• Y Combinator
  • Paul Graham
  • startup

A year before Paul Graham co-founded the esteemed startup accelerator and venture capital firm Y Combinator, he wrote about how to become wildly rich.

The essay was written in 2004, but the advice remains sound for those looking to succeed in or outside of the startup world.

Graham, a prolific investor, boils success in the workplace down to two concepts.

Measurement means, simply, that your individual contributions can be measured. And leverage means you contribute something unique to the company that renders you irreplaceable.

Make sure you can measure your contributions

It's the same advice that career coaches give before you start negotiating your salary or writing your résumé: match what you do with the numbers that prove you do it well.

He advocates that folks join a startup, or a company with 10 people or fewer, to make their accomplishments clearly seen.

But that's not always necessary. You can often "untangle" your own contributions to a company's overall success.

Think of a few key metrics that quantify your performance — how much you've generated in sales, how much money you've saved the company with certain decisions or solutions, or the number of book proposals you edit in a week. Then, work with your boss as you set benchmarks to push those numbers ever higher.

Get leverage

Even if you can quantify what you contribute to a company, it's also crucial to make sure that that thing is something only you can produce. As Graham writes:

If you suddenly stopped selling, coding, or writing, would anything about your company change? Or could you be replaced? Leverage means that you're a changemaker in your company and that your choices and contributions alter its brand.

Graham said leverage also usually comes along with "the possibility of failure."

Take Graham's own background as the co-founder of Y Combinator. The seed fund has invested in hundreds of companies that you've never heard of, and dozens that don't even exist anymore.

But he's also led investments into Reddit, Airbnb, Dropbox, Quora, Instacart, and a bunch of other companies that are worth billions.

""If you're in a job that feels safe, you are not going to get rich, because if there is no danger there is almost certainly no leverage."