Posted by: Martin | November 23, 2011

Taleb’s measure of success

Possible but not easy

“My only measure of success is how much time you have to kill,”

-Nicholas Nassim Taleb

I have heard it said that you either have to work at a regular job, or you can start your own business, but if you do that you have to work even longer hours.  So we are all trapped, and it’s tough to meet Taleb’s measure of success.

Im thinking that it would be cool to show that it’s possible to start one’s own business without spending very much time on it, and without being wealthy at the outset.  So far my business is still small, but it looks entirely possible to make it bigger without increasing the time spent on it much. The blog actually takes more time than the business, and I’ll try to keep it that way. Ultimately it’s about a sense of freedom, of not being bogged down, and mastering one’s own time.

So, I think it’s possible to set up a business without spending too much time on it, but it’s hardly easy.   In my case I’m trying to manage things in Africa from Europe and that means you got to have people you can rely on to handle things on site. I think I do, but there are still snags.

Recently, I have had a carpenter  supposed to do work on the Cocody house taking an advance of 135,000 CFA Francs (205 euro), but not doing any work.  He has admitted he took the money to pay debts, and I got another carpenter to finish the job, but I’m not sure I’ll ever see those 135,000 CFA Francs again.  The law firm that I’m working with are pretty optimistic though. They say at worst they’ll get the carpenter put in jail and then his relatives will collect the money.  Well, I’ll see. It’ll be a test of the Ivorian legal system and how things work in practice.

Pas trop de frime

The other part of it not being easy to set up a business without spending much time on it, is that it means living beneath one’s means for a long period of time.  I’m taking a big chunk of my discretionary spending and investing it in the Ivory Coast, instead of well, spending it.

Guess it would have been possible to go down the debt route instead, but that isn’t really my style.  I mean sooner or later I will probably take on some reasonable amount of debt to expand the business, and there’s nothing wrong in principle with debt financing. What I mean is pretty well expressed by John Hempton at the Bronte Capital blog:

Chapter Two however starts with one of the best quotes I have ever seen:

“To be successful, keep looking tanned, live in an elegant building (even if you’re in the cellar), be seen in smart restaurants (even if you nurse one drink) and if you borrow, borrow big.” 

-Aristotle Onassis

Seldom have I seen a business/political philosophy so diametrically opposed to mine stated so clearly. And exemplars abound – think Angelo Mozilo in American finance or Andrew Peacock in Australian politics.

Just a fabulous quote and a world view that seems to work for the people who hold it if not for the rest of us…


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