The Most Important Decision You Can Make For Your Success


I forgot to tell you something. I have a business partner named Dan.

A friend of mine asked another friend of mine a few months ago: “How come James doesn’t have any business partners over the long run.”

Mostly because I just write about bad stuff. Good stuff is boring. But it’s important also.

How come? Because when you hit bottom, as we all do, sometimes you need one good person to remind you that everything is going to be ok.

Dan has been my partner since 1999. So about 15 years.

When 9/11 happened, we were running a hedge fund. We had both eaten breakfast right at the World Trade Center. We were walking up the street a block or so away and we saw a plane cruising right at us. Dan said, “Is the President coming to town?”

And then the plane whizzed over, everyone had a reflex to duck. Then we heard a BOOM!

I don’t like to tell this story because obviously many people had it much worse. But I was all set to kill myself I was so depressed. Dan came over and told me, we have to keep moving forward.

So we did. And it didn’t work out. We failed miserably. That’s another story.

Then we started a fund of funds. It worked out ok, but not great. Then we did other deals that worked out ok. Then we started 9 different businesses that failed. Then we started Stockpickr that succeeded. Then we made lots more deals, investments, opportunities, etc.

One time in 2007-2008 I disappeared. I was supposed to be writing articles for But I was depressed and couldn’t get out of bed. Couldn’t move.

Instead, Dan wrote them for me. He knew my style and I’d take a look at the finished product and put my name at the bottom. For an entire year I was a pretty bad guy.

Dan covered for me until I got balanced on the dangerous high wire between youth and maturity.

But mostly that year I was largely unconscious. In every way. Twenty-three hours a day, I was doing bad things. Sometimes I’d go on CNBC and I’d call Dan and ask him what to say. He’d feed me the lines. I’d say them. People would laugh.

Dan works in a basement in his mom’s house in the midwest. His grandma is his next-door neighbor. His brothers are on the other side of his house. His parents live in back of his house. He’s a family guy. He refused to go on my podcast. He doesn’t want anyone to know who he is. He probably hates that I’m writing this. Tough!

In 2003, Turkey had a terrorist attack at 3 in the morning. I called Dan and woke him up. I was too nervous to trade. He sold everything we owned. Then at 4am I changed my mind and called him and woke him up again. He bought back everything.

One time we were going to sell a company in 2006. The deal was really bad. I wanted to take it anyway. I was desperate for money. Dan said, “If you take this deal I guarantee you will be jumping off the Empire State Building within a year.”

We didn’t take the deal. Instead we started another business which worked out very well.

When Dan was getting married in 2004, about five minutes before he was to say “I do,” to his beautiful wife he found me in the audience and came over and asked me, “Did we get the wire?”

We had in fact, the day before, got a huge wire which started our fund of funds. He said, “YES!” and then went up and got married.

In 2008 we were both in danger of losing everything. We were scared. We started at least four businesses and none of them worked. Most of them were my ideas but Dan never blamed me for costing us a ton of money. Every day we kept trying and eventually things worked.

15 years is a long time to be a partner with someone. Particularly when things go really really bad in the middle. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. Ugh and Ugh.

I fully expect we’ll be partners for the next 15. Then maybe I’ll stop returning calls completely and just walk into the ocean. I don’t know. It’s a long time away.

One thing we’ve always learned: if we have zero money in June, we might be rich by October.

Nothing was predictable. It is senseless to have a goal.

We simply had a direction: every day we’d look for opportunities rather than regret our circumstances. This is the key for success.

Many people tried to take advantage of us and give us bad deals but sooner or later we’d cut them off.

I hope now, after dealing with at least 100 people who try to suck the life out of you, who will stab you in the back but smile to your face, that I know how to handle that better. But it’s hard. Partners are good to help with that.

It’s hard to fly solo. Sooner or later someone falls asleep at the wheel and the other person has to drive for awhile. That’s how you drive across country without stopping.

The most important choices I’ve ever made in my life. Who will my wife be? Who will my friends be? Who will my partners be?

Whenever I let other people make those choices for me, it didn’t work out. There had to be a warmth in me that made those choices. Else, they would flame out and I’d explode.

This is your new family when you are an adult.

If you choose right, then later choices become simple. The less effort you have to give something, the more powerful you become.

Dan is good at what he’s good at. I’m good at what I’m good at. They are two different things and they don’t overlap so we’ve never really had an opportunity to argue in all of the past 15 years. I don’t think even once.

The only other thing that’s important when finding a partner is character. It doesn’t matter if your partner is the smartest person in the world. Intelligence gets you only so far. Character changes the world.

Well, I just wrote about a good thing. Maybe tomorrow I’ll start writing about bad things again. About being homeless or helpless or scared or angry.

Or maybe I’ll just relax. Let the dead bury the dead.