Archer's Shortform

by Archer28th Aug 20204 comments
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[HALF-BAKED IDEA - Fundraising through paid newsletters / text message courses.]

THE IDEA : Paid newsletters and paid text message courses should be considered as a potential earn -to-give entrepreneurship strategy.

More specifically, newsletters / text messages that are focused on sourcing items of interest for niche groups e.g. jobs, events, petitions, ideas, tools, content etc.

Some quick thoughts on why:

(WARNING: I am by no stretch of the imagination a fundraising expert, also this might be the longest short form ever)

Generally speaking, I don’t believe crowdfunding donations from the public is that effective, mainly due to a lack of social norms (most people don’t make time in their schedules to donate and even when they do, they are unlikely to share a charity they like with friends in the way they would share a product they like.)

For EA charities, I estimate this holds particularly true.

I believe the best way to fundraise from the general public is to sell a product they want (maybe with a bit of mark up) while being clear that you are trying to raise money for an altruistic cause.

I would suggest the ideal product would:

  • Maximise potential profit
  • Maximise ‘social influence gains’
  • Minimise potential losses
  • Minimise threat of competition
  • Limit potential harm

Broadly, digital products seem like the best way to do this.

Here are some rough thoughts on why I think item sourcing newsletters / text message idea seems like it would be a particularly good fit.

  • Crowdsourcing – This is possibly the most important reason. I would say the more crowdsourcing can be used in the creation and delivery of a service the more advantage a not-for-profit organisation is going to have as a provider over for-profits. The reason being, the more you can utilise crowdsourcing the more you can utilise volunteers and individuals are, presumably, more likely to volunteer for a not-for-profit than a for-profit.
  • Remote – Not all EAs are based around economic centres, limiting their access to many of the common EA career options. I believe a remote team could deliver a newsletter service.
  • Mass appeal – I would say that it is generally easier to make a big profit by getting a little bit of money out of a lot of customers than by getting a lot of money out of a few customers (even with current levels of wealth inequality).
  • Social Influence – If successful, the newsletters would amass a big audience which is an asset in itself.
  • Supply and demand - A general rule in economics is that the greater the supply of a product/service the cheaper it becomes. However, with digital products it seems this only hold up to a point. The supply of a digital product is practically unlimited, so, with a big enough customer base one might be able to make a profit while charging tiny amounts. But most consumers probably aren’t going to sweat getting their credit card out for a $1 transaction over a 10cents transaction. This could be mean that one could theoretically attain big profit margins. Moreover, the supply of a digital product is naturally matched to the demand, different newsletters will have different demands (depending on how niche they are) leading to different prices. So there will be no standard price for a newsletter in the same way there is for an apple. This ambiguity in pricing would make it easier to add a mark up as consumers would have no clear expectation for the price of a newsletter.
  • Simple but not too simple – The more complex the service / product the less likely one is to be able to create a competitive product. The simpler the service / product the more people will try to  offer it.  Newsletters seem to strike a nice balance.
  • Valuable but not too valuable – Finds a balance between being valuable enough to pay for, but no so valuable that consumers will spend a lot of time making sure they get the absolute best one – so one does not need to create the absolute best product on the market to succeed.
  • Minimal investment required – Small amount of time and money required to create MVP  = minimal potential losses.
  • Plenty of room – Unlike with a lot of things, like insurance, there's no clear limit on how many newsletters a person needs. So there should be plenty of room in the market.  Moreover, there are countless ways that one can create a newsletter and plenty of niches to find.

Of course, we would need a name for an organisation that provides such a service, how about….

SOURCY MEDIA  [Pronounced: ‘Saucy’].

Here are some ideas on what items could be sourced....

Opportunities (To do / To seize)

  • Jobs
  • Grants / Funds
  • Funding campaigns
  • Deals / Exclusives
  • Petitions
  • Social movements
  • Conventions / Crazes
  • Programs / Courses / Camps
  • Events / Experiences / Activities

Utilities and Inventory (To use / To have)

  • Digital tools
  • Physical tools
  • Services
  • Content / Material
  • Natural resources
  • Foods / Nutriments
  • Treatments / Medicine
  • Amusements / Stimulants

Learnings (To know / To follow)

  • Questions / Prompts / Problems
  • Affirmations / Reminders
  • Facts / Data / Observations
  • Stories / Anecdotes
  • Words / Phrases
  • Interpretations / Explanations
  • Opinions / Beliefs / Quotes
  • Theories / Models
  • Ideas / Tips
  • Rules / Heuristics / Principles
  • Techniques / Strategies / Hacks / Practices
  • Routines / Games / Rituals

Spaces (To go / To occupy)

  • Residences
  • Work spaces
  • Social spaces
  • Retreats

Entities (To collaborate with)

  • Communities
  • Individuals
  • Businesses
  • Public sector organisations

Meta

  • Directories / Lists / Maps
  • Marketplaces / Platforms

Thoughts?

Three cheers for long Shortform posts! Totally fine to spell out a half-baked idea here, at whatever length.

Anyway, one of the first questions I always want to ask when I hear a business idea: What's an example of this type of business succeeding?

Clearly, there are successful people writing newsletters on Substack. But did any of them:

a) Start with a fairly small audience, many/most of whom were already giving them money without expecting something in return?

b) Try to crowdsource content from many sources, instead of having a single author be the driving force/personality behind the newsletter?

There may be newsletters in this category, but I expect that they are quite rare.

Additionally, most EA orgs actively want their ideas to be free, because they want as many people as possible to hear them, and this is more valuable to them than whatever money they would get from a much smaller paid audience. For example, even if 80K could convert their 100,000+ newsletter subscribers into an audience of 10,000 people paying $5/month (no small task), I don't know if they would want to, given how many fewer people would get job leads from them under that scenario.

 

As far as newsletters created by individual entrepreneurs, this is a reasonable business idea like many others. You can find lots of online guides to building an audience for your copywriting, coaches to help you get started, clubs where people share feedback on each other's writing, and so on. But like most reasonable businesses, this one is fairly competitive and tough to succeed in (no such thing as a free lunch!). It will be a reasonable thing to do for a few EAs, maybe, but doesn't stand out to me as more promising than other types of startups. 

This doesn't make it a bad idea -- just one of many, many things that people should consider if they want to build a business.

Thanks for the feedback Aaron!

With regards to EA orgs e.g. 80,000 hours. I wasn’t trying to suggest that EA orgs have their own paid newsletters. Rather, I was suggesting that a separate not-for-profit organisation could be set up specifically for creating paid newsletters (on any topic) while stating that said organisation is trying to raise money for effective charities. The organisation would be made of individuals and teams who each run different paid newsletters under one umbrella. (These potentially could be subsidiary companies; I haven’t really thought through all the business legal stuff).

Sorry, I should have been clearer on this.

The everything newsletter is a combination of newsletters which illustrates how an umbrella organisation with multiple newsletters could work.

With regards to finding examples, I haven’t deep dived into this, but I do know that Product Hunt  (bought by AngelList) started out basically as an e-mail list with a) a small audience and b) crowdsourcing their content. Its now morphed into something a bit different than a paid newsletter. Though it does have its Founders Club offering which isn’t that different. (I think newsletters tie in very well with community platforms like those which can be built with tools like circle).

Building an audience does seem like it would be the big hurdle. But I think this would give the EA community an advantage in this arena. If the EA community knows that there is an organisation trying to raise money for effective charities, then they could direct people in their social media networks towards the newsletters. This should provide a big enough ‘snowball’ to start with. Presumably, the combined network of everyone in the EA community is fairly large (though I don’t have figures on this - there is probably a lot of EAs in the followings of EA members and obviously it would be non-EAs that would be the target audience).

A new model of the mind 

I stumbled across this new model of temperament (innate personality) about a year ago. I have been studying it and thinking about it ever since. It’s called the Objective Personality System (OPS).

[EDIT: I have subsequently written a personal blogpost on this matter which provides an overview of the history and state of affairs of the personality system.

I think the OPS raises 3 key questions:

  1. What if there really are types of brain?
  2. What predictions could be made about an individual based on their temperament?
  3. What if new demographic groups were established based on temperament? ]

The OPS appears to model individual differences in; judgement, awareness, motivation, expectancies, perception, learning & memory and mental states. The model also attempts to illustrate how an individual’s personality varies throughout the day.

The system is in the early stages of development and its predictive validity has not been formally evaluated. The OPS' creators, a couple based in Portland, Oregon, are not personality psychologists, they are enthusiasts. The pair have stated that the personality code is open source.

The OPS was released to the public in 2018. It’s based on Carl Jung’s theory of cognitive functions, like the infamous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Like the MBTI, the system implies the existence of temperament types. However, the OPS expands upon the original 16 types proposed by Myers & Briggs dividing each into 32 sub-types thus creating a spectrum of 512 types. Importantly, though the system is modular. It is comprised of a combination of interlinked binary components. So, the system can divide a population into 2 types, 4 types, 8 types, etc.

I suspect that the Objective Personality System could have a lot more predictive power than current established models e.g. The Five Factor Model (Big 5). The modular framework could also make it much more practical and easier to integrate. Hence, I believe the model has the potential to be extremely important. However, I am keen to check that I am not crazy!

So it would be good to get your opinion.

Here are some resources if you wish to investigate:

OPS:

Carl Jung’s Functions: