Becoming a billionaire seems like a great goal, but unfortunately it's only a dream for most of us. The thing is, many billionaires didn't start out as such. Some certainly had economic and educational advantages, but even without those, their smart decisions and business choices, plus a few key characteristics, led them to their billions.
So, what can we learn about our own real-life options for becoming billionaires? (See also: J.D. Rockefeller: From Oil Baron To Billionaire.)
First things first: find a way to make money. Four of the most often used methods of money making in the world of billionaires are: inventing, investing, innovating and being an entrepreneur. But remember that how you pursue your billions is just as important as what you do to get them.
Inventing is a tough career path to take. But if you've got the smarts to successfully create, patent, produce and market a product that people need (and thus, will buy in droves), you can build your future billionaire life on it. Successful inventions aren't necessarily complicated or high-tech items but can be improvements on existing items. For example, James Dyson invented a better vacuum cleaner, and Gianfranco Zaccai invented a better mop, the Swiffer.
Innovation is the fine art of considering a current mainstream market and finding a creative way to improve the current offering.
Successful innovators will identify the real needs behind customer demands, and will meet them with a smarter, better, more efficient product, or with a service that provides more than its competitors. Others may develop a business that works in a way just different enough to stand out from the rest. IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad is a great example of someone who used innovation to yield billions. Furniture doesn't seem like a very exciting market, but his approach of providing modular, economical pieces with a modern flair from Sweden and other European designers and manufacturers to a global market proved fruitful.
Don't: Think You Know It All
The moment you think you have nothing left to learn is the moment you kill your potential for becoming a billionaire. Especially if you're interested in building your wealth through inventing or innovating, you have to be curious, open-minded and always learning. Those qualities allow you to look at old things in a new way, to see the potential for change and profit where others see only what already had been done.
Self-made billionaire Warren Buffett is famous for his frugal ways and for his smart investments. Investing, of course, requires a little seed money and some accurate insight into which investments are smart and which are a waste of money. If you can follow in the footsteps of billionaire investors like Buffett, then this might be the route for you.
Don't: Make Flashy Investments
The latest and greatest investment opportunity may be fun to talk about, but one of the pitfalls of would-be billionaires is to jump in on the "next big thing," which doesn't always turn out to be so big. Investors who make billions from their investments avoid flashy, fun and high-risk picks and instead choose those with long-term potential to provide great returns. Real estate, energy, steel, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and energy are among the picks, while high-tech and intriguing but risky options may go either way.
Do: Be an Entrepreneur
The third option for becoming a billionaire is in the time-honored tradition of entrepreneurial pursuits. Starting a business and taking it to success isn't always easy, but for those with good business sense and the ability to spot start-ups that have potential to be great, entrepreneurship can be the vehicle to great wealth.
Billionaire entrepreneurs might work in one of two ways: either by coming up with a great idea and taking it all the way, as in the case of Bill Gates and Microsoft, or by spotting someone else's good idea and investing in it early on. Both are viable ways to reach success that can get you billions of dollars when it comes to your own net worth.
Don't: Quit Too Soon
Entrepreneurial types who succeed realize that success rarely comes overnight. One business idea might not pay off, but the next might. It's not easy to build something from scratch, especially when your something is a fortune of billions. Time is on your side, if you don't rush it.
The Bottom Line
Of course, luck has something to do with success. It helps to be in the right place at the right time. However, if you don't know what to do when you're there, luck won't help you out much. Smart choices, smart investments and long-term learning and growing will.