you force any of the employees to wash crap off walls.

The CEO started telling me a story after his wife left.

The CEO said, “I was driving in a blizzard five years ago and had gotten lost somewhere in Rhode Island and was trying to figure out how to get back onto the highway.

“Meanwhile, I was snorting cocaine non-stop. I was in a bad spot in my life. I had six kids. My ex-wife was leaving me for another guy. And I was running a substance abuse facility even though I was snorting cocaine all day long.