Almost 20 years ago, Franck Benhamou realized he no longer wanted to play the corporate game. The trick was setting up a business that allowed the French-Moroccan the freedom to up stakes and move somewhere else with his wife Zora and their two young children if he wanted to. While in Russia, he built a members-only platform that connected suppliers with retailers. After some ups and downs, he got it moving in the right direction. And the family moved on too – to Marbella.
“The quality of life was better and I didn’t have to work as hard,” says Benhamou. “I know how much money I need, and that has to be very clear because it’s very easy to get sucked in. As an entrepreneur you get a lot of new offers and ideas, and if you’re not careful about the model you chose to pursue then you can be sucked in very, very hard. I want money in order to have free time, so I have to make it as efficiently as possible.”
In other words, he built a business that allowed him to make enough money to live the lifestyle he wanted, but didn’t grow it to the point where it took over.
“The ultimate freedom isn’t to have the money, it’s to have the freedom and the time to spend it,” says Benhamou. “What I want is time — time to pursue anything I want.”
The family lives a pared-down lifestyle. After Marbella they moved to Hong Kong where they’ve been living, asset-free, the past three years in a serviced apartment: no real estate holdings, no cars, nothing. Of course, the necessity of providing his kids a stable education has meant staying for longer stints in order for them to finish schooling.
But his global approach and entrepreneurial sense has seemingly rubbed off on the whole family. In addition to Markian and Kalina’s social media endeavors, Benhamou’s wife, Zora is building a healthy lifestyle business called Hack My Age. And Benhamou is building a social presence of his own centered on the global fighting and martial arts community.
“The difference between our family and other families looking at their mobile phones is that we talk about metrics, we talk about performance,” he says. “We actually talk about what the audience wants, what is engaging.”
Having the Benhamous over for a photo shoot at the AGEIST studio was a fascinating experience. Arriving Insta-ready, they were on their phones throughout the session. It was clear the way they approach social media is very much a 24/7 job—a fun job, but a job nonetheless.
What’s most impressive about Franck’s approach is not just that he successfully built a business, or that he’s fulfilled his dream lifestyle, but that he’s done it by continuing to challenge himself and learn in the process. Why else would he be messing around on Instagram or even learn the language of a place he’s not likely to spend the rest of his life?
“A lot of people have lost the habit of learning, and there’s no reason for someone above 50 not to learn something new,” he says. “I’m learning Chinese and it’s overwhelming and you don’t think you’re going to be able to say more than two words but eventually when you spend enough time on it, yeah, you’ll learn. And you can do that with many skills – so that’s actually a saving grace for older people who are going to have limited income from their safety net and no access to jobs.”
As for what’s next, Franck and Zora are waiting for Kalina to be accepted into a college (and he and Markian are discussing whether or not the USC sophomore should even finish college given his budding career as a social media influencer). Then the couple will set off for new territory. It’ll definitely be someplace new, and a place where they can spend a lot of time and learn a new skill. “The more skills we learn, the more valuable we become to people, and the more we can monetize,” he says.
The trick, as always, is balance.
“The only thing to make sure of is that the need for money doesn’t overpower the lifestyle,” Franck tells me before we hang up our Skype conversation. “That the lifestyle is the most important.”
Franck dropped so many gems in our 1.5-hour conversation, it was hard to pick. But here are some thoughts that stuck with me.
if you’re thinking about it, don’t delay “And [to] do that you have to question the way you live, and what we have taken as truth but that may not be applicable today. And there’s so many aspects of life that touches on that truth: my kids going to university, owning a house, the best way to keep your assets. There are no certainties – so all of these are just a search and attempt to stack the probabilities on your side.”
live an asset-free life “Whenever you decide what your number is [to live comfortably] … it is a number that has to be liquid. If you put a lot of money into a house, that forces you to make even more money to live in that house. A lot of people do that, and they end up having a huge asset that they can’t touch, and scrap for money because they need money. The other thing is that the freedom of not owning anything is amazing.”
learn, dammit “People over 50 have a hard time participating in the economy — they don’t have good savings, and they’re going to live a long time. So I’m not sure where the saving grace is unless you embrace the Internet. The saving grace is that if you’re educated like most of the population, you can learn pretty much anything in two years — if you’re motivated. We come from a way of thinking where you stop learning when you’re 25. After university, you don’t learn in a more global way. Today with the Internet we can.”
find the right company “At the end, it’s exciting when you find a community of like-minded people. When you’re trying to be healthy, it’s difficult to go out with friends who are not in the same pursuit as you are. However, when you’re with like-minded people it’s a completely different thing. My time climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro [which he did last year] was fantastic because we were all there for the same thing. Surround yourself with like-minded people; it might be one of the secrets of longevity.”