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Many of the world’s wealthiest individuals — think Gates, Carlos Slim, Warren Buffett, Richard Branson and Jack Ma — are billionaires who got rich by building their own companies.

Even if you don’t have the brilliant idea for the next Virgin Airlines or Alibaba, you can still amass a fortune by riding on the coat-tails of a brilliant entrepreneur.

Indeed, Jim Cody, director of estate, trusts and philanthropy services for San Francisco-based financial advisory firm, Harris myCFO Inc, believes the only way to become a high-net worth individual is to be a part of some kind of successful business venture. Cody, a former lawyer, who now works with people who have $25 million or more in investible wealth, said many of his clients have started or worked at a major Silicon Valley company.

Even his most successful lawyer friends don’t have the level of money his entrepreneurial clients have amassed.

“You don’t see people who are practicing their primary profession with that kind of wealth. That just doesn’t exist in today’s world,” he said. “You have to branch out into some sort of business endeavor or get equity in a firm.”

Employee No. 7

That’s how Jeff Kelisky made his fortune. In 2000 he joined MultiMap. He was employee number seven in Sean Phelan’s London-based online map company when he was hired as director of business development. His salary: £70,000 ($116,774). A good salary. But the real money was in Kelisky’s options.

When he started, Kelisky held 2% of the company’s stock options. That would grow to 5% by the time he became CEO in 2002. The former IBM account manager and consultant didn’t join the company for a potential windfall, but the thought of a large payout did cross his mind.

“I wanted to build something,” Kelisky said. “But certainly the potential to have a big exit was part of the reason I stepped into it.”