The Power of Free

When you’re selling anything — from lawyering services to sponges for your kitchen — you’re asking your customers to leap over an enormous hurdle for a taste of what you have to offer.

This is because a price tag of any size creates a barrier-to-entry that will automatically exclude a large group of people. Nowhere is this truer than online, where ‘free’ has become synonymous with ‘content’ for many people, and the Napster Generation has subtly but definitely found that anything made of pixels can be had without that price tag, should they look around hard enough.

It’s an issue that has some industries up in arms, but it’s a situation I find appealing for a few reasons.

The first is that I enjoy being able to give work away. A big part of why I do what I do, and have set up my lifestyle the way that I have, is so that I will always be creating extra value I can give to people without worrying about cutting into my overall payout at the end of each year.

The second is that I enjoy solving problems. I find it to be an interesting challenge, promoting my work, knowing full well that I am competing against my own work provided elsewhere, for free. It means I have to go above and beyond in terms of interaction, ease-of-access and pricing structure, and it’s something I do willingly; I benefit from the culture-of-free that has sprung up around the net just as much as anyone else.

Finally, I like that free has become so easy to achieve when that’s what you’re aiming for.

Joshua Millburn and Julien Smith approached me with an idea not long ago; one that involved taking some of our best work and making it available for free. The small barrier to entry (cost) would be dropped for a few days, and people could grab what they wanted of our product, damn the consequences.

The choice was a simple one for all three of us, I think, because these days it’s possible to create work and then have it available as an asset from that point forward. A decade ago, it wouldn’t be quite so simple, as putting together an ebook took a bit more work than it does now, and people didn’t understand the value of such ebooks anyway. Now, that simple file can be just as coveted as a print version, and perhaps even more so, if you appreciate the portability and versatility it allows.

So putting these thoughts into practice, I’ve set the new edition of How to Be Remarkable from ‘$.99’ to ‘Free’ for the next three days. It’s not a large discount at all, but it’s amazing how massive a wall even a dollar can build in some peoples’ minds, and the content of the book is something I’d like to share with everyone, even if some people don’t like making purchases online, or don’t have a buck to spare.

You can hop on over to Amazon and snag your free copy now (if you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle software for whatever device or computer you have lying around).

You can also pick up Josh’s amazing collection of short fiction, Falling While Sitting Down, and Julien’s inspiring new work, The Flinch, both for free on Amazon for a limited time.

I highly-recommend picking up all three, and I ask you to ponder something while adding them to your shopping cart: what’s something of value that you possess that can be given away for free, even if just for a short while? What have you created that is so good that everyone should be exposed to it, regardless of whether they can (or want to) pay?

Don’t risk your business model, but think about it; you may even find that the additional exposure ends up being a smart business decision, not just a solid philosophical one.


The New Philosopher Kings

There are a lot of interesting topics covered in Plato’s Republic, but one concept that has stuck with me in the years since I last read it is the idea of ‘Philosopher Kings.’

These titans of leadership would be the ideal rulers, according to Plato, because they would have mastery over themselves in a way that petty tyrants could never manage, due to their education in, and practice of, philosophy.

In my mind, the real beauty of a Philosopher King is that they are someone who is not just powerful, but wise. They not only have the ability to shape things, but also the knowledge of how best to shape them, and when.

As a student of philosophy myself (and someone who constantly preaches about how important it is to put one’s philosophy into practice, rather than just talking about it), I feel there’s something of this concept that we can bring into contemporary society, though perhaps with a few tweaks to the model.


I decided in December to start working with a language called Python.

I won’t go into a lot of details about Python or why I chose it, but the reason I decided to start learning more about programming — to become a ‘developer’ or a ‘hacker,’ rather than just a ‘guy who knows how to build stuff with HTML/CSS/PHP’ — is that I’ve stretched and stretched my arms as far as they can go, and I’m starting to feel the edges of my capabilities.

My ability to get done what I want to get done (the way I want to get it done) has been stunted by my limited knowledge of what has become a fairly fundamental craft.

There’s been a lot of debate around the net about how teaching young people to code is the United States’ best next move if we want to stay competitive at home and abroad. That may be true, but my reasoning for learning to code is a lot more personal.

I have ideas. Lots and lots of them. I’m also someone who loves to create. I build businesses, I write books and blogs, I create paintings and illustration and t-shirts and anything else I can think of. Learning to code is one more way for me to express myself; to make manifest the thoughts that tumble around my brain all day, every day.

But at this point in history, I would argue learning to code has the potential to be even more impactful than a beautiful painting or well-constructed business plan, as clever programming has the potential to make both even better than they are independently.

The painting is suddenly available to be viewed by billions of people all around the world, rather than the dozens within walking distance. The business model is streamlined and easily distributed, due to the power of pixels over atoms.

In the last year especially, we’ve seen the power of the right code in the right hands, as tyrants of all flavors have been held accountable for their actions and public sentiments have been held up high for all to see, despite the best efforts (and millions of dollars) of the best lobbyists in the business to keep them spun and away from the mainstream’s eyes.

Coding, then, grants one the ability to shape things. The ability to turn the tides of politics, to raise bastions around a cause, to make your dreams reality, or to build something really, really cool, that improves the lives of millions.


Non-hacking entrepreneurs and thinkers: you’re already philosophers whose ideas and knowledge have helped the world become what it is today; how will you participate in the online world, now that it’s taken on a life of its own? Now that the language has changed and the building blocks are suddenly so accessible?

Developers, coders, hackers of all stripes: don’t be afraid to expand your horizons and venture beyond the practical. You’re already the kings of the internet; what will you do with that power? How will you shape things in the future, and what role will your own ideas — and knowledge of the world outside of the net — play in what you build?

A Philosopher King, you’ll remember, is someone who has the power to change things, along with the wisdom to know what to change, and how.

I feel like I have part of what I need, but I’m sorely lacking in the balance that will help me become as powerful and wise as I can be.

I’ve managed to do quite a lot already with the meager powers I have at my disposal, and now I intend to take things up a notch.

Join me?


Note: I’m on the lookout for folks who are interested in learning to code along with me, and folks who already know how to code (especially Python, at the moment, though other languages later) and who would be willing to help me out along the way. If you fit into either of these categories, let me know!

Another note: I hope it goes without saying that the above applies to guys and gals, but just in case it seemed like I’m only encouraging men-folk to strive for Philosopher King status, rest assured I’m not. I expect you ladies in the audience to earn you Philosopher Queen title, too. Rule that kingdom benevolently, one and all!

Blog, Project

Start a Freedom Business

Continuing a pattern that I’m slowly turning into a business model, I’ve just published a brand new book that addresses a lot of the questions I’m most frequently asked by readers, while also expounding upon the topic at hand in directions that I think are important to understand.

The book is called ‘Start a Freedom Business,’ and as the name implies, it’s about getting started as an entrepreneur.

A key point of differentiation in this book and others on the same topic, however, is that in it I focus on building a sustainable business model that allows you to earn time as well as money, rather than the kind that drains you of your time in exchange for the opportunity to strike it rich years later.

There’s nothing wrong with startups, of course, it’s just that their aim is generally to seek investment, which is a move that tends to eat up a lot of the founders’ freedom. No longer do you work only for yourself. No longer does the buck stop with you.

The concept of a Freedom Business is about building an asset or set of assets (your business, or other small ventures) that help you get closer to your ideal lifestyle. That will mean different things for different people, of course, but for most it doesn’t mean working 100+ hour weeks behind a desk, and it doesn’t mean stressing the best years of your life away, hoping to strike it rich through investment or IPO.

If you’re looking for a good kick in the pants to get you motivated about making 2012 the year you break free and make a change to your lifestyle, and if you want a concise foundation of theoretical and practical knowledge, along with resources that will help you expand that knowledge further, you can snag a copy of Start a Freedom Business today on Amazon for $0.99 (I’d love a review after you’ve had the chance to read it, too, if you have the time).

By the way: Start a Freedom Business got up to #7 for Entrepreneurship books on Amazon during the pre-launch (which was sent out to folks who subscribe to my free newsletter a few days ago); let’s see if we can get it up to #1 now that it’s officially launched!

Of course, if you haven’t read my other books, My Exile Lifestyle, How to Travel Full Time, How to Be Remarkable and Networking Awesomely, this would be a good time to snag copies of those, as well.

Want a free copy of Start a Freedom Business? A subscription to Exiles (my ‘everlasting ebook,’ full of travel stories and writing from the road) is $36 for the whole year, and will earn you a free copy of all books I publish for the duration of your subscription. Sign up before next Friday, and I’ll grandfather you in on this book, as well.

As always, thanks so much for all of your support, assistance and enthusiasm. Publishing is only as good as the people you’re publishing for, and the feedback and interaction I get from you fine folks keeps me motivated to keep on writing, and I love you for that.


PS: included below is the first section of the book for your perusal.


What is a Freedom Business?

A business can be loosely defined as ‘an organization engaged in the trade of goods, services, or both to consumers.’

That’s as good a definition as any, but I prefer to think of a business as something that exists to create value, and to receive value in exchange.

There’s a certain freedom inherent in focusing on ‘value’ rather than ‘trade’ or ‘money’ or other terms used for compensation, because everyone in the world may have a slightly (or radically) different idea of what is valuable than the person standing next to them.

To some people, money is the ultimate yardstick for success. It can be traded for just about anything, and that is only right, as currency was created to solve the problems inherent in older economic systems (like bartering), and each unit of currency represents a unit of value created by someone, somewhere.

I’m not going to wade into the argument-cesspool that surrounds issues like the Gold Standard and planned economies, but I do want to touch on the fact that although money is incredibly valuable, it’s not the MOST valuable thing in the world.

I would argue that even more valuable than money — something that you can always make more of if you want to (in the case of governments, I mean that quite literally) — is time. Time is (as far as we know) absolutely finite, and once you’ve used up your allotment, you can’t get any more. All the money in the world isn’t valuable to a dead person.

It’s with that in mind that I nominate ‘time’ as the most valuable thing a human being can possess. Yet, if you look around, most people trade their time for money; something that is still valuable, but less so.

There are two main reasons for this.

The first is that we are taught from a very young age that you grow up, you work for money, and then you spend that money. Work, in this taught scenario, consists of doing something that you hopefully don’t hate too much for long stretches of time.

This spent time may or may not result in surplus value (after taking into account the years of your life you invest in it), but it does result in money that you can use to pay your rent, cable bill and bar tab (after work).

The second is that our economy is shaped around rules our ancestors came up with during the Industrial Revolution, a period where a human’s time wasn’t worth much, because they were essentially plugged into a machine and made to operate it (that is, do something that machine couldn’t do itself). Although we’ve come a long way since then, much of the Western World’s economies are based on stylized assembly-line production models.

This is important stuff to understand, because if you want to grok what makes a Freedom Business worthy of its own title, you have to know what ‘rules’ you break by starting one, and why these rules are worth breaking.

The key difference in starting a Freedom Business over a standard business is a shift in what kind of value it produces for the entrepreneur who starts it (you). Rather than producing value in exchange for money, you build something that creates more personal freedom for yourself.

In most cases, this means you earn money and time. It may also mean you earn connections and prestige.

Most people who run Freedom Businesses do so in order to achieve (or get closer to achieving) their ideal lifestyle, myself included. I wanted to be financially secure, location independent, well-connected, and in a position to be constantly trying and learning new things.

It’s a simple request, but most business models would only allow for a small portion of what I wanted (the cash). To build something that consistently added to my level of personal freedom in the same way that it added digits to my income, I had to rethink how I did business and try something new.

It’s an ongoing process, and one that will continue to evolve as my wants and needs evolve, but at this point I have a firm grasp on how to keep my business plans malleable and ready to adjust when my values change.

That’s what I’m going to teach you to do, too.