Not Everyone Wants to be an Entrepreneur

In a post titled “The End of Quiet Music,” Alina Simone discusses her dive into a solo venture to promote an album, failing, and learning what went wrong. Her story is interesting because she found a voice, later, through writing. She begins:

Not long before my first album was released in 2005, I spent a summer in Russia interviewing small business owners. An American microfinance organization had sent me there to gather rosy statistics and uplifting stories about how their loans had improved the lives of this new crop of entrepreneurs.

Instead, I would arrive in some city with a recently gutted economy, only to have men and women selling knockoff jeans or fruit from Uzbekistan tell me the same thing: they missed the factory. That is, their old jobs working at some inefficient Soviet enterprise. They didn’t like the financial uncertainty of their new jobs or the longer hours. They missed being able to check out at the end of the day. Many of them were less happy with the work itself. I heard the same thing again and again: Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur.

At the time, I felt confused — what was so bad about being your own boss? Their words only resonated with me years later, when I abandoned my music career.

The realities of forced entrepreneurship in the music business hit me when, in 2010, the label that released my previous two albums went bankrupt. By the time its Web site vanished without warning one day, I was already done recording a record. Rather than cast about for another struggling indie label, I decided to go the route of so many other bands and put the album out myself. 

Alina mentions that she’s been friends with Amanda Palmer (who raised more than $1.2 million on Kickstarter) since middle school, but that even Amanda has

worried publicly about what the future will hold for the artists who refuse to roll up their sleeves and join the self-promotional melee — tweeting, fund-raising and “incentivizing fans” to run “jampaigns.” 

Her conclusion is a strong one:

We’ve placed the entire onus of changing-with-the-times on musicians, but why can’t the educational, cultural and governmental institutions that support the arts adapt as well, extending the same opportunities to those whose music provides the soundtrack to our lives? If they don’t, Darwinism will probably ensure that only the musical entrepreneurs survive. I can’t say if the world of music will be better or worse off if that happens, but it will certainly be a lot louder.

Georgia Tech’s Starter: Crowdfunding for Science Research

Starter is an independent crowdfunding site based out of Georgia Tech. think backing cool science projects à la Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. The projects that appear on Starter must be submitted by a faculty member. They’re also vetted by a department chair, who looks for conflicts of interest. Projects will be posted on the site for 60 days, and donors will only be charged if the funding goals are reached (similar to Kickstarter and IndieGoGo).

Here is a description of one project that caught my eye, The Georgia Tech Urban Honey Bee Project:

Wiring our beehives will not only allow students to collect large amounts of data about the impact of urban environments on bees, but will also allow us to share this information with the public and to easily participate in other ongoing research like NASA’s Honey Bee Net, which uses beehive data to track the effects of climate and land use change. We also plan to live-stream video from inside and outside the hive on our website, bees.gatech.edu.

We will use the RFID system to determine whether urban bees require longer foraging flights to find nectar and pollen than bees in suburban or rural settings. RFID detectors will be set at the entrances to the hives. Tiny RFID tags will be attached to bees and we will then be able to measure the foraging flight times of individual bees.

This concept isn’t unique to Georgia Tech. As Fast Company notes:

Automatic government spending cuts that went into effect this year have made grants harder to come by, and Georgia Tech isn’t the only research institution that has sought to fund its researchers through crowdfunding. Arizona State University and the University of Virginia have both partnered with a crowdfunding site called Useed. The University of Vermont has partnered with another called Launcht. And the University of Utah has partnered with still another called RocketHub.

One of my concerns is that the funded projects will take a large percentage (35%) as a fee for running the review process, site administration, and lab facility upkeep. But Starter appears to be promising and a great way for people to “invest” in science projects which they think are interesting.

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Read more:

1) Georgia Tech’s press release in May 2013, before the site went live.

2) Stephen Fleming’s blog post on Starter and crowdfunding.

Kickstarter as Entertainment

The latest Kickstarter darling is OUYA: “a new kind of video game console” that connects to your HDTV like a PlayStation but allows anyone to publish games for it. The company behind the device raised their $1 million target in eight hours, and at the moment, more than 40,000 users have contributed more than $5 million to the campaign. Ian Bogost, a video game designer and professor at Georgia Tech, has an interesting theory about Kickstarter and its backers:

Kickstarters are dreams, and that’s their strength rather than their weakness. People back projects on Kickstarter to fund the development of a new creative work or a consumer product that might never see the light of day via traditional financing. But what if Kickstarter is more about the experience of kickstarting than it is about the finished products? When you fund something like OUYA, you’re not pre-ordering a new console that will be made and marketed, you’re buying a ticket on the ride, reserving a front-row seat to the process and endorsing an idea. It’s a Like button attached to your wallet.

The fact that OUYA raised so much money so fast speaks more to our fantasies than the market reality. Whether or not OUYA will disrupt the console business is beside the point–no one could predict such a thing anyhow–the pleasure we get from imagining that possibility is highly valuable.

Citing a pen for which he paid $100, Bogost concludes:

When faced with the reality of these products, disappointment is inevitable–not just because they’re too little too late (if at all) but for even weirder reasons. We don’t really want the stuff. We’re paying for the sensation of a hypothetical idea, not the experience of a realized product. For the pleasure of desiring it. For the experience of watching it succeed beyond expectations or to fail dramatically. Kickstarter is just another form of entertainment. It’s QVC for the Net set. And just like QVC, the products are usually less appealing than the excitement of learning about them for the first time and getting in early on the sale.

Myself? I’ve only funded one Kickstarter project. And I was sorely disappointed with the final product. So Ian Bogost’s post resonated with me.

On Ideas and Starting a Company

In a post that’s over three years old now, Derek Sivers muses on why you’d want to start a company of your own (hint: it’s about execution of your ideas):

When I was at CD Baby, I’d be able to play with new ideas immediately. (“What if we had a $5 sale?” “What if I could co-op card swipers?” “What if I could go multi-lingual?”) Any time I had an idea, I’d be able to test it out within days.

But now, for the first time in 10 years, since I had no company, I couldn’t test out these new ideas! All I could do was read, think, and maybe write about it. Damn!

Then I realized why I need to start a new company. Not for the money. Not because I’m “bored”. But because a company is a laboratory to try your ideas. (The word “laboratory” is defined as a room for research, experimentation or analysis. I think of it as a sandbox or playpen.)

I think Sivers downplays the boredom aspect in his post, but it’s still excellent advice. My other thought: what if you could execute on your ideas via your art rather than by founding a company? For an example of what I mean, check out what Seth Godin is doing with a Kickstarter campaign.

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(HT: Swiss Miss)