Suppose someone gets a time machine, somehow, and decides to make some extra cash the usual way. S/he goes back in time to 1997 and tells his/her Past Self about Google.

Under the following assumptions, what mistakes could Past Self make that would prevent him/her from getting rich based on this knowledge?

  • Self does not have any background in finance or technology.
  • The time machine will only work for one round trip, and Future Self makes it safely.
  • Self is pretty lazy; s/he prepares for his/her trip for at most an hour, and doesn't bother with other companies or facts that could get him/her rich.
  • Future Self can bring and leave whatever physical item s/he wants back in time as long as s/he thinks it can be used in the past. Pen and paper is fine. CDs are fine, too, but I hope Future Self remembers to ensure that Past Self can actually read them.
  • Past Self trusts Future Self and his/her story, and acts upon the information they just received.
  • Past Self and his/her most trusted friends and family can keep a secret; as far as the rest of the world is concerned, Past Self just made a really lucky investment.
  • The only thing that matters is that Past Self fails to get rich by volition of their own mistakes (or Future Self's half-assed preparation). Other unforeseen consequences can result.
    • This means that it's okay if Past Self inadvertently goes broke, hinders Google's growth, or even dies. S/he just can't get rich.
  • Once Past Self has the money (if you want a number, let's say at least $100 million), they're considered rich. If they make stupid decisions and lose it all afterwards, that's a separate problem.

This question relies on the assumption that financial laws are complicated and that getting rich off of a startup isn't as simple as giving it a suitcase of cash and asking for more later.

  • $\begingroup$ He/She immediately dislikes the appearance of their future self, so decides to never to dress in the same way, instead choosing to open a Boutique Clothes Shop for under-priveledged youths - hence breaking time and space and fashion as we know it... $\endgroup$ Oct 9 '16 at 2:09
  • $\begingroup$ @HarryDavid I wonder if your past self would say the same ridiculous thing. $\endgroup$
    – NuWin
    Oct 9 '16 at 2:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think that the best way to fail it would be to start taking some huge loans (to invest in Google), make some errors because of lack of financial knowledge and seeing how everything goes poorly get convinced by concerned family that this future self was just some mental problem, like a phase of mania with psychotic features. $\endgroup$
    – Shadow1024
    Oct 9 '16 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ Most likely some sort of continuum error will be induced. Google's founders start fighting over the extra funds you invest, Yahoo! or AoL don't make any catastrophic errors and crush or purchase Google in its infancy or you communicate expectations based on 2016 Google, which is far beyond the hardware or software capabilities of 1997, causing Google to research dead ends or crash in frustration since their beta releases never work at all. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Oct 10 '16 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ Get past self to assassinate all the founders of Google with the idea of 'inventing' and setting it up yourself and making a huge success. However because of your lack of ability, technical knowledge and powers of persuasion, no one listens to you. Google fails to take off and other search engines prevail. $\endgroup$ Nov 7 '18 at 15:06

My first guess is your past self wasn't already a millionaire.

If your past self tried to invest in Google stock, it would have gone up around 16x (50 to 800 dollars) in twelve years. That's a great return on investment, but if you didn't already have several million dollars you could afford to ignore for twelve years, it wouldn't get you a hundred million at the end of it.

If your past self tried to invest in Google before its IPO, you'd have a different set of problems. Google took money from a very small number of venture capitalists, and most of them seem to have gotten seats on Google's board of directors in return. Basically you would have needed to have a lot of seed money and have a reputation as a sensible investor -- they wouldn't have taken money from just anybody.

  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, in the US there are (or were up until this year) SEC regulations limiting who can invest in startups. Basically, it required an annual income of $200K or net worth of $1 million, or some relationship to the owners. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Oct 9 '16 at 5:55
  • $\begingroup$ I believe that @jamesqf is saying, "Indeed, in the US there are (or were up until this year) SEC regulations limiting who can invest in startups. Basically, it required an annual income of \$200 K or net worth of \$1 million, or some relationship to the owners."  (It's a MathJax world; use \$ to get a literal "$".) $\endgroup$ Oct 9 '16 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ I was a baby in 1997, so no I was not a millionaire. $\endgroup$
    – JesseTG
    Oct 9 '16 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Peregrine Rook: Yes, thank you. It's not my fault that this site chooses to use a non-functional math display program, with which (despite considerable effort on my part) any math is displayed as black on black. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Oct 11 '16 at 4:18

Past Self doesn't know any VCs. As Past Self is trying to get introduced to some VCs, Microsoft or IBM catch wind of this, buy the embryonic Google, and ruin it.

Past Self solves the VC issue, but the extra money he brings to the table is enough for Brin, Page, et al. to goof off more, and they never develop a good algorithm.

  • $\begingroup$ ... Or, on the same theme, his conduct focuses them more on advertising and monetisation, but the actual search itself gets second place priority. It isn't as good and someone else grabs the search market while embryonic Google becomes an also-ran. $\endgroup$
    – Stilez
    Oct 18 '16 at 7:03

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