Experts & Insiders 4/4/2011

E&I: The Young Billionaire Benchmark


Dana Swanson's Story

E&I: The Young Billionaire Benchmark


I was at a party last weekend and found myself talking to girl in her late twenties, who told me in all seriousness that once she finished her masters program she planned to “blog, do speaking appearances, write a book, you know, that kinda stuff, there’s a big market for it right now”.  She made it seem like a job you could interview for and easily land.   A few days later I received an e-mail at work from another late twenties-er who sent me a link to a 3 minute long, unedited interview on Youtube with the request to help the video “go viral”.  There are hundreds, if not millions of mildly entertaining videos of pranks, cats and cute babies that only have a few hundred hits, what makes you think this dry video is going to go viral?

But after one less than stellar day at work, I found myself gravitating towards their thinking and falling victim to what I’m calling The Young Billionaire Benchmark.  The most prominent youthful billionaire is of course is ol’ Zuck…now made even more famous by The Social Network movie, but the Twitter founders, Foursquare founders and a host of others fill the list of 20-30 something multi-millionaires.  Even the South by Southwest conference, which is notorious for cranking out the next hot thing on the web hosted a “startup bus” this year, filled with budding entrepreneurs looking to join the club.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but everyone has off days and I’ve had a perennial hate for my alarm clock since I was 12.  So when the man gets me down, my brains starts whirling…. Oprah says follow your passion, am I following my passion?  If I hate my alarm clock so much, maybe I should try to be cultivating a business where I could work from home?  Should I blog more?  What if I’m the next Seth Godin and I just don’t know it, and if that’s the case, what tribe am I leading?  I could go on much longer, but eventually I return to the thought that I should just be happy that I have a legit full time job in a down economy….or should I?

In the age of the young billionaire, success is measured differently, just having a good job and a family doesn’t seem to be enough anymore.  For up-coming generations it’s about being remarkable, being creative, being in business for yourself and being rich.  We don’t just want a house, we want a big house and we want a social media start-up, a reality TV show or tour of speaking engagements to get us there.  When more and more young people are showcased as overnight successes, we’re left with a new ruler with which to measure our progress.  Talented (like Mark Zuckerberg) or not (like the cast of the Jersey Shore) it seems more and more of today’s youth measure success by the millions and billions, even though we know the great majority of us won’t get there.  What is this going to mean for our society over the long term?  Is it really going to lead to hoards of innovative entrepreneurs?  Or is it going to drive large numbers of almost 30 somethings like myself to lazily wait for our big break or constantly feel like we’re not doing enough?

It wasn’t long before I was back to being stoked on my job again, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t secretly hoping someone would just give me a reality TV show, so I could make some quick cash, invest it well and ditch my alarm clock forever.  So what do you think?  Do success stories drive you forward or does The Young Billionare Benchmark contribute to a feeling of general discontent?  And is this a new problem?  Or is it merely the 21st century incarnation of a question that’s plagued all generations before mine?