Iconic Tour

Sam Adams founder: Unless you're a sociopath, being happy is better than being rich

Jim Koch: Unless you're a sociopath, happiness trumps being rich
Jim Koch: Unless you're a sociopath, happiness trumps being rich

There's a point where making more money becomes a bit of a fool's errand.

Or so says Jim Koch, founder of The Boston Beer Co., which is the brewhouse behind Sam Adams. And Koch (pronounced "cook") should know.

In 1984, when he started brewing Sam Adams in his kitchen, he hoped to build a business that would be doing about $1 million in revenue annually. Today, Koch is sitting at the helm of a business that does about $1 billion in sales each year.

And along the way, Koch, now 67, became a billionaire. In 2014 and 2015, he achieved the height of capitalistic success by ranking on the Forbes billionaire list. In 2016, he slipped off the list, but there's no question that he's a very rich man.

Perhaps it's ironic, then, to hear him say that being rich isn't super fulfilling.

"To me, when you start a business, you should really go for the big prize, which is start a business that is going to make you happy. Getting rich is life's biggest booby prize," Koch told CNBC at the Iconic conference last week in Boston. "People who aren't happy want to be rich. I'd rather be happy."

Koch, who typically wears khaki pants and a denim shirt, said after a certain point, making more money isn't motivating.

Jim Koch, co-founder and chairman of the Boston Beer Company
Source: The Boston Beer Company

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"You're not going to spend it. You don't want to give it to your kids because it will mess them up, and you know you're going to end up giving it to charity," he said.

"So more isn't that meaningful," he added. "Once you've gotten to that wonderful point of enough, that helps you focus on your real deeper purposes."

Three decades after starting his company, Koch says learning new things every day and creating a product that is of value to other people keeps him going. A byproduct of making and selling a product of value is that you might make a whole lot of money, but that's not a guarantee, especially when you are just getting started.

"When you think about starting a business, try to find one that you think will make you happy. Because the chances it is going to make you rich are really pretty small, but the chances it will make you happy are pretty big," Koch said. "And what would you rather be? Happy or rich? You know, unless you're a sociopath, you'd rather be happy."