The Great Patreon Debacle, and What it Means for Independent Creators

By | Business, Creativity

I’ve raptly followed the recent Patreon controversy, eager to understand why one of the lifeblood services of so many independent creators inadvertently alienated and infuriated the very creators and patrons they serve.

How did this happen? What does it mean for creators?

What Went Wrong in Patreonland

A few weeks ago Patreon suddenly announced an impending change to the financial relationship between creators and patrons. It sounded reasonable on the face of it — simplifying some complexity in how and when payments occur — but it actually upended some core values of their community, and destroyed an enormous amount of trust in the process. After a swift and strong negative response, Patreon ended up reversing the change, but it’s surfaced a lot of issues around creative funding and the infrastructure that powers it.

I saw Patreon’s initial email announcement and my first reaction was curiosity, not anger. But then, I’m not a creator relying on this platform for my livelihood — and as I realized how big a mess this was becoming I became very interested in the deeper reasons why this announcement sparked such a backlash.

Read More

My Gift to You: A Bounty of Billion-Dollar Business Ideas

By | Business, Creativity | No Comments

One night not so very long ago, my self-imposed daily writing word count goal loomed. But I was feeling like a sleepy dumb rhinoceros, and didn’t know what to write about.

So, I decided to play a game. It worked like this: J would prompt me with problems — potential gold mines of of disruption potential, as we’d say in the vernacular of innovation — and I would come up with solutions.

What resulted? Why, nothing less than a surprisingly fertile bounty of billion-dollar business ideas!

But alas, I’ve no time to build every business. So, I’m sharing these results with you. Read More

Kickstarter’s Great Nonprofit Innovation

They just launched something special. Here’s to hoping it continues!

By | Business, Technology | No Comments

Yesterday I was excited to see the announcement of a joint initiative between Kickstarter and The White House: a special Kickstarter campaign intended to raise funds to aid refugees. One day in and they’ve raised over $1.1 million, and still going strong.

This is the first time Kickstarter has done something like this. Right now it’s a one-off campaign, prominently highlighted and heavily promoted, but not currently integrated into the core of the platform.

First, I want to applaud everyone who made this happen, from Josh Miller and the White House to Yancey Strickler and the Kickstarter team! Thanks also to other companies like Twitter, Instacart, and Airbnb for working with the White House to leverage their platforms for good. I’m focusing on Kickstarter because I know it best, but many are helping in these efforts.

Second, I want to urge Kickstarter to run with this idea, and make it something bigger. Because as laudable as this is as a one-off campaign, it’s also a seed with tremendous potential to change the future of philanthropy. Read More

Jiro, Mastery, and Limitations: Philosophies on Work and Learning

By | Business, Creativity, Life | One Comment

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an intimate portrait of mastery, an exploration of the practiced art and craft of one of the world’s best sushi chefs, through the lens of his daily routine and philosophy of training and practice. In many ways, it’s about asymptotically approaching perfection, and the process of constant learning.

Jiro’s approach towards training and education particularly stands out. He’s dedicated his life towards the focused — you could say singleminded, but it’s in fact surprisingly rich and complex — pursuit of mastery and excellence in creating and serving sushi. This includes everything from sourcing the best fish, preparing the best rice, spending hours or even days preparing ingredients, paying incredibly close attention to details of presentation and service before and during the meal — in short, crafting an entire seamless experience that’s as orchestrated and as close to perfect as possible.

His belief is that by working incredibly hard and consistently at a high level for a very long time(a lifetime, let’s say) one can gradually refine a skill and become one of the best in the world. But at the same time: there’s no ultimate pinnacle but rather a continual process of learning and improving. Read More

The Future of Work is Exciting as Hell But I Still Don’t Want to Be Your Wage Slave

By | Business, Life | No Comments

Let’s not forget to humanize the new economy.

This recent Medium article describes the changing nature of work — the rise of the on-demand economy, fragmented freelance work and emerging marketplaces for labor.

It gives a reasonably accurate description of trends in the labor market, at least along one vector. On another level, it’s a propaganda piece (native advertising) sponsored by a platform (Upwork) that perpetuates the commodification of human capital. While I won’t deny that the observed trends may hold significant benefits, I think they also pose implications that are more insidious.

This piece presents the shift from single-employer to a mishmash of “micro-careers” as something revolutionary, a new path for career empowerment. To me, though, it seems more often another way of extracting surplus value from workers and leaving them beholden to those entities that retain most of the keys to the economic kingdom. The main difference: now instead of having one boss, you might have a dozen, or you might have one (e.g. Uber, Taskrabbit) with whom your relationship is amorphous and unstable. Read More

Kickstarting the Creative Funding Future

By | Business, Creativity, Technology | No Comments

In this essay, I examine the creative funding landscape, using Kickstarter as a lens through which to explore questions of value, community, and the link between arts and commerce. 

Some of the topics I cover include: what the best source of funding might be for creative projects; how we can (and can’t) measure or approximate the types of value and incentives that lead people to back such projects; the special hybrid of gift and market economies, and the nascent web of networks and communities, that Kickstarter engenders; and the applicability of potential models of “equity” to the space between Kickstarter and the venture capital-driven world of startups.

My starting premise is that Kickstarter is the most successful model we currently have for supporting creative projects; the purpose of this essay is to interrogate that assumption, to consider the reasons behind the company’s success and continued growth, and think about what solutions the future might bring as various funding platforms continue to evolve.


I’d like to talk about the present and future state of funding for creative endeavors. I speak with a fair amount of both first and secondhand knowledge, but am constantly learning more about the full implications of the myriad platforms, systems, opportunities, and pitfalls that are evolving daily. If this topic interests you as well, I’d love for you to join me in the conversation.

The big question that I take as a starting point is: on whom does the arts-funding onus lie? Who do we want to fund creative projects, who is realistically capable of it, and who do we expect will do it? I suspect there may be many answers to each question. But the core question seems to be: should market forces dominate, or are creativity and art “greater goods” that society as a whole (read: government) must be obligated to support? Read More

Learning CS and Entrepreneurship Online: Resources and Tools (Part 3 of 3)

By | Business, Education, Technology | 2 Comments

In the past several months I’ve tried to immerse myself in learning and technology. I’ve thought a lot about various methods and resources for learning, and paid particular attention to the new models constantly being developed and deployed. I’ve tried to take advantage of online resources and information networks wherever I can, and have been constantly amazed by the ubiquity of high-quality content.

I’ve focused in particular on learning some fundamentals of computer science (including basic theoretical precepts and a few of the most common languages like HTML, CSS, and Python) and entrepreneurship (including a grounding in business concepts as well as praxis of starting and running a company). For both, my level of interest and intensity of study have fluctuated, and I realize I’m only beginning to gain a sense of these topics and the various branches and subfields that I continue to find. I find myself hardly grasping the basics of rudimentary CS concepts, but already feel a certain fascination in topics such as data science and web application design; likewise as I read about entrepreneurship I’ve started to develop interests in management, sales and marketing, project management and strategy…the list is ever-expanding.

I feel like I’m still just beginning—while this is post 3/3 in my introductory series on the topic, it seems to me more accurately part three out of hundreds or thousands. But for the time being I have to stop somewhere, and artificially conclude, at least in writing, the “initialization” of my journey.

Read More

The Micro-Consulting Revolution—And Beyond

By | Business, Media | 2 Comments

These days, it seems everyone and their mother is available for some sort of niche consulting. This is both insane—how can so much deep niche expertise exist?—and incredible, because it means that there is an increasingly robust free-market exchange of these varying flavors of expertise that somewhere, somehow, must be creating a tremendous amount of value.

Anyone with a modicum of expertise in a topic others are interested in, and passable self-promotional abilities, can be a consultant. These days, all it takes is competency in a niche and the ability to let people know you exist; credentials are a twentieth-century relic, and a smart guy or gal with a blog following has the potential to earn more than any first year at Bain, McKinsey, or BCG.

I’ll be the first to tell you—I don’t know that much about anything in particular. Hardly anyone my age does. But although I’m not currently working as a consultant, many of my friends (my age—23) are, and I believe it’s a type of work that lends itself well to the chameleonic minds of young people like me who, incubated in the intellectual bathhouse of the modern university, are being birthed into the wider world with an overabundance of ideas.

I’m confident enough to brand my peculiar obsessions and interests as areas of expertise; able to recognize that some of my knowledge, creative- and critical-thinking skills, and problem solving abilities are valuable, and monetizable to varying degrees; and I’m interested in leveraging these abilities and interests to both help others and make money.

Read More

Learning CS and Entrepreneurship Online: New Educational Paradigms (Part 2 of 3)

By | Business, Education, Technology | No Comments

Part two of a three-part series on how I’m seeking out and testing different (free!) methods of learning about computer science and entrepreneurship online.

On the tech front, after perusing the online course offerings of MIT, Harvard, and Stanford, I settled on MIT’s “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming” as a point of entry into the intimidating world of programming. This course is taught in Python, which I’ve read favorable things about as a gateway-language. I started out leaning toward Ruby due to the huge (and evangelistic) Rails community, and may still try to pick it up at some point, but I (mostly arbitrarily) decided to go with Python for now because the MIT course looked great, I’ve found several other great resources for learning it, and the consensus seems to be that it’s a bit easier then Ruby for beginners to pick up. I’ve done some cursory reading about other languages, from historical overviews of C and Java to Paul Graham’s paeans to LISP, but most languages other than Python and Ruby seemed way too intimidating to start with.

My first main goal is to gain a high-level familiarity and basic proficiency with Python, as well as a broad (if cursory) understanding of computational and systems thinking. I’m convinced learning to think in hacker-mode will have tremendous crossover value in how I approach other problems, and will make learning complex things easier as I continue. I’m interested as well in the history of computer science, and in web design/architecture. Concerning the latter, I’ve read up a bit on HTML/CSS, and now have a pretty good theoretical grasp on how design and technology intersect when it comes to designing for the web, but for now I’d rather practice deepening my fundamental programming skills and rely on the genius of WordPress (and its amazing plugins and themes) to take care of my own website needs.

Read More

Learning CS and Entrepreneurship Online: New Educational Paradigms (Part 1 of 3)

By | Business, Education, Technology | No Comments

I like to think of myself as the curious type, eager to deepen my understanding of how things work, refusing to stop thinking about potentialities and questioning the things I read and see. One one level, I’m certainly too young to be an expert at anything. But, to frame things in a different way, I (and others of my generation) have access to greater resources, both depth and breadth, than anyone before me.

This is obvious, but nonetheless astounding. Amidst the glut of startups caught in the social media-maelstrom (and clinging to its edges) and proliferation of consumers-cum-creators, one current development that strikes me as particularly profound is the evolution—a paradigm shift, really—taking place in education.

What started as a wiki-sensibility and a handful of major universities rolling out online course offerings has snowballed into an information-rich landscape of resources through which people can not only dabble in tutorials and courses, but also teach one another, become part of learning communities, and contribute to a vast growing corpus of knowledge.

Read More