I recently gave a talk at the Melbourne Entrepreneurs Club. It was full of current and aspiring entrepreneurs – so I thought I’d lay out the top 10 things I think matter if we want to lead an independent life. Read here, one where you determine your own destiny, are not reliant on a corporation to feed you, and you have enough money (that little reality checker we have in our modern market place) to serve yourself and your family. It was just 10 ideas I wrote down on a piece of paper. I didn’t write an actual speech or have any slides. I just spoke from my heart after I wrote these 10 things down. Some of the ideas I had around the 10 things I thought had value, so I wanted to share them here, but also write down the thoughts so I didn’t lose them in the ether. Here they are:
1. The word Employee: If you’ve ever wondered why you don’t like how it feels to be an employee, it’s because you were never meant to be one. In fact, employees have only existed for a tiny portion of human existence – around 0.1%. If we look at this graph, you’ll see the word was hardly even used before the Industrial era. It’s totally normal to not want to be one.
2. Boss vs the Market: In a corporation our fortune is determined by our boss. If there is a mismatch, it makes it very hard to progress. There is nothing more frustrating than having a career thwarted by a manager who isn’t supporting us regardless of the quality of our work. In fact, the entire problem is that a sample size of 1 is not very robust. It’s a far better bet to place our skills on the market – to put what we do in the hands of many and let the true value of our work be judged by quantitative sample rather than a single opinion.
3. The Consumption Cycle: Often when we get trapped inside the corporate enclave, a sense of dissatisfaction occurs. I personally believe that we seek refuge through consumption. We buy things to justify the time, effort and pain being directed by others. We enter a consumption cycle to assuage the emptiness of working openly for the pay.
4. Savings and greatness: 20th century industrialist W. Clement Stone said that if we cannot learn to save, then the seeds of greatness are not inside us. It is the ultimate test of patience and delaying gratification. But more than that it opens up the door of possibility. I’ll go one step further and give you my ultimate savings hack. If you can save 50% of your income, you only ever need to work 1 year in every 2. It really is that simple. And during that ‘off year’ who knows what we might become.
5. You’re already an entrepreneur: It doesn’t matter whether we work for ourselves, our startup or a fortune 500. You are the CEO of your own personal services corporation. If you’re an employee, then you are simply an entrepreneur with one really important and big customer. Once we make this mind flip, we do better work and realise we need to invest in ourselves and deliver for others. That’s the start of more independent living.
6. Side Project Power: Side projects often become the front projects. How we experiment with our time invents new unforeseeable and unexpected revenue streams. I now make a living doing things I used to do after work. So the real question is what are you doing from 9pm-12am? If you’re watching TV, then you’re missing the greatest informal education opportunity humanity has ever had. Right now the market pays a premium for informal knowledge because quite frankly formal education is way behind.
7. The Woodchips: Often the wood chips have more value than the table. But we only ever find this out if we endure and make the table. The side effects of what we do has value, but we need to presence of mind to look behind us and see what we have left behind. This blog was a bunch of woodchips from when I left the corporate world 10 years ago. It was the seeds for my new book. You have wood chips. We all do, locate them and see what they may become.
8. Freelance Friction Removal: I’m starting to believe that anything we can get paid for as an employee, we can do as a freelancer. The recent revolution in freelancing websites has taught us we can find people to do for us what we can’t afford to pay for 5 days a week. Maybe we can pay them 2 days pay for 1 days effort, and result in 3 days output? The freelance friction is being removed and once the tasks are taken from the corporate HQ the time wastage also gets removed. The best advice I can give anyone trying to escape their cubicle for the first time is to start as a freelancer. From accounts payable, to marketing director – we can all do it now.
9. A Tools Revolution: We all now have the same super powers that were once the domain of the worlds most powerful corporations. We can connect with anyone, we can access a factory without owning it, the worlds information is available and free on line, we can do e-commerce with zero cost set up, we can advertise to a specific audience with zero wastage. It’s never been easier to start a business at low cost with the gift of free tools. Go.
10. The DNA of Australians: If you’re reading this in Australia (where I live) then entrepreneurship is in your DNA. The fact that you are here, means your forefathers crossed oceans in search of a better life. They probably came with nothing but their wit. We all have entrepreneurship running deeply through our veins. Best we make those who came before us proud.
In a very short period of time, opinions of anything can change. It wasn’t so long ago that these statements were made about the internet as a commercial platform:
- It’s for nerds. “Fine, you nerds can do what you want but normal people are never going to use this thing.”
- It’s completely decentralized, which means you can’t trust it. No business is ever going to do anything on it because businesses won’t work on an untrusted environment. There won’t ever be any e-commerce.
- There will never be any internet payments. No one will put their credit card on the internet.
- It’s an open-source kind of thing so there will be no Internet companies.
- It’s got all these technical deficiencies. It’s slow. It’s unreliable. It doesn’t work right. When you do a search, sometimes you get an answer back and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes when you dial in you get a busy signal.
- What happen if your ISP goes out of business? Then you can’t get back online.
- Once you get on the internet, even assuming you get on the internet, there’s nothing to do. There’s no content. Time magazine isn’t online, the New York Times isn’t online. It’s just a bunch of nerd stuff.
These classic soundbites come from Marc Andreessen in a recent interview while referencing those who think bitcoin will never be more than some kind of digital space oddity. While we are on the topic of economic change, it is telling to have a look at the market valuations of the top 10 internet companies. That is, companies less than 20 years old who could not have existed pre dot com. The US top 10 public companies now have an accumulated value of $1.168 trillion dollars.
- Google – $585 billion
- Facebook – $170 billion
- Amazon – $155 billion
- Ebay – $65 billion
- Priceline – $65 billion
- Yahoo – $36 billion
- Salesforce.com – $36 billion
- Twitter – $24 billion
- Linkedin – $21 billion
- Expedia – $11 billion
We can also add the upcoming float of Alibaba.com to this at anything between a further $120 to $200 billion.
This takes my mind directly to the potential of 3D printing, web of things and the solar energy industry. All of which are in their 1993 era. The only question remaining for entrepreneurs reading is this; What are you going to do about it?
It’s good to remind ourselves of what we already know. One of these things is the really important stuff which our financial position has no influence on. Here’s my top 10 list.
- Being a good family member: Integrity, love, caring, effort, understanding and being able to listen have no price.
- Our fitness levels: Having a gym membership, or exercise equipment is not a requirement. Walk, run, push up. Move.
- Eating health foods: The healthiest foods are the cheapest. Fruit, vegetables, raw oats, milk, water.
- Being happy: We’ll be as happy as we chose to be, right now. I know plenty of rich miserable people.
- Education: Library cards are free, all libraries have internet access. University courses are now free.
- Enjoying who we work with: If we don’t like who we work with, we can leave. We are not trees. Our roots are not fixed in the ground. Walk on.
- Giving: Sharing what we are lucky enough to already have costs nothing. Whether it is a physical good, advice, or knowledge. At the time of giving there is no price.
- Friendship: The to and fro of sharing life with a friend is a pure gift.
- Faith: Not necessarily the religious type, but the ability to believe in something, anything which makes the future a place worth arriving at.
- Work: The joy that comes from doing. The willingness to put in effort now, because it’s worth doing, not because of the reward.
Why did I decide to write this blog post? Well, last friday I had lunch with a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while. During the lunch I got to thinking about how there was nowhere I’d rather be at that moment. That no amount of wealth would change how enjoyable it was, or create a desire to be elsewhere. That moment was in itself one which existed outside of our financial construct. Turns out, that most of the important things do.
I teach marketing part time at Melbourne University, and many students come and ask me about what they should do in their post graduate studies. I tell them that post graduate studies are useless unless you want to be an academic or scientist. So here’s a top 10 list of things to do instead of post graduate studies which will make you more learned, more employable and a better entrepreneur:
- Learn a language (Mandarin or Spanish would be my recommendation)
- Start a blog (on the area you want to be an expert in)
- Master the art of public speaking
- Make your home Eco friendly
- Mentor someone
- Read one non fiction book per month on a new topic
- Learn a musical instrument
- Learn to grow food
- Renovate something (car, dinning setting, local park, house, tree house, anhything that can be renovated)
- Do a part time startup business.
The reason suggestions are more valuable than post graduate studies is that they create wide perspective, most post graduate studies narrow perspective. We are entering the age of symphony, where the real value in life and business is created by our ability to make commercial music from seemingly unrelated topics and ideas. Broadening your horizons will make you a better conductor of the symphony, or at very least give you some very interesting stories to share with those you want to do projects with.
Add your better than more ‘formal’ studies idea in the comments.
Here’s a little list of words that keep ringing in my head that I feel are changing the way we do business. I’ve written them each with a few thoughts beside them to stimulate your own view.
- Gifting - an emerging gift culture started with sharing information freely (Blogs, photos, ideas on the social web). This will start to iterate into a culture of providing actual goods to each other as gifts
- Gaming – human existence is defined by counting and gaming. Currency, bank accounts, salary, frequent flyer miles… and now smart phones will turn many brand relationships into games we can play. In many ways it will replace currency.
- Real time – the web used to be a repository of information written, found and filed for later retrial. It’s evolving into a what’s happening now forum. With live check ins (four square), live video (Qik / Ustream), status updates (Twitter). This will change they way we buy and interact on a commercial level.
- Geolocating – will permeate everything we do, and all the messages we receive.
- Community – it took the democratization of media via the web and fragmentation of media channels before we could regain our desire to interact at a community level, not just a consumer level. And we like it. We’ll never let people break down our communities again. It’s a social requirement we have built into our DNA.
- Apps – software is now personal. The difference with apps is that they are malleable. We co-create the code as we interact with them.
- Screen culture – TV isn’t dead, it’s just changed. It’s now web enabled and everywhere we go. Count how many screens you see today.
- Global currency - we now have perfect information on currency and conversions via the web. Our ability to arbitrage is being diminished. It’s only a matter of time before we create a global currency that crosses borders and oceans and automatically adjusts prices of everything we buy to a single lowest global price delivered. This has already happened historically as our world got bigger. First at a tribal level, then state level then national level. The globe is next.
- Related revenue – We’ll start making money less from what we actually do (writing a blog? / Google search?) and more from the stuff we do that lives around the edges.
- Project careers – Our careers wont be about having jobs, but a number of smaller iterations of projects that interest us. They’ll be higher paying, with breaks in between. This will be more profitable for all parties. Companies wont have the overhead drain of full time staff, and humans wont have the social drain of turning up to a place of work when there isn’t much on. We’ll transform what we do more frequently and fluently, we’ll be projecteers.