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How Much Money Do You Have to Earn Before You Get Weird?

The simple answer is however much Elon Musk makes.

by Joel Golby
Sep 19 2018, 5:12pm

(Image via YouTube/Joe Rogan)

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Who is your favorite billionaire? Wrong answer: Being a billionaire is a fundamentally immoral thing to be and all of them should be slaughtered, their blood drained from their bodies, and their heavy heads placed on spikes. But ignoring that: Who is your favorite billionaire? If it’s not Elon Musk, you’re doing billionaire fandom wrong. And I’m not talking in that Rick-and-Morty-poster, le-epic-win–style way of enjoying Elon Musk: Enjoying him as a spectacle, as a projection of who you would be if you were rich, that’s the way to do it. Think about it, if you were a billionaire, would you be Bill Gates (philanthropist, still fundamentally looks like he gets wedgied now and again)? Jeff Bezos (unapologetically rich hench dude, first villain to get grenade exploded in an Expendables film)? Mark Zuckerberg (a grey t-shirt that got a bit carried away and an alien who has to actively remind himself to blink)? Richard Branson (“Mommy, why is that dinner lady suing the NHS?”)? Or would you be Elon Musk, who keeps trying to send shit into space and occasionally summons a beautiful woman from the world of celebrity to come and be his blonde concubine? Elon Musk is so rich he called a cave diver a pedophile three separate times because he keeps shit talking on Twitter and he knows he’s so rich he’s essentially legally bulletproof. You telling me that’s not you? Because that’s me. You’re telling me that’s not you? That is me if I ever get rich. So Lord help you all if I ever get rich.

Here’s an example of how Elon Musk is exactly you if you were rich. A couple weeks ago he smoked a joint on the Joe Rogan show, which we all know about and remember fondly because he did it with the casual élan of a 13-year-old who just tried to stick his dick in an N64. The next day—for this reason, as well as two executives quitting on the same day and the hangover from Musk tweeting he was taking the company private and a New York Times interview where he started crying—Tesla stock crashed 6%. I have to caveat the next section by saying: I am bad at math.

I am bad at math: a caveat

Listen. I am not good at math. Accepting your flaws and embracing them—working with them, and not against them—is part of growing and becoming a complete human. Numbers are a foreign language to me! I am not good at math. For that reason, I am going to, bafflingly, attempt a ton of maths.

How much did that joint cost Elon Musk?

According to CNBC, as of June, this year Musk owns 33.7 million shares of Tesla. Before he took a massive rip of that fat J, it was trading at $280.95, making his shares worth $9.4 billion. After honking on dank, dank kush, shares went down to $260.32 (making Musk’s shares worth $8.7 billion). A lot of billionaires’ wealth is theoretical—it is tied up in stock, which waxes and wanes as the days progress, or is locked into hard real estate, so their actual money on-hand is a lot less than the total calculation of their worth—but by my calculation, that puff puff pass cost Elon Musk: $695,231,000. To clarify: six hundred and ninety five. Million. Dollars. Sure, maybe your mom caught you with a little bit of weed once and you got mildly in trouble and grounded for a medium length of time. But tell me: Have you ever bong ripped so hard someone’s GDP disappeared? [1]

Musk’s recent behavior (best described as "gloriously erratic") has made me realize something: Basically every billionaire goes weird, in the end. And that’s got me thinking: Is weirdness inherent to the billionaire-fated mindset, or is weirdness thrust on to the normal human mind when it is exposed to such a ludicrous bank balance? Are billionaires billionaires because they’re weird, or are they weird because they’re billionaires? Or, to put it another way:

What is the exact amount of money I have to have before I go insane?

I intend to investigate that.

The billionaires

I have spent a very substantial amount of time now[2] investigating the historical wealth of the following five billionaires, who all broadly represent one end of the five-point billionaire personality matrix:

We will plot first their explosive wealth, then map their historical erratic behavior. I’m then going to put one graph on top of the other and try and figure out the exact net worth you need to have before you start going on podcasts and trapping Azaelia Banks in your house.

A few more caveats: Sometimes it is very difficult to figure a billionaire’s registered net worth in the years between their first mythologizing money-making deal (Richard Branson sold $6,000 worth of advertising in his first magazine, Student, when he was 15; Elon Musk sold a video game for $500 when he was 12) and their first billion because nobody (i.e. Forbes) really pays attention to how much money you have until you have a billion dollars. So there are some gray areas between, like, Mark Zuckerberg’s first million dollars in 2006 and his first billion-and-a-half dollars two years later (nobody knows how much Mark Zuckerberg was worth in 2007). Equally: I have not adjusted for inflation in any way at all because: come on! Boring! Thirdly: all accusations of erratic behavior are purely from me, purely on my own terms. I am the lash and I am the law, the only person saying what’s up is me. And so:

Bill Gates

Wealth: My guy Bill Gates is the vanilla ice cream of billionaires. Microsoft secured a deal worth $50,000 in 1980, when he was a 25-year-old CEO; in 1981, he became a millionaire through Microsoft holdings and the general business the company was doing. Although the exact figure is unclear, he had a rollerskating party in 1985 for his 30th birthday and he got speeding tickets a few times, which was about as wild as he ever got[3]. Then, in 1986, Microsoft’s initial public offering (IPO) went gangbusters and Gates, with at least $350 million in stock to his name, became a headline-making billionaire overnight. He’s basically been the go-to "Richest Man in the World" all the time you’ve been coherent and alive before Bezos took over from him this year.

(This is a chart of Bill Gates' wealth. You will notice his age, written along the X-axis, is wildly incorrect, a running theme throughout this piece. This is because I could not get Excel to change it.)

Mania: In 2006, he announced he was going to start stepping back from Microsoft to focus on philanthropy, and signed the Giving Pledge in 2009 vowing to give away at least half of his wealth over his lifetime. And since then, he’s done nothing too wacky. He put some money into developing Vitamin A-enhanced bananas in 2012? In 2015, he drank a glass of reclaimed toilet water? Like? Nothing he has done is too crazy and most of it is for the wider good of the developing world? Gates is our control billionaire. He's the most wealth of any man alive, the least signs of deep mania, the noble model of what an impossibly wealthy man should be.

(This is a chart of Bill Gates being weird. Instances of notable weirdness are marked in blue. You will notice there are no instances on this chart.)

Richard Branson

Wealth: Branson started making money in his teens after launching Student magazine and basically turning rival advertisers against each other to secure funding ("I soon learned the art that if I let Coke know that Pepsi were definitely in, that Coke would then jump in. And my education started,” he told CNBC last year. “It was an exciting time." And the past is a foreign country, clearly, if a 15-year-old can just call Coke up and be like, "alright, money please"). He made his first million at the age of 23 after launching a mail-order record sales business, and then he started chain-launching businesses: he was worth £5 million [$6.5 million] in 1979, made his first billion at 41, and spent the next 18 years making another half a billion to take his net worth higher, then doubled it again the next year. His net worth now hovers around £5 billion [$6.5 billion], making him our poorest and therefore most cucked billionaire.

(This is Richard Branson's wealth. He was the only one whose age I could get to work on it.)

Mania: Oh, Richard Branson is big time a maniac. Big time. I don’t know how old you are but if your age vaguely aligns with mine you might remember a period in the late-90s where basically the only news story, for about four years, was about Richard Branson repeatedly attempting and failing to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon? He just kept crashing into the sea and doing a big OK-sign when the authorities came to rescue him? He tried to launch his own soft drink to rival Coke? In 2004 he started selling tickets to space and still hasn’t honored a single one of them?[4] When he sold Virgin EMI he ran through the streets sobbing? But the high point of Branson’s billionaire mania, the tipping point, the exact moment he cracked in a way he could never be glued back together again was when, shaven-faced and beaming, he donned a bridal gown for a doomed business called "Virgin Brides." This man was worth £1.5 billion [$1.9 billion] at this exact moment in time.

Which gives us a good starting point in our studies: Earning £1.5 billion [$1.9 billion] is bad for you.

(Branson's wealth with weirdness—every time he invested in hot air balloons, basically— marked in blue)

Mark Zuckerberg

Wealth: Mark Zuckerberg has done well for a guy who is the crystalline vibe of "spending too long online researching until your back seizes up," making his first million in 2004 as Facebook started to receive piecemeal outside investment, and he turned it into his first billion two years later when the company hit its 500 shareholder limit and went public. Since then, his wealth has escalated wildly: He’s worth around $60 billion as of right now, today. Like Gates, he’s signed the Giving Pledge and set up various charitable endeavors, but also took the bullet for the Cambridge Analytica thing at the start of the year and did that weird bulgey-eyed water drinking when he was being deposed. He just feels like he’s your cousin’s older boyfriend who is quite boring and just got really into climbing, and he’s wearing a North Face fleece and eating in silence at your family barbecue, only he’s Mark Zuckerberg, and he’s richer than God.

(Think I got his age more-or-less right with this one, actually)

Mania: Mark Zuckerberg’s lack of outward mania is actually what makes him so terrifying—he sort of has the eerie non-personality of an MRA who only eats red meat and reads books about murder —but yeah on the whole he’s not done anything too weird beyond getting repeatedly sued, forever, by everyone. It’s kind of funny that Mark Zuckerberg just quietly wants to live his life, driving a Prius and wearing a ton of zip-up fleeces, collecting every bit of data on every single person alive—and instead, he just keeps repeatedly getting in trouble for being himself. Anyway the high point of him being a maniac was the water-drinking thing, and his net worth was close to it is now when it happened, so I’m saying: Earning $60 billion is bad for you.

Jeff Bezos

Wealth: Bezos is currently the richest man on the planet and until Amazon Prime stops being so incredibly, annoyingly convenient, that is only going to continue. Early era Bezos was just a properly "reads the whole internet, every day" guy who didn’t know how to buy shirts that fit him, but a few years ago, he did a U-turn and started getting big into arm workouts and wearing padded vests, so he’s possibly the only one of our billionaires to glow-up in any significant way. Anyway, he’s now worth $120 billion and he looks like he can pick you up over his head so sadly the world’s richest nerd is now a Bond villain, meaning we’re all doomed.

(Yeah got the age right on this one as well. Really... really had a time making these graphs you're just barely flicking your eyes over, I have to tell you. Have you actually closely read any of these graphs? Of course you haven't. I wouldn't, if I were reading this. It's OK. I understand. It's just I really did try.)

Mania: If being a billionaire is a fundamentally immoral action then Bezos is the epitome of that because he has enough wealth to hand every Amazon employee $10,000[5] and he’d still be the richest man on the planet, and his empire is built on the backs of hundreds of thousands of warehouse workers who are too afraid to take a pee break in case they get fired or camp in a tent near their workplace to minimize their commute. Like most of our billionaires, he has dabbled in space travel (why does everyone with a net worth of $4 billion or above think they can crack space travel, when NASA, working on it for years, still occasionally fucks it up? Start on flying cars and work your way up.) and is begrudgingly tipping his toe into the waters of philanthropy, but the real billionaire weirdness of him lies in his (undoubtedly successful) leadership qualities and approach to work. Here, from Wikipedia:

Bezos does not schedule early morning meetings and enforces a two pizza rule–a preference for meetings to be small enough to where two pizzas can feed everyone in the board room. [122] When interviewing candidates for jobs at Amazon he has stated he considers three inquiries: Can he admire the person, can the person raise the common standard, and under what circumstances could the person become exemplary? [123]
He meets with Amazon investors for a total of only six hours a year. [122] Instead of using PowerPoints, Bezos requires high-level employees to present information with six-page narratives. [124] Starting in 1998, Bezos publishes an annual letter for Amazon shareholders wherein he frequently refers to five principles: Focus on customers not competitors, take risks for market leadership, facilitate staff morality, build a company culture, and empower people. [125][126]Bezos maintains the email address "jeff@amazon.com" as an outlet for customers to reach out to him and the company. [127] Although he does not respond to the emails, he forwards some of them with a question mark in the subject line to executives who attempt to address the issues. [127]

On one hand, that question mark thing is so, so sociopathic and chilling. But on the other hand, the guy who can barely type an e-mail is worth $150 billion. So who’s the real idiot? Once again: it is me.


Elon Musk

Wealth: Elon Musk’s wealth is my favorite of the lot because he’s basically just a chain-started nerd businesses and made millions turning to billions with each. His first software company, Zip2, netted him $22 million when it sold in 1999. A month later, he started X.com, which merged with Confinity a year later and became the PayPal we all know and love and use for ill-advised late-night eBay purchases (it sold for $1.5 billion in 2002: Musk made $180 million). Following the sale, he smooshed everything into three businesses—SpaceX, the world’s most expensive ego massage, an airspace company with designs on occupying Mars; Tesla, an electric car company that is statistically massive despite nobody you know seeming to own or drive one; and SolarCity, a solar energy company HQ’d in California. At the time of the three investments, Musk is on record saying he had to borrow money to pay rent: now he’s worth $20 billion and he’s shot a Tesla into space. Yeah? What have you ever done?

(His age is just completely fucked on this one.)

Mania: Elon Musk’s mania is my favorite of the bunch because it’s come to the surface this year—he started going out with Grimes, he invited Azealia Banks over to his house to watch him tweet, he keeps crashing his own stock by doing aforementioned tweeting, he tripled-down on calling a Thai-based cave diver a pedophile, he smoked weed on a podcast, he shot a car into space. His net worth this year is hovering around $20 billion despite all the times he gets high, he starts crying or calls someone a nonce, so it’s safe to say that: Earning $20 billion is bad for you.

But did the bizarreness start earlier than this? If you read the 2010 Marie Claire story where he double-fists ice cream cones and threatens to fire his wife, you might think: yes. In 2001, after Musk left PayPal, he got slightly too into the idea of firing a ton of mice into space and seeing if they breed up there. From 2017’s Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future:

Musk’s friends were not entirely sure what to make of his mental state. He’d lost a tremendous amount of weight fighting off malaria and looked almost skeletal. With little prompting, Musk would start expounding on his desire to do something meaningful with his life—something lasting. His next move had to be either in solar or in space. “He said, ‘The logical thing to happen next is solar, but I can’t figure out how to make any money out of it,’” said George Zachary, the investor and close friend of Musk’s, recalling a lunch date at the time. “Then he started talking about space, and I thought he meant office space like a real estate play.” Musk had actually started thinking bigger than the Mars Society. Rather than send a few mice into Earth’s orbit, Musk wanted to send them to Mars. Some very rough calculations done at the time suggested that the journey would cost $15 million. “He asked if I thought that was crazy,” Zachary said. “I asked, ‘Do the mice come back? Because, if they don’t, yeah, most people will think that’s crazy.’” As it turned out, the mice were not only meant to go to Mars and come back but were also meant to procreate along the way, during a journey that would take months. Jeff Skoll, another one of Musk’s friends who made a fortune at eBay, pointed out that the fornicating mice would need a hell of a lot of cheese and bought Musk a giant wheel of Le Brouère, a type of Gruyère.

At this point, he was worth an estimated $165 million. My guy got so rich he tried to emulate biker mice from mars. Takeaway: Earning $165 million is bad for you.

(Weirdness marked in blue: at $165 million, with the mice, and at $22 billion, with the Grimes and the weed.)

Conclusion

Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos cancel each other out: Gates has been monstrously rich for 30+ years and never done anything weird, and Bezos has been monstrously rich for 20 years and has always been sort of background-hum weird. They are two opposite forces of billionaire weirdness that negate each other to meet in the middle at true neutrality. Mark Zuckerberg is fundamentally odd, but has not ever done anything psychotic enough to be interesting, but as our youngest billionaire, he has time and money on his side (remember when that guy who did #StopKony took all his clothes off and masturbated near some parked cars? I feel like we have something like this in Zuckerberg’s future. Keeps doing press conferences while solemnly holding an AK, for example. Decides to launch a career in pro wrestling and gets slammed to death by Ric Flair with one final, terminal “woo!” Runs for president). This leaves us with two full-on billionaire weirdos: Elon Musk, who made $165 million and tried to fire a tub full of mice into space, and Richard Branson, who went very peculiar in the ‘90s and thought he could dick on Coke. So seeing as they went weird at $165 million and $1.5 billion, we can split the difference and say that this amount of money will send you bananas:

$832,500,000

So try not to ever earn that. Thanks.


[1] Stock being stock, it has since climbed back to $280, so Musk has made his money back. I only put in this horrendously sterile, water-carrying footnote to fend off very tedious "well actually…" replies I’m going to get from people on Reddit and Twitter.

[2] This is a bad idea because now the concept of money means very little to me. Example: In 2002, Elon Musk sold PayPal to eBay, and the value of his stock made him $165 million. In my head, having investigated billionaires all week, I am reading that figure and thinking: Pathetic. What a pathetic number. Try making some real money, 2002-era Elon Musk. Do you understand how in my overdraft I am! Do you realize how much I spent on Ubers this weekend now that I think $165 million is an insignificant amount of money! I have broken my head!

[3] From a 1986 profile I cannot believe I read: “Oddly, Gates is something of a ladies’ man and a fiendishly fast driver who has racked up speeding tickets even in the sluggish Mercedes diesel he bought to restrain himself.” I just really cannot imagine Bill Gates as a ladies’ man, sorry. I know we’re meant to be building him up. But come on.

[4] Though quite why you’d trust a man who can’t even fly a balloon around the planet without crashing it into the ocean with the task of flying your soft human body into space: I don’t know. A Virgin train can barely get to Edinburgh without stinking of shit about it. No way do I trust that dude with space travel.

[5] As of April 2018, there were 563,100 Amazon employees registered, which at $10,000 a pop would make a hole of $56.3 billion in Bezos’ personal finances, which again he’d probably make back within a year just from me buying spatulas, Command hooks, and books I’m not ever going to get around to reading and having them delivered straight to the office

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