In 2014, Nicholas Crown was a director at global investment firm UBS, having reached Wall Street heights most could only dream of — but he was miserable.
So, following an Eat, Pray, Love-style journey through Europe, Crown decided to give entrepreneurship a shot. He founded the resume-writing company Resume Atelier in 2016 and the digital agency Amoeba in 2020. But Crown’s current chapter — creating the viral TikTok series “Rich vs. Really Rich” — may be his most exciting yet.
What’s more, it comes at a time when economic turmoil might have more people than ever before wondering, What secrets to success do the “really rich” actually hold?
Entrepreneur sat down with Crown to discuss his journey to becoming a digital content creator, inflation‘s impact on entrepreneurs, and what the average taxpayer can learn from how millionaires prepare for a recession.
“You did it again, you built the wrong damn thing.”
The digital growth-hacking agency that Crown founded helped him reach a major financial milestone — the lofty kind that crosses your mind when you’re lying in bed, thinking about how nice it would be to make X amount of money per month, he says. But hitting that target wasn’t enough. Crown was dissatisfied again, experiencing the same “level of misery” that he had on the trading floor.
“I said, You did it again, you built the wrong damn thing,” Crown recalls. “Now you have the money, but you don’t have any of the freedom, the lifestyle, the peace of mind. So I started to dismantle the business and did a little bit more soul searching, trying, again, to learn from this act of me building things the wrong way. I should build them with the end in mind.”
Crown automated his companies and took another step on the path toward being a professional TikToker. An additional breakthrough came after he listened to an episode of AngelList founder Naval Ravikant’s podcast, which delves into “the various forms of leverage there are in society,” such as people.
Essentially, if you gather enough manpower, you can move that big rock you want to move. Of course, people have to agree to pick up the rock — or be persuaded by capital. Alternatively, software is permissionless and frictionless — a robot does what you say and won’t ask for a paycheck, Ravikant points out.
“I thought that was absolutely brilliant,” Crown says. “Ravikant said, ‘But wait, there’s more. There’s a newer form of leverage that’s permissionless and frictionless. It’s called media.’ So media used to be heavily permission-based — and there are still aspects that are, of course — but there’s so much that isn’t: like TikTok.”
When Crown heard that, the “experimenter-tinkerer” in him thought, Oh, I could do that. So he did.
“It was going to be a dirty little secret I had with myself.”
Crown owns small, fully automated software businesses and had built trading algorithms on Wall Street, but he realized he “was never going to be the Mark Zuckerberg coder.”
“But I could do this short-form video thing,” he says, “where it’s rough, quick and dirty. It’s not the perfect video of me by the sunset, holding a glass of Champagne, living my best life. That was never going to be me on Instagram either. So I started with TikTok.”
Crown makes bets with himself all the time, so that’s exactly what he did. He gave himself one month to figure out if he could hack it on the platform. “So, I basically said, you’re going to make a TikTok every day for 30 days, and you’re not going to make a big deal out of it. You’re not going to go to the gym and tell everyone, ‘Hey guys, I’m gonna try to be a TikToker,'” Crown explains. “It was going to be a dirty little secret I had with myself.”
From there, it was a “completely iterative” process. Crown knew TikTok was about adding value for free, so he started by sharing tips on digital marketing, SEO, lifestyle design, digital nomading and travel hacks. Then he considered another lesson from Ravikant: that you can be incredibly unique by combining three or four of your average skills to make you one of a kind — by virtue of mathematics, it’s simple multiplication.
That’s when the idea struck him. “Well, I know a lot about this wealth-culture thing,” he remembers thinking. Crown was inspired to draw from his career on Wall Street and the people he knew growing up — including his father, who’s “one of those people who can just walk into a room and warm the place up with their kindness and generosity” — to create sketches that pitted a “rich” character against a “really rich” one, revealing the difference in how each approached everyday interactions.
“The first skit I did was a very short one about a diner who has very specific requests while the other diner just was kind of like, ‘Hey, I’ll take two steaks and a beer, just leave me alone,'” Crown says. “That video started the whole party and got five million views in a day or two.”
Crown threw himself into creating the series for nearly six months after that, noticing that people responded favorably when the “really rich” character was generous and kind and realized that he was building a framework for the right — and most effective — way to act.
“I’m doing my part to rewrite the history books a little bit and lean on these classic examples, like Think and Grow Rich and How to Win Friends and Influence People, where kindness and generosity win, and my bet is that they’ll continue to win,” Crown says.
“It’s perception of inflation, so it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
One of Crown’s recent videos focuses on the difference between how “rich” and “really rich” landlords treat their tenants — a timely topic given the inflationary pressure that’s contributing to increased rents across the country and additional obstacles to homeownership.
Crown calls the current state of things a “situation of confusion”: People see a sluggish economy, but everything is getting more expensive. “There’s this cognitive dissonance that’s causing an incredible amount of stress,” he says.
Entrepreneurs, in particular, face confusion as well, Crown explains. If their inputs are increasing, do they pass that on to the customer? Change their business model? Account for people buying less? Crown says he sees two scenarios unfolding: Businesses with increasing inputs raising their prices, and businesses without increasing inputs also raising their prices.
“Now, this is why it becomes dangerous,” Crown says. “Because it’s no longer mathematical inflation — it’s perception of inflation, so it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Inflation confronts the average person with what Crown refers to as the “poverty wedge.” “So, your damn groceries are more expensive and your rent just went up $500,” he says. “Chances are, whether you’re employed in a traditional sense or are an entrepreneur, your income didn’t increase in lockstep.”
If you’re stuck in that triangle, “you’re legitimately getting poorer over time.”
Crown also notes the “problematic” distrust of data on inflation, which stems, in part, from people feeling serious inflationary pressure prior to any official reporting. Now, with no clear end in sight, it may be too little too late. “The Fed is starting to look a little silly now, chasing inflation with raising rates that, ultimately, are just going to tamper down the economy,” Crown says. “So we’re in a catch-22 scenario here.
“The average person is now not going to be able to buy that home,” Crown continues, “so they’re going to be forced into continuing to rent, and rental prices are going to continue to stay strong or increase from the demand in more people renting and the fact that institutional investors are still buying up real estate because they’re not getting the returns they want in a stock market right now.”
And to the people who insist that real estate has to come down at some point? It doesn’t, Crown says — not in this environment, because of the structural way that cash will continue to flow into the market.
“Millionaires aren’t taking these massive losses and heading for the hills.”
As skyrocketing inflation decimates the average taxpayer’s wealth, many people are considering the next financial blow: a recession that seems all but inevitable. It’s natural to wonder if you can do anything to protect your assets. Fortunately, the answer is “yes.”
Although both the “rich” and “really rich” are far better equipped to weather financial storms than the typical American, some of their best strategies are replicable. They can help you preserve — and even grow — your wealth amid the chaos.
The first tip? Don’t sustain paper losses. “Nobody should be pilfering their 401k in this environment,” Crown says. “You still need to take a long-term perspective. Ultimately, things will recover. It’s going to take a heck of a long time, but they will.
“Millionaires aren’t taking these massive losses and heading for the hills,” Crown continues. “Some are continually reinvesting, even as things get cheaper and cheaper, and they’re taking a 10-15 year horizon, not a 10-15 month horizon.”
Crown also advises against trying to pick the bottom. “You definitely can’t be playing this game I see people playing, where they’re saying, ‘Let’s pick the bottom in crypto. Let’s pick the bottom in the stock market,'” he says. “Good luck calling where that bottom is.”
It’s valid investment advice when it comes to navigating public markets, to be sure, but it’s also important to remember that stocks aren’t the only way to grow your wealth. According to Crown, we have “an incredible blind spot” when it comes to another valuable growth path: our “internal rate of return.”
What does that mean? If you have $10,000 to invest, you don’t necessarily have to put that money into the public market; instead, you can invest in learning a new skill, relocating to an area where you’ll earn more, or even modifying your office to increase output. Entrepreneurs should always be assessing their internal rate of returns before dumping money into the public markets, Crown says.
“I can take whatever cash is left over at the end of the month, and I could stick it into the S&P 500, and in an incredible scenario, I can earn 10-15% on it,” Crown explains. “Or I can take that leftover cash and say, I’m going to double my video export with a new editor. I’m going to invest in a new lighting package. I’m going to invest in a new channel. I’m going to build a podcasting room and start doing long-form podcasting. I’m going to have the potential to earn a massive multiple on that investment internally, as opposed to externally.”
At the end of the day, whether you’re investing in yourself or in the stock market, take a page out of the “really rich” playbook and adopt a long-term perspective to set yourself up for success no matter what comes your way — “whatever your horizon is, it should be longer,” Crown says.