Why we work

Business owners do not normally work for money either. They work for the enjoyment of their competitive skill, in the context of a life where competing skillfully makes sense. The money they earn supports this way of life. The same is true of their businesses. One might think that they view their businesses as nothing more than machines to produce profits, since they do closely monitor their accounts to keep tabs on those profits.

But this way of thinking replaces the point of the machine’s activity with a diagnostic test of how well it is performing. Normally, one senses whether one is performing skillfully. A basketball player does not need to count baskets to know whether the team as a whole is in flow. Saying that the point of business is to produce profit is like saying that the whole point of playing basketball is to make as many baskets as possible. One could make many more baskets by having no opponent.

The game and styles of playing the game are what matter because they produce identities people care about. Likewise, a business develops an identity by providing a product or a service to people. To do that it needs capital, and it needs to make a profit, but no more than it needs to have competent employees or customers or any other thing that enables production to take place. None of this is the goal of the activity.

Charles Spinosa, Fernando Flores & Hubert Dreyfus – Disclosing New Worlds: Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action, and the Cultivation of Solidarity (via Kottke)

Going for it

Today’s milestone: I’m ready to kill the consulting cash cow and start a product business.

The startup media is full of stories of twenty-somethings grinding out long hours for little to no pay to build their business. When you have a wife and kids dependent on you keeping food on the table, reality is much different. A speculative gamble is exactly that: a gamble.

However, I’ve finally achieved enough confidence to start pursuing my dream more aggressively. The contributing factors include:

  • Late November and December are slow in the consulting world, which makes it the perfect time to explore.
  • Our family monthly expenditure is relatively stable, so that part of the budget is manageable.
  • Good amount of cash runway for if/when I decide to go all-in on a given product idea.

I feel I’ve hit 70% degree of certainty in knowing what I need to do. The why is the motivating factor. A fulfilled life is one full of actively-sought challenges. Once you’ve de-risked the opportunity sufficiently, it’s just a matter of getting out there to do it.

Virtual rummage sale

I’m moving to Brooklyn at the end of the month, more on that later, and need to unload the bulky household items I’ve accumulated over the past few years. These include:

If you know of anyone looking for home furniture in very good condition, I’d be willing to make a deal.

One thing I’ve observed: the market is absolutely flooded with second-hand furniture right now. I imagine this happens every June. I also know that it was nearly impossible to find the things I needed when I moved down here last August or September. This smells like a market opportunity to me.

The idea that came to mind immediately was a centralized solution: the enterprising entrepreneur would rent an empty house or storage unit, pick up all of the furniture on the market at depressed prices, store it for a couple of months, and then resell when the demand picks up again. I’d imagine that most items listed on Craigslist or on display at garage sales in June are discounted at least 50%, if not more. The biggest issue with this model, although, is that there are serious costs associated with moving the furniture twice, first to storage and then to the buyer’s home, that might well cancel out any margins.

There’s got to be a cleverer solution.

On giants

“See, the big guys have, and this has always been the case, when you have an existing business, whether you’re the record industry, the television business, or the movie industry, and you don’t want to cannibalize it so you stay away, or the New York Times [even], from these new distribution media because you go, ‘oh gosh, you know it’s going to cannibalize our TV viewing,’ that is an opening for everybody who doesn’t have all that existing relationships.” – Leo Laporte, TWiT 193 (at about 14 minutes)

If you’re an industry behemoth, it’s all about nimbly finding the balance between old and new. If you’re a startup, then it’s all about identifying and capitalizing on these weaknesses.

In the news: entrepreneurship in India, Paul Farmer and Haiti, and water access around the world

Three news items that caught my eye in the last couple of days:

Building a Social Entrepreneurial Garage Startup in India – PBS MediaShift
Update from a pretty cool project to bring community radio stations to rural India. If it’s not too prohibitive to launching one of these (who knows what it takes to legally license spectrum in the country), then it could interesting to try applying the concept of a social business to this. I can see community radio for a social cause having a tremendous effect on water literacy, health education, etc. Also related: layoffs at out-sourcing firms might lead to huge innovation spikes in India. I certainly think it’s possible. Here comes the real competition.

Change Haiti can believe in – The Boston Globe
Paul Farmer and Brian Concannon argue for better US policy towards developing, and not punishing Haiti. It will be interesting to see how Obama’s foreign policy changes will affect the country’s development (especially in this economic climate and after the hurricanes). The authors are also participating in a panel discussion tomorrow night, the 27th of January, that will be broadcast live over the web.

Ecologists warn the planet is running short of water – Times Online
An annual report by the Pacific Institute in California says that the world could run out of “sustainability managed water.” Part of me wonders if this article is too broad to actually deliver anything substantial, but water is certainly going to become more and more of a local issue.

via Publish2

Built from scratch

If you wanted to build a completely digital student news organization from scratch, how would you do it?

Which beats would you cover right off the bat? Would you cover club sports and campus sustainability, or the common news the student newspaper already covers?

What form would your content take? Would you focus on text, images, audio, or video? For video, would you put together technically high quality multimedia pieces, or stream via Qik? How can you balance quality and quantity?

How quickly would you try to scale? What benchmarks do you have for your organization at one month, three months, and six months? What would you do to advertise and get the community involved?

What would the business side look like? Where would your funding come from? Would you sell advertising and/or have premium features? How much would you pay your staff?

How would your platform compliment the stories you’re trying to tell? Would you start off simple with WordPress, or launch with something Django-based? What type of features would you want in your site to increase engagement with your product? Would you offer RSS, email newsletters, or content through social media?

Most importantly, what type of people do you look for to help you build your vision?