You Don’t Have To Build A Business To Build Value

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Forty-four weeks ago I started a thing.

As with most things, I wasn’t sure what it would be when I started it.

I called it A Person You Should Know and at the time all I knew was it would be a way for me to identify and profile people who have interesting insights to share with the world.

I believed knowing those people – and introducing them to others – would create value for myself. And I hoped an audience – possibly a large one (though I couldn’t define “large”) – would see value in it as well and come along for the ride.

Maybe they’d visit the website, subscribe to the newsletter, or Like the Facebook page. Or maybe not.

Failure is always an option.

But I’m an optimist. I felt like if I built it, they would come. I just didn’t know how many and what exactly I would do with them if they did.

Because I have an entrepreneurial bent, I assumed if an audience came I would figure out how to monetize them. How to capitalize on their attention. How to take my “thing” to the next level.

Because that’s what you’re supposed to do on the Internet, right?

Build a thing that attracts an audience and turn that audience into a business.

It doesn’t have to be “the” business that sustains you – maybe it’s a side hustle? Maybe it’s the seeds of a bigger business? Maybe it’s a proof of concept?

But at its core, it becomes a business.

It’s easy to buy into that conventional wisdom because denying it can be scary.

If I’m not building a business – or something with the potential to become one – then why spend time and effort trying to attract an audience for it?

Business is the end game, right?

Some version of that assumption guided me as the audience for A Person You Should Know has grown. Thousands of people subscribed and it’s become a regular read for many more.

That’s no small feat and I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve accomplished.

Naturally, my mind drifted to thoughts of how I could monetize my “success” – monthly memberships, exclusive content, sponsorships, etc.

While I know the scale isn’t quite there yet, I thought about what could be and how best to get there.

I wondered – was this destined to be a side project or could it be more? Could it be my main thing? How big could it get? What was possible?

Then, a funny thing happened.

I no longer want it to be a business.

My interest in it hasn’t waned, but I no longer feel the need to chase audience growth and figure out how to monetize it.

It is what it is and I’m satisfied with that.

A project’s value is not solely based  on what it might become, but by what it already has become.

And by that standard, A Person You Should Know is very valuable.

It gives me a reason seek out people who I otherwise never would have found in my social feeds. And it forces me to dig deeper into what these people believe and what they’ve learned.

The process of digging into somebody’s body of work gives you a different perspective of who they are, what they know, and how they came to know it. You can’t get that from a tweet.

You can see the evolution of their ideas and be reminded that all ideas and interests evolve over time.

I now recognize the value of this project doesn’t solely lie in the audience it attracts or the money I could extract from it.

Things don’t have to become a business to become valuable.

That’s easy to forget these days – especially in the marketing, media, and tech corners of the internet.

I’m not sure how I came to this realization. I have an artistic bent that rivals my entrepreneurial one, so in some ways I’ve probably always known it.

But I recently remembered it and I’m glad I did.

So, while I’m still honored that people see value in subscribing to A Person You Should Know (which you can do here by the way), I won’t be turning it into a business any time soon.

I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.


Seth and Gary

Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk.

Nobody’s had a bigger influence on my career than these two guys – despite having never met Seth and only meeting Gary once.

Their perspective on business, marketing, social media, creativity, and life in general should be required reading/watching/following for anybody who works in those fields.

My job didn’t exist when I was in school and theoretically there’s no way I should know how to do what I know how to do.

The reason I know how to do these things is largely because of Seth and Gary.

They were a tipping point that led me down a rabbit hole of learning and self-educating that helped me develop the skills needed to have the success I’ve had so far.

Seth, through a daily blog he’s run practically since the Internet was created and through a series of incredible books (most notably, Tribes).

And Gary, through his personal social media content machine and amazing talks that are as inspiring as they are intelligent (as well as his own great books like the new #AskGaryVee).

These two share a lot of common ground, but they’re also completely different. The mindful, soft-spoken, intellectual Godin contrasted with the aggressive, combative, hustler that is Vaynerchuk.

Individually, they have valuable insights to share with the world. Together, they’re a master class.

But I’ve never actually seen them together – until now.

Seth recently appeared on an episode of Gary’s web series where they tackled questions from viewers.

Watching them agree – and often, disagree – on the answers to questions is fascinating and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The video’s about 37 minutes long and well worth your time, but if you’ve only got a couple minutes to spare make sure you at least watch the part at the 19:23 mark when Seth explains why he doesn’t use social media beyond his blog and Gary explains why he lives and breathes social media.

You won’t regret it.


If You Build It…

Building a product from scratch is a great exercise — no matter the results that come from it.

It forces you to think not only about what you want, but about what other people want.

It forces you to think about how other people come to understand things — how they will understand your product and why they should give it their time.

It forces you to question assumptions, to recognize the obvious may not actually be obvious, and to relentlessly simplify.

It makes you think about the power and impact of every single word you use in your product’s design and its presentation.

“Seen” is not the same as “Watched.” “Rate” is not the same as “Rank.”

It forces you to think about goals. To choose a result you hope to generate.

It makes you recognize your success depends on your ability to create a product that serves two seemingly contradictory purposes.

It must be something other people want to use in order to accomplish what you want to achieve.

The product must be symbiotic to succeed. Both goals must be met. Everybody must be happy.

It’s like what they say about a business partnership or deal — it’s only a win if both sides win.

A product is only a success if both sides feel successful after using it.