This is the first interview between Naval and Nivi on How to Get Rich. These interviews are based on Naval’s tweetstorm. The podcast is available on Apple, YouTube, Spotify, Overcast, Google, and other podcast apps. These transcripts have been edited for clarity.
The difference between wealth, money and status.
Naval is a prolific tech investor and founder of AngelList
Nivi: You probably know Naval from his Twitter account.
We’re going to be talking about his tweetstorm on “How to get rich (without getting lucky).” We’re going to go through most of the tweets in detail, give Naval a chance to expand on them and generally riff on the topic. He’ll probably throw in some ideas that he hasn’t even published before.
Naval’s the co-founder of AngelList and Epinions. He’s also a prolific tech investor in companies like Twitter, Uber, and many more.
I’m the co-founder of AngelList with Naval. And I co-authored the Venture Hacks blog with him back in the day.
Naval: The How To Get Rich tweetstorm definitely hit a nerve and went viral. A lot of people say it was helpful and reached across aisles.
People outside of the tech industry, people in all walks of life, people want to know how to solve their money problems. Everyone vaguely knows that they want to be wealthy, but they don’t have a good set of principles to do it by.
Wealth is assets that earn while you sleep
Nivi: What’s the difference between wealth, money, and status?
Naval: Wealth is the thing that you want. Wealth is assets that earn while you sleep. Wealth is the factory, the robots, that’s cranking out things. Wealth is the computer program that’s running at night, that’s serving other customers. Wealth is even money in the bank that is being reinvested into other assets, and into other businesses.
Even a house can be a form of wealth because you can rent it out, although that’s probably a lower use of productivity of land than doing some commercial enterprise.
So, my definition of wealth is much more businesses and assets that can earn while you sleep.
Wealth buys your freedom
The reason you want wealth is because it buys you your freedom. So, you don’t have to wear a tie like a collar around your neck. So, you don’t have to wake up at 7:00 AM, and rush to work, and sit in commute traffic. So, you don’t have to waste away your entire life grinding all your productive hours away into a soulless job that doesn’t fulfill you.
So, the purpose of wealth is freedom. It’s nothing more than that. It’s not to buy fur coats, or drive Ferraris, or sail yachts, or jet around the world in your Gulfstream. That stuff gets really boring and really stupid, really fast. It’s really so that you are your own sovereign individual.
You’re not going to get that unless you really want it. The entire world wants it and the entire world is working hard at it.
To some extent it is competitive. It’s a positive sum game, but there are competitive elements to it. Because there’s a finite amount of resources right now in society. To get the resources to do what you want, you have to stand out.
Money is how we transfer wealth
Money is how we transfer wealth. Money is social credits. It is the ability to have credits and debits of other people’s time.
If I do my job right, if I create value for society, society says, “Oh, thank you. We owe you something in the future for the work that you did in the past. Here’s a little IOU. Let’s call that money.”
That money gets debased because people steal the IOUs. The government prints extra IOUs. People renege on their IOUs. But money is trying to be a reliable IOU from society that you are owed something for something you, or someone who gave you the money, did in the past.
We can transfer these IOUs around. So, money is how we transfer wealth.
Status is your rank in the social hierarchy
There are fundamentally two huge games in life that people play. One is the money game. Because money is not going to solve all of your problems, but it’s going to solve all of your money problems. I think people know that. They realize that, so they want to make money.
But at the same time, many of them deep down believe that they can’t make it. They don’t want any wealth creation to happen. So, they virtue signal by attacking the whole enterprise by saying, “Well, making money is evil. You shouldn’t do it.”
But they’re actually playing the other game, which is the status game. They’re trying to be high status in the eyes of other people watching by saying, “Well, I don’t need money. We don’t want money.”
Status is your ranking in the social hierarchy.
Wealth is not a zero-sum game. Everybody in the world can have a house. Because you have a house doesn’t take away from my ability to have a house. If anything, the more houses that are built, the easier it becomes to build houses, the more we know about building houses, and the more people that can have houses.
Wealth is a very positive sum game. We create things together. We’re starting this endeavor to create this piece of art that explains what we’re doing. At the end of it, something brand new will be created. It’s a positive sum game.
Status is a very old game
Status, on the other hand, is a zero-sum game. It’s a very old game. We’ve been playing it since monkey tribes. It’s hierarchical. Who’s number one? Who’s number two? Who’s number three? And for number three to move to number two, number two has to move out of that slot. So, status is a zero-sum game.
Politics is an example of a status game. Even sports is an example of a status game. To be the winner, there must be a loser. I don’t fundamentally love status games. They play an important role in our society, so we can figure out who’s in charge. But fundamentally, you play them because they’re a necessary evil.
On an evolutionary basis, if you go back thousands of years, status is a much better predictor of survival than wealth is. You couldn’t have wealth before the farming age because you couldn’t store things. Hunter-gatherers carried everything on their backs.
So, hunter-gatherers lived in entirely status based societies. Farmers started going to wealth-based societies. And the modern industrial economies are much more heavily wealth-based societies.
People creating wealth will always be attacked by people playing status games
There’s always a subtle competition going on between status and wealth. For example, when journalists attack rich people, or attack the technology industry, they’re really bidding for status. They’re saying, “No, the people are more important. And I, the journalist, represent the people, and therefore I am more important.”
The problem is that to win at a status game, you have to put somebody else down. That’s why you should avoid status games in your life because they make you into an angry combative person. You’re always fighting to put other people down, to put yourself and the people you like up.
Status games are always going to exist. There’s no way around it, but realize that most of the time, when you’re trying to create wealth, you’re getting attacked by someone else, and they’re trying to look like a goody-two shoes.
They’re trying to up their own status at your expense. They’re playing a different game. And it’s a worse game. It’s a zero-sum game, instead of a positive sum game.
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