When I first read Li Jin's seminal piece on the Passion Economy back in 2019, I remember legitimately jumping up and exclaiming to myself yesssssssss this is it! 🔥
Li was not only able to capture the essence of why I was building Saasify — she was also able to expand on my mission by articulating a broader trend that was happening for creators in general.
I immediately felt a deep connection to the zeitgeist Li was describing.
Ever since then, I've shared Li's message with dozens if not hundreds of people, albeit probably in a much less succinct and insightful way. 😂
So what did I do with this new burst of inspiration? Well, I spent the next year struggling to reconcile this view with my startup at the time, which was focused on building a passion economy solution for indie developers. And while I am very proud of everything we built with Saasify, the platform itself hit some major roadblocks. I had my founder blinders on (which can be both good and bad depending on the circumstances) and felt weighed down by the sunk costs I'd already put into bootstrapping Saasify.
I needed a change of pace. To reflect. To revisit my assumptions and to explore what got me excited about this space in the first place.
The idea of moving towards a more independent and fulfilling future of work just aligns so well with my values that I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.
I've spent the past few months voraciously researching, networking, and thinking about the passion economy. I think this is a very important step in the creative process for founders to develop their own deep, holistic understanding of a space before diving into building products and solutions (a mistake I've fallen prey to in the past).
And I'm absolutely loving it.
Regardless of where this journey takes me, I know that I'm thoroughly enjoying the ride. I believe that as long as I control my own destiny and am passionate about the space / journey / people, then great things are bound to happen along the way.
And this is a large part of why the passion economy resonates with me on such a deep and personal level.
After nearly 20 years of contributing to open source, I started this journey originally focused on the problem of open source sustainability.
For many software developers, open source is like the wild west. It represents a completely open territory to explore and paint my ideas upon with no rules or regulations. This has led to some unbelievably successful commercial open source products being built that would've otherwise been very difficult to bring to market in a more traditional, closed source world. It's also led to an amazing amount of long-tail value creation and experimentation in the form of smaller OSS projects that have found insane amounts of adoption around the world.
I think it's safe to say that open source software has had profound effects on the world, but as with many passion projects, the key difficulty lies in making your passion sustainable. When you start off working on a project, it's almost always out of intrinsic motivation; that is to say, it's because you're excited about something and want to scratch your own itch. As your project(s) grow in popularity and usage over time, you inevitably get more and more support requests and people complaining about bugs or missing features. What started as a purely intrinsic passion project has now become a burden, and the only real way to reconcile this problem is to introduce extrinsic motivation (usually in the form of money or followers) that will help you sustain your interest in growing a community around your work.
There are tens of thousands of these talented indie devs out there who are passionate about open source. And more generally, there are millions of talented creators out there who are passionate about their own creative outlets, whether they be music, videos, teaching, writing, art, comedy, and so much more.
This brings me back to the passion economy and its cool cousin, the creator economy.
I fundamentally believe in the boundless potential of humanity. I know that sounds a little idealistic and bullshit-y, but you're literally reading a blog called Transitive Bullshit...
One thing that I find so much beauty in is all of the different ways that human creativity and passion manifest themselves.
No matter where you are in the world..
No matter what your background is..
No matter what your motivations are..
No matter what your creative outlets are..
No matter who you are..
The internet and platforms built on the internet unlock so much hidden opportunity for you.
Human passion is truly universal, and the internet is the ultimate tool to unlock the power of human creativity on a scale that is hard to comprehend. In this respect, I believe that we're still in the very early stages of discovering all of the second & third order effects that the internet will have on humanity. I also love thinking about humanity as a species that is experiencing an unprecedented rate of exponential evolution and how fundamental forces like the internet, AI, and human passion are driving this evolution forward. It's an exciting time to be alive.
And these days, there are just so many inspirational stories out there of people striving to better themselves and help their audiences in unique, authentic, and creative ways.
Human passion and creativity are truly universal, and we're seeing a long-term change in the way people view their passions and creative outlets versus traditional work.
I was recently listening to a Clubhouse room where Li Jin (no surprise! haha) was interviewing Allen Lau, the co-founder of Wattpad, a platform that makes it easy for writers to share stories, which just sold for $600M. One of the things which stood out for me was something Allen said about passion always coming first, and monetization coming second.
"99% of people who write are motivated by their fanbase and engagement. Only a small portion really go into things focused on monetization." (Allen Lau)
This is an incredibly important point to keep in mind, especially for founders building solutions in this space that naturally tend to focus on reducing barriers to monetization — because it's easier to get funding for products with clear monetization models.
This naturally leads to the question: is the "passion economy" even a good thing? Should our passions remain our passions and our work remain our work?
I think there's no one answer to this, but I can share two key insights that have really clicked with me recently.
The first insight is Li's answer to this question. She is a strong proponent of consumer choice and enabling the option to monetize as opposed to it being full of friction, and I couldn't agree with this more. The easier you make the option of monetizing your passion via different methods and platforms, the more creators will experiment with these solutions and naturally find a healthy balance that works for them.
The second insight comes from this article: my product is my garden. The author does a great job exploring different forms of monetization and sustainability around his love for building software side projects. In the end, he views his work as a garden and finds peace in the process of tending to his garden.
As I continue to explore the passion economy and the future of work, I'm actively looking to connect with other co-founders, developers, creators, and builders who are excited about this space.
I try to always keep in mind how small my view of the world is, so I'm looking to meet other passionate folks who will bring their own unique insights to the table in order to challenge my assumptions.
I'm particularly interested in building solutions that will help enable a more independent and fulfilling future of work. I believe that helping ambitious creators and domain experts to follow their passions via more sustainable, frictionless business models is one of the most important, impactful, and universal problems that we are uniquely poised to solve today.
This is a pretty grandiose mission when you think about it. It has a lot of overlap with:
- Traditional VC models of enabling entrepreneurship
- Influencers and the future of media and entertainment
- Evolving the concept of work from full-time employment to more flexible, lightweight models
- Making knowledge more accessible at scale
And finally, as an anime otaku myself, I wanted to leave you with one last bit of inspiration coming from an entirely different field. Hayao Miyazaki is the genius behind Studio Ghibli and a master creator at heart. ❤️
The Passion Economy and the Future of Work - Andreessen Horowitz
The top-earning writer on the paid newsletter platform Substack earns more than $500,000 a year from reader subscriptions. The top content creator on Podia, a platform for video courses and digital memberships, makes more than $100,000 a month. And teachers across the US are bringing in thousands of dollars a month teaching live, virtual classes on Outschool and Juni Learning.
Unbundling Work from Employment
Sometimes in the economy, monolithic entities that serve many needs disintegrate into an ecosystem of single-purpose entities. When that happens, there's a huge opportunity for startups. Take, for example, Craigslist. Since its founding 25 years ago, Craigslist's horizontal breadth, coupled with its shallow feature set and stagnant product, has presented rich opportunities for startups to carve off vertical-specific niches.
The Three Stages of the Future of Work
This is a weekly newsletter about tech, media, and culture. To receive this newsletter in your inbox each week, subscribe here: First, a big personal update: this week, I joined the team at Index Ventures. I feel incredibly lucky to work with this team. At Index, we invest across stages-from seed to early-stage to growth.
SignalFire's Creator Economy Market Map | SignalFire
More than 50 million people around the world consider themselves creators, despite the creator economy only being born a decade ago. It's become the fastest-growing type of small business, and a survey found that more American kids want to be a YouTube star (29%) than an astronaut (11%) when they grow up.
Creator Hierarchy of Needs
Dear subscribers, Creators have a hierarchy of needs as they grow. Understanding these needs helps you build products that creators love: Publish: To get started, creators need to find a niche and publish frequently. Most creators give up before finding an audience, so staying motivated and avoiding burnout is key.
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