I didn’t think that I’d come to resent the question “What’s your business model?” as much as Andy does, but I have. While a relevant question with the appropriate disclosure of intent (i.e. “How will you sustain the work that you’re doing so that I can make an informed decision about whether I should do business with you?”), too often it’s used as a yardstick for measuring whether someone is worth talking to, if at all — an unfortunate vestige of the old capitalist elite.
So, from now on, that’s why when someone asks me what my business model is, I’ll probably say something like… “I don’t care.”
Because I don’t. Not really.
Having a business model implies planning, making money, capitalizing. The occasional sell out. Yeh, well, ask me what my “love model” is and then we can talk — y’know, the one that means, “How are you going to make sure that you’re able to keep doing what you love doing?” (y’know, stuff that Scoble’s been thinking about lately).
So it’s dawned on me that the other legitimate question for organizations embracing the present and the what-comes-next is the question of what “community model” to follow and how they envision growing the relationship with the folks who will benefit most from the work they love doing.
I mean, that’s certainly more interesting and deterministic than some made-up plan guessing at how they think they’re going to pay the bills. I mean, heck, that problem is so pedestrian anyway. Seems to me, if you’re doing good work, you’re making the right friends and it’s obvious that you love your work, the payola will come. Seriously.
But seriously folks, a community model is essential to any successful modern sustaining endeavor. Kieran made this point at WineCamp: if you’re going to be building social tools, you’ve got to be connected to people.
You can no longer hide yourself away in a stealth-mode cubicle-laden walled garden for 2 years and then pop out your love child and expect it to spread like wild-fire.
Nor can you just drop a dollop of cash into the ether and expect a “community” to gel out of nothing. You need to first build up a cadre of true believers or you’ll have no credibility and offer no reason for anyone to care. At best, you’ll inspire a mediocre response — which is, quite honestly, worse than no response at all.
So let me lay it out for you: where we’re going, there are no products. There will be communities, just like there’s always been — and no room for your AJAX-featuring, web2.0-compliant, tagrified monstrosity of an interface-being-passed-off-as-a-business-model.
Yes, there will be new communities that span across new amounts of geography and understanding that maintain immediate, uninterrupted connections, but those’re about the only differences from the communities of people that have ruled for ages. If you want to build a product for today and tomorrow’s markets and somehow make money doing it (so you can keep on doing what you love), you either need to find a pre-existing community or cultivate a new one. Just like buying vines from an existing vineyard or creating your own. But it starts — and ends — with community. Not some ego-stroking super-smaht business model.
And once you’ve found the community with which you most directly relate — and inspires you to do the work you most love — you can start building. But realize that you’ll be building and toiling away on things that are both personally satisfying and community-relevant. The tools that you design and deploy should have both additive and symbiotic effects for both you and the community to which you belong. Otherwise, what you’re doing isn’t legitimate, isn’t sustainable, isn’t interesting or isn’t worthwhile. And who has time to work on things which aren’t worthwhile? Right?