or Just A Nice Guy?
by Kevin James Salveson
Once I took a shit in James Altucher's living room. Not quite literally, but close enough. More about that later.
First, just in case you don't already know, we should ask: who is James Altucher? To me, James Altucher has always been a guy ahead of the curve.
He was early on CNBC, he was early on micro-credit, he was early on using databases and the web to stock-pick, he was early on rejecting Wall Street, he was early on confessional self-publishing, he was early on tutorial websites with multiple sales pitches and strong email op-in lead generation apps via constant calls to action, he was early on giving decent empowerment writing tips to noobs, he was early on calling Apple way higher, he's been early on podcasting as a way to increase your brand and meet famous people, and he was early on rejecting me.
What's not to like about the guy?
I honestly really do like him (same as we all like Sally Fields, too). Still, things have changed lately. You've seen the ads for his Crypto-genius, especially if you troll the Bitcoin funny pages. If you do, the algos that do ad placement will notice and start to feed you his Agora Financial pitches for sure. (Wonder how much that costs?)
So a long time ago I got the idea of writing a journalist style investigation of the man and the myth, or at least an expose of his writing style.
Well, this is not that. It turns out that better people than I have already done the heavy lifting. (My thesis has always been that you have two weeks to get a good idea out the door before someone else gets to it first).
I literally started writing this introduction at the end of November the day I saw the first Bitcoin ad, knowing I had only days before the price spikes caused a wave of news reports. But now it's January, and the spike has come and gone.
Over time while writing this, In fact, the more energy I put in, the more I saw the Freudian implications in my tendency to want to take down authority and/or father figure types, ha ha. So I guess I should call this a memoir instead. It's a personal story about my interaction with a kind of guru or hero of mine: James Altucher.
Because --regardless of his faults-- in a sea of modern mediocrity and amidst the slog forward for all of us against a gale force windstorm of in-authenticity, he's dared to go bare.
If you read any of his tomes or take a gander at his blog, it almost seems like James Altucher will confess to any sin, admit to any mistake, if it leads to a decent article that might inspire someone to feel better about their failures. It's like a formula of some kind, I thought.
But before that blogging, I had already been following his career for a decade or so. In a way, he is proof to me of that theory that when smart people (considered by others at an early age to be geeks or nerds) want to make themselves popular, they can do it.
After all, there was always this question in my mind: if a nerd is so smart, why can't they figure out how to be social and popular? Or I guess, more specifically, why can't I get laid in high school? The answer is that nerds really didn't care to try, they were too busy doing more important things like planning a medical career or writing a novel or discovering something.
Altucher's approach to his shortcomings and looks --that modesty-- turns his weaknesses into assets.That is one of the things that works about his style. It is both disarming and honest.
It's a trick in broad daylight.
So is he real? Or is he just Wylie Coyote, Suuuper-genius?
My thesis is yes. My impression is that James Altucher does what he does not because he's proud of his sins and wants to market them like a gangster rapper trying to build a brand, but because he wants others to actually learn from his shameful exploits. Plus, he knows it sells books and subscriptions, too; he's not stupid.
What scares him to do or admit, he'll push himself to do or admit. I admire those qualities. His writing smacks of natural curiosity and a kind of brave push-back against his own recognized geekiness and the lures of consumer culture.To my mind, that's a traditionally strong quality right there --bravery, fearlessness-- no matter what his slight frame and brillo-pad bouffant might be saying.
(Factly, those traditions are becoming more inclusive anyway. Now, anyone can be brave and wear a scarf at the same time, like Stinky in Chuck Rosenthal's books. Or an ice skater like Mirai Nagasu. Bravery does not have a gender, and it is always an admirable quality).
Still, these days I'm beginning to wonder, has J-dog gone off the deep end? He was always good at the marketing, branding and "ABC always be closing" aspect of blogging, etc, sure.That was my original observation.
Then one day in late November it happened: I go to log out of my email on MSN and there's his face and the words "Crypto-Genius" right there in the ad staring at me through wire-rim glasses!
Wow, I realized, mono-syllabicating with relish like I was Owen Wilson. He's about to take the greater fool theory into the realm of an actual Ponzi scheme in the ready-to-explode speculative Bitcoin markets. And he's 100% right about it too, I thought. He's going to make a lot of money. Just like all the other scammers.