Striking out on your own is a risky proposition. Having an idea is one thing, we all have an idea we’re sure that would make us rich, but turning that idea into a reality is something that takes time, dedication and, above all resources. The problem that many face is that last item as without the lifeblood of any company, money, you’ll struggle to get the resources you require in order to bring your idea to fruition. Ask other entrepreneurs however and they’ll tell you quite a different story, about bootstrapping and minimum viable products and other jargon, but the fact of the matter is that access to money is the key determining factor in whether an entrepreneur succeeds or fails.
Whilst this might seem like an obvious point to make it belies a more troubling conundrum: that kind of opportunity, striking out on your own to create a sustainable business, is not available to everyone. For a great number of people leaving their current place of employment to pursue an idea is simply an untenable position as they don’t have the capital reserves or the connections to get said capital to work on that idea exclusively. Consequently this means that the idea that anyone can be an entrepreneur if they want to is unfortunately a flawed prospect, but there is a solution which has been proven to work in the past.
For five years, between 1974 and 1979, a small city in Canada called Manitoba conducted an experiment whereby those who weren’t earning a liveable wage were sent a cheque that brought them up to that level. Essentially that meant that everyone living in this town was guaranteed to make enough to keep a roof over their heads and feed their family regardless of any contributing factors. Similar programs had been run elsewhere in the past however Manitoba’s project, dubbed Mincome, was special in that it didn’t exclude anyone. Thus for the entire duration of the program poverty was eliminated however when it came to an end in 1979 the incoming government failed to release a report on the outcomes.
However we can infer from other data sources, like the census, about the effects that such a program had on the residents of Manitoba. As the article I linked to discusses in much greater detail the benefits were quite clear, including flow-on benefits like hospitalization rates falling. The key take away though was that, whilst many would say that a universal basic income would lead to people not wanting to work, the Mincome project did not show that at all. Indeed it’s my belief that if such a program was adopted at a national level you’d likely see a tremendous increase in the number of small business and startups that were created, spurring a new wave of innovation.
There are many capable people who’d love nothing more than to develop the ideas that they’re passionate about but the problem is current safety nets aren’t geared towards supporting them. Australian programs like NEIS provide only temporary aid and quite often not enough to cover all the costs that are incurred when trying to establish a business. Replacing that (and most other) welfare programs with a universal basic income would provide the safety net that many require to pursue these ideas allowing programs like NEIS to focus more on mentorship and guidance rather than financial assistance.
Of course whilst an universal basic income would provide the basis upon which many could build their futures it’s not the only thing that would be required to elevate everyone out of poverty. Still programs of this nature have proven to be effective in the past and have far less overheads than current welfare schemes do. Coupling this with other ideas like Labor’s Future Tech policy has the potential to spur a massive wave of innovation in Australia, making it far more attractive to pursue radical ideas here than overseas. At the very least it’s an idea worth trialling as I’m sure the benefits would far outweigh the small cost that it would incur.
If I were to rewind back a couple years and ask my past self where I would be at today the answer would probably be something like “living overseas and applying for various MBA programs”. It seemed ever since part way through university I had my eye on being in some form of upper management role in a large company, reveling in the idea of a high rise office building and being able to make a positive impact. It seemed every year I was doomed to delay those plans for another year because of other things that would crop up, with me finally admitting that anyone with a 10 year plan is deluding themselves.
Despite that my aspirations have not changed. I still lust after that high flying lifestyle that I attributed to the ranks of C-level executives and still yern to travel overseas as so many have done before me. However I’ve grown disillusioned with the idea of attaining such goals in the annals of an established company. My illustrious career, spanning a mere 6 years, has shown me that there’s little joy climbing the ranks in such environments with games of politics and tit-for-tat deals the accepted norm. The engineer in me was languishing under the idea of being suppressed for years whilst I played these games on my way to the top where I could finally unleash it with the power to make a difference. At the end of last year it finally broke through and gave me the dreadful clarity I needed to finally change my way of thinking.
I needed to make it on my own.
It was around this time that I’d started to get an interest for the curious world of technology start ups. You see here in Canberra where everyone is employed by the government or doing work for the government there’s no place for technological innovators, the captive market here just isn’t interested. Thus the idea of lashing out on my own in the only field I knew was always put aside as a untenable notion; the environment to support it just isn’t here. Still the idea gnawed away at the edge of my mind for quite a while and my feed reader started gathering information on all aspects of starting out on your own and how others had done it before me.
At the same time I had begun working on Geon, primarily as a eating my own dog food exercise but also as something to give back to my readers who’d been loyal over the fledgling months of this blog. The idea had legs though and I continued to work on it off and on for many months afterwards with many iterations making their way onto this site. After a while the notion of building my own business and my hobby of building something to satisfy a niche that was going unserviced began to merge and the dream I had once become disillusioned came back with a thundering vengeance.
There’s always going to be that part of me that nags at the corner of my mind telling me that any plan I make is doomed to failure, and I’ve learnt to come to terms with that. When I can talk about my idea with someone for hours on end and walk away with countless ideas about where I can take my project in the future I know the work I’m doing is good. That voice at the back of my head keeps me honest with myself, ensuring that I apply critical thinking to all the problems that I encounter. In that respect my fledgling inner skeptic makes sure I don’t bullshit myself into a corner and for that I’m eternally thankful.
I guess it all comes down to not knowing where you’ll end up in life. 6 years ago I had my whole life planned out until I was 30 (and a bet with an old friend of mine I haven’t forgotten) and today I’ll happily tell you that I’ve got no idea where I’ll be at 30. That idea would be frightening for many people but for someone like me who thrives on making the most out of his time it’s extremely liberating. No longer am I locked into any preconcieved notion of what I need to do to get where I want to be. All I need to do is work in the moment to achieve the best I can, and that’s exactly why I believe I’ll succeed.