Over at the How to Build a Tent podcast, Matt Williams is encouraging listeners to start businesses in 2020, and he plans to dedicate a good portion of his shows this year toward helping people succeed in their new ventures. The goal—to start a business that brings in $250 of revenue per month—is purposefully small, designed to overcome the fear of starting a business. Matt noted that he has received more feedback from this emphasis than anything else he has done on his show. Why is that? What does entrepreneurship, even at such a small level, tap into to capture imaginations and inspire action? The motivation has to be more than just a few hundred extra dollars in one’s pocket.
To answer these questions, we must look at our current context and how it contrasts with our created natures. Modernity has coached us into compliance: go to college (racking up massive amounts of debt), get a job (that you may or may not like, that is disconnected from your home), and consume Product. More so, it has lured us into an isolated existence, alienated from our homes, neighbors, and community. The result for many people is an empty loneliness at work that is only balanced out by empty media consumption at home. There is a certain sterility and rootlessness of the modern social order that deadens the soul.
In this context, the possibilities of entrepreneurship rush the imagination like a spring wind. This is because starting a business cuts with the grain of reality. It aligns with how we are made and the dominion God gave us in creation. We believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth, and we are to be makers after Him. Subcreation, that wonderful Tolkienian word, is not just for artists. Starting a business is subcreation, and the work one does images God by forming, filling, ordering, and building.
In other words, starting a business is natural. No wonder it stirs interest and excitement.
Of course, just because something is natural does not mean it is easy, or that someone will stick with it. Childbirth is natural, but no one would argue it’s painless. Nor is entrepreneurship the panacea for all our societal woes. But several ideas that go against the tide of modernity are gaining traction, and starting a business seems to be a workable outlet for applying them in one’s life. I have no way of knowing if any of these are in the minds of those who have responded so much to Matt’s initiative, but they were on mine.
The first idea is the recovery of the productive household. While several conservative writers have promoted this idea, none have done so in such a persuasive and helpful manner as C.R. Wiley. His book Man of the House is as good a primer on the topic as you’ll find. The basic idea is that since the Industrial Revolution productive work has been transferred from the realm of the household to the workplace or corporation. As such, the household, and thus the family, has been gutted of its authority, function, economy, and power. What remains of the household is a place of consumption, not production, that serves to meet the emotional and sentimental needs of its members.
The challenge of recovering the productive household is that we will not reverse the Industrial Revolution and turn back the clocks several hundred years and become an agrarian society again. We like air conditioning too much for that. So, we must integrate modern work with pre-modern principles. Thankfully, digital technology makes this integration much more workable than it has ever been, and the rise of telecommuting shows its possibility. But this recovery will be slow, if at all, at the societal level, and even an individual who wishes to shift to a productive household will have to do so in incremental steps. This is where starting a small side business comes into play. A man can do this from home and include his whole family in the enterprise. Sure, it’s not a fully productive household, but it’s a step in that direction.
The second idea is antifragility. In his book by the same name, Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term antifragile to refer to things that get stronger or better from disorder, stress, and randomness. Unlike fragile things, which break under stress, or robust things, which stay the same, that which is antifragile improves when circumstances are in disarray. A small side business alone will not make a man antifragile, but it helps him along in that pursuit. He has a diversity of income, learns new skills, forms new relationships, and has an immediate opportunity to pursue if he finds out suddenly one day that his stable full-time job was actually fragile.
The third idea is the recovery of masculinity in an egalitarian age. The popularity of Jordan Peterson, Jocko Willink, and the red pill movement show that young men are desperate for fathers who will teach them masculinity. However, while these personalities and movements can sometimes be helpful, because they are not rooted in Scripture, they are askew. Christian projects, like It’s Good to Be a Man and The Masculinist (hopefully returning soon), are seeking to meet the same needs in a biblical way. Several themes of this masculine recovery apply to the entrepreneur.
One theme is the admonition to take responsibility. If you want to have a productive household, if you want to be antifragile, if you want to make more money to provide for your family, then you must take responsibility. No one else will do that for you. Starting a side business is a way of taking responsibility like a man for your household.
Another theme is the call to be a man of action. Effeminate men sit around thinking all the great thoughts, but manly men act. This is the genius of Matt’s very low goal of making $250 per month. Don’t wait until you have everything in place to make a substantial amount of money; just get started doing something. If you wait until you figure out everything and abate all your fears, you’ll never start. Procrastination is bound up in the heart of man, but a simple plan drives it far away.
The fourth idea is having skin in the game, and this is another Taleb concept. Owning a business, even if very small, is putting your skin in the game. You are the one who stands to lose. Money, reputation, and time are all risked by the entrepreneur. And this increases one’s motivation and credibility. One of Taleb’s rules is to never trust someone who does not have skin in the game. So, why read this article about the benefits of starting a small side business this year? Because I’m starting one, too. My skin in the game is a Doonya, where I will provide online and face-to-face cross-cultural coaching for businesses, churches, non-profits, and students.
Do I have everything worked out about how to go about it, yet? Nope. But I’m just going to get started and figure it out from there.