James Altucher is living an extraordinary life. With his signature glasses and unruly mop of curly hair, the 53-year-old Renaissance man is impossible to pigeonhole: hedge fund manager, entrepreneur, bestselling author, venture capitalist, standup comedian, chess master, and podcaster. To date, he has founded or co-founded more than 20 companies, including Reset Inc. and StockPickr. On top of this, he has also authored over 20 books, and his writing has been featured in places like The Financial Times, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and The Huffington Post. Raised in North Brunswick, New Jersey, Altucher's first job after college was in the IT department at HBO. After nearly a decade at HBO, Altucher was able to build and sell one of his first companies for $15 million – money that he then used to finance the next step in his long series of entrepreneurial endeavors.
Unlike many college students, the restless Altucher couldn't wait until graduation before starting his first business. As a Cornell sophomore, he worked with two other students to launch “CollegeCard.” Since this was in the mid-1980s, most students didn't have access to debit or credit cards. So, Altucher and his partners helped create a business that charged a small fee to students who wanted to use an "early debit card" that worked at "every restaurant in town."
It was an ingenious concept, especially for the time. And yet, part of Altucher’s motivations was certainly necessity, since after his first year at Cornell, his parents couldn't afford tuition, and the young man was forced to pay his own way. This meant working 60 hours a week in addition to his course load. His hard work paid off, though. After only three years at Cornell, he managed to complete the classes required for a Bachelor of Arts in computer science.
In 2010, Altucher returned to his alma mater to present his "How to Make a Trillion Dollars" talk at Cornell’s Sage Hall. In contrast to the hyperbole of its title, Altucher's time on stage was primarily focused on discussing the numerous lessons he'd learned "the hard way." This includes the importance of knowing when to “move on to the next business.” Citing his own commercial failures during the 90s dot-com bubble, Altucher described how he'd started a wireless internet company only to be unceremoniously kicked out, which organically led to his next venture: Wall Street.
"Every day I would take a notebook," Altucher explained, "and write down ideas for new businesses." He sent these ideas free to hedge funds and big financial institutions in hopes of getting involved in Wall Street. Unable to find interested parties, however, Altucher still managed to build "up a small business trading for hedge fund managers." Eventually, he used these experiences to create Stockpickr.com, a social networking financial website.
Later, Altucher sold Stockpickr for $10 million, which didn’t make him a trillion dollars, but it did show him the importance of combining creativity with perseverance in uncertain times.