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Just heard another pitch for a hamster-wheel business. “We want to let people organise their stuff” translates to “We want to sell advertising space to brands and a ‘service’ to people who want to sign up for ‘information’ about a bunch of brands while organising their stuff”. Confusion still reigns about who the real customer is and startups like this thrive on that confusion.
My advice, for what it’s worth (and it ain’t worth much) is this. If you really really need to do this awful thing, remember what you’re actually selling. You might think you’re selling the attention of 18-24 year-olds to an established brand on the basis that the brand’s sales will go up on the back of that attention. You’re really selling the illusion of that attention. You can do all the market research you like and all you’ll ever be told by those 18-24 year-olds is “Yes, we’d use that” because people will tell you what they think you want to hear. Never forget that, you’re in the illusion-selling business, don’t fall for your own smoke and mirrors.
So your sales filter needs to exclude people who are round about as intelligent as you are – you need people who are either way way more stupid than you are and will buy this empty schtick believing in the illusion and by the time they realise, you’ll be long gone. Or you need to sell to people who are much much smarter than you. So smart that they can see a way of making money out of what you’re doing now that you probably won’t understand until five years after they’ve done it.
But really? Really?
When Occupy popped up last year, people would say “What are they protesting about? They don’t believe in anything”. That was how it looked, but there was more to it than that. They were occupying the here and now expressly *without* common purpose or agenda – and the process of doing that is a very important way of helping people connect around what really matters to them. Not only that, it just helps them connect and form relationships through just doing what’s needed today and you don’t know where that connection might go. This is where Tuttle started: “What happens when people who are already connected online meet up in a real space and develop face-to-face connections?” It’s so simple that it can be hard to see what the point is. Why should we care about making connections and building relationships unless they’re going to serve some purpose?
And now we see – very quickly, the Occupy movement has spawned OccupySandy which has been able to organise friendly, local, helpful, useful relief to people in their own neighbourhoods and communities after Hurricane Sandy ripped them apart, working alongside all the other kinds of relief work.
This is the sort of thing they were connecting for, to build resilience, potential and above all readiness for a crisis that was going to come, even though nobody quite knew what the crisis was going to be or how it was going to affect people. They were ready for this. And for whatever comes next.
I’m about 150 pages in. The last 50 pages or so have been a description of a mission that it turns out is all about getting details of a bank account from a Hong Kong bank. It’s the sort of thing that now would be dealt with by black t-shirted hacker types breaking into a system. But in the 1970s it involves pulling a kind of sleeper agent out of cover in Italy, bringing him back to the UK and brushing up his spy-skills, sending him off to Hong Kong where he can blackmail a manager in the bank into giving him access to a paper file which he then photographs on a sub-miniature camera, the film from which has to be processed before even the name of the account holder is signalled through to London let alone the actual photographs giving the full details of the account. Phew!
It reminds me also that the whole of Smiley’s People basically revolves around the existence and whereabouts of a photographic negative. People have to cross the channel (by ferry) and meet up and exchange bits of paper and celluloid and avoid getting shot.
Film photography, No Eurostar, No Internet. It’s all so slow! And all the more dangerous for the time it takes to get things done. It really is another world, but it doesn’t feel that long ago to me.
And people still ask: “What difference has technology really made in our lives?”