The difference between a marketplace and a community

It’s hard to overstate how much power online platforms now have across the globe.

They enable us to easily book a room in São Paulo, scan the news headlines in Nairobi, search for a job in Wellington, and connect us to the people, products, and services around us.

The dominant model for all of this activity is the modern marketplace.

Amazon, Airbnb, Didi Chuxing, Uber, Stripe, WeWork, these are all marketplaces, designed for people to buy and sell products and/or services. The model also extends to social media, where platforms like Facebook have marketplace features and are also viewed as a marketplace for information, ideas exchanged, views shared, beliefs tested etc.

But a marketplace isn’t a community, and as it turns out the difference matters quite a bit.

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Do 85% twice

Every now and then, someone “explains” to the internet what 10x looks like.

Sometimes they do it with a good deal of expertise, like Ken Norton’s 10x Not 10% post from a few years ago breaking down how to think much bigger. Often it’s done with less finesse, like this recent thread of tweets about the mystical 10x engineer from Shekhar Kirani of Accel Ventures.

In those cases, writers choose to weigh the obvious (that some people have extraordinary talent) over the also obvious (glorifying + excusing behavior of high performers actually destroys teams).

There may be some value to aiming very high and never accepting the possibility of failure, but another way to look at it is that the best people on a team never aim for 10x. They get to 85% of what they can see should exist, make sure it works + everyone is involved/understands it, and then once they're done they go back and do 85% again with a result far better.

Simply put, they just move faster than everyone else, they’re more iterative, and they are willing to consider outcomes other people don’t. That doesn’t require any inherent genius (though in some cases it helps), and it doesn’t have to destroy the people around them either.

Long story short: if you do 85% x 2, you’ll almost always learn more and get closer to the moon pie in the sky idea you had anyway.

Who is it for

At the beginning of every new venture, there is one question that matters…

Who is it for?

Often, our dream is for the new thing to reach as many people as possible. “Everyone!” we respond, knowing that what we are working on has the potential to change the world.

Experienced founders know this is a trap. You can always increase the scope of what you’re working on later, but growth begins by focusing on specific audiences and communities.

This is why we unconsciously dismiss brands or organizations that churn out huge and life-changing promises, but don’t deliver the specifics. We know, of course, that it is hard to change the world but seek relationships where people deliver on their promises.

At every moment, ask yourself, who is this for? And if you aspire to develop a strong and broad community …the answer isn’t “the ceo” or “the board” or “me.”

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Frameworks for creatives / entrepreneurs / startups

About 5 years ago I started collecting frameworks. 

At the time, I'd just made the jump from a more corporate situation to a venture-backed startup in San Francisco. As an operations manager, I was basically put in charge of structuring and opening new product lines, both from a technical and brand/marketing perspective. 

No matter what I was working on, there was always a jump, a gap to be hopped across that included some risk. Usually, that meant finding a way to test or experiment, and then operationalizing what I learned into product growth.

The end result rarely matched the early expectations. Over time I started absorbing different approaches, including the lean startup, agile, and customer development focused models that entrepreneurs like Steve Blank champion. 

I also noticed that no matter what you were working on - turning a passion into a business, starting a startup, working at being a working musician, artist, designer, writer, or other creative - a 50 page, 5-year plan pretty much becomes obsolete within a year. 

Enter frameworks. I started collecting them in a public google doc and sharing them.

Truth is, most of the time you need a minimum amount of planning, think of it as structuring an experiment, but until you have validation that something works putting a ton of time and/or money into it doesn't make sense. 

Frameworks fill the gap that occurs early on in any idea, project or business, they illustrate the risk you're taking, and in some cases make clear the risks you don't want to take. 

5 years on, that document now includes frameworks for connecting online / finding jobs, spec'ing creative work, pitching a story to media and journalists, marketing from scratch for creatives and startups alike, evaluating data, and testing your own beliefs about your product. 

I also deliberately created frameworks that are gender neutral, and that aimed at increasing access to startups, tech, entrepreneurship, and creativity.

At the most basic level, having a clear framework for each new product, project, idea, etc. gives the creative or entrepreneur a place to start. It makes the unknown knowable, and opens up opportunities.

Last but not least, a good framework also spurs the best kind of questions, the ones that haven't been answered and/or don't already have a financial or business purpose, as Olia Lialina notes in an essay on media, mediums, technology, and art

"...take time to formulate questions that can not be answered by monopolies or by observing the monopolies."  

 

The connection between creatives, value, and survival

A few weeks ago I gave a talk for CreativeMornings on survival, being a child of immigrants, and what I've learned about networks and value. 

I rarely give public talks like this one, but it got me thinking about how we tend to frame startups, founders and tech as creating and uncovering value, while art, music, writing and other forms of creative work need "support," or are tagged as philanthropic activities instead of core parts of both our society and economy. 

We recently conducted a survey for ABQ Creates (which I've been running for about a year) that covered responses from 369 creatives in a variety of industries. 40-percent of respondents listed their total household income as $35,000 or less, with 25-percent making $25,000 or less.

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