As everyone else on the planet I'm sure, I would like to become a millionaire and within a tight time constraint: 3 short years. HN is a constant source of excellent articles, amazing intelligent advice and smart people, so how would you go about it? Saving, Stocks etc etc?
And also, please don't ask as to why I want to have a net worth of $1M and why I wouldn't just want to get 200k and live comfortably etc. I'm just interested in hearing people's thoughts about this idea :)
I'm going to go and replace 3 years with a "short time frame". Some things to focus on:
- Market opportunity- a million dollars isn't a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly is a lot if the market opportunity is not large enough. Even if you put Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as founders in a new venture with a total market size of 10 million, there is no way they could become too wealthy without completely changing the business (ie- failing).
- Inequality of information- find a place where you know something that many undervalue. Having this inequality of information can give you, your first piece of leverage.
- Leverage skills you know- You can go into new fields such as say Finance, but make sure you're leveraging something you already know such as technology and/or product. Someone wanted to start a documentary with me. I said that would be fun, but it would be my first documentary regardless of what happened. There was a glass ceiling due to that. If I do something leveraging a skill I know, I'm already ahead of the game.
- Look in obscure places- We're often fascinated with the shiny things in the internet industry. Many overlook the obscure and unsexy. Don't make that mistake. If your goal has primarily monetary motivations, look at the unsexy.
- Surround yourself with smart people- smart people whom are successful usually got there by doing the same and have an innate desire to help those do the same. it's the ecosystem that's currently happening with the paypal mafia and can be traced all the way back to fairchild semiconductor.
- Charge for something- Building a consumer property dependent upon advertising has easily made many millionaires, but it isn't the surest path. It takes a lot of time and scale, which due to cashflow issues will require large outside investment probably before you are a millionaire. Build something that you can charge for.
- Your metric shouldn't be dollars- If you're going after a big enough market and charging a reasonable amount, you can hit a million dollars. Focus on growth, customer acquisition costs, lifetime value of the customer, and churn.
- Get as many distribution channels as possible- There is some weird sense that if you build something they will just come. That a few like buttons and emails to email@example.com will make your traffic explode + grow consistently. It fucking won't. Get as many distribution channels as possible. Each one by itself may not be large, but if you have many it starts to add up. It also diversifies your risk. If you're a 100% SEO play, you're playing a dangerous dangerous game. You're fully dependent upon someone else's rules. If Google bans you, you will be done. Replace SEO with: App store, facebook, etc.
- Go with your gut and do not care about fameballing- Go with what your gut says, regardless of how it might look to the rest of the world. Too often we (I) get lost in caring about what people think. It usually leads to a wrong decision. Don't worry about becoming internet famous or appearing on teh maj0r blogz. Fame is fleeting in the traditional sense. Become famous with your customers. They're the ones that truly matter. What they think matters and they will ultimately put their money where their mouth is.
- Be an unrelenting machine- Brick walls are there to show you how bad you want something. Commit to your goals and do not waver from them a one bit regardless of what else is there. I took this approach to losing weight and fitness. I have not missed a single 5k run in over a year. It did not matter if I had not slept for two days, traveling across the country, or whatever else. If your goals is to become a millionaire, you need to be an unrelenting machine that does not let emotions make you give up / stop. You either get it done with 100% commitment or you don't. Be a machine.
- If it's a "trend", it's too late- This means the barriers to entry are usually too high at this point to have the greatest possible chance of success. Sure you could still make a lot of money in something like the app store or the facebook platform, but the chances are significantly less than they were in the summer of 08 or spring of 2007. You can always revisit past trends though.
- If you do focus on a dollar amount, focus on the first $10,000- This usually means you've found some repeatable process / minimal traction. ie- if you're selling a $100 product, you've already encountered 100 people who have paid you. From here you can scale up. It's also a lot easier to take in when you're looking at numbers. Making 1 million seems hard, but making $10,000 doesn't seem so hard, right?
- Be a master of information- Many think it might be wasteful that I spent so much time on newsyc or read so many tech information sites. It's not, it's what gives me an edge. I feel engulfed.
- Get out and be social- Even if you're an introvert, being around people will give you energy. I'm at my worst when I'm isolated from people and at my best when I've at least spent some time with close friends (usually who I don't know from business.)
- Make waves, don't ride them- There was a famous talk Jawed Karim gave from youtube. He described the three factors that made youtube take off. I think they included (1- emergence of flash, so no codecs required 2- one click upload 3- ability to share embed). Find those small pieces and put them together to make the wave. That's what youtube did imho. The other guys really just rode the wave they created (which is okay).
- Say no way more than you say yes- I bet almost every web entrepreneur has encountered this: You demo your product / explain what you're doing and someone suggests that you do "X feature/idea". X is a really good idea and maybe even fits in with what you're doing, but it would take you SO FAR off the path you're on. If you implemented X it would take a ton of time and morph what you're doing. It's also really really hard to say no when it comes from someone well respected like a VC or famous entrepreneur. I mean how the fuck could they be wrong? Hell, they might even write me a check if I do what they say!!!!! Don't fall for that trap. Instead write the feedback down somewhere as one single data point to consider amongst others. If that same piece of feedback keeps coming up AND it fits within the guidelines of your vision, then you should consider it more seriously. Weight suggestions from paying customers a bit more, since their vote is weighted by dollars.
- Be so good they can't ignore you- I first heard this quote from Marc Andreessen, but he stole it from Steve Martin. Just be so good with what you do that you can't be ignored. You can surely get away with a boring product with no soul, but being so good you can't ignore is much more powerful.
- Always keep your door/inbox open- You never know who is going to walk through your door + contact you. Serendipity is a beautiful thing. At one point Bill Gates was just a random college kid calling an Albuquerque computer company.
- Give yourself every opportunity you can- I use this as a reason why starting a company in silicon valley when it comes to tech is a good idea. You can succeed anywhere in the world, but you certainly have a better chance in the valley. You should give yourself every opportunity possible, especially as an entrepreneur where every advantage counts.
- Give yourself credit- This is the thing I do the least of and I'm trying to work on it. What may seem simple+not that revolutionary to anyone ahead of the curve can usually be pure wizardry to the general public, whom is often your customer. Give yourself more credit.
- Look for the accessory ecosystem- iPod/iPhone/iPad case manufacturers are making a fortune. Armormount is also making a killing by making flat panel wall mounts. Woothemes makes millions of dollars a year (and growing) selling Wordpress themes. There are tons of other areas here, but these are the ones that come to mind first. If there's a huge new product/shift, there's usually money to be made in the accessory ecosystem.
- Stick with it- Don't give up too fast. Being broke and not making any money sucks + can often make you think nothing will ever work. Don't quit when you're down. If this was easy then everyone would be a millionaire and being a millionaire wouldn't be anything special. Certainly learn from your mistakes + pivot, but don't quit just because it didn't work right away.
- Make the illiquid, liquid- I realized this after talking to a friend who helps trade illiquid real estate securities. A bank may have hundreds of millions of assets, but they're actually worth substantially less if they cannot be moved. If you can help people make something that is illiquid, liquid they will pay you a great deal of money. Giving you a 20-30% cut is worth it, when the opposite is making no money at all.
- Productize a service- If you can make what might normally be considered a service into a scaleable, repeatable, and efficient process that makes it seem like a product you can make a good amount of money. In some ways, I feel this is what Michael Dell did with DELL in the early days. Putting together a computer is essentially a service, but he put together a streamlined method of doing things that it really turned it into a product. On a much smaller scale, PSD2XHTML services did this. It's a service, but the end result + what you pay for really feels like a product.
Love this post, but I'm going to argue against one of your points:
If it's a "trend", it's too late
I disagree. In fact, if something is a trend, it's a guarantee that a market (of some kind) exists and it can save you a lot of time and research. Most big markets have large numbers of high value competitors and they're not all pioneers. Indeed, most companies with significant turnover were not pioneers in their field - they came in with "me too" products that merely improved upon the existing popular ones before they became too entrenched.
The trick is to get in when something becomes a trend but before the masses realize it's a trend and you have hundreds of competitors making similar improvements to the core products and services as quickly as you are. As well as being my belief, it's one of the core tenets of Michael Masterson's tackily-named (but a great read nonetheless) "Ready, Fire, Aim: Zero to $100 Million in No Time Flat."
With your reference to the App Store, I suspect you might agree with this, but have a different idea of what a "trend" is. I consider the App Store and developing iPhone apps to have been a trend in late 2008, not long after the earliest developers were starting to share revenue/sales figures, but before the masses had figured out it was going to be a giant cashcow. Now developing iPhone apps is just "what you do" rather than a trend, IMHO.
That point could really be a post all by itself and it certainly varies situation to situation. Semantics + defining "what's a trend" also play into it. There's mass market everybody knows about it trends and then there's emerging trends. The mass market trends ones are the ones to avoid like you said.
The good thing is what you said: market exists. There's money there, just make sure it isn't all taken up already.
Another lucrative possibility in trends is stagnation.
The market very often has been there quite a while with major players in it that are concentrating on monetizing their current offerings while being completely blind to the fact that new possibilities are now available. This tends to happen to startups that have "matured", generally replaced all their leadership and now have very little internal vision.
If you can spot one of these opportunities it can be a true goldmine.
They take over oil fields after the big oil giants want to abandon the well and usually manage to squeeze more out of the well in a more efficient and environmentally-friendly manner. Their profits are generated primarily in Africa, and they also work better with local officials than the big players do.
Perhaps an example of how "small" a trend can be could excite you enough to look out for things that are "bite sized" enough to try.
I'm pretty deep in the Ruby world. A trend that has emerged (and is almost becoming a cliché) over the past 18 months or so is selling Ruby related screencasts. Peepcode started selling screencasts about 3 years ago but no-one followed on in a serious fashion for quite a while (until Peepcode "proved" it could work, I say).
Now, there are at least 7 - 8 unique vendors of Ruby related screencasts I can think of. None are Peepcode scale at all, but I've seen sales figures and know that some of them, at least, have done reasonably well. Even the people behind the more humble attempts are happy, see: http://codeulate.com/2010/03/how-to-sell-a-hundred-screencas...
Now, "Ruby screencasts" is a crazily tiny niche. Not only is "programming" a tiny niche in the world of business, "Ruby programming" is a MINISCULE niche in the world of programming.. and Ruby programming screencasts is ULTRA CRAZY MOLECULAR LEVEL TINY!
If people have picked up on a trend in such a miniscule market and are making money with it, that's says, to me, that there are millions of teeny tiny niches in which you can start to perform very simple "tests" that make money and which, ultimately, could lead you to that million dollar concept or market.
Picking up on these teeny, tiny "trends" can be tricky, but is a lot easier in fields you're already absorbed in. If I had to pick out some trends just from reading Hacker News recently, these seem like a few areas someone could make some bucks in now/soonish: node.js consultancy/screencasts/books, Posterous theming, Flash-to-HTML5 tools/consultancy/screencasts/books, non-college oriented compsci education.
I somehow got myself in producing open source video games for freelancing cash.
I first got my starts by trying to blog about video games. Then I started a wiki which I bootstrapped off my own saving. Now it produce maybe 20-30 bucks each year. Not a whole lot, but I bootstrap my way with that money in addition to programming work that I started working.
I am hoping to go back in automating the maintenance of my wiki and create new sites in that niche to generate a bigger income, which then will be used to bootstrap other sites.
The way I figure it is that for each domain, I only need to make about 15 bucks to be profitable. Basically, they serve as buffer money used to fund new mini-ventures.
"k" and "bucks" are rarely used together, so I think kiba means dollars. While the amounts might be small to you, be careful of putting it down - everyone has to start somewhere, and better to be excited to be making anything at all than depressed that it's not much.
Pick a really small subset of the problem and focus on that.
It may seem boring at first, but let the chase of winning excite you, along with the money. Odds are you get bored because you're not interacting with customers and/or making money from it. I've fallen into this trap before. Seeing money come into your bank account or have customers contact you will get you insanely pumped. It's not about the money in a greed sense, but in the "i've done something people find valuable sense".
Thanks, I think you're spot on. The surprising thing is probably just how small that problem has to be when it's just you working on something in your spare time with all the things that need to get done to get to that first sale ASAP.
"If you do focus on a dollar amount, focus on the first $10,000- This usually means you've found some repeatable process / minimal traction."
For extra effect do this in rapidly growing and/or rapidly changing markets. You may stumble upon an opportunity much larger than one likely to be left open in a mature and stable market. Doing this also give you a lot of the advantages mentioned in the post.
All very true. I have to add being lucky, which I also strongly believe will be enhanced if you are positive and smart by putting yourself in situations and through experiences where luck will find you.
Choosing the right macro is easier then spending 3 years on the wrong macro, especially building up an organization depending on the next round of VC, which I did, realized and tried changing industry (from it-startups to commodity trading, yes I'm in China and happened to meet alot of powerful people while fund-raising asking me for iron ore, crude, just because I look like a foreigner, etc.). It got me off my field for a year, very educational though, did not need to raise more VC for my company and sitting on these buyer requests gave me reasons to climb higher in my social network and I ended up in Libya with the sons of the leader doing one deal, made about that amount.
However now I'm back working on what I'm good at, what I can control, tech-startups, I've had the time and money possibility to take as much time off and do what I want, I decided to study and become very good at php/mysql. Commodity trading depends too much on other people (closing is like winning the lottery).
- I actually love anything that deals with customer support. It gives me a lot of insight and makes me feel rewarded.
- Yup, I fully fully agree. Machines can break. When I talk in terms of being a machine, I talk in terms of reliability, not over-working yourself. It's good to be reliable+ consistent. Avoiding burnout is certainly key.
Can I ask, which points are borne out of personal experience, and which points are advice from others? i would love to read some of your sources of information. Even if I have read them already, it would be good to re-read em :)
Point I didn't get to make: learn how to filter- you'll hear and learn a lot of things. You can't act on everything, so pick and choose what makes sense. If you tried to make every piece of advice you received work together, you'd become immobile.
Get a job as a software engineer at a large company. Rent a small room, don't own a car, don't eat out, don't go to Hawaii for vacation, whatever it takes to save $250k in three years.
Then go to Vegas and put everything on red twice. (Metaphorically speaking -- I don't know if they'd allow a $500k bet in Vegas. But in the wonderful world of contemporary financial markets, there are instruments to make any kind of bet one might desire, and probably the house's cut will be even lower than in roulette.)
The obvious downside of this strategy is that it only works with the probability slightly less than 25%, otherwise you end up broke. But quite frankly, I doubt other ideas presented in this thread (make something people want, get on a TV show etc.) have better success rates. If there was a sure-fire way of getting from $0 to $1M in three years everyone would be doing it.
If you're OK not only with ending up broke in case of a failure, but even being in debt, then you can increase you odds of success even further by using leverage.
Not only does it make sense, but it allows you to see exactly what your odds of success are. Everyone acknowledges that both the "get famous" and the "do a startup" method have an element of luck, but this method allows you to quantify it.
Also, if you did it there a non-zero chance that you could get famous and become rich though your fame (even if the Vegas bets failed).
Your method works, but even if successful, you'll end up at $1M pre-tax, out of which $750 are gambling income. Gambling income is taxable in the US. If you win that much you might have to pay estimated taxes on that, so you'd only actually have $1M for a few months.
To defend myself (feebly) I can say that you can max out the after-tax 401(k) to the $49k a year limit, then fund a traditional IRA with $5k per year, then roll it over to Roth IRA after quitting your job (or even right away, if your employer's 401(k) plan supports it). That way $162k out of $250k will be tax-sheltered. (Of course, you can't take the money in Roth IRA to Vegas, but as I said with carefully tuned investments you can have the same risk-reward line-up). So you will only own taxes on $264k so the taxes will be in the neighborhood of $100k. So I guess you have to save a bit more than $250k or accept a bit worse odds.
One problem with money in Roth IRA, of course, is that you cannot take the earnings out without paying the tax and penalty, until you're 65. But if you plan to use your $1M to live modestly off of it (as opposed to buying a tropical island), then you can get around this by starting a SEPP program.
My advice: forget the deadline. Imposing a deadline on a result that is largely beyond your control will serve no constructive purpose. You should only set deadlines on things that are within your power to control, e.g. I will finish X by time Y. But putting a deadline on the market to respond is just silly.
If you want to be a millionaire, here's the procedure:
1. Pick an activity that you think will make you a millionaire within a reasonable time frame.
2. Engage in that activity for that time frame.
3. Are you a millionaire? If so, you're done. If not, figure out what you did wrong in step 1 based on the information you acquired while engaged in that activity. (Often this turns out to be some kind of mistaken assumption about market dynamics, sometimes about your abilities.)
This procedure is not guaranteed to terminate. But it does tend to converge.
Yes, but picking a deadline means that you put a time limit on the effort, and have a good guide on when you should just give up. If it is not working for you, you should give up and try something new, but when you are involved heavily in something, it can seem like the payout is just around the corner.
You have way more information on whether the effort is likely to succeed when the deadline rolls around than when you initially set the deadline. If the payout really is just around the corner, it's silly to give up on it just because an arbitrary deadline rolled around.
I found it's much better to establish firm hypotheses when I begin a project, and then as I plan out the project, make sure that the hypotheses will either be validated or falsified along the way. If the premises under which I began the project have been proven false, then it's time to quit and do something else. But if all the premises hold yet it just takes twice as long to do everything as expected (which is fairly typical), it's worth sticking with it until the end.
If you follow a rational path, you will find yourself going in the same direction as many more. There will be no much money to reach because other will be there before taking you money. If you can't run at top speed, don't use your legs. If your mind is not top one, don't use your mind. If you don't have a lot of imagination, don't dream.
Becoming millionaire must be a way to find a secret force that only you can use. Don't be rational.
In parts of Africa you can set up a artesanal diamond mine with a shovel and a strainer. Spend a few weeks there finding diamonds, then smuggle them back to the US and sell them. Document this whole process on video, then sell the rights to a documentary and do a book deal when you get back.
This is a very legitimate question and it's disappointing to see it modded down. The people in our industry who only care about the money have names like Balmer and Ellison. Are they running the kinds of businesses that people here aspire to? Do you look to these people as your inspiration? How boring.
I've said this before: statistically speaking you are highly unlikely to achieve this.
In fact in my experience those who set out to earn discrete amounts in a discrete time with no idea how to do it are those most unlikely to achieve it.
The truth hurts.
Others have said that setting a deadline is a good idea; which it usually is. Here is just limits your scope - very few things can earn you an initial $1Million in 3yrs, and most of them rely on luck or a lot of skill (and if you have that skill why are you here asking the question).
With that out of the way there are sure fire ways to make a million:
- work in corporate of finance positions, you can be on $100K+ in a few years with minimal effort and on bonuses shortly after. By living frugally you can earn $1Million in 5-8years no problem
- find someone willing to "invest" $1 Million in you. Making another $1 Million with that is fairly easy if you are smart.
But, ultimately, I think this falls well into the category of pipe dream :)
Asking is a strong way of pursuing things. If you are able to ask yourself and others like you then you are doing it right. Don't be afraid of those who think that this is impossible. Ask yourself how to avoid thinking that it is impossible as a first step to make it possible.
> If you are able to ask yourself and others like you then you are doing it right.
Maybe. In a very small number of cases. Most of the time it is people either a) struggling to come up with ideas or b) trying to figure out a way to solve their dream with minimum effort.
> Don't be afraid of those who think that this is impossible.
It's not technically impossible. But setting out to make $1Million in 3 years is generally a non-optimal approach.
I'm a realist in the sense that I figured out a long time ago that truly impossible goals are worthless and, generally, counter productive. Here's an example of how to fix that; one of my long term goals is to go into Space. This is technically feasible now, but to do it I'd need a few million $'s - so that's a good hack, I can work to achieve my goal through some means and the money should be incidental to that. But it is not limiting because I may find another way to achieve this goal without the cost.
First thing you need to do, is determine how much income you want to be making. Are you happy with $1M net worth (in stocks and real estate) or do you want to make $1M USD annual income. I would rather have $100,000 monthly income than a $1M net worth on paper.
I am not a millionaire yet. I would like my annual income to exceed $1M. I don't care much about net worth.
Once you determine how much income you want to make, you can then decide how you are going to do it. Best way is a startup in a sizable market.
Just my thoughts.
This got downvoted, but I think it's pretty insightful. If you're wiling to live in abject poverty, just work any six-figure job and you will be a millionaire in under a decade. If you want it in three years, make sure the job pays more than $300k.
Find something in one field and apply it to another.
Disciplines tend to put up barriers to knowledge flowing in from other disciplines, if you are 'cross domain' you can easily capitalize on that.
Becoming a millionaire in three years seems 'doable', after all it's only 300K per year or thereabouts, that's a little over $900 per day. You have to factor in taxes though, and that's where the catch is.
Don't make something people want. Instead take away a problem that people don't want to deal with. The uglier and stinkier the problem, the better. Then price very high and look for markets where people have more money.
2) try out a bunch of ideas quickly and find one that can make you rich. ideally, you want to find out if an idea will or will not work asap, ie 1 to 4 weeks. expect this to take many trials, like 10+. it doesn't matter when one don't work, you'd gained experience. the key is to find out quickly and not waste your whole 3 years on it.
3) when you find that one that works, juice it like no other.
If you are starting with '0', or even say 50k, you have one option: get lucky. There are no legitimate (meaning non-lucky, legal) investment returns available that will get you to $1mm in three years. Sorry!
Time honored 'get lucky' options that make you look brilliant:
1) Options trading
2) Buy highly (say 100%) leveraged real estate just before a boom
Now, let's say you have no money, but great social capital: awesome trading skills, and good connections, we can add an option:
3) Become a trader, running other people's money. Make good money.
Now let's say you have awesome entrepreneurial skills, good social capital, and no money. We can add an option:
4) Buy a business with other people's money, taking a smallish cut. Grow the business / tart it up for sale. Sell it.
There is a very rarely successful variant on this, which is 'buy someone's idea, and build it out and launch it with other people's money.' This is called doing a startup. Think of it as 4a. For most people, it's equivalent to just getting lucky.
Now, let's say you're hot and super sexy, and you have a thing for the older guys/gals. We can add what is pretty much the final option if you aren't going to inherit:
He's become a millionaire in 2 years, starting when he was 17. Sure, he is somewhat "special", but I've been following internet marketing and there are 15 year olds that are making 5k$ /month just with affiliate marketing.
You think you're at least as capable as 15 or 17 year old? I sure think I am. Though there is a bitter taste to it all - the above guy made 100k$ with a method, then he sold the method to the public and made himself a millionaire.
Browse a little through IM scene and you'll see it's a totally different world. But it might not be your cup of tea. ;)
Your desire to not answer the question on why you want the money, your choosing a relatively ambiguous goal (millionaire), and the rather short time frame (3 short years) makes it really difficult to answer the question.
How many million exactly would you want?
what are '3 short years'? Would you be willing to put in 5?would you be willing to put in 10?
What would you do after you had this money? Is it conceivable that you could make your millions doing what you 'dream' of doing right now instead of waiting for after you've made your money?
Why do you have such a weak way of putting it - 'just want to hear people's thoughts about the idea'?
Are you committed to it or not?
Final question - Would you like to make a ton of money without working hard?
actually that should have been my first question.
Unless you start asking different questions you're setting yourself up for failure.
Wall street is the only way. If money is the goal, then LEVERAGE is important. The highest leverage given to a mans brain today is the Wall Street. In every other endeavor you have to personally do a lot of things right to even dream of the same leverage.
But I guess, if u get the other things(Jason covers all of the things that I can come up with) maybe technology offers a similar leverage.
You could make a web game that guarantees someone to be millionaire in 3 years. You have to make the game in such a way that you will be the one to get the price. That is you must be able to plan de game and how to take control of it.
Some hidden seed can be the initial advantage to win.
Do something you like. Life is too short not to spend on stuff that makes you happy. I believe chances are stuff you like will also pay you reasonably. 3 years is a long time to waste chasing a million dollars doing something you do not like.
In the first year, save up 100K. In the same year, learn Options and Futures Trading from Pros and
Paper Trade religiously for the first year. If you do well there, then start with real money in the second year and see how far you go.
thinkorswim is an excellent broker for this specifically -- they not only have an excellent options trading platform, but you can sign up for free and papertrade with a 15m delay. It's all Java-based so it works great on Linux.
That said, don't force it. It takes talent and dedication to beat the market. You will probably fail. I lost quite a bit of money trading single options, but I never traded money I needed and never borrowed money that wasn't closely guarded so I came out unscathed. I still suck but without a doubt a few people reading this post can succeed.
This was a brilliant idea but unfortunately they no longer use Zimbabwean Dollar anymore, instead the economy has fully moved to USD (now they are legally allowed to do so).. Previously you would get paid in billions.. Zimbabwe's $100 billion banknote could buy you 3 eggs on its release date.
As we all know, let's say if we are given an assignment for college to do and we are given a week to complete it, almost always, I will start the assignment about 3/4 days into the week and then as the deadline looms closer, the real work happens! So in answer to your question, if I said 10 years, I would be focused on 10 years :)
The analogy doesn't hold. The problem is not so much that your school assignment is 1 million times easier. There's also:
1) There's not such a huge variation in the time necessary to complete an assignment. Your professor knows that some people can finish it in a couple of days but others need a whole week. But it's much harder to estimate the time to get $1M.
2) You can finish a school assignment on your own. Assuming you have access to the necessary resources (books, net, etc) it depends only on you. You don't need any luck to finish it. But to get rich you need favorable market conditions, meeting the right investors, hiring the right people, the government not screwing you up, etc, i.e. "luck".
I've found this doesn't apply if you remove the deadline entirely. If given a task and a week to complete it, I will start the task on the night of the 6th day. However, if just given a task, I'll start the task immediately - or at the very least, as soon as I finish what I'm currently working on. Whether I complete it within the week depends on whether it's a week's worth of work, but I can be fairly sure that I'll end up putting in more work than if I had the original deadline, and I'll probably have something equivalent in quality to the deadline-work after about a day or two.
I imagine it's simply to put a stake in the ground. The exact number (2 or 4 or 5, etc.) is not important. Three years is long enough that it can probably include ramping up time, pivots, mistakes, tuning, etc. while not being so long that he's going to be an old man and/or unable to enjoy it, or have follow-on goals be pushed out too far.
Regardless, one year is unrealistically too short. Twenty years is depressing. So pick something in between.
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