The American marketer and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki once observed that the best way to make money is by making meaning.
It’s a lesson entrepreneur Steve Chen appears to have learned. Chen, a former California school teacher, was recently profiled by Business Insider. He told the financial news site that he was struggling to save money with his $5,000 a month salary and realized that things weren’t going to change if he kept on with the status quo.
“I did the math on it and I was like, even if I lived super frugally and just ate ramen every day or whatever, and saved $500 or $1,000 every month in my checking and my savings accounts, there's no way that I can live comfortably when it comes to retirement," Chen said. "That's when I decided to make a change in my life."
So Chen hopped on Google and began doing a little research. He studied how other people were able to make and save money. His research paid off.
“Six years later, in February 2020, he quit his job at the age of 33 after tucking away enough money to live on his investments,” writes Business Insider’s Laila Maidan.
This man was able to quit his teaching job at age 33.— Jon Miltimore (@miltimore79) March 18, 2021
Today he makes more than $300k year.
Some vital lessons here for young people who want to get ahead.
The skinny? It takes: planning, discipline, and sweat.https://t.co/cIraH5Yzl1
How Did He Do It?
Chen’s story is rather amazing. After all, how many people have dreamed of quitting their job (at age 33 no less!) and having financial independence? Nearly all of us, undoubtedly, at one time or another.
So how did he do it? Chen shares six things he did to turn his dream into a reality.
1. He opened a brokerage account and started investing
2. He slashed his budget to save more money
3. He started a side hustle to boost his income
4. He started a second side hustle teaching what he learned to others
5. He added real estate to his portfolio
6. He had an emergency fund before he ventured on his journey
Business Insider offers details on each of these points, but the basic formula is not that difficult to grasp. Chen didn’t quit his job, ask for help, or blame others for his predicament.
Instead, he created a plan. It involved saving more of his income, finding new income streams, and putting his capital to work by investing. That’s basically it.
This might sound easy, but it probably wasn’t. It required sacrifice (less spending, more work, less free time). It also required study. Chen admits he knew practically nothing about investing when he began his journey.
"I didn't really know what I was doing in the beginning. I just bought [stocks from companies] that I saw in everyday life," Chen told Business Insider.
Not all his investments paid off, either. Chen took some hits, but in the process he learned more about trading and discovered ETFs (exchange-traded funds), investment vehicles that work much like mutual funds.
Chen also hustled. Like any good gig worker, he had a strong grasp of opportunity cost, understanding that his time has value, so it should be put to good use. So he started tutoring a few hours each week, giving himself an additional $1,000 to $2,000 a month.
He didn’t stop there, however. Chen realized the knowledge he was gaining also had value. So he found ways to share that information with others through various formats—his website, YouTube, TikTok, and sponsorship deals—that generate about 35 percent of his income each month.
He didn’t just spend or sit on his newfound income, however. In addition to investing, he was able to put enough scratch together to purchase a pair of single-family homes, which he rents out for additional income, creating another stream of passive income in his portfolio.
T. Harv Eker, the author of Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, once said the biggest difference between poor people and rich people is that wealthy people believe “I create my life” whereas poor people often see life happening to them.
Chen didn’t let life “happen to him.” He made decisions that allowed him to shape his own destiny. As a result, today he’s enjoying life.
"I felt like there was a lot of pressure lifted off my shoulders [when I reached financial independence], because I felt like I had so many more options in my life, like I can do whatever it is that I want now. I am not so tied down to this job where I have to be at this place at a certain time," Chen said. "Now I am in control of my own time. I have my own business. I get to be very creative in what it is that I do. I just felt free."
Chen’s experience also reveals a truth about entrepreneurship. Namely, the key to success is to create value for others.
Chen didn’t become well off at the expense of someone else; rather, he improved his situation by finding ways to serve others—through tutoring, education, and offering people a place to live. In doing so, he created value for others and improved his own situation.
Chen’s story also shows why gig work is so important. In many ways, gig work is the great equalizer that allows people who hustle to improve their situation, which is why efforts to punitively tax it or ban it are so destructive.
Chen’s journey from teacher to financially-independent entrepreneur shows that the American dream is still very much alive today for those who dare to dream it.