TechnomadicsVagabonding Europe

I kicked off our new blog series on the business side of technomading with a tongue-in-cheek self-deprecating little ditty on the evolution of our business. To summarise, for all you late-comers (you know who you are) we started out with the grand and slightly naive plan of creating an automated iPhone app business (the apps sell themselves, you see) which has graduated into what we have now – the very sobering realisation that without concerted and continuous marketing, updates, and customer support any app, no matter how shit-hot, will be lost in the noisy black gaping void of a hole that is the iPhone App Store. Accordingly, we are working our little butts off. I wrapped up the post with the (hopefully) tantalising teaser that in this post, we’ll explain why we really don’t mind all that much.

Meaningful Work

We’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”. In it, he recounts the story of a typical Jewish immigrant couple, the Borgenichts, in New York in the 1880s who bootstrapped their own garment manufacturing business:

“When Borgenicht came home at night to his children, he may have been tired and poor and overwhelmed, but he was alive. He was his own boss. He was responsible for his own decisions and direction. His work was complex: it engaged his mind and imagination. And in his work, there was a relationship between effort and reward: the longer he and Regina stayed up at night sewing aprons, the more money they made the next day on the streets.

Those three things – autonomy, complexity, and connection between effort and reward – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether our work fulfils us… Work that fulfils those three criteria is meaningful… Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning”.

The work we are doing on A Tasty Pixel has those three qualities, but I would also add a fourth dimension — we are pouring our everything into a product we believe in and can be proud of. Our app, The Cartographer, was built because we needed it as travellers and we’ve found it immensely useful on our travels. More than that, it has been crafted into an artisan iPhone app with an exquisite design. It is feasible, as an entrepreneur, that you could be doing work that has Gladwell’s three characteristics of meaningful work whilst working on a product which holds no inherent meaning for you. I can’t imagine that would be particularly captivating for long.

On Automated Income

Our dream of an automated income began after reading Tim Ferriss’ book “The 4-Hour Work Week”. One of the assumptions the book is founded upon is that:

“…for most people, somewhere between six and seven billion of them, the perfect job is the one that takes the least time. The vast majority of people will never find a job that can be an unending source of fulfilment, so that is not the goal here; to free time and automate income is”.

This clearly doesn’t apply to us. Sometimes when we’re travelling, Mike pines for programming. He’ll quite happily tap away on his lappy until 3 in the morning and then lie in bed for another hour, brain buzzing away at the problem at hand.

Obviously, marketing and operations management is not my dream job but as least I’ve still got Gladwell’s three tenets of meaningful work going for me, and that’s a lot. Of course, I’m still in mourning for my creative endeavours and grieved a little bit last night after the realisation that I’m going to have to work full-time on A Tasty Pixel for the next month until launch, maybe longer. As the darkly comic universe would have it I’m feeling super inspired lately, I have several paintings in the works and I’m really excited about them all as well as some newly learnt techniques I want to give a whirl but they’ll have to wait. Presumably my marketing and operational duties will become more manageable once we’ve built up some momentum. If not, our voyage of discovery will continue, possibly into the realm of outsourcing or streamlining my duties. In the meantime, I’m learning invaluable entrepreneurial skills.

So that, my friends, is a little insight into why the transmogrification of our automated business model into a what-the-hell-kind-of-a-frenzied-time-guzzling-monster-with-no-end-in-sight-business-have-we-created is really not so very bad.

Happy Little Entrepreneurial Vegemites

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5 Responses to The Business Side of Technomading: Our Automated Business Model has Died a Death and that’s OK

  1. Ryan says:

    Katherine- This is a really insightful article, and I appreciate its depth. Many people simply take Tim Ferris as getting to automation as fast as possible. But the deeper truth is, as you pointed out, finding meaning in your work. In my opinion, authors like Gladwell are much more adept at pointing us towards this, and I totally agree with his quote that “hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.”

    • Katherine says:

      Hi Ryan, what a lovely, thoughtful comment – thank you!

      I think Tim Ferriss’ book is great for people who don’t know what it is they want to do with their lives, who aren’t (yet) passionate about anything and need to free up their time in order to find out what it is they want. Both Mike and I are very fortunate to have discovered our respective passions, however!

      I absolutely love that Gladwell quote you mentioned. The trick is finding what’s meaningful to you.

  2. Cornelius says:

    Hello Katherine,

    what a post, what a life you live!

    I stumbled over your website through the wordpress-theme of a friend of mine, who has just startet to give his musical hobby a webpresence and landed at your Blog. Nice post. And thanks for the late-comer-summary!

    Being somebody with a marketing degree, I’d always be sceptical of any “automated business” model, but then I also seem to have a pretty old fashioned view on life itself by comparison – starting with a fixed home. ;-)

    Anyways – it is funny that I run into this post in a time, when I am thinking about priorities and what a job should mean to anyone, myself. And it is true: One should find what is meaningful to him/her – then a job can be very rewarding, although your exhausted. It is remarkable, I think, how society and peers can make you think, that you have to achieve certain goals to be successful. But is not fitting other peoples expectations that makes you happy at the end of the day.

    There is one quote, that I wanted to share in this context:

    “Life is like music; it must be composed by ear, feeling, and instinct, not by rule.” Samuel Butler

    I think he is right. There are no rules.

    (And that is true for the creation of a corporate sound aswell – the field I am involved in, just if you are looking for innovative marketing.) ;-)

    So thanks again for this inspiring insight into your business. All the best!


    PS: Did you know, that the german family name of the jewish couple that Gladwell used “Borgenichts” means “borrow nothing”? A good way to avoid debts.

    • Katherine says:

      Hi Cornelius, thanks for the great comment. Knowing what I know now I am Very sceptical of “automated” business models. I recently learnt that Tim Ferriss himself marketed his first book in the same way we’re approaching marketing – through very hands-on social media. This is a butt-load of work!

      Thanks for the little insight into the meaning of “Borgenichts” – very cool :)

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