Ahead of our first twice-annual (hopefully) retreat we had all the employees of Tidal complete a personal statement about how the experiences in their lives align with the vision of the company. Here’s mine.
I’ve never had that close of a family. I can go months without talking to my mom, and years between seeing my sister. Really my family is more a loose confederation than a support network. The rugged individual has always been the ideal, that you’re in charge of your own destiny and are free to pursue what your heart desires. Generally we all made our own way in life.
My sister lives in LA and is a stained glass artist and yoga instructor. I just got to see her last month for the first time in 6 years. Growing up, my mom helped support the family through her own little home-based enterprises (probably 4 companies over the course of my childhood). My grandfather built almost every house he lived in, my grandmother sold her paintings on the weekends, my aunts both worked from home, and my uncle too- as a day-trader from his living room in Hunker Pennsylvania. Only my dad ended up at a large company: the Standard Pressed Steel factory where he drank himself to death over 20 years.
So it’s always been instinctual that I would find my own way rather than working for others. Without money for school I was first a Kinko’s manager and then put myself through Penn, working in tech and eventually running their organ transplant database. I moved to New York, started freelance IT consulting and was paid by the hour to help 10 or 20 person companies with any tech issues they had; issues with their computers, websites, servers, and databases. This gave me time and a bit of money to start a few companies (Arcolog Pictures, Kitchen Portfolio Magazine, 30elm) working on them until I ran out of cash and had to ramp up the consulting work again. Really I was never as worried about being broke as I should have been- I’d find a way.
Throughout this I’d been searching for my own intentional family. Growing up before the internet gave me the opportunity to watch over 20 years as newsgroups, chatrooms, webrings and eventually social networks allowed people to connect more easily. But I always felt a bit like an outsider. It felt superficial.
More fascinating to me has been the last few years, as platforms have emerged providing new forms of support for individuals. Not just connection, or information, but money. I’ve booked 12,000 hours on ODesk with contractors who helped out my various startup endeavors. I think this platform offers opportunity for smart, self-driven individuals in developing countries who wouldn’t normally be afforded it. I made a few thousand bucks on AirBnB, before I moved and my landlord put a stop to that. I would certainly be looking deeper at Kickstarter, Etsy and others if it wasn’t for starting Tidal.
It’s this idea of individualized support that has always been in mind. In our early days, under the guise of Trendsta, my former girlfriend/business partner thought this would be in the form of virtual currency, much like some services let you spam your social networks for free stuff. My partner, Burak and I tried it, we were paid $30k to stuff hundreds of envelopes with sunscreen and ship them off to mommybloggers. The idea being that this would create a groundswell of other interested readers now intrigued by this exciting, new sunscreen. But our hearts were never in it, and I doubt the mom’s getting the free sunscreen were all that excited either.
It’ what people care about that truly creates that spark. We met a new friend (and then advisor, and now team member), Bernie Davis. He was in business development at Condé Nast and had similar ideas around individual empowerment, specifically for Teen Vogue. Fashion has changed a ton over the last 7 years. Where once it was only the editors, the elite, who fill the front rows at fashion week, now just as often you see influential bloggers who made their own success. We could see this change coming and launched Teen Vogue Fashion Click 3 years ago to try to capitalize on it.
Today, bloggers are an established part of the media landscape. It’s possible to rise through the ranks, gain a following wherever you are, and make a living as a professional blogger or YouTube star. And that’s a big change over the traditional path to work in journalism, a path that generally only one of means could afford.
Right now, only a few thousand bloggers (or influencers if you will) collect 90% of the spoils of money, attention, invitations. But I think that’s just the very beginning of a sea change. The money flows that support “passion” are changing quickly. Large companies comprised representing thousands of talented individuals (think agencies, large publishers, music labels) are generally much less efficient compared to platforms that allow connections between individuals directly. Many of these enterprises are in the middle of a transition that will determine whether they can survive or will disappear in our lifetimes.
Tidal, along with many other platforms (Beacon, etc) creates a world where individual passion and creation, in all their various forms, can find support from others. This support is coming from both individuals and corporations. It may be in the form of money, but also nurturing, guidance, development and exposure. Customers, fans, and creators can write, create and gain attention and support for their efforts.
The next step will be to move further up the creation food chain- for individuals to propose ideas, stories, projects, videos, art, events, new products, then collaborate together on them, and earn their way to attention and funding. The marketers and editors of large companies, the ones who used to control internal employees would now orchestrate thousands of outsiders.
If billions flow away from advertising into direct support, and billions more from consumers moving from supporting large brands and publishers, to supporting individuals, then millions of people could make a living, on their own, doing what they love, anywhere. It will take a decade or so for companies to buy into the change, whether it happens willingly or unwillingly.
I’m on my own path, but I can’t do it alone. At their best, companies provide functions more than just a salary, they are groups organized around a common purpose and provide social support in a cold, lonely world.
I’m proud that Tidal is helping individuals band together and gain the support they need in a world where large companies are beginning to have less power. So more people can go their own way.