Richard Branson, Over-Sharing, and How to Talk About FIRE

One day, back in his early 20s, Richard Branson was at a conference table meeting with some investors. He was about to sell one of his first businesses, Student Magazine, and this meeting was to finalize the deal.

As part of the terms, Branson was also planning to join their company to help transition the business to the new owners. Everyone was excited about the new partnership.

The deal was almost signed … but then came a hiccup.

During the meeting, the investors asked Branson to share his thoughts about the future. They were excited to have a young entrepreneur come work for them, and they wanted to hear a preview of his brilliant ideas.

Well, that’s when Branson screwed it all up.

He went on a long tangent answering their question, sharing his wildest and wackiest hopes and dreams. He fantasized about owning airlines, offering free flights to students, starting his own bank, nightclubs, hotels, and more. Branson didn’t hold back at all. He loved talking about dreams.

The investors didn’t receive this too well. Instead of being excited, they were quickly turned off. They thought Branson was a kook! They didn’t want to be in business with a crazy person… So they promptly cancelled the contract and never went through with the purchase.

Branson learned a huge lesson that day … to only share the information that people need to hear at the time. It’s important to have wild and large dreams, but in most cases it’s best to keep them to yourself. 

One of My Over-Sharing Moments

I had a similar experience a few years back (on a much smaller scale of course — I’m nowhere near Branson’s league). I was meeting with a fancy private bank in Texas, discussing a portfolio loan for some fourplexes I wanted to buy. This loan was important to me, so I came well prepared. Actually, in hindsight, I may have been over-prepared.

I remember sitting in a large corner office with a senior VP from the bank. Everything was going well until the VP asked me to share some of my real estate goals with her. She wanted to learn what type of investor she was about to be in business with.

That’s when I screwed it all up.

I pulled out my laptop and showed off my detailed business plans and nerdy rental property spreadsheets. I talked about FIRE, hinted that I wanted to quit my job soon, and dreamed about buying large apartment complexes using other people’s money in the future. 

My assumption was that the more information I shared, the more impressed she would be. Oh, how naive of me. It backfired, big time.

Bankers apparently don’t want to hear about young people quitting jobs. They don’t care about FIRE spreadsheets and if you retire before 40. Bankers prefer to do business with sensible, grown-up investors.

When the deal fell through, I felt like a fool. One of my mentors talked with me afterward about lessons learned, and he said something like: Never give people more information than what they ask for. Keep your dreams (and your spreadsheets) to yourself. Especially when dealing with banks!”

Accidentally Scaring People Away From Financial Independence

When I first heard about the FIRE movement, I was so excited I wanted to share it with everybody. 

But many humans still think financial independence (and retiring early) is a grand and wacky idea. Sometimes if I talk about money too quickly, too enthusiastically, or too often, people can get turned off. I sound like a nut job.

Now, I’m learning to ease into the conversation when meeting new people. Biting my tongue and only sharing small bits of information, if and when I’m asked. (I still screw up sometimes and go on tangents, but usually my wife is nearby to give me a fresh slap over the head.)

So here’s the other way I’ve begun to get more people interested in money and the FIRE movement (and perhaps it’s even the best way) …

If You Want to Spark FIRE in Others, Lead By Example

If Richard Branson has taught me anything, it’s to keep pushing toward your goals no matter how large or far off they may seem to others. Keep working hard, and others will eventually take notice and want to learn from you.

Actions speak louder than words. Keep saving, investing, trying to boost your income and knowledge. Become living proof that financial independence is worth shooting for. And if you really want to get your crazy ideas and money-making dreams off your chest, save it for the FI forums and meet-up groups. Or you can always shoot me a note — I love hearing about it!

What about you?… Do you keep your FIRE dreams a secret, or have you found any tricks to introduce new people to the FIRE community without freaking them out first?

*The story up top is from one of my favorite books. Losing My Virginity – an autobiography by Richard Branson.

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17 Comments

  1. The Millennial Money Woman March 15, 2021 at 5:46 AM

    Happy Monday Joel!

    What an interesting read – from both of your experiences. I think the lessons taught here are very right; never share more information than what is asked for. The only person I share my FIRE dreams with is my husband to be honest. My husband is my accountability partner, so I tend to go all-out with my FIRE dreams, because I want him to keep me on track. And of course, he is my husband, so it would make sense for me to share those ideas with him. However, I don’t really share my FIRE dreams with anyone else.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Cheers,

    Fiona

    Reply
    1. Joel March 15, 2021 at 4:55 PM

      I tried to hide my crazy when I first met my wife. It only last about 2 weeks before she realized I was a nut job – then I opened the flood gates. haha! Glad you’ve got a partner in crime to tackle all your stuff with!

      Reply
  2. Accidentally Retired March 15, 2021 at 11:40 AM

    Truth. I have run into the same issue in my accidental retirement. Everyone is asking me what I will do next and I have been offered a few contracting gigs I have straight up turned down and not in a good way. The times I have let on my full plans have been met with confusion. I’m trying to find the right balance of what to say and not say.

    Reply
    1. Joel March 15, 2021 at 4:57 PM

      Oooh now i’m really interested to hear your wild plans! Do tell me :)

      Reply
  3. J March 15, 2021 at 3:11 PM

    Oh, I have definitely been guilty of over-sharing at times, especially if I was asked about a topic or invited to a conversation where the topic came up. Why ask if you don’t actually want to know? That being said there are still one or two topics that I pretty much never talk about with co-workers. The worst is where you get into a conversion on a common topic, and you have an uncommon viewpoint, and it brings out the misogynistic opinions in someone you previously enjoyed talking to. I guess you could make the argument that he over-shared? From a business/work-life perspective, the 2 stories above are great examples about how even goals that should not be all that controversial can come back to bite you.

    Reply
    1. Joel March 15, 2021 at 5:03 PM

      Yep, it’s especially hard with co-workers. I genuinely want to help them – because they are friends – but some money topics are better left unsaid. :(

      Reply
      1. Silke March 15, 2021 at 5:22 PM

        I am in a different position jobwise. I work in the University in the office of a Professor and I do my own curriculum with all the PhDs. It would be unpolite of them to run from me, so I can force the knowledge of budgets, investing, tax declarations and Fire upon them. Like it or not
        But it is working. Some come actively with questions and one even thanked me and shared that he will reach a Milestone of 5k soon

        Reply
        1. Joel March 16, 2021 at 11:03 AM

          That’s awesome! Thank you for what you do! My wife also is an educator (high school) and stuffs in little money lessons and things into her math and science classes. It’s definitely easier to teach when people are already in a learning environment.

          Reply
  4. Impersonal Finances March 16, 2021 at 4:27 AM

    Yuuup I’m a classic over-eager money talker abouter. Honestly one of the main reasons I started to blog. I figured it would help get some of it out of my system so I didn’t ask all my coworkers their net worth after a couple beers. So far so good on that front haha.

    Reply
    1. Joel March 16, 2021 at 11:07 AM

      Haha! Yep, a blog is a good place to ramble, rant, and organize your thoughts. Also it’s helping people out there that are seeking the knowledge, vs. don’t want to learn.

      Ps. you don’t need to ask your co-workers what their NW is. Just look at their eating/driving/dressing habits and you might be able to guess :)

      Reply
  5. Jason Brown March 16, 2021 at 8:12 AM

    “Never give people more information than what they ask for.”

    Joel — what a great topic and mantra here. And another critical situation this couldn’t be more true for is during job interviews — I’ve learned this the hard way. When you are asked a question in a job interview just be brief and to the point — no need to regurgitate your entire LinkedIn profile!

    Thanks for this blog — such a valuable reminder that this advice can be used in many different situations in our lives.

    Jason.

    Reply
    1. Joel March 16, 2021 at 11:08 AM

      Sometimes the best interviews are when you keep your mouth shut the whole time (and ask THEM questions). Cheers Jason, have a great week my friend!

      Reply
  6. David @ Filled With Money March 16, 2021 at 8:56 PM

    Great stories to learn from. I had no idea Branson had botched a deal that way. In the end, I mean, the investors lost out BIG TIME by passing on the opportunity to work with an amazing genius like Richard Branson.

    I usually dislike giving more information than necessary. I remember my insurance company would ask me all sorts of nosy questions like “do you have a gf?” etc. I promptly ended the call and went with their competitor.

    Reply
    1. Joel March 17, 2021 at 1:01 PM

      What a weird question for them to ask! I would have told them I had 6 wives, and also a few husbands. You know, just to confuse them. :)

      Reply
  7. steveark March 20, 2021 at 5:45 PM

    What I’ve found is that if people think you have money they will not be interested in your opinions about how they should handle their money. Because you are “rich” you can’t possibly relate to those who are struggling. And in fact if you continue to try you’ll come across as patronizing them. Maybe if you’ve pulled off the stealth wealth thing you still could share some information, but it was out of the question for me because I was the big boss of the biggest employer in the region and so naturally everyone knew I was “rich”. Its more fun now as an anonymous blogger because nobody knows who I am and its OK for me to have an opinion. But in my real life if I shared even a little of my financial dreams it was always TMI!

    Reply
  8. Bret @ Hope to Prosper April 18, 2021 at 4:35 PM

    I have definitely overshared on more than one occasion. After decades of grinding along financially, I’m finally hitting some big milestones and it’s way too easy to get overly enthusiastic and want to share it with others.

    Around Christmas, I was telling one of my neighbors about my recent successes and I realized by the look on his face that he wasn’t doing so well. This really bummed me out, because I’m trying to encourage people to get ahead, not make them feel bad for slipping behind. I’m sure it seems like bragging to others, as well.

    I learned my lesson and I now try to keep my celebrations to myself.

    Reply
    1. Joel April 19, 2021 at 1:11 PM

      Bret, please feel free to email me anytime and I will celebrate with you!!! I LOVE hearing people’s achievements – big or small – and will toast to your success! :). Have a great week! Joel

      Reply

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