Are startup founders now bigger than even the biggest and richest celebrities?

Dec 5, 2017

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Some names can be put next to almost any product and see it sell out in days, such is the power of celebrity. The people really raking in the billions aren’t models or actors though; they’re the hoodie-wearing startup founders you probably wouldn’t recognise in the street.

Fortunes way beyond celebrity-level

If this were a game of top trumps, tech billionaires would win hands down when it comes to the numbers.

One of Hollywood’s most successful and beloved actors, Harrison Ford, has a net worth of $230 million. He earned $25 million for Star Wars The Force Awakens alone — he’s clearly box office platinum, never mind gold.

Bill Gates, the original tech billionaire, is rarely pushed off the Rich List’s top spot with his fortune of $86 billion (Zara founder Amancio Ortega knocked him into second place for just a day in August this year). Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is in third place with $72.8 billion, and Mark Zuckerberg takes fifth with $56 billion.

Half of the world’s top 10 billionaires have a tech or software background. Even Hollywood’s giants never manage to reach these heights.

Everyone loves a rags to riches story…

Hollywood has always been peppered with impressive underdog stories. Most notably, Oprah Winfrey grew up in poverty during a time when being born ‘out of wedlock’ was still a major stigma. She now has a $42 million custom-designed jet.

People love stories like these because they fill us with hope — they remind us that anyone can make it with hard work and perseverance, maybe even us. We can relate to underdog stories far more than ‘I inherited my dad’s business’ stories.

Startup founders have to use just as much nous and smarts to get where they want to be, if not more, so it’s only natural they’d have compelling backstories too.

No one has confirmed it, but a New York Times write-up of a recent biography of Elon Musk reveals “there are indications his father was brutal, and that Mr Musk is a tortured soul trying to make up for a wrecked childhood”. Whether this is true or not, Musk has still demonstrated a tough work ethic can be the main ingredient for success when you haven’t got a trust fund to give you a leg-up. One of his former colleagues noted “we all worked 20 hour days, and he worked 23 hours”, and now he’s so rich he needs a ‘nanny manager’ to run the schedules of his 5 children’s nannies.

Inaccessible and unknowable geniuses?

The focus and determination of a startup founder impacts everyone around them, both in the office and when they go back to their palatial Bay Area homes.

Very often, ambitious startup founders fly too close to the sun and exhaust themselves. A recent study of 500 UK-based tech startup founders revealed that 75% are working 60-hour weeks, 41% feel stressed every day and 34% think their venture is having “a negative impact on their social life”. To some, a 60-hour week would be a good week.

Many take on this strain as a given when they start their venture — mirroring those they admire and their ludicrously long days — which only serves to make them more unknowable, and sometimes admirable, to those around them.

The strain of startup life is almost impossible to understand for those who aren’t connected to it, but the founders’ partners and spouses are often the first to suffer. Musk — who has been married three times — has been quoted saying “How much time does a woman want in a week? Maybe 10 hours?”

Doctor and philanthropist Priscilla Chan demands her husband Mark Zuckerberg make time for “one date night a week, along with a hundred minutes of alone time, not in his apartment, and definitely not at Facebook”.

The world was once fascinated by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s double marriage, but now we’ve got Elon Musk’s to wonder about. Kim Kardashian has a massive fortune and a huge following of people who love what she puts her name to, but so does Bill Gates.

‘Tech entrepreneurs’ and celebrities are clearly two peas in a very shiny, very expensive pod.

Do you agree or have your own view on the subject? Let us know by clapping, commenting and sharing this story!

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