This post is about the idea I thought of last time that has actually affected my own life an enormous amount, possibly even more than the other two ideas I wrote about earlier. This is the story of how I realized that it is possible for anybody to start a business, and the creation of Sixpence Games.
You know what? I should not have tried to come up with an ordering as to which of these ideas are the most important. I'm just gonna keep writing things, forget which of them are the most significant, that's not the thing to pay attention to. Anyways! On with the content.I don't think I'm unusual in that regard, but I might be. Everybody in my (rather large) extended family was either a doctor, a professor, or worked in a cubicle. There are some exceptions: I have an uncle who's in construction and another who invents things and sells them to big companies who then make and sell them. But the prescribed career paths for me were 1) academia, 2) a cubicle. I briefly flirted with being a medical doctor, but I don't have the memory or passion needed, and so I returned to my first true love: mathematics.
When I was growing up, I didn't know anybody who had started a business.
Despite a decently impressive CV (oh god that site is ancient and embarrassing, don't actually click that), when the time came to apply for graduate schools, none of them gave me sufficient funding to counteract the cost and actually live off of. This was the derailment of my intended career path of bright kid -> decent college student -> lazy grad student -> post docs are a thing? -> tenure track professorship -> lounge around thinking about shapes and smoking a pipe in my tweed jacket all day.
I was completely at a loss as to what to do. Working in a cubicle was like living in suburbia: I genuinely think that doing that would lead me to a life not worth living, followed by suicide. Ennui taken to the nihilistic void it inevitably trends towards.
So, needless to say, I was pretty scared.
Fortunately, just as I graduated from Uni and was about to be thrust into the cold, uncaring world, I was accepted that summer into Rationality Boot Camp, a 9 week course on the subject matter that I discussed in my previous post on Modern Rationality. Because this was the first such camp they had run, it was free. (later camps have been a weekend or week long). I learned a great deal, made a good many friendships, got hired by a rich retired programmer/philanthropist to be a butler/personal assistant/executive director of his philanthropic fund, and got exposed to this idea for the first time in my life:
Anybody can start a business.
No way, man. Businesses are these magical things that are either way too big for anybody to have made, or else the only people who can make them are rich people who have all sorts of resources and training that only they can get in their, I dunno, business school, or from their parents, or the Freemasons. Surely such a thing is not something that you can just... do. What would that even mean? What is a business, anyway?
That was my reaction. I eventually learned enough that I could put all those fears to rest, and in the process, I also finally learned what people in high school and college had meant when they went on and on about how we needed to develop "leadership" without ever actually explaining anything about what that would look like. A business is when somebody figures out a thing that people would be willing to pay money for-a good or service-figures out what would be needed to make that good or service come into existence, does that thing, and gets people to give them money for it. Now, in this form, I had been vaguely aware of the business idea, but I categorized that as basically being the same thing as freelancing. For instance, people will pay money for pretty pictures, so if I have graphic design skills, I could let people know about that and then they could hire me to make specific pictures. Or I could do something a little more personal: I could make pictures that I decided to make, and then let people know about them, and then they could buy those.
Both of those are totally legitimate forms of business. I don't have any particular skills that I trust myself in enough to market that way, though, and so I had never considered them. What blew my mind, though, was this last kind of business:
You can get other people to do work for you.
If you have an idea for a thing people will pay money for, and you can't do it all on your own, you can arrange for other people to do it, and give them some of the money, and keep some of the money for yourself. This was world-shaking to me. You can get other people to do things for you? You can work on a project where you only have one of the skills, or maybe even none of the skills, and as long as it's you doing the coordination of everyone else, you can have control over it and keep part of the money?
This was an incredible revelation to me. This, by the way, is what Leadership means: being good at getting people to do things in a timely, efficient, and effective manner.
I can make boardgames. Armed with this new knowledge, I promptly spent a year thinking about business ideas, reading books, blogs, and essays about startups, small businesses, and lifestyle businesses, and doing a million other things that took up time and made me feel "productive" without actually producing anything. Granted, I was also doing a lot of other stuff at the time with my actual job, relationship, living in the Bay, and failing at learning programming (so hard without a project you care about), so I wasn't just wasting time.And then it hit me:Well, I can design the rules of a boardgame. I can't make any of the art needed for one. I certainly can't manufacture them. But you know what? There are professionals out there who can do all of those things. And so after a great deal of effort to prepare the mechanics of the game, I went out and hired an artist, Andrea Renaisse, a manufacturer, Panda Games Manufacturing, and even a musician, Brent Hengeveld, because why should videogames be the only ones with theme music?
So I ran a Kickstarter. Kickstarter, for those who are unaware, is probably the most revolutionary economic idea that's been created in my lifetime. It's a crowdfunding platform. You go on there, describe your project, say how much money you need to raise for it ($20,000 in my case), and list a bunch of rewards you'll give people if they donate (in my case, most of it was copies of Professor Pugnacious, though there was also a significant amount raised from "Andrea will put your face on one of the cards if you donate $500" reward). You then set a time limit-usually 1 or 2 months, with 1 being recommended. Then you try to get people to donate to it. When somebody donates, they're not actually charged any money. When the time limit ends, if you have raised enough money, everybody gets charged, and you get the money, and you go on to make your project. On the other hand, if you don't raise enough money by the time your time is up, nobody gets charged, and your project is cancelled. Kickstarter is the most famous crowdfunding platform, but not the only one. If you can't use it because you live outside the US/Britain, or because your project doesn't meet their guidelines, try Pozible or IndieGoGo or one of the other alternatives. I do recommend Kickstarter over those, because they bring in a lot of traffic from people just browsing Kickstarter. That's how I got a third of my funding.
This is revolutionary, because it means that in order to start a business, you don't need to be rich, you don't need to go around to venture capitalists and beg them for money, all you need to do is figure out whether the market exists for what you're making. If it does, you can sell directly to them
That's pretty much all there is to it. Figure out something that people will pay for, figure out what is needed to get that made, figure out whose help you'll need to get those things done, figure out how to get them to help you (usually, but not always, money), then most likely run a crowdfunding campaign, and then start selling to people! I am now the owner and operator of Sixpence Games. It's not bringing in enough money for me to live off of, but fortunately for me, my beloved partner is bringing in enough at her job. She's also learned enough from where she's currently working that she is starting her own company in the same field once we move to NYC. I'm doing this full time, but I could easily do it in my spare time if I had to work a normal job-I'm very fortunate that I don't have to, and so I can dedicate my time to doing this and being a househusband (which takes significantly more of my time). That means that in the modern era, anyone can start a business in their spare time, with no investment of capital.
I highly recommend you do this. I've learned an incredible amount during the past year. Professor Pugnacious is on the slow boat from China to the USA from where it will be distributed (oh yeah, forgot to mention: I have a contract with a distributor, too. One more thing I don't need to do myself). In addition to arranging all that, I have also finished the design of another game and started on two more.
Businesses as Meme-Creatures
This the first opportunity really make the meme-creature work for you, the ape! If you start a business, at first it's just you forcing everything to happen. Nothing will happen without you making it. But then, (and I haven't reached this phase yet, so don't take this as expert advice), you can reach the point where the fledgling meme-creature leaves the nest and takes wing on its own. This is when you have only other people working on it and you retire, and it keeps going. You're not forcing anything to happen, things are just happening because the meme-creature is making them. This is the phase that you want to get to if your goal is huge piles of money. This is the phase that every business that outlives its founder is in.
The scary part is when the meme-creature becomes more powerful than anyone working for it, or even the creator. No one who works at Disney could possibly stop Disney from doing whatever it wants.