I have created something like four successful start-up companies now. It might be five…no..six? It depends on how you count. I’m not particularly good at running businesses (or counting them) but I would say that I’m abnormally good at launching them. I’ve got my fair share of failures out there, but my successes outnumber them, which I would like to blame on the quality of my ideas. 2D-Glasses let people watch 3D movies in 2D. VidCon is an opportunity for people who love online video to get together in the real world. EcoGeek excitedly discusses the technologies and innovations that will allow us to grow without destroying our planet. DFTBA Records helps new-media musicians make a living doing what they love. Vlogbrothers is…vlogbrothers, it’s like, the awesomest thing ever but I have no idea why.
Or maybe I do. Maybe Vlogbrothers is the awesomest thing I do because it’s not something that I do alone. It’s not even something that me and my brother and a team of highly-traned professionals do (like VidCon.) Vlogbrothers, and Nerdfighteria in general, is something that hundreds of thousands of people do simultaneously. We write DFTBA on our friend’s shoes, we gather around shared ideas, we work together planting thousands of trees or making it possible to create a John Green bobblehead or encouraging the youth of America to vote….for Chewbacca.
That’s why Nerdfighteria remains the strongest, most exciting, and coolest of my startups.
Here’s the thing about start-ups though, the goal (and anyone who invests in start-ups will tell you this) is the “exit.” If your company does really well and Google buys it for 10 M and your investor owns 40%, then your investor makes $4M and you make $6M. Your investor goes on his merry way and you keep working at your sweet new job at Google. Excellent exit, happy investor, successful start-up.
The exit is the goal of the start-up. It doesn’t take long to realize that Nerdfighteria, aside from being by far the coolest thing I have ever (or probably will ever) do, is a complete failure using this metric. There is no exit, and thus Nerdfighteria is a failure as a business.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I think that any system that even implies that Nerdfighteria is a failure is Grade-A, Herp Derp quality B.S. Nerdfighteria is possibly the most successful business of all time. Why? Because people invest in it without any interest in compensation. Vondell Swain keeps designing beautiful wallpapers, Nerdfighters keep sending me dollar bills to give to Water.org, John’s new novel will remain the first to ever hit #1 on Amazon before the cover was released, and three times a week, 150,000 people take four minutes out of their day to learn something that they wouldn’t have known before.
Time, money, effort, genius, inspiration…all of these thing are poured into this venture with absolutely nothing given in return, except for community. And the community has values that we cannot betray. We cannot try to sneak in product placements, we cannot try to sell things that we are not proud of, we cannot be prejudiced or un-thinking or un-caring. Nerdfighteria relies on the values of not two people, but of 200,000. We rely on intelligence and empathy and understanding and curiosity, and if we betray those values, we’ll get our exit, in the form of everyone abandoning us.
Luckily, we cannot betray those values because, unlike nearly every other company in the world, the consumers are the company. We cannot betray the values of our community any more than an employee at Coke could work to decrease profits. And yet…despite the fact that we are absolutely enslaved by our community, we still make money and it remains the most exciting and best job I’ve ever had.
And sure, it works for a video blog, but video blogs are silly and simple and well-suited to community. But you can’t make a car that way…or a housing development…or a social network…can you?
What if you could?
That’s what we’ll talk about tomorrow in Part 3.
Hank, this is wonderful. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this thoughtful venture.