I know exactly why you’re here. You want to know my net worth. You want my number.
In fact, you are not alone. One of the most popular searches about me is “mike michalowicz net worth.” I get it. I totally do. For the longest time I did the same net worth searches on authors, entrepreneurs, celebrities, neighbors and friends. I wanted to know the value of a lot of different people.
Then one day (February 14, 2008 in fact) I discovered how to find the net worth of anybody and everybody. It is so deadly accurate that it’s scary. If you read this entire post (it’s a doozy), word for word and follow the exact steps, you will be able to find anyone’s net worth. Including mine. Including yours.
Why Resumes Are One Page Long
There is a reason why resumes are typically only a page long. For almost all of us (me particularly) our professional accomplishments can only (or barely) fill up a single page.
I have my own one-pager of “look how great I am” bullet points – building and selling a couple companies before my 35th birthday, writing a few business books, facilitating angel and VC raises (and getting ridiculous valuations), hosting business makeover segments on TV, keynoting a lot and being the CEO of a business consulting group. There, my self-fellating ego stroke is done. That’s it. It can’t fill much paper, but surely can fill my ego.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am proud of those accomplishments and worked hard for them. But being brutally honest with myself, those bullet points represent my entire list of professional accomplishments and they don’t even fill out a complete sentence. Let alone a complete CV. If I want to fill out a full piece of paper I am going to have to add filler stuff. Like “proficient in Microsoft Word” and “knows three words in sign language (curse words).”
Yet, it’s that one incomplete sentence that triggers people’s (perhaps your) thirst to know my net worth. Here’s the problem. . . when I tell you my number you are going to judge me and yourself. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Depositing Six Figure Checks
I sold the first company I founded, a computer technology integrator, to private equity in 2002. With the money I made, I could have taken off from work and lived quite comfortably for a few years. But I decided to “go all in” on a new company. With a partner, I built and sold my second company to a Fortune 500 in about two and a half years. At that moment I achieved financial success that I never experienced before. I distinctly remember depositing the first of multiple checks I received. That first check was for $388,000.
The money from the sale went into a temporary bank account my partner and I set up. (We did it for tax purposes.) We then wrote out our distributions from there, on the bank starter checks. Starter checks people! Starter-friggin’-checks.
I will never forget how bizarre it was to go to my bank’s drive through, send a $388,000 handwritten starter check to the teenage teller, and for him to never flinch or even look at me. He just deposited it, asked “Is there anything else I can help you with?” and sent me the receipt back with a cheap plastic bank pen for me to keep.
I made four more deposits (big fat ones) over the next two weeks. Each time it was the same teenage teller, bored with his ho hum job and bored with my ho hum deposits.
It was odd, I thought. You would think you would get a thumbs up. Or a smile. Or at least that he would look up to see who was dropping in “boatloads of cash.” But, he never looked. He never cared.
Funny enough, I later discovered that young kid knew a lot more about net worth than I ever did.
The Midas Touch
An interesting thing happens when you make a lot of money as an entrepreneur.
First, every financial planner on this planet calls you. “Hi, this is so-and-so. I saw the article in The New York Times about the sale of your company. I want to congratulate you. And, I would to take all your money and make a ton of commissions on it.”
The second thing that happens is that friends and family start calling you Midas.
My brother-in-law was the first to say it, “Everything you touch turns to gold, Mike.” Then it was my parents who said it. Then my sister. Then my friends. Then me.
I would look in the mirror with a smirk. I was staring right at Midas. I felt it. I knew it. Everything I touch turns to gold.
That was the day I lost it all. On the bright side, I didn’t die of hunger like Midas did in greek mythology.
How To Spend Millions, When You’re In A Rush
I may know how to make millions of dollars, but I found that I am really, really proficient at losing millions. In case you are curious on how to lose millions, here is the sure fire method I suggest:
First, move into a town that is really, really expensive. Second, buy a Dodge Viper and let every friend you have tell you, “you must be making up for a small penis.” Of course, if a Viper doesn’t suit you, you can get one of those Italian jobs, especially if you have an ultra-tiny penis.
Third, on the same day you buy your over the top sports car, also get the highest-end Land Rover you can find, and top it off with a tricked out BMW. Fourth, join a private club that you never go to yet still sends you a ridiculously big food bill every month, because you didn’t consume the required minimum.
Finally take the fifth step, and this is the big one, make sure you invest in a dozen brand new startups that have no clue what they are doing, because it doesn’t matter. . . you are Midas after all.
The Angel of Death
I called myself an angel investor. The model was simple. I’d put $50,000 in this company, $10,000 in that one, and perhaps $75,000 in another. Then I’d hire a team to help manage the infrastructure of all these startups. My team did the accounting, the customer service, and the management. The entrepreneur would just invent the concept and sell it, while my team would run it. And me? I just used my Midas touch, baby.
Within 12 months, all of the companies, except one, were belly up. It was so bad, that there were times I was paying bills for companies that were already out of business. That’s when I realized I sucked at being an angel investor. That’s when I knew I was really the angel of death.
Happy Valentines Day
February 14th, 2008 was a Thursday. I like to celebrate Valentines day with my wife and children. We always have a nice dinner together, exchange cards and share stories. I love the holiday. And now, I love that specific Valentines the most. It was the day I hit rock bottom.
I was at the office that afternoon and as I was wrapping up to go home, I received a call from my accountant. He got an early start on my taxes so I could be prepared for April.
Before I go into the details of the call, let me make something clear. I had wasted away almost all of my money at this point. Over a half million in savings gone. An embarrassingly bigger amount of investment money (which I guess is simply another label for savings) gone. My business accounts emptied. My ongoing income was squat. I had almost nothing left. On Feb 28th, 2008 my net worth was $10,000. The next day it would be $0.
Even with no income and thirty thousand left to my name, my big fat ego couldn’t accept defeat. I had lost almost everything at this point. Yet, I felt that if I could find just one more investment to make – one more startup to fund – just land one big client – that everything would turn.
Back to the call. Keith first said all the niceties that you would expect from your accountant. Then he told me the “good news.” My tax liability was less than he anticipated. I only owed $28,000.
Twenty eight thousand. I lost my breath. My chest tightened to what I presume a person in cardiac arrest might feel. I felt the sharp pain of a knife stabbing into me. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck. I had to scramble to get $18,000 bucks, and had no idea how to cover my mortgage next month. I didn’t have enough. Not even close. As Keith wrapped up the called he nonchalantly said the bill for his services would come Monday.
“How much?” I asked.
“Two thousand,” he said.
I felt the knife twist.
The Piggy Bank
Valentines day was not what I expected. Nor was it for anyone in my family.
I didn’t come home with flowers. I came home with defeat.
I didn’t sit at the dinner table. I slumped.
The shame was too great. I started to cry. Sob, actually. I started to sob.
I looked at my children and wife and told them. I had lost everything. Every single penny. All that money I had made to support my family was gone. My net worth was zero. I was worthless.
There was complete silence. I think you could have heard a pin drop, but I wouldn’t know. I couldn’t afford one.
My daughter was nine years old at the time. She stood up from the dinner table and ran to her room. I totally understood the reaction, I wanted to run away too.
Everyone else sat at the table in an awkward silence. What would you do at a moment like this anyway? So everyone just froze as I oscillated between crying and being totally angry at myself.
Two long minutes later, my daughter walked back down and put her piggy bank on the table. Then she said the words that will be with me until the day I die.
She said, “Daddy. We’ll make it.” And then she slid the piggy bank toward me.
Valentines Day 2008 I learned what net worth really is. Thank you to my nine year old daughter.
Determining Anyone’s Net Worth
I always believed that determining someone’s net worth was a simple formula: their cumulative financial assets minus their cumulative financial liabilities. Net worth was a number.
Valentines Day 2008 my net worth, I thought, was zero. But in a moment, my daughter had taught me something different. My net worth (and your net worth) is so much more than money. In fact, money is the least significant part of net worth. Perhaps money has nothing to do with net worth.
Your net worth, my net worth, everyone’s net worth is about value. Your value to your family. Your value to our community. Your value to the world. And most importantly, your value to yourself. Ultimately, I have discovered that our net worth is at it highest when we are one hundred percent, unabashedly true to ourselves – when we live fully in our life’s purpose.
From that day forward I have never sought out the monetary net worth of another person. I found that it means nothing. Instead, I look to see how true people are to their definition of their life’s purpose. If they are living it, their net worth is astronomical. If they are not living it yet, it is just a matter of time (and effort) and they will find it – and to me that is still a pretty dang high amount of net worth.
This may sound tooty-fruity, but I truly believe we (you, me, the rich guy and the poor guy) all have huge amounts of net worth. So much so that no amount of money can influence any individual’s net worth.
But I also discovered one more thing. When I wanted to know the financial breakdown of everybody else, I was actually destroying my own net worth. And you might just be doing the same.
Our Near Insatiable Thirst To Compare
I want you to think about this for a second. Why do you want to know my financials?
I think I know why. You want to judge me. Now don’t get offended. I am not accusing you of anything, it is just something we humans do. We have a near insatiable thirst to compare.
If I told you my financial net worth as of today (and quite frankly, I am really not even that interested in my own number any more – happiness, comfort and living my purpose are my key measurements now), I think it would trigger off a chain of comparisons. You would hear the number and the judging would begin.
You might think I don’t nearly deserve all that I have. Or you might think that I unfairly have more than you. Perhaps, you might think I have too little. You might conclude that I outright suck, because I don’t have X number of dollars. Too much or too little – no matter what you will judge me. And then you will compare yourself to me.
If you feel I have more than I deserve and you have less, it will trigger envy. Envy is a dangerous emotion that will hurt you. Why? Because envy is triggered by a feeling of inadequacy. You feel, in some way, less than me.
Envy sets in and along with it comes the defense mechanisms. “So what if that asshole Mike has more money than me, he is an obnoxious jerk anyway. He’s probably a drug dealer or something. He’s a fake. He’s a fraud. He’s scum.” Envy makes you believe you are inadequate to me (you’re not) and makes you find ways to make you better than me (you’re not). Once you tear me down to a point where you feel I am now below you, you’ll feel good – temporarily. It is only a matter of time that you will be visited by envy again and do the tear down cycle again. Envy makes us pull others down. Aspiration on the other hand makes us pull ourselves up.
If you think my number is too low, you will devalue me. “Really!??! Is that is all Mike has. He is useless. He’s worthless.” And with that you will see me as less than you (I’m not) and seek out others, who you will envy and think are better than you (they’re not).
To me a homeless woman or the richest man in the world have the same net worth. They are both human. They are both significant. And perhaps the homeless woman has a sense of freedom, and the richest man may feel trapped by all his stuff. And perhaps the richest man lives in constant fear of losing it all, while the homeless woman lives in constant hope. The both have their struggles and the both have their successes. Neither is worth more. Neither is worth less.
No large sum of riches, or lack thereof, can even put a scratch in someone’s net worth. If you realize this too, you will break free of the comparison trap and start seeking out the intrinsic value we all carry. You will seek out the intrinsic value in yourself. And the moment you do that, you will see your net worth skyrocket.
2008 was a tough year for me. Beyond the stupid financial struggles I thrust upon myself, going from an entrepreneur to an author is tough!
I had finally finished writing my first book and had launched it on Amazon. The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur shared lessons on how entrepreneurs can grow a business like I had in the past. But there I was, starting all over again myself. I was launching a book on how to make millions in business, yet I had now lost the millions I had made. The irony.
It was embarrassing to go to lectures and being introduced as a millionaire entrepreneur, when I was in fact a former millionaire entrepreneur. It felt like a lie. . . I was telling people how to be successful, but I myself no longer was. If I was going to make it work, I had to read my own book. The irony.
From Successful Entrepreneur To Struggling Author
Starting all over again at zero has been a blessing. But it sure as hell has been no easy ride.
The day I launched The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, no one bought it. None sold! Zero. Zilch. Squat. And if you want to know how painful zero is, that means my own mother didn’t buy it. Ouch.
I started putting on speaking engagements for anyone who would have me. My thought was, to speak for free in hopes of selling books after the event and then getting invited back to speak for some coin.
My first “major tour” was in California, from Los Angeles to San Francisco for five speaking gigs. Four were for colleges and one for a business group. It kicked off with UCI (The University of California – Irvine). When I arrived, I walked into a large empty room. Well not totally empty, one student was there. I asked him where I could find the lecture room I was looking for. He told me I was in it. He then looked at me and said, “Are you ready to speak now? I don’t think anyone else is coming.” A fraternity was throwing a party that night.
Talk about having your heart ripped out. One person showed (he was coordinating the event). A frat party was a bigger draw than me. I did my speech – it was more of a conversation – as best as I could. One person. Demoralizing.
The other colleges, varied from 50 in a room (the business fraternity made it a mandatory event) to an average of 4 people for the other two events. Demoralizing.
Total books sold for the four events? Two. Both to the fraternity, for what reason I am not sure – but think it had something to do with hazing.
The business event was better about 60 people showed and about 20 books sold. But a whole trip to California (I am from New York) with hotels and food could not be covered on a total of 22 books sales.
I’ll save you the long drawn out details of the following year’s struggle. In short, I got back to basics. I did what I did when I started my first business in my early twenties. I skipped hotel rooms and slept in airports. I ate a lot at the free event lunches and skip dinner. I did it all TPE style, and appreciated every single painful lesson it taught me.
I had to rebuild my financial net worth from scratch. But my true net worth, and your true net worth, has and always will be unlimited.
Be Yourself Unabashedly
I have clawed and scratched my way back to a degree of financial security that is comfortable. In fact the income is enabling me to do more, and more, and more of what I need to do – to live out what I have defined as my life’s purpose in the biggest way possible.
I have permanently lost something, though. . . my arrogance.
I realize, to my core, I am not better than you. I am not better than anyone. And no one is better than me. We are all just different. And in our uniqueness – in our differences – is all our net worth.
You can determine anyone’s net worth. By definition it is unlimited for all of us.
Be yourself unabashedly.
Learn More About True Net Worth
Ever since my discovery of what net worth really is, I have been reading more and more on the subject. Particularly our relationship with money. If you want to dig in deeper too, I recommend reading Lynne Twist’s book called The Soul of Money. The stories she shares about her experiences in India moved my soul. A very powerful read, in my opinion.