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“Why the setbacks are the best things ever” with Ming Zhao & Timothy Sykes

The setbacks are the best things ever. The $500,000 loss when I was a hedge funder gave me the rules to my trading that I didn’t know were so important. It refined my rules and that made me a better trader and teacher. I may have been making a lot of money in the beginning but […]

The setbacks are the best things ever. The $500,000 loss when I was a hedge funder gave me the rules to my trading that I didn’t know were so important. It refined my rules and that made me a better trader and teacher. I may have been making a lot of money in the beginning but I was making stupid risks and they eventually caught up with me. It took a gigantic loss for me to wake up. That loss also really dented my ego, not just my bank account. I was ripped on when the loss became public and it helped me develop thick skin.


I had the pleasure to interview Timothy Sykes. Timothy is the CEO of Millionaire Media and author of the best-selling book “An American Hedge Fund”. At the age of 22, Sykes became a self-made millionaire when he turned his Bar Mitzvah gift money of $12k into $3 million trading penny stocks while studying at Tulane University. He managed a hedge fund for 4 years before entering the financial education industry to teach students how they can be successful in the trading industry. Sykes is also a philanthropist, starting The Karmagawa Foundation and Save The Reef foundation to help spread awareness about the many environmental issues our world is facing while also improving education to people living in third-world countries.

Tim Sykes also starred in the hit TV show Wall Street Warriors and has been featured on CNNABC, CBS, CNBCFOX,ForbesBloombergEntrepreneur,Inc.com, Reuters, BusinessWeek, Business Insider, MarketWatchThe New York TimesThe New York Observer, and is a regular contributor to Wall Street Daily.

You can follow him on social media @timothysykes on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and his blog www.timothysykes.com.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Igrew up in a small town in Orange, CT — dreaming about leaving the small town and going out to see the world. I studied and worked hard from a young age. I played tennis from ages 6–16. I was number one in the state. I actually over practiced and over trained and got injured my senior year of high school. I was already in college early admissions for tennis at Tufts University. My parents gave me control of my bar mitzvah gift money, which was sitting in my Series EE bonds ($12,000 roughly). They said, “Hey — go work in the stock market” because I had two casts from surgeries on my arms. I couldn’t do much but I could type. This was in 1999 when the stock market was going crazy. My parents gave me the $12,000 thinking I’d lose it all and that it would be a good lesson for me. But instead, I turned the $12,000 into $2 million before I graduated college. So I screwed up all their plans! They thought I’d learn the hard way, you know, the value of loss! But I was just as dedicated to trading stocks as I was to playing tennis. Dedication has always been my success.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? Can you share the story with us?

My dad calls it “the million dollar injury.” I was fortunate enough to get injured while playing tennis because, you know, I was a good tennis player but I wasn’t great. I never had the most powerful shots, I relied on a lot of trick shots, and I over trained because I was never really in great shape. I got into stocks because I was physically unable to do anything from my surgery. I was already in college. The stock market was going crazy so I figured — why not? It was crazy because this was the beginning of the internet boom. So I would skip high school classes and go to a library and use 12 computers at a time because the internet was so slow. It was dial up. I would load one page on a computer then jump to the next just to research different stocks. I found patterns that I liked and became obsessed. I ditched friends. I even missed my college graduation for a trade. I took night classes to trade stocks. In 2006, I was running a small hedge fund and wasn’t getting the recognition I thought I deserved. I was a young, dumb, cocky kid. Back in those days you were not allowed to advertise. I was getting very frustrated so I joined this reality show called Wall Street Warriors. I was drunk in every episode. I said “F*&K it”. Let me just be entertaining. People will see eventually I’m real.” People did see me trade live a couple of times in the show. My hedge fund lawyer said, “You shouldn’t do this” but I didn’t care. The show became a hit. They played my show six times a day. I was supposed to be in one episode because I was drunk, funny and blunt — but I was in five or six episodes. At that point I was living in New York and didn’t pay for a single drink because all the nerds and Wall Streeters were watching it. But my hedge fund wasn’t doing great because I got impatient with me making a few hundred thousand dollars a year. I invested 1/3rd of my fund into my best friend’s dad’s company. I took a risk and instead of investing my money in trading stocks, I invested in this company. Unfortunately my dad’s friend got thrown out of the company and the company went bankrupt. So I had this hit TV show. My hedge fund was down 30%. The failed investment in my friend’s dad’s company ruined my credibility. But because of the hit TV show, a lot of people started emailing me asking how I turned a few thousand into a few million. People thought I was crazy for closing down the hedge fund, but I recognized a better opportunity in teaching. Most people in finance were full of crap and I was real. All I had to do was be real. I showed trade by trade. I was vlogging all of it so I made video lessons galore. I became the #1 ranked trader out of 60,000 on Covestor. I had two millionaire students created in five years. Now I have five millionaire students and I continue to trade, show everything, and verify my results.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

The most interesting and funniest mistake I’ve made was the fact I was drunk on every episode of the reality show. It gave me so much notoriety and fame and led to my teaching career which led to my charity career. My first time on CNBC, I was drunk. I was so drunk I could barely see the camera. That was my crutch when I wasn’t that extroverted in the beginning. Now I’m too extroverted and I have to tone it down and I can’t drink for shit. It’s funny how you evolve.

In my work, I focus on how one can thrive in three areas, body, mind, and heart. I’d like to flesh this out with you. You are a very busy leader with a demanding schedule. Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

I have between 500–700 new DMs every day. I used to have help with it but I wanted to answer messages myself. I want to know what questions people are asking. I want to make lessons, DVDs and blog posts about the common questions. I like seeing that and responding because it’s really me. Very few people in my industry do it themselves. So when I answer the DMs, I go on the electric bike for an hour to two. I try my best to do an hour and a half of cardio every day. I also travel a lot. In 2019, I went to 32 countries. I love traveling and for me, it keeps my mind focused. I have the mindset that I am a retired trader. Since I’m in so many different countries and time zones, I’m not in ideal settings to trade. That forces me to only take the best trades and teaches me discipline. It keeps my mind sharp and makes me a better trader. When I’m sitting in my home in Miami, I over trade because I have perfect wifi and nothing else to do. I’m a typical degenerate trader. It’s crazy.

My heart to thrive — that is all about my charity. I love teaching, trading and traveling but it’s allowed me to indulge in a new found passion. Traveling started to get boring with the luxuries I had. So I started building schools in the communities I visited. I don’t necessarily stay in a luxury hotel. Sometimes I stay with a local family or the local charity we support. We have 67 schools and libraries with my charity foundation which was The Timothy Sykes Foundation, now called The Karmagawa Foundation because I took on a great Filipino partner. His name is Matt Abad. He’s a great photographer. Gawa means “to do” or “to make.” We are making good karma. We also expanded into helping endangered species. We did a documentary on saving the rhino. I donated $250,000 to VETPAW which is a charity that helps save the rhino in South Africa. I just donated $90,000 to charities that are dedicated to saving the coral reefs. We did an hour long documentary on the problem with the coral reefs. The reason why I got into that is because they’re more urgent than education. Education is a multi-decade process. But rhinos don’t have more than five or ten years yet. The coral reefs are dying at a ridiculous rate. Step-by-step I get to follow my passions and it’s all due to my trading and teaching. I always remember that.

Ok super. Let’s now move to the main part of our discussion. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?

I do love teaching. It’s not just about the money. I have five millionaire students. I’ve gone to two millionaire students’ weddings. I was the first one to meet one of my student’s babies. For me, it’s the human stories where I get to change people’s lives with their lessons. I now have 6500 video lessons on my website. It’s kind of like the Netflix of trading. I analyze good trades, bad trades, lessons, rules, my trades, other people’s trades, etc. I’m very fortunate to teach what I know so well. I’m not the best trader but I’m open. Thanks to being on the reality show, I have a lot of haters and I therefore have thick skin. I’m not afraid to show my losses. These videos are more popular than the videos about my games because no one else shows their losses. I always try to cut my losses quickly because that’s rule number one. I have donated over $4 million in 3 ½ years since I started my own charity. I donate all my trading profits to charity. My best-selling DVD guide all goes to charity. I’m working on another DVD guide that will all go to charity. We are working on merch, signed by my partner Matt Abad, that will all get donated to charity. I would love to build a thousand schools — that’s my goal. We have schools all over the world now. I even have a soccer stadium in Cambodia. It’s not just schools and libraries. In Cambodia, we have a sexual abuse victims house because that’s a huge problem there. We try to give the communities what they need. For me, the money goes to a good cause. I love teaching. I love trading. It’s all love. It’s all my heart and it’s all used for the world. Good information, honesty and transparency can change the world. Whether it’s saving an endangered species or helping people profit in the stock market.

Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

Education changed my life and I recognize that. That’s what led me to build schools and libraries. And like I said, some issues are more urgent. Endangered species don’t have 30 or 40 years to figure out the issues. Making documentaries, donating, talking about the causes incessantly on social media is what I love to do and what is making a difference. Karmagawa now has 1 million+ social media followers. We now have more followers than PETA and other charities that are far bigger. But, they don’t really talk about the emotion as I do. I manage the social media accounts for my charities. We have another social media account just for Save the Reef. The engagement is just amazing and I do it all. I respond to all the DMs, stories, and captions because again… I love doing this.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

We have had 33,000 students who go to my charity schools world wide. Those are just average kids… and I love that. I visited Nepal when we announced we were going to build a school there. I met this one little girl and we were staying at her house. We were going hiking that day so I wanted a big bottle of water so I gave this little girl money for a bottle of water. This family had a little shop in their house so you could buy little foods and snacks and waters. I didn’t have any small bills so the equivalent I gave her was basically the equivalent of a $20 US bill. The bottle of water was 22 cents. The girl burst out crying and ran out. As it turned out, the girl didn’t have any money and didn’t want me to think she was stealing from me. I would have never thought that but that instance totally helped me change my whole mindset. We are so spoiled in the First World where we have money. If these people have an extra dollar, they spend it on rice and that is the first meal they eat in two or three days. Money is a foreign concept to these people and we just always have it lying around in our pockets. For me, it’s not just the people… it’s everything. It’s wanting to help these communities, being able to help these communities, learning their mindset and how we all live in such a bubble and how we take what we have for granted.

What are your 5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. This is a marathon and not a sprint. As you can tell from my own story, I’ve adapted from being a tennis player, to being a stock trader, to being a hedge fund manager, to being a reality TV star, to being a teacher, and now a philanthropist. That is a very wide range of things but I’ve done it step-by-step and I’ve adapted.
  2. You have to adapt. Here is an example. I made my first million basically buying penny stock breakouts in 1999 and 2000. The stock market crashed and there were no more breakouts. In the year 2000, I made $720,000 in the first four months… the last eight months of the year I lost $10,000 when I was trying new strategies. If I didn’t have those eight months of thinkering, I wouldn’t have learned.
  3. This isn’t a straight line. You’re not necessarily going to be making money all the time and be successful. It’s not a straight line. Sometimes you have to take a step back, learn a new strategy, and that will drive your future success. A lot of people give up along the way.
  4. You can never give up. No matter what industry you’re in or what you’re doing, never give up. Keep trying new strategies. Pivot. If you do that, you let whatever challenge beat you. The only sure-fire way to fail is to quit. Keep tinkering.
  5. The setbacks are the best things ever. The $500,000 loss when I was a hedge funder gave me the rules to my trading that I didn’t know were so important. It refined my rules and that made me a better trader and teacher. I may have been making a lot of money in the beginning but I was making stupid risks and they eventually caught up with me. It took a gigantic loss for me to wake up. That loss also really dented my ego, not just my bank account. I was ripped on when the loss became public and it helped me develop thick skin.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I mean, I did. That’s what Karmagawa is. It’s not The Timothy Sykes Foundation anymore because it’s not just about me. It’s about doing good and having it come back to you. Our logo is an infinity sign because I believe if you do good stuff and put it out into the universe, I think it does come back to you. I’ve never been as happy as I am by giving. Growing up, I had these posters on the wall of all these expensive cars. I bought them all. And they all became boring after a while. I was very happy and grateful I could do it. It was my childhood dream so I accomplished my goals… but at the same time, I was just done. I didn’t need it anymore. By the last time I got my last nice car, it didn’t make me happy anymore. Giving back, building schools, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on these documentaries with my own money makes me happy. If you take care of your loved ones, take care of yourself, and get to spend money on your passions, I think that’s the best thing.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

The best life lesson quote is, “Money can’t buy happiness. It buys freedom.” That freedom allows you to focus on what you love. Focusing on what you love makes you happy. In a roundabout way, yes, money buys happiness. But not in the way that you think. It’s not about buying nice things, it’s about giving you the opportunity to spend money and time on. Because money is not the most important thing in life — time is. How are you going to use your time? How can money optimize your time on earth?

What are the best ways our readers can follow you online?

Just google “Why is Timothy Sykes a scam?” and you can read my haters’ quotes. I’m not scared of them. The beauty of being real is that I can answer any questions.

You can also go to timothysykes.com — there are 8,000 blog posts. You can check out my YouTube @TimothySykes- there are 1,400 video lessons. I tweet every day (@timothySykes) and post on Instagram (@TimothySykes). You can DM me, I’ll answer eventually. If you want to join my trading challenge, you can find it here https://www.timothysykes.com/millionaire-challenge/. I don’t know where my next dedicated student will come from, but maybe someone from this article will say, “Hey! I like this guy. I want to learn.” I’ll be glad to teach you.

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