Assassinating a Bad Business Idea
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And here’s your host, Matt Hardy.
The more appropriate title is “Assassinating a Bad Business Idea.”
So the other day I was browsin’ around the old Interwebs and I saw a news article that caught my attention.
It was about a new project starting in Sweden.
The project is aimed at trying to convert people’s under-utilized homes into temporary co-working spaces, available to freelancers…. for free.
And while on the surface, this may give your charitable-hippy-kumbaya side a nice warm fuzzy feeling…. I think it’s one of the worst ideas I’ve heard.
It’s doomed from the start.
Let’s think about this for a moment, shall we?
Let’s assume that YOU are the one letting others to come and work in your home.
To start, you won’t be getting paid for this.
So you will have people using your home, your washrooms, your lights, your power, heat and water without getting any sort of financial compensation.
You will be covering all of this for them.
The next thought I beg you to consider is: “Who will clean up if there is a mess?”
While this may seem petty, think about it for a moment.
If you’ve ever had children or lived in an environment with more than one person, you can appreciate that there is ALWAYS going to be some sort of mess that is generated.
And who’s responsible for cleaning it up?
Sure, the idea of everybody pitching in and cleaning up after themselves is a great one in theory.
But it never works out that way.
At the beginning, even if you lay out some ground rules, everyone will agree to cleaning up after themselves.
After all, given the circumstances, it seems to be a reasonable request.
And it’s pretty unlikely that anybody would ever stand up in front of a group of people & disagree saying, “There’s no way I’m going to clean up after myself – one of you is going to have to do it for me.”
Now, while people may not actually SAY that, if you spin the clock ahead their actions often prove different.
Yes, I know people may take offense to this saying that somehow this won’t happen to them because “their group is different.”
And while I applaud their idealistic thinking that their little group will function in a perfect utopia – totally immune from any of the uglier forms of human nature – the reality is that they aren’t any different.
Their group is still made up of people who all have the same tendencies.
So when somebody makes a mess and doesn’t clean it up – maybe everybody left your place early Friday afternoon to grab a few beers – I ask again: “Who’s going to clean it up?”
If they all leave, and you’re left alone in YOUR house with a mess – are you going to clean it up or are you going to live with the mess all weekend so that you can try to make the guilty party clean it up Monday morning?
If someone muddies your carpet who will clean it?
What about common areas like the kitchen or toilets?
Who will clean them?
Or are you just assuming that “you were going to clean it anyway so it’s not really putting you out too much.”
The vast majority of people facing this dilemma will just clean it up themselves, shrugging it off as if it’s no big deal.
And it probably won’t be a big deal the first few times.
Until it becomes a regular occurrence.
Then, to make matters worse, when everyone comes back again on Monday to find the mess cleaned and their work area smelling like lavender all clean and ready to go, they will quickly jump to the conclusion that you exist to not only provide them with a free workplace, but to clean up after them.
Soon after enough people come to this conclusion, everyone stops cleaning up after themselves.
Now you are providing the free workspace and the cleaning services.
Maybe you don’t believe me.
Well, criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling developed what they called the Broken Windows theory.
This theory basically proposes that crime is the natural result a disorder.
If people see broken windows, trash, and minor crimes such as vandalism and graffiti they naturally end up assuming that they can get away with worse crimes.
The theory states that behaviour snowballs because people often join in the same actions after watching others do it – saying that we humans instinctively mimic the behavior they see displayed around them.
In this case, I’m saying this outcome is only reinforced, by the fact that people often take the easy way out if given the choice.
So if people feel that they can get away with not cleaning up after themselves, they are more likely to follow suit if they see others getting away with it as well.
Getting back to our “free workspace” example, the other course of action is for you to constantly point out the mess people have made and that they have to clean it up.
If you go this route, how long do you think it will be before people start despising you as a nagging parent, the buzz kill, or someone who is quote-un-quote “Petty.”
In their minds leaving their lunch wrapper on the table or leaving a ring of urine around the toilet is a small thing and that you shouldn’t bother them about cleaning it up.
Seeing as you’re already feeding their entitled mentality by giving them free workspace, they now feel that you owe it to them not to bother them with such small things.
They probably even justify this by thinking that your incessant nagging is taking away from the ideal workplace environment that you are supposed to be providing them with.
But, again, if they don’t clean up after themselves, who will?
It always comes back to the person who has the most to lose by leaving it.
Like when parents tell their kids to pick up their toys.
The kids usually need to be reminded each and every time to pick them up.
Sometimes they learn…. other times they see mom or dad cleaning up after them and have a sudden epiphany, realizing that mom and dad care more about having a clean house than they do.
So if they can “out wait” them or delay just long enough, the toys will get magically put away without them having to do it.
Ok, so with this “free freelancer workspace” your duties and responsibilities are now of workplace provider and janitor.
Let’s move onto the next problem, shall we?
And this is: if you have more than 1 person in contact for any length of time, the odds of there being some sort of conflict goes through the roof.
If you haven’t already come to blows over trying to get people to clean up after themselves, now you’ve got to referee between the different factions or clicks that have formed within the new utopian workplace environment.
And when conflict inevitably arises, who will sort it out?
Well as the homeowner, it will likely fall on you.
And if you don’t take charge, this position will be filled by the person who is the most opinionated and the loudest or most intimidating when it comes to voicing their opinion.
So now you’ve got people fighting over the “suddenly too few outlets for their laptops” complaining that Bob used the outlet yesterday and Sally now needs it as the battery life on her new Mac is next to nothing with all the video processing she does.
The only logical course of action is for you to run out and get yet another powerbar on your dime.
This time you justify the additional expense to yourself, saying that $30 is well worth it if you don’t have to deal with this headache again.
Oh, and when you come back with the powerbar, you find everybody complaining about the speed of your internet connection.
So you might have to spend a little more to upgrade it so people can actually do some work.
Don’t worry – there will be other headaches as you now have to deal with and try to resolve any sort of interpersonal conflict that arises in your free workspace.
We haven’t even talked about how Karen hates Sarah because she gave her some sort of nasty look one time.
But maybe you can overlook all of this if the people are particularly fantastic to be around.
This then begs the question: “Just what sort of people will you be allowing into your house?”
Well, the project is aimed at freelancers.
So, it could be a wide cross section of talented people.
But for the most part, we can – and will – categorize them based on common stereotypes and the current situation.
#1 – Their income is not very consistent. As they are freelancers, they go from job to job as it is available and often time have large periods of downtime between tasks.
No? This isn’t true?
You know of a guy who your sister’s brother in-law graduated with who is a freelancer and is busy?
But anybody with a FULL schedule of paying jobs would either have the money to rent office space, or would be too busy working to risk getting pulled off track by a new work environment.
#2 – These people are not always pro-active go-getters, tending instead to be a lot more passive.
And they can afford to be passive, as they have very little invested in their business.
They don’t HAVE to succeed.
They don’t have the pressure of having to come up with the money to pay rent.
So the temptation that many fall into is that they don’t need to go out there and hustle.
They can take longer lunch breaks.
Come in late.
Take the day off and so on.
With so little skin in the game, what’s going to keep them motivated and on task?
Sure, you can have mini-meetings where everyone talks about their goals to stay on track – but what happens if someone spots an incredibly hilarious cat video on YouTube and forwards it to everyone else?
Does order descend into distracting chaos until the humor of the moment that lasts 45 minutes subsides?
If people join a free co-op workspace in the hopes of finding some sort of structure or someone who will hold them accountable to buckle down and do work, they’re dreaming.
And if they can’t pay for their workspace, do you think they will pay for some outside coaching in order to get some accountability to stay on track and be productive?
I’m gonna say Noooo…..
The reality is: people who are unwilling to invest in their business end up limiting their business’ growth or causing it to die.
Common business wisdom has told us that we need to surround ourselves with people who will cause us to stretch and grow.
If you surround yourself with people who either can’t or won’t invest in their business – are you pulling them up to your level or are you being pulled down by all the broke startup freelancers in your workspace?
So, if this is what faces someone who opens up their home as a free workspace for freelancers, how likely do you think it is to be a success?
How viable and sustainable do you think it is?
Sure, on the surface it may seem like a good idea.
A noble and charitable idea, in fact.
But when it comes down to the reality of it, it’s flawed from the start.
Sure, if you’re a freelancer who doesn’t want to invest in their business, or have any pressure on them to succeed while being able to goof off with someone else enabling them to do it with free workspace – then have at it.
I’m not against charity, but if it’s at all business-related you have to look at the whole picture.
So I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that you should probably check with your partner before you quit your day job to become a freelancer who opens up their home to other freelancers looking for free work space.
We’ve covered a few simple things that would derail this whole idea – without even getting into the additional liability insurance you may need for when Frank cuts his hand in your kitchen while making a snack.
Or the fact that the current zoning of your house may not allow for a gathering like this.
Or that the neighbours may lose their minds with all the extra cars parked along their street.
So what’s the solution?
If you can’t afford to rent the workspace, work at home.
Or do what a lot of digital nomads do – work at Starbucks or the library and use their infrastructure.
If you’re still lonely and suffering from a lack of human interaction, feel free to use your evenings away from work to hang out with other people.
If you’re choosing a work environment, you want to choose one that has people that will pull you UP to their level.
And if you aren’t sure if that will happen, then don’t join that workspace.
After all that, if you can’t find a good workspace or can’t afford one, work from home and be militant about your work habits and schedule.
Use the money you save from working at home to invest back into your business to help grow it faster.
But above all – let’s just avoid horrible business ideas by actually thinking them through first, K?
Here’s to avoiding entitled freebie-seekers and half-baked ideas that will sabotage the success of your business.
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I hope you got something out of this podcast.
An idea you can use.
A different thought or viewpoint.
Or maybe you found it mildly amusing.
At any rate, can you refer this podcast to one other person you think might find it entertaining or useful?
Because I want to help as many people as I can, in as short a time as possible.
Here’s something to listen to while you think about it…
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