Michael Hanson
Business in Review

Hardcore Entrepreneurial Candor

By, 06/02/2011

How to Get Rich: One of the World's Greatest Entrepreneurs Shares His Secrets— Felix Dennis

The Narrow Road: A Brief Guide to the Getting of Money— Felix Dennis

Here are the books containing those things that every great, rich business owner knows in his/her little black heart (kidding!), but is just too darn scared to say publically (not kidding). Felix Dennis’s books are no inspirational fables like Richard Schultz’s Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul. Rather, this is hardcore entrepreneurial candor—“the getting of money” in raw form.

And both books are just such great fun. I liked the first one so much I immediately picked up the second. Even if you find Mr. Dennis and his views callous—abhorrent even—it’s a jolly good ride to see how his mind works. Any true and experienced capitalist can’t help but smile while thumbing through these pages. And Mr. Dennis does it all with a poet’s touch—he’s a notorious man of the arts. Some of his tastes run sublime, like his affinity for John Dryden and Seneca’s stoic letters. And some profane—he’s the founder and owner of Maxim magazine and other such, um, provocative periodicals.

What I loved most about these books is they say stuff corporate foot soldiers will likely cringe at. And yet, most management or “get rich” books are aimed at these very folks—their disingenuous advice doesn’t align with starker reality. So Mr. Dennis believes he’s doing the working community a service by relating such uncommon truths—and he is. Those indubitable truths are (and most entrepreneurs will no doubt nod their heads at these): You don’t need to be smart or especially talented at all to be rich. In fact, most of the smartest folks will never really be rich because they’re too smart to be so risk-loving as to pursue big-time wealth, which is a low-odds game. Most of the smartest folks will spend much of their lives making their employers—those risk-loving entrepreneurs—richer. (Imagine reading that in the next warm and fuzzy self help business book you pick up at the airport!)

The risk averse need not apply to becoming really rich (at least of their own volition); you’ve got to put it on the line, expose yourself to the risks of solvency, litigation, regulation and all the rest—you’ve got to be a principal, an owner. Smart people know the odds of being a really successful entrepreneur are low. Those that make riches are a wily, gritty, persistent, never-say-die bunch who aren’t easily deterred and are willing to put their livelihoods—the whole shebang—on the line, daily. Which aligns with perhaps Mr. Dennis’s greatest advice: This is all a game and you should take it as such. At a certain point, money doesn’t matter much in life. Health does, family does, love does. Money doesn’t. Mr. Dennis knows because he spent many years destroying himself with drugs and women, all with the money he made. In this, his anecdotes are archetypal and fascinating in the image of the classic grandiose, bellicose, business titan. The whole endeavor of the “getting of money” is a game of sorts for he who isn’t so attached to it—the understanding of that fact makes the strategies and tactics of getting rich all the more clear. Funny how life works, but that’s darn true.

A few other tips and topics worth contemplating: 

  • Don’t ever ever ever give up ownership, any of it.
  • Remain razor-focused on getting rich (if that’s your goal), not meaning or your “personal journey,” not people, not learning, etc.
  • Delegate! Don’t try to do everything. Hire the right talent to do all or as much as you can.
  • Never never never give in. Persistence is perhaps the most potent attribute of the eventually very wealthy.
  • Bootstrap everything! Avoid investor capital as much as you possibly can, it’s a dirty business.

One place to disagree with Mr. Dennis: He feels direct company ownership is the only true way to get really rich. My boss, Ken Fisher, in his Ten Roads to Riches, outlines more ways and features just as much candor and pith, and actually quite a lot more insight, on how wealth is created in specific ways. Mr. Dennis remains very abstract and philosophical in his writings.

I don’t know that all, or even a vast majority, of richy-rich business owners act or feel as Mr. Dennis does. But my guess is a heck of a lot of them do. Business success is not nearly as much technical skill and vocation as people make it out to be (particularly in those industries that covet MBAs and other downright certifiable credentials). A lot of it is about understanding your market and audience, creativity, instinct, experience, guts, and a worldview that will allow for big success. (Yes, folks are often their own worst enemies in this regard, spending oodles of time on stuff that won’t make them any richer.)

So if you want to know how to get rich, if you want to know how the mind of a rich entrepreneur works or if you just want a glimpse of hardcore pragmatic thinking on these topics, here are your books.

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*The content contained in this article represents only the opinions and viewpoints of the Fisher Investments editorial staff.

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