Without drivers, Uber will be worthless.
Without hosts, AirBnB will be worthless.
Without content creators, Instagram will be worthless
We can continue this list with many more internet companies that depend on their users to produce value on their respective platforms. Yes, the users are getting a wonderful service — for example, I don’t own a car, I only use ridesharing apps, so I love Uber and Lyft; nevertheless, many say that the full-time drivers who helped kickstart this rideshare revolution benefited (income-wise not with equity), but today’s full-time drivers are getting fucked (income and equity-wise).
The majority of the economic value on these platforms is flowing to a small number of people, the executive team, the board, and its shareholders; disregarding the true producers who keep the show going.
Since Labor Day 2010, I was driven by the following vision: Making entrepreneurship and ownership accessible to all. Back then, the tools and communities of support to make this outlook feasible weren’t available…now they are…and the Pandemic has only accelerated this evolution.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of what this post is about, let me share some context on how this idea of democratizing entrepreneurship and ownership came to be in the first place, as it will help you understand the motivation behind it..
If you’d rather go to Part 2 now and skip the story part(and hopefully come back), you can do that here.
Life can be funny sometimes.
You hear about aspiring entrepreneurs finding their life’s work while in college, within a company they work for, at a networking event, in a bar or cafe (the infamous idea on a napkin moment), or some other place. I found mine in an unusual setting during the Spring of 2009, a federal prison camp in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
I was serving 4 months for a past cannabis charge in a facility that sort of resembled a college campus. People from all kinds of backgrounds were there, white collar to black market, and it enabled me to be exposed to a variety of world views and expand my understanding of how the game of Capitalism works.
However, the greatest gift I received from that experience was to witness a real live alternative economy in action. Inmates had to fully depend on barter to get the things they needed from others at the camp, as no paper currency was available to exchange. The main observations that occurred to me were: (1) Creativity, knowledge, and social currency were highly valued. (2) Limitation inspired imagination.
I began envisioning full blown alternative economies in the real world enabled by digital technology and social networks. I had a flashback to 2005, when Facebook became available at my former college, VCU, and seeing the student’s positive feedback to it.
One day during my daily walk around the track at the camp, I asked myself:
What if college students across the country were able to share skills and knowledge with each other in an alternative economy; using a medium of exchange besides the US Dollar?
What kind of organization could help facilitate this?
With 3 weeks left remaining on my sentence, I began brainstorming, with my limited knowledge at the time, on how something like this could work. I became obsessed with this vision and was determined to do a deep dive into this space once I was released. My inner compass was buzzing like never before and I knew I was on to something. I just had to have the faith to keep following it.
A Crazy Idea
I was back in the real world in the Summer of 2009, and I began to soak up as much information as possible.
Becoming aware of the dire wealth gap in the world at the time, with 93% of the world’s wealth being controlled by the top 20% of people and the remaining 7% of wealth being divvied up among 80% of people, it inspired me to begin looking for potential solutions by diving deep into the future of money, entrepreneurship, finance, education, and technology. I started to notice a pattern of industries being disrupted (or about to be) by internet technologies, and wondered how this could change Capitalism as a whole…
Could this paradigm shift offer a more level playing field in entrepreneurship and unlock economic empowerment among underserved communities?
I started sharing some of these questions and ideas with my friends, but they looked at me like I was crazy and quickly dismissed them as a pipe dream.
Undeterred (and irrationally optimistic), I decided to accept the outlandish challenge of coming up with a new economic model that followed the advice of the hockey great, Wayne Gretzky:
“Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”
What did the evolution of Capitalism look like?
I knew the Internet played a big part in it, and that the creators (and their supporters) were going to lead this change. I envisioned everyone having a fair opportunity to experience entrepreneurship and shared ownership!
“A revolution can be stopped…an evolution can not.”
I decided on Labor Day 2010, I wasn’t going to just be an observer of this shift like I was in high school when the dot.com boom happened; I was going to be a participant, a creator….a producer. This was the moment when the economic model, Producism, was born; a decentralized Social Capitalism for the Internet Age — where the majority of the economic value flows to the creators and their communities of supporters.
More economic experiments were needed to show the world that parallel economies can exist with the status quo, and potentially offer some foresight into what the future can hold.
Instead of this idea just being a theory that was debated on Twitter, I wanted to create a venture building entity, similar to IdeaLab (one of the first company incubators), that enabled my collaborators and I to experiment with alternative economics and digtal platforms. I eventually decided to structure this entity as a digital cooperative.
With having no formal experience in economics, I didn’t know why this idea chose me; but I was always advised to follow my passions. I felt I was onto something because this idea ignited something within me, a feeling that died when I knew basketball wasn’t going to be my career…that feeling was purpose.
And purpose was the driving force for me to go all in on my dream.
On Oct. 20, 2010, I dared to take a daunting leap of faith; make the research I was doing on economic innovation real by fully depending on the sharing economy to kickstart my aspirations.
This entailed giving away 90% of my belongings to the homeless (only minimalist living), having no home of my own (only couchsurfing), and having no guaranteed income (only freelancing, bartering, and gifting — I began living off of $15–30 a week for almost a year). In exchange for room and board from my supporters, I offered my skills to help them begin building their project ideas. This three year challenge was documented as a YouTube series called “The Dream Journey”.
So in closing, here’s a summary of the string of events I’ve experienced from 2011 until now:
- Co-created an idea incubator as a digital cooperative with local college students
- Self-published a book about the evolution of Capitalism
- Served as a panelist/speaker at various events (including the first Bitcoin conference in the U.S.- InsideBitcoin NYC)
- Featured on a variety of media outlets
- Built projects in public using no code tools
- Raised $50K for a next-generation social marketplace (and failing big time, but learning a lot!)
- Got rejected 16 times among a variety of fellowships, incubators, and accelerators
- Started a digital agency for small businesses and non-profits
-And now, in 2021, I’m running an upstart venture studio
I’m still in the early stages of my career, and I’m keeping a beginner’s mind as I continue to learn as I go.
I share my journey because I resonate with the quote:
Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
I care like shit about economic empowerment for underserved communities and helping make entrepreneurship and ownership accessible to all.
I’ve been in the field living and breathing this for over 10 years. I gave up everything to pursue this.
I’ve got skin in the game.
I’m about this life.
No ivory tower shit.
With that clear, let’s get to what you came for…the nitty gritty :)