Balancing between a cause and money, without becoming a greedy bastard
There were two driving forces behind my first serious online venture, Libervis.com. One was to do something good, for a good cause, to become part of a movement that makes a world a better place. The second was to eventually make some money doing this, hopefully some day enough to make a living off of it. Of course, the third motivating component is implied, that it is something I actually like doing and since it was work on a computer, on the internet, creating something new, it very well did fit the description of what I liked doing.
However, from day one it was a learning experience. Relative to where I am today I would say that in July 2004, when all this was just starting up, I was quite a newbie. I couldn’t even write english well. I didn’t even know all the ins and outs of the Free Software movement the site was all about. I sure as hell didn’t know about how exactly to make money off of it. I just knew it was by paid advertising. I didn’t even have a way to receive any money.
So for all intents and purposes it was a well intentioned hobby project with hope of at some point becoming a real business.
Today, I’m not sure if I can exactly describe it as a real business, all things considered, but I do cover my costs and the network is indeed capable of slow expansion. I’ve started two major sites and I have my own VPS server used as an incubator for any new potential projects. I also have a way to receive and send money online too, quite easily at that. We could say I’ve come a long way. Heck, I’ve even been to an international conference about the topic of my sites. I could only dream about something like that 3 years ago.
However, when I really think about it, for no particularly good reason I’ve been holding back on fullfilling that second objective behind starting out on the web – making money. Every time I thought about doing something on the web it had to involve the question “so how would this help that cause, Free Software, Free Culture, digital freedom and related concepts in general” etc. This ultimately limited the options I could see and limited my potential. In other words, from day one and all the way up to this point it was more about the cause and doing what I love to do than it was about making money while doing it too. Money.. it was a mere necessity, something that must be generated to be able to keep going.
But here is the thing. I will never be able to call myself a real entrepreneur if I get stuck in that kind of thinking forever. It doesn’t lead to real progress in financial terms. It leads to perpetual strive to make ends meet, just as in a real day job. And if I merely strive to make ends meet, in the rest of time working on the cause I’ll never have enough juice to accomplish those BIG dreams and ambitions, eventually falling into periods of lost motivation and depression… because the ambitious for the cause keep running out of cash necessary for their fulfillment.
The reality of the world is that you need the juice, you need the money to achieve ambitions. And money for making ends meet is not going to be enough for it. Instead of going around looking for sponsors to pay for prizes for the upcoming Freedomware Gamefest we are organizing, how about having enough money to pay for prizes myself? How about making Libervis.com a place that would REALLY make impact on the way people think about the world? How about myself becoming a gold sponsor of GNU/Linux Matters organization, a patron of the FSF, a monthly donor to many other causes I genuinely care about? I’ve seriously many times found myself in situations when I wanted to give quite a bit, but I was afraid because my margins just aren’t that secure. Sure I give $10 a month to FSF and make an occasional donation, but that’s something everyone with a day-to-day job can do. What if I want to do more?
Then I need to do more!
So I’ve decided to cut myself loose here. It’s time that I take a step further. The only way I can make Libervis Network truly grow is to secure the largest possible funds for it, the largest possible margins from which to invest, just as it is the only way I can finally fix up my own nerdy life too.
It’s time to balance things out. If I don’t do this I’ll never give enough attention to the financial side of the story enough to guarantee that it all just doesn’t crash on me one day, like the recent changes in Google ranking systems implied these days.What happened there is just a well sent reminded that financials are not just something you get lucky with, just some links you put on a site and forget about them until it’s time to renew, working on the real projects and cause in the mean time. It’s just not the way it can secure the future. I need to start paying more attention to that other side of the story.
Therefore I will split up my time and efforts in two parts. First one will be dedicated to work on maintaining and growing existing sites, working on new projects like Freedomware Gamefest or the Libervis 2008 revision and also starting new sites as part of the initiative of promoting digital freedom. The second part will be dedicated to working on ways to generate substantial revenues including starting web sites about things not necessarily related to digital freedom as long as they don’t go against it. That second part is going to be about making absolutely sure that the funds keep flowing in, that not all my eggs are in one basket, that I some day become capable of becoming the big sponsor of the future in which digital freedom won over digital dystopia.
And I WILL make it happen!
People say money corrupts. Indeed, but when you don’t care so much about money as much about doing things you love and contributing to things you care about, then money is merely like energy needed for you to do these things. This obviously doesn’t mean that we should keep this energy low so that people don’t mistake us for “greedy bastards”. That’s just stupid.
I say this. Do as much as you can to make as much money as possible as long as you follow the following rules:
- Do not oppress or contribute to oppression of freedom. Don’t make money on expense of somebody’s rights.
- Do not buy into too much luxury. Re-invest money into projects that will either generate more money without breaking any of these rules or invest into a class of projects for positive world change.
- Do not disrespect those who you serve, EVER! The whole way of making money is by serving somebody, not exploiting somebody. NEVER EVER fall into a trap of considering your customers, your site visitors as just an automatic money making wheel. They are sacred! Their wishes are LAW! If they keep saying you have too many ads on your site, you MUST comply and scale it down. If they say something may not be exactly ethical or that you made too much of a compromise, LISTEN and CHANGE things (or don’t even get yourself in a situation in which people would have to warn you’re doing something as bad).
- Seek fulfillment in larger issues, not piles of money that can buy anything. A better future (for me personally an ongoing vision is “Star Trek” future), something that will capture imagination and passion so much that you’ll never care about money anything but something you can invest into making that future happen.
And that’s a way I hope to become financially successful without becoming a greedy bastard.