The Swiss Cédric Waldburger got rich as a startup investor. Today the young millionaire could afford every luxury. But Waldburger lives instead as a minimalist. In an interview, he explains why he chose this lifestyle and how it enriches his life.
FOCUS Online: Mr. Waldburger, you founded your first company with a friend when you were just 14 years old. An advertising agency. How did it come about that you became the head of the company at such a young age – and where did you get the start-up capital at that age?
Cédric Waldburger: I was still going to school at the time and came from a typical middle-class family. So I had no money. It was a bit of a shock for my parents when I came home one day and announced: “Mom, Dad, I’m starting to work”. They were probably worried that I would let school slide. Despite being self-employed early on, I never had problems with bad grades. For me, work was like a hobby. I borrowed the starting capital, 30,000 francs (about 27,940 euros), from a friend’s father.
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And how did it go from there?
Waldburger: When the advertising agency was at its best, we made a few million in sales. After school, I began to study electrical engineering parallel to my work. Later I went to Hong Kong, New York and Berlin for internships and worked in London for an investment bank. I then gradually withdrew from the operative business of the agency. The company was taken over in 2018.
That was the moment when your account balance surpassed the million mark for the first time. Do you identify yourself as a millionaire today?
Waldburger: Absolutely not. I still find it strange when others call me a millionaire. This is also due to the fact that I invest most of the money I earn back in companies or start-ups – and don’t buy things that I think are superfluous. I use financial gains to bring more ideas to life.
You try to consciously limit your consumption. You also report about this on your blog. So instead of identifying as a millionaire, do you identify as a minimalist?
Waldburger: When it comes to objects, I’m definitely a minimalist. I just don’t like owning things. Still, I prefer the term essentialist. Why? In my eyes, minimalist sounds like: Less is better. As if whoever has the least won. But that’s not what I’m about at all. With my lifestyle, I try to focus on the things that are important and good for me.
This is more important than ever in times when we are all inundated with information on a daily basis. It’s about living consciously and making conscious decisions. Consciously distinguishing who and what I spend time with. It is not objects that enrich my life, but above all relationships with people. I find people who think differently from me interesting. That challenges me and I grow from it.
Online, you also list all your possessions. How did you come to catalog your life?
Waldburger: Even as a child, I didn’t like it when you replaced something that was actually good. Owning things has never been particularly important to me.
After I later moved halfway around the world so often, I eventually asked myself how many things I actually own. And I had no answer. So I started listing all the items. At that time I came to 600 to 700 things. It took me three months to complete the list. Because I still had forgotten some T-shirt at my parents’ house or a credit card. Then I gradually reduced the number of objects.
I currently own about 55 personal items. This includes things that I would take with me if I were to move. So: clothes, my laptop, camera and beauty items. What I don’t count at the moment is my bed, the couch, table, chairs. However, my apartment is currently pretty empty.
We live in a society where it is common for people to give each other presents – be it for Christmas, an anniversary, a birthday or a jubilee. How do you still manage to keep so few things?
Waldburger: Admittedly, it’s not that easy. But there is a saying that I really like in this context: “Presence is the best present”. Well, time is the best gift. I have instructed my family and circle of friends that if they want to give me something, they should give me time or experiences. And it can be as simple as cooking something together on a Sunday night. This has led to an incredible number of beautiful experiences.
Nevertheless, we all have some object that we cannot live without. What is the item that is currently most important to you – and which you also use most often?
Waldburger: What would you say if you could only own one item. What would you keep?
Probably my smartphone or laptop.
Waldburger: That’s the answer I get most often. It also makes sense: we have to stay connected and able to work. But what is often forgotten: clothes are also objects. Accordingly, if I could only own one thing, it would be a jumpsuit. If we leave out the clothes, it would probably also be the smartphone for me.
How long do you keep an item on average – or when do you exchange it at the earliest?
Waldburger: Basically, I usually buy high-quality things so that they last a long time and I don’t have to replace them as often. For example, I own four T-shirts, which I buy new once or twice a year – when they break. I change my pants about every six months. And I change my socks and boxer shorts every four to six months. I keep technical devices longer: I usually have a new laptop every three to four years. I replace my cell phone about every two years.
Did the transition to getting by with so few things have something to do with deprivation for you?
Waldburger: On the contrary. Because I packed so easily and quickly, I feel extremely free. I would have the opportunity to buy something at any time. A nice couch or a new bed. But such items simply have no place in my life. I find it more exciting to travel again and again.
So travel is your personal luxury. Do you treat yourself to a 5-star hotel – or do you try to keep it as minimalist as possible?
Waldburger: I find 5-star hotels boring. Because no matter where you are: you always have the feeling that you are in Zurich. But I think Airbnbs are great, for example. Then it can be a little more unusual. Two years ago I organized a meeting for about 20 companies from all over the world. For this I rented a five-story bamboo house in Bali. It doesn’t have to be cheap, but I prefer places that have character.
You and your wife will soon be parents. This could make traveling more difficult. Does that change anything about your way of life or will everything stay the way it was before?
Waldburger: Our first priority is of course that our daughter is happy and healthy. Accordingly, we plan to travel less than we have done so far. But we can well imagine moving to a new location every six months. At least for the first few years. It is important that the little one is doing well with it.